As a relatively new convert to whisky drinking, I remember my journey of exploration quite well to this point. My first dabbles with liquid gold were somewhat naïve and clumsy. Downing shots of Laphroaig and Lagavulin with a friend was probably a silly thing to do. However, the more I consumed, the more I enjoyed, and it propelled me to embark on this crazy path of discovering different flavours of whiskies.
Recently, I had the opportunity to sample a Glen Garioch 1975 Samaroli/Coilltean. This tasting was blind, and in my honest opinion, I did not find it amazing. OK, let me clarify before anyone gets upset with me: I absolutely did enjoy the whisky and am well aware that I am a lucky girl for even tasting a drop… but there was something I detected on the nose that put me off. A noticeable rancidity that I found unappealing to the old snout! I felt that this opinion was in the minority in the room, but later on, I discovered that the few other women in attendance had agreed with me! In this case it seemed that there was a divide in preference between the men and women.
This got me thinking a bit about a topic that was in the public eye again not so long ago: whiskies tailored for the ladies. I scoffed at the idea, initially but could there actually be something there? I say that because I have been to a few tastings where women seemed to have picked out notes that some of the men did not. In other cases, whiskies that seemed to get a solid thumbs up from the guys were not so popular with the girls. I find this very interesting, and it has swayed my initial thoughts that it’s all just a marketing scheme (although Jane Walker was definitely heavy-handed nonsense).
In my experience of working in a kitchen, I noticed men and women did have slight differences in their senses of taste and smell. Working with food, you need to trust your nose; being able to identify ingredients that are fresh is always important. In my past, working with male counterparts, they would not be able to smell meat or fish that was getting slightly funky. Perfectly safe to eat, but with a warning to tell you that it won’t be safe for long. The kitchen environment allowed me to train my nose and taste buds to identify these smells, flavours and textures. That’s probably why I enjoy taking whisky notes so religiously.
On the other side of the counter with the customers, I found that men generally required more seasoning. They nearly always wanted to add more salt or sugar compared to the ladies. MSG too, of course, because in Chinese cooking there’s no getting away from everyone’s favourite umami-packing, flavour-enhancing ingredient! I have tasted MSG in its raw form and the flavour is… hmmm, interesting. It is neither salty nor sugary nor savoury, yet it is all of that. Imagine the initial sensation of all of those flavours in your mouth, but never coming to full effect, and then a kind of numb waxiness on the tongue, almost bitter, and sour and drying. Once tasted, never forgotten. My female customers often asked for no MSG to be added, perhaps they believed that food did not need any more flavouring? Wonder what whisky would be like with a sprinkling… I must try it one day!
Back to the blind tasting, as always I was relishing the challenge of picking out flavours. With help from a fellow tastee, I guessed (wrongly!) that this whisky might be a Bowmore based on a wee hint of soapiness I noticed. I wasn’t too far off though as around the time this was bottled Morrison Bowmore owned Glen Garioch and their cask management across the board was, shall we say, not so premium, I am not an expert and I could probably just about walk you through the process of making a whisky. When I found out how much this particular whisky was and I said I wasn’t the biggest fan, I did receive a few shocked faces. I know a lot of people won’t agree with me on my review… But taste is subjective right? Right.
For me and I am sure all of the whisky lovers out there, there is a time and a place for each individual whisky. Many things can affect how you experience the smell and taste like what was eaten or drank beforehand. Maybe if I ever get to try this whisky again I won’t smell those scents I encountered the first time. Who knows?!
Coilltean Samaroli Glen Garioch 1975 – review
Colour: white wine
On the nose: up front, I get a citrus and zesty punch, which mellows out over time. It becomes almost artificial, like what you would smell from a citrus-scented furniture polish. Hints of peaches and fresh-cut grass comes through alongside fleeting bonito flakes. I get strong farmyard smells; silage, a sourness that I can only imagine from fermented and rotting fruit and vegetables. Finally the smell of soap—imagine the water you get at the bottom of the soap dish.
In the mouth: I found this whisky very sweet, only slightly smoky, with hints of ground, stale peppercorns. Saline, like contact lens solution, a watery, salty tang. It was a bit sweaty, oily and ever so slightly pungent, giving it a thick mouthfeel that lingered. To me, it was fresh peat and fruity, a little bit like sour unripe grapes and grapefruit. Finish: long, with a chilli-spice burn all over the mouth, and at the base of the throat, muted black pepper and a feeling of numbness on the tongue over time.
This whisky was really nice, albeit a bit funky for my nose. The taste was definitely spot on, but that soapy farminess put a dampener on it for me. I can only score this using the best whisky I’ve tasted to date as my ten on the scale… after deducting a point for the price of the Samaroli, I’d give it a…
Photograph kindly provided by the San Francisco Whisky Club.