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Scotch vs Cognac

2002-02-02 02:52:09+00 by Dan Lyke 15 comments

A study on the ability to distinguish whisky (uisge beatha) from brandy (cognac). Wow. I'll have to repeat the test blind to make sure, but I'm confident that I can distinguish the four Scotches currently in my stash. That may be easier than the challenge listed because two of mine are Islay Scotches, and one has a sherry finish.

[ related topics: Wines and Spirits ]

comments in ascending chronological order (reverse):

#Comment made: 2002-02-21 05:35:00+00 by: dws

The Macallen is a Highland single malt that is finished in sherry casks, and I certainly have no problem distinguishing it from Cognacs. I wonder about the test, though. After drinking on strong Islay, my taste buds are pretty well clobbered.

#Comment made: 2002-02-21 05:35:00+00 by: ebradway

From the conclusion:

<quote>Despite the fact that not all participants completed the full number of tastings...</quote>

The test was fifty samples tasted at once. It wasn't a simple Pepsi-challenge. The real trick, it seems, is being able to distiguish the 40th brandy from the 40th whiskey.

#Comment made: 2002-02-21 05:35:00+00 by: other_todd

Heh. I'm in agreement with that. The more you drink, the harder it gets.

I can't imagine having a problem telling scotch from brandy. I WOULD definitely have a problem telling apart brandies/Cognacs - they all taste alike to me, I can't even tell expensive from cheap. (As you might guess, I am a scotch drinker and not a brandy drinker.)

The scotch question's more interesting. I tend to like very distinctive ones. I drink a fair amount of Macallan, and I can tell that from other scotches, even other ones heavy on the sherry taste, blind by now. But I also drink a lot of Islays and I don't think that's a fair test. My fiancee, who doesn't drink scotch at all, can spot an Islay just from a whiff at the bottle neck. (And she will then generally ask that I take it into the other room. I am not allowed to kiss her if I've been drinking Laphroaig.)

I think the real test would be the ability to distinguish the middle-of-the-road ones, the ones I tend to stay away from - for example, telling Glenfiddich from one of the other Speyside labels with a similar taste, no overtly strong elements to pick out.

(Ironically, I could tell Glenfiddich from Balvenie pretty easily - they're next door to each other - because Balvenie is a lot sweeter, and according to my scotch book, this was on purpose; Balvenie was started by the same family as an alternative to Glenfiddich.)

Sorry. 'Scuse the ramblings of a scotch zealot. Carry on.

#Comment made: 2002-02-21 05:35:00+00 by: Dan Lyke

On the Islay scotches, telling Lagavulin from Laphroaig from Ardbeg from that heavy Bowmore of which I always think "wow, this could be really nice mixed with something" seems trivial. I have more trouble with the Highland scotches; unless I'm drinking a wide array regularly it's darned hard to tell apart, say, the Glenmorangie 12 year old sherry and port finishes. Balvenie's so sweet that it stands way out, although I'm not sure that blind I could distinguish it from, say, Glenfiddich Reserve.

#Comment made: 2002-02-21 05:35:05+00 by: other_todd

Bowmore Darkest. I'm working my way through a bottle of it now. I think I like it better than Laphroaig. I haven't tried Lagavulin yet.

#Comment made: 2002-02-21 05:35:07+00 by: TC

Hmmm I think a lot of this is the tounge of the beholder. Glenfidich Reserve & Balvenie are miles apart on my pallet but I love em both and find quite a bit of complexity in them. When it's time to drink Islays the taste of peat obliterates my taste buds after the first dram.

Let me see if I can guess Dan's Scotch Stash (4 you say)
Ardbeg 17
and hmmm mayber some Glenmorangie of some sort
how'd I do?

P.S. Todd B., if get out here on the left coast you should deffinately drop in on ScotchNight

#Comment made: 2002-02-21 05:35:07+00 by: Dan Lyke

Actually, the Bowmore's been drunk, the Glenmorangie is a 12 year old port finish, and I've got a Ballantine's blended that a friend got me that has its place, it's not quite as complex as the others, but it's still .

Todd B, Lagavulin hits me like a more complex Laphroaig, and the Ardbeg 17 is like Lagavulin with some sharper notes. I think the Ardbeg is my favorite, but it's heavy for the Highland folks. However, if you like the Bowmore...

#Comment made: 2002-02-21 05:35:08+00 by: other_todd

Todd, I get a little envious every time Scotch Night is mentioned. Actually, though, since coming out of the closet as a single-malt enthusiast I have found that a few other people among my local acquaintances have admitted the same. Maybe I should be putting together a Scotch Night on my side of the country ....

Dan: I will definitely need to try Lagavulin now. It was already on my list; I'll bump it up a bit. My big gripe with Laphroaig was that it was a very blunt hammer. I liked it though.

You might try going up to the other end of Scotland (metaphorically) and looking for Highland Park, the Orkney Islands scotch, which is very idiosyncratic but in an entirely different way. I liked it a great deal (I had the 18-year; the undated one is a 12-year). I'm not sure how to characterize its taste verbally, but it's a nice balance between sweet and smoky. No peat whatsoever, but a lot of spiciness and maybe even some saltiness.

I've almost sampled everything on my dream scotch list. I'm working my way down to the ifs and whens. The only real wishlist item I'm missing is a Macallan 18. The last time they put out an 18 was 1982 (i.e. in 2000), and these are already near-impossible to find, at least where I am. I did see one bottle that was going for a little bit too painful a price. Now I'm not sure I shouldn't have paid it, because it's gone from that store and I haven't seen one since.

#Comment made: 2002-02-21 05:35:08+00 by: Larry Burton

Now y'all have piqued my curiosity. I don't drink much and when I do it is usually beer, occassionally wine, but mostly beer. Now I love good beer and I find wine tasting to allow for very interesting and enjoyable evenings. I've also reacquainted myself recently with the joys of Jack Daniels. Scotch always seemed a little too rough for me to enjoy. Is that roughness to be expected or was I just drinking cheap scotch? Y'all have me wondering if I shouldn't have another little discussion with my local liquor store owner.

#Comment made: 2002-02-21 05:35:08+00 by: Dan Lyke

Larry, you might try Balvenie, which has the advantage to us west coasters of being relatively inexpensive at Trader Joe's[Wiki], or one of the Glenmorangie 12 year olds. Both of those have fairly sweet finishes, and great aromas. I could spend an evening just sniffing one of the latter. You also might try it with a splash of water, the purists will cry heresy, but with some that really opens up the flavor, or at least make sure your tongue has a lot of saliva on it before you sip.

I also need to frequent the upscale liquor store down in Mill Valley rather than BevMo, even if it is a drive and a premium. They hosted an evening with the Glenmorangie rep in which I sampled a whole bunch of stuff, including a few I could never[Wiki] otherwise afford. Another invite would be cool.

#Comment made: 2002-02-21 05:35:08+00 by: TC

Larry: I second the Balvenie recomendation. The 21 port wood is my favorite but the 12 year double wood is much easier to find and since the 2nd wood is a sherry cask you get a really smooth finish. Hey! while looking for a link with more info I found they have 17 year Islay out now! hmmmmm. Here's the place to look. I also recomend getting a beer back instead becoming a heretic. A real malty brew actually cuts down on the bite and enhances the golden malt characteristics<drool>....middle of the day.....middle of the day.... must not partake....middle of the day

#Comment made: 2002-02-21 05:35:09+00 by: other_todd

Hey, Larry, for what little it's worth, I grew up drinking beer and cultivating a taste for good beer, but I was scarred by scotch at a too-tender age and wouldn't go near scotch with an eleven-foot pole ... until a couple of years ago, when I tried it again. Apparently my tastes had to change, or I had to be over thirty, or something :) I still don't like blendeds, which are what, eighty percent or more of the scotches sold in the world?

Oh, and I don't mix scotch with anything, not because I'm a purist but because I don't think it mixes well. I do often sip it with a large tumbler of water on the side though. And ice is acceptable :)

My namesake, above, is getting too close to my own thoughts again - worse because I've been working at home for the past three days .... I CANNOT go downstairs and pour myself a scotch at one in the afternoon ... that way lies madness ....

#Comment made: 2002-02-21 05:35:09+00 by: Larry Burton

Okay, I'm counting up my disposable pocket change and looking around my liquor store this afternoon for the names y'all recommended. Since I'm on eastern time I can be tasting it at an acceptable time about three hours prior to you west coasters. (Something to think about, Todd. ;)-)

Oh, other Todd, my experience with scotch goes back to when I was nineteen. Back then that was legal drinking age. For some reason back then I figured that anything measured in shots was automatically a shooter. Are we possibly sharing early scotch experiences?

#Comment made: 2002-02-21 05:35:09+00 by: Dan Lyke

Larry, this might also be something worth doing a glass at a time 'til you find something you like...

#Comment made: 2002-02-21 05:35:09+00 by: Larry Burton

At the price of liquor by the drink around here, I wonder. ;-)

No, I understand that but my friend that owns the liquor store is easier to talk to than most of the bartenders I know. Also I hate asking questions at a bar. I'll talk to him, make a list and then try to find a bar that has the ones on my list I'd like to try. He should also be able to tell me which bars have those labels by talking to his distributor.