There is no traffic congestion on the straight and narrow path.

There is no traffic congestion on the straight and narrow path. Tommy Dewar

Tommy Dewar

My young daughter Carrie wanted to buy me glasses for Christmas the winter she worked after school at a kitchen and gift shop. She told her co-workers that she wanted the glasses because “My mother belongs to this group that drinks.” It sounded like it was a club of debauchery and alcoholics anonymous drop-outs. The co-workers looked askance at her. A clarifying explanation was in order!

Well this Mom still drinks but the story is so much more than debauchery. As I start off Chapter 1 of my book, Whisky Tales: Tastings and Temptations: it is all Amanda’s fault. Really. She was the one who suggested that a group of us get together and have our own whisky tasting. Being the great followers, we eagerly said, “Sure.” The rest is more than history, more than a deviation from the straight and narrow path.

six classic malts

My ever expanding love of whisky and blossoming collection, has taken me on a journey that was never envisioned during that first tasting. I like to give credit to the shocking preference I had for the Lagavulin 16 Y.O.  We were sampling the then “Six Classic Malts” whiskies which were sold as a gift set of nip size bottles (so wish they were still available.) Yes, they are all mammoth-corporation Diageo owned whiskies but they give a fairly good range of flavor profiles. But during that first tasting all I knew was that they were “scotch”; something I thought old men drank. The six expressions included:

  • Glenkinchie 10 Y.O.
  • Dalwhinnie 15 Y.O.
  • Cragganmore 12 Y.O.
  • Oban 14 Y.O.
  • Talisker 10 Y.O.
  • Lagavulin 16 Y.O.

Lagavulin label

Taste after taste my face twisted and wrinkled and I thought how could this possibly be pleasurable? Was it supposed to taste like medicine, burn the throat when swallowed, and not have any bubbles? After tasting all six, Amanda told us to go back to the one we liked the best.  I found the Lagavulin wrapped snuggly in my hands. It tasted like leather, iodine, peat and smoke. Astonishing! I embraced my new found love and set out on a quest to learn more about whisky, to seek out bottles that were not the “every day” and to build a collection to share and experience with others. While I have more than 150 bottles and have traveled several times to Scotland, I am still working my way through Ian Buxton’s 101 Whiskies to Try Before You Die. So much whisky in the world to taste. It is still a thrill to find a whisky expression not well known or available that awakens the nose, palate and finish! (And is not going to break the bank to buy.)

101 whiskies book

Many of us who use the word passion when discussing whisky – whether it is single malt, a blend, a bourbon, a rye, distilled in Scotland, Canada, America, Ireland, India, Japan – have stories on how the passion was ignited. For me, the fun of it all was behind my taking up the pen and writing my romp of a book, creating this blog, and tweeting out to all who will listen. Connecting through social media and from all points of the globe continues to fuel passion, expand knowledge and the pure joy of experiences with likeminded souls. We are not on the straight and narrow path. We are not trying to be labeled as experts but simply reaching out and sharing our passion and our whiskies. I still belong to “this group that drinks” – fantastically it is a worldwide group!

I thank you Amanda.  I thank you Lagavulin. Whisky drinkers tell your stories!

I raise a glass to my fellow whisky drinkers!

Too Young to Retire So Lets Make Whiskey!

A new sense of spirit has swept across the land, here and abroad. The spirit of ingenuity, entrepreneurial visions, thinking local, sourcing local is bursting forth. Brave and bold people are creating small businesses focused on brewing and distilling at a record pace. We the consumer are benefiting from all these new products. Naturally, over time, there will be a shake down and some will fail or choose to close, some will continue to thrive independently, some will succeed and be bought out by conglomerates. All the while we get to sample, sip, and slurp.

Owners Kathy and bob Ryan
Owners Kathy and Bob Ryan

I visited a local distillery this past week, Ryan and Wood of Gloucester, Massachusetts.  Their products include a rye whiskey, a single malt whiskey,  Folly Cove rum, Beauport vodka and Knockabout gin. Kathy Ryan, owner with husband Bob, spent more than two hours with me talking about how they entered the world of distilling, their learning curve, and how the company trudged through the federal and local requirements. Additionally, the tour alone was jammed packed with information not only about their company operations but the impact local history has on their mission and vision. I did try the rye and single malt at the end of the tour! Tasting notes at the end of this article.

The following is a synopsis of my interview with Kathy and Bob:

Why did you start Ryan and Wood Distillery?

K. We were in the fish processing business here in Gloucester. We were well aware that  overfishing, ever changing federal and state regulations and other fishing concerns were making the fishing industry difficult; it made sense to sell. We were too young to retire so we had to do something.  There is a long history of distilling in Massachusetts – the rum trade of our forefathers, breweries, distilleries. Ethanol was produced here during Prohibition for munitions, and there was an active illegal running of alcohol right here on Folly Beach. Folly has deep water and a sandy beach, perfect for unloading banned liquor and making a dash back out to sea.We wanted to do something again in Gloucester. We knew distilling could be done here.

What did you know about distilling when you decided to enter this field?

B. We were a blank slate in 2006 when we began the process.

K. We knew nothing related to distilling. We went to a workshop in Arizona sponsored by Arnold Holstein, the German makers of our still. We visited Kentucky. We brought in the 70ish year old son of the family who produced Appleton Estate Rum to guide us in our rum production.

Arnold Holstein 600 liter alembic copper pot still
Custom fabricated Arnold Holstein 600 liter alembic copper pot still

Weren’t you brave and bold!

K. It took us almost two years to actually start production. It gave us lots of time to do research. The still took one year to build. The licenses took eleven months. Recipes had to be approved, labels had to be approved, background checks had to be completed to make sure we weren’t felons nor potential terrorists.  The government took this quite seriously. Some of the bureaucracy has changed but recently a Massachusetts Distillers Alliance was formed with fourteen members so we can have one strong voice when discussing what is best for our small business industry.

Tell me about your rye whiskey.  It was the first one I tried about four years ago.

K. Rye has a long history in America and it is popular again. Our rye whiskey is aged over two years in new American White Oak barrels. We use up to 80% rye, along with wheat and barley. As with all of our products, the production is cyclical and not really seasonal. It makes a great Manhattan, Old Fashion or Sazarac, but I usually sip it neat.

RWGrains

And you now have a single malt whiskey?

K. Yes, our single malt is made using malted barley from Valley Malt in Hadley, Massachusetts. As our label states, “The barrels are then matured under the influence of Cape Ann’s unique coastal climate.” Our single malt is bottled at 80 proof while our rye whiskey is bottled at 86 proof. For both our whiskies we use spring water, our other products use distilled water. We have a wheated whiskey coming out sometime in the next year – we are waiting for it to reach the right level of maturation to be called a Ryan and Wood.

Tell me about the Jack Daniel’s barrels.

K. We were fortunate to know someone, who knew someone who could set up the transactions. We are so small that this would not have happened otherwise. We receive used Jack Daniels barrels and our rum spends some time in the barrels before being finished off in new American White Oak barrels. An interesting side note, a local restaurant, the Blue Ox in Lynn MA, purchases our used chopped up barrels to aid in the smoking of their filet mignon steaks. Our products are used in some of their cocktails.

I have had their cocktails and the smoked steak – absolutely fabulous. Makes my mouth water just thinking about it!

Bob, any last words that you would like to add?

B.  I read the very old book “The Compleat Distiller” when we were first starting out.  It was a very helpful book.  The other thing is, not everybody is in it to make a good product. for some it is about profits.

K. We are only in Massachusetts for now and we have just brought on a distributer, Ruby Wines. We don’t want to become huge.  Our children and grand children will benefit from our company over the long term, we are building the business and paying off the loans.

B. Our son, Doug, works here full time. He went to school to be a lawyer. On a sad note, David Wood, Kathy’s nephew, was our original back-up person to run the company, if anything happened to us.  David, passed away unexpectedly in his sleep. Doug is now here.

RyeandMaltRWbottles

Ryan and Wood Distillery is a small shop but they have wonderful products and the desire to live and work and support the community. I applaud their commitment to being “local” and for creating products that meet their high standards without being concerned about the conglomerates. Do spend some time looking at their web site. Try their whiskies when you can!

Tasting notes: 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.  The rye is also on the light side with a hint of spice.  I like to make an Old Fashion with it.

The shiny door for the beautiful Holstein still
The shiny door for the beautiful Holstein still

 

Whisky Collecting: Small Steps

“A whisky collection is much more than a haphazard accumulation of bottles. The collection is a hand-picked selection of whiskies assembled to elevate them from normality into objects of significance.” Jonny McCormick, Whisky Advocate Magazine, Winter Issue 2011

Collection to Drink

People collect most anything. You name it and guaranteed there is a person proud to talk about his/her collection of “whatcha-ma-call-its.” There are hoarders who frankly scare me with their out of control obsessions. And, there are those whose collections are worth thousands, millions, and are priceless. Somewhere in between are the personal collections of the hobbyist, fan, enthusiast and average, every day Joe and Josephine. The passion of those of us in the latter category is no less striking than all the other collectors in the world.

In the world of whisky, the Diageo Claive Vidiz Scotch Collection housed at the Scotch Whisky Experience in Edinburgh is perhaps the most famous and unique. Before the Vidiz collection hit the public air waves, Umberto Angeloni published the book Single Malt Whisky: an Italian Passion.  The book is a colorful and beautifully printed coffee-table book that highlights some of the best Italian whisky collections. Yet, as in all collections, the Vidiz and the Italian collections all began with one bottle.

Whisky.com states, “A real collector always buys three bottles. One to enjoy, a second one for the collection and a third one for later swapping, when the price has risen.” Most of us cannot purchase three bottles at a time and our collecting is fun and kinda-serious but not a business nor in pursuit of challenging the Vidiz collection. I believe Jonny McCormick’s quote at the opening of this blog says it well….”objects of significance.” The collection should be significant to YOU.  I profess that the size of the collection, the price of the bottles, the type of whisky collected should follow your passion and wallet capacity. Small steps. Chapter 3 of my book Whisky Tales: Tastings and Temptations offers recommendations for starting your own modest collection. Here are some highlights:

Think about your end goal for collecting:

  • Is it purely ego: to have the most, the best, the most expensive, the unusual?
  • Is it to enjoy and share?
  • Is it simply for the fun of having a liquor cabinet with depth and variety?
  • Is it to host tastings for friends, clients, charities, etc.?

Think about what you want to collect:

  • Do you want to collect only whisky from specific regions of Scotland?
  • Only from the same distillery?
  • Whisk(e)y from around the world?
  • The choices are endless – give it some thought and planning.

Recommendations:

  • Only buy what you can afford – don’t go into debt just to purchase whisky.
  • Keep your receipts in the whisky carton/box or a record of them so you always know what you have spent and the year of purchase.
  • Buy what you enjoy drinking, not just what is fashionable.
  • When you find a whisky that is special and unique, and you want to share it consider buying two bottles – one to share and one to keep for yourself.
  • Always taste a whisky before you buy it. A number of fine liquor stores host tastings throughout the year and most are free.  Attend a few and find out what you like.
  • If you can’t taste a whisky before wanting to buy it – read as much about it as possible, find a “whisky expert” whose opinion you value and whose tasting notes reflect yours.
  • Always keep a record of what you have tasted whether you buy it or not. Jot down your thoughts on the color, nose, palate, and finish. Create your own simple rating system.
Variety in Collecting and Drinking
Variety in Collecting and Drinking

I have more than 150 bottles in my collection.  Less than a dozen of them are unopened and put aside for future consideration (open, trade, sell, gift.) For me, whisky is for drinking first and foremost.  My single malt whisky collection is based on owning and drinking bottles that are generally not available in chain liquor stores nor on the shelves of most bars and restaurants and in the $100 to $300 range (when purchased.) I do have a number of what I call my every day bottles: single malts, bourbons, ryes all in the under $100 price bracket and occasionally used for mixing cocktails. I am having a blast with whisky with my friends and family; on Twitter, Instagram, my blog, and while writing and now talking about my book and the experiences that caused me to write it.

I raise a glass to all of you who enjoy whisky, collecting not required.

Something Special - American Bourbon and Rye
Something Special – American Bourbon and Rye

“A mysterious, passion-inspiring, mind-boggling force of nature…”

…that leaves in its wake a sensual afterglow and longings for more.” One would think I am speaking about whisky. Actually this is a quote about cheese from the book The Cheese Lover’s Companion by Sharon Tyler Herbst and Ron Herbst.

Piave, Montgomery Cheddar, Coolea, Colton Basset Stilton
Piave, Montgomery Cheddar, Coolea, Colton Basset Stilton

Yes, whisky is passion-inspiring for those of us who drink, collect, blog, tweet and ooze excitement about whisky most every day of the week. Cheese, as so eloquently spoken above, does the same.  What then happens when you pair fine single malts with equally taste-worthy cheeses? There is a chapter in my book Whisky Tales: Tastings and Temptations that focuses on the pairings of whisky and cheese. Here is a snippet from the cheese chapter.

I have found that most people do not associate whisky with cheese. Cigars, surely, and leather chairs in a mansion library, movie-set style. Cheese, really? Certainly not all cheeses complement or contract suitable with first-rate whisky.

If you want to bring an added dimension to a whisky tasting, then bring on the best cheeses possible. Think carefully about the cheese and the progression of the whisky that you will be serving. Finding the right cheese for the right whisky takes patience along with homework on both the profile of the whisky as well as the cheese. Most of the time, but not exclusively, I select a cheese from England. The cheddars pair well with the Highland malts vs blue cheeses, such as a Stilton, which pairs well with the heavy Islay malts. Keep in mind, this is a broad statement for a wide range of cheeses but it gives you a starting point and direction to proceed. For example, I have paired an Aberfeldy 12 Y.O. with a French Petit Basque. The Petit Basque is mild and slightly nutty and to my palate the Aberfeldy in the same profile range. At the intense and robust flavor scale is the Valdeon, a Spanish blue with earthy, salty notes that can stand up with whiskies like the Talisker 10 Y.O. and the Islay Ellenton 12 Y.O.

When considering cheeses to sample so you can discover which whiskies you prefer to pair, purchase semi-hard and hard cheeses that cover a spectrum which encompasses:

  • light and subtle
  • sweet and savory
  • chewy and meaty
  • robust and blue

Here are examples of some of my preferred pairings with cheeses from several countries and single malt scotches from four different regions:

Oops! Finished the Longrow 10 YO!
Oops! Finished the Longrow 10 YO!

Whisky                                                              Cheese, Country, Type

  • Auchentoshan Classic, Lowland                 Piave, Italy, Cow
  • Glenfarclas 30 Y.O., Speyside                     Berkswell, England, Sheep
  • Longrow 10 Y.O., Campbeltown                 Coolea, Ireland, Cow
  • Blackadder Peat Reek, Islay                        Colton Bassett Stilton, England, Cow

Whichever cheeses and whisky you choose, be prepared to discuss the selection choices to your guests.   As many of us would agree, and as mentioned in a previous blog of mine: preferences are Purely Subjective.  Be prepared for a lively discussion about your guests’ likes and dislikes.

I raise a glass to fine whiskies, exceptional cheeses, and a good time had by all!

Purely Subjective

Mammoth conglomerates as well as small family owned whisky producers are all in the business of selling their products. Each are on a quest to be the best they can be or the best at bringing in the most profits – and/or along the way being recognized as THE whisky to drink, to own, and to be seen with in hand at this very moment, week or year. I get it.

Whisky experts, aficionados, fans, liquor store sales people and those who simply “drink the stuff” have very personal opinions about their favorites. I’ve also listed my Top 10 the my book Whisky Tales: Tastings and Temptations and written about it in an earlier blog. I  never consider myself an expert just an uber fan who enjoys writing, drinking, sharing with family and friends, and exploring whisky – and not necessarily in that order. Along the way having (responsible) fun is a prerequisite.

But back to my first thought…what is the best whisky? I honestly believe I can  state, “who knows?” It is purely subjective. Period. Of course, I conducted a few hours of dogged research before coming to this conclusion.  I googled ” top 10 single malt scotches.” The result was 1,240,000 hits. I perused a few. Opinions abounded!  Next was digging out a handful of the whisky magazines that I have been hanging on to for the past five years or so. The summer 2010 edition of Wiskeria, The Whisky Shop quarterly magazine, listed its customers’ Top 10 based on sales. I then went back online to the Wiskeria site to find the summer 2015 customers’ list.  A five year span between lists seemed a like decent way to get a sense of preferences and if whiskies stayed popular over time.  First the 2010 list:

  1. AnCnoc 12 Y.O.
  2. Auchentoshan 12 Y.O.
  3. Glenfarclas 10 Y.O.
  4. Macallan Fine Oak 10 Y.O.
  5. Dalmore 12 Y.O.
  6. Old Pultney 12 Y.O.
  7. Laphroaig Quarter Cask
  8. BenRiach 12 Y.O.
  9. Talisker 10 Y.O.
  10. Bowmore 12 Y.O.

The interesting part of this list is the predominance of 12 Y.O. whisky. The other stand out for me is that I only have two of the bottles – the Laphroaig Quarter Cask and the Auchentoshan 12 Y.O.  I doubt that that means anything.  Now on to the 2015 list:

  1. Aberfeldy 12 Y.O.
  2. Bowmore 15 Y.O.
  3. Balvenie 17 Y.O.
  4. Glenlivet Founders Reserve
  5. Glenfiddich 18 Y.O.
  6. Craigellachie 13 Y.O.
  7. GlenDronach 12 y.O.
  8. Dalmore 12 Y.O.
  9. BenRiach 12 Y.O.
  10. Aberlour 12 y.O.
  11. Glenfarclas 10 Y.O.
  12. Jura Superstition

You’ll note that the age statements are much more diverse in 2015, and only one repeat – the  Dalmore. This time around, I only have the Jura. It is purely conjecture on my part as to why such differences between the two lists – better sales pitches, better marketing, more sophisticated palates by consumers, more informed consumers, random?

What does all this mean? Are these actually the BEST whiskies? Who knows? It appears that for most men and women whisky purchases are based on what is easy to find, meets their lifestyle, price and taste points. And they are happy and done.  For those of us who write about it, blog about it, tweet about it (probably way too much), take pictures of it, and seek out all that is new, unusual, hard to find, a special release, our eyes and ears are always on alert. Whisky is our hobby, passion, an experience that takes us to a higher level of living life.  We want to share our excitement with other like minded people, to share it with family and friends, and for some make it a means of employment. Whatever the reason, whisky is it. Many of us will agree on what some of the best whiskies are, many of us will not.  We each have our list – and at the end of the bottle, it remains purely subjective.

What do you think?

In the meantime, my next bottle will be the Ardbeg Perpetuum – and then one that remains as yet undiscovered. Maybe the next one will be the best.

I raise a glass to everyone who enjoys whisky, whichever bottle is in your hand!

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