For some, December is all about Advent Calendars and the countdown toward the holidays. For others, it’s about blind competitions and getting ready for vacations. With Hanukka bouncing around between late November and December, I took the route of participating in the 5th annual Usquebaugh Society 2015 blind tasting competition. So how it going for me? Not well at all, but thank you for asking 🙂
Blind tastings are hard. Fun, but hard and honestly, I’m not all that good at the guessing game. At this point in the competition, I’m two thirds of the way down from the top, with some colossal wrong guesses. After 15 drams, I have 271 points, which translates basically into just under 20 points per dram, which is the equivalent of guessing the region of origin on each whisky. Drams are each rewarded 100 points for recognizing the region (20), the exact distillery (20), age (40 points – you lose 10 for each year you’re off) and ABV (20 points, a point deducted for every 0.1% you’re off giving you a rather stingy 2% leeway). To score anything, you have to get the region right (which is usually harder than in sounds because most of the competition are single barrel expressions, chosen for their weirdness and obscurity) and be within 4 years and 2% of the age and alcoholic strength of the expression.
The current leader has 805 points. Now it might seem that being 46 places below him and 534 points behind I’m doing really dismally. But I’m actually not. You have some outliers who do really well (and some who do really poorly) but basically, the 14th to the 69th place occupy a narrow 200 point strip covering 170-370 points out of 1500 awarded so far. Thus, with the current average score being 307, things don’t look that bleak. In fact, when you look at the daily scores list, there’s even less of discrepancy, as the average daily score is just a tad over 21 points.
Why is it so hard? First of all, distillery character and regional commonalities is merely a myth. On most days, only 3-4 people guess the distillery correctly, including when it’s an official bottling. Both Glenfarclas 25 and Old Pulteney 17 (both “classic” Speysiders and Highlanders, right?) were identified by only 3 participants (and yes, even Port Charlotte was identified by 14, still well under a third!). Official bottlings are carefully crafted creations, and playing around with composition to create different characters is rather easy. Keeping the exact same profile year in and year out is hard, but with enough casks on hand, you can basically create almost anything (minus the peat, if you don’t use any, but that’s about it…). Once you’re in single cask territory, all bets are off. The 12th dram, for instance, was a Cadenhead’s 1990 Clynelish. Not only was it horrible (Balvenie in pickles was my nosing note for it), it was uncharacteristic. But I’m not here to bitch about my daily trials in the competition, rather to share with you what is the best dram so far, a truly regal Linkwood.
Adelphi 24 Year Old 1990 Linkwood, Sherry Hogshead 3535, 204 Bottles (57.5% ABV, NCF, NC)
Appearance: Amber, thin legs running down rather quickly, but there’s a lot of residue of droplets.
Nose: Orange blossoms, honey, hints of sour dustiness, vanilla, floral notes and gentle perfume. After some time in the glass, dark chocolate appears.
Palate: Palate gets covered with thick chocolate, then comes the honey and a light but felt spice. A lot of coconut and floral notes. The second tasting is fresh and floral.
Linger: Coconut all over the mouth with a lingering spiciness. The finish is long and is delicate. Not overly complex, but very rewarding.
Stunning single cask, obviously a refill sherry cask that did a marvelous job with the spirit. Gorgeous!