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Here is a recap of our KOTQ meeting in Las Vegas January 16-17th, 2016.   First, thank you for allowing me to serve as Fear ‘an Tigh for this special event.  I had a blast picking out the tasting lineup and making the arrangements.   Also, I’d also like to thank everyone that was able to make the trip.   In total, 7 members of the KOTQ Chicago Chapter were present, and we also had 6 guests join for the festivities.   So, in total we had 13 that were able to attend the tasting, and although it sounds like an unlucky number, I would say that our trip was anything but unlucky.    All of our single malt scotches survived the flight, and I think most of us ended Saturday evening on the positive side in the casino!    I remember yours truly on a heater at the Venetian craps table that most of us were able to ride.   Unforgettable!

To recap, the tasting lineup for the evening included six well-received, other-worldly expressions of at least 18 years of age.   After 1/2 oz tastings and a discussion of each distillery, I asked each of the guests in attendance to rank sort the expressions in order of preference from 1 to 6.   The lowest cumulative score will be crowned the favorite of the night.   The rating scale is more a reflection of our matter of preference than a deep evaluation about the quality or taste profile of the spirits.    Each whisky has a different taste profile, and I wanted to see how our group profiles against these six outstanding single malts.

The 6 single malts in the lineup, in order of tasting, were:

  1. Springbank 21 (2015 Release)
  2. Ledaig 18
  3. Talisker 18
  4. Balblair 1983
  5. Glenglassaugh 30
  6. Macallan 1989 18 yo

DSC05394

In the end, the group favored the Ledaig 18 most.  It also garnered the most first place votes with Macallan 18 right behind.  However, Glenglassaugh 30 wins second place in the tasting this evening based on having the most second place votes.    The Macallan 18 takes 3rd place.

To my surprise, Balblair 1983 fell a distant 6th.   Balblair may have suffered from being stuck in the middle of the tasting and following Talisker 18.   In fact, I suspect that the complexities and subtle fresh and floral nose of the Balblair were washed away by the prior three big-nosing whiskies.    Nearly everyone who came back for a secondary tasting on day 2 were stunned by how different and enjoyable the Balblair was when not competing in this lineup.   It’s an exceptional complex whisky that lost out to bolder expressions for our challenging evening, but given a different day and tasting order, the results could have been reversed.

The Ledaig 18 was really the only heavily peated whisky of the evening, and combined with the oloroso sherry cask finish, it was an immediate winner with our group.     It was a bit of a surprise that the Ledaig 18 came out on top over all the others, but I would contend that it was because the taste profile of the Ledaig 18 was exciting and the most memorable.   None of us had experienced the 18 before.  Did the ‘discovery’ of the Ledaig 18 sway your vote?       I would not be surprised if there is a run on Ledaig 18 at the Chicago-area Binny’s while they are on sale for $120.

Mostly, what we found is that it is terribly difficult to rank sort these particular single malts because the ordinal ranking does not do these equally important single malt scotches any justice.   The distance between 1 and 6 really isn’t fair….maybe more like 1st is 1, 2nd is 1.1, 3rd is 1.2, etc.    Again, just a reminder that these results are not intended to be a measure of spirit quality but instead an attempt to profile our group preference.     You’d be a fool to pass up on the Balblair 1983 or a Talisker 18!

My only regret of the evening is that we did more of a ‘speed tasting’ than a methodical evaluation before we voted on our favorites.   We could have spent a little bit more time analyzing each whisky and taking meaningful tasting notes.   That’s not to say that we did not analyze the taste profiles, but I think we would have taught the guests of the KOTQ a little bit more about nosing and discovering palate notes had we tasted fewer expressions and discussed them more methodically.    If there’s anything I learned from this, I’d say that we should return to the discipline of taking better tasting notes so that we can share our experience online and offline.

Now that you have had time to reflect, do you have any comments about the results of the tasting that you’d like to share?   What did you like best about the Ledaig 18 or the Glenglassaugh 30 that justified their ranking within the lineup?

Here’s my homework outline for my presentation at the KOTQ Las Vegas, 15Q3/Q4 on January 16, 2016. I’ll put the summary first:

The Glenglassaugh Distillery in Summary:

1) Tradition of quality from water, coastal location (warehousing), and equipment configuration; resisted blend corruption
2) Beneficiary of large Portsoy warehouse (Rare Cask Series, Massandra Collection, perhaps focus of Scaent Group) and 21st century single malt boom
3) Benriach Distillery positive future (Benriach, Glendronach, Glenglassaugh – pronounced GlenGlassOCH) characterized by traditonal operations and high quality, high character expressions
– “2015 has been a stellar year for the company. As well as winning these coveted ‘Malt Maniacs’ medals, we took a further ten medals…at the IWSC (International Wine and Spirit Competition) awards…and we became the ‘Global Whisky Distiller of the Year’ at the ‘Icons of Whisky’ awards.”
– Look for Benriach’s approach to standard expressions in the upcoming months and years

1875-1907: THE FOUNDING

– Coastal distillery (which I believe they prefer to be categorized as a [Eastern] Highland! I’ve updated their region in our database); popular among illicit distillers of the time
– Col James Moir and 2 nephews; emphasis on quality
– Upon the death of 1 of the nephews sold to Highland Distillers

1907-1960: DARK TIMES

– Highland Distillers kept the assets but mothballed operations
– Used as a military bakery in WWII

1960-1986: SUPPORT OF BLENDS

– New design, facilities, and increased capacity for the purpose of supplying to blends
– Highly complex character problematic to blenders
– Famous Grouse, Cutty Sark
– Victim of 1980s recession; large warehouse retained operation leading to advanced-aged expressions

1986-2008 WAREHOUSE OPERATES

– stocks available as an asset for future purchase
– 12yo and 19yo released by the Highland/Edrington group (available at TWE)

Post 2008: REVIVAL!

– Two owners: The Scaent group (whisky enthusiasts, used stores for revenue; began spirit operation) and The Benriach Co (quality emphasis: unique combination of water source, nor-eastern coastal warehousing, and equipment configuration (most of the important original equipment endures with low automation and small, highly-skilled craftsman operation)
– 16 DEC 2008 first spirited casked

CAMPAIGNS

– “Spirit That Cannot Be Named” et al (because it wasn’t legally scotch due to its age) expression released in 2009
– “Revival” release in 2012 (4 yo); first scotch from new operation. KOTQ tasted 6 yo in June, 2014.
– Rare Cask Release Series (“fruit bombs”), (Benriach release, Scaent designed), ancient single casks; available at Binny’s in a triple-pack
– Massandra Connection (2010); (Benriach release, Scaent designed), ancient single casks with an unprecedented finishing in various wine caskets (Sherry, Muscat, Madeira, Port and Aleatico) from Yalta/Crimea/Ukraine region of winemaking
– 30 yo and 40yo: FIRST RELEASES BY BENRIACH, vatted, not single casks
– Look for Benriach’s approach to standard expressions in the upcoming months and years

Dallas Dhu 1975

Good Christmas Eve story from friend of the KOTQ, Doug. His brother-in-law invited him to his special liquor area and told him to bring back anything he’d like to drink. Doug looked for the single malts and found two: a Signatory Dallas Dhu 1975 and LadyBurn 1973; both dismantled distilleries. It turns out that his brother-in-law was friends with the legendary Joe C of Binny’s who gave Doug’s brother-in-law Christmas gifts from Binny’s rare spirit vault every year for a time. In fact the Dallas Dhu was a bottling made from a cask hand-picked by Joe for a special Binny’s release. Every guest at the Christmas Eve party was not a single malt drinker (other than Doug) yet he had them all share in the experience. They were so overwhelmed by the smoothness of the Dallas Dhu yet remaining sweet and mildly spicy that the 8 of them finished the entire bottle that night. Twas the night before Christmas indeed! They were so wrapped up in the Dallas Dhu that they saved the LadyBurn for another time. I heard that they had never opened the LadyBurn and I asked him if his brother-in-law intends on drinking it our investing in it as a collectible. Truth is, I’ve never even seen an LadyBurn and told him I knew a buyer if he was looking to sell ;)

As if they need to advertise

I just spent a week in London with my wife and I was fortunate that The Whisky Exchange was right in the heart of the one of the areas we hung out in. Near Shakespeare’s Globe Theater and the Tate Modern Art Gallery is an elegant and modern wine and spirit exchange called Vinopolis. The Whisky Exchange, a mecca for single malt enthusiasts and a great place to source UK-only or hard to find bottlings, is situated right at the heart of Vinopolis. But, just in case you need reminding they keep this sandwich board advertisement out on the street.

Here I am doing my level best to look the part of a single malt aficionado. This is just one corner of the store. There are at least two glass cases of rare bottlings, one of which you see in this photo. The store is smart and open and you are surrounded by beautiful bottlings. It took me a good while to peruse the store and my wife was very patient throughout and helped me locate certain bottlings.

The shelf full of Talisker was of particular interest; showcasing a number of UK-only Taliskers (the first 2 listed were released in spring 2013) along with the discontinued 175th Anniversary bottling. “Storm” is their 10 kicked up a notch (or two). “Port Ruighe” (pronounced Portree) is their port finish. “57° North” is a limited cask strength bottling. “175th anniversary” we tasted in 2009 which as I remember is a rare beauty. I probably should have snagged some of these as the first three are only currently available in the UK; but I found out after I returned :(

I ended up buying three bottles. I wanted to complete Brother Brass’s “Distiller’s Edition” tasting lineup he is designing so I bought the Clynelish “D”. I noticed right away “The Spirit of Lewis” expression which is the first release from the new Abhainn Dearg distillery on the Isle of Lewis which I know you cannot find in the States. I love island distilleries and I was excited to be able to pick this one up. Finally, Fettercairn is a difficult distillery to source in the US so when I saw the Fasque I just had to have it.

One corner of The Whisky Exchange in London

The Talisker shelf at TWE

TWE_haul

Just a heads up to KOTQ. I don’t have a good source yet, but it is heavily rumoured that Bruichladdich is discontinuing the entire “Laddie” line. The 10, 16, and 22 year may all be replaced. I just saw this on a tweet, but it seems authentic. In any case, if you enjoyed the Laddie (I did) at the last meeting that I hosted, now would be a good time to stock up.

Tao

 

Update 9/13/13 :  Saw this on /r/scotch today.  I’m attaching it as an image. Notice that they do not say that they are discontinuing the line, they simply say that they are not doing it because of pressure from the new owners.

I had the wisdom to order 3 oz of Springbank 1965, 39 year and share it with 5 other people at our last meeting. For those who weren’t able to make it this is one time where I wouldn’t be able to describe the experience. I might be able to say that the 39 supplements the wonderfully oily palate of its kid brother, the 21, with a vibrant lemon zest. I might try to describe the romance inside the glass. However, it would all be to no avail. This experience transcended the ability of the woefully limited English language to convey.

Very often very aged expressions bear no resemblance to their heritage and don’t match the hype. At least in this case you can believe the hype and the price tag.

Full lineup of 13Q2 Meeting

Full lineup of 13Q2 Meeting

At our 13Q2 meeting last night at Delilah’s in Chicago Brother B Funk designed a terrific Speyside themed lineup. We started with the classic: Glen Grant 16. The star of the show, Glendronach 15 “Revival” was next. Benromach Peat Smoke was a big favorite as well. The fourth malt was Strathisla 12 which was followed by the surprise of the evening which was a private bottling by the very bar we were in: Delilah’s.

Delilah’s 14 was the celebration of Delilah’s 14 anniversary in operation. Mike, the proprietor, creates a private whiskey bottling for the bar’s customers to enjoy. 2006 was the 14th year and Mike chose single malt for that year’s private bottle expression. The identity of the source malt is a closely kept secret but the malt had strong Speyside characteristics and likely came from either Macallan, Glenfarclas, or Aberlour or similar. Mike is of Scottish descent and the bottle label features his family’s tartan.

Delilah's (Chicago's rock & roll whisky emporium) bar's single malt private bottling

Delilah’s (Chicago’s rock & roll whisky emporium) bar’s single malt private bottling

Back label - Chicago's rock & roll whisky emporium in a bottle.

Back label – Chicago’s rock & roll whisky emporium in a bottle.

While B – Funk, Hoopie and I anxiously awaited the arrival of our brethren at last night’s fantastic tasting, I perused the impressive whisky menu at Delilah’s.  To my shock and awe, there it was on the page, Springbank 21.  I immediately thought of my bachelor party back in 2002 when we last had Springbank 21 due to a major production gap.

Springbank 21

Springbank 21


Despite the $30.00 per dram price point, I didn’t hesitate and dialed one up while B-Funk and Hoopie respectably ordered the new Ardbog from Ardbeg.

My dram of Springbank 21 was worth every bit of the $30.00, albeit I was a bit nostalgic as I dialed it up.  The night only got better from there as the lineup was terrific and our new initiates brought strong presentations to the group.

There was a good debate later in the night though between me and one of our esteemed guests on the relative price to value ratio of some of these spirits.  This is one of those classic discussions we’ve had as a group over the last 13 years, and to which I believe led Brother Bop to come up with Bop’s Select list.  Last night’s debate was Springbank 21 @ $30 per dram vs. Highland Park 18 @ $18 per dram.  Is Springbank 21 really 66% better than HP 18?  Of course this all assumes that price is a measure of quality when it comes to scotch…..

Thoughts?

Brother Brass went to our EMEA offices to conduct some training and while in London found his way to The Whisky Exchange’s brick and mortar store. Our distillery pages at our KOTQ web-site are linked with TWE’s on-line store which is so incredibly complete and up to date that I hadn’t even considered a physical store was behind it. Brass spent considerable time simultaneously being tempted and overwhelmed and netted out on a special bottling of Lagavulin. It was special for a number of reasons.

The Whisky Exchange bottled Lagavulin

Firstly, because it was actually bottled by the The Whisky Exchange itself. Secondly, for us North Americans, it was available only in Europe. And, thirdly, it was a cool bottle size and style we’re not accustomed to and was not age expressioned. Our European colleague at work, Klaus, informed us that non age-expressions usually mean a youngish whisky and we pegged this one as a 6-8 year. The bottling was cask strength yet some of the group enjoyed it uncut. I cut mine and discovered a large fruitiness to the palate including pineapple, plum, and peach. Depending on where you cut it you could have a smoky, smooth or very spicy experience. Definitely fun, new ground for a Lagavulin.

Thanks to Brass for his diligence in providing a remarkable experience for the Friday afternoon single malt club.

Mrs. Hoopie thought out of the box for fathers day this year and bought me a product from the Copper Fox Distillery provides a 100% barley single malt spirit and a charred barrel to allow you to age at home.  The product sheet and faq are below.  It recommends the first fill be aged 4-7 months.  I put it in in June, and was planning to crack it around Christmas time to see what comes out.  Being a habitual tinkerer, the best part will be the subsequent fills where I can experiment with how the output changes after the barrel has been used a few times.

http://www.copperfox.biz/images/cp-wasmunds-barrel-kit-product-sheet-2012.pdf

http://www.copperfox.biz/products/distillers-art-faq.php