Putting untrained senses to work in a blind tasting of three spectacular drams.
By: Galen Mendez
Our table was quieter than usual; only three of us filled the space last Friday night. Victor, Juncong and Kris were missing – Victor, called upon to play his guitar at the micro-brewery, Prague; Juncong and Kris, were on holiday in Bangkok.
I write them in here, if only, because whisky benefits from the company of good friends and good friends have a tendency of getting very sore when the benefits of whisky are indulged in their absence.
Also, I thought it prudent to update them that our fine bottle of Auchentoshan 21 might have breathed its last that Friday – it must be said, bottling is just not quite what it used to be; for surely this bottle had evaporated with no assistance from those present (Arun, Ling and myself).
But enough foreplay, Arun and I were given the enviable task of sampling three drams (Ling, by a cruel twist of fate is adverse to all alcohol and further suffered the hampering effects of a cold). The nosing glasses were labelled as such: number 5, number 8 and the final one was without marking. Some background information – in the first tasting I ever participated in, I was able to identify a whopping one out of six whiskies. Arun fared phenomenally better – identifying three out of the six (I still believe he cheated). That was many moons ago… I’d trained hard in the downtime and this time things would be different.
Armed with first-timer trepidation and bolstered by an evaporated Auchentoshan, we took some water to clear our palates and sized up the three glasses.
My notes are as goes:
The number 5
In the glass the single malt was straw-gold and the tears that developed when I coated the sides of the glass formed readily. Bringing the whisky to the nose, there was little burn and flowers were immediately apparent in the fore. Following this was a fruit that I was hard pressed to cite – not citrus or apple, gentler, like passion fruit. Then the wood came up; the whole nose provided layer after layer and each time new scents crept in to throw me off.
Sipping, the fruit comes into the mouth, honeyed and gentle, without any of the prickle you’d find in, say, Talisker. The aftertaste was haunting like a highland and tapered at the end turning dry to leave the mouth feeling clean.
My first-blush impression: Glen Garioch 21, maybe?
The number 8
This one was considerably darker, a dark amber (at least in the available light). Slower tears hinted at a higher alcohol content, perhaps? The nose was powerful, but less complex than the number 5, the smell of wood thorough and sherried. There was also just a whiff of ripening fruit.
Straight forward and powerful, taken into the mouth, it felt heavy – an initial sweetness and thickness that rolled into a bitter almost chocolate. While the number 5 was coy, this dram was frank and in the after taste hid a peat that made me think of a less heavily peated Islay. I had wanted to shout Bowmore but am glad that I held myself in restraint.
In desperation: Bowmore, maybe a limited edition wine matured bottling?
The unnumbered monster
Just looking at the colour of the dram (I know that we shouldn’t judge age by colour) I felt I was in the presence of an esteemed older gentleman – Sean Connery in a glass. On the nose the wood was amazing. It felt like I had my snout on an incensed plank. Again like the number eight, this dram was powerful but it had more composure and was headier.
Sipping it this was more mellowed out than the number 8 but more confident than the number 5, again giving the distinct impression of being with a veteran. The second and third inhalations, brought out liquorice, and charred maple syrup. Beautiful and buttery.
The after taste of this dram was colossal. Having had two other drams prior, this unnumbered monster had no problems throwing everything else out of my mouth and stomping everything out of my mind. Like a balm, the heat spread out across my chest to be matched only by the smile that stretched out across my chops.
Last gasp attempt: To be honest, I’d never tasted a single malt remotely like this one.
Tasting done – I had identified nothing but was a fan of all three, my favourite going to number 5 for its complexity, second up would be the unnumbered one for its character, strength and un-assumed class.
Khoon Hui, graciously listened to my uneducated ramble and revealed the distillery – Glenglassaugh: A Highland distillery that borders the Speyside region; this distillery was mothballed in 1986 following an economic downturn but was purchased by an independent group of investors and opened again in 2008.
The number 5 came from a 1975 cask, bottled at 43.4%; and the number 8 came from a 1983 cask, bottled at a massive 56%. Both these casks were reused sherry casks and Glenglassaugh’s keeps its tradition of bottling at cask strength and refraining from chill-filtering.
The unnumbered monster was a 1973 first-use cask.
None of the three are currently available at the whisky store for purchase, but this is going to be rectified mighty soon – we wait in eager anticipation.