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My Handcrafted Opinions on Whiskies, Distilleries and Other Related Stuff

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Most Recent Whisky Review

Glenfiddich Fire and Cane

This release is part of the Glenfiddich Experimental series and bottled at 43% ABV (which is quite unusual from Glenfiddich).   It is a peated malt that is finished in rum casks, hence the Fire and Cane (as in sugarcane)  name.  The nose is smokey, but more camp fire rather than strong peat.  Fire before the Cane.  The taste is spicy and nutty, chocolate, pepper, brown sugar and some honey and a hint of the phenol from peat.  The finish is a little hot, like eating burnt cake batter off a wooden spoon.  Water brings up more brown sugar and some lemon peel.  Very nicely done but not sure I would pair peat and rum casks, personnally I prefer peat and sherry casks.

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  • Friday, 13 January 2012 17:52

    Whisky Tasting Grades… Are you a Black Belt?

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    As I look back on my first 100 plus formal tasting notes and reviews I am ready to grade myself and now you can use my system below to grade yourself.  Welcome to the whisky dojo…  hajime!

    My first grade is a white belt.  If you drink alcohol and know what whisky is you can award yourself a white belt.  If you don’t drink alcohol or have no interest in whisky I am not sure why you are even reading this.  What does white belt mean?  It means that your trousers won’t fall down.

    The next grade, yellow belt, is awarded to those who like and enjoy the taste of whisky.  As I mentioned in my first blog, everyone seems to skip over this rather basic step.  Whisky tastes like whisky, and you should like it to reach yellow belt grade.  If you don’t like whisky then you stay at white belt grade (and probably need to surf along to a new website).  

    The next grade is all about the basic split in whisky types, whether it is the old world genre, primarily Scotland, Ireland and Japan (ie usually malt and grain whiskies) or the new world such as USA and Canada (ie usually bourbon, corn and rye whiskies).    There are often noticeable differences in the tastes between these two types which I believe most whisky drinkers can differentiate on their nose and palate.  If you can usually tell the difference between scotch and bourbon, award yourself an orange belt.

    The green belt grade in tasting is awarded to those who can identify further subdivisions of these two main types, and I would call it the style of whisky.  A peaty Islay single malt is very different in style to a triple distilled Irish blend.  Rye whisky can be very different from wheated Bourbon.  The green belt requires some experience and knowledge, this grade starts to separate the whisky drinker from the whisky taster.   I suspect people who claim to have a favorite style, “I like peaty whiskies”, “I like bourbon”, “I like Irish” or even express a specific brand preference, “I like Johnnie Walker Black” are probably green belts.  This was my grade when I moved to Scotland in 2009 as “I liked Irish”.

    I would now grade myself as a blue belt (on a good day).  I am now tasting the whisky and looking for specific aromas, flavors and notes.   However I have noticed a tendency to refer to a “pool” of certain flavors of about 20, including peat, smoke, caramel, vanilla, malt, honey, pepper, spice, oak, toffee, dried fruit, citrus and sherry.  However there is still an endless combination of these major tastes and aromas and I find it is possible to define most whisky uniquely with these descriptors.  If you can do that as well, welcome to the blue belt grade.

    The brown belt is the grade I aspire to, but I am also reconciled to the fact that I may not have the palate to reach, and is the grade many of the professional writers have achieved.  They draw on seemingly endless analogies and variations, breaking “dried fruit” down into specific types of dried fruit (prunes, raisins, sultanas, currants), spicy into multiple different spices (pepper, cayenne, cloves, cinnamon, nutmeg), floral notes into specific flowers and specific type of wood notes (oak, pine, cedar even sandalwood).  They also seem to find levels of subtlety and that I simply cannot pick up or at least consciously identify. 

    Finally we have the black belt, the ultimate in whisky tasting.  As well as having all the palate and skills of a brown belt, they are blessed with the writing skills to write an evocation of sensations rather than just a lengthy list of obscure flavors and smells.  Dave Broom (definite black belt) recently tweeted this whisky review (@davebroomwhisky on www.twitter.com) …. “An out of control kid's party. Burst balloons, broken pencils, sweets on the floor, masses of chocolate & Nutella. Feisty & fun!    That is a whisky tasting black belt and he can kick my a**.  Going forward I will be awarding the occasional whisky black belt on my blog.

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    Random Whisky

    Balvenie 14 year old Caribbean Cask

    I like rum, I like Balvenie whiskies and I usually like rum finished whiskies so I was very excited to try this one recently.  Sometimes that excitement can lead to disappointment as a perfectly good (even great) whisky can have a lot to live to up and this one fell just that little bit short for me.  Not it's fault, probably mine.  The nose was malty and sweet, vanilla, caramel and some fruit.  This was where I felt the rum finish had the most impact.  The taste was more traditional Balvenie with honey (of course), toffee, more vanilla and the fruit became raisins.  Dare I say rum and raisin ice cream?  The finish had piney note at first (the only thing I was not wild about in this whisky) and then some more traditional oak and dried out to the point of even a hint of smoke.  Good, and if I tasted blind I probably would have been very impressed, but as I said I had very high expectations.  That said it was a small sample from so I will definately try it again.