“I’m sorry, guys. But when you buy a bottle like this and keep it to yourself rather than share it with your friends, you’re a loser”, said The Whisky Jack’s Gearoid O’Callaghan last Thursday, when he popped the cork off the Octomore 08.1 towards the end of his “Salt – Sugar – Smoke” tasting at Blackline coffee bar in Hamburg. And he was absolutely right! Sure, we all have those bottles at home, in regard to which we are a little undecided when or with whom we should open them; or if we should really open them at all. But in the end, whisky is not for collecting dust, but for giving people a wonderful time and bringing them together. And that is exactly what happened at this gathering, which Gearoid later refered to on Instagram as the “best whisky tasting since like ages!”.
Traditionally, the tastings of The Whisky Jack start with a dish rather than a dram. As many of his guests come to the events straight from work and have probably not eaten anything for hours, the cheerful Irishman always treats them to a hearty meal or a savoury snack before he pours the first glass. In accordance with the motto of the evening, we were served a two-course menu that was a little salty, a little smoky and a little sweet – just like the whiskies that would follow afterwards. The saltiness came from the anchovies in the main course, which was a Swedish potato casserole called Jansen’s Temptation. The smokiness was added by the roasted walnuts on top of the salad on the side. And the sweetness, last but not least, was provided by a yummy plum and apple compot with whipped cream, star anise and clove. The recipe for the latter, Gearoid added with noticable pride, was composed by his 5-year-old daughter, who already is as much of a gourmet as her father.
Tying in with the food he had prepared, the bottles Gearoid had picked also covered a broad palette of flavours and aromas – with some kinda coastal character being the link that connected them all. We started with the 10yo from Teaninich Distillery, which is located in the Northern Highlands close to the shoreline of Cromarty Firth. Initially, I found this whisky to be more on the fruity and exotic side. But when the salty finish kicked in, I knew why it was part of this well-selected line-up. Prophecy came next. I had this heavily peated Jura expression several times before, but never did I find it to be THAT smoky. While there were also some sweet and nutty notes in the back, my predominant sensations included grilled artichokes, smoked trouts, barbecue sauce and bonfire fumes. What a dram! Number three was the 2016 edition of Longrow Peated, which Gearoid had bought upon launch and kept closed for over a year in anticipation of his next tasting focusing on peaty malts. I was particularly impressed by the baffling complexity of this mighty fine Campbeltown dram. In the nose, it had the fruitiness of green apples and the freshness of mint leaves, enshrouded by no more than a thin veil of smoke. On the palate, the peat stepped forward and filled the entire mouth with tar and ash. Despite its massive presence, it still left enough room for the accompanying flavours of sea salt, black pepper and candied pears to shine through.
Befittingly for a tasting called “Salt – Sugar – Smoke”, we ended the evening with two peat monsters from Islay, namely Laphroaig’s Quarter Cask and Bruichladdich’s Octomore 08.1. Immensely fierce and feral, the first awakened the beast in some of the participants. “When I sip this and close my eyes,” one of them remarked, “I don’t feel like I am a member of society anymore. I feel like I am somewhere in the woods, wearing furr and hunting my next meal with a spear”. And the latter… well… it was an Octomore, so it had to be amazing! As all Octomores, the 08.1 is incredibly peaty, but also very diverse. Underneath that dark, cold and intense coat of cigarette ash, I also discovered a wealth of malty, grainy and meaty flavours as well as hints of light fruits and chewy fudge.
Having read this far, most of you will hopefully agree that we got to try five highly enjoyable single malt Scotch whiskies that evening. But the line-up alone is not what made this tasting such a beautiful experience. The location was great, the staff attentive and the atmosphere chill. Gearoid not only shared many stories and insights with us, but also encouraged everybody to participate actively in vivid conversations and lively exchanges. In between the drams, we learned through fun sensoric games how to approach and appreciate whisky with all our senses. And at any time throughout the 3.5-hour event, folks mingled, chattered, relished, wondered, laughed and smiled. I do not know for sure, but I think it was this special chemistry and atmosphere that made Gearoid use the afore-mentioned quote to get straight to the heart of this marvelous tasting event…
Teaninich 10yo (Single Malt / Scotch / Highlands / 10yo / 43% / ~49.00 Euro)
Jura Prophecy (Single Malt / Scotch / Islands / NAS / 46% / ~55.00 Euro)
Longrow Peated (Single Malt / Scotch / Campbeltown / NAS / 46% / ~37.00 Euro)
Laphroaig Quarter Cask (Single Malt / Scotch / Islay / NAS / 48% / ~35.00 Euro)
Octomore 08.1 by Bruichladdich (Single Malt / Scotch / Islay/ 8yo/ 59.3% / ~129.00 Euro)
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