Sunday, March 4, 2012

A Short Flight to Islay

Yesterday, my wife and I were the first customers of the day at The Judge's Bench Pub in Ellicott City, Maryland. (It opens at 2 p.m. on Saturdays; we weren't exactly re-enacting Barfly). We had a rare free afternoon hour, and I was very interested in spending that time amongst "the 3rd largest selection of single malts in the state." (The story I heard is that the bar started out specializing in craft beer -- they rotate about a hundred beers among 17 taps -- and the 95 single malts on the menu are a subsequent indulgence of the owner's personal passion.)

A typical 2:03 p.m. crowd at The Judge's Bench.

Once my wife was settled with a beer (after a few tastes, she went with a Palm), I took a closer look at the whiskey menus. Stet: there's a 4-page menu for the single malts, and a 2-pager for the bourbons and Irish whiskies (plus a few cognacs). The bartender asked, "Were you thinking of trying a flight?" I said, "I am now."

I went with four Islay whiskies I hadn't tried before:

L to R: Caol Ila 12, Lavagulin 16, Ardbeg Corryvreckan, Bunnahabhain 12.

1/2 ounce shot glasses aren't ideal for tastings, but I did what I could. In the order tasted:

Caol Ila 12 y.o.: By far the palest of the four. The nose was medicinal and peaty, the mouthfeel oily, and it finished with nice peat & seaside notes. A very nice Islay... but I think I prefer the Laphroaig 10 y.o.

Bunnahabhain 12: The nose was all toffee and vanilla candy; the palate was smooth and sweet, with butterscotch and the sea; the finish smooth and short. My non-whiskey-drinking wife said she'd drink it. It's a pleasant drink, with a sweetness and balance that's somehow not particularly whiskey-y.

Lagavulin 16 y.o.: A chemical nose; very dry on the mouth; some lingering seaweed in the finish. People joke about drinking whiskey for medicinal purposes; this tastes like it was made for medicinal purposes. Very sophisticated, but I can't say I particularly liked it. Given the glowing reviews I've seen, I'd like to try it again some time -- though probably not right after a Bunnahabhain 12. Of course, maybe I just don't like iodine.

Ardbeg Corryvreckan: By this time, I didn't have much of a palate left. But this was certainly an Ardbeg, with lots of peat and a touch of cigarette ash. My wife surprised me by taking a sip; she described the finish as "peppery, peaty, and gross." Then she added, "I don't think I can get this taste out of my mouth" -- which is great, if you happen to like this taste. (I tweeted my wife's comments, and SMWS Ambassador John McCheyne (@smwsambassador) suggested Ardbeg could use "Peaty, Peppery, and Gross" as ad copy.)

Thirty hours later, the Caol Ila seems like the one I'd be most likely to reach for on any given day. The Bunnahabhain would come out when a B&B might otherwise be called for. I'll save the Lagavulin until I've got a tasting glass, a water dropper, and a quiet half hour to figure out. And the Corryvreckan seems to demand two or three peat enthusiasts with whom to enjoy its excess.

And I'm already figuring that, 1/2 ounce shot glasses or not, I'll have to drop by the Judge's Bench once a month or so until I've flown through their whole list. And after nosing the Lagavulin and tasting the Ardbeg, my wife's earned herself a short flight to Ireland.

1 comment:

  1. Great post. I love that you tweeted your wife's comment to Ardbeg and got a response. Do try the Lagavulin again. You clearly have a good taste for single malt's and it's worth a revisit.