“Past and place dictate the terms we use to describe the smells around us.” – Dave Broom
This is a succinct way of explaining why when two people smell and taste the same whisky, their reactions can be completely different yet still ring true. I stumbled upon this quote as today’s missive had me reaching for some Dave Broom.
I’ve always been partial to his scratchings, as he earnestly tries to put you in his shoes. He’s not writing about why a whisky is scored an 8 or 9. Instead, he helps you understand whisky by letting you stand with him when he learns something about drink, his surroundings, or himself. Isn’t that, and shouldn’t that be, a more valuable takeaway than a black and white number?
This past year I’ve been tasting less. I’ve been drinking mostly for my own enjoyment and curiosity. This, for the most part, has been a welcome change. Sitting down to something I really want rather than an afternoon of sniffing, tasting, and spitting categories that I’m not always enthusiastic about. On the other hand, you start to wonder if or when your senses begin to dull without the relentless gauntlet of spirits to keep them sharp.
Is this a legitimate concern? Or am I fumbling around in the dark for a black cat that isn’t there?
More recently I was down in my basement, fetching a bottle of wine for dinner. Rifling through cardboard boxes, I instead found a whisky that’d I bought five or six years ago. When it was first released, I was admittedly biased against the series as a whole. Previous editions had always seemed too alcoholic and not necessarily greater than the sum of their parts. However, I found myself eating my words when I took my first sip. The younger components had it roaring with life, while the older stock provided breadth and texture.
How many times in the history of ourselves have our prior experiences and memory told the whole story? Sure, whisky evolves over time, but it’s easy to forget that we do as well. Because of that, our past selves can only be trusted so much.
I thought about this as I was flipping through old tasting notes. When I read some, the drink’s sensations came back to me with ease, while others had gone stale. A bit like looking at photographs: some are only pictures, while others transport you back to a time and place. Made me wish I had a control tasting note in each book. A re-tasting of something every year, to act as a sort of a gyroscope for my present self:
“Oh, I was into fruit flavors this year.” “Ah, really keen on texture then.”
So, when I found this bottle of Flaming Heart stumbling around in the dark, the metaphor was too strong to ignore. Why not re-taste something I remember as stellar? Have a whisky check in on me, rather than the other way around.
Most whisky geeks that keep tabs on Compass Box know they have a fondness for blending Caol Ila and Clynelish, one that Compass Box wholeheartedly admits and defends. Eleuthera, The Lost Blend, Tobias & The Angel, and this edition of Flaming Heart are some of their most noteworthy examples.
The blend is as follows:
27.1% 30 year old Caol Ila
24.1% 20 year old Clynelish
10.3% 10 year old Teaninich aged in New French Oak barrels
38.5% 14 year old Caol Ila
Will this taste as good as I remember it? Will it fall short, or will I?
Compass Box Flaming Heart 15th Anniversary – Review
Color: Bright gold.
On the Nose: You know you’re in for some Islay nostalgia when the first thing you smell is smoked fish and oily peat. A heady and articulate bouquet that takes me right back to the island. This is broken up by some cracked pepper, followed by malted chocolate and wood varnish.
In the Mouth: I don’t mean to sound like an advert or the back of a bottle, but this is rich, layered, and smooth. That said, the Islay hallmarks continue to roll in: dry peat, dark chocolate, bitter orange peel, and graham cracker. The mid-palate is more distinct with molasses and sweet brine. The Clynelish peaks its head out on the finish with refreshing mint, but is soon submerged in mole chocolate and tar.
At least 5 years separate my first tasting and this one. Between these sips I’ve traveled, made new friends, learned from others, and yes, tried many drinks along the way. However, I think the former play more of a role in this experiment than the latter.
When I first tasted this whisky, “the younger components had it roaring with life, while the older components gave it breadth and texture.” I remember describing it to someone as a beast on a leash. Now, not only do I experience it as something more measured, but also on more congenial terms, like old friends. In the tasting notes I use words like “nostalgia,” “hallmarks,” and “takes me back.”
Has the whisky changed that much in bottle? Probably not. Have I changed that much? I hope so. If I could find my original notes from the first tasting, I’m sure there would be some overlap with this one. But the grocery list of sensations recorded by pen and paper doesn’t make the whole of the experience. Tasting this at two different times has left two distinct impressions.
Is one more accurate than another? I don’t think so. Both ring true.
This whisky has indeed checked in on me, and I think we both enjoyed the experience. I don’t believe we need a whetstone of tastings to stay sharp. As long as we learn from past and place, we’ll continue to better articulate what we taste.