I attended my first big Whiskey tasting this week, and thought I'd share the experience for those that have not done so. The event was Whisky Live LA, and while it was primarily scotch, there was a small amount of American whiskey. I was mostly there for the scotch though. I do enjoy a good scotch but the prices tend to keep me away from many purchases. Thus I was quite happy to attend this event as it allowed me to try many different things all at once to see what I like and don't like. I also got to meet sku from the board here, and we had fun comparing notes during the night.
While I was still fresh I wanted to try many of the expensive 20+ year old scotchs to see if I thought the hype was worth it or not. After that, I didn't have much of a plan, but was hoping to try whatever seemed interesting. The only other thing I had on my agenda was to take the Highland Park masterclass that had the 12, 15, 18, 25, and 30 year old Highland Park.
Here is what I tasted in order:
By now I was obviously starting to get a little palate fatigue, but then I discovered the Scott's table. Holy cow...
- Dalmore King Alexander: Deep, chewy, syrupy. Good Balance: B+
- Glenlivet 25: Nice balance, but light and thin. More spice flavors instead of the dark wood flavors I would expect out of something this old. Didn't impress me much although I like the cheaper Glenlivets. Nice packaging though. C+
- Tomatin 25: GREAT nose. Wonderful candy notes. The body and finish was good too, but hard to stand-up to the great nose. B+
- Johnnie Walker Blue: Light nose, but great complex body. Nothing outstanding, but a nice malty drink with no harsh notes. B
- Balvenie 21: Similar to the Glenlivet in that it was pretty light in this company. Nothing particularly bad, but just not too much flavor: C+
- Old Pulteney 21: Nice balance, with good nutty flavor in the nose, body, and finish. B+
- Yamazaki 18: Ooo! This was almost like a rye after all the scotches. Good spice in the body. B
- Bunnahabhain 25: Nice balance, and it reminded me somewhat of the Old Pulteney with a nutty like flavor. B+
- Bushmills 21: Good nose and body with honey and malt. B
By this time my palate is GONE. I take a break, eat some more food, and save room for just a few more even though I know my own taster is going to betray me. Anchor was there with some of the ryes and gins they make. So I made a drastic course change and tried some of the ryes. What can I say? Hot and spicy after all the stuff from before. I also tried the Macallan Cask Strength, and that was good. You could tell it was a little young as it was a little hot for my tastes, but it had plenty of flavor.
- Scott's Selection Longmorn-Glenlivet 1971: WOW. Now we are talking. Just tons of flavor compared to everything previously. Even with a couple of drops of water (these were 1/4-1/2 oz pours) it still had unreal flavor. A+
- Scott's Selection Highland Park 1981: Again, just exploded on the palate. All the goodness of regular Highland Park but supercharged. A+
- Scott's Selection Macallan 1985: Goodness me. Who are these Scott's selection guys, and where did these things come from? Great nose and body. Nice vanilla and caramel. Less spice than the first two. A
- Scott's Selection Coal IIa 1984: Again tons of flavor with a nice peat influence. A-
- Scott's Selection North of Scotland 1964: DEEP and malty. Apparently this was a grain alcohol that was aged for forever basically. Different than the rest, but still good. A
- Kings Crest 25: Good flavor for this "regular" bottling, but hard to compare after the previous drams. B+
After that I took the Highland Park "Masterclass," and it was pretty much lost on me. About the only thing I could discern at this point was that the 12, 15, and 18 all seemed to have a family resemblance of more honey and smoke, while the 25 and 30 seemed to be more alike in that they had more chocolate and caramel flavors. I'm still glad I took the class, but feel I missed out somewhat!
All in all I had a great time. What did I learn?
- I think I have a strong bias towards cask strength whiskeys. While none of the earlier expensive scotches were bad, I just thought they couldn't hold up to the flavor explosions that you get with the cask strengths, even when you add a little water. The highlight of the night by far was the Scott's Selection bottles.
- Apparently there are many many companies that do one-off cask strength single malts. And of course, after I got back home and checked the prices on many of my favorites, I found out that they are very expensive. I guess I shouldn't be surprised. I'm not sure why these types of bottlings were never on my radar before, but they are now. It seems like this is a little bit of what KBD is trying to do with Willett, the one major glaring omission being that Willett isn't being open about where they get their stuff from although we know it is HH. In any case, if I was going to spring for a "good" bottle of scotch, I would much rather get something like this over a bottle of say, Macallan 18.
- Palate fatigue is very very real. The trustworthiness of my reviews as the night went on is probably not so good. It seems like whiskey tasting is done best with only about a max of 6-8 per night
- Big whiskey tasting festivals are indeed fun, but a little tough on both the taste buds and the body!