Whisky Focus - An Evening of Scottish Virtuosity 2020

An Evening of Scottish Virtuosity 2020 by Murray Cohen


27th January 2020

Once again guest writer, Murray Cohen, a Member of the International Order of the Companions of the Quaich in Canada and Scotch Malt Whisky Forum Member attended the annual Vintages/LCBO sponsored "An Evening of Scottish Virtuosity" event in Toronto, Canada which was presented this year by Stuart Brown, the first Canadian whisky ambassador for Johnnie Walker and Diageo whisky.

Murray Cohen (left) with Stuart Brown, the first Canadian whisky ambassador for Johnnie Walker and Diageo whisky.

The much anticipated and oft-times recognized premier single malt event of the Toronto whisky scene "An Evening of Scottish Virtuosity" was held once again at the historic National Club on Bay St. and hosted by Vintages/LCBO. Special guest Stuart Brown, the first Canadian whisky ambassador for Johnnie Walker and Diageo whisky consultant led a structured tasting of the eight single malts from the 2019 "Rare by Nature" Cask Strength Collection. Stuart noted that Dr. Craig Wilson, Master of Malts for Diageo was intricately involved in the formulation of these whiskies.

Stuart introduced each of these eight whiskies from this collection with a retrospective regarding each distillery with tidbits of information not often known about them. Here are a few of his details and some of my own:

The Dalwhinnie Distillery is situated 1100 feet above sea level and hence is the highest altitude distillery in all of Scotland.

Glen Ord is the only remaining distillery on the Black Isle. In its early days, the distillery operated under the name of the Ord Distillery Company then Glen Oran and finally Glen Ord.

Cardhu distillery was started in 1824 by Helen Cummings. Actually, her daughter-in-law Elizabeth Cummings took over in 1872.

Cragganmore was founded in 1869 by John Smith and the location partly chosen because it was close to the Strathspey Railway.

Mortlach Distillery was founded in 1823 by James Findlater. It is also notable that the founder of Glenfiddich Distillery, William Grant, worked at Mortlach for twenty years prior.

Talisker was established in 1830 by Kenneth and Hugh MacAskill and is based in Carbost. It is noted that after the fire in 1960, five perfectly exact copies of the original stills were constructed to maintain the flavor dynamics of the originals.

Pittyvaich Distillery known as "Little Bay" was built by Arthur Bell & Sons and was one of the youngest Scottish distilleries during its years of operation. It closed in 1993 and was demolished, ergo its designation as a "ghost distillery".

The origin of Lagavulin Distillery dates back to 1816 and the efforts of Johnston & Brooks. I understand that there were originally two distilleries on the site and one of them became Lagavulin.

Besides the Rare by Nature collection of 8 whiskies, Stuart also presented a blended scotch whisky, John Walker & Sons King George V produced with some rarer single grains and single malts in combination.

Diageo Special Releases 2019

The nine whiskies tasted on the night at an "Evening of Scottish Virtuosity 2020" were:

  • Dalwhinnie 30 Year Cask Strength
     
  • Singleton of Glen Ord 18 Year Cask Strength
     
  • Cardhu 14 Year Cask Strength
     
  • Cragganmore 12 Year Cask Strength
     
  • Mortlach 26 Year Cask Strength
     
  • Talisker 15 Cask Strength
     
  • Pittyvaich 29 Year cask Strength
     
  • Lagavulin 12 Cask Strength
     
  • John Walker & Sons King George V

You will find my description of the nine single malts sampled on the evening below, along with my own detailed taste notes and score for each of the nine drams.

Most of the whiskies are available to buy from specialist online whisky shops such as  The Whisky Shop, The Whisky Exchange and Master of Malt
 

Dalwhinnie 30 Year Cask Strength Review


Bottled at 54.7% ABV. This whisky was matured in refill hogsheads and butts and distilled in 1987.

Murray Cohen's Tasting Notes:

Colour: Light gold.

Nose: Canadian nanaimo bars ( consists of three layers: a wafer, nut, and coconut crumb base; custard in the middle; and a layer of chocolate ganache on top). Intense apricot follows, two dozen roses, dark chocolate chip cookies, vanilla bean, honey and heather, cookies and cream ice cream, malty with subdued spice elements.

Taste: Full-bodied, oily with an oaky undercurrent yet syrupy sweet at times and filled with hazelnut pastry.

Finish: Long, mocha and vanilla nougat thrive with chocolate halvah and dessert toppings.

Comment: The high ABV here turns the key to another taste level. This is a much more robust Dalwhinnie expression with depth and character.

SMW Score 94.5/100
 

Singleton of Glen Ord 18 Year Cask Strength Review


Bottled at 55% ABV. This whisky was matured in freshly charred American Oak hogshead and distilled in 2000.

Murray Cohen's Tasting Notes:

Colour: Gold.

Nose: Lemon meringue with generalized citrus hues, grandma mixing her pastry dough, candied elements, honeydew melon, toffee, thick honey with caramelized plantains on the side. Late serving of almond croissants.

Taste: Full-bodied with slow developing legs, brown sugar, molasses, drying with slabs of French toast and egg nog infusion.

Finish: Long, super drying with cocoa, spice and pleasant toasted oakiness.

Comment: The pungent nose here creates olfactory bliss. You never want the sweet aromatic bouquet to stop.

SMW Score 93/100
 

Cardhu 14 Year Cask Strength Review


Bottled at 55% ABV. This is a small batch double matured in Amontillado sherry-seasoned hogsheads. Distilled in 2004.

Murray Cohen's Tasting Notes:

Colour: Light gold.

Nose: Sweets shop, Easter egg style white chocolate, Lilly of the Valley, pot pourri,, honey, ripe fruit, rice pudding, sprinkles of vanilla icing, caramelized sugar, maple syrup and Boston cream pie metamorphosing to coconut cream pie.

Taste: Full-bodied, smooth and rich, caramel and chocolate cherry blossom candy.

Finish: Long, drying, “stretchy” toffee, spice tenticles, stewed dark fruit in heavy medium sweet syrup.

Comment: A delectable cask strength whisky bolstered by its sherry influence and heritage.

SMW Score 93.5/100
 

Cragganmore 12 Year Cask Strength Review


Bottled at 58.4% ABV. Matured in refill American oak casks.

Murray Cohen's Tasting Notes:

Colour: Hay.

Nose: Pineapple slices with a smoky halo, fireplace remembrances, vanilla malted milk with a toasty tang, citrus, sweet baked apple and hint of cinnamon spice.

Taste: Full-bodied, mild smoke with some peppery awareness, light tannins, toffee and coffee crisp chocolate bar.

Finish: Long, maple fudge with a sweetness eruption, MacIntosh apples, honey and vanilla.

Comment: The highest cask strength whisky of the evening which taken neat does not disappoint.

SMW Score 92.5/100
 

Mortlach 26 Year Cask Strength Review


Bottled at 53.3% ABV. Matured in first fill Pedro Ximenez/Oloroso seasoned casks.

Murray Cohen's Tasting Notes:

Colour: Mahogany.

Nose: Cherries jubilee, Maraschino cherries in heavy syrup, rum and raisin ice cream, sweet berries in Devon cream, Turkish delight, California raisins, red candied beer nuts, sweet grape skins and thickened intense ulmo honey.

Taste: Full-bodied, legs like tree stumps, mouth filling; strawberries, crystallized vanilla and a cornucopia of fruits ripened to perfection.

Finish: Long, soft banana nougat candy, baked apples, candy shop infusion with premier hand-made confections and a nutty sweet paste.

Comment: This whisky is meaty and voluptuous, thick and robust. Satisfies like a 6 course meal and perhaps instead of its moniker of “The Beast of Dufftown” it should perhaps be known as “The Feast of Dufftown” so filling and divine.

SMW Score 97.5/100
 

Talisker 15 Cask Strength Review


Bottled at 57.3% ABV. Matured only in freshly charred American oak hogshead.

Murray Cohen's Tasting Notes:

Colour: Gold.

Nose: Citrus hues, camp fire accents, sweet peat, smoky pea soup, medicinal, dark cherries and stewed fruit and waves of malted mocha bubbles.

Taste: Full-bodied, peat and spice, chewy, pepper, hint of chillies and scoops of Neapolitan ice cream.

Finish: Long, sea salty, fireplace reminders, perseveration of dark cherries and Big Turk chocolate bar.

Comment: A reminder of what an island whisky should taste like.

SMW Score 93/100
 

Pittyvaich 29 Year cask Strength Review


Bottled at 51.4% ABV. Double matured in Pedro Ximenez and Oloroso sherry seasoned casks. Distilled in 1989.

Murray Cohen's Tasting Notes:

Colour: Gold.

Nose: Butterscotch lollipop, buttermilk pancakes, peanut brittle, old-fashioned fruit jam, orange marmalade and meringue with a pot pourri flourish.

Taste: Smooth, full-bodied, dark plums, grape skins, dark chocolate and layered sherry derivatives.

Finish: Long, sweet and nutty, sultana raisins, chocolate walnut torta cake and ginger fragments.

Comment: The sherry influence here “makes the day” and sketches a most satisfying nose and palate profile.

SMW Score 95.5/100
 

Lagavulin 12 Cask Strength Review


Bottled at 56.5% ABV. Matured in refill American oak casks.

Murray Cohen's Tasting Notes:

Colour: Light gold.

Nose: Toasted marshmallow oozing sweetness, sugary, honey dew melon, lemon meringue, generalized candy aromas especially red laces (licorice) and a delectable peat on the perimeter.

Taste: Full-bodied, sweet peat, creamy, old fashioned vanilla malted milk, and a level of perkiness commensurate with its high ABV. As little Red Riding Hood in the famous fairy tale would say: "It’s just right".

Finish: Long, extra sweet buttermilk, fruity, spice, assorted melons (honey dew and cantaloupe) and perseverating delectable peat.

Comment: The ABV here sends the whisky to the heavens with a constellation of sweetness factors.

SMW Score 95.5/100
 

John Walker & Sons King George V Review


Bottled at 43% ABV. This blended scotch whisky includes Port Ellen, Cardhu, Lochnagar and some very old grain whisky like Cameronbridge and Port Dundas.

Murray Cohen's Tasting Notes:

Colour: Dark gold.

Nose: A variety of apple slices, cashew nuts, nectarines and peach fuzz, fruity sweet, orange zest, citrus treacle and mandarins with loads of juicy fruit gum.

Taste: Full-bodied, honey and sesame seeds, sweet hummus and tahini sides, chocolate fudgesicles and a nutty melange.

Finish: Long, toffee, honey wafers, swirls of caramel and vanilla nougat.

Comment: A blended scotch whisky which is recreating recipes from the old days and succeeds with panache.

SMW Score 94.5/100
 

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