Bryan’s First Scotch tasting party

It’s been a bit more than a year since I started getting into Scotch, my first real foray being a scotch tasting for Robbie Burns 2013. Since then, I’ve bought about 17 bottles, reviewed 14 scotches, 10 world whiskies, and am officially a lifelong fan. I’ve got a few friends from various circles who are also into the nectar of the gods and so I decided to host a tasting party to bring these different circles together, while enjoying a bunch of delicious drams!

Invited to the event were the Engineer, the Teacher, the PR guy, the Finance guy, the Pastor and the Sales guy (me). Unfortunately, the Finance guy can’t be here, but… more scotch for the rest of us!

I decided rather than going vertical within a style or brand, we’d have a wide menu that ranges styles and regions of Scotland, to give a dose of variety to the evening. We all agreed to bring 1 bottle, so we could represent all 6 regions. I arranged the menu with the guys, finding out what they had in stock at home and ensuring no duplication etc, making purchase recommendations where needed. I brought 2 since Finance guy couldn’t make it. Here’s what we came up with:

  1. Auchentoshen Valinch (Lowlands)
  2. Dalwhinnie 15 (Highlands)
  3. Hazelburn 8 (Campbeltown)
  4. Highland Park 12 (Islands)
  5. BenRiach Bernie Moss (Speyside)
  6. Laphroaig PX Cask (Islay)

Before we tasted each dram, the person who brought the bottle introduced it, giving details about the distillery, the scotch, some history or fun facts etc. We enjoyed each scotch in a Glencairn glass, which we rinsed thoroughly between samples.

To enhance the tasting experience, I provided some food pairings to go along with the drams, including blackberries and raspberries, dried fruit, nuts, crackers, smoked and spiced meats, brie, smoked Havarti and old cheddar. Also provided distilled water in case it was needed for the CS Valinch and higher ABV offerings, and a bowl of coffee grinds to clear the olfactory palate between samples.

In addition to the food and drink, I printed off a bunch of materials to assist in our commentary and knowledge about the scotches:

• 6 copies of the nosing/tasting chart in the sidebar, used to identify the things we smelled and tasted in the scotches.

• a map of Scotland showing the 6 regions and identifying the location of each distillery.

• the malt map, identifying the probable coordinates of each dram.

• 2 other versions of a malt map found elsewhere for more context.

• The periodic table of Scotch, showing ownership etc

• The distillery profiles to give probable taste profiles that can be expected

• And Wordles of Reddit’s reviews of each scotch to see how our flavor mapping compared

Now to the important part.. THE REVIEWS! Unfortunately, on the tasting/nosing sheets, I forgot to denote nose comments and palate comments, so all of the flavours/aromas we detected are going to be listed together. I’ll put the scores/ranking at the bottom of the page.

Auchentoshan Valinch 2012 – 57.5% ABV

Auchentoshan derives from the Gaelic word for “The Corner of the Field” and Valinch refers to the pipette used to draw whisky straight from the cask. This cask-strength version of the Classic is NCF. Colour is yellow straw, crazy legs on the glass that just clung to the sides of the glencairn. Before water, the group had a tough time distinguishing the more subtle flavours, but got vanilla, honey, burned sugar. After adding a TSP of water we also got nutty flavours, walnuts, honey/mead, crème brulee, orange, lemon, peaches, prunes, cinnamon, dried fruit. Short finish.

Dalwhinnie 15 – 43% ABV

From the highest altitude distillery in Scotland, with a name derived from the Gaelic word for a meeting place of sheep/flocks, comes this very approachable dram. Thin, quick legs, very light bodied. Very pale colour as well. didn’t detect a ton of flavours, but we got honey, plastic, apples, pear, bubblegum, chardonnay, floral notes, very light smoke. Overall, it was considered a more mild dram, but pleasant and very approachable. Much longer finish.

Hazelburn 8 – 46% ABV

Named after a now-defunct C-town distillery, this scotch is triple distilled. Having never had a Campbeltown before, none of us were quite sure what to expect. The legs were thin, the colour is pale straw. We got lots of flavours from it, including pepper, allspice, old wood, plastic, iodine, oily medicine, light smoke, rubber, and it had a very warm alcohol burn. The overall impression of the group was that you could taste the youth of the scotch and some of the flavours seemed… forced, almost synthetic. We all felt the 12 year offering from Hazelburn would likely be a much nicer, well rounded experience.

Highland Park 12 – 43% ABV

A classic, well rounded scotch from the most northerly distillery in Scotland. The legs on this one are thick and generous and last a long time. The colour is a deeper amber gold. We detected flavours of caramel, metallic old wood, new oak, nutty oil, cedar, burnt wood, floral and leafy aromas, blackberry, cooked fruit and dried prunes. Very little smoke. The alcohol content was obviously lower and had much less burn, particularly after the very warm Hazelburn. Well-liked around the room. The finish is moderate.

Benriach Birnie Moss Intensely Peated – 48%

From a distillery named for the Gaelic word for Spotted Mountain, it offers rare peated offerings from the Speyside region. Incredibly light colour, very pale and almost clear when held up to the light. Tasted iodine, heavy peat, bonfires, burnt wood, salmon, brine, salty, heavy smoke. We found it to be somewhat one-dimensional, and you could taste that it’s an immature scotch that hasn’t had time to balance out the heavy smokiness. Still a nice dram and the price is right by Ontario standards Finish was long and smoky..

Laphroaig PX Cask – 48%

Triple matured and incredibly rich in flavor, this retail exclusive offering was picked up by the Engineer on his latest business trip. The colour is gold and it had thin legs. We were surprised it wasn’t darker given the triple maturation. On the nose we got both sweet and smoky notes, including honey, peat, bonfire, burnt wood. Those were all present on the palate as well, in addition to burnt toast, heavy sherry iodine, charcoal, coffee, figs, mosses. This one was well-liked too.


6th: Hazelburn 8 – 79/100

5th: BenRiach Bernie Moss – 80/100

4th: Highland Park 12 – 85/100

3rd: Laphroaig PX Cask – 89/100

2nd: Dalwhinnie 15 yr – 90/100

1st: Auchentoshan Valinch – 91/100

BONUS REVIEW! Talisker 10 yr – 45.8% ABV

After the Pastor went home, the Engineer pulled out his latest acquisition from the duty free, the 10 year old offering from the Isle of Skye. A light coloured, thick legged beauty. Our nosing and tasting discernment were getting a bit weak after 6 drams, but we still managed to pick up spiciness, pepper, peat smoke, brine and burnt sugar. The Engineer also commented that it reminds him of a richer, fuller version of the Te Bheag, which upon further exploration, turns out to be completely accurate as it does come from the Isle of Skye too! Scored 90/100

This was a fantastic evening, and everyone said they’d love to do another tasting sometime, possibly going vertical instead of horizontal on the menu, and possibly chipping in to get a really nice bottle that we otherwise wouldn’t buy. A year into my Scotch journey, I’m still just getting started. Thanks to the Reddit community for all the great resources, discussions, reviews, insights!

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