G & MacP Tasting At Louis 649

Last night, I attended a tasting at Louis 649 in the East Village/Alphabet City.  The tasting was sponsored by Gordon & MacPhail.

I’ve been meaning to get to Louis for some time now.  My buddy Tristan is somewhat of a regular and speaks fondly of their whisk(e)y  selection.  A look behind the bar tells me why.  It’s not the largest selection in the city, but I have to respect a bar that stocks Sazerac, several Tuthilltown whiskeys and an interesting assortment of single malts.

As I sat down at the bar, I immediately felt like this was not going to be like any other tasting I’ve attended.  The other attendees were not your usual whisky tasting crowd.  From the folks I talked to, it seems that most of the crowd consisted of bartenders, alt.-writers/bloggers, cocktail crafters, and even one Absinthe distiller.  I have to say, it was very refreshing to see a room full of tattooed and pierced people and other eccentrics enjoying single malt whisky.  This is part of the crowd we apostles are hoping to reach.  Bringing whisky out of the realm of dimly lit, smoke-filled bars full of suits.  There were even a large number of women in attendance (close to half the audience)!  It made me smile quite broadly.  The fact that the crowd asked some really astute questions and got a little rowdy, made me smile even more.

The brand ambassador was an hour late to the event, but our host (Gianfranco Verga) started pouring anyway.  For me, this was nice.  I was able to give the first pour (five different drams) some real time and attention while we waited.  Here are my notes on the first five whiskies (all either bottled or distilled by Gordon & MacPhail):

Benromach Traditional (7-7 ½ yo)
40% ABV, 80 Proof
Nose:  Light smoke, smells strongly of fresh green apples, honey
Palate:  Light, small smoke, green apples, cloves
Finish:  Dry, long, turns slightly bitter toward the end
Comments:  Benromach is G&MacP’s distillery.  It’s the smallest distillery in Speyside and this expression is an attempt to define what traditional Speyside whisky should be.  This whisky spends about 80% of it’s maturation in first-fill bourbon barrels and the remaining 20% in first-fill sherry casks.  From a cost and taste stand point, Benromach Traditional sits squarely among our Gateway Speysiders, Glenfiddich and Glenlivet.  I would definitely recommend this whisky.

Benromach Organic (7-7 ½ yo)
43% ABV, 86 Proof
Nose:  Caramel, apple, sour (like bourbon mash), oak
Palate:  Viscous but light, green apple, toffee, vanilla and light spice
Finish:  A little burn, leaves the mouth wetter than the Traditional
Comments:  How can a whisky be organic you ask?    Well, the barley is organic and the virgin American oak in the barrels is organic.  That’s right, all virgin American oak (charred of course) just like the Glenmorangie Astar.  The Organic is much darker in color than the Traditional and woodier.  It may be a touch more balanced than Astar, but it is also a touch too light on flavor.  Not bad but, unless you have a tremendous amount of guilt about your SUV and beef habits, I think the Traditional is a better product.

Caol Ila (Connoisseurs Choice 1996), 8yo
43% ABV, 86 Proof
Nose:  Peat and pear
Palate:  Light but not much to except peat and it’s associate flavors (leather, anise, damp earth)
Finish:  Short but the peat lingers
Comments:  Caol Ila is one of the primary malts in Johnnie Walker and a handful of other blends.  It’s a good base whisky, but this one is nothing special to my palate.

Miltonduff, 10yo
40% ABV, 80 Proof
Nose:  Lady’s perfume, summer fruits and wild flowers
Palate:  Tastes exactly like it smells with an oily mouth feel
Finish:  The taste does not linger, but my tongue curls and cramps in aftershock
Comments:  If this is the key component of Ballentine’s, I might have to stay away from Ballentine’s.

Mortlach, 15yo
40%ABV, 80 Proof
Nose:  Green apples, nail polish remover and pipe tobacco
Palate:  Roasted nuts and cherry cough syrup
Finish:  Cherry cough syrup
Comments:  Mortlach is distilled 2 ½ times, aged in first fill sherry casks and “condensed” in worm tubs to create a more intense flavor profile.  Unfortunately, it is not a flavor profile that I enjoy in the least.  Though at least one attendee claimed it as her favorite.

After the first five, the tables were cleared and we were give four more drams.  We kind of rushed through them and both my tongue and nose were getting fatigued so my notes aren’t as good (especially on the last two):

Aberfeldy (Connoisseurs Choice 1989), 15yo
43% ABV, 86 Proof
Nose:  Smells just like the perfume they use to scent baby diapers
Palate:  Light, smooth, spice, vanilla, and caramel
Finish:  Burns with sweet caramel
Comments:  Aberfeldy is the key component of Dewar’s.  Not a bad dram, but the nose really turns me off.

Glen Grant, 21yo
40%ABV, 80 Proof
Nose:  Green apples, peaches
Palate:  Sweet, fruity, a little brine somehow (maybe I was sweating into my cup)
Finish:  Long and lovely
Comments:  I’ve always been a sucker for a good Glen Grant and I’ve always thought that it wore age well.  Very good indeed.

Benromach, 21yo
43% ABV, 86 Proof
Nose:  Sweet fruits and cereal
Palate:  viscous, soft, sherrywood, oak
Finish:  Long and luscious
Comments:  Fatigue setting in…

Macallan Speymalt 1972, 35yo
43% ABV, 86 Proof
Nose:  Extreme fruit (citrus, tropical, and dark berries)
Palate:  Same fruit as the nose with a creamy note and Christmas spice
Finish:  Long and luxurious
Comments:  Is it as good as the distillery-bottled 30yo?  I don’t know.  I really like the 30yo.  This is a little fruitier and a whole lot cheaper.  So you decide.

Whew.  That’s it, nine whiskies.  I don’t want to complain about too much free whisky, but this was a little much for any real objective tasting, especially when there were no spit buckets.  If you were following my Twitter posts, you probably noticed that the whisky was served from plastic cups.  That was a minor disappointment, but I think it was the shape of the cups, more than the material, that was the bigger problem.  However, I did get some good tasting in, so why am I complaining?  🙂

Thanks to Gordon & MacPhail and Louis 649 for putting this together.

Drink well, drink responsibly.


New U.S. Releases

It appears that we’ve been a little derelict in out duties on noting the release of new whiskeys to the United States.  So far this month there are five promising additions that were annouced.  And it’s only August 13th!

Suntory Yamazaki 1984 Single Malt Whisky 
Timeframe: October 2009
ABV: 48%
Price: $550 – $650
More of the wonderful whisky being made in Japan come here is never a bad thing.  In addition to the Hibiki we announced last month we seem to be making headway with Japanese distribution.  Sadly this ones out of most of our price ranges.

Four Roses 2009 Mariage Collection Bourbon
Timeframe: September (around the Kentucky Bourbon Festival)
ABV: 57% – 59%
Price: ?
I have yet to try the 2008 Mariage.  Apparently I need to get on that and quick!

Tullamore Dew 10 Year Old Single Malt Irish Whiskey
Timeframe: Late 2009
ABV: ? But most likely 40%
Price: $39.99
More Irish single malt!  This will be a welcome addition to Tullamore’s portfoilo of standard, 10 Year, and 12 Year blends.

Laphroaig 18 Year Old Single Malt Scotch Whisky
Timeframe: September
ABV: ?
Price: $84.99
This is the new release that will replace Laphroaig’s current 15 Year Old bottling in their standard portfolio.  It promises to be good but if you’re in love with the 15 Year, get it while you can!

Evan Williams Honey Reserve
Timeframe: Soon
ABV: 35%
Price: $14.99
It seems like everyone is coming out with flavored bourbon or whiskey liqueurs.  Here’s Evan Williams’s entry into the category.

Did You Know #2: Beware the Burn

Did You Know…that you can burn your taste buds on higher proof whiskey?

Opinions vary about the preference for or against difference proof strengths of whiskey.  Some folks chide the 80 proof while rallying behind cask strength whiskeys and vice versa.  Regardless of your preference you should note that the higher the alcohol content the more likely you are to burn your taste buds.  It may seem really manly (or womanly if you’re so inclined) to drink all your whiskey straight all the time.  That’s all well and good when your bottles are in the 40% to 46% ABV range.  However, once you start knocking back glasses in the upper 50’s, 60’s, and heaven forbid 70’s without any water then you’re looking for a hurtin’.  I’m not talking about the level of inebriation but rather the effect the alcohol has on your tongue and it’s subsequent ability to taste.  All that alcohol “burns” or essentially numbs your taste buds to further experiences for some period of time there after.    If you are eating grandma’s okra and squash surprise (I’m from Georgia remember) then that may not be a bad thing.  But if you want to actually taste and enjoy your whiskey, not to mention subsequent whiskeys, then you need to be careful.  Sipping slow and adding a little water won’t call for an automatic revoking of your man-card.  I promise. 

On a related note, if you’re engaging in a tasting of multiple whiskies it is a generally good idea to go from lowest alcohol content to highest.

– Richard

Charbay Tequila Blanco

A word from Matt:  Let me start by saying that I am not a tequila drinker. I have not had tequila in probably eight years (apart from the very rare margarita). I have danced with Jose and Pepe and a myriad others and I always come away with a black eye, a wicked headache, and other maladies I’d rather not discuss. No matter the price or the quality, tequila has always brought the hurt. So when Charbay said they had a new tequila and they wanted me to try it, I was a little afraid to say the least. I have an open mind though. I am always a supporter of craft distilling. After all, rums are doing it, whiskies are doing it, even educated fleas are doing it. And I’ll try anything once. I was more than surprised by my findings…

Charbay Tequila Blanco
40%ABV, 80 Proof
SRP $49, Limited Availability

What the distillery says:
This is fragrant, true to the source, clean tequila. From all of the world’s distilled spirit classes, Tequila is by far one of the most challenging. We combined to traditional methods of classic tequila distillery in the Arandas area (Mexico) with our proprietary Charbay distilling methods that have developed for 13 generations. The mutual trust, respect and camaraderie with our host distillers will last a lifetime. This has been a real learning experience. (Miles Karakasevic)

During the final distillation at 142 Proof, our Tequila tasted as if you were chewing on fresh chamomile buds. Later, at 140 Proof, it started to taste like cinnamon. At 138 Proof, the flavors were herbaceous, rich agave, with a pepper spice finish. We captured all these flavors… (Marko Karakasevic)

What Matt says:
Nose: Agave nectar, vegetal (cactus?), cucumber, juniper, lime
Palate: Viscous, white pepper, herbal, whole lime that translates from lime meat to zest and back, a little burn around the edges
Finish: Short and sharp. Powerful lime zest and a side-of-the-tongue burn.
Comments: I can honestly say that this is the first tequila I’ve had in a long while that did not make me gag. As you may have guessed, I drink mostly whisk(e)y and the occasional gin. I think what I like most about this is that it is very much like a gin and not much like a tequila (from my experience with tequila). To me, that is very much a good thing. If you are a hardcore tequila drinker, this may leave you wanting. You will enjoy it, but it may not serve that craving (do people crave tequila?). I think most people use tequila as a mixer. Charbay Tequila Blanco is part of the craft movement that hopes to elevate tequila to something worthy of sipping. On that front, this is very successful. If I decide to stock tequila in my home bar, this will be the one. I always say that you should never stock a mixer that you can’t drink neat and Charbay’s Tequila Blanco fits the bill.
Rating: Stands Out

What Richard Says:
Nose: This definitely smells better than any tequila I’ve ever smelled.  The agave is still there but without the dirty jockstrap notes of other widely available tequilas.
Palate: Admittedly, I don’t drink much tequila anymore, especially straight.  That said, this doesn’t taste like any tequila I’ve ever tasted.  Fruity notes flow throughout and it is a very pleasant experience.
Finish: The flavors clear the mouth very quickly and leave only a clean crisp hint that the drink was there.  Top notch!
Comments: I was at first hesitant to review this offering from Charbay.  If I categorically don’t like a particular spirit then I don’t feel that it is my place to offer opinions on the quality.  However, I was intrigued by what Charbay might do and I can honestly say that I never knew tequila could be like this.  I’m still not going to be a regular tequila drinker but this is in a league of it’s own.
Rating: Must Try

Overall Rating: Must Try

Two New Drams From Preiss Imports

I just got back from a press event for Preiss Imports at Brandy Library in Tribeca.  It seems Whisk(e)y Apostle is becoming legit, oh my brothers.  I was hoping to run into Mark from WhiskyCast or Dr. Whisky, but they either did not come or came after I left.  Maybe next time.  Anyway, that’s neither here nor there.  The news of the day was two new drams from Preiss.

The first dram was the new whiskey from Cambeltown’s first new distillery in 100 years.  Though distilled at Glengyle (right around the corner from Springbank), the new single malt is called Kilkerran.  This is the first global release from Kilkerran and represents the launch of the “Work in Progress” series.  As a bona fide whisky nerd, the idea of this series really tickles my fancy.  It’s like being in the distillery with the Master tasting the whisky at each age until you know it is ready.  This first release is five years old and they will be releasing limited quantities each year until the whiskey is 12 years old.

Kilkerran 5yo Single Malt Scotch Whisky
46% ABV, 92 Proof
SRP $59.99, Very Limited Availability (only 1,800 bottles in the U.S.)

Nose: Light, vanilla, bananas, some peat
Palate: Light but rough around the edges, cloves, vanilla, tropical fruits, touches of peat and licorice
Finish: Makes the mouth water, peat, banana skins, a lot of alcohol
Comments: I love the idea of this.  You can really taste where this whisky is going, but it is not quite there yet.  It’s got a little too much heat and alcohol.  A little more time in the barrel is going to make this a great whisky.  If you get a chance, you should try this.  It is great for your whiskey education.  I’m hoping they are holding back a few bottles of this each year so we can do side-by-side tastings when the 12yo drops seven years from now.
Rating:  Average/Must Try For Whisky Nerds

The next pour was Black Bull 30yo Blended Whisky.  This is a one off and once it’s gone, that’s it.  Unfortunately, there is not much of it either.  Other than it’s age, what really makes this whisky interesting is that it is blended, then aged for thirty years in sherry casks.  Most blends are made from aged whiskies and “married” for only a short time.  The result is quite remarkable.  It has the cohesiveness of a single malt, but the complexity of a blend.  This is a unique experience not to be missed.

Black Bull 30yo Deluxe Blended Scotch Whisky
50% ABV, 100 Proof
Estimated Retail $199, Very Limited Availability (only 600 bottles in the U.S.)

Nose: Turkish coffee grounds, dark chocolate, ripe cherries
Palate: Heavily sherried but not overly so, chocolate, plums and cherries
Finish: Long and complex, cherry, cinnamon, cherry, chocolate egg cream
Comments: This is a very unique dram and very nice.  It is not like anything else.  If I had to compare it to something, I would compare it to Highland Park 30yo and Charbay’s Whiskey Release II.  It doesn’t really taste like either, but I am reminded of both as I sip.  I must say that I was surprised to find that its 100 proof.  Uncommonly smooth, you could hurt yourself drinking this.
Rating:  Hate to say this about a rare and expensive whiskey but… Must Buy

Thanks to the folks at Preiss Imports, especially Steve Fox, for setting this up and thanks to Ethan Kelley and Brandy Library for hosting us.

Drink well, drink responsibly.