I am founding a Whisky Society in Beijing this summer. I have organized tastings for wine, but this is my first attempt with Whisky, and I have ~30 people interested. They range from those who go on Whisky tours during their holidays to people who are simply very curious about this alcohol. This is the main issue: how do I organize tastings to satisfy this diversity of tasters. Do I stick to Whisky from one area or should I contrast areas, and in the latter case, within one country or among countries (there is a limited range of Whisky available here, but it includes Canadian, US and Japanese, and of course Scottish and Irish, brands)?
Advice would be most appreciated.
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Also start from light to strong flavoured whiskies and if the budget allows maybe add an expensive whisky.
I'd just limit it to six or so tastes you want to include and go from there, concentrating mainly on different tastes rather than worrying about what region each comes from. And I'd include a bourbon. To keep the more experienced tasters happy, try to include some whiskies that are unusual without straying from the theme. You said your selection is limited, so it may be difficult to find whiskies they haven't had, but that will be a difficulty regardless of your selection, so this will keep them as interested as possible while still accomplishing something for the novices in the group.
We had our second event on Saturday night and in case people might be interested in what's happening on the whisky front in China, I've posted my notes below.
Thanks (very belatedly!) to Puck, Aidan and irishwhiskeychaser for your advice.
BRAWL Makes the Call
The Bourbon, Rye and Whisky League, also known as BRAWL, gathered on January 20 at Tim’s Texas BBQ in central Beijing for an evening of hearty food and fine spirits. After sampling leftover Bourbon from the inaugural meeting in September and feasting on ribs and potato salad, the BRAWLers got down to a blind tasting of 8-year-old Wild Turkey Kentucky Bourbon, 10-year-old Bushmills Irish Whiskey, 12-year-old Famous Grouse Scotch and 25-year-old Alberta Springs Canadian Rye.
Ed Ohlin provided a primer on the spirits, noting for example that Scotch often has hints of peat (compressed weeds and grass), and answered questions, such as “Why would the human palate desire a burnt-wood flavor?” (Ed said that charred barrels are used because distillers want the complexity and color that the carmalized sugars in oak bring out during the aging process).
The tasting aimed to show the differences between these spirits and the BRAWLers spent some quality time pondering which of the four shot glasses facing each of them held the Bourbon, Rye, Scotch and Irish Whisky respectively. After much sniffing and sipping, three people - Sarah E. Brad S. and Alan S. - correctly guessed all four spirits. In terms of favorites, a rough poll saw Alberta Springs come out on top (5.5 votes), followed by Bushmills (4.5), Famous Grouse (3) and Wild Turkey (1: that would be Ed).
Here are some brief tasting notes (hey, I'm a novice!):
Bushmills: A sweet and slightly syrupy nose, it was light and smooth going down, and had a very palatable aftertaste.
Wild Turkey: This was slightly less sweet, with more honey than syrup aromas, and had a long and burning aftertaste, evidence of its strong proof.
Famous Grouse: To me, this was mildest of the first three, with a slight earthy aroma and taste.
Alberta Springs: It had almost no aroma and a light aftertaste, and was very smooth. “The mouth feel is satiny,” said Ed. “This is distinct because it isn’t sharp but it has a deep color.” Someone else felt differently: “I think number four would solve a lot of ailments.” (Note: My research shows that Alberta Springs is the only 100 percent Rye distilled in Canada.)
This tasting cost 120 kuai per person, which covered the food and spirits, with the leftover Whisky going toward icebreaker drinks at the next event. As the room could only hold 16 people, I limited the mailing list mainly to those who expressed interest in BRAWL when I first proposed the idea a year ago. Given this, and that the theme of this event seems worth a repeat, I’ll organize another blind tasting of Bourbon, Canadian Rye, Scotch and Irish Whisky.
- les taylor
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This tasting cost 120 kuai per person, which covered the food and spirits, with the leftover Whisky going toward icebreaker drinks at the next event.
Hi sounds like you had a great evening. How much does 120 Kuai equate to in £ sterling. Also is Whisky about the same price as the uk or more or less.
Many thanks les.
Malt-Teaser wrote:Well done, it sounds like you are having some success with whiskies in China.
Here in Europe we are constantly being told that China is a massive prospective market, do you also see this is being correct?
How is whisky currently being viewed and accepted in China?
Yes, it's a huge prospective market. Imports have been going through the roof during the past few years, though it's for the major brands - Chivas, Johnnie Walker, etc. It's a status symbol, especially for young Chinese at clubs, who like to mix their Whisky with green tea. In terms of choice, the range of whiskies (and especially bourbons) available is very limited, but if wine is any indicator, that choice will rapidly grow.
les taylor wrote:Hi sounds like you had a great evening. How much does 120 Kuai equate to in £ sterling. Also is Whisky about the same price as the uk or more or less.
120 kuai is about 7.8 pounds. Pretty good value for all that whiskey and food, I think!
I'm not sure how prices in the UK match up, but to give you an idea of the cost here, a bottle of Johnnie Walker Black at 7-ELEVEN costs about 15.5 pounds (240 kuai). A shot of the same in a bar will run anywhere from 1 pound at a dive during happy hour to 4 pounds or more at a higher-end place.
Malt-Teaser wrote:Whisky & Green tea?
Now there is something I wouldn't have thought of.
Is the tea cold (iced) or warm for this mix?
Are the Government imposing high taxes on whisky, or are they trying to encourage the market with low or no taxes as yet?
I haven't indugled in this particular concoction very often, but the tea is sweetened green tea, from a bottle or can. Here's a recipe.
As for tariffs on whisky, according to this Asia Times article they have dropped from 65% in 2000 to 10% in January 2005.
Another Whiskey tasting in Beijing, though this one was not organized by me. I thought some people might be interested in what's happening here in the Middle Kingdom, so here's the writeup (I was going to post a link to my blog, but was worried about being accused of self-promotion, so now I'll just worry about being accused of flooding the forum with long posts!).
ENOUGH SINGLE MALT TO MAKE YOU SEE DOUBLE
A bunch of Canucks organized a tasting of seven single malts last Saturday eve in Beijing, a city with about three times (~15 million) as many people as Scotland (~5 million) but, sadly, far less Scotch. Led by co-organizer DH, about a dozen of us sniffed, sipped and savored single malts from the major regions of Scotland save the Lowlands. We shared our thoughts on these spirits and ranked each according to color, nose, taste and finish as well as 11 factors, such as spiciness, nuttiness and fruitiness. We then picked our three favorites and a cellar dweller. Apples, pears and even "apple pears" served as palate cleansers, and most of us took a splash of water with our whiskey, served in five-ounce tumblers. Without further ado, my notes on each of the single malts, in order of consumption - as mentioned many a time, I'm a novice taster. (Prices are for duty free, U.S. dollars.)
Dalwhinnie Single Highland Malt 15-year (Highland)
In ancient times, cattle herders met in Dalwhinnie, meaning "meeting place," which has access to peat and to a spring, which provides water for the distillery, which means the cows... wait, how exactly do they fit into the story? In any case, one word summed up the color, nose and taste of this one: butterscotch. The alcohol content overwhelmed the flavors a bit in the beginning, but this Whiskey was a pleasure to roll about on the tongue, and overall smooth. ($41)
Macallan Elegancia 12-year (Speyside)
The packaging features Macallan's 300-year-old Easter Elchies House, with Elchies apparently being among the few Basque words in the area - the "el" means house, the "che" means hill. This single malt matures in sherry casks from Jerez, Spain. The nose had a lightly floral honey-syrup scent, with a hint of spiciness. I found the flavors mild and balanced. ($32.80)
Bowmore Darkest 14-year (Islay)
Aged 12 years in Bourbon casks and two years in Sherry casks, Bowmore is the only distillery that malts its own barley, said DH, adding that company literature describes this Whiskey's color as "polished teak." Its nose was the most pungent of the seven, smelling rather medicinal (iodine?), smoky and peaty. One of the event organizers said, "It's got a BBQ sauce thing," which rang true. My initial reaction to this Whiskey was negative, but I slowly changed my mind (see the end). ($62.70)
Talisker Malt (Island of Skye)
This also smelled medicinal / smoky, though less so than the Bowmore. I found too many flavors going on here and someone equated the sharp alcohol edge to a "blow torch." This Whiskey elicited the widest range of opinions. DH told us that the primary tastes are sweet and salty. "Salty" sounded right. The label stated that the "taste might be challenging to the casual [drinker]." "Challenging" also sounded right. Even better was this passage from the notes: "Noticeable peat smoke and even iodine. Very light sulphur, toffee and faintly fishy. Sherry and kippers; wax paper and candle wax; iodine, hemp, pine resin." Yep, challenging. (Note: the liqueur Drambuie contains Talisker.) ($41.30)
The Balvenie Doublewood 12-year (Speyside)
The nose was consistent and well balanced, with appealing warmth and hints of both honey and smoke. This was a solid whiskey, with some distinct toffee flavors. A few people found this single malt mild enough for sipping neat. ($27.50)
Tormore Single Speyside Malt 12-year (Speyside)
With a greenish-yellow hue, this one flirted from being a bit floral to a bit herbal to a bit sweet to a bit too many bits that made it somewhat nondescript. DH said it is considered to have a "cardboard" smell, and that rang true. (By the way, does a nicer synonym for cardboard exist? What was this smell called before cardboard's invention? Wet log-like? Damp leaves-ish?). Further sniffing revealed more aromas, but the Tormore did not go over well with our group, and someone, in a less than flattering light, described it as being "like a girl from Swift Current." Hmmm, not exactly sure what that means... ($31)
Dalmore "The Black Isle" 12-year (Northern Highland)
I could smell something burnt (apples?), but otherwise found the nose very light, with a slight medicinal smell. The company literature says Dalmore is an "attack" on the mouth. If so, reinforcements are needed, perhaps more heavily armed, because I found this one a bit nondescript and none too overpowering. Some tasters noticed citrus flavors, but I didn't pick them up - to be fair, I may have been experiencing single malt fatigue by this point. We had chocolate with this final Whiskey. ($28.50)
In the end, people listed their top three choices and one cellar dweller. Bowmore, Balvenie and Dalwhinnie, roughly in that order, emerged as winners, while Tormore finished last. The Bowmore was trickiest: my original adverse reaction to its medicinal smell and its taste shifted over time and I ended finding it most intriguing - this definitely requires more research. Finally, if only I had read the Macallan Web site beforehand and seen its Whiskies being promoted with the tagline, "Savoured and enjoyed by style leaders from New York to Shanghai" – I would have voted the Elegancia into the cellar for pretentious advertising alone.
(Note: I found the psychology behind the tasting interesting. For example, the prices of the single malts were listed on the evaluation sheets and I, and I'm sure others, assumed the expensive spirits would taste better. Listening to neighbors' appraisals, hearing the descriptions from the bottle backs, and learning this or that single malt has won awards also has an affect. It just goes to show the value, whether you are trying whiskey or wine, of blind tasting.)[/b]
Were the whiskies sampled in the order that you listed them?
If so, then it looks like you had some softer / more gentle tasting ones after some with quite strong tastes which would not have helped their cause, so to speak.
I recently held a tasting which included Bowmore Dawn, Dusk & Darkest. Although all were liked, the Dusk won the evening's accolades as being a very good, complex dram.
I like your idea of a "Cellar Dweller", please permit me to use that idea in my future tastings too.
That was the order of tasting and your point is not only well taken, but also justifies another single malt event, with the spirits rearranged, of course!
No problem with the Cellar Dweller idea, it's probably been thought of many times, but it might actually be an accolade for some whiskies -- isn't Bowmore matured in cellars below sea level?
Certainly one of the Bowmore warehouses enjoys around 3 feet of water during high (or is it Spring?) tides, but not permanently.
I find it quite poignant that the Tormore was condemned to the cellar when it was sampled directly after three much stronger tasting whiskies.
I think I would have scheduled the Tormore as the first dram.
*Short break for finger food / snack*
In my first couple of tastings I noticed that the whisky immediately following a mid-tasting snack was voted "Worst".
After this I was careful which dram I scheduled after the snack, but also asked people to ensure they had finished eating and fully cleared palates with extra bread and water before sampling the next whisky.
I suspect something similar happened with your event. The rather light Tormore was just overpowered by the previous much heavier drams.
I'm much more familiar with wine tasting than whiskey tasting (which is one reason I start my club), so I completely understand your point. I'm going to see if the organizer can schedule a second tasting - I think he's still got about a half of each bottle left.
Thanks for the suggested order.
Ever been to Centro there, has a nice selection of whiskies and its a pretty nice place in general.
A few hotels also have decent malt selections, but otherwise I haven't seen much good whiskies in Beijing.
Green tea & JW Black - been there, done that - actually its not a bad clubbing drink!
I visit Beijing quite regularly, cause my good pal lives there and business makes me travel also to the city. Maybe next time I'm in town we can have a dram somewhere and chat about whiskies!
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