Wednesday, 25 August 2010

WS#5: Summer Whiskies

For August's Whisky Squad, we wanted to focus on summer favourites - malts for lighter evenings. To help things along we were privileged to be joined by Colin Dunn, from Diageo (pictured above with the Squad), who led the session with tons of whisky knowledge and bags of pizzazz. The six whiskies we tasted (two more than usual) were specially selected by Colin as examples of bottles he liked to pull off the shelf on summer evenings. The drinking was interspersed with enlightening anecdotes, practical wisdom, and life-affirming quotations from Hunter S Thompson.

Dimple 1890
40%. A rare edition of an old blend, including some Glenkinchie and Linkwood.
Nose: Oak, honey.
Taste: Sweet vanilla, spicy with a long finish.

Port Dundas, Duncan Taylor bottling

59.3%. Single grain whisky from the recently closed Glasgow distillery. 32-year-old (distilled Jan 1973, bottled Feb 2005). Single barrel, sherry cask.
Nose: Sweet, bourbon, sherry, milk chocolate, maple syrup, glue.
Taste: Chewy cola bottles (the ones dipped in sugar), a little tart. Rich and bourbon-like. Pairs well with Crunchie bar.

Johnnie Walker Double Black
40%. A new blend - released only three months ago - but not yet available in the UK. Contains more Islay whisky (Lagavulin, Caol Ila) than the standard expression. Matured in deep-charred old oak casks.
Nose: Peanut butter, slight smoke.
Taste: Smooth, slightly peaty.

62.3%. From the Lowland distillery closed in 1983, and since replaced by a block of flats and a Beefeater restaurant. 20-year-old, distilled in 1981.
Nose: Honey, lemony, perfumed, floral.
Taste: Pepper, nuttiness.

Dalwhinnie Distillers Edition
Dalwhinnie, which means "meeting place" in Gaelic, is the highest distillery in Scotland. The standard 15-year-old was the first single malt I ever tried, some years ago. This one, at 43%, and 17 years old, having spent an additional couple of years in Oloroso sherry casks.
Nose: Fudge.
Tatse: Oily, spicy raisin, sweet.

Glenkinchie Distillers Edition
43%. 15-year-old, with time spent in Amontillado sherry casks.
Nose: Honey, coconut, vanilla.
Taste: Nutty, sherry-style, Ferrero Rocher.

Those were the whiskies, in brief. For a fuller explanation, head over to the increasingly learn-ed Billy's Booze Blog, where all will become clearer. Among many whisky insights shared by Colin over the course of the evening, the most exciting revelation, for me, was that it's ok to drink whisky with ice and water. Having been told persistently in the past that ice dulls the flavours and water dilutes the essence, I was persuaded to try a couple of the above drams with both, and was pleasantly surprised by the effects. Yes, of course some of the intensity was lost, but what was gained was a cooler, longer and more refreshing drink; more aromatic and still unmistakably whisky. Apparently that's how the Japanese like it and, in summer, why not?

Not all Colin's suggestions worked for me. Holding a swig of whisky in my mouth for 10, 15, even 20 seconds, in an attempt to maximise the flavour, seemed to me the equivalent of injecting heroin into one's eyeball. But others seemed to take to it.

We weren't sure what to expect when we chose summer whiskies as our theme, but I'm glad we did, and I predict future sessions - once we've gone through the main whisky-producing regions, at least - may try to recapture such off-piste unorthodoxy. Special and extended thanks to Colin Dunn, whose legend lives on.

Colin whisky fact: In 2000, 98% of whisky went into blends. In 2010, the proportion is now down to 92% - and shrinking - as single malts march onwards.

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