Generally I don’t post tasting notes on whisky. The reason is that, first, there are lots of other people doing it already. Second, no two tasting notes ever sound the same. You could get a whole set of tasting notes for the same whisky and they will all read completely different. As an example I’ve got a copy of the Malt Whisky Yearbook beside me – it’s the 2012 edition (the others are just out of reach) let’s open it at a random page and compare:
GS: “The nose offers brown sugar, honey and sherry with a hint of grapefruit citrus.”
DR: “The nose combines horse chestnut casing then sweet melon and fresh spearmint.”
GS: “The palate is sweet, with buttery caramel, maple syrup and eating apples.”
DR: “The taste is beautifully fresh and clean, with mint and gentle fruit.” (1)
Both of these are for the same whisky. And this is from two professional whisky writers (Gavin Smith and Dominic Roskrow) who do this full time for a living. It goes to show that different people pick up different aromas and tastes. Let’s make it very clear that none of this is wrong. Just because I smell apple and you smell freshly cut grass doesn’t mean that one is either wrong or right or that one opinion is above or below the other. It just means it’s a personal experience.
And let’s also make it very clear that it’s great that different whiskies can evoke so many characteristics. And it’s great fun, either with friends or at a tasting, to share these experiences and try to pin down and define those different qualities. All this is magic. It’s what enjoying whisky is all about.
But when it comes to writing a blog or publishing these it’s just that, for me, I’m not all that interested in reading a long list of various fruits and spices. It’s not going to influence me to either try or avoid a particular whisky. Yes, it’s kind of impossible review a whisky without tasting notes but I’d rather read one persons honest opinion about if they enjoyed it or not, or rather when the best moment would be to consume this whisky, or maybe what type of food (or drink) it would work well with.
Whisky is like film or music, there’s so much diversity out there that we can all like and appreciate different things. Not all music is good, some music you like I may hate, even some music that I think is bad I actually, on occasions, may like – I think they’re called guilty pleasures. It’s the same for whisky.
Also why it’s rare you’ll find reviews and tasting notes here is that in terms of this whiskysheffield blog the aim is to relay news and other information – not really to evaluate the different expressions out there. That’s kind of your job really (that’s you, the reader). Whether that’s buying stuff across a bar or discussing it at a tasting event. I’d happily accommodate and publish other peoples views and reviews but I feel that if I start writing my own tasting notes it would diminish slightly the aims of the blog. I’ll just to stick to writing articles and relaying news. So that’s why I don’t (generally) write tasting notes on this blog.
And now to contradict everything I’ve wrote above (kind of).
Recently I was given the opportunity to raid the cellar of an individual who has been collecting whisky over the last 20 years and use these whiskies as a basis of a tasting. Instead of selling these whiskies on at an auction and making a healthy profit the very noble aim was to recoup the original outlay and so open up some bottles to share the experience of drinking some now very rare and hence expensive whisky. These were whiskies bought, at the time, as a collection NOT as an investment – the whisky investment market didn’t exist then – but as their value increased it became almost extravagant to actually crack one open to see how it’s contents tasted.
There was only one bottle available, which meant around 25 people for the tasting (as the owner obviously wanted a large dram of his own stock!). And it was priced at £30 a head. Which, as you’ll work out, was pretty reasonable for the drams on offer. Mainly as most of these are no longer available to purchase. And so with such a stellar cast it would be churlish of me not to offer some tasting notes on the assembled cast. These notes, however, were collated from the assembled audience and are not my personal ones – so it’s the shared collective insights of everyone at the tasting.
Forty Creek John’s Private Cask No.1 (40%) (Canada)
Aromas of Banana and Butterscotch. Hints of wine. Sweet to begin and very smooth. Soft and slightly floral. Integrated spice. Orange barley sweets. Grain notes were also detected. Very easy to drink.
Bushmills Millenium Malt 43% (Ireland)
Fresh and grassy. Cut grass. Green apple. Sweet to start with a dry and long finish. Quite direct on the palate, sharper delivery, slightly more aggressive than the Forty Creek. Oilier in the mouth and a longer finish. Perhaps a little thin from one individual.
Glenfarclas 30 Year Old (43%) (Scotland)
Obvious Sherry. Fruity red currant. Sour Cherry. Leather. Everso slight hint of smoke that runs though the whisky. Delivers all the flavours in one big hit. A beautiful end of the evening dram. One to mull over. Really well balanced.
Pappy Van Winkle 23 Year Old (47.8%) (North America)
A huge variety of aromas and flavours detected. Most complex dram of the night and unlike anything else tasted. Comments included intriguing and an odd flavour that was hard to pin down and not sure if I liked it or not but definitely want to drink more of it. Astringent at first then develops more fruity notes. Strawberry, fizzy sherbet, grassy and citrus. Common notes of palma-violets, liquorice, peppermint and peppery spice. Also ginger, caramel, burnt toffee, fenugreek and with a coconut coming very late on the finish. Reminds of Xmas day or Martinique Rhum Agricole.
Karuizawa 1990 Single Cask (56.1%) (Japan)
More like a traditional Scottish whisky. Strong and full bodied. Obvious sherry. Fruit like strawberry. Bookcases. Burnt orange, spiced cherry. Smoke. Bonfire toffee and demerara sugar. Slightly woody. A little bitter towards the end.
(1) Malt Whisky Yearbook 2012 – Ingvar Ronde – page 78 (it was for Aberlour 12 Year Old – and really was the first page I turned to.)