On December 17, I turned on my computer and started Zoom to meet with more than 20 other whisky nerds from Germany and the Netherlands. Our pursuit: a virtual blind tasting with our common friend Basti, who is active on Instagram with the profile @WhiskyGermany. He treated us to an exquisite selection of six single cask Scotch whiskies from the Berlin-based indie bottler Sansibar Whisky. The special thing about it: The samples, which we could buy in advance for the very friendly price of 30 Euro postpaid, did not contain any other info than a number. Under Basti’s guidance, we then proceeded to eye and nose and savor them together. Everyone threw in their impressions and guessed how old, strong and expensive each bottling could have been. Basti noted these information down carefully. Once we had sipped each dram, we revisited the whole bunch once more. This time, however, Basti also asked us to identify the distillery. After we had made our guesses, he releaved to us what we really had in the glass. For kicks and giggles, I have written my personal bets next to the actual whiskies listed below.
The first dram of the evening was a Tobermory 8yo from a sherry cask. This was somewhat surprising because the whisky had barely absorbed any color from the staves. I found it to be robust and autumnly in the nose with passion fruit, toffee, cream and a peculiar whiff of smoke (the one you sometimes get in an unpeated whisky that feels a bit fumy nonetheless). On the palate it was herby, woody and spicy. Especially during the long finish, a distinct pepper note came through. Despite the few edges it showed here and there, this fine starter marked a smooth and easy-sipping entry into the tasting. The Secret Orkney 16yo from an ex-bourbon cask, which followed second, was a bit more challenging to the nostrils and the taste buds. It had a very peculiar flavor profile that raised a million associations in our minds; yet longboats, axes and norse gods were not among them. When I smelled this Highland Pa … erm … Secret Orkney, perfume clashed with sulfur and wine gums clashed with old cloth. The degustation revealed dried fruits and fallen leaves as well as straw, honey, nutmeg, gingerbread, cough syrup and chocolate graters. Being a dedicated fan of off-beat drops, I totally loved it!
Next we got to taste the oldest whisky in the line-up, namely a Blair Athol 30yo. Fully matured in a top-class ex-bourbon cask, this one was a total fruit basket. It was bright, brisk and beautiful. During the nosing, I smelled apples, pears, grapes and tangerines. And when I drank it, I tasted cocktail cherries, puff pastry, wine gums and mint leaves. The whisky had a full body, a copious mouthfeel and a stunning richness. Its age clearly showed in the nostrils and on the palate. A grand malt, whithout a doubt! But how do you keep up the excitement after such a cracker? Well, one way to do it is by serving your guests another highlight immediately afterwards. And that’s exactly what Basti did. So we followed up on the Blair Athol 30yo with a Ben Nevis 20yo! It was very complex with oranges, sultanas, vanilla, tobacco and Black Forest cake on the nose as well as camomile tea, citrus zest, dried fruits and cappuchino on the palate. Underneath this potpourri of well-interwoven flavors, the spirit had also developed a bit of a smoky quality – not unlike the one I sensed in the Tobermory we had savored before.
Dram number five was the audience’s favorite; it got the bulk of the votes in the final poll. The Bruichladdich 11yo from a Chateau Lafite red wine cask was rich with all sorts of sweet, fruity and even musty smells n’ smacks: a freshly opened box of creamy Belgian chocolate provided the sweetness; an intense mix of raspberries, strawberries, rhubarb and dark grapes provided the fruitiness; an underlying note that reminded me of damp cellar walls provided the mustiness. On top of that, me and the rest of the tasting group also made out cotton candy, baked bananas and salted caramel. You see: There was really a lot going on in this heavy, weighty dram. And all of it was very, very good! After the Laddie, we remained on Islay. Moving over to the East of the island, we ended our virtual dramming get-together with a Caol Ila 19yo. That one was quite an oddity. For whatever reason, its natural strength had dropped down to 40.2 per cent after roughly two decades of sleep. Consequently, it felt a little thin at first. Yet, it also produced some really great sensations: sweet smoke, grilled bacon, jellied cowberries, cooled-off BBQ coal and even baked mushrooms! And, much to the surprise of several participants, its peaty finish lasted looong … !
Well, as you will surely know by now, the line-up of Basti’s virtual Sansibar Whisky blind tasting was quite extraordinary. Yet, that was but one side of the coin. The execution, the atmosphere and the feeling of togetherness were really great, too. Thanks to everyone involved for such a diverting – and certainly also delish – evening!
The drams — and my uneducated guesses
Tobermory 2010 (Single Malt / 8yo / Islands / Sherry / 53.7% / EUR 85) — Ben Nevis 12yo
Secret Orkney 2003 (Single Malt / 16yo / Islands / Bourbon / 49.1% / EUR 105) — Ardmore 16yo
Blair Athol 1988 (Single Malt / 30yo / Highlands / Bourbon / 46.9% / EUR 219) — Tullibardine 26yo
Ben Nevis 1996 (Single Malt / 20yo / Highlands / Bourbon / 51.9% / EUR 149) — Glengoyne 14yo
Bruichladdich 2009 (Single Malt / 11yo / Islands / Chat. Lafite / 46.9% / EUR 139) — Glen Scotia 19yo
Caol Ila 1997 (Single Malt / 19yo / Islay / Sherry / 40.2% / EUR 219) — South Islay 12yo
*** I bought the samples for the tasting myself. I got the photo of the bottles from Basti. Thank you! ***