All posts by Richard

Founding Apostle

The Beating of the Blend: Artist vs. Craftsman

I generally try to be diplomatic about whiskey on Whisk(e)y Apostle. I think that if you have a website providing something resembling educational or informational content then it’s only good form to be as nonpartisan as possible and clearly state that something is your opinion when it is so and not speak in absolutes.

Today I’m going to break ranks with that and say the typical American single malt drinker is (notice the definitive verb there) a snobbish idiot. There…I said it. I’ve been thinking it for a long time. I just couldn’t keep it bottled up inside any longer. “But aren’t you an American single malt drinker?” you may ask. Yes I am. And I went through a phase of this a number of years back. It was when I was trying cigars, drinking more single malt, and generally thinking I was more sophisticated than I really was. In short, I was an idiot.

So why am I bringing this up now? Well, it’s something that’s been on my mind for some time. What finally sent me over the edge was a post I saw on a forum that I’m a member of. This question was posted:

“Do you guys ever drink single malt scotch on the rocks or do you consider the very idea an affront to all that is good, decent, and proper about whisky?”

Granted that’s a loaded question but there are gentlemen on that forum with good taste in liquid libations so I was curious to see the responses. What followed were general answers like this:

“Single Malts on the rocks is indeed a waste of money. If you want to drink it on the rocks, save money and buy Blended.”

“Honestly, you’re just throwing money away….And as much as that sounds like liquor-snob posturing and “look how macho I am, drinking my whisky straight from the bottle,” I’m really not trying to be. There are some fine blended whiskeys out there that go well on the rocks, and I drink them too.”

These responses annoyed me on two fronts. First, as we say here over and over again, drink it how you like. No one else’s opinion (and it is an opinion, not some mandate from God) matters. I understand the points made in the prior example. Yes chilling the whisky numbs out some of the flavors. But so does not adding water. As long as the water is room temperature it will open up flavors and aromas that you can’t fully appreciate at bottle strength. Do I like mine with water? No. I don’t like it with ice either but we’re not talking about my drink. We’re talking about yours. You’re buying it. You’re drinking it. You get to have it however you want.

But what really bothered me was the left handed slight toward blended scotch. I can’t tell you how many times I hear people rattling on about the superiority of single malts versus blends. “Oh blends are where you start. Once you’re ready to really appreciate scotch try single malts.” “Blends just don’t have the flavor or complexity of good single malt.” And on and on and on. It’s a pile a crap. Just because YOU don’t like blends doesn’t make them inferior. You just don’t like them. That’s your opinion not a fact.

Are there crappy blends out there? Sure, but there are just as many crappy single malts too. It’s not like I’m measuring Dewar’s Signature against Big Al MacLeod’s discount malt. There are plenty of single malts out there far inferior to regular blends like Johnnie Walker Black.

Truth be told it takes as much if not more skill to make quality blends than it does to make good single malt. It may take different skills maybe but not fewer skills. You have be able to source and pull together dozens of different single malt and grain whiskies into a solid uniform piece, balancing and marrying flavors into cohesion. Is it hard to play the trumpet? Yes. Is it less impressive to pull together an entire symphony? I don’t think so.

I think of it like this: The master distiller is the true craftsman, but the master blender is the true artist. Are either the artist or craftsman lacking in skill, talent, or focus? Of course not, they just create differently. The blender is the symphony conductor pulling together all the pieces and parts into what you hold in your hand. They are taking all the different instruments and making something greater than the sum of its parts. Think about that the next you try a blended scotch.

Slainte,
Richard

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