Tag Archives: whisky

Whiskies of The World 2015 – Atlanta (pt. 2)

And now for the spirits part of my Whiskies of the World review.

My strategy for the night was to survey what the non-Kentucky Southern distillers had on offer. Does, as Andre Benjamin put it, “the South got something to say,” or is it just organized noise. Before I start talking about the spirits on hand, I want to point out that this type of event is not necessarily the best place to acquire detailed tasting notes on a variety of whiskies. There are a lot of distractions and you inevitably develop palate fatigue regardless of your degree of restraint.

The short form take away is what I expected, the best “craft” bottlings where (at least in part) MGP products. Most of the stuff actually produced on premises was very young and tasted like it. I’m always torn about craft whiskey. I support it in concept, but rarely is it executed well enough to justify the price tag. That being said, there were a few whiskeys that I enjoyed.

Thirteenth Colony’s Southern Rye Whiskey was a revelation. It doesn’t taste like any other rye on the market, but not so much so that it loses its rye-ness. There is the spice you would normally expect in rye, but the mint that usually hangs in the back like a ghost is very forward. The whiskey is finished with French Oak spirals which gives it an added sweetness. The end result is akin to a Mint Julep. Perhaps next Derby Day, I’ll skip the muddle and just throw some of this in a glass. Thirteenth Colony admits to mixing MGP in with their own make for some bottlings, but I cannot remember if this is one of them.

Palmetto Whiskey, located in Anderson, SC (coincidentally where I spent the first few years of my life), produces a line of flavored “moonshines” as well as three whiskeys (Whiskey, Rye, and Wheat). I tried a few of their straight “moonshine”, a couple of their flavors, and their Whiskey. The moonshine is what you would expect of white whiskey, nothing mind blowing. The flavored offerings, flavored with real fruit juice, were sickly sweet but that’s probably the point. The whiskey, however, was delightful. The nose on this was outstanding. It was very bourbon-y on the palate. There wasn’t a lot of complexity, but that could have been palate fatigue.

One last Southern craft whiskey that I’d like to talk about is John’s Single Malt Whiskey from John Emerald Distilling Company in Opelika, AL. They had two bottlings with the same label, but I was told that one had spent marginally more time in a barrel than the other. Oddly, to my palate, the younger one tasted better. Tasted excellent, in fact, for such a young spirit. Does this mean that John’s Single Malt will never get better or that it has a lot of potential? I’m not sure, but I’d like to find out. I want to keep checking in with these guys and see where it goes.

I’d like to give a shout out to Corsair’s Barrel-Aged Gin. It’s not whiskey, but it is from Tennessee and it’s pretty delicious.

Moving away from my central directive, I thought I’d check out the two Nikka offerings that Richard had recently reviewed. Richard preferred the Coffey Grain to the Taketsuru 12 year old. I felt exactly the opposite, but it was also the very last thing I drank. So, I’d like to do another side by side to make sure.

Thanks to Whiskies of the World and Becca at 360 Media for hooking me up with a press pass. I’m forever grateful.

For more information on Whiskies of the World and a schedule of future events go to their website.

If you are a distiller or represent one and would like for Whisk(e)yApostle to do a formal review on any of the whiskies in your line, please contact Richard.

Whiskies of The World 2015 – Atlanta (pt. 1)

It’s been a few weeks since the Whiskeys of the World event in Atlanta, and while I apologize to the event’s organizers for the lateness in my write up, it’s been nice to ruminate on the experience. I’ve been to a lot of these types of festivals over my whisk(e)y drinking life and they all have positive and negative aspects. I’m going to start off by talking about the event itself and then move on to some of the specific whiskeys and whiskies that spoke to me in some way.

(Edit: This post ended up being a lot longer than I intended so, I’m going to separate the event review from the spirits reviews, breaking it up into two posts.)

As previously stated, I’ve been to a lot of events like this one. However, this is the first one I’ve tackled since moving back to Atlanta. All my basis for comparison comes from my eleven years in New York City. From larger events like WhiskyFest to smaller events like Whisky on the Hudson and the Bourbon and Bacon Festival, I managed to keep busy during the festival season. I watched as the scene changed, as the consumers became more knowledgeable, and the faces in the crowd began to take on more diversity.

I bring all this up, not to tout my experience level, but to point out a short fall in the local scene. While Atlanta is certainly behind New York, the crowd is closer to catching up than the exhibitors. I saw men and women of various ethic backgrounds all coming to the tables looking to be educated, and many who were already educated and hungry for more. Unfortunately, many of the ambassadors where not that knowledgeable about the products on the tables. I thought we had advanced past the concept of “pour bunnies” and hired guns dressed in a kilts. Now don’t get me wrong, I have no problem with having pretty girls or roguishly charming dudes pouring me a dram. I do, however, expect them to know a little about what’s in the bottle. I’m not expecting everyone behind the table to have encyclopedic knowledge of whisky in general, but if you are going to hire an actor to pour for you, give them a script (and a good one!). There are some really great ambassadors out there. I’d like to see more of them make it to Atlanta.

There were also a number of exhibitors who clearly did not want to be there. If the brand ambassador can’t get excited about the brand, no one is going to get excited. As is to be expected (or at least hoped for), the craft distillers tended to know the most about their products and to be the most excited. It was an all out party at the Palmetto table. I’m hoping that next year the rest of the exhibitors up their game. Otherwise, people are going to lose interest.

Now, with all that grousing, you would think I didn’t have a good time. Well, I’m just a curmudgeon. I had a pretty good time. There were a good number of whiskies represented. I enjoyed the smoking porch. And I realize that, to the brand ambassadors, we live in a lower tier market. Some folks don’t have enough faith that Atlanta can be a whisk(e)y city like Chicago, New York, or San Francisco. Well, frankly, those folks are lazy and full of crap. We here at Whisk(e)y Apostle proselytize as a hobby, and we turn people on to whisky all the time. Imagine the ground we could cover if we got paid for it!

Honestly, I want to thank the organizers of Whiskies of the World for bringing an event of this size to Atlanta. If you look at the other cities on their list, the only first tier market is San Francisco. I don’t know if this is an attempt to capitalize on the under served markets or if there is a legitimate desire to bring markets like Atlanta into the top tier. Either way, I think it’s awesome.

Thanks to Whiskies of the World and Becca at 360 Media for hooking me up with a press pass. I’m forever grateful.

For more information and news about future Whiskies of the World events go to their website.

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

Barriers for New Whiskey Drinkers Part 2 (Matt)

Richard asked me to contribute my thoughts on the plight of the fledgling whisk(e)y drinker.  What can I say?  Richard did a pretty thorough job.  I can tell you that my biggest beef is with the internet (yes, I see the irony).

Like Richard said, when we came up with the idea for our Whisk(e)y Apostle, there were not a lot of folks out there doing the same thing.  Through a series of false starts and general laziness, we got started right at the beginning of the blogger boom.  Now, there are almost as many whisk(e)y blogs as porn sites (so I hyperbolize, I’m from the South).  If you throw a cat in Brooklyn, you’re bound to hit at least one blogger and if they don’t blog about music or design, they blog about spirits or cocktails.  That’s just the environment in which we live.  Now, I’m not coming down on blogging per se.  Blogging puts the power (or at least the voice) in the hands of the people.  In order to avoid a lengthy discussion about populism, let’s just say that’s a good thing for now.

So, if ‘power to the people’ is a good thing, what am I bitching about?  Well, the sheer amount of information sources available can be daunting for the first time consumer.  There are some informative blogs, some entertaining blogs, and a few that are both.  There are also blogs where the writers have very little knowledge of their subject and act as tools to disseminate false or inaccurate information (not intentionally, I’m sure).  Some are even tools of the corporate machine.   So, where does one go for accurate and well-presented information?  Certainly not the sites from the distilleries, distributors, and corporate overlords.

Three or four years ago, most distilleries did not have individual websites.  Now, even the small guys have sites loaded with flash animation, fanciful stories, some esoteric tasting notes and little else.  If you want a good fairy tale, these are great sites.  If you want some solid information on what is actually in the bottle, forget it.  There are some exceptions to be sure, but distillery websites often drive me mad with their lack of information shrouded by flashy graphics and pastoral photos of moors and mountains.

In this internet age, we have to be more careful about what we believe and what we repeat.  Someone who once was a lonely voice ranting in the darkness may now have 200,000 followers on Twitter.  I’ve heard bartenders, liquor store personnel, and customers alike spouting half-truths and fallacies as if they were fact.  At times, I may have done the same.  And, for that, I apologize.

Marketing in general can be minefield for even the educated consumer.  Many consumers believe that an age statement is an indication of quality, but they don’t really know what it means.  Some believe an age statement to be the oldest or average age for the whisky in the bottle.  In actuality, it’s the youngest whisky in the bottle (no matter what country you are talking about).  Other terms like small batch, single barrel, pure malt, blend, blended malt, single malt, and single grain can further through a wrench in the works.  This is especially the case when terms like  “small batch” does not have a legal or agreed upon meaning.  Jim Beam has an entire “small batch” line.  When you produce as much whiskey as Jim Beam, a relative small batch is still quite a bit of liquid.  What Does John Know had a great thread about this very topic recently.

While I think the shear amount of information (good and bad) out there may be daunting, it is also one of the greatest boons to the whisk(e)y novice.  The same can be said for other challenges.  The variety of bottles on the shelves can be dizzying in a place like Binny’s (Metro-Chicago) or Liquor Mart (Boulder, CO) or at specialty bars.  However, this can also mean that you are more likely to find one that you like.  Once you find one whisky (or whiskey) that you like, I promise you will find others.

Drink well, drink responsibly.

-Matt

Just Three Ingredients

I’ve been giving a lot of thought to yeast and barley lately (mainly because I’ve been reading a lot about brewing and distilling).  Particularly, I’ve been thinking about how barley and yeast have developed over the years and how regional variations can greatly affect the flavor of whisky.  When the ancestral distillers of malted barley first put flame to kettle, there was not much choice in ingredients.  There was a local barley crop (malting on-site), a local water source, and wild yeast captured from the environment.

I like the idea of wild yeast; riding air currents looking for the right slurry of fruits or grains, gorging themselves on the precious sugars until their wanton gluttony causes them to choke on their own excrement (alcohol).  I think there is a metaphor for the American financial system somewhere in that.

It seems so simple:  barley, yeast, water.  However, since the invention of refrigeration, distillers have been able to store and cultivate yeast strains.*  This alone represented a huge step toward consistency of product and innovation.  Not only could distillers be sure the same yeast was used each year, but they could tinker with a strain to get more of the qualities they found desirable (higher/lower alcohol content, more floral notes, less/more acidity, etc.).  Any home brewer will tell you, the right yeast can have massive effects on your final product.  Modern distillers go as far as patenting their yeast strains so no one can duplicate their product.

And what of barley you say?  Well, barley has changed too.  Distillers are no longer required to source barley from down the road.  Modern transportation methods make shipping barley quite simple.  Most Scottish distilleries use Scottish barley, but it’s sourced mostly from large-scale facilities that service multiple distilleries and offer several varieties of grain.  However, several things are happening right now.  There are a handful of distilleries experimenting with barley traditionally used for brewing beer (The Glenlivet Nadurra Triumph, for one).  There are experiments in malting (some of the malt in Glenmorangie’s The Signet is roasted in a tumbler like coffee beans).  Additionally, barley can be tinkered with in the same way as yeast.  Scientists can build it stronger, heartier, sweeter.  We have the technology.

When we are talking about whisky, we can’t leave wood or water completely out of the equation.  However, I think we sometimes forget the importance of barley and yeast.  I’m willing to bet that if you gave ten distilleries all the same water and a first fill bourbon barrel (all from the same distillery), you would still get ten distinct products.  Somebody contact the SWA.  I think we have a contest on our hands.

Of course, I’m leaving out the size and shape of the still and the unique environmental conditions of the warehouses, but you get the idea.

This was supposed to segue into a discussion about a tasting I recently lead, but I’ve somehow gone off track.  Oh well, such is life.  I think I’m going back to my books for now.  Or maybe I’ll hit the streets with a tub of grain slurry and hope for the best.  Do you need a butterfly net to catch wild yeast?

-Matt

*Note:  It was possible to preserve yeast strains before this, but the process was tricky at best, relying mainly on spent yeast to create starter cultures for the next product.  Of course, the term “starter culture” is an anachronism as it was not until the 1860s that Louis Pastuer discovered that yeast is indeed a living organism.