The Sweetness and the Smokiness

It’s no secret that I love whisk(e)y. So when I got to attend Whisky Live for the first time I did a little happy dance. A room filled with wonderful whisk(e)y there for me to sample? It’s like my mecca, worth the pilgrimage to the far west side of New York City, wind blown and cold, to taste, talk, and experience the “water of life.” I was not disappointed.

First and foremost, I was there to sample. However, what I love most about this industry is the people. The personalities you will meet behind that bottle of whisk(e)y are some of the most interesting around. The stories and love for their profession is inspiring.  This was no more evident than when I wandered  over to the Wild Turkey table.  Sitting there greeting all the attendees was none other than Master Distiller Jimmy Russell himself. He was there with his newest release – Russell’s Reserve Small Batch Single Barrel Bourbon. Like Jimmy, this bourbon is a charmer with a bit of a kick.  Since it is 110 proof, I was anticipating a little more harshness, but the bourbon is surprisingly smooth. The aroma itself is filled with the charred oak barrels it was aged in. As you sip it there’s no hiding that great Wild Turkey richness. The cinnamon flavor comes out almost immediately, with a nice citrus sweetness. The spiciness of liquorice and mint are evident mid palate. And, talk about a nice finish – a lingering sweetness stayed with me long after I left the table.  Overall, a wonderful bourbon, that matches the man behind it.

benromach peat smoke
benromach peat smoke

Another standout for me was the Benromach Peat Smoke.  It’s an unusually peated Speyside single malt (those from that part of Scotland tend to be low or completely unpeated). As a fan of that earthy smokiness, I knew I was in for a treat the minute it was poured – the aroma is intense. It’s a lighter colored whisky, almost straw yellow, but the flavor isn't. Initial smell and taste of the peat lingers in the mouth, then other flavors come through – vanilla, orange peel and even a creamy, almost chocolaty taste.  For those that enjoy a complex, serious peaty Scotch, this is definitely a great choice. I was told I was among the first people to sample the product in the US, as it’s just coming stateside. So be on the lookout!

Gordon & MacPhail, who own and manage Benromach Distillery, also had another offering that peaked my interest – the 2000 Caol Ila Cask Strength.  Aged 11 years, this Islay malt independent cask edition is similar to the Benromach offering in that it’s for the smoke lovers. However, unlike the Benromach Peat Smoke, the aroma of the smoke itself wasn’t as intense. There’s a subtle sweetness present.  The smokiness does come through on taste, but is more peppery and integrated. The flavors of sherry, the casks in which this Scotch was aged, balance it out nicely, adding a subtle sweetness. In fact, it was this, not the smokiness, that really stayed with me.  A truly elegant and smooth Islay Scotch.