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Mystery Dram Tasting

A few weeks ago, fellow whisky lover, the Whisky Rover, emailed me with a remarkably festive offering. He had a few samples of whisky he wanted to share, and was after a digital whisky aficionado to exchange drams. So he sent me 5 random samples – only, he didn’t tell me what they were. The challenge was to give my thoughts blind. I was up for that – and potentially making a fool of myself. Plus I was actually keen to see what I could tell without knowing anything about the whisky. After each dram he told me what it was – and the reviews and answers are below. Let’s get on with it.

Dram #1 – Colour: pale, a very light floral honey. Nose: lovely creamy, buttery nose with lashings of sugar. Mead. Really strong vegetative notes. With a gentle, understated blast of barely. Citrusy, briny edge. This is a champion nose! In the mouth: great mineral feel in the mouth. A lot of those aromas follow through neatly. Zingy, malty, metallic descending towards an bit of an oak-dominant finish. Lingering bold maltiness, that I can’t quite pick apart from peatiness. I get the idea that it’s a young dram, or hasn’t had a lot of cask influence just yet, but it’s certainly a dynamic and spritely whisky.

Answer: Asda Extra Special Islay Malt, 40%, Islay distilled casks selected by J.Glass, price £20.50.

My response: good lord! Colour me surprised. That is not too shabby at all for a supermarket blend, and a bargain at £20.50. It’s better than a few single malts I’ve had this year… Here’s the Whisky Rover’s review.

Dram #2– Colour: darker end of amber, though not all the way – perhaps dark pine furniture. Nose: some laser-sharp sweetness there. Sultanas, raisins, apricots falling back into a light brine. Slightly woody, but not unpleasantly so. In the mouth: so some of the flavours on the nose shine through, but there’s a curious note to this. Again, different rather than unpleasant: a bitter, mineral edge to all those dried fruits. Elderberry. On reflection there’s a very strong wood influence, it seems. It’s like a mouthful of well-done toast with thinly-spread blackberry jam on top. The finish just has some lingering red wine tones, with a touch of tannin.

Answer: Ben Nevis McDonald’s Traditional 46%

My response: Well, this is the second Ben Nevis I’ve tried and I’m still not impressed with its offerings. Solid, don’t get me wrong, but just not a standout. Here’s what the Whisky Rover had to say.

Dram #3 – Colour: Darker still. We’re passing into heather honey now. On the nose: big plummy sweetness. That’s a dessert in that class. Passes through into an aromatic dessert wine, with hints of grape juice. In the mouth: delicious. Jammy. Stewed fruits. Lovely velvety, though not all that thick, texture. It’s not two dimensional, as the handful of flavours are all bold and done tremendously well. Leads onto a blackcurrant and gently spiced finish. I’d put a shekel on this being a wine or port-finished whisky.

Answer: Longrow Red Australian Shiraz cask 2013 release, 53.7%

My response: Boom! I knew it was a wine finish. It gives whisky such a nice texture. I love Longrow (or rather, Springbank Distillery), and even visited it once. Here’s the Whisky Rover’s thoughts.

Dram #4 – Colour: amazing how quickly one runs out of colour comparisons, especially given my perception of a colour is probably different to yours. Not quite as dark as the last dram, and little red in there. On the nose: sweet, creamy, soapy, with a little brine and citrus on the back end. In the mouth: gorgeously sweet. That is a wonderful harmony of dried fruits, raisins, apricots, without plunging into thick molasses. Blood oranges, with some faint hits of brie and then falling back on the woody spices (which aren’t at all overwhelming). A little lingering grapefruit note. There’s a stateliness to this, a real elegance. Very much like a Speysider (though one can never really tell). Reminds me of Glenfarclas or Glenfiddich.

Answer: Bladnoch Sherry Cask 12 year, 55%, bottled 2012

My response: First Bladnoch I’ve tasted and I’m impressed. This is good stuff. Complex and enticing. Whisky Rover’s thoughts here.

Dram #5 – Colour: as dark as blood! On the nose: rich, rich treacle. Dark sugars. Divine. Wood spices. Treacle sponge and custard. Plum jam. Late summer blackberries. In the mouth: my word. Despite the intensity, there’s a lovely rich lightness of touch about this. It kind of dissolves into your tongue, rather than sit in your mouth. Not a thick whisky, but really reminds me of a fine fortified wine. Christ, this is all packed together so nicely that I almost don’t want to think about the parts: red grape juice, slight woodiness (this combining to suggest tannins); brandy and dates; elderberries. There’s no dominant finish for me – just a gentle, oozing fade.

Answer: Highland Park 25 year old, sherry butt bottled by Cadenhead’s in 2013

My response: Tremendous stuff, this. Really impressive. I’m not surprised it was a Highland Park, but I wouldn’t have thought that off the bat. It reminded me of a Karuizawa I’ve tried, in fact. Anyway, here’s the Whisky Rover’s thoughts.

So there we have it. Now I’m going to return the favour and send some blind samples back. This is an excellent way to share your whiskies with like-minded people – especially if no one you know is into the sacred nectar that is whisky. I highly recommend trying it out yourself.

Mark

I've written about (and reviewed) whisky for Whisky Magazine and The Scottish Sporting Gazette among other publications. I do other writing too: several mass market genre novels, a few short stories, including for BBC Radio 4. For my day job (I know, I don't get out much) I work in digital content. Follow me on Instagram.com/maltreview/ or Twitter.com/MaltReview.

  1. raithrover
    raithrover says:

    Glad you enjoyed the 5 mysteries. I’m sure we’ll repeat it in 2014 as I have far too much whisky and it is all about new experiences. The Highland Park 25 year was my whisky of 2013 so glad to read you did approve of it. I thought your verdicts on each were excellent considering they were just samples and a blind tasting.

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