The 4J Bar…

I’d like to avoid using this blog as a way to vent my frustrations but I’ve got to bring up the bane of my drinking existence…The 4J Bar. What is a 4J Bar you ask? Oh you’ve seen them whether you know it or not. It could be a restaurant, a pub, a hotel bar, or any other trendy or not so trendy place to grab a drink. You’ll know the 4J Bar because when you look up behind the bartender you only see around four different whiskies. Usually they consist of Jack Daniels, Jim Beam, John Walker, and Jameson. This may not be the exact make up of the bar (and I personally have nothing against any of these) but my list is alliterative and you get the gist of what I’m saying. Basically, their whiskey selection doesn’t really exist. I’m not saying that every place that serves alcohol should be a whiskey bar (God I wish!) but especially places that obviously put thought into their beer and wine selections could put a little more effort toward their whiskey.

The kicker is that those four or so bottles of whiskey are bunched in around 400 bottles of vodkas and liqueurs. I’m sorry but you just don’t need that much vodka. You’re paying for the name not the taste (or lack there of). Nine times out of ten that vodka’s going into a cocktail where you can’t tell if it’s Grey Goose or Smirnoff. Show me someone who can and I’ll show you a liar. “But I drink my vodka straight and I can tell the difference.” No you can’t. At best you can sort them into three groups: Premium, mid-tier, and crap. If I line you up with a blind tasting of Grey Goose, Belvedere, Ulitmat, and Stolichnaya and tell you to pick Belvedere out of that group you’ll probably be right…25% of the time.

Why am I harping on this? Because whiskey isn’t like vodka, they all taste different. However, we live in a vodka world. It’s cheaper for the bar to buy and they sell those cocktails for the same price as a quality dram. And the endless herds of Trendy Wendys buy them by the gallons. Buy cheap, sell high, vodka wins every time.

So what can we do about this you say? Say something. Ask the bartender why they don’t stock more whiskies. Tell the manager that you love the food but you’d like to see more whiskies on the bar menu. Mention to the owner what a rising tide there is in the interest of quality whiskies and that they could really capitalize on that with just a little more variety. Make your voice heard. Eventually, if enough of us say something we might start seeing a bottle of Macallan or Rittenhouse.

-Richard

Keeping an open mind…

This being my first blog (both for Whisk(e)y Apostle (and in general).  I thought that the topic should be relatively important. There are a lot of things I could go on about but what I really want to address is an issue that I’ve seen for years and continue to see. It’s something that affects both the seasoned whisky devotee and the neophyte alike…open mindedness. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve seen someone snub their nose at one drink or another because of perceived inferiority. Irish whiskey, bourbon, blended scotch, and Canadian whisky come up most often but I don’t think any drink is immune to this phenomenon.
This usually manifests in one of the following ways:

1. “The flavors aren’t as pronounced” – B.S.

There are a multitude of flavors in every type of whisky if you’re just open minded enough to give them a chance. The flavors can be very different from type to type and within types, but that discovery is half the fun. Don’t let anyone tell you a blended scotch is bland. A good blended scotch can be a symphony of layered flavors in the hands of a good blender. You’ll only know if you try it for yourself.

2. “They aren’t made as well” – B.S.

It takes just as much work to make bourbon as it does to make good single malt and it takes more work on the back end to make a quality blend. All the men and women who make whisky, whatever the variety put just a much time and sweat (not literally) into their product as anyone else. Don’t sell their hard work short without at least giving it a taste.

3. “That type of whisky doesn’t taste very good” – B.S.

Have you tried them all? No. Is every iteration of a particular type of whisky good? No. But there are plenty of good ones out there and if you dismiss a category based on one or two bad drams then you’re really missing out.

4. “I just don’t like them” – Fine, I’ll give you this one.

Taste is a personal thing. You don’t have to like every thing. Different strokes for different folks.

Whenever I’m conversing with someone and they make one of these statements my response is to ask “Why?” This usually elicits a quizzical look. I follow up with “why do think blended scotch/bourbon is inferior to single malts?” We’ll go back and forth and if I can convince them to just give it a try 4 out of 5 times they’re very surprised.

My point in all of this? Taste it. Try it. Experience it. Don’t dismiss a whisky without deciding for yourself. Matt and I have had quite a few drams, both together and apart. Do we agree on all of them? No. Is that okay? Yes. Try as many different whiskies as you can and make up your own mind. Whisky, like life is definitely about the journey, not the destination.

-Richard

Words, words, words. What about flavor?

I thought I would get things rolling by talking about the art of tasting. While tasting a new whiskey should be relaxing and enjoyable, it can also cause a lot of anxiety to those who want to describe and understand the complexities of the dram. Tasting notes on store shelves or bottles are often esoteric and confusing (even moreso than wine). I mean, who really wants to drink something that tastes like ‘aged leather’ or ‘damp earth?’ And what about peat? Who’s Pete? So here is my humble opinion on the subject.

Whiskey is incredibly diverse and complex. I am sure some people will argue with me, but I believe that you should start with something less complex to get your palate going. So pick out an Irish or a nice Speyside (preferably young and aged in bourbon casks). These whiskies will give you a good basis for what whiskey is supposed to taste like. Try to describe them using your experience. A Master Distiller might say that something has notes of black currant. If you’ve never tasted a black currant, that is not particularly helpful. As you develop your own vocabulary, start searching out the flavors that the Master Distillers talk about. If you like cask finishes, try the wine that was in the cask first. Find places where you can smell leather, iodine, and peat. Become more aware of your senses of taste and smell. Before you know it, you will be tasting like a pro. You’re vocabulary just may be a little different (i.e. ‘This takes like ‘Nilla wafers and fresh mown grass’).

Check out our FAQs for more info on the ritual of tasting.

-Matt

Begin At The Beguine

Well, this is my first post.  My good friend Richard and I have been discussing a whiskey blog for some time and now is the time.  We will be blogging about the wonders of all forms of whiskey with the occasional shout out to a revered spirit or beer that strikes our fancy.  I am coming to you from New York City, where I will be attending every whiskey event I can possibly attend, and Richard is holding it down for the Dirty South.  We are also working on a system for helping newbies and whiskey enthusiasts find their perfect dram.  So, give us read, give us a shout, and we hope that we will be able to help you in your quest for knowledge and the perfect dram.

-Matt