Tasting Tuesdays at Callooh Callay are always a worthwhile adventure for those wanting to spend a bit more time getting to know their spirits and the stories behind them.
Dr Dunn Tasting Tuesday session was no exception. Indeed, demand had been such we’d exceeded capacity at the member’s Jub Jub bar and were instead in Callooh Callay’s back room, which was more spacious with better light for tasting.
Colin Dunn, aka Dr Dunn, is hugely entertaining, amazing character. He’s a West Country boy, whose life changed course when he won a wine writing competition to visit the Scottish Isle of Islay.
Colin is now Mr Whisky, he loves the aromas and describes Diageo’s Scotch estate as like having 28 different perfumes. He claims to wear Dalwhinnie as an aftershave, it has hints of pineapple and sandlewood apparently.
He believes a good whisky is like a good book, it should take you on a journey and have a beginning, middle and end. The nose is the beginning of the journey with a whisky, it is one of those spirits you could easily nose all night, the taste on the palate the middle and what remains in your mouth long after you’ve taken a sip dictates the length and quality of the finish.
The lineup Colin prepared consisted of:
1. Johnnie Walker Black Label, 12 yr old 2. Talisker, 10 year old
3. Mortlach, 16 year old 4. Lagavulin, 16 year old
5. Lagavulin, 12 year old 6. Linlithgow, 30 year old
Lesson no 1: The first revelation for the evening was whiskies 2, 3, 4 and 5 all went into number one; Talisker 10 yr old, Mortlach 16 yr old, Lagavulin 16yr old and Lagavulin 12 yr old are all component parts of the Johnnie Walker Black Label.
Johnnie Walker sells 17.4 million cases. It is the best selling Scotch brand and is revered all over, from the US to Spain and Japan so must be doing something right.
Johnnie Walker is made up of 40 different whiskies, including 39 single malts such as Talisker, Mortlach and Lagavulin, and 1 grain whisky. The grain whisky isn’t there to make up the numbers or bulk it out, the small addition of grain whisky helps tease out flavours and bring all the different malts together.
The number of whiskies in a blend is no indication of quality, it’s all about getting the right balance. Johnnie Walker Green Label contains a blend of 15 whiskies and while the Gold Label is made up of up to 18 different whiskies.
Lesson no 2: In order to fully appreciate the flavour profile of a whisky you need to give it due time and respect. Colin advises to give a whisky one second in the mouth for every year of its life, so for a 12 year old whisky give it 12 seconds in the mouth, over the tongue and around the gums. For a 30 year old, give it a whopping 30 seconds.
Lesson no 3: Just because its old doesn’t make it better.
Age statements on whisky age dictate the age of the youngest whisky in the mix, the rest of the blend could be much older. However, older doesn’t necessarily mean better, Colin says, ‘I’m 57 I was better when I was 23 and I know a lot of old people who aren’t very nice’. We tasted the Lagavulin 16 year old and 12 year old, many found they preferred the style of the 12 year old which although 4 years younger packed more of a punch – unleashing a flavour bomb on the nose and palate.
1. Johnnie Walker Black Label
Has a vanilla sweetness like, vanilla ice cream, with light spice, toast, smoke and peat notes. Complex, well balanced blend of whisky with a high malt whisky content.
“It’s a 12 year old; it smells like teen spirit, tastes like Nirvana.” says Colin
2. Talisker, 10 year old
Talisker goes into Johnnie Walker and wasn’t released as a single malt until 1989.
Really pungent, smokey, peaty whisky with a peppery palate and intense long finish.
Colin says “A tough rugged whisky, for me the most multilayered whisky out there. Gives you a burnt bonfire smack after 5.9 seconds… in the mouth is a red hot chilli pepper”.
Whisky cocktails are a challenge to bar tenders, like an illustration to book Colin believes the cocktail should add to the flavour of whisky and not overpower it
Julian rised more than admirably to the challenge and created a couple of different whisky cocktails for us, my favourite of the evening was his take on ‘the 20th Century’ using Talisker instead of a gin.
The distinct taste of Talisker was there and the cocktail seemed to delicately unfold in my mouth with the different layers of flavours coming in waves.
4. Lagavulin, 16 year old
Again, Lagavulin wasn’t released as a single malt until 1988. Since that times it has won over some high profile fans including Johnny Depp, who during an interview with The Guardian stopped to order a snifter of Lagavulin saying, ‘I don’t drink hard liquor any more, but I sometimes order Lagavulin just for the smell.’
And I can see why, there is so much there. It is deliciously peaty, with a rich, pronounced nose of heather, seaweed, lapsang souchong, chocolate, dynamite and Roquefort cheese with medicinal notes.
This distillery physically can’t make any more whisky. The guys there are literally working 24 hours, it is so popular the guys at Diageo generally don’t feel the need to show it in tastings as already demand exceeds supply but Colin decided to treat us to a dram all the same.
5. Lagavulin, 12 year old
Now if you like Lagavulin 16 year old, you will love the 12 year old. Age is just a number here and personally I prefer the 12 year old it is usually pale, has a beautiful smokiness with a touch of floweriness. Colin describes this as Lagavulin in HD, higher definition.
The reason for this enhanced flavour is the slow distillation, Lagavulin is distilled for 9 and a half hours. Colin compares slow distillation with slow cooking, if you ‘cook in a microwave, sure it’ll be hot but it won’t be as flavoursome as slow cooking it in the oven’.
There are only 100 barrels of this produced each year, it is released at cask strength – a powerful 56.5% abv.
6. Linlithgow, 30 year old
This whisky was bottled in 2004 and is a triple distilled 30 year old whisky which would today set you back around £480. In reality this bottle is priceless, it is a piece of liquid history, never to be repeated, the Saint Magadalene distillery where this was made closed down in 1983.
Special thanks for Callooh Callay and Colin Dunn for a fantastically informative, entertaining tasting.
Dr Dunn will be back at Callooh Callay for another tasting on Thursday 13th October 2011 as part of London Cocktail Week.
I arrived back in Madrid, Spain last weekend after four long months away. I’ve collected a lot of stories on my travels