Sunday, June 2, 2013

The Octave of Lagavulin

I understand that, for those not physically on Islay, Ardbeg Day is nothing but a marketing gimmick, a trick that turns a few cases of free whiskey into an international symphony of unsolicited publicity.
The official Ardbeg Day tasting glass.

But I also understand that I'm not likely to ever taste an Ardbeg Day release if I don't taste it free on or about Ardbeg Day. They're too expensive to buy untasted, and any bar that would have them would also have a hundred or two other Scotches closer to the top of my To Try List.

So when I got my Ardbeg Committee notice that Ardbeg Day would be observed in Washington, DC, on May 29, I promptly RSVP'ed -- on the off chance that I might be able to make it. About half of such things I wind up missing due to a minor, pop-up crisis of one sort or another, and for some reason the odds are even worse when it's an Ardbeg tasting. (Once I was actually at a tasting, and about two minutes before the Ardbeg girls were scheduled to start handing out samples, I got a call from my wife that the car had died and could I come pick her up.)

No surprise, then, when May 29 came and I couldn't get downtown in time for the tasting. Forget it, Jake. It's Ardbeg.

Surprise, however, when June 1 came and I saw an announcement posted the night before on the DC Whiskey Drinkers (And Other Local Spirits) Facebook page that Jack Rose Dining Saloon would be offering free pours of Ardbog that evening.

And what do you know, I made it.

Now, if you've never been to Jack Rose, you should know that, though named for an applejack drink, it is a whiskey bar. And by that I mean it arguably has the largest selection of whiskeys for purchase in the Western Hemisphere. I think 1,800 was the number I was told -- with plans to bring it up to 3,000 by this time next year (making it arguably the largest in the world).
It's a good thing -- for my liver, family life, and finances -- that this place is no closer than 30 minutes to my house.

So when I got there half an hour before the tasting was to begin, I didn't beguile the time with a daiquiri. At the upstairs open-air terrace bar, I ordered a Russell's Reserve 10 yo, neat, with a Victory Summer Love back. (Not particularly exotic, but see the comment about my To Try List above.)

Ceci n'est pas un bouteille de bourbon.
The afternoon in DC cracked 90 degrees, so the bourbon might have benefited from an ice cube. This is certainly a whiskey to warm your toes in winter. The flavor was fuller and richer and smoother than Wild Turkey 101, as you'd expect given the increased age and lower proof (90 vs. 101). But -- maybe it was the heat, maybe the beer was fighting the bourbon -- there was a note on the finish I wanted to call fruit cocktail syrup but had to call floral perfume that I did not like at all. I wouldn't buy a bottle until and unless I've tried it again and that perfume wasn't there.

While working on the bourbon, I asked the bartender if the Ardbeg tasting would be upstairs (where last year's Ardbeg Day was observed). He said no, downstairs was the serious whiskey room, then introduced me to Roberto Cofino, the saloon's Scotch Malt Whisky Advisor, who happened by just then.

Roberto and I talked for a couple of minutes. He said he thought Ardbog was much more special than last year's Ardbeg Day release, and that I should spend more time nosing it since it would be hard to go back and pick out the details once I've tasted it.

He asked me what sort of whiskies I liked, and I gave him my stock fumbling answer, "Oh, I don't know, Islay, you know, Laphroaig, don't you know," which gets me through most whiskey conversations but clearly didn't give the present company much to work with. In the event, he talked up Port Charlotte 6 and 10 as particularly successful Bruichladdie experiments. (Which was coincidental, since I cracked a bottle of Laddie 10 last week and have been trying to make sense of it -- on which point, Las Vegas Whisky (@LVWhisky) helped by suggesting it's a nice break from Springbank 10.)

When I finished the Russell's Reserve, I went downstairs, ordered a New Belgium Blue Paddle to hold a seat at the bar, then went to the back to grab my taste of Ardbog. I thought the nose was dry and phenolic, but not amped up to 11 the way some Ardbegs are. There was an undertone of young spirit, too, though reportedly it's all at least 10 years old.

The palate was plenty smoky, but not at all the baconbomb of some Ardbegs. Most notable for me was the sweetness, like rock candy, that belied the dryness of the nose. It finished sweet, and the too-soon empty glass smelled of sweet creamed corn. The bartender asked me what I thought of it, and I said, "It's a lot subtler than other Ardbegs." She agreed.

My overall impression: I very much enjoyed the small pour I had, and would enjoy the occasional dram in the future, but I don't feel too bad about leaving the buying of Ardbog bottles to those with larger budgets and greater enthusiasm.

The one picture in this post that I took myself is the most commercial of them all.

Having convinced myself that it would be de trop to snatch another free sample, I looked about at the other 1,798 whiskeys on offer. And because why not, I ordered an ounce of the Port Charlotte PC6 Cuairt-Beatha.

I suppose I should have known that, if Bruichladdie befuddles me over the course of several evenings at home, it's going to befuddle me in a single glass after a couple other whiskeys and beers. But this was definitely a good kind of befuddlement. I don't understand PC 6, but it tastes great. There's a lot of smoke and a lot of sweetness, with maybe a hint of a Lagavulin-like medicinal note. A few minutes and a little water brought blondies to the nose.

When the bartender asked, I said, "This is really, really good." And when Roberto came by, I stopped him and showed him the bottle (which at Jack Rose they leave in front of you to read like a cereal box) and we both agreed that it was really, really good.

My problem -- and "problem" may not be the mot juste here -- is that PC6 is at least one full step away from the whiskeys I'm used to. The good news is it's not a step in the direction of refinement, in which case I wouldn't be able to appreciate it until I worked my way up to it. It's more in the direction of flavor profile, which I can enjoy quite well even as I don't know where to place it on my internal whiskey map. And all that means is that I've got lots of exploring to do, to fill in the blank spots.

As I said, that isn't what we usually mean by a problem.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Buy me a drink, sailor?

Two of the things that surprised me when I first started following whiskey blogs in earnest a couple of years ago were:
  1. Some whiskey bloggers get free, unsolicited samples sent to them.
  2. Some whiskey bloggers don't want free, unsolicited samples sent to them.
The first one isn't really surprising. Despite all the marketing legerdemain, whiskey production is the business of turning grain, yeast, water, and wood into money. The cost of free samples sent to bloggers must be a tiny fraction of the total promotional budget, all of which can be factored into the price of the whiskey. It wouldn't take too many sales to recoup the investment, and with core expressions a single sale could easily become steady sales for years to come.

Factor in the small number of relevant blogs -- with 8 bottles, you could send a sample to every English language whiskey blogger known to SKU -- and sending samples to whiskey bloggers makes a lot more sense to me than book publishers sending review copies to bloggers, and I've been getting review copies from book publishers for years.

I started reviewing books I got for free at my college newspaper; when reviewing for a grad school paper, I learned you can request specific books, and publishers will actually (sometimes) send them to you. For a while in the 1990s, I was sent boxes of random mystery novels to review for a tiny quarterly magazine. That taught me two important lessons: first, there most certainly are books that deserve to be burned; and second, getting a free review copy in no way obligates the receiver to so much as read the book, much less write a favorable review.

I admit I was surprised when I started getting emails from publishers asking if I wanted books to review for the blog I started in 2002. How many of my dozen readers were going to buy the book anyway? But I'd spent enough time with writers to know everything in the publishing business is nuts, and if someone was willing to waste a book on the likes of me, so be it.

All this may be why I never would have predicted that some whiskey bloggers don't want free whiskey samples. I wouldn't say nice things about a book I didn't like just to keep getting books from the publisher, much less as quid pro quo for the review copy itself. Why would I, or anyone else, do something like that for a few bucks a year worth of free whiskey?

But a segment of the whiskey blogging world does think free samples at best give the appearance of a conflict of interest, and at worst produce reviews that might as well have been written by the marketing department. (A biased review is not the same as a blog post that literally was written by the marketing department -- i.e., that simply transcribes a press release; that sort of thing is, if nothing else, perfectly transparent.)

All this leads to the question raised by Matthijs Hakfoort of @VattedBlog and the blog Vatted in a conversation we had on Twitter the other day: Are whiskey fans too strict or book fans too lenient toward reviewers?

First, I'd say most reasons to write a fluff book review hold whether or not the book is free. The key  relationship for the reader is with the author, not the publisher, and authors can as easily (and would just as soon) be buttered up by someone who bought their book at retail. A reviewer who wants to stay on a publisher's mailing list will start by only requesting those books they're likely to enjoy. If they don't like a book, it's easier to not post a review than to write a fake one; their blog readers won't know, and (in my experience at least) the publisher won't much care. (As I said, the business is nuts.)

In short, I don't see much of an angle in feigning enthusiasm for a book you got free, simply because you got it free.

Things may be different for whiskey reviewers. There may be particular whiskies that one must review if one is a player in the whiskey blogosphere; there are certainly nine-days-wonder whiskies that all the cool kids seem to talk about at the same time. If you are sent three or four samples in the same range, I suppose you'd feel odd just reviewing the two or three you genuinely like. Promotional departments may have quicker hooks in the whiskey industry than in publishing. The reviews themselves are highly subjective, so it might be hard to tell when someone gives an 89 to a whiskey they really consider a 75. There's certainly more of a cachet to reviewing a sample of whiskey that retails for $200 and is only sold in duty free shops than to reviewing a book you can read for free tomorrow at the library.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

The elephant in the tasting room

I've read a lot of gloomy predictions recently. People who know a lot more about these things than I do are saying that whiskey enthusiasts are in for a tough time, as emerging markets, speculators, and trend-followers with more money than sense provide a market for distillers to sell worse whiskey for more money.

This is, of course, a very different angle on the Whiskey Renaissance than I get from popular articles written around a private tasting with a master distiller. Those all stress excitement and experimentation and new ideas and creative ways to keep up with demand.

You'd expect the folks making more money to be happier about the direction the whiskey business is headed than the folks spending more money. The blind man at the front of the elephant has a much different experience than the blind man at the rear.
Even decanters favor the front end.

For my part, I think my own ignorance, inexperience, and low standards will serve me well. Ten and fifteen years ago, which I'm told was a great time to be into Scotch, I was buying a bottle a year whether I needed it or not. I don't have the historical perspective to resent having to pay $40 or $50 for a 10 y.o. single malt; I just don't do it very often, and almost never without having tasted it before. (As for the price explosion on the higher end stuff, I frankly wouldn't have paid the old price of $120 (or $300) anyway, so the new price of $180 (or $900) doesn't really confront me. When I crack the bottle of Talisker 18 I got for $42, I'll just do so with the expectation that I won't be replacing it when it's gone.)

With American whiskey, there's a large and growing selection available for less than $50 -- and a fair number of decent whiskeys for less than $20. I can play very happily in this shallow end of the pool, if only because I've never really been in the deep end. And while few of the craft whiskeys are good value for the money in the blind tasting sense, I enjoy trying them and look at it as an investment in better whiskey to come.

So while an Iron Age of Whiskey Exploration may be upon those at the back end of the whiskey business elephant, I think I can still hope to manage a bit of a Silver Age of Whiskey Enjoyment.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Weekend Whiskey Buying Guide: the basics

I went to the liquor store yesterday under nearly ideal conditions. I had plenty of time, only a vague sense of what I had plenty enough of at home, and no particular budget.

It took me more than half an hour to pick out three pretty ordinary bottles, much of that time spent waiting for reviews of on-sale items to download from Whisky Connosr.
Tax preparation software.

While I was weighing my options, another shopper walked passed me pushing a shopping cart. Without breaking strike, he pulled a 1.5 liter bottle of Dewars White Label off the shelf.

This led to the creation of the following partial decision tree for buying whiskey:

Prudence in whiskey buying: You gotta start somewhere.

It also solidified my impression that I'm pretty solidly in the 90th percentile when it comes to whiskey. I'd expect to know more about, spend more on, and drink more (or at least better) whiskey than the other nine if I were in a group of ten random people. And I'd expect to know the least about, spend the least on, and drink the least and worst whiskey of everyone if I were in a group of ten whiskey fans. (A corollary: I'm about as ignorant a whiskey blogger as bothers to blog about whiskey.)

That works out pretty well, since the vast majority of whiskey fans (and whiskey bloggers) just like to drink and talk (and occasionally swap) whiskey, with whoever else wants to drink and talk and swap whiskey. What snobbery there is -- as against ice, or blends -- usually indicates ignorance, and the rest is along the lines of my flowchart above, more of an exhortation to drink better (which can usually be done for about the same, and sometimes a better, price) than a belittling of Those Not In the Know.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Impressively hazed: Russell's Reserve Single Barrel coming soon

I've been asked to mention on my blog that the new Russell's Reserve Single Barrel should start showing up in stores within a month. I agreed, because frankly anyone looking to this blog as a conduit of the latest industry news needs all the help he can get.

No, I agreed because RRSB sounds like just the sort of bourbon I'd like to see more of: non-chill filtered, a proof you can do something with (110, in this case), at a reasonable price point (MSRP of $49.99).
You'd already know about this if you prowled the TABC label website.
My favorite part of the press release is the attempt to turn what I've always heard is a marketing problem into a marketing angle:
By avoiding the chill-filtration process, the whiskey is bottled with more flavor compounds and a deeper color which is denoted by an impressive haze when ice or chilled water is added.
I can see where "a disconcerting haze" wouldn't have struck the right note for consumers.

I haven't tasted RRSB yet; Weekend Whiskey isn't exactly an unsolicited-samples-in-the-mail-type operation. But I am looking forward to trying it, and I hope even more distilleries are working on similar products.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Weekend Whiskey's Pub Crawl for Those Not Insisting on Exercise

Last year, I proposed a whiskey calendar
whose key dates are November 30 and March 17 -- St. Andrew's Day and St. Patrick's Day, respectively. As you know, St. Andrew's Day is particularly well-suited for drinking Scotch whisky, and St. Patrick's Day for drinking Irish whiskey.
That idea fell flat, but I haven't given up on it altogether.

The whole point of keying on those dates was to celebrate the midpoint by drinking both Scotch and Irish whiskies. But the midpoint between Sts. Andrew & Patrick Days is January 23, and Scotch drinkers aren't going to be thinking about drinking Irish whiskey 2 days before Burns Night.

So this year I'm tweaking things, and proposing the key dates be Burns Night itself -- January 25 -- and St. Patrick's Day. That puts Midwinter's Day on February 19. Adding a few other dates throughout the year gives you this:

Now, as it happens, there is both a Scottish pub and an Irish pub just a couple of miles from me. (And by "as it happens," I mean, "the reason for this whole 'whiskey calendar' nonsense.") What better way to celebrate Midwinter's Day than a pub crawl from the one to the other?

Or, more precisely, to celebrate Midwinter's Weekend, since February 19 is a Tuesday this year and some of us have to be at work the next morning.

So I plan on heading to the Royal Mile Pub for a Scotch whisky around 1 pm on Saturday, February 16, and after a suitable period of time walking the half-block to the Limerick Pub for an Irish whiskey. (All quantities are approximate.)

The blue awning of the Royal Mile Pub, as seen from the front entrance of the Limerick Pub.
Granted, as pub crawls go this one doesn't require much in the way of leg strength. But love of whiskey isn't limited to the natural born hikers among us -- nor, for that matter, to those with an infallible sense of direction.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Friday in the park with George

On a recent business trip, I happened through Lynchburg, Tennessee. Naturally, I took advantage of the opportunity to visit the George Dickel Distillery, about half an hour to the north.

The George Dickel Distillery is, as they say on their website, "a ways off the beaten path," though even the last two miles down Cascade Hollow Road aren't too backwoods-country windy. (But then, I've taken more than one "short cut" down a logging road in my day.) When you come to the end of the road, the visitor center is on your left and the distillery on your right. The visitor center is done up in authentic Olde Tyme General Store, which both suits their image and suggests that some of what you'll hear on the tour will be... just as authentic.

Tennesseans of the 1880s were a hardy lot, needing only provisions of shot glasses and T-shirts.
The olde tyme angle plays up the history of whiskey distilling in Cascade Hollow, although George Dickel's own distillery (est. 1870) was a mile or so up and yonder from the current site, closer to Cascade Springs that provided the water. What for a while was the state's largest distillery had to close in 1911 (Tennessee was ahead of the national Prohibition curve), and when Schenley Distillers Corp., which owned the Dickel name (and, reportedly, the Dickel recipe and even yeast strains), decided to reopen it in 1958, they picked the current site (though they still use water from Cascade Springs).

When I arrived, on a sunny Friday morning just after 9:30, I was the only visitor. The tour guide on duty pointed me to an olde tyme rocking chair, where I watched a short video about the history of the distillery and what makes Dickel different from other sippin' whiskies. (You can watch it, too! "George Dickel - The Man & His Vision" is on this web page, along with a lot more information about the distillery than you'll read in my post.)

By 10 a.m., I was still the only visitor, so I got a private tour. (In fact, the tourist was outnumbered by the guides, since we were joined by a tour guide trainee.)

Getting a private tour was nice, since I got to ask any question that occurred to me, when it occurred to me. The downside was a certain awkwardness when some bit of tour guide schtick called for an appreciative murmur from the tourists and all I could muster was a nod and a smile.

The George Dickel Distillery. Rickhouse is back up the hill a ways. Bottling facility is past that, about 300 miles.
Now, I did not take notes, and most of the numbers were lost on me as soon as they were spoken, but the general process for making George Dickel Tennessee Sour Mash Whisky is this: Using a mashbill of 84% corn, 8% rye, and 8% malted barley, the grains are ground, cooked, and fermented in the usual sort of way. Then the wash is distilled in a column still, with the resulting low wines distilled a second time in a pot still.

Next comes the step that Dickel says makes a whiskey Dickel: chill filtering. Yes, I know chill filtering is supposed to be naughty, but as the story goes,"George A. Dickel discovered that whisky made during the winter was smoother than whisky made in the summer. So, George Dickel is the only Tennessee whisky to chill the whisky [to 40 deg F] before it goes into the charcoal mellow-ing vats. This filters out the oils and fatty acids inherent in most whisky products."

The charcoal is made by bonfire in a field across the road, up from the visitor center, then ground into pellets and packed in a vat between perforated steel plates and wool blankets. The chilled whiskey takes a week or ten days to filter through, after which it's barreled and taken up a side road to the warehouses.

The warehouses (single story, and no, they don't rotate the barrels around) are not part of the tour, though they've redone part of their old bottling building as a mockup of a warehouse. This, apparently, is ideal for pictures, which I learned when I was told that they'd take my picture standing in front of the empty barrels if I wanted. I didn't want to hurt anyone's feelings, so I said yes please. That's why I have a picture of me standing in front of empty barrels. I suppose this is a variant of, "Do you want a picture of yourself standing in front of the still?" which I've been asked at a couple of microdistilleries. (And I don't, particularly; they aren't my stills.)

I mentioned their old bottle building. They don't have a new one, for reasons of economics. Though their Tennessee Whisky is all distilled, aged, and blended in Cascade Hollow, not a drop of it is bottled there. It's all loaded into tankers and shipped to an out-of-state bottling plant; currently they're using one in Indiana. (If you're driving between Tullahoma and Indianapolis and you see a milk truck with a "FLAMMABLE" sign, make friends with the driver.)

The worst part of the tour was the walk (in beautiful sunshine) back to the visitor center. Worst because of what we passed on the way. Of all sad words of tongue or pen, surely, "And our brand new tasting house should be open in a few weeks," is in the top ten.

Even the camera phone had something in its eye.
To take my mind off that, my guide pointed out a couple of blackened trees right next to the distillery's exhaust vents (they've visible on the far right of the picture of the distillery). He gave me the helpful advice that, should I ever be tramping through the forests of Tennessee and come across trees covered in Baudonia fungus, I should hightail it out of there before the moonshiners return.

So, what about the whiskies? Well, there's Old No. 8, "the classic whisky that made George Dickel famous," blended from barrels aged six to eight years, give or take. No. 12 is bottled at 90 proof from, say, ten to twelve year old barrels. Barrel Select is a small-batch whiskey of ten or so barrels aged ten to twelve years.

And let's not forget Cascade Hollow, which I assume is their entry-level whiskey. I assume that, rather than assert it, because the tour guide forgot to mention that it existed. I'm not 100% sure it was for sale in their shop, and I didn't even realize they still made it until I saw it on their website.

We did get to chat about the new George Dickel rye, which I think was just released in December. Turns out it's a 95% rye distilled in Lawrenceburg, Indiana -- stop me if you've heard this one. Still, their position is that it's a bona fide Dickel whiskey because it's chill filtered. I suppose the truth is in the taste.

Speaking of taste, as intimated above, I didn't get a chance -- though I do have a tweet from last year, when I bought a No. 8 miniature and tried it in a plastic cup in a hotel room one night: "green apple gives way to caramel on the nose, woody corn w/ light mouthfeel.Touch of charcoal in finish. Is its own TN whisky." That last bit meaning, of course, that they aren't trying to copy Jack Daniel's.

UPDATE: Can a visitors center, a movie, a tour guide, and a website all lie about George Dickel's actual involvement in distilling whiskey? Yes.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

The Mild Rover

A few weeks back, my wife told me she and our younger son were going away for the weekend.

Now, a weekend to myself -- where I can go and do whatever fool thing strikes my fancy, without risking the need to explain why on earth I'd want to do it -- is a rare treat. (Strictly speaking, it wasn't a weekend to myself, as our older son would be around. But having a high school senior is sort of like having a cat; once he's fed and watered, you don't see much of him, and if he does get out of the house you just need to make sure he gets back inside before you go to bed.)

Naturally, I began asking myself, "What will I drink, and where will I drink it?" Which is to say, "Beer or Whiskey?" and "North toward Baltimore or south toward Washington?"

As questions go, neither of these is particularly vexing, but the answers do make for a very different afternoon.

Beer or Whiskey?

Life is hard enough without making it worse with false dilemmas. There are at least three bars within easy driving distance of me (I really mean easy driving home distance; these days I'm no't so much buzzed after a few drinks as ready for a nap after two) whose owners are big fans of both craft beer and good whiskey.

But if I'm set on beer and I have all day, I'm going to head to one of the many taphouses and beer pubs I've heard about but never been in. And if it's whiskey, well, I've got a list of untried bars for that, too.

North or South?

I live about six miles north of Washington, but I cross the border so rarely I always feel like Lord Emsworth coming to London from Market Blandings. Once resolved to go there, of course, the whole city is open to me, including a number of good microbreweries, at least one world-class whiskey bar -- oh, and they have liquor stores there, too, with different and broader selections than I usually see out in the provinces.

This also puts me about 35 miles from downtown Baltimore, with one or two pockets of civilization on the way. A 70 or 80 mile round trip for a drink of something I can almost surely find within five miles of home is exactly the sort of thing bachelor Saturdays are made for.
It's funny because it's true. (Image from

In the Event

So what did I wind up doing?

Well, feeding a teenage boy isn't difficult, but it is time consuming, in the sense that you have to wait until noon for him to wake up. It was past one in the afternoon before I deposited him at his girlfriend's house, which brought me within a mile or so of the District. So I headed into DC, still without a plan but generally thinking whiskey, and I wound up taking the tour at New Columbia Distillers. (Their Green Hat gin is relatively light on the pine sap, though it is still, when you get down to it, gin. The real point is that they're planning on a Maryland-style rye in the foreseeable future.)

New Columbia Distillers' granary, mill, wash tuns, stills, bottling plant, tasting room, and visitor center.
Then I had a very pleasant couple of drinks at the Quarry House Tavern, a bar near my house that I've been to several times with my wife (and one of the places I mentioned above, where the owners like both beer and whiskey). It bills itself as "Silver Spring's favorite dive," all of which is true, but for some reason I hadn't thought of it when casting about for a place to order a fine whiskey.

How many whiskies costing more than $200 a pour do you suppose are down these steps?
Finally, I capped off the evening with a bourbon while watching no-name horror movies on Netflix with my son.

All in all, it was a great day.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

SMWSA Extravaganza, pt. 2: In good taste

Artist's conception.
I arrived at the JW Marriott in Washington, DC, fifteen minutes before registration was to open for the rescheduled 2012 Single Malt & Scotch Whisky Extravaganza on November 28. Looking around for a sign telling me where to go, I overheard a man saying something about "whisky" to a hotel employee. Well, a sign's a sign, and I resolved to follow him -- and then, like a white rabbit, he disappeared down a hole.

By which I mean he took an escalator down two or three levels to the bottom floor, with me right behind. There, I saw a line of well dressed middle aged men stretching the length of the atrium, and I figured I was where I was supposed to be.

A short while later, the doors opened and I made my way to the registration table. There, I was handed an Extravaganza guide, a Robb Report (perhaps they thought I was someone else), and a poker chip good for two cigars, and allowed to pick up a tasting glass and head into the Extravaganza.

It goes with everything.
Tables for the different distilleries and distributors lined three of the walls of the ballroom; the fourth wall held the buffet, and in the middle were tables for dining, schmoozing, and reconnoitering. Naturally, the tables right by the entrance were swamped by attendees, so, figuring I'd have plenty of time to make a full circuit, I wandered counterclockwise until I came to a table with only one or two tasters..

This table, I was delighted to realize, was Laphroaig's. It struck me as a comfortable, even homey place to start.

It wasn't till after I had a wee dram of the 10 yo that it occurred to me that Islay is where you should end an evening of Scotch tasting, not start one. On the other hand, with my palate phenolized, I wouldn't feel bad if I weren't able to tease out the dates and the figs in some fine Speysides.

Start on the left, and work your way across.
The basic process of an Extravaganza is to walk up to a table and ask for whatever pour you'd like. (The advanced process, I suspect, is to walk up to a table and tell them Stewart (or whoever) said you should ask about the, you know, special pour, but I'm not an advanced Extravaganzer.) The choice is simpler at some tables than others; Diageo's table, for example, had about twenty bottles lined up, from most or all of their dozen Classic Malts whiskies.

Objects may be less blurry than they appear.
For me, the highlight was definitely the independent bottlers; in particular, a Provenance Inchgower 12, a Classic Cask Highland Park, and the Scotch Malt Whisky Society's Auchentoshan and Jura. This was a bit of a surprise for me, since at the other Extravanganza I attended, my least favorite whisky by far was a medicinal SMWS 30 yo. It's also a bit of a bummer, because suburban Maryland is not a major market for independent Scotch whisky bottlers; heck, it's hard enough to find something like Laphroaig Triple Wood in these parts.

Tasting notes. No mention of figs or dates.
Through the evening, I tasted as many whiskies as I could without rushing; my notes, verbatim from my notebook, are given below.
  • Laphroaig 10 yo: Do not start a tasting night w/ Laphroaig 10
  • Laphroaig 18 yo: milder than the 10 [yo] peatwise, more like Scotch
  • Laphroaig Triple Wood: curious
  • Glenkinche 12 yo: very light
  • Auchroisk 20: for Dewars; strong; 58% [abv]; pleasant
  • Lagavulin 16: a little phenol
  • Caol Ila: nothing much
  • Bowmore 12: like spring water
  • Bowmore 18: sourness
  • Auchentoshan Classic: v. sweet nose, artificial candy, floral (?) palate
  • Auchentoshan Triple Wood: richer; leaves sweet[ness of the Classic expression] behind; plastic?
  • Aberfeldy 12: v. nice
  • Aberfeldy 21: spirity, smooth, not at all too old
  • Provenance Inchgower 12: excellent!
  • Classic Cask Aberlour 12: No.
  • Classic Cask Highland Park 12: sweet nose; this is Scotch!
  • Classic Cask 35 yo blend: meh
  • SMWS Auchentoshan: v. pleasant
  • SMWS Jura 21: savory
  • SMWS Glen Elgin: burnt fireworks
  • SMWS Campbeltown: touch of sulfur
  • SMWS Ardbeg: All peaks, no valleys
  • Glenmorangie Original: nothing
  • Glenmorangie Lasagna [Lasanta]: Nothing. Can't possibly be "Lasagna."
  • Highland Park 15: nothing
  • Highland Park 18: nice
  • Knappogue Castle 12 yo: Savory, but tonight is Scotch
  • Dalwhinnie 15: pretty good

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Taking stock of the new year

I thought it would be a good idea for me to look through my liquor cabinet (and the overflow table on the other side of the room) to see what I have on hand by way of whiskey. A record will remind me of what I have (and therefore do and do not need next time I'm in a liquor store), and will also let whoever reads this know what kind of whiskey drinker I really am, when I'm not playing the "hints of white birch smoke and Javanese cardamom" know-it-all on the Internet.

And yes, of course, let me know when you can stop by for something to wash the dust from your throat.

Other American Whiskies
  • Glacier Distilling North Fork - unopened (375 ml) 
  • Roughstock Montana Pure Malt Whisky - 200 ml (transferred to a portable bottle from a summertime purchase)
Canadian Whiskies
Irish Whiskey
Single Malt Scotches
 Blended Malt Scotch
Blended Scotch
  • None!
Unaged Whiskies
  • Virginia Lightning Corn Whiskey - almost gone (and there ain't no more, I don't think, having given way to Original Moonshine)
  • Bunratty Potcheen - 1/3 full
Miniatures (including samples and infusions)
  1. The above list doesn't include the various infusions I have sloshing about in refilled bottles in the bottom of the cabinet. Not sure I know what all's in them anymore anyway.
  2. Here's the story of Black Maple Hill, if (like me) you didn't already know.
  3. Apparently, the reason I think I don't have any bourbon is because I haven't opened 3/4 of the bottles. Still, due to social media pressure I will probably buy Old Weller Antique 107 the next time I see it.
  4. I'm pretty well ryed up, though it's odd I don't have an everyday pour like Pikesville or Rittenhouse.
  5. Yes, a single open bottle each of Canadian and Irish whiskey pretty well fills the Canadian and Irish whiskey shaped holes, respectively, in my life. Would I like a Connemara or a Redbreast? Absolutely! Will I buy a bottle of either this year? Um...
  6. Eight bottle of single malt scotch, measured by shelf space, but only four measured by contents. I expect to finish all the "almost gone" and "mostly gone" bottles this year. How to restock? That's a big whiskey question for me this year.
  7. I used the last of my Famous Grouse for an ill-starred attempt at a Hogmanay infusion (about which more later, probably). I'm not sure how much of an upgrade I'll go for. Something like a Dewar's 12 yo? Or maybe just another Famous Grouse or equivalent, since blended Scotches aren't a big deal for me?
  8. I am, as you might be able to tell, indiscriminate and unapologetic in my purchase of miniatures. But I see I've been hoarding the samples I received in 2012, a bad habit I resolve to break.

Friday, January 4, 2013

What you're saying with your drink choice

Keeping in mind that this is College Humor, these are pretty much true.

With a liberal arts education you won't learn about whiskey, you'll learn how to learn about whiskey.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

2012 Twitter Tasting Notes

In writing the "2012 Twitter Cocktails" post, I was reminded that, on January 1 2012, I tweeted:
My 2012 whiskey objective: Try 4 new whiskies (1 ea. rye, bourbon, scotch, & other) a month. Recommendations welcome.
The unwritten corollary was that I'd then post tasting notes for all of these on this blog.

While I certainly didn't keep to any sort of monthly plan, I may actually have come pretty close to the general goal of trying 48 new (to me) whiskies, of various types. On the other hand, I pretty much completely failed at blogging -- at all, much less tasting notes, with only three blog posts written in the last six months of 2012.

The good news is that a) my tasting notes are pretty lousy anyway; and b) I was able to harvest the following notes from Twitter (which may be lousy, but at least they're brief).

In no particular order, though I'll begin with my favorite (provided by someone who is much better at tasting whiskey than I am):

  • "Peppery, peaty, and gross" -- my wife the non-whiskey fan, on Ardbeg Corryvreckan's finish

  • Sent to store for white wine, managed taste of Corsair Artisan Triple Smoke & Virginia Distillery's Eades Double Malt. Both worth spending more time with.

  • Had some Angel's Envy at Jack Rose. Very nice, great finish; not as heavy as I'd expected from the sound of port barrel finishing.... I like it fine, it's just not as... I'll say, luxurious as I'd expected, given the story and marketing.

  • Paddleford Creek bourbon sweet and watery. Doesn't hold up well to chili.

  • EH Taylor dry spice and oak up front, sweeter notes follow.

  • Maker's 46 seems oakier, spicier than Maker's Mark. A wintertime Maker's, maybe.

  • Bit disappointed with Michter's US*1 bourbon. Okay, but unremarkable, particularly for the price. Should've gotten the rye.

  • A sip of Hancock's President's Reserve Bourbon for a nightcap. Sweet & fruity, with a bit of spice.

  • The closer I get to finishing the bottle of Springbank 10 yo, the more I like it.

  • Tasting the Catoctin Creek Roundstone Rye Cask Strength (58% abv). Extra punch adds a lot to the young (~9 mos.) Roundstone. (Lagniappe: Pearousia pear brandy: young, almost newmake fruitiness on nose. Creamy palate, dry finish.)

  • Winner of a mini-tasting at Balcones Baby Blue Corn Whiskey. A young nose but a developed flavor.

  • Had a glass of Headframe Neversweat bourbon the other night. Sort of a perfumy off-note. Could probably stand more barrel time.

  • Have to say this Montana Whiskey pure malt is leagues better than what I had 2 years ago. "It's from Montana" is now a fact, not an excuse.

  • Time to fly at the Judge's Bench. Going with the T's today: Tobermory 10 yo, Tomatin 18 yo, Tomintoul 16 yo, Tullibardine 16 yo. Tomatin knows what they're doing over there, but of the four, Tomintoul 16 yo was my favorite. Today.
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  • I did like that taste of Wasmund's Copper Fox rye. A touch of smoke and 33% malted barley in the mash bill gives a nod across the pond.

  • Liked Glacier's Glacier Dew, loved the North Fork Flood Stage. (And slivovitz!)

  • Spicebox Canadian Whisky: Not bad at all, but I thought it tasted more like a whiskey-based liqueur than a spiced up whiskey.

  • Arbeg Day 2012: A salty syrup, that (like a basalmic vinegar) somehow isn't sweet, and turns into an Ardbeg after several moments.

  • Holy smokes, Bully Boy white whiskey drinks smooth! It'd be dangerous stuff with a tall glass of ice on a hot afternoon.

  • Singleton 10 yo: Vanilla crackers, sweet and sippable, hint of ash in the finish.

  • Cragganmore 12: very sharp nose, much mellower on the palate. On the whole, a pleasant way to transition to evening. A bit of vinegar for that aperativo touch. Nose settles down after 10 minutes.

  • Longmorn 16 yo: Nothing special. Would've pegged it as an unremarkable 10-12 yo.
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  • Forty Creek Barrel Select: nose springtime forest, sweet palate w/ sourness that says it's not trying to copy any American style.

  • I will say this for the hotel's selection of complimentary cocktails: I don't think I'd've ever tried Kentucky Tavern bourbon otherwise.

  • Highland Park 12: It's no Kentucky Tavern. But then, what is?

  • Dickel No. 8 green apple gives way to caramel on the nose, woody corn w/ light mouthfeel.Touch of charcoal in finish. Is its own TN whisky.
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  • Old Crow motto should be, "You want a bourbon? Fine." Not to be confused with, "You want a fine bourbon."

  • Michel Couvreur Overaged: Lots of fruit and sweetness. Finer palates say layered; hits mine as a bit muddled.

  • Hans Reisetbauer 7 yo: A young malt whisky that tastes like it was made by an Austrian brandy distiller.

  • Yamazaki 12 yo: a very drinkable malt. Just wish some of the sushi restaurants around me carried Japanese whiskies.

  • Rasputin hopped whiskey from Corsair Artisan isn't my thing. At all. But I love the experimental spirit behind it.

  • A quick tasting of Koval whiskies. Favorite probably the oat whiskey. Don't care for the 47th Ward; I like smoke but not soot. Koval Raksi Millet White Whiskey: v. fruity, almost like a tequila; curious what aging does to it (Lion's Pride Millet).

  • Tried Connemara last night. Peat smoke and Irish whiskey, a great match. Like the fluffernutter of the brass rail.

  • I do believe I could drink a good amount of Powers Gold Label. An easy drinking, everyday Irish whiskey.

  • A Bulleit rye for dessert. Light mouthfeel but a lot of flavor & long finish.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

2012 Twitter Cocktails

I tweeted recipes for many of the cocktails I made in 2012, and since Twitter isn't a good place to archive and retrieve information, I've copied the tweets to this post (with some light editing and the occasional photo).

There's nothing too remarkable here, although the Spiced Scotch Mist (developed with Johanne McInnis (of @Whiskylassie and The Perfect Whisky Match) may be the most original:
  • Spiced Scotch Mist: 2 oz Compass  Box Spice Tree, 1 tbs yellow chartreuse, 1 tbs white creme de menthe. Stirred w/ ice, strained into cocktail glasses.(Could probably go 2 tsp on the creme de menthe.)

  • Mixed up a bright Weeski: 2 oz Irish whiskey, 1 oz Lillet, 1 tsp Cointreau, 2 dashes orange bitters.

  • White Manhattan (White Ennis?) made w/ 2 oz potcheen, 1 oz Lillet, 2 dashes orange bitters.

  • A Queen Anne: rye, dry vermouth, pineapple juice, peach bitters.
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  • An Old Pal: equal parts Catoctin Creek cask proof rye, Campari & dry vermouth). Cause why not?
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  • A little home-made cider and Michters bourbon. A great way to drink the cider, a terrible thing to do to the bourbon.

  • I am becoming a fan of adding a tablespoon of Chartreuse to a glass of bourbon.... I mean I've been playing w/ variations on the whiskey daisy cocktail.

  • Mock Sazerac: 2 oz rye, 1 tsp yellow Chartreuse, 2 tsp simple syrup, 2 dashes Peychaud's, lime twist.

  • Whisky/Sweet/Sour/Tea: 2 oz. scotch, 1.5 oz sweet tea, juice of 1/4 lime.

  • Autumn Manhattan: 2 oz Catoctin Creek rye, 1 oz Laird's applejack, 1 oz Martini Rosato vermouth, 2 dashes Angostura bitters.

  • The Anthony Quinn: 1.5 oz Irish whiskey, 1 oz tequila, juice of 1/4 lemon. Serve on the rocks, and pretend it's still summer.

  • Glacier Whiskey North Fork, ginger ale, and lemon was my wife's all-time favorite whiskey cocktail.

  • I just tried a float of sriracha powder on a splash of Laphroaig. Fun!(Sriracha powder made by dehydrating sriracha spread out on parchment paper or silicone baking mat in a 200 degF oven for 80 minutes.)

  • Boulevardier on the rocks, w/ Catoctin Creek rye, Campari, & Martini Rosato. Taste for bitter drinks not yet acquired. It sort of works-- the rye is young and fruity -- and then the lemon rind aftertaste washes through. I think next time I'll do 3:2:1, going light on the Campari, and shake the hell out of it.

  • Col. Palmer Swizzle: 1 pt simple syrup, 2 pt margarita mix, 3 pt bourbon, 4 pt black tea, swizzled w/ crushed ice. 

  • Little Italy: 2 oz 40 Creek Barrel Select, 1 oz Martini Rosato, 2 dashes Angostura bitters; shake,strain,&serve w/ lemon twist.
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  • Turns out Peychaud's bitters goes well with Bunratty potcheen (plus a splash of simple syrup and a few drops of lemon juice).

  • Saw a recipe for a "mint julep" that called for 1.5 oz Irish whiskey, 2 mint leaves, & 1/2 cup simple syrup. Don't try this at home.
  • In-season strawberries muddled w/ fresh lemon juice & simple syrup goes with most anything.

  • For a cool spring evening after a warm spring day, Irish whiskey & tea with a few drops of lemon juice. Room temp, the whiskey warms it up.

  • Wanted to make authentic Irish cocktails, but didn't have any bartender spit. Settled on P&Gs. 
  • Key lime marmalade, ginger beer, and Buffalo Trace. Nuke the marmalade for a few seconds to soften, then shake together hard.
I also mixed a few non-whiskey cocktails:
  • Put 1 oz each dark rum, applejack, cranberry syrup in mug. Top with hot water, add splash of grapefruit juice. #ThanksgivingToddy (Cranberry syrup: .5 cup water, .5 cup sugar, .25 cup cranberries. Microwave 2 min, let stand 5 min, strain & cool.)

  • A dram of Catoctin Creek Pearousia brandy, plus a tsp each yellow chartreuse and triple sec. Not sure how the hot peppers got in there.

  • Minted Pearousia: just stirred w/ muddled mint, agave nectar & ice, then strained.

  • Beezelnut Fizz: Sloop Betty vodka, blue Curacao, Frangelico, egg white. Happy Birthday, Dr. Seuss!
  • So the trick to an Old Fashioned with Peychaud's bitters is to use vodka. Which, okay, isn't much of an Old Fashioned, but so?