Water of Life Society (WoLS) meeting 23/01/2014
Breaking Down the Blend
Thursday 23rd January saw the re-commencement of meetings of the University of Edinburgh’s Water of Life Society at the Potterow Dome in Edinburgh. The focus of this meeting was “to take a well known blend and sup it alongside some of its constituent parts to see if we could identify what effect those fine and distinctive flavours have on the resulting concoction.”. The blend selected was Johnnie Walker Black Label, reviewed previously here.
Johnnie Walker Black Label 12 Years Old
40% ABV, £25 for 70cl
Earthy and peaty hints, carnauba wax and furniture polish, polished leather, faint savoury [woodland] honey undernotes
Waxy and oily in the mouth this has the faintest of peat prickles and a real fullness of flavour, the woodland honey returns with anise and nutmeg spices
Short, waxy then herbal vapours and hint of struck matches
Next for the (possible, or at least a simile of the) constituent parts:
Cameronbridge 1989, 24 Years Old Small Batch Single Grain Whisky – William Cadenhead
46% ABV, £60 for 70cl, 618 bottles
Butterscotch, lime leaves and digestive biscuits / sweet esters, flowery perfume and toffee popcorn
Honey and toffee sweets with bread dough and milk chocolate / Sweet, biscuity, more toffee popcorn and sweetcorn
A touch of aniseed, orange blossom and pears / short and sickly sweet
Okay, so there isn’t actually going to be 24 year old bourbon barrel matured single grain whisky in JW, however the grain whisky in JW likely does come from the Cameron Bridge Distillery and is more likely to be 12 years old (and possibly not a day more!). This 24 Year Old bottled by Cadenhead’s is actually one of the best drams of single grain whisky I have had. Unfortunately however it was severely lacking in character and body found in single malts, and distinctly gave me the impression it had been made mostly from corn or maize?
Cardhu 12 Years Old
40% ABV, £30 for 70cl
Golden honey / Gold
At full strength, heady, nose prickle, pear drops and tightly integrated
heather, resin and sweet honey-nut notes. Enticing. Intriguing. With a little
water, still harmonious but less pronounced, allowing some malt-cereal, soft,
spicy wood, moorland and faint traces of wood-smoke to appear. / Sweet honey and heather
Palate Well balanced, smooth mouthfeel; short punch, sweet and fresh, then a
pronounced drying effect. Enjoyable at any time, with little or no water. / Honey sweetness not overly-complicated and very silky smooth in the mouth
Quite short. Some lingering sweet smoke in the attractive, drying aftertaste. / Short and sweet
Producing about 3.4 million litres of spirit per annum, the majority of Cardhu goes into blends such as the UK’s best selling blend, Johnnie Walker Red Label. A little may find its way into JW Black Label also. Cardhu distillery is the spiritual home of Johnnie Walker and the 3rd distillery we ever visited. Cardhu is infamous in Spain and were it not in Scotland would probably be declared Spain’s home single malt. As a result of the few percent distillate each year that isn’t blended being shipped directly to Spain, Cardhu was little known as a single malt in the UK up until fairly recently. Cardhu distillery also caused a little controversy by meeting demand with bottlings labelled ‘Pure Malt’ implying it had been mixed with malt from other distilleries. Later this was switched to ‘Single Malt’ though perhaps with little difference in flavour, sparking huge debate over the labelling and provenance of Single Malts. Thankfully today this furore has died down and been long forgotten – hence it’s reappearance on UK supermarket shelves perhaps?
Mortlach 16 Years Old Flora and Fauna
43% ABV, £42.99 for 70cl (while stocks last)
Luxurious golden brown
Floral, sweet molasses and hints of treacle, soft leathery sherry notes with hints of clove
Fruity and juicy prunes and sultanas backed by a slight fresh spearmint, deep toffee and fudge sweetness, a little herbal notes of cinnamon and nutmeg and some faint rubberyness may come through from the sherry but is often masked by the meaty full-bodied complexity and almost-cloying sweetness, liquid Christmas pudding!
Long and distinguished, rich sweet sherried fruits and toffee notes linger, occasionally a freshening hint of fresh mint leaf
Nom nom nom! One of my absolute favourite whiskies and up until recently was reasonably widely available at sensible prices. In light of the changing production and marketing of Mortlach this expression is sadly soon to disappear. I only hope that one of the new expressions is simply a re-bottling of this one! The sherried character of Mortlach is reflected in both the colour and one of the major flavour elements of JW back label. As to whether any Mortlach actually makes it into the blend I am unsure, but would suspect it is the barest minimum to help derive that flavour and not a drop more!
Lagavulin 16 Years Old
43% ABV, £50 for 70cl
Muddy golden brown
Deep peaty smoke and sherry aromas fight this one out, a little sea spray, seaweed and iodine with hints of spice, leather and an almost out-of-place fruity aroma
Strong peat smoke bellows out across the tongue but is rapidly joined with sweet raisins and fig jam, woody oak and a little vanilla, cinnamon and nutmeg spice, this is a thick syrupy dram
No it doesn’t; this goes on forever with deep smoky peat, rich fruity sherry and woody oak
Lagavulin has a huge reputation as one of the most powerful of the Islay Malts, though it does have to contend with its nearest neighbours Ardbeg and Laphroaig, both of which are no small Peat-Monsters themselves. The presumption is that JW Black Label derives its slightly odd earthy peatiness from Lagavulin. I suspect that if there is Lagavulin in JW Black Label then there is at least an equal amount of Caol Ila if not more! Bear in mind Lagavulin produced only 2.45 million litres of alcohol per annum compared to Caol Ila’s mighty 6.5 million, plus add in the premium price and huge reputation and following Lagavulin has. These minor details would suggest that more Lagavulin should end up as Single Malt bottlings in the Duty Free shop, or even shipped directly to the U.S. where it is hugely popular. Thanks in part to the quote from Johnny Depp who famously stated that “I don’t drink hard liquor anymore, but I sometimes order Lagavulin just for the smell.”. hmmm Eau-du-Depp…
Thanks to the WoLS committee for organising a great evenings tasting, especially for finding 5 bottles of Mortlach for us to drain! Big thanks to Richard, Sam and Josef for keeping us topped up and entertained for the evening. Thanks also to Christy for obtaining the Cameronbridge 1989. Cheers!