Whisky On The Hudson ‘09

If you’ve been following me on Twitter, you already know that Thursday night was the Whisky Guild’s annual Whisky On The Hudson booze cruise.  You also know that I forgot my ticket and had to wrangle a new one (which makes this the most expensive tasting event I’ve ever attended.  Not the Guild’s fault, but there it is). Despite my ineptitude, Thursday turned out to be a really great night.  I schmoozed with industry insiders, helped turn other attendees on to new things, and most importantly I learned a lot.  I was even surprised a couple of times.

The boat was bigger this year, but the number of presenters was about the same, which made for a more comfortable socializing experience.  The down side was that things looked a little sparse for a while.  I decided to get the lay of the land first and to seek out some friends.  First I headed to a part of the boat where Glenmorangie had set up a little jazz club, where you could taste the whole line (including many Ardbeg’s) and relax a bit.  Of course, there was a mob around the Signet.  Even though I love Glenmorangie, I was on a mission (I grabbed some of the new Ardbeg Supernova on the way out though).  I didn’t want to be sidetracked.  However, I am easily sidetracked.

I found a boat map to help look for the William Grant & Sons tables.  I know I will find Dr. Whisky there.  On my way, I get turned around and end up talking Rick Wasmund of Copper Fox Distillery in Virginia.  Wasmund’s Single Malt Whisky (hmm, he leaves out the ‘e’ even though it is an American Single Malt) is a pot stilled whisky that uses barley malted over apple and cherry wood.  I tried it last year and was not impressed, but a trusted source said that they have improved the product, so I was willing to give it a try.  I was pleasantly surprised.  You can taste the influence of the fruit woods, but it does not come off as overly fruity.  It’s bold, round and balanced.  To sweeten the deal, Rick was also pouring an aged rye (containing both rye and his proprietary malted barley) and white dog* of both whiskies.  I’ve tried a lot of white dog in the past couple of months (it seems to be the it whisk(e)y these days).  I have to say, these were my favorites.  The malting process really smoothes out the rough edges commonly associated with white whisky.  The most interesting thing Rick has to offer is a box set that contains two bottles of the white whisky and a miniature charred oak barrel.  You can age your own whisky!  He had a second fill barrel there with five month old whisky.  It was different from the bottled stuff.  The wood was really bold.  This is a must have for any whisky nerd (like myself).  Here’s the rub.  Wasmund’s is only available in the D.C. area right now.  They are working on getting New York distribution, but the rest of the country is still without fruit wood malted single malt.

Once again, I was off to find Dr. Whisky.  He’s always good for a laugh and some quality information.  In route, I caught a glimpse of a Jefferson’s Reserve bottle.  “I wonder if they brought the Presidential Select,” I think to myself.  It’s not on the table.  I ask and they deliver.  Trey Zoeller, V.P. of Bourbon Operations for Castle Brands, comes over and we start talking about this whisky from the now defunct Stitzel-Weller distillery.  This is one of Malt Advocate’s “Must Buy” bourbons (but you already knew that).  It’s every thing John Hansell says it is (we’ll have a formal review someday).  As Trey and I reminisce about dead distilleries (we agree that the Hirsch <Michter’s> 16yo is superior to the 20yo), he tells me that he has another batch of this Stitzel-Weller bourbon that he plans to release next year as Jefferson’s Presidential Select 18yo.  I can’t wait.

Finally, I make it back to the Balvenie table where I find a bearded(!) Dr. Whisky pouring the entire Balvenie line.  We have a chat and I try the new 17yo (Madeira cask).  This is a good one folks.  I was a little disappointed with the Rum cask 17yo from last year.  The palate did not deliver on what the nose promised.  The Madeira 17yo is just the opposite.  The nose is a little weak and uninteresting, but it really delivers on flavor.  Later, I came back and tried the 21yo.  A very fine dram indeed.

Much of the remainder of the night was a flurry of schmoozing and tasting (I even ran into Mark Gillespie of WhiskyCast).  I reacquainted myself with the Glenlivet 15yo (aged in virgin charred Limousin oak).  Limousin oak is used in Cognac barrels and is tricky to work with but it makes a damn fine whisky.  The 15yo is the only Glenlivet to use Limousin oak casks.  This specialty oak gives the whisky a richness and boldness that round out and compliment the sharp, fruity qualities common to Glenlivet.  This is smoother and richer than the standard expression.

I had the opportunity to try the PC6 and PC7 (both distilled at Bruichladdich).  These are both good drams with a fair amount of peat.  I prefer the PC6.

Dave Conroy of International Beverage Company, Inc., took me through his whiskies from Mull and Islay.  I don’t remember ever trying Bunnahabhain before and I think I would remember an unpeated Islay.  I liked it at every age.  There is a sweetness and complexity that I associate more with the mainland.  This is very approachable whisky.  Dave also introduced me to Tobermory and Ledaig (both from the Isle of Mull).  Really good stuff, the Ledaig especially is a must try for any peat lovers out there.

Other things that stood out for me that night were the Knappogue Castle 1995 Irish whisky, the Hibiki 12yo Blended Japanese whisky, Deanston 30yo, and Tuthilltown’s New York Whiskey.  However, the topper had to be the tasting lab led by Master Ambassador for Laphroaig, Simon Brooking.  We tasted peated barley, he lit a peat brick on fire, and each dram was accompanied by a song (or a joke) and a toast.  Simon is a real showman.  We tasted Ardmore 30yo (loved it), Laphroaig 10yo, Quarter Cask, 15yo, 18yo, and 25yo.  I really like the Quarter Cask (and the 25yo of course).  The 18yo is a new addition that will be replacing the 15yo.  They are very different whiskies, so if you are a fan of the 15yo, stock up.  Personally, I prefer the 15yo, but I seem to be among the minority in the critics’ circles.  Maybe I’ll have to give it another go in a less overwhelming setting.

So, that was my Whisky on the Hudson experience.  I’m already looking forward to next year.  The Whisky Guild does several of these events around the country each year.  You should check it out.

* “White dog” is a common term for whisky straight from the still (non-matured, no water added).  I’m not sure if Wasmund’s non-matured whisky is unwatered or not, but it is pretty high proof.

Drink well.  Drink responsibly.


New U.S. Releases – August ’09 Part 2

Well, when I posted the latest information I had on new releases announced in August a couple of weeks ago I had no idea that they month was just getting started. Here’s the lowdown on the rest of the new releases announced during the month of August:

Rittenhouse Rye Single Barrel 25 Year Old

Timeframe: November/December



This comes from the same batch as the previously released 21 Yr and 23 Yr. It’s supposed to be the best so far.

The Glenlivet Nadurra Triumph 1991

Timeframe: November

ABV: 48%

Price: $85

A new limited edition of The Glenlivet Nadurra made exclusively with Triumph barley. It should be interesting.

Jefferson’s Presidential Select (Batch #1), 1991 Vintage

Timeframe: Now

ABV: 47%

Price: $90

This is a wheated bourbon from one of the last production years of the old Stitzel-Weller distillery. It’s one of John Hansell’s top rated new products this year. If you can find it grab a bottle. Just don’t grab mine.

Bruichladdich Infinity 3

Timeframe: This fall

ABV: 50%

Price: ?

I haven’t had any of the Infinity releases so I can’t offer much commentary beyond saying that if it’s a Laddie it will definitely be interesting.

Old Forester 2009 Birthday Bourbon

Timeframe: now

ABV: 48.5%

Price: $39.99

It’s that time of year again for the new annual release from Old Forester.

Ardbeg Corryvreckan

Timeframe: September

ABV: 57.1%

Price: $85

This is the new release replacing the Airigh Nam Beist or “Beast” bottling. It is the same formulation, just one year older of last year’s Ardbeg Committee release of the same name.

Woodford Reserve Master’s Collection 2009

Timeframe: November

ABV: ?

Price: $89.99

This is the annual release from Woodford’s Master’s Collection. Past releases have run the gamut from spectacular (Four Grain) to not so spectacular. This year’s release is finished in casks that were made from wood allowed to dry and age naturally for several years before being toasted (not charred).

That’s it for the month of August. There are already a few more announcements for September from Buffalo Trace. I’ll get those posted soon.

– Richard

Glenmorangie Astar

Glenmorangie Astar
57.1% ABV, 114.2 Proof
Around $75, Widely Available

What The Distillery Says:
From the tall peaks of Missouri ‘Ozarks’ to the sweeping grandeur of the Highlands of Scotland, Astar (in Gaelic it means “journey”) is the story of our quest to ‘design’ the very best oak casks that will deliver perfection in the final spirit; the result is a deep, rich, silky and creamy malt that embodies Glenmorangie’s art of whisky creation.

What Richard Says:
Nose: The high bottling strength makes for a trying nose.  The alcohol tends to get in the way.  It’s very delicate and clean.  Crisp apples. With water there is a hint of peat and more of a nutty character.  Also more apple and under ripe fruit.
Palate: Very tart opening with a mild vegetal quality but soon the alcohol bulldozes everything out of the way.  Not a dram to be had without water.  The flavor is too delicate for bottle strength.  With water a honey sweetness develops and is followed by grassy notes.
Finish: Straight, the finish is all alcohol burn.  Once water is added you get a tart finish bookending the tart opening.
Comments: Astar is the “heart” of the new Glenmorangie Original and it shares many characteristics from nose through to the finish.  I would like to maybe see this bottled down around 46% ABV.  Heresy to some but that’s just my opinion.  This flavor profile is much too delicate for so much alcohol.
Rating: Average

What Matt Says:
Nose: Without water the alcohol is dominant, but there is a strong scent of bread dough.  With water, the nose opens to a cornucopia of aromas.  Green apples (the meaty bit, not the skin), vanilla, honeysuckle, oak, and spice all dance together to a sensuous melody.
Palate: There is a lot of oak and spice here.  With water the fruit and sweetness is revealed.  Green apples, cinnamon, ginger, mint, vanilla, and a creamy sweetness like sweetened condensed milk.
Finish: Neat, there is enough burn for a bonfire.  With water, there is tartness (like green apple skins).
Comments: As with anything from Glenmorangie, I carry a slight sentimental bias.  I don’t think this is a dram for a novice, but I would recommend it for a seasoned whisky drinker.  I’m not sure the high proof is necessary.  The best bits of this whisky don’t come out until you add water.  However, that means that this bottle will last me about twice as long (which makes for better value).
Rating:  Stands Out

Overall Rating:  Average.  Not for the novice or the faint of heart.

Laphroaig 10yo

Laphroaig 10yo Islay Single Malt Scotch Whisky
43% ABV, 86 Proof
Around $35, Widely Available

What The Distillery Says:
Laphroaig, pronounced “La-froyg”, is an all-malt Scotch whisky from the remote island of Islay in the Western Isles of Scotland.  Laphroaig is a Gaelic word, and means “the beautiful hollow by the broad bay”.
In the making of Laphroaig, malted barley is dried over a peat fire.  The smoke from this peat, found only on the island of Islay, gives Laphroaig its particularly rich flavour.
Laphroaig is best savoured neat, or with a little cool water.

What Richard Says:
Nose: Vegetal and peaty in a way that’s second only to Ardbeg.  I also get vanilla, wood chips, and fresh pine straw.  With water the peat fades and it becomes very nutty with hints of leather.
Palate: Creamier on the palate than Ardbeg, but after an initial settling the peat begins to dominate.  Seaweed with a mild brine but not overly salty. Water opens a light honey note but kills everything else.
Finish: On the finish the salty brine kicks it up a notch.  Very little burn.  The wood and peat dominate the finish but not really in a pleasant way.
Comments: For peaty Islays I like Laphroaig better than Ardbeg but not as much as Lagavulin.  I feel that Laphroaig is a whisky that ages well but tends to need that aging.  It goes really well with seafood or cigars.  The 15 Year or the Quarter Cask are better but this isn’t a bad entry to Islay.  Oddly enough the profile of this dram changes over the course of the time spent with it.  On my initial tasting it is good but not overwhelmingly appealing.  However, as you take more sips the dram seems to open up and become a more comforting dram.  A nice quiet even by the fire drink.
Rating: Average

What Matt Says:
Nose: Peat (of course), roasted nuts, orange pith, iodine and oak are strong on the nose.  With water, the peat fades, pulling the citrus and nut notes forward.  A little more water takes the nose to orange essential oils.
Palate: Peat (of course), brine, vanilla, orange juice and buttermilk.  A little water brings out some milk chocolate and honey (like a Toblerone).
Finish: Long on the peat with a touch of seawater and very little burn.
Comments: This is a sturdy whisky (i.e. it holds up to water).  Laphroaig is what a lot of people reach for when they first try an Islay malt.  I think that is not a bad thing.  It’s definitely a good entrance to Islay (but a little burly for the Gateway Series).  There is a creaminess and complexity that Arbeg 10yo lacks and the price point is much more agreeable than the Lagavulin 16yo (which Richard and I agree is the best of the three).
Rating:  Average

Overall Rating:  Average, a great entry into Islay whiskies.