Tuesday, December 28, 2010

christmas spirit

Time for the ceremonial tasting of the Christmas whisky gifts. Santa emptied his bulging sack down my eager chimney to the tune of two bottles this year, so we'd best check 'em out.

Firstly, Sainsbury's Taste The Difference Highland Single Malt (an award-winner, no less). Now it may be supermarket-labelled, but we can say several things about this straight away; it must adhere to the official Scotch whisky rules, so it must really be a Highland Single Malt, i.e. the product of a single distillery in the region, and it must really be at least 12 years old. But which distillery? The label says it's been bottled for Sainsbury's by Ian MacLeod Distillers, who own the estimable Glengoyne Distillery. So is it Glengoyne? Well, Ian MacLeod also produce the As We Get It mystery pot-luck range of malt bottlings, as well as some stuff from other distilleries, so really it could be just about anything. Dr. Whisky reckoned an earlier MacLeod might have been a Blair Athol, but, well, you know, guessing is half the fun. Let's have a sniff.

Well, it's quite sweet and buttery, and maybe a little bit spicy on top, but not the sort of spice you stick in curries, the sort you get in cakes - you know, cinnamon, nutmeg, that sort of thing. Taste-wise it's pretty similar - the tasting notes on the bottle allude to some smoke at the end, but I didn't spot much. From that I deduce that it's not one of the lightly smoky West Highlanders, i.e. Oban and Ben Nevis. It's more like the Dalmore, though without being quite so rich and marmaladey. I suppose it could be a Glengoyne, though I have a feeling it isn't - it's certainly not that similar to the 10-year-old Glengoyne I had a bottle of a while back. In fact overall it's more like a polite Speysider (Cardhu, say) than one of the more hairy-chested Highlanders. Absolutely nothing wrong with it though.

That's the chalk done, now for the cheese - I also got (from my father) a bottle of Laphroaig Quarter Cask. Laphroaig is a bit of a whisky legend: Islay distillery, famously polarising in a Marmite-y sort of way, allegedly (though it's quite possibly an apocryphal story) allowed into the USA during Prohibition by being marketed as medicine or possibly disinfectant or toilet cleaner. Quarter Cask, as I understand it anyway, is a throwback to some older methods of whisky-making where smaller casks were used compared to the great big standard hogsheads - apparently the Ardmore is finished in a similar way. What with the basic physics involved here (surface area to volume ratio and the like) this should mean that more whisky is exposed to the wood.

It's still Laphroaig, though, so the smell is still like a physical assault: smoke, seaweed, Listerine, TCP, Toilet Duck, Mr. Muscle oven cleaner, latex gloves, car tyres, as well as some earthy vegetable stuff like lentils or cauliflower. Same with the taste, though it seems slightly woodier (as you might expect) and sweeter and less minty than the standard 10-year-old Laphroaig. It also seems a deeper brown colour; the standard bottling always seems to me to have a slightly greenish tinge to it. For all that most of that didn't sound very complimentary or appetising, I really like it, more than the standard one. In some ways the added sweet woodiness puts it somewhere between the standard Laphroaig and the Bowmore; I say this is a good thing.

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