Monday, November 26, 2007

Charred Hamburgers on a Yacht

Aged 12 years
Single Islay malt Scotch whisky
40% alc/vol

Most of the single malt Scotch I buy is from the Highland region (including Speyside), probably due to its popularity as much as its taste. But, hey, what can I say? I dig it. I do branch out, though; I quite enjoyed the few Lowland Scotches I've tasted, and look forward to trying malts from other regions. This particular Scotch is one such malt.

I wanted to try an Islay. To be honest, I've heard a lot of bad things about them -- several of my whiskey-drinking friends have declared the Laphroaig 10-yo to be, well, vile. I've yet to taste it for myself (though I do mean to!). At any rate, I came across the Bunnahabhain 12-yo, and figured I'd have a go at it. Years ago, I received a bottle of this from a friend as a gift, and while I don't remember much about how it tasted, I do know I got through the bottle with no difficulty, so it seemed a safe bet.


  • Color: Russet
  • Nose: Black pepper. Slightly sweet and smoky.
  • Palate: Walnuts? A bit of sweet sharpness. Or sharp sweetness?
  • Finish: Moderate. Sea salt. A little bitter. Dark chocolate.

I was particularly struck by this whiskey's saltiness and smokiness -- like accidentally burning a hamburger while grilling on a yacht. It's not bad, although it's not the kind of malt I could drink all night. Maybe with the right food (it does actually put me in the mood for a barbecue), or in the right mood. I'm a strong proponent of drinking Scotch neat, with only a bit of water as one likes; but I think the Bunnahabhain is better on ice, to help clear out some of the smoke. I'll be in no rush to replace the bottle when it's gone, but if someone offers me a dram, I'll not likely turn it away!

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Soft and Smooth as a Pig's Nose

Pig's Nose Scotch Whisky
Aged 5 years
Blended Scotch whisky
40% alc/vol

I'll be straight with you: I'm a single malt Scotch guy, and have been for quite some time. Bushmills Malt 10 yo is about the only exception that regularly graces my selection. But I never touched blended whiskey.

A while back, I decided I hadn't given blended Scotch a fair shake. I went down to my local liquor store and picked up a bottle of Johnnie Walker Black Label. I didn't know much about blended whiskey, but I knew Johnnie Walker was a very big, very popular brand; I knew Black Label was the same age and at the same price point as solid, popular single malts, like Glenfiddich 12 yo and The Glenlivet 12 yo; and I knew the Black was generally considered to be potable neat, as opposed to Red Label, which is almost universally used in mixed drinks only. I figured that if I was going to like any blended whiskey, I was going to like Black Label.

I didn't. It seemed awfully harsh and medicinal compared to even young single malts. I only really got through the bottle by mixing it with diet root beer or cola, which is actually decent...but not as good as the same drink using a single malt instead. After that, I went back to single malts exclusively.

Recently, I came across The Scotch Blog, authored by Kevin Erskine. In one post, he recommends the very peculiarly-named Pig's Nose Scotch Whisky as "the perfect introduction to the category [of blended Scotch whiskies]." I was in the mood to try something new, so I went ahead and picked up a bottle earlier today.

My tasting notes:

  • Color: Russet.
  • Nose: Peanut butter, leather, candy corn, and corn on the cob. A hint of that new car smell.
  • Palate: Creamy, delicate, and smooth as silk. Has a wonderful mouth-feel. Is this what "chewy" means?
  • Finish: Moderate, and a little bittersweet, though not unpleasantly so - like sweetened tea or coffee. Leaves me wanting another sip.

I really never would have thought I'd have enjoyed a blended whiskey so much. Not only that, but it's young, too. The only other five-year-old whiskey I've knowingly drunk is McClelland's offering...and that carries neither an age statement nor a distillery listing, to give you an idea of the quality. Pig's Nose is far superior, in my opinion, particularly if you add a bit of water to cut what little harshness is bestowed on the whiskey by its youth.

In other words, I'll enjoy finishing the bottle, and I may well replace it afterwards.

Oh, and the name? According to the label on the bottle, "In Gloucestershire 'tis said that our Scotch is 'as soft and smooth as a Pig's Nose.'" I've never felt a pig's nose, but judging from this dram, it's pretty damned smooth.

The Right Tool for the Job

I finally went out today and bought myself an actual, proper whiskey tasting glass! The glass ran me about ten bucks. The lack of engraving and cutting lets the true color of the whiskey shine through. I'm told the bowl of the glass helps to provide extra surface area to allow whiskey to coat the glass and then quickly evaporate, and the narrowing of the top helps to funnel the aroma of the whiskey to the nose. Makes sense to me. Plus, it's really quite attractive.

The Water of Life

Welcome, folks, to Nose Palate Finish. I’ve enjoyed whiskey for some time now, but I’ve only recently gotten into really tasting it. I started keeping track of my tasting notes in an Excel spreadsheet, but I just had the sudden, random urge to put it in a blog, instead, Dr. Whisky style. I’m not sure why I had this urge, given that I generally suck at blogging, but, hey, blogs are free, so why not?

This blog is, at least for now, primarily directed at my personal friends and family members who enjoy whiskey. However, if some random soul wandering the Web stumbles across it and finds it entertaining or useful, that’s awesome, too.

So, yes – this blog is mostly going to be about tasting. Occasionally I may pass on some bit of news I’ve read about in the whiskey world, if I find it interesting or important enough. I’ll do my best to keep my tags and such organized to make it easy for people to follow what they like. (And to make it easy for me to find stuff later!)

A few disclaimers:

  1. I’m very new to tasting. I also often have a hard time picking out aromas from whiskeys, and an even harder time picking out flavors, particularly during the “palate” stage of tasting. Not only that, but I don’t think I’ve ever smelled a lot of things the pros talk about detecting in whiskey aromas. What this means is that my tasting notes may be of limited use to you; I might be making stuff up, for all I know, and I may use rather…unscientific terms for scents and flavors. I’ll probably end up lumping aromas and flavors together in the “nose” category, keep the “palate” to dealing with texture and mouth-feel, and use the “finish” stage to describe the length of the finish and any interesting aftertastes I may happen to detect.

  2. Spelling. I know that it’s generally spelled “whiskey” only when referring to American or Irish whiskey, while Canada, Scotland, and Japan spell it “whisky.” Rather than worry about which is right or wrong, I’ll just spell it however I feel like spelling it at the time; I tend to prefer it with an “e.” You spell it however you like; I won’t complain. Scout’s honor.

Thanks for reading. Now…Sláinte!