...where distraction is the main attraction.

Friday, July 5, 2013

Peatin' Meetin' post #2 - The VIP Whiskys and a thought on sample sizes

So here's the scoop.  LASC had four glamourous (yes, with the extra 'u') single malts for the members.  We had to split them up amongst ourselves, so that resulted in .25oz pours for each of us.  Because these whiskys are seriously above my paygrade, I wanted to have some alone time with them in an atmosphere that would allow for better noising, notes, and memories.  So they all went into little glass Boston Round bottles and were transported home.  Okay, all but one of them.

I then spent that quality time with them on Sunday night.  Here are the results in tasting order, after which I ponder sample sizes:

Bowmore 1982 Samaroli, 21 year old

Distillery: Bowmore
Independent Bottler: Samaroli (Coilltean Range)
Age: 21 years (1982-2004)
Maturation: likely refill casks
Casks: 1011 + 62 + 71
Region: Islay
Alcohol by Volume: 45.0%

This is the one that never made it home.  It went from glass to mouth right on site.  As a result, its notes are briefer than the other three.

Nose, Palate, and Finish - Lavender candy!  There are some tangerine and mango things going on as well, but it was mostly lavender candy.  No FWP (F***ing Who Pucked?, just kidding: French Whore Perfume), no PWF (Pretty Weird Finish), no soap.  Not much peat remains either.  Sweetness and softness.  And this was a rare instance (for me at least) of the nose and palate matching up.

This has to be your thing.  If the old Bowmore lavender note turns you off, then this ain't your dram.  I don't mind it much, but here it was very pretty.  On the whole, I'm cuckoo for independent Bowmores.  Aside from one stinkbomb, I've dug everyone I've tried; each one providing its own trip.  Each one topping the regular official range by some distance.  The indie Bowmores at Peatin' Meetin' were all very good, especially this one.

Availability - Maybe this Italian shop?
Pricing - $350-$400
Rating - 90

The next ones were stored promptly...

Port Ellen 8th Release 1978, 29 years old (OB)

Before this, I'd had two Port Ellens from Scott's Selection, both of which were gorgeous.  They had both been aged in American oak and the result was some of the most graceful peated malt I've ever tried.  Those samples were more substantial than this one, but I believed PE's strengths would shine through.

Distillery: Port Ellen
Bottler: Official (Diageo), 8th Release
Age: 29 years (1978-2008)
Maturation: I'm guessing ex-bourbon refills
Limited Bottling: 5959 of 6618
Region: Islay
Alcohol by Volume: 55.3%

Color - Light gold (it looks darker in the pic because the bottle itself has a dark tint)
Nose - Chimneys on a November night in a small coastal Scottish town.  Fruity apple peat, leather armchair, moss, pencil lead, fruit tart crust, apple pie, pineapple juice cocktail, and white peaches.
Palate - The fluffiest of peat pillows. Makes a man want to hug his Port Ellen (and not just because it would have set him back an even grand). Vanilla bean, a multitude of sugars: brown, confectioner's, fruit, and on and on. Lots of sticky smoky residue.
Finish - A big round finale. The peat bites back along with tart fruits and black coffee.

Haven't had a bad Port Ellen, yet.  A bit more muscle in this OB's peat than in the Scott's bottlings.  It seems like a kitten at the start then goes for the throat like panther.  Oh man, I'm starting to go all J.Murray here.

Availability - High falutin' European shops
Pricing - $800-$1000 (yup)
Rating - 91


Ardbeg Lord of the Isles (OB)

As per the GREAT Ardbeg Project:
The Lord of the Isles was originally bottled in 2001, and unofficially, it was released as an approximately 25 year old whisky, comprised of 1976 and 1977 casks. It is said to always contain casks from 1976 and 1977 so the whisky would be older as each bottling run was released. Much like the Ardbeg 17, the actual age of Lord of the Isles increases towards the end of its bottling life. Theoretically, the LOTI in 2007 was almost 30 years old.
Finally some all-old Arbeg in the house.  Bring it!

Distillery: Ardbeg
Bottler: Official (LVMH), possibly the 2007 bottling
Age: minimum 25 years, though up to 30 years
Maturation: 15% ex-sherry, 85% ex-bourbon casks
Limited Bottling: 5959 of 6618
Region: Islay
Alcohol by Volume: 55.3%

Color - Light gold
Nose - Buttercream frosting, citrus, piney peat, and fruit cocktail juice arrive first.  Then cherry bubblegum and rosewater after some time.
Palate - Ardbeg ash but in the midground rather than foreground. Ardbeg lemon, but more like lemon creme pie with some fresh berries. More of that piney peat floating in mild molasses.
Finish - Lots of tobacco and ashy earth rumble up creating a very extensive finish, specially for a 46%ABV malt.

As a whole, my favorite of these four.  Also the most compulsively drinkable.  While it did spend between 6-10 years sitting in the bottle, it showed no signs of oxidation.  It seems more rounded and modulated than the current malt, maybe it's because it has had more time to mature.  A pity about the price though.

Availability - Those same high falutin' European shops
Pricing - anywhere between $600 and $1300
Rating - 92

Brora 1981 Old Malt Cask, 21 year old

My first Brora (1972 Connoisseur's Choice) was very drinkable, but mostly characterless, as if it had been a lightly peated Glenfiddich 12 (which would be a great idea, BTW).  The neck-fill on that bottle had been low, so we think that after 18 years with a lackluster seal, the contents of the bottle had oxidized.

Of these four VIP malts, I was looking forward to this Old Malt Cask Brora the most.  Old school peated Highland malt is my favorite style, thus I so want to love Brora.  But this one......this one smelled fishy from the start.

Distillery: Brora
Bottler: Douglas Laing (Old Malt Cask) 
Age: 21 years (June 1981 - October 2002)
Maturation: ex-sherry cask
Limited Bottling: 360
Region: Northern Highlands
Alcohol by Volume: 50.0%

Color - Light gold, again
Nose - CRAZY SULFUR. Wham! One sniff would make J.Murray shart in his chapeau (I'm classy). There's a swimming pool under the fog of struck matches. A little actual sherry under there too. Cinnamon syrup with smoked tropical fruits and apricots.  But mostly sulfur.
Palate - CRAZY SULFUR.  Struck match liquor.  Light peating.  Dirt and horseradish.
Finish - CRA---- you know the song. Slight bitterness, more of the dirt, like licking rocks.  The peat makes itself most noticeable here.

Far and away the most sulfurous whisky I've ever tried.  I don't mind a little sulfur in the mix since it brings to the malt another facet.  But this was booming with element 16.  I'm 0 for 2 with my Broras.  My search continues.

Availability - Other Brora OMCs can be found at aforementioned retailers
Pricing - low ball at $450, maxing out at $FirstBorn
Rating - 79 (probably 60 if you're sulfurphobic)

In the course of tasting these whiskys, it became apparent that it is very difficult to glean acceptable notes from a 7mL sample.  Nosing can still be done on some level, but the process of fully determining palate and finish requires (for me) at least 20mL.

At most public tastings given by distributors, clubs, or reps, a .25oz (7.5mL) pour is the fashion (or de rigueur if you're in that mode).  That quantity is enough to make a drinker respond, "yummy" or "gross" or "it's alright".  But to really dig in with that sort of pour, the taster needs to find a quiet corner of his bedroom, put on some quiet mid-century jazz, and clear his mind.  And even then he can only do so much.

Usually, I have a 30mL pour to work with.  Sometimes a 20mL.  If I'm lucky I have 50mL or 60mL.  I'd rather be thorough, so the bigger the better.  A larger dram equals more time; more time equals more thorough decoding.  I think I did okay with these samples above.  But, like statistics, the palate is better served by a larger sample.