My first quarterly shipment for my membership in “Whisky Explorers” has come and is all gone and I wanted to share with you my experiences. A note though on process as it is important to understanding what I experienced. I receive 4 different whiskies which are all bottled in a nice, small plastic bottle which is completely dressed in its own black cloak; all the way to its collar. The cloak is there to keep the tasting blind. You get about two decent-sized drams (not Cyclone level but decent). Once you’ve tasted it you keep the cloak on the bottle and go to the Whisky Explorer’s website where you take a quiz on things like color, nose, body, palette and finish and you guess what you think the whisky is from 5 choices. You’re actually graded on your knowledge and then they show you what you were drinking and are offered a mechanism for purchasing the whisky. Just to be clear, you CAN remove the cloak and see what the dram is before you even drink it if you so choose. I chose to drink mine blind and take the quiz as it is part of the fun.

Here is what has been sent my way so far:

Dewar’s Special Reserve – tasted like scotch but not quite a single malt. I couldn’t decide whether it was a blend or if it was just a weak over-served Speyside. In the end, I guessed it was a run-of-the-mill Balvenie but harbored thoughts that it was the Dewar’s. If you like blends for their safety and lack of ambition this is a pretty good one. I’m not sure it would make for a good wassail (my current use for blends)

Booker’s Kentucky Straight Bourbon – as soon as I tasted this I immediately knew I wasn’t in Kansas anymore. Or Glasgow or Inverness or Islay for that matter. This was the most other-worldly bizarrely tasting experience I’ve ever had; and not in a good way. Obviously impossible to describe into words without experiencing it but it’s one of those “OMG this is awful…here try it” moments. It evoked views of alien worlds and distorted rainbows and all kinds of twisted imagery. This bourbon reminded me why I love and drink single malt scotch. It makes me think that bourbons are not meant to be aged and refined. Beam should just crank out their regular stuff.

Glenmorangie 10 – thank heavens, we were back to reality and recognizable lands once again. I knew this one was a single malt but I knew it was not an advanced age. I felt like it was either an Eastern Highland or a Northern Highland or a really spicy Speyside. I think I may have properly pegged this as Glenmorangie 10 but my overall sense was that the Whisky Explorer’s club considered this single malt to be something rare and special; which is not my view. I got the impression that the Whisky Explorer’s club was projecting this single malt as almost a ceiling on what great whisky was like and I left the quiz on this one less hopeful for the remainder of what would come over the course of the year.

Bushmills – this one was close…I figured it was a blended scotch (or a mild single malt scotch perhaps) but wasn’t surprised to find out that it wasn’t; and I guess wasn’t trying to be one either. I’ve never had Irish whisky before this; so it was good that I had a chance to try it. I’m a bold palatte guy and I found this one to pale in comparison to a typical single malt scotch. Perhaps my comparison should be more between the Bushmills and the Dewar’s as they are both blends. I can see why some people might like to sip Irish whisky but I think I would lose interest fairly quickly if this was the typical experience.

Overall, I find two dynamics at work with the Whisky Explorers Club. Firstly, it is not about single malt scotch at all. It is about all whiskies and a wide array of experience. However, secondly, I think there is a cost ceiling at work here and I have quickly learned not to expect Glen Grant 21 or something like it to show up in one of these cloaked bottles. If you have a broad interest in whisky from Canada to Kentucky to Ulster to Glenmorangie to perhaps Japan then this is the club for you. If you’re looking for a wide array of advanced, refined, or rare single malt scotch expressions I think you’ll be disappointed.