...where distraction is the main attraction.

Saturday, March 31, 2012

Something is afoot

LOVE the bizarro video depth distortion on this as it adds to the otherworldly misc-en-scene.

These animals clearly were having a private conversation before she opened the door.  Judging by the combination of bemused and coy looks on their faces, the topic of discussion was either world domination or erectile disfunction.

Friday, March 30, 2012

Cosmopolis is coming

WOW.  I skip one, ONE, Don DeLillo novel and......

I'll let this newly released French (Possibly Not Safe For Work) trailer explain:

Book purchased.

It's a brief 224 pages.  For some reason I skipped it when I heard that it was a lesser DeLillo work.  But lesser DeLillo is better than just about everything else out there.

Back to the movie.  Directed and written(!) by the Canadian maestro Cronenberg (who continues to be on a whole other league planet from everyone else) and co-starring Juliette Binoche, Mathieu Amalric, and Paul Giamatti?!  I was already sold before the teaser, but this thing just sealed the deal.

Here's the link to the official site.

No official US release date, but it's opening all over Europe in May.

I'm as irrationally excited as a person can be after watching a 34 second video.  Seven times.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Single Malt Report: Glenfiddich 12 year old

"No alarms and no surprises please."
-- Radiohead
(and a complete misinterpretation of the lyrics via this out-of-context usage)

The Personal Classics, Part 4:  Glenfiddich 12 year old

Distillery: Glenfiddich
Age: minimum 12 years
Maturation: American (w/ bourbon) and Spanish (w/ sherry) oak casks
Region: Speyside (Dufftown)
Alcohol by Volume: 40% ABV

Glenfiddich was the first single malt for me and (probably) millions of others.  In fact Glenfiddich was the first distillery to market their own single malt worldwide, back in the 1960s.

The Glenfiddich distillery has the largest malt production capacity -- almost 40% larger than Macallan -- in Scotland.  Diageo's new Roseisle monstrosity will probably surpass it by a smidgen once it's fully online.  But Diageo is a $60billion international conglomerate.  And Glenfiddich is still run by the family of the man who built the distillery 126 years ago.

After honing his trade skills at the Mortlach distillery, William Grant and his NINE sons broke ground in Banffshire in 1886.  By the next year the stills were up and running.  And they never sold the business.

In 1892, William Grant & Sons opened up the Balvenie distillery on their adjacent property.  They introduced Glenfiddich's three cornered bottle in 1957, then changed it to the current rounded edge (which allows for a sturdier glass structure) version we know today.  They began marketing their single malt in 1963, then in 1969 became the first distillery to open up a visitor's center.

So, aside from what one thinks of their current product range, a whisky drinker has to raise a glass or two to Glenfiddich and their ownership for being good malt stewards.  Of course, they don't do it for free: the 4,000 cases of single malt sales in 1964 became 120,000 cases/year by 1974.  In 2010, they had 15% of the entire Scotch Whisky Single Malt market share, putting them in first place by a significant amount.  They're expecting to break the 1,000,000 cases/year mark this year.

The 12yr is their flagship bottling and the best selling single malt in the world.  And, aside from mass product proliferation, it's easy to see why.  It's full of steady, smooth, and comfortable characteristics.  To me, it's the most reliable single malt.  I always know what I'm getting in the glass.  Something light and versatile.  And pretty decent.

So, let's give it a taste.


Because the rest of its characteristics are so light, its color is surprisingly dark gold.  Possibly due to non-natural means.  The nose is very mild.  Takes some time to find it.  There's more bourbon present than sherry.  There's a gin-like herbal/mineral element.  Malty, bread-like (not yeast), and little bit of pencil wood.  The palate is lightly fruity (citrus and pears) with some sherried cream.  A good texture for a 40% ABV malt.  The finish is short.  Sweet then sour, with some mocha.

W/ WATER (about 31% ABV)

The nose remains similar.  More of the gin note (juniper?) with some granulated sugar in the distance.  The palate is soft and pleasant.  Sweet cream with malt and sherry.  The finish is brief, drying, sweet, with a slight bitterness.

It also makes for a reasonable highball, as I found out in Vegas last month.  Club soda brings a nice sugary sweetness out of the malt.

I always recommend this over Glenlivet and The Singleton when folks want to move up from the blends to the singles.  It's cheaper than some of the 12yr blends.  It is mild with no odd notes.  It won't blow your hair back, but it is very comfortable and reliable.  A good item to have on hand.

Availability - Almost everywhere
Pricing - Bargain! at $23-$28
Rating - 82

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

NOT Single Malt Report: Johnnie Walker Green Label

On the way to my car this morning, I saw a small black labrador retriever in mid doggie squat desperately trying to do the doo.  He stretched, bounced up and down, angled to get the right leverage in multiple unsuccessful attempts to void his puppy bowels.  No, I didn't stick around to see if he finally pooped because......what do you think I am, some kind of weirdo?

Unlike that excretorily challenged dog, I pass this nugget along to you with great ease and pleasure.

*the king of segues curtsies*

The Personal Classics, Part 3:  Johnnie Walker Green Label

Type: Blended Malt (formerly known as Vatted Malt)
Distilleries: Talisker, Caol Ila, Cragganmore, and Linkwood (and likely more)
Age: minimum 15 years
Alcohol by Volume: 43%

On one sunny Saturday in late 2004, my new work buddy, Bernardo, invited Kristen and I (along with a few other co-workers) up to his house in Gaithersburg.  While the ladies were all drinking wine (and/or vodka), Bernardo asked me if I liked Scotch.  I responded enthusiastically in the affirmative.

I did indeed like Scotch.  I didn't really know much about it.  I knew Black Label, Dewars (ugh), the two big Glens.  Had heard of Macallan.  But the obsession hadn't started yet.

Then Bernardo brought out a bottle of Johnnie Walker Green Label.  My memory is a little fuzzy after that.  I think we drank half the bottle.  It was fan-f***ing-tastic.  Bernardo, Green Label, and I hung out on the back deck for hours.  THIS, this was the gateway drug.  My relationship with whisky would never be the same.

Bernardo was a couple years ahead of me on the whisky track.  In the months that followed I found Macallan and Oban, much thanks to him.

So, three years later, as I moved to the West Coast, I repaid him by leaving him with a box full of half-drunk bottles of Amaretto, Creme de Cacao, and Midori. 

I'm a f***ing a**hole.

The Whisky

A Blended Malt is different than a Blended Whisky.  A Blended Whisky (like Black Label, Dewars, or Black & White) is a mixture of single malt whiskies and grain whiskies, with greater emphasis on the grains.  Blended Malts (once called Vatted Malts) are a combination of only single malt whiskies.  No grain whisky.  That results in a more expensive drink, but also (usually) a whisky of considerable depth and quality.

In Green Label, the Johnnie Walker brand provides rare transparency into its blending recipes.  It lists Talisker, Caol Ila, Cragganmore, and Linkwood as "the key components" (but not necessarily the only components).

Per the box:
Talisker (Skye) - The Power - Wood smoke, pepper, oak, and rich fruits
Linkwood (Speyside) - The Finesse - fruit, flowers, and cedar wood
Cragganmore (Speyside) - The Heart - malty, sweet wood smoke, and sandalwood
Caol Ila (Islay) - The Mystery - rich fruit, drying sea salt, and peat smoke

Those little The's are cute and sorta silly.  For "The Mystery", the box says that Caol Ila is Islay's best kept secret.  In reality, Caol Ila produces more whisky than Lagavulin, Bowmore, and Ardbeg combined and is very possibly the distillery with the most independent bottlings in history.  But whisky romance aside, Talisker is a great malt powerhouse.

The Notes

My favorite Johnnie Walker whisky changes all the time.  Black or Green or Gold.  It's difficult to say since I haven't had Gold Label in a few years.  I posted extensively about my hot-cold affair with Black Label.  And Green Label has become a Rorschach test.  I keep tasting different things in it.  The bottle I have now is peatier than any Green I'd had before.  So I've done composite of notes from separate evenings...


The color, a dark caramel amber.  Both sherry and bourbon barrels show up in the nose as well as sweet cream, salt, malt, black pepper, and apple juice.  The texture is soft and creamy.  The palate is led by Talisker's pepper, then some salt and sherry, a little peat smoke, whipped cream, and more apple juice.  Pepper sticks around in the medium length finish along with the cream and malt.

W/ WATER (about 30% ABV)

The nose gets spicier, think cayenne pepper and ginger.  But it's also malty and buttery.  Brown sugar now leads in the palate, along with cherry syrup and lots of black cherry flavouring.  The finish is "Yummy".  Cookies, brown sugar, salt, and cherries.

I'd been having it neat for so long, I was surprised how well it took to water.  As a fifteen-year old whisky, the price is right and the flavor has been created with some skill.  So I recommend it.  Perhaps it will be your path to Whiskimania too.

Availability - Wide
Pricing - Excellent at $50-$55 (if you find it for less, grab it up!)
Rating - 87

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Moar teevee!

I'm going to do a little postee here about the shows I'm following, but first two non-TV items.

1.)  Today is the first annual World Whisky Day, to which I say......Really?  I appreciate the whisky enthusiasm, but every day is World Whisky Day, people.

2.) Speaking of things that are important every day:  Peanut Butter.  I've been doing some gradual peanut butter tasting recently.  Yesterday I opened up a jar of 365's Organic Unsweetened Peanut Butter and OM NOM NOM NOM!  What I mean to say is OM NOM NOM NOM!

Actual photo of me.
So, back to television.  Here are some series I'm watching:

Mad Men - (NO SPOILERS HERE, Kristen is out of the country and will miss the first two episodes.)  I'm fully caught up with this one for the first time.  And it can do little wrong in my book.  It's probably the one drama series I enjoy to the point that I've abandoned any hope of objective research.

Even the best of series have some filler (you know, filler, the stuff they pack into burgers, meatballs, and crab cakes to make the dish seem more physically substantial while not contributing any nutrition whatsoever?).  Mad Men seems to have precious little filler.  What seems like piffle keeps coming around to have character or plot significance.

Each episode is so open and the conflict so gradual, that one often doesn't realize the landslide that has happened until the season is over.  And OH MY GOD THEY KILLED DON DRAPER!!!!  Just kidding, KP.  They killed Betty.  O_o

Awake - (POSSIBLE SPOILERS?)  Here's a new one that I'm all caught up on.  All four episodes worth.

After a car accident that involves his family, a police detective finds himself existing in two separate realities.  One in which his wife is dead, but his son survived.  While in the other, his son has died and his wife is alive.  In both worlds, he sees a psychiatrist, both of which are trying to convince him that there is only one reality and the other is a dream.

Jason Isaacs is great in the lead role, dealing with therapy battles, dual family issues, and solving crimes.  Awake has a nice intellectual bent without losing entertainment value.  The crime-solving plots are entirely closed.  The family issues seem to be mostly closed, with residual character conflicts remaining.  But the therapy keeps the reality-versus-reality story wide open, the hook that brings the viewer back for more.

I do have concerns about an underlying car crash conspiracy plot that appeared in episode two.  To me, it's not necessary.  I like the idea of the lead character using his two realities to work out his guilt over his responsibility for causing the death of a loved one.  Or is that too sad and grim for primetime?

The Wire - I'm midway through Season Two.  So dense.  A constant expansion of the story's universe (to paraphrase the great Sean H.).  I may have mentioned this before, but the element that blows my mind is that almost every moment of The Wire is made up of the minutiae that writers are told to dispose of in their scripts.  In The Wire all of this subtlety adds up, forming into an exceptionally dark and emotional journey through crime, ethics, and existence.  Yeah, it's that deep.  And the questions it poses aren't comforting.

The Walking Dead - Meh.  Yeah, #1 Zombie Fan says "Meh."

Let me qualify that "Meh."  I've only seen the first season.  And I watched it all in one sitting.  So it can't be all bad, right?  It's not all bad.  Some of it is very good.  And it's clearly addictive.  But I couldn't help but notice how much filler was in each episode.  Or the predictable pattern of who's going to die next.  Or the one note characters that rarely surprise.

The bigger question is, am I just bitter?  Probably.  I'm tired of zombie saturation.  It's not that zombies "sold out".  It's more like, the existential terror and spiritual collapse within a world where the dead rise has been totally muted in nearly every piece of zombie entertainment.

It could also be a zombie flavor preference.  Though Dawn of the Dead is the apex of the zombie craft, I've always preferred the cheapie eurotrashy zombie flicks of the late '70s and early '80s over anything that's been released since.  They're straightforward and honest in their exploitation which in turn creates the aforementioned spiritual and existential vacuum at the center of the films' universe.  There's an entire book waiting to be written on this.

I suppose The Walking Dead is more of a post-apocalyptic show where the bad guys keep getting shot in the head.  (SPOILER)  And the most interesting character, introduced at the end of the first season won't be around for season two.  The second most interesting character, introduced in the first episode wasn't around for the other episodes.  His possible presence in the second season is one of the few things inspiring me to continue watching.

But that's it.  I know that Season Two has finished airing, but I have very little desire to watch it.  That's not good, right?

Breaking Bad - Just finished the first season.  I was lukewarm on this one for a while too.  It was Brian Cranston who kept me watching, as well as the occasional very funny plunge into dark humor.

But then episode five, "Gray Matter", hooked me.  I was dazzled by the spectacular writing throughout the family intervention scene and found myself emotionally invested by the end.  Episode six turned everything up a notch, then I didn't want the season to end when Ep. 7 finished.

Though I have some gripes with the characters, the quality of the overall writing is up there with Mad Men.  Can't wait to start Season Two!

That's about it.  I'm dabbling in some other shows in order to study structure, but none that have captured me for a full season.  Again, this is all new for me.  Still trying to get my sea legs...

Monday, March 26, 2012

I'm new to this whole TV-watching thing

1996 was the last year I had cable.  There has been a month or two since that I've done some viewing via rabbit-eared antennae.  But otherwise, whenever I've been in the presence of someone else's TV and remote, I've sought out The Simpsons reruns, baseball games, and SportCenter.  And Food Network, to see if there are any cleavage-baring cuties peeling cucumbers.

Last year, to my wife's joy, I agreed that we should get cable television in our home.  We each have been doing some catching up with series on Netflix so that we're in the proper episode-viewing window for our chosen shows.

So after binging on drama series for the last few weeks, I have decidedly changed a long held stance.  Anyone who writes for contemporary audiences in ANY medium must watch television.  If he brags about not doing so, then he is an a$$hole.  If he fully avoids it, then he is a fool.  And I have an a$$hole and a fool.

Aside from the novel, there is no better opportunity for subtle character development and complex plotting based off multi-tiered conflict.  Feature films cannot compete.

Once a show is picked up for a season there is considerably less meddling by studio/network brass than in major features.  Not that there isn't some heavy note-giving, but there isn't time to work out those external criticisms in time for airing.  A bunch of writers are hired and they build the ship with the show runner(s).  A feature screenplay can undergo two or three years of rewriting, but television episodes need to be worked out within months or weeks.

And then there's the actual breadth of storytelling time.  A feature film has to get in and out of the story within two hours.  A cable drama series gets over ten hours per season (minus ad space).  Network dramas often have over sixteen hours (minus ad space) per season.  I don't care how many sequels one gets to release on one's feature, there just isn't the same opportunity to tell an expanded story.

And television is how people have been primarily consuming stories for over a generation.  They pay for it so that it's pumped into their home like electricity.  Because it's a steady monthly billing process, no one feels like they have to dish out $10 or $15 for individual viewing experiences like cinema.  It's there, in front of their couch, ready to deliver lifetimes' worth of tales for consumption.

That's not to say that all of the product is good.  Most is not.  Having more canvas doesn't make one's art better.  It's very easy to get lazy with so much room to maneuver.  Beautiful things can be honed within small spaces.  But the chance to develop a new epic, week by week, as an almost live experience is worth all of the failures leading up to it.

A lot of television drama is just closed procedural, each episode solves a conflict within an hour without any further development from show to show.  Some of it is much more open, developing a larger story bite by bite, cliffhanger by cliffhanger, as Dickens and his contemporaries used to.  Some incorporates both closed and open storytelling, having conflicts presented and solved in individual episodes while gradually revealing a much larger story each week.

I know that this has been the equivalent of me saying, "So that color in the sky there is blue.  And the white fluffy stuff is clouds."  But there's a difference between understanding this in theory and appreciating it for the evolutionary storytelling process that it is.

I'm new to this whole TV-watching thing.  And though I'm largely doing my viewing under the guise of an obsessed researcher in a foreign country, I can understand why humans enjoy this stuff.

I hope to do some ramblings on my chosen shows later this week...

Friday, March 23, 2012

Single Malt Ramblings: 6 Whiskys with the LA Scotch Club

I went to my first LA Scotch Club event last night: Scotch and Crepes at Jack 'n Jill's Too in Beverly Hills.  We kibbitzed, noshed, and drank, and not necessarily in that order.  I continued my renewed love affair with Nutella (via the dessert crepe), confirmed that Willet is bottling some awesome rye, and tried to make my pursuit of a screenwriting career sound sensible.

We samples six whiskys, but due to all of the socializing, no full reports were completed.  So these will be brief thoughts (read: ramblings).
Highland Park 12 - Two years ago the peat level on this was too much for me.  Now it's mild as a breeze.  Highland Park whiskys are known to have a great balance of many malt characteristics: peat, sweet, vanilla, grasses, dried fruit, etc.  This one seemed a bit shy to me. I still like all of its angles, but it was a little on the sleepy side.
Balvenie Doublewood (previously reviewed in my very first report!) - A sweetie compared to the HP12.  Very morish.  Honeyed and smooth, though we picked up a bit of bitter black pepper in the finish that I'd never noticed before.  Otherwise, easy quaffin'.
Glenfiddich 15yr Solera Reserve - I'll admit this was a part of a scouting mission.  I was on the lookout for my next reasonably priced go-to single malt.  The 'Fiddich 15 was a candidate, but I'd actually never tried it before.  And while it's totally inoffensive, and has a nice thickness and sherry sweetness that the 12 is missing, I will bypass purchasing this bottle for now.  I'm looking for something better than inoffensive for my dollar.
Ardmore Traditional Cask - I hadn't had an Ardmore in five or six years, so I was looking forward to this one.  This bottling includes some quarter cask whisky which has been can't-miss for me so far.  It turned out to be the peatiest (but agreeably so) of the six and packed a good punch at 46% ABV.  A couple of the guys at the table noted its "sharpness", which I caught too.  Possibly due to young malt.  It's not an easy one, but still decent for peat and strong oak fans.
Laphroaig 10yr (previously reviewed here)This one keeps getting better every time I try it.  It was sweeter than I'd remembered it. A lot of nice cinnamon too.  The 40% ABV keeps it mild and almost refreshing.  Wow, I've done a complete 180 on this one.
Tamdhu 10yr - This was an unannounced surprise malt.  It was okay, kinda forgettable, but then again I forget stuff all the time.  It's a major element within Famous Grouse and Cutty Sark.  In fact, I might have thought it was a Sark-like blend had I been blindfolded at the tasting.  Edrington mothballed the distillery (wisely?) three years ago, then it was bought up by Ian MacLeod Distillers who may be reopening it in a year or so.  Good luck to MacLeod, who did some good work after they bought Glengoyne.

So, Laphroaig wins the day, with Ardmore's Trad Cask following close behind.  The peaters!

Many thanks to the LA Scotch Club for the good dinner and scotchin'!

Thursday, March 22, 2012

NOT Single Malt Report: Powers Gold Label Irish Whiskey

The Personal Classics, Part 2:  Powers Irish Whiskey

Distillery: Midleton
Brand: Powers
Type: Irish Blended Whiskey
Current Owner: Pernod-Ricard
Age: likely minimum 3 years
Alcohol by Volume: 40%

I took to Irish Whiskey first.  I originally drank Scotch blends because they were considerably better than cheap gin, rum, tequila, and vodka.  But I loved the Irish first.  So I always have a soft spot in my heart (probably quite literally) for lovelies like Powers.

It started during the Ireland/Scotland trip of 2002 that I spoke of yesterday.  Two-thirds of the excursion was in Ireland, most of which was in the Irish countryside.  That was before the massive financial boom doubled the prices of everything there.  The Euro was still young and only 96 cents!  So, though the pours were small, sometimes you could get a whiskey at the pub for under 3 dollars!  And I tried every one I spotted -- Jamesons, Tullamore Dew, Paddy's, Michael Collins -- each splendid in its own way.  But Powers was love at first sight.

Ireland is beautiful, even when it rains.  Even when it is near freezing and soaked with the smell of wet sheep.  I would walk through the rain, over fenced and non-fenced land all day.  At night I'd go to the pub and order a hot whiskey.  (Recipe here!)  Roving musicians would settle in with fiddles and flutes and drums and cigarettes and stout.  They'd play and play and play for hours.  Between the music and the whiskey and the Guinness and the people's faces, the universe would warm and embrace everyone at once.  Time itself would settle in for a drink, and we'd all be held in the sway of the evening miraculous.

One can't recreate it here in The States, but the memory fastens itself to the soul.  It's always there to access, to get lost in for a moment or two.

Did I mention that Powers also tastes good?  It has a high pot still element and a low grain whiskey level.  I can't prove that other than that's what my nose and tastebuds tell me.  And Powers likes to advertise its "Distinctive Pot Still Character".

But I'm getting ahead of myself.  A little Powers history:

James Power first started making whiskey on John's Lane in Dublin in 1791.  The company, later known as John Power & Sons, became so successful that they had to massively expand their distillery and add their own bottling plant (a first for an Irish distiller).  They used a gold label to distinguish it from the white-labelled independently-bottled versions of their whiskies.  Eventually they had to expand further and moved out to Midleton, Cork where they would have enough (cheaper) land to build a massive whiskey complex with an output almost twice the size of the largest malt distillery in Scotland.  In the 1990s they released a 12 year blend.  And last year they released a Single Pot Still bottling that I covet more than any other whiskey.

But here we're talking about the original Gold Label blend.  And here are some notes:


The color is a lovely full gold, probably due to some caramel colouring but it's perfect to behold.  The nose is a little grainy, but very light and fizzy, with some bourbon cask vanilla.  The pot still character shows up in the palate; vanilla bean, brown sugar, mulled wine, custard, and a teeny bit of anise. It has a very pleasant medium brown sugar and molasses finish.  Splendid.

WITH WATER (about 35% ABV)

Adding the water sweetens the nose, brings out a little sherry, and a spritely molasses note.  The palate gets creamier, full of cookie dough and vanilla extract with a light bready yeast note.  The finish is still nice and moderate with more vanilla than brown sugar.

But this one really needs to be appreciated straight up or via a good hot whiskey recipe.  No ice.  No soda water.

Grading this throws the whole objective approach out of whack.  It is by no means a complex, sophisticated, brooding whiskey.  It is happily straightforward.  It has been my favorite go-to for almost ten years for a good reason.  It is simply delicious.

Pricing - Excellent at $16-$20
Rating - 88

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

NOT Single Malt Report: Black & White Blended Scotch Whisky

The Personal Classics, Part 1:  Black & White

Original Producer: James Buchanan & Sons
Current Owner: Diaego (they don't even show it on their site)
Brand: Black & White (no brand website)
Type: Blended Scotch Whiskey
Age: minimum 3 years
Alcohol by Volume: 40%

This the first in a small series of Reports covering whiskies that are of historical import to me.  These are the whiskies that that greatly influenced my whisky love.  And I'm starting with the rarely seen (in the US), but always cheap, Black & White.

Personal History
In mid-October 2002, I left my job at a talent agency, took a bunch of cash I'd saved up and headed east towards the British Isles.  I spent over three weeks wandering across Ireland and Scotland, staying in cheap hostels, walking five or six miles a day, soaking up the rain, coming to terms with my failures as a human being, embracing being lost, and drinking copiously with hostel-mates from around the world.  I also ran up a credit card debt that took three years to pay off.

It was the loveliest three weeks of my life.  Not only did I sort through considerable personal issues, but I developed an internal connection with Ireland and Scotland that has never left me.

At that point my Scotch drinking had been minimal.  I drank all sorts of stupid stuff in college, but I had enjoyed the Scotch that my cousin Jon had introduced me to a few years before.  Otherwise, there was a lot of vodka shooting in my then recent past.

My brother was working in Dublin at the time for the Irish government.  Perhaps that influenced me to travel that direction, I really don't remember the full reasoning.  But I stayed at his place in Dun Laoghaire for a few nights at the start.  Then we met up at Killarney National Park (Ireland) for a couple of days.  Also staying at the cheap Killarney hotel was a NUTTY Scot, John, that I'd just hung out with in Galway.

One night the three of us headed down to the hotel pub for a drink.  I asked John what working folks drank where he came from.  He surveyed the whisky bottles and ordered me a Black & White on the rocks.  I continued to drink Black & White throughout the trip, in between gallons of stout.

When I returned to The States, Black & White was nowhere to be found.  I once found a big ol' 1.75liter handle of it in a liquor store in Maryland in '06, but then it was gone the next time I went back.  Then, this past December, I spotted a caseload of 1 liter Black & White bottles sitting high on a shelf at Mission Liquor in Pasadena.  I bought a bottle of this old friend for the new year.

Whisky History
There's very little information about this blend online and the little that can be found is debatable.  For instance, Wikipedia says that it's not available in the UK.  It certainly was when I was there, plus one can find Scots reviewing it online.  What does seem to line up is this:

James Buchanan created this blend (called then Buchanan's Blend) in the early 1880s and through a level of influence obtained the contract to supply the House of Commons bar.  It became the only scotch blend they served there, thus it became known as Buchanan's House of Commons Scotch Whisky.

That contract wasn't going to last forever, so Buchanan started selling it at public grocers.  People knew the whisky by its black bottle and white label, thus he labelled it Black & White.  In the 1890s, Buchanan added the Black & White Highland terriers to the label to create a recognizable logo.  One hundred twenty years later, those dogs are still on every bottle.

The Whisky
Most blended scotch whiskies contain 30-40% malt and 60-70% grain whisky.  The cheaper ones tend to have more grain, the pricier ones have more malt (and they usually advertise that element).

Black & White falls on the much lower end of that scale.  In fact, I wouldn't be surprised if there was less than 30% malt in it, as the grain whisky is so prevalent in its nose and palate.

I'll admit some level of disappointment when I poured my first neat glass of this in January.  It was extremely difficult on first nose and taste.  Instantly, I realized that I'd always had it on the rocks nine years ago.  All the cold and water tampers down the rough young cheapy grains.

What a sensitive little American you have become.
Shut it.

First, let's drink it neat.  The color is a hay-like light amber.  The nose is sickly sweet at first, bourbony, musky, fleshy, and ultimately quite like old vinegar.  The palate is heavily grainy, salty, has lots of smoked cardboard, no sherry, just bourbon, with a creamy texture.  The finish is "gross then gone" at first, then later the grains and vanilla show up upon further sips.

With water, I lowered the ABV to about 31%.  The nose shouts "harsh cheap whisky", pencil lead, sour, oaky, damp cardboard.  Plastic bottle Bourbon is strong on the palate, followed by some dried fruit sweetness, and some rotten cream.  The finish still brings a little heat before it fizzles, leaving behind something quite like chlorine.

Sounds palatable, huh?

Actually, it's not bad in a highball, as it's been my whisky & soda choice for two months.  The soda water curbs all of that vinegar and cardboard while bringing out a pleasant sweetness.  So I recommend it that way.  Try two parts soda to one part Black & White for your first one, then tinker with it from there.

Yes, this was tough at first, but the highball saved it for me.  Will I buy Black & White again?  Maybe, but not if I'm trying to recapture the romance of the past.

Pricing - Good at $20-$25 (for a liter!)
Rating - 73

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Cons and Pros of the New Phone: MyTouch Q

Last Thursday I rid myself of my BlackBerry Bold 9700 (BBB 9700) for a new LG myTouch Q.

Old and busted

New hotness?
My list of issues with BlackBerries is endless due to almost 5 years of labored usage.  I will not enumerate these issues as I fear that I'll sound like that Cell Phone Guy who Louie CK always ridicules.

Instead, as a mini-phone review, I'll list the Cons and Pros of the LG myTouch Q when compared to the BBB 9700:

CON - The myTouch is bulkier, but that's largely due to the protective case I've added.  Yet BlackBerry Bold was inconveniently wide in order to allow for the full alphabetic keyboard.

PRO - Because it's bigger, I won't carry it around in my pocket, thus avoiding further risk of genital cancer.

CON - myTouch Q sounds vaguely sexual.

PRO - myTouch Q sounds vaguely sexual.

CON - The actual phone part of the phone is much more difficult to use, and oddly so.  For general device usage, the user can set the screen to shut off automatically after a certain short period of time in order to save battery power.  The BBB 9700 had the same option, but the screen remained on during a call to allow the user to multitask or see call information.  The myTouch does not keep the screen on during a call.  It shuts off, thus ending a call is at least a two step process.  Perhaps a first in the history of the telephone?  Also the 'End' on-screen button is small and surrounded by a bunch of other call options, making the call ending process a precise procedure.  Weird LG fail.

PRO - The Google-run Android software is beautiful to behold and runs very smoothly, most of the time.  The BlackBerry software looks embarrassing and antiquated by comparison.

PRO - The myTouch Q camera is 5 megapixels, shoots solid 720p video, and has a bunch of easy to use onscreen photo options.  The BBB 9700 claims to have had a 3.2 megapixels camera, but the results appeared considerably worse than that; also its level of focus was poor and the video was, technically, sh*t.

CON - A multiple non-intuitive process to get photos from the myTouch Q to a computer via the very USB cord that's charging the phone.  Perhaps this is a Mac issue, but it doesn't appear so.

PRO - Complete connection with all things Google.  So if the user has a Picasa page, then he or she can post the phone pics directly there without taking up any computer hard drive space.

CON - I have a couple of Gmail accounts for work purposes and though the phone runs on a Google platform it rarely notifies me of my new emails, even when I've set it to update or Sync hourly.

PRO - As I was typing that last message, the myTouch informed me of a new email just received.

PRO - Very easy to turn on/off the WiFi, Bluetooth, and GPS.

PRO - The BBB 9700 had two side buttons that were placed awkwardly resulting in photos of my pocket and constant demands that I "Speak a Voice Command".  myTouch doesn't have these buttons.

PRO - Fewer pocket dialings.  Yay!

PRO - Google Maps looks beautiful and has a great navigation setup.  Google Maps for all BlackBerry devices is clunky and at times totally nonfunctional.

CON - This may not be the phone's fault, but a 4G data connection isn't that super.  As 3G was only minutely faster than EDGE, 4G's not consistently better than 3G.  Thus the beautiful Google Maps requires a considerable wait.

CON - The vertical scrolling on the myTouch is not as smooth as it is on certain Apple products.  This results in all sorts of options being selected when the user is just trying to scroll downwards on the myTouch screen.

PRO - Non-iOS touchscreen typing software has improved significantly since my ill-fated brief usage of the Samsung Sh*t, two years ago.  Plus the slide-out keyboard has much bigger buttons than the BBB 9700.

CON - The alarm.  Ugh.  I've been using my cell phone alarm almost every morning for over 9 years.  I set my alarm, I shut off my phone.  My phone turns itself on for the alarm.  The phone I was using 9 years ago could do that.  The myTouch Q cannot.  If you set the alarm and shut off the phone, then you are sleeping in, my friend.  The software doesn't know how to turn the phone on for the alarm, nor does it have an option to allow for this.  The only workaround?  Leave the phone on, turn off the sound, switch on Airplane Mode, and let the battery slowly drain all night.  Serious LG fail.

CON - Most people use an alarm to wake up.  Thus when the alarm goes off, the shut off or snooze button should be very visible for a pair of discombobulated sleepy eyes.  It should not be one of a number of fingertip-sized choices on a screen.  LG fail.

PRO - The screen is beautiful and allows for a lot of customization.

CON - All of the beautiful screen stuff and great Android features run down the battery within hours, even after all sorts of battery-saving actions are taken.  I am constantly recharging the myTouch.

PRO - I can compose blog entries on my phone! (But not this one because I didn't want to run down the battery.)

Ultimately the myTouch Q is better device than the BBB 9700.  The unintuitive antiquated clunkiness of the BlackBerry software, the hideous camera, and the awkward buttons that caused all matters of unintentional comedy were all dealbreakers on both of my BlackBerry devices.  (Yes, there was once another.)  The myTouch Q looks good, runs on decent software, and has a usable camera.  Now if only the phone part worked well... 

Monday, March 19, 2012

Tulisa Contostavlos?

In other news, a video has been leaked that may or may not show a woman I've never heard of from a show I don't watch providing a man I don't know with an act of oral satisfaction.

Nevertheless, I've read 15 articles on the matter.

My only takeaway:  Your BlackBerry?  You filmed it on your BlackBerry?  Was that to make certain the act would never be clearly viewed again?  For shame.

Monday Miscellaneous (Home and Prometheus)

Good morning?

1.  We have a brand new dishwasher.  Our brand new dishwasher melted a plastic lid.  The melted plastic lid filled our condo with acrid toxic plastic smoke last night.  Last night, I spent a number of hours trying to get the acrid toxic plastic smoke out of our condo.  Between the sleep deprivation and poisonous odors, mye brane not werking.

2.  Kristen, who slept through last night's plastic meltdown, did some awesome wall painting.  I intend to post some of these pictures soon.

3.  And we have new windows being installed early this AM.

4.  Do you like-a the movies?  Then you need to watch these two trailers for Prometheus, Ridley Scott's (probable) prequel to Alien.  Even if the film itself were to fall short of expectations, these trailers are good.

The first:

The second:

Happy Monday to you!

Friday, March 16, 2012

Single Malt Report: The Macallan 17 year old Fine Oak (w/guest reporter!)

Distillery: Macallan
Brand: Fine Oak
Age: minimum 17 years
Maturation: American oak bourbon casks, American oak sherry casks, Spanish oak sherry casks
Region: Speyside
Alcohol by Volume: 43%

After yesterday's pricing rant, you're still here?  Great!  You will now be rewarded with some positive thoughts.

As I briefly noted in Monday's post, the Fine Oak series is a newer brand for Macallan.  As opposed to their classic whisky style (spirit matured in only sherry-seasoned Spanish oak casks), the Fine Oak whiskys contain a combination of malts that have been matured in sherry-seasoned American Oak, ex-bourbon American Oak, as well as the sherried Spanish Oak.  The result is a completely different nose and flavor profile, one that lets the malt itself shine through.

Macallan has been pushing its Fine Oak pretty aggressively in some world markets, sometimes more so than their Sherry Oak.  That may be because some folks think the Fine Oaks are more immediately accessible.  That may be true, but that's just opinion again.  The age range for the Fine Oak series is 10, 12 (not in the US), 15, 17 (not in the UK), 18 (not in the US), 21, 25, 30.

James and I concluded the Macallan Taste Off with the 17-year-old Fine Oak.  (It's the lovely one in the champagne glass, above.)  It was enlightening to compare and contrast it with its Sherry Oak cousins, 12 and 18.

The notes!


Color - Amber meets wheat, with a tiny hint of red
Nose - Green grapes in the background, some sherry, cedar chips
Palate - Vanilla, notes of fresh cut grass, brown sugar
Finish - Short; nuts, especially almonds


Color - Amber waves of grain
Nose - Rummy, salty bourbon vanilla, floral, malty, dusty, paper, caramel, brown sugar
Palate - Lighter texture than the Sherry 18, vanilla, citrus at the edges, toffee, lightly brown sugared
Finish - Medium; toasted, vanilla, sugar cookies

Only twice have I ever paid three figures for a bottle of whisky.  On both occasions, it was The Macallan 17 year Fine Oak.  I've been enjoying this whisky for some time.  To share it thrills me even more.  I've been hoping to do tasting notes on this for so long, thus due to all my drinking practice meditation, my notes above are the more wordy ones.  James and I agreed that between the three Macallan drams, this one was the favorite.

Now, this bottle (in the picture above) was purchased and opened almost exactly a year before our tasting.  And it has had a low level for quite some time.  (You see, it was the whisky I'd save for really good days, and once more prevalent those opportunities recently have become few and far between.)  That low level and the extended time period means that the whisky has gone through considerable oxidation.  So, was it better last year?  Probably.  But it's still great now, thirteen months after its opening.

*sigh*  Here comes the hypocrite.  Yes, it is expensive.  Yes, it is probably overpriced.  But would I buy it again if I had the money.  Yes.

In my defense, it's not as egregiously costly as the Sherry Oak 18:
I'm sighing again, because the price went up this year.  In 2010 and 2011 it was $110, and I nabbed it both times for $104.  Those days are gone.

As always, I'm trying to do my best to ignore price when coming up with a rating.  If I didn't ignore price then yesterday's Sherry 18-year would have taken a sound whuppin'.  But the rating is about the whisky itself.  And The Macallan 17 year Fine Oak sits where it does in the in the Rankings because it is a splendid thing, even after thirteen months of oxidation abuse.  It merges the best elements of the three separate wood finishes into a smooth flawless whole.

I recommend it to any whisky lover, with the disclaimer of its expense.  Try the 15 year Fine Oak first, another great dram.  If you like that one and money isn't an issue, then this is the amber restorative for you.

Pricing - Slightly overpriced at $120-$130
Rating - 94

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Single Malt Report: The Macallan 18 year old Sherry Oak (w/guest reporter!)

Distillery: Macallan
Brand: Sherry Oak
Age: minimum 18 years
Maturation: Oloroso sherry casks
Region: Speyside
Alcohol by Volume: 43%

"I come here to bury the Macallan 18yr, not to praise it."  Okay, not really.

I may lose some readership today, but I will be truthful.  This is just my moderately-tested opinion.  And if opinions are like a$$holes (everybody's got one) then behold......my moderately-tested a$$hole?

Let's do the tasting notes, first.  As mentioned in yesterday's Macallan 12yr report, my Scottish Scotch pal James and I undertook a Macallan Taste Off on February 18th.

After we sampled the Macallan 12 year Sherry Oak, we went to the 18 year Sherry Oak.  Then went back to the 12 to compare.  Here are our notes:

Color - Darker than the 12, red hint in the center, approaching a maple syrup look
Nose - Heavy Sherry
Palate - Deeper and larger than the 12, meaty, Sherry
Finish - Long burnt finish, Sherry

Color - a reddened dark brass, warm maple syrup
Nose - Sherry, cherry cordials, almond extract, toasted almonds, Sherry, Sherry
Palate - Thicker than the 12; mostly Sherry, meaty, creamy, maybe coffee beans?
Finish - Sherry, burnt, Sherry reduction

(Everything that follows below, James is innocent of.  But I will say that all of my Scotch buddies have a very similar opinion to mine when comparing the 12yr to the 18yr.)

Seeing a common theme?  Sherry.  Capital 'S' Sherry.  A good creamy Sherry...that drowns out everything else.

If you like Sherry, then why not buy a bottle of Sherry?  You can get a bottle of "good creamy Sherry" for $15.  Macallan 18yr costs $149.  In Spain, one can get an entire case of great Sherry for that price.

Let's take this a step further.

This is a pricing chart of official bottlings (with one exception), showing an average of five liquor sellers (both major and minor, the same stores I always use for reference in my "Pricing" listings).  I've included all of the official current 18 year old single malt releases in the US.  Where distilleries didn't have an 18-year release, I've used the closest in age.  Those younger are in green, those older are in pink.

Let's first address the bottlings near Macallan's price.  Dalmore also markets itself as a luxury product, but its distillery's production is only 40% that of Macallan's.  Like Macallan 18, the Dalmore 18 is largely bereft of the critical raves compared to many of the others on this list.  So Dalmore 18 sits in a similar luxury-sherry-oak boat as the Mac 18, but is in considerably shorter supply.

Meanwhile, the Springbank distillery uses all local barley, does their own hand malting, bottles everything by hand, and has an output 1/11th the size of Macallan's.  And that Springbank 18 year old?  It's only been released twice in the twenty years since the distillery reopened.

Now, the rest of the list.  Highland Park 18 is perhaps the highest rated officially bottled single malt in the world, has a complexity likely unmatched by anything else in its age range, and is produced by the same company owns Macallan.  And it's $50 cheaper than Mac 18, even $70 cheaper in some stores.  The Talisker 18 has a brain-melting complexity, has picked up raves everywhere, and is released in such limited numbers that it may have sold out completely in LA.  It's almost half the price of the Macallan 18.  Glenfiddich and Glenlivet, the only distilleries who can match Macallan's production levels, have malts at the same age for much less than half the Mac 18 price.

And that Rosebank 19-year may be from an independent bottler (Duncan Taylor), but that beloved distillery doesn't even exist anymore.  That, I believe, is a vision of scarcity.

Or maybe you prefer the luscious sherried style?

Glenfarclas, one of the last of the family-owned distilleries, produces about a third of the malt compared to Macallan, has comparatively limited releases in the States.  Their sherry casks produce a multi-faceted sophisticated malt that's highly regarded by professional noses (and unprofessional ones like mine!).  Their 25-year-old goes for the same price as Macallan's 18-year-old.

Then there's the grand Glendronach.  (Oh, how I hope to do a Glendronach Taste Off!  In May, perhaps?)  Let's put aside the fact that Glendronach has one-sixth of the malt production of Macallan.  Opinions as varied as all of the Malt Maniacs AND Jim Murray agree that Glendronach has the best sherry casked releases for at least the last three years.  Their SINGLE CASK releases are cheaper than Macallan 18.

Macallan has both large supply and high prices.  So, is it the Apple of the whisky world?  In my opinion, no.  Their work isn't revolutionary, nor are they the most innovative of distilleries.  They produce a good brand that is well liked.  As long as their fans don't venture too far off into other malts, they can keep edging their prices up as they market themselves as a luxury brand.

At the Raise the Macallan tastings, the Ambassador goes into depth about their work and investment in oak casks.  This in turn raises their production expense.  And they say that 65% of sherry casks imported to Scotland go to them, thus they have more first- and second-fill sherry malts than anyone else.

I don't begrudge them for their pricing.  They are a business and their customers keep paying for Mac 18.  I'm just rooting for those same buyers to branch out into Macallan's peers' releases.  I think they'll find high (or higher) quality products at lesser prices.

And in the end, price aside, I like Macallan 12 more than Macallan 18.  If you compare our notes on each, you'll see the greater complexity we found in the 12.  These notes vary very little from my own previous samplings.  If I didn't know the ages and I had to pick which one I'd pay more money for, I'd pick the 12.

The 18-year is by no means a bad malt.  It's good.  Very smooth and creamy.  Very Sherry.  And if an extremely sherried mellow malt is your style and you have $150 (plus tax) burning a hole in your pocket, then the Macallan 18 is all yours.

This a$$hole will take the Talisker 18 AND the Lagavulin 16 together for the same price and will be happier than a pig in whisky.

 - Overpriced at $140-$160

Rating - 84

Tomorrow, we'll take a look at one of Macallan's Fine Oak series...

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Single Malt Report: The Macallan 12 year old Sherry Oak (w/guest reporter!)

Distillery: Macallan
Brand: Sherry Oak
Age: minimum 12 years
Maturation: Oloroso sherry casks
Region: Speyside
Alcohol by Volume: 43%

There it is.  The gateway drug.

Sure the Johnny Walkers or Glenfiddich 12 can be starters too, but something seems to happen once the drinker takes to Mac 12.  Perhaps it's the first Scotch that he drank neat.  Perhaps it's the first Scotch that she actually enjoyed.

It's the one I've been recommending for years.  If you're new to single malts and have the money on hand (and spending $12 on a drink at the bar doesn't offend you), try a Macallan 12 neat.  Or perhaps with an ice cube or two if the flavor is too intense.  From there I usually recommend Redbreast 12 (yes, it's not Scotch, but I don't segregate), then Oban 14.  After that, we need to go drinking together.

But Mac 12 is the starter.  It has a creamy texture, a bright nose, and possibly the most accessible sherry-finish palate.  It's also very easy to find in bars, grocery stores, and small liquor shops.

In the US, it's simply known as The Macallan 12 year old.  In other markets it's called The Macallan 12 year old Sherry Oak due to the prevalence of their Fine Oak brand.

Upon return from the Long Beach Scottish Festival on February 18th, my Gaelic-Gallic (raised in the Highlands and Glasgow) buddy James and I took on the challenge of a three-part Macallan Taste Off.  I'd been looking forward to this for some time.  We've enjoyed some exceptional whiskies in the past and these bottles of Mac were burning a hole in The Whisky Closet.

We'd each had these three Macallans in the past, but never side by side by side.  We started with the 12y Sherry, using a 50mL mini I'd obtained from some happy hooch seller in town.

First, notes from James:

Color - Medium to dark gold, some orange, a brassy look
Nose - Light caramel scent, nutty in back, walnuts perhaps?; reminded me of an ice cream and whisky dessert "de mystère" I used to have with my grandfather Pappy P.
Palate - Dark chocolate and sherry
Finish - A good long fin full of cherries

Then, my notes.  But first, damn, I want a French ice cream and whisky dessert!

Color - Dark gold with orange hints
Nose - Caramel, chocolate rum cake, walnuts, almond extract
Palate - Thickly textured; Cocoa, nutty, fresh cherries, sherry, some alcohol heat; adding water sweetens it up
Finish - Decent length, sherry and cherries

High approvals from both of us.  It has the classic Macallan nose, the only nose I have pinpointed in a blind tasting (James was there, as was considerable alcohol that night at The Daily Pint).  A very lush sherried, nutty, caramel, chocolatey nose.  I'd even argue that the scent can be better than the palate at times.

This was the first time I'd noticed the cherries, an element I'd found in Glenfarclas's sherried whiskys.  Other folks have found honey, currants, brown sugar, pipe tobacco, and cinnamon.

As per all of these descriptors, Macallan 12 works best neatly as an evening sipper.  You can add water, ice, or club soda to it if you choose, but go ahead and try it neat once in a while.  For dessert, perhaps.  Or breakfast.

Pricing - Excellent at $40, but don't pay more than $50 because someone somewhere has it for less
Rating - 87

Tomorrow, we'll take a look at one of Mac 12's older siblings...

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Post 200 - Our Ninth Anniversary

The evening of February 22, 2003, my brother's 21st birthday party, was a drink-filled celebratory night in Boston.  I knew only a handful of the people at the party, and I certainly had never met that hot tall slender brunette standing near the bar with the champagne in hand.  I had to talk to her.  That apparently was one of the rare periods in my life wherein I'd walk up to cute girls and introduce myself.

She was smart, funny, and from UPSTATE NEW YORK.  We talked a bit then cut a rug (to Iio's Rapture, I believe).  She made an early exit and I went in for a smooch.  DENIED!

I returned to LA a few days later and went back to life-as-usual.  Except I couldn't stop thinking about her.  It was crazy, she was a girl (of 20 years!) of whom I knew very little and lived three-thousand miles away.  But there she was, in my head.

Life is an infinite series of moments, almost all of which instantly vanish.  But there are those moments separate from all others, when you meet Her.  You're never in your comfort zone.  Something is always slightly off, like a dream but bright with lucidity.  And there She is.  And for days and years you look back at that moment, that girl you once met.  And it drives your inner artist mad with romance.  It's not just her lovely face, it's not just the connection you had.  It's the fact that the universe still allows the wall of somnambulant reality to fracture and let slip through a burst of the Devine.  You keep that with you, a little bit of magic, a little bit of cosmic momentum.  Then you continue with your ritual sleepwalk until it's over.

March 13, 2003, nine years ago, I could no longer let that moment just be.  She was a real person and I was willing to jeopardize the moment in order to talk to her again.  I emailed from work that morning, not sure if she remembered me.  Not sure if I'd be written off as some e-stalker.  Or wind up in the junk mail folder with the Nigerian bank account scams and the Replica watches.

She responded promptly, ending her email with "It was great to hear from you-- write back soon!"

So I did, immediately, like a good possessive obsessive.  And then she replied again.

Within seven days she was quoting e.e. Cummings and I was quoting John Lee Hooker.  By Day 9 we were discussing God.

Our first phone call was to happen on Day 11.  As I held gauze to a bleeding infected to-the-bone hiking leg wound, I called her from my car at the agreed upon time.  She told me to hang up the phone and go to the emergency room.  A reasonable suggestion.

We have completed nine full years together.  There have been a multitude of homes, states, coasts, and countries.  We have been around death and we have seen new lives.  She's the most fascinating person I have ever met and she's more "lovely and fun" than I'd told her she was on 3/13/03.  She's probably added years onto my life.

So, what did I give Kristen for our ninth anniversary?  Bronchitis.

I'll work on something better for #10.

Year One

Year Three

Year Five

Year Eight

Year Nine

Monday, March 12, 2012

The Macallan - A History

This week is Macallan Week on the Single Malt Report.  Each day (with one notable exception) I'll be submitting a blog post about The Macallan.  Today, I'll talk about the distillery and the company's history.  Then I'll be posting single malt reports on three of their products throughout the week.

In 1824, the Elchies Distillery obtained a license to legally distill whisky.  It's widely believed that farmers on the Elchies Estate had been divining the spirit for many decades, but with the license they gained the legal right from The Crown to make and sell (and pay taxes on) the product.

Alexander Reid is credited as the founder of the distillery and ran it until his death in 1847.  After that, ownership bounced around through his family members for some time.  James Stuart obtained the whisky license in 1868, then later purchased the distillery outright in 1886.

Immediately after his purchase he rebuilt the distillery in stone, which was probably wise since they were producing an instantly combustable product within a wooden building.

In 1892, Roderick Kemp sells off his co-ownership of Talisker.  His attempts to buy Glenfiddich, Cardu, and Mortlach fall unsuccessful.  But his purchase of the Elchies distillery from Stuart is a success.  Kemp improves the quality of the spirit, rebuilds and expands the distillery, then names it Macallan-Glenlivet (after the Macallan church near the Elchies estate).

Upon Kemp's death in 1909, ownership goes into the hands of a trust run by his descendants for the next 87 years.  In 1968, the trust agrees to two large business decisions.  Firstly, they issue an IPO for 37.5% of the company in order to fund a massive updating.  Secondly, they begin casking the spirit to prepare for official bottlings of single malt.  Around this time, the product is renamed, The Macallan.

In 1980, their sherry-seasoned Spanish Oak matured single malts go on sale worldwide.  By 1984, they are the third best selling single malts in Scotland, and fifth best in the world.

In 1996, Highland Distilleries and Suntory execute a hostile takeover of company ownership.  In 1999, Edrington Group Ltd (70%) and William Grant & Sons (30%)  -- as the 1887 Company -- buy Highland Distlleries, which owns 75% of Macallan while Suntory holds onto their 25% share.  In 2001, Macallan is taken off the public stock market.

Having largely set the standard for lush Speyside sherried whiskies, Macallan throws the market (and fans) for a loop by releasing a Fine Oak brand that combines whiskies matured in Spanish Oak sherry casks, American Oak sherry casks, and American Oak bourbon casks.  This move rankles gruntles, but ultimately creates a different brand of whiskies that allow the malt spirit itself to shine through.

Until 1994, Macallan had only used the Golden Promise barley strain (native to Scotland).  But because that strain produces a low yield of a grain that further yields low spirit quantities, Macallan switches to more productive strains until phasing out Golden Promise altogether.  Currently they still use a local barley called Minstrel in about 20-30% of their malt.

The distillery uses very small stills which in turn give the malt its creamy style, so when the business expands they build more stills rather than buying larger ones.  According to their figures, The Macallan receives 65% of all the Spanish Oak casks imported to Scotland, and they further invest large sums in oak and spirit scientific studies (expenditures of which they often boast).  The sherry casks they purchase are first seasoned with Mosto grape juice for three months, then hold sherry for two years, then are brought to Scotland for filling and storage.  About 70-80% of their casks are first-fill, then the remainder are second-fill.

Generating more than half of their business in Asia, Macallan has been doing battle with The Glenlivet for second place in worldwide single malt sales since 2004.  In 2010, thanks to a 14% gain, they placed second behind first place Glenfiddich.

They promote themselves as a luxury brand in their advertisements as well as through their partnerships with jewelry, watch, and crystal companies.  This has allowed them to sell their products at a significant premium despite the enormous level of supply worldwide.

On Wednesday, I'll take a look at their US standard expression, the 12 year old Sherry Oak.  (In the meantime, you can also take a peek at my report on their Cask Strength release.)