Monday, November 9, 2015

Getting back into the swing of things

Since we returned to the Boston area over a year ago, it's taken me a while to get back into whisky. First, there was the recovery from the punishing heat we endured in Arizona. Takes a while to get back into the warming effects of whisky after that. Then there were the headaches, which I think I've pinpointed as being due to a lack of proper hydration prior to consumption. I now gulp down two to three full glasses of water prior to any dramming.

Then there was just my general lack of ambition to restart what we had going in the 2010-2011 time frame. For anyone who attended our tastings, you probably remember that they were intimate, with Eileen and me doing all of the manual labor (setting up tables, pouring samples, putting out food and water, breaking down, and washing all the used glassware). Five years later, with a young child and a career, I'm too old for all that.

So I've gone looking for appropriate venues that can take some of the manual labor out of the equation, and have narrowed the field to a few front-runners. Keep your eyes peeled for some announcements, oh two readers of mine!

In the meantime, as I've been scouring the greater Boston area, I've run into some legendary characters from the world of whisk(e) this one, Dave Pickerell!

Just happened to meet Dave Pickerell at The Hawthorne Bar in Boston!
(Thanks to fellow MIT alum Jared Sadoian for connecting us.)

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Whisky Reviews: Lots o' Stuff

I've been to quite a few tastings over the past month or so and would like to make note of my samplings. The good news is that I'm getting more and more encouraged that there are still good values in the world of whisk(e)y. The bad news is that I enjoyed them so much that my notes were often indiscernible by the end of the night...

So here are some short notes about whiskies I've tried, keeping in mind that these were not especially controlled samplings and may be subject to change in future reviews!

All ratings are out of 100 and are the first number after the name of the whisky.

Maltman Mortlach 15 Year: 88. Bourbon cask maturation. Nice wood spice and vanilla.

Maltman Glentauchers 17 Year: 89. This is a distillery owned by Pernod Ricard and this malt goes into Chivas Regal. Bourbon cask maturation. Very clean, reminds me of the G&M Dallas Dhu 1984 from the 2010 time frame.

Maltman Ben Nevis 17 Year: 92. 16 years in bourbon then in fino sherry for the remaining year. Whoa. Syrup, leather, tobacco. Nose is a plum/sherry syrup.

Maltman Linkwood 18 Year: 91 at first tasting, 89 at second tasting (2 weeks later). Diageo distillery, most goes into blends. 17 years in bourbon oak and 1 year in port. Nose is candied. Palate is oily and full: leather, good deep dark fruit, hint of peatiness. Little too aggressive on the port.

Maltman Highland Park 11 Year: 87. Nice, clean, sweet peat.

Big Peat Blended Malt Whiskey: 90. Blend of Ardbeg, Caol Ila, Bowmore, and Port Ellen. Iodine and peat.

Big Peat Christmas: 89. Peat plus some earthiness.

Edradour Barolo Cask Finish: 87. Baking spices.

Oban Distiller's Edition (Montillo Fino Cask Finish): 86. Peat and dark fruit.

Arran Sauternes Finish: 89. Bright fruit.

Benriach Dark Rum Finish: 85. Tastes like fino sherry.

Gordon & MacPhail Caol Ila Vintage 2001 13 Year: 84. Peat and a hint of sweetness on finish.

Bruichladdich Scottish Barley: 85. American, European, and wine casks, 6-8 years old. Young, fresh wood. Honey and young fruits.

Bruichladdich Islay Barley: 81. Barley from Islay (Rockside Farm) - grew in peaty soil, ~6 years old. Peaty but not smoky. Not a lot else.

Bruichladdich Black Art: 76. American oak and wine oak, 23 years old. Very winey, kind of tart. Doesn't mesh well - tastes like alcoholic grape juice. Disappointing.

Port Charlotte Scottish Barley: 86. 40 ppm phenols, American oalk maturation, peated version of the Bruichladdich Scottish Barley, 6-8 years old. Smoke but relatively light. Like a Laphroaig but not as tarry.

Port Charlotte Islay Barley: 87. Barley from six farms, 6-8 years old, 40 ppm phenols. Really clear/clean whisky, feels peatier than Scottish barley.

Octomore Scottish Barley: 86. 167 ppm phenols, 5 years old, edition 6.1. Band-Aid nose, pickling palate. Tight. Water brings out honey.

Octomore Islay Barley: 90. 258 ppm phenols, 5 years old, edition 6.3, Octomore Farm barley and Octomore Spring water (quarter mile from distillery), casked at 67% ABV. Band-Aid nose again, but palate is fuller and more mature than the Scottish Barley. Chocolate and smoke. Not as good with water.

The Botanist Gin (not whisky!): Meh. It's gin.

Glenlivet Nadurra First Fill Selection: 90. Needs water, and with water it shows velvety leather, tobacco, and ripe fruit.

Jameson Cask Mates: 84.

Jameson Black Barrel: 88.

Old Malt Cask Cragganmore 21 Year (Loch & K(e)y bottling): 84.

Glendronach Tawny Port Cask 15 Year: 86. Weird integration.

Glendalough Irish Single Malt 13 Year: 88. Cinnamon!

Benromach 15 Year: 91 at first tasting, then 87 at second tasting. 80/20 bourbon/sherry maturation for 12 years, then 100% sherry for 3 years.

Gordon & MacPhail Glen Grant 1989 25 Year: 89. First fill bourbon cask.

anCnoc Cutter: 90. 20.5 ppm phenols.

anCnoc 24 Year: 92.

anCnoc 1975: 92.

Bird Dog Bourbon: 89.

Bird Dog Chocolate Flavored Whiskey: 88. Dessert!

Tamdhu 10 Year: 91. Great sherry maturation for this new release of what used to be a great value bottle...

Cutty Sark Prohibition: 88.

Dewars 18 Year: 90. Super smooth.

Forty Creek Copper Pot: 90. Bright, spice.

Forty Creek Double Barrel Reserve: 90.

Forty Creek Confederation Oak: 89.

Alberta Rye Dark Batch: 90.

Kavalan Single Malt: 88. Balanced.

WhistlePig Old World 12 Year: 94. Wow.

Balvenie Doublewood 17 Year: 89.

Glenfiddich 14 Year: 86.

Glen Garioch 1998 15 Year (Loch and K(e)y bottling): 90.

Glen Garioch Virgin Oak: 89.

Westland Single Malt: 86. 2.5-3 years old. Clean but not anything outstanding.

Westland Cask #266: 84. 2.5-3 years old. New American oak maturation. Has a bit of a bourbon profile.

Westland Sherry Wood: 88. 2.5-3 years old, 80% oloroso cask maturation, 20% Pedro Ximenez maturation. 80% pale malt, 20% of four other types of malt. Nose is definitely sugary: syrup and molasses. Palate is sherry but not as deep as I'd like...probably because the whisky is so young.

Westland Peated: 85. 2.5-3 years old, 55 ppm phenols before distillation, just uses pale malt bleneded with peated malt, ends around 20 ppm, peat from Higlands of Scotland. Tastes like an Ardmore with some hints of sweetness...but Ardmore is less than half the price.

Gordon & MacPhail Balblair 10 Year: 89. 2nd fill bourbon maturation.

Gordon & MacPhail Clynelish 11 Year: 89. Refill oloroso sherry maturation.

Benromach 10 Year: 88. 80/20 bourbon/sherry maturation for 9 years, then 100% sherry for 1 year.

Gordon & MacPhail Caol Ila 10 Year: 87.

Gordon & MacPhail Highland Park 15 Year: 90. 100% bourbon maturation. Unctuous.

Dad's Hat Rye (Gordon's Private Label): 86. Great nose, palate is nothing extraordinary.

WhistlePig Straight Rye (Gordon's Private Barrel): 88. Rye nose, flowery palate.

Knob Creek Bourbon (Gordon's Private Barrel): 90. Lots of spice and vanilla. Sweet but not cloying.

GlenDronach 2003 Pedro Ximenez Cask Strength, Single Cask (Gordon's Private Barrel): 93. Wow, sherry and deep darkness.

Hardy Cognac (not whisky!) Noces d'Or 50 Year: 91. Super smooth, deep fruit. Not too much life, though.

Plantation Rum (not whisky!) Stiggins' Fancy Pineapple: 87. Nice pineapple, not cloying.

Friday, October 9, 2015

Whisky Review: Wasmund's Rye Spirit

For an overview of Wasmund's, see this previous post.

This spirit is essentially new-make, being less than 30 days old when put into the bottle. It's made from two-thirds rye (malted? unmalted? a mix? we're not sure) and one-third hand-malted barley, where the malting was done with light smoke from 60% apple wood and 40% cherry wood.

Wasmund's Rye Spirit, 62% ABV
Essentially new-make spirit
Price range, 750 mL: $27-32

Nose: A bit of rye spice, plus young fruit and a whiff of malted barley.

Palate: Red apple with a toasty rye backbone.

Finish: Clean, bright fruit.

Rating (of 100): 83. Pretty straightforward (whaddya expect?) but nice overall. I think it's a bit of an improvement over the 100% malted barley spirit, though I won't be chasing either one down as long as I can get my hands on some really nice aged whisky for the same price.

Saturday, October 3, 2015

Whisky Review: Monkey Shoulder

Monkey Shoulder is named after the condition the distillery workers get from turning barley during the malting process. I guess the thought is that naming a whisky after a painful, chronic ailment is a good thing. This whisky is a blended malt Scotch whisky, meaning it's a mixture of various single malt whiskies. In this particular case, it's malt whiskies from the three Speyside malt distilleries owned by William Grant & Sons: Balvenie, Glenfiddich, and Kininvie.

I picked up a bottle after a bartender - sorry, mixologist - acquaintance said it is the #1 whisky he would recommend to someone new to whisky. He said it was very smooth. Let's see...

Monkey Shoulder Batch 27, 43% ABV
Blended Malt Scotch Whisky
Price range, 750 mL: $25-35

Nose: Honey, vanilla, and bright fruits.

Palate: Honey, vanilla, and bright fruits with a malty backbone.

Finish: Wood turning into some char; a bit harsh. Not really in keeping with the nose and palate, and turning into a not-so-nice experience after a while.

Rating (of 100): 80. Can't say this is a great introduction dram for the uninitiated, or even for the very-much-initiated. Probably best as a mixer, which is what I understand it's mainly used for anyway.

Friday, October 2, 2015

Whisky Review: Glenfarclas 15

This is a whisky a friend picked up for me at travel retail, the only place it's available. Glenfarclas is renowned for making great sherried whiskies at outstanding prices. They don't market heavily and their packaging is very simple; for example, their 40 Year Old is in the same style of bottle and tin as their 10 Year Old, and sells for about $600. Most companies would put a 40 Year Old in a diamond-encrusted crystal decanter hand-made by a eunuch at the top of Mt. Everest and price it so high that even the Queen of England would have to check her bank account balance before buying a bottle.

But I digress. Time to taste some whisky.

Glenfarclas 15 Year, 46% ABV
Single malt Scotch whisky (Speyside)
Price range, 750 mL: $90-100

Nose: Red Gushers fruit candy. Are those things still around? That is all I could think at first. It's just a really bright candied fruitiness - like barely-ripe raspberries, with a whiff of char or smoke.

Palate: A mix of plums and raspberries.

Finish: Wood and spice linger nicely.

Rating (of 100): 87. Not blowing my mind but also not a shabby dram. At least no diamonds were harmed in the making of this whisky.

Whiskey Review: Queen Jennie

This is a whiskey made in Madison, Wisconsin from 100% Wisconsin sorghum and aged in small charred oak barrels from Minnesota. Yeah. The distillery is Old Sugar Distillery, which I visited before this whiskey was being sold. It's great to see it on the market.

Queen Jennie Sorghum Whiskey, 40% ABV
100% Wisconsin Sorghum
Price range, 750 mL: $25-30

Nose: Peaches in syrup with toasted oak.

Palate: Super smooth and fairly thick mouthfeel. Sweet but not cloying: again with the syrup and wood.

Finish: Lingering spice, very clean especially considering the thickness on the palate. The finish is a little bourbon-y in the sweetness, vanilla, and char flavors.

Rating (of 100): 90. It's fairly straightforward but it just feels well-composed. It really is quite distinct from all other whiskeys/whiskies I've ever had.

Monday, July 27, 2015

Whiskey Review: Powers John's Lane 12 Year

This is one of very few Irish whiskey reviews on this blog, so let's hope it doesn't suck.

Whiskey is spelled with the "e" when it's from Ireland, for reasons that may or may not be attributable to drunkenness by those developing naming conventions. This is single pot still whiskey, also known as pure pot still whiskey, which means it was fermented from a mash of a combination of malted and unmalted barley and then triple-distilled in copper pot stills. It's a process unique to Ireland that is making a comeback: there were only two brands (Redbreast and Green Spot) that, until a few years ago, bore the single pot still distinction, but now you can find ten or more different bottlings in this style.

This particular whiskey is 12 years old, matured primarily in bourbon casks with a little maturation in sherry casks (percentages/durations undisclosed). It's supposed to be reminiscent of how the whiskey from the original John's Lane distillery tasted, which the people making this whiskey apparently think the average consumer cares about.

Powers John's Lane 12 Year, 46% ABV
Single pot still Irish whiskey (Ireland)
Price range, 750 mL: $55-70

Nose: Honey and a floral fruitiness with some woody spices.

Palate: A nice, ripe fruit palate backed by a good dollop of alcoholic heat. Smooth mouthfeel.

Finish: More ripe fruit and a good amount of heat as it fades away. The aftertaste turns a little flat after a while.

Rating (of 100): 84. Fairly one-dimensional for a whiskey in this price range. Not sure what all the hype was about in the reviews when this came out. I'd rather have gotten two bottles of Glenmorangie 10 and saved a few bucks to boot.

Irish whiskey has yet to win my heart over scotch.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Whisky Review: Glenmorangie Quinta Ruban

It's been almost five years since I reviewed a stablemate of this whisky, the Glenmorangie Nectar D'Or, a whisky I still hold in high regard. I'll spare you the details about Glenmorangie, since you can go read them in that post, and you probably don't really care anyway.

Glenmorangie Quinta Ruban, 46% ABV
Single malt Scotch whisky (Highlands)
Price range, 750 mL: $45-55

Nose: Blood orange, baking spices, old wood.

Palate: Plums, blood orange, more spices. Pretty much just like the nose, with a super soft mouthfeel.

Finish: Much more of the baking spices coming through here. Very nice, long finish with those spices lingering. Eventually, you can taste the flavors of the Glenmorangie 10 Original coming through - soft stone fruits and a maltiness enveloping it all.

Rating (of 100): 91. This whisky is sweet but not cloying at all; I feel like some whiskies with fortified wine influence are not ones I would care to drink all night but this is definitely an exception to that group. A sophisticated dram at a peasant's price.

Dalmore and Jura Single Malt Scotch Seminar Review

This was yet another outstanding and free whisky tasting at Gordon's in Waltham, Massachusetts.

The presenter was a gentleman named Ralph, who seemed pretty new at the whole brand ambassador gig and kept pronouncing "Islay" as "eye-lay" instead of the correct "eye-luh." So that was annoying.

Both Dalmore and Jura are owned by the same company, Whyte & Mackay, which explains why one dude was representing two brands. Dalmore is a Highland distillery, known for their rich, sherried whiskies, as well as their ridiculously expensive luxury line extensions. Jura Distillery is on the Isle of Jura, an island off the southwest coast of Scotland, between the mainland and Islay.

Here are my brief tasting notes from the event:

Dalmore 15 Year (40% ABV, 12 years in bourbon casks and 3 years in sherry casks): Nose is nice sherry. Palate is ripe fruit, old wood. Water makes it even woodier. Overall rating: 88.

Dalmore Cigar Malt (44% ABV, 12 years in bourbon casks, 2.5 years in sherry casks and 1.5 years in cabernet sauvignon casks): Nose is plump, juicy fruits, like plum. Palate is nice, typical sherry spice. Overall rating: 89.

Dalmore 18 Year (43% ABV, 14 years in bourbon casks, 4 years in sherry): Nose is full, silky, sexy sherry, with deep, ripe fruit. Palate is again some sexy sherry that continues into the finish. Overall rating: 93.

Dalmore Daniel Boulud (44% ABV, up to 23 years in bourbon casks and then married with whiskies aged in muscatel, madeira, and port wine casks): Nose is lighter fruit, palate is bourbon with late sherry. The finish is bourbon plus sherry. Not really a fan...mostly tastes like bourbon for some reason. Overall rating: 82.

Jura 10 Year (43% ABV, bourbon casks): Oak, honey, young fruit, a bit fiery. Hint of peat on the finish. Overall rating: 85.

Jura 16 Year (43% ABV, 14 years in bourbon casks and 2 years in sherry casks): Nose is super juicy fruits. Really nice leather and tobacco on the palate. It feels like I'm drinking suede. Bit of peat in there too. Reminds me of a Highland Park 12 but with less peat. Overall rating: 92.

Jura Superstition (43% ABV, 12 years in bourbon casks, 1-2 years in sherry casks, peated at 30-35 ppm): The nose is tar. On the palate, gritty peat. This reminds me a bit of the Springbank 15. The finish is nice deep, dark peat. It has a leathery but soft, lingering finish. Overall rating: 88.

Jura Prophecy (46% ABV, 14-18 years in bourbon casks, 2-3 years in sherry casks, non-chillfiltered, peated at 45 ppm): Nose is band-aids. The palate has nice peat, with a lighter feeling and better harmony than the Superstition. Reminds me of the Ardbeg Uigeadail. The finish is sweet peat. A little too much of a brute for my palate. Overall rating: 87.

Jura Brooklyn (42% ABV, up to 16 years in bourbon and sherry casks, then 1.5 years in pinot noir casks): Nose is very nice fruit and smoke. The palate is smooth fruit and soot with a lingering finish. Overall rating: 90.

While I enjoyed the Dalmore 18 the most, my favorite discovery of the night was the Jura 16.

Friday, July 3, 2015

Clueless Marketing of Alcohol

Story time...

I went to a local liquor store today to buy some brews and a few wines for an event tomorrow. There was a lady pouring La Marca prosecco and she asked if I'd like to try a sample - of course I obliged :) She asked if I was familiar with prosecco and I said I knew it was a sparkling wine from Italy, but that's about it. She said, "Yes, well, this one is made in Italy." That was my first clue that something was amiss.

Then she said it was a more balanced prosecco than a lot of others, which tend to be sweeter. So I decided to probe a bit and asked her why it was balanced as compared to sweet. She stumbled on her words a bit and ended up coming out with "It's due to the different kinds of fruit they add to the wine." Ok, now the game is afoot. "What kinds of fruits do they add to this one?" "Oh, well, they don't really tell you, but the bottle says it's fruity."

So I knew I had her at this point. I decided to give her a hand. "It might have something to do with how long they let the fermentation go." Her reply: "Oh, yeah, there are a lot of things that go into it."

I asked her if she was from a marketing company and she replied in the affirmative. Then I said I had some friends who worked at MKTG and wondered if she might know them. She hadn't heard of MKTG so I said it's the company that markets Diageo's products. "What's Diageo?"

After letting her know it's the largest spirits company in the world, she disclosed that she does this marketing only for money and that she actually doesn't drink alcohol at all! Then she asked me for the name of "that marketing company" again (MKTG) so she could inquire about a position there.

This was kind of a sad event. This liquor store has, to me at least, a great reputation for putting on high-quality events with staff who know their liquors inside and out. So having this absolutely clueless woman try to make up nonsense on the spot was kind of like running into a pile of dog poop on an otherwise-pristine white carpet.

Sunday, May 31, 2015

anCnoc Single Malt Scotch Seminar Review

This was another great (and free) scotch tasting seminar held at Gordon's in Waltham, MA. The presenter was the ever-entertaining Brian Johnson, the same gentleman who presented at the Balblair scotch tasting a few weeks ago at Gordon's.

anCnoc (pronounced AH-nock, and yes, it's really spelled that way) is produced at a Highland distillery named Knockdhu (meaning Black Hill in Gaelic). So why isn't the whisky called Knockdhu? The story is that the distillers decided to call their single malt by a different name because they wanted to avoid confusion with the spirit from the similarly-named distillery Knockando.

Here are my brief tasting notes from the evening:

anCnoc 12 Year (43% ABV, matured solely in Buffalo Trace bourbon casks): Peppery nose and palate. Spicy and hot. Overall rating: 81.

anCnoc 18 Year (46% ABV, matured 14-15 years in bourbon casks and 3-4 years in sherry casks): Deeper fruit, getting the typical spice from the sherry but rough on the finish. Seems kind of thin. Overall rating: 84.

anCnoc 24 Year (46% ABV, matured 21 years in bourbon casks and 3 years in sherry casks): Pretty straightforward, moderate sherry on the palate, nice lingering balanced bourbon/sherry on finish. Overall rating: 85.

anCnoc 1975 39 Year (44.2% ABV, matured in an unknown mix of bourbon and sherry casks): Holy...this is much better than the first three. I was starting to think my palate was off with those because I was just not excited by them. Rich fruit, super smooth. Nice cooking spices and that deep wood flavor you get from well-aged older single malts. Definitely the star of the evening. Overall rating: 93.

anCnoc Flaughter (46% ABV, matured 7-9 years in bourbon casks, peated at 14.8 ppm phenol): Peat is stronger on the nose than on the palate. Very soft on the palate, nice peat, not overwhelming. Good sweetness behind the peat. A winner. Overall rating: 89.

anCnoc Cutter (46% ABV, matured 7-9 years in bourbon casks, peated at 20.5 ppm phenol): Seems less peaty than Flaughter, despite the higher phenol level. Also super smooth, but less body than Flaughter and a little bitter. Overall rating: 83.

Saturday, May 9, 2015

Balblair Single Malt Scotch Seminar Review

This past Monday, May 4th, I was casually strolling through the "Promotions" tab in my Gmail inbox when I noticed a message from Gordon's, a local liquor store chain, about a Balblair single malt scotch tasting.

Balblair is a single malt that's fairly dear to my heart, being in the same stable with Old Pulteney and AnCnoc single malts, all handled by the inimitable Brian Johnson of International Beverage for the New England region. (Brian and I did some events together many years ago, including a scotch whisky dinner you can read about here.)

The body of the email said the tasting was being held that evening, May 4th, in about an hour. "Whoa!" I shouted, causing my wife to ask what was going on. It wasn't just that it was a Balblair tasting - it was also that the tasting was to include a spectacular lineup: the 2003, 1999, 1991, 1990, 1983, and 1975 vintages! My birth year is 1983 and I had my eye on this whisky since it was introduced a few months ago, so I really wanted to go.

I'll save you the marital negotiation details and skip right to the part where I finally went to the tasting.

It turned out the tasting was being handled by none other than Mr. Brian Johnson himself, and he actually recognized me after all these years. Brian gave some generous pours and regaled us with many stories of the distillery and the whisky, including some great details about how the whiskies are matured.

So here are my brief tasting notes, in case you're interested in trying this lineup.

Balblair 2003 (46% ABV, matured solely in Buffalo Trace bourbon casks, bottled in 2014): Sharp fruits, charcoal backbone. Full but not too complex. Overall rating: 85.

Balblair 1999 (46% ABV, matured primarily in bourbon casks and then finished for 4 years in oloroso sherry casks, bottled in 2013): Cognac-like initial flavors, then medium cooking spices. Overall rating: 87.

Balblair 1991 (43% ABV, matured solely in bourbon casks, bottled in 2009): Oh so smooth. Thick fruits, juicy finish. Overall rating: 91.

Balblair 1990 (46% ABV, matured 20 years in bourbon and 4 years in oloroso sherry): Like the 1999 but smoother. Overall rating: 90.

Balblair 1983 (46% ABV, matured solely in bourbon casks, bottled in 2015): Nose is ripe fruit, palate is super deep with ripe fruit. A hint of smoke. Wow...what a whisky! Overall rating: 95.

Balblair 1975 (46% ABV, matured solely in oloroso sherry casks, 5% peated malt, bottled in 2012): Deep woods nose, heavy burnt rubber on the palate, and a bit of peat. Lots of old wood - a little too much for my taste. Overall rating: 90.

The 1983 was my favorite by far, but even for the evening's sale price of $292.49 a bottle, I just can't bring myself to buy it. I would still take the Old Pulteney 17 and pocket the remaining ~$200.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Whisky review: Pure Pot Spirit

This is "barley spirit straight from the pot still at Tullibardine," according to the label on the bottle. I bought this on a trip to Scotland back in 2010 and have been slowly chipping away at it.

Tullibardine, a Highland distillery slightly north of Glasgow and Edinburgh, was mothballed in 1995 and then revived when it was purchased by an independent company in 2003.

Pure Pot Spirit, 69% ABV
New-make spirit
Price range, 500 mL: £30 when I bought it in Scotland in 2010; not very available now

Nose: Buttery green apples, grass or hay.

Palate: A bit prickly, probably due to the high alcohol content. Super bright young fruit - again with the green apples, plus light malt.
Finish: Clean and fruity, turning to a darker earthiness after a while.

Rating (of 100): 83. I had the Wasmund's new-make right before this and I think I like this one slightly better, due to the cleanliness of this spirit. A few drams of this one at 69% and you'll be feeling pretty good whether you actually enjoy drinking it or not!

Whisky review: Wasmund's Single Malt Spirit

Wasmund's is made by a distillery called Copper Fox, located in Sperryville, Virginia. The distillery was started and is owned by Rick Wasmund, who started the distillery back in 2002 to try making whiskies using fruit wood for the malting (and some of the maturation).

This spirit is essentially new-make, being less than 30 days old when put into the bottle. It's made from 100% hand-malted barley, where the malting was done with light smoke from 60% apple wood and 40% cherry wood.

I frequently give this as the last sample at tasting events, so folks can see what a new-make spirit tastes like. It really gives you an appreciation for how much of a whisky's character comes from the wood!

Wasmund's Single Malt Spirit, 62% ABV
Essentially new-make spirit
Price range, 750 mL: $27-32

Nose: Honeydew melon and a malty toastiness.

Palate: This is pretty cool. I think the smoke comes out a lot more on the palate than on the nose, and the fruitiness plays a secondary role.

Finish: Subtle smoke with an undesirable mustiness settling into the back of my mouth after a while.

Rating (of 100): 81. For being a new-make at 62% ABV, this is pretty tasty and not harsh. The finish was the part that brought the score down for me; could have been in the mid-80s without the mustiness.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Who really cares how it looks???

As I'm re-entering the world of whisky from a three-year hiatus in Arizona, I've come to the realization that the appearance notes made by many bloggers (including me!) and tasting reviews are pretty much worthless. I won't be making them from now on.

If you're skeptical, let me know if the color description of a whisky has ever swayed your decision about whether to buy it, or about whether you enjoyed it or not. I can say that I have never had this experience.

Here's an example of one very famous whisky personality explaining how to taste whisky, and why you should care about the appearance. Instead of guessing about the maturation and age of the whisky based on its appearance, I'd rather just look at the bottle or search online for the actual facts. What if it's a blind tasting? You should be able to tell much more accurately how old it is and what its maturation was from the nose and the palate.

I'd also think that, as whisky nerds, most of us would understand that scotch whiskies can legally have caramel coloring added to them. So the color could have been manipulated anyway.

So stop looking at it and start drinking it. Can I get a hell yeah?

Corporate tasting event recap

On January 22nd, 2015, I led a corporate tasting at a very exciting company in Boston's waterfront area. We had a great view, fantastic crowd, and some phenomenal whiskies - here they are:
  • Rusty Nail made with Glenmorangie 10 and Drambuie (1:1 mixture)
  • Glenmorangie 18
  • The Macallan 18
  • Glenfarclas 40
  • Laphroaig 18
I had to hold my brains in with each successive sip. These whiskies are absolutely fantastic. The Glenmorangie 18 is like the 10 but with fuller body and rounded edges, plus a hint of chocolate from the little bit of sherried malt in it. The Macallan 18 is luxurious with all the quintessential flavors a sherried whisky could ask for. Then there's the Glenfarclas 40. Holy moly. Just deep everything. And the Laphroaig is like a well-mannered version of the 10, with plenty of gentle cuddling after you're done.

Thanks to Jeff Fine from Atlas Liquors for providing them at a very good price, with delivery to boot!

Pouring samples!

MIT Alumni Club of Boston Tasting Recap

This posting is a bit delayed and I'm laying the blame squarely on Boston for keeping me so busy with tons of activities, whisky-related and otherwise...

Ok, here's the recap. Thirty-five attendees. Eight whiskies. Many new friends. One excellent evening.

This event on December 10th, 2014 was my first MIT Club of Boston tasting since we returned to Boston, and it did not disappoint.

We had Dave Catania from Burke Distributing and Brad Jarvis, the Whisky Professor, pouring the following:
  • Scallywag Speyside Blended Malt
  • Campbeltown Loch
  • Big Peat Christmas Edition
  • Old Malt Cask Auchroisk 18 Year Single Malt
  • Old Malt Cask Aultmore 21 Year Single Malt
  • Springbank 10 Year Single Malt
  • Springbank 15 Year Single Malt
  • Springbank 18 Year Single Malt
Dave and Brad also surprised us by bringing Coole Swan, a very tasty Irish cream liqueur.

From what I heard from attendees at and after the event, the Springbank 15 was the winner for the evening. I reviewed the Springbank 15 back in 2010 (here's the review), but I think I enjoyed it more at the event than when I had it over four years ago. Its flavor is so dark and's just something you don't really find in other scotches of similar age.

My personal favorite was the Campbeltown Loch. It's Springbank but it's only about $30-40 and you still get that Springbank character coming through. Such a great value.

The event was held at Ministry of Supply, which is an MIT startup that's bringing NASA-based technology to menswear. Below are some pictures from the event!

Attendees enjoying scotch at Ministry of Supply. The whisky was so good it even blew that one guy's head clean off.

Me with Bikram Singh from Norfolk Wine & Spirits and Brad Jarvis, the Whisky Professor.