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Freestyle Blind Tasting Competition – The Result

by Oliver Klimek on October 11, 2012

After the first blind tasting round with only Scotch single malt whiskies, most competitors also signed up for the ‘Freestyle’ tasting. In addition to that, a few new tasters joined the team. Again not all of them managed to submit their guesses, but 15 of them did.

Any world whisky could be included. Points were awarded like this:

  • Naming the expression correctly: 30 points

Otherwise:

  • Country: 2 points (Scotland is treated as a single country, Ireland includes Northen Irleand, Rest of UK is treated as a single country). Guessing a country that is wrong but nearby: 1 point.
  • Distillery or brand: 5 points
  • Age: 5 points minus 0.5 points per year of difference but not into negative territory. Correctly identifying a non-age-statement whisky as such gives 5 points as well. If only years of bottling and distillation are given on the bottle, age is assumed to be the difference regardless of legal age.
  • Alcohol content (ABV) in percent: 5 points minus 0.5 points per percent but not into negative territory

And The Winners Are…

The maximum of points achievable was 150 when you managed to guess all five expressions correctly. Here are the three most successful competitors:

  1. Miguel Angel Blanch Lardin (Spain) – 46.50
  2. Peter Lading (Denmark) – 45,45
  3. Stefan Kah (Germany/Scotland) – 41.88

Much to my surprise, three competitors managed to guess a whisky correctly since there were no exact hits in the Scotch tasting. One bottle even was correctly identified by two people. Actually the very first guess from the very fist submission I received was a full hit!

The bottles are listed here acording to their ranking among the tasters who also submitted their personal ranking. Not all tasters guessed actual expressions but at least countries and age or ABV.

Black – Highland Park 21 yo 1989 Banyuls Finish Murray McDavid – 50.3%

A Scotch with an unusual cask finish sounds like a very good idea to test if there is any Scotch-ness left that could be identified by the panelists.

  • Countries guessed: Ireland, Japan, Scotland, Taiwan
  • Distilleries/brands guessed: Aberlour, Balvenie, Glenfarclas, Glengoyne, Highland Fusilier, Jura, Kavalan, Karuizawa, Redbreast, Yamazaki, Yoichi
  • Ages guessed: 9 to 25 years
  • ABV guessed: 43% to 62%

Selected notes and comments:

  • “Beer, in a good way”
  • Nescafé Frappé”
  • “Little bit rubbery, pencil eraser rubber not tyre rubber”
  • “Tastes like the classic flagon flask Balvenies of the 60s & 70s”

Red – Hammerhead 1989 Vintage – 40.7%.

This is a very unusual whisky from Czechoslovakia that was distilled shortly before the end of communism.

  • Countries guessed: Czechoslovakia, France, Germany, India, Japan, Scotland, South Africa, USA, Wales
  • Distilleries/brands guessed: Amrut, Auchentoshan, Bains, Bruichladdich, Glann an Mor, Hammerhead, Mellow Corn, Mortlach, Penderyn, Slyrs, Wemyss, Yoichi
  • Ages guessed: NAS, 3 to 20 years
  • ABV guessed: 42% to 57%

Selected notes and comments:

  • “This tastes like either smaller casks or matured under a warmer climate”
  • “No clue what it can be but it is a nice one”
  • “It initially struck me as an Irish-style single malt, but reminded me more of Indian single malt by the end of it.”
  • “I suddenly thought this was Glenmorangie 10. Would Oliver throw in a well known scotch malt? Oh yes, he would!”

Yellow – Pendleton Blended Canadian Whisky – NAS – 40%

Canada is a traditional whisky producing country, Pendleton is a lesser known brand.

  • Countries guessed: Canada, France, Germany, India, Ireland, Scotland, USA
  • Distilleries/brands guessed: Amrut, Bushmills, Cambus, Canadian Club, Greenore, Koval, Snake River Stampede, Slyrs, Van Winkle
  • Ages guessed: NAS, 3 to 20 years
  • ABV guessed: 40% to 50%

Selected notes and comments:

  • “Perfect beginner dram”
  • “Fruit Brandy would be my blind guess. Made from pears”
  • “Some citrusy notes but all in all, I’d say it’s a cheap rum”
  • “Creamy turn with a bit of grapefruit tannic squeak on the finish.”
  • My first thought here was Canada, I’m not sure why, I just felt ‘Canada’ .The more I think about this the more I’m moving away from that first impression”

Green – Eddu Silver – NAS – 40%

The use of buckwheat makes this French whisky something very unique. The distillery is located in Brittany.

  • Countries guessed: Austria, Belgium, France, Germany, England, Ireland, New Zealand, Scotland, Sweden, Thailand
  • Distilleries/brands guessed: Benromach, Eddu, Jura, Locke’s Mackmyra, Mekhong, Milford, Reisetbauer, Simons, Slyrs, St. George
  • Ages guessed: NAS, 6 to 16 years
  • ABV guessed: 40% to 57%

Selected notes and comments:

  •  “The nose is difficult to enjoy”
  • “The finish is not good with a chemical touch”
  • “Fruity schnapps, blue cheese and sweaty socks”
  • “Very reminiscent of Bruichladdich Rocks for me, so either young metallic wood, or a red wine cask”
  • “My goodness. Acid, sour. Self-made Raki from your last holiday in Turkey?”
  • “The maltiness is what strikes me first – in a good way”
  • “WINE, WINE, WINE…  Soooo sweet it was dripping of syrup for me”

Blue – Isawa 1983 Vintage – 43%

This distillery is hardly known outside Japan.

  • Countries guessed: England, Germany, India, Irleand, Scotland, Sweden, USA
  • Distilleries/brands guessed: Amrut, Blaue Maus, Glen Scotia, J&B, Loch Lomond, Locke’s, Mackmyra, Port Ellen, Slyrs, Spirit of Hwen, St. George, Woodford Reserve
  • Ages guessed: NAS, 3 to 30 years
  • ABV guessed: 40% to 52.8%

Selected notes and comments:

  • “Oh no….Sawdust, chipboard, dentist”
  • “The more I nose this the more reluctant I am to take a sip”
  • “Burnt tires, diesel, alcohol. The finish is dirty, rubbery and unpleasant”
  • “Nose: Burnt rubber, Panini football stickers, citrussy”
  • “Very smooth, creamy and leather”
  • “Ouch!!!”
  • “The spirit itself seems too youngish (though it probably isn’t)”
  • “Excellent – 2nd favorite of the group”
  • “Wicked after taste, not pleasant at all.  Could barely drink it and water did not help”

Summary

During the tasting period I read some remarks of competitors who used words like “sadist” or “torture”. Well, I have to admit that this was never meant to be a best of world whiskies selection. I could well have picked a handful of highly rated world whiskies here, but I decided not to take the easy route. I chose whiskies I had never tried before, and I also did not look up any scores or tasting notes. The reason why I selceted a bottle is named in the according section.

The goal was to have a completely unbiased selection on both sides of the ‘game’. And it turned out that Scotch still is a benchmark for whisky quality. The Scotch in this selection earned an undisputed first place, and because of its unusual wine cask finish this was not even a bottle that you could call a reference.

Yes, there are a lot of high quality world whiskies around, especially from distilleries who try to learn from the Scottish instead of reinventing the wheel whisky-wise. Luckily not many whiskies are really bad. But there are quite a lot of whiskies out there which are more interesting for their novelty value than to be a real challenge for the traditional whisky producing countries. Obviously a set of five drams is not enough for proper statistics but they are quite in line with my own tasting experiences of international whiskies.

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{ 10 comments… read them below or add one }

Tom Thomson October 11, 2012 at 8:21 pm

LOL i really did do badly on this but it was such a great learning experience and i’m glad it was an odd selection of whiskies that you chose, it makes it far more interesting.

Thanks again for letting me compete.

Reply

Josh Feldman October 11, 2012 at 9:31 pm

OMG – what utter fun. Huge kudos to all 3 who got Hammerhead right. I was so close to guessing Pendleton for yellow – but chose the only other Canadian whisky bottled in Oregon! That will haunt me – but as usual – the lesson is that tasting blind is very hard. The lessons learned are humble ones – but the experience gained is invaluable. Add that to the fact that we just tasted some extremely interesting and obscure drams that most of us would never get to try any other way and it adds up to a fabulous clinic on the wide latitudes of the flavor gamut of malt whisky. That being said, the Scotch tasting was more delicious over all – and by a pretty wide margin. My aggregate score of the Scotch Blind was between 4 and 5 stars for the whole flight – and between 3 and 4 for the Freestyle. The Highland Park was a definite 5 star and the only one I would seek out again. Hammerhead is way better than expected with a huge floral effusive nose – but a shy palate and short finish. Pendleton is a decent base expression of a blended Canadian rye – but nothing standout. The Eddu & Isawa are richly flavored misses. The Isawa, in particular, has sulfury off notes – but some very unique flavors otherwise.

On the whole – a very very cool experience.

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Oliver Klimek October 11, 2012 at 9:36 pm

Just to prevent misunderstandings, I did not name the correct hits in the article, but two people correctly guessed the Eddu Silver and one the Hammerhead. Not suprisingly these three tasters are the winners.

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Josh Feldman October 11, 2012 at 10:34 pm

Thanks for that correction. I have honestly never heard of Eddu. The fact that two out of fifteen tasters correctly identified it is astounding to me – and humbling.

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Stefan Kah October 12, 2012 at 12:00 am

A great experience and obviously chuffed by the result. A shame I didn’t take part in the Scotch one, but maybe there’ll be more opportunities. Still, without recognising the very distinctive Eddu, which I tried last year, things would have looked very poor… So there’s still lots to learn. Thanks very much for organising!

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Miguel October 12, 2012 at 12:48 am

I guessed the Hammerhead. You are really evil Oliver :), using a whisky that only exists a single batch of it :)
I love the taste of Hammerhead, it is really curious one and well, I thought of it when tasting because it was really evil option and knowing what I know of the previous tasting… :D

Very fun experience. I enjoyed more the whiskies of the previous tasting though.

Reply

Oliver Klimek October 12, 2012 at 7:40 am

“I enjoyed more the whiskies of the previous tasting though.”

As I stated, this in itself was part of the experiment. Will the tasters like world whiskies just as much as an all-Scotch selection? Seems not. ;)

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Miguel October 15, 2012 at 5:15 pm

Yeah, anyway, a very fun experience.

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Steffen Bräuner October 12, 2012 at 3:08 pm

Eddu is not a whisky, since its made from buckwheat. Buckwheat is not a grain :-)

I already tasted the japanese before. I did a wee vertical at a fair with three of their products. They were all horrible. Chemical, sulphury. We agreed on a tasting note : New Toyota

Steffen

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Gal Granov October 12, 2012 at 10:18 pm

well done guys

first time for me with the HH and Japanese one…

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