...where distraction is the main attraction.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Single Malt Report: BenRiach Taste Off, Part 2 (Peated)

(click here for Part 1)

Benriach distillery opened in 1898, then was promptly mothballed in 1900.  Though the distillery did not reopen for 65 years, barley malting continued on site.  The malt was then transported to the neighboring Longmorn Distillery via a quarter-mile track.  After The Glenlivet Distillers reopened the stills in 1965, an interesting experiment began in 1972.  While the majority of Speyside distilleries were swapping their old peat smoke drying methods for coal smoke, in order to cater to export countries' palates, Benriach started peat smoke drying a small portion of their malt in 1972.  This peating (at a Laphroaig-like level of 35-38pm) continued until the maltings were closed in 1999.

After The BenRiach Distillery Company bought the distillery in 2004, they promptly started bottling some of the large quantities of stock within the same year.  Among the first releases was the 10 year old Curiositas, a peated single malt.  In 2005, they added the 21 year old Authenticus to the range.

Curiositas was bottled more regularly and in greater numbers due to the available mature whisky on hand.  Authenticus had a more limited release, 4800 bottles per year.  In 2012, the 21 year was replaced by a 25 year.

The 21yr Authenticus bottles are still available throughout the US, but I doubt they'll be around for much more than another year or two.  The 25yr doesn't appear to have reached our shores yet, but looks to be only $40 more.  And by "only", I mean this 25-year peated official bottling sells for about the same as Glenfiddich 21yr, Glenlivet 21yr, or Macallan 18yr.
BOOM! Bottle shot.
Financials aside, the old 21yr Authenticus was in my Classic and Peated BenRiach 4-pack, along with the Curiositas.  The actual maturation info for these two have been harder to come by than the unpeated BenRiachs, so I'm going to guess that part of their data below.

Ownership: The BenRiach Distillery Company
Age: minimum 10 years
Bottled in: 2008
Maturation: possibly ex-bourbon casks (some first-fill)
Region: Speyside (Lossie)
Alcohol by Volume: 46%

The color is a light amber, thus light on fancy oak and light on caramel colorant.  The nose leads with considerable menthol, followed by light peat smoke.  A bit of hamminess too.  Mint.  Lots of vanilla.  Getting oakier with time.  Actually, it smells a lot like a bag of Halloween candy -- you know: corn syrup, milk chocolate, Red 5, plastic wrappers and all -- yet peated.  Wood smoke on the palate.  Sweets first, then peat, then heat.  Vanilla, cigar tobacco, cinnamon candy, honey, California Chardonnay.  Nice lengthy finish, mostly peat and that cigar tobacco note.  Some sweetness edges in along with a bit of cinnamon.

On the nose, fresh baked bread, manure, and apple skins (what a combo!).  The palate and finish are earthy but also very sweet.  Lots of sugar, vanilla, and veggie peat.

Ownership: The BenRiach Distillery Company
Age: minimum 21 years
Bottled in: 2008
Maturation: possibly ex-bourbon and ex-sherry casks (likely some first-fill sherry)
Region: Speyside (Lossie)
Alcohol by Volume: 46%

Okay, I'm going to spoil it here.  THIS was the highlight of the pack.  Not because it's the oldest.  Not because it's no longer in the regular rotation.  It's because.  Well, you'll see.

The color is much darker, like penny copper.  The nose carries that hint of menthol.  The peat is more mossy than smoky.  There's both a pool note and a ocean note.  It's a little spicy.  Some stone fruits (both fresh and dried).  And......is that weed?  Let's take a sip and test that palate......SO MUCH WEED! I almost choked on the first sip.  It's all TCP and THC.  Okay and probably some fruit juices, a little sherry, grass (as in lawn), and mint.  The finish: weed, peat, sugar.  Gets sweeter with time.

The nose: a joint and a glass of sherry.  The palate is mostly gentle peat smoke, along with some highlights of hay, soil, bandages, and very sweet chocolate.  It finishes oceanic and much drier on the tongue.  Cotton-mouth, perhaps?

The Winner???
NOSE -- 21yr, by a nose
PALATE -- 21yr
FINISH -- 21yr, though it's close
OVERALL -- 21yr

The 10yr Curiositas is good alternative to Laphroaig 10.  The iodine and medicinal characteristics are dialed down, so the peat experience feels a little softer, but there's still a lot of body and oompf thanks to the higher ABV.  It won't beat every Islay out there but can play on the same field.  Tim at Scotch and Ice Cream had a lot of nice things to say about it a couple weeks ago.  Sku of Recent Eats is a fan of it as well.

The 21yr Authenticus wins the day, for me, because it is so, shall we say, unique?  It has garnered great reviews, though I appear to be alone in finding a dime bag in every sip.  Well, to each his own.  And to my own, this ain't schwag.  Though, I wouldn't know anything about that.

Availability - Many liquor specialists
Pricing - $50-$60 (US)
Rating - 82

Availability - Fewer and fewer liquor specialists
Pricing - $120-$150 (US)
Rating - 89

Monday, February 25, 2013

Single Malt Report: BenRiach Taste Off, Part 1 (Un-peated)

BenRiach's malting floors were closed in 1999 after 101 years of use.  The Chivas-run distillery then began buying their barley malt from large suppliers, the same way that over 90% of the other Scottish malt distilleries do.  Once the distillery was purchased by Billy Walker and The BenRiach Distillery Company, they set out to reopen their own malting floors.  Finally, within the next few months, BenRiach is going to become the seventh distillery to do its own malting.

This is just one example of the smart aggressive choices made by the folks in charge of BenRiach's whisky.  When Billy Walker and company bought the mothballed distillery from Chivas (via Pernod), they found whisky of varying quality in the warehouses.  They needed to get some product back on the shelves, and some of the malt clearly needed some sprucing up, thus the countless finished single malts they've released.

But they also found some experimental stuff, including heavily peated whisky as well as triple-distilled spirit.  Other than the "Heart of Speyside" bottling, all of the malt in the BenRiach releases was casked by the previous ownership.  And it's not half bad.

I'm not the biggest fan of finished whisky -- I went through a bottle of BenRiach's 16yr Sauternes Finish last year and though it didn't suit my palate I don't doubt it would make Sauternes fans happy -- so I decided to avoid any PX or rum or Rioja finished stuff and focus on the more basic BenRiach malt.

I bought BenRiach's "Classic and Peated" mini four-pack last year and I'm just tearing into it now.  It held the 12yr, 16yr, 10yr Curiositas (peated), and 21yr Authenticas (peated) single malts.  I've split them into two Taste Offs, peated and unpeated, so that I can focus on the malt itself.

A brief note of commentary:  A company that cranks out finished whisky after special release after finished whisky doesn't instill much confidence in their basic naked malt.  As stated above, I know the malt whisky they're working with wasn't distilled by the current ownership, but is BenRiach going to continue tarting up the spirit when it is created by their own hands?  I suppose if it sells, they will.  I can't begin to know what they found when they started going through the casks nine years ago nor what's hiding behind all of those colorful additional maturations.  But I must say that their basic malts shouldn't be ignored.

Ownership: The BenRiach Distillery Company
Age: minimum 12 years
Bottled in: 2009
Maturation: 60% ex-bourbon (mostly second-fill) casks only + 40% ex-bourbon casks then transfered to ex-oloroso casks
Region: Speyside (Lossie)
Alcohol by Volume: 43% (some bottlings are 46%)

Yes, this is my second report on BenRiach 12.  The first one was completed almost exactly a year ago. It was sampled in a loud dark bar and I was mostly just enjoying rather than deconstructing.  Here at home, I now had a full 50mL to sample in a Glencairn glass.

The color is light gold.  If they're applying caramel coloring, there appears to be a minimum of it.  The nose leads with apple juice, then ripe bananas, blueberries, and vanilla follow.  A pleasant dose of flower blossoms appears at times.  But mostly an almost-effervescent burst of lemon-lime soda catches the most attention.  Overall, it's a very pretty nose.  The palate is much simpler.  Vanilla, sugary white fruits, and notebook paper are the most prevalent.  The highlights that peek out are cream puffs and pipe tobacco.  The medium-length finish is sweet, desserty, and malty.  Vanilla and shortbread cookies nestle within some light tartness.

As I often find with younger ex-bourbon matured whiskys, adding water brings out a lot of oak vanillins in the nose while all of those great fruits recede.  The palate and finish become mildly cheerful like a decent 40% blend.  Aside from all the vanilla, there's some black pepper and notebook paper.

Ownership: The BenRiach Distillery Company
Age: minimum 16 years
Bottled in: 2008
Maturation: 60% ex-bourbon casks only + 40% ex-bourbon casks then finished 4-5 years in ex-oloroso casks
Region: Speyside (Lossie)
Alcohol by Volume: 43% (some bottlings are 46%)

The color is slightly darker than the 12yr, probably due to more time in the two oaks.  The nose has some dry sherry, but actually sniffs more like a late harvest sauvignon blanc.  It has the vanilla and apple juice notes of the 12yr, while there's some nice lemon peel adding to it.  The palate is much oakier (duh).  Toffee, caramel, and vanilla lead the way.  Here and there are notes of cayenne pepper and butter.  The silky finish is longer than than the 12's, full of vanilla, butter, and butterscotch.  It slowly progresses from sweet to peppery.

Adding some water ironically dries it out in the mouth.  There are some pepper, malt, dark chocolate, and dry grass notes in the nose and palate, while the finish sweetens up some.

First off, my apologies that I didn't get proper mini bottle pics.

Secondly, these minis were of the 43% ABV variety.  Would they have benefited from another 3 percentage points of alcohol?  Absolutely.  Somewhere out there (the US perhaps?) these guys are bottled at 46%.

Thirdly, rankings:
NOSE -- 12 year, by a considerable margin
PALATE -- A draw!
FINISH -- 16 year
OVERALL -- 12 year

I've been finding that I'm much more of nosing man.  Out of context, that could be interpreted many ways.  In context: I really enjoy just sitting around and smelling the hell out of my whisky.  Probably looks goofy, but that's what's most fun in my whisky experience.

Here, with these two unpeated BenRiachs, the younger one had the most to say in its nose.  The spritely floral elements may have been the distillate still speaking through the years of oak.  The elder's nose was quieter, the spirit becalmed by the wood.  The palates were both mild, likable but not rave-able.  Perhaps the ownership saw this element as a canvas, an opportunity to paint brightly with all sorts of wine-d woods.

The 16 year old can be found for incredible prices overseas, similar to the 12 year's price in some California shops.  But if I -- putting my new purchasing policies into place -- was able to obtain the 12 and the 16 for similar prices, I would buy the 12.  Previously I would have gone straight for the 16 since it would be a great deal.  But it's the 12 that I actually like (in two reports so far!), so I would leave the bargain for someone else.

Availability - Many liquor specialists
Pricing - $45-55 in the US, though better deals can sometimes be found; $50-55 for Americans having it shipped from overseas in a larger order
Rating - 85

Availability - Some liquor specialists
Pricing - $68-80 in the US; $60-80 for Americans having it shipped from overseas in a larger order
Rating - 80

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Single Malt Report: Laphroaig Cairdeas Origin (2012)

Càirdeas means friendship in Gaelic.  Folks can agree on that.  But I've haven't yet heard an agreement on the pronunciation.  Is it Keer-dass or Kar-chiss?  I vote for the former as it sounds nicer to hear and feels more pleasant to say.

Since 2008, Laphroaig has been releasing a limited edition bottling in honor of their Friends of Laphroaig group (543,000 and growing), thus the "friendship" Càirdeas name.  The release has coincided with the annual swingin' Feis Ile, the Islay whisky and jazz festival.  While most of the Islay distilleries squeeze out a special edition whisky in honor of the festival, very few make these whiskies available outside of the fest.  Many thank yous to Laphroaig (and Ardbeg) for allowing the rest of us to get our hands on these goodies this past year.

As can now be expected in this whisky market, all the Feis Ile whiskys instantly become collector's items.  Buyers become sellers, flipping their purchase on the secondary market for a considerable margin.  It leaves me wondering if anyone drinks that rare(-ish) booze.  The Ardbeg Day and Laphroaig Càirdeas Origin are at least more prevalent, maybe some of y'all are drinking yours?

I first tried the Càirdeas Origin at the epic Laphroaig vertical this past December.  It was certainly one of the better drams out of that grand lineup.  With the hands of a thief and the mind of a cheapskate I was able to steal away with a 0.7 fl oz sample of this whisky.  A couple months later, in the quiet of my home I gave the Càirdeas another try.

Distillery: Laphroaig
Product: Càirdeas Origin
Release Year: 2012
Owner: Beam, Inc.
Type: Single Malt Report
Region: Islay
Age / Maturation: (50/50) 7 year old in quarter casks, mixed with 13-21 year old from refill ex-bourbon barrels
Chill-filtration? No
Caramel colored? Possibly
Alcohol by Volume: 51.2%
Limited Release: 20,000 worldwide (3,000 U.S.)

Per the bottle: "This whisky celebrates 18 years of our Friends of Laphroaig programme. The 2012 bottling combines some of the original liquid used to first create Càirdeas, further matured and complimented with newer Laphroaig spirit that has been fully matured in quarter casks."

Its color is a take on the classic Laphroaig straw.  The nose starts with a vegetable peat, then some of that quarter cask oak follows.  White and balsamic vinegars take turns.  There's some candied orange peel, oatmeal, and cooked mushrooms.  The peat in the palate is drier, smokier.  There's a very pleasant savory note, along with hay, lemon juice, subtle vanilla, lightly sugared sweetness, and a little salt.  Much more spirit than oak.  More savoriness in the finish, like mushrooms but better!  A little confectioner's sugar is chased by a slight bitterness.  But it's the cinders (very Kilchoman-ish) that last the longest.

And per my post-Laphroaig-vertical haikus:

Laphroaig Cairdeas Origin
Keer-dass or Kar-chiss?
Either way, a lovely thing
Cairdeas means friendship

Vanilla choc'late
Salty nutty peaty moss
Handshake and a hug

It's a little different than most of the official Laphroaigs.  Less underlying sweetness, fewer band-aids, more earthy and savory......which is where those mushroom notes come into play......which is weird because I normally don't like mushrooms.  But I do like this sharp, salty, and dry malt.  So, using the vertical tasting and this sample tasting as a guide, I bought a bottle of my own.

Sadly, this one is getting very difficult to find.  There are some on the East Coast, but not many are left here in California.  I don't think there are any whisky bars serving this up, so this may have to be a blind buy for some folks.  The question is, are you going to save it or drink it?  I'll be drinking mine next autumn, with friends.

Availability - Happy Hunting!
Pricing - original US price range $60-$75, currently $60-$150
Rating - 88

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

The Tale of Talisker Storm

On the 14th floor of Headquarters, Dale and Dean, two Diageo marketing associates, stand side by side urinating in the Men's room while sipping Smirnoff on the rocks.
         Dean says to Dale, "So we got the green light to bottle those six-year-old Talisker malt leftovers that Bell's, Buchanan's, and VAT 69 rejected."
         Dale responds, "Ah yes, the whole rejuvenated cask pitch.  Good work on that one."
         "Good work to you, sir, for convincing them to sell it for more than the 10 year old.  Unique, bold, vivacious in fact."
         "Like the whisky!"
         "Whatever you say, man."  They laugh, clinking their glasses, pissing into urinals chiseled from Rosebank distillery stone.
         Dale asks, "So what are we going to call this crap?"
         Dean says, "Well, it's spirit heavy and a little rough.  And it's from Scotland.  Their weather's shit and they're proud of it.  We can name it after something stormy."
         Dale puts his drink down and taps the urinal-mounted touchscreen.  He goes to Google.com.  Starts a search.  "Okay, something stormy.  Something stormy.  Bowmore has their Tempest.  Cutty Sark has their Storm...  That's it!  Talisker Storm!"
         The urinals flush in unison, gallons of the River Tay gushing down into the sewer.
         "Brilliant!  I'll drop them an email with the name.  This should make all the whiny discerning whisky geeks happy now that they're getting another Talisker single malt."
         Dean and Dale stride towards the bathroom door.
         "Eh, fuck 'em.  They've never been our target audience anyway."
         Dean's iPhone dings.  "Ah. Gotta go. They're installing marble flooring in the shitter at our Brora condo."
         They exit the bathroom without washing their hands.

Monday, February 18, 2013

So, I bought a bottle...

Warning: This post may be a bunch of diary-style navel-gazing.  Or at least more so than usual.

I bought my first whisky bottle in five weeks.  The purchase didn't come easy.  Thirty-four days ago, I'd posted a little bit about my internal struggle with amassing whisky, so I wasn't going to break the fast easily.  I continued window shopping, but I always asked myself "Why?" each time a bottle drew me in.  Nothing stood up to that challenge until this past weekend.

There's been only one Lowland whisky I've actually enjoyed, and mostly because it was anything but a "Lowland Lady".  It was a weird earthy clay-grass-and-white-pepper malt bottled at cask strength by one of my favorite independent bottlers, priced far below anything else of its type.

So, I pestered six different employees at two stores about it.  Why did I pester?  One of the stores had an incorrect listing that was actually selling an older bottling at the same price.  Same distillery, same bottler, but a different cask type, different age, different year, different ABV.  A few months ago, I would have exclaimed, "Woo hoo!  I'll take both!"

But not now.  Despite having a chance at a great deal, I knew nothing about the older bottling.  Never tasted it.  No reviews of it to be found.  It wasn't the bottle I actually wanted.  Again, I'd tasted the one I was looking for and I liked it.  I was willing, for the first time in memory, to turn down a better bargain for a potentially decent whisky.  So, I did.  I turned it down.  And I called and travelled around, questioned and questioned and questioned employees (who are at the mercy of distributors) until I found my whisky.

I returned home with one bottle rather than two.  To me this is a victory.

During this very journey I also came upon three additional exceptionally priced whiskies.  Each are on my Someday list.  Previously, I would have returned home with those three in hand as well.  But they remain on the Someday list, not the Today list.  Today I'll have some great whisky to drink, and the whisky is already in my possession.

There's much less desperation for accumulation.  Though there are other purchases I'm considering, I no longer feel a rush to do them immediately.  And if I miss out on a limited or disappearing bottling, then so be it.  Hopefully a good whisky lover gets it, opens it and drinks it and enjoys it.

Do I believe that last paragraph?  Today, yes.  Tomorrow, I don't know.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

NOT Single Malt Report: High West Rendezvous Rye

You can count me as one more fan of David Perkins and the High West Distillery team.  They keep cranking out creative (and tasty!) whiskey products -- pulled together from juice they've bought from other distilleries -- as they await the results of their own very young Utah whiskey, currently slumbering in new American oak.  Here are some of their releases:

Bourye -- a mix of 10yr Four Roses bourbon, 12yr LDI rye (95% rye mashbill), and 16yr Barton Distillery rye.  This sold like, well, whiskey.  So now it's gone, but was soon replaced with...
Son of Bourye -- 5yr Four Roses bourbon and 3yr LDI rye (95% rye mashbill)
Campfire -- Four Roses bourbon + LDI rye (95% rye mashbill) + a peated Scottish blended malt
American Prairie Reserve -- 10yr Four Roses bourbon + 6yr LDI bourbon
Double Rye -- 16yr (53% mashbill) Barton Distillery rye + 2yr (95% mashbill) LDI rye.

Product: Rendezvous Rye
Distillery: Barton/Tom Moore and LDI distilleries
Producer: High West
Type: Straight Rye Whisky
Region: Utah (High West), Indiana (LDI), Barton (Kentucky)
Age / Mashbill: 16 years, 80% rye 10% corn 10% malted barley (Barton) + 6 years, 95% rye 5% malted barley (LDI)
Maturation: charred white oak barrels
Alcohol by Volume: 46%
(many thanks to LA Whisk(e)y Society for the distillery and mashbill data)

How can one not love these combos?!  I'm pretty much a whisk(e)y purist, but these blends are crazy and brilliant.  Any great chef or bartender will divulge that one of the keys to a great dish or cocktail is the use of the highest quality ingredients.  High West has taken that to heart.  I'm coo-coo for LDI rye (if you haven't gathered that yet), thus David Perkins has my full attention.

I had my eye on Rendezvous first.  About to pull the trigger on it, I asked K&L's David Driscoll: "What rye would you recommend to a Willett fan?"  Without a pause, he replied, "High West's Rendezvous."  So I bought it and now it's almost gone.  But before my bottle goes empty, I must do an official tasting:

The color is all maple syrup.  The nose holds lots of good oak elements, especially vanillins, leather, and a bundle of tropical fruit.  There's also a strong note of pencil shavings that I've found in toasted French oak-matured whisky.  Something savory in there too...can we smell "savory"?  Finally, there's a big wallop of rye seeds.  Those rye seeds hang around in the palate, joined by cinnamon, hay, and a marshmallowy sweetness.  The LDI rye zing is present but restrained by the older Barton whiskey.  A hint of black cherry.  More than a hint of black pepper.  Here comes the spice kick in the very lengthy finish.  Candied vanilla pods meet caramel corn, along with a distant vegetal note from the spirit.

Adding water makes it creamier, and brings out some bubblegum and fresh cherry notes.  The palate is softer but still finishes strong.

Even The Wife enjoys this one.  But then again, she seems to be smitten with LDI rye too.

This is politer than the barrel-strength Willetts, but still a muscular whiskey.  I recommend this to folks who like high rye mashbills and also to those of us who'd like to experience a little older rye without handing out the $200+ which will undoubtedly be the pricing on 16-year ryes in the near future.  For you cocktail fans, this makes for a brisk lively Sazerac, though it works best all alone in the glass.

Now, what High West shall I buy next......?

Availability - Many liquor specialists
Pricing - $48-$55
Rating - 88

Friday, February 15, 2013

NOT Single Malt Report: Jefferson's 10 year old Straight Rye

I love rye.  It's now one of my Big Three:  Irish Single Pot Still Whiskey, Single Malt Scotch Whisky, and Straight Rye Whiskey.  Rye's bold spicy wallop wins me over every single time.  If it can get me to say "Wow!" after a sip -- as Willett has done time after time (but we'll save the Willett slobbering for previous and future reports) -- then I'm enticed to track down a full bottle.

As Jefferson's 10yr Rye has the rare 100% rye mashbill, I so desired to just buy a whole bottle blindly (though I didn't).  It was one of those whiskies that I wanted to love.  Recent Eats, Coopered Tot, Chemistry of the Cocktail, and Scotch & Ice Cream all liked it.  That's plenty good enough for me.

Distillery: possibly Alberta Springs Distillery
OwnershipMcClain & Kyne (via Castle Brands)
Type: Canadian Straight Rye Whisky
Region: Alberta, Canada (possibly)
Age: minimum 10 years
Mashbill: 100% rye (along with a proprietary fungus that helps keep the mash from getting sticky)
Maturation: charred white oak barrels
Alcohol by Volume: 47%

[As you'll note above, this is actually Canadian Rye, bottled by McClain & Kyne, an American company.  Curiously, the company refers to the juice as "North American" rather than Canadian.  Come on guys, Canada is cool too!]

There's a little more background to this report.  In the comments section of the Recent Eats and Chemistry of the Cocktail posts about Jefferson's, I noticed that Florin (of whom I am a fan) felt quite differently about the rye.  When I had a chance to meet Florin a few months back, he shared some of his Jefferson's with me.  And I immediately found the issue.

It smelled and tasted like nail polish remover, as if the spirit hadn't aged a day, let alone 10 years, in new oak.  It was very odd.  When we did some whisky trading, I still opted for a sample of it.  Further studies were required.

Three months later (about seven total months in the sample bottle) the rye was released into my Glencairn glass.  The acetone/polish/vinyl note sprung forth immediately.  So I decided to let it sit and sit and sit...

Forty-five minutes later:

The color was of a rosy maple syrup.  The nail polish remover (or distillate, to be polite) had vanished from the nose.  It was now much oakier.  Tons of vanilla.  Puffs of peppermint and menthol, followed by molasses and cooked mushrooms.  The texture was very thin, watery.  The palate was less spirity than before.  Lots of dark chocolate and cherry kirsch.  Something very vegetal rumbled along, perhaps this is the herbal note others have found?  Burnt sugar, cherry cordials, and a hint of citrus.  Any spicy rye zing was at a minimum.  The kirsch continued in the finish, but then there was a consistent salad note.  Seriously, salad.  Think lettuces and bitter greens.  That was met by caramel sauce and dulce di leche.  More bitterness followed with time.

So, time helped.  To a point.  I'm going to assume/hope there was some significant batch variation going on here as the characteristics seem to be from a completely different booze than what I've read about on other blogs.  Or maybe this shade of rye is not for me?  I can see its appeal.  I'd take this over Old Overholt and Jim Beam Rye any day.  And its price is right, at half the $$$ of WhistlePig, another 10-year 100% Canadian rye (and perhaps from the same source).

In the next report, I'll cover a whiskey that I had side-by-side with Jefferson's just to make sure my rye sensors were working...

Availability - Most liquor specialists
Pricing - $35-$40
Rating - 78 (without the 45 min wait, the rating would have been much lower)

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Escape From LA, February 2013, recapped

I'm aware that hearing about someone else's Vegas experience holds limited entertainment value for the audience, so I'll try to be brief and entertaining.

Friday -- I drove directly from work to Las Vegas.  Arrived at MGM @ 11:30.  My brother, Jason, and I are so old and tired that we promptly fell asleep.  No gambling.  No drinking.

Saturday -- Gambling.  Drinking.

Oddly, I awoke at 7:20am.  Who wakes up in Vegas at 7:20?  We got out to the lackluster Excalibur buffet by 8:30.  Breakfast done by 9:30.  So early!  What to do?  Gamble, the tables are cheap in the morning.

At the video poker machine, I went from $100 to $5 in 10 minutes, then on what looked to be my final hand, I hit full house, then straight, then full house.  I decided to part from the machine at that point.  Joined Jason at the craps table where we fared well.  We departed up.

We hit the road, putting some distance between us and The Strip.  I fared well, again, at the video poker machines at The Palms.  Jason and I went to The Mob Museum downtown -- their media production was great -- then later headed to Nora's: good Italian food, great whisky prices.

From there we went back to the hotel and opened a bottle of Johnnie Walker Gold Label (more on that some time down the road).  Then we went to Craftsteak, THE BEST whisky selection on The Strip.

Then I stumbled over to a video poker machine and won $250 on a $5 bet.

Okay, I'm not really kissing the machine.  It would be healthier to lick a gas station urinal rim than kiss a Vegas touchscreen.  Anyway, the kiss is close enough.  The machine deserved it.  I was now up $372 on the first day.  Success.

Sunday -- Less drinking.  No gambling.

That's right, I left with my winnings intact.  I hit the gym, then walked about 7 miles up and down The Strip.  I was witness to a particularly curious scene, documented here.  Grabbed some good pizza from New York New York.  Hit Mon Ami Gabi at Paris for dinner.  We wandered the Forum shops, but didn't buy anything because I'm cheap.

Monday -- I awoke at 5am and drove directly to work, arriving 10 minutes early.  This is not recommended.  Three days later, the sleep deprivation is still whuppin' me.  I'm surprised I made it this far into the post.  I'm surprised you made it this far into the post.

Whisky thoughts:
Vegas is a great place for whisky drinkin'.  The prices are rarely cheap, but the selection is grand...

...MGM Grand in fact.  That casino alone has a number of great whisky stops.  There's a random bar (I think it's this one) near the hotel elevators that has the old version of Springbank 21yr.  Wolfgang Puck has a bar there with several shelves of high quality stuff, including some Japanese selections.  Then there's Craftsteak.  The prices can be steep, but the pours are 2oz.  The choices are many many many, including a number of indies.  I had a cask strength Bunnahabhain 17yr 1988 Malt Trust.  It was dark as cherry cola and was VERY SHERRY.  There were plans to return on Sunday night to spend some of my winnings, but bedtime was very early.  I shall return.  If you have a chance to visit Craftsteak, Larry at the bar is a great guy who loves to discuss all things booze.

The Palms has a bourbon bar in the middle of the casino.  They appear to have almost everything.  Like Craftsteak, they have Pappies 15, 20, and 23, if you're Van Winkle hunting.

And, as always, I have to give The Whisky Attic its proper due.  (My 2012 posts about it are here.)  Professor Carmer is brilliant and his whisky selection is terrific!  I shall return there on my next Vegas trip.

Time to start planning my next Vegas trip.  How about it, Jason?

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

In the can: A Vegas Story

A man stands at the corner of Las Vegas Boulevard South and East Flamingo Road, calling out to passers by.
       "Save the Ta-Tas!"
       His graying pile of sandy blonde hair began its climb over his ears years ago.  An aqua blue windbreaker, zipped up to his chin, keeps out the increasingly brisk overcast desert winter afternoon.
       "Save the Ta-Tas!"
       To his right, his wheeled plexiglass-encased cart displays a half dozen identical white plastic signs with black lettering reading:
       "Save the Ta-Tas!"
       Most of the passersby disregard his barking.  Many of them have just maneuvered around the forty to fifty bundled-up short men shoving glossy nude escort card-sized adverts in every direction.  But the huckster has something of additional substance to offer the crowd.
       "Ladies and Gentleman!"
       He holds his arms up, cradling something gingerly in each hand.  He winds his right arm up like a hurler, then flings the unseen object onto his cart's flat transparent tabletop.
       WAP!  It splats down, a flesh colored puddle.
       WAP!  He slams the second one onto the table.
       The puddles begin to move.  Part of the crowd stops to watch.
       Slowly sucking themselves up from the table, the rosy peach blobs rise, each unhurriedly forming a shape.  Gradually they stand up, jiggling, getting rounder, growing...
       ...until there, on top of his cart, stand two golf-ball sized wiggling rubber breasts, complete with red areolas and pointed nipples.
       The man stands beside his cart, proudly gesturing with an open hand, "Want to help save the ta-tas?  Get yourself a pair of these itty-bitty titties."
       Some of the audience remains in place, staring at the tiny wobbling breasts.  But most of the watchers continue on, passing the closed-for-renovation signs for Bill's Gambling Hall & Saloon.
       A voice calls out from the parting crowd, "Excuse me!"
       Digging her way through the crush of bodies, a determined silver-curly-haired woman in a light green jacket rushes towards the cart.
       Approaching the shimmying mams, she asks in a sharp Russian accent:
       "Excuse me, you have the canned puzzi?"
       Hurried gamblers and tipsy shoppers squeeze around her.
       The man replies, "Huh?"
       "You know.  The puzzi.  In the can."
       "Um, n......no. Ma'am, all of my proceeds go to breast cancer research."
       "Oh," she says.  Her shoulders sink and she slouches away to the nearby escalator.
       The continuing stream of tourists pushes on.  The traffic lights change.  A dozen motorcycles thunder by.  Scooping his two little products off the cart, the man in the aqua blue windbreaker begins his sales pitch again.
       "Ladies and Gentleman!"

Friday, February 8, 2013

Happy Friday! Quick ramblings and an escape...

Last night David Driscoll wrote a lovely piece on the romance of big brands.  The flu may have knocked Driscoll stone sober, but it's given him time and clarity to muse deeply.  Here's a link.

Mr. Feldman is back to posting on Coopered Tot.  Always a good thing.

Oliver Klimek of Dramming.com fame has a new blog: Culinary Atrocities.  It's delicious.

And then there's...


I am (desperately) escaping LA for Vegas this weekend.  My brother, Jason, is flying out from the East Coast and I'm driving in, directly from work.  We were there last year around this time for his birthday.  All sorts of amazing stuff happened.  This time, I will be satisfied with just drinking and gambling.  You can do those things in Las Vegas, right?

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Single Malt Report: Bowmore Dorus Mor

To my fellow cynics out there:  Yes, the love-a-thon continues here at the Single Malt Report.  I wanted to start the year on a positive note by reviewing some lovely drams before diving into the riskier stuff.  Will this be the last of the glowing reviews?  Intentionally, yes.  But I hope everything I try this year is terrific.

Distillery: Bowmore
Ownership:  Morrison Bowmore (owned by Suntory)
Region: Islay
Type: Single Malt Whisky (Small Batch
Maturation: First fill ex-bourbon barrels
Age: minimum 10 years
Alcohol by Volume: 55.1%
Limited release: 2,400 bottles

As mentioned in last week's Bowmore post, this is the 4th batch of the Tempest line.  In Europe, it's still called Tempest.  But in the US, a "Tempest" winery from Washington State blocked their use of that name here.  Bowmore in turn had fans choose the new name via Facebook.  Voters decided between "Dorus Mor" and "Whirlpool".  Needless to say, they chose wisely.  I don't want my whisky named after a dishwasher.

Not whisky.
Dorus Mor is the Gaelic name for the tempestuous waters around Islay.  Using a little Gaelic on the label, as seems to be the fashion at Islay distilleries, Bowmore made this all work out in the end.

(UPDATE: Dorus Mor is a narrows north of Kintyre and northwest of Jura, near the Corryvreckan. Here's a link. Thank you to Mike, who gave us the scoop in the comments section!)

I loved the Tempest batches 2 and 3.  At cask strength, Bowmore's spirit shouts out loud.  And rolling it all up in American oak vanilla is a great call.  I was excited to try the newest batch.

The color is a yellow gold with a hint of green.  The nose leads with a bourbony vanilla.  A flash of dark chocolate, then honey-roasted peat.  Some smoked orange peels, soil, and moss follow.  There's even a bit of Band-aids, a characteristic found in some of Bowmore's normally-peatier Islay neighbors' whisky.  The palate projects citrus and vanilla first, then peat and smoke second.  There's some milk chocolate, stone fruit (think apricot) juice, charcoal, and honey in there too.  It finishes up with charred moss, burnt orange peels, vanilla, roasted nuts, and cigarette smoke.

...more citrus opens up on the nose, along with a lot more oak.  The peat goes in retreat.  But it storms back in the palate along with the smoke.  There's a little bitterness in the finale, though some fruits (maybe fresh cherries?) linger on.

My notes from the original tasting read: "peated vanilla ice cream".  Someone else said Dorus reminded him of smoky angel food cake.

I want Mor.

Regarding the bottle's expense, I've found that I'm getting tired, both of rising whisky prices and of ranting about them.  But I would be remiss if I didn't discuss Dorus Mor for a moment.

Some young cask strength Islay comparables:
1. Port Charlotte PC 6, 7, and 8 - $100-$120 (18,000 - 30,000 bottles per release)
2. Lagavulin 12yr CS - $100-$120 (current release, 31656 bottles)
3. Ardbeg Supernova - $100-$130 (original release, 21000 bottles)
4. Kilchoman cask strength - $100-$120

The above whiskys must have been considered by Morrison Bowmore when deciding Dorus's price.  Otherwise, why would they raise the US price 50% from that of the last batch of Tempest (2011)?  The first three above comparables had releases many multiples larger than that of the Dorus Mor.  Though the Kilchoman cask releases were much smaller they have been more numerous and the whisky younger.  While this is not a defense of the Dorus Mor's price, it is an attempt to guess at an explanation.  But it's a damned pity because here's another bottle I'm priced out of.

BUT if those comparable whiskys are within your own buying range, then Bowmore's Dorus Mor should be considered on the same level.  At cask strength, this is unlike anything else in Bowmore's range.  It's a hearty burly citric vanilla smoke stack of a drink.  It's tremendous on a winter's night, near a crackling fireplace.  It'll warm the innards and delight the senses.  (Take that, PR firm, and run with it.)

For the rest of us, perhaps we should snoop around the European retailers...

Availability - Some liquor specialists
Pricing - U.S. suggested retail price will be $120
Rating - 90

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Single Malt Report: The Balvenie 21 year old Portwood

Goodness, it feels like it's been forever since I've reported on a single malt.  So, we'll get to two (or three?) this week.  I'll start with a whisky that was on my previous Dram Quest.  The Balvenie 21yr Portwood.

There have been a few posts here about my struggles with "finished" whiskys.  To me, finished whiskies almost never feel like a complete piece.  The elements often remain separate.  Rarely does the character from the wine cask integrate with the malt.

There is undoubtedly a true art to whisky-making.  A wine-cask-finished major release requires the blender to commingle well over 100 separate casks into a single product with a nose and palate that's not only consistent, but also fits into the company's brand.  The producer likely has to test up to 1000 separate barrels of whisky, with each vessel bringing along its own quirks.  So when this process actually works, it's an impressive bit of craft.

When I find a finished whisky that works, I'm first in line to be one of those momentarily sated consumers.  But those finishes usually don't work for me.  Especially port pipe finished whisky.  I've tried about a dozen, and would rather not sample them again.  Well, except for this one.
I'd first tried it at a Balvenie tasting and was surprised by how well the malt, port, and wood was woven into a single whisky unit.  I shouldn't have been surprised since this whisky had been recommended to me by many folks.  Yet I went into the experience with my grudge against port-ed whisky.  But I found the Portwood so nice that I made sure to pick up a dram in a Master of Malt order.

Distillery: Balvenie
Region: Speyside (Dufftown)
Type: Single Malt Whisky
Maturation: Most of its life in re-fill American oak, then a short period in ex-port pipes
Age: minimum 21 years
Alcohol by Volume: 40%

The color is dark gold, like a bourbon.  The nose starts with maraschino cherries in a jar of molasses.  Then there's lots of orange zest, fruit punch, ripe stone fruits, and maple syrup.  After about a half hour, it smells of a dessert of bread pudding with a light port.  Great silky body and texture on this one.  Milk chocolate and raisins start the palate.  There's some sweet cream, vanilla pudding, cinnamon, salt, and whole wheat bread with honey butter.  The late-night finish blooms with raisins in honey, citrus and brown sugar, and finally a healthy dose of pipe tobacco.

Yeah.  Seriously, screw water.  I only drank this one neatly.  It needed no assistance.

Balvenie Master Blender David Stewart really is a master of his craft.  The 12yr Doublewood (the original single malt report!) is honeyed, creamy, and easygoing.  The Signature and Single Barrel are less rounded than the Doublewood, but are more interesting for the same reason.  The Carribean Cask is desserty delicious.  The 17yr Doublewood is, well, a 17yr version of the younger Doublewood.  My Tun 1401 experiences have left me speechless.  The 30yr is dynamite.  And now he's made a port-finished whisky that is all of one piece.  I know Mr. Stewart is in the process of retiring but I'm sure he feels good to have brought so many good products to so many happy drinkers.

Availability - Many liquor specialists
Pricing - $140-$160 (US East Coast and Europe), $180-$200 (California), a 47.6% verison goes for 120GBP at Duty Free
Rating - 90

Friday, February 1, 2013

Three whisky events in four days: Part Three

(Part One here)

(Part Two here)

Ulitmately, there was...


There's a new club in town: the Southern California Whiskey Club.  It's the brainchild of Chris Uhde and Michael Ries, two awesome whiskey guys I've met at a number of other booze events.  You'll note the 'e' in the "Whiskey" part of their club name.  Thus Monday night's event was a Bourbon Whiskey meeting.  And not just any bourbon whiskey.  Stitzel-Weller bourbon whiskey.

This was another step in my further education on American whiskies.  A year ago today, I didn't know a darn thing about the aged spirits produced in my country.  My whisky knowledge was (like most of my thoughts) focused overseas.  Since my proper introduction to rye and bourbon last February, my interest in these more local liquors has grown.

So on Monday there I was in the midst of a five part taste-off between old Stitzel-Weller bourbon and its modern compatriots.  It went as follows:

1.  Cabin Still (1989) versus Cabin Still (2011)
2.  Old Fitzgerald BIB DSP KY-16 (S-W) versus Old Fitzgerald BIB DSP KY–1 (Heaven Hill)
3.  Very Special Old Fitzgerald 12yr BHC Louisville 1994 (S-W) versus Very Special Old Fitzgerald 12yr current (Heaven Hill)
4.  Pappy Van Winkle 20yr bottled in 2010 versus Pappy Van Winkle 20yr bottled in 2012
5.  W.L Weller BHC 10yr Centennial Louisville edition versus Jefferson’s Presidential 18yr

Yes, your eyes may be drawn to #4 there.  And for good reason.  Collectors are going absolutely bananas for all Pappy juice.  Especially the known Stitzel-Weller Pappy juice.  Since the Stitzel-Weller distillery closed in 1992, the 2010 Pappy is definitely S-W.  There's a debate as to how much actual Stitzel-Weller spirit is in the 2012.  Much, most, or all of it may be from Heaven Hill's Bernheim distillery.

The Van Winkle brand (as well as the W.L. Weller brand) is currently owned by Buffalo Trace.  The news came out a couple weeks ago that the Stitzel-Weller distillery is actually being reopened......by Diageo.  (Insert cheer or grumble here.)

Back in the day, Julian "Pappy" Van Winkle personally preferred the palate on wheated bourbons -- "a whisper of wheat" they used to say -- so that was the product they focused on at the distillery.  And wheated bourbons are what we tasted at the Monday night event, held at The Daily Pint.

Looking over my notes and thinking back to Monday night, there are two consistent elements to each of the five comparative tastings: the S-W whiskies had brighter, bolder, more vibrant noses while the finishes on the current releases were muted.  Here are my notes:

Cabin Still 1989 -- Bright candied nose. Sweeter than the 2011, but not sacchrine.
Cabin Still 2011 -- Sandier, dustier nose.  Mild palate, a little bit of clay in there.
Old Fitzgerald 1991 -- Maple syrup on buttermilk pancakes. Thick solid palate.
Old Fitzgerald 2012 -- Quite muted. Hay, grasses, grainy notes.
Very Special Old Fitz 12yr 1994 -- Chocolate, maple syrup, and light floral notes.
Very Special Old Fitz 12yr current -- Milder (again), grassy.  A touch sour.  Not as very special.
Pappy 20yr 2010 -- Fills one's skull with the vibrant oaky wheat whisky flavors. Some brandied cherries in there. I prefer this one's palate.
Pappy 20yr 2012 -- Nose is heavier, darker (does that make any sense?). Spices, molasses, bananas.  I prefer this one's nose.
WL Weller 10yr Centennial -- Pretty good, preferred
Jefferson's Prez 18yr -- Decent, but not that memorable

Sorry for those last two.  Socializing had begun in earnest by that point.  I was talking to a nice chap about spirits of all kinds.  That was actually one of the best parts of the event was the laid-back chatty atmosphere.

Chris didn't tell the crowd what we should be tasting nor which whiskey we should like better.  Instead, we all were given the space to sort out what we liked best.  That's exactly how I think events should be run.  Whisk(e)y is a mercurial personal thing.  In my case, I liked the newer Pappy's nose better than the S-W Pappy nose, while I liked the elder one's palate better.  But I liked Old Fitzgerald 1991 the best, even more than the Pappies.  Its nose was insanely delicious, and it didn't taste half bad either!  The Very Special Old Fitzgerald '94 was great too.  I found the contemporary Heaven Hill bourbons to be very mild and largely forgettable, aside from their mildness.

I personally wouldn't drop $100+ on any of these, though I can understand why Pappy would carry a big price in the primary market.  I'll keep my commentary on the secondary market to a minimum for now.  Ultimately, I agree with Southern California Whiskey Club folks; these amber treasures were made to be appreciated by more senses than just sight.  They were created to be tasted.  They were created to be shared.  I mean, it's whiskey, damn it.

Many thanks to Chris and Michael for this great opportunity.  I'm looking forward to the next event!