This winter has been cold and white in SW Ohio this year, much more than usual. The last I heard, we’re about 50% over normal for snowfall. With that, I have to admit I have wimped out a bit and haven’t cooked outside like I normally do. As you may have read, I have been learning how to brew ale, and I’m still getting more info and getting ready for my next batch, an English strong ale.
Another thing I’ve been enjoying this season is good Islay scotch whisky. Not to sound snobbish, “whisky” is how they spell it in Scotland, “whiskey” is how it’s spelled in the US. Neither are wrong, just different.
I heard recently that scotch has more variance in flavors than any other liquor. With several regions identified for whisky, each with a dominant style, it’s not a surprise to me. And my favorite whiskies tend to come from the island of Islay, off the west coast of Scotland. The Islay whiskies tend to show a lot of peat smoke, saltiness, iodine and toffee flavors. And, so far, my three favorites are almost within site of each other on the southern shore of the island, from Lagavulin, Laphroaig and Ardbeg. To those, I recently added a Blackadder whisky, which is a bit of a different animal.
Blackadder buys barrels of whisky from distillers and ages them, then bottles them by just pouring the whisky right into bottles, not filtering in any way. In fact, the bottles have bits of black cask in the bottom of the whisky.
A friend of mine came over to try the four whiskies I had, and he brought along a bottle of The Macallan 18, an 18 year old Speyside whisky aged in Spanish sherry casks. This is a well-known, very expensive scotch.
We started with the Blackadder Peat Reek. The whisky is aged to 11 years, and has no added color. It pours a light blonde, and, sure enough, there were a few specks of black char in the bottom. This didn’t do anything to the taste. I didn’t really know what to expect of this, as it’s not known what distillery the whisky is from. My guess would be Lagavulin, but it could be Laphroaig, too. Anyway, it was sweeter than I expected it to be, and had a good peatiness, and the name implies it would. It also had a bit hit of toffee, with a bit of salt and iodine. Really good! Since this comes out of the cask into the bottle, it’s at about 58% alcohol, so it needed a bit of water to calm it down. This isn’t a bad thing; leaving it at high levels of alcohol just means that you miss out on some of the other stuff going on.
Lagavulin came next. The 16 year old is considered by some to be the best whisky produced. It’s not as peaty as Ardbeg, but comes through very nicely smoky, with a richness that the extra 6 years in the cask gives the whisky. There is caramel color added, but I don’t think it changes the flavor. There’s subdued salt and medicine, but a nice heat, but with no fire on the way down. Adding a couple drops of water brought out the sweetness even more.
Ardbeg’s 10 year old came next. This is a big in peat, with heavy salt and iodine, not as much sweetness. This is just a nice whisky to drink with a couple drops of water.
The last of the Islays we had was the Laphroaig cask strength, another 10 year old. It needed a bit of water, too, to tame it a tad, and it falls right between Lagavulin and Ardbeg in both peat and sweetness. Any of these Islays is worth having around… It’s almost too much to have all four on my shelf.
So then the big boy was opened up, the Macallan 18. It poured thick and coppery, getting the color from the sherry casks, I’m sure. There was really no smoke to the whisky, at least after drinking 4 Islays! What was there was a big finish of sugary sweet. In my opinion, a bit too much. I need to try this one on its own, not with Islays first, to be sure, but I’m not sure I’d go out of my way for this one at all. It was a bit of a disappointment, really.
We did try one more single malt; Amrut is made in India, of all places! I had a mini-bottle of the peated version. Compared to the Islays, there was no real smoke to it, though. However, we both preferred it over the big, expensive 18 year old!
All-in-all, it was a fun evening sitting around trying a series of whiskies with a friend… a great way to spend a cold winter evening.