By Whisky Comrade Hunter
Why is the term classic useful? Spoiler, it isn’t.
As I have voiced in previous versions of this blog, each discussing the recurrent “Classic Malts” class we teach here at the Kensington Wine Market, I don’t feel the least affection to the term “classic.” As a term, it is obtusely gimmick driven. This is a by-product of the, ahem, how to put this sensitively, capital driven market? In plain words, large companies employ such terms to invoke a feeling of assurance in the consumer. One can rest easy knowing that their purchase of a “classic” single malt is certified, pedigreed by years of distinction, or, maybe by a crack team of specialists who have worked out the perfect expression of Scotland’s naturally designated regions. This very real team of highly trained professionals work tirelessly so you don’t have to. A sample of our very real interaction with said team:
What malt beverage should you be putting in your mouth? Well novice (that’s you, sport), as we assume you are if you endeavour to train yourself on the classics and work up a sturdy foundation of knowledge on matters of whisky, take your pick of our premium range. What other authority ought you put stock in but our own? Leave the free-thinking to us, we know what is best.
I am comforted knowing that such people have the highest regards for my well-being and ease of enjoyment. These “facts” of the matter are not mere recommendations, and if you don’t think they are portrayed as such you might ponder the way in which the term “classic” is employed by those implied. But, if you are one of those fickle “free-thinkers” that won’t settle for “the facts,” we might make some interesting headway. What makes certain scotch “classic” for us? What I mean by this is, for example, when one has a friend over, what whisky is to be served; for, let’s be serious, if they are not drinking whisky you aren’t going to have them over in the first place. I, for one, have a small variety of my own “classic” malts that I offer to all unacquainted, a sampling of fares that I feel adequately give the right idea of what to expect when drinking whisky. But where does this leave us? You might cry out “But what right idea? The right idea of scotch as a whole? That is ludicrous to even intimate there could be such an esoteric spirit that could capture the whole of Scotland’s national spirit. And it cannot be indicative of a region, Comrade Hunter, for you have long since denounced and exiled such regional designations. So what right idea are you to offer?” You have snared me, I am in a bind. And I concede, but I do not do so without also winning something in return. This matter is truly the trifle of a relativist. What does this mean? Only that the matter of identifying the “classic” malts of Scotland is truly a relative affair. Whatever malt one identifies as typical of some malt trope, another may offer a different option as identifying the same trope. Further, we need not confine ourselves to simple conceptions of lines drawn on a map to define our tropes. Perhaps the idea of sherry matured malt is perfectly captured by the Aberlour A’Bunadh, to which I say nay, proffering Glenfarclas 105, to which yet another fictional adversary interjects claiming, quite wrongly, Dalmore 12 is the perfect example, but still another opinion. The malts that we choose as the consumers of the stuff are more apt at defining such a term as classic than those ordained by the mystics of Scotch whisky, and that goes for not only classics, but even reviewers. Now, to those observant folks that may have realized that what I do whenever I talk about whisky, recommend spirits, attempt to guide your hand to the right choice, is very much similar, if not quite the same as the portrayed example above. But there is one thing you must consider: that I am simply the omnipotent expert and cannot be wrong. Trust me, I wouldn’t give you, dear novice, a bum steer. Here are the whiskies I expertly hand selected for my crack team of scotch professionals who convened April 18th of 2018 for a session of “Classic Malts; or, What does it mean to be Classic?”
Before jumping right into the bottles selected, a brief on the reasoning for why I chose this lineup. As is hinted above, I chose bottles that I believe will equip an individual with the adequate knowledge to make future purchases. The idea is that with a proper introduction to unique and arguably more prevalent styles (identified by the use of the word “tropes” above) one will be equipped to make future purchase decisions by their own knowledge. For example, these styles can be defined by the American oak influence they have, or perhaps a wine barrel maturation, or perhaps the degree of peatiness they exhibit. All of this I attempted to capture with the below malts with the intention of offering a very generalized yet informative tour of Scottish whisky. I always hope that these introductory classes equip the tasters with this knowledge, perhaps not apparent at face value given the lineup (considering the class is meant to be introductory and the whiskies are by no means “introductory”), but ideally in a way that cultivates an intuitive, implicit understanding of what one appreciates. Now, on to the spirits.
G&M Miltonduff 10 Year
A return to a fan favourite, I believe I poured this at the last two Classic Malt classes I have hosted. The reason for doing so is not because of my inherent laziness, but because this bottling handily expresses the character of American oak. Tons of vanilla, citrus, grassy, and toffee tones, this is the perfect expression of what to expect when buying American oak matured spirits. As per my usual ascription for these type of whiskies, I would label this one a summer patio spirit. Fresh, vibrant, and near refreshing, this whisky is great for a hot day. – $80
G&M Glen Grant 2008
This bottling was the second favourite at our last Classic Malts class and filled the same role as the middling sherry cask example. A combination of barrels used to mature this spirit creates a softer sherry impression that can be described as candied orange slices, Turkish delight, golden molasses and sultanas. These softer sherry casks offer a finer balance of character, falling in between decadence and elegance. Lastly, this bottling is a superb price for the quality and is an easy choice for any back bar. – $80
Lismore 18 Year
A step up in sherry influence, the Lismore 18 is rife with bigger fruit tones while maintaining a delicate and approachable character. Tones of fruit leather, nutmeg, ginger molasses cookies, dried mango, plum juice, iced black tea and cinnamon sticks. The easy drinking nature of the spirit is deceptive for it conceals the richness of character, but the weight of the palate does give credence to the sherry influence experienced. One of the easiest of sherry casks to drink in copious quantities. – $100
Cooper’s Choice Glenrothes Port Pipe Matured 2007
The designated option for the unique barrel maturation, the port pipe not only imbues this spirit with a pink hue but also a spicy, fruit punch cocktail of characters. Cherry lemonade, maraschino cherries floating in the drink, a boozy, brandy infusion, milk chocolate, this one really made me think of those syrupy cherries held inside a hollow chocolate. Further, it reminded me of the Bruichladdich Black Art first edition but on a budget. A little less complexity but packing a load of flavour. I’m not a fan of quirky barrels given my penchant for austere, distiller personality driven expressions, but this bottling I found quite compelling. A class favourite for the night as well. – $96
Compass Box KWM Blend
Never blow off the blends; such a sweeping pass at this portion of the Scotch industry would be a mistake. There are many persuasive cases of blends being unenjoyable, low-quality spirits, but there are many others, just behind the veil that offer a contrary experience. I would hold that this bottling offers just that. Done just for our store in collaboration with John Glaser, this bottling holds a concoction of silky, sweet old grains and soft, whispering smoke that reminisces of a vanilla bean dessert, beachside after a seafood barbeque. Delicate wood fire with touches of brine and a zesty brightness that enlivens the palate shows off what quality blending can do. – $160
Archives Ardmore 2009
The Comrade favourite of the night, and, as per the theme of all previous blogs I write, the one I recommend all come in to taste to fully experience. It brings to mind a chalky riverside hangout, minerally water, lavish firepit smoke, fresh ferns and pine boughs thrown into the flames, mint and burnt sage. This multi-layered smoke bomb is of the utmost quality and a standout release from a distiller most have yet to see a bottle from. Selected to show off a middle of the road peat level, Ardmore’s old school scotch personality meets a twist with this particular release being matured in ex-Laphroaig barrels. This adds a foundation of rich smoke I believe is quite peculiar to this bottling. – $150
Octomore 8.4 Virgin Oak Matured
The behemoth of peat, an unforgettable experience of brimstone and fire. The idea behind this one was to stain everyone’s palate with peat so that they may forever remember what it means to be peaty. Ashen, cindery fire eaten by the handful, the virgin oak cask portraying peppery heat and wooden spice. Delightful to some, painful to most, this whisky is a challenge to face for those brave of nose and tongue. – $150