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Enjoying Scotch Whisky and a few other things

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david blackmore

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!

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!

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