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theScotchlife

Enjoying Scotch Whisky and a few other things

Month

December 2011

Survey Says! I’m curious about what is more important to you.

No worries! I’m just doing this to see what people in general think when putting down hard-earned cash for scotch and/or cigars. I’m more of a variety and quality person myself, I’m curious to see what you guys think. Thanks!

OK…. i KNOW how much I hate surveys/polls so I’m thankful for the handful that actually responded. I’m hoping to use polls to help me figure out what people are more interested in reading about, which helps me narrow my focus, which is a feat in itself. It seems so far that most people are interested in Variety and Quality. What a coincidence, me too!

I have a hard time dealing with people who only drink/smoke the same old products over and over, never trying something new. I can’t imagine if I’d never gone past drinking Johnny Walker or smoking only a Macanudo. I thought about trying to hone my tastes down to a handful of products and stick with them. The problem with that line of thinking is I would never be happy! I love trying new scotch and cigar products and will probably always will. Which leads me the anxiety of someone asking me, “what’s your favorite scotch?” or “what cigar do you smoke?”. Really! I just don’t know what to say other than my tendency is to drink primarily single malts and smoke mainly medium to full cigars from Nicaragua and Honduras.

So I will continue to roam through the whisky stores and humidors in 2012 in search of new products that I will hopefully share with you at thescotchlife.com

Cheers!

Johnny Walker Green Label – A farewell

My fairest child, I have no song to give you;
No lark could pipe to skies so dull and grey:
Yet, ere we part, one lesson I can leave you
For every day.

Be good, sweet maid, and let who will be clever;
Do noble things, not dream them, all day long:
And so make life, death, and that vast for-ever
One grand, sweet song.

Charles Kingsley – A Farewell

The news of Johnny Walker Green Label being discontinued shouldn’t upset too many people but I think it’s a little sad to lose the only label in the JW line that I recommended people try. Where else can you get a blended scotch of high quality (all Malt, no grain) scotch? I’m sure there are several but I’m not a blend guy, mainly single malts. When you drink a dram of Green Label you are drinking Talisker, Linkwood, Craganmore, and Caol Ila products at once. Quite an affordable blend and unique experience.

Efficiency and product trimming has evidently hit the JW line and the Green Label must be the weak link. If I had my way, I’d discontinue Blue….. So Diageo probably knows their market and this must seem like a good move on paper. They are evidently sponsoring a final “official” tasting that you can apply to be at on their Facebook page.

The first time I ever bought the Green Label was a few years back while in St. Thomas. The costs were supposedly lower, not sure about that, so I bought a bottle there. I think it’s a very drinkable dram, nothing extremely special but a good everyday or with guests that you don’t want to pull out the “good” stuff for. For myself, it’s just a bit of nostalgia that the brand is going away, so I may stock up for no good reason but to have a “rare” product one day.

If you are a regular Black label drinker and have not tried the Green, I would encourage you to try this one. Unlike your Black label, this one does not have any grain whisky in it. On top of that I’d say its finish is nicer and more complex. If you only drink Red label, please switch to Black!, and you too will notice a large difference in quality.

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Cheers to you Green Label! And Farewell!

Merry Christmas to all, thanks for reading!

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Highland Park 15 Single Malt Scotch Whisky

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In luxury items there is fierce competition these days, and then there are those items that defy competition due to their superiority. Highland Park whisky is one of those products. In fact the 18 year was bestowed “best scotch in the world” by one reviewer. There is a virtual sea of scotch whisky products these days and much of it really good. Highland Park has always been a standard since I’ve been into serious whisky but for some reason I’ve evaded buying my own bottles. Today I corrected that mistake. The ABC store had the 12 and 15 year on sale. I grabbed the 15 year for around $67. When I last tasted the HP products it was with Martin Daraz on a whisky cruise in Washington D.C. It’s amazing how different the mouthfeel is on these two.

The 12 year is all over your tongue like a young spirit without rest. The 15 year actually shows a completely different and mature behavior and lays down the softest, lightly peated fruit. You might even be mistaken to call this an Islay scotch. The mouth feel is one I like, it has a viscous, oily finish that I find goes really well with a cigar.

Some say that this (Highland Park) is just too much to pay for whisky but if you enjoy premium products you owe it to yourself to try Highland Park, even the 12 year is very nice. I’m going to enjoy this bottle over the holidays this year. I hope you find a spirit you enjoy also.

Cheers!

theScotchlife’s top 3 Scotch Whisky and Cigars picks of 2011

At the end of this year I thought it would be a good time to figure out which products I enjoyed most this year. One of the reasons I started a blog was to chronicle what I was drinking or smoking so that I could reference it later. The problem is I haven’t been able to faithfully chronicle everything. I’d say I’ve missed 25% of what I’ve enjoyed, some of it made it at least to my twitter account @theScotchlife but I would say it caught 98% and it is very hard to read through 1K+ tweets!

So, picking a top 3 of a product to me is very difficult and I would preface this with this may not be the best products by themselves but are elevated by association of an event, or their value.

In the area of Scotch it is quite easy because I spent a weekend in Vegas sampling an array of 40 year plus aged scotch offerings from The Macallan, Bowmore, Dalmore, Glenfarclas, etc…. and the most memorable dram I had was the Bowmore from 1969. Having a dram that is equal in age to ones self is memorable and immensely reflective. It’s hard to figuratively characterize life in a drink, but with that Bowmore from my birth-year, I think it comes awfully close. There is something very special with super-premium aged scotch, it isn’t like your every day scotch, and your life should be as good as it!

So, the #1 is the 1969 Bowmore. I believe it went on sale this year in the U.S., six bottles total if memory serves me correct for around 14K a bottle?

#2 scotch whisky of my year goes to Ardbeg. Yes, I also had this tasty sample from 1974 at the very same Nth show in Vegas and to have an Ardbeg these days from that era is very special. I do enjoy the regular Ardbeg line as well and have Corryvreckan and Uigeadail in-house currently. The ’74 is quite different though, and superior to the current range.

#3 In order to give credit to something that isn’t in the $10K range I would like to give credit to The Balvenie 17 year range of scotch. I have spent some time in acquiring the line, it is difficult since most of it is out of production. My biggest prize came by a friend snagging a bottle of the original Islay Cask in an auction in the UK. This has been replaced by the Peated cask which is good but not as good as the original Islay cask. I would also comment on the rest of the Balvenie line that is available currently, I simply think it is a crowd pleaser from the Doublewood to the Portwood. You just can’t go wrong unless you demand higher alcohol content. I think the flavors should more than make up for it though.

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In the cigar category I think it is even harder! There are so many good cigars out there and the availability of super-aged premiums like scotch are not as readily available to me. On top of it, I’m finding price really does not always mean quality in the cigar world. In fact, the only expensive cigar I’m going to site is the Diamond Crown cigar.

#1 cigar of the year, yes, the Diamond Crown. This is a super-premium cigar and was made to be a cut above the norm. This is typically a $20 cigar so it is not very often I smoke one and there is usually a good reason why I do! You should treat yourself to one of these.

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#2 cigar of the year is…… Alec Bradley’s Tempus (original). I really was taken by the smoothness of this cigar, its complexity and roundness, and price! Yes, this is a sub $10 smoke typically and it is so worth your time and money! It does smoke like a dream and AB seems to be on a roll. I had to mention this cigar because for the value its hard to beat, a good second or “like” this cigar would be a Brick House cigar.

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#3, is, well, this is hard, I have smoked probably no less than 300 different cigars this past year, and after a while, they all seem to cross over each other at some point. I am going to go back to a cigar I smoked a long time ago and wrote glowingly about it, the La Flor Dominicana “double ligero” line. I smoked a large gauge one and I have a thinner, Churchill especial version that I hope to smoke by the new year. This is a BIG smoke and you should enjoy this with a nice steak dinner or big pasta dinner. Just smelling this one is driving me crazy, the spice that comes off of it is really amazing.

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I can’t help but add a little “honorable mention” to Don Pepin Garcia’s blue label as well as Padilla’s Habano. These two I really thought of a lot while comparing cigars this year.

As with any “top” list, there are always some that you wish could mention but I think most people realize that in scotch and cigars there are so many excellent offerings available these days. I think that you will enjoy these, if you haven’t already, and with the exception of the rare scotch offerings you should be able to find them.

I am looking forward to another year and there are so many exciting products coming down the pike, I personally have several new cigars resting in the humidor that I have never tried and I am particularly excited about trying the new Nat Sherman lines. I picked up several cigars at the NYC Big Smoke last month and will be firing them up soon. As far as scotch, I am looking forward to the Balvenie release of TUN 1401 batch 3 in the U.S. and Ardbeg’s Alligator to finally crawl over the pond. I’ve also heard some brand Ambassadors speak of new offerings coming out soon and I am planing on getting out to my local Virginia distilleries this year and explore their products. With any luck I will make it to a good whisky fest this year also.

I hope this year has been a good one for you!

Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, and Happy Holidays!

John

My Prometheus Cigar Lighter

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If you have ever experienced lighting a match in a wind storm then you know the level of frustration a cigar smoker can experience while trying to light up. I finally got tired of huddling behind a car or shelter to try to fire up a cigar and turned to a modern butane lighter.

The reason I had waited so long is because years ago I bought a high-priced butane lighter and it only worked for a little while. On top of this, I couldn’t figure out how to get it repaired. So, figuring technology had improved in lighters I went into my local brick and mortar cigar shop, Cigar Town, in Reston, VA and asked for a good but not overly fancy lighter. The lighter I ended up with is a Prometheus lighter. It is a single flame, not triple, and it has a very slim profile so it can stay in your front pocket and be there when you need it.

I have had this lighter for a few months now and it has worked very well. I use it everyday and usually refill it once a week. I paid around $40 for it and consider it a good investment in my cigar enjoying experience. As a benefit of butane gas, there is no odor transfer of the gas to the cigar like there is with a traditional match or Zippo lighter.

So if you are tired of lighting up in the wind, I would encourage you to pick up one of these lighters, there are a few brands out there now and I have no reservations in promoting Prometheus because its working for me. This also would make a perfect gift for a cigar smoker!

The Balvenie Caribbean Cask

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I make it no secret that I do appreciate Balvenie products and this 14 year aged Balvenie that was finished in Caribbean Rum casks is the perfect Christmas time scotch! The inspiration for this product is the 17 year Rum cask that came out a few years ago which was a one-time offering. This product which has been out for about a year, is evidently to be a regular offering for Balvenie. Like most of Balvenie’s regular offerings, the soft vanilla-honeyed notes are now joined with some spicy sweet ones from the previously used rum casks. The ABV rate is 43% and is easily enjoyed neat.

If you are wondering what to get that scotch lover for Christmas, Hanukkah, (pick your holiday) then I feel very confident in suggesting this product. This would also be great as an aperitif!

Cheers!

La Gloria Cubana Cigar event with Master roller Leo Peraza

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Master Roller for La Gloria Cubana

La Gloria Cubana is a brand readily available in most stores and at least in my mind is a brand of cigars that is a lot less about flash and more about consistency. I have smoked a hand full or two through the years and while I’ve always thought them to be a decent cigar I can’t say that I’ve had a tendency towards them, this may have changed with this recent events offerings. The event was held at Cigar Town in Reston, VA, an excellent cigar shop in Northern Virginia. http://kickashcigars.com/

I had a very nice talk with the General Cigar reps that accompanied Leo and since Leo doesn’t speak English my conversation was limited to the reps (have got to get my Spanish back!). I’m not so sure if it’s the lack of offerings in the line or if their marketing just doesn’t connect, but I pretty much think of all Gloria products as maduro and non-maduro. I have a few series R’s and have had the N’s and so I purchased the new Artesanos Retro Especiale which is a new blend and breed with a Connecticut seed wrapper grown in Honduras in order to achieve a new cigar experience. It also has a unique binder of a Nicaraguan and Mexican leaf that adds the uniqueness that boutique cigar lovers are looking for these days. I was able to smoke this cigar the other day around noon (didn’t get to finish of course) and it was a very nice tasting cigar.

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Feliz Navidad!

It is not a heavy cigar (Artesanos Retro Especiale), it’s more of a medium-ish in strength but does deliver some nuances that an enthusiast will appreciate. The more I get to learn about cigars and follow industry news you get the appreciation that a cigar is not as simple as a bunch of leaves rolled up. A blender, these days, is trying to deliver strength and taste. These two seem to be hard to corral into a cigar. Taste is something that is quite subjective also, so there is no guarantee that everyone will appreciate what a blender is doing. I liked this cigar and am glad I have another one. The other product I purchased was a La Gloria Cubana figurado that was rolled special for the holiday season. I took a picture but due to being outside and dark, the image is horrible. I think you can only find this for a limited time. Look at the red band, that is quite different and may lead you to it. In short, it was a very nice smoke, maybe a medium to full in strength and very tasty! If you catch this rolling event somewhere you should be able to happen upon one.

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This event is was very beneficial for myself. I have not just a new understanding of what the La Gloria Cubana brand is about but more importantly a new curiosity about its products and I will be trying more of their products. I did get a special Artesanos de Tabaqueros cigar from the General Cigar rep and will be trying it soon. It is quite unique, two different wrappers on it, very unique not only in type but color and should be an interesting challenge to my palate.

Although thought of as a good value cigar, I think this brand has the potential to move up in my world, in at least my mind, as a must-try brand.

West Village, bar hopping in New York City

On my recent visit to New York City I had the pleasure of being taken on a bar/restaurant tour by my friend Michelle who lives in the city. Like a lot of cities, its hard to know where the people go who “live” in that city. Typically a traveler ends up in a touristy area or an area that caters to business parks so if you are lucky you get a Chili’s or something similar to chill at.

Michelle decided to head towards her regular “go to” area and maybe try out a few new bars she had heard about but not been to. I’m always up for experimental bar hopping, why not! The area we first went into is referred to the meatpacking district which I have always heard about but never been. This is much like many areas in old cities that have been re-purposed from their historical industrial ways to a new trendy area for those seeking unique environments and expertly made drinks.

So the first bar we went to had only been open a couple of weeks but it had already created quite a buzz. Its on Gansevoort Street at 9th Ave and is called The Vinatta Project. They have an interesting wine bar set up that looks to be an elegant, grown up version of a do-it yourself bar. We were told this would eventually end up with whiskey in it! We sat at the bar and the bartender asked us what we’d like. What he meant was what kind of fresh fruit/herbs do you like and what is your favorite spirit. Well, I told him I don’t like mixed drinks but have had The Balvenie make me a drink that was delicious so if he could work out something with a Balvenie I’d give it a go. It was delicious! Tasted like dessert and I had a couple. Michelle had something with Gin and cucumbers, she said it was good but not as tasty as mine. So, two drinks, ready to hop!

I’m at a loss at what we were going to go to but she brought up a dive bar that she likes to go to. She wasn’t sure if I wanted to go but when she told me it was the real Coyote Ugly that inspired the movie, the real name is Hogs and Heifers, I was in! I love dive bars and surprisingly on a Wednesday night, plenty of NYC dwellers do also. The place was expectantly in overdrive with wall to wall people and shirtless bartenders who loved screaming through amplified megaphones. We had a ball! If you can’t have fun in a dive bar, you can’t have fun! Its at Washington Street and West 13th Street.

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After that we went to 675 bar. All I can remember is that is underground. Like the basement of Batman’s cave, dark, funky, I can’t remember too much……

The next night we kicked it off with two of her friends and headed to a Mexican bar, Tortilla Flats for margaritas and some food. This was a great neighborhood type bar that reminds you of college. It’s off Washington Street in the same area but at the corner of 12th (not little 12th, that is where the Biergarten is).

From there we went on a walk, somewhere in the West Village but I could not tell you where. We popped in and out of some cool places and ended up at a place called Whitehall (which is new). We had some good drinks there and by then I was wanting anything BUT a mixed drink. We had been talking about wine so I said we should find a good wine bar. We found a place called Vin Sur Vingt, this place is awesome! Not only did the waitress, who I assumed was French, help us through the wine list she genuinely wanted to help us find something we would enjoy and kept us from haphazardly ordering. I also was hungry, and it was about 1 am or so, I do not think we had actually ate a meal so I ordered some meat and cheese appetizers and a sandwich. The food was awesome, the wine was awesome, I did not eat all the food but had a few glasses. This was probably the best find of the whole two night “bar hop” and I will plan to go there again on my return. If foursquare is accurate it is at 201 West 11th Street 7th Avenue.

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So, if you find yourself in NYC but with no friends who know the city, feel free to jump in on these places, you will be entertained and most likely find something you want to drink.

Cheers!

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