03/10/2013 saw the 2nd tasting events for Edinburgh University’s Water of Life Society (WoLS). The theme for the evening was the exception to the rule. Turning the premise of their first tasting session [Water of Life Society Tasting Event #1 Tour of the Regions] on its head and revealing the counter-character of some whiskies which are diametrically opposed to the standard whiskies of their region.
The session started in the Islands region with the Scapa 16 Years Old, an Orcadian whisky which is sweet and gentle and about as far from the Highland Park Norse warrior smashing your tastebuds in as you can get. This was a great starter whisky, golden, smooth and pleasingly flavoured with chocolate, toffee, fudge, butterscotch and vanilla. The finish was medium length and carried on these smooth and creamily pleasant flavours.
Then onto Islay for their least peated malt the Bunnahabhain 12 Years Old, with a character more akin to some of the other Island whiskies than those from Islay. Previously reviewed on The Whiskyphiles here: Bunnahabhain 12 year old . Strangely enough I expected this to be just as well received and as smooth as the last, however many of the girls didn’t like this one? For me, after the Scapa I was picking up much more of the fizzy oak in this than usual. I think the drying oak wood elements were not completely to everyone’s taste. It is funny how context can alter your perception of a dram, still I enjoyed this as much as I usually do at least.
A short hop back into the mainland and the Lowlands region with the Auchentoshan Heartwood with its strong sherry cask influence more reminiscent of a fruity Speyside whisky than a typical lowlander. The Heartwood was the only darker coloured dram of the evening [proving colour isn’t everything when judging how whiskies may taste], the Heartwood is made up from Bourbon and Oloroso Sherry cask maturations. The result was a pleasing sweet, fruity, nutty whisky but sadly an offensive, burnt latex rubber finish which was slightly overpowering. The finish reminded me of overchewed bubble-gum that had lost all of its artificial flavours. A few members resorted to adding water which only killed the more pleasing flavours, I personally just kept dramming to keep the sweet up-front flavours prominent. This was possibly the least favoured whisky of the session. Plus by now, the newer members of the tasting group were really starting to appreciate how diverse whisky can be.
Next we double-back to Japanbeltown for the Yoichi 10 Years Old. Actually manufactured in Nikka’s Yoichi distillery in Hokkaido, Japan [exceptional by being not in Scotland] by keen distillers who travelled to Campbeltown to learn how to make their malt. This knowledge was then transported back to Japan and used to craft the best whisky that never came from Campbeltown. This whisky was incredibly well balanced with oaky, malty cereal flavours, a hint of smoke, a pinch of salt and a short finish that left you wondering what you had just tasted. Almost too perfect for me, this was the easiest drinker all-round.
And finally to Tomintoul in Speyside to try the antithesis of speyside whisky – Old Ballantruan ‘The Peated Malt’. This no-age statement, heavily-peated malt arrives at 50% ABV and hits you like a steam train straight off of Islay. This had oodles of peat smoke but was also sweet like dry roasted peanuts with hints of cereal flavours. The finish was long, sweet and peaty and I found it very enjoyable as this was fire in a glass but with no harshness to it. The overriding flavour was frazzles [salty, smoky bacon flavour corn snacks]. This week the peat-freaks had turned, opting for the Yoichi, I however really enjoyed this one, possibly having recently reviewed the Tomintoul 10 Year Old I really appreciated the elegant poise of both the peated malt and Speyside elements complexing in this.
As usual big thanks to Sean, Christy and the rest of the WoLS crew for keeping us drammed up. Big thanks also for the team of taste-testers this week, the girls; Ailbhe, Emma and Laura and the guys; Andrew, Anuj, Calum and myself for all their thoughts and opinions on the evenings whiskies. Personally I went back for another Scapa while the rest opted for the Yoichi [which is probably what I should have gone for myself!], proving that the best Scotch of the evening was Japanese – hence the exception to the rule!
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