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Enjoying Scotch Whisky and a few other things

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scotch whisky

Black & White Whisky – a San Francisco treat?

I recently found myself with a little time on my hands in the North Beach section of San Francisco. I was actually excited to hit some stores and search out some unique scotch whisky. My hopes were high to find something, after all, I’ve heard so many good things about the selection of whisky available in California. Well, I was hopeful, excited even, and then reality set in. Store, after store, shelf after shelf… I found the same whisky that I can find in the Washington, DC area. Dumbfounded, I  decided to manage my expectation based on the area.20140422-214224.jpg

That particular area is quirky, unique, and has a special vibe to it. Old shops, not new shops. A Beat era museum, not gift shops. Laundry mats, boutique shops, hardware shops, and yes, if you know the area, “gentleman clubs.” So I’m not going to find a hard to find single malt here, no problem. I decided to look for something weird, something old. I found it.20140422-215425.jpg

In the 1980s Black & White was a go to blended scotch whisky of many men (and I’m sure a few women). In that era it was owned by Buchanan’s who was eventually absorbed by Spirit behemoth Diageo. I’ve read somewhere where this was a go to for Dean Martin and a few others. It actually received the Royal Warrant in Britain in the late 1800s. It had a long run but now it sits on the shelves across little shops over America, waiting for someone to take it home. I rescued one bottle.20140422-214330.jpg

The price was $27 USD. The clerk tried wiping the dust off of the box, but something that has been sitting that long in an old store is not going to be pretty. I’m pretty sure this is from the 1980s era due to it still has a tax stamp on it. I haven’t seen a tax stamp in forever! And the top is white, whereas the last photos of the product all showed black tops. Anyhow, it was an old vessel, holding a fairly young blended whisky. If you were wondering, whisky does NOT age in the bottle. Wine ages, whisky waits.

So I’d go on about the taste, but seriously, this is just a blended scotch whisky that is very drinkable. It’s not going to impress. It will do the job though. My only regret is that I couldn’t travel back to Washington with an open bottle of booze and I don’t check luggage if I don’t have to. I did the only right thing, I handed it over to the front desk manager at the Hotel. He was a little taken back. I hope he enjoys it.

 

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CHEERS!

 

Bowmore Distillery Tour and the No.1 Vault

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For me, visiting a distillery is like a child going to Disneyland, I just cannot wait to get there. At the end of my Ultimate Adventure courtesy of Bowmore, my colleague Lucas and I were treated to a grand tour led by none other than Eddie MacAffer, the Distillery (and legendary) manager. If you have done a distillery tour, or several, you know the progression, malted barley, drying floor, washbacks, and then stills. It’s a great lesson if you are passionate about whisky as I am. This tour was more like a back stage pass though. Not only did I turn the malt on the malting floor, I got to go into the fire pit underneath the drying floor, drink from the #2 Washback and then drink the new spirit from the whole process (if I didn’t know, I thought I’d been drinking a light gin). Eddie went through great pains at each station to explain the significance of each part of the process. He is a dear man and passionate about making his whisky and that is enough for me.

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So during the process I found that I’m not meant for the malting floor (too aggressive) but I did seem eager enough to prompt Eddie to let me drink from the #2 Washback. I have to say, one may be hesitant to drink something that doesn’t look all that attractive, but, when else would I be given the opportunity!? It wasn’t bad really, basically an unfinished beer but not something you’d want to taste all the time.

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The distillery itself is polished and clean, well-organized, and run by people who move with a purpose. I like that. I also like Eddie’s candor about the whole process. He doesn’t hide anything, doesn’t dodge any question, and wants to make sure you understand everything.

What came at the end of the manufacturing process really had me excited. We approached the famed No. 1 Vaults and all I could think is how long I have waited to see behind this door. The No.1 Vault is the oldest holding area for aging casks on Islay, and for that matter almost all of Scotland. There is a rich history in this vault, it was originally part of the distillery and I’m afraid I’ve forgotten the details and history of the vault, I do apologize.

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Walking into this area is walking into the area where the most valuable and cherished whisky lies maturing. It is from this vault the most valuable and desired Bowmore products age. It is here where Eddie educated us on their operations, and then, he opened a cask. Not just any cask, but a 13 yr aged cask. It was a bourbon cask from America. I will keep some of the secrets to whence it came from in America. Eddie extracted the whisky and poured it into a tulip glass. We passed it around, nosed and drank. It was simply marvelous. But then it got better.

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Sitting next to the bourbon cask was a sherry butt that had been resting for 18 years. We drank, we swooned. Just a simply amazing product.

I wondered around the No.1 vault and marveled at the numerous resting casks that were producing some of the most desired whisky in the world. I secretly wondered, if I just hide, would they notice?

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So like most things in life, the tour had to come to an end. The experience was amazing though! I do hope to visit No.1 again, and maybe this time, I will hide.

Cheers!

The Balvenie Islay Cask Scotch Whisky

Islay Cask
Islay Cask

Heaven. End of review…… This is one of my all-time favorite Scotch whiskys. I had this a couple of years back, or so, at an event in Vegas. The Balvenie reps had rounded up all the 17 year releases and we did a tasting of them all. This was, and is, my favorite. I was fortunate enough to have a collector round this bottle up for me in an auction in the UK. Yes, I paid a few bucks for this one.

So I’ve been waiting for an occasion to open this and I finally thought, well, I’ve been to Islay so now I should open this. Basic reasoning really. So I did, and oh, it’s just as good as I remember it.

So if you are familiar with the 17 year aged line of Balvenie you may actually have never seen this one. You probably have seen the Peated Cask which replaced this original. This bottle inspired the peated cask but the peated cask is no Islay cask, no sir.

This lovely Balvenie classic spirit was finished up in a Laphroiag cask. Affectionately  known as “lafrog,” the very essence of Laphroiag is a strong punch of the sea and earth on your palate. What is great about the Balvenie honeyed spirit slipping into that barrel for a spin is the sweet peat finish takes on a gentlemanly charm and drops the t-shirt for the tails in this bottle.

I’d go on and on about how it tastes, but, chances are you have had this, have it but not have opened it, or will never have the opportunity. Pity.

Bowmore Tempest Batch 2 Scotch Whisky

Tempest Batch 2
Tempest Batch 2

So to kick off World Whisky Day 2013 I decided to pull out a new favorite I discovered while on Islay experiencing the trip of a lifetime. First things first, do not let the “Aged 10 Years” statement prejudice your mind! This is not just another 10 year offering. In fact, it’s quite unlike anything in the Bowmore line and reminds me of the forward leaning Bruichladdich whisky’s just across Loch Indaal. It’s bright, lemony and honey-peppered. It is a first fill whisky which means the cask is ready to give all flavor over to it. It’s a little warm and the finish is bright and flavorful. It’s like having a young Angelina Jolie. No disappointment there!

This whisky is a bit expensive (I paid $114 USD) but there is reason why. When you take the very best casks and this is the first new spirit from the Distiller (in this case Bowmore) it sees. The previous American Bourbon Spirit’s conditioning of that cask is ready to produce an excellent product. In this whisky, only first fill is used, that is what makes it exceptionally brilliant. Then on top of that these casks were aged in the famous No.1 vault that lies right next to the Loch Indaal waters that constantly thrash just meters away. These factors come together brilliantly and produce one of my favorite products that I discovered while in Islay.

I took this picture while the rain started to fall this Saturday morning and that along with the bottle’s label had been roughed up at some point seemed at home with the Tempest labeling.

So this is batch 2. I did not catch batch 1 and batch 3 I had while on Islay. I really like this batch 2. It is 56% ABV! So it is a sipping whisky. Bowmore describes this batch as:

Tempest Batch No. 2 – 56% ABV

On the eye warm gold.

Breathe in dry peat smoke perfectly balanced by delicious zesty lemon pepper.

Sip initial bursts of lemon pepper followed by the signature Bowmore peaty set salt tang. The citrus returns at the end adding balance and complexity to the mouth feel.

Savour fresh lemon pepper.

I had this whisky before I experienced at 5:30am hail storm on the beach one morning. I smiled during the storm and said, ah, yes, Tempest.

Cheers!

Bowmore Darkest 15 Single Malt Scotch Whisky

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Though Bowmore whisky will always be special to me, the Darkest 15 will always be the whisky that takes me back to Islay, Jura, and Scarba Islands. We enjoyed this whisky throughout the day, I’m talkin morning, noon, and night! This is the perfect late night whisky around the camp fire or modern fire pit. The trademark subtle peat of Bowmore dances with the Sherry Cask wood that it was finished in creating a unique finish. I’m actually writing this out on the porch on my iPhone and listening to the nighttime din of insects. It’s simply perfect. I hope you can find this whisky in your market! If you love a sherry finish and peat of Islay, this is your whisky. Head over to www.bowmore.com for the tasting notes because its too dark out here for me to read them off the bottle.

Cheers Ken, Colin, Lucas, Joe, and Ali!

McClelland’s Single Malt Lowland Scotch Whisky

Today was the nicest day in the Washington D.C. area since the alleged Spring season had begun. We have had, much like the UK, a very frigid beginning to spring this year and it was nice to finally have a warm spring-like day. I knew it felt like spring because I all of a sudden was craving a Lowland’s whisky. Slight problem though, I finished off my bottle of Auchentoshan Classic a week ago! Off to the whisky store!
So as I go up and down the Scotch whisky aisle (which is much too small and has Irish whiskey in it also) I was pained to see that overwhelming evidence that there just is not enough Lowland’s whisky produced or distributed these days. Thanks to McClelland’s, subsidiary of MorrisonBowmore Distillers of Glasgow, I was able to pick up a Lowland’s whisky for a very reasonable cost.

DSC_6556The analytic side of my brain started to race, I started to think maybe this is heavily influenced or even derived from Auchentoshan stock? Well, I’ll say this, it’s at the very least a cousin of Auch’s Classic! Most importantly, this is exactly the whisky I was looking for today and with warmer weather I really look for Lowland whisky because it just seems to be a great summer whisky. In short, this is a wonderfully tasting whisky and I will have a good stock of this throughout the season. If you are looking for a Scotch whisky to have in your bar or would like to enter the world of single malt scotch, this would be a good place to start.

The distiller’s tasting notes are as follows:

Nose – Fresh nutmeg & ginger, tangerine zest

Palate – Sweet perfume of roses & lavender

Body – Light, fresh and smooth

Finish – Mouth coating oiliness

I have to concur with their notes, especially the “body.” It is a very clean, crisp and enjoyable dram.

So, Cheers!, and please go out and buy some Lowland whisky! Maybe Diageo will build a distillery there!

Auchentoshan Classic Scotch Whisky

 

 

 

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Every now and then, you run across something in life that is so good, it must be wrong. Auchentoshan Classic may just be that for me. I’ve had this bottle for a few days, and it has been my nightly companion. It is so refreshing, crisp, and tasty that I just can’t seem to pull away from it. Auchentoshan is triple-distilled as opposed to the traditionally twice distilled scotch whisky which is standard. What comes from that process is a whisky that is real velvety, soft, and bright. It is like the first days of Spring. It makes you want to run through fields and chase cows (maybe that’s just me?)….

So what’s it like? Well, the distiller says notes of vanilla and coconut come through with some green apple. Well, I can’t argue that, in fact the coconut I really picked up on initially. The nosing is pleasant but the alcohol content really comes through even though it is only a 40% ABV dram. The flavor is an intensive citrus rush and the finish is clean. This brand reminds me of how refreshing a Lowlands whisky can be. It is really the only terrior (Lowlands) that gets me to entertain creating a mixed drink. Auchentoshan evidently thinks the same thing as they have mixed drink recipes on their website!

Being so versatile, this would make a great “first” scotch or an entry scotch whisky for someone who traditionally is a vodka or gin drinker. This would be a great bottle to stock in your bar if you can restrain yourself from constantly visiting it that is.

As far as cost, it is an affordable single-malt that I paid somewhere around $30+ USD for. I think it is a good price for a very drinkable whisky that most people will enjoy.

On another note, I just got firm plans about a visit to Auchentoshan in April. I will be going through Glasgow in route to Islay and I am very excited to visit Auchentoshan. It will be springtime, watch out cows!

 

The Balvenie Signature batch #5 Scotch Whisky

20130219-185328.jpgSignature, it’s quite a personal thing. Well, prior to email I guess. The Balvenie is a very crafty company, they control the whole process of making scotch whisky from the growing of the barley to the bottling of the final product. They are quite old-fashioned in their ways and I guess it is fitting that they would use the word “signature” on a product. I’m actually surprised that they didn’t have some of their staff engrave the script onto the bottles. I do love their whole presentation though, it’s the very definition of classic.

So the Signature today is the batch #5 that I was just thrilled to find this past weekend. I was on the hunt for obscure and cheaper whisky’s but when I saw this I could not resist. I had the batch #4 and I think I had #3, can’t really remember though. So this batch reminds me why I love the whole signature project and how much I really enjoyed the three cask process. A quick check of the Balvenie site doesn’t show it being a part of the range so I’m not sure if this is the last batch. It was about $50 in the store I found it.

So the particulars of this product. Well, it is unmistakably a Balvenie. It is self-described as honey & spiced, and that is quite perfect. As opposed to the Doublewood this whisky has considerable spice along with the honey Balvenie is known for. At 43% ABV this whisky actually carried quite a punch. I wouldn’t call this a lighter offering and is certainly more punchy than the standard Doublewood.

If you like single malts, and especially a lover of all things Balvenie I think you will enjoy this one also!

Cheers!

There is a lot going on with whisk(e)y these days!

I track news of whisky, especially scotch whisky on-line through Google. I have quite a bit of information dump into my inbox on a daily basis about the industry. What I am noticing, or thinking, is that the Whisk(e)y industry world-wide is at a tipping point. That is, it is gaining amazing potential. While this is a good sign for them, I think they should all (from Balvenie to Beam) be aware that there is an awful lot of people paying attention to the products hitting the shelf.

I do not think that the ‘ol US of A is merely content with any random whisk(e)y anymore. It must be good, no, it must have something special to offer! Do not just throw out some old stock with some clever marketing campaign! It better be right, or it better not hit the shelves.

I do feel strongly about this. This morning I saw that a whiskey from Waco, Texas beat out Balvenie and others in a tasting competition in London recently. This is being compared, whether it should or not, with California’s wine beating out Bordeaux (which I love) in 1976.

In the end, I think that the consumer of dark whisk(e)y is about to be in the driver seat, and the distiller chasing their loyalties. In the end, it’s a win for all of us.

Cheers!

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