|OUR SCOTCH AND IRISH WHISKIES SPEED TASTING GAVE US A TASTE OF WHERE IT ALL BEGAN: THE OLD WORLD
Set in a modern, urban San Francisco tavern called Bar Agricole, our panel of speed tasters sipped and conferred with each other and the men and women who represent the classic spirits of Scotland and Ireland. Each of these palate-warming favorites has a unique back story, as well as a distinct flavor character. After a 15-minute date-and-dram with each whisk(e)y, we put pen to paper to come up with our notes. Here, the panel comments on some of their favorites.
Our Speed Tasters: (seated) David Driscoll, Spirits Buyer, K&L; on his right, Meridith May, Publisher/Executive Editor, THE TASTING PANEL; (back left) Erik Adkins, Bar Manager, The Slanted Door & Heaven’s Dog, San Francisco; Deborah Parker Wong, Northern California Editor, THE TASTING PANEL; Thad Vogler, Owner/Mixologist for Bar Agricole; and Matthew Stuhl, Regional Director of F&B Operations, Joie de Vivre Hotel Group.
Steve Beal is a Senior Master of Whisk(e)y.
“There’s a 13th-century reference to the production of Bushmills,” says Stephen Beal, Senior Master of Whisk(e)y for Diageo. With credentials dating that far back, there’s no doubt that the Irish claimed the first stake on the brown spirit. The original Bushmills blend combines grain whiskies and malted barley (60/40), but it’s the use of pot stills that makes the age-dated malt versions of this whiskey distinct.
Today, Bushmills is made in the same method and location that’s made it famous for the past 400 years, and we have a feeling this is one spirit of excellence that will stick around for centuries to come.
Our Panel Votes: Bushmills 10 Year Old: This triple distilled, 100% malted barley, aged in bourbon seasoned barrels had our panel talking! (SRP $46) “Light, fruity note of fleshy pears. Light and lovely; I am surprised how much I like this whiskey.”
“Classic Irish: sweet grains on the nose, light and fruity with a richness on the finish.” —David Driscoll
Bushmills 16 Year Old: Aged in Oloroso Sherry and seasoned bourbon casks, its 16th birthday has the spirit finished in ruby port casks. (SRP $75) “Aromatic grapey aromas with roasted nuts, spices and raisined fruit. Elegant finish.” —Deborah Parker Wong
Bushmills 21 Year Old: This is a triple-wood whiskey: Madeira, sherry and bourbon casks lend it extra character. (SRP $125) “Copper colored, peach-pie flavors and a nice brightness with a touch of sweet.” —Matt Stuhl
A retro, traditional look gives Michael Collins Irish whiskey an Old World charm, and this year’s introduction of a small-production single malt has us singing “Kilgary Mountain” in our most classic tones:
Now some take delight in fishin’ and in bowlin’
And others take delight in carriages a-rollin’
But I take delight in the juice of the barley
And courtin’ pretty girls in the morning so early.
From Cooley, the last independent distillery in Ireland, Michael Collins is available in a double-distilled malted barley blended whiskey and the 10 Year Old single malt.
SIDNEY FRANK IMPORTING CO.
Our Panel Votes: “The blend’s light copper hue is pretty, while aromas of caramel apple are alluring. Hazelnut and sea salt grace the palate.”
“The 10 Year Old is a bridge between Scotch and Irish, slightly peated with warm maple notes against a citrus delicateness.” —Meridith May
“The 10 Year Old offers nice hay-grain notes with a maple and winter spice appeal.” —Thad Vogler
From Ireland’s Cooley Distillery, Kilbeggan may be a small-volume 100% pot-still whiskey, but this is one brand with big personality. Matured in old granite warehouses and aged in bourbon casks for 15 years (this 15 Year Old blend will soon change over to a 18 Year Old), the distiller uses 25–30% more malt in the recipe for this twice-distilled spirit, leading to a super smooth and creamy profile that will have you clamoring for more! (SRP $100)
THE SAZERAC COMPANY
Our Panel Votes: “Brown-sugar glaze with a lush, peachy-cherry honey tone. Smooth and silky.”
“Besides a sweet bourbon-like quality, I enjoy the notes of black tea. Clean!” —T.V.
Chuck Kane, West Regional Sales Manager for Gemini Wine & Spirits (the sales division of The Sazerac Company) represents Kilbeggan Irish Whiskey and Glenfarclas Single Malt Scotch.
Launched in January of this year, Glenmorangie Finealta (which aptly translates as “elegant”) is a graceful private edition Highlands single malt re-created from an old 1903 recipe. The Belle Époque packaging harkens back to the turn-of-the-20th-century design, and with some sherry cask maturation and light peat on the nose, this small production beauty makes its debut while transporting us to another, more glamorous era. (SRP $70) Glenmorangie Signet, launched two years ago, is the “dark side” of this single malt expression, made in top secret “designer” casks, with whiskies as old as 34 years (SRP $250).
MOËT HENNESSY USA
Our Panel Votes: Glenmorangie Finealta “Beery, sweet and dense, yeasty, with apple-pie and peat.”
“Wonderfully refined!” —D.D.
“Bright fruit, marmalade and salt and fresh bread. A winner.” —T.V.
Glenmorangie Signet “Chocolate and malted barley are dangerously smooth.” —M.M.
“Cocoa powder and golden grahams make this one delicious.” —M.S.
GLENFARCLAS 40 YEAR OLD
In the U.S. for less than a year, this 40 Year Old single malt has no peat and is aged in sherry casks. Although new stateside, Glenfarclas is well-established over the pond, and owner/distiller George Grant remembers that it was his great-grandfather who put the first Glenfarclas in the barrel. Says Grant of his whiskey’d upbringing, “My only playhouse growing up was the barrel house.” (SRP $460)
THE SAZERAC COMPANY
Our Panel Votes: “Distinct tawny core and yellow-green rim. Complex, smoky aromas of graphite and dried fruit that repeat on the palate; salty finish.”
“Deep, meaty, honeyed…wonderful.” —E.A.
“Nougat and toffee nose, with scents of fresh bread; viscous and rich.” —T.V.
THE MACALLAN and HIGHLAND PARK
Jeffrey Germaine is the Northern CA Senior Market Manager for Rémy Cointreau USA, representing The Macallan and Highland Park.
An exceptional 86-proof Highland single malt, The Macallan 15 Fine Oak (SRP $85) is sans peat and produced from the smallest stills in Speyside, giving the spirit maximum contact with the copper, which paves the way for the unique fruity and full-bodied notes for which this brand is recognized. The Macallan Fine Oak is triple-cask matured (European and American oaks seasoned with sherry and American oak seasoned with bourbon), erasing any rough edges from this signature sipper.
The peat procured for Highland Park 15 is grown only a quarter of a mile away from this Orkney Island whisky’s distillation site, giving the brand ultimate quality control. Since 1798, Highland Park has been a pivotal part of the Orcadian culture, and the salt and brine from this natural, unspoiled isle sees its way into this heralded single malt. Highland Park 15 (SRP $75) is 80 proof.
RÉMY COINTREAU USA
Our Panel Votes: The Macallan 15 Fine Oak “Gentle and refined; notes of rose petals, orange peel and chocolate. Textbook Macallan.”
“A feminine, lithe spirit. White smoke and flinty but softened with candied floral prettiness.” —M.S.
Highland Park 15 “Salt and sea smokiness atop an underlying lushness of sweet Asian pear and honeyed caramel.”—M.M.
“A compelling, solid whisky.” —E.A.
“Smoke and peat with candied yams; quiet and soft. One of the most balanced whiskies of the day.” —M.S.
Vintage single malts are a concept used by The Glenrothes, and no two vintages are ever the same. As the brand folks put it, “Each vintage will represent individual moments, moods or occasions.” That said, we tasted the culmination of two years’ memories and emotions in two vintages of this single Speyside malt: The Glenrothes 1994 (SRP $79) and The Glenrothes 1998 (SRP $54).
Our Panel Votes: “The 1998 [introduced this past December] is quite accessible with alluring cinnamon, dry citrus and toffee.”
“The ’94 speaks of burnt orange peel and marshmallows —its strength is its masculine mid-palate.” —M.S.
“What a deep tone to the ’98: complex spices, walnuts and roasted coffee with impressive length.” —D.P.W.
CHIVAS REGAL 18
Craig Vaught, Chivas Regal Brand Ambassador.
“The 12 Year Old is iconic, on every back bar,” states Chivas Regal Brand Ambassador Chris Vaught, “but the 18, which came out in the wake of single malts, is quite special.” While the heart of the blend is from Speyside, three percent of the 20 different malts hail from Islay, to fine tune its power. The end result is a complex masterpiece with 85 different “tones.” (SRP $75)
PERNOD RICARD USA
Our Panel Votes: “Eucalyptus and jasmine, toffee and coffee and layers of other nuances make this a complex spirit.”
“Cereal and dried apricot are appealing; just a light peat sets the mood.” —E.A.