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Enjoying Scotch Whisky and a few other things

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Ardbeg

Vacation Whisky – Oban Little Bay and Ardbeg Perpetuum

Little Bay
Oban Little Bay

While on vacation on North Carolina’s shore this  year, I decided to pick up a couple of whisky’s to enjoy. The great thing about leaving where you live is finding whisky offerings that aren’t in your home area. The ABC store I went to in NC had a surprising and wonderful collection, I settled on a Oban Little Bay offering. I’m not a huge Oban fan but it is quite popular. This is a small batch offering so it’s a bit higher on the scale as far as cost but not over $80 USD. It’s not what I’d call a remarkable or distinctive scotch whisky but a good one. In fact, this may be a perfect beach whisky. It’s light on the palate and smooth. It does not have a very strong profile to me at least. It’s a very good sipping whisky or you could even, dare I say, mix it? This would be a good whisky for people who “don’t like whisky” and would like to try something “good.”

Perpetuum
Ardbeg Perpetuum

Since I had to get back to work and leave the family behind, I purchased at home the new Ardbeg Perpetuum. This was the new whisky release on Ardbeg day that for the first time in memory, I missed. But this has shown up in good quantities on Virginia’s ABC. The marketing on the box talks about its unending taste profile, and hence its name. I first tasted it neat, no water, and soon realized why the termed it perpetuum. It does stick to the tongue and linger, at length. When you add water and have more than one offering this sensation did disappear though. I can’t say that I didn’t like this, as I enjoy any Ardbeg offering, but I cannot say that I’m blown away. The best/last Ardbeg I’ve had was the Ardbog offering. And to date, nothing beats the current offering Uigeadail. So Perpetuum is worth a purchase but temper your enthusiasm. It should cost you close to $99 USD.

WhiskyFest NYC 2013, Noteable Scots and “first fill” love

Well, it has been some time since I posted. Life mostly gets in the way and due to the American Football (NFL) season I tend to get very distracted. So I have attended only one event, electing to not go to a couple of more due to time and the fact that many of these events really do not bring anything new or exciting to someone who has had more than a few tastings of every major scotch whisky. Most scotch whisky distillers are enjoying record sales, new markets in India, China, and of course the Americas keep on drinking. Blended whisky is still king and that’s fine, I just tend to stick to single malts and love to see new expressions that many of them keep churning out. I do think that a few distillers are trying harder to keep coming up with something unique but unfortunately their products mostly hit very limited markets and aren’t very affordable for an everyday drinker.

So WhiskyFest NYC was the first WhiskyFest event I have attended. I went to the general event as time and money prohibited from attending all the “extra” classes. I think it’s rather amusing that you must pay a lot of money to sample and hear people go on about their products when they need you, the consumer, to be excited enough to buy them and spread the word. But anyhow, there is a market for everything and their show seems to work for them, however, they tried to do a multi-day event this year and I don’t think it met their expectations. They did put out a comment saying something to the effect that they were disappointed that they did not have enough new and unique whisky available at the event. I agree.

The highlight of my three-hour “taste-a-thon” was meeting Jim McEwan. He is a legend and rightly so. What I didn’t know was how personable and caring he is. He was extremely friendly and entertaining. He shared with me his time as Master Blender at Bowmore and his amazing resurrection of Bruichladdich. He is what I so love about Islay, in a word, pure. The work he did at Bowmore is evident in their excellent aged whisky on the market today. The work that he has done at Bruichladdich is nothing short of brilliant in my opinion. If you are looking for a brand to dig into, and enjoy the peaty single malt whisky from Islay, dig in. The range is varied and offers something for everyone. You can go from the Laddie Ten up to the Octomore range. I am in love with the Octomore line, I think it is one of the most well done expressions that can only be a result of years of experience.

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It’s hard to get a clear picture at a whisky event.

The Nose, Richard Patterson was also in the house! I have met Richard a couple of times and spent some time enjoying his gregariousness and had a few drams while he entertained a few patrons. He is pure fun! It was also great catching up with David Blackmore, Global Brand Ambassador for Ardbeg & Glenmorangie. He does an excellent job and is a very kind soul. I ribbed him about not having anything “special” but I was more than willing to have a pour of Uigedail, possibly my favorite of the Ardbeg line.

The only spirit of the night that I was looking forward to tasting was the Bowmore Devil’s Cask. I had been told about this whisky while I was at Bowmore this past spring and actually tasted one cask that I was told would be very telling about the Devil’s Cask. It is a product of first filled sherry casks and the age statement is a 10 years aged whisky. DO NOT make the mistake at looking at the age statement, but look closely at the “first” filled sherry cask. Much like the most excellent Tempest (Dorus Mor in the U.S. due to trademark issues) this is a very small batch high quality product that is nothing short of extraordinary. If you get the chance, or have the means, acquire it.20131203-233421.jpg

Well I didn’t mean for this to go on so long but I’ve been silent for a few months. During this time, I’ve really focused on just enjoying the various Bowmore and Ardbeg products that are a staple in my house. I’ve also been pleasantly surprised by the new Balvenie 12 year single barrel “First Fill” product that came out this year. I intend on writing about it soon and intend on comparing it with the single barrel 15. One thing about this year pertaining to the marketing of “first fill” products. There IS something different about these products, it is a noticeable difference and I do hope this is a trend.

Cheers!

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P.S. if you did not know, Jim McEwan has made a Gin. It is one of the best I have ever tasted, no joke!

Ardbeg “Airigh Nam Beist” Islay Single Malt Scotch Whisky

I finally opened up the BEIST! I acquired this one some time ago and consider it among my favorite Ardbeg offerings. Offered up at 46% ABV and non-chill filtered, this is what the Single Malt snob yearns for. Well, that is if they can handle the peatiness that an Ardbeg product typically brings. Though that is what I love about this BEIST. It has a delicate and sweet punch when enjoyed neat and is a bit creamy. A nice oily palate is your reward for letting it linger and run across your mouth. I added a wee bit of water to it and it really starts to show some sophistication. This is just one hell of a product.

Ardbeg describes it as “wonderfully creamy, smoky malt, suffused in woodsmoke with notes of fennel and pine nuts, topped with tingling limes”. I love the tingling lime part.I do not think of medicinal or iodine notes which usually accompany a strong Islay product. This beauty is refined, and unfortunately increasingly rare. Most people’s stocks have run dry, only collectors and people like myself have one kicking around. You can probably find one on the internet for around $200 USD. A good friend of mine in NYC fell in love with this dram after we went on a Scotch-Crawl in the city a few years ago. I did have to email her a picture of me drinking it of course just recently.

The BEIST is even gentle on exit, the lingering on your palate is even and fades slightly. I have to admit, it is with mixed emotion that I endeavor into this bottle, I know it won’t last long!

 
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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

Whisky Guild Classic tasting Cruise Washington, DC 2011

Yesterday evening I had the fortune of being on a large boat with a lot of whisky. Now, fortunately this was a tasting cruise, not a vacation cruise and many tasting booths were set up with reps from each distiller or distributor who were eager to pour and talk about their product. That being said, I would first like to thank The Balvenie, Highland Park/Macallan, and Ardbeg for sending out great ambassadors to represent their products. Though this surely wasn’t the level of tasting that the more premier tasting events hold, the Nth being my favorite, the fore mentioned companies spare no cost to send out the best reps for their products and I think it says a lot about them and their products.

As far as the food, I’m glad I had the company of Andrew Weir of The Balvenie to chat with while I ate. The conversation and previous hour of tasting helped facilitate the buffet.

As opposed to a premier event this was an opportunity to catch up and experience some newer expressions that are contending for shelf space with the Johnny Walker Red and Dewar’s crowd. There were too numerous new expressions I saw and unfortunately I can’t remember them all but then again, some of their reps seemed as clueless as I was about their product. Unfortunately, Scotch has grown so popular that there seems to be “products” popping up that advertise as if they were the lost product of Scotland that only some sages know about and now are available for an unbelievable price! Their reps aren’t sure though what kind of cask they are aged in, or if they have a cask at all, and truly this rep was picked for their salesmanship but not their ability to educate you on their product.

The highlights of this cruise were seeing the fore mentioned Ambassadors without whom I would have serious questions about the events status. Martin Daraz of Highland Park/ Macalland was a great surprise to see. I first met him in Las Vegas at the Nth event and there is no doubting his credentials or passion for whisky. I look forward to his chocolate and scotch pairing again at the Nth.

Other than that, I sampled a lot of new brands that I most likely will never buy but at least I have given them a go. Some notable that were new or somewhat new to me were Aberlour who had very friendly reps and also poured Scapa which I would probably never buy but recognize as a great summer scotch or beginners scotch, Bunnahabhain, whose lovely rep seemed tireless over the event and also introduced me to Tobermory, Deanston and Ledaig. The Bunnhabhain 25 was definitely the pick of the table. I think the Burns Stewart Distilleries selection is a reputable one, however, I can’t say that any one of them, other than a Bunnhabhain will sit in my collection any day soon. I do think that they should not overlook the possibilities of The Black Bottle, their inexpensive and quirky blend to do contention with lower price point whisky’s, I think they could be successful.

So I was very disappointed that no Alligator showed up at the Ardbeg table but totally understand why. I did have a good time speaking with David Blackmore and enjoyed pours of Uigeadail and Ten. After a pour of Uigeadail I walked over to Compass Box and asked for a sampling of The Peat Monster. Now, I explained to their rep I had just finished some Ardbeg and wanted to compare The Peat Monster. He seemed offended that I would even dare compare the two and with little hospitality poured the Peat Monster. Yes, it’s no monster at all compared to Ardbeg. However, its is an enjoyable whisky, and that was my point. I just don’t think I would have titled it “peat monster” with the likes of Laphroaig and Ardbeg around. He seemed very displeased with me, so, I left. So I have no idea if any other compass box offering is any good and it will most likely be a long time before I find out.

I did have a good conversation with Jason LaRue of Interbev about their offerings of Balblair and Hankey Bannister. After some googling this morning I see that the HB has been around for awhile and I have to say it is a very good blend. The Balblair was a very pleasing whisky also.

I had a good time at this event, if it would have been longer I could have taken time to focus also on the Irish and American offerings but I tend to forget things if I get off track and decided against it. I did get a chance to talk to Catoctin Creek locals about their fine spirits and promised them a visit soon.

So if you are looking for a booze cruise I would recommend the Whisky Guild’s cruise which is in major cities in the States. They can be found at http://www.whiskyguild.com

Cheers!

1974 Ardbeg Cask 3541 Tasting

Go ahead! Be very, very jealous if you are an Ardbeg fan (for that matter a fan of scotch) and have not had the pleasure of tasting something as rare as this sample taken directly from cask 3541 and brought to the Nth event in Las Vegas. Here a select few, including yours truly, was able to sample this marvelous spirit. I did, twice, yes, I grovelled, but you would too if you were an Ardbeg fan. On my tasting mat I have the following words written down:

Aroma – Rum and raisins, brazil nut, toffee, chocolate, cherries. With water added, lavender, toffee, and cappuccino.

Taste – Milk chocolate, ganache, cappuccino, gentle smoke and orange oil.

Finish – Complex, orange oil, mature, bacon, pork.

These are words from the Ardbeg rep, I did not get all of them but wouldn’t contradict them. What I do remember about this product was the orange oil. It was really nice, really warm and very rounded. From what I gathered, you can own two bottles of 1974 along with a bespoke leather gun case, price, I think was around $16,000 (US). If you want some, I’m sure Ardbeg will be happy to talk to you! If you don’t know how to get ahold of them go to their website.

The Ardbeg story is interesting and its great to know that this distillery was in fact rescued (ultimately) by Glenmorangie. Although Ardbeg is working, production wise, from product produced after being resurrected around 1990, they are working miracles and winning fans (not to mention awards) with the guidance and expertise of Bill Lumsden and David Blackmore.

I have tasting notes for five other Ardbeg’s that I tasted and will share them soon. I personally have the Corryvreckan and have a bottle of the “Beist” on the way that I am very excited about. This is a product that I intend to own as many of the offerings that I can. The 1974…… In time.

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