One of the best ways to improve your whisky knowledge is learning from those who know so much about the topic that you could easily call them a whisky encyclopedia on two legs. One such guy is Gordon Dundas, honorable Keeper of the Quaich and Global Brand Ambassador to Beam Suntory. While attending his masterclass at BorderShop Whisky Festival last Saturday, I wrote till my fingers bled (figuratively speaking, of course) and I was still not able to bring half of the insights and anecdotes he shared to paper. Still, at the end of the 60+ minutes talk and tasting, I felt like I had learned a thousand things about whisky which I had never known before.
We started our 6-stop journey in Japan, where we tried a single grain bottling by Chita followed by a travel exclusive version of the famous Hibiki blend. Tasting those two back to back was really interesting because significant quantities of the former can also be found in the latter. Gordon described the build-up of the Hibiki like this: The slightly peated Hakushu poses as “core malt”, while the fruity Yamazaki serves as “dresser malt”. The “component that brings it all together”, however, is the Chita. Naturally, the multi-layered Hibiki was deeper and broader than the Chita. But the Chita – matured exclusively in finest red wine and sherry casks from Spain – was able to hold its own with ease, too. Light and sweet with notes of strawberry and candy, it can be enjoyed either neat or, as Gordon suggested, highball-style with ice and soda.
From the Land of the Rising Sun we proceeded to the Lowlands of Scotland. Here, we drank the Auchentoshan Blood Oak, which our host called the distillery’s “magic malt”. He used that phrase because a single drop of water was enough to transform the rich, tannin-heavy Blood Oak into a much sweeter and more buttery dram. We tried this ourselves and were stunned by the immense effect that such a small quota of H2O had on the bronze liquid in our glasses. Next up was a total classic in the form of Bowmore’s sherry-finished 15yo followed by another one of Islay’s best, namely the An Cuan Mor from Scotland’s most polarizing distillery Laphroaig. Normally, Gordon said, he would end the tasting with such a peat bomb. But this time he still had an ace up his sleeve that was strong enough to fight its way through the smoke clouds that still inhabited our mouths…
The Glen Garioch (speak Glen Geerie) that marked the thundering finale of the Beam Suntory masterclass with Gordon Dundas was kept for 15 years in Oloroso sherry casks and bottled at almost 54 per cent. Fruity, spicy and leathery all at once, this malt is best described using expressions such as “really powerful”, “impossible to tame” and “incredibly intense”. “This whisky makes me wanna light a cigar and sit down in a leather armchair”, Gordon joked when we sipped on his glass. And while me and the other 15 to 20 participants were all seated on regular wooden chairs, all we had to do was close our eyes for a moment. The Glen Garioch then carried us off to the dusty study of a 16th century mansion in the marshlands. The perfect way to draw a line under such a grand event!
The Chita Single Grain (NAS / Japanese whisky / 43% / ~40 Euro*)
Hibiki Harmony Master’s Select (NAS / Japanese whisky / 43% / ~57 Euro*)
Auchentoshan Blood Oak (NAS/ Scotch whisky / Lowlands / 46% / ~45 Euro*)
Bowmore 15yo Darkest (15yo / Scotch whisky / Islay/ 40% / ~63 Euro*)
Laphroaig An Cuan Mor (NAS / Scotch whisky / Islay/ 48% / ~88 Euro*)
Glen Garioch 15yo Cask Strength (15yo / Scotch whisky / Highlands/ 53.7% / ~50 Euro*)
*According to the current price list of the Scandlines BorderShop Puttgarden.
Beam Suntory: https://www.beamsuntory.com/
Glen Garioch: http://www.glengarioch.com/