Back towards the end of last year, I set Vin from No Nonsense whisky a blind tasting challenge. You can catch up on that over on Youtube. Suffice to say, he did a rather good job indeed. As a thank you, Vin has sent me my very own 5 dram challenge.
As you may have gathered, I am not a Youtuber. I have a face for radio for starters, and I don’t have the smoothness of delivery needed for videos. Oh and I can’t edit for toffee! So I’m going to go for the old fashioned text approach to this. I hope you can follow me though.
I have 5 drams. I am to nose and taste them and note down any thoughts. I am then to order them in preference order. Then there are 3 envelopes.
The first contains the challenges. I don’t know what these are, and I won’t until I open the envelope after committing to my preferences.
The second contains the actual drams themselves, but doesn’t match them up to the samples themselves.
The final envelope contains the answers, the point where my humiliation is complete!
First thoughts are, that all the drams are of a very similar colour. Well done to Vin for this, because it will make life a lot harder when deciding which is which.
So here we go. This is where my lack of consistent glassware is somewhat comical, but I doubt it will make much of a difference to my enjoyment of the challenge.
Yellow: On the nose I immediately get old fashioned sweet shops. Strawberry laces and drumsticks. A slight mustiness develops into well soaked dried fruit. There’s a coconut hint there as it opens up. I would hazard a guess that this has spent time in a rum cask. I quite like this nose. On the palate it quite sweet and creamy. Still getting lots of sweet shop vibes, with vanilla and an oily mouthfeel. Then at the end there’s quite an oaky dryness as it finishes. This is yummy.
Blue: On the nose I get a musty smokiness to start. My thoughts immediately head to Islay, but this could so easily be a red herring. It’s quite sweet again. The smoke is quite subtle actually, but I struggle to get much else. There’s a little stewed fruit. Rhubarb possibly. I’m going to dive right in with a sip. The peaty smoke is there right away, but it’s also somewhat washed out. I would say this is a 40% ABV bottling. It’s quite smooth which leads me to wonder if it might be a Connemara. I didn’t like NAS much, but the 12 year old was ok. It might not be Connemara but I don’t think it’s Islay.
Green: This one’s a little weird. I get freshly baked rye bread on the nose. There’s a distinct nuttiness to it. It’s quite pleasant, but makes you work for the aromas. After a while of letting it rest I get green apples. The nuttiness continues on the palate. It zings though with orange zest and oaky pepperiness. The finish is quite long and mellow. I wonder if this might be some sort of Highland Park. It’s certainly a well made dram.
Red: Marzipan and dark chocolate hits me right away on the nose. This is a real Christmas dram to me as it reminds me of those marzipan logs you get from German supermarkets. This is really familiar, but I can’t place it. There’s definitely some sherry in the mix here. Very creamy mouthfeel, quite similar to the Yellow sample above, but this has a real prickle of spice that builds as you drink. Still getting chocolate and dried fruits but there’s also a sour note in there as well. Baked apples with plenty of cinnamon and sultanas anyone? I quite like this as a slow dram.
Orange: Very musty on the nose. Lots of damp bog and sweaty socks. This one really singes the nasal hairs! Getting some vanilla and meadow grass after a while of letting it rest. That’s then joined by a good bonfire with sausages cooking over the embers. On the palate it’s quite the alcohol assault. Loads of chilli heat and smoke. This must be quite a high ABV, probably cask strength. There’s lots of meaty flavours behind the harshness, and quite a lot of sweetness. Salty liquorice on the finish. I actually like this a good deal, just should have gone in a bit more carefully! I reckon this is an Islay, possibly an Octomore or a Port Charlotte.
This is quite hard actually, but there are definitely some I like and some I don’t. The question is, which would I most like to drink more of and which could I do without. So, my final order (best first), before delving into the challenges is:
- Orange (just pips it to the post because of the high ABV)
Envelope 1 – The Challenges
So here goes – the first moment of truth…
Forgive me for the odd reading of this, but I answered them in a different order to the way they are presented. I wanted to maintain the presentation so it matches the way Vin posed the questions.
Identify the following:
- The blended Islay
I have to go with Orange for this. But that knocks the Octomore/PC theory out of the water.
- The Norwegian Newbie
I wonder if this is Green. It’s quite unusual, hence the feeling it could be Norwegian.
- The Japanese
I’m left with this as the Yellow dram. Interesting.
- The aged Scotch
Red is my guess here. Lots of depth of flavour and nice spicy notes.
- The peated non Islay
For me this is the easiest I think, and is in fact the first I answered, despite it being the last. I think Blue is non-Islay.
Identify the following:
- The 25 year old
Going with Red here but I feel uneasy!
- The ‘full proof’
I’m going to hazard that this is the Orange dram. I reckon it is Elements of Islay.
- the 4 year old
Probably one and the same as the Norwegian as they are new to the game, so Green.
- The NAS malt
Blue, for the least pleasant of the bunch being NAS.
- the non-scotch grain
Well if Yellow is the Japanese, then I’ll go with that as the grain. It certainly carries the sweetness that grain whisky can have.
Envelope 2 – The Semi-reveal
Well, well, well. I’ve done better than I thought! (Famous last words!) The whiskies on offer are:
- Det Norske Brenneri Audny Series 3 – 46% (4 Year Old Norwegian)
So I was right to combine the Norwegian and the 4 year old. I think this is Green.
- Douglas Laing Strathclyde 25 Year Old 1990 (cask 11335) – Old Particular – 51.5%
So the aged Scotch is also the 25 year old. I’ve gone with Red for this, but now I see it’s a grain I’m a little less certain.
- The Ardmore Legacy – 40%
I feel quite happy having this as my least favourite. I’m almost certain I’m right about this being Blue for the peated non-Islay and being a NAS. I really didn’t like this when I tried this previously.
- Elements of Islay Peat Full Proof – 59.3%
This stuck out a mile. I’m sure I’m right here. This is Orange.
- Suntory The Chita – 43%
I’m not surprised to see this in the mix as I know Vin has a bottle and likes it. That being said, am I right with it being Yellow?
Envelope 2 – The Final Reveal
Here we go. Can’t believe how nervous I am!
Audny Series 3, the 4 year old Norwegian was indeed GREEN! 1/5
The Strathclyde 25 was RED! Wow I got that one right. I’m surprised. Probably my least confident of the lot. 2/5
Ardmore Legacy was BLUE. I knew that one right away. Not a fan unfortunately. 3/5
Elements was ORANGE. What a dram 4/5
The Chita was YELLOW. Again, another beaut of a dram. 5/5
Well there we go. A great blind tasting. I was pretty hopeless at identifying anything completely blind although there were definitely some pointers. But as soon as there was a semi reveal I was right on the money. It just goes to show, good whisky leaves a mark! In retrospect I feel a bit silly for not spotting that the Red was a grain. It had the classic creaminess on the palate. The only job I have left is to polish off the leftovers! I’ll do that in reverse order of my preference.
Huge thanks to Vin for a seriously enjoyable tasting and some absolute crackers in there for me to enjoy. If you ever get the chance to do a fully blind tasting, do it. It’s a lot of fun, and you might just surprise yourself with what you do and don’t like.