Last Saturday got together with some friends to sample a range of single malts.
Inspiration for this came from my friend Sam, who some weeks ago asked me to recommend a single malt. Thinking it might be useful for him to be exposed to a range of styles, and always on the lookout for an excuse to have a party, I proposed a tasting to him and a number of mutual friends. The response was universally positve, so we scheduled it for the evening of July 19th.
Attendees would be myself, Sam (a writer; one published novel), Jerry (wine store owner), Harold (IT geek), our host Chris (membership coordinator for an association) and Doug (a DJ). Experience levels ranged from high (myself and Jerry) to medium (Chris, Harold and Doug) to none (Sam, who'd never sampled a single malt).
Selections for the evening were four of mine, these being Rosebank (lowland malt, 13yo, sherry cask aged), Aberlour a'bunadh (batch #19), Highland Park 18yo, and a last-minute ringer, the 2008 release of McCarthy Oregon Single Malt. I bagged this up and labelled it "Mystery Malt".
Jerry brought a bottle of Laphroaig 10yo Cask Strength (Laphroaig being a favorite of his).
Sam had asked me to recommend one that he could purchase and bring. Thinking another useful style might be something low-to-moderately peaty aged in exclusively bourbon barrels, I suggested Caol Ila 12yo, Glenmorangie 10yo or Glen Moray 12yo (all three available at both local liquor stores). However, knowing Sam to be the independent kind of guy he is, I predicted to my wife, "He's going to get something else. He's going to stand there at the Scotch shelf and pick out something on the basis of how much he likes the label."
Sure enough, he showed up with a bottle of Aberlour 16yo. When he saw the a'bunadh, he asked, "Oh, gee, are those the same? Did I screw up?"
"No, they're different. Mine is all sherry cask aged and yours is a combination of sherry and bourbon. Also yours is older, and made differently." (chill filtered). "Don't worry about it - you were just being you. I wouldn't have it any other way."
I said this with a smile and a comradely arm-around-the-shoulders hug. I think he bought it.
Accompanying the whisky we had a variety of eats. Chris had grilled a flank steak and cut it into strips. We also had dried fruits, potato chips, mixed nuts, smoked salmon and dark chocolate (this last I'd suggested because I thought it would go well with Glenmorangie or Glen Moray).
Also we had a bottle of Glenlivet-bottled Speyside spring water, for mixing with the two cask-strength whiskies.
We started with the Rosebank. Everbody liked it. It's nose is very perfumed, with notes and sherry and malt. The mouth feel is sweet and very smooth, with just a hint of citrus. It's a light, delicate, and (dare I say it?) feminine whisky, but satisfying nonetheless. It went well with the dried fruit and the chocolate.
Next was the a'bunadh, which impressed everyone (Jerry, Chris and I have had it before). Its rich, sherried style went well with the dried fruit.
Next was the Aberlour 16yo. It was nice, but just didn't show as well as the a'bunadh. It did work well with the chocolate, however; perhaps better than any of the others.
Then came the Highland Park 18. Again, this was one that impressed everyone. The perfect balance of peat, oak, sherry and malt coupled with incredible smoothness has to be experienced to be believed. It worked best with the roast beef.
At this point Jerry poured the Laphroaig. Sam took a whiff, then a small sip, set it down and stated, "I'm sorry, I can't drink this." After taking a sip I was wondering if I'd be able to finish mine, but I had a bite of salmon, followed by another sip and realized okay, as long as I alternate the fish with the whisky, I can do this.
At the end I poured the McCarthy. It was obviously a young whisky, being very light in color. It was quite smooth, though. It made a good counterpoint to the Laphroaig, demonstrating that it was possible to be peaty without being obnoxious. Everyone liked it, and I enjoyed pulling it out of the bag and showing what it was. We discussed it at length and all agreed it would be nice to see what an older expression would be like.
Strangely, it seemed to go best with the chips and nuts.
Chris had snapped some pics, which I'd hope to post with this. Some were of the group (including himself, enabled by the camera's self-timer), plus I asked that he take a pic of the whisky lineup. I got copies of these yesterday and was dismayed to see that in all group shots, Chris and Sam were making goofy expressions and gestures. As for the shot of the whiskies, the bottle of HP was backwards, and the shot was out-of-focus as well.
So no pix. Sorry.
Although this was not a competitve tasting, everyone announced a favorite, four picking the a'bunadh and two the Highland Park.
All in all, a successful evening, enjoyable and educational (even for Jerry and I). I proposed another tasting soon, this time of bourbon. Everyone was receptive save Doug, who stated his intention to "remain a Scotch snob." So we won't invite him. My prediction is that if I let Sam pick one on his own, it'll be Woodford Reserve.
1. If you want something done right, you just gotta do it yourself.
2. Some might call it buff
3. See # 1.