...where distraction is the main attraction.

Thursday, May 31, 2012

John Jameson, The Man and his Whiskey

The Amazing Story of John Jameson

After an amorous bull had an intimate encounter with his mother, John Jameson gestated within her body for just under 37 months.  When he'd decided he'd gone too long without a drink, he left his mother's womb fully bearded and shoes buckled.

At age 4, John found the offending bull then killed him, f***ed him, and ate him.

At age 6, John started distilling poitín for the local publicians.  Since his 2-year-old sister didn't like the double-distilled result, John created the triple-distillation process.

When an excise officer of The Crown came to the Jamesons' household to collect tax on the whiskey, John killed him, f***ed him, and ate him.

With the need for a larger production facility, the 12-year-old John walked to Dublin, hand-towing thirty carriages of bricks.  Along the way, he stopped in local towns, rebuilding churches, impregnating infertile women, solving crimes, and sharing his whiskey.

Upon arriving in Dublin, John built the Jameson's Distillery by hand.  He welded the pot stills, redirected the Liffey, and blew his own bottles (which thanked him afterwards).

As nationalism grew and conflicts increased between Ireland and Britain, John decided to hold a peaceful conference between Robert Lyons and Prime Minister Archibald Primrose's Secretary of the Summons, George Smith.  With considerable whiskey being poured, the meeting was a rousing success until the drunken Smith declared that the "worst of France's brandy is better than this Mick piss."  John promptly killed him, f***ed him, and ate him.

In an attempt to deal with his anger management issues, John arranged a meeting with Mohandas Ghandi.  John built a sailboat by hand and sailed backwards across the Atlantic, dug the Panama Canal for a shortcut, navigated the Pacific in his sleep, then arrived in India after one day of travel.

Learning extensive meditation, John instantly became non-violent and a vegetarian.  He built an airship and flew back to Ireland.  Now in a great state of calm, he created the Redbreast, Kilbeggan, Tyrconnell, Green (and Yellow, Orange, Red, Blue, and Pink) Spot brands.

After single-handedly mediating the Anglo-Irish treaty, John Jameson swam to the North Pole and has been there ever since, working on improving polar bear breeding success rates using methods deemed "unorthodox" by 10 out of 10 scientists.

Distillery: Midleton
Brand: Jameson
Type: Irish Blended Whiskey (pot still and grain whiskey)
Current Owner: Pernod Ricard
Age: at least 6 years
Maturation: mostly ex-bourbon barrels, some ex-sherry
Alcohol by Volume: 40%

To many Americans, Jameson's IS Irish Whiskey and it's often shorthand for the Irish drinking experience in general.  I wouldn't say that's the most informed approach, but Jameson's is here in the States and it has dug in deeply.

I used to drink Jameson all the time, mostly because it was Irish and also whiskey.  But I never stopped to consider if it was any good.  The brand influence had overpowered my decision-making process as it had to so many other Yanks.

I haven't ordered it in a bar nor purchased a 750mL bottle of it in many years (thanks to Powers!).  But since it was my first go-to whiskey, I thought it best to give it a proper report -- and bring this Blend Month to a close.

The Tastin':

Color -- Trumpet brass (how 'bout them apples?)
Nose -- Oak, laundry detergent, oceanic, vanilla, salt + flower blossoms, apples, maple syrup (after some time)
Palate -- Vanilla + cantaloupe, zucchini bread, a little salt, thin but smooth
Finish -- Short-ish, vanilla, a little sour, sugar cookies

Nose -- Gets considerably more pungent; oaked rotting apple slices, paint VOC, paper, pears
Palate -- Creamier, brown sugar, fruity, mild
Finish -- Short, vanilla + brown sugar

Recently, I've been seeing some negative reviews for this whiskey.  They were getting me a bit worried and my expectations were set low.  But upon first nosing, those concerns were washed away.  While Jameson is not the best Irish whiskey out there, it's still one of the better choices in its price range.

I found the nose to be more interesting than the palate, which is unusual in my experience with Irish whiskey blends.  I liked it better neat, but some folks might like a little water.  It gets a little sleepy with ice or club soda.

Ultimately it's about one's expectations.  It's no dynamo, but I don't think that's what one is after when purchasing a $20 bottle of triple-distilled whiskey.  So enjoy without guilt and you will appease John Jameson.

Availability - Everywhere
Pricing - Great at $18-21, don't pay $25 or more
Rating - 79

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Taste Off!!! Chivas Regal 12yr versus Johnnie Walker Black Label


It's a head-to-head between two heavyweights.

In one corner, wearing the gold & red label, owned by Pernod Ricard stands
Chivas Regal 12 years old
Brand: Chivas Regal
Ownership: Pernod Ricard (via Chivas Bros. Ltd.)
Distilleries: include the 12 owned by Pernod (especially Strathisla)
Type: Scotch Blended Whisky
Age: minimum 12 years
Alcohol by Volume: 40%

Chivas Regal is currently owned by Pernod Ricard -- Diageo's biggest nemesis (or second biggest, after me) -- and is the fifth best-selling Scotch blend in the world.  This 12yr is the top selling Scotch blend in its age category in Europe and Asia.

The Chivas bros, James and John, were grocers who obtained the Royal Warrant to supply food and goods to Queen Victoria's homes in the 1840s.  Once blended whiskies became legal via license, the Chivas Brothers firm created a smooth blend for their wealthy customer base.

In the early 1900s they created one of the first ultra luxury blends, the Chivas Regal 25 year old, for US export.  It was enormously successful until Prohibition silenced alcohol sales.

After Seagrams purchased the brand in 1949, the 12 year old blend was released to more acclaim.  It became the Rat Pack's Scotch of choice.

Today Chivas Regal's range includes the 12, 18, and 25 year old blends.  The Chivas home and the "Ultimate Chivas Experience" can be found at the Strathisla Distillery's visitor center.

My previous experience with Chivas?  None, actually.  Time to fix that.

In the other corner, representing Diageo, wearing the black and gold label stands
Johnnie Walker Black Label
Ownership: Diageo
Distilleries: 40 of 'em, including Caol Ila and Talisker
Type: Scotch Blended Whisky
Age: minimum 12 years
Alcohol by Volume: 40%

On the other hand, I have a long complicated history with Black Label.  A real love-hate thing.  But most recently, it's been love.  I posted a very positive report on it in November, please give it a read for the full scoop.  I've mostly brought the Black Label in as a comparative device, a sounding board for the Chivas.  Can the Chivas compete?

Let's Taste Off!


Chivas Regal 12yr (CR12) - Pale gold
Johnny Walker Black Label (JWBL) - Considerably darker

CR12 - Vanilla, herbal, spritely, cocoa, and a hint of bourbon
JWBL - A touch of peat, some grain whisky, sherry, much oakier but pleasant

CR12 - Tastes younger than 12 years, a little crazier and messier; salty, some vanilla, under-ripe fruit
JWBL - Vanilla, sherry, bourbon, light peat smoke, Nillas, malty, very silky

CR12 - Drying, sweet, calms down from the palate
JWBL - Moderate, peat first, then fruity sweetness and vanilla


CR12 - Similar to neat, a bit more grains and bourbon, dusty, vanilla
JWBL - Like the CR12 the grains and bourbon come out to play, vanilla, a whisper of basil

CR12 - Woody, sweet at the start, vanilla, but very quiet
JWBL - Malty, vanilla, grass and hay, mellowed but lovely

CR12 - Not much, very drying, some vanilla
JWBL - Keeps the moderate length, BIG vanilla


I was very impressed with how the Chivas held up.  My experience with Scotch blends this month hasn't been that positive.  I've found them pretty mundane for the most part.  The only two new ones I've enjoyed are Famous Grouse and......Chivas Regal 12yr.

On the neat serving, Chivas has a lovely nose.  Its palate is so-so, but it smells delicious.  Black Label holds much more complexity in the palate and finish, but the Chivas can compete nose-wise.

Chivas doesn't swim very well, its palate and finish mostly dropping away.  Meanwhile Black Label can be lovely with a couple drops of water.

So, I recommend Chivas neat.  It's a great starter whisky since it's smooth, mild, and noses very well.  For some more rough-housing, go Black.


Johnnie Walker Black Label's pricing/rating won't change from its own report, but I'll list it here for official purposes:

Availability - Everywhere!
Pricing - Bargain! at $25, Acceptable at $35
Rating - 88

Here's the call on Chivas Regal 12yr:

Availability - Wide
Pricing - Great at $20-$23
Rating - 80 (but only when served neat)

(NOTE: Please see my updated Chivas 12yo vs. JW Black 12yo Taste Off completed in 2016, if you're dying to find out how the current stuff rates!)

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Anti-Gravity Cocktail

Three Saturdays ago, Kristen and I spent an entire day applying two coats of paint to our hallways, living room, and dining room.  This past Sunday, Kristen spent the whole day painting the kitchen.  Same color, two coats.

Paint: Valspar
Color: Gravity

Gravity is a light gray with calm blue tones that sneak out when met with sunlight.  It was a lot of hard work, especially for Kristen.  So I thought I'd mix her up a new cocktail.

I started with the Gin-Basil Smash recipe for inspiration.
For one drink: Muddle one bunch of fresh basil with a quartered half-lemon and 2/3 oz. of simple syrup.  Then add 2 shots of Hendricks Gin.  Shake with ice and serve on the rocks.

That one is okay, but it was a bit on the sweet side for us.  We like to taste our Hendricks, not bury it under sugar.  So, the following was the result:

Anti-Gravity Cocktail
For two drinks, muddle at least two bunches of fresh basil (err on the side of more) with a whole quartered lemon and 1/2 shot of simple syrup.  Add two shots of Hendricks Gin, shake until the shaker is too cold to hold.  Serve on the rocks with a fresh basil garnish.

It's very refreshing and strong enough to alleviate the labors of the day.  Thus the Anti-Gravity Cocktail.

Here's a quick video I made of it.  Enjoy!

Monday, May 28, 2012

Testing booze recipes...

Happy Memorial Day Evening!

Testing a Whisky-based Barbecue Sauce tonight.  After that, a new Gin cocktail of our design.  I'm documenting these.  Any successes will be reported.  Any failures will also be reported.

Wish me luck?


Friday, May 25, 2012

The (near) future of Single Malt Reports

Man, who's tired of blended whiskies?


Yeah, tell me about it.  It got to the point that when I held the glass of Hankey Bannister up to my lips I sighed out of exhaustion.  The blends had become burdensome.

And I'm getting concerned that it's affecting my reports.  I almost posted this last week:


Brand: Does it matter?
Distilleries: I dunno, but it's someone's worst stuff
Current Owner: should be ashamed
Type: Not mine
Age: not old enough to know better
Maturation: glass bottle?
Alcohol by Volume: much too low


Availability - Yes
Pricing - Should be free
Rating - Meh.

Never fear, good news is here!

Only two blend reports left and they're the ones I've been looking forward to the most!  I prefer to close Blend Month with a shout rather than a whimper.

After that......Actual Single Malts.  Remember those?

I have a whole bunch of fun whiskys for June and July.  Going to do some Taste-Off-style distillery verticals.  I have a couple bottles in The Cabinet that are nearing their end and have thus far been denied a report.  I'll be going to a cool whisky event at the end of next week.  Plus I may even have a weird liquor or two that will require documentation.

I'm still aiming for the two-per-week setup until I run out.  After that I'll report on canned soup.

Happy Friday!

Thursday, May 24, 2012

NOT Single Malt Report: Tullamore Dew Irish Blended Whiskey

Brand: Tullamore Dew
Distilleries: Cooley (malt) and Midleton (pot still & grain)
Current Owner: William Grant & Sons Inc
Type: Irish Blended Whiskey
Age: 4 to 7 years
Maturation: mostly ex-bourbon wood with a little ex-sherry wood
Alcohol by Volume: 40%

The Dew has always been one of my favorite Irish whiskies.  I usually order it up if a bar carries it.  But it had been awhile...

During the pub excursion mentioned on Tuesday, I sampled a glass of this signature Tullamore blend alongside a Kilbeggan (which is also undergoing a distillery rebirth).  I reported on Kilbeggan on Tuedsay, so here's the Tullamore word.

(I've also heard that the 12 year blend is very good, so if I get a sip I'll try to report on it.)


Tullamore Dew is an unusual cat in the Irish Whiskey world.  It's a mix of pot still and grain whiskey from Midleton distillery and single malt from Cooley distillery......but it's blended and bottled by a third company William Grant & Sons Inc.

Originally the whiskey came from an actual distillery in Tullamore, founded in 1829.  In 1887, Tullamore's general manager Daniel E. Williams created what was to become the company's signature pot still whiskey, naming it D-E-W after his own initials.  Sixty years later, Tullamore released the first blended Irish whiskey (as well as the first Irish whiskey liqueur, Irish Mist).  In 1959, Tullamore joined the list of Irish distilleries shuttered via market attrition.  Powers purchased the brand in 1965 and moved Tullamore's production to their facilities in Cork.  In the '90s, the C&C group purchased the brand and reconfigured the blend's recipe.  In 2010, William Grant & Sons Inc. (owners of Glenfiddich) bought it up for 300million euros.

That must have been heart-breaking, selling an Irish whiskey to a Scotch whisky company.  BUT(!) a few months ago, Grant announced that it will be building a NEW distillery for the brand on the outskirts of Tullamore.  As Tullamore Dew is the second best selling Irish Whiskey in the US and first throughout much of mainland Europe, it sounds an awful lot like they now want to take on Jamesons head-to-head.


Color -- standard whiskey gold, almost identical to Kilbeggan
Nose -- light fruit + malt, hint of varnish
Palate -- heftier than Kilbeggan, more alcohol burn though inoffensive, vanilla, malty (pot-stilly?), very more-ish
Finish -- moderate, a little vanilla, molasses

Nose -- sweet grains, vanilla, whipped cream
Palate -- almost turns into Kilbeggan, Frosties, nutty
Finish -- gets a little weird on the tongue, dry

It's a simple but solid Irish blend, best neat.  It swims well until the odd finish.  I know that 'odd' and 'weird' aren't the most vibrant of adjectives, so maybe the word is 'wormy'?  That's why I recommend it neat.  I also endorse it as a hot whiskey backup if you're short on Powers.

I was surprised at its lightness.  I had memories of it being a little tougher.  Perhaps I'm changing while the whiskey remains the same.

Availability - Wide
Pricing - Good at $18-$22
Rating - 78 (but only when served neat)

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

James Bond versus James Gatz



This may be the first time in cinematic history wherein the $200million action behemoth will induce fewer headaches and seizures than the period piece novel adaptation.

The Daniel Craig era of Bond has so much melancholy blended with its painful ass-kicking, so count me in for this next chapter.  Also RALPH FIENNES!!!!  That is all.  Okay, and Javier Bardem is probably the bad guy.

Meanwhile, there hasn't been a Baz Luhrmann film that I've enjoyed upon first viewing.  His excess of style often distracts from the storytelling and calls attention to itself.  BUT his visual choices are never boring.  For The Great Gatsby it looks like he's cranking up the party scenes and adding flashbacks in order to make a very novelistic tale cinematic.  The issue is that the story in the Gatsby novel is a quiet interpersonal exploration of identity, which makes for a very independent film that would bring in limited revenue.  The answer?  Turn up the violence, the partying, the CGI, fluff up the love story, and add Leo.  I sincerely hope this works.

The use of contemporary pop music with period piece visuals is quickly gaining traction as a legitimate artistic choice.  Which sucks.  It's not post-post-post modern.  It's distracting irrelevant shorthand.  I happen to like Jack White's cover of "Love is Blindness", but it's a modern song.  Its inclusion in the Gatsby trailer seems to signify that though this is a period piece it's okay for people of all ages to watch.  Yes there's a bunch of screaming, but does it really tell the story and set the tone better than would an erotic flapper song from the '20s?  It reminds me of the weird-crummy Budweiser commercial that uses a Flo Rida song over visuals of Prohibition ending.  Just seems like a cheap shill to try to bring in a younger audience, without the consideration that this same audience's taste in music is ever mutable.

Even though I try not to judge an entire film by its trailer, with some of the casting choices and garish CGI shown here, none of the Gatsby film looks like what I had pictured either time I read the novel.  I still think the book's story is too damned awesome to be crushed under the weight of short attention span filmmaking.  So I'll be in theatre for this.  Maybe even with 3D glasses.

Skyfall's trailer is pretty lean and basic, almost 40% shorter than Gatsby's.  It plops some intrigue at the beginning, then rains down the fire and shadows and exotic locales and explosions and pained handsomeness.  It sells the product.  It doesn't have the period piece burden that Gatsby carries, so it can use contemporary tunes as long as it incorporates a couple seconds of the Bond theme.

But they do need to remind everyone at the end that this is a 007 film.  On the surface it looks like a bunch of action that could be tied into any international intrigue script.  Plus the film's title doesn't have the Hyperbole to a Verb sound often deemed necessary for Bond.

Perhaps the producers of Skyfall's trailer were under less of a challenge than Gatsby's.  Bond is an existing franchise.  Gatsby is a famous old book.  There's more setup needed for the latter.  Plus it's tougher to get people to watch the old book.

Conversely, Skyfall has to get more butts in seats in order to break even.  Probably needs to gross a half-billion worldwide.  Meanwhile, The Great Gatsby......had a production budget of $130mil?!  Throw in the marketing costs and they'll need a third of a billion to call it a financial success.

Whew, I guess the burden really is on Gatsby.  Good luck with that trailer.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

NOT Single Malt Report: Kilbeggan Blended Irish Whiskey

Distillery: Cooley (and soon, Kilbeggan Distillery)
Brand: Kilbeggan
Type: Irish Blended Whiskey
Current Owner: Beam Inc.
Age: at least 3 years
Maturation: ex-bourbon barrels
Alcohol by Volume: 40%

Here's an Irish Whiskey that I didn't sample on my three visits to Éire.  It's a whiskey full of stories with relatively happy endings.

In 1757, the McManus family opened the legal Old Kilbeggan Distillery in the Irish town of......Kilbeggan!  John McManus, the first distillery manager, joined a group that rebelled against the British and then was promptly executed.  The Codd family buys the distillery in 1794 and expands it, doubling the capacity.  Success followed for over forty years until a large (drinking) abstinence movement and an economic downturn almost puts Kilbeggan out of business.  The Locke family took over in 1843 and ran the distillery for over 100 years through booms and busts.  US Prohibition, economic depression, and the Irish Revolution shook up the company, but it survived even through the second World War.  A crash in the Irish Whiskey industry finally brought the distillery to a close in 1957, its 200th anniversary.

For the next thirty years, local folks help keep the silent distillery and its equipment clean.  In 1988, the independent Cooley Distillery company purchased the Kilbeggan brand.  Then in 2007, on its 250th anniversary, Old Kilbeggan Distillery began distillation again, using a 19th century pot still.  Cooley plans to have the distillery produce pot still and single malts in the near future.

For now the Killbeggan blends are made at Cooley, using single malt and grains.  For over 20 years, Cooley was the leading (and often only) independent distillery in Ireland.  Several months ago, Beam Inc. purchased Cooley, ending their independence but expanding their potential product reach.

For those disappointed by the sale to the fourth largest beverage company in the world, consider that the two Scotch distilleries owned by Beam -- Laphroaig and Ardmore -- have put out tremendous product during Beam's ownership.  See, I'm not totally anti-capitalist.

Last month I had a Saturday night to myself, so I took a walk down to our local decent Irish pub, Gallaghers, to watch two baseball games and two basketball games simultaneously while trying out Irish blends.  I was successful in that endeavour.  One of those blends was Kilbeggan.  The bartender actually opened up a brand new bottle for me so I got the top of the juice.

Color -- basic whiskey gold
Nose -- paint + varnish + notebook paper but in a good way; give it some time and simple fruity sweetness slips in
Palate -- coarser than Powers, breakfast cereal (Frosties!, or Frosted Flakes for the Yanks), toffee, and granulated sugar
Finish -- moderate, lots of grain whiskey with sugar

Nose -- moderated into near silence
Palate -- gets considerably more sugary sweet
Finish -- gets considerably more sugary sweet

So, she don't swim so well.  But neatly, Kilbeggan will appeal to those who'd like those elements in the Nose notes.  I don't mind it, but wouldn't pay much for it.
pre-2010 bottle

On a final note, the super Oliver Klimek (of dramming.com and the Malt Maniacs) had a great post on an abrupt shift in the Kilbeggan character.  In 2009, he tried it and loved it.  In 2010, he bought a bottle, noticed its changed label and really noticed the changed whiskey.  Seems as if Cooley has had to up the grain whiskey content in the blend in order to spread the malt out further, all to meet the rising demand for Kilbeggan.  Oliver recommends that folks seek out the old pre-2010 bottles with the other label (see pic on the right) for a superior blended whiskey.  I look forward to trying that one someday soon.

Okay, so maybe the whiskey itself doesn't sound like it had the happiest of endings, but its end hasn't yet arrived.  But for now, the current bottling...

Availability - Many liquor stores
Pricing - Decent at $18-$22
Rating - 75

Monday, May 21, 2012

Palm Springs: Sunnin', Thriftin', and Booze huntin'

As you can tell from the blog title, my mysterious place of seclusion was Palm Springs.  I was not there alone; nay, it was my Kristen's and my first opportunity to celebrate her birthday.....six weeks after the fact.  Interesting, Kristen always has birthday months.  What a lucky lady.

She's a big fan of Palm Springs, having twice previously stayed at the hipster hotel known as The Ace.  Girl just needs a pool and she's set for the weekend.  I don't take to the sun so well.  I wear SPF BURKHA with a four-foot sombrero and still, like a pizza crust, I'm burnt in fifteen minutes.

This time we stayed at The Movie Colony Hotel.  Very mid-century modern.  In the 50s and 60s, the Rat Pack and other celebs used to crash there all the time.  The pool was great, our terrace was awesome, there was free breakfast, free happy hour, and the mood was all very informal.  And it's right next to the main nightlife strip.

Rye and I
We ate.  Birba has great salads and pizzas.  And drinks.  I had Bulleit Rye (is nice) and something that should have been Buffalo Trace Bourbon but wasn't...yet may have been better.  I'll report on this someday soon.  The next night we wound up at Matchbox because we were unable to decide on a place to go and hunger-brain was taking over.  Either we were irrationally famished or they had the best salads in memory.  And great pizza.  I did a beer flight that only proved what I already knew: Delerium Tremens (the beer, not the alcoholic neurological disorder) wins.

We thrifted.  Kristen loves peeking around antique shops to enhance our home's aesthetics.  We're on the search for light fixtures and coffee tables.  We left with glitzy coasters and stellar martini glasses.  Priorities, you know.

So while the search continues for our needs, Kristen's memory will be haunted by a brass lamp that was beyond our budget and impossible to fit in the car.  Alas, there's a 1978 Bunnahabhain whose existence troubles me as it's beyond my grasp.  So I can relate, somewhat.

Speaking of which......whisky.  I went dusty hunting.

Hunting Dusties

"Dusties" are old, out of circulation liquor bottlings that can be fortuitously discovered in little liquor shops off the beaten path.  Whisky collectors around LA have well cleaned out most of the 1000 or so liquor stores in this county.  I've found a couple of shops with old bottlings, yet their prices are much too high for my means.  More on this in a sec.

While Kristen sunned on Saturday afternoon, I took ol' Agnes (my Accord) around Palm Springs to find some affordable dusties.  I hit nine liquor stores, seven of which had unreasonable irrational pricing.  I realize that Palm Springs is a vacation town, so there will be a bit of a premium in touristy areas.  But I went where the locals shop.  The further into town, the worse the pricing.  I even found a place that sold Macallan Cask Strength for $126.95.  It's a $55 whisky.  An eighth location had a great selection of pricy current bottlings.

But the ninth place (actually the first store I found) had a reasonable selection and the best prices.  Picked up a bottle of Wild Turkey Rye 101 Proof (now discontinued and unavailable in LA) for $20.  And I bought a bottle of Laphroaig Quarter Cask at $10-12 less than LA prices (which brought it within my 2012 budget).  I also picked up a few 99 cent (yup) minis that will likely gain their own posting.  This location may have a dusty or two, depending on one's definition of dusty.  I look forward to returning to this shop in the future, but only if I'm better financed.

Tips for Dusty Hunting in 100 Degree Heat
1.) Eat before you start.
2.) Bring multiple bottles of water.
3.) Have it mapped and planned.
4.) Stay away from shops near tourist spots and airports.  They get picked through first and their prices are bloated.
5.) Liquor shops next to grocery stores never seem to be priced well which is odd since grocery stores usually have booze on sale.
6.) Grocery stores have no dusties.
7.) Many of the dusties you'll find will be priced much too high.  That's why they've never sold.
8.) After an hour, your heat-warped mind may be lured into buying a $9.99 bottle of Glen Vomit.  Resist.
9.) Keep your purchases out of the sun and under the A/C.
10.) Most trips will end in failure.  Accept this as an element of seeking treasure.


The Palm Springs getaway was a success.  We returned to our home refreshed and ready for Monday. Let's do this week right.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Into the Sun

Heading to an undisclosed location for the next three days.  Will report any interesting findings upon my return...

Thursday, May 17, 2012

NOT Single Malt Report: Hankey Bannister Original Blended Scotch Whisky

This is a hankie
This is a bannister
This is Hankey Bannister
I hope that cleared everything up.  End of report.



Or not.


Ownership: Inver House
Content: 30% malt whisky: 12 to 15 malts including Balblair, Balmenach, Knockdhu (a.k.a. anCnoc), Pulteney, and Speyburn
Type: Scotch Blended Whiskey
Age: (grain) 3 years; (malt) 4-5 years
Alcohol by Volume: 40%
Bottle Code: L20 05 11

The history for Hankey Bannister is a little blurry.  Their official website doesn't actually name the founders, Beaumont Hankey and Hugh Bannister, in their history pages (only showing their first initials in the bottom right corner of the page).  Inver House (their owners) state this on their site:
In 1757 society figures and suppliers of fine wines and spirits Beaumont Hankey and Hugh Bannister were inspired to create a superior Blended whisky for Their illustrious clientèle, among them The Prince Regent, William IV and George V. So they hand-selected fine and rare scotch whiskies for quality and crafted them with care to create the smooth, light and perfectly balanced renowned in society for over 250 years.
The thing is, blends weren't sold until 1860.  Dominic Roskrow's 1001 Whiskies You Must Taste Before You Die (yes, I bought it) notes that the first known reference to Hankey Bannister blended scotch was in 1882.  It also mentions about the two supposed founders, "The two gentlemen are strangely anonymous, and little is known of their lives." (373)

Ultimately, the company did exist and the whisky currently exists (I drank it), but its origin and founders may be debatable.

Currently their range also includes a 12yr, 21yr, and a 40yr.  The 40yr contains whisky from closed distilleries and won the World's Best Blended Whisky at the WWAs in both 2008 & 2009, so apparently it's scrumptious.  It also costs $600.

That's why I'm a-tastin' the cheap youngin' of the range.

The "Original" is made of about 30% malt, the rest is grain.  Most of the distilleries listed above are superb, though I'm betting that Balmenach is used the most.  Balmenach distillery (owned by Inver House) cranks out two million liters a year without any official single malt bottlings, so it's all going to blends --> Hankey Bannister is Inver House's flagship blend.

I picked up a 50mL of Hankey Original without knowing any of this info.  I only knew that it's a blend that costs just under $20.

Color -- Middle Gold
Nose -- Sweet grains, ethyl, coconut?, cheap perfume, brown sugar, sweat
Palate -- All young grain whisky, sugary sweet, vanilla, cinnamon
Finish -- A little rough at first sip, then a bit sticky and fruity

Nose -- Grainy, grassy, vanilla
Palate -- Creamier, mild, otherwise the same as neat
Finish -- Improved but brief, sweet, vanilla

Buttery coconut, very similar to Lauders.

This one needs several moments in the glass.  If sipped immediately after being poured, it's harsh.  But give it a few minutes and it improves to something between J&B and Lauder's.  Not much more to add about this.  It ain't terrible.  And if you can find it for under $15, then it makes for an acceptable mixing whisky.

Availability - Most liquor stores
Pricing - Good at $14-$20 (no need to pay more than 20 for this, someone has it cheaper)
Rating - 71

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

NOT Single Malt Report: Famous Grouse Blended Whisky

This is a grouse:
This is Famous Grouse:
This is a grouse hugging a bottle of Famous Grouse:

Easy way to tell the difference:  In Scotland they shoot grouse.  But they sip Famous Grouse.

This is a grouse with braised cabbage:

Sorry, that was cheeky.

The red grouse is not in fact the national bird of Scotland -- that's the golden eagle -- though the Edrington Group tried to campaign for their whisky's bird during the voting in 2004.  But the red grouse is very prevalent in Scotland and very popular to bag on the hunt.  In fact the first day of the "shooting" season has been named The Glorious Twelfth (as in August 12th).

Anyway, whisky.

According to Charles MacLean's excellent Scotch Whisky: A Liquid History, The Famous Grouse blend was created by Matthew Gloag & Son Ltd around 1896 in Perth, Scotland.  Ownership and management remained in the family until the 1970s when Highland Distillers took over.  In the late 90s, a group led by Edrington purchased Highland Distillers.

Today, The Famous Grouse remains The Edrington Group's flagship brand.  It's amongst the top 10 best selling scotch blends in the world.  And it's been #1 in Scotland since 1980.

Its recipe include malts from Macallan, Highland Park, Glenrothes, and Glenturret (all Edrington properties).  Its visitor center resides at Glenturret's little distillery in Perthshire, but much of its blending occurs at Glenrothes.  They've now expanded the brand to Black Grouse (peated), Snow Grouse (blended grain), Naked Grouse (includes sherried Macallan and Highland Park), Gold Reserve (12 yr), and a pair of blended malts.

Distilleries: include Macallan, Highland Park, Glenrothes, and Glenturret
Type: Scotch Blended Whisky
Age: minimum 3 years
Alcohol by Volume: 40%

With so many potentially nice ingredients in The Famous Grouse, I don't know why I waited so long to try it out.  Though a full bottling of this may be in my future, I picked up a 50mL mini to give it a spin...

The color is a darker gold than most blends, approaching a maple syrup hue, likely due to caramel colouring.  The nose is full of oak, maybe a touch of sherry and dried fruit, vanilla bean, soil, and cinnamon.  The texture is very soft and creamy.  A decent palate with almost no cheap grain notes.  Instead there's vanilla, coconut, custard, and sugar cookies.  It finishes sweetly, molasses and caramel, much more pleasant than most blends I've tried.

Maybe this is mental shorthand, but the Grouse is remarkably similar to the Macallan 10yr Sherry Oak I'd tried in the UK.  Slightly simpler and weaker, but...

The nose becomes prune-ish, dusty, oaky, with some sulphur sneaking in.  Seems like water stirs up the sherry wood.  The palate stays sweet and creamy with vanilla and salt.  It finishes quietly with more of the vanilla and salt.

I'm going to double-down and say that it now noses like that Mac 10 Sherry.

Keeps some of the character through the club soda and ice.  It's a little buttery, some grain whisky slips through, as well as some caramel.

Last year, I brought back a mini of the Mac 10 Sherry from the UK.  When I'd polished it off I didn't take any notes, but I was surprised at how sleepy it was for a young whisky, and how significantly less exciting it was than the 12yr.

In the UK, Famous Grouse sells for half the price of Mac 10, but it has enough similarities to make it a frugal alternative.

What I like about Famous Grouse is that it tastes less of cheap grain whisky than most sub-$20 blends I've tried.  Its malt content holds up much better.  I know "Wow, It's Okay!" won't make for a good marketing blurb, but it's a full step more enjoyable than any of the blended scotches that I've reviewed this month (up to this point).

Trader Joes has a one liter bottle of it selling for $19.99.  I'm intrigued.

Availability - Wide, though much wider in the UK
Pricing - Good at $18-$20
Rating - 74

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

The Flailing Writer Goes Gardening (part two)

Gardening update!

Parsley --  Rather unhappy plant.  Either it didn't like my planting job or disapproves of its place in the sun.  Or it wasn't cared for well at its previous destination.  All or most of its original foliage was dead within two weeks.  BUT!  All new healthier looking limbs have grown in since.  Perhaps its temper is improving?

Chives -- Besieged with black aphids.

I mean totally covered.

Happened within the last couple of days.  I will try the ol' soapy water spray attack tonight.

Basil -- Still sad, but not dead!

Oregano -- Healthy and under control.

Thyme -- Grew like crazy.  Started to flower.  Kristen and I lopped off the flowers.  Hopefully it hasn't gone to seed...

Cilantro -- Holy mole sauce!  It's fro'ed out!  We have to keep trimming it back.  Totally awesome.

Pepper -- New leaves are slowly sprouting all over.

Zucchini -- Like the cilantro, it has taken well to the balcony.  Tons of big beautiful leaves.  Perhaps some blossoms coming through.

Tomato Plant tips:
1.)  Keep an eye (and a finger) on the soil.  These guys get very very thirsty.  I don't think I've been watering them enough.  I'm starting them on a daily watering regimen as of today.

2.)  Put your stakes or cage in the ground BEFORE the plant starts getting big.  I did not do this.  Getting the cages in and around the plants wasn't fun.  A limb or two were lost.

3.)  Prune the suckers!

These little branches sprout up from the crotch of two normal branches.  They don't fruit, thus they suck away precious goodness that should be going to the tomatoes and blossoms.  Pluck them off with your fingers.

4.)  Also remove any and all stems near the soil.  This will help prevent bacteria and fungus from spreading up the plant.

5.)  Wash your hands afterwards.  As great as tomato plants smell, they're poisonous.

Who knows what awaits in Part Three???

Monday, May 14, 2012

NOT Single Malt Report: Lauder's Blended Scotch Whisky

I know that you've checked out those lower lower lower shelf whiskys when no one's looking --  Dunlivet, Scoresby, Clan MacGregor -- thinking, "How bad can whisky in a big green plastic bottle be?"  But you never manned-up because you value your life.

I, on the other hand......well, one thirsty afternoon I spotted a mini of a particular scotch blend for ONE DOLLAR AND FORTY-NINE CENTS.  Like I'm not going to buy that.

So when you look at the bottom whisky shelf and wonder, "What can I buy for $10???"...... Here's an answer.

Swanky-looking UK bottle
US Ad Sheet

Brand: Lauder's
Ownership: Sazerac Company (formerly Barton Imports)
Distilleries: ???
Type: Scotch Blended Whisky
Age: 36 months
Alcohol by Volume: 40%

I've combed the Internet and searched through all of my books, but I can't say I've found much on Lauder's or Barton Imports.  Sazerac Co. bought Barton's a few years back and seems to specialize in plastic-bottled booze.  See their product lineup here.

The Lauder's bottle brags about the following:
"Highest Awards, Gold Medal, Paris 1878"
"Gold Medal, Chicago 1893"
"Gold Medal, Edinburgh 1886"

Note that's 1878, 1886, and 1893.  Most of the distilleries from that era are no longer in existence, thus the current blend recipe likely doesn't resemble the one from 134 years ago.  Also the malt content in inexpensive blends is likely at an all-time low.

BUT just because they have a completely different blend now, bottled in green plastic, selling for $9.99 doesn't necessarily mean that it's terrible.  It's just not going to win any awards in Edinburgh in 2012.

Also, this is cute:

So with a lack of accessible data, I'm going to go straight to what counts.  The sensory experience.

Color -- Light Gold
Nose -- Decent, moderate molasses, vanilla, caramel sauce, a hint of spearmint
Palate -- Cheap vodka kick, must have come from some seriously overused oak, a little vanilla, angel food cake
Finish -- Quiet, furry (to use a Jim Murray adjective), sweet cream, but mostly bitter

Nose -- Muted, mellow, like over-watered Glenfiddich 12, more grains jump out
Palate -- Light vanilla & caramel, not hideous
Finish -- That kick of cheap vodka again, otherwise silent

Palate -- Buttery, some coconut

Overall, it's surprisingly harmless and better than I'd expected.  Probably better than some blends twice its price.  I'm looking at you, Cutty.  The odd Popov-Vodka-style palate characteristic and the dead finish keep it from being a surprise winner, but this is by no means crummy.  Ultimately, it's probably best for mixing since the nose is reasonable and the palate is mostly mild.  And it's $10.

Availability - Many liquor stores, often in the bad part of town
Pricing - Good at $9-$11
Rating - 70

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Sunday Ramblings

From 10am to 10pm, yesterday, we painted the living room and dining room.  Two coats, looking good.  My lower back and right index finger are sore and brain is mushy.  To celebrate the finished product, I opened a bottle of Oban 14yr that I'd purchased a half year ago.  An old fave, the Oban hit the spot (though it's seriously over-colored) and I was asleep after one dram.

In the very near future I'll be putting some posts about all of the fix-its that we've done around here.  The visuals have changed for the better.

A beautiful piece of street art by Escif in Poland.

Kristen and I have been watching tons of NBA Playoff action -- much more interesting than regular season baseball, I'm sad to say.  I'm having a difficult time seeing anything but a Heat-versus-Thunder (how about that for team names?) Finals.  Those two teams will have to do themselves in; no one else has been putting up consistent offense or defense.

And the LA teams?  Not inspiring.  It would have been nice to have a Staples Center-based Western Conference Championship series, but there are other pipe-dreams that I value more.

But still, Go Clips......?

Friday, May 11, 2012

Lube This


*catches breath*


*catches breath*


*catches breath*

This is a violation of whiskey. And of d*ck.

Does someone out there really want their parts to taste like Jack Daniels? Or on the other side of things, why does someone want to taste that down there? And how is it possible that one's area tastes worse than Old Number 7?  Old Number 2 is more like it--


*catches breath*


--maybe if it was Macallan Fine Oak (GET IT?!) then there could be a reasonable--


I'm just bitter that someone thought of this before me.

(Many thanks to Johnnie Mundell Depp.)

Thursday, May 10, 2012

NOT Single Malt Report: Michael Collins Irish Blended Whiskey


Distillery: Cooley
Brand: Michael Collins
Type: Irish Blended Whiskey
Current Owner: Beam Inc.
Age: 4 to 12 years
Maturation: bourbon-seasoned American Oak
Alcohol by Volume: 40%
This actually the old bottle, but it's tall and lean;
plus it matches my mini bottle
Named after one of the leading figures in Ireland's successful struggle for independence and the first chairman of their provisional government until his assassination in 1922 (How about that for a run-on fragment; large as the man himself), Michael Collins Irish Blended Whiskey has a make-up similar to a Scotch blend.

The vast majority of Irish blends contain a portion of triple-distilled pot still whiskey (from a mash of malted and unmalted barley) and grain whiskey.  Like a Scotch blend, Michael Collins is a mix of double-distilled single malt and grain whiskey.

The Cooley distillery specializes in single malts as opposed to the single pot still whiskey coming from the Midleton distillery.  They make a number of very different single malts (two reported on here and here), from the Connemara peated brands to the unpeated finished Tyrconnell whiskies to a Michael Collins 10 year old to a number of small independent bottlings.

So this blend is structurally different that Powers, Jamesons, Paddy, and Tullamore Dew.  Is it better or worse or similar...?

Color -- Light brass
Nose -- Bananas, paste, flatulence (not petrol gas and not sulphur but really farty, unmistakable), burnt caramelized brown sugar, ethyl, notebook paper, and wood grain
Palate -- Pears, whipped cream, burnt toast, vanilla, very sweet
Finish -- Vanilla and fruit sweets, but also brief and salty

Nose -- Ethyl and notebook paper are all that remain
Palate -- Lots of vanilla, sweetened whole milk or perhaps vanilla yogurt?, toffee
Finish -- Short, but noticeable toffee and vanilla

The nose is a bit difficult, but the palate is nice.  Very easy drinking.  I just don't recommend putting your nose too far into the glass.  This is something I'm finding with most of the young inexpensive Irish blends. Their flavor is considerably more delightful than their scent, no matter how they're constructed.

So if you're not getting all hoity-toity with your booze and just want something that works well when it hits your lips, Michael Collins isn't a bad choice.  It holds water decently, and might (might) stand up to a highball or mixing due to its sweetness.

Availability - Most liquor stores
Pricing - Decent at $24-$30
Rating - 75

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Loch Ness and I

This may seem a random thing to post on a Yank's website, but:

To explain:

The Howling Drunkards of Loch Ness
I drank a lot of lager at Fiddler's, 9 1/2 years ago, when I was drifting aimlessly through the West Highlands.  I stayed in Drumnadrochit for three nights at a hostel nearby (Loch Ness Backpackers!).  I remember the rain, the curled-horned Scottish Blackface rams, a pair of motionless Highland coos, a private tour of Nessie's favourite appearances.

I made my trip to that part of the world as I was struggling through some considerable personal turmoil. I wasn't going there for the whisky.  I was going there because it was not here.

And there I was, one late afternoon, walking through the tiny town.  Through farmland.  Through the forest that led to the River Ness.  I got lost.  Very lost.  The kind of lost wherein nothing around even sounds or smells familiar.

Being physically lost really shaves away the bullshit.  All those lies you tell yourself in order to get by day-to-day scurry away leaving you pretty much naked to the present.  The turmoil from home was still with me, heavy around my heart.

Rain whooshed in.  The wind awoke suddenly.  Somehow I heard the sound of the river and followed it.  I sat at the edge of the water, soaked, lost, and confused.  I was okay with never getting up again, never going back anywhere to anything.

In the downpour at a riverside next to a fallen tree five-thousand one-hundred miles from home, I was allowed a bright beacon of clarity.  I don't know where it came from nor why.  Most people pray an awful lot before being granted this sort of light.  I was able to let go of the massive weight of my self pity.  And that in turn released me to start the next chapter of my life.  I found my way back through the forest without trouble or despair.

Anyway, Fiddler's has a whisky festival.  It's this weekend and it's all good things from great distilleries.  And it's a ridiculous bargain.  Zipping around the water looking for Nessie then having a whisky at Urquart Castle followed by a hot meal...

Sounds pretty good right now.