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A few tasting notes on malt whiskies

Girvan Cask Strength Single Grain Scotch Whisky

I tasted this back in 1995 in Chicago. The first sip produced a wide-arcing blue and green aquarium filled with shimmering fish and tiny violet flowers behind my ears. This was a truly wonderful whisky.

Aged 6 years, this is very peaty, suggesting lots of cliffs and valleys poking in and out of the cliffside; coal, logs, an elderly Scotsman in the corner sporting his bonnet and clutching a big briar pipe, slowly musing over various things, and the only thing that saves him from being thoroughly disgusted with the state of the world is an occasional sip of this lovely nectar. Oh, another sip, and there's an aged barn with sheep, very woolly sheep -- hardy little numbers (Hardy numbers? Perhaps!) trotting around the crags and crofts with not so much as a bleat -- and there's turbulent water forcing its way through the rocks, a secret passage through an inlet -- and I'm reminded of a Robert Flaherty film I saw once about the hard life of the fishermen and fisherwives of Aran. And now my drinkmate says he's not telling me what the young Scottish wench behind the bar is doing in her demure clothing -- oh! I just got a shower of ashes from the hearth. This isn't the finest wool you can get but some of the warmest, the stuff of Aran sweaters. Mmmmm, I just shot down a chute into a wool mine, a peat mine? A single malt mine? A woolley, peaty single malt mine?

This was highly recommended by a couple of friends. It smells like a feast of character. The taste is round and round, like dark rose figure eights in a honey-coloured field of yellow flower clusters covered with vast hoardes of royal blue butterflies. It's a beautifully coloured flavour. With each sip there's a flurry of butterflies in flight...

This is spicy like ginseng. The taste is like sitting in a birch pagoda perched on a velveteen cliff with diamond-studded geodes embedded in the rocks. This is a gilded single malt -- I can imagine flakes of gold floating in it.

It's quite smooth, with a turquoise and orange frisbee taste. And it possesses a clear singing voice -- not a mysterious, throaty voice, but a clear, crystal tone, like Kirsty McCall standing on a hill overlooking a valley and singing 'You Take The High Road'.
Cragganmore 12 Years Old

It tastes like wind clattering, or a large group of sea birds on the sand clattering. Or is it the sound of Scots counting their money? I see an elaborate set on a stage of a glen (small-g glen, that is, eg. not Glen), with trees with thin golden whispy branches stretching upward. Oh, and the background is painted yellow-green.

A lowland whiskey producted in Dalmuir, Glasgow, this tastes like running through a field blooming with lillies of the valley, and then running directly down a flight of stone stairs into a basement full of musical instruments including cellos, violins, and trumpets, with that unique smell of their open cases permeating the room.

From the Orkney Islands...what a whiskey! It's very pale golden in colour, almost a bit milky in appearance, and there are 3 distinct taste levels experienced in the first 3 sips. At first sip I noticed the matte oily texture, and I felt as if I was drinking a fine vodka with a slow single-malt aftertaste. The second sip definitely proved this is a single malt and not a vodka -- a definitive statement that announces itself through the pale, straw coloured liquid. And the third sip convinced me that this is a really really classically FINE whiskey -- NICE!!! It is like sipping the golden satin ballet slippers of gorgeously handsome flamenco dancers, with the Spanish guitars ringing in my ears.
Talisker 10 Years Old

Apples and pears and vindaloo! This is not a whiskey -- this is a visual safari down the Amazon!

This is so unpeaty, so un-Scottish, which is probably because it's distilled in Bangalore. It's spicy like a hot curry, almost a hot cognac. My tasting partner says "a slight haziness which shouldn't concern the imbiber".

Sweet peat.
Clontarf Irish Whiskey

This is a malt that comes from near Dublin. It's sharp for Irish whiskey, but it has that relax-and-we'll-buy-you-a-drink feeling. Oops, if I drink too much of this I'll find myself unfortunately nowhere.
Glen Bloch

The label announces all the usual things about Highland heather and peat. This whisky is sweet, yet darker and peatier than a sweet single malt should be. It's the kind of single malt that bores me and makes me wish I'd had a glass of wine stead. Glen Blah, Blah with too many blahs: it's a cacophony of monotony. But it calms down, realising it tried too hard and went over the top, and its regreful aftertaste is quite pleasant. It makes me want to take it shopping and buy it new underwear.

Aged in a madeira cask, this single malt whisky from Wales is very ooohoooey, round, smooth, and complicated, with a rose-coloured flavour. Drinking it I feel as though I'm sitting on a rose-coloured velvet cushion in a wicker chair in a warm breeze. It's not a peaty whisky but I detect sweet citrus. This is definitely not pretentious.
Glenfiddich 15 Year Old

Sipping this is like crawling through a thick copse of darkwood trees while covered in fur like a black badger. My wiry whiskers quiver with each sliver of the taste as it rages through the canyons of my mouth. Am I watching In The Company of Wolves with a new soundtrack by the Bonzo Dog Band? Not quite -- this dram yells at me to come back to earth.
Caol Ila

This whisky is brewed with heather peat. I absolutely abhorred my first taste of this, assuming that I just don't like the taste of heather. But then I tasted it again hours later after first clearing my palate, and it was a lot better. It's very classy and sophisticated with a definite whumpf of deepness.
Highland Park

This is a gorgeously smooth single malt, just like an Orkney whisky should be. It's lucisious and dreamy, like I'm being patted on the back, petted on the head, cuddled, warmed, comforted. It would be absolutely prrrrfect in front of a roaring fire with fluffy socks on my feet.

I met this whisky in Dumfries in the Borders of Scotland. It was our second visit to this friendly town, and we'd brought a couple of Sheffield friends with us with the impulsive intention of having a good curry and a few pints. At our last pub of the night Andrew and Mike both had glasses of this amazing whisky. When you lift the glass toward your face you can sense the ozone coming off the surface; and then you can look forward to the gorgeousness of the taste. This is a classic whisky, with a sweet suggestion in the scent but none in the glass. Gorgeous! So drinkable I can't believe it. One day I will have to have a communion with a glass of Bunnahabhain on my own.

At a dinner at a friend's house I had the opportunity to taste a bit of this whisky. Suddenly I was at the bottom of a pool and I was swimming quickly up, bounding off the bottom, with plenty of breath left to enjoy the upward surge. That is definitely the taste.