An Intimate Affair

I'm always experimenting with different ways of doing whisky tastings and last night I decided to move our scheduled Kilkerran event into the more intimate front salon at Donato, scrap the dinner, and just do finger food appetizers for a more casual approach. No three hour meal this time around, just a chance to mingle, taste at your own speed, and snack on some bruschetta, pizza, and ravioli bites. I was pleased with the results and especially the atmosphere. The weather has started to cool down again and the time is right for a glass of Scotch after a long day at work. We had Ranald Watson in the house all the way from Campbeltown, Scotland to tell us about the twelve year journey of Glengyle distillery, Springbank's second production house. As Ranald said, "The whisky actually turned twelve in April, but we didn't want to release it over the summer. We thought October was a better time to introduce a new whisky." Indeed. I purposely held off of tasting the new Kilkerran 12 year until last night because I wanted to be there with Ranald and the group to experience it for the first time together. I was not disappointed.

Everyone else seemed pretty pleased as well. My buddy Anthony (who was grabbing a snack here as we discussed the whisky) and I both agreed the Kilkerran 12 tastes like an improved version of Oban 14: there's just a bit more mouthfeel, a touch more sweetness, and a slightly peatier finish. It's everything I've always liked about Oban, just more fine-tuned and focused. Ranald added: "It has a little bit of everything, doesn't it?" Yes, it does. It's got the fruit and vanilla of the Highlands, just enough roundness like to be a modern Speyside, the subtle brine of the islands, and a bit of peat like Islay. But it's also light on its feet like a classic Lowlander. I think just about everyone there wanted to grab a bottle before the night was over because it's definitely not just Springbank light; it's an entirely different whisky with a different set of strengths.

Then, as promised, I broke out two bottles of cask strength 19 year old Springbank from the distillery's recent American single cask allocation: one aged in refill sherry, the other in a "recharred" sherry butt. Both whiskies were incredible, albeit in totally different ways. It was also my first time tasting either one. The recharred sherry is exactly what it sounds like. "Nineteen years ago we took ten sherry butts and had them sent to our cooperage to be blowtorched," Ranald explained. I'd never heard of such a thing! Wouldn't that caramelize the sherry? The result is a whisky that's as black as black can be. It looks more like a dark Demerara rum than a single malt and it tastes like something in between El Dorado and Springbank, yet entirely natural. The refill sherry was simply perfect. If I were a whisky customer looking to spend $300 on a bottle, this is what I would spend it on. It delivers on all fronts. It has the rich fruit and oiliness of a classic Springbank whisky, but with balance, length, and finesse. My co-worker Andrew and I were spellbound.

We started at seven. We were done by eight-thirty. I like the new model. I'm going to see about planning more of these.

-David Driscoll

David Driscoll