Scotch whisky drinkers and wine drinkers tend to overlap, especially when single malt Scotch is involved. The folks that appreciate finely made and aged wine are many times the same folks who also appreciate those same qualties in Scotch. At a recent Scotch tasting, sponsored by Gomer’s Midtown, you could find wine lovers crossing over for the night as well as two fisted Scotch drinkers, including one in a kilt! But their purpose was the same: to taste some wee drams of Scotch Whisky from the Highlands and the Islands made under the umbrella of Burn Stewart Distillers (one of the few not owned by some multi-national wine and spirits conglomerate).
While tasting Scotch is always interesting and educational, it was even more so that evening because master distiller Ian MacMillan was in the house, giving a history lesson and spinning stories in his Scottish brogue. But on to the drams.
*Deanston Virgin ($34.99): A new whisky from Deanston, it’s not chill filtered, so right away you get a blast of scotch flavors that are almost raw and a little green. Orange peel, fruit and barrel spice flavors grip the palate though the alcohol tend to over shadow all. However, coming back to it later in the tasting, many other aroma and flavor elements were apparent. Given time in the glass and dosed with a little water, this was much more interesting.
*Deanston 12 year old ($56.99): This Deanston seemed like the quintessential Highland single malt.The sweet nose of citrus and honey was immediately inviting. Low on the peaty factor, the orange peel, brown sugar and honey notes stood out. Though not complex, it was bright, sunny and very tasty, finishing up with spicy honeyed notes.
*Tobermory 10 year old ($37.99): From the island of Mull, this single malt shows some smoke on the nose with a hint of sweetness, though it seemed very “scotchy” and the alcohol was perhaps too prominent. Rich, clean and sweet flavors came through with a bit of dark coffee tang. The finish was a bit on the medicinal side.
*Tobermory 15 year old ($123.99): A big step up here for Tobemory. Very honeyed nose with marmalade, toffee, fig, smoke and, yes, a dash of white pepper. Spice, chocolate, toffee, citrus and roasted nuts on the palate plus some sherry shadings from being aged in Oloroso sherry casks. The finish is deep, long and very nutty. As with the above Tobermory, this bottling is not filtered. “Don’t take out, with a filter, what it took fifteen years to develop,” remarked MacMillan.
*Bunnahabhain 12 year old ($54.99): An Islay Scotch, the aromas are of smoke, sea salt and elevated levels of peat. But plenty of light fruit and nutty flavors show up, giving it a lovely taste and mouth feel. It doesn’t hide the peat or the seaside character but it coalesced into a real malty sweetness with everything in balance. A little added water seemed to make it more buttery and well rounded.
*Bunnahabhain 18 year old ($116.99): Just more aromatics in this older dram, from the extra time spent in barrels: salt air tang, smoke, toffee, creme brulee and roasted nuts. The flavors are dry and the palate attack is balanced with a fine cut of fruit and spice, as well as smoke and sea salt. Twelve years in sherry barrels give it a certain sweetness and a spicy fade to the finish. A cigar smoker’s Scotch.
*Ledaig 10 year old ($50.49): Peat, peat and more peat on the nose. In between the peat, there are hints of wood smoke and licorice. After the initial taste shock it seems both sweet and smoky (plenty of heavily malted barley). Perhaps as in your face as a young Island single malt gets, it’s an acquired taste. A little water in the glass tames some of the wildness and makes it less medicinal that other peat monsters.
*Black Bottle ($19.99): This is a blended Scotch that includes malts from every Island distillery except one. It starts with a great nose, not that pungent, that shows some sweetness (green apples?) right away. It’s smooth and sophisticated in the mouth though not without some traditional peat and smoke character; it hits all the right notes in a golden sweet and spicy spot on mid palate. This bottling has more power and smokiness than other blends; it’s more robust and lively and the subtle notes of peat make it that much more complex. If your house pour is Chivas Regal or the like, you’ll be trading up with Black Bottle for dollars less.
*Mrs. Walker’s Drumgray Highland Cream Liqueur ($29.99): Similarly if you’re a Bailey’s irish Creme fan, this will knock you out. That’s because Drumgray utilizes five year old Deanston single malt in the mix instead of a homogenous Irish whisky. You can actually taste the Scotch as well as the double cream. And isn’t that the point? Coffee and cream after dinner anyone? In fact, distiller MacMillan says he knows folks who pour it on their porridge in the morning.
Gomer’s Midtown sponsors free beer, wine and spirits tastings on a regular basis. Get on their e-mail list for future events.