Thursday, June 24, 2010

Father’s Day Whisky Tasting Week – Part 2: Vatted Malt Scotch


On Wednesday, June 16, 2010, Union Square Wines & Spirits hosted Part 2 of their Father’s Day Whisky Week series, which featured vatted malt Scotch. 

The term Vatted Malt Scotch was new to me, so I was glad to learn that it was actually a concept quite simple to grasp:  Single Malt Scotch is Malt that comes from a single distiller; by contrast, Vatted Malt Scotch is a blend of Single Malts from multiple distillers.  Alternatively, a Vatted Malt Scotch can also be referred to as a Pure Malt Scotch (a single Malt from different distillers).  A Vatted Malt Scotch is usually an Independent Bottler – meaning a company that is not dedicated to a single distillery. 

Starting off the evening was a company called Wemyss (pronounced WEEMS, which, I’m given to understand, is Gaelic for the word “Cave”); they have been around for over a century, starting out business by selling barley to distillers.  Barley, by the way, is the only grain used in any Single Malt Scotch.  All of their offerings were 80 proof Scotches aged 8 years; their first one was something called The Smooth Gentleman, from the Highland/Speyside region of Scotland – it’s very full on the palate with the slight hint of peat that you might expect of something from (at least in part) Speyside.  Lighter on the palate was the next one, The Spice King, from the Isle of Skye, which, we were told, is in the center west area of Scotland; the distributor characterized it as something of an iodine taste.  Finally, The Peat Chimney, obviously from Islay; I found it to be a little less smoky than most Islay – based Scotches I enjoy – as a result, I was a little disappointed.

The other table featured six different types of Scotch from Compass Box.  Since I’ve previously gone into detail reviewing their product line here, I won’t spend too much time on most of them in this review.  Starting with Asyla, which the company’s representative called a “light, everyday Scotch”, this is also something that would make a good introductory Scotch to someone who either has never tried Scotch before or who claims they dislike Scotch. 

Next was their Oak Cross, a 43% alcohol product aged in a combination of French oak and American oak barrels; the body of the barrel is French oak and the top and bottom are made of American oak. 

A product that was new to me was something called The Spice Tree, which I found even spicier than Wemyss’ The Spice King.  The spicy notes are particularly noticeable on the front and mid – palate. 

This was followed by their extremely pricey Hedonism Maximus, which had a smooth caramel/vanilla flavor to it that some might feel justifies its price.  It has a light color, probably due to the fact that it is aged in new American Oak barrels.  According to the company representative, they base the price on a combination of its age and the rarity of its grain whisky, which is obtained from a single distillery – now closed – which used to supply Johnnie Walker. 

Peat Monster, my personal favorite of their product line, was next; it combines two Islay and one Speyside based blends and is characterized by a very complex and long lasting flavor.  The Compass Box representative called it, “an iron fist in a velvet glove”. 

Wrapping up the evening was their Peat Monster Reserve, which, while expensive, is not nearly the budget – buster as Hedonism Maximus; this product is currently marking its fifth anniversary.  The company representative said he found it to be explosive on the mid – palate; I found it to be smoother and gentler than the regular Peat Monster – it has a warmth to it, but without the burn. 

My recommendation?  You can’t lose with anything from Compass Box:  Asyla for a newbie, The Spice Tree for something different, or Peat Monster if you appreciate a smoky Scotch.  Otherwise, if you can afford it, either Hedonism Maximus or Peat Monster Reserve are most definitely worth trying.