The Balvenie: Review

On Monday, I was able to attend a scotch tasting for The Balvenie, hosted by brand ambassador David Laird. I had tried the Caribbean Cask 14 year old before, but that was my only previous experience with the brand. So, I was very excited to learn a bit more and revisit a whisky I had previously enjoyed.

The Balvenie has maintained a very traditional way of producing their scotch whisky. Their scotch is hand crafted, meaning they still use original methods to create their products. Some of their employees have developed skills that are extremely unique and have worked with the company for over 50+ years.

This Speyside scotch has produced some unique and interesting flavors. I was able to sample four different scotches at the tasting, and I’ll outline out what I thought of them and the flavors I picked up on. If you’re reading this, and have tried any of these, please comment and let me know what you think of them. If you haven’t, go try one and let me know what you think! Would love to hear some other opinions.

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Double Wood 12 year

The Double Wood 12 year acts as a great base for the flavors to expect in The Balvenie scotches. For me, this single malt was dominated by honey, vanilla, and nutty flavors.

  • Nose: nuttiness and spices, some undertones of honey
  • Palate: sweet and good body, bourbon shows through with gentle spice and vanilla, some dried fruit
  • Finish: spicy, slightly drying

 

Caribbean Cask 14 year

This is a very exciting and interesting single malt. This single malt spends its first 14 years, aging to maturity in an American oak cask, and is finished off in a rum cask to make a more unique flavor. This scotch is surprisingly tropical and spicy.

  • Nose: rich tropical fruits and creamy toffee
  • Palate: vanilla, mango, and orange, with notes of coconut
  • Finish: vanilla

 

Single barrel 15 year

This scotch has a distinct and bold flavor. Because it’s a single barrel, there were only 650 bottles produced. It was also finished in a European sherry cask, which give this malt its dark fruit and cake notes.

  • Nose: Christmas cake, dried fruits, cherries, and nuttiness
  • Palate: sherry, nutty, and smooth swirls of vanilla
  • Finish: warm with a fruitcake finish

 

Port Wood 21 year

This was scotch was a treat! It was recently awarded the best spirit in the world. It very complex with after maturing 21 years in an American oak cask and finishing off in a 35 year old port cask.

  • Nose: white peach and slight smoke
  • Palate: red fruits, raisins, and honey
  • Finish: long complex flavor that is slightly creamy

 

Overall I really enjoyed these whiskies. They were complex, smooth, and created a warm atmosphere at the tasting. My suggestion to all the ladies out there is to use these whiskies in gatherings that involve food pairing as well. I think The Balvenie scotches go well with cheese and seafood. The Caribbean Cask 14 year is a great match for oysters and the Pork Wood 21 year compliments blue stilton.

Cheers,

S.

See, Swirl, Smell, and Sip

The 4 S’s

Proper whisky tasting is not an easy task, but it is a fun process! It takes time, practice, and patience to learn the subtleties in a whisky. As a young women who prefers a scotch when hanging at the bar, I always have to deal with sideways glances from men, confused looks from bartenders, and always the question of “you actually enjoy that”? Yes, sir, I do actually enjoy it. So embrace the fact that a women ordering a dram (250ml) of whisky is just yet another reason we women are impossible to understand. The following four steps are the process I take when sampling and enjoying a whisky. It’s called the Four S’s: See, Swirl, Smell, and Sip.

See

The majority of whisky bottles are clear and this is no coincidence. Whisky color is hugely important to many drinkers. The color alone can tell you a great amount about a whisky, and can be absolutely beautiful. From light gold to rich mahogany, the color acts as a corner stone in consuming a whisky and should always be observed and appreciated.

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But, it’s important to not let a whisky’s color fool you. After the distillation process, a whisky goes into a barrel clear, similar to the color of a gin or vodka. As whisky ages – it darkens. So, many consumers believe that the darker a whisky, the older, and therefore better it is. This is not case. Many things play a factor into the final color of a whisky when it’s bottled. For example:

  • A whisky may be a blend (many different whiskies are combined to create one specific flavor), where very old whiskies are combined with young whiskies creating a lighter or darker whisky
  • Color may be added during the bottling process in order to imitate a specific color. *it’s important to remember this may not always be a dishonest process to trick consumers. As aging whisky is a natural process, not every barrel may produce the same exact color, even if the flavor is the same. Brands may add color to their whisky to create consistency and consumer confidence that the whisky is the same bottle to bottle. Consumers can be very irrational unfortunately*
  • The barrel a whisky is aged in will also play a large factor in determining the end color. For example, a whisky aged in a sherry (red wine) cask will be much darker than one aged in an America oak cask, even if they are aged the same amount of time.

The important take away when it comes to “seeing” a whisky is to read the bottle for additional information on why a color might be a certain way (if possible) and then appreciate the beautiful color of the whisky.

Swirl

In addition to the color, swirling the whisky provides a lot of information. Similar to tasting wine, when a whisky is swirled, it sticks to the side of the glass and as it drips down “legs” appear. These legs can act as an indicator of alcohol strength and complexity. Older whiskies tend to have thicker and slower moving legs, as well as whiskies with higher alcohol content. Younger whiskies, or whiskies lower in alcohol, have faster and thinner moving legs.

Smell

Now comes my favorite part. The smell. I often find that the smell of a whisky is more enjoyable then the whisky itself, especially when the whisky is high in alcohol. One smell can lead to an array of scents that you may not pick up on just by a taste (because of the alcohol burn we all know so well). Bring the glass smoothly towards your nose and inhale softly. This process may need to be repeated several times, especially if the alcohol content is high, in order to capture the flavors and scents of the whisky. Don’t be afraid to use your imagination!

I have developed my own personal method through several tastings with recommendations from professionals and brand ambassadors. I start by trying to get the general smell, moving the glass back and forth across from underneath my nose. After, I turn the glass at an angle and hold it under my nose. I then smell the upper rim of the glass, and then the lower. I have observed that the “lighter” smells (the floral, grass, and citrus notes) rise to the top of the glass, and the “deeper” smells (vanilla, caramel, peat, and dark fruits) rest on the bottom. This way of smelling whisky has taken me awhile to develop and I’m still trying to perfect it. Practice makes perfect, so start smelling!

Sip

Last but certainly not least, taste the whisky. It may take time, but learn to take a small sip and let the whisky rest on your tongue. After some practice you will be able to pick out unique flavors and undertones in the whisky.

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Now comes the age old question of neat or on the rocks. There are many ways to enjoy a whisky. Some like to add a chip of ice, some water, or nothing at all. It all comes down to personal preference.

  • Water: Many (including many tasting professionals and brand ambassadors) say that adding a drop or two of water brings out new flavors in a whisky that may not have been tasted before. I like to add a tiny bit of spring water when the alcohol content is high, so I’m able to taste the flavors and not just the alcohol.
  • Ice: Some say that adding ice is bad for a whisky. That whisky should be served at room temperature, and adding ice locks in flavors that would otherwise be present. Other say an ice chip is useful, because it slowly melts, rationing the water that mixes with the whisky to create a more perfect balance.
  • Nothing: This is not for the faint of heart. Whisky can be intense because of its high alcohol content but with some practice can easily be enjoyed neat (with nothing added). Taking the whisky straight is my personal preference because I like to enjoy it as the distiller chose to bottle it.

The take away from all this, JUST ENJOY! Whichever way tastes best to you, is how you should sample your whisky, and never let anyone tell you otherwise.

Keep in Mind

This is not a one-time thing that you’ll perfect on your first dram. Learning to appreciate a whisky takes time and practice. Keep a journal where you record the appearance, smell, taste, and finish. Write down your general observations and opinions. Writing down your thoughts will help you organize and develop an understanding of what you like and don’t like.

For another perspective with very informative videos, check out Bowmore’s tasting tips as well as suggestions from the Scotch Whisky Association

Cheers,

S.

Hello, Whisky Lovers of the World

A rainy September day two years ago I decided to step outside my comfort zone. I attended a meeting at the University of Edinburgh, where I didn’t know anyone, in order to try a distilled spirit I didn’t like. My motivation was, “when in Scotland”, when joining the Water of Life – Whisky Society. The first dram I was handed was a bit smoky, and with a nervous sip, I quickly discovered how delicious it was, igniting the love affair I now hold with whisky.

While living and studying in Scotland I explored all aspects of whisky, learning about its craftsmanship and growing my palette. I made it a point to try a different whisky every time I went out, whether that be on a casual night through the pubs at the grass market, or going out dancing on George Street. For my capstone Master’s dissertation, I chose to examine world whisky bottle design. I compiled a list of 796 different whisky bottles, grouped them according to their shape, and explored how a personality is created in a consumer’s mind from the bottle’s shape and label. This dissertation brought my whisky education to the next level, giving me the opportunity to elevate my understanding of the spirit as a whole. I visited distilleries, laughed with bartenders, interviewed top marketers in the industry, and chatted with brand ambassadors.10352337_10152674475432381_5881470964743682707_n

Despite my knowledge and desire to explore the wonderful world of whisky, I quickly noticed it as a male dominated spirit. Whisky is known across the world as an “old man drink”. My dissertation research discovered that the most likely person to drink a glass of whisky is “an old man, sitting in a leather arm chair, with a cigar, talking about the way things used to be”. As a 24 year old female, I didn’t really think that applied. But, as I looked around in situation where I was enjoying a dram, I noticed how male dominated it really was.

This aspect of whisky was very intimidating. But, why? I had just as much experience and knowledge, if not more, then many of the men I observed consuming whisky. It was then that I decided it was time to help all the women out there enjoy whisky as much as I do. This blog will be my contribution to the women of the world that want to learn a little bit more about this amazing spirit.

IMG_0255In this blog I will share my personal experiences and opinions on whisky. I will write posts on whisky education and production, review whiskies from around the world I’m able to try, discuss whisky and marketing news, suggest cocktail and drink recipes, and explore the industry as a whole. As a women who loves whisky, this blog will focus on helping, inspiring, and encouraging women to explore whisky.

Because I’m new to this whole blog thing, please let me know what you think! I highly encourage anyone (including any gentlemen that may read this blog) to comment and provide me with feedback and suggestions. Don’t hesitate to say the good, the bad, or the ugly.

 

Cheers,

S.