Before I fully recount the Classic Malts whisky night, I wanted to share a quick anecdote that has been on mind as of late. In my first year of teaching whisky classes at the Kensington Wine Market, at the time of which I only taught classic malts classes, I conducted an event in which I poured the usual variety of single malts to portray the “styles” of Scotland. At the end of the event, one of the attendees told me that they had received their ticket as a gift, and, wanting to describe the class to the gift giver, wanted to know what exactly about the class made it “Classic” malts. To be frank, I didn’t really have an answer. The establishment of certain styles as being “classic” asks the question of what the whisky is classic to in the first place. Is there a single origin of certain styles and can it currently be defined by the “Classic Malts of Scotland”? Arguably, this rhetoric is regressive, unable to end in a grounded answer that can give birth to a definition of classic. If one looks back to the earliest times of modernly relevant single malt whisky distillation as the defining of classic, almost no distilleries would be representative of such a style, and those that do would likely not see the large commercial success as promised by such a ubiquitous term as classic. Perhaps style by region, but once more, such qualifications have long since been shown to be superfluous. Imaginary lines that cut swathes of ground into areas wouldn’t seem to have any power over how a whisky tastes, barring a general disposition of the local distillation folk. At this point, it almost might be a more merited argument to discuss the pH and mineral levels of water content, but that would appear to be a quibble. If water is the defining character of whisky my faith in the art of whisky making will be slightly shaken.
Perhaps a better question regarding what is classic these days is not defining what classic is, but more likely understanding what it isn’t. No particular style defines whisky in the fashion of what is the market norm, at least at the moment (here’s looking at the big boys). Instead, consider an understanding of the individual components that make a spirit taste a certain way as the fundamental understanding of whisky. So to respond to the fellow’s question, roughly three years too late, “classic” can not be summarized in so many words or in the traditional sense; but, in understanding the classical components of whisky as a whole, you will be able to understand the whisky world better in your journey through it. Enough of the story, here is the meat.
An attempt to express the nuance, or lack thereof, of virgin American oak. Huge amounts of tangy lemon and woodshop sanding. This whisky is no nonsense and great for summer. No bells or whistles, an expression best suited for deck drinking in the afternoon. Typically virgin oak barrels add a level of intensity to the whisky, mirroring Scottish whisky’s American brother. In this case, it appears the finish was short in nature, imparting a more delicate touch.
Contrast and compare, another barrel finish but this release intended to show the intensifying effects of a smaller barrel. Smells and tastes of Big Turk chew, milk chocolate coating a gelatinous fruit centre. Chocolate and butterscotch pudding; this bottle was a beast of sweetness, but it was decadence in a refined sense. Lot’s of character to enjoy in this bottle.
When I think about wine barreled whisky, I think either the whisky wasn’t very good to begin with and needed a makeover or the whisky has now experienced a bottlenecking effect where the wine barrel prevents it from getting better than mediocre. Now, this is not always the case, but I’ll be darned if I can’t show you ten bad wine casked whiskies to your one “good” one. Enough about me, this whisky is great. Like good enough to think that I hadn’t actually tasted a wine casked whisky. Tones of cranberry, melon, some kind of delicate fruit leather, perhaps nectarine. Overall, hot dang; this was really enjoyable and totally unexpected. A seriously solid release from Tullibardine.
One of my favourites at the moment, this bottle sporting a great price for the quality of the spirit within. The sherry casks used to mature this malt bring out butter tarts and touches of baking spices, nutmeg, candied ginger, drizzled with a bit of melted brown sugar. Enjoyable on all fronts and in my opinion intended to be indulged in any circumstance.
The second foray into sherry finished whiskies, this release intended as the big brother to the Glenburgie. Offering a more robust sherry character, this bottle shows the shades of sherry with clarity and power. A nose shows brandy cherries and ginger snaps, unctuous dark fruit syrup and a helping of a humidor packed full of cigars. The hedonism is cut low on the palate by a helping of a citrusy lift, allowing for the decadence to float atop a thin layer of fresh squeezed grapefruit and orange juice.
Our very own Arran, and as always, very close to my heart. I am quite biased when it comes to assessing these, simply due to the quality of the spirit they make and the integrity they show in crafting delightful whiskies for the single malt enthusiasts of the world. Slightly peated, this release consists of a slightly smoky crème caramel mixed with tiramisu. A delicate hand was used in crafting this bottling, subtlety seeming to be the end goal.
Oh, does Evan gloat at the idea of me liking a Ledaig. To his credit, I have actually very much enjoyed two different Ledaigs in the last while. What do you know, never judge a spirit by it’s heinousness. Or do, but only until you find one that turns you around. My thoughts on this bottle are that of a fresh seaside bonfire, the bonfire being made up of seaside foliage. Kelp-y and full tide pool scents, the ashy, charred nature of this release are superb. I really was taken aback by this bottle, and here I was thinking I had Ledaig pinned.
I will hold that the Islay Barley releases of the Octomore series are hands down the most elegant displays of the most powerful smoke. It is like watching a bag float and play in the wind while someone puts cigarettes out on your tongue, AMAZING! Or at least there has to be a reason why someone says it is. The smell of a backyard barbeque, slightly tropical with notes of roast pig and beef brisket. The tropical tones come out in hints of smoked pineapple and papaya, served alongside the charry barbeque. The perfume tones in the background are interesting but hard to identify due to this whisky reverse choke slamming your nose into a mound of cindery dirt. What a treat.
Cut, this movie is bad.