Swapping samples is a great way to get to know malts before you buy, reduce the expenses (yes, we’re addicted and it’s very hard to say no to a new shiny malt on your shelf) and share your tasting notes with fellow whisky aficionados. I do try to get and ship samples from time to time, and I’ve tasted some amazing malts as a result of those swaps. It’s amazing how many new discoveries you can make that way.
and then there is always the question: do i like this malt better because i know it’s an Ardbeg, or a Glenfarclas? if i blind tasted it would i like it as much? Psychology does play a role when we sniff, taste, and judge single malts. A blind tasting is a good tool to get rid of all those preconceptions, and prejudices and evaluate a malt based on sheer intrinsic quality : Nose,Palate,Finish,Body.
When discussing my last sample trade with my good friend J.H, an idea came up : why don’t we add one wee sample of a “mystery dram” for each other, and try to see if we could guess what this dram is (distillery,area,expression). in addition, we’ll write down our tasting notes and compare. nice eh? We agreed to swap a malt that we knew for sure the other side had not tasted in the past.
My Mystery Dram
It was not an easy choice. Many malts i like and have handy i knew for sure J.H had tasted before. I also knew about his bad experience with the Bowmore 12, so i decided to change that by sending over the young Bowmore “Legend”. For those of you who do not know this expression well, let me just note that this is a NAS malt, and is the distillery’s entry-level single malt. I do think it’s very enjoyable, and is better than other older Bowmore bottling (12, 15 for example). It’s relatively peaty, and the Bowmore “cough” medicine notes are right there…
Surely it is easy to say “It’s an Islay” but pinpointing it to Bowmore and the Legend is trickier.
J.H’s Mystery Dram
when i got the little sample bottle with the big “?” on it i was very intrigued. i immediately opened the screw-cap and sniffed it. I picked up some notes of peat, and some briny salty stuff. i had to wait the entire day in anticipation. i arrived home, and only after the wife & kids were asleep, i sat down, poured the nectar into my Ardbeg Sniffing glass (i quite like it i must say) and started the nosing session…
On the Nose: brine, saltines, a certain “brassy” note, a bit of oak. Then – some tropical fruit salad (Banana,Mango,PineApple?) mixed sweetness that is very pleasant.
I let my mind run without trying to pinpoint what it was, just analyzing it and trying to figure out if i ever nosed something alike. Then it hit me : the HP DNA is evident. Something in this one is similar to that HP 12 expression if to any. i let my mind run loose, again not trying to put it into words but only sensations. HP yes. is it? Then i made a fatal mistake. I lost confidence in myself, and was not sure anymore this is the HP pattern i had in my mind. I looked for other directions, it couldn’t be this easy, i said to myself, i must be wrong. that proved wrong later…
There is some briny character to it, well … Is this some kind of Campbeltown? SpringBank? HazelBurn? Longrow? . Too peaty for a Longrow, surely. I don’t have much experience with Campbeltown malts. As opposed to JH, i am not a big fan, but i do enjoy the SpringBank 15 from time to time. i did remember the salty palate of the SB and since i knew JH liked his CTs , he might have sent something like that… Surely this was not a strong ABV bottling 40-43% max.
So. my first guess was way way off. (i have not sensed the fruitiness on the first tasting. i do suspect i had a too hasty sniffing and tasting, because of the excitement and “Mystery” theme 😉
On the mouth, again those sweet fruits on the tropical side , yet the smoke is on the background. very subtle but there. little peaty , sort of sandy, muddy peat. but again, this is only a minor tone, that is overshadowed by the fruits. Body is medium, and not a lot of alcohol bite.
Not the longest but nice enough, ending on little smoke. again, HP DNA smoke.
I was not pretty much sure it was a HP. not an old HP as the Oak influence and character were not similar to any older HPs I’ve tasted to date. I think this was the youngest HP i ever got to taste. HP it is, but which?
a few emails later and JH confirmed my hunch. Indeed this was the Highland Park 8-year-old MacPhail’s Collection. Hey, i remember reading all about it in WDJK . John selected this series in one of his Malt Advocate awards! nice!
All in all it was an awesome experience, also a humbling one. I did get guess which malt it was after all, but i did not allow myself enough time to fully get to know the malt on the 1st tasting session. i needed the 2nd session to better get acquainted with the malt. (i always post notes after at least two tasting session, and i know why 😉 ).
I am looking forward to further blind tasting like this one. A great way to train your senses, and to get to know new malts without the usual “prejudice” we carry.
Check out Josh’s post about the mystery dram i sent him, from his perspective.
have a great whisky weekend!