All posts by Richard

Founding Apostle

Happy St. Patrick’s Day

How could a website named Whisk(e)y Apostle let today go by unmentioned?  Personally, I always use today as an excuse to buy yet another bottle for Irish whiskey.  I’ll be drinking Redbreast 12 Year Old Pure Pot Still Irish Whiskey today.  What about you?  Grab yourself a glass of Jameson, Redbreast, Powers, Tullamore Dew, Paddy’s, Clontarf, Michael Collins, or whatever other tasty drams you have from the Green Isle and let’s toast one to St. Patrick’s Day.

Don’t have any Irish whiskey?  Don’t think you like Irish whiskey?  Never tried Irish whiskey? Well there’s no better day than today to give it a go.

Extravaganza

Oh the joys of the well put together whiskey event. As many regular readers know, I live in Atlanta. Unfortunately, Atlanta is not known for its happening whiskey scene. This is why I was understandably very excited about last nights Single Malt Scotch Whisky Extravaganza. It wasn’t quite WhiskeyFest but until Mr. Hansell decides to host one down here (hint, hint) it’s the best we’ve got in Georgia. And it was pretty damn good too!This particular event was held in the Venetian Ballroom at the Intercontinental Hotel in Buckhead. It was a very nice location and easily accessible by highway, surface street, and rail transit. Registration started at 6:30 PM and when I rolled in around that time there was already a line. They processed us pretty quickly and even though the event wasn’t supposed to officially start until 7:00 PM they let us in a little early.

The event space and whiskey selection is about a third of what you’d find at WhiskeyFest NY but the crowd was about a fifth the size. As WhiskeyFest’s popularity has grown in recent times it’s begun to get a little too crowded. Last night’s event was a good change of pace. There were plenty of people there but we weren’t shoulder to shoulder.

The whiskies on offer numbered close to 100. They ranged from Dewar’s White Label to Highland Park 30 Year Old. I was particularly excited about getting to try The Glenlivet XXV and Glenmorangie Astar. The Glenlivet was phenomenal but the Astar wasn’t available in Georgia yet so we had to settle for the Signet release, of which I was also excited about.

A quick note on the whiskies: I didn’t try everything. For smaller, more directed tastings try everything. For larger events like this you have to be focused. First, you don’t want to end up a crawling drunk by the end of the night. Second, palate fatigue is a serious problem after the first 15 or 20 drams. Finally, just because it’s in your glass doesn’t mean you have to drink it all. They have split/pour buckets for a reason just like a wine tasting. I hit a couple of my personal favorites but for the most part I tried to focus on whiskies I hadn’t tried yet. I think I sampled between 25 and 30 last night.

The food was a wonderful buffet of pasta, side dishes, carving stations, and coffee with dessert. Top notch all the way.

Did I mention the cigars? Included with the whisky, free tasting glass, and the food we each got a cigar goodie bag. Included were selections from Romeo y Julieta, Saint Luis Rey, and Playboy Cigars.

Here are some of the evening’s highlights:

Best Whiskies (that I tried)
Glenlivet XXV – Simply unrivaled
Highland Park 30 Year – As good as you think it is, it is better
Chivas Regal 25 Year – Impossible to put down
Yamazaki 18 Year – If you haven’t had the pleasure, you should
Dewar’s Signature – A case study in balanced whisky

Best Food
Duck Confit Ravioli
It was freakin’ awesome

Best Representative
Laphroaig
Their rep was a true personality. We were like a group of old drinking buddies by the end of the night. He told stories, gave tips, made toasts, and fired up a huge peat block with a blow torch. Did I mention he gave us all Laphroaig peated barley to chew on?

Most Notable Personality
Ronnie Cox, Director of Glenrothes
There were mostly reps and distributors working most of the tables but Ronnie was there and he was a really cool guy to meet.

Best Freebie
Dewar’s Flask
The lovely ladies working the Dewar’s table gave away really nice 4 ounce hip flasks to everyone. If only they’d let me fill it up with Signature it would’ve been even better!

All in all, it was a great event. The $130 ticket price could have been $200 and still been a deal. Hopefully, I’ll see some of you there next year.

Cheers,
Richard

How did you find whiskey?

I was thinking the other day about how I ended up as a whiskey enthusiast. From there I started thinking back to the founding moments on my journey toward whiskey. The more I thought about it the more I thought that it would make an interesting topic for my next blog. And since turnabout is fair play I figured I’d rope Matt into chiming in on this one too after his “The Best” blog pulled me in for comments.

Richard’s Story:
For me whiskey began with a series of unfortunate events. The first such event was a long time ago and it didn’t begin well. I think I was around 14 years old when I took a nip of my dad’s bottle of Crown Royal. You have to understand that the old man drank Budweiser and Boone’s Farm Strawberry Hill on regular occasions so to him the Crown Royal was a special drink. He used to keep it in the little cabinet above the refrigerator. One evening when no one else was home I thought I’d take a bit a little swig. The taste was absolutely awful and it was everything I could do not to spit it out or gag. It went down like bathwater and fire. You may be a big fan of Crown and I‘m not knocking it but to this day I still don’t drink it. Some memories never fade.

The next two incidents had a similar result. The first was my high school girlfriend and I sneaking some of her mom’s Dewar’s. The second was my junior year of college. I had an older roommate who was a big fan of J&B with water. To this day I still don’t drink J&B but Dewar’s has grown on me.

I finally turned the corner right after I finished college. My friend Matt (yes the W.A. Matt) came down from UGA to see me in Atlanta. We stopped in at the liquor store and he talked me into a bottle of Bushmills White Label. From the first sip I was hooked. Matt headed off to Wales for a semester abroad and I dove headlong into researching whiskeys of all varieties. We conversed back and forth and usually it started something like…”if you come across something called Redbreast, you’ve got to bring me some back” which was prior to it being available in the U.S. of course. By the time Matt got back I was hooked, both from a flavor perspective and intellectually. One of my favorite past times continues to be research and knowledge gathering of all things whiskey related.

Matt’s Story:
I don’t know that my whiskey story is all that interesting (at least the one I can tell in mixed company). The short of it is that I didn’t like beer (I’m over that now). I used to go to parties where beer was about the only option. Feeling the need to be drinking something, but not willing to drink something I don’t enjoy, I started looking for a hard liquor option. The first alcoholic beverage that I enjoyed was Southern Comfort (a whiskey liqueur). From there I moved to three of the “Four Js” (Jameson, Jack Daniels, and Jim Beam). Later, I met a madman from Montana who turned me onto some other Irish whiskeys (namely Bushmills and Tullamore Dew). So I called myself an Irish whiskey drinker for a while. I introduced Richard to my way and went off to the University of Wales to discover how deep the well really was. While on Easter holiday, I took to opportunity to visit several distilleries across the U.K. and spent one long morning tasting whiskies and whiskeys with the owner of Royal Mile Whiskies in Edinburgh (go there if you get the chance). The whole experience was very enlightening and deepened my love and understanding for the water of life. When I came home, Richard and I started developing our philosophy and became whisk(e)y apostles.

Ultimately, I liked the way my body handled whiskey and I liked the ritual of it. There is myth and mystique to whiskey. Things like that have always intrigued me. Of course, I have always liked the taste as well. I’ve never been into shots (if you have to shoot it, you shouldn’t drink it). I like to nurse a beverage. Whiskey can mellow a man or it can give him grand thoughts, thoughts of sitting around a camp fire conversing with the old gods. So join me, Richard, Lugh and Arawn. Raise a glass to your health, to all that is knowable and that which is not.

So that’s a little insight into how your Whisk(e)y Apostles started down this ever burgeoning path to liquid nirvana. We’d love to hear your stories about how your journey began either via email or in the comments section of this blog.

Event Notice: Single Malt and Scotch Whisky Extravaganza

Atlanta is not like New York in so many ways that it seems silly to even make the statement.  One of the differences that is most pertinent to this blog is the relatively few whiskey related events held in Atlanta.  And the few that their are, don’t get much press.  So in an effort to help out my fellow Atlantans I’ll try to post a notice on all the events that come across my radar.  Please feel free to send me an email or post a comment if you come across any that I miss.

What: Single Malt and Scotch Whisky Extravaganza

When: Thursday, March 12, 2009.  Registration at 6:30 PM, Event from 7:00Pm to 9:00PM

Where: The Intercontinental Hotel, 3315 Peachtree Road NE, Atlanta, GA 30326

Price: $130

What’s going on: Gourmet dinner, imported cigars, and over 80 single malt and other scotch whiskies to taste

Pour list to include: Aberfeldy, Aberlour, Ardbeg, Ardmore, Auchentoshan, Bowmore, Caol Ila, Chivas Regal, Clontarf, Connemara, Clynelish, Dallas Dhu, Dewars, Glen Garioch, Glen Keith, Glenfiddich, Glenmorangie, Highland Park, Johnnie Walker, Knappogue Castle, Lagavulin, Laphroaig, Longmorn, Michael Collins, Milford, Scapa, Springbank, Suntory, Balvenie, Famous Grouse, Glenlivet, Macallan, Tyrconnell, and more.

What else: The notice I saw said that this is a more formal tasting.  No sneakers or jeans and jackets are preferred but not required.  You can get tickets by calling (800) 990-1991.

-Richard

Fad Focus #2: Wood Finishes

Today I want to talk about the next part of my multi-part series on the notable fads in whiskey today. I started this series a couple of weeks ago talking about the growing levels of peat used in whiskey production. Today I want to talk about wood finishing.

What is wood finishing you ask? Wood finishing is the process of taking mature whiskey from its aging barrel and putting it into another barrel, hogshead, etc. to impart additional characteristics on the whiskey beyond its normal profile. Barrels that previously held different wines and other spirit are used to varying degrees of success to add some part or character of the barrel’s prior occupant to the new whiskey. Port barrels can add color. Rum barrels can add sweetness. Some of the previously seen variations include Burgundy, Bordeaux, Tokaji, sherry, port, rum, etc.

Glenmorangie was one of the first major pioneers of this technique. They originally came out with a range of 12 year old single malt scotches that included finishes in sherry, port, and burgundy wood among others. Many distilleries, mostly scotch distilleries picked up on this trend as a way to offer new and different varieties of their spirits in a relatively quick amount of time. Remember, for scotch most of their product doesn’t see the light of day for at least 10 years. That’s a long lead time for innovation. Whiskey can be wood finished for any amount of time from around 6 months to 6 years or more. Glenmorangie’s wood finished range spent 10 years as regular Glenmorangie and then spent another two years in wood finishing. Even in their case two years is a lot quicker turn around than ten.

How did all this innovation and creativity turn out? Originally, not too bad. There were and still are a number of products that really did well with wood finishing. One of my personal favorites is the 21 year old Glenfiddich Havana Reserve which was finished in Havana Rum casks. Mmm..tasty stuff. But as with most things, over proliferation leads towards some less than stellar examples. We’ve chided Glenmorangie on their Burgundy Wood finished whiskey and it really was pretty bad. “Was” being the appropriate word because they have since discontinued it. Another humorous example of how far this particular fad went was an attempt a number of years ago to finish scotch in used Tabasco barrels. The resulting product was an undrinkable concoction that was repackaged and sold as condiment called Hot Scotch. Jumping the shark a little? I think so.

So where is wood finishing now? It seems to be on the down swing. There are still a number of products out there, both good and bad that tout wood finishing. There continues to be a few new ones popping up from time to time. However, you may not recognize some of these newer ones. “Wood Finish” has become passé in the scotch industry. The new nomenclature? Glenmorangie, the granddaddy of all wood finishers now refers to their products as “Extra Matured”. My personal favorite is Bruichladdich. They refer to their program by the acronym “A.C.E”, meaning “Additional Cask Enhancement”. Wood finishes aren’t dead yet. This particular fad hasn’t quite played out. What will come in the future? Who knows? One particular bright spot seems to be Buffalo Trace. Bourbon wood finishing? Yep. They have a new line of very limited releases under their Experimental Collection. I have not had the opportunity to try any of these but I hear good things.

So what does all this mean? A wider variety of whiskey to enjoy. That’s never a bad thing. However, as with all whiskeys it is a good idea to try before you buy. Just because you love Glenmorangie’s Original 10 year old doesn’t mean the Burgundy Wood should be a staple of your home bar.

Drink wisely my friends.

– Richard