Monday, November 29, 2010

Whiskey review: Redbreast 12

Redbreast is made at New Midleton Distillery, the same distillery that makes Jameson and a bunch of other famous Irish whiskeys. Redbreast has the distinction of being "pure pot still," meaning it's made from a mash of malted and unmalted barley in a pot still, in the traditional Irish whiskey fashion.

Redbreast 12, 40% ABV

Pure pot still Irish whiskey

Appearance: Gold.

Nose: Sweet fruits, flowers.

Palate: Cherry? Juicy fruit, hint of sherry.

Finish: Fairly short and dry, some wood.

Rating (of 100): 84. Nice, but not anything too exciting.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Taking issue with this issue

I recently read in the December, 2010 issue (issue 90) of Whisky Magazine an article by Tim Forbes entitled, "New digital emperors." In the issue, Mr. Forbes states, "Your multi-million pound brand is at the mercy of a socially inept geek with a vicious inferiority complex." The article mostly says that there are a lot of tech-savvy whisky bloggers in the world who can get good Google page ranks, and that this can be bad because these people can overly criticize and subsequently destroy whisky brands.


This article could compete with the discharge coming out of the literary bowels of Fox News. Here are my reasons for completely dismissing this article:
  1. The curious masses don't just read a single blog and think the opinions stated there are the end-all opinions on whisky. I know I check a number of sources before potentially coming to a maybe-sort-of opinion about a whisky I've never actually tried myself. And I'm pretty sure that anyone who has a decent understanding of whisky would do the same. Even whisky novices would be smart enough not to only read one blog they found on Google and decide they hate a whisky they've never tried; if they're not smart enough to do this, they're also probably not smart enough to read in the first place.
  2. Big brands like The Macallan and The Glenlivet don't get brought down overnight by some dude with a blog - they have a global presence and a strong following, because they have good products. People with an obvious agenda against a brand will be viewed as fools, not as prophets.
  3. John Hansell over at Malt Advocate, for example, runs a great blog that is consistently top-rated in Google and I don't think he's just some socially inept geek with a vengeance. You have to be decently well-connected and respected to run a blog that people actually want to read, because you need access to the products and people that keep a blog interesting.
  4. A self-respecting blogger would not just rag on a brand for no good reason and expect people to keep listening.
  5. Please show me an example of a time when such a scenario has actually happened. The article makes no indication that this has any historical precedent. I believe this article is just wild speculation and should have been left on the editing room floor, or better yet, in the author's head.
I also viewed this article as a bit of an affront to people who are new to whisky and want to voice their opinions because they have a genuine interest in the products. You have to start somewhere, and I find this article to be a bit condescending toward those who want to get their foot in the door.

I personally took offense, too. I mean, I run a whisky blog and am not a socially inept geek with an inferiority complex. It's a superiority complex. Get it right.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Whisky review: Signatory Vintage Laphroaig 1999

This particular expression of Laphroaig was released by Signatory, an independent bottling company founded in 1988.  It was matured in a refill butt, which I assume means a refill sherry butt and not something slightly less dignified.  This means I would not expect a lot of sherry influence, since refilled casks lose the character of their original contents as they get used.

The whisky is seven years old and is bottle #343 of 778 from cask #2755.  Since it's a single cask bottling, this means there are only 777 other whiskies just like it in the world.  And, since my bottle is nearly empty, it's soon to be 776, at most.

Signatory Vintage Laphroaig, 46% ABV
Distilled 1999, 7 years old
Single malt Scotch whisky (Islay)

Appearance: White wine.

Nose: Peat, bacon.  Noses a bit like the Caol Ila 1978 25 yr.

Palate: Peat, some green veggies, more peat.  Coal.  Barbecue.  Lively and young, but deep with smoke and salt.

Finish: Peat, salt.  Very maritime-y.

Rating (of 100): 89.  Peat.  And other stuff.  But mostly peat.

Friday, November 19, 2010

MIT tasting: old and rare single malt Scotch whiskies

With the help of the MIT Club of Boston, we put on our second MIT scotch tasting of old and rare single malt Scotch whiskies last night. What a lineup! Over 240 total years of whisky maturation, with a selection of some of the finest single malts bottled by independent bottler Gordon & MacPhail. Thanks to Matt Chivian from Martignetti for leading through all eight whiskies, and to my personal friend Dave Russo for supplying an excellent bottle of Ardbeg 20.

Here's the lineup we tried ("yo" = years old):
  • Rosebank 1991 19 yo - A closed Lowlands distillery about which world-renowned whisky writer Jim Murray says: "If there is a God [it] will surely one day re-open."
  • Dallas Dhu 1982 24 yo - A closed Speyside distillery that is now a whisky museum.
  • Glenury Royal 1972 30 yo - A closed Highlands distillery that has long since been demolished.
  • Balblair 1966 37 yo - An acclaimed Highlands distillery that is producing very fine vintage whiskies today.
  • Glen Grant 1956 49 yo - The favorite whisky at our last Old and Rare tasting was a Glen Grant 1960 45 we're bringing in an even older one!
  • MacPhail's 50 yo - A half-century-old single malt from a "secret" Speyside distillery.
  • Surprise whisky - This turned out to be a Glen Grant 15 yo that only had ex-bourbon maturation, so it was in distinct contrast with the Glen Grant 49 yo!
  • Bonus whisky - Dave Russo supplied us with an Ardbeg 1974 20 yo that was a great complement to the evening, showing us the subtler side of peaty Islay whisky.
All in all, a great night, and I look forward to the next time we can do one of these...

Sunday, November 14, 2010

WhiskyFest New York 2010

Last Tuesday, November 9th, I was lucky enough to be able to partake in WhiskyFest New York, held at the Marriott Marquis Times Square hotel. I'm indebted to the folks from InterBev for getting me a ticket to the sold-out event.

Kevin with the InterBev angels, Brian Johnson and Sam Santos.

Besides being able to try pretty much every whisky under the sun, I think the main attraction for me was to meet a lot of the people I had previously only read about (or from): Evan Cattanach, the master distiller emeritus of seven Scotch whisky distilleries in the Diageo portfolio; John Hansell, the publisher and editor of Malt Advocate magazine and writer of; Lew Bryson, whisky writer and fellow Blogspot blogger; and Ethan Kelley, former beverage director at New York City's Brandy Library. I also got to catch up with other prominent industry folks I'd met before, like Richard Paterson, Simon Brooking, and Liza Weisstuch.

Kevin with three whisky magnates: Ethan Kelley (L), John Hansell, and a bottle of Old Pulteney 30.

The extra-fun part of it all was that I had to take the 10pm Chinatown bus back to Boston to make a meeting the next morning at 9:30. I made it, though I believe a few brain cells didn't. But it's all for a great cause!

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Whisky review: Laphroaig Quarter Cask

This bottling is from Laphroaig, one of the distilleries on Islay that prides itself on peaty expressions. This particular whisky has been aged in bourbon casks and then finished in quarter casks (which are about a quarter the size of a typical bourbon barrel, or around 10 gallons). Quarter casks are said to have been popular back in the 1800s because they were easier for pack animals to carry than a full cask. I like to think it was because you could polish off a quarter cask and still make it to work on time the next morning.

Since the quarter cask has more surface area per volume in contact with the spirit, it imparts greater flavor.

Laphroaig Quarter Cask, 48% ABV
Single malt Scotch whisky (Islay)

Appearance: Clear gold.

Nose: Peat, brine, barbecue.

Palate: Peat and smoke melting into some sweet vanilla.

Finish: Green grass or something else very vegetative. Lingering peat.

Rating (of 100): 88. It's like the suave cousin of the Laphroaig 10, though sometimes I prefer a little more brashness.