“I don’t get no respect”

Beautiful bottle, but who drinks V.O.?
Beautiful bottle, but who drinks V.O.?

American comedian, Rodney Dangerfield, was best known for this line. The line also holds true for Seagram’s V.O., a 6 Y.O. blended Canadian whisky. I don’t drink it, am not inclined to drink it, and wonder if anyone actually drinks it.

It all started when my friend Doris was cleaning out the closet where her father’s cache of liquor had been stored for many years – long since after his passing away. Knowing that I like (to put it mildly) whisky, she gave me a few of the old unopened bottles, which included a very nice looking 1977 VO in a glass decanter. I put the bottle in my closet and forgot about it until this morning.

Might be something to blog about, was my first thought.  Being a lazy researcher, I went on the Internet to see what information was filling the cyber waves.  Nothing. Well, actually, more than a few hits, but nothing of substance. The VO “Don’t get no respect” line came quickly to mind.  Here is what I did find:

  • The value of this special bottle is either $0 or a shocking $200
  • It is easily found in local liquor stores in my area. Somebody is drinking it still.
  • One blogger wrote about how good he found it – only to be slammed by several others who commented on how distasteful it was.
  • Jason Wilson, writing for the Washington Post in 2010, commented that Canadian Whisky is called “brown vodka” for a reason. Its a worth-reading short article.
  • Wilson quoted Lew Bryson as saying, “Canadian whisky drinkers have two defining characteristics: One, they’re men. Two, they have gray hair.” I wonder if Rodney drank V.O.?
  • “I don’t get no respect” – even corporate owner Diageo spells it Canadian whiskey – with an “e”! I scoured the Diageo web site for longer than the V.O. deserved and found just the one mention.

If you are inclined to try Seagram’s V.O. the old school way is to mix it with ginger ale. At 80 proof, there will be a tiny kick, and ginger ale is good for the digestion (or so my mother said.)

For me, I will go back to pretending I am on Islay this week basking in the sun and windswept breeze and tippling a dram from each of the island distilleries during the incredible yearly Islay Festival.

I raise a glass to Islay.

Snippets from the book: Port Ellen 1979

Waiting for the right moment to open up this beauty.
Waiting for the right moment to open up this beauty.

A bit of nostalgia from Chapter 2 of Whisky Tales: Tastings and Temptations…. 2005: After a few days in Rochdale, we hit the road for the historic Eaves Hall for a weekend birthday celebration for our dear friend Catherine. Eaves Hall is situated on thirteen acres of gardens and beautiful Lancashire countryside. After the formal and festive dinner, a nightcap was suggested and the liveliest of the Party People eased on up to the sophisticated lounge and bar.  I eyed a bottle of barely opened special edition Lagavulin sitting innocently on the top shelf and asked if I would be allowed to purchase the entire bottle to share with my friends.  The bartender, young and obviously not well versed in tending bar, thought why not and gave me a price. Deal done. I hope his supervisor never found out about the bargain I received. Don’t judge, the bar made their money back on the wholesale price of the bottle. Absolutely! We didn’t quite finish the bottle that weekend, the remaining gold became a gift for the birthday girl.

During the following afternoon a group of us decided to walk to the Clitheroe town center a few short miles from Eaves Hall.  The word was that Clitheroe had a superior whisky store that we must investigate just in case something had our names on it.  The shop, D. Byrne & Co., was glorious; it was paradise found. It was more whisky than any one underpaid overworked person could ever manage to bring back to the United States or anywhere else for that matter.  What to buy? (My first impulse was to ask for a Springbank 21 Y.O., but they had none.) I settled on a Signatory, 1979, 22 Y.O. Port Ellen for a reasonable price.  Securely packaged in a round metal container, I thought it would be more protected to bring home in the suitcase than the usual cardboard box.  This was post 9/11 and I knew nothing would be allowed with my carry-on luggage.

Whisky in tow, it was time for snacks and window shopping around the town. I found some ice cream to satisfy my sweet tooth and pal Tiffany offered to carry the Port Ellen while I ate.  Some of us were sauntering along and spotted a bench to sit on and finish our snacks.  The next thing I knew I heard a loud clunk. Everyone looked at Tiffany; everyone looked at me.  Yes, it was the bottle that had tumbled out of the bag and hit the sidewalk.  Horrified we all ran towards the precious baby. The container had a dent. Gingerly and with bated breath I opened the  container; were there any signs of leakage? The metal container saved it. All was well with the world. While writing this chapter in 2014 I pulled out the Signatory – as yet unopened, gave it a pat and clicked on The Whisky Exchange web site to see if it was still available and what was the going price.  To my astonishment and delight, The Whisky Exchange was asking about $750 when converted from the British pound. I went back to check while writing this blog and now it seems to be sold out on all  the sites I viewed. Needless to say, I am thrilled to pieces (of course, pun intended) that it didn’t break that day.  My friends and I were still a number of years away from the ultimate whisky trip, but the seeds were sown during this long ago trip and the birthday weekend at Eaves Hall. I raise a glass to fond memories and good whisky!

Three Days in Heaven: Islay

Islay sheep

If I was prone to cursing like a sailor, this would be the week to go all out with as many expletives as humanly possible.  The 31st annual Islay Festival is about to start and I am no where near. !#%&!!!

Chapter 8 in my book, Whisky Tales: Tastings and Temptations is aptly named “Dream Do Come True: Seven Days Thirty-two Whiskies” – my week in Scotland visiting distilleries and I never had to drive! Three of the days were spent on Islay. Truly three days in heaven. So now I relive the three days and pretend that I am at the Islay Festival and imbibing with all my fellow Islay enthusiasts.

While on this dream vacation, eighteen of the thirty-two whiskies were tibbled on Islay. I took some notes, not as many as I now wish I had. In fact, I wish I had tried more whiskies!!! Alas, the body will only take so much abuse before it screams back at me.

Here is a list of whiskies I enjoyed on Islay:

  1. Lagavulin 16 YO
  2. Lagavulin 2003 Distillers Edition
  3. Laphroaig 10 YO
  4. Laphroaig 18 YO
  5. Laphroaig 25 YO
  6. Ardbeg Blasda
  7. Ardbeg Renaissance 10 YO
  8. Bowmore 17 YO
  9. Bowmore 13 YO Craftsmen’s collection, Maltmen’s Reserve
  10. Bowmore 16 YO, Sherry cask
  11. Bowmore Legend
  12. Auchentoshan 14 YO
  13. Suntory Hibiki 17 YO (How did that get in the mix?)
  14. Island Storm 10 YO
  15. Kilchoman 3 YO – Inaugural launch
  16. Bruichladdich PC7
  17. Bruichladdich Rocks 8 YO
  18. Bruichladdich 16 YO Bourbon cask

Holding Inaugural Kilchoman 3 YO

Highlights:

  • The most unusual thing I saw on Islay was the daily jaunt down to beach in front of us by the longhaired cattle. Cows on the beach – who knew!
  • Actually standing in the Kildalton Cemetery and seeing a grave stone for the “Lord of the Isles” was amazing.  The Ardbeg Lord of the Isles whisky is hugely fabulous.
  • Drinking and dining in Duffies Bar at the Lochside Hotel while overlooking Loch Indaal was a high note.
  • Hell, the ferry ride alone from the mainland to the Islay was a very moving experience as we caught first sight of the island and saw Port Ellen painted on the white washed building in the harbor.

If you EVER have a chance to visit Islay, do.  If you are able to attend the festival all the better. While there, raise a glass for me!

Islay cottage

Mishaps and Miscues

A Glimpse of the Buffalo Trace Master Distiller's Tasting Room
A Glimpse of the Buffalo Trace Master Distiller’s Tasting Room

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Mishap: accident, trouble, problem, difficulty, set back, adversity.

Miscue: a mistake.

We all have them. But having mishaps and miscues with whisky can be catastrophic, universe shifting, life altering, or as John Wayne is credited as saying, “Life is hard; don’t make it harder by being stupid. I can still hear Forrest Gump saying, “Stupid is as stupid does.” All right already.

My Top 10 Mishaps and Miscues

10. Not writing down what I drank at the Occidental Cigar Club in San Francisco. Damn I must have had a raucous time.

9. Never documenting the whisky stash, as small as it was, that my father kept in the lower cabinet of the family grandfather clock.

8. Not purchasing an inaugural bottle of Hillrock Distillery Single Malt while in Rhineback, New York.

7. Not getting a copy of the picture taken of me with Joan Parker and Master Chef Jody Adams at the whisky tasting I held at Joan’s home.

6. By association, watching a friend offer a fellow guest at a party a glass of Ardbeg’s Lord of the Isles only to see the recipient immediately throw it down the sink after one teeny tiny sip.

5. Bringing an unopened bottle of the Bruichladdich 20 YO, 2nd edition to the office party, only to realize that it was my autographed bottle by Jim McEwan. Now it is empty. Still autographed but empty.

4. Forgetting to have a picture taken of me and lead chemist Truman Cox, while having a private tour of the chemist lab at Buffalo Trace. Truman passed away suddenly in 2013 at the age of 44.

3. Giving away an unopened bottle of George T. Stagg to a person thought bourbon was too sweet. The plan was for him to try it (like it) and then to share it with his son-in-law who is considering opening up a craft distillery.  The larger miscue was realized when the son-in-law said he never heard of George T. Stagg.

2. Offering a weeklong guest at my home free reign of my scotch cabinet while I was at work; then discovering an irreplaceable bottle was drained to within an inch of its demise.

My number one miscue: I simply don’t spend enough time with the dozen or so bottles of American bourbon and rye that I own, aka drinking it. It would help all the other mishaps and miscues fade away.

For more on some of these stories and other tales please check out my book: Whisky Tales: Tastings and Temptations.

Off the Beaten Whisky Trail

Every now and again those of us who love single malt scotch come across something exquisite, unusual, and hard to find…and still within a working man’s or woman’s budget.  Well, maybe, for a bit of a splurge.

The most recent foray was actually precipitated by a single malt tasting with the extraordinary Nate, local buddy of mine. Suffice to say, the bottles at his table  were enough to bring whisky drinkers to their knees. The star of the night was the Longmorn 35 YO, 53.6% bottled by The Perfect Dram and bought in Switzerland. This Speyside whisky came from ex-bourbon hogshead barrels, was mellow yet flavorful, like blossoms with caramel.  One comment said it all, “This is a fresh, warm buttery croissant with honey!” Oh yeah. Naturally, I said I wanted a bottle. Chuckle, chuckle, this one bottle came by way of Switzerland and is one of only 187 produced. I persisted and contacted fellow Party People across the continent and beyond. Not happening, none to be found. What’s a girl to do? I dug into my own scotch cabinet and came up with a Duncan Taylor Cask Strength Longmorn 29 YO (1973-2003), which is one of 120 bottles.  I’m drinking it right now. There is an unexpected sweetness, though it matured only in oak casks. The finish lingers with touch of molasses. The alcohol is only 47.6% so the cask strength moniker is a bit deceiving.  I am pretending it is the 35 YO that I drank six months ago.

The Party People have stayed in touch with Switzerland for that certain something special and I was finally contacted a few weeks ago about a bottle of Girvan 48 YO bottled by The Whisky Agency – one of only 487 bottles. It was matured in an ex-sherry butt and was reviewed by Serge at whiskyfun.com. The word “rum” comes up a lot in his description. Serge’s ending comments: “a lovely concoction, greatly both rummy and liqueur (sp?), eminently drinkable. No ideas as for the price but if it’s fair and if you haven’t got any old grain in the house, well, I know what I would do.” 90 pts.  I offered Nate first chance at it as a thank you for allowing me to be  part of his immense tasting.  I (and Nate) didn’t want to lose it, so the move was made to have the international team grab it. While the bottle hasn’t made it to my scotch cabinet as of yet, it has been secured by fellow Party People and is expected to make its way to the US this summer. Nate will be present for the cracking open.

The hunt for that exquisite splurge is most definitely part of the fun for me. Drinking it after bringing it home….

I raise a glass!

Coming home to Mama....and friends
Coming home to Mama….and friends

Evolution of the Mint Julep

Ok, so the Kentucky Derby (horse race) is now over. American Pharaoh won and horse fans move on to the next race: the Preakness in Maryland and finally to the third leg of the U.S. Triple Crown, Belmont Stakes in New York.

I was in North Carolina over the Derby weekend visiting family and wanted to bring a truly American element to a dinner party of visiting Israeli professors.  As expected they did not know about the Kentucky Derby but were very willing to learn about the festivities involved….the drinking.  I purchased the 141st race collector-bottle of Woodford Reserve bourbon and the party was on.

As a northerner, my making of a mint julep can be very irreverent to the original, so I thought I should aim high and authentic for this special weekend. There were three recipes from which to choose:

I went back to the oldest recipe I have first. One taken from the Harry Johnson Bartender’s Manual, which was originally published in 1992. This one needs a bit of translation from old terminology to today, but most of us bartenders (and wannabe’s) can get the gist.

1 small table-spoon of sugar, 1/2 wine glass of water or selters, 3 or 4 sprigs of fresh mint. Dissolve with sugar and water, until flavor of the mint is well extracted; then take out the mint and add 1 1/2 wine-glass of brandy. Fill glass with shaved ice,, stir well, then take sprigs of mint and insert them in the ice. Ornament with berries, pineapple and orange on top, dash with a little Jamaican rum and sprinkle with a little sugar on top. Serve with a straw.

Option two is a modified version of a Irvin S. Cobb recipe.

Take a clean glass and crush a few sprigs of mint with a spoon. Rub the mint all around the inside of the glass, then throw mint away. Fill same glass with finely cracked ice. SLOWLY pour in a measure of bourbon, add two tablespoons of water in which a lump of sugar has been dissolved. DO NOT STIR. Place sprigs of fresh mint in the mouth of the glass.

Option three is taken from a modern recipe by the Mittie Hellmich Ultimate Bar Book.

Traditional Southern-Style Mint Julep: 4 ounces Kentucky bourbon, 1 teaspoon simple syrup, 4-6 mint sprigs. Pour liquid ingredients into a julep cup or Collins glass filled with crushed ice. Stir well until glass is frosty. Garnish with the mint sprigs. Serve with a straw.

In the end, a hybrid version won out, partially due to a lack of on-hand ingredients and no interest in running back out to the store!

My recipe. Serves 4. Flute glasses. Fill with ice. In a glass container mix 4 double shots of Woodford Reserve Bourbon, 1 double shot of simple syrup made with Florida Crystals, an organic Florida cane sugar and a 1/2 teaspoon of mint extract. In the ice-filled fluted glasses add a 1/2 slice of fresh lemon and 1/2 slice of an orange. Pour the bourbon mix in each glass and decorate with fresh mint sprig on top. No straws involved.

The drinks worked out well, the dinner was wonderful and it was a relaxing evening and fabulous opportunity to meet new friends. To more evenings of celebratory drinks with friends, I raise a glass.