Whisky Tasting at Martin's West 1/27- The Review

What a blast of a night at Martin's West Gastropub in Redwood City!  We had a private room with plenty of eager and excited Scotch whisky fans tasting the most interesting malts of the Highlands & Islands.  This was the first of a series of educational tastings organized between myself and Moira & Derek from MW.  We want to give people an overview of single malt whisky by showcasing regional distinctions and differences between the malts, and I think that the inaugural event Wednesday night was a huge success.  I want to thank all of you who attended for sending me a follow-up email about your experience.  There were a few people who wondered why the whiskies were not for sale at the event, and to them I say: this night was about enjoyment and education, not sales for K&L.  If anyone wants to purchase one of the bottles from that night, I will happily accomodate you, but I never want anyone to feel like a tasting is merely a marketing tool for increasing sales.  To me, it's about fun and enjoyment, and I'm so pleased that so many people experienced exactly that.  As for what we tasted and the notes I had about the whiskies, I am posting the sheet that I prepared for myself below.  If you didn't make it, don't miss the next one (which is at this point still unscheduled, but you can find out about it by checking in here).  The Burn's dinner that MW put on along side the tasting was simply unbelieveable.  If you like sticky toffee pudding (which I didn't know I did until Wednesday night), you should rush to Martin's West ASAP.  It might be the most delicious dessert I've ever tasted. 

Fantastic pictures of the night can be seen by clicking here, taken by taster Chris Matthews

-David Driscoll

HERE ARE THE WHISKIES (we didn't drink them in this order):

Highland Park  8 year old – Isle of Orkney

-Founded in 1798

-Owned by the Edrington Group

-Pot stills

-70 islands make up Orkney, which lies far to the north of the Scottish mainland, but have been occupied since 8000 BC.

-Highland Park is the most northerly distillery in Scotland

-Considered one of the best distilleries in the world and one of the great single malts

-Characteristic flavor of Orcadian (of Orkney) heather runs through all the offerings and makes them unique

-In it’s earliest incarnation, it was made in a peculiarly Orcadian fashion: Bere barley (an archaic strain widely used by early distillers) remained in use much longer here than on the mainland

-There was also a heather house where dried blossoms were thrown into the flames of the kiln, giving the malt a perfumed lift

-The peat in Orkney is made up of almost entirely decomposed heather

-Highland Park brings all elements together: peat, honey, orange, sweetness, and dried raisin fruit and it has a sense of place

 Scapa 16 Year – Isle of Orkney

-Always takes a backseat to Highland Park, and was only operated briefly every year to top off HP stocks (using the HP staff to do so).

-Was falling apart until Allied-Domecq announced a $4 million refit in 2004, along with frontline promotion.

-Was considered one of the greats in 1887

-Houses one of the last Lomond stills (rectifying head replaces the lyne arm)–which tends to give the malt an oily and juicy characteristic

1997 Isle of Jura Cask Strength – Isle of Jura

-Jura is next door neighbor to Islay, (split by the Sound of Islay “Caol Ila”) but the landscape could not be more different: one road, one town, and one distillery

-Founded in 1810 – Small Isles Distillery

-Owned by Whyte and Mackay

-Pot stills

-Was not very successful until 1875 when the heavily peated Small Isles malt began to make money

-Did not last however, as equipment was stripped in 1910 and roofs were removed in 1920

-1963, two Jura landowners hired famous distillery designer William Delme-Evans to create a modern distillery installing huge stills to assist his vision – the goal was to bring more people and more work to the island

-A lightly-peated Highland style malt was the new product

-Jura survived while its one-time sister distillery Bruichladdich closed down by contributing to blends –the big stills could produce a lot of whisky

Talisker 25 Year – Isle of Skye

-Founded in 1831

-Owned by Diageo

-Pot stills

-Skye is a rugged and uncompromising terrain.  Part of the Hedbridean islands with Islay, getting there is not easy even today due to its location. 

-One island Tiree (from the word Tiordh meaning “land of grain”), was able to support a population of 4,000 in the mid 19th century with its rich grasslands, but too remote to support a distillery.  Skye, however, managed to hang on.

-It has passed through numerous hands and, like many other great distilleries, Talisker contributed to blends at times in order to survive economic hardship.

-Talisker has always prospered despite its location because of the quality – it was triple distilled until 1928 which is unusual and today it is still set up to produce an unique malt

-The spirit is condensed into old-style worm tubs that add richness – when the peat is added to the equation you get a highly complex malt that speaks of its place – smoke, seaweed, salt spray.

Edradour 10 – Highland

-Founded in 1825

-Pot stills

-Scotland’s smallest distillery

-Founded by 8 local farmers as a co-op

-While other distilleries expanded, they stayed the same size and today little has changed

-Changed hands numerous times, was owned by Pernod-Ricard, then put on the market in 2002 and bought by Signatory – needed their own brand to survive

-Iain Henderson who used to manage Laphroaig took over and helped get it running smoothly while using the old equipment – it is truly hand-crafted whisky

-Known for its rich and sweet character

 Dalwhinnie 15 Year – Highland/Upper Spey

-Founded in 1897

-Owned by Diageo

-Pot stills

-Is thought of as a Highland distillery despite being more upper Spey

-Part of the DCL portfolio since 1919 it has played a major role in Black & White, Buchanan, and is the Highland representative in Diageo’s Classic Malts

-Character it partly the result of condensing in wooden worm tubs – the icy water minimizes the contact between the copper and the vapor which makes for a weighty and sulfury new make

-The sulfur shows up as a hint in the 15 year along with a bit of peat

Clynelish 14 Year – Northern Highlands

-Founded in 1819

-Owned by Diageo

-At the start of the 19th century there were 15,000 people living in the area lorded over by the Duchess of Sutherland.  The Duchess & Duke cleared out the valley by burning the people out of their homes and replaced them with sheep.  They were forced to the coast and the farmers had to become fishermen.  The Duke then decided to build a distillery in the coastal town of Brora to provide employment and prevent the people from profiting on their own illegal hooch.

-It became part of DCL in 1912 and Johnny Walker bought an interest in it as well

-A new distillery was built in 1967 – a modernized replica of the original

-The original was later reopened as Brora, but sadly closed in 1983

-It’s known for its waxy (due to the sludgy deposit in the stills) and oily character in its youth which evolves into a mouth-coating richness when mature – therefore used in Walker blends

Tobermorey 10 – Island of Mull

-Founded in 1823

-Owned by Burn Stewart Distillers

-Only distillery on the island

-Across the way from Oban on the mainland

-Despite a deep and fertile soil, barley was always imported from the mainland because the farmers had abandoned the fields to farm kelp and seaweed on the coast.

-Was closed between 1837 and 1878

-A brief period in the Distillers Company Ltd in the 1930s before closing again until 1972 for three years.  Brand name and stock were sold and the whisky became a vatted malt.

-Burn Stewart bought it in 1993 and began reproducing the light and slightly sweet spirit

 Ledaig 10 Year – Island of Mull

-The peated version of Tobermorey, Ledaig (the original name of the town) is made using barley malted at Port Ellen

Isle of Arran 10 Year - Isle of Arran

-A light and easy drinking whisky

-One of the few distilleries to be independently owned

-At one point in the 19th century there were 50 illicit distilleries on the island, but Arran is the first legal one to be opened for 155 years (the last closed in 1836).


David Driscoll