John Shearlock reports back from a lineup of tongue twisting whiskies at Regional Wines.
Benriach 22yo Dark Rum Dunder 46% - $347.99 - available in store
Benriach 22yo PX Albariza 46% - $347.99 - available in store
Amrut Portonova Single Malt 62.1% - sold out
With the recent changes to the Scotch Whisky Association technical file - it's very possible that this lineup of “crazy casks” will soon look quite pedestrian and that we won't be needing to look as far afield as india for some tongue twisting anomalous whiskies. In case you missed that change - Scotch whisky can now be aged or finished in a much broader variety of oak casks, including those previously used to age agave spirits (Tequila and mezcal), Calvados, barrel-aged cachaça, shochu and baijiu, as well as some other fruit spirits. Judging by the scores from this tasting - this may well scare a few of the purists amongst the Wellington whisky scene.
It’s fair to say that this was indeed a challenging tasting. When such a variety of flavour is on show - you often can't see the wood for the trees. With a more classical lineup - the flavours typically ramp up with a broadening flavour spectrum and greater alcohol, allowing for acclimatisation and for the palate to adapt. This is one explanation why our scores typically increase towards the latter stages of the tasting. However, when the whiskies are all so varied - the palate is left blindsided, and each new whisky demands a recalibration which is often too big an ask. The order of tasting is often made slightly challenging too at Daniel Bruce McLaren’s tastings - it’s part of the game and the fun of the tasting, obscuring the whiskies with duplicitous positionings, making them harder to spot and thus really challenging the palate and one’s whisky knowledge. Combine this approach with some extreme flavours and things get tough.
Here’s how the whiskies tasted, with some scores for those who are keen too…
Amrut Kadhambam Single Malt 50% - 7.53
The first of our brace of Indian malts from Amrut - known for their casky whiskies and probably best of all for the Spectrum, which sees the whisky finished in a bespoke cask made from staves of five different types of wood. The Kadhambam is every bit as much a Frankenstein's whisky, aged in a combination of Bombay blue brandy, rum and oloroso casks. With no age statement, it certainly seemed oaky and youthful, with a real melange of diverse flavours spanning apricots and tropical fruits to pot-pourri and cheesecake - and was a touch disjointed as a result.
Mystery whisky - Inchmurrin Madeira Finish 46% - 6.48
Our mystery whisky on the night and one that has been flying off the shelves at Regional Wines. Opens with a very sweet nose of oranges, honey, toffee and tinned peaches and follows on with a delicate sweet and fruity palate. This was like the sugar plum fairy performing dainty pirouettes on our palate, a real quaffer, but with all the big flavours on show it essentially found itself in the wrong lineup.
Craigellachie Old Malt Cask 2006 11yo 50% - 7.03
This was the inteneded sounding board for the evening - a conventional cask against which to compare the others. It may have aged in an oloroso cask, but how many times had that cask been refilled? The results were light and floral and this whisky certainly joined hands with the Inchmurrin to perform a delicate duette before realising it had unwittingly stumbled into a boxing ring of WWF madness. Retired hurt after being KO’d by the Kadhambam.
Talisker Distillers Edition Amoroso Finish 45.8% - 7.86
The first of a triplet peaty whiskies, and all from casks that should drive big, powerful, sweet whiskies and which would hopefully keep people guessing. Although the term Amoroso is very seldom used these days, and was once a catch all term for dulce sherries - so to expect flavours similar to a PX cask would not be foolish. The Talisker showed some real class lacking in the first three whiskies, with its savoury peat and winter vegetables that opened into maple smoked bacon notes. As one’s palate became accustomed to the peat, layers of stewed and dried fruits unfurled and there was certainly some depth to investigate.
Benriach 22yo Dark Rum Dunder 46% - 7.12
The first of our two BenRiachs - and two very expensive whiskies for that matter. We tasted a BenRiach 22 yo single cask at the recent Benriach vertical and its gentle complexities had been lost in a sea of big bold flavours provided by a host of younger port and oloroso casks. These two Benriach 22yo’s were similar to that one in many respects, both quite gentle, but the peat, rum and PX flavours that had been liberally thrown at them detracted from the malt, obscuring the distillery style. This was fragrant, herbal and slightly plastic on the nose, the rum and peat combining in quite an unusual way and which just wasn’t to the taste of most people present. A malt too far perhaps? Take away the peat and there may have been a fruity, pretty whisky there, take away the rum and there may have been a pleasantly peaty number hiding underneath, but together, the results were confused.
Benriach 22yo PX Albariza 46% - 8.01
The PX version did work better, with stewed fruits and raisin flavours holding their own next to the peat. I typically think of peat as adding savoury flavours - it’s decayed vegetation after all, but often peat can move into the realms of sweet, smoked meats. Combine this with the sweetness of a decent PX cask and you’re looking at a big, rich whisky. Ultimately lacked some depth and once again had me wondering how the malt underneath would have tasted given half a chance to shine through.
Amrut Portonova Single Malt 62.1% - 8.77
There’s a theory that Wellington likes alcohol, so there were no surprises that this 62% beast finished first. A massive nose of dark ghana chocolate, doris plums, date pudding and malt digestives sucks you in to a broad full palate of cherries and further confectionery. The alcohol gives the palate a textural quality that is bolstered further by tannins from the European oak. On the finish, some lighter citrusy elements begin to appear, wrapped in cocoa like a Terry's chocolate orange. Monumental - and another to add to our Best of the Best lineup which is taking shape nicely now.