Inspired by a recent vlog from Aqvavitae about samples, I pulled these four grain whiskies out of the cupboard to taste, as well as a few other samples to give away. As Roy says in the video, if someone has gone to the bother of sorting you out with a sample, you shouldn't leave it to gather dust.
So what do we have (let me translate those spidery labels for you)
- A D Rattray North British 25 Year Old (unknown strength)
- Whisky Barrel Dumbarton 30 Year Old 1987-2017 56.5%
- Sovereign Cambus 1985 (age unknown, strength unknown)
- Whiskybroker Cambus 25 Year Old 1991-2017 56.9%
I've tasted the Whiskybroker Cambus and know I like it, but what of the others?
North British in my mind is a solid distillate but I've never had one reach the heights that Cambus or Invergordon or Garnheath can manage.
Dumbarton is an unknown unknown. Never tasted it, I know nothing about it, people never seem to talk about it. So....
A quick sniff along the glasses and I think I still like the Whiskybroker Cambus best, perhaps because of its sherry overtones. The Whiskybarrel Dumbarton smells interesting but perhaps not very friendly, the Cambus is worryingly vodka-like, and the North British is what I'd call canonical grain whisky.
Taking them one by one, here are my tasting notes.
A D Rattray North British 25 Year Old (strength unknown)
nose: mild, sweet, even a little wattery. Over time there's more oak spice and increasing woodiness.
palate: rich and spicy, with orangey boiled sweets, then a roasty toffee note. It's hot in the finish.
Whisky Barrel Dumbarton 30 Year Old 1987-2017 56.5%
nose: light, clean, sweet, with a burnt note. Cinder toffee. A green note, and slightly mineral. With water it gets really complex, herbal, old fashioned, and also old.
palate: light and fairly dry. The alcohol is grippy. There's sweet coconut cream and/or very creamy condensed milk. With water there's a suggestion of smoke (which must be from the barrel somehow). It's less herbal than the nose and slightly bitter in the finish.
Sovereign Cambus 1985 (age unknown, strength unknown)
nose: rather boozy - the ghost of vodkas past. A wee bit of fust, plus some creamy toffee. Mellow oak spice, but definitely boozy.
palate: mild and sweet, with vanilla. With water it becomes soft and rounded, with juicy sultanas. Cake and a burnt toffee note. With another splash of water it reminds me of an oaked Chardonnay.
Whiskybroker Cambus 25 Year Old 1991-2017 56.9%
nose: rich and sweet, like boozy brandy. Spicy (again like brandy), with almonds and a clear sherry note. Herbal and complex. With water, the sherry grows stronger, and a baked apple plus sultanas note appears. It's very sweet and welcoming.
palate: Sweet brown sugar, and sherry (fino I think!), plus crème brûlée. It's complex, soft, and welcoming. With water a citrus note appears, plus royal icing and nutty toffee. Adding more water really emphasises the sherry notes.
It's fair to say that the size of each of these tasting notes reflects how much I enjoyed the dram, and perhaps also how good each one was. I found most enjoyment in the Whiskybroker sherried grain, but I'm so very glad I had a chance to taste the Dumbarton, which I'd say was interesting and challenging. The Cambus was a disappointment - I've had far, far better - and the North British was perfectly acceptable, the vin ordinaire of the line up.
Now, let me go and label up those other samples...