...where distraction is the main attraction.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Single Malt Report: The Glenlivet 15yr French Oak Reserve (x2)

I’ve had a number of opportunities to try The Glenlivet 15 years old French Oak Reserve single malt during this holiday season.  The first time was at the United Airlines Club at Dulles Airport.  Then at the very end of our long day of flights, my in-laws presented me a bottle of this very same whisky!  The malt at the club’s bar and the malt in the gifted bottle aren’t quite the same so I’m going to do two reports.

For some history on the Glenlivet distillery, please see my post on their Nadurra bottling.  The Nadurra 16yr is a steady if unspectacular cask strength.  My memory of their 18yr is positive, but not thrilling.  While the 12yr is the very definition of a mediocre whisky and leaves me baffled as to why it’s a bestseller around the planet.

Meanwhile, the 15yr French Oak is unlike its brethren, matured in oak from the Limousin region in France.  Limousin Oak is said to impart strong tannins so it's often used to mature cognac as well as some California wines.

DistilleryThe Glenlivet
Variety: "French Oak Reserve"
Age: minimum 15 years
Maturation: Limousin Oak
Region: Speyside (Livet)
Alcohol by Volume: 40%

Round 1

As previously mentioned I had a reasonable pour of this at the United Club at Dulles.  It was amongst the premium (read: not-free) liquors, but it was only $6, half (or less) of what it would cost at a bar.  The 'tender poured it from a bottle that was at least half full (or half empty), which means that depending on how long it had been sitting there, oxygen molecules may have already started breaking down the flavor compounds thus affecting the stuff in my glass.

Neat:  The color was light, like an extra virgin olive oil with some greenish highlights.  The nose was much sweeter than the 12yr.  Full of sugary cheap red wine, toffee, and brown sugar.  The palate was intensely dry and very oaky.  It was like drinking barrel wood (not exactly a good thing).  There was also some cardboard, malt, tobacco, and dried cherries.  The finish further dried out my mouth.  It was a little creamy, but had a lot of the cardboard remaining.

With water, lowering it to about 30% ABV:  The nose became much more gin-like.  Tanqueray piny, citric, and herbal.  A hint of Boston crème.  The rest of the Boston crème pie crust came out in the palate which was malty and sugary.  The finale was quiet, still very dry, with a little bit of tobacco.

Despite being more interesting than the 12yr, the 15yr seemed more flawed as opposed to the younger whisky’s boredom.  I’m going to chalk some of that up to an older oxidized bottle…

Round 1 Rating – 69

Round 2

This was a brand new bottle.  Nice and full and sealed.  And quite different as a result.

Neat: I first noticed that the nose was full of pencil shavings.  Then some vanilla, which Limousin Oak often imparts.  Towards the end there’s something between ginger and grapefruit zest.  The palate was much less dry.  It’s still oaky but less aggressively so.  It’s fruitier without being sweet.  Lots of cocoa and malt with a little bit of apple juice.  The baking chocolate finish was also less dry but still brief.

With water:  Everything disappeared from the nose except the Boston crème and herbal gin mentioned in the previous round.  The palate brightened up further: fresh apricots and apples and maybe some almonds.  The finish was but a whisper of cocoa.

As I hope you can tell from my description, this bottle presented a better showing of this whisky.  It cannot match the 16yr cask strength’s complexity and balance, but it’s a step above the 12yr.

Round 2 Rating – 79

Pricing - Good at $35-$40
Rating - 74

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

True story from the road

Picture this:

Kristen and I are in a hotel room, having set aside a few hours to do some important work.

She needs to take a practice test in order earn a professional certification.  I have a ton of story fixes that I need to make before I can start my script's 3rd draft.

We're seated, facing away from each other, computers on.  Silence.  Twenty minutes go by...

"Awww," Kristen peeps.

I don't turn around. "What's up?"

"Something I really wanted to buy has totally sold out."

"Me too."

"Whisky?" she asks.

"Whisky. And you?"

"A big silver wishbone."


"A big silver wishbone?"

"A big silver wishbone."

...and Scene.

Back to work.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

A Case of the Considerable Christmas Cutes

To the readers who celebrate Christmas, I post this video.

WARNING: This is so cute that some of you may begin to feel an irrational surge of testoteronal violence.  

Merry Christmas, y'all.

Friday, December 23, 2011

NOT Single Malt Report: Dewar's 12 year Special Reserve

Cigars and I don't get on like we used to.  The last two stoges I've puffed have resulted in toilet worship.

Last night, courtesy of Cousin Jon, I enjoyed Oban 14, Dimple Pinch, Isle of Jura 10, Highland Park 12, Dalwhinnie 15, and Macallan 12 -- over a four hour period.  Whisky is the one booze in which I can overindulge with confidence.  But then the lovely Opus X cigar arrived.  I got about one hour into the two-hour cigar when the abyss took me.

I stumbled outside, hugged a tree, and proceeded to forfeit the Oban, Dimple Pinch, Isle of Jura, Highland Park, Dalwhinnie, Macallan, dessert, dinner, lunch, and breakfast.

(Many thank yous to Jon for providing the means to indulge and also for hauling me up the stairs, postscript.  And thank you to Kristen, period.)

Thusly I'm slow today.  And the best thing for it is a little Hair of the Blog.

John Dewar & Sons, currently a subsidiary of the liquor behemoth known as Bacardi, opened for business in 1846.  The whisky maker merged with other brands to form Distillers Company in 1925.  Distillers Company was bought by Guinness in 1986, then Guinness became part of Diageo in 1997.  Then the following year Diageo jettisoned Dewar's into Bacardi's lap.

Dewar's owns five malt distilleries: Aberfeldy, Aultmore, Craigellachie, MacDuff and Royal Brackla.  They officially bottle Aberfeldy as single malts (12 & 21 years).  Independent bottlers have released singles from all five distilleries.  But the vast share of their malt (along with 30+ malts from other distilleries) goes into their bestselling blends.  Dewar's White La......whoa, almost lost my lunch there......Dewar's Wh......there it goes again......Dewar's White (gluh) Label and I don't get along.  Dewar's Signature is their premium blend.  I've seen an 18 year Founders in some liquor stores this year.  And Dewar's 12 year Special Reserve is their mid-pricer.

The whiskies in the 12 year are married.  With a rabbi and everything.  Or maybe after they're combined, they sit in an oak cask for some time in order for the flavors to merge before bottling.

I've had the White La......okay I'm not even going to type it.  I've had their cheapest blend.  And I'll leave it at that.  I've been seeing the 12 year everywhere recently, so I thought there should be a Report.  Kristen's parents keep a bottle of it at the house because one of their friends likes it on the rocks.

So I gave it a try.  The sacrifices I make for you people...

Distilleries: Around 40, including Aberfeldy, Aultmore, Craigellachie, MacDuff and Royal Brackla
Age: minimum 12 years
Blend: single malts and grain whiskies
Alcohol by Volume: 40%

Firstly, I tried it neat.  The color is classic whisky gold.  I would not be shocked to discover that's due to added carmel coloring.  For a 40% ABV, it has a very strong alcohol burn on its nose.  Once the ethanol passes the sniffer it's mostly vanilla and varnish.  And a tiny bit of brown sugar.  It's hot and lively on the palate.  It tastes of nuts and vanilla, some malt and grains.  But mostly, it tastes like notebook paper.  And I know that flavor well, having eaten a number of sheets in my childhood.  The finish is warm and of a decent length.

Adding some water brings out the oaks, bourbon and sherry, in the nose.  There's some molasses and cheese too.  But also, there's something else, weird and rotten meatish, in the distance; as if there was a dead animal in one of the casks.  There's no dead rat in the palate, thankfully.  It tastes a little like a light Irish whiskey.  My notes say "Nuts + caramel + nothing".  The finish has vanished altogether.

It's not the worst blend I've had and it's in a good price range.  And I didn't vomit.  A ringing endorsement!

Pricing - Appropriate at $20-$25
Rating - 67

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Single Malt Report: The Yamazaki 12 years old

First, some history in a heartnut shell:

Japan’s introduction to whisky directly corresponded to the opening of its culture to The West.  Commodore Matthew Perry was said to have brought over 100 gallons of whisky with him upon his arrival in 1854.  Western trade then brought European booze to the their shores and Scotch Whisky became very popular to those who could afford it.  Chemists and wine makers began trying to recreate Scotch to varying levels of failure.

Between 1918 and 1920, Masataka Taketsuru received a thorough apprenticeship at distilleries in Speyside and Campbeltown, then returned to what would later become Suntory distilleries in Yamazaki.  From this wealth of knowledge, the Japanese whisky industry began legitimately.

In the 1930s, Japan’s Imperial Navy was drinking at such an incredible rate that the whisky industry had to grow exponentially in order to meet the demand.  Postwar, the whisky love spread throughout Japanese society, at first with the upper classes then slowly down to the working classes as the whisky supply grew and the prices dropped.  Seventeen separate distilleries arose over the years, most of which are still running.

Today, Japan is the fourth largest whiskey producer in the world and the largest non-European consumer of Scotch whisky (per-capita) in the world [citation needed because author is frequently full of sh*t].

All of the paid published whisky experts agree that Japanese whisky is delicious.  But don’t take their word for it.  Take mine.  Japanese whisky is delicious.

(For a full Japanese whisky education please visit the excellent http://nonjatta.blogspot.com/.)

For relaxing times, make it Suntory time.
Suntory is one of Japan's largest whisky producers and their Yamazaki brand is one of their most popular single malts inside and outside Japan.  Like many of us, my introduction to Suntory was via Bob Harris.

A ring-a-ding-ding.
(Inconvenient fact: The whisky that Bob was shilling for was actually Hibiki, Suntory's big blend.)

Upon my departure from my previous job, about four months ago, my wonderful co-workers held a going-away happy hour for me at a nearby swanky sushi restaurant.  When the menu arrived, my eyes were instantly drawn to The Yamazaki 12yr.  'Twas love at first taste.  Two months later I bought a bottle for my birthday.  That bottle is now empty.


ProducerSuntory Whisky
Age: 12 years
Maturation: Bourbon / Sherry casks (?)
Country: Japan
Alcohol by Volume: 43%

The flavors in Japanese whisky can be very bold when sipped neatly.  That's because in Japan, more often than not, whisky is enjoyed on ice.  In fact, one of the classic afterwork drinks is the Mizuwari: Water + two large ice cubes + whisky, stirred 13 1/2 times.  The drinker still has to be able to taste the drink underneath all of that cold water, thus the intense flavors.

But let's start with it neat and naked, as I prefer it because I'm a gaijin.

Neatly:  The color is a very dark amber, almost mahogany.  The nose is lovely.  Ginger, crème brûlée, heavy vanilla, fizzy malt, prunes, bourbon toffee, and bananas.  I believe the technical term is "yum".  The palate is thick and buttery.  The ginger in the nose becomes gingerbread on the tongue.  There's some granulated sugar, dried apricots, and fresh cherries.  It has a medium-length finish, with some continuing cherry and sugar cookies.

Yeah, it's a big delicious dessert whisky when tried neatly.

Adding some water (1 part water to 3 parts whisky) and lowering the ABV to about 30%:  The nose becomes herbal, very gin-like, so maybe that's juniper?  It's a little peppery.  Some maple syrup.  Then ginger has now become ginger ale!  I actually like the nose better this way, with more subtlety.  The palate becomes very creamy.  Smooth, moreish, light.  Vanilla wafers that stick around through the mild finish.

For relaxing times indeed.

Now, let's fix up a Mizuwari:  All of those bold scents and flavors go to sleep, or are suffocated (depending on one's opinion of whisky on the rocks).  What remains are strong notes of vanilla and maple syrup in both the nose and palate.  It's an undemanding social drink, probably good during the summer, definitely appropriate after work.

The Yamazaki is a very versatile malt.  It works neatly, with water, as a Highball, or as a Mizuwari, depending on the drinker's preference.  The price is quite right.  I definitely recommend it as an introduction into Japanese whisky.

Pricing - Good at $38-$48
Rating - 87

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Dulles Layover

My wife is great to layover with.  I mean, in the airport.  I mean, nothing is better than laying over with my wife.  I mean...

I'll start again.

Due to our early flight, my alarm was set for 3:20AM this morning.  You can always count on that being a restful sleep.  So, after laying in an anxiety swamp for four hours, I crawled into the car with my wife.  We did a sweet beeline up the empty 405 in the dark.  Parked, bussed, checked, securitied, and got to the gate with time to spare.

We got upgraded to first class.  Wife versus Trip, 1-0.

Slept for 30 minutes, had a free meal, finished a Film Comment mag, and was too batty to take advantage of the free booze.

Got to Dulles Airport on time, which means a 3-1/2 hour layover.  First thing we always do in this situation is hit the Potbelly in Gate C.

Here we enjoy some Potbelly sandwiches and Yuengling, neither of which are available in LA.  A song about LA plays on the speakers as Mohammed (that's what the receipt says) serves us.

After this, we walk past two Duty Free shops where I complain, as I always do, that it's ridiculous that I can't buy Duty Free-only whisky bottlings while flying domestically.  Kristen pretends like she's never heard me complain about that before.  I feel self-righteously correct.

Now we sit in a United Club.  Free internet, free shortbread cookies, comfortable seats, and Glenlivet 15 French Oak(!).  Wife versus Trip, 2-0.

I am spoiled today.  Had I been travelling alone, I'd be laying on the floor at my next gate, complaining to strangers about my earache and crappy seats as I chew antacids for lunch.

Thanks, K!

The Dark Knight Rises trailer

I am probably somewhere in the sky at this moment, sleeping restlessly.  Look, Blog, no hands!

If you haven't seen the new The Dark Knight Rises trailer yet, here it is.  Are we getting some politics in this movie?

Monday, December 19, 2011

The Honey-Do List for the Holidays

Happy Holidays, folks!  I hope that everyone's vacations begin soon.  The Industry began its holidays on Friday; as a result much of the machine has slowed down.  But there's no rest for the creatives, though maybe a brief break from development emails.

I just returned from Arizona and am now prepping to leave for New York and Ohio.  I have some entries lined up, so as long as I have the interwebs I strive for blog diligence.

Whiskies - I have a tremendous Taste Off lined up while I'm in New York.  A lot of the classics will be involved.  If I live to tell about it, then you'll see it posted here.  I also have a very exciting whisky situation that may present itself in Ohio.  I dare not say anymore about it.

Once I finish some further research, I'd like to continue posting some Whiskey 101 posts.  You know, some (borrowed) wit and (stolen) wisdom about the sauce.

I happily found a bottle of Black & White, an old-school dirt-under-the-fingernails whisky blend.  Why so happy?  Well, this is the stuff I cut my whisky teeth on when I wandered the British Isles nine years ago.  When one's a broke backpacker, one drinks the whisky one gets.  Black & White is what I gots.  Seeing the (liter!) bottle on the shelf at Pasadena's Mission Liquor was genuinely surreal.  I'm waiting to open it in 2012, after which you may see me do an about-face on highballs and whisky & ice.

Movies & Music - In doing all of these whisky posts, I haven't had a chance to finish Chapter 5 of the George Herman Hitchcock Project.  Regrettably, my general film flow (terrible word choice) has been at a trickle for months.

But I've been listening to tons of new (though, actually old) music.  Back in this blog's youth, there were music posts every week.  I would like to do at least a couple per month.

The Condo - January will bring some new projects.  I will provide before-and-after pics when it's all good.

Politics - Just saw the Kim Jong Il news.  2011 continues to be The Year It Sucks to Be A Dictator.  And for that I am thankful.

I'll be back on Wednesday!

Friday, December 16, 2011

A good man of great spirit, Christopher Hitchens.

Christopher Hitchens died last night, due to complications from esophageal cancer.  He was the most enjoyable spitfire in international journalism, a spectacular essayist (even when one doesn't agree with a single word), and a world class drinker.

Andrew Sullivan shares hours of thoughts on his blog.
Christopher Buckley writes about their unlikely friendship.
Slate has a collection of his columns.
Here's a lecture he gave on drinking correctly.

I'm travelling right now with family and am struggling to access words that will capture my sadness at his departure.  The last of his essays has been written.  Thank you, Christopher.  If there is another life, I'm sure you have gotten over that surprise and promptly taken to causing trouble and drinking well.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Single Malt Report: Longrow CV (part 4 of 4)

The Springbank Taste Off concludes!

From left to right we've got Hazelburn 8yrSpringbank 10yr 100 Proof, and Longrow CV.

On Monday, I gave a little intro into the Campbeltown region and the Springbank Distillery.
On Tuesday, I reported on Hazelburn 8yr.
On Wednesday, I reported on Springbank 10yr 100 proof.
Today, I'll report on Longrow CV, the final dram in the Springbank Taste Off.

The obligatory historical recap:  Though just a tiny town, Campbeltown was a serious whisky producer in the 1800s.  A major downturn in the 1900s decimated over 90% of their distilleries.  The strongest remaining producer of in the region is the Springbank distillery which makes a number of completely unique whisky brands, all separated by different distillation methods.

Longrow is the second most prevalent of Springbank's brands in the US.  It also has been around the second longest and has the second most bottlings.  (The original Springbank brand is first in all of those categories.)  But Longrow is a considerably different whisky than its brothers.  While it is also not chillfiltered and not dyed, it is distilled but twice like a classic malt and is heavily peated in a similar fashion to Islay whiskies.  And it also has some curious finishes.

Longrow CV doesn't have age, proof, or cask appendages.  So what is it?

CV, for the Americans out there (I had to figure this out back when I was applying for film jobs in Ireland), stands for curriculum vitae.  It's very similar to a résumé.  It's a concise listing of qualifications, achievements, and skills.  Everyone in the UK who's job searching has one.

Springbank put a neat spin on this idea by creating CVs for each of Hazelburn, Springbank, and Longrow.  They took a number of different casks from different years in their warehouse and combined them into single whiskies.  Because these combinations are all from the same distillery and brand, they are still considered single malts and not blends.  They're sort of an overview of what the brand has to offer.

The Longrow CV is a particularly odd little space cadet.  Take a peek at the info below:

Ages: between 6 and 14 years (likely 7, 10, & 14 years in this specific bottling)
Finished in: sherry, port, bourbon, and rum casks
Region: Campbeltown
Alcohol by Volume: 46%

The age ranges are broad, everything from a very young malt to a well-aged mid-range.  And look at all of those finishes:  Sherry, port, bourbon, and rum.  I actually didn't know this information going into my purchase of this dram.  I found this out just before the Taste Off.  On the surface it seemed like a bizarre goulash of things that don't really seem to belong together.  These were unknown waters, of the whisky sort.

As this was the final dram in each of the tastings (neat and with water), I had an excellent opportunity to compare and contrast this with the other very different (Hazelburn and Springbank) single malts.  Though I was now uncertain of how this one would turn out, I was looking forward to a bigger peater....

Longrow CV, neat.

Though it wasn't dark, the color was the darkest of the three.  In fact, my tasting wound up going from lightest to darkest, unintentionally.  The nose had the most upfront alcohol kick of the three.  But behind it was a calmer version of the hefty Springbank.  Full of rum sugar and peat smoke, very pleasant.  For the palate I will defer to my tasting notes: "Different than an Islay, like a caramel candy with a peat smoke center.  Some mild salt.  Never tasted anything like this.  Tremendous."  The finish was mild but deliciously honey sweet.

Let's get back to that "never tasted anything like this" comment.  I found myself bereft of adjectives.  There was some crazy alchemy involved in this mixing of malts.  To give you an idea, here's a list of descriptors provided by several professional tasters:
Tobacco smoke, smoked fish, lively brine, honey, grain, tangy flavors of spiced rum, vanilla cake frosting, cocoa butter, milk chocolate, sweet oak, grain, cheese, dried fruit, brown sugar, marshmallows toasted on a campfire, soft billows of smoke from the kiln, peppery, big citrusy notes, vanilla fudge, orangeade, and dried ginger.
I had struggled to describe it because it has everything.  And it doesn't feel like a blob.  It works.

Then I added a tablespoon of water to lower it to 35% ABV.  The nose became plastic and peat up front.  Some of the sherry snuck out.  The Springbank band-aids.  Wet peat soaked by the ocean.  Now the palate was big and bold, becoming both sweeter and peatier.   The finish was "even better than before", peat with fruit sugars.

I sat there, looking at my empty glasses, genuinely thrilled having enjoyed the entire thing.  And tipsy.

Bravo to Springbank for having sculpted these three unique whisky brands.  They are linked by an oceanic character, but then diverge into separate dimensions.  I look forward to expanding my knowledge of all things Springbank.

I'll leave you with some good news.  No disclaimers about this bottling.  You'll need to find a good liquor store (US or UK), but once you do, they should have this.  I recommend it.

Pricing - Bargain! at $50-$55
Rating - 92

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Single Malt Report: Springbank 10 years old 100 proof (part 3 of 4)

The Springbank Taste Off continues!

From left to right we've got Hazelburn 8yr, Springbank 10yr 100 Proof, and Longrow CV.

On Monday, I gave a little intro into the Campbeltown region and the Springbank Distillery.
On Tuesday, I reported on Hazelburn 8yr.
Today, I'll report on Springbank 10yr 100 proof

The historical recap:  Though just a tiny town, Campbeltown was a serious whisky producer in the 1800s.  A major downturn in the 1900s decimated over 90% of their distilleries.  The strongest remaining producer of in the region is the Springbank distillery which makes a number of completely unique whisky brands, all separated by different distillation methods.

Springbank's Springbank brand is their largest and most popular.  One of their bottlings can be found at any decent liquor store in California, unlike the more limited Hazelburn brand.  Springbank's malt is distilled two-and-a-half times, is lightly peated, and remains unchillfiltered and undyed, keeping the resulting whisky in the style of the old Campbeltown bottlings.  Their regular 10 year is bottled at 46% ABV.  But this is not their regular 10 year.

PROOF*:  As you'll see by the subject heading, the particular whisky that I'm tasting is labelled "100 Proof".  Alcohol Proof in the UK is different than in the US.

In the US, when alcohol content was first tested in a lab, it was done so per 200 parts of the liquid.  If 80 parts of the liquid was alcohol, the liquid was thus 40% alcohol.  So US "proof" equals twice the Alcohol by volume.  Thus 100 proof = 50% ABV.

In the UK, it's much sexier.  Back when British sailors were allowed to bring aboard rations of rum, they would test to see if it had been diluted.  To do this, they would submerge gunpowder in a portion of the rum.  Then they'd light it on fire.  If the rum had been watered down, then the gunpowder wouldn't ignite.  If it remained flammable, then it was good to go.  Because they didn't have sophisticated scales, they set the undiluted standard (proof of quality, if you will) at 100 proof.  Later studies discovered that the amount of alcohol necessary for this flammable balance was 4:7 or 57.14%.  Thus 100 proof = approximately 57%.

Because Springbank is from the UK and because they wanted to label the whisky in the classic (pre-1980) fashion, they appended the name with "100 proof".  And it is thus 57% alcohol by volume.  It's a strong drink.

(Update: It turns out that the US bottling is in fact 50% ABV, thus 100 US proof.  The UK bottling is 57% ABV, which is 100 UK proof.  Not sure why they chose to change it for the American market.  To prevent confusion, perhaps?  The "105" in Glenfarclas 105 refers to its UK proof, which equals 60% ABV, yet the distillers bottled it at that same strength for the US and the UK.  BUT, no worries, the US bottling of the Springbank 10yr 100 proof is also delicious and will get its own report in the near future.)

* - Though copious interent research went into this "Proof" information, it was still just internet research.  I welcome all corrections.

Brand: Springbank
Age: minimum 10 years
Maturation: Mostly bourbon
Region: Campbeltown
Alcohol by Volume: 57% (100 UK Proof)

Like the other two drams, I obtained my taste of Springbank 10yr 100 proof from Master of Malt's Drinks by the Dram samples.  The little bottle held 3cL (30mL) worth, perfect for a taste off.

Here's how I structured the Taste Off:
Hazelburn (neat), Springbank (neat), Longrow (neat), then...
Hazelburn (w/water), Springbank (w/water), Longrow (w/water)

So now, in the second slot, Springbank 10 years old 100 Proof.  First, neat:

The color was a light gold, but a bit darker than the Hazelburn.  The nose on cask strength whiskies can be tricky, full of alcohol burn.  But not this one.  Much less of a burn than I had anticipated.  Instead it was very oceanic, salt and seaweed.  Then plastics, dyes on old baseball cards, a little toffee at the end.  My notes say, "a seaside carnival".  The palate immediately felt like a mild Islay.  A little bit of Bowmore-style peat.  A nibble of Johnnie Walker Black.  Then more wet peat.  Apricots.  Sweet on the tongue but not sugary.  The finish was red hot and very lengthy!  Full of band-aids and ocean mist.

Then I added two tablespoons of water, bringing the ABV down to 35%.

The nose was now "almost Lagavulin".  Nice peat, with cinnamon, pastries, band-aids, and a little citrus.  The palate was reminiscent of my great Bowmore 16yr from Signatory.  Also reminded me of a lightly-fruited Lowland wrapped up in peat.  The finish was "cinnamon on a peat pillow".

Adding the water turned it into completely different experience.  That's what I love about these high strength whiskies.  They allow you to choose your own adventure.  This one turned an industrial oceanic ass-kicker into a compulsively drinkable anytime malt.  I liked them both considerably.

A note about the bottling:  The good news is that this whisky is stellar.  The bad news is that it's no longer in production.  At some point this year Springbank replaced it with the 12yr Cask Strength.  That new heavy hitter is getting good notices, though some reviewers miss the big baby from this report.  The large online UK whisky sellers no longer carry the 10yr 100 proof.  But if you do some good detective work, you just might find a US seller with a bottle left.  I did.

Pricing - Excellent at $70
Rating - 92

Tomorrow: Longrow CV!

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Single Malt Report: Hazelburn 8 years old (part 2 of 4)

It's a Springbank Taste Off!

From left to right we've got Hazelburn 8yr, Springbank 10yr 100 Proof, and Longrow CV.

To review: though just a tiny town, Campbeltown was a serious whisky producer in the 1800s.  A major downturn in the 1900s decimated over 90% of their distilleries.  The strongest remaining producer of in the region is the Springbank distillery which makes a number of completely unique whisky brands, all separated by different distillation methods.

One of these whisky brands is Hazelburn.  Named after one of the closed old distilleries, Hazelburn's distillation began in 1997, with the first bottling (8 years old) released in 2005.  They've since added three other bottlings, but the 8 year old has been the most successful and the easiest one to find in The States.

The Hazelburn whisky sets itself apart from the other Springbank brands by its distillation methods.  Almost all scotch whisky is distilled twice.  Only Irish whiskies and scotch malts from The Lowlands are malted three times.  This third distillation creates a lighter smoother whisky.  Hazelburn now also passes through this third distilling, and its malt is not peated, thus allowing it to be crafted in the Lowland style.

Like all other Springbank produced whiskies, it isn't chillfiltered, it isn't artificially colored, and its barley is actually grown by Campbeltown farmers.  Here's a little more info:

Distillery: Springbank
Age: minimum 8 years
Maturation: 60% ex-bourbon casks + 40% sherry casks
Region: Campbeltown
Alcohol by Volume: 46%
Limited bottling: 5,100

I came by my dram of Hazelburn 8 year via Master of Malt's tremendous Drinks by the Dram samples.  It's not available right now amongst their sample selection so I'm plenty happy that I was able to get it while it was there.  It was a 3cL or 30mL-sized dram which works very well for this sort of tasting.

Here's how I structured the Taste Off:
Hazelburn (neat), Springbank (neat), Longrow (neat), then...
Hazelburn (w/water), Springbank (w/water), Longrow (w/water)

This allowed me to compare and contrast these three very different whiskies.

So.... Hazelburn neat.

As you can tell by the bottle picture its color's very light, the lightest of the three whiskies.  Almost Sauvignon Blanc light.  Its nose was light, soft, full of confectioners' sugar, vanilla, cookie dough, and lemon.  It was like the scent of a bakery in full swing.  The texture mirrored the color, very light and soft.  But the palate shifted gears away from the nose.  It tasted of the sea, shellfish, and bread crusts.  My notes read: "Like a light lunch in the sun by the bay."  The finish was brief but very pleasant, soaked with the vanilla flavors from the bourbon casks.

Then I added one tablespoon of water, bringing the ABV down to 35%.

This caused everything to shift and change.  On the nose, the bourbon influence took a back seat to the sherry casks.  There was lots of anise to go with the sherry.  It was less sugary and contained some mysterious similarity to the Springbank 10yr I was sampling.  The palate was cream and cardboard, like the white cardboard bottoms on Hostess Cupcakes.  The finish was "kind and lazy", full of unsweetened breakfast cereal flakes.

Like Glenkinchie (a Lowland single malt) it's a light, polite dram.  But its nosing and flavors are a bit different than the Lowlands I've tried.  Less fruit, more malt and a curious seaside element that carries through the other Springbank brands that I tried.

A note about the bottle pricing: As you'll see, this is a relatively expensive 8yr official bottling.  The specific whisky production method likely factors into this price point.  You're paying for an old-school handmade process that uses Campbeltown-only resources.  Also, this is a limited bottling and its in short supply here in the US.  At the same time, I'm a little surprised by the expense compared to its Springbank brethren.  And it is priced out of the reach of most middle-class whisky lovers.  (UK amounts listed include shipping, but not VAT, and cover a 700mL bottle.)

Pricing - A little steep at $80-85 (U.S. & U.K.) if you find it for less, grab it before the price goes up
Rating - 82

Tomorrow: Springbank 10yr 100 Proof!

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Single Malt Report: Springbank Distillery (part 1 of 4!)

A bit of an intro first.  As I'd referenced in some early Single Malt Reports, Scotland's whisky production is often divided up into six regions:

The Lowlands (ex: Glenkinchie & Auchentoshan)
The Highlands (ex: Oban & Glenmorangie)
The Islands (ex: Jura & Talisker)
Speyside (ex: Macallan & Glenfiddich)
Islay (ex: Bowmore & Laphroaig)

Let's zero in on Campbeltown.  Here's a pic of the famous phallus, the Kintyre peninsula:

The town of Campbeltown is nestled down southeast, right near the, um, head.

Packing thirty-four distilleries into its tiny town on a little Scottish peninsula, Campbeltown proclaimed that it was "the capital of the whisky world".  With the coastal air, bounties of water and peat, tonnes of barley, and an excellent shipping location it was the perfect region for whisky production in the 1800s.

But the 1900s weren't so kind.

Thirty-four distilleries packed into a small town wasn't sustainable.  First there was overproduction.  Then the railroads made Speyside more easily accessible.  Then The Depression hit.  But the nail in the coffin was the American Prohibition.  By the 1950s, only two distilleries remained.  And those two are still up and running today:  Springbank and Glen Scotia.

The larger of the two, Springbank, is quite impressive.  Still independently owned, they are one of the only distilleries to use their own barley in their maltings.  They've reinvested their profits by buying up and incorporating some of the silent stills from the defunct distilleries.  They've had the funding and resources to help out Glen Scotia with its own production.  They don't chillfilter and they don't add colouring.  And they produce four entirely different whiskies with completely different production methods, each with their own set of bottlings:  Springbank, Longrow, Hazelburn, and Kilkerran.

Kilkerran is still a baby, but they have released a malt that I will beg, borrow, and steal for before 2012 has finished.  But I have had a whisky from each of the other three.  In fact, I had all three during a single tasting:

And it was marvelous.  One of my favourite whisky afternoons, ever.  There's so much goodness here that I'm going to split these single malt reports up over the next three days.

[Tuesday] Lowland style - Hazelburn 8 year old
[Wednesday] Campbeltown style - Springbank 10 year old 100 proof (actually 57.15% ABV!)
[Thursday] Islay style - Longrow CV (a mix of malts from 6-14 years)

Trailer Sunday: The Pirates! Band of Misfits

The last thing that the cinema needs right now is another pirate movie.  Another vampire movie wouldn't be bad as long as it references actual vampires, gives it an appropriate R-rated treatment, and treats the audience like grownups.  But pirates?  That shallow well was drained with the first Jack Sparrow film...

Oh look!  A new Aardman movie!  Yay!  Is it a Wallace and Gromit film?  No.  Is it a bunch of cheeky British animals going on an adventure of discovery?  No.  Is it a... Yes, it's a pirate film.

The good news is that first trailer is great.  It has a strange irreverent sense of humor, verbally and visually.  I actually wanted to see the film.  They sold me on a pirate film.

Then I saw the second trailer.  It takes everything that was fun about the first trailer and turns it into overbaked, unoriginal, heavy-handed crap.  "Dude" and gang signs and beep-beep and and "she's not fat, she's big boned" and monkeys and "Come on Feel the Noise".  I find it difficult to understand how anyone at Aardman thought that this was a good idea:

I mean, they sold it with the first trailer, then unsold it with the second.  Though it's difficult to be angry about the second trailer since it's more truthful, airing out the lame jokes.

Aardman has no interest in appealing to my demographic of one.  But they've built their brand on providing unique and original entertainment, and I don't see those qualities here.

To this I say bah humbug.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Thursday was L.A. Sports Day

Albert Pujols is taking his talents to Long Beach (adjacent).  As a Yankees fan, this provides no heartburn since the Yanks couldn't even beat the Angels before this.  As a baseball fan, I really dig this because now I can actually watch the sport's most exciting robot play every day!  If you don't think that he's a robot, I have a bridge I'd like to sell you.  He broke his forearm last year and was back in the lineup two weeks later as noticeably a better player.  I'm just going to repeat that.  He broke his forearm.  He healed in less than two weeks.  Then he was an even better player.  That's what the media will tell you at least.  He didn't heal at all.  They just replaced The Albot v4.1 with The Albot v4.2.  I'm interested in how the v5.0 model will perform.

The contract is daft.  Not the $254M.  Compared to other salaries out there and his actual value, the yearly salary is reasonable.  What's cracked is that it was for 10 years.  My qualms have nothing to do with the unsubstantiated rumors that he's been lying about his age.  Future Pujols models will be unable to play the field, so he'll be restricted to DH within six years; maybe fewer if he can do what Jeter can't and surrender the glove before the fielding gets embarrassing.  So, for most of the contract they'll have a part-time player (which is what a DH is, value-wise).  Hasn't baseball seen this happen before.  You know, recently.  This year.  Alex Rodriguez, anyone?

The Angels also picked up CJ Wilson for five years, $77.5M.  Wilson has been a starter for two years and is already 31.  I'm just happy the Yankees didn't pick him up.  The Angels will have great starting staff with Weaver and Haren and Wilson.

But they'll also have a 2012 payroll of over $180 million.  That means that we'll see at least three teams (Sawx, Anaheim, and Phils) in the $160-$180M range next year.  Meanwhile, the Yankees' payroll in 2012 will be what it was SEVEN YEARS AGO.  So I guess there will be four evil empires now.

Tangent: Owner Jeffrey Loria busted out the once-a-decade Marlins Credit Card, signing Jose Reyes and Mark Bueller Buehrle to cushy multi-year deals.  This time he's gambling on a new stadium and swapping out the dreaded "Florida" for the less-dreaded "Miami" to bring in more fans.  Reyes is a great signing, as long as he's healthy.  We'll see if he brings in the local Dominican demographic that Loria desperately wants in his seats.  Buehrle, on the other hand, probably won't sell more tickets but should hang a couple more Ws up in the standings.  Still, these two guys aren't enough to take the NL East.  Even if Josh Johnson is healthy all year, they'll be lucky to tussle with Atlanta for the Wild Card.  And if DC's youth turn out to be half as good as the hype, the Marlins may not move anywhere in the standings.

Tangent:  When I lumbered into the condo building's elevator this morning at 6:45am on the way to the gym, I was engulfed in the scents of freshly baked chocolate chip cookies AND brownies.  Then the doors closed and the elevator descended.  It was a pleasing experience.  As far as erotic sensory experiences go, it was a ★★★½.

Tangent: iTunes awarded Tiny Tower as the best game app of 2011.  I have Tiny Tower.  It requires no skill and has not a hint of complexity.  And I don't mean that in a Zen way.  I mean that in a "barely holds your attention while you sit on the toilet" way.  I should know.

The Lakers gave up Pau Gasol and Lamar Odom for CHRIS PAUL.  He gets all caps because he is awesome.  And there are rumors floating, like oh so many methane-loaded turds, about an LA-Orlando trade based around Andrew Bynum and Dwight Howard.  If that goes through, the Lakers will run the table...... for the regular season.  And the playoffs.

They don't even need Howard.  Even with Bonehead Bynum playing occasionally, the CP-Kobe duo is monstrous.  It's perfect if you think about it.  Kobe wants the ball on every single play and CP is the best passer in the game.  As you can tell, my knowledge of on-court strategy is vast.  Vast.

"Esta bien."
This a reverse-Sheffield situation for me.  In 2004, I was a Yankee fan, but could not stand Gary Sheffield.  And then they signed him.  There was a lot nose pinching when he came to the plate in pinstripes.

[Wow, now I'm remembering that Yankee team.  By 2005 they'd picked up Sheffield, Randy Johnson, and Kevin Brown.  F***.  I guess I was just rooting for the uniform.]

Conversely, I'm not a Lakers fan (Go Clips!).  But I am a Chris Paul fan.  I wish the Clippers had traded for him, but they have no good pieces to deal--

BREAKING NEWS! (okay, it was breaking news when I started writing this last night)  The majority of NBA owners have blocked the trade.  Wow, what has happened to David Stern?  He's more like Daniel Stern now.

Here's the scoop: The Hornets are owned by the NBA, which means that each team owner has an equal share in the ownership.  This was supposed to allow the Hornets' general manager to deal openly with other teams, like any other GM.  But because this hurt some billionaires' feelings, as there was worry about the Lakers carrying an all-star team, they shotblocked this deal.  Stern clearly has no control over the owners and he handled the lockout like a fool.

And now a classic snippet from this morning's media blitz:
"I don't want to speak on the basketball side, but that particular one was weighed against Chris Paul's continued presence in New Orleans," Stern said in New York at the NBA's offices.  
NBA spokesman Tim Frank said Thursday the deal was blocked for "basketball reasons." The league owns the Hornets and is trying to sell the club.

So, um.  What?  Yes, let's not speak about the basketball side since you're the commissioner of Whack-A-Mole.  But then your spokesperson said that the deal was blocked due to the basketball side.

Well done.  Keep up the good work.  And to conclude, "Morons. I've got morons on my team."

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Trailer Thursday: John Carter

I'm still not sure what to make of John Carter.  It has Tatooine-like visuals and Na'vi tribal stuff without the pterodactyl rape and unobtanium.  There's a Lawrence of Arabia feel to it, filtered through Edgar Rice Burroughs.

With Andrew Stanton (WALL-E, Toy Story 1 & 2) directing/co-writing this, there's a lot of us genuinely hoping that the great filmmaking qualities from Pixar can transition to live action.  And that hope's not unfounded.  To me, Pixar's magic comes from their incredible writing teams and it's debatable how much actual live action is in John Carter.

Plus I think we can all use a big slab of entertainment that has been neither dumbed down nor compromised.

Here are the two trailers, which have completely different tones and at times seem to be pitching two different movies.  I think the second one spins the story with more clarity.

Teaser - 7/14/11

Trailer - 11/29/11

The studios have been trying to make this since the 1930's.  Ray Harryhausen (allegedly) wanted to make it back in the '50s.  Disney pulled together a great filmmaking team to do it in the '80s, but ultimately decided that the necessary visual effects didn't exist, yet.  Apparently they do now.

So here's to hoping that this is good.  With Stanton and Marc Andrews from Pixar responsible for the first script drafts and the Amazing Michael Chabon knocking out the final polishes, I think my optimism is warranted.

But, like every other blogger's post about this film, it's all speculation until March 9th.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Alligator, Exploding Fire Hydrants, Falling Moustaches, and Fire

(a solid start)
We have a few fix-it things going here at the condo, simultaneously.  Of course.  We received the last of our bids on our replacement windows.  Our current windows are mostly just symbolic, as opposed to functional.  Then, a gruff tatted-up war veteran fixed/replaced our balcony's sliding screen doors in a matter of minutes.  Finally, our chimney-sweeps(!) never showed up.  It's hard to get pissed off at a chimney-sweep.  I just couldn't wait to see his soot-covered face and hear his delightful cockney accent!

We also had a nice Shabbat here.  Candles, wine, challah.  The Albertsons across the street makes GREAT challah.  Like most Jews, I've had terrible challah for most of my life.  And now the scruffy Albertsons across the way makes good stuff.  Also, for those concerned about my health and finances, you mus'nt worry; their liquor selection is the worst I've ever seen.  So, I'll just be forced to walk a total of two blocks to get to three separate liquor stores.

(speaking of liquor...)
I went on a whisky cruise, documented in this recent post.  It was grand, luxuriating on a boat, appreciating five different Bowmores.  Of course, that was in the afternoon.

There was an '80s party in the evening, for which I had to remain steadfastly conscious enough to be the designated driver.  After hours of whisky, it's difficult to stay upright, on one's feet until 1am.  Constant hydration was involved.  As was this:

Fake moustache fail!  But the chest hair never fails.  Here's another picture before the 'stache fell off:

May I add, that's not boogers on the 'stache.  That the reflection of the light off the shiny dead muskrat on my face.  There was a gleam on that thing.  I was one gold Star of David necklace away from being a record producer.

Here's Kristen working the theme much better.

Oh, the '80s.  Will they never ever ever leave?

(a quiet day)
We spent time watching football with our friends, The Forresters, in beautiful Palos Verdes.  We were twice warned of the wild peacocks wandering the roads.  No wild peacocks this time, which was a good thing because my car would have flattened them as we marveled at all of the mansions.

At home I cooked up a solid chili, since the temperature dropped into the 30s.  Yes, this happens in Southern California sometimes...

(you know, like any other Monday)
The chimney-sweeps did show up, a half hour early, when I was inappropriately attired and shaving.  And they weren't Cockney.  They were Gustavo and Caesar.  And now we have a working fireplace.

At Trader Joes, I witnessed a middle-aged woman LOSING HER SH*T to the customer service staff that the bittersweet chocolate was bitter and not sweet.  No, she didn't want milk chocolate.  She wanted sweet bittersweet chocolate, goddamn it you terrible people.  And she demanded to try all of their other chocolate to find the right kind.  Customer service said no.  The woman was disappointed in them as human beings.

Then as I shopped for toothbrushes, I received a call from someone (who will go unnamed) who was ecstatic about an Electronic Toothbrush that he/she was buying me for Hanukkah!  It was difficult to know how to respond to that.  Especially when one gets to the cashier with over $100 worth of food and no wallet.  That was an hour lost.  Only one way to make up for that.

FIRE.  I'm a pyro, and the way things were shaping up, Kristen nominated herself to ignite the flame.  Good call.  Then football.

I poured some whisky to celebrate the anniversary of Prohibition's repeal and started up some turkey burgers.  All was well and calm.

Then outside the window, the sound of brakes squealing.  Then that unmistakable sound of WHUMP...WHUMP.

I ran to the window with that weird dread/excitement of seeing a multi-car wreck.  But there was only two cars in this crash because one of them BLASTED A FIRE HYDRANT SEVERAL YARDS OFF OF ITS CONCRETE BASE.  Which sent a FIVE-STORY EXPLOSIVE WATER PLUME firing into the air, sending pressurized kiloliters of water bursting into the sky.

For almost 30 minutes.  Blocks of streets were flooded within seconds.  At least two intersections were turned into moats.  The fire department could access the off switch because the crushed car was covering it.  They couldn't tow the car because, well:

Getting to the car on foot was one problem.  Getting a tow truck across the deep river and pulling the crushed car from its entrenchment was another.  It was actually kind of horrific to watch the waste of so much water, but it was impossible to stop watching the violence of the burst which was actually audible as the plume escaped the ground.

Ultimately no one was hurt.  But if either of these drivers were texting while driving, I will hurt them myself.

(the usual)
Upon exiting Hot's Kitchen in Hermosa Beach, where we'd gone for a friend's birthday dinner, Kristen and I saw Russell Brand hanging around outside the next doorway.  We had a simultaneous, "Whoa, that was Russell Brand."

At the next intersection we heard some self-appointed street toughs saying, "F*** Russell Brand. He can suck my d***."  And I wondered, how does that come up in conversation?

That almost made me forget for a moment that I'd just finished eating alligator tacos.  No, that's not some cute name for green tacos.  It was a quarter pound of alligator meat.  With cilantro, onion, and capers.  I give it ★★★.

May all of our Wednesdays be uneventful...

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Welcome to our happy home, Part One!

Goodness knows the laundry list of mishaps within and without the walls of our condo grows every week.  But I'd like to focus on the positives right now.  Each corner of our condo has been gradually evolving from a mess into a home.  When things go sour, I forget that this transformation is happening.

For instance, our hallway.





Here's our dining room:



And the living room:



This is our place, evolving into a home.  Sometimes we need to step back and look at this.  It's not all wilderness and despair.  It's work, but towards good ends.

Also, please note the happy wife in the last photo.  She's mine.