Tasting Single Malt

A Scotch tasting differs from a wine tasting in a few ways. Firstly, the hangover can be fierce. Yeah, I’m gonna lead with that because I might have written this blog post yesterday if I had actually had more than two brain cells to rub together. Not that I drank a lot, mind you, but sampling six different varieties of single malt is a lot to me. It’s about three times what I normally drink in one sitting.

The second difference is related to the first. The crowd got a little rowdier. Six hits of Scotland’s finest will do that. We all maintained our civility until the end—though Husband and I left before the fights over who got to finish the bottle of what might have broken out.

Tasting Scotch is very different to tasting wine. I don’t know anyone who actually spits out that mouthful of wine. I mean…spit out alcohol before the threat of poisoning? Are you nuts? But at thirty bucks a head, none of us were looking for the spittoon at a Scotch tasting. Nope. We were gonna swallow every drop.

Finally, though Scotch whiskey can vary greatly in flavour, I wasn’t particularly worried that I’d have to sip something I might not like. At a wine tasting there is always some fruity or sweet or just damned fruity something they want you to try and I really don’t like fruity wine. Or fruit wine. Unless it’s extremely light and so dry it evaporates off your tongue before you have a chance to taste it. In which case, there’s hardly any point in drinking it, right?

I do like wine, but I really like Scotch. It’s a taste I acquired some twenty-five years ago and have developed since by experimenting as my budget allows. My preferred brand is Glendfiddich and if I could afford to only drink the 18 year-old, that would be all that I drank. The 15 year-old is good. It’s just…when you’ve had better, it’s hard to go back, you know?

For this tasting, the theme was casking—meaning the focus was on the cask each Scotch had been matured in. I found this of particular interest as casking is a subject I’ve researched in regards to wine. It can make a great deal of difference in the flavour of your fermented grape. I wondered if the same would be true for Scotch.

It is.

Here are my “tasting notes”.

A handy map for Scotch drinkers!
A handy map for Scotch drinkers!

The Glenlivet Limousin Oak Cask

This was our first tipple and I rated it third out of the six we tasted. If a Glenfiddich had not been included in the selection, this would have been second. It had a lighter flavour than I expected and the effects of the oak cask were subtle. The addition of a little water smoothed the taste a little. At the risk of offending more serious Scotch drinkers than I, it’s somewhat similar to Glenfiddich, which is probably why I liked it so much. I would consider buying this again.

GlenDronach Sherry Cask

This was my favourite of the night. Aged in Spanish sherry casks, the GlenDronach had a darker colour than most of the Scotch we tasted. It also had a very rich and distinctive aroma. It smelled like sherry. The flavour was cherries and chocolate. And good single malt, of course. Interestingly enough, I think this one fared less well with the rest of the participants. They thought the flavour too strong. It is a rich and smoky Scotch—which I prefer. I loved it. I don’t know if I’d drink it all the time—or replace my beloved Glenfiddich with it. But I’d keep a bottle on hand for when I wanted something with more punch.

Balvenie Caribbean Rum Cask

This Scotch is aged in traditional oak casks for fourteen years and then “finished” in rum casks. The rum flavour wasn’t as strong as I expected it to be, but it was definitely present. I could almost taste a hint of coconut. Really. I liked this one. The flavour wasn’t as rich as I expected, and the addition of a drop of water didn’t make it taste like I’d dipped my glass in a muddy puddle. Not sure I’d buy this one to keep at home, but I’d order it if I was out and felt like something a little different.

BenRiach Madeira Cask

This was the fruity wine of the night. Husband loved it—he’s the reason we often end up with bottles of cranberry whatever and strawberry this and that. Which he has to drink.

Not to say this was a bad Scotch. We didn’t taste a bad Scotch all night—though we could have been drinking Old Smuggler by the end of the night and not noticed. Maybe. It was more that this one wasn’t to my taste. First, it had a very perfumed aroma. That scent carried over to the taste, which was a little light and did not improve with the addition of water. This Scotch was very popular with the other tasters, though, so what do I know?

Glenfiddich Cask Strength

Most liquor is mixed with a little water out of the cask before being bottled. The amount of water added determines things like flavour and alcohol per volume. The adventurous can go to the liquor store searching for the uncut or less cut gems, though, like the Wild Turkey 101 and those weird bottles of moonshine that are not made in grandpa’s outhouse.

Among these is Glenfiddich Distillery Edition. This formidable drop weighs in at 102 proof, or 51% alcohol. Surprisingly, it doesn’t sear your tastebuds on the way down. In fact, I found it to be incredibly smooth. It’s also REALLY strong. My head was already spinning at this stage and I’d had to send Husband back to the snack table for MORE FOOD. Cut with a little water, the flavour remained as crisp and strong. It was also blessedly familiar.

There’s something wonderful about finding the Scotch that’s yours and then recognizing that flavour in a different bottle.

Glenmorangie Sauterne Cask

Called Nectar D’Or, this whiskey is matured “…in hand selected wine barriques from Sauternes: the most famous and ancient sweet wine growing region of France.” I took that from the website.

I did not expect to like this one much. I thought it might be like the rum cask or Madeira cask. A little too sweet, maybe. In actual fact, I really liked this Scotch and labeled it my second favourite of the night, which I may conflict with statements above. You will have to remember that I had tasted six whiskeys by this point, though, so my note taking skills were probably a little impaired. I might have to buy a bottle of this one and taste it again.

For more information on each of these whiskeys, including tasting notes written by someone with THE vocabulary, click the title of each.

I’ll leave you with a photo of our selection:

Our tasting lineup, in order from first to last.
Our tasting lineup, in order from first to last.

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