It was a full house on Wednesday as Whisky Enthusiasts gathered around the table. Eleven samples of whisky in front of each of them, along with haggis, pickled herring, smoked oysters and shortbread. All the whiskies were from islands of Scotland, plus.....there were two wild card whiskies! Also from islands - one from Japan and one from Sweden. After a blind tasting, guessing which was which based on the notes handed out, two people correctly guessed the wild cards! It was a lot of fun and a great way to learn about the different styles available on the market. All are in stock, so if you missed the tasting, pop in and pick up a favourite bottle. Here's what we tasted......
- Isle Of Arran Distillers Robert Burns Single Malt, $54.99 700 ml. 43% abv. Non chill filtered, no coloring added
On an island that was once home to many of the illicit stills on the west coast of Scotland, Isle of Arran Distillers is the only one remaining. Back in the early 1800s there were many small stills to be found across the island. Not all of them were legal, but all made superlative spirit. Arran has always been a fine place to make good whisky, but when quantity was prized over quality the wee island couldn’t compete economically, and one by one the distilleries fell into disuse. The tradition revived when the distillery in Lochranza was built at the north end of the island. When a three-year old cask was opened on 25th July 1998, guests enjoyed the first legal dram of Arran whisky in over 160 years. Distiller’s Notes: Color: Ayrshire Sunshine. Aroma: sweet, creamy, with notes of honey, toffee-glazed pecans and fresh summer fruits. Palate: A combination of rich malt and lush vanilla notes forms a beautifully refreshing and smooth palate. Light and sweet at first followed by tantalising spice and oak. Finish: clean and fresh with an aftertaste of hazelnuts and milk chocolate.
Suntory Hibiki Harmony Blended Whisky, Isle Of Japan, $119.99 750 ml. 43% abv. Probably chill filtered, coloring addedIn 1923, Shinjiro Torii envisioned a whisky filled with the essence of Japanese nature and hand-crafted by artisans through a patient process of enhancing the work of nature. hough initially inspired by traditional Scottish whisky, Torii envisioned a Japanese approach by choosing a terrain and climate completely different from those of Scotland.Torii chose the region of Yamazaki, on the outskirts of Kyoto as the birthplace of Japanese whisky. Hibiki Japanese Harmony was launched in 1989 to commemorate Suntory’s 90th anniversary. It is a blend of Japanese malt and grain whiskies from Yamazaki, Hakushu and Chita Distilleries. Distiller’s Notes: Color: Amber. Nose: Rose, lychee, hint of rosemary, mature woodiness, sandalwood. Palate: Honey like sweetness, candied orange peel, white chocolate. Finish: Subtle, long finish, with hint of Mizunara (Japanese oak).
Jura Origin 10 Year, Isle of Jura, $63.99 750 ml. 43% abv. The Isle of Jura is nestled off the West Coast of Scotland. It’s only 60 miles from Glasgow as the crow flies, but 60 miles has never felt so far away. With only one road, one pub, one distillery and one big whirlpool, Jura is as beautiful as it is remote. Which explains why the deer outnumber the 200-strong population by a country mile. George Orwell even went so far as to name it ‘the most un-get-at-able place’ while he wrote his classic novel 1984 here. The original distillery has stood in its spot since 1810 but fell into ruin. In 1963, the folks at Jura decided to resurrect it and with it, helped to revive the local community. Jura Origin signifies the rebirth of the Jura distillery and rebuilding of the community; each bottle carries the ancient Celtic symbol for beginnings. Distiller’s Notes: Colour: Warming golden glow. Nose: Soft nuances of American white oak with a smooth, sweet aroma of honey. Taste: A refined, smooth and clean tasting liquid with gentle oak flavours, followed by highlights of caramel and soft liquorice. The warmth of roasted coffee beans lingers long in the mouth.
Highland Park Valkyrie, Isle Of Orkney, $108.99 750 ml. 45.9% abv non chill filtered, no coloring added Scattered in windswept waters, 16km from the northernmost reaches of the Scottish mainland where the North Sea rises up to meet the Atlantic Ocean, lie the seventy or so islands which make up Orkney. Only twenty are inhabited. In Kirkwall, on the ‘mainland’, Highland Park has been distilled since 1798 – on the same site as Magnus Eunson’s original illicit still at High Park. The distillery lies almost in the Arctic Circle on a latitude roughly the same as Anchorage, Alaska. In fact, the distillery is closer to Oslo in Norway than to London in the UK, but divided by mile upon stormy mile of water. Exposed to every element and pounded relentlessly by gale-force winds from every angle, few trees can survive in Orkney’s harsh conditions – and this curious geology lies at the heart of Highland Park’s distinctive flavour. Distiller’s Notes: Color: Fiery amber. Flavors: Green apples | Sun-ripened lemons | Oriental spices | Vanilla | Preserved ginger | Dark chocolate | Salty liquorice | Warm aromatic smoke
Tobermory 10 Year, Isle Of Mull, $78.99 750 ml. 46.3 abv non chill filtered, no coloring added Established in 1798, this is the only distillery on Mull and one of the oldest commercial distilleries in Scotland. It is unique, not just because of its idyllic location, but because it produces two different, but equally alluring, single malts: the fruity, unpeated Tobermory and the more robust and smoky Ledaig. Distiller’s Notes: Delightfully enticing, smooth and velvety, our 10 year old hand-crafted signature unpeated expression is one of outstanding finesse. Tobermory’s world-renowned 10 year old has evolved with stunning new depth. Matured for 10 years in ex-bourbon casks, the slight peat influence of our water gives a unique character to the smooth notes of fruit and spice.
Scapa Skiren, Isle Of Orkney, $79.99 750 ml. 40% abv. Chill filtered Scapa is an artisanal single malt forged by the extreme elements of Orkney.Orkney is a place of many contrasts. Tempests rage and rain fills the lochs and flows everywhere. Yet Scapa distillery finds itself proudly overlooking the white beach and the calm waters of the natural harbour known as Scapa Flow. Water from the Orquil Springs is used for the mashing and the climate means less spirit is lost to evaporation, the legendary Angel’s Share, which normally claims a mere 2% of every batch. Distiller’s Notes: Nose: Delicate scented floral flavours with a hint of fresh pear. Sweet and fruity pineapple notes with a citrus tang. Taste: Smooth and sweet, ripe honeydew melon slices, bursts of fruity pear and lemon sherbet. Finish: Long, refreshing, shimmering sweetness.
- Bowmore No.1, Isle Of Islay, $61.49 750 ml. 40% abv non chill filtered
Bowmore is home to one of the World's oldest Scotch maturation warehouse, the legendary No.1 Vaults. Some of the world's most coveted single malts have been meticulously matured here, steeped in more than 230 years of heritage, matured in the finest casks. Distiller’s Notes: On The Eye: honey gold. Breathe In: vanilla sweetness, cinnamon spice and oak smoke. Sip: mouth-watering citrus, honeycomb and coconut flakes. Savour: the peat smoked, bourbon vanilla and lime finish
- Spirit Of Hven Tycho’s Star Single Malt, Isle Of Hven, Backafallsbyn, Sweden $124.99 500 ml. 41.8% abv non chill filtered, no coloring added
Spirit of Hven distillery is world unique, one of the world’s smallest commercial pot still distilleries, where everything from mashing to fermentation, distilling, maturation and bottling are carried out at site. It is small, family owned, situated on the island of Hven, in the strait between Denmark and Sweden. This is a medium peated, matured Swedish single malt whisky, made from grain to bottle in the distillery. This whisky is named Tycho’s Star as a tribute to the most famous islander yet, the astronomer Tycho Brahe (1546-1601). Distiller’s Notes: Scent and Taste: Without water, the whisky shows fruitiness, coated by a mild, balanced and very clear smokiness. The scent of barley is complemented by notes of coconut and almonds. The taste is fresh with distinct smokiness and straightforward maltiness, the sweetness from the American oak is well balanced with the stringency of the French oak. The whisky has dark notes of leather and liquorice, embraced by a round scent of ripe plums. All this is elevated and refreshed by fragrances of apple and elderflowers. Newly harvested hay and honeydew meadows give a soft finish.
Talisker 10 Year, Isle Of Skye, $89.99 750 ml. 45.8% abv chill filtered, coloring added The oldest working distillery on the Isle of Skye is set on the shores of Loch Harport with dramatic views of the Cuillins. Distiller’s Notes: Appearance: Brilliant gold. Nose: Powerful peat-smoke with just a hint of the sea-water salt of fresh oysters, with a citrus sweetness. Palate: A rich dried-fruit sweetness, clouds of smoke, strong barley-malt flavours, warming and intense. Peppery at the back of the mouth. Body: Full and rich. Finish: Huge, long, warming and peppery in the finish with an appetising sweetness.
Ardbeg Kelpie Limited Edition, Isle Of Islay, $145.99 750 ml. 46% abv non chill filtered For over 200 years, Ardbeg has been made on the small, remote Scottish Isle of Islay. Some people travel to Ardbeg along the winding road from Port Ellen. Others follow their nose, their destiny or the advice of a good friend. Ardbeg Kelpie is named for the legends of the sea around Ardbeg. Distiller’s Notes: Color: Burnished Gold. Nose: An intense, ‘dancing’ nose, intertwined aromas – powerful, oily peat, dark chocolate, smoked fish, hints of seaweed, and a curious, sharp herbal note. Waves of spicy, black pepper. Taste: Peppery mouthfeel, rich flavours: treacle toffee, Turkish coffee, smoky bacon and lots of dark, dark chocolate. A burst of peachy, estery fruit, hickory wood, clove oil and a suggestion of black olives on the aftertaste. Finish: Seemingly lasting forever, with deep flavours of clove, tar and rich toffee.
Jura Tastival 2016 Limited Edition, Isle Of Jura $189.99 700 ml. 51% abv This is the 2016 special bottling for the Jura Tastival, which is held on the island each year during the same week as Fèis Ìle (pronounced ‘faze aisle’), the Islay festival of music and malt. This year's release was finished in Palomino Fino, Amoroso Oloroso and Apostoles Oloroso Sherry casks. Tasting Notes (courtesy Steve Prentice, Somerset Whiskey): Colour: Rich golden, gentle orangey tints. Nose: Malty and sweet, packed with punchy, rich sherry fruit flavours, yet undeniably still Jura underneath. There’s cream and vanilla notes along side more regular nutty tones you find in sherried whiskies. Palate: Nice and thick and rich with oils, some spices for sure, in fact at first it’s quite hot with the high abv. There’s baked apples with brown sugar, less creaminess on the palate than on the nose. Finish: Very warming on your chest (showing the older age), sweet, long and moorish. Kind of leaves a tingle on your tongue. Not too much spice or tannin to ruin it.
Coldicott, Nicholas, and Van Eycken, Stefan, “Single Malts From Japan”, pp 194-195 Malt Whisky Yearbook 2017, Magdig Media Limited, Shropshire, England