Tag Archives: Bruichladdich

Event Notice: Bruichladdich Tasting @ Mac McGee

Bruichladdich Tasting
led by the lovely Erika Turchin
Tuesday, October 28th @ 7:30 p.m.

On Tuesday October 28th at 7.30 p.m., Mac McGee in Decatur will conduct a Bruichladdich Tasting hosted by Erika Turchin.
We will enjoy the pleasure of learning about all the amazing flavors of Bruichladdich:  The Octomore, The Laddie Ten, Port Charlotte Heavily Peated, Islay Barley Rockside Farm and Scottish Barley. There is limited seating so please RSVP to macmcgees@gmail.com The cost for the tasting will be $41. We look forward to seeing you. Slainte!

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.

-Matt

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

ABV:50%

Price:$190

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

In the Land of Giants

This week, I had the opportunity to attend a class at Astor Center, hosted by Ethan Kelley of Brandy Library. The topic of the this class, “In the Land of Giants – An In-depth Look at the Boutique Distilleries of Scotland.” This class is actually part of a series, the first was about peated whiskies, the last will be about distilleries that have been moth-balled.

For this class, Mr. Kelley gave us a whirlwind history as we tasted our way through several small distilleries. Our first dram was the Hazelburn 8yo. Hazelburn is distilled at Cambeltown distillery Springbank. It seems that the owners of Springbank bought all the names from the distilleries that died in Cambeltown. This one is very light in color. There are hints of peat and brine on the nose although I’m not sure if this is actually a peated whisky. The palate is light but complex with only traces of peat. It is triple distilled which gives it a very clean feel and a smooth finish.

Next up, is the Edradour 10yo. Mr. Kelley painted a picture of this distillery that made me put it at the top of my list for what to do next time I visit Scotland. Edradour is a very small operation (3 guys) with a still that is barely big enough to be called legal. This whisky is very interesting. To my sniffer, the nose smelled like peanut butter and caramel. The palate was full bodied, spicy and nutty.

Benromach Traditional was next on the list. Very pale in color, Benromach Traditional smells like a doctor’s office. Very weak elements of peat and a vague sweetness mark the palate, but the alcohol is strong. The finish is so short and the whisky so forgettable that you are not quite sure that you actually drank it. At least five more years in a barrel would do this one some good. Skip it!

The best of the first four was the Tomintoul 16yo. The color on this is golden honey like jewel quality amber (it spent some time in a sherry cask). The nose is floral almost like a ladies perfume. I got the image of laundry drying on a line in a field of lavender when I inhaled deeply. The flavor was robust but balanced with wonderful honey notes. Unfortunately, the distillery has changed hands since this bottling, so who’s to say what the future will hold for Tomintoul. Try to get your hands on a bottle of this ASAP.

This is when things started getting really interesting. The Arran Cognac Cask. You can look for it, but I doubt you will find it. It is a single cask bottling of a distillery with limited distribution in the first place. Light amber with a rose tint, this smelled salty, sweet, and nutty with some Cognac notes. By this time, my notes start getting a little less descriptive. For the palate, I wrote “sweet, floral, and amazing.” Lucky for me, there was an extra place setting in the classroom, so I scored two drams of this one. Cognac casks are really expensive, so don’t expect to see this one (or one like it) any time soon. This was an expensive experiment. It is almost a shame that it turned out so well.

Next was the Bruichladdich Rocks. Jim McEwan of Bruichladdich is probably one of the most innovative and bat-shit crazy distillers in the world. He is constantly being recognized for his lucrative experiments at Bruichladdich. One thing he hasn’t had since leaving Bowmore, is a consistent product. Enter Peat, Rocks, and Waves. These three distinct expressions will be a consistent part of the Bruichladdich line for the foreseeable future. Rocks is an unpeated malt, with a nose like smoked white cheddar cheese. Even without the peat, you get the other great qualities of Islay. This is a rich, robust whisky that is far more balanced that any of it’s peated brethren. Mr. Kelley described this one as Talisker light.

Benriach 10yo ‘Curiositas’ is part of a series of peated Benriach. Strangely, this was not a planned venture into peated whisky, but curious finds from the dark corners of the warehouse. Just as the Rocks was everything you love about Islay without the peat, Curiositas soothes you with everything you love about Speyside with a hefty kick of peat.

The last (and strangest) whisky of the night was Ballechin Madeira (distilled at Edradour). This is a peated whisky aged completely in Madeira casks. That’s right, not a bourbon cask or even sherry. This is one of the most interesting whiskies I have ever had. The nose was quite peaty and the palate was like a peated brandy. This one is expensive and rare, but if you ever have the opportunity to try it, take it.

So, that was my latest adventure in whisky. I really enjoy these guided tastings. I always learn something and have a good time. I really like events like WhiskyFest too, but the free-for-all atmosphere on the main floor can be as tiring as it is exhilirating. If you are interested in the class on dead distilleries, I believe there are still tickets available here.

Fad Focus #1: Peat

Whisky, like most things goes through phases. Some of these phases are more macroeconomic like the historical boom and bust periods for whisky sales and their impacts on production and distillery openings and closings. Other phases tend to seem more like fads.

fad – noun
a temporary fashion, notion, manner of conduct, etc., esp. one followed enthusiastically by a group

– Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2006

Fads are not necessarily a bad thing. All fads aren’t the equivalent of a polyester leisure suit. In whisky fads tend to be inroads to innovation. This blog will be my first in a 3+ part series discussing the various fads in whisky that have come and gone. Today’s focus will be the continued “peatification” (I just made that word up) of whisky in recent years.

What is peat you ask? Peat is an accumulation of decayed or decaying vegetation that typically forms in damp regions that can be cut, dried, and used for fuel. When it comes to whisky, peat can be used in peat fires to dry malted barley that will go into making whisky. At a very basic level this tends to impart a smoky flavor most prevalent in Scotch. Peat taken from coastal areas may also impart a salty or briny flavor in addition to the smoke.

In years past Scotch was easily categorized by its use of peat. Today the degree of peat used in Scotch production varies widely by region and distillery. Islay tends to be known as the powerhouse region for producing peaty whiskies but peat branched out. Connemara Irish Whiskeys use peat and tend to taste more like Scotch than their Irish brethren.

How do we measure how peaty a whisky is? Peat levels are measured by the phenol level in parts per million, usually abbreviated as “ppm”. Phenols are organic compounds imparted on the malted barley when peat is burned to dry the barley. The higher the ppm level is, the more heavily peated the whisky.

So you may be saying “thanks for the history lesson but this has gone on for decades, why is this a fad?” Well, using peat isn’t. The degree to which we’re seeing peat used is. A long time ago in a whisky industry far, far away whiskies were all easily categorized and labeled. Irish was triple distilled and unpeated. Speyside had very little peat (0 to 10ppm lets say). Islay whiskies were heavily peated (20 to 30ppm lets say). Campbeltown and Highland whiskies fell somewhere in the middle. In this land of yore the Speysides were deemed the most desirable because they were easier to drink without all that peat and more closely resembled the famous blends that sold so well. This is partly how brands like Glenfiddich and Glenlivet became the powerhouses that they are today. The more peaty stuff was relegated to aficionados and blends.
Jump a head a few decades and Scotch started seeing a boom in interest. With the boom came the desire for new and differentiated experiences. Those peaty whiskies started getting more attention because they have a more robust flavor.

With me so far? Good because this is where things start to turn the corner. As the push towards peat accelerated we started seeing distilleries releasing peatier and peatier whiskies. At first these whiskies came from their peatier stocks that may have gone into blends before. However, soon they started making their whiskies peatier. From out of nowhere Bruichladdich comes out with Port Charlotte at 40ppm and Ardbeg blasts out with whiskies like their Uigeadail release. Now peat is really kicked into high gear. Then last year Bruichladdich came out with Octomore at whapping 131 ppm.

Let me just say that I like peated whiskies. I like them a lot. Some of my absolute favorite drams are very peaty. But it’s seems that we’re getting to the point where we’re kicking up the peat notch more and more just for the sake of doing it.

I liken it to hot sauce. I love spicy food. I love hot sauce on just about everything to some degree. But there are sauces out there that take the heat to such an extreme that they sacrifice flavor. I worry that Scotch may head in that directions. 131ppm! When will the madness stop?

– Richard