Sunday, August 28, 2011

Pikesville Supreme Straight Rye Whiskey

I'd lived in Maryland for about fourteen years before it occurred to me to ask what people drink around here. More particularly, I wondered whether there's any sort of liquor or liqueur for which the Old Line State can claim bragging rights. (Well, besides Natty Boh.)

And that's when I found out about Maryland Rye Whiskey.

About thirty years too late, maybe, to taste rye whiskey actually distilled in Maryland, but at least one Maryland brand name -- Pikesville, now owned by Heaven Hill -- was still in use. And not just in use, I discovered, but cheap! Less than nine dollars in the local liquor stores. (And, according to the label, still "distilled under an old Maryland formula.")

So I got a bottle and tried it and... the stuff ain't bad. Granted, there's not a lot going on in the glass, but what is there is perfectly enjoyable.

Pikesville Supreme is now my quaff of choice when I just want a whiskey at my elbow that doesn't draw attention to itself. It's also very mixable, although these days I mostly just mix it with crushed ice.

Nose: Sweet toffee, hint of rye. More rye on the palate, and a bright, spicy finish. A couple drops of water bring out fruit notes in the nose and more of a grain taste.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

The Macallan Fine Oak 15 y.o.

The Macallan Fine Oak line is a series of single malts matured in sherry (both Spanish and American oak) and bourbon (American oak) casks. There are eight expressions in the range, from 10 all the way to 30 years old.

The 15 year old, bottled at 86 proof, has a sweet nose of vanilla, honey, and raisins. The palate is buttery and sweet, maybe a bit of dark chocolate, with oak notes coming through after a bit. The finish is fruity with a pleasant tingle. I added several drops of water, which didn't so much open up the whisky as flatten it out.

On a hunch, I finished my drink with a frosted lemon cupcake I happened to have on hand, and the flavors got along just fine. Scotch with dessert? Scotch for dessert? Both sound good to me.

(Coincidentally, the Macallan blog ran a post on their Fine Oak line on Thursday, from which I borrowed the above image. In the post, East Coast USA Brand Ambassador Charlie Whitfield (@MacCharlie) says he particularly likes his Fine Oaks as pre-dinner aperatifs. I haven't tried that yet, and since the 15 y.o. is such a nice way to finish a meal it may be a while before I do.)

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Smooth Ambler, Maxwelton, WV

Last weekend, my wife threw a dart at the Googleboard and hit on West Virginia's Pipestem Resort State Park as a nice place to get away for a few days.*

Once our destination was chosen, a secondary question for me was, is there any chance of shoehorning a visit to a distillery into this trip? Which is to say, given that it's a six hour drive to our hotel, how many more miles can I convince my wife and son to drive just so that I can have a taste of someone's white whiskey?

As it happened, I'd only recently heard of Smooth Ambler Spirits, a West Virginia craft distillery. I knew they made gin as well as whiskey, and I knew my wife likes gin, so if it were any reasonable distance from where we were going, I figured I could talk her into allowing joining me. I typed the address into Mapquest, and learned the distillery was 4 miles out of our way.

Yeah, I could swing that.

Smooth Ambler Tasting Room

We arrived mid-afternoon on Tuesday, and we had a chance to taste all of their white spirits -- whiskey, gin, and vodka (they were sold out of their very small run of bourbon).

Some vodkas, intended to have as little flavor as possible, wind up with nothing but a medicinal tang. Smooth Ambler purposely makes its vodka with a pleasant, bready flavor that doesn't need to be covered up by chilling or mixers. I imagine it would be pretty tasty sipped along with fresh-baked rolls spread with butter.

As for their gin: It's not that I don't like gin, it's that I hate and despise the very idea of gin. It took me years to get to the point of accepting that it is not necessarily a character flaw to drink gin on purpose.

I had been planning on passing on Smooth Ambler's gin altogether, but after four and a half hours in the car, I figured I could stand one small taste. And in fact, though I'm sorry to say the stuff smells like gin, the citrus they add to the botanicals makes it... well, potable in extremis. Or, as my wife the gin-drinker said after tasting it, "Oh, we're getting a bottle of this!"

Which left the white whiskey, bottled at 100 proof. I wasn't left alone with a bottle and a glass long enough for a proper tasting, but the couple of swallows I had were of a good quality moonshine with a lively complexity, particularly compared to the mellow homeliness of the vodka. (For the record, my wife couldn't stand the stuff, but then, you know, she drinks gin.)

Smooth Ambler's bourbon is their white whiskey aged in ten gallon barrels (they may have put some up in the standard 53-gallon barrels that will be ready in another five or six years). As I said, they were out of stock at the distillery, but they'd recently shipped some bourbon out, and I will definitely keep an eye open for it in my local liquor stores.

When it came time to leave, I for some reason decided to limit our purchase to one bottle, and since my wife had already spoken up, that one bottle was gin. I wasn't too concerned about leaving without any whiskey, since I had already learned that a liquor store a couple of miles from where I work carries Smooth Ambler. The next bottle of moonshine I buy will be Smooth Ambler -- unless I find Smooth Ambler bourbon first.

Two things particularly struck me during the visit. One was the quality across the Smooth Ambler range; they seem to take equal pride and care with each of their spirits. The other was how altogether different each of these three clear liquids was, though the equipment and processes, and even many of the ingredients, used are the same. The tours I've been on explaining how various beverages are made have given me the sense of a very technical activity, but sitting in the Smooth Ambler tasting room, looking through the windows at the stills and filters used to make their spirits, I gained more of an appreciation for the craft involved.

* My craft review of Pipestem Resort State Park: As a state park, it's great! As a resort, it's... a great state park!

Monday, August 8, 2011

To Sober Up Fast, Drink White Dog

That's not me talking. That's Science:
Maturation of whisky delayed ethanol metabolism to lower the level of blood acetaldehyde and acetate with increasing inhibition of liver ADH activity by nonvolatile congeners. It also prolonged drunkenness by enhancing the neurodepressive effects of ethanol, due to increases in the amount of nonvolatile congeners. These biomedical effects of whisky maturation may reduce aversive reactions and cytotoxicity due to acetaldehyde, and may also limit overdrinking with the larger neurodepression.
Another way to read this, I guess, is you get what you pay for, and if you pay for 20 year-old single malt whisky, you get less acetaldehyde -- which, on the whole, is not a bad deal.

(Link to article via @TheWhiskyGuy.)

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Springbank 10 y.o.

I'm not sure what to make of this whisky. I'd bought a bottle to bring a Campbeltown-style whisky to a scotch tasting, then when I first tried it, I decided I didn't like it. Tasting it again this weekend, it's still not a favorite, but there's more to it than I first thought.

It has a pale caramel color and a nice nose (I get fruit and meadow grasses; a few drops of water adds notes of malt and seashore). The flavor is oaky, peppery, and a little peaty. But I just don't much care for the finish, the saltiness for which, I'm told, Campbeltown whiskies are noted. So it's a whisky I enjoy tasting but don't enjoy having tasted.

At this point, I still won't be in any hurry to replace the bottle when it's finished, but I'll be finishing that bottle with more appreciation and respect than I started it with.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Watch This Space

I've got some whiskies. I've got some time. I'll have some tastings.