"The Cabinet" is a Winnipeg based scotch whisky tasting club that meets every two months to sample, discuss and enjoy scotch and occasionally other related malt-based beverages.

Wednesday, August 10, 2022

Oxygen

The Cabinet met again after what was the shortest interval between meetings in our history (have to make up for ground lost during the pandemic, right?) to consider the question of oxygen. Specifically, we wanted to examine the impact of oxygenation on opened bottles of scotch. In the wine world, oxygenation is the subject of much anxiety. There is far less discussion among whisky enthusiasts, but in theory we should be at least a little bit anxious about this too. In the past we've noted that bottles that have been open for a long time seem to lose their bright edges and become a little flatter, duller. It was time to put it to a head-to-head test. New and sealed beside old and open. 

The first test set a bottle of Lagavulin 8, that was three-quarters drained five years ago, in contrast with a fresh bottle. Because of the time elapsed, the new one was from a more recent bottling, so some difference was expected regardless, but the question was more whether it was notably superior. And the answer? It was, perhaps, a little superior, but not notably. This was a surprise. Perhaps peated malts such as the Islays hold their flavour profile better in the face of oxygenation? The new was livelier, to be sure, but the old was still recognizably and enjoyably a  Lagavulin.  


Next, we pitted a fresh bottle of Laphroaig Select against one that had been opened nine months prior. About 20% was left. Most whisky drinkers will recognize that nine months is not very long to have an open bottle kicking around, especially if it's one you are wanting to savour, or save for special company, but wine people routinely say that a wine can become "undrinkable" after being open for three days. Not months, not weeks, days. Wine is different. Wine people are different. These two Laphroiags were from the same bottling, so the comparison should be valid. What did we find? The citrus notes present in the fresh bottle were perhaps no longer as obvious, but that was about it. The opened bottle had a very similar profile and was just as enjoyable. One member even remarked that he preferred it. 

In summary - oxygenation is real, but for young peated whiskies, it does not appear to be a catastrophe. At some point we will test other types of whisky and see if we can come up some guidelines. But in the meantime, when in doubt, you can't go wrong by just drinking it all now.





Wednesday, July 27, 2022

The Tri-Whisky Tournament

I am a tardy blogger. And I have no reasonable excuse, only the usual modern guff regarding "busyness". It is now two full weeks since the Cabinet met in its summer outdoor headquarters along the banks of the Assiniboine. We met to participate in the "Tri-Whisky Tournament" (a Harry Potter reference for the attentive and youthful at heart among you). In advance, I poured a bourbon (Basil Hayden's), an Irish whiskey (the Sexton), and a Lowland scotch (Glenkinchie 12) into three vessels marked only with numbers. All three are generally well reviewed by others, and none have especially distinctive flavour profiles. The members' tasks were to score each for overall whisky drinking delight, and to identify which was which.

To avoid bringing shame upon our hallowed institution, I will limit comment on the latter to congratulating Al. Nothing more need be said. And with respect to the former, the Glenkinchie came out fractionally ahead with an average score of  5.8 out of 10, followed by the Basil Hayden's at 5.6, and trailed by the Sexton at 4.1. If these seem like low scores, keep in mind that 10 is set at The Best Whisky Ever - Endless Orgasm In A Bottle, so the impossibility of that considered, anything over 5 is quite good. And we enjoyed those two very much.

After two weeks, that's all my memory offers, so I will leave you with Ivan's splendid photos.

Slainte!








 

Wednesday, May 25, 2022

Heaven & Hell

 Ok, "hell" is an exaggeration. Consider it click bait. I could have called this post "Contrast" instead, but you have to admit that "Heaven & Hell" has more zip to it. Last week The Cabinet met to compare the two least favoured whiskies (hell) that remain in our stocks with two that we love (heaven). If this seems like a senseless exercise to you, then you may be right, but the objective was to determine just how wide that gap is, and, to be candid, to find a way to use the duds.

Dud Number One was the Cragganmore, Distiller's Edition. It has a lovely label and comes in a fine box, but to quote Gertrude Stein, "There's no there there." She was referring to Oakland, but the expression resonates here. Yes, it's scotch whisky, but there's no nose, no finish, and little in between - just malt and alcohol. It's not offensive, but that is about it. Possibly a good starter whisky for someone graduating from 'lite' beer.

Dude Number Two, the 12 year old Cardhu was even more dudish. It also lacked nose and finish and character, but was a bit rough as well. Enough said. 



  




Now that we've refamiliarized ourselves with what we don't like, let's move on to what we do like. We like the Oban 14 year old. We like it a lot. It's a long standing Cabinet favourite that you can read about in previous posts. And it continues to delight, despite the pours coming from an old bottle. More on that in a moment.  

Then the finale, a new bottle of Bowmore 18 year old. This was everything whisky heaven offers - complexity, subtlety, balance, the whole package. Perfect right from the feinty smoky nose through to the leathery citrusy taste, and the full creamy mouthfeel, right to the long long finish. 


So, in case there was ever any doubt, there is an enormous distance between a good whisky and a bad one. The good ones may cost twice or three times the bad ones, but the improvements in quality and enjoyment are many times that. Cheap whisky is a species of false economy. Rather one glass of Bowmore or Oban than two or three Cardhu or Cragganmore.

A word about oxygenation before we go. The Bowmore was the only fresh bottle and that clearly gave it a leg up. The flavours were all brighter and livelier. Even our beloved Oban was just a bit flatter and duller than we remembered, and it came from an old, long opened, bottle. This is a topic we will return to and explore in more depth in the future.

Until then, allow me to report what a pleasure it was to gather The Cabinet and sip whiskies, heavenly or hellish, and talk about the news of the world and our lives - profane, profound, and hilarious as always.

Slainte!






Saturday, February 12, 2022

Arbeg

The Cabinet met last week for a delayed celebration of Robbie Burns Night, and to explore some new additions to the Ardbeg range. 

In delightful alignment with the Burns theme, the first malt to be poured was the Ardbeg 5 year old "Wee Beastie". For those of you out there who are unfamiliar, the name comes from my favourite Burns poem, To a Mouse, written in 1785 and which recounts the reflections of a farmer on accidentally overturning a mouse's nest. It begins, "Wee, sleeket, cowran, tim’rous beastie, O, what a panic’s in thy breastie!". Incidentally, Steinbeck's masterful, if harrowing, novel, Of Mice and Men, takes its title from this line near the end of the poem, "The best laid schemes o’ Mice an’ Men Gang aft agley." It's a brilliant reflection of an emerging modern perspective during the Scottish Enlightenment, but it has absolutely nothing to do with whisky whatsoever, other than Ardbeg's borrowing of two words, so I do apologize for that self-indulgent digression. 

Regarding the whisky itself, it's worth noting that it has an age statement. This is increasingly rare and while The Cabinet has made its peace with its absence on many bottles, we do like to see it from time to time. It helps guide the drinker in their expectations. Younger generally portends a lighter colour and a rougher livelier flavour profile. And so it was. The Wee Beastie immediately presented strong feinty notes, as well as smoke, peat, tar, pepper, and a hint of fruity sweetness in behind all that. "Feinty" is incidentally hands down the best word in the whisky description vocabulary. It bedevils many a spellchecker and is of limited use elsewhere in life, but for that gnarly damp wool, leathery, unwashed dog taste, nothing else will do. Divine.

It is traditional for whisky writers and self-proclaimed connoisseurs to look down their elongated noses at young whiskies. At The Cabinet we have been guilty of that on occasion as well. But we're beginning to come around. The aging process can be compared to sandpapering a sculpture. At five years it is still rough and spiky all over and it's difficult to see what it's supposed to be. But it gets your attention and it's interesting and entertaining. As you continue to sand, the form becomes clear, and the surface becomes smooth. It is beautiful now. We have often said that a whisky is at it's most beautiful between the ages of 16 and 20 (I know you're thinking it, but don't say it). Then as the sanding process goes on, the sculpture becomes almost velvety smooth, but also gradually becomes less interesting, more amorphous, more blob-like.

It all depends on your mood. We were in the mood for some entertainment and excitement. And honestly, at $85 (Canadian), the Wee Beastie's a screaming deal. Highly recommended.

Next up was the An Oa, which did not have an age statement. The distiller promised toffee, anise, treacle, and banana. Of these, only the anise was evident. This was a lovely whisky as well, but it suffered following the Wee Beastie as it was smoother and less aggressive in its Ardbegness, so to speak. 

And then finally we pulled out the classic, the Ardbeg 10 year old. Unfortunately this bottle suffered from sitting three quarter empty for a few years, gradually oxidizing and dumbing itself down. Consequently a comparison would be unfair. And if you're reading this, you're probably already familiar with it and not in need of a description.

Then the members called for one more nip of the Wee Beastie before calling time. This was Wee Beastie's night.

Slainte!














Monday, December 20, 2021

Member's Choice Night, 2021

 As dictated by Ancient Cabinet Tradition, the last meeting of the year is a "Member's Choice Night" wherein a rotating group of three members make the evening's tasting selections. This year they coordinated their efforts and chose novelty whiskies. Alas, the Ardbeg Supernova was finished, with its risible microgravity effects on oak shards (don't even bother trying to figure out what I'm talking about), but three very worthy candidates were found, plus a bonus one. We greatly enjoyed all three, but disliked the bonus, so in keeping with the Christmas spirit, we allowed ourselves a second bonus, which we loved.

I'm going to plead seasonal busyness and not comment any further, but simply allow the photographs to speak for themselves. 

The options:

Opening the secure cabinet:

First member's choice:

Second member's choice:

Third members choice:

First bonus:
(Not photographed. The inexpressibly bad Forty Creek Confederation Oak.)

Second bonus:

The graveyard of cylinders:

Merry Christmas & Slainte!



















Monday, November 15, 2021

Budget

 The Cabinet met indoors in the hallowed Cabinet Chambers for the first time since the beginning of the pandemic. It was wonderful. Outdoor meetings have their own charm and will continue to be in the mix, but it doesn't fully and properly feel like "Cabinet" unless we are ensconced in our natural habitat. We also had full attendance, which does not often happen.

The theme was "Budget". The Cabinet did not assess dues for 2021 as we weren't sure how many meetings we would be able to have, so buying was still from the remnants of the 2020 budget. With $200 (Canadian) left in the kitty, I was curious whether I would be able to find three bottles that would pass muster and stay within budget. I was also curious, as always, how price and enjoyability correlated. On the first question, the answer was mostly yes (two thirds), and on the second question, the answer was that price and enjoyability are poorly correlated.

We tasted the Glen Moray Port Cask ($50), Laphroaig Select ($65), and the Tomatin Cu Bocan ($85). These are all NAS whiskies ("non age statement", if you're not up on your acronyms). The Cabinet, although fond of many traditions, has come around to the opinion that age statements are not necessarily the mark of superior quality we once assumed they were. Several excellent whiskies are NAS, while several abhorrent ones have age statements. Age statements do, however, give you some sense as to what to expect because of the influence of the oak over time, but oh well.

The Glen Moray was a pleasant surprise for the price point. It's a very serviceable Speyside with no unpleasant surprises. You can drink it and say to yourself, 'ah, this is scotch', and that's it. Sometimes that's all you want, and for $50 you could do far worse.

The Laphroaig was the standout star of the evening. It's everything you expect from a Laphroaig, with the smokiness perhaps being even more pronounced than with some of the other expressions. In fact, I had the faint sensation of ash in my mouth. Marvelous! The Laphroaig Lore is almost three times the price, but is it almost three times more enjoyable? (This is a rhetorical question. How can something be almost three times better than marvelous?)

That brings us finally to the Tomatin. We had been disappointed by this distillery before, but we also believe in second chances. It's peated and the box promised smoke. Perhaps our palates had been fatigued by the Laphroaig, but we could not detect any smoke or peat character. This might also be because this is a big whisky with a lot going on. Usually we criticize whiskies for being too thin and dull. This is the opposite, but it is a muddled mess of flavours competing with each other. Not a symphony, but more like a loud grade school orchestra that's never practiced together. The most expensive whisky of the night, although at $85 not truly 'expensive', so no great loss either.

Ivan took many great photos, so I will include them all as I bid you Slainte! until the next time.









Thursday, September 30, 2021

B-List

The Cabinet met a few weeks ago for another outdoor pandemic meeting, possibly the last before we return to the Cabinet Chambers and our beloved rituals. Not that there is anything wrong with meeting outdoors, but it won't feel like we are fully back on track again until we are in our dark wood paneled subterranean lair. 

But the bonfire on the riverbank was lovely too, and nothing pejorative is meant by "b-list". The Cabinet Stocks are arranged more or less alphabetically, and when I opened the cupboard doors the first whiskies I saw all had names beginning with "b", so "b-list" it was. 

We enjoyed all three, and that's all I'm going to say. I've been away, so the meeting feels like a long time ago. Once normal meetings resume, normal blog posts will follow.





Slainte!