This Christmas my sister sent me a blind tasting kit. Inside were 5 [4-5cl] undisclosed ‘drams’, all or most of which she’d assured me I’d tried before. Comprende? Let’s begin.
Colour: Rusty gold
- N: Firmly sherry-matured rich yet clean/fresh, fruity, lightly and fragrantly citrus-y spirit. Age,… 12yo? Probably an older bottling from early 2010’s I’m guessing for now.
- N take 2: Rich Christmas-y sherried nose with dense raisins, a nuttiness [Christmas selection], some soot and a certain huskiness in the background. Delightful nose.
- T: Very Glenfarclas-y though it wasn’t too long ago Macallan were churning out this fluffy raisin-y squidgy sherried maltiness. Chugs along nicely on those raisins, slightly salty sultanas, over-ripe dried figs, a touch of prune juice,..
- F: Chugs and chugs before gradually fading into the background.
- C: Very nice gentile rich sherried malt that at first seemed older than I think it is. I think of Glenfarclas 105 from the naughties, but frankly it could be from any number of [Scottish] distilleries and is too broken in – like an old leather shoe – for the 105 anyhows. A lovely dessert dram coming in at around 86/85 points thus far.
Colour: Pale gold
- N: Appears far younger than #1 [A], and certainly with full-bourbon cask maturation. Notes include light green summer ripe fruits [honey dew melon, papaya, mild red currants, gooseberries with no tartness], and a touch of [dusty] porridg-y putty. Maybe Irish.
- N take 2: I’m plumbing for Irish. The nose dissipates quickly so maybe it’s a blended Irish whiskey.
- T&F: Slightly sharp/abrupt arrival, citrus-y and resinous to the end, but softened to within an inch. Definitely a consolidated malt [blend], with a fruitiness that leads to a bitter~sour~bitter~sour [on repeat] citrus-y puttiness. The journey is temporary, so again, blended malt is indicated. This is almost certainly Irish. Becomes significantly less impressive and mild [also chalky/gacky] by the minute.
- C: Adding water simplifies it suggesting 40% abv, and again, very much a blended whisk[e]y. I’ll guess Bushmills 10yo. Provisionally scores 79/78 points but that’s your lot.
- N: Not dissimilar to #2 [B], but more mature with firm honey notes and syrup-ed ripe tinned fruits.
- N take 2: On my 2nd sweep I pick out more layers and a thicker coating of fruits with a [dusty] creaminess and floral essential oiliness. There’s a hint of emulsion or perhaps metal paint lightly brushed over those honeyed creamy fruits with only the lightest sprinkling of sawdust. I’d say the abv maybe slightly higher than the previous two but there’s not a great deal in it.
- T: Very pleasing and congenial arrival and subsequent chewy development. Raisin-y and malty though also oaky, so fairly balanced throughout.
- F: Still fruity > citrusy with a slight raisin-y-oaky heat into the finish. Fairly long blended oaky > barley-putty dry finish, eventually with a bread crumb conclusion.
- C: Now I’m committed to the Irish route, I’m guessing Bushmills 12 for now. Provisionally scores 83 points.
Colour: Also gold, slightly richer and murkier than #3 [C]
- N: More murky than the previous three. Hard to see what that indicates initially.
- N take 2: After 10 minutes it’s starting to wake up a little so maybe it’s got more age than I’d first anticipated. There certainly appears to be a patient oaky underbelly. It’s all a touch quirky but that dissipates, leading to a more mineral quality. My radar is back to Scotch single malt, Speyside or Highlands, maybe sherry and bourbon cask maturation?
- T: Ok, we are around the 12-16 age bracket [maybe even 18 if the casks say, are 2nd or 3rd fill]. It speaks of age though it’s the barley spirit that steers, the oak a fine navigator.
- F: Becomes more murky malty/oaky with only a touch of dunnage action to the tail.
- C: I’m lost as to what it is. Highland Park perhaps? I think this one will haunt me. Provisionally scores around 85 tops.
Highland Park Dragon Legend  Ob. 43.1% WB84.61
- N: Stronger abv here than the rest, and a firmer spirit that’s unequivocally seen fresh bourbon-cask maturation. The profile includes a deep creaminess [double cream], peat hints and iron fillings.,,,
- N take 2: ,… but overall we’ve a young, rapidly-matured, simple-yet-firm malt. I find this slightly butyric in a Glen Scotia kind of way. Everytime I come back to this, I’m hit by those resinous vanilla virgin oak casks.
- T: Ooh there is certainly peat, disguised greatly by the lactose notes on the nose. It’s remarkably sweet also. Quite a short travel but adding a little water pays dividends. The few things water brings is savoury-to-sweet barley/mineral/peat/cream, all swimming around as if in a swirling soup. It’s a tad lively & precocious,…
- F: ,… with a firm-yet-unsustained smokey barley-led/malty finish.
- C: A competent contemporary malt if not my preferred style. If you like this, I’d imagine you’ll love [young/NAS] Glen Scotia if you haven’t discovered it already. This whisky isn’t dry enough for say, Talisker. Bruichladdich does all manner of spirit from heavily peated to clean barley with Scottish barley [the Classic Laddie] in-between, but I’m unsure of age and distillery at the moment. Abv between 43-46?Score-wise, I’m currently wavering around the 82 mark.
I ask for clues. I ask whether there is a Bushmills and an HP in the line-up and the ages [in no particular order]. As follows:
‘Unspecified, 10, 12, 15, 25’, and that there is indeed a Highland Park and there is a Bushmills.
I piece together a summary of my guess-work:
- #1 [A] Glenalba 25yo : It’s definitely been broken-in like an old leather shoe, though there’s also a clean vibrancy about it. [In hindsight, I read the finishing as a sign of overall youth, doh!] Probably an older bottling from early 2010’s – Glenfarclas, Macallan, an outside chance of Glenrothes but frankly it could be a firmly sherried malt from any number of Highland/Speyside distilleries. [86/85]
- #2 [B] Bushmills 10yo: At 40%, very much a blended whisk[e]y. I’ll stick with Bushmills 10yo, a bottle I knew my sister has/had. [79/78]
- #3 [C] Old Pulteney 12yo: Now I’m committed to the Irish route I’m guessing Bushmills 12yo but I could have easily gone off-piste. 
- #4 [D] Dalwhinnie 15yo: We are in the 12-16 age bracket [maybe even 18 if the casks are 3rd fill]. My guesses ranged from old Highland Park to Springbank with hints of Balvenie in-between. Frankly I’m puzzled by this one. I’m going to kick myself. 
- #5 [E] Highland Park Dragon Legend: A contemporary young malt, most closely resembling many Glen Scotia presentations like the Victoriana for example. [82/83]
The answers to my first round of guesses are in:
- A. Is a sherry cask finish, wrong age.
- B. Correct.
- C. 12 years old
- D. 15 years old
- E. Is a Highland Park
I revisit the drams again before revealing the answers on the crib sheet.
#1 [A] ROUND 3
This whisky is young AND old, but the palate is confused/confusing. I’m told its a sherry cask finish. I’m amazed by [thanks to the finishing], how fresh the nose is. [In hindsight, I don’t remember the 25yo being so vibrant]. I start to think this is BBR’s sherried blend [WLP86, 80 & 79] that I introduced to my sister a few months ago, though I find this expression far more favourable.
REVEALED: Drat! I have drunk many a bottle of Glenalba 25 & <34yo], and enjoyed everyone. It’s a tricky one blind because it’s tired old whisky that’s been rejuvenated in HD sherry casks, so hard to guess age – and forget distillery. Final conclusions:
- N: I’ve additionally got walnuts, fusty & dry walnut liqueur on this amazing nose.
- T: The palate is short, slightly acute yet with a raisin-driven moorishness. The oaked sugars fall over themselves into the finish.
- F: Fragile yet desirably chewy uber-consolidated oaky sherried sugars.
- C: Well played Aldi. It’s lovely stuff at an original retail price of £35 if memory serves. Today’s standout whisky.
Final score: 85 points. [Better a flawed 85 pointer than a competent 84’er – discuss].
#2 [B] ROUND 3
C: I was totally convinced I’d nailed this one and I had.
Final score: 78 points
#3 [C] ROUND 3
So I’m fairly certain this is the 12yo. Could this be a Balvenie 12 Doublewood with those light-yet-focused barley & citrus oils with an underlying putty base? Maybe it’s a Bruichladdich, though I’m more inclined towards Speyside than Islay. It’s not as fluffy on the palate as I’d expect from Balvenie though the barley putty-porridge and savoury-sweet citrus notes ring true. It’s far less Irish now I’ve already picked out the Bushmills. The finish is short yet true and humming with herbal toffee.
REVEALED: I haven’t had Old Pulteney for a few years [WLP80]. Years before those years, the 12yo used to be salty, very salty but the profile has certainly changed since the 12yo & 17yo exploded onto the market in 2011/12. I was correct on age but distillery, nah. I’m told the bottle however is very tired [any excuse].
Final score: 83 points
#4 [D] ROUND 3
There’s a 25yo in this bunch and this is certainly displaying plenty of maturity. Again, the nose is quiet yet with a soft whispering leathery story to tell certainly. The palate [if short] tells of age as does the dusty [if not that dunnage-y] finish. Then there are those unmistakable oaky sugars at the tail which tell of age more than the previous signs. Given I’ve mistaken the Glenalba as a NAS and #5 as a 10yo, I’m committed to calling this a soft 25yo. Wrong again! Then this must be a 15yo then. I did say between 12-16 in the beginning!
REVEALED: What can I say? I never used to like the Dalwhinnie, yet the last 3 times I’ve had it [the last 2 blind], I’ve enjoyed it.
- C: I’m pleased i initially had this down at 12-16 years but frustrated I failed to spot the main [and, I want to say recognisable, but in the circumstances] character trait – soft-aged bitter/sour lemon-y malt. Forget the Winter’s Gold that is/was often priced higher than the 15yo.
Final score: 84 points
#5 [E] ROUND 3
Highland Park Dragon Legend  Ob. 43.1% WB84.61
I’m guessing this is a 10yo at most, yet it also has NAS written all over it. Abv – 46%? It wasn’t Glen Scotia. I give up.
REVEALED: Bit of a sneaky choice this, as this firmly peated expression is unlike the regular HP aged range. Then again I’m not in touch with HP anymore. The marketing BS doesn’t touch/engage with me and frankly this peated young cask-led malt could be from almost any region. For me, there’s way too much overly-keen bourbon cask influence. Better off drinking bourbon perhaps.
- N: Those resinous [virgin/1st fill?] casks are even more tiring than STR!
- T: Again, the resinousness speaks but a wine-like juiciness combined with a dry smokiness piques my interest a little.
- F: Still, it’s young and rather plain.
- C: Unlike many of the old guard, lots of young folk are engaging with HP [and the GoT-like merchandising], and enjoying [even raving about] HP’s often under-baked whisky with little knowledge or experience about what’s gone before. I think the likes of Aldi, Lidl and certainly the independent bottlers have a huge part to play in engaging the new whisky crowd and introducing them to old & bygone-styled whisky with full maturation at an affordable price point.
Scores 81 points
I express my gratitude to my sister for this wonderful experience. She tells me she’s ‘just about to pay for shedloads of kitchens cupboards, drunk on Dalwhinnie‘. That’s a Tweet if ever I heard one.