So, how does a blind tasting work? First, Jo took a trip to Arkwright’s splendid whisky emporium near Swindon ( http://www.whiskyandwines.com ) and chose 5 bottles from their extensive range of over 800 whiskies. She then decanted her choices into unmarked bottles and brought them along to The Ram. Sometimes, we are given a few clues to help us along, but Jo is mean and we were given very little information other than there was a theme linking the whiskies. In a moment of compassion and 4 tots in she did tell us that one of them was a blend.
There’s a lot of fun to be had, having no guidance other than your sense of taste & smell, trying to guess the age, ABV, region, distillery and price. It also allows you appreciate the whisky without pre-conceptions about how good or how bad a whisky might be. Take a bottle of Glenfarclas 15YO and a bottle of Bells and, without tasting it, you just know which one you’re going to like most – you get my drift, right? A blind tasting can sometimes throw out surprising results.
Whisky No 1 – (Linkwood 12YO Flora and Flora range). Pale straw in colour with aromas of pear, tropical fruits and elderflower blossom. (Someone suggested alcoholic Lilt). A very smooth taste with pear and melon and a light spiciness developing into a very pleasant finish. A complex and pleasing tipple. A bottle of this would get emptied very easily - but don’t try standing up too quickly afterwards.
Whisky No 2 – (Cragganmore 12YO) – This one hinted of sherry cask (second fill maybe?) with sultanas and mustiness. A buttery mouth feel with light sherry coming through, some honey and a little saltiness as well. The short finish was spicy and warming with a drying bitterness at the end. Generally, felt to be lacking in character and depth.
Whisky No 3 – (Johnny Walker Green Label 15YO) – I’m not the biggest fan of JW whiskies, so disclosure came as quite a surprise. Smelling it gave hints of smoke, acetone, wood, damp grass and slightly medicinal notes. Tasting provided an enjoyable mix of smoke, dark fruits and some pear with a thick, viscous feel in the mouth (“chewy” was one description). A lingering finish of sweetness developing into saltiness. A very drinkable whisky – if you like a little bit of peat.
Whisky No 4 – (Talisker 10YO) – This one ratcheted-up the peatiness a notch or two and added quite distinct maritime influences – seaweed, old rope - that sort of thing. Definite salt and pepper on the taste buds and a little bit of sweetness balancing out the smokiness. A long warming finish rounds this off nicely. A classic malt.
Whisky No 5 – (Caol Isla 12YO) – No prizes were given for guessing where this came from - it shouts ISLAY at the top of its voice with characteristic peatiness and medicinal aromas. Smooth to taste, some oiliness and sweetness giving way to the peat and a lingering salty finish. There aren’t that many distilleries on Islay, so you would think that at least one of us would have got this right? Wrong!
At the end of the evening we independently rated the whiskies.
1st place – Linkwood 12YO Flora & Fauna
2nd place – Johnny Walker Green Label 15YO
3rd place – Caol Isla 12YO
4th place – Talisker 10YO
5th Place – Cragganmore 12YO
… and the theme linking them? Whiskies from Linkwood, Caol Isla, Tallisker and Cragganmore distilleries are constituent parts of JW Green label. All of them are part of the mighty Diageo empire.
Finally, the author humbly wishes it to be known that he takes back everything he has said about JW in the past and would now quite happily add a bottle of Green Label to his collection.