Last Thursday, I hosted another whisk(e)y tasting. Like last time, we covered a lot of ground, but this time, the offerings were even more varied and unusual. I was really looking forward to writing this one up, but work has really quite busy this week, and I’ve had to turn my attention to things other whisky. Now though, it’s time to dive into the realm of rarities, oddballs, and otherwise unusual or unconventional spirits.
I feel really fortunate to have a great venue available for hosting events like this. My apartment has a community room that can be reserved for private functions, and it includes everything you’d want to set up a whisk(e)y tasting. There’s a sink and fridge for washing up and keeping (non-whisk(e)y) drinks cold, a sizable countertop for laying out some snacks…
…and of course, a huge table for spreading out an excessive variety of whiskies (and a couple of other spirits).
Each person brought one or more whiskies to share, and we sampled small pours of each. As you can probably tell from the photo, it wasn’t exactly a traditional single malt or bourbon tasting. For whatever reason, we all gravitated toward the unusual with our bottle selections, which led to a great time all around.
Many of the whiskies we sampled were awesome, some were…”unique,” and all were fun to try in the company of friends. I took lots of notes and got ideas for quite a few future blog posts and reviews, so you can look forward to some fun content in the near future. Rather than doing a full rundown of 15 (!) bottles in this post, I’ll highly a few of the best and weirdest (not necessarily the same thing!), and save some others for future blog posts.
Woodford Reserve Master’s Collection 100% Rye – This release is unusual for a few reasons. First, it’s one of the few whiskies made from 100% rye. That means it’s super pungent and spicy (which I love). Even more uniquely, it’s sold as a two-bottle set. The base spirit in each is the same, but one bottle was aged in new oak barrels, while the other was aged in reused casks. Both were really tasty, but personally I preferred the rich oakiness of the new cask version; I thought it really complemented the spicy spirit. Opinion-wise, we were split down the middle, though! I also heard that a 50/50 mix of the two is supposed to be excellent. Sadly, I didn’t get to try this at the time, but maybe I’ll have occasion to in the future!
Copper Fox Rye – This unusual rye is made with a blend of 2/3rds rye and 1/3 malted barley. What makes it unique is that the barley is smoked over applewood and cherrywood prior to mashing, and then the whisky is further aged over applewood and oak chips. This adds an extra level of wood influence to a young (one year old) whisky. The smoking…well, it imparts an…”unconventional” aroma and flavor.
This was easily the most divisive whisk(e)y of the evening. One person compared the aroma to plastic fishing lures, and another said it smelled like an electrical fire in a McDonald’s ball pit. Even Islay whisky fans didn’t really like the weird, plasticy-yet-metallic, acrid smoky smell, and the palate delivered exactly what was promised, so you can probably imagine how it went down. That said, I kinda liked it, even though no one else did! Say one thing for Copper Fox, at least they tried something unique! I also really appreciate the crazy amount of information they put on the label! I mean, look at that thing!
Hart Brothers 17 Year old Malt Blend – I’ll be brief about this one, since I plan to cover it more fully in an upcoming review, but this bottle represents an awesome, affordable release. It’s a blend of highland malts, aged for 17 years and then finished in sherry butts for (I suspect) a pretty substantial amount of time, because the sherry influence is quite prominent. It’s also bottled at 50% ABV, which doesn’t hurt, either. It’s rich and fruity, with chocolate, oranges, and spice. I also get a substantial note of marshmallow from it, but everyone else thought I was crazy for that, so make of that what you will…
Single Cask Laphroaig – One of our attendees had the pleasure of visiting Laphroaig earlier this year, where he was able to try samples from several casks and then fill a bottle from one of them. This single cask bottling is around ten years old, and bottled at cask strength. In addition to being a really cool looking bottle, this offering was really tasty. Justin said that he selected the cask that tasted most like a traditional Laphroaig, and the medicinal peat is definitely there in full force, but there’s also an earthy roasted malt note on the palate that I really enjoyed. It almost felt like I could chew on this whisky.
Ardbeg Supernova – The contents of the miniature Ardbeg bottle were not Ardbeg 17 (Sigh), but nonetheless were also exciting. This little glass bottle contained a sample of the very first release of Ardbeg Supernova! I’d tried this back when it was first released, but I was new to whisky and probably didn’t appreciate it as much as I do now. Coming back to it, it’s definitely got the in-your-face shotgun blast of peat that Supernova is known for, but it’s richer and more full flavored, with fruity nuances that would normally get lost in the briny smoke.
Säntis Snow White No. 2 – This whisky is an…experience. I bought the bottle online last fall after being fascinated by the description. It’s a Swiss malt whisky (already intriguing to me), aged in beer casks (an uncommon practice), and finished in spiced cherry beer casks (I’d never even heard of those!). When I first opened it, I expected something spicy, lightly fruity, and complex. What I got what a syrupy, overly sweet, and weirdly herbal spirit that I would never have classified as a whisky. The general consensus was that it tastes quite a bit like cough syrup, and quite honestly, no one enjoyed drinking this whisky in the least. That said, we did enjoy talking about it, and we had a lot of laughs, so I’d say it was worth it.
As another positive note, when I was desperately trying to find a way to salvage this whisky, I actually did stumble on a way to use it. The sweet and herbal nature of this spirit actually makes for a reasonable substitute for sweet vermouth. Now, it’s bottled at 50% ABV, so it’s rocket fuel compared to any real vermouth, and it won’t win any taste tests next to a Dolin, Carpano, or Cocchi di Torino, but it holds up pretty well in cocktails, and it won’t expire. (PSA: Remember folks, your vermouth expires!). I made a modified boulevardier with it (scaling the quantities back to about 25%), and it worked pretty well! Would I buy another bottle? No. But it won’t go to waste after all, either.
Christian Brothers Brandy – This was a fun way to close out the night. I’m not a brandy connoisseur by any means, and Christian Brothers isn’t exactly a top-shelf brandy, but this particular iteration was very cool. These little sample bottles were probably from the 70s or 80s, and packaged in one of the most interesting gift sets I’ve ever seen, bound into a rather elaborate-looking wooden story book. I could see gathering around the fire on a chilly day and opening this up for a dram and a tale. That said, the packaging did no favors for the spirit by storing the bottles sideways, which caused the paper inserts in the lids to impart a damp, cardboard-y taste to the spirit. Still, it was a great conversation piece, and entertaining to try.
Overall, I’d say that “entertainment” was the theme of the night. We tried a substantial spread of whiskies (and some other spirits), and got some good banter going (such as when I tried to defend my enjoyment of Copper Fox to the shocked onlookers). This event was a great reminder that spirits of all types are best when shared in good company.
Question of the Day: What’s your favorite “unusual” spirit?