The Blind Tasting Challenge

After two years of doing blind tastings at the monthly Whisky Squad meetups I’ve become quite fond of the technique. It’s shown me a number of drams that I wouldn’t have usually touched and helped strip away a number of my whisky prejudices, both conscious and unconscious. I like to think that it’s made me better at identifying whiskies from their nose and taste, but time and again I’ve been show that isn’t the case. However, when‘s Oliver Klimek proposed a worldwide blind tasting challenge I couldn’t really say no.

Dramming Single Malt Blind Tasting

The first of the two sample sets, single malt scotch whisky, has arrived and been tasted, my guesses were returned and Oliver announced the results today. The methodology was quite simple – we needed to guess distillery, age, abv and the specific expression. 25 points would be given if we got the expression (and thus everything else) right, with 5 points each for the others (with 0.5 of a point removed for each 0.5% of the ABV or year that we were out).

The whiskies were all recent official bottlings (no independents) from working distilleries that listed their age to give us a chance to guess what they were. To make sure that there were no pointers as to what the whiskies were Oliver only charged us a down payment on the drams to start with so that we couldn’t work backwards to find out a total cost (although he did reassure us that it wouldn’t be more than €500 in total for the 5 bottles) and labelled them up with coloured stickers so as not to imply any sort of tasting order. Cunning man.

Anyways here are my raw tasting notes (edited for poor spleling), guesses (and the tasting order I chose from dram colour alone) and what the whiskies actually were:

Colour: Light Gold
Nose: Grass, fresh cut apple, honeysuckle, flowering hedges, sour fruit chews, perfumed wood, rose wood(?), lemon zest, lemon butter sauce, joss sticks, damp green leaves. Buttery biscuit (base?) + spice, flower petals, light cherry, marzipan as it sits in the glass.
Palate: Light and oily, syrup hit to start, then sour wood, some vanilla, light sweet cream, building tannins, green sticks + dry wood. Nice, but not as good or deep as the nose.
Finish: Stony, sour wood, fresh cur wood develops. Tannins linger with Granny Smith apple skins.
I guessed: Bladnoch 20yo 46%
It was: Loch Lomond 1966/2011, 40%
Points: 3 (abv)

Colour: Light Gold
Nose: Butter, fruity wood, spicey peach stones, damp pine forest floor, earth, damp car blankets, butter burns off to reveal a more savoury nose with light cinder toffee sweetness.
Palate: Piney smoke, bracken, pungent earth, hot (cask strength?), tar, background minerality, underlying smoky caramel, more cinder toffee.
Finish: Mossy bonfire stones, damp burnt wood, light sour apple tannin.
I guessed: Tobermory 10yo 46.3%
It was: Caol Ila 12yo Unpeated, 57.6%
Points: 4 (age)

Orange (aka Red)
Colour: Mid Gold
Nose: Fake butter, damp wood, spiced cream, dired strawberry pieces, buttered caramel popcorn, white chocolate/caramac/Milky Bar, sour rhubarb develops.
Palate: More butter, sour fruity wood underneath sherry wood. Hints of cinnamon and clove, oily mouthfeel, raisins and vine fruit.
Finish: Tannins, yet more butter, apple skin, some fruit and damp fruity wood, spiky sherry wood lingers.
I guessed: Glenfarclas 21yo 46%
It was: Glenfarclas Premium Edition Oloroso Sherry Casks 1993/2011, 46%
Points: 5 (distillery) + 5 (abv) + 3.5 (age)

Colour: Light Bronze
Nose: Mud, pine compost, woody anis, sweet butter, stony underside, sweet mentholated smoke, sweet butter develops. More herbal and vegetal as it sits. Dark choc and earth – loam? Some red fruit, cherry?
Palate: Sweet spicy sherry, hot (cask strength?), vanilla, red fruit, cherry, marzipan, tarry smoke.
Finish: Sweet butter, trodden leaves, menthol smoke.
I guessed: Benriach 17yo Solstice 50%
It was: Auchentoshan 1999 11yo Bordeaux Matured, 58%
Points: 2 (age) + 1 (abv)

Colour: Dark Bronze
Nose: Pine cone infused butter, beaten too long curdled vanilla cream, wood ash, apple, menthol, cola bottle gummi, fruit chews, red fruit, rough cognac, green rhubarb, some sherry fruit underneath everything.
Palate: Wood smoke, rich sherry wood, rubbery edges, hot (cask strength?), cloves, earth.
Finish: Sweet raisin, cloves, fruitcake, wood smoke, sour fruit skin.
Guess: Bunnahabhain 25yo 50%
It was: Benrinnes Friends of the Classic Malts 23yo, 58.8%
Points: 4 (age) + 0.5 (abv)

From Oliver’s results it seems I was one of only two participants who managed to guess a distillery correctly: Glenfarclas. It was my most certain guess, albeit for the wrong expression, and I managed to guess it fairly solidly which seems to be the only reason I got on the leaderboard – it gave me a score of 13.5 for the one bottle, almost half of my total score. The rest of my per bottle scores ranged between 2.5 and 4.5, which looks to be a fairly usual score for a vaguely informed guess. The other thing I noticed is that my tasting notes are generally more accurate than my guesses – the two bottlings that I’ve tried before (the Auchentoshan and the Caol Ila) both have similar notes to what I have written before (apart from the smoke in the Auchentoshan…). Which at least gives me some confidence in my palate.

So, in conclusion – blind tasting is just as random as you might think, at least at this level. Now to await the freestyle round…

Oliver has written up more about the results over on Dramming.

3 Replies to “The Blind Tasting Challenge”

  1. Hmm, I missed that post, bummer! Would have loved to join in. Luckily, our club does a big tasting at the end of the year, with 18 drams (one per day) in the days before Christmas. I f-ed up last year, and hope to do better in 2012!

    Good luck on the 2nd set!

  2. Excellent post. I hadn’t bothered to figure the scores. Your tasting notes and guesses are fascinating. Excellent job getting the Glenfarclas right. Good luck on the Freestyle.

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