Virginia Distillery: Yup

Continuing my foray through the recent Sarasota, Florida, Whiskey Obsession Festival tasting this afternoon with two expressions from the Virginia Distillery. (Excellent web site from which to get all the particulars.) Gabriel Urrutia, the Southeast Market Manager, generously filled my nip bottles to the brim. Thus affording me enough for several tastes.

 

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Gabriel scores with this jacket

 

 

I went into this tasting totally blind.  I knew nothing of the distillery and chose it simply because I could try two different expressions. When trying whiskies new-to-me, I prefer to sample at least several expressions in order to get a feel for the product…  ‘cuz ya know, not all new whiskies are yummy.

Virginia DistilleryI tasted the Port Cask Finished Virginia-Highland first. Wow. This is a blended whisky at 46% alc. The web site states, “The Virginia-Highland Whisky series is made from 100% malted barley. The Virginia Distillery Company marries single malt whisky made on-site in Virginia with aged malt whisky from Scotland.” What I didn’t realize at the time of tasting is that this is the flagship whisky for the series.

Notes: The color is reflective of the port casks. It tastes like big alcohol at first, then rich with the port coming through, hints of chocolate and a deep flavor overall.

Westland Distillery has an intensive and comprehensive whisky wheel, which I used for this tasting.  Gourmand is the term I think best fits this Port Cask Whisky.

Welcome to the big leagues! I rate this expression a 3 out of 4 points. Buy this whisky.

The second taste was the blended Chardonnay Cask Finished Virginia-Highland Whisky at 46% alc. It is lighter in color and flavor. I got citrus and dough. On the Westland wheel I see it as Fruity. While the Port Cask pairs well with dark chocolate, the Chardonnay not-so-much. I hesitated but still rate is a 3- out of 4 points.

Next up will be two Balcones expressions straight outta Texas.

Tasting new whiskies is indeed an adventure. I raise a glass to adventures!

 

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Whiskey Obsession: Heaven

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Whiskey Obsession in Sarasota, Florida recently wrapped up its Sixth Annual Festival. The offering included four days of whiskey tasting, pairing, dinners, master classes, VIP tasting and an incredible general tasting. If only I could have attended all the sessions, but reality heartily laughs at my wishful thinking. I eagerly attended the VIP tasting and the general tasting on Friday the 13th. Hmm, Friday the 13th – I got nothin’. But whisky notes, I do have.

 

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The Single Cask Nation shirt grabbed lots of attention. 

 

This year I brought some sample bottles with the hopes that a few of the pours would make their way in so I wouldn’t have a tired palate, and I could pick and choose how I wanted to taste and compare the whiskies. Seven expressions made their way home with me while I tasted six different expressions during the evening. I prefer to complete each taste and rarely sip and then pour out. Waste not want not.

This blog edition primarily focuses on the samples, which I tasted over the course of a few days.

Raj Sabharwal (2017 Global Whisky Ambassador, High Commended) was my first stop during the VIP session. I actually wanted to simply pull up a stool and stay planted for the evening. The selection was varied and deep, but knowing I had a specific quest in mind I limited myself to two pours to bring home.

After nosing the seven sample bottles, I decided to compare Raj’s English Whisky Company Single Cask Release – Peated, Jamaica Rum Cask Finish @ 57.8% alc. with the Bruichladdich Port Charlotte @ 57.8% alc.

I admit that I eyed the Port Charlotte early on during the tasting and knew that it would be my last pour of the night. I like to end the night with PEAT. Lucky me also secured a sample to take home.

The Port Charlotte has an oily nose that transforms to a smoky, earthy palate that lingers on the finish. When I tasted it at the event, I rated it a 4 (top score.) Would the 4 hold up after tasting the English Whisky?

The English I poured at home. It has a candy nose with a touch of buttered popcorn – the rum comes through on the nose. The palate was more of a hay then medicinal hit finishing with a pleasant earthiness.  I was quite pleasantly pleased with this whisky and gave it a solid 3 out of 4. After the English I went back to the Port Charlotte then back to the English again. The Port Charlotte lost ground and the English gained momentum during the comparison tasting. After much thought though the Port Charlotte still edges out the English…but not by much. Could be that I am partial to Bruichladdich whiskies!

Next comparison Virginia Distillery Company, Port Cask Finished, Highland Whisky and Virginia’s Chardonnay Cask, Highland Whisky….

 

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Gabriel Urritia, Virginia Distillery Southeast Market Manager.

 

In the meantime, I raise a glass to the world of whisky and all its enthusiasts.

 

St. Patrick’s Tasting Surprise

 

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Blurry photo…pre-tasting!

 

Every year I plan an informal whisky tasting for my friends at the Friday Night Happy Hour at our condo club house. This year was no exception, and the celebration of Saint Patrick’s Day was the perfect venue. Bring on the Irish!

Knowing that the tasters would be there for the fun both before and after the tasting, I avoided purchasing the high-end Irish whiskies on the market. Now, that doesn’t mean that the whiskies selected would not be quality products. I am a firm believe that there is a whisk(e)y for every taste and for every budget.

 

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Still blurry!

Eleven enthusiastic tasters stepped up to the challenge, while another dozen or so cheered them on!

The first taste was of Concannon Blended at 40%. The bottle states that it is distilled and matured in collaboration with Cooley Distillery. Not a bad start!  The funny thing is I bought this bottle from the discount rack at Total Wines – I really bought blind.

I find this whiskey light and creamy and one to reach for when looking for easy drinking. The bottle states that it is matured for a minimum of four years. The price is right for sure.

The second taste was of The Sexton at 40% – one that I tried a few months ago and mentioned in a blog. The Sexton is a single malt, new to the market and bottled in a unique bottle (to say the least.)

Bushmills Sexton1As with the Concannon, The Sexton is a lower priced bottle that can found at most stores for under $30.  I actually chose The Sexton because one of the tasters is named Sexton – unfortunately no relation to the whiskey. It has a bit more bite than the Concannon.

Lastly we tried an Irish whiskey that stands above many of its competitors. One that I always have in my liquor cabinet – Redbreast 12 YO at 40%.  Its spicy, complex, and finishes with a wonderful smile. This bottle runs about $60.

The eleven finished their tastes, scored their preferences using the following scale:

1 = never buy this    2 = maybe buy this    3 = buy this one    4 = buy two, hide one

The results:

Concannon score: 30    Sexton score: 26    Redbreast score: 21

Yes, surprising. The group went for the easy drinking dram. Just goes to show that tastings are never a slam dunk for the well-known higher priced whiskey. The Redbreast did not score a single “4”. Perhaps tasting the whiskies in a different order might make a difference. something to think about.

I raise my glass to drinking whatever whisk(e)y one enjoys!

 

 

 

Best Buys of 2017 and the Big Bucks Favs

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I was cruising the whisky aisle in Park Avenue Liquors in New York City a few weeks ago. It was an in-country bucket list dream come through. Next to me where two suit-and-ties, with one asking the other about what to purchase for a gift. A few were pointed out with the response “He’s not worth that much.” I chuckled to myself because the whiskies what were pointed out were in the under $100 range. Not a close pal indeed. That being said, the whisky market has a whisky for every price range and palate. Under $50 whisky doesn’t necessarily translate to poor tasting whisky. I have four such decent whiskies that I tasted for the first time during 2017 that I am pleased to share.

If you are stocking your whisky cart for the first time and don’t want to break the bank, this are my 2017 recommendations:

  • Highland Park Magnus at 40% offers a touch of smoke, full-bodied flavor with a touch of sea brine
  • Glen Moray Chardonnay Cask NAS at 40% is perfectly nice and easy to drink
  • Paul John Brilliance from India at $46% offers the “this is different” moment with a sweet fruity and hint of lemon
  • Dickel Rye for the base of a cocktail. It is a soft rye that won’t overpower and blends well in a Manhattan or Old Fashioned.

On the flip side of the whisky price list are the three whiskies that stood out for me of the 80 plus whiskies that were new to me during 2017.  The price range is $175 to about $400 – depending on your location. The three are not in any special order – they all scored a 3+ out of a possible 4.  There were no “4” scores this year, which I find curious. I’ll have to ponder that a while.

The Top Three of my 2017 tastings:

  • Springbank  19 YO Fresh Port Cask at 52.4% has a beautiful nose of chocolate and warm Port, the palate is almost thick. Amazing!
  • Glengoyne 25 YO at 48% is a true sherry bomb. Lovely!
  • Chapter 7 (Independent bottler, Switzerland) 19 YO Small Batch of 2 undisclosed Highland casks. Where did the pineapple notes come from? And there’s so much more flavor bursting forth.

Where ever you are on your whisky journey, savor the pleasure; pause a moment and take in your good fortune of being able to raise a glass.

I raise a glass to health, happiness and prosperity for you during 2018!

 

Something New: Sexton Single Malt

I recently ordered the New Zealand High Wheeler 21 YO Single Grain, more to have it because the distillery is no longer operating.  Some purchases are just like that and nothing more. Well, off I went to pick up my new purchase and low and behold I stumbled upon a distributer and ambassador in the midst of a tasting with the store whisky specialist, Holly Seidewand, aka herwhiskylove. Holly invited me to taste the new whisky. Yay! Unexpected pleasures are the best.

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Sexton is an Irish Single Malt produced by Bushmills as a no age statement, easy drinking malt.  The packaging and the price ($28 range) appears geared towards the younger, new to Irish whiskey set. It came out around Halloween – packaging perfect.

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The nose and palate are both sweet with hints of the whiskey’s time in sherry casks. The sweetness soon fades as does the overall taste. No burn, no real finish, but pour this youngster over some ice and you have a light, very light welcome to the world of single malt. Full disclosure: I have a bit of a cold so my nosing and tasting is not at 100% this week.

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The distributer then offered me a glass of Bushmills 21 YO. Now that’s what I call a special pour. One I would never refuse! I have a bottle of the 21 YO and find it lush with a sweetness brought out by the Madeira and viscosity that reminds me of the Glenmorangie Signet. Oh my, oh my, indeed. I should try them side by side sometime.

Well, then it was time to head off to lunch at a favorite deli Moody’s Delicatessen & Provisions. This place makes the best damn truffle potato chips that I have ever eaten. I drive 50 minutes for this $2.00 bag of delight.

Moodys Chips

Buy whisky, drink whisky, swoon over potato chips, grab a deli sandwich and back home again by 1:30 pm. Not a bad outing.

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I raise a glass to living life, enjoying each moment of simple pleasures with gusto and sharing the good times with family and friends!

The Whisky Extravaganza: Boston, So Many Whiskies!

The Whisky Extravaganza came to Boston last week and for once I was not out of state. And with the advent of Uber and boutique hotels, I planned to stay in the city for the night. Party on!
I rarely attend Master Classes at whisky festivals because they are usually scheduled at the same time as the grand tasting – can’t be cutting into my schmoozing and drinking time. Fortunately, the Master Classes were held before the general doors opened. I signed up for the class led by Holly Seidewand, aka HerWhiskyLove. The theme was “Get Handed the Scotch Menu” or as she stated in the promo “as women and young professionals in business, we need to take control of that whisky menu!” Interestingly enough the class was about 50-50 men and women.

At the class participants were given the whisky list for the grand tasting along with a description of Holly’s pours and a pocket notebook to help keep track of our tastings and notes. With the whisky list in hand, it was time to be strategic and scope out which were the whiskies to target my tasting. My goal was to try ten new-to-me whiskies, primarily scotch. This would be in addition to the six pours in the class. To ease the palate, four of the whiskies I simply poured into one ounce bottles for tasting at a later date. I prefer to actually taste the nuances of all the whiskies tasted and for me that takes will power to pace out the drinking and these days to stop completely at about ten pours. Granted the pours are small but it is still easy to get carried away with enthusiasm for the 200+ different whiskies available throughout the evening. Nourishment along the way slows down the pace and the whisky going straight to the veins! Yes, Whisky Extravaganza smartly provided a full buffet of hot and cold foods…even dark chocolate truffles that paired wonderfully with my last of the evening pour.

For those of you new to my blog, I am all about tasting several different whiskies – flights so to speak – to experience a better impact of flavors. It’s discovering the contrasts, the highlights, and nuances. Often, for me, surprises swirl out of the pours and unexpected favorites emerge. Plus it is just more fun.

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The Master Class offered three new-to-me pours, along with three that already grace my scotch cabinet – Red Breast 12 YO, Kavalan Symphony, and Yamazaki 12 YO. The bottles were prime examples of the variation of whiskies from around the world. The India Paul John Brilliance was an easy drinking, not overly expressive dram. The nose, what there was of it, held a bit of earth, while the palate was sweet and fruity with a sprinkle of lemon, the finish, well, not so much there. Overall it was a surprise and a very pleasant one at that. Gordon and MacPhail Miltonduff 21 YO private cask brought on barley to the nose, a quick fruity tingle to the palate and a long sweet finish that expressed the American Oak cask. Huh, I preferred the Brilliance. The finale was a Four Roses Single Barrel – 8 YO OESF. I couldn’t get past the alcohol on the nose while the palate was a rush of toffee and rye. I do like rye!

On to the big event! First stop was the snack bar for a mix of appetizers to re-engage the palate and somewhat fill the tummy. Somewhat satiated I did a walk around the two rooms to feel the room and to see if there were any whiskies I missed on the pour list. Knowing that my “must try” list was apt to change as the night progressed I proceeded to the never-heard-of distillery, the New Zealand Whisky Company. Now defunct and turned into a parking lot, I was told that when it’s gone that’s it. So I decided to try two of the four offerings – The 21 YO Single Grain High Wheeler and the 25 YO South Island Single Malt. The High Wheeler was soft and slightly sweet, good actually. The Single Malt was richer, better. Neither I would say compares to what was to be tasted later in the evening, but it was a decent start.

The American whiskies – the ryes and bourbons – tried to sway me to their side of the ocean but there were too many single malts still calling my name. I really enjoy rye and an occasional bourbon and I appreciate all the effort going into USA small distilleries. I promise myself to have them be my main focus at one of these festivals soon. Really.
I wiggled my way to the crowded Highland Park table and snagged a pour of the Magnus for a punch of smoke and sea. Felt good. It was then time for some roast beef and potatoes and a re-look of my must try list.

Loch Lomond has been hitting the air waves for a while now and I haven’t seen any bottles on the shelves yet, making that table my next stop. Forbes McMullin, the VP of Sales-US, poured a Loch Lomond 18 YO and a Glen Scotia Double Cask in my take-away bottles, whilst I tasted the Glen Scotia Victoriana at 51.5% alc. This Campbeltown was big on the alcohol but not overpowering. Forbes claims this is what whisky tasted like during Queen Victoria’s era. Made me think of the Shackleton that was reproduced from the bottles found in Antarctica about ten years ago. The Shackleton, a blend, does not have the same punch, much more subtle.

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At this point I was closing in on ten pours and had not yet found the new-to-me Japanese whisky, Matsui Kurayoshi 12 YO. I finally realized that Bikram Singh of Norfolk Wine and Spirits was offering the pour. He said it was so new to him that he hadn’t tried it. I found it completely different than anything else I had tried during the evening. At first I thought of Talisker but then it switched over to a fruitiness. This one I would like to try again with a fresh palate.

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I capped off my tasting with some of the decadent dark chocolate flourless truffle of pure goodness with a Port Charlotte Scottish Barley, Heavily Peated. Wow but not overpowering. I do love me some peat.
Whisky Extravaganza Boston met all my expectations, from the Master Class with Holly Seidewand, to the full range of whiskies available, to the management of the room. Bravo. So what was my favorite of the evening….perhaps the Kurayoshi 12 YO, not because it was the best but perhaps because it was the most different and interesting.

I raise a glass to those who put the event together!

 

 

Three Whiskies to Try That Won’t Break the Bank

A few weeks ago I asked via Twitter which whisky I should purchase for the weekend. Instead of simply purchasing one bottle, I chose three recommended single malts that I had yet to taste. The price ranges went from $32 to $120. I was eager to go all in.

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The three bottles chosen are: Glen Moray Classic Chardonnay Cask, Ardbeg An Oa, and Balvenie 15 YO Sherry Cask. Over the following week I spent time which each bottle. Very lucky me!

I read the PR on the boxes and decided that the Glen Moray with its Chardonnay Cask Finish made the most sense to be my first taste. Glen Moray is a 40 % ALC Speyside that promotes itself as an Elgin classic.  Price: $32. I tasted the whisky on two different evenings with the following results:

Tasting #1

  • Nose: oil, wood, lemon
  • Palate: soft, fruity, cinnamon, lemon grass, refreshing
  • Finish: lush, chardonnay comes through, late vanilla

Tasting #2

  • Nose: fruit in a can
  • Palate: citrus, heather, sprinkled with salted cinnamon and honey
  • Finish: pleasant citrus, light

With a hint of surprise, I am quite glad that I purchased this easy sipping whisky.

I am a fan of heavy peat as well as sherry bombs. Knowing that peat can be overwhelming, I chose to taste the Balvenie 15 YO Sherry Cask next. The 15 YO at 47.8% ALC is another Speyside whisky. The packaging is detailed with information from many aspects of the production…good reading. It is aged in European Oak Sherry Butts and is bottled as a single barrel whisky. Price: $120. I stayed away from the second tasting for more than a week…I found I kept giving it a frowning sideways glance.

Tasting #1

  • Nose: green apples, popcorn
  • Palate: where is the sherry?, no punch, spicy
  • Finish: berries, lime

Somewhat disappointing first taste. Hmmm, why is that?

Tasting #2

  • Nose: green apples, ALC kept pushing through
  • Palate: spicy, back end of sweet fruit, the sherry
  • Finish: burn flash, touch of berries

Not so disappointing; I knew what to expect and modified my bias.

This whisky needs my going back to it a few more times. The flavor is there, perhaps I am the one who must adjust to its subtlety…definition of subtle…delicately complex and understated. Could very well be.

Ardbeg. What can I say? I have many, many different expressions of this fine Islay whisky. I follow the peat, smoke and salty trail.

The Ardbeg An Oa is the total opposite from the single cask Balvenie 15 YO. An Oa states “here we marry together whisky from several different casks, including new charred oak, PX sherry and first fill bourbon.” Price $60.

I was looking forward to tasting this the third of my new threesome. Yet, my first tasting was puzzling. Where is the Ardbeg standard of a burst of peat and smoke? This was a youngster wanting to play in the big league. I enjoyed it but thought something was missing and wondered how it would compare with the two other Ardbegs that I hand on hand – the Uigeadail and the Corryvreckan.  The Corryvreckan has remained near the top of my favorite list for many years. The Uigeadail, not so much at the top but somewhere in the general mix.
So to help resolve the puzzle, I poured a dram of each and over the course of the evening tested and compared through two tastings.

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An Oa looming over its predecessors

Tasting #1

  • An Oa 46.6% ALC
    Nose: oily fire, tinny, earthy, Dentyne gum
    Palate: smoke, cinnamon, wood
    Finish: fades too soon, I want more kick
  • Uigeadail 54.2% ALC
    Nose: damp wood, oily paint
    Palate: peppery spices, cinnamon, peat
    Finish: earthy
    Touch of water tames the high alcohol
  • Corryvreckan 57.1%
    Nose: melted butter, earth
    Palate: big, sooty, spicy
    Finish: long and hot
    Touch of water again tames the alcohol

Tasting #2 – Some revelations

An Oa

  • Nose: cinnamon, light tickle and burn

Uigeadail

  • Nose: caramel burst
  • Palate: more camp fire, syrup

Corryvreckan

  • Palate: powerful, peaty, ashy

The tasting of the three Ardbegs was revealing. With the An Oa, once I had the punch and kick of the other two, I wanted the An Oa more. The Uigeadail, with the deepest color had the most distinct nose and the caramel stood out. The Corryvreckan carried the smoke proudly.

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A shout out to Whiskey Obsession Sarasota for the Glencairn glasses

Clearly, the An Oa fought its way to my heart. The Uigedail went up the ladder a few notches. The Corryvreckan shouted it’s best on its own away from Ardbeg competition. I didn’t expect that at all.

As a sidebar, my Ardbeg tasting buddy didn’t know which three she was tasting. Her favorite for the evening was the Uigeadail…interestingly enough that has long been her favorite. You can fool some of the people some of the time….

There you have it. A whisky journey with three new-to-me whiskies. This hobby, aka passion, is replete with surprises, enthusiastic recommendations from fellow imbibers, and all around fun.

Lest I forget…thank you to @CoullFay @WeeRockWhisky @RatherBeOnIslay and @jaethan for your recommendations.

I raise a glass to new discoveries and evolving opinions.