Duncan Taylor & A.D. Rattray Tasting w/ Jonathan Bray
The excitement continues to mount as word spreads about this club. We’ve hit the ground running and the recepetion has been overwhelmingly positive. There are, of course, occasional tweaks being made, but these are no more than minor course corrections. The Dram Initiative is now three meetings deep (well…four, if you count the Founder’s Meeting), and is starting to build a bit of buzz. I know this because a couple times now when it has been mentioned to random folks, their reply has been along the lines of ‘oh yeah, I’ve heard about you guys’. Neat stuff.
So why the buzz? Simply put: great whiskies…great speakers….great events.
We’re now to the point where the committee has lined up more than a dozen future agendas, all absolutely peppered with spectacular malts and some great presenters. Considering we meet approximately every six weeks or so, we look to be lined up for about a year and half at this point. Maybe longer. To steal a line from Timbuk3: “the future’s so bright, I gotta wear shades”.
July 4th may be Independence Day in the US, but for those of us in Calgary, we made July 9th “Independents Day”. A good mate of ours, Jonathan Bray, he of Purple Valley Imports fame, came through as honoured guest (read: sacrificial lamb) for the evening, and tackled the concept of independent bottling. Well…that was sort of what the overarching theme was, but Jonathan’s central focus (thesis?) was more on the concept of balance in whisky.
It just so happens that in his varied portfolio, Jonathan boasts two of the heavy hitters in the world of independent bottling: A.D. Rattray and Duncan Taylor. While the former has had a rather formidable presence in Calgary over the years, the Duncan Taylor releases have been a little more few and far between.
An event like this was the perfect opportunity to sample two different bottlers, several different distilleries (aka ‘the horizontal tasting’), cover a bunch of whisky regions, run the gambit in terms of ages and…just drink some great whiskies. In fact, this evening’s flight was built around five malts that all boasted age statements of over 20 years.
Our events are formal in the sense that they are structured sit down affairs with the line-up secured and poured before starting, but there is no standing on ceremony beyond that. We like to laugh, mock and shout out the occasional bit of banter. This evening was no different in that sense, but where Jonathan excelled was in engaging the group. This was by far the most vocal we’ve seen the gang, in terms of contributing their thoughts regarding nosing/tasting notes they were picking out and generally partaking in a bit more of a dialogue with the host. This is what it’s all about.
One of the coolest things about what we’re doing here in the Initiative is striking a balance between formal club setting and an absolutely free, independent and unstructured approach to an overarching agenda. Put simply…every night is put together with highest standards, but no two events will be the same. Each presenter that comes through the club is given free rein to set their own agenda.
This independence, granted to both the club and the presenter, makes for a refreshing appproach. We’re not limited to any sort of ‘canned’ presentation, stock set of malts or regulated structure (excepting any self-imposed). It’s working so far. Tonight with ADR and DT proved that.
So, let’s move on to the whiskies themselves. Sorta give you an idea as to what we tried (or a recap for members, if you will):
We tried four whiskies each from DT and ADR. The point was not head-to-head competition. It was simply a survey or showcase. We did however, at the end, poll the group to determine favorites of the night. These little bits of information regarding preferences help us tailor the tastings to suit the club accordingly.
The preferential voting method used by the Dram Initiative is the rank system, in which a show of unwashed hands is tallied and then interpreted by the Maltmonster.
(All tasting notes by Curt)
Auchentoshan 15 Year Old (A.D. Rattray) 59% ABV Cask #478 Rank: #8
Nose: Very light and somehow still carrying a few spirity/feinty notes even at 15 years. These do mellow with a little breathing time. Some florals and grains. Vanilla. Toast with marmalade. Toffee and raisin. A really neat ‘toasted’ note.
Palate: Chocolate. Apple. Toothpicks. Quite tart and toasted. Raisin and butter tart.
Thoughts: As jaded as this sounds…this one is still too young. Decent whisky, but not quite ready. Finished last out of the evening’s flight, but was still a decent start.
Mortlach 15 Year Old (Duncan Taylor) 53.8% ABV Cask #262 Rank: #4
Nose: Orange with some yeasty dough. An old school style malt, but surprisingly delicate for such a profile. Not as ‘old school’ as most of the more meaty Mortlach out there. Honey and sponge toffee. Faux white chocolate. Fruits are primarily citrus, but a touch of mixed berry in cream.
Palate: Melon and pear notes. A touch of florals on the palate…odd. Slightly prickly (stale white pepper maybe?). Eucalyptus. Faint hint of dill. Fades into plum skins. Where’s the beef?
Thoughts: Now we’re talking. Tasty Mortlach…and even better than the taste is the nose. Fear to think what this would have been at 25 years or so. This is a distillery that continues to impress.
Strathmill 21 Year Old (Duncan Taylor) 54.8% ABV Cask #4239 Rank: #7
Nose: Caramel. Slightly malty. Some grapefruit. A touch of sharp papaya or mango. Dark and creamy. Leather with a touch of smoke. Swiss cheese (y’know that sweaty/footy note?…don’t get me wrong…I like pungent cheeses of all sorts…this is not a bad thing). Somewhat salty. Granny Smith apple.
Palate: Smoked apple, right off the bat. A sharp bitter note follows. Like a high percent cacao dark chocolate. A sort of fishiness. Takes a few swallows for the palate to embrace this one. Returns to Granny Smith apple notes and barley as it fades. Good, but not excellent.
Thoughts: A rather odd whisky that didn’t rank too high this eve, but still had a few fans. The nose, in particular, shines.
Blair Athol 22 Year Old (Duncan Taylor) 50.5% ABV Cask #2927 Rank: #6
Nose: Barley. Very smooth vanilla and pure honey. A little bit of dust and old wood. Some pears meet a dark jammy cherry note. Clay. Very clean. Very pleasant.
Palate: A touch of oak and smoke. Ju-jubes. Very juicy. Like orange fruits baked into something white and fluffy. The oak is pronounced but never overpowering. Comes back to the grains at the end.
Thoughts: Very balanced in its utter simplicity. Would pair beautifully with a rich dessert or really good chocolate.
Glen Moray 24 Year Old (Duncan Taylor) 48.4% ABV Cask #1350 Rank: #5
Nose: Heavy caramel notes here. A lumbering, brooding malt, for sure. The honey is enormous…like ‘right out of the comb’ big. Slightly meaty. Some cinnamon. This is more in line with what I’d expect from Mortlach. Vague wet rock note.
Palate: Great delivery. Kinda meaty again, with a little smoke. Some briny, lemony notes. Add a bit of peat and some more smoke here and I’d think this was an Islay malt. Nice long linger with a great aftertaste.
Thoughts: I could happily curl up with the hound and a book to this one. Definitely recommended. Great outing from this distillery.
Miltonduff 27 Year Old (A.D. Rattray) 51.9% ABV Cask #12499 Rank: #3
Nose: Lovely nose. Right in my wheelhouse. Some latex and old cask notes. Peach. Tobacco pouch. Mild pepper. Cookie dough with a little nutmeg and cinnamon. This is almost spectacular. Love this one.
Palate: Some light fruits. Oh wow…nice development. Sugar cookies. Whipped vanilla icing and the best custard you can imagine. Flawless integration of wood, spirit and…magic. Touch of sweet pink grapefruit too.
Thoughts: Plucked at exactly the right age. This is probably the most balanced and composed malt of the night, even if it wasn’t the number one ranking. The exact argument needed in FAVOR of single cask indie bottlings.
Laphroaig 18 Year Old (A.D. Rattray) 55% ABV Cask #2244 Alberta Exclusive Rank: #2
Nose: Farmy and peaty. Some tar and rubber. Wet straw. Sea spray. Bacon. Smoke and tobacco. Lemon. Fabric bandaids. More and more smoke and rubber. Cucumber with salt and pepper. A bit of fruity sweetness, but not sure which fruits.
Palate: Meaty, but not bacon here. Well, maybe a touch of cured pig. Develops nicely. Quite briny. Deep threads of caramel and chocolate. Lemon zest, but a bit more fruit hiding behind that dense wall of smoke too. Tasty and VERY Islay. Which, of course, makes me melt.
Thoughts: A great Laphroaig that all were digging. The fruits meet the peats in a great rumble. In the end it’s the peats though. Bold and lovely.
Coal Ila 22 Year Old A.D. Rattray 57.7% ABV Cask # 6264 Willow Park Exclusive Rank: #1
Nose: A touch of kerosene. White fruits and aged mellow peat. Some eucalyptus and a little pepper. Smoke and rich chocolate. Some nice baking spices too. Somehow still mellow and showing very restrained peat.
Palate: Love the way the sweet and tangy notes arrive and spread across the tongue. Smooth and a little waxy. Chocolatey and fruity. Some orange-y notes. Sweettarts candies. Oak at just the right age. Delicious and holding the perfect linger. Typical Islay green apple ebb and fruit skins on the back end of this one.
Thoughts: Best of the night. And that is reflective of the votes from a room heavily weighted with self-professed non-peatophiles. *(most of the notes for this Caol Ila are from a previous session).
Odd how a club that boasts a disproportionate amount of declared non-peatheads still ranked the two peaty heavyweights at one and two, huh? Hmmmm…an omen of things to come?
Another one in the books. Lots of fun and I think many of the gang were all over the idea of getting to try eight different distilleries in an eve. Next month’s gathering promises more of the same. Details to follow in the coming days.
Thanks again to Jonathan. Look forward to having him back through with another piece of his expansive empire in the near future.
– Words: Curt
– Photos: Curt