Big Names Woo the Ladies

Getting ready for the exclusive Ladies Only Night in Sarasota


As mentioned in a previous blog, Vom Fass Sarasota set it up so that I would lead a Ladies Only Whisky Tasting Night last weekend in honor of St. Patrick’s Day.  There were several benefits for all involved: Vom Fass would receive wider exposure for their exclusive independently bottled whiskies, I would get to talk about my book and drink Vom’s whiskies, and the guests would drink the whiskies, indulge in some  appetizers and superior cheeses from the Artisan Cheese Company, and low and behold receive a copy of my book.  A win win night!

The tasting barrels at Vom Fass


For those of you who periodically read my blog, you are aware of my fondness for the Vom Fass whiskies.  It is a franchise that is world wide with its headquarters in Germany.  The stores sell unbelievable whiskies, rums, liquors, as well as olive oils, vinegars, wines and a host of other products.  I can’t confirm about the other stores, but the Sarasota store will allow a tasting of any of its products before one purchases a bottle.  I also like that the whiskies (as well as many of the other products) are available for purchase in 100, 200, 375, and 750 ml bottles.

After introductions, I read a few short humorous quips from my book Whisky Tales: Tastings and Temptations and some of the goals of the book such as how to lead a tastings, pairing cheeses and chocolates with whiskies and sample groupings of four whiskies to use for tastings. The whiskies were waiting and it was time to tipple!

A guide for the participants


On to the Ladies Only tasting. Five flights were set up. My role was to take everyone through each whisk(e)y, including the nose, palate, and finish. Along the way, tidbits from my book would be interjected, and questions answered. a week before the tasting I received sample bottles of each of the five whiskies so that I could develop my own tastings notes and compare them to the official notes from Vom Fass. I don’t know about anyone else, but I have found that my notes sometimes stray away from the official notes.

My list of words used to describe whisky is not as complex, detailed or flowery as many bloggers, experts and enthusiasts.  So to add to the language of tasting, I provided the group with a Whisky Flavor Wheel that I adapted from the Internet.  There are many wheels available on the Internet, all generally similar. I found this one easy to transfer to table form for use as a handout.

A best seller of the American whiskies at Vom Fass


Once everyone was settled I began with the American Whiskey. The remainder of the whiskies were Scotch and Irish whiskies, so this first dram was to be thought of as a simple aperitif.  The American hails from the Yahara Bay Distillery in Madison, Wisconsin and has no age statement. The bourbon is a blend of three Kentucky bourbons and Yahara Bay whiskey.  Good to note that Yahara Bay won two gold medals in 2012 – The Micro Liquor Spirits Award for its V Bourbon and the Spirits International Prestige Award for its Charred Oak Whiskey. This expression is a popular seller at Vom Fass Sarasota.

My point of view –  Nose: Vanilla on wood, nuts and honey. Palate: Alcohol then sweet on the tongue, more wood and grasses. Finish: fast, no burn but a tingle. Rating: 2+ (out of 4)

During my at home tasting, I compared the American Whiskey with Elmer T. Lee bourbon. I find that by comparing two whiskies side by side, the flavors from both become more distinct for me. For the record I find the Elmer T. to have a perfumy, minty nose; a thinner feel, no wood and more mint on the palate; and a simple finish with a hint of a burn. the two bourbons are completely different. I am more apt to use Elmer T. in a cocktail than straight and/or over ice.

A rare find: Blended Malt from Stewart Laing


Next up was the MacSpey, a Speyside blended malt produced by Stewart Laing of Hunter Laing & Co. Stewart acknowledges that this blend combines Glen Rothes, Macallan, Balvenie, Glenfiddich and a few other undisclosed single malts. The official notes call this one well balanced with  classic Speyside aromas of hay, salt and fruit.

My point of view – Nose: a barn full of hay and grasses. Palate: It takes a moment then there is fruit. Finish: surprisingly, a little earthy, and lingers with some salt. Rating: 2+

Artisan Cheese Company – the place to purchase cheese


The group was asked to sample the Vermont Clothbound Cheese from the Artisan Cheese Company and to taste a piece with the MacSpey. The cheese brought out the flavors of the whisky, thus enhancing both flavors of both.  We all went back for seconds!

New high end Blended Scotch from Stewart Laing. A must have, yes, indeed!


Next up was a giant leap in quality and price ($600 a bottle vs $120 for the MacSpey). My point was to compare a blended malt with a blend. This whisky is called The Gentlemen. again a Stewart Laing product, aged 35 years, and produced “as an homage to the big blended scotch whiskies that put Scotch whisky on the world map.” The official tasting notes end with ” excellent from beginning to end.”

My point of view – Nose: light, no alcohol, roasted fruit. Palate: balanced, stays quiet. Finish: It explodes yet gently.  Lingering spices. Rating: 4-

Thanks to Debbie Kay for putting these trays together.


After a short break for some lite bites, we were ready to call out the Irish and salute Saint Patrick’s Day.  First up was a personal favorite, Jack’s Choice. I first tasted this fine dram at a tasting hosted by Vom Fass with Jack Teeling as the guest speaker. Jack of Teeling Distillery and formerly of Cooley Distillery wowed me with this unique expression.  It is an 11 YO from Cooley stocks and finished for three months in French Sauterne casks.

Jack’s Choice was the perfect Irish to present during this Ladies Night. While The Gentlemen and Jack’s both found their way to the Fruity and Spicy place on the whisky flavor wheel, the differences were stark.  The Gentlemen was refined while Jack’s was a big burst of sophistication.

My point of view – Nose: Malt, quick flash of alcohol. Palate: spicy oak, depth and complex, the big burst. Finish: an elevated sweet finish of the sauterne. Rating: 3

Pairing cheese and chocolates with whisky is a wonderful past time. Buy the best of both!


The Midnight Moon cheese from the Artisan Cheese Company, softened the big burst and together mellowed out any rough edges. Delicious.

The final taste was a new whiskey from Teeling Distillery once again using the Cooley stocks. The Crystal Malt is a 23 YO, that was distilled using a special process to bring out the sugars. The resulting whiskey is unique.

Another new and delicious addition to the Vom Fass exclusive Teeling Whiskies


My point of view – Nose: very sugary, pineapple overtones. Palate: Stays sweet but not overpowering. Finish: crisp subtle lingering with the pineapple hiding in the background. I have a 375 ml bottle of this sweetness. Rating: 3+

I asked the group to go back to the American Bourbon that they all professed to enjoy ever so much.  After the other whiskies, the American Bourbon paled and surprised them at how much different it now tasted.

Everyone, of course, had a favorite, and no one knew the retail price of any of the whiskies. The Gentlemen held a slight edge over Jack’s Choice.  Me, well, I have a bottle of both!

The evening was a success. The ladies lingered for book signing, discussions with Robert Kay, owner of the Sarasota Vom Fass, the purchasing of bottles to bring home and picture taking.

Signing book Courtney
I’m signing a book. Really?
Showing off their new books!


I want to give a huge shout out and mega thank you to both Robert and Debbie Kay for providing the venue for me to talk about my book and the opportunity to lead the tasting of these especially fine whiskies.  These are whiskies that are carefully selected, cannot be found anywhere else, and when they are gone they are gone.  Vom Fass, I’m hooked (in case you didn’t notice.)

To all of you who support your local distillery or whisky shop or independent bottler, I raise a glass!





North Shore Whisky Club: One to Follow

As part of my 10-4-10 series, I interviewed Darren and George from the (Massachusetts) North Shore Whisky Club. These great guys and I spent an evening together having dinner and sampling some, what else, whiskies.

For anyone interested in starting a whisky club, Darren and George offer some mighty fine concrete suggestions.  The questions focus not only on the club but their individual preferences. They are definitely worth following as their club expands and matures.

Darren, Me, George enjoying a few!

North Shore Whisky Club

  1. What was the spark that led you to form the NSWC?

While searching online for whisky tasting events in April of 2013, we found a whisky pairing dinner at the MIT Endicott House in Dedham MA. New to the wide world of whisky, we had a desire to learn more and this event appeared to be a good fit. We brought a few friends and really enjoyed the event. After the event, we did some online research on whisky clubs and found no clubs in the local area and decided we should start one!

  1. Do you have a specific goal for the club during 2016 and/or beyond?

We would like to host more whisky tastings on a regular basis.  We partner with brand ambassadors and schedule tasting events with our club members while also extending the invitation to local residents.  We really enjoy introducing the spirit to new enthusiasts.  We have hosted private home tastings and hope to do more in the future.  We have volunteered our services with a local fundraising group as a silent auction item giving us the opportunity to hone our own style of presentation and “pay forward” what we have learned.  Our long-term goal is to put together our own larger scale whisky tasting for charity in a unique setting in the future.

  1. Do you have any recommendations for others interested in starting a club?

They should definitely create an online social media presence.  This has opened many doors for us.  Creating your own e-mail account will help to coordinate communication with various segments of the whisky world.  Keep things simple and flexible in regards to meetings – we all lead busy lives and getting together can be difficult.  We highly recommend networking at any tasting events (brand ambassadors, retail store managers, marketing staff, master distillers and especially like-minded enthusiasts).  I am impressed with how approachable people are in the industry.

  1. Do you have a favorite whisky story or experience related to the club?

We attend an annual whisky tasting cruise in Boston and became friends with the organizer of the event.  Each year, he was the host of a special table set up with rare bottlings.  We were sampling from his table when he suddenly needed to leave the table and assist others on the ship and asked some of our club members if we could play the host, take over the table and pour the whiskies.   Next thing you know, we are answering questions about the whisky and offering up toasts.  What a great time that was!

More personal questions

  1. Do you have a whisky mentor? If yes, what is the role of this person?

Darren –

I guess you could say Ralfy (of YouTube fame) is a mentor of ours even though we have never met him!  He is a great resource for beginners and experts alike and communicates with a unique style.

George –

I agree with Darren that Ralfy Mitchell ( would be the closest thing to our mentor mostly because of his wide range of knowledge and we discovered him when we were so very hungry to learn more.

  1. Do you have a whisky collection or future plans to have one? If yes, what type (Country, region, brand, age, etc.) of whisky do you collect or want to collect?

Darren –

I have a very small collection.  You can say I am on the drinking side of the ‘drink vs collect’ argument.  My approach to collecting on a small scale is identifying the uniqueness of the malt.  I have one from a closed distillery, a unique bottle signed by the Master Distiller and some older vintage bottles that I may keep for a while.  Independent bottlings probably give you the most options at a reasonable price for a collectible.

George –

In a similar way, my collection is nowhere near the size of some people’s we’ve met along our journey (Linda Peterson comes to mind!) but I’ve strived for diversity among the different styles/expressions of malts.  As we all know sometimes, the most difficult question to answer is “what am I feeling like tonight?”  Sometimes you want sherry, sometimes you want spice, and sometimes you want smoke.  With regard to investment bottles, my current philosophy is my collection is primarily for consumption not investment.  Will it stay that way?  Time will tell.

LP: Thanks for the mention here, George! Collecting for me is a very (no pun intended) fluid adventure. Some whiskies are simply to irresistible to hold unopened for long.

  1. Do you follow any specific authors, bloggers, tweeters, etc?  Who and why?

We found out how quickly you can connect with like-minded whisky enthusiasts across the world on Twitter!  We follow several members of the #whiskyfabric on Twitter and have had the pleasure of meeting many of these folks for a dram.  We are big fans of Ralfy (YouTube).,, and are interesting blogs.  We follow distilleries on social media and sign up for their newsletters to stay on top of the latest news/products.  We like Whisky Advocate & Whisky and are also great resources.

  1. What have you learned about the world of whisky that has surprised you?

Darren –

It is surprising to me that single malt scotch is still very much a niche spirits product.  The endless variety of whisky tasting profiles from all over the world still amazes me.  The generosity of the whisky community is always a pleasant surprise!

George –

I’m still completely floored at how social media has made the world so much smaller and allows for the ease of interactions and even friendships to be made with other industry folks and enthusiasts both in the US and internationally.  1,400+ followers on Twitter and a couple of articles written about us?  Yeah, I would call that a surprise…

  1. Can you name a whisky that was a real disappointment when you tasted it?  Why?

Darren –

I was fortunate to attend a unique AncNoc tasting and sampled an old 1975 distilled – 39 year old bottle.  I was excited to try it but it fell flat for me – the tannins overpowered the malt a bit.  Their 22 year old offering was much better to me.

George –

One of my interests has been trying single malts from places other than Scotland.  Most of those experiences have been outstanding like with Stranahans (US), Amrut (India), Knappogue Castle (Irish), or virtually any of the Japanese malts.  However, one that I tried about 6 months back was Hudson’s Single Malt, which is also from the US, and I just could not develop a taste for it.  I am sure youth had a lot to do with it (the malt’s not mine) but I was sure glad I only bought a 375 ml bottle.

  1. And finally the must ask question, what are your three favorite whiskies and why?

Darren –

#1 – Highland Park 18 year old – first dram I tried while in Scotland as a whisky newbie; my desert island choice

#2 – Balblair 1975 – first time I tried this at an event, it was love at first sip.

#3 – Speyburn 25 year old – the first whisky I tried with a ‘zing’ to it and a LONG finish.  Highly complex dram

George –

#1 – Balblair 1990 vintage (23 years old) This would be my desert island bottle.  Wonderful from start to finish and has such a full-bodied sherry experience.

#2 – Bruichladdich Black Art (23 years old) Shrouded in mystery and the recipe only known by the head distiller (since retired) Jim McEwan the quality is apparent the second you put it to your lips.

#3 – Laphroaig 18 year old – this product, at least for me, is my standard from which all other peated single malts are held.  I do hope they get back to making this version in the future.

Special thanks to my North Shore enthusiasts for taking the time to answer my questions thoughtfully and candidly. I truly look forward to enjoying more whisky together. I raise a glass!

For more information contact:


@noshwhiskyclub on Twitter