Possibly one of the most anticipated of 2017 tasting’s, certainly amongst the people I spoke to. Asia vs Scotland didn’t disappoint at all. The ‘blind’ nature of it just made it all the more exciting too with customers looking forward to testing their palates…
Asia has been on the radar of many whisky aficionados for a while now. With the huge success of Japanese whisky in the last 15 years or so, gathering awards and plaudits at tastings far and wide, it now has an almost cult following. Becoming harder and more expensive to come by (in a lot of cases), Japanese malt whisky has been joined by some cracking drams from both Taiwan and India and elsewhere. Indeed I and several of the TWL team were privileged to see Kavalan and Ian Chang, it’s master blender, win a host of awards at last years IWSC Awards in London.
This was a ‘blind’ tasting with everything being run in pairs. People had no idea what they were tasting until the very end and we asked them to guess, Asian or Scotch for each whisky. I’ll give you a short rundown of how the tastings played out.
First up was the Loch Lomond Single Grain (£27.43, Master of Malt). This was possibly the biggest surprise of all the whiskies we tasted. Light, refreshing almost, with a slight citrus zing and light and delicious vanilla pods. It was a perfect palate cleanser and a great start to the tasting. Interestingly – and ironically – this single grain is actually distilled through the pot stills at Loch Lomond, whilst the Nikka it was up against is distilled through Coffey stills (as its name might suggest!).
Against this was the Nikka Coffee Malt from Japan (£55.95, Whisky Exchange). Malt whisky distilled in a Coffee Still, usually reserved for the production of grain whisky. Sorry to disappoint folks but there is no Coffee in this whisky. So all you hipsters wanting a triple de-caf, soy, flat white served in an avocado skin laced with ‘coffee whisky’….. you’re out of luck I’m afraid. This was one of the most popular whiskies of the tastings, certainly at the ones I was running. It has a wonderful creamy mouthfeel and lingers on the palate as the flavours develop over time.
Next up the Glenfarclas 21 Year Old vs the Kavalan Sherry Oak.
One of Scotland’s finest against the up-and-comer from Taiwan. Now you might think that the Glenfarclas would run away with this one but you’d be wrong. The Kavalan Sherry Oak (£85.55, Whisky Exchange) is a more affordable version of the company’s top of the line Solist Sherry bottling. Matured in the same casks but diluted down to 46% abv this whisky packs a lot of flavours. Heavy sherry on the nose, sweet dark fruits dominate. Sweet cherry leads into some chocolate and tobacco on the palate.
The Glenfarclas 21yo (£86.95, Master of Malt) was – well most of you know Glenfarclas I am sure by now, but it was poised, complex and packed with meaty, estery aromas mingling with the sweet, leathery and spicy notes from the sherry casks the distillery use. Still outrageous value in our humble opinions too…
At all three tastings I ran I asked the room which was which – Scotch or Asian – and in most cases people got it wrong. This just goes to show how good Asian whiskies can be and how far they have come in a relatively short space of time.
This was the Fusion’s second outing for us at tastings this year and we had no hesitation in choosing it again for this series. It is one of the original peated whiskies available from Asia with the ‘Fusion’ title referring to the fact that they use a combination of different barley types. The first of these is unpeated Indian barley from which the distillery takes for most other bottlings. The other is a pre-peated barley from Scotland. You therefore have the ‘Fusion’. The result is medium-peated, with the trademark Amrut spiciness and richness.
On the Scottish side we had the classic Bowmore Darkest 15 yo. Now, being ex-Oddbins we have been very familiar with this whisky for many years. It perhaps suffered a little in the early noughties when the distillery was not producing its best whisky, but it now – happily – seems to be back on song. Oh so sweet and dark fruit sherry notes perfectly balanced with the (in)famous Islay peat (albeit only medium peated around 25pppm) that just works so well and a real crowd-pleaser.
This was one of the only pairs where people were decisive (and correct, as it turns out) in their choice of Scotch or Asian. The split being 60% – 40%, with the 60% picking correctly.
All in all it was a great series. For us it shows at least two things. One, the value of blind tasting. Remove peoples visual preconceptions and they focus on their other senses and really concentrate on what is important – the flavours! The second is the sheer quality now on offer from Asia and the fact that they are now looking great value in many cases. Especially with Scotch prices seemingly rising daily.
If you want to read more about Kavalan, watch out for Eddie’s report on his and Amanda’s trip out there very soon!
Thanks to everyone who came out for it and to Stef at Speciality for supporting with the Asian whiskies.
Until next time!
Guy (The dreaded Guy!)