Here's what we're drinking, and you should too.
Here's what we're drinking, and you should too.
Welcome to the Whisky Round Table! Whisky Party is happy to have our second chance to host a conversation among our fellow bloggers. We hope you’ll join in the conversation!
The Parting of the Sensory: Scotch has long been thought of as a drink for rich old men. Although that’s changed over the last decade, scotch is still something of an older man’s drink. However, as humans get older our senses start to fade and our acuity decreases.
Is a 1959 Bunnahabhain wasted on a man whose taste buds are starting to forget the difference between green fruits and grapefruit? In other words, is well-aged whisky wasted on the old?
Is this the wrinkled old man in the convertible, or is it the much deserved reward for having achieved success in life? Can our palates retain sensitivity throughout middle age, or does experience more than make up for any loss?
Here at Whisky Party, we are fortunate enough to participate in The Whisky Round Table, a monthly discussion about all things whisky hosted by a great collection of our fellow whisky bloggers.
The good folk at Edinburgh Whisky Blog are hosting this month’s conversation, and they asked a great question:
In recent years we’ve seen a good few releases of not-quite-whisky-yet or spirit-that-dares-to-command-a-price. Whether kissed by Quercus Robur tannins for 4 months or just plain clearac, do you think this is something new distilleries or ones with severely depleted stocks should be doing?
Go check out our answer, along with those of our fellow Round Table bloggers, over at Edinburgh Whisky Blog. And if you are on the Twitters and think this deserves a mention, please use the hashtag #WhiskyRoundTable.
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
Lipsticking, the online marketing blog geared at women, points out that spirit companies are doing very little to reach out to women beyond the usual “girlie drinks” promotions. Being a guy, it’s not something I’ve thought about too often, but I can definitely say that some of the larger whisky events I’ve attended have been very dude-heavy.
In an effort to counter that, Skyy Spirits launched a new Facebook Page - Women and Whiskies. So far there are almost 800 members. Depending on how they are set up and moderated, Facebook Pages aren’t necessarily the most interesting/interactive of online communities, but they can be a good launching pad for future campaigns on Skyy’s part, and even a source of user-generated activity by the women who like the page. It’s nice to see the beginning of a concerted outreach effort to women whisky drinkers, and it will be interesting to see where this leads.
It’s been over a week since Dr. Whisky posted his somewhat controversial take on what’s missing in the online whisky world. A week is an eternity in blog time, but I can’t shake this post, or the conversation that ensued. I feel like I need to respond in some way.
Dr. Whisky essentially called for the creation of a “Rotten Tomatoes" of whisky - an aggregator site that pulls together all the diverse tasting notes from the dozens (if not more) whisky bloggers around the world to create a comprehensive database of tasting information on hundreds of malts.
I won’t rehash everything that was said on Dr. Whisky’s site, or on other whisky blogs, but rather I just hope to add four quick ideas to the discussion and maybe help move us further along. As Dr. Whisky says, he’s looking for all of our help to make this a reality, and this is my two cents.
The Whisky Blogosphere Needs to Upgrade.
One of the biggest problems I’ve had with some of the more comprehensive whisky sites, and older whisky blogs is that they are incredibly awkward to navigate and lack some basic functionality that I take for granted on other blogs and websites I visit with any regularity. A lot of them were clearly custom jobs built from scratch before the advent of cheap/free/open source Content Management Systems - and it shows. A good portion of the whisky blogosphere could just use a serious platform upgrade and adoption of current online best practices. That wouldn’t necessarily address most of the issues Dr.Whisky identifies in his post, but it would go a long way towards making the whisky blogosphere more navigable, searchable, and in general more useful all around to enthusiasts and newbies alike.
The Solution Right in Front of Our Eyes.
The one major resource I didn’t see mentioned on Dr. Whisky’s post - and which might be most easily able to adapt to the purposes he outlined - is Ian Buxton’s Whiskipedia. Currently Whiskipedia is a woefully incomplete resource, but it addresses most of the major issues one confronts when trying to conceive of a way to execute a project as big as one that Dr. Whisky is imagining.
The one department in which Whiskipedia is lacking is a dynamic, easily graspable interface like that employed by the Rotten Tomatoes movie site, but I think we need to face the facts that whisky tastings and movie reviews are qualitatively different on a number of levels and an imitation of the system Rotten Tomatoes employs might be too simple for a whisky review site.
This Project Could Be a PR Coup for a Large Drinks Company.
Barring the use of an open source, crowd-sourced solution like Whiskipedia, this is an expensive endeavor and one of the few ways I can see it coming to fruition is if a major drinks company decided it would be a good PR move to reach out to the community by helping to create/fund/host such a website. That drinks company would need to reconcile itself to the fact that it would in effect be paying for a utility that promotes its competition and may - at times - attack its own brands. That’s a difficult thing for marketing departments to wrap their brains around - but I think the upside in good will is much much higher than any downside. You can’t avoid word of mouth. If a whisky is no good, people will find out whether that information is located on a centralized website or not.
Dr. Whisky mentions a few “walled garden” social networks started by some distilleries (Balvenie, but Glenfiddich also has one). In my view, these are half-measures and actually common rookie mistakes made by corporations trying to dip their toes into the social media waters. No one wants to be in a walled garden defined by one brand. These companies need to think bigger. Whisky enthusiasts are a promiscuous bunch. Companies will win not by hoarding their customers, but rather by creating a service for the broader community.
While Thinking Bigger, We Also Have to Think Smaller.
Eventually, this is all headed towards mobile. A website like that under discussion will be a great resource for thousands of whisky fanatics. But as our phones become our primary way of accessing the web, this type of resource will be most useful to millions (or at least a hundred thousand) if it can be held in the palm of your hand while shopping in a local whisky store. There are a few whisky apps for the iPhone available now - and I’ll be honest and say that I have not tried any of them as of yet. But to stay relevant, we’re going to need to migrate to this platform. If we don’t, someone else will. Here are some great examples of what to aim for - but these are all beer related.
We here at Whisky Party are still relatively new to the whisky blogosphere, but we have all the respect in the world for those who pioneered this space. We hope everyone takes this as constructive criticism, and food for thought in what is sure to be an ongoing conversation. And we’ll be happy to engage those conversations and help out in any way we can.Comments
When we started this blog we intended to focus on Scotch whisky, and primarily that is what we have done. All three of us, I’m pretty sure, prefer to drink SMS (single-malt Scotch) over other types of whisk(e)y, but still thoroughly enjoy just about any brown liquor. Dr. Whisky, one of my early and heavy influences on what to drink, how to think about it, and how to write about it, has just recently been in the middle of a “week” long run of reviews featuring whiskies other than scotch. Some of them have been single-malts more-or-less modeled after scotch whisky, and some of them have been regional whiskies in styles all their own. But its been an eye-opening reminder that there is a lot of whiskEy out there beyond the UK horizon.
With John Hansell posing the question, “is the Scotch whisky industry in decline?" (emphasis mine), I have been thinking about the primacy of SMS, at least within our little corner of the blogosphere, over its Irish, American, Canadian, and perhaps even Japanese cousins, not to mention Indian, Syrian, European, or other regional whiskies.
Well, one of my personal reasons for focussing on SMS (and giving up on my youthful pursuit of mastering the world of vin rouge) was that Scotch whisky, in particular, offered a much more easily-mastered assemblage of styles, manufacturers, and bottlings (or seemingly so). SMS features a legally enforcible restriction of its ingrediants to just barley, yeast, and water. True, flavor-diversity and nuance are achieved through a complex but subtle combination of terrior (soil, water, air, etc.) and method of manufacture (eg, peated maltings, fat or slim stils, and various wood types). But one not need to know anything about the ingrediants of a single-malt scotch in order to appreciate it.
With a nice wine, on the otherhand, if one knew not its varietal or blend, it would be a strange thing to have any kind of real appreciation for it. And within those two categories there are a myriad of possibilities. The same might be true, to a lesser degree, of the world’s other whiskies. And because there is not the same kind of stylistic distinction (in my mind, anyway) between, say, Italian wine and French, or Californian wine and Australian, focussing on just one country, let alone one region of one country, doesn’t lend one the same kind of mastery and sense of satisfation as being a Scotch malt expert (who can easily ignore the rest of the whisk(e)y world).
And even though Scotch sales are down per capita, the industry continues to make money and forge ahead with new and exciting projects and products. Ardbeg, which has produced some of my favorite whiskies (10 yo, Uigeadail, Airigh Nam Beist), lights up the tasting charts with new expressions seemingly every few months. Its bretheren on the other side of Scotland, Glenmorangie, operates similarly. There have been no shortage of expressions from Bruichladdich, and even my personal favorite, Highland Park, has been releasing older and older expressions (the 40 and soon a 50 yo). While many of these were planned decades ago, the current trend within the Scotch industry is certainly premiumisation. With less people purchasing Scotch, and the price per bottle increasing, it seems to be returning to its older status as an elite, luxury item just around the time the younger (and perhaps, at the moment, less wealthy) generation was starting to accept it.
So if the question is whether we at the Whisky Party should branch out a little bit during this odd sub-phase in the Scotch industry, a recent notice from the Friends of Laphroaig indicates that an answer may be forthcoming (to Chicago, anyway). Simon Brooking, brand ambassador and all-around interesting dude, is headed to Lincoln Park’s Faith and Whiskey
to defend the honor of our fine Scotch whisky at Chicago’s Great Whisk[e]y Debate. I’d be honored to have you cheering me on as I go head to head with Knob Creek® Whiskey Professor Steve Cole and Canadian Club® Master Ambassador Dan Tullio in a no-holds-barred showdown for whisk[e]y supremacy. Of course, after going a few spirited rounds, we’ll be ready to share a few rounds with friends like you. It’s going to be an educational and entertaining evening you don’t want to miss.
I’ll be sure to attend the bout and blog the results. And irrespective of those, we’ll be sure to pay more attention to whiskEy around here in the near future, if for no other reason than it rocks.Comments
The Bruichladdich Blog has a post up about consolidation and slow volume growth in the whisky industry, and what it means for the whisky-related workforce in Scotland. The whole thing is worth a read, especially in light of the Johnnie Walker campaign, but I wanted to point out a subtext (and maybe silver lining?) for all us single malt fanatics:
Shockedby the gulf between the industry’s rhetoric and the reality of an iconic Scottish industry, the report sets out to find out why there are so few whisky jobs in Scotland. He discovered that the volume growth of the whisky has been stagnant for the last 25 years: a quarter of a century ago it was selling around 302.7 million LPA globally; today it sells around 306.2 million LPA. A mere 1.14% organic growth over a quarter of a century, the equivalent to a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of only 0.045%. Other global economic performance indicators have CAGRs in the range of 1.5% to 3.1% during the same period. Exports have increased while domestic consumption has fallen, though single malts have increased over this period - as has the value. “Generally, when the industry talks about “growth” it refers to sales revenues, not physical volumes. A simple example will clarify. If we compare exports in 1978 and 2005,(i.e. LPA) grew from 274 million LPA to 278 million LPA (an increase of 1.5%) whereas Value grew from £661 million to £2,370 million (an increase of 258%)! And, of course, jobs in Scotland are related to physical volumes, not financial revenues.”
If sales revenues are growing, but not volume of sales, doesn’t that point to an increase in interest in more expensive single malts over less expensive blended malts? Or does it just mean that the cost of whisky is going up across the board? If the former, that’s a good thing. We should all be happy if interest in single malts continues to rise (sympathy for those losing their jobs notwithstanding). If the latter, and it’s just about price inflation, that’s just a double kick the the gut.
Anyone with industry connections have any thoughts on what is actually happening?Comments
As Michael Jackson notes in the Complete Guide to Single Malt Scotch, at some point every whisky drinker becomes something of a collector.
Every lover of malt whiskies sooner or later becomes to some extent a collector. It may not be a conscious decision. It can just happen. A few casual purchases, the odd gift. For the collector’s friends, birthdays and Christmas are suddenly easy.
After two years drinking scotch, I think I’ve now found myself in that position. When I first started, it would be rare that I would have more than one bottle in my house at a time. Then came Christmas, an anniversary, and suddenly I found myself with 5 or 6 bottles on my dining room table. Over the course of a year, those bottles were killed off, but I started buying a little more. Then came Christmas again, and another anniversary, then my wedding followed by a birthday, and all of a sudden my collection looks like this:
- Laphroaig Quarter Cask
- Laphroaig 15
- Laphroaig 11 (Scotch Malt Whisky Society Bottling)
- Laphroaig Cairdeas (2009 Feis Ile Bottling - in the mail)
- Ardbeg 10
- Springbank 10
- Mortlach 17 (Malt Trust)
- Talisker 10
- Tullibardine 1993
- Glenkinchie 10
- Michel Couvreur 12 Pale Single-Single
- Glen Elgin 12
- Port Ellen 7th Annual Release
- Longmorn-Glenlivet 1967 (Scott’s Selection)
- Lagavulin 12 (200 cL Islay Gift Pack)
- Lagavulin 16 (200 cL Islay Gift Pack)
- Caol Ila 12 (200 cL Islay Gift Pack)
- Caol Ila 18 (200 cL Islay Gift Pack)
- Black Bottle
- Famous Grouse
So in the span of about 7 months, I’ve gone from almost no bottles, to almost 20 in total. The vast majority of these bottles are opened, and run under $100, but a few of them are closed and are actually quite expensive. The Port Ellen and Longmorn-Glenlivet in particular are both very expensive bottles that are likely to appreciate over time as stocks dwindle.
Should I drink these, or should I save them?
On the one hand, I’ve tried both of these bottles before. I had a small, 200 cL of the Port Ellen as party of the Islay gift pack, and I had a couple glasses of the Longmorn-Glenlivet at a local tasting. So these are not just expensive bottles that are collecting dust - they are both scotches that I have tried and genuinely enjoy. I would LOVE to drink these scotches.
But on the other hand, they are both bottles that are likely to become exceedingly rare as years go by, and they actually represent an not insignificant investment - especially if they are the anchors of a growing collection, which is a distinct possibility. Even if I receive two scotches of similar value per year as gifts, in 15 or 20 years, that will become a sizable investment …
Two of my favorite scotches - Laphroaig 15 and Ardbeg Airigh Nam Beist - are soon to be discontinued. Do I stock up on a few extra bottles of those, as well? One to drink, and one to save? Just to drink? Just to save? Are those going to be good long-term investments, or are they so common at the moment that they won’t appreciate over time?
Not sure that I have any of the answers to these questions at the moment, but I’ve definitely hit a point where it’s something that’s on my mind. For the moment, it’s not like I’m buying scotches and not drinking any of them. The vast majority of my collection is open and drinkable. So I’m certainly not depriving myself of good scotch just so I can have a few bottles gathering dust … but in a few years, I’m going to have enough of these “collectible” bottles that I may need to make a decision. Not sure what I’ll decide when that day comes …Comments