...where distraction is the main attraction.

Saturday, June 6, 2015

Notes from a Tasting: Escape to Las Vegas 2015

I've lost track how many times I've been to Las Vegas.  More than 20 times, probably fewer than 25.  Usually my brother is my coconspirator.  He organized my bachelor's party in LV in 2010.  Though we had an awesome ridiculous time there, it was then that I began to learn the time limits to a Vegas getaway.  On subsequent trips, it has become even clearer.  Two nights are perfect.  One night is not enough.  Three nights are wearying, and it's not just one's own gambling and drinking that run its course.  Here's out how it goes:

Night 1 - Woohoo!  You're tired from the flight/drive but by utilizing alcohol and caffeine, you'll just blast through!  Due to exhaustion and sensory overload, you don't really notice much about your surroundings except for the hot people and weird people.

Day/Night 2 - If you didn't lose all of your money on Night 1, you stay sober enough to do some relatively responsible gambling.  Once you or one of your crew have a good night at the tables, you then stay out stupidly late.

Day 3 - You are hungover.  You eat too much at a breakfast buffet, swearing off those feeding troughs for life, again.  You decide to wander The Strip to see the new casinos.  There are no old casinos.  You begin to notice that Americans no longer make up the majority of the tourists here.  But everyone, regardless of nationality, seems to have the same empty look on his and her faces.

Night 3 - Dinner at one of the new, decent, possibly overpriced restaurants.  You're trying not to lose any more money, so maybe you'll just get plastered instead.  But after two beers, it becomes laborious.  So you go back to wandering and people watching.  Gradually the emotional and sensory weight of tens of thousands of people submitting to depression-fueled destruction begins to hollow out your soul.

This March, I stayed in Vegas for four nights.  That was a lot.  Especially with my infant daughter, Mathilda, strapped to me.  My wife had an eleven day (dear god) conference at City Center.  Mathilda and I tagged along for the first third.  We ate well, which is one of the upsides of Vegas.  Dave Chappelle arrived at the hotel just as we did, then I saw him again later at Starbucks.  So that was cool.  My daughter and I walked The Strip a bit.  I ogled the new stuff, mourned the loss of the old stuff, as I'm sure she did as well.

I limited myself to one night of gambling.  After I won a not insignificant amount of money via video poker, I immediately exited the casino (as I always do after winning).  What was I to do with my winnings?  Save it for Japan!  This cash would help make that voyage more comfortable.  But I had to do something now to celebrate.  So, I did what I did the last time I won well there: go to Craftsteak and get some whisky that I couldn't otherwise afford...

Tending bar was Larry, the same friendly chap who was there the last time I'd stopped by to spend my winnings, two years ago.  He handed me a tablet with an interactive menu app.  The first thing I noticed was Craftsteak's selection, while still one of the best in the city, is nowhere near as extensive as it used to be.  They used to have loads of incredible indies and dead distillery malts.  There were tons of "craft" bourbons and plenty of officially bottled scotches on their shelves.  They also still don't have whisky glasses, which is a little weird, so I used a bulbous wine glass instead.  Larry brought over a whole bunch of bottles to the table because I'm a pain in the ass (don't worry, I tipped him well) and also because almost no one else was at the bar.  I almost dropped a mint, a pile, a boatload on a glass of Highland Park 30, but at the last minute I called an audible and spent the same amount of cash on these two instead:

Tomatin 34 year old 1976 Duncan Taylor "The Octave" cask 682039, 46.3%abv
Color - Dark gold, but then again the bar's lighting was dark gold
Nose - Biscotti with Nutella.  Mint chip ice cream.  Milk chocolate.  There was also an herbal + malt note still lingering after all these years.
Palate - Loads of cayenne pepper.  A groovy herbal bitterness.  Seared beef with mango and peaches.  The oak can't cover up that fruitiness.  Maybe some soil.
Finish - Tropical fruit, salt, dried blueberries and currants.

Thoughts and things: This was my first Tomatin 1976.  If one believes in whisky vintages then this is considered one of the great ones.  Though I have many doubts about the whole vintage theory (as I've previously stated many times), I still had my expectations high.  So while this was very good whisky, it wasn't tremendous or moan inducing.  I'm wondering if the tiny octave cask had something to do with it.  Anyway the finish, while colorful, was sort of brief.  The nose was nice, but I've found those same notes in younger and cheaper Glenfarclas.  The palate was excellent though, and easily the best part.  If only the other parts could have matched it!  I am thankful for the opportunity to have tried this.  I believe that had I sampled this blindly, I may have had a higher opinion of the overall package.
Grade range:  B/B+

Glenlivet 21 year old Gordon & MacPhail, 43%abv
Color - Medium gold
Nose - Straightforward.  Dusty grains, a little bit of perfume, and lots of apricot.
Palate - Lightly creamy, mostly fruity spirit notes.  Orange, tangerines, peach candy, elderflower syrup.  A moderate amount of vanilla.
Finish - Sweet, but also crisp and tart.  The vanilla, elderflower, and peach remains.

Thoughts and things: There was a motive behind this selection: I've been window-shopping this bottle for over a year.  According to Whiskybase, its average price is $40 cheaper than that of the official (and much more prevalent) 21 year old.  Plus the pour price was reasonable by LA/LV standards.  And......I saved myself $130+ because I don't need to buy a whole bottle now.  The whisky itself is good.  I have no qualms about its quality.  Probably right smack dab in the middle of Grade B Land.  It's simple, easy drinking, without any major flaws.  Exactly what I'd desire in the (shrinking) $40-$60 range.  But it's not in that price range, which is a bummer.  Still, it was a perfectly satisfying one time thing.  And now I can walk away and lust after another pretty thing.
Grade range: B

My indulgences ended here.  A third drink would likely have been wasted on my tired senses, and that money could be better spent in Japan (and it was).  I walked back to the hotel elated and peaceful, for just a moment.  One is allowed so few of those moments as a new parent.


  1. I expect that most of what Duncan Taylor sticks into octave casks is whisky from tired refill casks that they're hoping to give a bit more zip to with a dose of oak. So you get some of that nice old ester-y character with some spicier notes, but the new wood and old spirit haven't had enough time to really work together.

    1. I suspect you're right. Though I wonder how crappy those tired casks were, if the original whisky was really all that bad, and if utilizing a new cask for just a few months really improves matters significantly. Clearly, Duncan Taylor thinks those little barrels are worth the investment.

  2. I spent 2 months in Macau and 4 months in Vegas 3 years ago (my parents live in Vegas, so cheap lodgings...) and played poker every day. Since then, I haven't had the desire to return to either place. Well, a day trip into Macau next time I'm in Hong Kong maybe...
    I think I've seen that particular G&M Glenlivet at a specialty shop here in Tokyo; I'll check out the asking price next time I'm there.

    1. Poker every day! Never been to Macau myself. I've heard that the tables and minimums can be pricier than Vegas.

      Thinking about that Glenlivet for your pub or for yourself? :) I bet you can find that Glenlivet at one of the other bars out by you if you want to try it first.