Sell, Swap, Save or Sip?

 Glenmorangie

Remember that bottle of hooch you bought five or ten years ago then promptly forgot about it? Well, it just might bankroll your next adventure or at least pay for the three new bottles of whisky you have been drooling over for months. Really.

 The prices of bourbon, rye, single malt Scotch and many other fine whiskies are now fetching whopping prices. We have all heard of the big ticket auctions and scoffed at the ridiculous prices some of these bottles are bringing in. I recently discovered a bottle of rye in the back of my closet and wondered if it was worth any more than the original price under $100. Low and behold it sold for almost $1000. Now the real conundrum begins. Sell, Swap, Save or Sip?

Waiting for the right moment to open up this beauty.

What’s a girl to do? I mentioned said bottle to a friend over a glass the other night and he immediately offered to buy it. Wait – this is one of my children, albeit a forgotten child, but still one of my own. Well, if my buddy buys it then I know it will be going to a good home, climate control and all. Does justification help make selling easier? No. To make it more complicated, my buddy and I discussed a few other nefarious children within our households. The going prices are obscene, we don’t particularly like that whisky is money and money is everything mentality. But in the background could be heard ca-ching, ca-ching.

Conundrum!! Love. Greed., selfishness. One-upmanship. Can I actually drink all these bottles? Am I saving them for the kids – will they simply drown their sorrows at my funeral with my whisky and have no appreciation for their worth, let alone their fine, nose, palate, and finish? Horrifying visual – my whisky wasted, not my closed casket.

I am trying to do my small part for mankind by having whisky tastings for charity fundraising, by sharing special drams during evenings with friends. Still there is the small but significant stash that is getting louder and chanting: sell, swap, save or sip. I’ve tried pushing them back farther in the closet but they have creeped into my psyche.

PC5 and Octomore 1.1

Let’s break down the logic of each possibility:

  • Sell: Take the money and run…..right back to the list of whiskies wanted. Ugh!
  • Swap: If the bottle is worth $$$, then swapping for another $$$ puts me back in the same quandary.
  • Save: Dah! I will have to revisit this same scenario over and over again.
  • Sip: Can’t have too many bottles opened at once, the angels will grab an extra share and something worthy will get lost in the shuffle. One bottle of late lost its joie-de-vivre from being overlooked for perhaps two years. There was only a couple of drams remaining and two of us selflessly sacrificed our palates and finished the bottle. I couldn’t bear the pain of pouring it down the drain.

See – no easy solution. Sell and take the money for a vacation you say. Hmmm. Swap for several lesser but still desirable bottles. I have too many lesser desirable bottles already. Sell and Swap have a humongous shadow of doom and regret hanging over them. Save. Dah! Sip: I do need to be sober at some point, yes I do.

I ask: What are you going to do with your $$$ bottles??

I raise a glass to fellow whisky drinkers and small collection enthusiasts. Maybe I should start raising two glasses…..

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Pop-Up Whisky Bar; the New Scene?

Nate offering a quick Whisky 101 as the evening sets up.
Nate offering a quick Whisky 101 as the evening sets up.

Would an established restaurant consider extending their bar beyond the latest craze in cocktails? Now I do love-me some cocktails, but hard to find whisky pulled from the back end of a connoisseur/enthusiast’s collection. Bring it on, baby! Last night was a first for me and for a pop-up whisky bar in the Boston-Cambridge nightlife scene. The brainchild of my buddy Nate, a true whisky connoisseur; and heartily endorsed by restaurateurs Tse-Wei Lim and Diana Kudayarova. This pop-up night would take place at the Ames Street Deli, Improper Bostonian’s 2015 BEST for sandwiches. Although this was a run-through before the official launch sometime in August at Study in Kendall Square, Cambridge (MA not UK), the whiskies served were exquisite, rare, unusual and stimulating. The quietly advertised event drew in local whisky enthusiasts and bloggers – awesome meeting you @TheWhiskyBitch (Twitter handle)- , the right combination of hipsters and friends. The kinks were minor and most likely not observed by the imbibers leading me to know that the launch will be a real kick.

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Waiting for the serious pours to begin!
Waiting for the serious pours to begin!

As the early evening was getting into motion a flight of Grand Ten Distilling South Boston Irish Whiskey, Glenfiddich 12 YO, and Nikka 12 YO Pure Malt was offered. Nate spent a few minutes on Whisky 101 and the vision of his Pop-Up Whisky Bar. Then as the group gathered closely around the modern ‘n sleek bar table the real excitement began…the specialty whisky list and bottles made their appearance. American, Canadian, Indian, Japanese, blend and single malts adorned the table. Could I, should I drink them all? Restraint won out, the logic being I wanted my palate to actually know what it was tasting and enjoying. Plus, oh yeah, there was an earlier stop to see my pal Joe at Federal Wine and Spirits, and a wee dram of Gordon & MacPhail’s Benromach 2003 Cask Strength at 58.2%. This one had a sweet start followed by a mellowing of flavors and for such a high alcohol content there was no burn nor alcohol on the nose. I give it a 3- out of a top of 4.

See that
See that “12 YO” it will soon be replaced by “NAS” Troubling?

Knowing that NAS is the new mantra of Nikka, I ordered a glass of the Nikka 12 YO blend to start while I got settled in for the evening. There is some malt and cinnamon on the nose, a spicy palate and smooth finish, a 3, I think – yes there is a bit of wavering on this one.

Oops, ate the foie gras sandwich before snapping a pic.
Oops, ate the foie gras sandwich before snapping a pic.

The BEST sandwiches award led me to delve into a cheese plate followed by their signature foie gras sandwich. My senses are still dancing…that was some delectable sandwich. After touching and feeling all the bottles, taking pictures and being totally obnoxious about getting up close and personal with the selection, with bated breath I ordered my first glass: Ballantine’s 17 YO, 86 proof.

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Ian Buxton has this whisky in his 101 Whiskies to Try Before You Die book. Yet I do believe he is not talking about the treasure that was before me. This Ballantine’s was bottled between 1952 and mid-1960s. Never opened and kept in a cool, dark basement. Thank you Nate’s Grandpa. While the date was missing on the worn label, the bottle itself had the markings “Federal law forbids sale or re-use of this bottle”, a moniker that was removed by 1968. Look at the rich color in the decanter – why did they hide this in a green bottle?! The nose was a rich vanilla and the palate brought me back to playing in the dirt as a child – a good memory. Grandpa gets a 3+.

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The Japanese Ichiro’s Malt Chichibu On The Way 2013 was intriguing. Ichiro Akuto, the grandson of the founder of Hanyu Distillery, is producing what may be the closest I ever get to a rare Hanyu whisky. I went all in. Hot chili peppers covered for the high, 58.5% alcohol on the mouth, somewhere there was a taste of Asian fruit, yet no burn on the finish. I went back to it several times. Do I insist on rating it a 4-?

The only whisky with a strong sense of peat.
The only whisky with a strong sense of peat.

Conversations loosened up as the pours continued, obviously. Across from me was Sam – a man of great knowledge of all that is cigars. Perfect. Whisky. Cigars. Must be a pairing to be organized. Yes, indeed. Stay tuned on this one! Wait, Sam, what are you tasting? I sensed the peat waifing across the table and perking up my Islay crush. Fautline Bowmore Palm Tree 1997, 60.1% alcohol. The Whisky Bitch said it best in full exclamation, “Peat on the mouth, then guava and passion fruit. Try this, nose it, then finish the glass.” I did, and yes, the peat was really upfront and center, but then bowed gracefully to the guava and passion fruit. A thrill to tipple. Indeed, a 3+.

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My last choice was the Canadian Schenley O.F.C., an 8 YO, a blend bottled in 1965. I was amazed to see this bottle as I had discussed it in the blog I wrote a few weeks ago titled “Are Blenders People?” Had to try it, for sure. I wasn’t expecting much but found it light with a sweet and spicy delicacy rolling around my mouth before it gave way to no finish at all. It is not a strong 3-, but does not deserve a lesser score. Call me sentimental. Nate surprised the table just before the 8PM closing down of the Pop-Up with a St. Magdalene, a Lowland 32 YO which is one of the Lost Distilleries shuttered in 1983. My palate was compromised at this point and all I could muster for was light and non-descript. Someone said a hint of peat. Where? I can only give this a 2+. Pop-Up Whisky Bar by Nate. Yes. I raise a glass – an empty one ready to try the next pourings? Thank you Nate. Your brilliance is unparalleled in our region.

Scotch vs the World Tasting

Scotch vs the World Tasting

“Tasting whisky is not “drinking” at all, in the usual sense of the word, but rather an exercise of refined and exclusive pleasure.” Single Malt Whisky an Italian Passion, Umberto Angeloni

May 2011 vsworld

The following is an abbreviated version of Chapter 11 of my book Whisky Tales: Tastings and Temptations. I wrote the book because I have had an enormous amount of fun offering tastings both for friends and for charities and for the occasional paying client.  Along the way I have learned more than I ever new possible about every aspect of whisky.  My goal was to tell  my whisky stories and share what I have learned. The fabulous thing is, I am still learning and, of course, still having a blast! Call me an enthusiast who is no where near being an expert. Simply, I enjoy drinking , sharing and learning about whisky.

Believe it or not, there is a large segment of the population that is not aware of the vast amount of whisky that is produced not only in Scotland but around the world. With that in mind, I thought a tasting that highlighted some of the best from within and outside of Scotland would be unusually interesting and potentially informative for some of my women friends. In addition to friends who drank whisky, I invited a few women who had never attended one of my tastings and had limited experience with whisky but a strong desire to learn more about it.

My collection held plenty of potential whiskies to make this “Scotch vs the World” tasting completely off the charts. I took whiskies out of the scotch cabinet, put some back, sampled a few, dug into the back closet, reviewed what I had offered at other tastings, and who would be attending. With giddy excitement, I finalized the contenders.

When the night arrived, the dining room table was adorned with the chosen whisky and enough glassware for each pour for everyone. Guests were given a scoring sheet which described the industry-recognized nose, palate, and finish of the scotch and the challenger.  Guests were asked to rank the whisky from a low of “1” to a high of “4”. The pairs were also matched with a specialty cheese and crusty bread.

Hawes Wensleydale      Gorwydd Caerphilly      Berkswell

I set the mood as an unrivaled quest, a journey to compare not just four whiskies but six.  We were going to move slowly from whisky to whisky, country to country, linger on the nuances of each scotch and its challenger, and let the whiskies whisper and shout on their own. At the end of the tasting, we would not simply declare our favorite but spend time sifting through the scores that everyone wrote down during the tasting and see what arose above the rest. Of course, we would double check our rankings by sampling another pour of our individual top choices. Then we would eat a decadent chocolate cake with a lovingly treasured Lagavulin 2010, 12 Y.O. Distillers Edition. A rich yet sublime ending befitting the elaborate occasion.

The excitement was electric; six whiskies, unusual pairings, purposeful quest for finding differences, similarities and an ultimate victor.  The cheeses added a delectable dimension to each pairing.  The proclamations of the two women who had never drank top shelf whisky before added laughter and a flair for some dramatics to the festivities. No one took themselves too seriously, but we did take our whisky rankings seriously. Some of the whisky comparisons surprised and delighted me. The pours were a learning experience for me, which is almost as much fun as simply drinking. Almost.

 Redbreast Duff

The first dram of the night was a Gordon & MacPhail, Miltonduff 10 Y.O. Speyside with 43% alcohol.  Gordon & MacPhail is an independent bottling company that has more than 300 different expressions from distilleries across Scotland.  They are known to produce excellent expressions and with the Miltonduff we were going to ease into the night with a balanced, warm fruit and light spice whisky.  Its challenger was one of my particular picks for an everyday Irish, the Redbreast 12 Y.O. at 40%. The cheese for this round was a Hawes Wensleydale, made in England with cow’s milk. The conversation went back and forth, one person ranked the Miltonduff the highest score of “4” and one ranked it a “1”. The Redbreast received no highest score but did amble up close to the Scotch.  Final vote: Miltonduff slightly edged out the Irish challenger.

 Yamazaki Abunadh

Round two pitted Aberlour A’bunadh, Batch 28,a Speyside at 59.7% and no age statement (NAS) against the well-known Japanese Suntory produced Yamazaki 12 Y.O. at 43%.  Both received a few nods to a high score and only one person gave the Yamazaki a low end score. “Intense” was noted for these two competitors, with the Yamazaki leaning towards fruity while the A’bunadh slanted towards spicy.  The cheese served was a Gorwydd Caerphilly, Welsh in origin, made from cow’s milk. Yum. The cheese won raves for pairing compatibility.  Final whisky vote: Scotland Rules! Big difference in the scoring.

 Amrut Springbank

Round three brought two exceptional whiskies both with finishing time in a sweet cask of either Madeira or Sherry. Campbeltown’s Springbank Madeira 11 Y.O. at 55%, my special bottle from the private tasting at the Springbank Distillery was paired with a newcomer in the field, India’s Amrut Intermediate Sherry.  This Amrut began its maturing journey in ex-bourbon casks, then moved on to the ex-oloroso sherry casks, only to finish their time again in ex-bourbon casks. Most unusual and most efficacious. Both the Springbank and the Amrut revealed complexity, a burst of sweetness and a lingering moonlit night finish. It was imperative that we sample another teeny dram of these two wow-makers just to insure all the shades on the palate were being detected. Perfect. Now, we tried each with a crumble of cheese. Berkswell this time, another English cheese. This one made with sheep’s milk, the richest of the three. There was definitely a prolonged sipping and comparing during this third and last round. When the vote was finally taken, the Amrut scored all “4s” with only one “3”.  The Springbank had “4s” and “3s” with one lowly “2”.  The declared winner: Amrut Intermediate Sherry. Sublime.

 Amrut

The top three whiskies for the evening were:

  1. Amrut – top all-around by a wide margin
  2. Aberlour A’bunadh, a bit surprising because of its big burst of alcohol
  3. Springbank Madeira, no one admitted to giving this sweet baby a lowly “2” score during the rounds

Clearly all were delicious, and it was noted that sometimes a great whisky should not be paired but enjoyed during a quiet moment on its own – a chilly night, a wool sweater, a warm fireplace, an intimate moment with a close friend.  Each whisky brings different aspects to the individual drinker, therefore, drink what you enjoy. Don’t be compelled to follow the crowd or latest trend. For example, one of the first-time tasters went out the next day and purchased a bottle of the Yamazaki 12 Y.O. although it was not one of the “winners”. She found her bottle!

The Cheese pairing and some of the tasting notes offered by the participants:

Round One

  • The Cheese: Hawes Wensleydale; cow, mild, nutty, firm yet creamy
  • Scotland: Gordon & MacPhail Miltonduff 10 YO, 43%
    • Notes: Balanced beginning to an evening of tasting; not overpowering with a hint of spice
  • Ireland: Redbreast 12 YO, 40%
    • Notes: Clean and fresh with subtle spice. Perfect for autumn.

Round Two

The Cheese: Gorwydd Caerphilly; cow, mild, salty, buttery; moist, little crumbly

  • Scotland: Aberlour, A’bunadh, Batch 28, NAS, 59.7%
    • Notes: Intense but not overpowering. Some fruit and spicy lingering finish.
  • Japan: Suntory, Yamazaki, 12 YO, 43%
    • Notes: Not as intense and on the sweet side like a cognac. Clean

Round Three

The Cheese: Berkswell; sheep, rich, nutty, dense.

  •  Scotland: Springbank Madeira, 11 YO, 55%
    • Notes: Begins with taste of Madeira but gets deeper, more complex with each sip
  • India: Amrut Intermediate Sherry, NAS, 57%
    • Notes: First blast is strong alcohol but then the sherry comes forward with a hint of pepper and a long sensual finish.

I raise a glass to all who are open to trying new whiskies!

Random “Flavored” Whiskies

Amber

While many of us are bemoaning the encroachment of NAS single malt whisky in our scotch cabinets, kitschy bottles of flavored whiskies are popping up everywhere.  I have succumbed to a few of these products starting back when Macallan introduced Amber Liqueur, a maple and pecan infused single malt whisky, to the market.  I prefer it mixed with maple syrup over French toast on a lazy weekend morning. And when I heard it was being discontinued I went on a hunt and finally found and bought the six remaining bottles at an out-of-the way liquor/grocery store. I’m not a hoarder – I gave two away to other Amber enthusiasts. Interestingly enough, a small number are for sale online at The Whisky Exchange for $230 +. Do I sell or do I keep? Always a question, but after a moment of hesitation I always keep. Anyway….While Amber has gone the way of the land line phone, other distilleries continue to tempt drinkers with a range of flavored whiskies. And, yes, I have at least two tucked in the bench with other random bottles.

IMG_3609

So what’s a girl to do with these odd-lot type bottles?  They are not single malt variations but still ought to used somehow.

It was Sunday morning, the Fourth of July celebrations were over and it was “middle” Sunday at Wimbledon and the US Women’s Soccer game was hours away. Recalling an article several years ago about finding uses for random liqueurs, I decided to spend the morning conjuring up a brunch menu with a newfangled cocktail. Unlike the Amber the two bottles each cost under $20, meaning no guilt nor harm would be done to the wallet if I had to waste some of it during the mixing and re-mixing.

First up was Cabin Fever an 80 proof,  three year old non-charred barrel aged whisky infused with Vermont dark maple.  Nose: every much maple syrup. Palate: the maple subsides a bit and there is a sense of some whisky. Finish is fast with a lingering maple sugar candy taste.

The second bottle was Black Velvet Cinnamon Rush at 70 proof. The name says it all. Nose: cinnamon. Palate: hot cinnamon candy from childhood. Finish: cinnamon.  You get the picture.

 A recent edition of Southern Living magazine passed along by a Texan friend featured a thick sliced bacon smothered in brown sugar, fresh rosemary and chopped pecans. The bacon sounded like the perfect accompaniment to anything that I might conjure up. Right, bacon improves everything. The cooking and conjuring began:

The Bacon

  • 6 slices of extra thick bacon
  • Combine, ¾ cup brown sugar, ¾ cup pecans, and 1-2 tablespoons rosemary. Add more or less of each ingredient to your own preference.The original recipe called for some crushed pepper, I like a combination of black pepper and hot pepper flakes.
  • Press the bacon, both sides to the dry mixture. Put on a wire rack and place on a cookie sheet lined with aluminum foil.
  • Bake in medium oven, 350 degrees, for at least 30 minutes till cooked. Ovens vary so keep an eye on it after the 30 minutes; and bacon will crisp up once removed from the oven.

Added to the plate would be grilled fresh peaches (I know they are ubiquitous these days) with a dollop of maple whisky whipped mascarpone. The peaches were the only healthy component of this plate! But no one was noticing.

mascarpone 

 The Peaches

  • Depending on the size of the peaches, slice them in half or thirds with skin on, top to bottom. Remove the pit.
  • Be sure to oil the grill. I use extra virgin oil and a cast iron stove top grilling pan. Cook till grill marks appear, flip over and grill a few more minutes.
  • I added a bit of Maine Sea Salt to the peaches during grilling.

The Dollop

  • ½ cup of mascarpone cheese
  • 1 ounce of Cabin Fever – add more or less for thicker or thinner topping
  • Hand whip the two ingredients till smooth

IMG_3608

The Cocktail

The cocktail was more of a challenge.  I pulled out the bottle of Cabin Fever  and the bottle of Canadian Black Velvet Cinnamon Rush. In the fridge was a bottle of mango-peach juice.  The combination of these three ingredients would not suffice for a balanced cocktail, Four Roses Single Barrel bourbon came to the rescue. Be sure to add the Four Roses last – don’t waste any!  The final result was served over rocks:

  • ½ ounce Cabin Fever
  • ¼ ounce Cinnamon Rush
  • 1 ounce Four Roses, add more or less until you get your preferred taste.
  • Splash of mango-peach juice
  • Fresh mint leaves for decoration.

The dish and cocktail finally came together after about an hour or so of prepping, cooking and mixing. Certainly there was more sweet than savory but all together decadently yum.

Now that the experiment is over and my tummy full,  I am gleefully returning the flavored whiskies back to the bench until I get another moment of summertime inspiration. The Four Roses stays upfront in the cabinet.

Four roses

What does all this mean? Play with your food, play with your liquor/liqueur. Enjoy every moment. I am now going back to my first love, single malt whisky. No mixing, no icen no issues.

I raise a glass to the playfulness in all of us.

“Are Blenders People?”

“Are Blenders People?”

Written by Mark Merit and published in the Boston Traveler daily newspaper on August 18, 1943 during the height of World War II. The article was an advertisement by Schenley Distillers Corporation, New York.

While it was a serious article at the time, I believe, most people today will find it a bit humorous, and at times, condescending. Enjoy it for what it was meant to be in 1943!

 schenley very old

A Bit of Schenley History 

In 1900 Frank Sinclair bought a piece of land from a Mary Schenley and built a distillery. During Prohibition it purchased a number of distilleries. Two years after Prohibition its net profit was $8 million ($140 million today). In 1937 it purchased Bernheim Distillery, which was one of only 10 distilleries allowed to make bourbon during Prohibition for medicinal purposes. In 1945 it bought Gibson in Canada and opened a distillery there. As with many other distilleries globally, Schenley is now owned by Diageo.

 “Are Blenders People?”

We were extolling the virtues of a friend recently, a famous blender of fine whiskies. We spoke of his extraordinarily acute sense of taste and smell, and how difficult it was to fool him in a test. Perhaps we got off a little bit on the enthusiastic side because one man in our party asked, “Are Blenders People?” Well, there could be but one answer to that. Yes, blenders are people – but they are unusual people.

 schenley_bottle old

Nature has endowed us all with certain senses: feeling, hearing, seeing, smelling and tasting. And we are all pretty good at all of these senses, but once in a blue moon nature endows a man with unusual talents of taste and smell.  If he is smart he recognizes these extraordinary talents and becomes a blender, either in the food field, or in the beverage field.

Take that cup of coffee you had for breakfast this morning which made you say, “Gee, this is a swell cup of coffee.” You probably didn’t take the trouble to think that your enjoyment was the result of the painstaking and skillful efforts of an expert coffee blender.

Take a blended whiskey for instance. The expert blender with that highly developed sense of smell and taste gets busy. Of course, first of all, he must have a considerable “library” of various types of whiskey, each possessing certain dominant characteristics such as flavor, color, body, aroma, tartness, mellowness, etc., etc. With these stocks he can work out any number of combinations.

To make a palatable blend his “ingredients” must be compatible, must get along together. You know, there is such a thing as incompatibility of temperament in whiskey, too. And proper sequence is of the utmost importance. Take three whiskies, #1, #2, and #3, and blend them together in that order, and you get a very unsatisfactory end-product. But if you blended #1 and #3, and then added #2 you might end up with a product which would make you say, “Gee, this is a fine drink of whiskey.” So, you see, there is skill and science and unusual talent required in the blending of whiskies.  To be sure, expert blenders are rare. And blending is a lucrative profession which you cannot prepare for in college.

Think of this, won’t you, the next time you smack your lips over your drink of fine blended whiskey.

Yes, blenders are people – unusual people. And they get a great deal of pleasure out of their contribution to gracious living.

I raise a glass to the blenders of the past and today!