Last week I had the pleasure of presenting a Whisky Tasting class to the members at West End Seniors Activity Centre here in Edmonton. An enthusiastic group of 22 people over 55 years old came out for the evening. Everyone said they enjoyed Scotch, so were out to learn about some whiskies they hadn't had a chance to taste.
After a short presentation about Scotch in general, it's history and how it's made, we reviewed the five regions and the characteristics of Scotches produced in each one, we finally got down to the serious business of actually tasting the selection I had brought.
One was a real surprise as it was not from Scotland! The other three were vastly different from each other and everyone had a good time tasting, discussing and trying each one neat and with a drop or two of water.
By the end of the evening, they told me all the whiskies I'd chosen were new to them and they felt more knowledgable about the style of whisky they liked and were pleased to have tried them. Afterall, it's hard to know just by looking at the nice tin, or interesting label on the store shelf what you'll be tasting. Learning about the styles of the 5 regions, the Alcohol by Volume ratio, whether it's smoky or peated, what kind of barrel it's been aged in, if it's single malt, or blend, really enlighted the group as to how they can choose more wisely when they shop.
Learning never gets old!
Here's what we tasted:
SUNTORY TOKI JAPANESE WHISKY 43% ABV $66.99
Suntory Whisky Toki is a blend of several of the House of Suntory Whisky’s whiskies. It is comprised of malt and grain whiskies from all three distilleries: Hakushu, Yamazaki, and Chita. A whisky must be aged at least three years to be considered a Scotch. So that means we at least know the Toki blend of scotch’s youngest scotch featured is three years old. The other blends could be much older and may differ from batch to batch. The grain whisky from the Suntory Chita distillery is utilized in the Toki. And finally, the Toki blend is finished with the addition of single malts from the Yamazaki distillery, which have also been aged, but in both American and Spanish oak.
Suntory whiskies released before their Toki focused on malt from the Yamazaki distillery as the main ingredient to highlight in their tasting profiles and mash bills. Toki on the other hand highlights the malt from the Hakushu distillery, which has been aged in American oak.
The nose on the Suntory Whisky Toki is so subtle, upon the first sniff, you could even say it isn’t there. This nose is quiet, but you do get a really lovely sense of the oak barrel with a very soft buttery creaminess on the end. Very enticing! Due to the color, I knew this would be a lighter whisky. And oh boy, is it light! I would not recommend a cube in your Toki, it could make you miss all the gentle nuances. The buttery nose comes through on the palate as well, with hints of surprising ginger and fruit. I get green apple quickly because soon that beautiful oakiness comes back. Overall, there is peatiness in this scotch, but it doesn’t overtake the whisky. The peatiness serves more as an element of the taste, not so much the main focus. To me, it is cigar smoke and leather, and it comes through more on the end of the palate and the finish than anywhere else. The finish is all spice and oak, then white pepper.
A great scotch for mixed cocktails.
CRAIGELLACHIE Speyside 13 Year old 46%ABV $79.99
One of the three official Craigellachie bottlings released in 2014, their 13 year old single malt Scotch whisky handsomely shows off the bold, robust character of the distillery's output, known for “Meatiness”. Oodles of dynamic fruit notes with a distinctive current of smoke running through the middle. Single malt Craigellachie hasn't been seen much outside of indie bottlings recently, so this is an ace return to our glasses from the distillery! Craigellachie 13 Year Old is drawn from ex-bourbon and ex-Sherry cask stock, and bottled without chill filtration at 46% ABV. Bottling at the upper end of the typical Scotch strength range (40-43-46%) helps contribute to its heft, and it’s the entry-level run of the Craigellachie line.
Craigellachie takes a pale straw cast in the glass. While one is looking at it, another quality comes right out of the glass and greets you, because the malt is very aromatic. The ex-bourbon barrel vanilla leads, but it’s firmly backed by cinnamon, sandalwood and dry wood. The flavor expands on that profile. The sweet side takes on a banana note; the spicy aspect continues to run strong with cinnamon and sandalwood; the dry end becomes leathery and takes on a tobacco note. The finish runs from the dryness, starting with leathery wood and tobacco, with the latter note fading first and leaving the wood to run on alone for a spell.
SCAPA THE ORCADIAN NAS (No Age Statement) 40%ABV $83.99
From The remote Orkney Islands off the North East coast of Scotland and distilled in one of the last remaining manually run 24 hour Lomond Still distilleries. The name comes from the Old Norse word for "glittering bright skies"... Honeyed and tropical, smooth and sweet, citrus and coastal heather. The whisky is matured in first fill American Oak Casks.
SMOKEHEAD HIGH VOLTAGE 58%ABV $87.99
Deeply rich and intensely peaty, this one hits all the senses with a rush of black smoke, creamy, nutty notes and a tangy sea salt finish. Smokehead High Voltage is explosive and reserved for those who go all out. No matter what others think. Salt and seaweed, smoky bacon, dense wood smoke and a heavy slab of peat. There’s no let up as dark chocolate and toasted biscuits hit with a near mouth-numbing finish to follow.
When taking a sip, you’ll notice right off the bat that this is a more oily and mouthfilling spirit than usual. There’s this immediate saline flavor as if you’re licking a slate rock on the seashore — salty, mineral umami flavor that really sets the tone for what follows. That smoke comes in next like an old seaside shack adding a layer of depth and complexity to the profile. After a few seconds, the bolder flavors start to subside and the other components make an appearance, adding some vanilla, caramel, toffee, and honey to the mix. The smoke never really subsides though, and that’s the flavor you taste long after the spirit is gone. Add ice and you lose the smoke.