This week, I had the opportunity to attend a class at Astor Center, hosted by Ethan Kelley of Brandy Library. The topic of the this class, “In the Land of Giants – An In-depth Look at the Boutique Distilleries of Scotland.” This class is actually part of a series, the first was about peated whiskies, the last will be about distilleries that have been moth-balled.
For this class, Mr. Kelley gave us a whirlwind history as we tasted our way through several small distilleries. Our first dram was the Hazelburn 8yo. Hazelburn is distilled at Cambeltown distillery Springbank. It seems that the owners of Springbank bought all the names from the distilleries that died in Cambeltown. This one is very light in color. There are hints of peat and brine on the nose although I’m not sure if this is actually a peated whisky. The palate is light but complex with only traces of peat. It is triple distilled which gives it a very clean feel and a smooth finish.
Next up, is the Edradour 10yo. Mr. Kelley painted a picture of this distillery that made me put it at the top of my list for what to do next time I visit Scotland. Edradour is a very small operation (3 guys) with a still that is barely big enough to be called legal. This whisky is very interesting. To my sniffer, the nose smelled like peanut butter and caramel. The palate was full bodied, spicy and nutty.
Benromach Traditional was next on the list. Very pale in color, Benromach Traditional smells like a doctor’s office. Very weak elements of peat and a vague sweetness mark the palate, but the alcohol is strong. The finish is so short and the whisky so forgettable that you are not quite sure that you actually drank it. At least five more years in a barrel would do this one some good. Skip it!
The best of the first four was the Tomintoul 16yo. The color on this is golden honey like jewel quality amber (it spent some time in a sherry cask). The nose is floral almost like a ladies perfume. I got the image of laundry drying on a line in a field of lavender when I inhaled deeply. The flavor was robust but balanced with wonderful honey notes. Unfortunately, the distillery has changed hands since this bottling, so who’s to say what the future will hold for Tomintoul. Try to get your hands on a bottle of this ASAP.
This is when things started getting really interesting. The Arran Cognac Cask. You can look for it, but I doubt you will find it. It is a single cask bottling of a distillery with limited distribution in the first place. Light amber with a rose tint, this smelled salty, sweet, and nutty with some Cognac notes. By this time, my notes start getting a little less descriptive. For the palate, I wrote “sweet, floral, and amazing.” Lucky for me, there was an extra place setting in the classroom, so I scored two drams of this one. Cognac casks are really expensive, so don’t expect to see this one (or one like it) any time soon. This was an expensive experiment. It is almost a shame that it turned out so well.
Next was the Bruichladdich Rocks. Jim McEwan of Bruichladdich is probably one of the most innovative and bat-shit crazy distillers in the world. He is constantly being recognized for his lucrative experiments at Bruichladdich. One thing he hasn’t had since leaving Bowmore, is a consistent product. Enter Peat, Rocks, and Waves. These three distinct expressions will be a consistent part of the Bruichladdich line for the foreseeable future. Rocks is an unpeated malt, with a nose like smoked white cheddar cheese. Even without the peat, you get the other great qualities of Islay. This is a rich, robust whisky that is far more balanced that any of it’s peated brethren. Mr. Kelley described this one as Talisker light.
Benriach 10yo ‘Curiositas’ is part of a series of peated Benriach. Strangely, this was not a planned venture into peated whisky, but curious finds from the dark corners of the warehouse. Just as the Rocks was everything you love about Islay without the peat, Curiositas soothes you with everything you love about Speyside with a hefty kick of peat.
The last (and strangest) whisky of the night was Ballechin Madeira (distilled at Edradour). This is a peated whisky aged completely in Madeira casks. That’s right, not a bourbon cask or even sherry. This is one of the most interesting whiskies I have ever had. The nose was quite peaty and the palate was like a peated brandy. This one is expensive and rare, but if you ever have the opportunity to try it, take it.
So, that was my latest adventure in whisky. I really enjoy these guided tastings. I always learn something and have a good time. I really like events like WhiskyFest too, but the free-for-all atmosphere on the main floor can be as tiring as it is exhilirating. If you are interested in the class on dead distilleries, I believe there are still tickets available here.