10-4-10 Series Interview with Her Whisky Love – Holly Seidewand

Welcome to the ninth installment of my 10-4-10 series of interviews. Ten people who are swirling winningly in the wide world of whisk(e)y answer ten questions. This month Holly Seidewand – herwhiskylove.com and Instagram as herwhiskylove – entices us with her eight month journey into whisky around the globe.

Holly1
With M. Jackson’s 5th Malt Whisky Companion
  1. For those who might be unfamiliar with your background and blog, tell us a bit about yourself.

 

My name is Holly Seidewand and I am Her Whisky Love. I started Her Whisky Love and I guess you could say became Her Whisky Love a little over a year ago. I worked in retail store design for 4 years. The first three working in New York City and the last year in Oakland, California. I had my “whisky awakening” during my first year in New York. I was handed a Lagavulin 16 and I had never smelled or tasted anything like this before. From that moment I was exploring every nook and cranny that single malt scotch had to offer. During my year in California I was surrounded by the viticulture craze. I started taking classes at UC Davis through the Wine & Spirit Education Trust (WSET). The professors and curriculum were pushing me towards wine. That was where the money was and the career opportunities. It felt as if at that time the best option for spirits lovers was to go into mixology and bartending. I knew this couldn’t be true and I wanted more. It was at this time I put together a very simple plan: visit the largest whisky producing regions of the world and learn everything I possibly could from the experts. If my parents have taught me anything it sometimes the best you can do is to just show up and work hard. That’s what I did over 8 months and in 5 countries.

Since no one was giving me the tools I wanted to learn more about branding, production, process, regionality and the whisky industry overall, I was going to find it myself. I put everything in storage in Oakland and embarked on an 8 month journey as “that girl who is chasing whisky”, that girl who “that girl studying whisky” that “girl that loves whisky” and yes that was me, I was her and whisky was what I loved, hence Her Whisky Love. I truly started the blog to document my progress through each country. A sort of documentation process and also for my family and friends to see my education progression. I made a handful of business cards and set off. People started reading and commenting to the journey my stories. My approach is quite unique in the fact that everyone had to learn with me. I was no Jim Murray or professional whisky blogger. I was just following my passion and learning as I went. This spark lives in many of us whisky fans. It is that thirst to learn as much as we can about this spirit we adore. I feel people really connected with that. I am not extremely technical and I’m not an extremely good writer, but I have passion and stayed true to my interests.

I spent 3 months in Scotland, one month in Ireland, two months in the States (primarily Kentucky/Tennessee) but also New York State, one month in Japan and one month in Tasmania. Every meeting, distillery, marketing manager, distillery manager etc. that I met with or chatted with is documented on my blog.

Hollyatwhistlepig

  1. What is your current position?

Via Her Whisky Love and Her Whisky Love on Instagram, Gordon’s Fine Wine & Spirits approached me and asked me to join as their Scotch & Whiskey Specialist. I am still writing on Her Whisky Love and collaborating with a few other sites, but most of my time is focused on building the Gordon’s Whisky Program. I write all marketing materials, emails and social media materials. I also test new product lines, curate and buy for the whisky sections of the stores. I also coordinate weekly events such as Whiskey Wednesday and lead tasting seminars. Our seminars are everything from old and rare whiskies to intro to whisky classes.

  1. How many distilleries have you visited around the world? What, in your opinion, should be on the “must see” list?

I have visited just over 100 distilleries in one year. People call me crazy for saying it, but Glenglassaugh and Bunnahabhain are two of my most memorable visits for Scotland and Wilderness Trail for the States.

Glenglassaugh is like traveling in a time machine. It was opened in 1875, changed ownership a few times and then was closed from 1908 to the mid 1950’s. Since this time it has changed ownership multiple times and been mothballed a few times again as well. This meaning their spirit has only been produced sporadically and it is hard to find anything older from Glenglassuagh. Their distillery architecture shows the tumultuous life it has had. New structures and buildings were built during different time periods and then closed. The 60’s architecture of the still house is incredible. This distillery also sits in the most adorable town of Portsoy on the coast of Northern Scotland. Within a 200 yard walk of the distillery you are on the beaches of the many coves of the North Sea. It’s untouched and quaint as can be. Such a magical day can be spent here. The spirit is great, underrated and the history of the distillery is well and alive. It is now owned by Brown Forman.

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Bunnahabhain is the forgotten distillery if any on Islay. It has also had a rough past and with new ownership has really shown its true colors with its distillery bottlings. It’s a one way, dirt road to the distillery, but worth the risk of running into a tractor trailer that just delivered grain. It sits right on the sea and on a clear day you can sit out on the pier with your dram and see Tobermory. The people that work there are so friendly. Don’t forget about Bunnhabhain when visiting Islay!

Wilderness Trail is a “craft distillery” in Kentucky. The founders actually are chemists and biologists by trade and are the main suppliers of custom yeast strands to the distilling and brewing industry of North America. The welcome center is in an old farm house and the distillery sits up on a hill overlooking the property pond. For any distillation nerds this is an incredible tour. The two founders have their yeast propagation labs now on site and they have a brand new distillation facility. They experiment with all different kinds of corn, grains and yeast that leave you in awe of their knowledge. This is a great stop in-between all of the big boys like Jim Beam and Maker’s Mark (which are all great).

wilderness trail distillery

  1. What is on your wish list for whiskies to try this year? Why?

Anything Springbank or Clynelish. I would love to try anything from private bottlers that is cask strength Clynelish. Also, I would like to try the new release from Heartwood, the private bottler in Tasmania. It is a Tasmanian single malt, cask strength single cask (always cask strength single cask) release from Tim Duckett at Heartwood. It is first aged in a 2nd fill port cask for 7 years and then a 1st fill sherry cask for 3 years. . It was filled in August 2006 and bottled May 2017. Only 337 bottles were released. Everything I have tried from him is SENSATIONAL.

  1. Do you have a go-to whisky at the end of the day? Any cocktails on your current favorite list?

My go to whisky right now is simply- Sazerac Rye. I love that stuff. It ever gets old and is perfect for the summer days right now. I know that could go into a cocktail, but I’m not much of a cocktail person. I like to know the basepoint, exactly what I am tasting. I drink everything neat. Once and awhile I like an old fashioned. I know, I’m boring, but I don’t like super sweet!

  1. One of your blogs features Canadian Club, what other Canadian whiskies have you tried? Any that stand out for you?

Canadian Club was one of the first brands I ever visited. Unfortunately they do not offer you to take a look around the physical Hiram Walker Distillery, but the brand heritage center is quite an experience. Beam Suntory is actually closing down all tours, so I feel fortunate that I was able to visit the venue in Windsor, Ontario. Besides that we are drinking Canadian Whisky all the time! Most of WhistlePig’s product line is sourced Canadian rye. Also, Lot 40 rye is always a crowd favorite and that is from Hiram Walker in Windsor as well since it is owned by Pernod. Although the name brands such as Crown Royal, Black Velvet etc. don’t always travel with the best reputation, Canada is producing high quality whisky. You just have to search a little harder than usual to find it.

  1. Are you considering taking your writing from a blog to a book? Any self-imposed timeline?

I do plan to write a book in some shape or form. I am working on something right now as co-author. It is in regards to my similar path of Alfred Barnard from the late 1800’s. Although I did not visit every active distillery in Scotland/UK, I am documenting in the same style but on a more global level.

  1. Who is your whisky author of choice? Why?

Philip Morrice and Michael Jackson are my two favorites. Philip wrote the Schweppes Guide to Scotch in 1983 which is an incredible window into the past and how the market ownership was divided. Extremely different than how things are divided today. Michael Jackson’s “WHISKEY” was the first book I ever purchased when starting this journey.

 

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Holly and Linda Talk Whisky

 

  1. What advice would you give to a first time whisky taster? 

It’s okay if the first few whiskies you try are not for you, keep trying! There are so many different styles of whisky out there that don’t feel like it’s “one and done”. Your preference will change and evolve. Go into every dram with an open mind and know that if it’s not for you, you don’t have to finish it and likely someone else will! The drams you don’t care for could be someone’s favorite and vice versa. The important part is the exploration of this world with your fellow whisky friends.

 

  1. Where are you off to next on your whisky travels?

I will probably focus more local over the next few months since I am working quite a bit developing Gordon’s Whisky Program. I hope to visit Bully Boy, Boston Harbour, Mad River Distillers and Taconic Distillery over the next few months.

When whisky fans get together to talk for the first time, books, bottles and tasting soon follows…even at 9 AM. Yes, Mom, coffee and breakfast cake was also had.

Holly and I met at my home for what was originally meant to be a bottle drop off. An hour and half later we formed a whisky bond and tasted a few wee drams.  Thanks to Holly for a lively conversation followed by this insightful interview. I certainly learned something new and that’s the beauty of extending a hand to other whisky fans.

I raise a glass to Holly…HerWhiskyLove!

Wild Ride: 8 Whisky Tasting Event

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Raise a glass to the North Shore Whisky Club and guest presenter Joshua Hatton of ImpEx Beverages and CEO of Single Cask Nation (SCN). Together they created an evening of tasting of diverse whiskies for a crowd of fifty enthusiastic tasters.

This event drew me in as I had not tasted any of the eight featured whiskies. I went in with no preconceived notion of which whisky would be the cream of the crop. In my mind this objectivity enhances tastings. Darren and George of NSWC had the line-up poured and identified on a numbered info sheet. Snacks and water were abundant and for those who wanted a beer chaser,  the bar was in the next room. Add to the fact that Joshua is a skilled, informative and playful presenter, the night was bound to be the perfect beginning to a long weekend.

The eight whiskies were a combination of Independent Bottler – Single Cask Nation, Independent Bottler – Chapter 7, and Tamdhu and Kilchoman – full range of products and price ranges; something for everyone.

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The first half of the evening’s line-up began with SCN Glenrothes 8 YO. This sherry cask with a 56.7% ABV reminded folks at the table of New England Hermit cookies – molasses, cloves and raisins. I found a burn on the palate and dark syrup molasses on the finish. Someone called out ribbon candy on the nose. I wonder.

Joshua moved us on to a Speyside, Tamdhu 10 YO at 43%. Most often used for blends, and with time spent in Oloroso casks, it was described as soft and sweet. I found it on the edge of soapy with sherry on the finish. The pepper jack cheese I munched on managed to pull it back from the edge.

Tamdhu

Keeping with the Tamdhu family, the next tasting was the Tamdhu Batch Strength 001 13 YO at 58.8%. The sherry and spice said hello but I didn’t warm to it at all.

Chapter7

The last taste of the first half of the evening was one I did not have anywhere on my radar screen. The Swiss Independent Bottler, Chapter 7, bottled a 19 YO Highland Single Malt at 56.2%.  Joshua stated it was from Ben Nevis.  To my amazement I nosed and tasted pineapple, which Joshua said would have come from the Brewer’s Yeast used in days gone by at the distillery. That yeast tends to bring out the tropical notes. I had no idea.  I do know that I went back for a second dram of this treasure.

After a short break for a few additional munchies – salmon, cheeses, crackers, the group, now happily buzzing, sat down eager to taste the final four.

The pours

SCN Girvan Single Grain Bourbon Cask 10 YO at 56.7%, while light as expected, rolled around the mouth like a nice slice of grainy bread, someone said orange gum drops. I found the hint of orange. The high alcohol content kept the bite alive and my interest in the dram.

SCN Ben Nevis 20 YO Olorosso Cask at 55.6% jumped out of the glass next as a true sherry bomb should. Yeah, there was some oak but the sherry shined brightly. All around jammy!

SCN2

SCN Ardmore 8 YO at 56.9% announced that the peat had arrived via finishing in a Laphroaig Cask. The sparks flew from the campfire and a spicy salami tamed the peat. Thank you for waking up the peat senses.

Joshua finished the tasting with a Kilchoman Original Cask Strength 5 YO at 59.3%. This big boy was over the top smoke and wood. It is a second edition finished in a quarter cask and went smoothly with a chocolate covered cookie offered to participants. The chocolate rounded out the rough edges of the Kilchoman, which definitely needed rounding out.

Eight whiskies can be too many in a given evening, but the pace was moderate and interspersed with anecdotes and worthwhile information. The break in the middle gave folks a chance to discuss amongst ourselves, as well as time with the hosts and presenter. The bottles were available for folks to saunter up to for an additional tasting. A discount offered from a local liquor store – Gordon’s Fine Wines and Liquors – was a fine touch.

The flyer for the event was entitled ‘Straight Up’ – A Spirited Whisky Tasking Event. Indeed it met all my expectations and I left with the intent to purchase a few bottles ASAP.

My final ranking for the eight, from favorite to least:

  1. Chapter 7 19 YO
  2. SCN Ben Nevis 20 YO
  3. SCN Ardmore 8 YO
  4. SCN Girvan 10 YO
  5. Kilchoman
  6. Tamdhu Batch 001
  7. SCN Glenrothes 8 YO
  8. Tamdhu 10 YO

Yes, I have been shopping. The top four have made it home.

I raise a glass to NSWC and Joshua Hatton for the ‘Straight Up’ adventure. Keep a seat open for me!

 

 

Seaweed In My Whisky?!

Suntory bottles

Creativity is to be applauded. Whisky and culinary exploration oft times stretches the imagination and adds zest to life. Building on this premise, Beam Suntory, Formaggio Kitchen, and drinking establishment Alden and Harlow presented a Suntory Whisky and Cheese Pairing class this past week.

I am a wild fan of pairing whiskies and cheeses and experimenting with the many potential combinations.  Yet, for all my whisky tasting I have never paired any Suntory whisky with cheese. How did I miss that? So the class called my name.

The class was organized as a learning experience. Perfect. To add in a twist, Dan Pontius of Alden and Harlow would prepare two distinct cocktails using a Suntory whisky and pairing them with a cheese. There would be six pairings in total, and Uber to take us home safely.

Presenters
Julia, Dan and Jack

Jack Kavanagh of Beam Suntory, gave a quick overview of the whisky lineup:

  • Suntory Toki
  • Hibiki Harmony
  • Hakushu 12 YO
  • Yamazaki 12 YO

Julia Hallman of Formaggio Kitchen led the cheese conversation with the comment “cheese and whisky is a classic but only two of the six cheeses will be cheddar.” Awesome. The class began!

 

Cheeses
Generous portions of delectable cheeses

 

First up was the Shelburne Clothbound Cheddar, a cow’s mill from Vermont. Only 100 wheels are produced a year and are aged in caves at Jasper Hill. This version was a 2 YO cheddar with Julia’s notes of “soft, rich and sweet.” Jack poured the Toki, which was first launched in Boston spring of 2016. It is a blend that still has the Japanese core notes of bright,, fresh and clean. I found it very light on the palate. Jack deemed it “abundant, approachable and affordable.” Both Jack and Dan said they use it in cocktails. I would drink it neat because its lightness would be lost for me in a cocktail.

The pairing was fairly bland while individually the whisky and the cheese were both pleasant enough to warrant tasting.

 

green drink
Whisky should not be green. Just saying

 

Next up was the OMG “Norigami” cocktail created special for the class by Dan. Using Japan as his theme this cocktail base was Nori-infused Toki, with Suze, Elderflower liqueur, fresh lemon juice and Demerara sugar. The drink was green, thick and reminiscent of a “this must be healthy” juice that no real person wants to drink. Ever. Yes, Nori is actually seaweed generally used as the wrap to make sushi!

The Cabot Clothbound Cheddar, again a cow’s milk out of Vermont, dried diligently to save the cocktail, but failed.  The cheese on its own was stunning, what one might consider a true cheddar bursting with flavor and calling for a crisp apple.

With enthusiasm we moved away from the seaweed and on to the Hibiki Harmony. Funny that “Hibiki” actually means Harmony. Now that the 12 and 17 YO Hibiki are discontinued, Harmony is meant to pick up the slack. The Harmony is also a blend and made up of more than 10 types of Suntory whisky. The beautiful bottle has twenty-four sides, each representing the 24 Japanese season. Who knew?  As approachable as the Toki, the Harmony adds a subtle creaminess with a hint of oak.

Julia paired it with a triple crème by Winnimere, a Vermont cow’s milk. Must have been a holy cow (Haha) because it hit the palate with rich, smooth pungency. Then she told us that it is made of 70% butter fat. Of course.  The Harmony and the Winnimere kept bouncing off each other in, do I dear say it….perfect harmony. A winner all around.

A fellow participant asked if Beam Suntory works with other distilleries to bring together the many different blends that make up the final product.  Jack emphatically let us know that there is no sharing in the Japanese whisky trade. Each distillery holds its own products close to the vest from start to finish.

 

Red drink
Perfect color whisky cocktail

 

Number four was back to the cocktail….with some hesitation I nosed the red colored drink – medicinal, and brought it to my lips. Yes, this Campari like concoction I would order. Dan combined the Harmony, tamarind-golden raisin syrup, Gran Classico, Batavia Arrack, and Yellow Chartreuse. As with the first cocktail it was hit or miss with fellow participants.  Aptly named “One with Everything”, the cocktail was paired with another triple crème cow’s milk, the Red Hawk from Cowgirl Creamery, California. The Red Hawk is a personal favorite but then Julia really did pronounce that it has the same bacteria “that grows on your socks.” Fortunately, this was with drink number four so the senses were a tad blurred and the awfulness of socks in my cheese was more funny than off-putting. Still is a favorite. Either way, the cheese did not work with the cocktail for me. There was too much competition between the bold flavors of the cheese and the medicinal tones of the cocktail. But I finished both!

Hakushu wheel

The fifth pairing moved us to a higher shelf  whisky, the Hakushu 12 YO. Here a hint of peat not found in the blends made a quick appearance with a bit of spice across the palate. The cheese was a sheep’s milk out of Corsica called Corsu Vecchiu. this cheese is rarely exported, which made it a treat for all of us to savor. While sheep cheese has the highest fat content, I found this cheese on the powdery and light side. I didn’t really care too much for it. The whisky did pair with the cheese by lifting it up to the level of the whisky. Although when I tried the cheese with the Harmony and found that it worked better. The Hakushu 12 YO is a member of my scotch cabinet.

The final pairing of the evening was the much talked about Yamazaki 12 YO, I always have several bottles of this fine dram at home. It is a perennial favorite for its smooth, sweet, caramel, perfect example of fine Japanese whisky. It was paired with a Capriole Fresh Goat Cheese out of Indiana that was on a toast point and drizzled with honey. The whisky actually became sweeter after the cheese to my swooning pleasure.

At the end of the evening I chose the Hibiki Harmony/Winnimere pairing and the Yamazaki 12 YO/Capriole Goat Cheese pairing as the best examples of winning combinations.

I highly recommend experimenting with whisky and cheese. Start with your favorites then branch out from there.

 

SuntoryRoyal
Suntory Royal Blend

 

BONUS: One of the participants had a bottle that his father brought back from Japan 25 years ago. Still in its box, but with only about a third left, he let me pour a taste. It fell somewhere between the Toki and the Harmony. Light, easy and clean. He didn’t know the exact age so I did some quick research on it. There is one store that advertises it as a collector whisky and is selling it for $279. The owner said he gave an unopened bottle away, not having any idea what he had. Lesson learned.

I raise a glass to thank Julia, Dan and Jack for an interesting and lively class; and to damn good whisky and mouth watering quality cheese!

 

Five Whiskies Re-visited

What happens when a whisky is re-tasted side-by-side with a few others about a month after the first taste? How consistent is my take on the nose, palate, and finish? Does ambience or adrenalin impact anything?

My last blog reviewed twelve whiskies tasted at the annual Whiskey Obsession Festival in Sarasota. I am about to return to Boston and thought it prudent to finish the five sample bottles that were lingering in my makeshift scotch cabinet.

 

Samples2
Glencadam, Bastille, Kozuba, Glenmorangie, Lagavulin

 

This time I would conduct a blind tasting so that I would be as impartial as possible. There was only one sample bottle that I knew the contents. I set up the tasting with each bottle receiving its own glass; a bottle of water to cleanse in between tastes.

The final results were almost exactly the same as the original tasting. Needless to say, I was surprised at my own consistency regardless of the two very different tasting scenarios. All five whiskies are good-to-excellent and offer distinct (unusual to expected) flavor notes. I would enjoy having a bottle of each in my scotch cabinet.

This is what I have from this blind tasting round:

Fifth choice: Bastille French Whiskey Single Malt.

  • Nose: distinct, oily honey and butterscotch
  • Palate: middle of the road, oil comes to the front
  • Finish: lightly lingering

Fourth choice: Glencadam 25YO.

  • Nose: citrus, soft straw, marshmallow
  • Palate: initial burn with a cinnamon burst
  • Finish: What? Where did it go?

Third Choice: Glenmorangie Bacalta

  • Nose: sweet hints
  • Palate: easy fudge, roasted caramel
  • Finish: a tip toe through thin mints

Second Choice: Kozuba Prologue

  • Nose: fresh bark
  • Palate: no malt, woody candy
  • Finish: The wood stays and stays

First Choice: Lagavulin 2016 12 YO

  • Nose: peat, medicinal
  • Palate: peat and fire
  • Finish: lingering peat and some sea surf

The only difference between this tasting and the original tasting is the switch of first and second choice. My guess is that the Kozuba was so off the chart that it superseded the Lagavulin. Yes, I am all about the peat but not exclusively!

Next week I am attending a Suntory Whisky and cheese pairing at the Formaggio Kitchen in Cambridge, MA. While I have put together an Infograph on whisky and cheese pairings, I have never paired Japanese whiskies with cheese. Ought to be a fabulous evening. Stay tuned for my blog on it.

I raise a glass to whisky adventures!

Whiskey Obsession: 12 Tastes

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Whiskey Obsession Festival in Sarasota celebrated its 5th anniversary this past week. It did not disappoint with more than 250 whiskies on hand for tasting. Turner C. Moore the founder and visionary for the festival has expanded the offerings each year. This year there were tasting lunches, dinners, panel discussions, a bartender academy and several VIP master classes. The number of American bourbon and rye distilleries at the Grand Tasting has been steadily growing – and trying desperately to call my name. Maybe next year I will switch to these rising stars. Truly there was something for everyone.

I also appreciate the effort to remind tasters to bring a designated driver companion, use cab or limo services or stay at local hotels. To keep everyone hydrated and tummies satiated, plenty of fabulous food flowed all evening long from the host site – Michael’s on East. Class production all around!

pourlist

Past experience guided my planning…where to begin so as to come out the other side coherent. Before purchasing my ticket, I started with reviewing the general admission list and compared it to the VIP early admission list.  Single Malt scotch is my preferred drink and the VIP list called my name. My goal was to taste only whiskies that I have never experienced. I highlighted ten single malts, to start the night off, then added a few from the general list.

I arranged for a ride to and from, gathered my list and five empty sample bottles. Not sure if I would be able to use the sample bottles, I kept them in my Whiskey Obsession bag.

At the end of the evening, I had tasted twelve whiskies – more than enough for my palate to handle. During each taste I took a few notes, had a brief conversation with the folks behind the bottle and managed to bottle five samples. Yet, since then I have circled around my notes and the samples. For the first time in a while I tasted mostly impressive whiskies with no particular standing above or way below the crowd. While several of the tastings did reinforce my penchant for peat, my usual 1 to 4 ranking seemed to be out of place. What a dilemma – drinking damn good whisky!

SpiceTreeExtravaganza

The weaker tastes, but by no means terrible:

  • AnCnoc 24 YO, a Highland from Knockdhu: A bit “tinee” on the spice. Just not much there to pull me in.
  • Singleton 18 YO, a Speyside from Dufftown: Very light, a hint of spice. Nothing there for me, a peat freak.

Kozuba

Most interesting tastes and better than expected:

  • Kozuba Limited Edition Single Malt – Prologue, made in St. Petersburg, Florida. What is that on the nose, is it off? No, it is birch, not peat but birch smoke. The taste is birch and spice. Fascinating. I plan on visiting the distillery soon as it is in the general area; blog to follow.
  • Bastille 1789 French Single Malt Whisky – I didn’t expect to like this edition. It’s different mind you than Scotch Whisky, but intriguing.

Glengoyne

Whisper that these are special, no hitting you over the head:

  • Glencadam 25 YO, Highland: Light dances with dark cherry spreading across the mouth. Distilled at a 30 degree angle. What?
  • Glengoyne 25 YO,  Highland: Sherry bomb. The poster claims “Worth the Wait”…slowly distilled 12-15 liters per minute as opposed to the average 5 liters per.

Quick kick, share with friends:

  • Douglas Laing Rock Oyster, Blended Island Malt: All that it claims – sea and salt.
  • Glenmorangie Bacalta, Highland, this year’s annual edition: Surprise, but not really, I tend to enjoy the yearly editions. I tasted after the Glencadam and the madeira notes jumped right out. Yum.

Stands out on its own, a hidden gem:

  • John Milroy, Bunnahabhain 25 YO: Spicy, rich, hint of Islay peat. Damn good! (website is under re-construction)

Milroy1

I’m in my comfort zone; I need my peat!:

  • Lagavulin Islay 12 YO, 200th Anniversary Edition: OK, I’ve tried this bottle, but by the mid point of the tasting I yearned for peat to sooth my soul. Geez.
  • Douglas Laing Big Peat, Islay Blended Single Malt: The name says it all. My first impression on the nose and palate was Ardbeg 10 YO.

Douglaslaing1

Now that I have only ever so slightly reviewed the twelve whiskies, it’s time for me to commit to my number one choice. My top three – Glengoyne 25, John Milroy Bunnahabhain 25, and simply because the Lagavulin Anniversary 12. From sherry bomb, to hints of peat, to the big boy.  I purchased the Lagavulin to keep in Florida and will seek out the other two upon returning North. And if anyone wants to gift me a bottle…….

See, that’s what happens to me when surrounded by such interesting and diverse whisky… selecting a favorite ends up being three! Guess I’ll keep on drinking and searching for the next wow factor…all while re-training my palate and my expanding my repertoire of adjectives.

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I raise a glass to Turner C. Moore and his festival – I am obsessed with it.  Save the date people, April 11-14, 2018, Whiskey Obsession returns for its Sixth Annual Event.

 

 

 

 

 

A Clergyman Standing at the Bar…

Welcome to the eighth installment of my 10-4-10 series of interviews. Ten people who are swirling winningly in the wide world of whisk(e)y answer ten questions. This month Reverend Christopher I. Thoma – www.angelsportion.com, whisky writer extraordinaire, blesses (haha) us with a view into his whisk(e)y world.

Thoma pic

  1. Please share with the readers a bit about your whisky background.

I’m not paid to do what I do. And I’m no expert. But I am an enjoyer who has discovered a passion, and maybe even a certain level of discernment, for the particulars of whisky. Now, having said this, I am certain that my whisky past was ordered by the Divine. My fleshly fabric is German, and therefore, I drink beer. Well, I used to drink beer, but not so much anymore. Some time ago, over the span of about eight years, I was doing some summertime teaching in places like Russia and Lithuania, and on return from one of my first visits, I managed to wander into a little whisky shop in London being manned by a kindly fellow who was more than interested in providing for a proper introduction to the “aqua vitae.” It’s there that I met whisky—good whisky—and, oh, what a pleasant friend she has become. You can read the fuller story here. Anyway, my life has indeed changed, and since this notable enlightenment, I’ve taken up the mantle of preaching the whisky truth to the masses through my blog, books, and even a few guest appearances here and there. And I definitely have a hook. These days, it would seem that when a clergyman walks into the room, the atmosphere of any gathering changes a bit. A clergyman standing at the bar—especially one who knows his booze—changes the gala in even stranger ways. Quiet topics become a little more open. Reserved glances make way for intrigue and eye contact. It’s really quite fun to be that clergyman, and to be there when these things happen.

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  1. You have published a number of books, two as The Angels Portion. Tell us how they came about and if you have any in the pipeline at the moment.

I always have something in the pipeline. I feel like I have a disease—a writing disease. I’m always scratching at it. The Angels’ Portion volumes came by way of suggestions from some of my followers that I should take what I’ve written and put them into book form so that they were accessible to some as a handbook of sorts. I jumped on the idea because, in the end, my reviews are not your typical expandings. I tell stories. Stories belong in books. And what I’ve found is that the stories I tell find their way across so many demographics. They reach people who wouldn’t normally read a whisky review or choose to follow a whisky blog. I get messages from folks all around the world who tell me that they never would have considered trying whisky until reading one of my narratives. That means a lot. It means that they were swept into the story, not as readers, but as participants, and they have been convinced and want to give a go at what the characters are enjoying. I mean, if Darth Vader likes the whisky, it might be worth checking out.

As far as my other books, I’ve written several that aren’t whisky related: Feeding the Lambs: A Worship Primer for Teachers of Children, Kids in the Divine Service, The Homiletical Canvas: Poetry in Service to Preaching, and lastly, one of my favorites, Ten Ways to Kill a Pastor. I also have a book of poetry entitled Where Dreams Ponder People, and I’m always tapping away here and there at a yet-to-be-published fantasy novel called The Heroes of Ganchimi.  Oh yeah, and I’m working with an illustrator at this very moment for a children’s book entitled There’s a Bug on the Floor. I expect that to be in print by the end of the year.

Aside from Angelsportion.com, I’ve been keeping another blog at type1confessional.com. It is a rather provocative attempt at displaying the innards of a pastor who finds himself quite frustrated with God because his daughter has Type 1 Diabetes. I write it as a discussion between myself and the Creator. It’s a young blog, only 20 or so posts, but all very visceral and very therapeutic.

I should also mention that besides writing about a hundred sermons a year, I also do a lot of writing for the Church/LCMS, and I write a lot of political op-eds, give papers at conferences, and so many other things. Essentially, I’m doing a whole lot in a so many different areas. At some point, I’d love to get a writing gig with a magazine or something like that, but until then, there’s always something in the works and there’s plenty to keep me busy.

  1. Your affinity with Star Wars is apparent, but how did that develop for you when writing about whisky?

I’m just weird. That’s all. No development. Just weirdness. I sip a whisky, consider the contours and discover the story inside. I never plan a story. I just start typing. Something always shows up.

  1. As a follower of your blog, I have read how the occasional naysayer points a finger at your reverend collar and its relation to whisky drinking. Would you give a brief synopsis of your comments to said naysayers?

I’ve written quite a few posts about how I feel about the pietists who walk among us. Perfect examples would be my reviews of the Speyside Cooperage 10-year-old or The Dalmore 12-year-old. In fact, I do quite a few radio interviews here and there. You might take a listen to the one I did on a Christian radio station in Detroit. You can listen to all three of its parts here, here, and here. I was, sort of, caught off guard by the host who wanted to discuss the very topic. He didn’t do it in a mean way. In fact, he was in agreement and he set up for a great discussion. I just wasn’t ready, and so my response, I think, was one that was very honest and from the gut, and in the end, rather informative for people who may be looking at the mandates of the Bible from the wrong angles.

Thomas with bottles

  1. What are your current favorite whiskies as well as the not-so-much whiskies?

I’m struggling these days to say I have favorites. I used to land on The Balvenie when that question was asked—and I suppose I still might—but I’m finding so many that I wouldn’t want to be without should the zombie apocalypse ever befall us. In the ashes of civilization’s collapse, while everyone else was out looking for food, I’d be searching for guns and Scotch—editions from The Balvenie, Laphroaig, Ardbeg, Auchentoshan, Glengoyne, The Dalmore, Glenmorangie, and so many others. I’d also be grabbing a few bottles of various Bourbons that I’ve grown quite fond of. There are, however, some whiskies I’d only use for treating wounds, campfires, and Molotov cocktails—namely the likes of Scoresby, Lauder’s, and number of the mass-produced Bourbons and Canadian whiskies.

  1. Have you found that over time some of your favorite whiskies have fallen out of favor with you? If so, why?

Not really. I’ve only found an increase of my arena of favor.

  1. What do you look for in a “good” single malt?

I’m going to tiptoe into this question. What makes a whisky “good” is somewhat relative, and with that, I find that bringing a formula to the experience lessens my ability to find and tell the story. I only find the good whiskies because I took from them what they offered and I allowed them to tell me why I should consider them as such. In one sense, you could liken my approach to a theological exercise—exegesis versus eisegesis. Exegesis is to take from the Scriptures what is already there. Eisegesis is to impose one’s opinions on the text in order to find what you want, to make it fit your expectations. I’m an exegetical guy—not only as a clergyman, but as a whisky drinker—and this has made it so that even my expectations with regard to certain editions from certain distilleries that may have betrayed me in the past with a rotten dram, have found redemption in the presentation of something better. I really try to keep the process very honest.

  1. Are you a collector of any particular whiskies, or books, memorabilia, etc.?

I collect all kinds of strange things. Here’s a good place to get a taste of my very old clutter. As far as whiskies, I’m also into historical study and valuation. I’ve quite a few posts on various editions and their dating. As far as my whisky collection, I think I have about 200 or so bottles in my various cabinets throughout the house. There are some that I don’t intend to open, mainly because I plan to keep them until their bottling dates reach the 100-year-old mark. I have a few from the 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s. If I don’t sell them at some point, and if I’m still alive, I’ll probably drink them. If I’m dead, I want them mixed into the embalming fluid. But whatever. We’ll see.

  1. Who do you follow on social media and/or do you have whisky authors who you recommend?

I follow you, of course, and I love your book Whisky Tales. Lots of wisdom in there. In fact, I keep it on top of my stack of “Whisky Magazine” editions right next to my desk in my church office. As far as social media folks, I keep in touch with guys like the Scotch Test Dummies, Scotch Trooper, Mark Gillespie (who wrote the foreword for The Angels’ Portion Volume II), and Mark at Whisky Whistle. In the end, there are so many that I enjoy conversing with throughout the whisky-sphere. All good folks. The #whiskyfabric is a grand expanse of knowledge, vision, and passion. I enjoy being a part of it. At least, I hope I’m a part of it… in my own little way.

  1. Any whisky goals for 2017?

Nope. I’ll keep doing what I’m doing. Although, I would expect The Angels’ Portion Volume III will start taking shape next autumn. Working with Grail Quest Books has been a pleasure. Good people running that operation. Anyway, we’ll see. Life has a way of setting my goals for me. There’s always something new on the horizon, and I’m always ready to tell the story.

I raise a glass and offer a rowdy cheer to Rev. Christopher Thoma for taking the time to share his world of whisky with us. Yes, people take it to the next level and read his The Angels Portion’ whisk(e)y books!

Whiskylassie goes 10-4-10

This is the seventh installment of my 10-4-10 series of interviews… Ten people who are swirling winningly in the wide world of whisk(e)y answer ten questions. I am thrilled to present prominent Canadian whisky persona – the Whiskylassie to my readers.

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1. Tell the reader a bit about “Whiskylassie”.

Whiskylassie is the alter ego of Johanne McInnis. She is the superman to Johanne’s Clark Kent and has been for about 8 years. Whiskylassie writes a blog that is candid, funny at times and she is definitely passionate about sharing her crazy whisky adventures. She loves to travel around the globe visiting friends, distilleries and getting into as much whisky trouble as possible. Lassie was one of the three people who coined the term #whiskyfabric which has been used worldwide on social media to describe the very tight knit and interesting whisky community that exists.

2. While many have read your blog and/or follow you on other social media, some might be unfamiliar with all your writings.  What one or two pieces would you recommend that really speak to who you are when your Whiskylassie hat is on?

My two most favourite posts are the ones that seem to also resonate the most with my readers:

I think the posts demonstrate two sides to the crazy but sometimes very poignant whisky lassie 😉

3. What are you up to these days in the whisky world?

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Well, Johanne is super busy as she writes many freelance articles for some fantastic magazines such as Cask & Still, Whisky Quarterly, as well as a few websites such as Scotchwhisky.com and Tapsmagazine.ca  whereas Whiskylassie is booked at many whisky shows where her classes are sold out. The blog is not as active as usual as a result, but she’s working on a special little piece about a very interesting head to head experiment she conducted over the course of a couple of months. Stay tuned for that one.

4. What was the first whisky you tasted that stands out to this day? Why?

My very first whisky was a Canadian icon – Gibson’s 12. It’s what my dad drank, so there is a bit of an emotional attachment to that one. It’s still one of the best little whiskies on the Canadian market and I love it to this day.

5. How many distilleries have you visited? Which was the most informative?

At last count, I have visited over 75 distilleries in the UK, Canada, the United States and France. I would have to say that my first visit to the Hiram Walker Distillery in Windsor Ontario was so exciting that I literally walked away with an adrenaline headache. My educational background is chemistry so the tour which was provided by the master blender Don Livermore was a whisky geek’s dream come true. I highly recommend going if you are near Detroit or Toronto. Stupendous and super educational.

6. Do you have a wish list of whiskies that you want to taste this year? And they are?

I have what I call a unicorn whisky list every year. I have made it a point for 2017 to accomplish two things: 1. Canada its 150th birthday, so I’m going to try and taste as many new Canadian whiskies that I can get my hands on including one that Wayne Gretzky’s distillery produces. The other goal, is to venture into a category that is still pretty new to me: Bourbon. I’m going to be attending the Kentucky Bourbon Festival in September of 2017 and I am super excited about that.

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7. If you were setting up a home bar at an “average Joe” cost, what would you include? 

Setting up a whisky bar, I would include the following: 

  • 2 Canadians: Stalk & Barrel Rye and JP Wiser’s Last Barrels.
  • 2 Bourbons: Basil Hayden and Buffalo Trace.
  • 10 Scotches: Auchentoshan three wood, Balvenie Caribbean Cask 14 year old, Tomatin Portwood 14 year old, Benromach 15 year old, AnCnoc 16, Scapa 16, Oban Little Bay, Springbank 15, Lagavulin 16 and Ardbeg 10. 
  • 4 Irish: Teeling Small Batch, Redbreast 12, Writer’s Tears and Bushmills Black Bush.
  • 4 World Whiskies: Hibiki Harmony (Japan), Brenne 10 year old (France), Three Ships 10 year old (South Africa) and Macmyra Single Malt (Sweden).
  • 4 Blends: Compass Box Spice Tree, Wemyss The Hive, Chivas Regal 12 and Monkey Shoulder.
  • 4 Independent bottlings: Gordon & MacPhail Mortlach 15, Cadenhead’s Clynelish 1992 (heavenly), Samaroli Altt a Bhainne 8 year old, Scotch Malt Whisky Society (SMWS) Bumblebees by the Sea (Clynelish) and Wemyss Marmalade Appeal 1988 (Glenrothes).

Grand Total:  30 whiskies even if the average person could only afford 1/3 of these, they would end up with a fabulously stocked and envied whisky bar. 

8. Do you have a special or funny experience that you would like to share?

Special or funny experience…  Hmmm, easily the first solo trip over to the UK that I took. I had been over for about 4 weeks and was running out of clean laundry. I asked the lady of the house where I was staying if I could use her washer as I had only brought two pair of pants for my 7 week trip. She looked at me in complete disbelief and replied: “Whaaaa?” To which I continued, it’s not a big deal, because I can wear them for 3-4 days before they really need washing and there’s some days where I don’t wear pants so it’s fine really. Her eyes became even wider and she said: “I’m thinking in Canada the word pants must mean something else!?!” So I picked up a pair of pants from my pile of clothes on the floor. To which she started to laugh uncontrollably…  and said: “Those my dear are trousers”. Still not quite getting it I said: “What are pants then?” to which she explained in the UK, pants are your underwear…  I can see why now she was mortified if she thought I was wearing my underwear for 3-4 days until they “really needed washing” or worse, walking around without any underwear at all…  Oooopsy!

9. Do you spend much time exploring bourbon or rye? Any favorites?

As stated in an earlier question, I’m just starting to really dive into the bourbon category. Here in Canada, the availability was limited for quite some time, so it’s going to be a great year of bourbon discoveries for this whisky lassie. As for rye – or yes!!! I love ryes. My favourites at the moment are: Stalk & Barrel, Lot 40 and Michter’s.  All fabulous examples of how tasty rye whiskies are.

10. And most importantly, from this New Englander, how did you come to be a Patriots fan? Go Pats!

How did I become a Pats fan… Well, way back in 1978 when I had just turned 12, two of my best friends loved watching football. Living on the east coast of Canada, we were very limited in what the NFL broadcast this way so naturally on Sunday’s the ritual became go to Kenny’s house and watch the Patriots. The AFC playoffs were against the Houston Oilers. I remember the game being quite brutal, the Pats defense was hitting them hard but by half time the Oilers were leading by 21-0, then in the last quarter the Pats came back with 14 points and we were on our feet. Then with about 5 minutes the Oilers intercepted and that was pretty much the end of the game. It was a pretty exciting event and I was hooked. I remain (Still) a hardcore Pats fan so of course the win this year was pretty cool, sort of looked like that very first game I watched 39 years ago 😉 and was even more exciting that I could have imagined.

Thank you Johanne for participating. I am going to have to work my way through the whisky list for the “Average Joe” bar! Suffer as I must for whisky knowledge…..All the while continuing my obnoxious in-your-face celebration of the NE Patriots Super Bowl LI comeback win.

I raise a glass to Whiskylassie and #whiskyfabric community!