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My Handcrafted Opinions on Whiskies, Distilleries and Other Related Stuff

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Most Recent Whisky Review

London Distillery LV 1767 Edition

Note: This was first attempt to limit my increasinlg rare tasting notes to 280 characters so I can also tweet full review rather than link for all my millenial readers....

London Distillery LV 1767 Edition

54.3% ABV, 100% Rye and aged for 1400 days

Nose: Black cherry, plum, Cadbury Fruit and Nut with biscuit

Taste: Sweet, chocolate, coffee and more fruit

Finish: Peppermint and oak bitterness. Slight grain note indicative of youth

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  • Friday, 13 January 2012 17:52

    Whisky Tasting Grades… Are you a Black Belt?

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    As I look back on my first 100 plus formal tasting notes and reviews I am ready to grade myself and now you can use my system below to grade yourself.  Welcome to the whisky dojo…  hajime!

    My first grade is a white belt.  If you drink alcohol and know what whisky is you can award yourself a white belt.  If you don’t drink alcohol or have no interest in whisky I am not sure why you are even reading this.  What does white belt mean?  It means that your trousers won’t fall down.

    The next grade, yellow belt, is awarded to those who like and enjoy the taste of whisky.  As I mentioned in my first blog, everyone seems to skip over this rather basic step.  Whisky tastes like whisky, and you should like it to reach yellow belt grade.  If you don’t like whisky then you stay at white belt grade (and probably need to surf along to a new website).  

    The next grade is all about the basic split in whisky types, whether it is the old world genre, primarily Scotland, Ireland and Japan (ie usually malt and grain whiskies) or the new world such as USA and Canada (ie usually bourbon, corn and rye whiskies).    There are often noticeable differences in the tastes between these two types which I believe most whisky drinkers can differentiate on their nose and palate.  If you can usually tell the difference between scotch and bourbon, award yourself an orange belt.

    The green belt grade in tasting is awarded to those who can identify further subdivisions of these two main types, and I would call it the style of whisky.  A peaty Islay single malt is very different in style to a triple distilled Irish blend.  Rye whisky can be very different from wheated Bourbon.  The green belt requires some experience and knowledge, this grade starts to separate the whisky drinker from the whisky taster.   I suspect people who claim to have a favorite style, “I like peaty whiskies”, “I like bourbon”, “I like Irish” or even express a specific brand preference, “I like Johnnie Walker Black” are probably green belts.  This was my grade when I moved to Scotland in 2009 as “I liked Irish”.

    I would now grade myself as a blue belt (on a good day).  I am now tasting the whisky and looking for specific aromas, flavors and notes.   However I have noticed a tendency to refer to a “pool” of certain flavors of about 20, including peat, smoke, caramel, vanilla, malt, honey, pepper, spice, oak, toffee, dried fruit, citrus and sherry.  However there is still an endless combination of these major tastes and aromas and I find it is possible to define most whisky uniquely with these descriptors.  If you can do that as well, welcome to the blue belt grade.

    The brown belt is the grade I aspire to, but I am also reconciled to the fact that I may not have the palate to reach, and is the grade many of the professional writers have achieved.  They draw on seemingly endless analogies and variations, breaking “dried fruit” down into specific types of dried fruit (prunes, raisins, sultanas, currants), spicy into multiple different spices (pepper, cayenne, cloves, cinnamon, nutmeg), floral notes into specific flowers and specific type of wood notes (oak, pine, cedar even sandalwood).  They also seem to find levels of subtlety and that I simply cannot pick up or at least consciously identify. 

    Finally we have the black belt, the ultimate in whisky tasting.  As well as having all the palate and skills of a brown belt, they are blessed with the writing skills to write an evocation of sensations rather than just a lengthy list of obscure flavors and smells.  Dave Broom (definite black belt) recently tweeted this whisky review (@davebroomwhisky on www.twitter.com) …. “An out of control kid's party. Burst balloons, broken pencils, sweets on the floor, masses of chocolate & Nutella. Feisty & fun!    That is a whisky tasting black belt and he can kick my a**.  Going forward I will be awarding the occasional whisky black belt on my blog.

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    Random Whisky

    Johnnie Walker Black Label

    Let be absolutely clear on one thing, I like blended scotch.  I also like Johnnie Walker blends, admittedly the more expensive Gold and Blue labels, but there is no question of negative bias against this dram.  I want to like this whisky, I really do, if no other reason than the Gold and Blue labels are expensive whiskies to like and a lower cost alternative would be welcome. 

    It has a rich color and a warming nose with malt, oak and a slight smokiness. Not a subtle whisky, the flavors are strong and dialed up...  pepper, oak, smoke and a distinct peatiness in the finish.   Softens a little with water and mouth feel improves for me, becoming softer and creamy, and a little hint of apple, but it seems to lack the delicate touch and nuances that I love about whisky.  Wham, bam, thank you ma'am whisky.  Would work well with ice or soda or other mixers where its power would stand up to something like cola or ginger beer (my personal favorite to mix with whisky and squeeze of fresh lime for a long cool summer drink) and perhaps that why it sells so well globally?  Black Label definitely has a place in the whisky pantheon, just not in my collection.

    Interesting side note: I recently learned that the scotch whisky used in the comparative tasting at the end of the Jameson tours in Middleton and Dublin is Black Label.  That is a very canny selection by Jameson, as that really contrasts with the sweet smooth and non-smoky Jameson blend.   See my notes on Jameson / Middleton Distillery.