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Blair Athol

Carn Mor Blair Athol 1989 (70cl 57.2%)

€167.39 $194.88 £150.00

Earth

Tobacco, leather, fungus, rubber, light peat

Single malt Scotch whisky has generated tasting notes varied enough to put the world of wine to shame. Entire books have been published that try to do nothing but describe the taste of whiskies. This huge variation of flavour means that, if you try and condense the entire project of tasting notes to just 10 possible flavours, you will inevitably have to make some compromises. As a result, the set of flavours we have encompassed under the term “Earth” include virtually anything that is savoury or unusual, although they may not have much in common with one another. It is therefore more open to interpretation than our other flavour guides.

By “Earth” we seek to include under one umbrella all the flavours produced by light - not excessive - peat smoke: the aroma of pipe tobacco or cigar smoke, the scent of freshly dug soil, the dry smoke of a hearth fired by wood or inland peat; it may also include the distinctively savoury notes of rubber, leather or fungus that inexplicably make their way into some of the more complex single malts.

For example, peat is present in some classic favourites like Dalwhinnie or Highland Park in such small quantities that it is not at first recognisable as the same flavour that marks the peat beasts of Islay. Many of the older Lowland malts contained a thin streak of peat smoke - it remains to a certain extent in Glenkinchie, while those who are familiar with Rosebank or Littlemill will recognise a rubbery or glue-like characteristic. A medium peating level, used in many Highland or Campbeltown malts, may result in a very distinctively earthy flavour when it is lacking the saltiness that marks those of Islay: Ardmore or Blair Athol, for example, are still a good way removed from Laphroaig or Ardbeg, despite their relatively high PPM, simply because their peat source is dry and inland.

The savoury characteristic of earthy flavours goes well with the leathery or grassy side of certain cigars: the dryness may go well with a Bolivar or a Punch, while those whiskies balanced with a little sweetness might pair well with Montecristo.

Spice

Pepper, cinnamon, ginger, herbs

Aged Scotch whisky is often much softer and easier on the palate than its alcohol strength would imply. So much so, in fact, that sometimes you need something to liven things up a bit. Luckily, a good number of single malts possess lively spicy flavours, some of them in great enough quantities to challenge tequila (naming no names). Others are a little more restrained, but still with the warming tingle of Christmas pudding and mulled wine.

A lengthy maturation, particularly in a large cask (e.g. ex-sherry), generally means more oxygen is allowed into the cask to react with the spirit and develop more complex flavours. These may include spicy flavours - lignin compounds break down over time, releasing more intense spicy notes into the spirit, while the high acidity and relatively low alcohol content of sherry often serve to bring out spicier notes from the cask wood. Clove and cinnamon flavours often derive from eugenols produced via toasting - that is, firing the wood of the casks over a medium heat for anything between 15 to 45 minutes (to be contrasted with charring, where the wood is fired for a very short time over a much hotter flame). Some of the most intense spicy flavours come not from the cask at all, but from the still: a lighter spirit (such as that produced in a tall still) will often have more kick than something more rounded.

Spicy characteristics are generally used to complement other strong flavours, such as dried fruit (e.g. Aberlour) or peat (Ardbeg), but the style is probably best showcased by the expansive and varied Highland region. Highland malts generally eschew excessive subtlety for bold and full flavours, and so often showcase strongly spicy styles. The best examples by far are in the Northern Highlands: Glenmorangie has a light spice that is perhaps better described as herbal; but a small distance to the north, Clynelish and Old Pulteney provide a salty, firey yet still sweet style that prickles all over the palate. Their eastern counterparts, such as Glen Garioch or Glendronach, retain a gingery warmth that it is not so much restorative as elixir.

The strength and spark of such potions pairs very well with similarly lively cigars: Partagas is an obvious match, as is Ramon Allones; but the peppery notes of a Cohiba or Bolivar will also go very well.

Malt

Cereal, floral notes, nuts

The malted barley from which single malt is made has a distinctive flavour of its own, which can often still be clearly tasted after many years of maturation. In comparison to rye or the corn of bourbon, it is quite a savoury flavour, an ideal canvas for the multifaceted influences of different wood types which make single malt Scotch so diverse. Similar flavours often found in single malt are those of nuts, such as almond and hazelnut, and a floral or grassy aroma much like that of the Highland meadows where the barley is grown.

These malty flavours are often strongest in the bold and powerful Highland drams, where cask type and still shape are aimed towards emphasising the natural kick of the barley. The influence of Oloroso casks often imparts that same nuttiness that is so distinctive of the sherry itself, meaning that this set of flavours may be found in both young whiskies (where the barley has yet to be swamped by the influence of the cask) and in certain older expressions (when matured in Oloroso casks).

Scotland’s favourite single malt, Glenmorangie Original, is perhaps the archetypical example of the light and grassy style that is one possible embodiment of this flavour profile. Its bolder Highland brethren, not least those of the Eastern Highlands like Glen Garioch, Royal Lochnagar, and Glencadam, proudly bear the stamp of their grain. It is also present in many of the Speyside whiskies which play down their fruity elements in favour of something more bold and meaty, such as Benrinnes or Mortlach. The flavour pairs well with many common cigar flavours, such as grass, nuts, or toast.

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A "Celebration of the Cask" bottling


Cask type: Hogshead
Cask Number: 6463
Distillation Date: 02/11/89
No. of bottles: 228...read more

Product Info

A "Celebration of the Cask" bottling


Cask type: Hogshead
Cask Number: 6463
Distillation Date: 02/11/89
No. of bottles: 228
Bottling Date: 06/10/14

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