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Enjoying Scotch Whisky and a few other things

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DEFIANT AMERICAN WHISKY – This was bound to happen, my discovery

I haven’t written in a while, mainly because I’m busy, but also because I just haven’t been that inspired. My walks thru the stores over the winter really haven’t shown me anything new. I have spent the winter drawing down on many quality Bowmore, Ardbeg, and Balvenie offerings. One or two new things slipped in but didn’t really motivate me to put finger to keyboard. But on this day, the curse has been broken…. defiantly.

I have dreamed for a long time about having a whisky produced in America in the Single Malt, Malted Barley style. This is what the Scottish do, 24/7, 365 days a year, and they do it damn well. Some better than others. But now, so has an American, in North Carolina.

Introducing DEFIANT whisky. Distilled in Bostic, North Carolina just East of Asheville, NC. If you know Asheville, NC, then you could be aware of the uniqueness of products and micro-brews that are there. You have to check out the website, the background to the birth of this spirit is unique and I’m excited about what the future holds for America producing Single Malt whisky that is worthy to stand up to the best Scotland can produce!Defiant Whisky

So, about the whisky. In a sentence, it may be the best American distilled product I have ever tasted. It has a beautiful color, the nose is very unique. The most prominent thing my nose picks up is a smoke. The smoke I get from my smoker and I typically use Hickory wood when I cook. There is something else hitting my nose and I just can’t place it. What I do not get is all the typical smells that come out of a typical, Highland Scotch whisky, but it does not remind me of Bourbon at all. I think this is where this whisky goes “Asheville” on you. It’s a little weird on the nose and what that makes me believe is that it is not produced the Scottish way. Maybe it’s the custom-made stills these salvage divers put together? Yes, their day job is deep-sea salvage, how cool is that! The way they prepare their barley? Malting matters.

On the tongue, this whisky shows. It’s neutral and balanced on the tongue, and delivers an organic, slightly spiced fruit (not fruity) with just a kiss of fresh toasted oak wood. It has body, it’s not thin, and as I have been sipping on it for a few hours now, it hasn’t even occurred to me to put water in it. It’s 41%ABV (82 proof) and is very well-balanced. Double distilled? Triple distilled? I don’t know. The website says that they do not follow tradition and my nose and palate are really picking up on it. It’s fairly smooth. The finish is very clean.Slight vanilla? There is a bit of oil left on the palate afterwards, I tend to enjoy that.

Well, all that to say I really like it. I think these guys have a lot of intuition and an obvious love for whisky. I’d say they are onto something. I bought mine in Virginia so you may have to check their web-site to find where you can purchase it.

Cheers!

Cold weather, Whisky, Christmas. Natural companions?

The winter of 2014 has really moved into the North American continent and it has brought a special gift for the Mid-Atlantic region. For those of you unfamiliar with the East Coast of the United States, the Mid-Atlantic region’s center is Washington D.C. For a couple of years we have had mild winters which of course has festered the “global warming” ilk to wail our incoming doom (if you live in the DC area you get sick of hearing special interest groups regardless of their cause). Prior to the warm winters we had three feet of snow in a week. Go figure. This year we’ve had a couple of snows already and every day when I check the weather I see how consistently colder it is here than it is in Glasgow, which doesn’t seem right?

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I love this promotion! The 18 year product is a “must try before you die” whisky.

So winter weather, and it’s by-product snow, seem to be a natural setting for good whisky. The other day I picked up a bottle of Highland Park 12 year that is being sold with a small bottle of the Award winning 18 year Highland Park whisky. The fact that the 12 year was on sale was good enough reason to buy it and to see the 18 year teaser bottle as a bonus sealed the deal.20131215-092427.jpg

I had to quickly snap some pictures with the iPhone because I could not resist opening the bottle. There is something irresistible or just natural about the Highland Park bottle. It makes you want to open it. I was going out for the evening but wanted to take a sip just to reacquaint my palate with the spirit. Delicious. This really is just a remarkable product. It’s what whisky should taste like and there really, to me, isn’t another type of spirit offering that gives you that immediate confirmation.

The folks at Highland Park Distillery can, as marketing logically goes, brag that they are the northern most distillery in Scotland. They do seem to be in a micro-climate that seems to bring little variation in temperature. No, it never gets hot there, like in Washington D.C., nor does it see -8c temps like just two nights ago here in DC. But a very naturally steady cool temperature that seems to aid in producing an excellent whisky. In Islay, you have wild temperature/weather swings (I’ve witnessed this first-hand) and I think it is fitting the type of smoky-peaty whisky that is largely produced on that Island. If you know Kentucky, you really have to reflect on the fact that the climate there is so remarkably different than in Scotland. Bourbon as well as other American whiskies are subject to wild temperature extremes in storage from 90f+ down to -32f degrees (0c to 32c for you folks outside the US). Scotland’s geographic placement puts it into a constantly cool environment which in my personal opinion and affinity for the Scottish spirit is superb.

What also is superb is this 12 years aged single malt Scotch whisky. I had to check to see if I had written about the 12 year before and what I found is that I haven’t, but wrote about the 15 year product (which is a cousin to the 12, but not an older brother) almost to the date, one year ago. Another naturally occurring phenomenon? Whatever the case, this Highland Park 12 product is remarkably smooth, gentle on the nose and despite its rough Viking ladened marketing programs (which is for some of their other HP products but still misleading) quite the gentleman on the palate. This is a “no-brainer” whisky, it simply must occupy your cupboard from time to time, especially at Christmastime! Naturally.

Merry Christmas everyone!

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Bowmore 100 Degrees Proof Scotch Whisky

20130610-201724.jpgSo recently on Islay I spent a few minutes in the Bowmore Gift Shop. What to buy? I can only fly back with so much whisky and I have the opportunity to go through “Duty Free!” You always wonder how much whisky can you get back into the States and since I was carrying precious whisky I didn’t want to push the limits. I ended up with this monster, Bowmore 100 Degrees Proof. Bowmore at 57.1% ABV is quite an experience.

The nosing of this product alone is a warning in itself. Though in the nose you can smell some amazing things if you linger long enough, you feel like you are about to experience a powerful and peated whisky. To me, this is a serious whisky. You don’t pick this up because you want a challenge, you pick this up because you appreciate what Bowmore does and you want to see what happens when you go full throttle on their product.

Well, it delivers! It delivers a sort of burnt sugar (that is still burning) as you drink it. It’s so hot that it flares up in your esophagus. Yes, I drank it neat. Then, I added water. Adding water to it brings out the peated barley quite forcibly. The water magically releases the malted and peated barley and just sets it free! You also get a nice rush of salty ocean air from Loch Indaal. The added water does not “water” down this whisky, it releases it. The taste is markedly different and really approaches what this spirit should taste like. Far be it from me to dissuade you to drink this at full strength, but, if you want the true spirit of Bowmore you will find it after adding some water. Oh, if you are wondering why the 100Proof moniker?! Well, that goes back to testing rum rations on ships, mixed with gun-powder. Yep, at full strength, this whisky tastes that powerful! It’s marketing….. so, if you are into Bowmore and want to see what a full cask strength taste is like, here you go!

The finish is warm, lingering, and full. If you are a Bowmore fan and love a full expression whisky, this is it. Bowmore’s notes are here.

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!

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!

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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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!

 

Speyburn 10 year Highland Single Malt Scotch Whisky

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Today I was checking out a liquor store that I haven’t been in before. It is located in a “high rent district” and I thought that it may hold some secrets that I haven’t seen before…. Well it just happened that today the display as you walk in held this Speyburn bottle along with a Speyburn branded flask (not pictured). I really don’t think I’ve tasted this product before, and before I purchased it I googled it really quick to make sure it wasn’t a total waste. What I saw was a lot of responses that echoed that this was an undervalued scotch whisky and were confused at its low price. I bought it.

Now I really don’t need another flask, I’ve got a couple already. But I did make it a point to find less expensive scotch whisky options this year because it is really easy to find great scotch whisky at a high price, but not so easy at a lower one. Or is it?

This Speyburn offering is really nice. It has a really nice nose and your palate gets a nice punch from the fresh fruit and spirited Speyside expression that this whisky is.

What is more important than the tasting notes is the fact that this ranks into a very specific range for me. It is first, and foremost, a very good, very tasty scotch whisky. Secondly, it is a very drinkable scotch whisky. Third, it is very affordable. Borderline cheap.

This is a really great whisky to taste. It’s nose is lively, it’s lively on the palate and has a wonderfully aggressive finish that makes you want another dram. This came in at around $27 USD for me. I’d give it a go if I were you!

Cheers!

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