Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Single Malt Newborn Double Matured (Cask 447; bottled October 2009)

I don't know what the drink writer's equivalent of a writer's block is called. A "drinker's block", perhaps? Anyway, I have spent a while now, deeply mired in a "drinker's block". While I have been happy tippling away and very happily writing whisky news and features on Nonjatta, I have not been posting my own tasting notes.

Back to my block: the reasons behind it are really mixed up in the book I have been writing on Japanese alcohol. My research took me to dozens of breweries, kura and distilleries all over Japan. I met people who were overflowing not only with a passion for their alcohol but a extraordinarily impressive understanding of its creation and appreciation. In some cases, I was meeting people from families with generations of expertise in distilling or brewing. It was an educative but also humbling experience and I am afraid one of the side effects was my "drinker's block". I have been tasting quite intensively in the mean time, struggling to work out how I am going to do tastings that I am happy with publishing, but I have felt a much greater weight on me than I used to. It is not that I feel purely subjective tasting notes from a non-expert like myself are a bad thing. Quite the opposite. Looked at logically, I think such notes are actually just as useful, perhaps more useful, for other newbies as the notes of extremely expert reviewers. But whoever said "writer's block" or, in my case, "drinker's block", was a rational thing?

Some constructive thoughts have come out of this block. Quite early on, I concluded that all I could honestly offer was a purely subjective description of my drinking experience. I have always tended towards this assessment of my tasting abilities, but, more recently, I have been thinking about how this relates to my method of writing reviews.

What struck me was that there was often a divergence in my experience of a whisky, depending on whether I was just drinking it for pure pleasure or sitting down and trying to "taste" it. Since alcohol is made for drinking for pleasure, this was a problem. I also noted that I would have quite different impressions of the same whisky in different tastings. And, perhaps most significantly, that the taste of many whiskies evolved and changed in one sitting: my mouth would change with the whisky, the second sip of a whisky would sometimes have a totally different world to offer me than the first, and the seventh sip was different again; the nose after 10 minutes of relaxed drinking was utterly different from the first sniff. This was probably a physical reality, to do with the coating of the glass and the exposure of the whisky, but it was also a subjective phenomenon too. So, how did this relate to my old: colour, nose, mouth, finish, final comments, method of writing my notes? That is the clearest, perhaps the only way for professional tasters to categorize a whisky for their readers but, for someone like me, who only aspired to subjective description of my experience, did copying this method from the experts really allow a free flowing enough structure?

To cut a long story short, the outcome of this is a slightly different, slightly less compartmentalized structure for my notes. You might not notice the difference, but I am hoping I will. I hope this will help conquer my "drinker's block". For my comeback match, I am going with the bloody marvelous Single Malt Newborn from Chichibu distillery:

I drank the double matured newborn from the new Chichibu distillery watching the Fulham-Liverpool match after a great meal over a shared bottle of Japanese white wine. My overall impression of the spirit was that it was extraordinarily good for such a young whisky. Quite phenomenal really for a drink distilled at recently as April-May 2008. It had quite an intense and complex smell. The first impression reminded me of standing in a hot field when pollen is heavy in the air: a floral, sweet smell. Later sniffs brought out a sharp lemon and honey (this had been my overriding impression on a previous tasting) and touches of melted butter. Sipping it straight, I got distinct lemon and pine tastes but little else because it was so overpowering. With a couple of drops of water, the lemon and honey really came out with an underlying wholemeal bread substance underlying the citrus sharpness. It finished with quite a piney taste. Later sips brought out liquorice flavours for me. I found this a really relaxing drink, much easier to drink than either of the newborn Chichibus from last year, which were interesting but extremely challenging (will try to dig out and post my notes on those over the next couple of weeks).
Some more data on the Newborn Double Matured Cask 447. It is a single cask whisky, distilled April-May 2008. It was first put in a Heaven Hill Bourbon barrel in May to June 2008. It was transferred to a New American Oak Hogshead in June 2009 and was bottled in October 2009. There are 352 bottles of it and it is 61.3 per cent alcohol.

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