Wednesday, September 19, 2012

A Black Dog Evening

Whiskey is one of the most interesting things in the world. Each whiskey is different from another with its distinct characteristics, color, smell and feel. I vaguely knew some of these facts but didn’t know the technicalities that go into chiseling these traits and making a whiskey different from another. I woke up to these facts on Saturday, at Habanero, a Mexican restaurant, where Black Dog held a scotch-tasting event.

Black Dog has three blends (12 years, 18 years and 21 years ) and each one has its own characteristics and maturity. And at Black Dog Easy Evening, Mohit Nishchol the compare (and a liquor consultant) took us through the entire ritual of tasting and explained each characteristic of the variants.

Each part of the tasting ritual (sipping a peg, rolling it in your mouth and then quietly swallowing it letting the drink slowly make its way down your innards) is meant to reveal a particular aspect of the liquor’s personality – colour, aroma, palate and finish. These characteristics come from two factors, the region where a whiskey has been processed and the number of years it has been stored in a barrel.

Each blend of Black Dog is a collective of whiskeys coming from different regions of Scotland with their distinct regional characteristics (aroma, taste, flavor) and barreled for a particular period of time, giving each blend a completely different flavor and taste.

Black Dog 12 Years Old is a blend of whiskeys from Speyside, Islay, Highlands and Lowlands of Scotland, each matured for a minimum of 12 years which contribute to its colour, taste and flavor. After I sipped it, Mohit asked me for my reaction and I was lost for words. I felt it had a network of flavors, some working in the foreground and some lurking behind. I said it was robust and had a woody taste.

Mohit agreed and mentioned a few more streams of flavor and taste that Black Dog 12 Years is supposed to have, like fruitiness and vanillic sweetness. I tried to feel the taste again by rolling my sip in mouth and it did reveal some of these tastes in whiffs and bits.

Mohit informed each blend acquires its taste from the ingredients used to make it (which, in the case of Black Dog, are again dependent on which regions of Scotland the whiskies come from) and the barrel in which it is kept for maturing. The inner wood of the barrel constantly interacts with the liquor aging together with the liquor and giving the liquor its color and flavour which undergo changes (in tone and intensity) as years roll on. It’s just like a human relationship.

When I tossed back a sip of Black Dog 18 Years, it seemed to have a soft lingering effect on my tongue. Black Dog 18 Years owes it to the fact that it has been matured in oak casks and vats and is an outcome of aged malt and grain whiskies blended together. But what I found most pleasant about Black Dog is when you finally gulp the whiskey, even without diluting it with water or anything else, it goes down smoothly and pleasantly without the feeling of a fire ball rolling down your throat. This, according to me, is the attribute of a good whiskey.

As Mohit was taking us through the testing rituals, a blogger asked in interesting question: “Have these blends changed overtime to suit changing tastes and market priorities.”

In 1883, Walter Millard, a Scot staying in India, travelled to Scotland searching for a good whiskey and discovered a blend created by James Mackinlay, of the second generation of the Leith Scotch Whisky blending family. Being a keen angler himself, Walter Millard named the whisky Black Dog in honour of his favourite salmon fishing fly used in the Spey and Tay rivers of Scotland.

Mohit informed it’s been about 120 years since, and to this day, Black Dog has retained its original blend.

A regal-looking-oval bottle with intense color arrived at our table – Black Dog 21 Years old scotch. Mohit asked us to take a generous mouthful and hold it over and under the tongue – to unlock its traits. I did, and after that, I churned the whiskey in my mouth and left it for fraction of a second…and found the aftertaste too aromatic for my liking.

Partly that’s expected because Black Dog 21 is most mature of all the blends and is specially made and crafted to be rich and rare in experience, which it, of course, is. And it perfectly lives up to the awe it causes when you set your sight on its bottle and the special ingredients used to bring it to what it is.

Some of us truly liked it, but, for me, the lighter ones worked better. I discovered whether you enjoy a whiskey or not, it depends on your reaction (which is guided by your innate taste and temperament) to the drink, which varies from person to person.

Chicken Wings
  As drinks share a complex relationship with the barrel in which they are matured, they also have an equation with the food you savor your drinks with. And Habanero had arranged for a variety of Mexican food items to go with our drinks. Except a few, I liked all of them. But the one accompaniment I enjoyed the most with my drinks was dark nutty chocolates: they didn’t interfere with the taste of the drinks and complemented instead of dominating them.


kramyarod said...

Awesome you learnt about fine single malt whiskies. I am happy you'd a good time :-)

indrablog said...

Thanks. Ya, it was a nice experience.

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