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My Handcrafted Opinions on Whiskies, Distilleries and Other Related Stuff

Most Recent Whisky

Most Recent Whisky Review

Maker's Mark Private Select

This was picked by Mike Raymond of Houston's Reserve 101 as their 10th anniversary bottling. As the regular readers (both of them) know by now I love Maker's Mark, I love Houston, I love Reserve101 and I have very strong feelings for Mike.  But for some reason this one did not quite work for me, but give it a try as it might for you.   The nose is oaky with some fruity wine notes as well.  Sopem heat from the 55.65% ABV along with calssic vanilla, corn and cola notes.  The taste is hot and a little sharp at first with some black cherry, dark chocolate, jalepeno, burnt caramel and oak char.  The finish is pepper and even a little sour.  With water it gets creamier with some brown sugar and more vanilla. It definately needs a little water (or ice or time) to open it up.

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  • Friday, 13 January 2012 17:52

    Whisky Tasting Grades… Are you a Black Belt?

    Written by

    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 Premier

    This is a discontinued line, but I found a 5 cl miniature during a recent visit to The Whisky Exchange in London.   The nose has fruits and sherry sherry influence.  Bold spices and sweet notes combine nicely.  The taste is smooth and rich, toffee, some wood notes, more fruits and nuts.  A very creamy and sweet finish, more toffee and right at the end just the hint of smoke.  Really good with a luxurious mouthfeel.  Seems rather a pity it is no longer available.