Intro to Single Malts

By Hunter

In line with most introductory classes, one is generally inclined to try and show basic concepts of spirits through the various bottles poured. When this is considered, it might seem strange that we look to particular bottlings to express these characters. It is obvious that doing so creates a loaded scenario in which the taster is in one way or another swayed by the various factors hidden behind the label of a bottle. This isn’t to say that every whisky enthusiast is inclined towards subtle persuasions, but a question could be posed along the lines of: wouldn’t it be a more pure experience to taste these spirits blind? In this capacity, one can grasp more fully the premise behind the style of a spirit and ideally take away more than just a singular impression of a distiller or bottling. Under this thesis and for the sake of practical knowledge I ventured to pour the seven whiskies selected blind to try and establish a more firm understanding of what makes each bottle a unique and particular expression of the single malt class as a whole. To add a little spice to the experience, I asked my colleague Shawn (beer wizard at KWM) to select a handful of the bottles and blind them from myself as well. It’s not too often I can say that as the instructor I wasn’t fully aware of what I was tasting, but I can definitely say the experience was enjoyable and challenging. Here is what we tried under the purest of circumstances.

Cadenhead Tamdhu 1991 24 Year
The idea behind this whisky was to show off how older whiskies and American oak interact. This bottling was fat and opulent, full of honeydew, bowls of sliced stone fruit with a side of honeysuckle nectar. Follow this up with bunches of flowers, creamed honey, and even tones of tropical fruit. This release is arguably the perfect expression of middling to older American oak matured spirit.  $235

Cadenhead Knockdhu 2006 10 Year
Young American oak influences in a handful of ways, but usually one can expect tons of vanillins, grass, citrus, coconut, as well as a clean conveyor of distillery character. This bottling is no exception, characterized by the classic Knockdhu barnyard tones, hay, lemon zest, lychee, and barley dust. Delightfully vibrant and fresh with tons of power, and, arguably, a clear example of a young American oak spirit. $115

Tormore Cote Rotie
As with the previous options tasted, an understanding of wine barrel maturation is a must. In the current market, wine barrel matured whiskies are becoming a foundational aspect of most distilleries core range. This release, matured in a red wine barrel from France, holds a heaping of the typical wine barrel characteristics to be expected, and more. The nose offers Welch’s soft fruit candies, purple bubblegum tape, cranberry spiced punch, and a handful of red fruit concoctions. Tasting yields a lovely array of juicy, slightly acidic berries, fruit leather, fruit cake, brandy snaps, scorched sugar, and a helping of fresh cracked black pepper.There are fleeting leather tones and slight savoury notes akin to older sherry barrels, and that is the over-arching nature of wine barrels. $135

Arran KWM Cask 964 “Less Sherried” 1996 20 Year
Starting into the sherried realm, this release describes near perfectly what it means to be moderately sherried. Arran is notorious for their measured hand when it comes to barrel character, usually marrying the distillery profile of soft, fleshy fruit, brine and oiliness with whatever barrel character you can imagine. In this case, the oak influences the spirit to become denser, sultana like, brown sugared, pan-fried fruits, and rich baked apple tones. Sherry in this capacity adds these darker, richer tones but balance with that aforementioned fresh distillery profile. $150

First Edition Braeval Sherry Cask 18 Year
Moving into the decadence of near full bore sherry, this offering from Braeval hits with huge flavour. In particular, sherry of this calibre adds huge density with even darker character. What this entails is fig newtons, Christmas cake, dark fruit syrup, eat more bars, and many decadent treats one can imagine. Following this train of thought one may only imagine sweet tones, but that isn’t the only feature that this kind of sherry decadence holds. Further, imagine a cigar shop rife with the aromas of tobacco and perfumed wood. $160

Springbank Bourbon Single Barrel 19 Year
A small step from sweet to peat, though transitionally sitting in both fields of character. This unique and hyper-limited Springbank single barrel (1 out of 168?!) is chock full of beautiful and well rounded American oak tones, showcasing pear drops, lemon hard candies, and those mini candy bananas that come from the 25 cent turn slot candy machines. Following the American oak influence, one can find roasted coconut shavings, buttered popcorn jelly bellies, and the soft burbling of peat integrated throughout this whisky. The peat is glorious, mingling with delicate whiffs of brine, the smoke edging on an elegant perfume spritzed into a smouldering fire pit. I can go on about this whisky, it is truly the result of master-craft and the embodiment of easy-going peated whisky. $340

Berry Brothers & Rudd Caol Ila 18 Year
Now to say that this is full tilt peat would be a stretch, but it definitely sways in the direction of distinctly smokier spirit. Caol Ila, known for their briny whiskies, in this case gravitates to the fish fry on the beach. Smoked mackerel over a kelp bonfire wafts on the nose, BBQ shrimp and hickory glaze threading the fish character. Peppery tones and waves of earthen peat provide the supporting role, lingering in the background assuring the taster of the rustic comforts of a seaside cabin. A quality featuring of peat as the focus of a spirit. $190

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