One of the reasons I sometimes avoid “tastings” – especially for wine – that I see advertised online or posted in restaurants… is that I don’t know what to expect. Are they going to charge me an arm and a leg? Is there a catch, cutoff, or are they going to try to sell me something? Is some bimbo at the hostess stand going to stare, dumbfounded, at me when I ask where to sit for the tasting? (That’s happened to me before.) For good whisky poured at cost, though, I thought I’d take the risk, and drive up to Redwood City during rush hour on Tuesday.
Here’s how it works. Martin’s West is a ‘gastropub’ (gourmet bar food and upscale beverages) in Redwood City, CA. Tuesday nights at 6 pm, the bartenders or waiters will (when asked) pour a 1 oz dram of the night’s bottle – supplied by David Driscoll from K&L Wines and Spirits, down the street. They use Glencairn glasses. The charge will be the cost of the bottle, divided by the number of pours (around 25). So, for the $130 Hart Bros. Laphroaig 18, pours were $5. You can order as many pours as you like until they run out (but don’t be greedy!) David will hang out near the bar and answer questions, if you have them. While you’re there, Martin’s West has a very respectable whisky selection (pours of Pappy Van Winkle 15 bourbon for $16? Not bad.) and the food looks delectable. I will be going back to try out the food.
I’m told K&L also runs a similar event at 5:30 PM on Thursday nights out of their San Francisco location, at another local bar – Gitane.
To stay up to date on these tastings (and find out in advance what he’ll be pouring), and read David’s very interesting views on the Spirits world, check out his blog.
Here are my notes from the Laphroaig 18, bottled by Hart Brothers, a Scottish independent bottler and blender. It is 46% ABV and not chill-filtered. Distilled 1990.
Nose: Hello! It’s Laphroaig. Iodine, seaspray, and a big wave of smoky peaty goodness. Behind it lurks some light florals – elderflower? and green tea. Maybe a little touch of honey and green bananas. Mostly the salty peat, though.
Palate: A little rough up front, but resolving into trademark Laphroaig flavors of seaweed, campfire, and bright, acidic peat.
Finish: Long and elegant, and not as bitter as some peat monsters. Evolves out of the peat bog and into a little nuttiness -peanut? on the tail end.
Overall: Very similar to the distillery-bottled 18, in my opinion, which is considerably cheaper. I don’t think I’d pay the $139 for this (compared to some other beauties in that price range). That said, for $5 a pour at a walk-in tasting, it was well worth the drive! Interesting that while this is more subtle and elegant than the distillery 10-year, it’s not really much more complex, nor does it show any increased wood influence. It’s just Laphroaig, with some of the sharp edges sanded down.