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Dec. 17 - The Best of the Season ~ Seasonal Gifting: From Books to the Best Buy Champagne & '1876' Scotch

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Hop Scotch
The biggest whisky release on record

© Michael Vaughan 2005
National Post Weekly Wine & Spirits Columnist
Saturday, October 15, 2005


All listings are automatically linked to the LCBO database)
If there is a product that interests you, just click on the name below and you will instantaneously connected with the LCBO database. The product will appear in blue and all you have to do is click on the name again and then the next screen will provide details along with the store search. Just click on store search. The number of bottles in each store is updated nightly. Call the store first to see if stock still remains (each store phone number is listed).

It is almost too much of a good thing. Today’s Vintages release highlights Scotch whisky with 22 selections, including four Vintages Essentials. Meanwhile last Wednesday; the LCBO launched its Whisky Rocks Unplugged promotion featuring an additional 31 whiskies from around the world, including two Japanese “Single Malts” at over $100 a bottle.

Imaging my surprise when I walked into the tasting lab and was confronted by some 50 whiskies. My first thought: where’s my driver? Figuring out how to taste them was my first challenge.  My dad told me not to fiddle with my Scotch. I was taught to taste Scotch neat without any water, ice and/or carbonated flavoured beverages. Having acquired this taste, I was then told by whisky makers that this was all wrong. To get the real smell, I was supposed to cut the spirit with a splash of pure water. The latter would release the aromatics and flavours.

While I would have loved to try tasting them both ways, it was far more than my palate could handle. I decided to focus on the smaller lots appearing in Vintages. It meant tasting 22 whiskies blind. Of course, the order was a problem - should I taste by age and/or region? I ended up simply tasting by price, from the least expensive to the most expensive.

Of all spirits, Scotch lovers are the most stubborn when it comes to selecting what is “best”. Just like wine, single malts are initially defined by the region they come from - each one having its own characteristics. Of course, there is the question of distillery style and exactly how it was made. It becomes so complicated, that even the size and shape of the still can influence the final taste.

Rather than try and explain all the factors involved, I leave it to the experts, authors like Charles MacLean, Dave Broom, Robin Tucek and John Lamond. The best-known book is Michael Jackson’s Malt Whisky Companion published by Dorling Kindersley and is now in its fifth edition.

To begin with I want to recommend the least expensive Scotch tasted, which is justifiably a Vintages Essential: Te Bheag Connoisseurs’ Blend (949172) at $34.95 (700 mL). Praban Na Linne, meaning “a smugglers outlet by the Sound of Sleat”, makes this blend. It is also known as The Gaelic Whiskies, a small independent company based on the Isle of Skye founded in 1976 by Sir Iain Noble of Eilean Iarmain as part of a project to create employment in the south of Skye.

Introduced in 1992, Te Bheag (pronounced "chey vek") is "unchilfiltered" perhaps explains its superior taste. Chilfiltering, which ensures total transparency, entails cooling the whiskey to zero and filtering out the now solidified proteins. It has a light golden amber colour and a fairly intense, floral, fresh plum nose with some spicy, honeyed notes and a refined touch of smoky peat. On the palate it is slightly peppery, quite well structured and gently honeyed with peat tinged, ripe plum flavours.

Next up is reasonably elegant Highland single malt Glen Garioch 15 Year Old Highland Single Malt (446310) at $64.95 with 43% alcohol. Initially it is a bit neutral on the nose, with some hints of hay and faintly smoky, plumy notes. On the palate, it is harmonious and slightly spicy with peppery, medium-light bodied, very slightly smoky, dried ripe plum flavours.

While the latter is great for those who don’t like strong peaty flavours, I happened to love ‘Auld Reekie’ 12 Year Old Islay Single Malt (660068) at $79.95. ‘Auld Reekie’ (old smelly) was the 18th century name for the smoke-covered city of Edinburgh, where over 400 illicit stills were operating. Produced by independent bottler Duncan Taylor, it is referred to as “The Big Smoke”. The extremely smoky, complex, caramel tinged, menthol-peat nose isn’t for everyone. With 46% alcohol, the fairly peppery, rather pungent, smoky flavours are laced with fairly lush, rich, plumy notes in the middle and a smoldering fire finish that goes on and on.

Of the five Islay malts from Bowmore, the best value is Bowmore ‘Dawn’ Islay Single Malt (964288) at $89.95, which was aged 12 years in bourbon barrels and finished for two years in Ruby Port cask. It has a fairly peaty, slightly peppery, caramel tinged nose - the smoky notes grow in the glass. It is very dry but fairly harmonious with slightly peppery (51.5% alcohol), smoky, ripe plum and caramel flavours.

Moving up to one of the best of the entire tasting: Bowmore 25 Year Old Islay Single Malt (714113) at $249.95 (43% alcohol). The nose is seductively smoky and complex with spice tinged, baked plum and caramel notes. The harmonious, slightly smoky, complex, ripe plum flavours have a lifted, slightly lemony, peat tinged finish. In the top three of the 22 tasted.

Finally, the most expensive of the group was also one of the best. At $429.95, Diageo-owned “Rare Malts Reflection” Talisker 25 Year Old Isle of Skye Single Malt (960211) is something to behold with 57.8% alcohol. The complex nose shows nuts, spices and dried fruit. On the palate, the extremely bright, slightly peppery, caramel-tinged, ripe lemon flavours go on and on.

Those wanting to explore the world of whiskies should book their $95 tickets now for the upcoming 2005 edition of Spirit of Toronto. It takes place at Roy Thomson Hall on Saturday, November 5 from 7:30 - 11:30 pm. I am extremely disappointed that the LCBO will be totally absent, nor will there be an on-site retail outlet. For details click here.

2001-2002-2003-2004-2005 Tasting Note Database
Our tasting note database from December 31, 2000 to July 2005, covers every Vintages release product for the past 55 months. There are more than 9,000 notes in the database data. Just enter the name of the product, supplier name or CSPC number. Or you can search by type of wine, country of origin, even wine agent! Nothing could be easier. Also you can get information on the agent by clicking on the agent’s name, as well as current LCBO store inventory by clicking on "Check LCBO Availability", which will automatically tell you the number of bottles at LCBO as of last night.

To use our Tasting Notes Database: click here

** For All Visitors **
Vintages Releases
 To see the complete list of upcoming products from the
October 29 release, including In-Store Discovery items,
click here (sorted by date of release).
You can also see it sorted by agent click here

  To see the complete list of upcoming products from the
November 12 release, including In-Store Discovery items,
click here (sorted by date of release).
You can also see it sorted by agent click here

Copyright Food & Beverage Testing Institute of Canada 2005
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