Recently we attended a scotch tasting hosted by the local chapter of the Opimian Society. The Society is a non-profit wine purchasing cooperative. We belonged to the Society a looooong time ago back on the prairies when chapters were first starting up across Canada. We re-joined recently and this was our first event with the Ottawa Chapter. Funny thing, then, that the Society’s recent event was a scotch tasting. It’s apparently the first time they have ventured away from wine and by the accounts of those assembled (at least at our table), it was well received.
A brief account of a scotch tasting:
Wayne Selci, Ottawa Chapter Secretary was the host for the evening and our guest speaker was Carol Anderson, sommelier. Carol offers wine and scotch consulting. tastings and events through her business GrapeScot. Carol gave us some history and background on scotch whisky, how it is made, what various terms mean. She is knowledgeable and it is a pleasure to learn from her. She described each of the six scotches we tasted that evening and emphasized that, just as with wines, the best one is the one you like. The whiskies (which is what Scots call scotch) were paired with tasting plates and we drank scotch with appetizers, a main dish and chocolate. Five of the six are available at the LCBO, the sixth is available only through the Opimian Society. If you look them up on the LCBO site, you’ll see that a small tasting of each is a good way to see if you like something before investing in a bottle (in some cases it can be quite the investment!). At our table of 7, it’s fair to say that preferences were varied. Some people enjoyed a smokey, heavily peated whisky while others preferred a lightly peated whisky.
Excerpted from Carol Anderson’s notes for the evening:
- Malt whiskies are made from only three ingredients-malted barley, yeast and water. (Growing up on the farm in Sask. when we grew barley all I knew was that it was good for us if our barley “went malting”. It meant a better price. Our barley ended up in beer, not scotch.)
- Single malts are made in one distillery, from multiple casks. Single cask malt is the product of one barrel.
- Blended malts are 100% malt whiskies that come from multiple distilleries. Blended whiskies contain malt whiskies and lighter-flavoured grain whiskies.
- The age on a bottle (malt or blend) indicates that of the youngest whiskey used in the blend.
- ABV-alcohol by volume. When you see the numbers you’ll know why it’s wise not to drink and drive.
- Scotches may be aged in variety of oak casks including: sherry, bourbon and new oak. For the first two, that means sherry or bourbon was first aged in the cask and the second renter was scotch whisky. It’s interesting, once you hear this, you can smell/taste the sherry or bourbon.
There’s an entire flavour vocabulary that goes with tasting and there are a great number of potential descriptors. This would be what you smell or taste. Just to give you a flavour of the vocabulary -it could include terms like smoky (ash, bonfires, molasses, turf-burning), sherried (grappa, winey, spirity, rum, sherry), medicinal (antiseptic, Brylcreem, menthol, turpentine) and malty/cereal (oats, malted-milk, porridge). And as people sip they will often comment on what the drink tastes like to them.
- Appetizers- terrines, chutney and salad with Glennfiddich 15 year old Speyside Single Malt Scotch Whiskey 40%ABV and The Macallan Fine Oak 15 Year Old, Speyside Single Malt Scotch Whiskey 43%ABV
- Main course-Irish beef stew with Cul na Creagan Blended Malt Scotch Whisky 43%ABV (Opimian offering and Highland Park 18 Year Old Orkney Single Malt Scotch Whiskey 43%ABV
- Dessert-New York style cheesecake and chunks of dark chocolate with Aberlour A’bunadh Speyside Single Malt Scotch Whisky 59.5%ABV and Lagavulin 16 year old Islay Single Malt Scotch Whisky 43% ABV.
- Glennfiddich 15 year old Speyside Single Malt Scotch Whiskey 40%ABV . I liked the “nose” and found it very smooth. It has been aged in sherry, bourbon and new oak.
- Aberlour A’bunadh Speyside Single Malt Scotch Whisky 59.5%ABV . This was a family favorite. The whisky has been aged exclusive in oak ex-oloroso sherry casks. It is bottled at cask strength which means the ABV is not decreased to a certain level before it’s bottled (ergo the 59.5%ABV). At this level, one should be able to disinfect wounds with it.
After seeing the offering for the evening and the ABV, it’s plain to see why we are encouraged and wise to take a taxi, get a ride, walk or stay in a hotel after the event.