Category Archives: Matt’s Blog

A little something for our UK readers

I know I’ve been out of the loop recently, but I have two announcements that should intrigue our readers in the UK.

JW STEAKHOUSE LAUNCHES ITS OWN JACK DANIEL’S SINGLE BARREL

JW Steakhouse is delighted to announce the launch of its very own Jack Daniel’s Single Barrel – a truly unique-tasting whiskey exclusively available to guests of the restaurant. Following months going through the bespoke process, JW Steakhouse’s Single Barrel will arrive from the Jack Daniel Distillery in Lynchberg, Tennessee and be available to buy in the restaurant in spring 2012.

Only one in a hundred barrels is selected by Jack Daniel’s Master Taster to carry the Single Barrel label, and JW Steakhouse feels privileged to have acquired one of these and be able to offer a whiskey that is uniquely available to its guests and one that can not be experienced anywhere else in the world. A Single Barrel whiskey is distinctive due to its rich and intense flavours owing to the advantaged position it holds at the upper reaches of the barrelhouses.

In October 2011, a tasting session took place in the restaurant with Grosvenor House’s General Manager Stuart Bowery, Restaurant Manager Raoul de Souza, Beverage Manager Pierce du Plessis and the rest of the F&B team, with samples selected by the Master Taster.  This ensured the team chose a whiskey that best fits the JW Steakhouse guests’ taste preferences. Batch 1007 was selected as the first ‘JW Steakhouse single barrel’. It was agreed that the initial nose, which highlighted the toasted oak nature of the barrel would appeal to a traditional Jack Daniel’s drinker, whilst the hints of liquorice, smoke and toffee would remind them of the luxurious nature of the whiskey. The palate highlighted the complexity of Jack Daniel’s Single Barrel with wonderful flavours of maple and vanilla coupled with a punchy spiciness that one would usually associate with a rye whiskey, and a long finish that is more akin with the finest single malt Scotch whiskies. As Stuart Bowery comments “all in all a truly remarkable whiskey and perfect for JW Steakhouse”.

The empty barrel will be proudly displayed at the bar having been sanded, varnished and engraved with the JW Steakhouse logo. Having been fledged a member of the Jack Daniel family, a plaque bearing the restaurant’s name will also be displayed on the distillery wall.

Since opening in May 2010, JW Steakhouse at Grosvenor House, A JW Marriott Hotel in Mayfair has firmly established itself as a leading American steakhouse in London and this is the latest way in which the restaurant continues to offer its guests unique and enjoyable tasting experiences whilst heralding its trans-Atlantic heritage. In addition to this new exclusive Jack Daniel Single Barrel, The Bourbon Bar at JW Steakhouse also has an extensive array of other single barrels and small batch bourbons, offered in innovative tasting flights, to complement the restaurant’s menu.

Jack Daniel’s Single Barrel will be available from March.  It will be priced at £10.00 per 50ml measure and £130.00 per bottle. For reservations telephone 020 7399 8460 or visit www.jwsteakhouse.co.uk

BURNS NIGHT IN KNIGHTSBRIDGE AT THE RIB ROOM

“But we hae meat, and we can eat, Sae let the Lord be thankit” – Robert Burns, The Selkirk Grace
This January, The Rib Room Bar & Restaurant at Jumeirah Carlton Tower is opening the doors to patriotic Scots and sympathetic Sassenachs in celebration of the birth of Burns, with a five course tasting menu from the four corners of Caledonia.

From 20-25 January, for £50 per person, diners can enjoy an array of classic seasonal Scottish dishes given a modern twist by head chef Ian Rudge.

Straight from Scotland’s bonnie banks and braes, a starter salad of Crowdie cheese, pickled vegetables, beetroot, roasted walnuts and croutons is closely followed by the fish course and an innovative twist on a classic; a delicate dish of pan-fried scallops with a Cullen skink and cauliflower purée. Followed with magnificently prepared loin of Highland venison with haggis and chestnut casserole, parsnip and apple. Providing a taste of Scotland’s sweet tooth an array of desserts include cranachan, chocolate and Drambuie mousse and Dundee cake soufflé. A must try are mini Tunnocks-inspired petit fours to accompany your coffee.

For a full-blooded Burns experience, guests can hire The Buccleuch private dining room for £100 per person and enjoy all the trappings of tradition. As well as the five course menu, diners will receive a bottle of Glenmorangie Astar Single Malt to share and an additional middlecourse of haggis, neeps and tatties welcomed by a piper before your own personal poet reciting Burns’ most famous Ode, celebrating the “Great Chieftan o’ the Puddin-race!”

Discerning drinkers can also join the celebrations with a specially created heather infused gin cocktail, aptly named Slàinte (Gaelic for cheers!) or The Rib Room Bar’s signature, ‘Flaming Bobby Burns’, a ‘blazer cocktail’ featuring a beguiling blend of Glenmorangie Astar Single Malt Whisky, aged sweet Antica Formula Vermouth and Benedictine poured alight from one glass to the next in a thrilling serve at the bar.

The Rib Room Bar & Restaurant has reopened following an extensive refurbishment by Martin Brudnizki. The legendary Knightsbridge institution has been reinvented for the 21st century, offering guests a stylish place to dine with the world-renowned Jumeirah standard of service.

So if you are stuck south of the border on the 25th January, The Rib Room Bar & Restaurant is sure to be the bonniest Burns Night in London.

The Rib Room Burns Supper Menu
20th-25th January 2012
£50 per person
Including a Slàinte cocktail on arrival
Salad of Crowdie cheese, pickled vegetables, beetroot, roasted walnuts and croutons
* * *
Pan fried scallop, Cullen Skink and cauliflower puree
* * *
Loin of Highland venison, haggis and chestnut casserole, parsnip and apple.
* * *
A tasting of Scotland, Cranachan, chocolate and Drambuie mousse, Dundee cake soufflé
* * *
Coffee & mini Tunnocks

Whisk(e)y Search Engine

As many of our readers know, Richard and I have been discussing a comprehensive whisk(e)y search engine for years. Our idea was to aggregate tasting notes from dozens of sources and create a system where you could answer a few questions about your taste preferences and bada-bing bada-boom, the engine would spit out some suggestions along with tasting notes and where to find your dream dram. Well, last year (maybe the year before) Diageo released a very rudimentary application that basically did the same thing. It was very primitive and only included whiskies in the Diageo catalog, but we had been beaten to the punch. Clearly, our goals are greater than our free time allows.

A few weeks ago, we were dealt another blow when we were contacted by Kyle Espinola of Business Development at FindTheBest.com. FindTheBest now has a whisky search engine. I don’t feel beaten by these guys. I’m happy to see that someone has had the time to do what we could not (and it’s not Diageo this time). Their search engine is good. It is very similar to what Richard and I can’t seem to put together.  I like it.

There are a few glitches in the system (a quick search for top Irish whiskey produced a link to Pappy Van Winkle 20yr), but overall, the functionality and interface are quite nice. Some of the most interesting aspects of the application are the comparison functions and the ability to search by tasting notes. To me, tasting notes and comparisons are far more useful than a straight up rating system.

The only complaint I really have is that I feel like the ratings tend to be too high. However, they aggregate their ratings from The Beverage Testing InstituteThe International Wine and Spirit CompetitionThe LA Whisk(e)y SocietyProof66.com,The San Francisco Spirits Competition 2010, and The Wine Enthusiast Magazine to get an average and I don’t want to open the “ratings” can of worms again. They also drop the lowest rated whiskies from the system. So if you want to see how Old Crow stacks up against Ten High, you will not find anything. They are “FindTheBest” after all and not “CompareEveryWhisk(e)yKnownToMan”.

So, please, check out the whiskey search engine. It’s pretty fun. whiskey.findthebest.com/

Also, you can check out their guest blog on Whisky Intelligence.

-Matt

Is that peat smoke wafting from the Isle of Arran?

Yes it is!

We received a press release announcing the launch of Machrie Moor, the “first peated Arran Single Malt.”  Very exciting folks.  So far the Arran Malts have won high praise, we’ll see how this one does once the whiskirati gets a hold of it.  Maybe they’ll send us a sample to try?  No word yet on the US price point.

FIRST PEATED WHISKY FROM ISLE OF ARRAN ON ALLOCATION
Award-winning Scotch whisky producer Isle of Arran Distillers is launching its first peated Arran Single Malt under the brand name Machrie Moor.
Such is the expected demand, that retailers will only receive a limited allocation when the whisky, named after a peat moor on the west coast of Arran, is launched worldwide. The distiller expects to sell all available stocks quickly.
Master Distiller James MacTaggart has skillfully combined all of the elements available to create a harmonious combination of malt, peat and cask.
MacTaggart said: “With the distillery’s first peated malt, I wanted to create a whisky where the character and taste of Arran that our followers love remained but add a something different with the peat flourish.
“This first peated whisky has a hint of fudge, coconut and spice with notes of orchard fruits and cardamom spice. This is complimented by the peat -reek smoky finish which we are sure will go down well with single malts fans.”
To celebrate the first peated whisky and give it more stand-out, the distillery have given the bottle a different look than the usual Arran style. Only 9,000 bottles will be available from the first edition of what is set to become a limited annual release.
Isle of Arran Distillery Managing Director Euan Mitchell says: “We’re very proud of our first peated whisky and thought it merited a new look to separate it from the regular un-peated Arran malt.
“The barren Machrie Moor is strewn with Bronze Age stone circles. It is said that on one of these stones, the legendary warrior giant Fingal tethered his favourite dog, Bran.
“This peated expression of the Arran Single Malt perfectly captures the rugged beauty and lore of the landscape and Bran was the perfect pin-up for the bottle.”
Machrie Moor is packaged in a dark green bottle with an image of ‘Bran’ in copper and the words ‘Machrie Moor’ in bold to further add standout on shelves/back bars (change accordingly for on/off trade.)

The first release will be available to all Arran key markets worldwide including UK, France, Germany, USA, Russia and Japan.

Machrie Moor (46% abv) has an RRP of £39.99 available from www.arranwhisky.com

Machrie Moor tasting notes –
Aroma: Subtle and elusive initially. Hints of fudge, coconut & spice with a teasing touch of the glorious peat reek to follow.
Palate: Classic Arran at first with notes of citrus, orchard fruits and cardamom spice mingling in a rich melting pot. At the back of the palate peat smoke finally emerges to whip up a storm.
Finish: The peat reek takes centre stage leaving a rich, warming glow like the burning embers of a bonfire.

WhiskyFest NYC 2010 Recap

(I know I’m a little late getting this posted)

I have mixed emotions about this year’s WhiskyFest NYC.  Mostly, my mixed feelings come from personal issues (although I found the new floor plan disorienting).  Usually, I go in with a plan and a wingman (or woman).  This year, my work schedule kept my planning to a minimum and my wing folk were not there.  I noted the change in the layout on the map before entering, yet I felt lost with my first step.  I had a small plan, but that quickly unraveled as I was lost in the crowds.  My intention was to try all the microdistilleries (of which there where many this year) and some of the newer drams on my list of desirables.  Somehow, I tried fewer drams than ever, chatted with folks more than ever, but still came out drunker than I’ve been in many a year.  Long time readers will know that I abhor drunkenness, both in others and myself.  For those of you who may have seen me in such a state, I apologize.  For those who reached out and a hand and helped guide me home, I am deeply grateful.

Now that we’ve got the maudlin crap out of the way, let’s talk about the parts of the night that remind me why I return to WhiskyFest year after year.

When everyone is in the same room together like this, you can feel the heartbeat of the industry.  It’s electric.  This year, even more than years past, the heartbeat is driven by adventure and experimentation.  I’m not talking about a Wellesley girl’s curious dalliances.  I’m talking about mad scientist meets religious zealot.  And its not just for the kids anymore.

There were whiskies made from bottle ready beer and unusual grains, trusty standards bringing something new to the table and old timers drawn out of retirement to destroy what you thought you knew about whisk(e)y.

Before arriving, one thing high on my list to try was WhistlePig Rye.  After all, rye whiskey has not received this much press since Sazarac blew up the category some years ago.  Believe the hype (no matter what Chuck D and Flava Flav try to tell you).  Smooth, complex, spicy and hardy, WhistlePig is a muscular wrestler of a dram that will choke you out in a way that is close to auto-erotic asphyxiation.  To borrow an idiom from our friends in Edinburgh, this is a dram for David Carradine or Michael Hutchence.

I’ve been on a bit of a blended Scotch kick lately, so I thought I’d give Black Grouse a try.  It was so good, I decided to give the rest of the Famous Grouse line a go.  No dice.  For me (and the consensus I heard), the Black Grouse is the best of the line.  It is also quite affordable.  Score.

The next real stunner was Lombard Whiskies’ Dailluaine 1973.  File this under “dram I will never taste again.”  Rare and old, this is a Sherry bomb of immense complexity.

Charbay was there with a whole line of whiskeys made from bottle ready beers (none ready for store shelves).  All were interesting.  I was in love.  There was on made from stout that was particularly good.  The bad news is that the last Charbay whiskey retailed for $300, so be prepared to give your left nut for one of these.  But, hey, if Lance Armstrong can get by with one, so can I.  The market for Neuticals just went up.  I know that the folks at Charbay are loyal Whisk(e)y Apostle readers so maybe they can send us more information on these enchanting drams.

The last whiskey to really get me going was Stranahan’s Snowflake.   Stranahan’s is a whiskey that keeps improving and the Snowflake bottlings really live up to the hype.  This could definitely keep me warm on a cold winter’s night.

Wemyss Vintage Malts should get an honorable mention here.  Nothing too stunning, but a solid line at a good price point.  My favorite of the bunch was the 15yo called “The Hive.”  More honeysuckle than honey, this would be an excellent summertime dram.

Now we come to the drams that I thought I would love but was unimpressed.  Of course, I assume this to be situational and would like to try them all again.

I’ve grown to expect a lot from Amrut and Yamazaki (Suntory) over the years, but I found both the Amrut “Intermediate Sherry” and the Yamazaki 1984 a little light on the palate.  This may be a timing issue.  I hit the Yamazaki table after WhistlePig and Amrut after Lombard.  Anything would taste bland after WhistlePig and Dailluaine 1973.  The Glenmorangie Finealta needs another chance as well.

Most of the oat, millet, and wheat offerings didn’t do much for me.  Too smooth and one-dimensional.  As these smaller distilleries grow, I’m sure they will find their legs and (hopefully) the right market.

There were a great deal of whiskies that I missed out on while I chatted with brand ambassadors, distillers, and other acquaintances.  I was glad to see that the U.S. Bartender’s Guild seems to be growing to be accepted at an event that caters mostly to the hard line “whisky should only be served neat” crowd.

Since Richard was not with me, I accosted Kris Comstock of Buffalo Trace for him.  I asked him to expand Atlanta’s allocation for the Antique Collection (I got your back buddy).  Fingers crossed on that one.

Well, that covers most of my night.  If you were there, let me know what you thought.

Remember:  Do as I say, not as I do.

Drink well, drink responsibly.

Matt

Stillhouse “The Original Moonshine Clear Corn Whiskey”

Recently, I attended a press event for “The Original Moonshine Clear Corn Whiskey”  from Stillhouse distillery in Virginia.  This is not your typical whiskey company.  Founded by a brand developer and an internationally renowned chef (Brad Beckerman & Adam Perry Lang respectively).  Original Moonshine is a brand of style and purpose.  Notice, I say “brand” and not “whiskey.”  While the whiskey itself is important, you never forget that you are being sold on something.  To me, its refreshing when a brand chooses to talk about markets and strategy instead of pretending that brand image and marketing are irrelevant.  That’s not to say that the product should not take precedent; it’s just nice when everyone in the room knows what’s going on and is not afraid to talk about it.

The whiskey itself was developed for a purpose (a premium mixer good enough to drink neat).  To do this, they use a 100% corn mash and distill it four (FOUR!) times to insure a clean and mellow spirit.  Just in case it wasn’t mellow enough, they float charcoal in the mash and filter the spirit through more charcoal as well.

The verdict?  It’s very clean and smooth with just the barest flavor of sweet corn.  This raises the question:  Why go through all this trouble to create a whiskey that basically tastes like vodka?  Their answer:  “The vodka market is saturated.  We wanted a product that was different.”  Different, but the same from my eye.

Is it good neat?  Yes, but its better with ice and a twist of lime.  Does it make for a good mixer?  Most certainly.  Will it be embraced by the Whiskirati?  Most certainly not.  However, if someone is having a hard time getting into brown liquor, this could be a gateway to new worlds of flavor.

The product is good for what it was designed to do and the packaging is great.  I have a feeling this one will catch on in some of the hipper bars.  It’s already in a few places in NYC and should be on the shelves sometime in January.

For more information, check out moonshine.com.

Drink well, drink responsibly.

Matt