My first whisky tasting (single malts only)

May 7, 2012

The evening program with the first single malt

The Goethe Institute in Bangkok invited me to an interesting new format: “a literary whisky tasting”, which I admit I could not resist. About 20 selected invitees followed the invitation and had assembled in the Institutes library for this innovative event.

Mr Johannes Scherer from the German stock exchange association of the German book traders (Boersenverein des deutschen Buchhandels) who was in Bangkok for the German photo-book price award exhibition, was the presenter.

Johannes Scherer

He read five short stories in German from a collection of stories about whisky. For the ones of you who read German, I write them down in chronological order:

– Elke Schleich: Begegnung mit Whisky
– Markus Niebios: Der perfekte Augenblick
– Reinhart Hummel: Miese Zeiten
– Angelika Brox: Teufelszeug
– Fenna Williams: Goldenes Versprechen

They all came from a book titled “Aqua Vitae – a literary whisky tasting”.

The sequence was as follows: First the art (production process etc.) of making single malts was explained. Then the story was red to us. And finally the specific single malt, his history, the making, and the tasting notes were presented. We tasted the single malts together, and exchanged the experience. Questions could be asked, comments shared. Often the specific whisky was part of the short story.

A slide from the presentation

The five single malts were:

– Lowlands – Auchentoshan 10 years old

– Highlands – Dalmore 12 years old

– Speyside – Craggenmore 12 years old

– Isle of Skye – Talisker 10 years old

– Islay – Caol Ila 12 years old

I had drunk the last three before (especially Caol Ila). Dalmore I had heard of, and Auchentoshan was completely new to me.

We moved from a no-peat content (the first three) to a higher peat content (the last two) so to say. Lots of interesting information about the history of the production of single malts was imparted on us. I loved the tasting notes, I must say – maybe because they reminded me of fine wines?

I usually prefer the malts with peat aromas. However, this tasting brought the more subtle ones closer to my heart.

The five single malts we tasted in the library

Conclusions
This was a great evening. I loved the wonderful atmosphere and the playfulness in the exploration of new “taste territories”. I also enjoyed the stories, some of them funny, some sad, others sombre but always with the bit of wit, some detachment, which allowed them to touch the heart.

Thank you Dr. Spitz for inviting me.

I am contemplating to copy the format and to set something up on “liberalism and the art of drinking whisky and/or wine”.

PS: It turned out that Mr Scherer was a wine connoisseur with a large knowledge about fine wines and an even larger wine cellar.


My favourite single malt – Laphroaig

June 13, 2011

Today we take a break from fermented grape juice. It’s single malt time. My favourite single malt whisky comes from Islay, it’s Laphroaig!

I would never have thought that I could be converted to whisky. My friend Rainer Heufers did the trick. He also gave me the Michael Jackson “Malt Whisky Companion”, and from there on I was on my own to explore the wondderful world of single malt whisky. It’s worth it. The rich flavour come from the islands peat, and, of cause, it’s pure water. I just love the earthiness, the barley and peat aromas. Beats many other drinks for sure.

A loud cheers on Pentecostal Monday. And thanks again Rainer.


Cragganmore: Best Speyside Malt Whisky

May 31, 2010

Cragganmore

I find that Chinese airports are good places to buy fine single malt whisky. I was lucky to pick up a bottle of 12 year old Cragganmore from the Speyside, North-east Scotland. In Michael Jackson’s Malt Whisky Companion this whisky is given 90 points which is quite remarkable. And this at the costs of only 328 Yuan (Shanghai Airport).

The 12 year old Cragganmore

According to the Malt Whisky Companion the 12 year old Cragganmore is one of the finest Speyside malts. Is is of golden colour, has a very complex aroma, is fragrant and delicate. It is a very smooth drink indeed. When I tasted my newly acquired treasure, my heart made a huge leap. How lucky I was. Next time I will bring the book with me to make informed choices. This time was pure chance. Cheers

Address:
Cragganmore Distillery
Ballindalloch, Banffshire AB37 9AB
Tel: +44 (0) 1479 874635
Cragganmore.Distillery@Diageo.com


Bowmore – what a lovely whisky

December 12, 2009

Whisky bottle and book

It was a pity that I did not have my “whisky book” with me (Michael Jackson’s ‘Malt Whisky Companion’ which my friend Rainer gave me) when I was shopping for “a drink” at Beijing International Airport. I just remembered the Islay island somehow but as a wine drinker I am not too familiar with the whiskies of Scotland. In fact this is only my second blog entry on whisky.

I picked up a bottle of 17 year old Bowmore (43 % vol), leaving a 15 year Bowmore behind. Later I learned from the above book that the younger whisky scores higher than the older one, but best is a Bowmore Darkest and a 40 year old, earning each 91 points.

Exposed to westerly winds, Bowmore Distillery is located in the village of Bowmore on the western coast of the Isle of Islay, a small island off the Scottish coast. The distillery was founded in 1779 not long after the village, the first planned village in Scotland, was set up in 1768 by Daniel Campbell.

The Bowmore label

The whiskies of Bowmore are distinct in their character. The water used shows some iron-tinged mineral and some peat aromas on the palate. The malt is of the intensity of the south shore and is malted at the distillery. About 30% of the whisky is aged in old sherry casks.

The Bowmore has a nutty taste, is smoky and shows some peat. It is firm and dry. I like its taste on my palate; it’s an awesome drink. Next time I will explore some more of the Islay distilleries (there are 7 on ths island). Stay tuned and look out for this superb whisky.


The Poet’s Birthday – Burn’s Supper in Bangkok

January 26, 2009

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Robert Burns, the portrait at the entrance of the hall

About 100 diners, mostly Scots and their friends, had gathered in the Amari Watergate Hotel in Bangkok to celebrate the 250th anniversary of the birth of Robert Burns, Scotlands national bard and its most famous poet. Every year thousands of Scots people worldwide celebrate the life of this great man. This year’s 250th celebration was of course very special.

That was also true in Thailand. The Bangkok St. Andrew’s Society and its chieftain, John McTaggert, had invited to an evening of celebration, and a celebration it was. Our friend Rab Thomas had gathered a group of friends and we were the lucky ones to join in.

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“250 years in ice”

The members of the Bangkok St. Andrew’s Society had ample opportunity to show their talents. At past Burn’s Suppers in Jakarta, a Robert Burns impersonator was invited. Though his presentation of the poems and hymns was very professional, it somehow deterred the members of the local society to take the recitations on to themselves.

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Mike Brooks did the piping

There is obviously no shortage of talent in Bangkok. The Selkirk Grace was spoken by Willie Christie. When the haggis was presented and stirred, Mike Brooks spoke the address to the haggis. Duncan Niven gave ‘the Immortal Memory’, John McTaggert the ‘toast to the Lassies’, and Louise Blackwood ‘the Lassies Response’. All the speeches were presented in a very witty, pithy, funny, sardonic and enthusiastic way. It was such a pleasure to listen to them.

Also the haggis with tatties and neeps was very good. I enjoyed again the wonderful Scottish cheeses. The wine came from Australia and was quite decent. It belonged to the, what I call, “industrial wine” category. There is no harm in drinking it, just the brand name never sticks.

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After dinner we went all outside to bid farewell to the British Ambassador, made a circle, held hands and sang together “Auld Lang Syne” („old long since“). I recognized the song immediately, because its German version (“Nehmt Abschied Brueder”/ farewell brothers) is very well known in my native lands.

I vividly remember when as a boy I first heard the song from our kitchen window. A group of pilgrims had gathered in front of our house in a circle and sang “farewell brothers”, before boarding their buses to take them home.

When we held hands in Bangkok and sang Burn’s song, the magic also worked on us. It is a powerful song, even in German, though the German text is quite different from the English or the Scottish version. What I did not know is that the song was written by Robert Burns. In life learning never ends.

When Robert Burns died at the tender age of 37 in 1796 he left behind 13 children from 5 women. That’s quite an achievement. Obviously Burns loved women and ‘love’ was one of his favourite themes. This is why I present to you Eddie Reader and her version of “My love is like a red red rose”.

Cheers to Robert Burns. See you next year at the Burn’s Supper.


Single Malt

June 1, 2007

What happened, you might ask yourself? Single malt, that’s not wine! Has Rainer finally left the so much loved and appreciated result of grape fermentation behind and turned to harder drinks? Well, on a recent trip to Bangkok, my old friend Rainer Heufers, who has earlier introduced me to the amazingly complex and enjoyable world of whiskies, gave me a copy of one of the bibles for whisky connoisseurs, “Michael Jackson’s Malt Whisky Companion”, 4th edition.

What a marvellous book this is. Michael Jackson must be to the whisky world what James Halliday and Hugh Johnson are to the wine drinkers. Wine and whisky do have commonalities. For both wood is important. Vintages are clearly identified. The rating system consists of a 100 points scheme. And finally, the verbal description of the liquid as provided by the tasters show similarities with wine too. I give you some examples:

Colour: very full gold with orange tinge
Nose: fresh, soft, very aromatic, with rich malt dryness
Body: light to medium, creamy
Palate: clean, grassy, fruity, becoming cookie-like and nutty
Finish: long, firm dry, malty, restrained, dessert apple

malt-whiskey-small.jpg

The book cover: Michael Jackson’s Malt Whisky Companion

Hundreds of different whisky brands are listed and described in this beautiful book. Of some of the distilleries, photos are added. Short histories provide the readers with another kind of “bait” to explore the world of whisky on their own. Maps and detailed descriptions of the various locations, products, vintages and the distillery process invite the reader to engage and appreciate the world of single malts. Because water is so important for whisky production, many distilleries are located in glens, valleys with streams. My home in Australia is located in Glenburn, family and friends live in Yarra Glen, both places have their water and clear mountain streams.

But the whisky world is full of “Glens”. Names such as Glen Albyn, Glenallachie, Glenburgie, Glendronach, Glendullan, Glenfarclas, Glenfiddich, Glenmorangie, and Glenugie sound exotic to my ear. I decided on the spot that our next trip to Europe would include a visit to Scotland and some distilleries there, probably in the highlands or on the Spyside.

Being of Celtic extraction myself (remember the Treverer! Of the Mosel river valley), I have a soft spot for everything Celtic, as you probably know. I could combine the whisky exploration with some sightseeing. I always wanted to see Edinburgh. Among others I could fulfil one of my dreams: buy a Scottish kilt, probably a young designer item by Howie Nicholsby. They are really cool. Ever since I saw some examples of his art in an airline magazine, I hedged this idea of acquiring a kilt for myself. Tonight there is another Scottish highlight waiting for me. On the eve of the Jakarta Highland Gathering, the Java St. Andrew Society (www.javastandrewsociety.com) is organising Scotland in Concert, a splendid presentation of Scottish music. They will certainly also offer whisky, maybe even a single malt. See you there.


Burns Supper – Java St. Andrews Society

February 10, 2007

I will write more about Celts and Celtic traditions today. Friends of ours got flooded out and could not attend this year’s Robert Burns (1759 – 1796) Supper and the related celebrations of the Java St. Andrews Society (www.javastandrewsociety.com). They kindly passed the ticket on to us and we were welcomed as replacements by the Scots. Thanks again Liz and Walter for your generosity.

Burns Supper 2007

We sat at the “Holy Willie’s Prayer” table together with four Americans. Most men at the supper were in kilts and every time I see this, I want to buy a traditional Bavarian outfit (with leather trousers and so on) which would at least come a bit closer to this formidable dress for the Scottish men. We used to be members of the society many years ago but when our Scots friends at the time had left Jakarta we did not renew our membership. We had also attended quite a few Burns Suppers so that we knew what we were in for. A very memorable one was the first ever held on Chinese soil in Beijing in 1992.

Robert Burns is the beloved poet and lyricist of the Scots (the national poet). He is regarded as a pioneer of the Romantic movement and his poems and writings became a source of inspiration to the founders of both liberalism and socialism. Burns loved women and drink. Statues of Robert Burns can also be found in Australia (Sydney, Canberra and Adelaide). The celebration of his birthday (25th January) follows a fixed ritual.

The program in Jakarta looked as follows:

● The Selkirk Grace (by Sandy Duncan)

● Address to the Haggis (by Chieftain Scott Thompson)

● The Loyal Toast (by Tony McEwan)

● Songs of Burns (by Barbara and Alastair Speirs)

● The Immortal Memory (Robert Burns Live by Chris Tait)

● The Land we Live in and Absent Friends (by Ross Scholes)

● The Land we Hail From (by Brian Scott)

● To the Lassies (by Tony Milne)

● Holy Willie’s Prayer (by Jim Tait)

● The Reply from the Lassies (by Alex Faulds)

● Poems of Burns (Robert Burns Live by Christ Tait)

As customary at this occasion, the haggis (filled sheep’s stomach) is served. It is brought into the hall accompanied by pipe music and usually a guard of honour sometimes holding bottles of whiskey crossed in front of their chests like swords. The pipers were the Edinburgh Chevaliers flown in for the occasion and they entertained us very well. The speeches were well presented too. In addition a Robert Burns look alike (Chris Tait) gave quite a performance. For non-Scots it is at times difficult to follow but its great fun. I always enjoy listening to these old almost forgotten Celtic languages.

The dinner consisted of green pea soup followed by the customary haggis with neeps and tatties. As the main course, we had angus steak pie with new Ayrshire Potatoes, baby carrots and Iona parsley. The desert, McEwan’s Apple Tart and ice cream, we spiced with the whisky which was generously deposited on each table. This year it consisted of bottles of Johnny Walker (12 years old).

The Scots do not grow vines as we all know. We drank a 2004 Timber Ridge Shiraz, a wine from Western Australia. It showed a very lively, fruity character of black fruit, raspberry mainly. My palate detected cherries but I might have gotten it all wrong. The wine was clean and well balanced and surprised us. I had never heard of the vineyard. The next day I searched it on the internet. Unfortunately, the website of the Timber Ridge Vineyard is not yet operational. There is a vineyard of the same name in the USA but I could not find out more about the Western Australian venture, except tasting notes for the 2004 vintage.

For the Whiskey

The Whisky “Taster”