On August 20th the Toronto Whisky Society had one of our most interesting and unique lineups for a tasting. Toronto Whisky Society had picked up a number of independent bottlings from various regions and distilleries, and our tasting was led by Igor, who is a whisky agent with a great deal of knowledge when it comes to whisky.
(Igor leading Toronto Whisky Society members through one of the whiskies at the event)
The lineup for the tasting consisted of;
- The Whisky Agency Irish XO Blend at cask strength
- Whisky Fassle Blend Extra Old for Kensington Wine Market’s 25th anniversary
- The Whisky Agency Speyside 1973, a 43 year old Speyside from an undisclosed distillery, bottled at cask strength
- The Whisky Agency Tennessee bourbon, a 13 year old single cask bottled at cask strength by a European independent bottler
- Jack Wieber Classic of Islay, a young Islay at cask strength (believed to be from Lagavulin)
The concept behind the lineup for this tasting was to include a wide range of countries and regions, all at cask strength.
Igor did a wonderful job leading the tasting, combining information about the whiskies with anecdotes about whisky festivals, and whisky in general. His approach was to provide minimal tasting notes for each whisky, allowing the group to dissect and evaluate each whisky for themselves. And now into the whiskies themselves:
Irish Single Malt XO (The Whisky Agency)
(NAS, 51.8%, matured in a barrel, 2017 release
Years ago the Teeling family started putting aside casks of Irish whiskey that they enjoyed. These whiskies were nicer than others they’ve found, and they started blending them and vatting them. Some of these casks have recently popped up, floating to the market, drawn to whisky geeks. The Whisky Agency was able to pick one up, and we’ve recently been seeing these Irish blends from unknown agency.
In terms of taste profile, it was fruity with a grassy base, lots of peach and ginger notes. Really nice for a cask strength Irish whisky, it really shows what Irish whiskies can do when they are not watered down.
Whisky-Fässle Fine Blended Malt Extra Old
(NAS, 45.4%, bottled in 2016)
Years ago an independent bottler of some reputation was walking through distilleries, looking for hidden pearls in a sea of whisky. He came upon underproof whiskies with no names. These blank casks couldn’t be sold, however the profiles of the 60s and 70s malts were there, and the gentleman could determine they were Macallan, Tamdhu, Glenrothes, and Mortlach. On his way out with these majestic casks, the man called up Glenfarclas that were in ex-bourbon casks. And then he started blended. And marrying. And vatting this new blend for years to come in ex-sherry casks.
This whisky was a wonderful profile of old sherry notes that you rarely find today. Leather, tobacco, oak, soft smoke, raisins. This was a crowd favourite, you rarely get to experience blends with whisky this old in them.
Speyside Region 43yr 1973 (The Whisky Agency)
(46.9%, matured in a sherry butt, 1973-2017, ‘Art Nouveau Ladies’ series)
This whisky was released because The Whisky Agency felt it was time. For new whisky fans, like those in the Toronto Whisky Society, having 60s and 70s malts is out of our fingers. We were born too young with old souls demanding whisky. Luckily for us, the Whisky Agency released this old whisky. When it was ready, at a price that is affordable. While we’ll never know what distillery it is for sure (it’s estimated that this is Glenfarclas), I appreciate trying it while I still can, and for the The Whisky Agency, who could have maximized their profit, who normally are needed to as a company, did the best for the whisky, priced it for whisky nerds.
This whisky was the highlight of the evening for many. How often do you get to try a 43 year old whisky at cask strength? The whisky itself was a wonderful blend of honey, oak, spices, mint and apricots. Stunning balance and flavours.
Tennessee Bourbon 13y 2003 (The Whisky Agency)
(52.6%, matured in a barrel in the US, 2003-2017, ‘Art Nouveau Ladies’ series)
Bourbon is a different animal than Scotch. It has an element of extremes that scotch doesn’t have. Want to see people react to something? Talk about bourbon. They’ll be angry at Tennessee being called bourbon, they’ll be annoyed at scores, they’ll inform you of how bourbon tastes. It’s this intensity that comes into the whiskey as well, with strong notes rather than flowing notes and balance. Recently European independent bottlers have noticed that Bourbon has been taking off, however they don’t know where to start. This is dipping a toe in on the whiskey.
This bourbon, or Tennessee whiskey, depending on who you ask was rather controversial for the group. Some people loved it, others had mixed feelings about it. It was rich in caramel, oak, cinnamon, with strong nutty notes adding complexity. It is rare to get to try independent bottlings of bourbon at cask strength in Canada, so this was fun to try.
Classic of Islay (Jack Wieber)
(NAS, 55.75%, cask #2508, bottled in 2016)
Igor had visited Islay a few years ago and included this story from his trip while introducing this whisky. He went to Lagavulin on this whirlwind trip, and met the legendary tour guide there. The group was ready, and excited to try whiskies, until someone mentioned that Europeans liked weaker whisky and American’s liked simpler whisky. And while not incorrect, it incensed the people there, and left only 3 people for the second part of the tour, the tasting.
Normally you’d try Lagavulin’s standard line up, However since there were only three, they delved into casks that held golden juice not meant for mortals. By the next morning, the taste still on his tongue, he gave up Islay for years to come, having touched heaven. When he tried Islay again, they had changed. All save Lagavulin, which is vatted here (new and old) to get the best of both worlds.
The Classic of Islay itself is a wonderful example of the Islay profile. Ash, salt, smoke, a touch of iodine and oak. Perfect to end the tasting with a youthful Islay to contrast with some of the older malts we had enjoyed previously.
After the tasting was done for the evening, we all had sausages and sipped on a few more drams from bottles people had brought along. Overall it was a wonderful tasting experience, with a wide range of profiles so that everyone had someone that appealed to them. Thanks again to Igor for leading the tasting, both entertaining us and giving insight into these wonderful whiskies.