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Enjoying Scotch Whisky and a few other things

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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

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!

Single Malt & Scotch Whisky Extravaganza Washington DC 2011

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It's gotta taste good, right? If Dewar's could make their product taste better, they wouldn't have to find beautiful girls!

The annual event of the Single Malt Scotch Whisky Extravaganza was held on October 13 at the JW Marriott Hotel in Washington, DC and as most of these events there was an abundance of booze, food, and giveaways. I’ve taken awhile to write about this event but the most exciting thing about this event for myself was that I actually won something! One of the raffle winnings was a box of Siglo cigars and somehow out of hundreds of entrants I actually won it! This made me happy on two counts, free cigars, good, and it actually helps defray the cost of going, better!

If you have never been to one of these large events I would encourage you to go. It is a great place to see that there is a LOT more scotch whisky out in the market than what you typically see in your local store and if you are like me and spend most of your time in Virginia (an alcohol controlled State “ABC”) you are not use to a lot of variety. I typically run through the Washington DC stores to find the non-typical offerings and offerings even from well-known brands that do not make it to ABC stores.

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The evening actually started out with an hour with the brand reps which actually was more collegiate upstaging by one another and friendly insults at each other. What sticks out in my mind from the Q&A session was the importance of selecting casks for distillers. If you don’t know, most all of the taste that your favorite scotch has is due to the wood cask it is placed in. This is more tricky for scotch than bourbon because you are using a spent bourbon or other whiskey cask to entrust your distilled liquid to.

After this the doors were opened and the multitude was sent in to mob the tables where the reps stood by. This is not my favorite thing. Partly because there is far more people than there is time for the reps to address and often you have uninformed reps helping out. Even if you know a lot about scotch it is quite dizzying to sample each table and then remember which offering from which brand you actually enjoyed. I would encourage you to bring something to write with and a small piece of paper, trying to record it on your iphone is quite time consuming. The event give you a Tour Journal but I find it large and cumbersome fighting through the crowds. I like to take pictures of offerings that I really find interesting.

Here are a couple of pics of some of the offerings I found interesting.

I really have enjoyed the limited Tomatin expressions that I have been able to try.
The packaging was done special for a shop. I really liked it.


If you have not tried Jura products, you must! Their  youngest offerings are excellent also.

This is a new Bowmore, like most of the line, I approve!

There were many I did not get pictures of because the crowds were just overwhelming! I’d like to make mention of Glen Grant’s 10 year which is a great “first” scotch and their 16 year old will be liked by the more experienced scotch drinker. The Scotch Malt Whisk Society bottlings were of course very good and probably were the best offerings there.

One of the freebies given were two cigars from Altadis U.S.A. and they were the VegaFina brand which is a light to medium cigar and I actually enjoyed it. The other was a H.Upmann Sun Grown that is medium-ish and I really didn’t find any satisfaction in it.

New Section Added to theScotchlife.com! Events!

I have added a new section or page to theScotchlife blog. Notice the tab up top labeled Cigar and Whisky events. I will be adding the events that I intend on going to as well as ones I learn about that I think you would enjoy. The events will be primarily events held in the USA for now. Also, most of the local events will be located in Washington DC/Virginia area as that is where I live.

If you have any events please let me know. There is such a large community of Cigar and Whisky lovers and it would be a shame to not know of great events happening in your own backyard!

Please notice the 2012 Nth event. This is upcoming in March in Las Vegas, NV and is the single greatest scotch tasting event in the States available, not to mention it’s in our favorite city! The same organizers of this are having several city events and you will be able to taste scotch that is ONLY available through these events!

Also, make sure you are subscribed to my twitter feed which will also alert you to things going on. @theScotchlife

Cheers!

Glenfiddich 12 year Single Malt Scotch Whisky notes

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All hail the King of Scotch? Well, if you go by distribution, and I mean worldwide distribution then this may as well be the King.

The Glenfiddich is a very old distillery and I do have one friend who will drink nothing but Glenfiddich 18 which is a very nice dram indeed. But this is the 12 year and as  you can see, the special Glencairn tasting set offering that is in distribution as of this writing.

The set is very nice, it comes with a whisky diary that is has a calendar in it and a few pages in which you can review/rate each whisky you taste. It also comes with a Glencairn glass which is the glass I use most often when tasting if I am not using a tulip nosing glass.

This Glenfiddich 12 is a very nice, gentle scotch whisky that in my book would be a good first scotch to try. I have said that before about The Glenlevit and a few others and I will add this to a “must try” for the novice scotch drinker.

This is a single malt scotch whisky that has spent 12 years in an European as well as an American Oak cask. The result is a very soft and fruity whisky that has the distinct flavor of pears. The nose is not overly telling and I’m not sure how much time it spent in an Oloroso Sherry cask but I do not think of long. The ABV content is 40% and the finish is pleasant and even. Using the “grading scale” that is on the pages, I rated it a 8.5 on the nose (which in retrospect may be generous), a 6 on taste and a 5 on finish. The points are out of a possible 10. This is a nice everyday drinking scotch and many occasional drinkers would be more than pleased with this one. However, if you prefer a Macallan 12 as a daily drinker this one will come up short.

The set is nice and I always like to pick up a Glencairn glass when I can. This was offered as a special in my area and if you come across it you may want to check it out.

Cheers!

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Dalmore 14 year Single Cask tasting

There is a certain pain being a scotch enthusiast in America. That being that there is a massive body of water in between the distilleries in Scotland and our taste buds being parked in North America. Yet a few retailers have seen fit to ship products over to us and for this, I am thankful!

So my most recent order from Master of Malt held a few goodies that I wanted to try and one bottle of Edradour that a retailer in California had but by law could not ship to the Commonwealth of Virginia. WTF! So I’m not going to get into a rant about the idiotic laws between the States in America and their agreements to sale or not to each other, but in times when we need all of the money to change hands in this country to support jobs, I’m just at a loss. And so is a shop in California.

So two of the small 3cl bottles I ordered contained something very unusual. An actual Dalmore single cask tasting. If you enjoy the Dalmore, as I do, you are used to the usual complex offering that Richard Paterson assembles with single malts in various casks to achieve a unique offering. These offerings are very nice and win awards, but they do not market a single cask to my knowledge. So seeing this 14 year aged product distilled in 1996 was a must try, and it has left me begging for, a full bottle!

I drank the first one about a week ago and was so impressed with its freshness and difference compared to other Dalmore offerings. You immediately notice that this does not have a sherry nose or color. The nose was light and if I was unaware of what I was about to drink I would guess a Speyside offering. The ABV is 55.5% which is quite a bit higher alcohol content than what Dalmore’s typical offerings are at. This was not lost on me when I took the first sip! It’s like a rose garden exploding in your mouth! But like Dalmore offerings quietly leaves a great mouthfeel and actually left me begging for more.

I do taste a lot more than I write about, pesky day job and all keeps me down, but I had to make note of this one! I would encourage you to try out the Master of Malt offerings, it’s the only way to get unique offerings on this side of the Pond (known officially as the Atlantic Ocean) and I loved tasting this “naked” Dalmore offering.

Cheers!

Tomatin Single Malt Scotch 12 tasting notes

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I recently discovered a new Highland Scotch that is evidently quite well known in Scotland. According to Michael Jackson’s Single Malt Scotch guide, Tomatin is as big as Glenfiddich and in 1950-1970 period was one of the largest distillery outfits in the world. After that it was well used in making other blends but wasn’t recognized as a stand alone scotch. After picking up a bottle on special for around $25 dollars I think this may be one of the biggest finds in the USA in affordable scotch.

It has an unmistakable Highland quality to it. It reminds me a bit of an unpolished Macallan. It is finished in sherry casks which give it color and great sherry wood taste. I figured for the money, it was worth a shot! I was pleasantly rewarded with a bottle that I would consider a good mid-line scotch that could compete in the mid-range price level. It was only after a few drams that I actually decided to add a wee bit of water to see what happened. The result is I will always add a wee bit of water to this whisky! With water this turns into a very sweet, mellow malty whisky. I find it quite refreshing actually. It is also a good candidate for a medium to full cigar. I am going to smoke a Carlos Torano 1916 with it tonight and expect good things.

If you are new to scotch or want to get into single malts, this would be a good place to start. This is a much better scotch, to me, than a Glenlivet 12 or Johnny Walker Black. This is a true single malt, and they are hard to beat by a low level blend. For the record, MJ’s guide scores the Glenlivet ten points higher than the The Glenlivet is a single malt, but I think its commonplace makes it less interesting than the Tomatin 12.

If you happen to come across this whisky and the price is south of $40 U.S. I would give it a try!

Cheers!

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