Here's what we're drinking, and you should too.
Here's what we're drinking, and you should too.
Just one of the advantages to knowing thoughtful, pretty Canadian girls: I received this rare whisky as a very generous present this winter. Furthermore, it is as-of-yet unavailble in the US (although I hear that the second batch will be coming here at some point).
Forty Creek Distillery, founded and run by the ex-wine producer John K. Hall, is only ten years old but has already become a significant and respected force in the sphere of Canadian whisky. The facilities are located near Lake Ontario, on the site of the 18th century settlement called Forty Mile Creek (named so because of its proximity to Niagara Falls). They use corn, rye, and barley as their grains, but unlike a bourbon, there is no ‘mash bill’— they distill (and mature) each grain’s whisky seperately before marrying them together (sometimes in vintage sherry casks). The total maturation process can last up to ten years.
The Confederation Oak limited release has undergone its own special process, which you can read about here, but the basic idea is that Forty Creek’s standard “meritage” whisky (aged in American white oak barrels of varrying degrees of charring) eventually spent three years in barrels of locally grown Canadian white oaks over 150 years old (i.e., dating back to the time of the Canadian Confederation). The species of tree, Quercus alba, is the same as American white oak, but the colder climate induces slower growth and thus a tighter-grained wood. A tight-grained wood will tend to impart the oak elements to a greater degree (flavours of cream, butter, coconut, etc.), and the combination of both wood types thus gives a lot of nuance and character to the whisky. Okay, let’s drink some.
Forty Creek Confederation Oak Reserve
Color: burnt-sienna-orangey brown.
Legs: large (see abv), but well-formed beads that move very slowly down the glass.
Nose: grilled Cuban corn with a rye mustache. Sweet bourbony notes of vanilla extract and maple syrup; hearty rye notes of hay fields and bramble fruit. Freshly rolled Nicaraguan cigars. Barely clad females bathing in a natural hot springs in the cold Canadian winter.
Palate: creamy, with lots of vanilla custard up front followed by a just-slightly-spiced middle, moving into the more fruity, estery finish with lively notes of paprika. Other sips suggested mossy wood; then something like dried cranberries.
Finish: subtle or quiet but very, very nice while it lasts; the faint taste of fresh cherries mixes in with a farmy fade.
Overall: Flavourful and accessible, with a newly accentuated focus at every sip. I found that the various grain components (corn, rye, and barley) and the various barrels used (standard American white oak and the slower-growth, tighter-grained Canadian white oak) are all harmonized exceptionally well, providing, depth, character, and balance. Would have liked a higher strength bottling, of course, but not because it feels watery; just because. Nevertheless, my favourite drop from the North Country to date (not that I’ve had a lot of them, but still— it’s pretty damn good, and much better, I feel, than Whistle Pig if you’re looking for interesting Canadian releases).
Other Opinions: not many yet, but what there are all really appreciate the complexity and craftmanship.
Or, Why the Whisky Industry Should Stop Worrying and Learn to Embrace Digital Marketing
There’s a whisky blogger backlash brewing. Tim Forbes, of the Whisky Exchange, fired the first shot way back in November when he published an opinion piece in Whisky Magazine lambasting the whisky blogosophere. (You can read the full piece for free if you give Whisky Magazine your email address).
According to Forbes (ironically a whisky blogger himself for online retailer The Whisky Exchange), whisky bloggers are social misfits harboring grudges and hurling insults from the bowels of their parents’ basement. Yet they are also “shameless bootlickers” happy to write a good review in exchange for free samples and a chance to climb their way into the industry. They are disproportionately powerful techno-geeks capable of warping the Google rankings for their own nefarious purposes. Yet they are also insignificant know-nothings, and a flash-in-the-pan best ignored by our betters.
They are self-styled digital emperors, unfairly breaking the industry’s tidy monopoly on criticism & marketing, in which, “only a few years ago there were only a few people to keep happy: a long-established coterie compromising a handful of 5-star hotel managers and a few highly-qualified specialist journos.”
That is a galling quote from Forbes, and one that hints at a profound laziness on the marketing end of the whisky industry. But all bluster and hyperbole aside, Forbes’ rather schizophrenic rant isn’t really about whisky bloggers. It’s about the way technology is changing the relationship between brands and consumers, and how distilleries are managing that transition. Just look at Forbes’ “nightmare” scenario:
Imagine you’re a brand exec for Glen Thingy. Your company has spent decades building relationships within the trade, and millions of pounds on your global marketing campaign. But when you Google your brand name, top of the page is the notorious whisky misanthrope, Billy No-Mark, loudly declaiming to the world that ‘Glen Thingy is Sh*t’. He’s a web-savvy nerd with almost no whisky knowledge, but he’s nursing an epic grudge. He might be a part-time security guard living with his mum in an Alaskan bunker, but he reads Search Engine Optimisation manuals in the bath, so he’s on Google page 1 for all your brands. Potential new customers looking for Glen Thingy are going to find him slagging off your whisky on his snazzy website. Your multimillion pound brand is at the mercy of a socially inept geek with a vicious inferiority complex.
"Glen Thingy" doesn’t have a blogger problem. They have a marketing problem. Across all consumer brands – from automobiles to detergent to whisky – digital is becoming a marketing and communications medium of increasing importance. Whether the whisky industry likes it or not, the influence of digital marketing is only going to grow. Whether we’re talking about online advertising and location-based marketing opportunities, online video and social media, or even something as basic as publishing a website that doesn’t look like it’s from 2003, distilleries need to get up to speed on best practices if they want to compete for young market share against more tech savvy spirits brands. And that includes having an understanding of the whisky blogosphere and a strategy to work with bloggers.
While blogging has indeed democratized whisky criticism, bloggers do not exist in isolation. They are part of a larger, and largely meritocratic, community. Bloggers gain authority in two ways: by being consistent and informative, and via endorsements from other bloggers (hyperlinks). If a blogger fails to produce a reliable, peer-reviewed product, they are not likely to gain either the credibility or SEO to make a significant impact on a brand’s reputation. As it turns out, Forbes’ boogeyman - “Billy No-Mark” - is actually little more than a straw-man used to prop up a faulty argument.
In his piece, Forbes focuses exclusively on what he perceives as the “downside” of the new blogger/brand relationship. As a result, he all but ignores the significant upside that blogs and bloggers present the industry, both in terms of brand recognition, growth and customer relations.
Increasingly, consumers are going online to vet products before making a purchase. When they do, they are not seeking out official (read: inherently biased) statements of quality from the producer, but rather third-party validations or criticisms that can help guide their purchase. The closer that criticism originates in relation to the consumer (ie a friend, family member, or trusted blogger), the more impact that recommendation will have. This is as true for purchasing a new car or gaming system as it is for a bottle of whisky.
A vibrant whisky blogosphere expands the amount of information available to consumers and can increase confidence in purchases made “off the beaten path.” With the right recommendations, whisky drinkers who have tried Chivas or Jameson in the past might feel confident in dropping a few extra dollars on less familiar bottles like Balvenie, Macallan, or Laphroaig. Those who are already inducted into the pleasures of these drams might feel confident to go a step further, exploring more obscure distilleries, more expensive expressions, or even the world of independent bottlings.
Anecdotally, this certainly seems to be the case in New York City, where a wealth of new information about whisky is driving demand and making it viable for more liquor stores and bars to feature a diverse range of whiskies, and creating space for the rise of new bars dedicated almost exclusively to whisky. My guess is that this transition is happening in other urban areas across the US as well. What’s more, the emergence of online whisky sites, coupled with the growth of online retailers, is affording consumers outside of major metropolitan markets the chance to explore and experience whisky in ways that were not previously possible, or at least economically viable, on a normal person’s budget.
In some ways, of course, this is all the same as it ever was. Multimillion dollar ad campaigns by major labels like Johnnie Walker, Chivas, Jameson, and Dewar’s aside, word of mouth - a trusted recommendation from a known source - has long been a foundation for exposing people to new whiskies. In the past, these conversations occurred solely offline, amongst friends and in bars. Today they also exist in an online public space that shines an equally bright light on comments both good and bad.
Judging from Forbes’ opinion piece, as well as a recent piece at What Does John Know, it is clear that at least some prominent voices in the industry view this as a problem. What a supreme lack of imagination. By bringing these conversations online, blogs are creating a space for brands to answer criticism in ways they never could before. While a dozen, or even a few hundred negative comments online might appear problematic in the short term for sales, those who choose to respond by bullying bloggers, or sockpuppet comment sections, are missing out on an unprecedented opportunity to make a hundred new first impressions on the people most likely to buy their product.
Whisky brands that engage these online discussions openly and honestly, and harness the voluntary feedback from the online whisky community to tweak their product, will reap long-term dividends that more than make up for a few lost sales (to say nothing of the backlash if they are caught dishonestly manipulating the discussion).
I’ve focused most of my energies here on rebutting Forbes. Lest you think I’m all sour grapes, I want to point out that some distilleries are, in fact, doing a great job online. I think Whyte & Mackay’s Master Blender Richard Paterson should be lauded for his ubiquity online, his willingness to promote the work of the industry overall, and for the way that his use of the online space ties into his real-world schedule. I think The Macallan has done some ground-breaking work with their Tweet-up tastings. Johnnie Walker has done some interesting things with online video (though I wish all of it was available to a larger audience). Chivas has also been out front in working with bloggers (and putting their reputation on the line) to create a name for their brand among a new generation of whisky drinkers.
Whisky has long been considered an “older man’s” drink. Our father’s (or grandfather’s!) spirit. In the last few years, it’s gained real traction with a younger audience who are used to engaging with brands online. They are out reading blogs and twitter, participating in online community sites, and scouring Facebook for recommendations on new things they should try and buy. This is the future of the whisky industry, and the distilleries need to meet these new drinkers where they are - online.
I have no idea how prevalent Forbes’ views are within the whisky industry. I sincerely hope they represent a minority voice that is just unable to let go of the old ways of doing things. If his views are widespread, I fear that the whisky industry is throwing away a golden opportunity to cultivate the next generation of whisky drinkers.Comments
In an unfortunate turn of events, The Edrington Group, owners of Macallan, Glen Rothes, Highland Park, and Tamdhu, mothballed the latter distillery earlier this year.
Although there are no immediate plans to reopen the distillery, their stocks will continue to exist (and age) for a while to come, and grocery store shelves will likely carry Tamdhu products for the forseeable future. Since Tamdhu presumably makes up a significant portion of Edrington’s Famous Grouse blend, my guess is that production will resume once the stocks dip too low to contribute to that brand. But for now, you can still find the 10 year old at places like Fairway for around $22. Yeah, that’s a pretty good price for a single malt.
Tamdhu 10 year old
Legs: a few large, long, quick ones; not great.
Nose: highly floral (might be cloying to some), with a touch of sweet peat; intense heather and vanilla.
Palate: wax or lamp oil on a smooth but watery entry, then mostly malty, drying out into a simple kind of vanilla and sweet-spice flavour.
Finish: actually kind of a nice array of marzipan, cocoa, and other notes including a faint hint of smoke from a stove top; not too short at all, with a little lasting fizz.
Overall: I was surprised at how not terrible this was, but I wouldn’t write anything but a quick tweet home about it. I happen to like big flavours, and the floral nose is nothing if not big—but many a manly man might not be into that many flowers up his nostrils. The palate was certainly not great, and was watery as I feared from the abv; the dryness was also disappointing. Still, it had some flavour to it, and didn’t offend in any major way (other than being somewhat bland). Nothing rubbery or sulfury, though. Perhaps we can say that this, like a cheap blend but with more oomph and character, is a good Scotch for getting bombed. Party on, gents.
Other Opinions: Not a lot of real reviews for this bottle.
Chicagoans: starting next week I’ll be co-teaching a class, open to the public, at the Oriental Institute entitled:
Normally the OI doesn’t publicize these offerings, but we’ve still got space to fill and it might interest some of you drinking scholars out there. Here’s the description:
Wine-soaked statues? Beer through a straw? Drunken brawls in the divine assembly? Come learn about the first alcoholic beverages and the development of drinking cultures in Mesopotamia, Egypt, Anatolia, and the Levant. From the earliest evidence of Neolithic fermentation to Bronze-Age Babylonian beer gods and Iron-Age Phoenician wine merchants, this 6-week course will explore a broad range of archaeological and historical evidence for the production, consumption, and cultural significance of ancient spirits. The course will conclude with a hands-on experiment in Mesopotamian-style brewing. That’s right—we will be making our own beer using ancient Babylonian recipes.
All information regarding regarding the class can be found here at the OI website.Comments
It’s really great that the famous Gordon & Macphail shop and indie bottler has revived their Macphail’s Collection range of generally younger, cheaper, but high-quality single malts. Their Highland Park 8 year old was excellent (for the price; good either way), and I was excited to see this Islay malt for under $40.
Macphail’s Collection Bunnahabhain 8 years old
Legs: medium in speed and size.
Nose: underripe pears, overripe honeydew, a sharp floral sweetness that might need some time in the cask to chillout.
Palate: tobacco leaves and a bit of that underripe pear from the nose give way to a burnt malt flavour; there may also be a note of honeydew here.
Finish: as various girlfriends have described some very decent whiskies—“burn-ey and sting-ey.” Has an interesting baked cinnamon-and-apple flavour to it, but it’s a little overpowered by a prickly mouthfeel that lingers.
Overall: It honestly took a few pours and some time left out to turn from a highly metallic style toward something reasonable to drink; the burnt-malt note was consistent, however. And while this doesn’t resemble the more developed fruits, vanilla, and smoke of the distillery-released 12 year old, to a certain degree it has its own charm. I’d get it if you really like Bunnys and want another angle for a lowish price. Or if you’ve got every other 40/40 bottle on our list and are keeping your own notes on the best bargain Scotches. But for a cheap, smokier Islay, I’d go with Finlaggan every time. I don’t really think it’s great as a light, subtle whisky, either.
Other Opinions: um, not many. In fact, there’s none that I could find. Just this DUNY blurb:
Instead of doing a top ten list for 2010 based on traffic (we didn’t think our regular readers were consistently hitting up our review of McClelland’s Single Malt), we each wanted to start off the new year by identifying our favorite Whisky Party posts from 2010. We hope that we can continue this wonderful whisk(e)y journey and consistently drink to the health of our friends, family, and whisky compatriots.
In a year where our blog went from beyond-fringe to at least a blip on whisky blogosphere radar, and where we the writers experienced more to do with whisky than any young man really ever should, we’ve done (seemingly) a ton of reviews of whiskies, events, locations, etc. And so my favourite posting experience, on the one hand, is simply another review lost in the shuffle of the internet, but on the other hand represents the culmination of our first year as WhiskyParty: our anniversary post/Ardbeg Supernova review. We purchased that bottle a long time before we opened it, planning on saving it for a time when we were all together. And while it took a long time for all three of our schedules to overlap, last April we were able to party down and drink some great bottles together, throwing around drams of Laphroaig 30 and Supernova, off-the-cuff tasting notes, and good cheer. And then we wrote up our post, reflecting on the lead up to that particular whisky party. Cheers in the New Years.
Runner up: I enjoyed compiling the songs for my 8 Tracks whisk/e/y tunes mix, but I thought it would stir a good bit more debate.
My favorite post of the past year is one that like above, also got a little lost in the shuffle. With a few friends, we at Whisky Party were able to purchase a barrel of whisky. Though the whisky itself didn’t turn out as well as we had hoped (and is a risk you take when purchasing a barrel), the post captured a lot of detailed information that I don’t feel was available on the web before. Purchasing a barrel of whisky seems to be a desire for many folks, and I hope that we were able to help some people follow this desire through our post. After all, what we want to do is increase people’s knowledge and appreciation of whisky, and if we can both help people consume a special product with friends, and perhaps help distilleries see that they should offer a compelling and higher quality producct, well, that’s not a bad accomplishment for 2010.
Every December, the whisky blogsosphere does some soul searching. Who will replace Michael Jackson? What is the role of the blogs in the industry? etc. Last year was no exception. Dr. Whisky had some thoughts on how the whisky blogosphere might/should evolve, and I posted my a response with a few idea of my own. I don’t think it’s held up nearly as well as the Who Will Replace Michael Jackson? piece that first helped launch our blog (during the prior round of soul-searching), but some of the predictions weren’t too far off. A number of whisky blogs - including our own - have upgraded their websites considerably. We didn’t see Whiskypedia explode in popularity, but we did see Connosr really begin to take off as a place for crowd-sourced reviews of whiskies and distilleries. And whisky apps are proliferating across all mobile platforms. Take a look back and let me know what you think.
Runner Up: 40 Whiskies Under $40
Yes, this technically didn’t start in 2010. And as my fellow bloggers said, it’s doubtful that our core readership is hitting the well over and over again on our McClelland’s Islay post. But this year we crossed the halfway point (and then some), and I think that in aggregate our 40 Whiskies Under $40 series provides real value to to the whisky community - particularly enthusiasts just getting their foot in the door.
— Mike F., Dan, and Mike C.Comments
Auchentoshan is one of the few remaining Lowland distilleries, and it is the only Scottish whisky distillery to permanently triple distill their spirit. The result of this triple distillation is a house style that leans towards smooth, light and floral whiskies. Beginning in 2008, the entire range of Auchentoshan went through a radical transformation, as owners Morrison Bowmore reimagined everything from the packaging to the core expressions.
The Auchentoshan Classic is the new entry-level whisky in the distillery’s portfolio. It is a young, No Age Statement (NAS) whisky matured for an unspecified amount of time in ex-bourbon casks. The official tasting notes describe a vanilla and coconut nose, followed by a fruity taste on the tongue and a “zesty” floral finish.
Color: Thick honey.
Nose: Fragrant grass, peaches.
Taste: Same as the nose, but less exuberant. Some fruits and grass up front, fragrant flowers towards the back. A hint of butterscotch. Perhaps that’s my palate’s interpretation of the vanilla and coconut, which aren’t readily apparent to me.
Finish: Light and crisp. Fairly short.
Overall: More interesting on the nose than on the tongue, it’s a decent summertime dram for those muggy nights when a highly peated or sherried Scotch just won’t do. It’s not the best Scotch you can get in this price range by any means, but you’ll certainly get your money’s worth. I agree with many fellow whisky bloggers and reviewers that this could be an excellent starter Scotch for someone who is a little intimidated by the cask-strength, super peated whiskies that are in favor today.
Auchentoshan Fun Fact: I’ve heard of many micro distilleries engaging craft breweries to provide the wash for their distillation, but Auchentoshan may well be the only whisky distillery to make their own craft beer.Comments
The Cooley Distillery in Ireland is known for independence and experimentation. The youngest Irish distillery, they offer a wide range of products that go well beyond the standard, non-peated, triple distilled product put out by Bushmills and Midleton. This strategy has served them well, and in 2010 Malt Advocate declared Cooley "Distillery of the Year."
Connemara is the peated, single malt brand in the Cooley portfolio, and Turf Mór seems to be their play to really engage the peat freaks. At 50 ppm phenols, Turf Mór is the peatiest expression in the range by far. It’s 3 years old and bottled at cask strength and non chill-filtered. As the latest release in Connemara’s Small Batch Collection, only 20,000 bottles of Turf Mór will be available.
Connemara Turf Mór
Color: Sauvignon Blanc
Nose: Heavy Peat, light citrus. Meaty.
Palate: Holy crap. A huge burst of peat followed by an intense rubbery taste. Ever watch the opening credits for The Simpson’s and see that giant pile of flaming tires? This is like diving into that burning rubbery mass and inhaling until your lungs can take no more.
Finish: One of the longest finishes I’ve encountered. This burning hunk of rubber just won’t quit.
With Water: Much the same, but the nose seems hotter.
Overall: This bottle is getting raves all over the blogosphere (see below), so I’m in a clear minority when I say that I just don’t like this whiskey. I’m a huge fan of peated/smokey/medicinal whiskies, and I’ve thoroughly enjoyed extreme peat monsters like Octomore and Ardbeg Supernova, yet this seems one note to me - and an unpleasant note at that.
Looking back at my previous reviews of Connemara whiskies - the 12 year, NAS and NAS Cask Strength - a clear pattern emerges. I enjoyed their 12 year, but didn’t think much of the younger, NAS expressions. Maybe Turf Mór - a 3 year old - just needs more time in the cask before it will appeal to my palate. Or maybe I just don’t like Connemara. Check out the opinions of other whisky bloggers and decide for yourself.
*A free sample of this whiskey was provided for review by representatives of Cooley Distillery.
Amrut has done very well recently. Their standard collections are winning awards (and I assume) selling well, even grabbing last year’s Third Best Whisky in the World honor from the Whisky Bible. The Amrut ‘Intermediate Sherry’ is their standard Cask Strength Whisky (it’s unclear if it’s their peated variety or not - I get a decent amount of peat in my tasting below), aged in Bourbon Barrels for I believe 3 years, then shipped to Spain for aging in Oloroso butts for a few months, shipped back to India to age in bourbon barrels again, and then bottled in a limited production run at cask strength. The packaging is wonderful on this one, and it was my pick for our 2010 Chrimbus Holiday Gift Guide for gifts over $100.
Amrut ‘Intermediate Sherry’ Indian Single Malt Whiskey (NAS)
Legs: well formed and mixed. Small and skinny, with a quick drop initially and slower drops behind.
Color: a liquidy, crystallized darker brown.
Nose: really briney. Salt and seaweed. A forest right after rain, earthy with a hint of smoke, but more sweetness. A little rubber, but it’s well behind the other scents. There’s a lot of malt here and it’s almost sanguine. Floral and sanguine.
Palate: belying the nose, there’s little/no salt. You taste the fire first. A strong cleaning fire. Not peat, but hot spice. But the overwhelming strength fades quickly. The initial blindside is followed by an initial thought of peat, which is then followed by sweet honeyed cherries, almost a jammy citrus marmalade and then a building pepper, a delicious sweet black pepper corn, that’s hot and almost smoky. On further tastings there’s a backdrop of licorice that comes out.
Finish: peppery fire, earthy , and wet copper bordering on a steel rust. suck a penny, lick a scratch, your choice. A spicy sweetness. The finish closes with heat and a lasting peppery kick. You’re sucking on a pepper corn that numbs your tongue while the rest of your mouth is salivating. Wow.
Overall: I was worried when I shelled out for this whisky. I tried it first at whiskyfest, and though I remembered loving it, I had been tasting a great deal already. Would I be let down? My first nose left me a little worried - I didn’t remember the brine. But I got over the surprise quickly. The whisky made me pay attention - there’s a good amount going on. Though the whisky shows its youth slightly, and the cask strength brings it in as anything but mellow, it doesn’t end the party. This whisky is wonderful, invigorating and thoughtful. I can’t wait to enjoy the rest of it.
Whoever said having good friends is a waste of time clearly never recieved even a few drops of this odd blend as a gift. You can read all about the history and unconventional creation of The Last Drop in any number of different reviews (listed, of course, below), or you can listen to this video explanation, but the main thrust is that the $2000/750ml blend is comprised of 70 single malts and 12 grain whiskies that, after 12 years, were moved into three (very high quality) ex-sherry casks. Thus in 2008 a 48 year old (or older…) whisky vintaged to 1960 came into existence. And just as peculiar as the approach taken in its creation are the colour, aroma, flavour, and finish of The Last Drop— truly 1/1,347th of a kind.
The Last Drop 1960 vintage (bottled 2008)
Abv: 52% (natural cask strength).
Legs: hundreds of miniature beads form at first, giving way to a few sticky, larger ones.
Nose: raisony, bourbony, and chocolatey on a magnificient first whiff; brown sugar, rock candy, prunes, vanilla extract, cereal malt; perhaps the term ‘sticky cinnamon bun’ is appropriate here. A drop of water awakens a rich floral style with big, lush fruits—something like fresh pomegranate.
Palate: a candy-coated entry of sticky, Pedro Ximinez-type sherry flavours (molasses is one), rolling into waves of chocolate-covered red fruits (strawberries at first, then perhaps cherries). Water brings out the fresh sourdough bread (ie, a tart maltiness) and array of warm spices such as nutmeg, vanilla bean, and a little bit of caraway (ie, such a slight anise flavour).
Body: I can’t quite say ‘full bodied;’ in fact, even though it is weighty from the sherry influence, it is fairly light bodied, almost silky but with a little bit of bite.
Finish: f*cking amazing; long, yes, but with loads of baking spices at first, turning to a port-like flavour that keeps developing (eg, toward marachino cherries) long after you swallow. I think I should forgo brushing my teeth tonight.
Overall: Just think about all that has happened in the Western world that this blend (of whiskies from the majority of the Scottish distilleries) has survived since it was laid down in wood: the commercialization of folk music, ‘Nam, hippies, a presidential assasination, Watergate, disco, the coke years (twice!), collapse of the Soviet Bloc, acid-washed jeans, the all-but-deceased Beatles, the all-but-alive Stones, mass consumption of “country” music, terrorism, a multitude of wars, and finally, and most impressively, the Bush/Blair era.
Fittingly, it’s got a lot of depth and a ton of character; lots of flavours developed during all those decades, and each one shines for just a moment. I suppose there is a quiet oakiness to it, but in no way are the 48 or more years of wood overpowering or detrimental (I would even say subtle). At first it really, really nosed like an insanely complex bourbon—so much so that I really wondered if we’d been swindled for a second. But no, this is good blended Scotch at its best, and in a final clichéd act, I found myself searching the glass to get that very last drop. Thanks, Dan!
Btw, I saw this bottle still available at Park Avenue Liquors last time I was in New York, and I know that Binny’s currently has it in stock— I guess the double-grand price tag has extended its shelf presence for a few years.
Other Opinions: who’s not going to love this bizarre, brown-colored, half-century-old whisky? Lots of support (and love) for the dark fruits (prunes, raisons, etc.), chocolate, some (but not overpowering) spice, and molasses.
At the Alameda Flea Market last Sunday, I stumbled upon a vintage wooden crate that used to store Johnnie Walker Black. There are always wooden crates around, but this one, with it’s two-toned color walking man, was especially cool.
What’s cool? Finding a vintage Johnnie Walker crate at a flea market.
What’s cooler? That vintage Johnnie Walker crate being cheap, having a two-tone walking man, and having it actually be related to San Francisco.
What’s da coolest? Aside from peeing your pants, the vintage Johnnie Walker crate acting as vintage decor so that there is no problem with the lovely lady I live with, in other words, providing me an opportunity to have more whisky displayed. It totally counts as Catalog Living.
Win win situation all around. I’m guessing the crate is from the 1980s because of the Canada Dry Corporation mark, but I’m not sure. Anyone have an idea based on the front/back? Maybe when that third street warehouse was active?Comments
It’s that time of year, and while many others around the blogosphere have pioneered the art of the Holiday Season Gift Giving Guide, such as our friends and colleagues at Whisky For Everyone, Scotch Hobbyist, and Master of Malt, we’ve decided to follow suit and recommend some special, gift worthy options in three different price ranges. We’ve also each chosen a non-liquid but whisky-related gift idea to help make you the complete consumer.
Exceptional Value @ $0-60:
[Mike F.]: Balvenie 14 year old Carribean Cask
This newly released Balvenie, much like its 17 year old Rum Cask predecessor, is finished in casks that previously held Carribean rum; unlike the old 17 year-aged version, this one is available now and costs somewhere in the range of $50-60. The result is a delicious explosion of flavours including big fruits such as pineapple and papaya, the expected Balvenie vanilla, and a dark-rum spiciness. It’s an especially appropriate gift for all those who long for warmer-weather vacations rather than staying snowbound this winter.
[Mike C.]: McCarthy’s Oregon Single Malt Whisky
The American micro/craft distilling movement continues to gain speed, and whether you are a naysayer or ardent enthusiast, everyone agrees that this seasonally released dram from Clear Creek Distilling company is one of the best American single malts on the market. An incredibly smooth, peated dram with notes of chocolate and the sherry character of the casks just beginning to shine through. A bright, Americanized version of Lagavulin. See our review here.
[Dan]: Balvenie 15 year old Single Cask
Balvenie 15 is somewhat of an anomaly in the official bottlings released by distilleries. It’s aged 15 years, released at cask strength, and always from a single cask. David Stewart, the master distiller at Balvenie, handpicks all the casks, and makes certain that though they will all be unique, that they represent the honey, vanilla and oak that make Balvenie what it is. Not only a serious value for under $60, but a serious value that whisky geeks can appreciate for the flavor, the uniqueness, and for the official cask strength bottling.
Rare Quality @ $60-100:
[Mike F.]: Sazerac Rye 18 year old
Winter is a great time to pour you and yours a nice dram of Scotch, but don’t overlook the marvelous decadence of this 18 year old straight rye. The 2009 release improved upon the divisive 2008, and brings spices, sweetness, herbs, and leathery tobacco together in a fantastically aged melange— a much better aged rye than Michter’s, for example. The color, in a crystal clear presentation bottle, is a stunning crimson that is a wonder of its own. Various releases have won “Best of the Year” awards, including Jim Murray’s 2010 Whiskey of the Year, so you know the recipient will be proud of their gift.
[Mike C.]: Laphroaig 15 year old
Yes, this is a discontinued dram and it’s damn hard to find. But I know for a fact that it’s still lurking out there - usually in bodegas and discount liquor shops where the “connoisseurs” would ne’er deign go. Just last week a buddy of mine found a bottle on the shelf of just such a disreputable venue. The heat and campfire of Laphroaig, finished with a nutty sweetness that rounds out the rougher edges, the 15 year old remains a superior dram to its more expensive older cousin the 18 year, and its more brash younger sibling the Quarter Cask. If you can dig a bottle up for your loved one, it’s worth twice the price tag. See our review of the 15 year old and Quater Cask here.
[Dan]: Ardbeg Airigh Nam Beist
Ardbeg no longer produces this whisky, lovingly called “The Beast.” It’s been replaced by the extremely well received (though no age statement and younger) Corryvreckan. The Beast is everything you want out of an Ardbeg - it’s sweet, spicy, heavily peated, and the finish just does not ever want to let you go. It’s outstanding. As the whisky is no longer being produced, it’s getting a bit harder to come by, but it’s a whisky that will be appreciated by all for whom you buy it. Though it originally cost $125, you can pick it up online for under $70 here.
Affordable Luxury @ $100-200:
[Mike F.]: BenRiach 21 year old Authenticus
A steal of a deal at $125, this well-peated, non-chillfiltered 21 year old should appeal to both Islay-philes, due to the 55 ppm phenol content, and Speysider fans, due to its provenance and pedigree. Furthermore, it will show each something entirely new and is not likely to be given to them by anyone else— a rare, delicious, and special bottle for a very reasonable price. See our review here.
[Mike C.]: The Macallan 18 year old Sherry Oak
The big, creamy taste that The Macallan is famous for, with an added layer of complexity of delicate, charred smokiness. I love smoky whiskies, and I love the big creaminess of the Macallan. This is a perfect marriage of the two, and any whisky enthusiast will be thrilled to see a bottle of this beauty show up in their stocking. See our review here.
[Dan]: Amrut “Intermediate Sherry” Indian Single Malt Whiskey
For the over $100 whiskey category, I think that quality and taste, availability, uniqueness factor, and presentation should all play a part. Quality: Amrut knows how to make whisky. I tried this at WhiskyFest and it was outstanding. Sweetness and spice in a gentle, balanced dram. Availability: Amrut Intermediate Sherry is rare. There are only 510 bottles allocated for the US, and the US got a large allotment overall. Uniqueness: The barrel aging is incredibly unique. Amrut Peated Cask Strength, after being aged in bourbon barrels, was then transferred to sherry butts for a few months before being brought back into bourbon barrels. It’s a unique aging and part of the reason for the limited availability. Presentation: A beautiful large red box with a satin lining, nice graphic design, information on the bottle, and a ribbon tying it all together. It looks extremely luxurious, and if you’re giving it as a gift, it will impress the heck out of someone. At $125, it will make a great gift. See our review here.
Non-Liquid, Whisky-Related Gifts:
[Mike F.]: Whiskey: The Definitive World Guide by Michael Jackson ($45)
More than just an exhaustive compendium of distillery descriptions from all over the world (including Scotland, the US, Ireland, and Japan), this coffee table book delves deeply into all aspects of whisk/e/y, including its origins, how it’s made, terrior distinctions, cocktail recipes, and tasting notes from the master. It will captivate and educate all who are interested in the water of life, from those about to take their first sip to the seasoned enthusiast.
[Mike C.]: Bottega Del Vino Whisky Tots ($85 for a pair)
Almost as important as the quality of spirit you drink is the quality of the glassware you drink it out of. While I’ve got nothing against slinging $4 wee drams out of your average double shot whisky glasses at a local bar, if I’m going to blow $150 on a bottle of whisky I need a quality glass to drink it out of. A friend gave me two Bottega Whisky Tots as a wedding gift, and they are now my go-to glass for tasting quality drams. The deep bowl and tulip edges make for a perfect sip, and the measuring lines cut into the glass help me pour the perfect wee dram, or the more obscene “gill.”
[Dan]: Malt Advocate Magazine Subscription
There are two main whisky magazines one can subscribe to: Malt Advocate and Whisky Magazine. I think Malt Advocate is more approachable, and it’s editor, John Hansell does a phenomenal job of fostering a community amongst his readers. At $18 a year, it’s well cheaper than a Whisky Magazine subscription, and it provides some amazing content - from fascinating stories about the burgeoning American Whisky market to reviews that make or break whisky.
Other great gift bottles:Old Parr ($35), Glenlivet 15 yo French Oak ($40), Connemara Peated Irish Single Malt ($45), Jura Superstition ($45), Longrow CV ($60), Glenlivet Nadurra ($60), St. George Single Malt ($60), Aberlour A’bunadh ($60), George T. Stagg bourbon ($65), Talisker Distiller’s Edition 1998 12 yo ($70), Jura Prophecy ($70), Ardbeg Corryvreckan ($85), Glenmorangie Astar ($85), Highland Park 18 ($90), Ardbeg Supernova ($130), Hibiki 21 yo ($170), Caol Ila 25 yo ($205), Highland Park 25 yo ($250), Port Ellen 30 yo 9th Release ($370), The Last Drop ($2000)
- Thanks, WinterMan! Merry Chrimbus, Everybody.Comments