Blind Tasting #1

Today, or rather over the course of a couple of days, I set upon a blind tasting of six drams, courtesy of The Spirits Embassy. Given that each sample is indeed only about 30ml, I do not intend to consume all of this alcohol in one sitting. I mean, of course, I can, but I will not. So am breaking it up into two parts. I’ll sample just three drams first and pick a favourite. I’ll put aside half of this sample (15ml) for another round. The next day I will taste the other three, following the very same method. And finally, I will compare my choices side by side and will proclaim the winner. And as you will read this, you will do this right along with me, until we reach the ultimate reveal, in which, I’m sure there will be some surprises. So let’s see if I have learned anything about the flavours, but first, we need some music! Now playing: ModeratMORE D4TA.

First, I say ‘hello’ to all my whiskies and take a quick whiff. Dram A has a strong presence of alcohol on the nose, but I can sense a bit of bourbon influence buried somewhere deep inside. Dram B is very vanilla and smooth butterscotch, with warm banana bread and a distant hint of mint. This is going to be lovely, I can tell just from the smell. And with dram C, I’m pretty sure that I pick out the corn. This is probably a bourbon or possibly a rye whisky. I’ll have to wait and see. Now for a taste. Dram A is indeed slightly rough, even at the proposed 43% ABV. It’s got some very light notes of the x-bourbon barrel caramel, but it quickly gets bitter on the edges, with a very short finish, leaving my mouth slightly burning with that grain alcohol. I’m going to say that this is some kind of blended whisky. Dram B, is, as expected, very light tasting at 40% ABV, but it has that very soft and smooth banana presence with a “boiled sweet” candy shop taste that seems to trigger something from my childhood. I think this is a single malt that’s buttery and liquorice and silky all at once. It really tastes like a softened candied Twizzler. Dram C tastes even more like a bourbon, but it’s somewhat flat with an edge of wet cardboard on the tail end. I don’t think there’s a rye, and at 40% ABV, it still feels rather “grainy”. At this point, I have tasted 15ml of each of the first three samples. My favourite indeed is B, which I will put aside and save to pair with the winner of the next round. That leaves me with two samples of drams A and C so I will finish up. Coming back to the C, it’s a tad sweeter now. One of us has mellowed out. A is still a bit indignant, with a short and irate snarl. I think I like it the least out of this batch. Until another day then!

We’re back for round two, of D, E, F, the final bout, and the grand reveal. But first… oops, I just accidentally spilt some of this whisky, and now I have a lot less of dram F. No worries though. We are professional and will not let this stop us! Dram D is very light in colour, it’s certainly a single malt. It’s slightly sweet with notes of pear and vanilla on the nose. Dram E appears to be a single malt as well. It’s darker, with a hint of bourbon barrel, and a muted sherry cask. Dram F is almost auburn now in colour. It certainly has some wine-based finish, I can tell. And that’s not just from looking, on the nose, it’s got a little port and yes, I sense a little peat. Let’s go in for the taste. Dram D is definitely sweeter than I first imagined. It’s bottled at a 46% ABV, so let me add a little water to see if it mellows out. I was restraining myself from saying “bananas” again, but it is certainly there, among the honeyed dew. Dram E is only 43% ABV, it’s also pretty sweet, with a fascinating hit of a burned cigar, smack near the sustain level of that ADSR curve of this lovely signal. I think I like it very much. There’s something interesting in there, that I can’t put my finger on. A drop of water should reveal. Nope, it is gone. I’m genuinely curious about what this is. And now, for the final sip – dram F. And there it is, sweet peat, as I have witnessed. I still think that it’s a “port-finish” because the arrival (or attack) is flat, but not as sweet as the PX. I also like this very much, a perfect blend of smoke and sweetness on the tongue. I wish I didn’t spill some on my clothes!

OK. We’re almost done here. So what’s left? I really like the candied dram B, which I have stashed. But I still have 15ml of D, E, and F. I guess I’ll go for one quick round with the B and see how it stands out against the D, which also has that sweet ex-bourbon taste. I’m back to B with its unique profile. It’s like a liquorice desert, and I begin to wonder if it’s Scandinavian or other. In fact, I’ll be surprised if this is Scotch at all. Yet D, although it’s still a little sweet, is very much a single malt, most likely aged in bourbon casks. The E comes back for one last bout, and there’s that strong sense of oak, and ash, perhaps from a repurposed barrel. It’s what I thought to be the remnants of tobacco at first. And lastly, the F, with peat and some sort of sweetness on the decay. I’m partial to that overall profile. With that, I think I’ll call the F the winner of this round, which curiously is the very last within this tasting for today. I’m pretty sure the lineup was arranged with this progression for a reason.

And finally, it’s time for the reveal!

Dram A is a Hibiki Japanese Harmony, which is a blend of malts from the Yamazaki and Hakushu distilleries, as well as grain whisky from the Chita distillery. These are all owned by Suntory. OK, I was right that it was a blend, except that I did not call out it being Japanese!

Dram B is a Brenne, which is a French single malt matured in French oak and Cognac casks. Aha! I knew it wasn’t Scotch! And now that I think of it, I have Brenne, and yes, that’s why it tasted familiar! Haha! I just confirmed it by tasting my earlier batch of Brenne, and indeed the flavour is the same, albeit less punchy!

Dram C is a Bushmills 16-year-old single malt from Ireland, matured in 3 different types of wood. First in sherry and bourbon barrels before being finished in port pipes. Hmm. I thought it to be American bourbon, but at least I knew it wasn’t Scotch. There is no grain in this single malt. Wouldn’t you know!

Dram D is a Penderyn Hiraeth in an ex-Bourbon cask finish. Ok, you fooled me there. I called that a Scotch, but, honestly, I’m starting to warm up to Penderyn, especially from my previous tasting. I’m actually happy to find out that it’s a Welsh single malt. But I knew about ex-bourbon casks, didn’t I?

Dram E is a Mortlach 20-year-old. Re-he-heally? I like my Mortlach, but this one didn’t really turn my head. I look it up and it’s a whopping £200 a bottle. What? There’s that Beast of Dufftown with its sherried flavour and rich oaky notes, as I called out. I’d love to give this one another try again (a mental note here).

Dram F… which I have called a winner… a drumroll, please… Dram F is The English Whisky Co. Small Batch Gently Smoked Sherry Hogshead (yes, that’s its entire name). Hmmm, very nicely done, lads. Yes, I have clearly tasted peat. I think the colour through me off, but I will take it being aged in a sherry hogshead. And at £65 a bottle, something surely to consider!

Alright, folks, let’s pause here. This was very much a lengthy post. I hope we’ve all learned something this time. Most likely not. I did enjoy the journey and the guessing game and, of course, the surprising reveal. So I suppose that I will participate in this again. It’s kind of nice to test your senses and to challenge appreciation for what is known as “whisky” of today. The Welsh and English are up there with the Scotch! I’m sure that the Japanese and Irish are behind. Till next time!

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