Top NOTCH Whisky Weekend on Nantucket

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Simple but typical and relaxing view just outside the town of Nantucket

An American single malt whisky taking top honors at the International Spirit Challenge! You probably read about it months ago. For us self-appointed whisky geeks, we perhaps scoffed at the idea that an American whisky would be so bold as to win single malt awards. And, to add injury to insult this winner is hard to find.  The gold medal winner, the 12 YO Notch from Triple Eight Distillery hails from Nantucket Island, Massachusetts. Do I have a story to tell about this whisky….

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Welcome to Cisco Brewers home of Triple Eight Distillery

It all started in September 2001 during the Nantucket wedding weekend of Eileen and Scott (E&S.)  The Triple Eight Distillery was fairly new and offering barrels of “whisky” for sale as an investment, with the first tasting available five years down the road. Being single malt enthusiasts, the bride and groom thought this would be an adventurous way to celebrate their marriage and connect them long term to the island. Who new that the craft whisky industry would explode and that their purchase would become an award winning enterprise.

Five years down the road a number of us joined E&S for the celebration and for a peak at the aging whisky.  Rumor has it I appropriated one of the five bottles – but that’s another story, which can be found documented in my book.  I’m innocent! Anyway, we tasted the five year old at the distillery and tasted  again at the evening party.  I expected harsh but was pleased to find light and buttery. Not half bad was my opinion. Time would tell how it aged at the next tasting planned for year 10.

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Official Tasting of the 10 YO Scott’s Notch at the distillery

Year ten brought us back to the island for more hoopla and notch tasting. In the meantime, the distillery released their first expression of Notch as an 8 YO. It was released on 8/8/08 and sold for a hefty $888.  Very tongue in cheek and as a specialty item, it sold. The bottle we tasted, officially named Scott’s Notch, was still very lightly colored, easy drinking with a hint of cinnamon and a touch of salt. The finish reminded me of a slice of toasted bread and nuts.   Oh, by the way, I do have a bottle.

At this point in time conversations between the distillery and Scott began about the final bottling, how many bottled might the angels have left, how many bottles the distillery would want to purchase back, and delivery. Hmmm, conversations can sometimes take a long time.  Final delivery would end up being the 15th anniversary weekend.

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The hooch boxed and hidden behind the sofa! Real safe.

 All this brings us to this September and the 15th anniversary of Scott’s Notch and the bride and groom. To kick off the weekend with a full-on whisky theme I lead a single malt scotch tasting for the group of 13.  The tasting of Scott’s Notch, officially a 12 YO, would be the grand finale.

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Three distinct whiskies for tasting and sharing

 

I displayed three bottles, handed out a description of each whisky, scoring sheets and a whisky flavor chart downloaded from the Internet for everyone to use. (Now, while, I can sling the bull with the best of them, describing whisky with pithy words is not my strong suit.) Each pour had its own glass and water for hydrating and for adding a drop to the whiskies if necessary was set up.

The caterer would provide four different warm appetizers during the tasting. A burrata and pear bruschetta, truffled mushrooms, coconut shrimp, mini beef tacos. A lobster and beef tenderloin buffet would complete the evening. Oh yeah, it was going to be a prime evening to remember!

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Dinner after the tasting

 

The group as asked to score each whisky from 1 to 4.

1 = Please don’t ever buy me this, ever. 2 = I’ll drink it and if I must, perhaps, maybe, buy a bottle, maybe.  3 = Honey, please buy me this bottle. It is fabulous. 4 = Honey, please buy me two bottles, I most likely won’t share it with anyone, I want it all for myself.

In keeping with the 15 YO theme the first pour was a Campbeltown Region, Springbank 15 YO at 46% alc. When preparing descriptors for handouts I usually look at the distillery notes and a few other reviews that best agree with my thoughts. “Springbank has an almost bewildering array of flavors: dark chocolate, figs, brazil nuts and vanilla. some find components of Islay…smoke, leather.”

Next up was the Orkney, Highland Park Dark Origins NAS at 46.8% alc. “Dark Origins is known for its double first fill sherry casks, which bring a richer “sherry bomb” flavor.  Notes of heathered smoke,, peat, caramel, and cocoa beams dominate the palate.”

I enjoy finishing tastings with a bold Islay. This night it was Ardbeg’s Corryvreckan, a personal favorite. At 57.1% it is a big boy! “The packaging states ‘not for the faint hearted’ and it is true.” The palate is deep with cream spices. Masters of Malt call this expression astonishing.”

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Eileen and Scott bring out the Scott’s Notch to taste

 

After a few additional appetizers, a cleansing of the palates. Eileen and Scott presented the 12 YO Scott’s Notch.  The comments included: apricots, caramel, malt, vanilla, smooth, and most surprising several folks agreed that it hinted of a warm rum. For me, the sweetness on the palate leaned it towards a bourbon. As with the whiskies leading up to the Notch, folks went back to compare, and to have a second whirl.

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Decently dented 

 

Comments from my not-too-scientific scoring sheet:

  • The Springbank was more enjoyable after trying the Ardbeg and going back to it – the sweetness was more prominent
  • Highland Park – felt a little sting in the back of my mouth, delicious
  • Highland Park – masculine
  • A little water helped the Ardbeg
  • I put a bit of the Highland Park with the Ardbeg and it became a “4”. (Egads!)

Tally totals:

Scott’s Notch 41 (Though I do think the group was biased. Though I am biased towards the Ardbeg.) Springbank 30, Highland Park, 29, Ardbeg 28. Really a neck-in-neck race.

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Am I excited at being given my very own bottle of the 12 YO!

 

What is interesting is that most of the group didn’t drink whisky, or if they had, it was the $30 a bottle type, and then mixed, or with lots of water.  So they did very well working their way through the four bottles.  I was thrilled when several of the non-whisky drinking women scored the Ardbeg quite high. No shrinking violets here.

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My Scott’s Notch Collection. One of a kind and all mine. Note how the color goes from almost clear to very dark. Time in a sherry barrel at the end of its aging.

 

The following day was to continue with the tasting theme at the Triple Eight Distillery for lunch and the Nantucket Culinary Center for an evening with Chef Greg and a five course dinner. Stay tuned for all the yummy details in my next blog.

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I raise a glass to good friends, family and sharing whisky together!

Summer Project: Whisky and Cheese Pairings

Summer-Party

What is it about summer that fosters days explained away by the old school expression “the road is paved with good intentions?” My list of “to-do” is long and as I sip a new single malt scotch I simply ponder scribbling down some tasting notes, writing a review and updating my blog. Ahh. Good intentions abound.

Fortunately, my living as a sloth was interrupted by a request to design and present a whisky tasting as a fall fundraiser for a local Senior Council in Aging. We will all get there someday, so to my mind, keeping the support line for seniors available is a worthy cause.

I have gotten off the chaise lounge and am pumping up the creative juices.  After considering which four whiskies to present I thought about the food that will be served and potential cheeses to pair with each of whiskies. Wait! Why not have a whisky and cheese infographic to have as a handout? Why not spend a few days doing some research and create my own version of a whisky and cheese infographic? Thus inspired, I forged ahead.

The topic is not entirely new to me. I included some suggestions for pairings in my book Whisky Tales: Tastings and Temptations. Over the years I have found whisky and cheese pairings to be an intriguing combination and one that gets tasting participants excited.

WhiskyCheesesamples

The resulting infographic is set up with five distinct whisky flavor profiles:

  1. Peat and Smoke
  2. Sherry and Fruit
  3. Salty and Peat
  4. Floral and Honey
  5. Spicy and Grassy

I have selected six scotch whiskies that fall somewhere within the parameters of each flavor profile and listed them by region. Most are single malt whisky, a few are blends.

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The cheeses selected also have five distinct flavor profiles:

  1. Strong and Complex
  2. Rich and Versatile
  3. Nutty and Savory
  4. Fruity and Nutty
  5. Mellow and Delicate

Each whisky flavor profile has two or three corresponding cheese suggestions.

Now, keep in mind that, as with any whisky and cheese pairing, individual preferences may swerve away from the suggestions. That is A-Okay. The infographic is meant to be a general guide and offer but a glimpse into the tasting possibilities. I recommend trying out the suggestions and also try your favorites and discover what works best for you.

The infographic may be downloaded here: WhiskyCheeseInfographic8.2016  The sources are also available for your reading pleasure. Sources for the WhiskyCheeseInfographic2

Now, I can either go back to being a summer sloth or go back to my “to-do” list….first in line a whisky and chocolate infographic. Yum!  That research is worth getting up and moving.

I raise a glass to exploring whisky pairings and time to be a summer sloth!

Blarney on the Long Trail

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Blarney: talk that aims to charm, pleasantly flatter, or persuade. AKA: full of baloney.

No Blarney on this blog!

Spur of the moment trips oft result in unexpected surprises. Add to that the opportunity to sample six new whiskies and pure happiness fills the air. As it happens, two of us decided to spend a couple of days in the Green Mountains of Vermont away from the relentless heat of the city. The clever lady that I am, upon confirming a reservation at the Inn at Long Trail in Killington, had me quickly scanning for local distilleries to peruse. To my benefit, Vermont has joined the explosion of entrepreneurs spiriting enthusiastically.

Those who know my book and perhaps check my blog on occasion recognize that my preferred manner of tasting whiskies is to sip and compare with (sometimes) known whiskies of a similar genre. This blog will continue that style. One more caveat, I am a single malt scotch drinker first and foremost….perhaps some of my views below are, therefore, askew.

Let the Vermont journey begin…final destination about three hours north of Boston.

Silo distillery

The first stop was to Silo Distillery located in the same Artisan Park in Windsor that houses the popular Harpoon Brewery. One could easily spend extra time visiting the other new shops in the park – cheeses, sauces, ice cream, with more shops to come soon. My focus was lasered in on Silo.

Unfortunately for me they were out of their whiskey product, but the assistant quickly expounded the virtues of their new whiskey that was being launched that evening. She graciously went to see if a spare bottle was hidden in the office. Sure enough she appeared with a bottle of Aisling as well as the distiller, Chris Magiollo. I was served a generous pour, which I sampled, then quietly tucked the remainder to bring home for a comparison tasting.

Silo Aisling: 40% alc wheat whiskey aged in charred Ash wood staves. The whiskey is fairly colorless with a overly sweet wheat nose, and a taste that is a combination of nutty cloves, syrupy sweet and a bit puzzling to me, perhaps a memory of the concord grape that grows wild in New England. I tried it again at home side by side with a bottle of Bernheim Kentucky Straight Wheat Whiskey, 45% alc. On the box it has a quote by F. Paul Pacult, “Bernheim offers a fine balance of wood, moderately sweet grain, and acity…finishes elegantly, warm.” The color is a beautiful golden and offers whiffs of caramel. Completely different from the Aisling and much more to my liking. Could be Aisling is best served in a cocktail? Silo is a vodka producer after all. I rate the Aisling 1+. The Bernheim somewhere in the 2+ range.

alpacas

Next stop, Quechee Gorge, home of the Antiques Mall, a Cabot cheese sampling store, a few alpacas, and Vermont Spirits.  I have purchased VT Spirits vodkas for number of years now along with their very likable No14 Bourbon (with a touch of maple syrup.) Their latest edition is called Provisional Light Whiskey. Its 45% alc grain whiskey, light golden in color and sweet spice to the taste. It is aged a minimum of nine months and quite appealing. Don’t know how it happened, but I bought a bottle, as well as another bottle of No14.

Provisional whiskey

At home, I paired the Provisional with another whiskey new to me, Appalachian Gap Distillery’s Ridgeline. This baby is 49% alc, rich in color, thick with legs like a big red wine or cognac. The taste reminds me of a cinnamon chewing gum with chocolate finish. The rye shines through much to my pleasure.

I rate the Provisional a 2+ and the Ridgeline a 2+. I really want to give the Ridgeline a 3- but can’t quite justify it.

VT Spirits distillery

Back to the trip. At days end we settled in at the Inn at Long Trail. This rustic Inn is near the Appalachian Trail and Vermont’s Long Trail and usually filled with hikers from around the globe. If by some chance I can be called a hiker by association, well then I’m all in! The Inn has a great Irish Pub, named McGraths, with a predominance of Irish whiskies, all of which I have tippled over the years. The bar’s only new bottle caught my eye: 2Gingers. This little known expression is produced at the Kilbeggan Distillery.  At 40% alc it is very light, very Irish. Is it cinnamon or organge peel on the nose? After sipping, it fades so fast that I cannot find the flavor. That is not a bad thing, just a simple taste that doesn’t go big at all.  I rate the 2Gingers a 2-.

2gingers

The chef at the pub makes all the desserts from scratch, so not to disappoint and to show appreciation for all the hard work in the kitchen, I ordered the double chocolate Irish bread pudding with Irish whiskey sauce. I ordered a Bushmills 21YO to accompany the pudding and fell completely into bliss.

irishchocolate breadpudding

The following day was spent visiting a friend, touring Montpelier, the state capital, and by chance the Fresh Tracks Farm Vineyard and Winery in Berlin. If we must, we must. Established in 2002, Fresh Tracks is a nice distraction along an already scenic back roads drive. There were twelve wines to taste and the three of us managed to share our way through them all.  Several were surprisingly tasty. A few bottles were purchased. But I digress from the mission of whiskey.

Freshtracksfarm  FreshTracksfarmmenu

We couldn’t make it to the Mad River Distillery but Chris from Silo highly recommended its whiskies, so I eagerly purchased a bottle of the rye whiskey. I waited to taste the Mad River until home. For my own mini tasting, I cracked open a bottle of Copper Fox Rye from Virginia and a bottle of Ryan and Wood Rye from Gloucester, MA.

Mad River Rye is 48% alc, ages for a minimum of six months, bold and rich in color, bold and means business in taste – peppery, spicy grains. All that I appreciate in a rye.

Copper Fox is 45% alc, “aged (14 mos) with a progressive series of new and used Applewood and oak chips, inside used bourbon barrels and finished in a second used bourbon barrels.” Copper Fox is lighter and has a finesse as opposed to the boldness of Mad River.

Last up was the Ryan and Wood Rye, which I have written about before. It is overall lighter, softer with some tang to it.

My rankings are based not only on tasting and comparing but also on my preference for big and bold flavors: Mad River a 3; Copper Fox a 2+; and the Ryan and Wood a 2.

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Visiting Vermont in the summer is an entirely different experience from visiting during skiing season. It is a beautiful state anytime. Actually, the only time to be wary of Vermont is during its fifth season…known to the locals as mud season. Really the mud can rule!

I never cracked open the bottle of Stonecutter Spirits Heritage Cask Whiskey I bought. A bottle to play with on another day. Anticipation!

I raise a glass to summer sipping!

 

10-4-10 Series: Joshua Hatton, Single Cask Nation

This is the fourth installment of my 10-4-10 series of interviews with people who are swirling winningly in the wide world of whisk(e)y. Up this time is Joshua Hatton, the President and CEO of Jewish Whisky Company, Single Cask Nation.

Thanks again to Joshua for taking the time to provide detailed informative answers to my ten questions; and here goes….

  1. What was the impetus behind the creation of JWC/SCN?
  • From 2008 – 2010 I was actively looking to leave my current profession as a Director of Sales and Marketing for a manufacturer of Industrial Storage Supplies for something that was more near and dear to my heart: whisky. I spent a good amount of time looking for band ambassadorial work but for various reasons things never did work out for me as a brand ambassador.  As a lover of independent bottlers and all of the special, and given my entrepreneurial spirit, starting my own independent bottling company seemed the way to go. I brought the idea to my friend and fellow whisky blogger, Jason Johnstone-Yellin, and he loved it. I instantly asked him to be my VP.
  • Thankfully we have many friends and contacts within the industry that have supported us from the beginning to help get the company started. We went from bottling 3 casks in our first year to upwards of 18 casks in 2015. We hope to bottle around the same in 2016 – we shall see…

  1. Please explain how JWC/SCN membership works.
  • Currently there are three levels of membership: White Lite Level, White Level, Silver Level.
  • Regardless of your level of membership, purchasing your Single Cask Nation membership allows Nation members exclusive access to all our whisky releases.  This is the number one benefit as a member of Single Cask Nation.
  • Our $36 White-Lite membership level simply grants you access to our whiskies.
  • White Level, provides Nation members with a full 750ml “Welcome Bottle” of one of our finest Single Cask, Natural Cask Strength Whiskies available.  The choice of “Welcome Bottle” is completely up to the new Nation member. White Level members also receive two Single Cask Nation whisky posting glasses, a membership card, SCN or JWC t-shirt, and a copy of the latest Malt Whisky Yearbook by Ingvar Rhonde. Membership lasts one year and can be renewed for only $36.
  • Silver Levelmembership allows new members to choose 2 full 750ml “Welcome Bottles” (again, new members get to choose the welcome bottles). Silver Level members also receive 6 SCN nosing glasses, membership card, copy of the latest Malt Whisky Yearbook, an SCN embroidered work shirt, and no membership renewal fees until the 4th year of membership.
  • Unlike a wine-of-the-month club, we will not ship members any whisky they have not ordered or do not want.  As a member of Single Cask Nation, you will have complete control of your purchases and choice of your “Welcome Bottle(s).”
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Full disclosure…yes, I have my work shirt!

 

  1. Did you have any “this is not going to work” moments that you would like to share?
  • As with any new business, there have been rocky moments but we are continually amazed that we run this fantastic business. No, we always knew this was the right thing to be doing!
  1. Where do you see JWC in five years?
  • Wow – interesting question. We do have a 5 year plan as well as a 10 year plan. However, much of it is very hush-hush. All I can say is “watch this space.”
  1. Care to share what bottles you will be launching this upcoming year?
  • We’re very excited about the 28yo Bunnahabhain & 10yo Loch Lomond we just bottled. That will arrive to the US in a couple of months. We *just* released a 2yo Westland single malt that was chosen by us and 20 SCN members at the distillery. Also in the pipeline are the following: 8yo Craigellachie (sherry matured), 10yo American Light Whiskey (two different casks), Glen Moray Madeira Cask (6 years bourbon matured, 6 years Madeira matured). We’ve got a few other casks up our sleeves…
  1. What have you learned about the world of whisky that has surprised you?
  • The stark differences between independent bottling as it’s done in Scotland as compared to how it’s done in the US. In Scotland, and our model follows suit, on the label is the bottler’s name and the name of the distillery where the whisky was produced. Here in the US, it’s more common to create a brand around whiskey produced at this distillery or that (usually MGP). As a result, our ability to source American spirits *and* put the distillery name on the label is limited. That said, we have bottled whiskey (both rye and light whiskey) from the Midwest Grain Products distillery (MGP) and put their name on the label. To our knowledge, we’re the first and only bottler to do this.

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  1. Do you have particular SCN favorites? They are…
  • While I am proud of all our bottlings, right up there would be the 6yo Laphroaig we bottled and the 2yo heavily peated, sherry cask matured Westland. That said, our 18yo Glen Elgin, 12yo Glen Moray and 13yo Arran are nothing to shake a stick at. I find these whiskies in my glass quite often (well, the ones we still have stock on that is).

GlenElginSCN

  1. Do you collect any whiskies from around the world?
  • I’m a terrible collector in that I open nearly every bottle I own.  I do have some bottles that I have duplicates of so I don’t mind opening only one of them and I do have some that I’ll open *at the right time*
  • With regards to whiskies from around the world — before Jim Murray gave his “Whisky of the Year” award to the Yamazaki sherry cask, I had quite a few Japanese whiskies in my collection. Karuizawa, Chichibu, Hanyu, Yamazaki, Chita, Hakushu, Yoichi… you name it. Whiskies from these various distilleries are now untouchable and that saddens me greatly.

Joshua

  1. We have met at the Saratoga Whisky Obsession Festival several times.  Tell us more about your Whisky Jewbilee events.
  • Whisky Jewbilee is a festival we started in 2012 and is now in three cities. We started in NYC but have expanded to Chicago and Seattle. In short, Whisky Jewbilee is a festival for whisky geeks by whisky geeks.
  • We cap the attendance for all of our events to ensure that attendees can comfortably move around and have a chance to talk with the exhibitors behind the table. What’s more is we have a no models policy. Everyone behind a table at Whisky Jewbilee must be distillery or brand direct and be able to talk in depth about their brands.
  • At any given Whisky Jewbilee event, attendees can expect 40 exhibitor tables which will have between 80-100 brands, and a total of 200-300 different whiskies.
  • There is no VIP hour, everyone is treated as VIP and we ask our exhibitors to bring in special bottles to pour for those that are truly interested in their brands (not just asking for the oldest/most expensive stuff).
  • We are the only American whisky festival that features a special festival bottling to celebrate the event. So far we’ve worked with Heaven Hill, High West, Westland Distillery, MGP, and Wild Turkey for our festival bottlings. On Sept 1st we will have our 2nd annual Whisky Jewbilee Chicago event and our partner for that festival bottling will be Chicago’s Koval distillery. We will be bottling one of their oldest single cask bourbons for that event.
  • All of the food served at Whisky Jewbilee event is kosher so that all can comfortably enjoy the event. While this is the “Jewbilee,” the event is focused on Whisk(e)y first and foremost. *All lovers and appreciators of brown spirits are welcome*

And do you have a fun or unusual story or experience when speaking with attendees at any festivals that you have participated?

 

  • Two stories for you:

o    A few weeks prior to Whisky Jewbilee NYC 2016, I found out that a friend of mine from NYC was good friends with my favorite comic book writer (Garth Ennis, writer of Judge Dredd, Hellblazer, Punisher, and among many other things, Preacher which is now a TV show on AMC) and that that writer was also a fan of brown spirits. I asked Garth to be my guest at Whisky Jewbilee and he graciously accepted the invitation. Having a chance to share whisky and pints with him made the 6 months of planning for our event that much more meaningful.

o    This next story is a heart touching one (for me). One of our table runners needed me to talk to an attendee of our most recent NYC event. At first, I thought something may have gone wrong and I wanted to make sure all was fine. I went to meet the table runner and the gentleman that needed to speak with me. The gentleman pulled me to the side and said to me, quietly, in my ear, “you’re treating the Jewish people with respect.”

o    Now, we do our very best to make sure that ALL are welcome. Jew, Gentile, men, women; all are welcome. But there is no other event like ours that makes sure kosher-keeping Jews are fully taken care of. I guess this gentleman saw and felt what we were doing with the event and it touched him enough that he had to tell me how much he appreciated our hard work. That made me feel great.

  1. Are there authors, bloggers, tweeters that you recommend readers of this site follow?

First and foremost, I highly suggest everyone stay up-to-date with Malt Whisky Yearbook. It is THE source for yearly updates on all things malt whisky related. I’ve always been a fan of Dave Broom as a whisky writer. My go-to blogs tend to be: whiskyfun.com and whiskynotes.be. maltimpostor.com is amazingly good fun though you may need to bring a dictionary and some sort of pop culture guide that spans from 623 BCE to today to fully grasp what they’re doing.

As a proud member of SCN, I can attest to the high quality whisky members and the general public will find through this young and growing independent bottler. Again, thank you to Joshua for participating in my 10-4-10 series.

Here are additional ways to check out JWC/SCN:

JWC Twitter: @jewishwhiskyco     SCN Twitter: @monocaskism

I raise a glass to local entrepreneurs bringing us more great whisky!

Whisky Tasting Brings New Meaning to Family Time

Many of the whisky tastings that I host are for strangers, be it fee-for-service clients, silent auction winners, or various fund raisers. Always interesting spending a couple of hours with new people; and I tend to be in “professional” mode and performing. My modus operandi stays fairly consistent: grab their attention, offer top shelf whiskies, provide some take home materials and own the room. Everyone leaves happy, more informed about whisk(e)y and, perhaps, brought over to the dark side…..

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Yes, the Pilgrims landed in Provincetown before moving on to Plymouth

This past weekend I was in Provincetown, Cape Cod, Massachusetts for my niece’s wedding. Ceremony on the dunes, pig roast back at the rented party house for about 40 adults and a smattering of young children. My own adult children were in attendance and this was a perfect opportunity to host a whisky tasting for them…no one had to drive and babies could be tucked safely into bed. The Masthead Resort & Cottages, where we were all staying, was right on the beach, offered spectacular views of the bay and a relaxing setting for a family whisky tasting.

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View from the Masthead Resort & Cottages

Nine of us gathered including the new brides. Four of the nine, including myself, were familiar with scotch. Well, true, I am more than familiar! The remaining five were more or less new to whisky, several were excited to try but stated serious doubts…you know the ones who tend to prefer white wine. It’s OK, the whisky palate does take a while to develop, and not everyone will (shocking!) come to prefer whisky as their go-to drink.

I did spend some time thinking through which whiskies I should bring to the tasting. I wanted a spectrum that would showcase peat, no peat, sherry casks, light, bold, and American. Plus, this wasn’t going to be the occasion to pour the $100 plus bottles. Yet, wanted more than the everyday $30 to $50 range whiskies and no blends.

What I always find intriguing about pulling together four different whiskies is how the varied flavors impact each other in unexpected ways: sometimes good, sometimes not so much. The tasters immediate reactions to each pour and their comments about the nose, palate, and finish teach me more about the whiskies and how to proceed with explanations and descriptions throughout the tasting.

Thus, my selection was set to go!

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First up, Bushmills 16 YO Irish single malt. My reasoning for choosing this whiskey for the tasting and for being the first dram was based on three factors: 1) being matured in bourbon, oloroso sherry and port wine casks spelled sweet and friendy to me; 2) the combination of being 40% alcohol and 16 YO would not overwhelm with an alcohol burn; and, 3) I thoroughly enjoy this expression.

The first time tasters immediately gasped at the alcohol taste. One said this is what he thought whisky would taste like – alcohol smell and taste. I listened to additional comments and nurtured their expectations by asking each one to taste and re-taste to try to understand what flavors came to mind and finally to save a little in their glass so it could be compared to whisky number two.

Number two was the oft-touted and award winning American Westland Peated Single Malt. The peat was quite evident on the nose and mellower on the palate. Everyone recognized the smokiness and it stunned several people who had no idea the flavor of peat and smoke could be tasted in a “drink.” When folks went back to #1, eyes widened and amazement stated on how different the whiskies were and how the sweetness of #1 now came through. The more experienced whisky drinkers were fairly quiet to this point in the tasting. They were gearing up for the two remaining heavy hitters.

A wedding, a whisky tasting, a summer weekend of noshing, swooning over my favorite ice cream hot fudge sundae, shell collecting and most of all…treasured family time.

“In order to write about life, first you must live it.”  Ernest Hemingway
After a bit of a break and general discussion about whisky, I poured #3 the Laphroaig Cairdeas Port Wood Edition 2013. Laphroaig states that this is one to “be savoured” and I whole heartedly agree. I chose this beauty because it offered a real smack of peat balanced by a deep rich flavor from the port. The perfect example of a big scotch whisky. Whereas the Bushmills offered sherry and port and the Westland offered the peat, the Cairdeas combined the sweet and peat and brought it to an exceptional level.  It did manage to intimidate a few of the tasters. To highlight the potential of going deeper with the flavor and removing some of the intimidation, I handed out Lindt 70% dark chocolate. Tasters said it toned down the peat and opened up the richness of the whisky.

 

I mentioned at the start of the evening while giving an overview of the four whiskies that #4 had “changed my life”, at least in the way that I consider the spirit of whisky. Feeling relaxed after three pours the group was more than ready to proceed to the Balcones Brimstone. Blue corn and Texas scrub oak smoked are not familiar “whisky” terms for us Scotch whisky drinkers. Brimstone boasts both and is audaciously in your face with its unique taste.

Brimstone2

Palates were cleaned, new glasses readied, the pour distributed. I waited. The roar of the crowd burst across the room. Brimstone is different! To add to the experience we sampled Vosges dark chocolate with bacon. This chocolate is a decadent treat out of Chicago and  coupled well with this Texas original. The Brimstone made an impact and was a fitting end to the formal segment of the tasting.

It was time to calculate the preferences. I quickly thought of my undergrad statistics class and fortunately for everyone the thought passed. As we all know, numbers can be manipulated to say most anything, and for this tasting I broke the number down into three categories: 1) overall preferences; 2) preferences of the four who had some level of whisky drinking experience; 3) preferences of the five who were completely new or minor level of whisky drinking experience.

Overall winners:

  • Brimstone ranked either first or second by eight of the nine tasters
  • Laphroaig was a distant second choice
  • Westland ranked either third or fourth by eight of the nine tasters

Preferences of the four some level of experience tasters:

  • Three of the four ranked Brimstone and Laphroaig either first or second
  • Westland was the first choice of one of this group of tasters

Preferences of the new/minor level tasters:

  • Bushmills was ranked first by three of the five and second by the other two
  • Brimstone was ranked second by three of the five
  • Westland and Laphroaig ranked third or fourth all five

ptownstats

I was stunned by the clear top ranked choice of Brimstone and not surprised at all by the high ranking of Bushmills. The new tasters did not care for the peated Westland nor the Laphroaig while the experienced drinkers overwhelmingly enjoyed both the Brimstone and the Laphroaig. Interestingly enough, I actually went back for the Laphroaig when the formal segment of the tasting was over.

ptownglasses
I promise you that none of my glasses had a trace of whisky remaining

Everyone enjoyed their little foray into the world of whisky so much so that I am rolling around ideas for the next one. Again, the tasting did not disappoint; one never knows which way the rankings will go. Was it Spock who raised his eyebrows and exclaimed “fascinating?”

Whisky is an ever evolving beverage. Mood, atmosphere, weather, company, food all play into the experience for the taster/drinker. We all hear almost way-too-often that whisky is the “water of life” but I’m offering that it is a true joie de vivre (exuberant enjoyment of life.)

One last note for the PC people looking intently at the photo collage, Mommy with the toddler didn’t imbibe and little Garrett was safely tucked into bed after my introduction segment of the tasting. We abide by drinking responsibly.

I raise a glass to new experiences and learning while on the whisky path!

 

 

 

10-4-10 Series: Interview with Kelly McCarthy

Throughout 2016 my blog will feature interviews with ten people closely involved with the world of whisk(e)y. Not all will be “famous” but all will be true enthusiasts with passion and insights that add to our knowledge and foster our enthusiasm for the ultimate spirit.

Kelly McCarthy is the Brand Development Manager of Anchor Distilling Company located in San Francisco, CA.

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 1.  Tell me a little about Anchor Distilling for those who are unfamiliar with the company.

Anchor Distilling Company is an importer or distiller of 23 different brands. We specialize in Single Malt whisk(e)y from around the world and craft spirits and modifiers. Anchor strives to have the most interesting portfolio with the most knowledgeable staff. “Education and libation” is the name of the game for us! That’s my opinion anyhow, my marketing team might veto that tag line!

2. You mentioned recently that three brands have been sold, what are the brands, and what is the future direction for Anchor?

Yes, Glendronach, Benriach, and Glenglassaugh were recently sold to Brown Forman. We are the importer of these brands to the states. I am not sure of the plan for these brands, but Anchor until hears otherwise, it is business as usual. These three brands are some of the most well respected in their class and Billy Walker has made it clear that anything he had in his hand will be quality.

Anchorbrands

3. How did you find your way to Anchor? 

I’m very lucky. In a previous life, I was a bartender in the Cambridge/Somerville MA area. One of my regulars was already involved with Anchor. He helped me get to work with a distributor and then with Anchor later on. I had already dabbled in the sales world prior with a smaller distributor selling eclectic wine and spirits. When I first got into this industry, I was at a dive bar in Boston when I wasn’t attending classes for college. I got into the retail world as well as moving to a higher tier of restaurants to expand my, beer, wine and spirit knowledge. Ten goals were to learn as much as I could about the industry as quickly as possible

4.  What is the most interesting aspect of your role as Brand Development Manager?

There are so many interesting aspects!! The people I meet are so knowledgeable. A lot of them teach me as much as I teach them. I am exposed to so many new and interesting spirits I would never taste/learn about if I wasn’t a part of this world. I will be chatting about single malts and someone will pull out a bottle from their bag that they have been saving and will give me a taste. Everyone wants to share what they know and have.

Every buyer/consumer/enthusiast is different. Some days, I am teaching people the difference between single malts and blended scotch. Sometimes, it’s the different styles of gin. Other times, we talk about how something can work in a cocktail. It’s always changing from day to day, appointment to appointment. I love it.

5.  Do you a specific woman role model who is in the world of whisky? Why her?

I do! Kendra Scott of anchor is an inspiration. I had the pleasure of spending a few days with her recently. She is down to earth, funny, liable, and has some serious dance moves. But the best part? She makes incredible 100% rye whiskey. I’ve asked her how she feels being a woman in this industry and she is indifferent. To Kendra, she was hired as a tour guide and worked her way up with Fritz and Bruce (the master distiller) and has been a part of the inception of so many brands. It’s just what she does. Woman, man, doesn’t matter. I appreciate that very much.

6.  Do you have categories that you place participants  in during tasting events? (For example, the loud mouth, the know it all, the rookie, etc.)

I try not to do that. Everyone is there to learn. I access the level of knowledge and get to work with the 30-60 seconds I have with each person. That being said, there is one type of person that bugs me. The one who comes up to the table looking for the highest number on the bottle. “It’s old so it must be good.” If I have time, I will always have that person blind taste two side by side. It’s normally 50/50 as to which one wins out.

Kelly pic

7.  Do you have a favorite whisky tasting story that you can share?

There are plenty of great stories. The one that sticks in my mind currently happened about a year ago. A woman walked into this liquor store and went straight to the single beer cooler to pick out a tall boy of Budweiser. While she was in line, I asked if she wanted to taste my lineup of single malts. She fell in love with the Glenglassaugh Torfa and picked up a bottle for her and her husband to celebrate their anniversary with the following week. It was an unexpected surprise after tasting with a bunch of “whisk(e)y aficionados” during the tasting event. She was more open to trying and really tried to understand the differences in each expression more than anyone else that night.

(I, too, enjoyed the Torfa that Kelly shared at an Anchor tasting. The nose was smokey. The palate a merging of sea and smoke…a nice introduction to peated whisky. I rank it a 3 out of a  possible 4.)

8.  Do you have a current favorite whisky or whiskies? What are they and why?

I’m a situational drinker. My cravings change depending on the hour. Right now?  I think Benriach 16 is one of the best bangs for your buck whiskies out there. Nikka Pure Malt is beautiful if I’m looking for a delicate peat. Glenmorangie Nector D’or is also really nice if I’m drinking my whisky neat. Lastly, Glenrothes 98 is my go to in general. It is bright, spicy, and all around delicious. Most of the brands I named are mine but….if you don’t like what you represent, don’t rep it!

GlenrothesKelly

9.  Do you collect bottles of whisky? If so, do you have a theme that you follow? Are you on the hunt for a particular whisky at the moment?

Currently, no. I have a very limited amount of space where I am living. I will eventually start pulling in more bottles, but if I say which ones, they’ll become harder and harder to find…🙂

10.  Do you have any recommendations for someone exploring/tasting whisky for the first time?

Heck, yes. Glenrothes ex-bourbon cask is light, buttery, and palatable for everyone. But if you’re new to whisk(e)y in general, go with a lighter bourbon. The sweetness tends to get people interested. As your palate progresses you can get into drier or more spicy drams.

Thanks to Kelly for participating in my 10-4-10 series. Kelly can be reached at kmccart@anchorsf.com and 781-521-6693.

As a woman who is boundlessly enthusiastic about whisky, I find it encouraging that more women are not only interested in the spirit but staking out significant roles in the industry.

I raise a glass!

 

 

American Whiskies: Hard to Keep Up

The explosion of American Whiskies is being written about and discussed at every turn. On a recent trip to Texas I saw at least three highway billboards during the three hour drive between Houston and Austin advertising a local distillery. Yes, hard to keep up. As a whisky enthusiast, the thrill is in the hunt, the tasting and the sharing. So, as I pick up new bottles here and there, conjuring up whisk(e)y tastings for friends starts percolating. Should the American tasting be focused exclusively on bourbons, single malts, ryes, blue corn? The list feels endless. Oh the fun yet to be had!

I had a dentist appointment this week, which means to those who follow me, a whisky tasting after all the drilling and cleaning has been completed. On his own Dr. Paul doesn’t usually stray too far from single malt scotch, in which I find no fault. Yet, he is always open to trying something new from my stash (smart man); and I can’t drink it all. For this week, I selected American Whiskies as the theme….in an attempt to keep up with the trends all the while pretending to be hip. (Do people still say “hip”?)

Dr.Paul
The willing accomplice. Don’t look…plastic cups!

 

The bottles chosen for this “event” are not rare nor priced over $100 each. As it turns out my copy of the summer issue of Whisky Advocate arrived the day before the tasting. There is an interesting article written by Jake Emen called “The Rise of the American Single Malt.” Perfect timing! I immediately switched out one whisky on my list with one mentioned in the article and packed the magazine in my not-so-discrete carrying case.

Dr. Paul brought in two bottles: a Highland Park 18 YO and an Irish Yellow Spot 12 YO. I arranged the now six bottles in the order of tasting and the serious business of imbibing at 12:30 pm on a Tuesday began in earnest. Naturally, somewhat through the tasting Dr. Paul’s wife called knowing he was working only a half day. We have never met but she has long since been resigned to the fact that twice a year there is whisky and women in the office. Well, this time we spoke and I encouraged her to join us sometime and partake in all the foolishness.  She laughed and said, “I don’t drink whisky and I see Paul acting foolish every day.” With that, we got back to business.

My ranking system is simple: 1=don’t buy, don’t drink  2=fair, middle of the road 3=good, very good-buy it 4=OMG, must have at any cost (well almost any cost)

YellowSpot
Yellow Spot a sweet and gentle precursor

 

 

The let’s get warmed up dram was the Irish Yellow Spot. I have a bottle of one of the Green Spot expressions but this was a first taste for me with the Yellow. Yup, it is Irish…light and spicy, easy to please, good to have around during the warmer months as opposed for the dead of New England winter. I rank this a strong 2+, can’t quite give it a 3-, personal preference wins out over objectivity.

RyanWoodsinglemalt
Young yet

 

First up was a local single malt distilled by Ryan & Wood in Gloucester, MA. “The single malt starts off with a hint of sweet and finishes with a touch of grain. It is light and feathery and makes a nice summer dram.” This is what I wrote a few months back after a visit to the distillery and sampling several of their products. After tasting this week I am modifying my opinion a bit…while it might work in a cocktail, on its own it is too mild for me and a bit off putting with a cardboard like finish. Somehow the grain finish didn’t come forth for me this time. I rank it a 2- at best.

McCarthyWestland
I wonder who else ranks these Americans equally high

 

Next up was the well respected Clear Creek Distillery’s McCarthy’s Oregon Single Malt. I admit to not being impressed with this whiskey when I first tasted it in 2010. Let’s just say I have grown in understanding more of the nuances of whisky. There is a subtle sense of the peat on the nose, a touch of peach on the palate and a sprinkle of ash in the finish. I would certainly go back for seconds this time around! I rank it a 3-.

Not to be undone by a fellow West Coast whiskey, the McCarthy’s was followed by a Washington state Westland Peated Single Malt. This one is fruitier on the nose, perhaps pear. A tip-toe of peat and sherry on the palate and a smooth and lingering smoky grain on the finish. Hmm, the two West Coast editions are neck and neck here. I am leaning towards the Westland. I rank this a proud 3-.

We stopped at this point, I spoke to the wife, as mentioned above, and we chatted for a while before cracking the Highland 18 YO. I have tasted this bottle before, and I am not a genuine fan but can appreciate its appeal. All my previous notes call it a “middle of the road” whisky. That is not a bad thing. You know what I rank this one.

Brimstone2
Brimstone such a fitting name

 

Finally it was time for the extra kick during the business of tasting in a dentist’s office! I pulled out the Texas Balcones Brimstone.  I wrote about this last month and exclaimed, “it has changed my life.”  No, it is not everyone’s idea of a whisky. For me it is a blast of excitement, unabashed whimsy, popcorn and campfires in an old Western movie that has gone from black and white to full glorious color. Dr. Paul agrees.  I have won another over to the new American Whisky side. And, yes, Balcones spells it “whisky.” I rank it a 4 out of 4 – a rare rank from this fussy old bird.

American whiskies are proving to be carving out a sometimes bumpy and sometimes thrilling new path for those of us on a whisk(e)y journey. My walking shoes are always ready as I try to keep up the pace.

A couple of hours had passed, another whisky tasting adventure wrapped up and an appointment set for the end of 2016. I believe the theme will be independent bottlers. Yum.

I raise a glass to whisky. ‘Nuf said.