Thursday, March 24, 2011

Whisky review: Balblair 1991 Vintage

To learn more about Balblair, see my earlier review of the Balblair 1997 Vintage.

Like the 1997, the 1991 Vintage was also aged completely in ex-bourbon casks and bottled in 2009.

Balblair 1991 Vintage, 43% ABV
Single malt Scotch whisky (Highlands)

Nose: I'm struck by a juicy, ripe fruit bouquet. (And no, my wife isn't beating me with the groceries again.) Apples, peaches, syrup, pecan pie. Creamy, if a nose can be creamy. After a while, I also get cookie dough.

Palate: Lighter flavors than the nose would lead me to believe. Citrus and some toasty wood. The mouthfeel is great - nice weight and very smooth.

Finish: This whisky finishes with gusto. Gone are the light fruits and the lah-dee-dahs of the palate. Darker wood and darker fruits trail off gently...

Rating (of 100): 89. Just one point below the 1997! I guess this means the 1997 is a much better value, in my opinion. I feel like the '97 is true from start to finish, while this one is great in the beginning, loses it a bit in the middle, and then tries to make it up in the finale. Almost...but the tortoise wins the day.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Whisky review: Glenfiddich 12

Glenfiddich is the best-selling single malt in the world. It's made by the same company, William Grant & Sons, that makes The Balvenie and Grant's blended whisky. This was the first distillery we visited on our trip to Speyside in June, 2010, and I'm glad it wasn't the only one. Our tour guide was a summer intern, hired to give tours from a memorized script and with little other knowledge about the place. The tour itself was fairly uneventful, and since it was my first distillery tour ever, I was full of questions that I had to save for another distillery.

I went away feeling like I probably got my $0 worth out of the tour, but barely.

Glenfiddich 12, 40% ABV
Single malt Scotch whisky (Speyside)

Nose: Like the bottle says, pear. Brown sugar. And maybe some earthier notes, like moss on a tree stump.

Palate: Definitely more fruit, including the pear from the nose, plus some wood, but with a rougher note always lingering. A bit of an edge to it.

Finish: Goes down a bit harshly and the aftertaste doesn't sit especially well with me - it's bitter and unkind. I'll just tell my wife she looks fat if I'm looking for that type of attitude!

Rating (of 100): 83. The nose is nice but it loses its way after that.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Whisky review: The Macallan 15 Year Fine Oak

The Macallan is another of the big Speyside distilleries, being the #3 single malt in the United States (behind The Glenlivet and Glenfiddich, as of 2006, with 0.2% of the U.S. whisk(e)y market share). It has traditionally been known for its production of ex-sherry oak-aged whisky, but in 2004 started a new line called The Macallan Fine Oak, in which the whiskies are matured in a combination of ex-sherry and ex-bourbon casks. As the guy at the distillery confirmed when we visited in 2010, this move to partial bourbon aging was done mainly because sherry casks cost a lot (~10X) more than bourbon barrels.

The Macallan 15 Year Fine Oak, 43% ABV
Single malt Scotch whisky (Speyside)

Nose: Toffee, brown sugar, roasted malt, and a hint of green apple.

Palate: Sherry undertones coated with some honey and vanilla. Light fruits. The sherry still stands out for me, though it is definitely muted in comparison to the Macallan Sherry Oak whiskies.

Finish: Sherry and toasted wood.

Rating (of 100): 88. A bit too sweet and sherry-dominated for my likes; I'd like to see better integration between the sherry and bourbon casks. The nose is the winner on this one. Even though I just (about 30 minutes ago) sampled the Glenlivet 12, which is also sweet, I feel like this one is cloyingly so.

Whisky review: The Glenlivet 12

The Glenlivet is one of the most well-known Scotch whisky distilleries. It is the best-selling single malt scotch in the United States and is also the first distillery in Glenlivet (the area around the River Livet) to have been licensed to produce Scotch whisky after the Excise Act of 1823 made it possible to profitably and legally distill whisky in Scotland.

Even though it's the best-selling single malt in the U.S., as of 2006, it only made up 0.5% of the American whisk(e)y market by volume. (By contrast, Jack Daniel's Tennessee Whiskey made up 10.2%.) So there's some room to grow.

The Glenlivet 12, 40% ABV
Single malt Scotch whisky (Speyside)

Nose: Very floral and sweet, with some malt and toasted almonds.

Palate: Butterscotch, rose petals, and more roasted nuts, all with a velvety mouthfeel. Superb.

Finish: Relaxing and lulling. Roasted malt. Just removes all the cares from my body.

Rating (of 100): 93. I'm not sure what it is tonight, but I'm loving this whisky. I've had it many times before, but I guess I never really paid attention to all that's going on. It's somewhat simple - a sweet malt that would not disagree with anyone. But on another level, it's an old friend you're happy to see and happy to spend the evening with in conversation.

The Glenlivet is one of those malts that "connoisseurs" are not supposed to like. It's mainstream. It's mass-marketed. And it's put in mixed drinks. But damn it, I like it. Maybe I'm not a connoisseur (and I never thought I was, so that's fine). But as I've said all along, that's the beauty of whisky. You can like whatever you like, and that's ok, no matter what it is.

I've organized tastings of The Glenlivet for my grad school classmates at MIT several times but this is the first time I have really tasted this malt. It was given to me as a gift by a friend who didn't know much about whisky but knew that I liked whisky, so she picked this bottle. It was a great pick, and it can be found in pretty much any bar and any retailer across the U.S. And for good reason - it's an outstanding product.

Drink up and enjoy.

Glenfarclas tasting and dinner

I wanted to put this out there for anyone who is seriously interested in Glenfarclas whisky, or who would like the chance to experience some once-in-a-lifetime scotch samples. Joe Howell from Federal Wine and Spirits in Boston is putting on a Glenfarclas tasting and dinner on Monday, March 14th at Ruth's Chris Steak House in Boston. I've pasted the info below. The cost is $194.99, all inclusive.

While it's pricey, consider that you get a dinner at Ruth's Chris (probably about a $70 value), a bottle of Glenfarclas 17 (~$80 value), and the chance to try some really freaking old whiskies that you will never taste anywhere else. Just a sample of the Glenfarclas 1953 itself is worth the price of the whole event...

I won't be there because I'm coming back from some travel that day, but if you end up going, let me know what you thought. Wish I could make it.

From Joe:

This year Glenfarclas is celebrating its 175th anniversary. For the occasion, we've invited George Grant, director of sales for this Icon of Whisky, to host a whisky dinner at Ruth's Chris Steakhouse on Monday, March 14th. Glenfarclas is one of the last family-owned distilleries in Scotland, going strong for six generations, and we'’re honored to have a member of the family celebrate this momentous achievment with us. We'’ll honor this occasion by tasting some 235 years worth of whisky; what a country! Those lucky enough to attend will be treated to a three-course dinner, end up with a bottle of the Glenfarclas 17 Y.O. signed by Mr. Grant, and will likely hear some great stories. Seating is very limited! Those interested should contact us ASAP (617-367-8605) to reserve a spot. This opportunity is not to be missed; if you've any interest in attending don't hesitate to reserve your place with us that evening or you'’ll surely regret it.

The event will start at 7:30PM at Ruth's Chris Steak House in Boston (45 School St., between Park Street and State Street).

We’'ll taste the following whiskies:

Glenfarclas 1953 45.8% This 54 Y.O. has elegance and finesse. Just precious!!!

Glenfarclas 40 Y.O. 46% Single Malt Scotch Whisky of The Year 2010 from Malt Advocate!!!!

Glenfarclas 1968 35 Y.O. 43% This was Import Whisky of The Year in Malt Advocate a few years back!! Long sold out!!

Glenfarclas 1974 31 Y.O. Cask Strength 57.4% George Grant said this was bottled because I was hounding him for an older cask strength of some 30+ years.
You can add as much water as you like to this one, it swims well!!! This one is also long sold out!

Glenfarclas 25 Y.O 43%

Glenfarclas 21 Y.O. 43%

Glenfarclas 17 Y.O. 43%

Glenfarclas 12 Y.O. 43%

We'’ll also be treated to the following meal:


Veal Osso Buco Ravioli

Steak Two Ways ~ Bleu Cheese Crust & Au Poivre Sauce

Mashed Potatoes

Chocolate Sin Cake

Um, ok...

A while ago, I'd heard about a whisky tasting event in Las Vegas that was charging something like $500/person and was supposed to be a ritzy affair (obviously). I just stumbled onto the website for this event, which is being held in a few weeks at the Wynn hotel. It's clumsily called the "Nth 2011 Show" and does indeed cost $525/person.

But what do you get for this small fortune? One of the perks is the chance to try a "Super Pour," a whisky pour that is supposed to retail over $300 (for the pour, not the bottle), and the list of pours can be found here. Some of these whiskies, however, definitely do not retail at over $300 per pour. The Gordon & MacPhail Strathisla 1963 costs a couple hundred a bottle. The Laphroaig 21 will run you $500 at the New Hampshire Liquor Store. The Yamazaki 1984 retails around $600/bottle, and most bars don't charge half the bottle price for a single pour.

So I guess I'm not too impressed with this marketing, though they do have some awesome bottles listed there that I would love to try. I'd like to see what else they're pouring, though, as I have a feeling it's not much more special than what's poured at most other events. But I guess some people just have money to burn.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Whisky review: Compass Box Peat Monster

Two whisky reviews in one day? You know how I roll.

Compass Box is a whisky blending shop started by John Glaser, a Minnesotan who worked for Diageo until he decided to have a go at making whisky himself. The Peat Monster is a blend of Caol Ila, Ardmore, and Laphroaig single malts, all between 10 and 16 years old and aged in first-fill American oak casks.

Compass Box Peat Monster, 46% ABV
Blended malt Scotch whisky

Nose: Peat and tar. Wet hay.

Palate: Light at first, then some peat and smoke coming on. A bit of sweetness in the background that just kind of hangs around.

Finish: Sugary peat.

Rating (of 100): 86. I feel like there's a lot of peat but not a lot of backbone here. Good thing I'm a peat freak.

Whisky review: Jameson Irish Whiskey

While most folks would likely dismiss Jameson as a whiskey for getting trashed on St. Patrick's Day and pretty much any other day, I prefer to give every whisk(e)y a fighting chance. If you've ever tried any of the premium Jameson expressions (12 Year, 18 Year, Gold Reserve, or Rarest Vintage Reserve), you're probably aware of the great potential of this whiskey.

Made at the same distillery (New Midleton) that produces Redbreast, Powers, and Tullamore Dew, this is the whiskey most folks will mention if you ask them to name an Irish whiskey. Well, they'll either say Jameson, or they'll say something incoherent and fall off their barstool.

Jameson Irish Whiskey, 40% ABV

Nose: Nice light fruit (lemon, under-ripe strawberries) and a little bit of something like wax.

Palate: Light again, with some honey and fruit (green apples, more lemon). Very smooth and clean mouthfeel.

Finish: A bit more weight here, with a lingering warmth. Some wood.

Rating (of 100): 82. Straightforward, easy-drinking blend. If absolutely required or even mildly prodded, I could probably chug this like Gatorade.

Recap: Ivy+ Fine Spirits Showcase

WOW. We had a lot of people show up for the first-ever Ivy+ Fine Spirits Showcase. The official count was 755 attendees, plus about 60 presenters at 30 tables. With over 200 fine spirits being poured, it was hard not to find something to love!

Our thanks to the attendees, presenters, and volunteers for a great event, and to the MIT Club of Boston and Glencairn Crystal for sponsoring.

Below are some pictures from the Showcase!

The event's presenters were kept busy and poured some great spirits.

Turns out people like this stuff.

Dan Mucciolo from Moet Hennessy USA poses with Kevin and Eileen before the event.

Kevin gets a quick pic with Simon Brooking, Brand Ambassador for Laphroaig and Ardmore.

Gardner Dunn from Suntory (Yamazaki and Hibiki Japanese whiskies) pours a dram for a lucky attendee.

Kevin and his good whisky friend, Brian Johnson from InterBev.

If you didn't attend the Showcase this year, we're planning to do it again next year, so stay tuned!