Saturday, November 8, 2014

Review: SIA Blended Scotch Whisky

The blended Scotch whisky jungle is crowded and inhabited by some very big, dumb apes with enormous stores of bananas.  But, swinging up high, from treetop to treetop, are some agile and more intelligent chimpanzees, and above them are the erudite and utterly cool rainforest birds, the macaws and the toucans.  Meet Carin Luna-Ostaseski:

I think she is a toucan!

Bright, colorful, passionate, and determined to launch her own brand in the blended Scotch whisky biosphere, from her perch, high above the knuckle dragging, silverback gorillas that adorn the densely populated jungle floor below.

Carin likes whisky.

She didn't always.  At one time, she regarded whisky as an old, stinky iodine spirit that inhabited dark green, dusty medicinal bottles that sat on shelves in her grandfather's study.  Whisky, she thought, was something only old folk liked for reasons that escaped her.

One night that all changed.  A whisky enthusiast friend asked her what types of food she liked, and then chose a whisky for her based on her tastes.  She took a sip and was in awe of the interesting flavors contained in such a tiny measure of spirit.  Soon thereafter, her work as a creative director for an online business no longer appealed to her.  She didn't start a whisky blog, as that was a lame, overdone and stale social media activity of boring/nerdy middle aged/older men, ne'er do-wells, shut-ins, professional students and well . . . friendless losers in life (present company excepted!).  No, she had something else in mind.

Well, that's not entirely true.  At first, it was just a fascination with whisky.  She tried a wide variety, went to whisky events and soon was hosting her own tastings in an effort to spread the word that "Hey! Whisky has something to offer hip, young people, especially women."  Over time, her ill-defined passion led to the idea of starting a company that would sell a whisky she felt would appeal to her crowd, her homeys, her peeps!

So, she ditched the creative director gig with her online employer and pulled the trigger.  She met with countless people in the whisky industry (many of whom were very helpful, and some of them were silver haired gents too!), who advised her on pricing, sourcing bottles, labels, regulatory issues, shipping, distribution and of course finding the right distillery that could deliver the taste that she was determined to bring to market.  She even did some crucial crowd funding on kickstarter.  Yeah, yeah, I know, I had to look up what "crowd funding" meant too, and never heard of "Kickstarter" either, and yeah I am not even fifty (but, close to it).

I asked Carin how she came up with the name of her blended Scotch, which is distilled, aged and bottled by Douglas Laing & Co. Ltd.

"I was thumbing through a English/Gaelic dictionary looking for a word that would be suitable as a name for my whisky.  I stumbled on the number six, which happens to be my birthday too, and I liked it.  Six in Gaelic is Sé (pronounced 'Shay').  I thought I would drop the 'h' and somehow came up with SIA (pronounced 'see-ah')."


Currently available in California, Illinois and a number of online retailers (i.e. Binny'sBeltramo's) who can ship elsewhere.


Age Statement

Malt to Grain Ratio

Regional Breakdown
Speyside (50%), Highlands (40%), Islay (10%)

Nose (undiluted)
Very malty, sweet grains, dandelion, slight sherry.

Palate (undiluted)
Sweet malt, creamy, Cheerios, spiced honey, funnel cake, vanilla extract, faint sherry.

Finish (undiluted)
Salt, zing of lemon peel, buzz of black pepper, a slight smoke when you breath through your mouth following a swallow.

General Impressions
This is very smooth, not grainy, no alcohol notes or bite either.  Very inoffensive.  It's pretty sweet too, with a slight transition to a more drying mouth feel on the finish.  No peat and very little smoke in the flavor profile.

If you like Cutty Sark, Monkey Shoulder and Cardhu, then you will enjoy this blend.  It is a traditional Speyside flavor profile, one that is sweet, honeyed, smooth, and as I said above, with hardly any peat and precious little smoke.  This whisky is really designed for the whisky newbie.  It is very, very smooth, but not grainy, which is nice.  It obviously would work well as an ingredient in Scotch based cocktails, as recommended on Carin's website.

I enjoyed it, as a soft, gentle, simple blend, and there is a place and time to enjoy this flavor profile.  The holidays are coming and it would make a suitable gift for the person dabbling in whisky or has a budding interest.

SIA is not for the serious connosieur  seeking complexity.  They will find it boring, as it is very smooth with minimal spice notes.  But, hey, I don't think Carin is targeting the grey power/Cocoon segment of the market at all.

I must tell you a little about the price.  It is high for a no-age-statement blend.  $49 is rich.  Within that price range, and well below it, there is Chivas 12 and Johnnie Walker Black 12 years and even some entry level single malts.  But, those large simian brands have much lower costs of production, synergies and efficiencies that they can leverage.  They have bland corporate websites that are filled with too much information, while SIA is cool, urban and well . . . young, an elusive quality that becomes more attractive as us silverbacks become well, uhmm . . . more and more silver.


Jason Debly

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