Blind Tastings Are Humbling

No real review this week, since I attended a blind Zoom tasting of 12 American single malt whiskies and I’m still recovering. In order to feel a little better about myself, I added an update to my Cut Spike Nebraska Single Malt review. The short version is that Batch 2 is NOTHING like Batch 1 was, and the tasting group uniformly despised it. Word on the grapevine is that Cut Spike’s master distiller wanted to change the recipe for batch 2. Apparently nobody stopped him, and the results aren’t good. Here’s hoping Cut Spike returns to its roots for future batches, but I’m now too gunshy to purchase a bottle untasted.

What follows are some other stream-of-consciousness notes from our tasting. If you have an opportunity to gather a few like-minded friends to taste some whisky together (online or in person if your situation warrants), I highly recommend it. There are lots of ways to execute something like this, but the easiest one is to buy a bunch of empty 1-oz sample bottles online, buy a handful of whiskies (perhaps with a theme) or solicit contributions from your friends, and then do a marathon sample-filling session. You can mail boxes of samples or have your compatriots pick them up from you. Label them if “blind tasting” sounds scary to you, or just put a number on each bottle and keep a master list. It’s worth the effort, I assure you.

My good buddy Scott did the legwork of organizing the event and pouring and distributing the samples. In the end we had a group of 8 seasoned whisky tasters, and despite our collective experience and knowledge, nobody got more then 4 out of 12 correct. I got 2 out of 12. Blind tastings are humbling. Still, it was a blast.

Interestingly, every single last one of us correctly guessed the two St. George Single Malts, AND which batch they were from. Talk about a distinctive whisky. They also scored very highly, which is no surprise because St. George is awesome. Most everyone hated the aforementioned Cut Spike Batch 2, many reviling it as akin to “drinking soap”. Oddly, the Westward American Single Malt also rated very low, garnering a lot of hate for its overly-sweet woody notes. A local distillery, 10th Street, scored impressively low for its ashy “spent cigarette” take on Islay-style peated malt. The two Westland malts (American Oak and Peated) did not receive as much fanfare as I thought they would, both ending up in the middle of the pack.

McCarthy’s Oregon Single Malt failed to impress, landing in the bottom quartile, and the group generally agreed that batch variation from Clear Creek Distillery means those can be hit-or-miss. Two highlights from the evening were a pair of malts from a tiny Oregon distillery called Pioneer Whisky, and a store bottling of Balcones Texas Single Malt from Mission Liquor which had been aged in new European oak. The Pioneer whiskies were unpolished but impressive. I’ll be looking for some more samples of those two to do a proper review.

Despite doing my best to taste only half of each 1oz bottle, I still needed some time to recover. If you do end up hostings your own tasting, I recommend keeping the bottle count below 6. Good friends, good conversation, and good whisky. I’d do it again in a heartbeat. Cheers!

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