I usually have a bottle of a Speyside or Highland in my rather cramped liquor cabinet for those gentler souls who prefer a whisky that’s milder than my usual suspects—all Island malts. I’ve always been a guy who liked BBQ, spicy Thai and Szechuan, hoppy beers–you get the idea. I go for big taste. So when I started engaging with whisky, I blew quickly through the Glenlivet and Glenfiddich 12-year offerings. They did not exactly turn on my taste buds, and for the cost ($50-ish a bottle where I live), that just was not going to cut it. My buds gravitated to the bigger, smokier and peatier tastes of the Island malts.
However, I recognize quality and consider The Macallan 12 a benchmark for well-made whisky. That’s a Speysider I keep around for guests who recoil at my Laphroaig and Ardbeg. When I’m in a calm mood I like a dram of the Mac and when I received a bottle of the Cardhu as a birthday gift this year, I was well impressed. This is crass of me to admit, but being a bit obsessed with cataloging my experiences, I checked out the price. About $42 locally, vs. mid $50 range for Macallan. A nice surprise.
When you see Aberlour’s A’Bunadh, it is quite obvious this is not your run-of-the-mill whisky: the deep tawny-red color is highlighted by a clear glass bottle, short with a high shoulder. The spirit is clear, and when backlighted has tones of polished oak, but when in shadow, the whisky looks like an alchemist’s reagent for making dragon blood. Or maybe it is dragon’s blood—it’s strong enough! Bottled typically around 60% (my bottling, #46, is at 60.4%), A’bunadh has enough kick to get anyone’s attention. This is a spirit to be approached with respect.
Tobermory is one of those was-mothballed, now-resuscitated distilleries which is now producing a high quality product. It’s considered an island distillery, being on the isle of Mull (north of Islay and Jura, south of Skye), but the style isn’t like what we think of as an island malt. It does not have the medicinal quality of a Talisker or Caol Ila, nor the peat of an Ardbeg, nor the smoke of a Laphroaig or Lagavulin. In fact, Tobermory reminds me of a Speyside or lowland malt (as we’ll see, this is no great surprise).
I just got back from a week in New York City – spent seven days tramping all over Manhattan Island, seeing the sights. We had fabulous weather and came home knackered every day. And yet, after the crowds, and with the noise and the time change, it was great to unwind with a nightcap at the hotel. We were spending major $$$ on a rarely indulgent vacation (food, shows, museums), so we bought a bottle of whisky at a local shop instead of heading to the hotel bar for a $15 cocktail. The pick for the week: Johnnie Walker Black Label. That whisky, for the few souls who have read through the reviews below, serves as a benchmark for me — a case of a mass-market product done consistently well. And in a week where we didn’t want to have to over-think our whisky, it was a natural choice. Good enough to feel we were still treating ourselves while reasonable enough in cost (though with that Manhattan tax, a bit spendy) to not kill our daytime budget. I had written of JW Black here that it had a nose of light peat, with honey, peaches and sherry notes. The palate I find fairly complex, repeating the peaches with a dash of vanilla, white pepper and earthy oak. I note a touch of watermelon as well. The finish is its weakness, as it is rather quick. You get some honey and oak tannins to balance. Bottom Line: JW Black is hard to beat for the price. It is $40 for 750 ml at home; we found a liter bottle for $62 in Manhattan – about 20% more expensive. Continue reading “Whisky and Words Number 7: Johnnie Walker Green and Black”