Sunday, September 25, 2011

Islay Mist 8 y.o.

You know what they say: You get what you pay for.

Usually, I hate that. I'd much rather get a lot more than I pay for.

But every now and then, you pay for a bargain, and you get it. That's what happened when I picked up a bottle of Islay Mist 8 y.o. someone put between me and the wine I was sent to the store to buy.

Before I saw it, I only knew that such a blend existed. And until I opened it I was fully resigned to having a ten dollar bottle of Scotch marked up to seventeen based on the name "Islay."

To my surprise and delight, it turned out to be very much as advertised. The label says the whisky is "a premium blend of fine aged whiskies: the most distinctive of these being Laphroaig Single Islay Malt." MacDuff International, which blends Islay Mist in several expressions, gives some history:
Islay Mist Blended Scotch was originally created on the Scottish island of Islay in 1922 to celebrate the 21st birthday of Lord Margadale. It was thought that the local single malt scotch, Laphroaig, might be too heavy for all the guests’ taste so this unique blend of Laphroaig with Speyside malts and grain whisky was born.
Islay Mist's nose is just what you'd expect from such a blend: grains and peat, with some salt water taffy. There's a good amount of smoke on the palate, with salt and honey, though it has a much lighter mouthfeel than straight Laphroaig. The finish is a warm, peaty astringency; half an hour later, you might for a moment think you had been drinking Laphroaig.

All this for seventeen dollars? Sold!

Friday, September 23, 2011

Hot Scotch and Lemon Day: The Countdown Begins

November 6 is Hot Scotch and Lemon Day.

Why November 6? Because hot scotch and lemon is a cool-weather drink, and November 6 is exactly halfway through autumn. It's the midpoint (give or take half a day) between the end of summer and the beginning of winter.

Today is the first day of autumn, so we begin the countdown to Hot Scotch and Lemon Day in the traditional way: "Say, it's the first day of autumn. Hot Scotch and Lemon Day is coming up."

(It's not, when you get down to it, a day that requires a great deal of preparation. A bottle of scotch, a lemon, and you're pretty well set. The point of the countdown is to avoid saying, "Wait, wasn't yesterday Hot Scotch and Lemon Day?")

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Catoctin Creek Mosby's Spirit

As far as I know, Catoctin Creek Distillery, in Purcellville, Virginia, is the closest whiskey distillery to my house -- less than sixty miles. What with one thing and another, though, I haven't had a chance to head out there for a tour.

But I was able to meet Catoctin Creek's owner Scott Harris at a tasting he held in a liquor store in Washington, DC, last weekend. I tasted the range: Mosby's Spirit, their unaged whiskey; Roundstone Rye, their aged whiskey; and Watershed Gin, their gin (about which all I'll say, as someone who hates gin, is that it tastes like gin). (They also make grape and pear brandies -- only in September, in fact -- but didn't have any on hand.)

The three liquors are all related, in that they all come from the same 100% rye mash. Mosby's Spirit is the heart, Roundstone Rye is what Mosby's Spirit becomes after four months in 30-gallon white oak barrels, and Watershed Gin is a redistillation of the tail with their own blend of botanicals.

I had told myself, as I was driving to the tasting, that I wouldn't be buying anything, but I didn't really believe me. More surprising, when I left with a bottle, is that I left with a bottle of Mosby's Spirit, rather than of Roundstone Rye. Although more often than not I'd probably rather have a Roundstone, I think Mosby's Spirit is more interesting as a white whiskey than Roundstone is as a rye.

Mosby's Spirit (named in honor of Col. James S. Mosby) has a sharp, floral nose, with a bit of vanilla and a bit of household cleaner. It's very smooth on the palate, like a grain vodka with rye and pepper. The finish is smooth and short, with rye sounding the last note.

I've tried it in a few cocktails -- the Cactoctin Creek crew recommended using it like a vodka -- but, so far, I prefer drinking it neat.

I did pour much of my bottle into a Bell jar with blackberries and sugar; I hope to have some blackberry dew ready for Christmas. Coincidentally, Catoctin Creek promises that fruit liqueurs are coming soon.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Four Roses Small Batch

A well-timed retweet of @4RosesBourbon brought me a free copy of brand ambassador Al Young's Four Roses: The Return of a Whiskey Legend, just in time for Bourbon Heritage Month. Having heard a little about the reintroduction of Four Roses in the U.S., I happened to have [most of] a bottle of Small Batch on hand -- a good thing, because reading is thirsty work.

That a brand can go from best selling to unsold, from right up there with Coke and Ford to right down there with New Coke and the Ford Edsel, in a few decades is not news. (Maybe not surprising either, in hindsight, when you switch from a straight bourbon to a blend with 60% grain neutral spirits.) The unusual angle on the Four Roses story is that, even when it wasn't available in the U.S., it was still being made here, for export to Japan and Europe. (Is it ever a bad business decision to let people buy what you make?)

Favorite factoid from the book: Best Product Placement, 1945, for the "Four Roses" Times Square sign visible at the top of Alfred Eisenstaedt's iconic "VJ Day, The Kiss." I also found out about the Mellow Moments Club, and have since signed up to join (though I may not be quite as mellow as the ideal member).

The book even gives away the Four Roses recipes, for use by the home distiller. Two different mash bills --
  1. 75% corn, 20% rye, 5% malted barley
  2. 60% corn, 35% rye, 5% malted barley
-- are crossed with five different proprietary yeast strains --
  1. V - delicate fruitiness
  2. K - slightly spicy character
  3. O - rich fruitiness
  4. Q - floral essence
  5. F - herbal
-- for a total of ten different casked bourbons. The casks are put up in single-story warehouses, and then mixed to make the different Four Roses products.

The Small Batch that I have on hand is a blend of four bourbons -- sources say it's the K and O yeast strains crossed with both mash bills, which is consistent with the label's promise of "a mellow symphony of sweet, fruity aromas and rich, spicy flavors." (The "small batch" part comes in from it being made in batches of about nineteen barrels.)

For the nose, I get sweet melon and butterscotch, with a hint of cherry syrup (reminiscent of Bunratty's Potcheen, in fact). The palate is balanced (by which I mean I mostly taste bourbon) and sweet, with some oak notes; the cherries others find came out for me after several minutes with a few drops of water. The finish is a little spicy, with the rye growing if you give it time.