...where distraction is the main attraction.

Monday, April 30, 2012

Monday Miscellaneous

I wake from vivid dreams where I've been framed for murdering a producer and my car's been firebombed to the real world sounds of shouting and gunfire.  I lay in bed a moment, my heart racing.  The shouting continues.

A moment later I realize our alcoholic (at the very least) oddball neighbor across the way has passed out with her TV cranked up to 11 and her front door open.  The amplified onscreen turmoil no one's watching had filtered into my unconscious and influenced my nightmares.  I wake her up and have her close the door.  It is 2:45am.

At 4:45am I am still awake, the adrenaline still bouncing around my brain banging pots together.  I have to trick my consciousness into believing that I am having an out of body experience, looking down at myself from the ceiling, in order to slip into sleep.  Two hours later our cell phone alarms go off.  Two hours of restful sleep.

Mad Men 


I love the writing staff's decision to go big and crazy this season.  From the two hour sexy premiere to Don's fever dream of killing an ex-lover with his bare hands to Lane delivering a beatdown to "grimy pimp" Campbell to LSD reverie to handjobs in a movie theater.  But a heartfelt slow clap goes out to Julia Ormond servicing a particular gentleman in one of the more graphic simulated oral sex shots I've seen.  And I may have seen a few.

These are all moments that are much louder than anything in previous seasons (aside from the lawnmower scene).  Subtle character development remains.  Something messy gradually unfurls at the agency.  And there's the continual descent into darkness.  So it's still Mad Men, just a little bigger.  But give us more Joan story, please!

I really have no idea where this season is going, as is the case every season.  Sally Draper is going to be one scrambled adult, but how screwed up is the question.  Teen pregnancy?  Suicide?  Homicide?  My bet is on Megan leaving Don, who will continue to be powerless (aka Happy Don) when in her radius.  And I wouldn't be terribly surprised if Roger and Joan make another go at things.

If there was one theme that's run the loudest during season, then it's Parents Screw Up Their Children.

Mad Men Sad Men Bad Men


We have 'em.  In fact, a consistent issue in our home is bookshelf space.  We never ever have enough.

A few years ago I stopped buying new books and scoured the Used listings for the Amazon Marketplace sellers.  I couldn't believe more people weren't doing the same.  Books in great condition for a buck and change (plus shipping)?  The accumulation of the printed word continued, until I took the next logical step...

No, I didn't buy a Kindle.

I obtained a Long Beach Library card.  And now I'm reading more than I have in decades.  I have research books.  And Serious Literature.  And frivolities.  I'm saving buckets of cash and stopping the bookshelf stuffing.

I've even raided the "Government" and "Federal" stacks.  Checked out old maps of LA County (picture Chinatown but without the bifurcated nostril and a nicer librarian).  They rent out old music and even have a bunch of free downloads.

And best of all, they still have the occasional schizophrenic wandering in shouting, "WHERE ARE THE APPLICATIONS FOR THE US GOVERNMENT JOBS?  APPLES!  FRANKLIN DELANOR ROOSEVELT!  DO YOU HAVE JELLY ROLL MORTON?  HOOVER HAD HIM KILLED!  I WANT TO WORK IN A FOREST!"  Ah, that's just timeless.

The library smells like the best parts of my nerdy childhood and the bathrooms are clean.  Makes me feel fulfilled.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Whisky Ramblings, Month in review and Month in preview

So that was a weird whisky month.  Thanks to the 'Tour', being sick, and travelling I've had a grand total of 3 ounces of single malt Scotch whisky for the entirety of April. (Okay that's a fib; there was the LA Scotch Club tastings. Bless you, chaps.)

Aside from the reviewed world whiskies, I tried some blends from Ireland and Scotland.  Cheap blends.    I'm still on the search for a nice new Scotch cheapie for The Cabinet.  I'll be reporting all of my blended findings in May.

I might dabble in some bourbon in the coming months as I widen my search for affordable quality drank.  Otherwise, I have at least 3 massive Scotch Taste Offs prepped over the next 2 months.  This time, it's all about product line verticals.  These three distilleries, combined, have 1/3rd of Macallan's production capacity, but are as or more beloved by whisky anoraks than big Mac.  Their names will remain shrouded in mystery for now...

But back to the blends for a sec.  When I reached for a drink last night, I realized what I wanted was a whisky I didn't have to ponder, mull, and pontificate over.  Just something reliable (and inexpensive so I wouldn't feel any guilt over additional servings), so I could just enjoy and forget about it.  It should taste good, but sometimes I don't need a winged choir singing to me on every whisky sip.  Just something to chill with.  Again and again.  Repeat if necessary.

Happily, I have Powers Gold Label.  C'mon Scotland, step it up!
Whuuuut? How does this exist and I not know about it
until now? Yeah, it's for decor purposes, but who doesn't
want a flagon?!
Good weekend wishes to you all!

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Single(?) Malt Report: Amrut Fusion

We conclude our World Whisky Tour with a multi-national option.  A British Empire selection, if you will.  Amrut Fusion.

Recipe:  1 part Indian barley + 1 part peated Scotch barley.  Malt 'em, distill 'em, age them for 3-4 years in oak.  Dispense into bottles.  Win some serious awards:

2009 - Best Natural Cask (Daily Drams), Malt Maniacs Awards
2010 - 3rd Best Whisky in the World, Jim Murray
2011 - World Whisky of the Year, Malt Advocate

Three sets of folks who rarely concur on their whisky faves and they all raved about this one.

Distillery: Amrut
Age: around 3 to 4 years
Batch: #04, January 2010
Maturation: ex-bourbon and/or new oak casks
Region: Distillation - India (Bangalore), Maltings - Scotland and India
Alcohol by Volume: 50%

First, a question.  Is this really a single malt?  I've read various descriptions about this whisky's parts.  I had seen "Indian barley and Scottish barley" and "Indian malt and Scottish malt".  So I wondered how they could bottle this as a "single malt".

I went to the Scottish Whisky Association's 2009 Scotch Whisky regulations for an answer.  Amrut says they play by the SWA's rules.  So how does the SWA define a single malt?
Single Malt Scotch Whisky means a Scotch Whisky produced from only water and malted barley at a single distillery by batch distillation in pot stills.
Thus what Amrut must be doing is shipping the peated Scottish barley all the way to India, then distilling it along with the Indian barley in their facilities in Bangalore.  Since the Scottish barley is peated, then it was likely malted in Scotland then dried with peat smoke before it shipped.

So, to conclude:  The barley can be malted in multiple locations (around the world), but as long as the whisky is distilled at a single distillery, it can be labelled a single malt.  Okey doke.

I've done a pair of Amrut reports already, both with some distillery info, we can skip the history part.  But why 'Amrut'?  What does it mean?  Per their website:
According to Indian Mythology, when Gods and Rakshasas - the demons - churned the oceans using the mountain Meru as churner, a golden pot sprang out containing the Elixir of Life. That was called the "Amrut".
Amrut is the Elixir of Life.

One of Whisky's root Gaelic terms is 'uisge beatha' which translates roughly to "Water of Life".

So Amrut's doubling up on the life-giving-liquid terminology.  Works for me.

I picked up a 50mL mini of Fusion along with Amrut's Cask Strength (reviewed here) at Mission Wine & Spirits several months back.  I freed it last night.


Color -- Brass
Nose -- Brown sugar, bourbon oak, bitter grapefruit, lots of vanilla yogurt, Nillas!, new oak; with some time it gets a little candy-sweeter and there's a brief swimming pool note
Texture -- Very thick
Palate -- Grassy, light peat, caramel, very ripe fruit, mildly sweet
Finish -- Lengthy, drying, light peat, caramel

WITH WATER (about 40% ABV)
Color -- It clouds up immediately, thus no chill filtering!
Nose -- Pencils, new oak, alcohol + spice zing, apple juice, light peat
Palate -- Water brings out more peat and more sweet, soft sweet creamy custard, brown sugar, almond cookies
Finish -- Medium, molasses, citrus sour

You may notice how brief the palate notes were, compared to the nose, on the neat sampling.  That was because it was SO DAMN GOOD that I had difficultly figuring out what I was tasting.  Some folks say they get something chocolate fudgy.

Fusion works very well with water too.  It helped sort through the individual characteristics.  Overall, it's not really that peaty.  A little less than Highland Park, probably.

I recommend this for Scotch lovers.  It's definitely a dessert dram.  It's one of those whiskys that you sip, then stare at your glass and say in your most manly voice, "That's yummy."

Because this marks the end of my World Whisky Tour, I'd like to comment on the international character of this whisky's production.  As mentioned earlier, a good portion of this whisky's barley is grown in Scotland.  Then it is shipped to India.  After it's been distilled and aged, the bottles are then shipped to the United States.  If you're not following my italics here, I'll make it plain.

Scotch Whisky import distance:
3,300 miles by boat
3,300 miles by boat
2,800 miles by land

Amrut Fusion full import distance:
16,100 miles by boat
2,800 miles by land
16,100 miles by boat

Consider Fusion's carbon footprint.  Or, if carbon footprints aren't your thing, think about how much petroleum is needed for that whisky bottle to get to your liquor cabinet.

Maybe it's just me but I can't not think about it.  As tremendous as this malt is, I will probably never buy a bottle (mini or otherwise) of it......until container ships are run on happiness.

But the whisky is great.

Availability - Available at most liquor specialists
Pricing - Good at $60-$70
Rating - 90

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

The Flailing Writer Goes Gardening (part one?)

This post has no whisky in it.

* * * * *

It's been a difficult year for me.

In 2011, I ended my previous stable 9:30-6:30 job with good folks in order to pursue my screenwriting career full time.  In 2012, the pursuit has gone so consistently poorly (at times abysmally) that I question that decision every day.  I won't burn the people I've worked with here.  I've had no personal problems with any of them and almost always enjoy interacting with them.  It's not that I lost faith in the system.  I never had faith in the system.  Successful screenwriters slip through the system in their own unique ways.  Rather, the disposability of the creative element has become so apparent to this creative element (me) that the act of creation seems like forgone trash.  There's money to be made in this, somehow, but the human element is dead as it is in most things related to business.  I'm now more focused on my own preservation than artistic creation.

And I've been sick more days this year than since I was a child.  Which is weird because (until now) I never get sick. I'm normally a healthy dude.  To quote LMFAO, I work out.  I eat less meat than I used to.  I drink less than I used to.  I stopped smoking cigars.  I hydrate appropriately.  Et cetera, et cetera.  Yet all of that, plus some more et cetera, has lost a lot of battles recently.

There are also numerous very personal issues that have gone precipitously downhill.  Some of which I must let fall apart.  Some of which I must save.

This is just a big lead-up to one thing.  I've lost my soul.  Not my SOUL.  But my soul.  As in Sam Cooke soul:

So how do I get that back?

Firstly, since I picked up a library card (remember those?) last month I've been reading more stuff than I have since I was that sickly kid.  But since the reading is there to build up my brain cells and writing style, I'll save the library tales for another post.

Secondly, I'm attempting to grow things.  Or at the very least, keep things alive.  Our condo has a great top-floor balcony that faces East, but also gets sun from the North and South.  It overlooks a noisy street, so there's a limit to how much a person may want to hang out there during the day.  But sun-loving plants would greatly desire to hang out there during the day.

Kristen and I like to keep as green, organic, and local as possible.  What's greener, more organic, and local than.......a garden on our property?

I don't have a green thumb or a black thumb or a brown thumb.  I have a thumb.  Two thumbs, actually.  For four years I've kept some geraniums alive.  Some ferns and ficus trees have also survived, probably despite my efforts.  Four basil plants have committed suicide in the last two years.  And all but one of our succulents have either died or shriveled up.  I didn't know that cactuses were killable, but they are!

We have a chili pepper plant, given to us by our realtor when we'd closed on the condo purchase.  She, the plant, fruited a ton of long red spicy peppers last year.  She, the plant, has since gone quite quiet.  The old leaves were shed.  New ones started growing in three months ago, then abruptly stopped.  Three tiny peppers sprouted, then stopped.  Then nothing.

I'm going to bring Pepper back to life.

Here's the before, note the three little peppers.

Here she is in her pieces.

From right to left: Her original pot, then a hefty ceramic pot that I had to put her in because the wind would blow her ass around, and a vestigial dish.

First, I replanted her into that ceramic pot.  But, the ceramic pot has no holes so it cannot drain.  That can result in drowning or rotting out the plant.  So before I did any replanting, I made like John Holmes and drilled three holes its bottom.

I am already sorry for that metaphor.

Next, I repotted it with some new soil.  Finally, I watered it with some nice thick fertilizer "tea".  More on that tea in a moment.  The after shot:

I would like to think that Pepper's branches are raised up in victory.

Last month I planted chives, cilantro, thyme, oregano, and basil.  Yesterday, I planted parsley.  I do a lot of cooking around here and I'm thrifty, so I would get stompin' mad every time we'd pay 2 or 3 bucks for a clump of 'fresh' herbs at the store.  A freaking plant of the same herbs costs $3.

Sorry for the weird pic. I was testing out the "panorama" shot.

And yes the basil looks sad.  It's new too.  The oregano must have told it about the fate of the previous two basil plants in that pot.  Abandon all hope ye basil.

What I'm really geeked about are these:

Up top, we've got zucchini on the left and cherry tomatoes on the right.  On the bottom, heirloom tomatoes.

Tip:  The terra cotta (stone/clay-like) pots may look better and cost more, but they're breathable.  Which means that if they get a lot of sun, then they let in a lot of heat.  Soil and roots like heat as much as I like Nicki Minaj's rapping.  Which means, they hate heat.  It will result in an unhappy plant.  Plastic pots are cheaper, but potentially better because they're not cooking the roots.

And yup, most of our plants are in terra cotta pots.  (Just found out about the above tip yesterday.)  The herbs have been more than fine.  But the veggies...well, I'll see what happens.  The big heirloom plant is in a plastic pot.  I will report back with results.

Oh, and the fertilizer tea?

Looks like a cross between Lipton and sewage.  Smells like it too.

I'm using a dry organic fertilizer with a nitrogen-phosphorus-potassium (NPK) balance for veggies and fruits.  I mixed the dry stuff in with the soil of our veggies and fruits as per the directions.

For the herbs --> I soaked one cup of fertilizer per one gallon of water for 36 hours (the 'tea'), then watered 'em with it.

Labor-wise, it's been a few hours playing in the mud.  Which really isn't labor until I f**k something up.  Then there's a few minutes here and there, watering and mixing up some 'tea'.

And that's it.  Every day I peek outside to make sure they're all still alive.  Every other day, I'll be watering them.  If anybody fruits up, I'm taking pictures.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Single Malt Report: Glen Spey 21 year old 1988 (Diageo Special Release)

The Whisky World Tour comes to a place called Scot Land (I believe?) for its next-to-last stop.

So, if we're in the home of Scotch and this is an actual single malt (as per the post's title), then why is this reporter going with something most folks haven't heard of?  Is he just flashing some hipster cred?  Is he showing off?

No he I am not.  I promise.  :-)

Last week, I wrote an extensive gripe about the Diageo machine, eventually building up to why I'll be boycotting them after 2013.  One of things the things I harped on was the odd way they treated/referred to their single malt business.  Their mouthpiece said that they do not make single malts for folks to enjoy.  That isn't true.  They just don't commit to single malts fully.

They have 28 active distilleries, only twelve of which get regular releases.  Those are the "Classic Malts". Some of the remaining sixteen distilleries get "special releases" (please pardon all the quotation marks, these are Diageo's terms).  The "Special Releases" are rare, limited, older-aged bottlings.  They're often priced high and bought up quickly by aficionados......you know, the very same folks Diageo claims they're not making whisky for------

Okay, Diageo pooping was last week.  This is this week.

And this is:

Distillery: Glen Spey
Owner: Diageo
Age: minimum 21 years (1988 - 2010)
Maturation: ex-sherry American oak
Region: Speyside (Rothes)
Alcohol by Volume: 50.4%
Limited Release: 5844 bottles

A bit about the distillery:

James Stuart built the facility as a corn mill originally, then had it converted to a distillery in the early 1880s.  After Stuart bought the Macallan distillery in 1886, he sold Glen Spey to Gilbey's, a London wine and spirits merchant.  It was the first sale, ever, of a Scotch whisky distillery to an English company.

Gilbey's became Independent Distillers and Vintners (IDV) in 1962, when it merged its business with Justerini & Brooks -- makers of the J&B blend.  Eight years later, IDV was acquired by the company that would later become......Diageo.

A bit about the whisky:

Since that IDV merger 50 years ago, Glen Spey has been one of the main elements in J&B.  Charles MacLean's great Whiskypedia says that the new make spirit is light, spicy, and nutty.  A style purposely designed for blends.

Not counting one ultra-rare single cask, this "Special Release" is the only single malt official bottling of Glen Spey over the past seven years.  It's not caramel-colored and it's not chill-filtered, two items that work its favor.

The Tastin':

I got my hands on a taste of this through Master of Malt's 30mL samples.  I don't remember why I bought it.  Doubtful as an impulse purchase since it was the most expense dram in that particular order. And I'm always planning out my orders in detail a month ahead of time.

Let's just say that it was fortuitous, auspicious, and delicious.

To that point, it was so lovely that I didn't even plop any water into it.  Instead, I sat with it for about an hour as I watched a movie.


Color -- Deep gold with a hint of red
Nose -- A spritely fruitiness, tropical fruit maybe?, toasty oak, coconut, light rye whiskey, cake batter, pencil shavings, Play-Doh, almond extract
Palate -- Bubblegum, apple juice, very floral, dessert wine (more port than sherry actually), custard, gets sweeter with time
Finish -- Medium length, candied, fresh cherries, a fruit tart!

First thought:  This is grand.
Second thought:  Diageo, what else are you hiding from us?!  You clearly have delightful product in your warehouses.  Set it free!

This is wonderful whisky.  But it has to fit into your sort of style.  There's no peat, there's no heat, and it's not very sweet.  It's not a whisky that's gone soft and mild with age.  It has held onto its complexity, showing new elements with each return.

Now, pricing is all relative.  This whisky is in an age category that's out of my $$$ range (dammit!).  But in its age category, it is priced very well considering the limited release.  It's only $20-$25 more than Glenfiddich 21yr, a whisky that is available everywhere, every year, in generous quantity.  I wouldn't be surprised if less than 200 cases of Glen Spey 21yr came to the US two years ago.

If you have the means to purchase something in this price range and you like rye whiskey or you enjoy complex fruity-but-not-sweet malts, I'd recommend this.  And then, please share!  :-P

Availability - Some US liquor specialists
Pricing - Very Good at $170-$190
Rating - 92

On Thursday we'll make our final Whisky World Tour stop with something that's neither here nor there, but many places at once...

Monday, April 23, 2012

Strep Throat in April? What?

Don't really know how one gets strep throat during a 70-80 degree April.  Especially "one" who spends most of his time indoors by himself.

*earthquake just hit, unrelated but awesome*

I'm going to blame it on the scumbags at the gym whom pick their noses, wipe their asses, blow snot rockets, rub their junk, pick their asses, and wipe their noses without a proper washup afterwards.  And then lift the very same weights I do.  Now I can't kiss my wife for a week.

I just switched to a larger, cleaner, newer 24-Hour Fitness, but that doesn't mean that the majority of the members f**kers are any less likely to break all of the 30 Simple Rules.  That's why I wash my hands thoroughly after every workout.  Maybe I should turn into one of those Purell junkies after all.

I've been trying to figure out what to eat, since I can't even swallow water without a stabbing pain.  So here's my list thus far:

Things to eat when you have Strep Throat:
Nothing - probably not the best option
Yogurt - antibiotics prevent the growth of good bacteria in your stomach, yogurt provides some of that missing good stuff naturally
Soup - as close to broth as possible
Smoothies (w/protein) - but be careful, the cold stuff may feel good but the resulting ice-cream headache will punish your brains
Oatmeal - but not the thick kind
Maple Syrup - helps the medicine go down.  I'm kidding.  Sorta.
Chip dip without the chips - desperation takes over
Bowl of melted butter, BBQ sauce, honey, and tears of self pity - eat your shame with a spoon

Yeah, that's about it.

There's a lot of drinking of things like water (important) and hot tea which you'll swallow as your throat cries "F**K!" just like you do when you stub your pinky toe on a chair leg.

Good.  Times.  Now everyone, wash your hands.

I should post this at the gym

Friday, April 20, 2012

Cupcakes for Kristen

Since K's birthday was in the middle of Passover, I had to delay the birthday cake baking.  Thus the caking commenced today.

I may cook successfully from time to time, but baking?  Well, the meme said it best......

A day later, I'm happy to say that the condo remains intact.  And...

BOOM. Cupcakes.

Red Velvet Cupcakes with Cream Cheese Frosting.

When Kristen came home, they looked all cute and neat sitting there on the stove in the clean kitchen.

She has no idea what a g*ddamn Buster Keaton movie it was during their three-hour assembly.  You know, the Keaton film in which he calls a spatula a "******* ****!" seven times.

This is the recipe I used, though I added more (non-alkalized) cocoa and used a 1/3 of the coloring (because it's an industrial chemical additive).  It's actually a very easy recipe, I'm just a saphead.

The cake is good, the frosting is ridiculous.  I'm still riding my sugar high, 20 hours later.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Single Malt Report: The Hakushu 12 year old Japanese Single Malt

(Please see a more positive recent review HERE!)

Distillery: Hakushu
ProducerSuntory Whisky
Age: 12 years
Maturation: mainly Bourbon Hogsheads
Country: Japan
Alcohol by Volume: 43.5%

The next stop on our Whisky World Tour is Japan.  Five months ago, I posted a report on The Yamazaki 12 year, which I recommend -- both the whisky and the report.  :)   Like Yamazaki, Hakushu is a Suntory distillery.

From their official website:

Half a century after the Yamazaki distillery was founded, Keizo Saji inherited his father's vision, and in his quest for innovation, constructed Suntory's second distillery in 1973.

Built amidst the deepest forests of Mt. Kaikomagatake in the Japanese Southern Alps, the Hakushu distillery is without question one of the highest in the world. The majestic forest that surrounds the distillery shelters some six thousand varieties of plants-almost twice the number found in Western Europe.

The malt whiskies born here are simultaneously blessed with a very particular microclimate, luxurious forests, and water offering a rare softness and purity, only made possible by filtration of rain and snow through thousand-year-old granite rocks.

Now, without all of that romantic marketing flourish, I can add that the high altitude and cool temperatures require extended maturation times, unlike the whiskies from India.  The Hakushu distillery was actually assembled in two parts, the first in the '70s.  Upon the second section's completion in 1981, Hakushu was then the largest malt distillery in the world.  When the whisky market depression hit Japan at the end of the decade, the older half (Hakushu West) was closed.  Hakushu East is what remains to this day, pushing out 3 million liters a year, most of which goes to Suntory's blends.

(I would be remiss if I didn't encourage you to go to Chris Bunting's amazing Japanese whisky site http://nonjatta.blogspot.com/.)

For years Yamazaki was the only Japanese single malt available in The States.  But last year, to the excitement of malt fans, Hakushu 12 came to our shores.

I tried out Yamazaki 12 at a restaurant before purchasing it, discovering that it went great with everything from sushi to chocolate cake.  A couple months later I bought a bottle.  A couple months later it was gone.  I was so enthused that I was going to buy a bottle of Hakushu 12 blind.  Luckily, cooler brain cells prevailed.

Before I continue with my tasting notes, here's a big disclaimer.  I may have tried a faulty sample.  Jim Murray, Serge, and the K&L Davids love this whisky, but their notes seem to be for a completely different product than the one I tried.  They found Hakushu 12 to be fresh and sweet.  What I drank was a bit different...

Color -- Light gold
Nose -- Mostly farts, sulphuric, gas leak. Then mild peat, grassy, a little bourbon oak. After a long while a hint of brown sugar and band-aids appear.
Texture -- Smooth and silky
Palate -- Wood smoke, salty, vegetal peat, cinnamon
Finish -- Moderate, salty, crisp

WITH WATER (around 34% ABV)
Nose -- Cheese and flatulence. Beef-like. Much less peat.
Palate -- Creamier. Slightly sweeter. Almost no peat.
Finish -- Short. A little bitter.

OVERALL: Think a watered-down Laphroaig 10 meets Glenfiddich 12 infused with a kitchen gas leak.

It's that gassy element (along with the cheese) that makes me think something went awry with my sample.  Sulphur notes aren't irregular with sherry cask matured whiskies, though there's debate about the positives and negatives in that element.  But Hakushu is mainly matured in ex-bourbon hogsheads, which shouldn't provide anything sulphuric.  And definitely nothing like a gas leak.

Yet, I've purchased many samples from my source and never have had one go weird like this.  I tested my palate before this tasting with sip and sniff of a good go-to, and found that my nose and tastebuds were sharp.  So I'm a bit perplexed.

Aside from all the gas and fart talk, it's a fair, light, mild whisky.  I believe that's its true nature.  I wish the peat held up a little stronger after a few drops of water.  And overall it's a little too sleepy for my palate.  THOUGH, I wouldn't mind giving it another spin someday......just in case.

Availability - Most liquor specialists
Pricing - Reasonable at $45-$60
Rating - 72 (This is the old rating. See the rating update HERE)

Next week we'll hit the final stretch of our Whisky World Tour: something very international and something very Diageo...

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Random Booze Nooze

Moët Hennessy (a Diageo competitor) just reported a kickass 1st Q of 2012.  In the whisky world, Moët owns Glemorangie (the newly-official whisky of the British Open) and Ardbeg (official whisky of Outer Space).

But what caught my eye in the news report was this:
This year, Moët & Chandon is abandoning its well-known White Star non-vintage offering in the U.S., replacing it with a newer Moët Impérial variant, which has been gradually transitioning into the brand’s primary global non-vintage offering since 2007. Bucking the increasing popularity of sweet wines in the U.S., Moët Impérial is a drier style than White Star, made with 30%–40% Pinot Noir, 30%–40% Pinot Meunier and 20%–30% Chardonnay.
Kristen and I had noticed the White Star brand receding and the Imperial brand taking its place for the last couple of years.  Good to see they're going drier!  Now, is the American palate ready for it?  Or is Moët going to help bring folks over to the Dry Side?

NOT Single Malt Report: Willett 5yr Family Estate Single Barrel Straight Rye

Having successfully contributed to the Internet Complain-o-Tron on Monday and Tuesday, I thought it'd be best to bring something positive to the table today.  A whisky review!

Let's see, next stop on the World Whisky Tour is...


(CIA Source, seriously)
Back on February 23rd, amidst one of the most epic whisky experiences of this lifetime, I was introduced to rye whiskey via a taste of Willett 3yr Single Barrel Straight Rye.  It was a success in my mouth:  an intense, spicy, fragrant, delicious glass of brown liquid, as noted in this whisky report.

I've tried a couple other ryes since.  They're good.  But not Willett Good.  It was only a matter of time before I was going to be purchasing a bottle of my own.  My first American Whiskey bottle acquisition.    Easily available in this part of California and very nicely priced, the 5yr Willett Rye wound up in the Whisky Closet two weeks ago.

BottlerKentucky Bourbon Distillers (formerly Willett Distilling Company)
Brand: Willett Family Estate Single Barrel
Age: 5 years
Maturation: New Oak
Region: Bourbon County, Kentucky
Barrel: 64
Bottle: 190/192
Alcohol by Volume: 55%

It's different than the rye I'd tried in February, with an additional two years in new oak and two degrees lighter in ABV.  But it's tremendous!

It's big and brash and brilliant.  Fully American in its character.  It's Gershwin and Copland and flapper girls and apple pie eating contests and town square picnics and swimsuit competitions and maple syrup-drowned pancakes and hyperbole and amber waves of grain.

It's muscular, yet complex.  You know, like me.   (^0_0^)


A little background on Willett:

The Willett Distilling Company opened their own distillery a couple years after Prohibition's repeal.  They cranked out bourbons for about forty years, until the late '70s when they attempted to produce ethanol during the energy crisis.  When gas prices came back down, the plant went out of business.

In 1984, the Willett family restarted the business under a new name, Kentucky Bourbon Distillers (KBD).  They operated as an independent bottler, using distillate from other companies in their bourbon releases.

But in January of this year, the Willett distillery reopened!  It has a brand new pot still and brand new American jobs.
It'll be a couple of years in oak before those whiskies show up in stores.  So, for now the Willett bottlings obtain the white dog (new make) from nearby distilleries.

For instance, this rye's spirit came from the big contract-only Lawrenceburg Distillers Indiana (LDI) right across the border.  Then Willett/KBD gave it a 5-year investment in a good new American oak barrel, numbered "64".

The Whiskey:

I don't know what the actual rye content is of this bottling (must be 51% minimum to be labelled 'rye') but I'm assuming it's very high.  I'm not picking up much barley or wheat or corn whiskey in here.

These tasting notes are only for a neat serving, compiled over several of those servings.  I can't and won't bring myself to befoul it with water.

Color -- Cherry Wood meets molasses
Nose -- Spicy!, cloves, nutmeg, cinnamon, maple syrup, bubblegum, cocoa powder, cherries
Palate -- Nutty, maple syrup, fruit juices, cloves, coffee beans, white peppercorns, molasses; despite high ABV it's VERY drinkable.
Finish -- Massive, juicy, coffee beans, cloves, cocoa powder

The spice kick is very upfront, while the cocoa powder and coffee beans float out of the background.  Really enjoyable.  I keep finding different characteristics upon each return.

For those of you who are not crazy anoraks, be comforted knowing that my wife did a couple sniffs and sips......and not a single Whisky Face.

For those of you who are Scotch whisky fans, this drink is not Scotch.  At all.  Totally different beast.  If you like subtlety and abhor big sherried drams, then this probably isn't for you.  But if you have a crazy adventurous palate, this is American Power at its best.

Availability - Many liquor specialists
Pricing - Tremendous at $35-$40
Rating - 90

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Diageo, Whisky Killer, Part 2: The death of Green & Gold Labels

Green Label has always been the odd one out amongst the Johnnie Walker blends.  Unlike the rest of the cast, Green is a Blended Malt rather than a Blended Whisky.  This means there's no grain whisky in it, just a mix of single malts.

Last year, in an interview for the Malt Whisky Yearbook, a Diageo representative -- the same exact rep who made the questionable statements I covered yesterday -- said the following about Green Label:
"Green Label was aimed at offering something for people who were comfortable with their favorite blend, but not sure how to get into single malts......Green Label is right in the middle of our Flavour Map.  It has very wide appeal."
Less than a year later, Diageo announced they are killing Green Label.

Then they announced they are killing the next blend up the list, Gold Label.

This same Diageo rep says in this same interview:
"If you want uber-flexibility you don't put on an age statement, but if you are pitching your blended malt against single malts, then an age statement helps, because single malts almost invariably carry age statements."
So, what does Diageo replace Green Label (15yr) with?  A non-age statement "Gold Label Reserve".

Gold Label Reserve is not Gold Label (18yr), since Gold Label will be getting the hatchet.  It's a completely different blended whisky (not a blended malt), without an age statement.  Since age statements are largely marketing tools, how exactly is Diageo going to try to sell Gold Label Reserve amongst the rest of their blends......which all have age statements......and still get folks to pay $60 for it?  How are they going to keep the not-Gold-Label Gold Label Reserve from getting confusing?  Are they hoping that customers will think that it's Gold Label and will get excited about paying $25 less for it?

Gold Label itself is getting replaced by Platinum Label (which does have an 18yr age statement) which will be peatier and at least $30 more expensive.

To clarify:
Green Label's price point --> Gold Label Reserve
Gold Label's price point + $30 --> Platinum Label (18yr)

So what was...
Red - $20
Black - $40
Green - $60
Gold - $80
Blue - $200

Is now...
Red - $20
Black - $40
Gold Reserve - $60
Platinum - $110
Blue - $200
...unless they raise the prices of the others, which is not out of the realm of possibility.

What is their reasoning behind this move?

In an interview with the major wine & spirits journal, Shanken News Daily, the same Diageo gentleman provides the following wisdom:
“As we reviewed the brand offering, we found that the range wasn’t meeting consumer needs and providing the best consumer journey through the range as far as taste profiles and price points.”
The revamp was meant to spread out the Johnnie Walker portfolio’s pricing in order to better motivate consumers to move up the brand ladder.
The truth falls outside these statements, since the decision likely had very little to do with "consumer needs".  I have no doubt that Diageo had legitimate financial reasons behind their decision.  But I don't think the above statements have anything to do with those reasons.

Firstly, how does removing your brand's one stepping-stone between blends and single malts meet consumers' needs?  How does adding a NAS (non-age statement) bottling meet consumers' needs?  How does removing the most critically lauded label in your brand meet consumers' needs?  How does removing Gold Label from one price point then adding a Gold Label Reserve at another price point meet consumers' needs?

It doesn't.  It meets your company's needs.

And "providing the best consumer journey through the range as far as taste profiles and price points"?  You're removing a semi-peated whisky (Green) for a non-peated whisky (Gold Reserve), then replacing a non-peated whisky (Gold) with a semi-peated whisky (Platinum).  +1 plus -1 equals 0.  Taste profile hasn't shifted.  You're just charging $50 more for your peated whisky.  And $30 more for your 18-year whisky.

I'm sorry, you said something about "consumers needs?"

And as my MBA buddy said, "I don't recall the chapter in my MBA where higher prices gets customers to buy more. Maybe I skipped that day."

This is about profitability.  To try to hide that in statements about the buyer's desires isn't even creative PR nonsense.

Blended malt sales are dipping while single malt sales are rising.  But since Diaego claims they're not in the single malt business, where's all that malt whisky going to go?

Blended malts require 100% single malt whisky.  Large blends have between 30% and 40% single malts, the rest is filled out with cheaper quicker grain whisky.  I've had some cheap Diageo blends, and they're barely hitting the 30% malt mark.

Let's do some quick math.  According to the Yearbook, Diageo released 220,000 cases of Green Label in 2009.  That's 1,980,000 liters of malt whisky.  That same quantity of malt whisky could be spread out to 550,000 cases of grain-light or 733,000 cases of grain-heavy blended whisky.

Thus Diageo wants to keep their malt whisky and spread it around.  And they're trying to create more for the emerging markets (read: China).  Diageo just built the enormous Roseisle distillery; they're considering building another; they're ramping up production to squeeze another 10 million liters/year out of their existing distilleries.

So they clearly need more malt whisky for their blends.  Unless they want to try to sell single grain whisky to the Chinese.  (Diageo, you can have that idea for free.)

And as I'd mentioned before, they're aiming for revenue growth by having customers pay $50 more for peated whisky and $30 more for 18-year old whisky.  Simultaneously, in the Green-now-Gold-Reserve price point, consumers will be paying the same amount of money for something with a completely different flavor profile that has less depth due to a 60% to 70% reduction in single malt content.

Wow.  Thank you for considering our needs.

Well, not my needs.  After this label phase-out commences in the summer of 2013, I am done with purchasing Diageo products.

Green and Gold Label are my favorites amongst the Walker blends.  I feel a BLEND of disgust and disappointment with their removal.  It's an emotional revolt I cannot objectively qualify with words.

But I'm also sick of the lazy way Diageo handles their single malts, as illustrated in yesterday's post.

I'm also frustrated by the way they handled their closed distilleries, destroying brands rather than selling them off to a smaller company that couldn't even compete with them.

The cultural and socio-economic thumping that was dealt to Kilmarnock upon the closing of the Johnnie Walker bottling plant did not win Diageo any points on my behalf.

And finally these odd, ham-handed, dishonest attempts to mask their business is insulting to me as one of their consumers.

My dollar is my voice.  I will support the smaller whiskymakers.  They may not always be 100% honest in their marketing material, but at least they work hard at developing their single malt product.  They succeed and evolve more with less at hand as they try to wrestle shelf space away from the Diageo brands.

Johnnie will have to keep walking without me.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Diageo, The Whisky Killer (part 1 of 2)

At the World Whiskies Conference, a leading representative from Diageo (owner of 28 out of the 93 active Scotch malt distilleries, and 31% of the entire industry's malt capacity) said the following:
"Diageo is a blended whisky company. Diageo does not make single malts for me to enjoy. We do not make single malts for the aficionado to enjoy. We make single malts for our blending team."
Though first and last sentences are true, the middle statement in bold is false.  And it is a lazy, unimaginative, and cowardly way to conduct a single malt business.  And Diageo IS in the single malt business despite this attempt to separate themselves from it.

To note:

1.)  They release single malts regularly every year from their "Classic Malts" group.  In fact they produce some of the best single malts in Scotland.  Talisker 10, Cragganmore 12, Lagavulin 16, Dalwhinnie 15, Clynelish 14, and Oban 14 to name but a few.

2.)  They have released special Distillers Editions for Oban, Talisker, Dalwhinnie, Lagavulin and others.

3.)  They release highly lauded, anticipated, and priced Special Editions every year for their closed distilleries such as Brora, Port Ellen, and Rosebank.  (More on these silenced distilleries later.)

4.)  They release exorbitantly-priced Managers Selections for many of their distilleries.

5.)  They release "Rare Malts" for their distilleries that aren't allowed normal single malt bottlings.

6.)  Sometimes they sneak out limited editions, such as Talisker 18 and Oban 18.

So they are clearly in the single malt release business.  And these malts are indeed enjoyed, not only by "aficionados" but also most casual malt fans.

What is true is that they do not put much effort into expanding their "Classic Malts" selection.  There's just one normal official bottling for each.  And that is considerably different than how the other 30+ Scotch malt distillery owners operate.

So despite the exceptional means at their disposal (they are the largest beverage company on the planet) they invest very little in their single malts.  Companies like Morrison Bowmore (Auchentoshan and Bowmore), Benriach (Glendronach and Benriach), Edrington Group (Highland Park and Macallan), White & Mackay (Dalmore), Beam (Laphroaig), and Glenmorangie Co. (Ardbeg and Glenmorangie) all have but a fraction of the finances and staff of Diageo but put considerable time and effort into what they distribute each year.  And in turn, these much smaller players drive, develop, evolve, and expand the single malt.

What Diageo has proven better at is closing distilleries: at least 15 as of the last count.  Now, the whisky market went through considerable overhaul in the 1980s after a massive financial collapse.  Thus many distilleries (some almost 200 years old) had to close when they could no longer stay open.

But the stills that Diageo chose to close were very telling, fitting right into their narrative of Blended Whisky Company.  They closed Port Ellen, Brora, and Rosebank (I'll call them The Big Three) -- all considered amongst the highest quality single malts in Islay, The Highlands, and The Lowlands.  But they kept Caol Ila, Linkwood, and Glenkinchie open -- all quality malts, but below the marks set by The Big Three.  So why were those kept open?  They are major ingredients in the Johnnie Walker blends.  The Big Three could be shuttered and dismantled without having to change the big blend recipes.

Ay, but there's a catch.  Despite offers by other (smaller) companies to purchase The Big Three, Diageo chooses to NOT to sell the brands......and continue to release a tiny bit of the old stocks almost every year at a very high price.  Despite the high prices, those brilliant single malts sell out every year.  And who's buying them?  Aficionados, perhaps?

The Diageo defense that I've read is that they don't want sell off those exciting properties to the competition.  Competition?  But I thought that they weren't in the business of making single malts for us to enjoy?

There's a choice being made at Diageo every year not to push or develop their single malt range.  Why?  Because their blends need the malts (usually in low quantity compared to the grain whisky).  With single malts making up about 7% of whisky sales, blends are indeed their moneymaker.  In 2010, the Johnnie Walker blends sold more than twice as many bottles as the entirety of all exported Scotch single malts.

Yet, Diageo continues to release single malts.  And they continue to sell off expensive bottles from the stocks of distilleries they've destroyed rather than selling the brands and letting another company attempt to develop those single malts.

But the regular releases drip out, one per "Classic" distillery.  And no regular releases from 16 of their brands.  So, they're in the single malt business but with a minimum of commitment.  There's no proven interest in developing these brands, no interest in joining the movement embraced by the rest of the single malt market to widen and expand, despite owning at least 31% of the malt.

Diageo has a market cap of more than 60 billion USD, so they have many investors and a lot of interest in going where the profit sits.  So wouldn't it be cheaper and more logistically sound if they could develop the specific blend recipe elements in one centralized location, rather than having to bring in whiskies from over 30 separate sources?

Then they'd be free to close all 28 of their malt distilleries, using their processes and equipment to crank out Highland-style and Lowland-style whiskies at will.

Diageo opened Roseisle, the largest distillery in Scotland, in 2009.  As per the Malt Whisky Yearbook, at the 2011 World Whiskies Conference, there was mention that Diageo "will consider a further Roseisle-style project."

Yes, it was widely reported that these projects were assembled to handle the growing Asian market.  But there's good reason why these new super-distilleries are causing jitters:  Kilmarnock.

Kilmarnock had been the home to Johnnie Walker whisky for 189 years.  In fact, it was even called Walker's Kilmarnock Whisky.  But in 2011, Diageo ignored public outcry and the Scottish Government when it closed their Johnnie Walker bottling facility in Kilmarnock, pummeling the local economy.  Trusting Diageo with the future of Scottish institutions may be a foolish act.

In the end, I wonder why Diageo doesn't take a note from their booze competitor Pernod Ricard?  Pernod has invested in Irish whiskey, taken some considerable risks, and it has paid off extremely well.  They resurrected the Single Pot Still whiskey (Redbreast, Green Spot, Midleton, Powers John's Lane), which became extremely popular and now they're exporting it around the world.  With Jamesons, Powers, and Paddy, Pernod Ricard is primarily a blend company, but they put a little bit of time and money into their whiskey and created a new (higher-quality and higher-priced) international product.

Then there's Diageo.  They tend to their blends first:  Johnnie Walker, Bell's, Black & White, Buchanan's, J&B, Dimple Pinch, Old Parr, VAT 69, White Horse, and Windsor Premier to name a few.  Then they release one regular single malt bottling from a fraction of their distilleries.  They release very high-priced limited batches from the other distilleries.  They dismantle the distilleries that don't fit into the blend recipe structure.  Then they hoard those brands, preferring to kill them off than sell them off.

Diageo makes it increasingly difficult for a whisky fan (closer to nerd than "aficionado") to continue supporting their company with his liquor money.  Tomorrow, in Part 2, I will finish illustrating why this whisky fan will no longer purchase Diageo's products after 2013.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

More Zoo, from me to you

Let's start with the normal pictures...

Kristen's mom, Jeanne, and I
Kristen's dad, Steve, and I tinkering with our phones
while waiting in the lunch line for 45 minutes
Happy Wife, suspended hundreds of feet above the ground.
Now some not-weird nature pics...

A bundle of ducklings
Hungry Hungry hippo elephant

Antelope flirting with, fighting, then eating a branch.
And then...

Condors are raptors.
"Hey baby, where you goin'?"
Political analysis
Baby giraffe trying some Cutty Sark neat

"Yeah, the photographer is a sick individual."
"Keep moving. Nothing to see here, people."
"So THAT's how I make it bigger..." 
"Keep moving. Nothing to see here, people."
And a peacock, just wandering around the zoo.  Taking in the sites.
Mocking the incarcerated.
The end...

OR IS IT?????????