Scotch Tasting at Ellen’s

Last night, the generous Ellen Datlow, invited me down to try some of her extensive collection of single malts. Rather than trying to get through twelve of them in an evening, we focused on the Islays. Goodness… it was a lovely, lovely evening.

Here they are in order of tasting. If you click through to any of the links you can see that our tasting notes are wildly and sometimes comically different from the professionals.

  1. Te Bheag — evidently pronounced “chey vek”, because its Gaellic — was our only departure from the Islay program. This one was amber in color, with a gentle peaty nose. It was slightly sweet but not cloying.
  2. Caol Ila, signature 1991 — Very light straw color. This was intensely peaty and a little harsh.
  3. Caol Ila, 18year — Very smooth. The peat character was distinctive and pleasant. The nose gave off hints of old book leather. This was one of our two favorites
  4. Bowmore Enigma, 12 year — Beautiful dark amber in color. Raison and peat on the nose. Polished smooth and rounded. This was best in show.
  5. Ardbeg, 10 year — Very pale straw color with a mild, peaty nose. It was fairly coarse but with good flavor. There was a resiny almost fir aspect to the finish.
  6. Aberlour, 10 year — The nose had notes of dates and turpentine. It was very mellow and not at all like scotch.

A delightful evening and I managed to get home without falling onto the third rail.

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10 Responses

  1. Todd

    One of my passions as well, especially when shared with a fellow aficionado. I’ve had the pleasure of all you listed except the first two. I think I’m ultra jealous of Ellen’s collection.

    Enjoyable as single malt is anywhere, I learned that nothing beats it in the homeland. Thus, I was in heaven when my wife and spent a 2006 holiday on the Isle of Skye and I got to tour the distillery of my absolute fav: Talisker.

    We can’t wait to go back.

  2. Chris Billett

    I like the Ardburg, but at home at the moment all I have is a bottle of Talisker. Incidentally, Mary, you are quite close to one of my favourite bars in the world, where I did in fact drink the best single malt of my life. It was the Balvenie New Wood, if I remember right, and the bar is this one:

    … there was a little guy sitting at a piano playing Thealonius Monk (Well You Needn’t) while I leaned on the cushioned bar and chatted to Gabe Mesa. Maybe you met him at WFC. The place is right by Tribeca station, and I recommend it if you’re ever looking for somewhere quiet!

  3. Ellen Datlow

    I visit London annually and have been bringing back a bottle of something different every time..
    although this time, (February) I couldn’t afford a new one–turns out I have no more room
    anyway–I’ll have to drink it up a bit quicker.

  4. Brian Dolton

    Interesting. I wwas sipping a 10-yo Ardbeg last night, as it happens (and I have a current collection of about 25 different single malts, including most of the Islays). I find Adbeg peatier than Caol Ila, which I generally find quite phenolic and a “higher” note than the mid-to-lower-rang Ardbeg (Lagavullin is down at the bottom of that scale).

    I’m no longer up-to-date with all the Bowmore variations. In the past I’ve found Bowmore the “average” of all Islays, so I drink it less than any of the others, though arguably it’s a good introduction to Islay precisely because of that; but as noted, they just have too many different bottlings now to keep up (many whiskies are going down this route, which makes it tough for someone who buys whiskies to drink, rather than to collect/speculate).

    To give context, my favourite whiskies are probably:
    Glenfiddich Rum Finish (as recommended by Ian Banks in his book “raw Spirit”) – astonishingly good. Rich, smooth, powerful, and I don’t do tasting notes because my palate/nose aren’t sophisticated enough to do the whole “straw! oranges! leather notes!” thing.
    Lagavullin – for me, much better than Laphroaig in peaty-Islay-world. Though it’s been a long time since I had it – but I have an unopened bottle which will probably be the one to open when the Ardbeg is done
    Caol Ila – the sharp phenolic, seaweedy quality of this gets me every time. The best I had was a bottle from a Calvados cask, and the taste really came through – a fantastic combination which I would buy again like a shot if I bumped into it, but I never have (I suspect it was a one-off experiment).
    Glenkinchie – smooth and light, but very pleasant. A sipping-while-you-chat whisky, rather than one that demands your attention over and above anything else.
    Balvenie Doublewood – the caskign of this adds a lot of depth and complexity without overpowering the whisky (as some caskings do) ro just failing to impart the right notes (as others are guilty of).

    I have no idea how I am going to import my whisky collection to the US. 🙁

    1. Mary Robinette Kowal

      Clearly you are a serious Scotch drinker. I’ve only come to it in the past two years so am still learning the ropes. Part of the problem I ran into describing the scotches is that I only know wine terms.