All posts by Richard

Founding Apostle

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

Taste of… The Collector’s Cabinet

Matt and I have discussed, at length the merits of offering reviews on whiskeys that are no longer available.  The argument against it is that if we review a dram that is out of this world then it would offer nothing to our readers but frustration at not being able to procure such a fine spirit.  This was our stance from the outset of Whisk(e)y Apostle.

As time went by we started thinking about this idea in a different light.  We realized that there is something to offer our readers by reviewing the occasional rare whiskey.  From a collector’s standpoint there are other resources available offering assistance in how collectable or valuable certain whiskeys are but rarely anything on taste. (As a general rule, we here at Whisk(e)y Apostle do not advocate the collecting of whiskey.  It is made to drink after all!)

So if you find a rare bottle of whiskey, how are you to know if it’s worth purchasing for the purpose of consumption?  That’s where we hope to offer what little assistance we can.  Matt and I aren’t exactly rolling in dough so this will not be a regular part of our reviews but we’ll do it whenever we get the opportunity.

To kick us off we thought we talk a wonderful whisky from Compass Box called The Spice Tree.  There is an unfortunate story behind why this great whisky is no longer in production.  I’m not going to reproduce the sad tale here but if you are interested further information can be found here (in the “Past Whiskies” section).

The Spice Tree

Blended Malt Scotch Whisky
Formerly produced by Compass Box Whisky Company
Blended Malt Scotch Whisky46% ABV/92 Proof
Discontinued

What the distillery says:

A natural, deep, gold-brown color and a rich nose with spices such as clove and nutmeg, and sweet stewed fruits. Palate is soft, sweet, deep and rich with a malt whisky fruitiness embellished by rich spice. Very long.

What Richard says:

Nose: Scotch rolled in a warm bourbon blanket?  If I didn’t know what this was it would really keep me guessing.  Water opens up the nose to honey and floral sweetness.  Quite lovely.
Palate: The wood is the first and last thing you taste but not in the way you might think.  It’s not the tired over wooded flavor of an over aged whiskey.  It’s more like carrying your dram on a walk through the forest.  It’s a fresher wood taste.  There is a minor honeyed sweetness that almost hides from you.  The spice there but much more understated than the name suggests.  There are a lot of nutty flavors and at the very end of the palate I swear I get a hint of spearmint.
Finish: Much smoother than I expected but that really is par for John Glasser’s work.  Spice, nut, and wood remain after the palate is emptied.  It’s almost like peppered walnut bark.
Comments: As unfortunate as it is, this is a discontinued product. If you happen across a bottle at a reasonable price I would highly recommend picking it up.  I can’t give it a “Must Buy” because of the scarcity but it really deserves top honors.
Rating: Must Try

What Matt says:
Nose: Fox glove honey, caramel, wildflowers, and cardamom.
Palate: Like drinking a nice cup of mulled cider by a fresh cut Christmas tree.  Wood, evergreen, mulling spices, cooked fruit (apples and apricots).  The ultimate ‘comfort’ whisky.  Complex without being uppity.
Finish: Oak, white pepper, and pecan husks linger with a touch of caramel sweetness.  This whisky is incredibly smooth with very little burn on the tongue or in the throat.
Comments: My official rating for this will be a “Must Try” for the reasons that Richard states above.  However, if you see a bottle of this, buy it.  If you see two, let me know.  I will buy the other one.  I love this whisky and lament it’s passing.  When the last drop falls from my bottle, I will shed a tear.
Rating: Must Try

Overall Rating:   Must Try

Closing Comments: A lot of discontinued whiskeys are phased out due unpleasant factors (Glenmorangie Burgundy Wood Finish) or diminished stocks (Ardbeg 17 Year) but the Spice Tree is the unfortunate victim of politics.  There is little lacking in this quality dram.  If you are fortunate enough to come across a bottle or dram, by all means drink up.

Slainte!

Fad Focus #1: Peat

Whisky, like most things goes through phases. Some of these phases are more macroeconomic like the historical boom and bust periods for whisky sales and their impacts on production and distillery openings and closings. Other phases tend to seem more like fads.

fad – noun
a temporary fashion, notion, manner of conduct, etc., esp. one followed enthusiastically by a group

– Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2006

Fads are not necessarily a bad thing. All fads aren’t the equivalent of a polyester leisure suit. In whisky fads tend to be inroads to innovation. This blog will be my first in a 3+ part series discussing the various fads in whisky that have come and gone. Today’s focus will be the continued “peatification” (I just made that word up) of whisky in recent years.

What is peat you ask? Peat is an accumulation of decayed or decaying vegetation that typically forms in damp regions that can be cut, dried, and used for fuel. When it comes to whisky, peat can be used in peat fires to dry malted barley that will go into making whisky. At a very basic level this tends to impart a smoky flavor most prevalent in Scotch. Peat taken from coastal areas may also impart a salty or briny flavor in addition to the smoke.

In years past Scotch was easily categorized by its use of peat. Today the degree of peat used in Scotch production varies widely by region and distillery. Islay tends to be known as the powerhouse region for producing peaty whiskies but peat branched out. Connemara Irish Whiskeys use peat and tend to taste more like Scotch than their Irish brethren.

How do we measure how peaty a whisky is? Peat levels are measured by the phenol level in parts per million, usually abbreviated as “ppm”. Phenols are organic compounds imparted on the malted barley when peat is burned to dry the barley. The higher the ppm level is, the more heavily peated the whisky.

So you may be saying “thanks for the history lesson but this has gone on for decades, why is this a fad?” Well, using peat isn’t. The degree to which we’re seeing peat used is. A long time ago in a whisky industry far, far away whiskies were all easily categorized and labeled. Irish was triple distilled and unpeated. Speyside had very little peat (0 to 10ppm lets say). Islay whiskies were heavily peated (20 to 30ppm lets say). Campbeltown and Highland whiskies fell somewhere in the middle. In this land of yore the Speysides were deemed the most desirable because they were easier to drink without all that peat and more closely resembled the famous blends that sold so well. This is partly how brands like Glenfiddich and Glenlivet became the powerhouses that they are today. The more peaty stuff was relegated to aficionados and blends.
Jump a head a few decades and Scotch started seeing a boom in interest. With the boom came the desire for new and differentiated experiences. Those peaty whiskies started getting more attention because they have a more robust flavor.

With me so far? Good because this is where things start to turn the corner. As the push towards peat accelerated we started seeing distilleries releasing peatier and peatier whiskies. At first these whiskies came from their peatier stocks that may have gone into blends before. However, soon they started making their whiskies peatier. From out of nowhere Bruichladdich comes out with Port Charlotte at 40ppm and Ardbeg blasts out with whiskies like their Uigeadail release. Now peat is really kicked into high gear. Then last year Bruichladdich came out with Octomore at whapping 131 ppm.

Let me just say that I like peated whiskies. I like them a lot. Some of my absolute favorite drams are very peaty. But it’s seems that we’re getting to the point where we’re kicking up the peat notch more and more just for the sake of doing it.

I liken it to hot sauce. I love spicy food. I love hot sauce on just about everything to some degree. But there are sauces out there that take the heat to such an extreme that they sacrifice flavor. I worry that Scotch may head in that directions. 131ppm! When will the madness stop?

– Richard

Doh!

Okay, so I screwed up this weekend. I decided to head out on a whiskey search. Let me tell you that this is no small endeavor. Atlanta is not known as a hotbed of whiskey activity. Finding a quality dram is not as easy as you’d think. Finding a tasty bottle of some rare or hard to find tipple is almost impossible. It’s the nature of the beast. We’re the Grandpoobah of all Blue Law states so what do you expect. But I digress. So I started searching a few of my regular haunts.

First, I went to Total Wine in Dunwoody. This place just opened and it is a new liquor superstore. Think Binny’s in Chicago but with more wine and less liquor. No luck. There was a lot of “been there, done that“.

Next, I trotted on down to Pearson’s Wine Merchants in Buckhead. Pearson’s is actually listed as a “Malt 100” liquor store by The Malt Advocate but going in there now you’d never know it. Pearson’s selection must have declined since grabbing the “Malt 100” notation. There was one high point, Ardbeg 10 Year Old. Since Glenmorangie PLC’s purchase by LVMH and the relaunch of their brands the price of Ardbeg has sky rocketed. In Atlanta the 10 Year Old normally sells for around $65. (It’s 10 freakin’ years old!) But Pearson’s happened to carry it for about $42. Sold! But the initial search continued.

Finally, I rolled into Mac’s on 10th & W. Peachtree in Midtown. I thought I’d seen something here a few weeks ago and prayed that it was still there. As I walked down the bourbon isle I saw it…Parker’s Heritage Collection First Edition 1996! Ooh I was excited. They had two bottles. I snaked one, paid, and walked out happily on my way.

Then I got home. The recent issue of The Malt Advocate noted the second edition of Parker’s with a 96/100 and a pretty phenomenal review by John Hansell. I looked at some back issues and found the first edition in the Q1 2008 issue. Uh oh. There were three listed. All titled the same but one was 61.3% ABV (95/100), the second was 63.7% ABV (94/100) and the third was 64.8% ABV (80/100). Which one did I have? Yep, 64.8% ABV.

I realize this is just an arbitrary rating. But that said, I respect Mr. Hansell’s opinion. I found through trial and error that he and I share a more similar palate than a lot of other whiskey writers. But still, it’s the taste right? Well I was so flummoxed that I couldn’t open it. I’ll dive in later this week and post a review. For now I’m a little annoyed, both with myself and a little bit with Heaven Hill. I understand that it’s 95% my fault for not doing my research. However, I do feel Heaven Hill should have distinguished their bottlings a little better. The idea of three separate whiskies as a first edition seems counterintuitive to me. But I’m just me and what do I know? Anyway, I’ll do some tasting and maybe it will all work out in the end.

Cheers!

-Richard