Last month I attended a private scotch tasting put on by Signatory Scotch Whiskey, an independent bottler of rare Single Malts that would otherwise be lost to the blenders like Johnnie Walker.Special whiskies spared the indignity of becoming mediocre conglomerates, but without these commercial blenders there would be no rare single malts, so let's hear it for the blenders!!Chris Uhde, a representative for Signatory gave us a lecture on the production of scotch from malting,mashing and fermentation,distillation, maturation,filtration, to bottling.This process is easily found on the web, but the thing I found most interesting was the dynamics of scotch production.It's 15% the barley which can be from just about anywhere, 15% the technique, and 70% comes from the barrel used.Hogshead(250 liters), sherry butt(500 liters), and American bourbon(180 liters) are the three sizes, and the use of peat,coal or gas fires during malting also imparts characteristics to the final product.It was a surprize to discover that the barley didn't have to be from Scotland, and that Scotch was more about the traditions and other factors besides terroir.The aging of the Scotch is another important element where the flavor mellows and gains complexities;this ends once the scotch is bottled.
Must be distilled at a Scottish distillery from water and malted barley, to which only other whole grains may be added, have been processed at that distillery into a mash, converted to a fermentable substrate only by endogenous enzyme systems, and fermented only by the addition of yeast,
Must be distilled to an alcoholic strength of less than 94.8% by volume so that it retains the flavour of the raw materials used in its production,
Must be matured in Scotland in oak casks for no less than three years and a day,
Must not contain any added substance other than water and caramel colouring, and
May not be bottled at less than 40% alcohol by volume.
The Signatory guys took us on a taste tour of Scotland through our sensory vessels.On this trip we visited:
Highlands: It is difficult to generalize a profile of style because of the vast area, but highlands tend to be more full-bodied and flavored with less peat and more malt taste.
Lowlands: This area is in the south on the English Border. The style is lighter, fruitier and dryer in style.
Islay: The Islay is famous for its peaty, salty, iodine-like style.
Islands: Again, because of the vast region, it is difficult to generalize. But because of the location to the ocean, they tend to have a “salt sea air” taste that will be accented by peat depending on the distillery.
Campbletown: These few malts are slightly peated and smokier than the flavors of the Highlands.
1. Littlemill lowland 16yr(86 proof)
2.Tullibardine Highland 13yr.(86 proof)
Both of these were light and smooth, and pleasurable.
3.Craggenmore unchilled filtered Speyside 10yr.(86 proof)
One of my favorites of the night with a white burgundy finish.This is going in the collection.
4.Edradour Highland 10yr.(86 proof)
This was my least favorite of the night, a mediciny nose, not unpleasant but didn't impress.
5.Glen Scotia Campleton 12yr.(86 proof)
Aged in a bourbon cask, vanilla notes, but the finish was a little weak and mediciny.
6. Highland Park unchilled filtered Orkney 13yr.(86 proof)
Had a grappas quality with mid-palate fruit.Excellent.
7. Glen Elgin Cask Strength Speyside 16yr.(119 proof)
Cask strength(no water added), concentrated sweet flavors, aged in a sherry cask.We were instructed to add water, but I liked it full strength just as well.
8. Caol Ila unchilled filtered Islay 11yr.(86 proof)
Well, I liked this one before the tasting.Caol Ila is one of my favorite scotches, aged in a hogshead cask.
9. Ballechin portwood finish limited release(86 proof)
Lots of glorious peat, and another big hit of the tasting.
10. Bunnahabhain Cask Strength Islay 27yr.(116 proof)
It was a treat to taste this expensive and powerful scotch, again didn't need waterbut tried it both ways.
The tasting was a success, with 9 out of 10 scotches being solid, and 4 gems.We tasted another 4 after the fact in the party spirit that ensued but I had put the pen down by then and was enjoying a fine cigar.Chris and Signatory were amazing, informative, professional, and brought some stellar spirits.
I'm pretty involved in my tequila, cachaca, and wine collecting, but will definitely look for Signatory scotch bottlings as spirits I can trust, gotta get that Craggenmore soon.
Chris Uhde of Signatory
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