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:
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
– “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
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 😉
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.