Archive for Tasting Notes

A Wonderful Tribute

Peat is all the rage these days in Scotch whisky. It seems that whisky lovers can’t get enough of it. Bruichladdich has produced Octomore, first made from malt peated at 80.5 ppm phenol, now made from malt peated at 131 ppm. Ardbeg just released their Supernova, peated at about 100 ppm. Both of these are significantly higher than Port Charlotte, peated at about 40 ppm. Peat is also prominent in the Bruichladdich 3D, 3rd Edition (3D3 for short), which first shipped in 2006. It was produced in tribute to Norrie Cambell, the last traditional peat cutter on Islay. Bruichladdich has this to say about 3D3:

Bruichladdich 3D3

Bruichladdich 3D3

3D3 is the third version of 3D – the peated Multi-Vintage Bruichladdich. This single malt selected from several vintages is even more peaty than the previous two releases due to the debut of the mighty Octomore – the heaviest peated whisky in the world at a whopping 80.5 ppm. Combined with other versions of the Bruichladdich it makes for an awesomely complex and layered version of Bruichladdich: peat without the medicine. Listen to Jim McEwan’s Podcast here. For more information click here. For a tasting note please click here.

I got this bottle today as an early Valentine’s Day present. I’m a very lucky man! This is one smooth malt. The peat is very well balanced and the fruit is not overshadowed. Yes, it’s complex, but not shockingly so. There isn’t overwhelming sweetness (the color might make you assume there would be a lot of sherry sweetness, but there is nothing approaching treacle), and the mouth feel is slightly oily, which I suppose is what helps leave such a nice finish.

I paid just over $60, and I think that’s a good price for such a well-executed product. Yes, there are peatier whiskies on the market, but speaking for myself, I don’t buy exclusively based on phenol ppm. When I am in the mood for whisky, peat is not the only thing that determines which I will select. The 3D3 is a good example of a whisky that uses peat as an ingredient to complement the rest of the product, not to dominate it. (Now, I’m not saying that Octomore or Ardbeg’s Supernova are just peat with no other flavor. In fact, I’ve heard that they aren’t as peaty as the numbers make it sound. I would like to be able to sample them and I’ll see what I think at that point.)

The 3D3 is peaty, but it’s a gentle peatiness compared to, for example the Port Charlotte PC5, which is quite a stormy beast! Despite the fact that they both rate around 40 ppm phenols (the 3D3 was a combination of several different malts, vatted together so the ppm value is approximate), there is a vast difference in flavor. The more different whiskies I try, the more I realize that they can’t be reduced to numbers. There are bad whiskies, to be sure, but I luckily haven’t purchased any to date. Among those that I own, or have tasted, there are so many nuances that I can’t imagine how hard it is for professionals to rank them. For me, I can just say that this is an interesting Bruichladdich because it’s a blend of old and new, and the peat aspect is very well executed, to my non-professional palate.

To Norrie, I say: Slainte!


Bruichladdich Links: Carnoustie

Mechanics of Taste

I have to admit that this is a tough thing to write about. The physiology of taste is something that is very personal, and tied to the sense of smell as well. When you drink whisky, those senses plus the “feel” in the mouth are all involved, and even sight.

I am tasting Port Charlotte PC6 “Cuairt Beatha” now, and it’s much more mellow than the PC5, which was like a wild winter storm in comparison. Not that I didn’t like it. 🙂 I’m conserving my PC5, else I’d do a side-by-side tasting right now. The first sense involved when drinking whisky is olfactory: The smell is not just peaty. There is a nice subtle sweetness, almost brown sugar, in the nose, and as you may know, a lot of alcohol. It’s 61.6% ABV, so I added a splash of water.

Anyway, when I taste it, I swirl it around in my whole mouth. There are taste buds all around the inside of your mouth, even though most by far are on the tongue. After the initial “burn” of the alcohol, there is a nice sense of sherry and bourbon oak notes, undercurrents of vanilla and caramel, that evolve into dark and/or dried fruits like plums, raisins, and I definitely get brown sugar. The sensations evolve across the tongue as well. I get the sweetness from different parts and as the flavor profile evolves, I am left with the afterglow of the fruit and oak notes.

The nice final parting shot comes from the vapors coating the throat that you can smell when you exhale. It’s a wonderful experience and it involves so many senses. I suppose the one sense I didn’t mention is sight. One of the wonderful things is the anticipation of the coming smell and taste, and it starts when you look at the bottle. Before I had even opened it I was able to tell — just by the color — that this was aged in Sherry butts. It’s much redder than whisky that’s aged in ex-bourbon barrels. [Ohh…nice — just got a black cherry sensation!]

Anyway, the whisky experience starts as soon as you heft the bottle out of the can and pull out the cork. It’s a multi-sensory experience and it involves, I would presume, a lot of the brain running in parallel. I combine what I sense with what I know about who made it, where it came from, and if I have ever visited, those memories as well. After all that, it’s good for you, too! A dram a day is definitely very good for the health.

BTW, Cuiart Beatha is Scottish Gaelic for “Walk of Life” — and that word “Beatha” is also used in the phrase Uisge Beatha, which means “Water of Life” and Uisge is the source of the word “whisky.” It’s essentially how Uisge is pronounced. Not being a Scot, I’ll never be able to modulate it exactly correctly.

mini-review of 14-yr.-old Links “Carnoustie”

Well, this is a mini-review since I’m writing on my iPhone.

Based on the color, this whisky wasn’t aged only in bourbon casks — it isn’t so dark as to indicate long-term exposure to Sherry butts or Port pipes.

It’s got a lovely caramel color (natural of course!) and there is a hint of peat in the nose. It reminds me a bit of Highland Park 18 in the citrus flavors. The finish is very nice. What I get in the mouth is toffee and other sweet flavors. And of course, it’s got the lovely barley flavors — it’s whisky, after all! — and a small amount of peat (I think). It’s 46% ABV so it really does not need water.