Merlin’s Rest Whisky Tasting

merlinsrestOn the evening of November 6th, 2014, three of the founding members of Scotchology went to a Scotch tasting hosted at a local British pub, Merlin’s Rest, in South Minneapolis. Merlin’s happens to be the place we, as Scotchology members, go to try new Scotches and pick which ones to taste for our monthly meetings. Merlin’s has over 270 different Scotches listed in their handy and comprehensive “Whiskey Bible,” so no matter what level of Scotch enthusiast you are, there’s something for everyone. Merlin’s hosts a whisky tasting once a month through fall, winter and spring that have varying themes: campfires, chocolate, or wine cask finished. We were invited to this Scotch tasting by a mutual friend and fellow Scotch lover, Dennis Skrade, who organizes, researches, and leads the Scotch tastings at Merlin’s (we invited Dennis to World Whiskey Day; needless to say, we were a little intimidated). The theme of the night was Scotches finished in wine barrels. We tried four different Scotches, aged in four different types of wine barrels, and had four unique experiences.

We’ve gone to Merlin’s numerous times and picked out whiskeys to sample. We use the whiskey bible and our best judgment to, hopefully, find what we like. It is a completely different experience when you are led on a journey by one who is far more experienced. We tasted the Tullibardine 225, Tullibardine 228, Glenmorangie Companta, and Longrow Red. We were able to taste four very different types of Scotches. During this tasting we were able to taste and smell very distinct flavours but even more so we were able to clearly dissect these flavours. One was very earthy but in a grass and hay fashion while another was earthy in a mineral way. We also noticed how transformative, the nose especially, these Scotches were as they had time to sit in the glass. We all thoroughly enjoyed our experience. Thank you Dennis for your expertise and willingness to share!

Kate’s Thoughts: There’s always something new to learn. I myself am not very good at distinguishing the “mouthfeel” of a whisky. When led by someone more experienced I find different depths to whiskey I did not know previously existed. Scotchology has tried a few wine cask finished Scotches (like here, here and this one too) and I haven’t fallen in love with any of them. I thought, “I don’t like wine cask finish” but these three Scotches proved me wrong. Perhaps I’m not a fan of Sauternes cask finish but there’s so much variety. I suppose this calls for more research.  🙂

Adam’s Thoughts: As with any tasting, one of the best things about it is the ability to taste whiskys one after another to find where they’re similar and where they’re different. The choices were excellent for showing off the unique flavor profiles of wine barrel finishing. Though the former two Scotches didn’t get as much love as the latter two, I found it nice to try the two Tullibardines, to see what kind of variance the size of the cask and what maturation was used affected the whisky. Sometimes trying to find all the elements swirling around in Scotch can feel overwhelming between the nose, the taste, the finish, the look, and anything else that catches the eye or tongue. Being able to dial your attention in on one thing like cask finishing really helps explore that aspect even better than a normal tasting might afford. Another bonus was the sheets we took our notes on serving as 10% off coupons to a local liquor store. Since Scotchology isn’t yet based in Scotland (alas), the least we can do is drink at local pubs and buy our spirits from neighborhood distributors.

Meghan’s Thoughts: I went into the tasting much more unaware than I normally would have but well, I just wasn’t really paying attention during the upcoming week. Despite my mental flakiness going into the event, Merlin’s organization and knowledge got me quickly on the ball. I was pleased to discover the focus was wine-finishes since I’d been wanting to approach those again. Scotchology has gotten into a sherry-finish rut and it was time for a change. Four scotches, none of which I had tasted. I’m a bit familiar with other Glenmorangie offerings but not the Companta. It was a pleasant surprise to find something from them I enjoyed. The tasting was beautifully structured so they moved from one to the next at a good speed but in a order that prevented overpowering flavors from beating out the next tasting. The tasting sheet provided was very useful- imperitive for a tasting is to provide your guests with the names so there’s no confusion about spelling. I could have used more room for general notes but the folding the paper into quarters and using the back worked well. I found the final Scotch to be my favorite but, as with any tasting I did wonder if it was because it was my favorite or if was the last tasting meaning my palate was warmed and my senses a little fuzzed. There were definitely nuances that will be useful during Scotchology’s next World Whisky Day tasting.  

Don’t be intimidated to try Scotches or go to a whisky tasting. You don’t have to like everything and there is no right or wrong reaction to each one. Whisky is very specific to each person and it’s the same as asking several beer snobs, “What is the best beer in the world?” You would get different answers. No matter where you are on your journey to discover Scotch, embrace the discovery and know  you’re at least on the right road. In the northern hemisphere the weather is turning chilly, which can make a lot of whiskys more accessible. Enjoy a dram and don’t forget to share your adventures with us.

Slàinte mhath!


Tullibardine 225
Region: Highlands
Cask Finish: Sauternes
Strength: 43%
Color: Golden, reflective, bright
Nose: Sweet, orange/tangerine, pepper, golden raisin
Palate: Butter, green pepper, citrus, milk chocolate
Finish: Orange, sweet, pithy
Impressions: Pleasant is the overall general word for this Scotch. It’s warm and smooth in the mouth, and a little slick. The finish isn’t long but not too short either. Potentially a nice warm weather whisky or one to try with spicy food.

Tullibardine 228
Region: Highlands
Cask Finish: Burgundy red
Strength: 40%
Color: Burnished gold, amber
Nose: Cream, vanilla, banana cream pudding, mineral
Palate: Wine, butter, honey, cream, pepper, smoke, strong minerality
Finish: Spice
Impressions: This Scotch has a long but shallow finish with some medium spice. It tastes like a rock, but in a good way. This has a spicy and thick feel in the mouth, and connotes a layered, rustic feel that’s nearly introverted. Like a lumberjack all alone in the woods at the advent of winter (though perhaps he at least has a dog, unlike the Deerstalker) who likes to crack open a tome of Coleridge poetry when none of his lumberjack friends are around to see it.

Glenmorangie Companta
Region: Highlands
Cask Finish: Cote du Rhone (40%) and Clos de Tart (60%)
Strength: 46%
Color: Copper, pure amber
Nose: Spice, wine, ripe, dark berries, gingerbread
Palate: Spice, pepper, ginger, bitter sweet, nuts, mulled cider – w/water: ginger, cinnamon, tart apple
Finish: Wine – w/water: lemon zest, apple tart with an almond crust;
Impressions: Glenmorangie is the blue balls of Scotch; the nose and description gets you all riled up and then… neh. The Companta is the first Glenmorangie that I haven’t hated. NAS but most likely a 5-6 yr. old whisky. Very Complex with a bit of depth. It is like a huge burly guy in the room whom no one can miss; he doesn’t speak often but when he does it is loud with a VERY thick brogue (almost impossible to understand). Glenmorangie probably translates to “God’s great glen.” It is like some Belgium beers. This as an advent whisky: it’s too heavy for fall but lacks the spice you want at Christmastide. H2O makes this whisky spicier.

Longrow Red
Region: Campbeltown
Cask Finish: Shiraz
Strength: 53%
Color: Orange amber
Nose: Peat, iodine, hazelnut, leather  – w/water: bourbon barrel
Palate: Peat & Smoke, then peat, wine, blackberry, dark cherry, dark chocolate
Finish: Shiraz, berry jam, sweet, peat – w/water: bourbon barrel
Impressions:  Does not necessarily need H2O. Longrow is produced at Springbank. Longrow is Springbank’s peated whisky offering and they only make 9k barrels of each type of Longrow. Hazelburn is Springbank’s 3x distilled non-peated whisky. Springbank uses an the old-school method of peating a whisky. Need to visit this distillery. This is like a meat & Potato dinner; its fills you up. W/o H2O you drink this Scotch and feel it go straight to your head like a hot flash. The nose blooms throughout the evening. The heated aspect had me (Meghan) feeling trepidatious but the dried peating method produced a beautifully balanced non-skunky peat to the finish.