Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Tokyo whisky guide

When we were traveling in Scotland back in June, we sampled some great whiskies in the Highlander bar in Speyside. Although the Japanese are a late comer to whiskey making, they nevertheless produce some fantastic whiskies.

The New York Times featured a great set of recommendations on whiskey bars in Tokyo over the past weekend.

Link to article

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Whisky review: Aberlour A'bunadh, Batch No. 29

"A'bunadh" is Gaelic for "the origin," referring to the way in which this whisky is supposed to represent a bygone style. The story is that workers at the Aberlour distillery found a very old bottle of Aberlour whisky in the walls of a building they were renovating and they wanted to recreate the style of that whisky. A'bunadh is the distillery's attempt to do so.

My wife and I toured Aberlour in June of 2010 when we took our grand tour of Speyside. It was our favorite distillery tour of the five we took - it turned out that our tour guide, Chris Brousseau, had gone to whisky school at Bruichladdich with another friend of mine, Joe Howell from Federal Wine and Spirits in Boston. Well, Chris and I were buddies from the start. I found out that he had moved to Scotland from Canada with his wife in order to pursue his love of Scotch whisky. Sláinte to that! He also had a great sense of humor and a wealth of interesting knowledge about Aberlour and Scotch whisky in general.

I even got to do a personalized bottling of a 15-year cask strength sherried Aberlour (for a price). Haven't cracked it yet and not sure I ever will.

Ok, down to the tasting. The A'bunadh is matured exclusively in sherry casks, unlike the Aberlour 12 and 16, which are "double cask" matured in both bourbon and sherry casks. A'bunadh is also cask strength and not chillfiltered, giving it quite the kick.

Aberlour A'bunadh Batch No. 29, 59.9% ABV
Single malt Scotch whisky (Speyside)

Appearance: Reddish-brown

Nose: Silky-soft after getting past the nose-hair-scorching alcohol content. Cashews, plums. Sweet leather. Maybe some pipe tobacco. I think I can taste it without even putting it in my mouth. Quite the thick nose.

Palate: A lot of bright, ripe fruit and spices - citrus, blackberries, cinnamon sticks. Rum. The high alcohol content makes it prickly.

Finish: Cherry cough syrup-ish. Not especially long or complex.

Rating (of 100): 84. Great nose, palate is good, but the finish is too sweet and one-dimensional for my likes.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Scotch Whisky Dinner!

If you're an MIT alum or current student, I invite you to come to the Single Malt Scotch Whisky Dinner, sponsored by the MIT Club of Boston, at Om Restaurant in Harvard Square. It'll be a three-course meal, with two scotch cocktails and three very nice single malts and a live tasting led by yours truly (as well as a distributor friend of mine). We've gotten a really good price on it - it's $60/person for Club members ($65 for non-members) and includes tax and tip, which is about what you would normally pay just for the drinks...

Let me know
if you have questions. There will be at least one vegetarian option available for dinner, which you order at the event.

Hope to see you there...

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Biofuel from Scotch whisky

Now you AND your car can enjoy a nice dram. Take one for the road.

Here's a video for the attention-impaired. Listen around the 0:40 mark when the boom mic apparently falls off in the reporter's hand...as he's holding it for the rest of the interview.

Also, draff is from the mashing, not the malting. And the butanol doesn't drive your car, it powers your car. Nice job.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Whisky review: AnCnoc 16

The older sibling to the 12 I just reviewed, but bottled at 46% (the 12 is 43%). It's interesting - on the label for the 16, it states twice that it was matured in bourbon barrels, but the 12 doesn't say anything about maturation. Maybe they figure the drinkers of the 16 care about how it matured, while drinkers of the 12 are just your run-of-the-mill throw-it-down sloshes.

Nose: Flowers and pears. A hint of cashews? I think I can smell some bourbon in there.

Palate: Toffee, vanilla, honey. Pretty much sweetness all around.

Finish: Changes a bit to reveal something darker and juicier, almost like it's been sherried (but it hasn't). I like it. Definitely a warming finish to be remembered.

Rating (of 100): 86. The finish is the best part. I'm sure it would be ranked much more highly if I were personally a huge fan of sweet whiskies.

Whisky review: AnCnoc 12

AnCnoc is the strangely-written name (pronounced "ah-nock") for the single malt produced by the Knockdhu distillery in Speyside. They changed the name of the malt from just "Knockdhu" because they were tired of people confusing it with Knockando, another Speyside distillery.

I just wonder how they picked a name that nobody can pronounce without hearing it first, and one that looks strange in writing. Well, I guess they wanted to be original, so why not go all out.

Nose: Nicely floral. Young red apples, citrus. A very fragrant, light nose.

Palate: Flowers, apricots, more apples...with a backbone of something hard like granite.

Finish: A little maritime-y? Relatively dry, but lingers a while. An interesting finish that's quite different from the nose, in a good way.

Rating (of 100): 92. This whisky tastes young but still complex. I had high expectations from the nose and it did not disappoint. It leads you to believe it'll be soft and cuddly, but then the teddy bear has claws. Very cool.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Whiskey review: Bushmills 16

This is my first review for an Irish whiskey, but I'm not going to go any easier on them just because they don't distill as much whiskey as Scotland does.

This whiskey has been aged in American bourbon barrels as well as oloroso sherry casks, and then finished in port pipes. It's a single malt as well.

Nose: Mandarin oranges, plums. Cherries. Raisins and dates. There is just a lot of excellent fruit in this nose. Reminds me of walking through a farmer's market in the summer. I could smell it forever.

Palate: More cherries, plums (perhaps a bit underripe?). Floral. Not quite as complex as the nose.

Finish: Plums all the way down; some port becomes evident after a few moments.

Rating (of 100): 89. The nose is awesome, but the whiskey becomes more and more straightforward as you progress through the tasting. Still, a dram I would happily drink on a regular basis.

MIT tasting: old and rare Scotch whiskies

I had a great time Wednesday night at the MIT old and rare Scotch whisky tasting, sponsored by the MIT Club of Boston. The event featured a tasting session led by Matt Chivian, a "keeper of the quaich" (scotch expert), and seven great whiskies by independent bottler Gordon & MacPhail.

The whiskies we tasted were:
  • Benromach 21 yr (a surprise malt)
  • Brora 24 yr
  • Port Ellen 27 yr
  • Old Pulteney 34 yr
  • Speymalt Macallan 35 yr
  • Strathisla 1963 44 yr
  • Glen Grant 1960 45 yr
If you're interested, keep your eyes open for another such event in November! (Send me an email if you want to be sure to get a notification when the registration link goes live.)

I'm very thankful the Club of Boston is sponsoring this event, as they have been awesome supporters of our fine spirits events on campus.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Talk about "old and rare"

Explorers found Scotch whisky trapped in the ice in Antarctica and finally managed to get it out...just to prepare to put it back again.

From what I know, the main person who will "analyze" the whisky is Whyte and Mackay Master Blender Richard Paterson, the same guy I mentioned a few blog posts ago. To be honest, I'm not sure why they really want to recreate this whisky. It was made at a time when the maturation's effects on whisky was not as well understood as it is today, and thus the whisky was probably not nearly as well-rounded and tasty as many on the market now. It's most likely for the hype, and to give Mr. Paterson something new to do.

Where to buy whiskey in the Boston area

There are numerous places in the Boston area to buy whiskey, but I'll just list here the ones I like to use. If you find something else that suits you better, go nuts! I'll also list the people at each of these locations with whom you should speak if you stop in.

Atlas Liquors (3 locations: Medford, Quincy, and Roslindale)
Speak with Jeff Fine, the owner and resident whiskey aficionado

Federal Wine and Spirits (29 State Street, downtown Boston)
Talk to Joe Howell, their extraordinarily knowledgeable whiskey guy

Julio's Liquors (Westborough, MA)
Check in with Ryan Maloney, the owner and whiskey guy

New Hampshire Liquor Stores (Um, all over New Hampshire)
You can conveniently check their inventory and prices online to use as a benchmark for other retailers' prices

If you can't find something you're looking for at one of these locations, it's probably not for sale within hundreds of miles.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Whiskey vs. whisky vs. scotch vs. single malt

A lot of people are confused about what "whiskey" is and what "whisky" is...and for good reason. Why would you have two names for the same thing?

The short answer is that there is no good answer. That's the long answer too. But basically, here's the breakdown:

"whiskey" refers to American and Irish products
"whisky" refers to products from anywhere else (e.g. Scotland, Japan, New Zealand, etc.)

There are a few American distillers that use "whisky" instead of "whiskey" (such as Maker's Mark) but they are rare and should be scolded for going against the trend.

Another point that confuses people is the use of the word "whisky" versus the use of the word "scotch." First, let me point out that I've seen it both as "scotch" and "Scotch" and I've come to the conclusion that the best usage is a capital S when followed by the word "whisky" and a lowercase s when only using the word alone.

As for the actual difference, scotch is a type of whisky - it's whisky that is produced in Scotland, matured in oak casks for at least three years, and contains malt whisky (i.e. whisky distilled from a fermented mash of malted barley). There are a few other legal distinctions that you can read about here, but those are the main three.

And, finally, folks are often confused about what the term "single malt" means. Break this down into two parts - first, the word "single" refers to a single distillery. It is a product from only one distillery, not blended with whiskies made at any other distilleries. Second, "malt" means it is produced completely from malted barley (not, for example, corn, rye, or wheat). So the two words don't really have any relation to each other, but they just narrow the scope of what is in the bottle.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Dewar's has a new look

Dewar's revealed new packaging for its blended Scotch whisky collection. The collection includes Dewar's White Lable, Dewar's 12 Year Old, Dewar's 18 Year Old, and Dewar's Signature. The new design attempts to modernize Dewar's look and highlight craftsmanship through the use of vibrant colors and waves as well as a curved bottle shape.

Read more here.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Whisky review: Talisker 10

Talisker is the only distillery on the Isle of Skye, a rugged, mountainous, and beautiful island off the west coast of Scotland. It was on this island in the late 1800s that the liqueur Drambuie was developed, using Talisker malt whisky as its base. Drambuie is short for "An Dram Buidheach," Gaelic for "the drink that satisfies." It is only appropriate that it was originally constructed from one of the most prominent single malts of Scotland.

Talisker is a medium-peated malt, being not as peaty as some whiskies from Islay but definitely letting you know there is some smoke in the mix.

Nose: Sweet peat, light grasses/flowers, light fruit (peaches or apricots).

Palate: A light mouthfeel, but with flavors of smoked bacon, asphalt, and dark cherries.

Finish: Peat on the finish, lingering and leaving a little grittiness. Dark and relaxing.

Rating (of 100): 92. A great mix of peat and other stuff. 'Nuff said.

Upcoming event: Julio's sale

Just wanted to let you know that, this weekend (August 14th and 15th), Massachusetts is having a tax holiday, which means there will not be a 6.25% tax on alcohol purchased at package stores. So go ahead and drop those thousands of dollars you had been wanting to spend on whisky!

Actually, Julio's Liquors in Westborough is having a sale this weekend: 10% off spirits (750 mL or 1.75 L bottles only) in addition to the tax holiday. That actually does add up.

You'll see me there.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Whisky review: Glenkinchie 12

I'm typically not a big fan of whiskies from the Scottish Lowlands (which this whisky is) because they're a little too light. Auchentoshan, for example, is even triple distilled (the only scotch to be so) and thus is extremely light.

However, I have this bottle of Glenkinchie 12 left over from a tasting I led, so I thought I'd have a go at it. Here are the notes:

Nose: Grass or wet hay, honey. Some ripe banana.

Palate: Light wood. Under-ripe fruit (green grapes?).

Finish: More light wood, fairly short and dry finish.

Rating (of 100): 70. Overall, an awesome whisky if you have a cold, because the difference between not being able to taste it and being able to taste it is fairly minimal.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Whisky review: Gordon & MacPhail Imperial 15 Port Finish

This is whisky bottled by the independent bottler Gordon & MacPhail. These guys have been bottling single malt since your grandpappy was just a twinkle in some older dude's eye. They're generally credited with keeping the flame of single malts alive while nearly everyone else was going with blends. And I have to say they haven't lost their touch.

I went to a tasting in Providence back in January with a descendant of the first employee of G&M, Michael Urquhart. At the tasting, Michael showed us this whisky, and my wife and I immediately knew we wanted to buy it. At $90/bottle, that's not something we would usually jump into. But this whisky was just that good.

Nose: Juicy fruit mixed with slightly-burnt charcoal. A little floral, but also somewhat brooding. Very neat. And some chalk?

Palate: Some peat with the raisiny-sweet undertones afforded by the port. Thick and oily. Some salt in there too. Why not?

Finish: Clean and sweet, lingers forever in the back of my mouth and down my throat. No off-notes. Wow.

Rating (of 100): 96. I could see this being in my top 5 whiskies easily.

Hey, even Jim Murray doesn't have this in his Whisky Bible! Guess I have the market cornered on reviews for this whisky...

Whisky review: The Dalmore 12

The Dalmore 12 is half from bourbon casks and half from sherried casks. I read in a magazine recently that it used to be only 30% from sherry casks; at a recent tasting with Richard Paterson, the master blender for Whyte and Mackay (i.e. the guy who decides how the Dalmore is made), I asked him why he changed it. He said it was because they wanted to charge a higher price for the whisky and he thought that increasing the sherry content would justify the price increase. Not sure if I like the reasoning.

Another thing that didn't impress me too much is that the whisky from the "sherry" casks is actually just whisky finished in sherry casks. So it's actually whisky that was in bourbon casks for ~10 years and then put into sherry casks for the rest of the maturation, though the bottle doesn't mention that part (but Richard did). Seems a little deceptive to say it's from sherry casks when it's only finished in sherry casks.

Either way, this is a very well-done whisky that I would probably buy again. Here are my rudimentary notes:

Nose: Wow, just a lot going on here, all very nice. Sweet orange, cherry, peach, green apple, chocolate and toffee.

Palate: More fruit, oak. Not as full as the nose led me to believe it would be.

Finish: More oak; dry, but lingering and giving me some warmth.

Rating (of 100): 85. The nose is the best part.

Well, nobody said I was a poet. Keep an eye out for more tastings as I stumble through my personal collection and attempt to describe my perceptions using a third-grade vocabulary and tasting abilities to match.

Fine whisky: the risk manager

When people think of whisky, they normally think of guys in saloons throwing back shots of firewater, or kids getting wasted in someone's nasty basement. I'm hoping we can change this perception, one open-minded drinker at a time.

Whisky has, I think, gotten a bad rap because it's often portrayed in the media as being some kind of a hellish drink that's only good for killing brain cells. (See, for example, songs such as "Whiskey, You're the Devil" and "Whisky Lullaby.") While it has indeed been the downfall of many, so have other spirits. Why aren't we hearing songs about the terrors of gin? The only songs I know that reference it are Billy Joel's "Piano Man" and Snoop Dogg's "Gin and Juice." And I don't think Snoop is painting too bad a picture there.

If you're reading this blog, you're probably of the same mindset that I am - whisky can indeed be a crappy drink, but it can also be an amazing one that brings people together and provides a lot of enjoyment. It can be entertaining, community-building, and educational...not to mention really tasty.

I firmly believe that, by providing instruction about the finer parts of whisky, we are pulling people away from the thought that hard alcohol is something used to get drunk quickly. I know that people will take more time with a fine whisky once they appreciate it, and this will lead to a decreased rate of alcohol consumption and less risky behavior. A guy at a bar on a Friday night is, I believe, less likely to get rip-roaring drunk if he's sipping a nice single malt than if he's throwing down Long Island iced teas.

So I see our efforts to promote whisky as not only something that nurtures fun and relaxation, but something that also promotes risk management and gives folks more knowledge at home and at the bar so they can have a safe night and a good morning the next day.


Monday, August 2, 2010

First small-scale private event

Just did my first real private event this weekend! Bachelor party single malt scotch tasting for 7 people. Had a great time and we tasted some very nice whiskies. Congratulations to Richard and Whitney!