Part of the syllabus for the Advanced course is a visit to a lab where the students can ask difficult questions of the blender. Unfortunately, this year, I have been unable to tie in a lab visit, with bottling plants being closed in the evenings, blenders being on maternity leave, wandering the world as brand ambassador or just not answering their phones. So I threw in an extra classroom evening.
My theme was some of the industry's essentials, energy and water and the threats to their continuity.
Thanks to Kirsteen Campbell at Cutty Sark, I was able to demonstrate the essential nature of e150a (caramel colouring) and its lack of impact on flavour/aroma. I put less than 4ml from a teaspoon into an empty 2 litre water bottle and gradually filled it with water, allowing the students to see how little colouring is necessary to add colour. I probably should have had two bottles (memo to self - use 2 bottles next time), with the second having less than 0.5ml. The 4ml coloured the water such that it looked darker than a 50 years old first fill Sherry aged whisky - it was even darker than Loch Dhu. They were able to smell the caramel, but, with water, there are no other aromas to hide it and the aroma of the caramel was quite light.
Having done it this way, for next time, I will get a syringe and be much more clinical in the amounts I put in. In that way, the aroma will not be noticeable because the percentage of colour needed will be absolutely tiny.
The order of the evening's whiskies was completely random, with my taking, without looking, a decanting bottle in one hand and a whisky in the other when I decanted them an hour or so before the class. The order in which I presented them was:
1 The Co-operative's 12 yo Single Highland Malt
2 Black Grouse
3 Tobermory 10 yo
4 Arran 1998 The Westie
5 Buffalo Trace
6 Laphroaig 10 yo
7 Jameson's 12 yo
8 Grant's No. 2 (Sherry Cask Finish)
As always, they tasted the whiskies blind and there were several grumbles about a) the selection and b) the order in which I had set them out.
I have to say that the students did well, eventually setting them into a proper tasting order and knuckling down to tasting them.
1 was correctly identified by almost all as a Highland,
2 threw some who, understandably put it on Islay,
a couple correctly identified 3 as Tobermory 10,
most were correct in identifying 5 as a Bourbon,
everybody correctly identified 6 as Laphraoig 10,
a couple identified 7 as Irish and
8 threw almost all of them, with about half identiying it as a blend and some putting it as a poor Speyside.
That's this course completed - or maybe not, watch this space.
I now have 4 or 5 weeks where I get my Tuesdays back and can plan for the Scotch Whisky Trail Certificate course (the entry level course) which starts on 17th January.