Saturday, 2 January 2016

The Whisky Differential

From Glenfiddich website
Well, it pays to advertise!

          I swear, when I ended my last post with a plea for a supply of whisky, it was a joke, and not meant to influence Christmas presents - but I can't honestly say I'm sorry that it did.
          My lovely Scot usually buys me a bottle of whisky for Christmas, and he came through, as always, this year, with a bottle of Aberlour.
          My older brother (the one who does my indie covers) always complains that he never knows what to buy me - and that I'm no help when I say, 'Nothing. Or maybe a tobelerone.' Well, this year, he bought me a bottle of Glenfiddich.
          And my younger brother and his lovely wife bought me a bottle of - yes - Laphroig. Whether this means they read my blog or whether there was just a certain amount of fraternal discussion, I don't know.

          Anyroad up, Shucks, this puts me in the happy position of being able to make direct comparisons between three single malts. Believe me, this is a blog I am going to enjoy writing.
         I can't claim any expertise, or a refined palate. I just like
The red circle shows (very roughly) the Speyside area
single malt whisky

Glenfiddich. The distillery is in Speyside, up in the Highlands. and it's still independent. The nearest big town is Inverness. The name means 'Valley of the Deer.'
      I haven't drunk a glass of Glenfiddich for many a long year and remember it, and Glenlivit, as being pale and lemony. 
     So the first surprise is that it's much richer and more golden in colour than I remember. The scent was different from my memories too: richer and, while fruity, not citrus or lemony at all. I sniffed it for a while, trying to place the scent - until I read the label and it claimed 'pear' as the fruit it resembled. And yes, though I'm wary of being influenced by advertising, I can go with that. There's that round, sweet, juicy pear-drops smell.
     So I took a sip - and it's very sweet. And very warming. I don't find the lemon flavour I remember at all. Complete memory fail there. Instead, it's all honey - with just a little hint of fire as it goes over the tonsils. (I gave the older brother a nip. He claims not to like whisky at all - but he certainly took to the sweetness of Glenfiddich.)
     The distillery claims it has earned the highest awards of any single malt, and I can understand why it would be popular. I don't mean that as a put-down, either. I mean, simply, that it's honey-sweet and warming, slips down like a bedtime drink, and is delicious. Why wouldn't a lot of people like it?

Aberlour. Another Speyside malt, made beside the river Lour. It's pronounced 'Abba-LOW-er, and the name means 'Mouth of the Chattering Burn.' Or so it says on the website. If you want to see beautiful photographs, combined with loads of old tosh about druids and ancient traditions invented last week in an advertising agency, I recommend the websites of single malt whisky distilleries. But that's by the by. I'm here to drink whisky.
From the Aberlour website
          When poured into the glass, Aberlour is a much deeper gold than Glenfiddich, an autumnal orange. My first sniff immediately made me think of fruit-cake. There is that spicy fruitiness.
          Despite smelling like cake, the taste is much less sweet than Glenfiddich, though just as warming. There is a rather citrus taste to this one, like candied peel in a fruit cake. And that smell... What is the most predominate smell of fruit-cake? Warm, slightly burnt sugar perhaps? Butteriness? Raisins? Nutmeg?
          Then, when you swallow, there's a slight bite, a little heat, but nothing harsh. The warmth stays with you. It's delicious.

Laphroaig. The famous Laphroaig  - which I realise I've been misspelling. Here's Brian Cox, showing how to pronounce it.

          It comes from the opposite side of Scotland to the other two - from Islay in the Hebrides. Their advertising company isn't as keen to find a romantic sounding translation of the name, but manage to suggest that it derives from the Norse for 'broad bay.' They boast about being 200 years old and put film of Charlie Windsor - in a kilt yet - on their website. Honestly, if I didn't like malt whisky so much...
          But the whisky. When poured from the bottle it's much
darker than the others, almost the deep orange-brown of tea. And the smell is very different. Seaweed and smoke - it's always referred to as 'peat-smoke' but reminds me of the scent of woodsmoke from bonfires on the beach. There's still a little bit of that nutmeg, spice and honey.
          The longer you hold the glass to your nose and sniff, the more the smell of smoke fades and the honey comes through. Something of chocolate and something of flowers.
     When you taste it - there's almost too much going on for an amateur like me. It's less sweet again, and that slightly bitter, smoky bite hangs around warmly at the back of your throat for quite a while, as with ginger or chili in a curry. I suppose that's what the tasters call 'the long finish.'
         I suddenly realised what an element of the taste and smell reminds me of - tar! The hot tar that used to be spread on the roads when I was a child, and which we would go and sniff.
          Laphroaig has a whole section of its website dedicated to fans' descriptions of its flavour. 'Deck shoes' and 'sailors' socks' seems to feature quite a lot - and tar. Tar and honey.
          And ashes, I would say. And earth.
          It's delicious.

          Thank you to all the lovely people - take a bow, Patti and Adam, Davy and Andrew - who bought me a bottle of single malt. And all different! It has been a real pleasure, trying them in turn like this and comparing them.
          Conclusions? - I love them all! It's been great getting reacquainted with Glenfiddich, which I had unfairly come to think of as rather bland. It is a very approachable and friendly single malt, but so sweet and warm and delicious, how can you not love it?
          Aberlour has been a favourite for a while - it's like drinking fruit-cake, so how can you not love that?
          Laphroaig is the scary, peaty one, with the difficult name and the smell of kippers and rubber. The brother recoiled from the glass when I offered him a nip. "Too much for me," he said - but, y'know, once you get to know it, it drops the hard-man act and you find the honey.
          I really couldn't choose a favourite - and I'm going to have a difficult decision to make with every dram over the next few months. Which bottle?

          I raise to you the parting-glass...
          Goodbye! - And a happy 2016 to you all! 


Catherine Czerkawska said...

Excellent post! I love Laphroaig and even included it in a novel. We even own a foot square plot there. The last time we went to Islay, we went to the Laphroaig museum - and as 'landowners' were made very welcome, with free tastings, miniatures to take away with us, and a lounge area, where we could inhale peat smoke and find our names in the book - hand-written because we were among the first to join in - and write a comment. They have wellies and waterproofs so that you can view your plot. Brilliant marketing strategy! Seemingly, Laphroaig was the only whisky allowed into the US during prohibition because the distillery sold it as 'medicinal' and the US government believed them. Caol Ila is another lovely Islay whisky, as is Bunnahabhain - bit milder than Laphroaig. But I think all these island whiskies are magical.They taste of the landscape.

Susan Price said...

Cor. Maybe I should think of buying myself a foot of Islay. - I don't think I've ever tried Caol Ila or Bunnahabhain.I should put that right!

Jen Alexander said...

I can almost taste them! I got a Glenmorangie from my kids before Christmas and brought a bottle of Highland Park back from Orkney recently, plus a bottle of Jura -so I've got a happy trio of malts in my cupboard too, but I couldn't describe the flavours as vividly as you do, Sue. I heartily recommend those other two Islay whiskies Catherine mentions too - I felt obliged to try all the Islay malts when I was up there a few years ago :)

Susan Price said...

Obliged to try all the Islay malts! - Oh, Jenny, I feel so sorry for you!
Enjoy your three!

Nick Green said...

Laphroaig has a built-in limiting app. When you can no longer ask for one by name, you've had enough.

Susan Price said...

I like that, Nick! Made me laugh.

Penny Dolan said...

One that I am fond of is Bruichladdich, also from Islay. I had to see the label to spell that name for sure, so now the bottle is on my desk as I type. (Could that be another time limiting app - when you can't type the name any more, Nick?)
Unfortunately, whisky always seems to me a late-evening pleasure, good when chatting with friends into the smaller hours, not for drinking when solitary or at the end of wine-full evening meals. Maybe I should add "finding the good whisky moments" on to the 2016 Resolutions list? Cheering post, Sue. (I have a few other bottles in the cupboard so now I'm wondering about a tasting session home here - when I have a day free afterwards to spare, perhaps?)

Susan Price said...

Oh Bruichladdich, yes - pronounced 'Brookladdie' I'm told, or something near it. That's the modern one, made in the old way, leaving the oils from the grain in, so it goes hazy when ice is added.

All other whiskys caved to the Americans, who wanted to add ice and didn't want it to go hazy - so they take the oils out and then colour the whisky. Bruichladdie doesn't - but it's one of the more expensive malts so I very rarely get to drink it.

Whisky is often a solitary pleasure for me - but definately one for a quiet evening without other alcohol. Here's raising a glass to you, Penny, in 2016!

Sue Purkiss said...

I think you should write a book about whisky, Sue. Or at least an article!