Tuesday, April 16, 2019

none more black

Belatedly, here's the post-Christmas whisky round-up. And a bumper year it was too, featuring some of the old favourites like Jura, Highland Park and Talisker, but also a couple of new ones. Also, if I'm honest, featuring a couple of pre-Christmas impulse purchases by me of things that looked tempting and were on special offer.

As with a few previous entries in this list, what I propose to do here is consider a couple of head-to-head contests, not to whack you over the head with some sort of Verdict, but to consider how whiskies differ from each other and what sort of things one might wish to consider when a) deciding what you like and b) choosing what to drink on that basis.

Let's start with Johnnie Walker. We've been here many times before, in a sometimes bewildering kaleidoscopic array of colours. We aren't actually adding to the list of colours here as the new bottle is Johnnie Walker Double Black. Ask yourself how much more black it could be, and the answer is: none. This is a variant on the existing Black Label, which as you'll recall is one of my absolute favourite things ever. The Double Black variant supposedly contains a slightly higher proportion of Islay whisky and has been matured in pre-charred casks, both of which mean that it should be slightly darker and smokier than the standard Black Label. The obvious difference packaging-wise here is the funky blue-grey smoky bottle and the wood-grain effect on the box.

Best thing to do here is to tee up a glass of this and a glass of the standard Black Label, and I just happen to have a bottle of Black Label in the cupboard (another Christmas present). I actually acquired the Double Black myself off Amazon as they were knocking it out for 24 quid a few weeks before Christmas.

So here we go. They're pretty much exactly the same colour, for starters, so it's not as if there's some sort of Loch Dhu ridiculousness going on. Smell-wise they're very similar, and despite the claim of an extra whack of peat in the Double Black I'd be hard-pressed to tell them apart at this stage. The Double Black perhaps just has a slight rubbery edge a bit reminiscent of the Oban whereas the standard Black is a bit more cakey. We're at the outer limits of perception now though, to be honest. I need a drink.

Well, the contrast is a bit more obvious when you have a taste; here the extra peat comes through pretty clearly. It's still not Laphroaig, though, as it's quite polite and wrapped up in some nice cakey sweetness, but it's definitely there. It's a very palatable variant on the standard product, but not exactly a radical tearing-up of the formula. I'd be hard-pressed to say which I prefer, partly just because they are pretty similar. Highly variable and mood-dependent, I should think.

Secondly, by contrast, a face-off between two single malts, neither of which I'd tried before. Here's a bottle of 12-year-old Aberfeldy which I got as a Christmas gift (from my sister, I think). Back in the days of Scottish Munro-bagging holidays we used to plan our accommodation around access to Munros but also access to a distillery to visit, and I recall one year we toyed with the idea of staying near Aberfeldy village, since in addition to the obvious pull of the distillery it would have provided easy access to the mighty peaks of Schiehallion and Ben Lawers. Anyway, we stayed somewhere else in the end and consequently I have never tried the whisky.

Aberfeldy is one of those distilleries (Ardmore is another, for instance) which were primarily started up to provide whisky for a particular blender's blends, in this case Dewar's.

The second whisky here is Tamnavulin, which seeks to refute the old adage about distilleries beginning with T being generally rubbish. This one was another self-purchased one as Tesco had it for 22 quid before Christmas and I hadn't seen it on sale in supermarkets before. This one is actually called Tamnavulin Double Cask (no age statement) and is apparently the first whisky officially released by the distillery for about twenty years.

We're comparing apples and oranges here to some extent as Aberfeldy is in the Highland region while Tamnavulin is in Speyside. But I make the rules and I say these two get to go head-to-head. Let's do this. The Tamnavulin is slightly darker, presumably as a result of what the blurb on the box describes as "a sherry cask finish", though it gives no indication of what the duration of this might have been. You would say (quite wrongly) from having a sniff that the Aberfeldy was the younger and rawer of the two, as it has a bit of a hot magic markers whiff to it, whereas the Tamnavulin is a bit more woody and mellow. When you have a sip the Aberfeldy has a bit of tongue-puckering dryness to it but is a bit richer than you might expect from look and smell, while the Tamnavulin steams in all Charlie Big Potatoes with the sherry wood and something a bit dark and sweet and dangerous like, say, the Boston Molasses Disaster, but doesn't really follow through on it and ends up a little bit thin.

I have to tell you I came in here expecting to tell you that I preferred the Tamnavulin, but actually on the basis of the tasting I've just done I'd have to give it to the Aberfeldy. Ask me another day and I'd very possibly give you a different answer, though. Both are perfectly fine, if a little polite for my taste. I'd suggest if this type of thing is specifically your bag going with whichever one is currently on special offer in your local supermarket.


The black rabbit said...

My uncle still lives in Fortingall (of yew tree fame) near Aberfeldy (well... between Ben Lawers and Aberfeldy to be exact) and I've stayed there a few times.
As such I've visited the distillery, played golf on three local courses quite a lot and the only two munros I've ever "bagged" are Ben Lawers and Schiehallion.
Never again mind.

The black rabbit said...

Actually I think you may already know the above.
I'm pretty sure it was yooooouz that said to me (when I told you that my Uncle lives in Aberfeldy):
"Aber...feldy? Are you sure? That sounds like a place in Wales".
Might not have been you though - as whilst my mammaries are much "better' than in my twenties, my memories certainly aren't.

electrichalibut said...

I do vaguely recall the discussion about place names. Ecclefechan was the one that always used to make me chuckle; that sounds well Welsh. Scottish Gaelic and Welsh are distant cousins so I suppose it's not that surprising they share some words.

The black rabbit said...

Abu Dhabi sounds a bit Welsh too.
Well... it does if you ask Anna...
We met an annoyingly-clingy woman in the Maldives once who told us she'd worked in Abu Dhabi as a teacher.
Anna thought she had said Abertawe.
No... I don't know why either (there was NUTTIN Welsh about her).
Cue much confusion from Anna in our conversations about the wonderful white, marble domes and ancient Persian carpets and blistering heat of Islamic errr... Swansea... from then on.