Scotch Tasting

Scotch TastingThe spirit is known as Scotch. In most people’s first encounter with the elixir, they are often amazed at the potent, earthy flavor. As the palate is trained to accept the spirit, you find out why it is such a compelling and alluring whisky. It is decidedly different from its counterparts, bourbon and Canadian and American whiskey. Scotch’s earthy flavors are historical and legendary. Originally known as uisge beatha, or “water of life,” the first recorded reference to Scotch was found in the Scottish Exchequer Rolls of 1494. The history of Scotch is truly remarkable and well worth the read.

The essentials of making Scotch are surprisingly simple; however, the process and outcome are not. All Scotch producers use similar processes bronze gamma award winner 2012to malt, mash, ferment, and distill the spirit but that’s where the similarities end. Geography, water, barrels used in the maturation, aging, and blending, among other things, all factor into the process. Each distillery has its specialties and traditions, which in some cases have been honored through centuries.

I have tasted a small assortment of the Scotches available, most of them single malts with a few extraordinary blends. They were all tasted in exactly the same manner. I chose a Pinot Noir glass by Riedel to give me the optimum access to the aroma. The nose was examined “straight” at room temperature (72°F). The flavor was tasted with a wee bit of pure filtered water (Evian for this tasting) to release the oils and extract the true flavors. I feel water is critical for tasting Scotch; it gives the Scotch a chance to open and it hides the burn, which can mask the true flavors.

I hope you try some of these interesting Scotches if you have not had the opportunity, and expand and diversify your Scotch lists for today’s educated and discerning customers.

Scotch Tasting

Editor’s Choice

Scotch: Bunnahabhain 12 Year Old
Supplier: International Beverage Company
Notes: Bunna 12, for short, is 92.6 proof. This is a un-chill-filtered spirit. Bunnahabhain distillery has sat proudly on the northern shore of Islay (pronounced eye-la) for over 130 years, quietly making a distinctly gentle Islay single malt Scotch whisky. Bunnahabhain’s gentle taste is so unique because they have never heavily peated their fine malted barley. The natural spring water source for Bunnahabhain has run clear for over 100 years and the sea-facing warehouses provide the perfect environment for maturing the spirit.
Nose: Rich and pronounced with notes of roasted nuts and dark chocolate. Very nice!
Taste: It starts with the rich ruby color enticing your taste buds. The result is as good as it looks. This Islay Scotch is rich and luxurious, with light smoked vanilla, tropical fruits, and deep woodsy flavors. Complex is an understatement with this whisky. The finish is soft and mellow, with flavors migrating around the palate. Extraordinary; a must try!

Scotch: Glenfiddich 12 Year Old
Suplier: William Grant and Sons
Notes: 80 proof. This single malt is matured in Oloroso sherry and bourbon casks. The distillery was built by William Grant and his children in 1886.
Nose: Soft and fragrant. A bit of fresh pine forest. The sherry casking shows through. After a few minutes it settles into smooth oak and pear aromas.
Taste: Well-balanced, fresh and creamy mouth-feel with rich fruit and just a hint of peatiness. Very nice. A great value in a Highland single malt Scotch.

Scotch: Glenfiddich 15 Year Old
Supplier: William Grant and Sons
Notes: 80 proof. This Scotch is matured in three different oak casks of sherry, bourbon, and new oak before being married in a unique, handcrafted Oregon pine Solera vat. Year after year, this Solera vat is never emptied but is always kept at least half-full, creating a deliciously harmonious and intense whisky that gets more complex and intriguing every year.
Nose: Right up front you get a spicy, honeyed aroma. The perfect balance of wood shows through nicely.
Taste: Elegant and rich; gently spicy with a tropical fruit in the background and finish. Its finish is long, really long, and dances on the back of the palate for minutes. A well-made Scotch. Excellent.

Scotch: Glenfiddich 18 Year Old
Suplier: William Grant and Sons
86 proof. Glenfiddich 18 Year Old is produced in small, individually-numbered batches. The flavors of the Spanish Oloroso wood and traditional American casks used in production are married as the Scotch ages in wooden tuns for at least three months. This allows all the rich, mellow flavors to come together. Each batch is unique and is of an extraordinary quality.
Caramel and vanilla in an airy spice. The Oloroso sherry wood shines through in perfect balance.
A robust flavor full of caramel and soft vanilla spices. Fruit tones include baked apples and a bit of orange zest to me. Elegant and refined. Excellent.

Scotch Tasting


Scotch: Balvenie Doublewood 12 Year Old
Supplier: William Grant and Sons
Notes: 86 proof. This single malt gains its distinctive character from being matured in two woods. Over the period of maturation, it is transferred from a traditional oak whisky cask to a first-fill European oak sherry cask. Each stage lends different qualities to the resulting single malt: the traditional casks soften and add character, whilst the sherry wood brings depth and fullness of flavor.
Nose: Rich caramel with honey and vanilla. It increased in the first few minutes. The wood and nuances blend perfectly to give this Scotch an amazing nose!
Taste: Smooth, rich, and spicy with a caramel, nutty character. The two-wood treatment adds balance and depth to the spirit. Excellent!

Scotch: Balvenie Portwood 21 Year Old
Suplier: William Grant and Sons
Notes: 86 proof. The Balvenie Portwood, aged 21 years, is a marriage of rare Balvenie Scotch’s. It is transferred to port casks or pipes that have held fine port wines. Here it is sampled regularly by the Balvenie Malt Master to ensure that just the right amount of character is imparted by the port casks, enhancing and developing the single malt whilst preserving its original characteristics.
Nose: Rich and subtle with a little nuttiness. Refined with just a hint of the Portwood to balance everything out.
Taste: Very smooth and rich with soft vanilla and almond flavors. It finishes with a spicy, honeyed flavor. This is a well-made, refined sipping Scotch that should be on every list. Excellent.

Scotch: Glen Garioch 12 Year Old
Supplier: SKYY Spirits
Notes: 96 proof. The Glen Garioch (pronounced Geery) Distillery was founded in 1797. The Garioch is a tract of fertile land of about 150 square miles. The town of Oldmeldrum, where the distillery stands, is on the eastern border of this area. This Scotch is aged in American bourbon and Spanish sherry casks.
Nose: Sweet citrusy high notes to start, with floral and light oak to follow.
Taste: Sweet, rich vanilla with a nice touch of the bourbon oak showing through. The finish has a spike of flavor in the rear palate for you to remember it by. Very nice, well-made Scotch.

Scotch: Glenfarclas 17 Year Old
Suplier: Sazerac
Notes: 86 proof. Glenfarclas is a 6th generation family-owned distillery.
Nose: Rich, oaky, with a butterscotch blast. Full-bodied and malty.
Taste: Its rich color matches its flavor. Bold and exciting. The sweet sherry flavor blends perfectly with the wood effects and caramel flavors. Finishes long and lush. Very nice.

Scotch Tasting

Scotch: Glenfarclas 40 Year Old
Supplier: SKYY Spirits
Notes: 92 proof. Since 1865 Glenfarclas has been owned and managed by just one family, the Grants of Glenfarclas. On the 8th of June 1865, John Grant acquired the tenancy for the Rechlerich Farm and as part of the transaction, he purchased the Glenfarclas Distillery for a little more than £511. To this day Glenfarclas is one of only a few distilleries in Scotland to remain family-owned and managed.
Nose: The dark color sets you up for the expectation of the elegant and complex nose of soft leather and dark chocolate.
Taste: Soft yet bold in flavor with complex layers of caramel, orange zest, and tiramisu. The extended finish bathes you in Scotch luxury. Extraordinary!

Scotch: The Dalmore 81 Amoroso Finesse
Suplier: Shaw-Ross
Notes: The Dalmore Distillery has been producing exceptional single malt whisky since 1839. The Dalmore 1981 is an extremely limited offering of 484 bottles. The malt has been aged for 26 years in American white oak bourbon casks, then finished with two additional years in Amorosa butts (a butt is a 108-gallon barrel) from the sherry house of Gonzalez Byass.
Nose: The nose is slightly woody with a tingly, minty character, giving way to a bit of nutmeg and almonds. A generally feminine experience.
Taste: Clean and fresh entrance with a distinct tingle in the mid-palate that disseminates quickly and gives way to a semi-sweet, slightly smoky, moderate finish. I would have expected a much bolder flavor from this Scotch, considering its time in white oak. Very nice.

Scotch: The Dalmore Cigar Malt
Supplier: Shaw-Ross
Notes: Matured in 70% Oloroso sherry wood and 30% American bourbon white oak. Bottling this Scotch at 44% alcohol, Dalmore is striving to create the perfect complement to a fine cigar.
Nose: Decidedly different. Top note aromas include intense cinnamon, cloves, light caramel, and roasted almonds.
Taste: The start is soft and creamy, and remains throughout with a rear palate rush of flavor. Never over-steps its bounds. It is slightly one-dimensional to me. Pleasing, but maybe it needs a cigar to set it off. Tasted twice.

Scotch: MacKinlay’s Rare Old Highland Malt Whiskey
Suplier: Shaw Ross
Notes: A re-creation of the original malt shipped to Antarctica in 1907 by Shackleton to fortify his Nimrod expedition. He left three cases under his hut when he departed due to inclement weather and they were found nearly one hundred years later! To really understand this whisky’s heritage and re-creation, you MUST view the video It’s a great story!
Nose: An elegant, softly-peated aroma with notes of oak and smoke. Extraordinary!
Taste: Spicy, full-bodied, with just the right amount of peat and oak. A multifaceted treat of flavors with a lovely, long-lasting finish. A must for any Scotch list of depth. Extraordinary!


Scotch Review

Honorable Mention

Scotch: Bowmore 10 Year Old Tempest release #2
Supplier: SKYY Spirits
Notes: 112 proof. Inspired by the violent gales and tempests that wage war on its weather-beaten distillery, Bowmore introduces the second in a series of small batch releases from the first distillery on the magical island of Islay. The Scotch is aged for a decade in first-fill bourbon casks below sea level in the dark cellars of the legendary No. 1 vaults.
Nose: A nose-tingling, zesty combination of peat and sea salt with a lemony edge.
Taste: A great example of an Islay Scotch. Sea salt, pepper, and lemon layered in a complex, well-crafted Scotch. The finish may be the best part, changing personalities as it dissipates slowly, very, very, slowly. Extraordinarily outstanding!

Scotch: Bowmore 12 Year
Supplier: SKYY Spirits
Notes: 80 proof. Founded over two centuries ago in 1779, Bowmore is the first recorded distillery on Islay and one of the oldest in the whole of Scotland. Islay malts are renowned for their peaty smokiness and Bowmore is no exception.
Nose: Peaty and smoky.
Taste: Earthy peat, sea salt, and some iodine. The finish is a bit short but the whole experience of this seaside malt is unique. Very nice.

Scotch: Auchentoshan Classic
Supplier: SKYY Spirits
Notes: 80 proof. With just two Lowland distilleries left in production, I felt the need to taste one. Auchentoshan is triple distilled, according to them, the only distillery in Scotland to do this. The Classic is a new entry to the stable, cured in bourbon casks with no age statement.
Nose: The light honey colored spirit has aromas of vanilla and coconut. Light and airy.
Taste: Sweet vanilla and coconut. Yes, coconut, it’s the only time I’ve really got that sensation. It finishes minty and pleasant, while slightly abbreviated. A great Scotch for summer sipping . Fresh, clean and crisp.

Scotch: Bowmore 15 Year Old
Suplier: SKYY Spirits
Notes: 86 proof. Bowmore is nestled on the shores of Loch Indaal on the Inner Hebridean Isle of Islay.
Nose: Much different than its 12 year old cousin. Still earthy, but much fruitier.
Taste: Warm with medium peat. Slightly salty, with mature fruit and a well-rounded complexity. The finish is still a bit abbreviated, but very soothing.


Scotch Tasting


Scotch: Cardhu 12 Year Old
Supplier: Diageo
Notes: Speyside single malt. With roots back to 1811, Cardow, as it was known then, was sold to John Walker and Sons in 1893. To settle a long source of confusion, the name was changed to Cardhu in 1981. It is still an important part of the Johnnie Walker blends.
Nose: Bold and tingly to the nose. Honey and fruit aromas accent the cereal and wood.
Taste: Smooth and elegant on the entry. Spicy with a touch of smoke. The finish is long and satisfying. A well made complex flavored Scotch.

Best Blend

Scotch: Dewar’s 12 (Blend)
Suplier: Bacardi
Notes: 80 proof. John Dewar was born near the town of Aberfeldy, where the distillery is located today. His two sons, John Alexander and Tommy, took the whisky to its next level. John, the older, quiet one, was a focused businessman and worked to build the brand in Scotland and built the Aderfeldy distillery in 1898. Tommy, the younger son, full of charm and charisma, was the promoting and advertising mind, setting the standard for whisky promotion. Between the two, Dewar’s grew to a famous brand around the world. Today, Stephanie Macleod is the 7th Master Blender in their 160-year history. Her striking blue eyes and auburn hair are just the façade to her abilities as a sensory analyst, blender, and maturation specialist.
Nose: A complex balanced nose of what is all good about Scotch. While not one single aroma protrudes from the lovely vapors, I would say fresh apple pie, honey, and a bit of toffee are present.
Taste: One taste of Dewar’s 12 will explain its popularity. It surrounds your palate with combined flavors including a touch of citrus, sultanas, oak, and a wisp of smoke. It finishes long with a spice cabinet flavor that seems to go on forever. It could be one of the most superbly-balanced whiskies I’ve ever had. Extraordinary.

Scotch: Black Bottle (Blend)
Supplier: International Beverage Company
Notes: 80 proof. Black Bottle is a blend of Islay Scotches; it captures the very essence of Islay in an artful marriage of all seven of the island’s classic malts alongside some of the finest grain available.
Nose: Right off, you would think this was a single malt, with its finite nose and a wee touch of the iodine and sea salt so typical in Islay malts.
Taste: A bold beginning gives way to a pleasant, round flavor of nut, barley, and toasted oak. A bit of peat is detectable but blends perfectly with the harmonious taste. A very different blend. It was my first time trying it – but not the last! Very good.

Scotch: Johnnie Walker Black 12 Year Old (Blend)
Suplier: Diageo
Notes: Johnnie Walker Black became simply “Black Label” in 1909. The long history of the brand goes back to the 1820’s. It is said that up to 40 malts and grain whiskies make up the Black Label blend.
Nose: Rich and full aromas of honeyed malt and a touch of citrus zest.
Taste: The honeyed malt shows through with a complex rich flavor that surrounds the palate with a wisp of smoke. The finish is long and luxurious, as expected from this fine blended Scotch. Superb.