The Ultimate “Blind” Tasting

This was a new type of blind-tasting assignment for me: a rare opportunity to review a flight of whisky I had never heard of, let alone tasted. Although I was told the brand name and ages of these three single malt Scotch bottlings, the name meant nothing to me, and I actively resisted the opportunity to read or research more about it until I had tasted the spirits. (For a whisky nerd, the slightest wisp of knowledge automatically starts a process of reverse-engineering the spirit in your mind, creating preconceived notions about where, how and when it was produced might have affected the aromas and flavours.)

After sipping blind, I couldn’t resist the temptation to learn a little about Lismore, the single malt I tasted. Fittingly named for an island off Scotland’s west coast that currently hosts no physical distillery (though remnants of onetime illicit stills have been found there), it was first produced more than a century ago by the brothers John and Willie Lundie, under the umbrella of William Lundie and Co. Today that banner is owned by J&G Grant, six-generation stewards of the opulently sherry-rich Glenfarclas brand. J&G Grant produces Lismore from the original Lundie family recipes, though it’s silent on the exact provenance of the spirit.

Lismore 12-year-old is frisky and bright in the glass, with lemon peel and pear-skin fragrances, and hints of pine, cedar and eucalyptus. With water, the nose develops a pleasingly round cola-nut note, with whiffs of woodshop sawdust and turpentine. There is a beautiful weightiness to the creamy mid-palate, with crisp malt on the finish and a nip of oaky tannins gripping the sides of the tongue. The citrus lift, gentle woodiness and rich texture make this a highly approachable malt.

Lismore 15-year-old evolves the citrus approach to include orange oil and golden syrup, with an unctuous backdrop of pastry cream and melted butter. Though a little shy on the nose, the mouth-feel introduces an intriguing, slightly astringent quality reminiscent of whole peppercorn or dried bay leaf from the spice rack. It’s a welcome palate contrast against the apricot-tinged, honeyed flavours, and in an elegant dance the slight astringency disappears on the finish, replaced with persistent creamy malt. Deceptively light in colour, this is actually the smoothest of the three.

Lismore 18-year-old is loaded with gingery and herbaceous smells, like a soothing lozenge. Lemon oil mingles with an earthy tone similar to green-olive brine; the contrast brings to mind the mingling aromas of a savoury, bittersweet clove-studded orange. A bright, crisp halo of robust malt on the palate yields to that same weighty mid-palate recalled from the 12 year-old, creamy like lemon curd. This one lingers on the finish, with pricks of warm ginger and toast complementing golden sultana flavour and palate-coating richness.

After tasting and unblinding my knowledge of the brand, I revisited a sample of my beloved Glenfarclas 105. Although both from Speyside, the whiskies are like two well-brought-up siblings with few features in common other than their graceful manners. Lismore’s bright citrus character, which carries across the range, is a very accessible entry point to this malt. Their gentle woodiness has a character of well-seasoned American oak that makes these malts approachable for bourbon or Canadian whisky drinkers. Though tasted in a details-blind manner here, they should not remain invisible. Rating: Very Good.

Author: Charlene Rooke

Charlene Rooke is a Canadian drinks journalist, consultant and educator as well as a travel, food, business and lifestyle writer. She is a WSET Spirits Educator Certified in Spirits (to Level 3) and WSET Certified in Wine, an SWE Certified Specialist of Spirits, an SMWS spirits educator and an artisan distiller trained at Moonshine University in Louisville, KY. She is the lead judge of the Canadian Artisan Spirits Competition and an expert on B.C. spirits who leads distillery tours and guides spirits tastings in B.C. A former editor at many Canadian publications and former creative lead at three content agencies, she is currently the Drinks Editor for Food & Drink, the in-store magazine of the Liquor Control Board of Ontario.