Inner-Snarky Girl Saved by Kilbeggan

Of course I don’t want to talk smack about any alcohol serving establishment, its selection of drinks or its clientele, but….sometimes circumstances are way too funny to resist and my inner snarky-girl comes out roaring….

Two of us were invited to a local blue-collar yacht club for some early evening tippling with  acquaintances and good friends. I’d been there on several occasions and always had a blast.  It was time for girls’ night out and the club is great place to relax away from the big city and annoying crowds. A couple of the ladies had arrived earlier and were enjoying some laughs and they welcomed us with opened arms. We sat out on the second floor deck overlooking the beautiful ocean.  The scene couldn’t have been more idyllic, the breeze was blowing just enough to tame the hot afternoon sun, and we had the deck all to ourselves. It was late Thursday afternoon and a couple, two, three were still on route from work. When they arrived we would order some awesomesauce chicken wings, fries and mozzarella sticks to hold us until having dinner inside when the sun set.

Beach Sunset
Can’t resist a sunset on the beach, drink in hand!

Here is where it gets tricky.  After we sat down, three of the group ordered different beers, each of which had the word LITE in the name, all maintain-stays of the bar. Not my cup of tea.  The friend I came with ordered a red wine with a small bottle of orange juice to make it a sangria. Really? An individual size bottle of a merlot was produced to go with the OJ. Not my cup of tea. My turn. What’s a girl to do? It’s almost Friday and I am out for the night. I went to the bar, which had all the liquor bottles on a lower rack along the lower inside of the “U” shaped bar itself. The bartender stepped out of my way while I tried to find something to tickle my fancy. OK, I am a single malt girl primarily, but on a hot afternoon a bourbon or rye cocktail can be quite satisfying. What I found…nothin’. Not any local craft whiskies, nothing from Scotland, and one ubiquitous spirit from Tennessee. Not my cup of tea. I took off my shades put on the bifocals and tried again. Alas, a small ray of hope emerged. Shocking! A bottle of Kilbeggan was tucked between a white-bottled rum, and some kind of apple something or other. Time to go all out Irish!

A gentle blend, easy on the palate and the wallet.
A gentle blend, easy on the palate and the wallet.

Kilbeggan, a blend, is on the lighter side for my usual “bring on the Islay peat” palate. At 40% it doesn’t show a whopping alcohol kick, either. But that’s OK. On a hot afternoon, light and refreshing was more the order of the day. The Kilbeggan website offers a few cocktail ideas for drinking its whiskey, and I am one who is always trying to create a cocktail with what’s on hand, so I scoured the bar bottles once again and asked the bartender to pull out the bottle of Triple Sec.  She filled a rocks glass with ice, added a double shot of the Kilbeggan and a ½ shot of the Triple Sec. Walla! An afternoon delight ready to go. And, yes, I did go back for seconds, and…

Here's to the old school still out there for the world to discover.
Here’s to the old school still out there for the world to discover.

As the sun set the teenage years drinking and smoking stories started to make the rounds, the best one, and I leave you with this…one of the ladies (who had moved on to a Cosmo) told how her Mom, in her late eighties and early nineties, started keeping a jug size bottle of Seagram’s VO under the bed. She would pour a highball glass full, using only two ice cubes and a splash of water and call it a day. Most of us thought it hysterical, daughter not so much. Way to go Mom!

I raise a glass to a Girls’ Night Out and Kilbeggan, which saved my day.

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When Friends and Enthusiasts Gather

We Tweet, we Instagram, we Facebook, we blog but nothing compares to sitting around a table or two with fellow enthusiasts over a few drams of as-yet-to-be-tasted whiskies. The enthusiasts may be whisky curious, collectors, experts or everywhere in between, but with a glass in hand robust conversations bloom into an evening of exhilaration and camaraderie. Such was a recent evening with current and new friends.

There is nothing so tempting as a line of great whiskies!
There is nothing so tempting as a line of great whiskies!

The quasi-bar was lined with 20 different bottles comprised of American, Canadian, Indian, Japanese and Scotch whiskies. The whiskies were primarily from the top shelf, back of the cabinet, hidden under the stairs, or saved for a special rainy day editions.

More than the usual suspects were tippling so I sat with a mix of longtime enthusiasts, bourbon fans, and the curious. There were no braggarts which allowed for very free flowing takes on all the whiskies and spirits tasted. All the pours were purposely kept small so that everyone would have a chance to try something new or preferred; and it helped alleviate the getting-too-buzzed-too-quickly scenario. Well, it helped me anyway; others generally are able to “hold their liquor” much better than I. I did have to drive home.

After studying and re-studying the scotches, I begrudgingly narrowed my tasting to three, keeping in mind that I wanted stark differences between each.

  • I started with a Glen Grant 1992, 22 YO, 57.8%, bottled by Single Malts of Scotland. After the alcohol burst, I found the palate a bit underwhelming and safe, the finish did bring out some hay and the empty glass offered hint of almond. Knowing that I prefer big flavors, this dram only received a score of “2” out of a possible “4” from me.
  • Longing for the peat that Laphroaig is known for, I tasted the Laphroaig, 11 YO, bottled for Friends of Laphroaig in 2004 at 40%. The nose promised the peat, yet, surprisingly, the palate touched upon some sea brine and built quite slowly to a soft ash finish. Going back to nose the empty glass, I found some ripe bananas. I called this dram quite low key for a Laphroaig. I scored it a “2+”.
  • On a friend’s knowledgeable suggestion I tried the Bowmore 17 YO, 1993, 53.7% bottled by Thosop. To my amazement, notes of tropical fruit pushed back the high alcohol and surrounded the entire taste. Thrilling to be stopped short by a new-to-me bottle. This was my winner for the night with a score of “3-.”
A rare sighting. I must taste both - soon!
A rare sighting. I must taste both – soon before they vanish forever!

The two I didn’t try, but will if they show up the next time the group gathers, are at the highest end of the rare spectrum so I want a clear head and clean palate before I go all in. The first is a Karuizawa, Cask #869, bottled for K&L, 13 YO, 1999, 57.7%, from Karuizawa, Island of Honshu, Japan. The notes offered stated: Now sadly dismantled, this remote Japanese distillery, nestled onto the side of an active volcano, quietly made the greatest heavily sherried single-malt in the world. And no one knew it until they were gone. Bacon-wrapped dates, balsamico, scallops seared in butter, black cherry soda, shiitake, tamari.

The second, also a Karuizawa, Cask #1985, 40 YO, 1970, 59.1%. The notes: Typically matured exclusively in sherry casks, this rare, bourbon-cask-matured Karuizawa provides valuable insight into the legendary distillate. Smoked maple, heathery peat, mulch, sage, gooseberry, rose jam, lychee, guava, cherry blossom.

Sleek, classic, and hard to find.  Pontiac antique auto. Reminds me of fine whisky.
Sleek, classic, and hard to find. Pontiac antique auto. Reminds me of fine whisky. I swoon.

As many of us whisk(e)y enthusiasts lament, “so much whisky, so little time.” Having the opportunity to taste the rare, the unusual, as well the expensive-but-when-its-gone-its-gone whiskies is like a gift from heaven.

I raise a glass to friends and fellow enthusiasts and their willingness to share their whisky and their knowledge.

 

 

Practical Tips for Leading a Whisky Tasting

The setting doesn’t have to be perfect…just the whisky.

Whisky was not always my passion. It found me when I wasn’t looking. Thank all that is goodness! Over the course of the last ten years whisky has emerged as the one consistent playtime activity that I simply keep going back to. I enjoy drinking whisky, talking about whisky, searching for that special bottle, and sharing what I have found and enjoyed with others. My knowledge has expanded exponentially, yet still only fills a thimble. That’s the beauty of a whisky passion, there is always so much more to explore and learn.

Like wine, I prefer to start with light whisky and work my way to the robust and peaty.

As my passion and the number of bottles in my scotch cabinet grew, I found a real kick in sharing my whisky with others who were new to the spirit. Offering tastings in a controlled environment for small groups of people became what I am now known for in the local charity fundraising community and with friends. The natural progression was to write down what I was learning, sharing, and experiencing at the tastings. The result is my ramble of a self-published book Whisky Tales: Tastings and Temptations. Of course, friends said this blog was a “must-do” next step. So every week or two, I reach out to the world through social media and ramble some more.

tryagainpics 287
As with unusual or rare whisky, buy if you see it. Stay on budget!

 Drawing on experiences leading tastings and building my collection of whisky, I have compiled a few tips for those of you in the early days of fueling your whisky passion and considering offering a tasting. The key at the end of the day, though, is follow what is right for you!

Tastings with a bottle brought by each guest gives one a chance to try a whisky that might be out of price range or hard to find. Sharing with a small group of fellow enthusiasts is my preference.

 Practical Tips When Preparing for a Tasting:

  • Four different whiskies is an ample amount to offer.
  • Have enough glasses for each whisky pour. This way participants can save a sip from each for comparison.
  • Don’t serve whisky in cheap plastic cups of any sort. Ever. (Just me saying.)
  • Have plenty of water for hydrating and to rinse glasses if you only use one per person.
  • Gauge about four ounces of cheese per person whether for pairing or nibbling.
  • Whatever you choose to serve don’t select food that is sweeter, smokier or bolder than the whisky. Whisky is the focus here and should be the shining star.

To explore this in more depth, I blatantly suggest you peruse my book for additional tips and recommendations that include:

  • Examples of whiskies used for tastings
  • Tasting Rules for Friends and Clients
  • Be Prepared: Establishing Your Whisky Tasting Set-Up and Flow
  • Crafting a Splendid and Balanced Tasting Experience
  • When Speaking in Front of a Group
  • And so much more…

I raise a glass to living life in the world of whisky!

 

15 on the Ready: Buy, Drink, Share

15

I read an interesting blog by angelsportion.wordpress.com this past week which focused on his Top 15 whiskies for under $75 that should be in one’s whisky shelf. A blog worth reading – I found it stimulated my curiosity. Do I have a similar list lurking in the house? My first stop was grabbing a copy of my new romp of a book Whisky Tales: Tastings and Temptations. The book covers more than 100 whiskies that I offered at whisky tastings for charities, friends, and private events. They are all on my like list. At the end of the book I proclaim my Top 10 favorite single malts but don’t offer a list of “should haves” under $75. Ok, I needed a plan to work this list out. I checked to see how many of angelsportion’s bottles were mentioned in my book – eight of the fifteen are discussed. Yet, the only whisky from his list that I have not tried is the Glengoyne 17 Y.O. Hmm, what bottles to pick, such a dilemma.

Book in hand, I opened my scotch cabinet and super-secret hiding places and began the quest for the Top 15 under $75. The under $75 wasn’t as difficult as I thought it would be, though a few of my list sneaked towards the $100 mark. And, being a little left of center on most everything, I veered off the single malt course and proudly added a blend and an Irish, a Japanese, and an American whiskey.

 Laphroaig

Once the whisk(e)y list met my own criteria – an opened bottle that I drink regularly and that I proudly offer to guests – I went back to see how many were in the book. As with angelsportion – eight of the fifteen are discussed in the book. Yet, angelsportion and I only have one duplicate whisky on our lists – the Laphroaig Quarter Cask. Just goes to show that personal preferences are key, availability is crucial, many, many price points are still under $75, and most of all there are still ever so many whiskies from Scotland and around the world to discover, taste and share.

 Lagavulin label

For the record, here is my Top 15 whiskies to have around the house and not hidden in the super-secret places. One more deviation – I have ranked my Top 3, the remaining twelve are by country and region, if applicable. My preference for any of the whiskies is dependent on mood, weather, fellow imbibers, time of day, what/who I am reading, tweeting. All these ingredients keep every dram fresh and exciting!

Scotland – my Top 3

  1. Lagavulin 16 YO – Islay
  2. Ardbeg Corryvreckan – Islay
  3. Springbank Madeira 11 YO – Campbeltown

Scotland

  • Bruichladdich The Laddie Ten, Islay
  • Laphroaig Quarter Cask, Islay
  • Highland Park Dark Origins, Orkney
  • Aberfeldy 12 YO, Highland
  • Aberlour a’bunadh, Speyside
  • Glenfarclas 17 YO, Speyside
  • Glenlivet 18 YO, Speyside
  • Oban, Western Highland

Blend

  • Grand MacNish 15 YO, Sherry Cask (makes a great Rusty Nail)

Ireland

  • Bushmills, 16 YO

Japan

  • Suntory Yamazaki 12 YO

United States

  • Westland Single Malt 2 YO 1st Fill Oloroso Barrel, Seattle, Washington (totally buzzed by this one)

Westland

Early on I realized that I needed to have a ranking system for the whiskies I tasted. My system is simple: I number each whisky from 1 – never buy, to 4 – must have. Detailed reviews are not my thing. I am not an expert on using all the monikers that describe the sweet, spicy, savory, subtle, smoky, sherried, candy, etc. flavors of whisky. I leave that to others. Obviously, my list above does not include any “1s”, my Top 3 are definitely “4s” the rest are in between somewhere.

Not to make it sound like a blatant sales pitch, but my book reveals all my wows and hmmms and recommendations for enough whiskies to give readers a sense of who I am and what I prefer. Just saying.

Thank you angelsportion for an inspiring article. I raise a glass!