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Enjoying Scotch Whisky and a few other things

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The Balvenie

Whisky Guild Classic tasting Cruise Washington, DC 2011

Yesterday evening I had the fortune of being on a large boat with a lot of whisky. Now, fortunately this was a tasting cruise, not a vacation cruise and many tasting booths were set up with reps from each distiller or distributor who were eager to pour and talk about their product. That being said, I would first like to thank The Balvenie, Highland Park/Macallan, and Ardbeg for sending out great ambassadors to represent their products. Though this surely wasn’t the level of tasting that the more premier tasting events hold, the Nth being my favorite, the fore mentioned companies spare no cost to send out the best reps for their products and I think it says a lot about them and their products.

As far as the food, I’m glad I had the company of Andrew Weir of The Balvenie to chat with while I ate. The conversation and previous hour of tasting helped facilitate the buffet.

As opposed to a premier event this was an opportunity to catch up and experience some newer expressions that are contending for shelf space with the Johnny Walker Red and Dewar’s crowd. There were too numerous new expressions I saw and unfortunately I can’t remember them all but then again, some of their reps seemed as clueless as I was about their product. Unfortunately, Scotch has grown so popular that there seems to be “products” popping up that advertise as if they were the lost product of Scotland that only some sages know about and now are available for an unbelievable price! Their reps aren’t sure though what kind of cask they are aged in, or if they have a cask at all, and truly this rep was picked for their salesmanship but not their ability to educate you on their product.

The highlights of this cruise were seeing the fore mentioned Ambassadors without whom I would have serious questions about the events status. Martin Daraz of Highland Park/ Macalland was a great surprise to see. I first met him in Las Vegas at the Nth event and there is no doubting his credentials or passion for whisky. I look forward to his chocolate and scotch pairing again at the Nth.

Other than that, I sampled a lot of new brands that I most likely will never buy but at least I have given them a go. Some notable that were new or somewhat new to me were Aberlour who had very friendly reps and also poured Scapa which I would probably never buy but recognize as a great summer scotch or beginners scotch, Bunnahabhain, whose lovely rep seemed tireless over the event and also introduced me to Tobermory, Deanston and Ledaig. The Bunnhabhain 25 was definitely the pick of the table. I think the Burns Stewart Distilleries selection is a reputable one, however, I can’t say that any one of them, other than a Bunnhabhain will sit in my collection any day soon. I do think that they should not overlook the possibilities of The Black Bottle, their inexpensive and quirky blend to do contention with lower price point whisky’s, I think they could be successful.

So I was very disappointed that no Alligator showed up at the Ardbeg table but totally understand why. I did have a good time speaking with David Blackmore and enjoyed pours of Uigeadail and Ten. After a pour of Uigeadail I walked over to Compass Box and asked for a sampling of The Peat Monster. Now, I explained to their rep I had just finished some Ardbeg and wanted to compare The Peat Monster. He seemed offended that I would even dare compare the two and with little hospitality poured the Peat Monster. Yes, it’s no monster at all compared to Ardbeg. However, its is an enjoyable whisky, and that was my point. I just don’t think I would have titled it “peat monster” with the likes of Laphroaig and Ardbeg around. He seemed very displeased with me, so, I left. So I have no idea if any other compass box offering is any good and it will most likely be a long time before I find out.

I did have a good conversation with Jason LaRue of Interbev about their offerings of Balblair and Hankey Bannister. After some googling this morning I see that the HB has been around for awhile and I have to say it is a very good blend. The Balblair was a very pleasing whisky also.

I had a good time at this event, if it would have been longer I could have taken time to focus also on the Irish and American offerings but I tend to forget things if I get off track and decided against it. I did get a chance to talk to Catoctin Creek locals about their fine spirits and promised them a visit soon.

So if you are looking for a booze cruise I would recommend the Whisky Guild’s cruise which is in major cities in the States. They can be found at http://www.whiskyguild.com

Cheers!

The Balvenie 17 year releases – tasting notes

At the Nth in Las Vegas recently, I was in a Masterclass with The Balvenie Ambassadors. The gentlemen had scraped together their resources and brought us the entire 17 year line of Balvenie offerings. I have to say, although I have admired the marketing of Balvenie for some time I have never been one to try varieties of The Balvenie. That has changed.

We started the tasting with the Madeira Cask. At first, the Madeira Island is off of the coast of Africa. Not in Spain.

The nose offers up floral and fruits. The actual taste is a bit different, some plums, raisins, and cigar smoke. Confusing. Though this sounds heavy the finish was very light. Of all of the 17 this was the only one I have notes on as having a light finish.

Then we have the 17yr. Rum Cask. As you would expect, brown sugar, caramels, and bananas jump out of the glass. On the palate, bananas and I thought liquorice. It was a very different scotch offering for me, I’m sure some would really enjoy it, rum lovers come to mind.

I have a greater appreciation now for Olosoro Sherry wood. The 17yr Sherry Oak really shines with fruit. On the nose, Sherry wood, caramels, and creme brulee. On the tongue, I got caramels and again, bananas. Very fruity, very much a dessert type of scotch. This one really breaks the mold of what the average person thinks of as scotch.

And now, Oak, yes, American White Oak. It is a wonderful thing! The 17yr. New Oak is a real crowd pleaser in my eyes. Very light on the nose, and smooth, silky cream with slight smoke on the palate. I think that this is an easy introduction to scotch for a non-scotch drinker.

And for the record, I really like Bourbon. The 17yr. New Wood Balvenie really hits a bourbon drinker in the sweet spot. Having used bourbon barells for a considerate time. This spirit has a very sweet vanilla taste. I was told that possibly Jim Beam barrels were used. The finish left a nice butterscotch  and sugars on my tongue. I really like this one!

“And now for something completely different!” – MP.

The Balvenie 17yr. Islay Cask. (pause) yes, lets take Balvenie and let it rest in a Laphroaig cask. Brilliant! This is a hard to write about, but a wonderful peated scotch from Balvenie is a rare, and unusual thing. I have yet to get my hands on this one but will look for it. If you come across it try it. Or buy it. If you don’t like it, you can find a buyer, I promise.

Finally, a peated offering called Peated Cask. 17yr. and a bit lighter than the Islay cask. The Balvenie architects came up with a special peat rendering to develop this one. It has a traditional vanilla and smooth texture to it with a kick of peat. It is nice.

All seven of these Balvenie’s share a common DNA. That of Honey Sweetness, and of course the guidance of David Stewart. It should be noted that Balvenie is not owned by a corporation. They are family owned and enjoy that freedom. I am particularly fond of their traditional marketing and attention to detail in how they craft their whisky. I do entrust that they will continue their excellence.

As a side, The Balvenie is having a bit of a “road trip” through America with two ambassadors. You can find out more at their home page. I will probably post something exclusively about that event soon.

I would encourage you to explore these offerings and if you have any of them, you might want to secure  some more if you can. They are limited(hint).

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