Hindsight or Then and Now

The world of whisky is fluid – both literally and figuratively.  What is popular now may be knocked down from the top tier by the up-and-coming. Personal favorites go from reasonably priced to well out of the reach of most whisky drinkers. Products are made available to certain markets only, UK vs US, etc.  (This is a rant to be blogged soon titled Whisky Envy!) Mega-corporations swoop in and capture distilleries, re-market, scare the consumers, and keep on swallowing-up and ballooning their portfolios. Whisky writers, tasters, update their “guides”, and often influence what we are inclined to buy next, or squirrel away, or avoid altogether.

Those coming of legal age to drink eventually mature and if wise turn their interest to sampling whisky – and not just those mixed with Cola.  In the time these newcomers mature and begin purchasing whisky to stock their bar, the tide of whisky superstars may have ebbed and flowed and fallen off the radar screen.  How many of us dig back five or ten years when doing our research on whisky that meets the flavor profiles that we enjoy most? How many of our favorites have slightly changed or been adjusted to meet current markets or have lost their age statement? Should we be looking backward, thinking forward? What to do?

A well known common term states: hindsight is 20-20. Wonder how it relates to whisky? This brings me to a Sunday afternoon of tweeting and scouring whisky magazines and “guides” that date back to 1994. I want to be fairly conversed about whisky and I need all the help I can get. So I scour. What does hindsight tell me?

PC5 and Octomore 1.1

1994 Bruichladdich, Islay

Michael Jackson, Complete Guide to single Malt Scotch, 3rd edition -“A good single malt for the newcomer to Islay.” The distillery was closed at the end of 1993. Jim McEwan era begins with re-opening 2001

2015 – Jim McEwan retires

Three major ranges: Bruichladdich – with many expressions, Port Charlotte – bring on the peat, Octomore – knock me over with the peat!

 Connemara Locke

1989 – Cooley, Ireland

David Broom, writing for Whisky Magazine, June 2008. 1989 –  John Teeling purchases Cooley, “to see whether his theory of taking on a monopoly (Irish Distillers Limited) was possible. The fact that Cooley is still here suggests he was right.”

Springbank Madeira

2009 – Here today…Springbank 11 YO Madeira Wood 1997

2015 – Gone! (I have one – a personal favorite.)

Cote de nuit

Show me the money! 2010 – The Whisky Shop Whiskeria Magazine. The Whisky Shop for sale: Glenmorangie 1975 Cote de Nuit: £650 ($1017) (I had one, a left over from the Club of Five. Didn’t care for it. Gone now.)

2015 The Whisky Exchange: £1000 ($1565)

Amber

Lastly – 2008 – The Macallan Amber

There is the just completed tweeted conversation about flavored whisky that took a turn to my tweeting about The Macallan Amber – a liqueur of single malt with maple and pecan, at 25% – and as I did not know, only available for the US market. After a short stint on the market it was pulled off the shelves.  I saw the price jump immediately and the bottle vanish from local stores.  Sleuth that I am, I hunted, got way-lucky and found six bottles at the regular price of $26 at an out of the way “mom and pop” store.  Is it worth more than the given price now six years later? Not really – but two bottles still grace my back closet.  The others given to friends. Sometimes it is the thrill of the hunt!

Special thanks to Johanne McInnis @Whiskylassie for tweeting me a blog about Amber at beforeiforget.co.uk (Last Orders – Before I Forget.)

These examples of hindsight are but a miniscule portion of the ever changing world of whisky. We are sadly seeing the disappearance of some fantastic whiskies and retirement or passing of whisky heros. But who’s not to say some of the new whiskies will become the rare and special expressions of the near future.  Should we change our drinking habits – collect more, read more, drink a wider variety of whiskies? For me, awareness is the key. I know what I like and always have an extra on hand if I believe/know a bottle is a special release. I attend a few whisky events a year, and keep in touch with others who have a like interest and who keep growing their knowledge and subsequently mine. At the end of the day, my whisky is for enjoying, exploring and most importantly sharing.

That’s all I got today – and a glass of Bruichladdich Laddie Ten. I raise a glass in honor of the past, savoring the present with eyes toward the future of great whiskies to come.

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Mishaps and Miscues

A Glimpse of the Buffalo Trace Master Distiller's Tasting Room
A Glimpse of the Buffalo Trace Master Distiller’s Tasting Room

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Mishap: accident, trouble, problem, difficulty, set back, adversity.

Miscue: a mistake.

We all have them. But having mishaps and miscues with whisky can be catastrophic, universe shifting, life altering, or as John Wayne is credited as saying, “Life is hard; don’t make it harder by being stupid. I can still hear Forrest Gump saying, “Stupid is as stupid does.” All right already.

My Top 10 Mishaps and Miscues

10. Not writing down what I drank at the Occidental Cigar Club in San Francisco. Damn I must have had a raucous time.

9. Never documenting the whisky stash, as small as it was, that my father kept in the lower cabinet of the family grandfather clock.

8. Not purchasing an inaugural bottle of Hillrock Distillery Single Malt while in Rhineback, New York.

7. Not getting a copy of the picture taken of me with Joan Parker and Master Chef Jody Adams at the whisky tasting I held at Joan’s home.

6. By association, watching a friend offer a fellow guest at a party a glass of Ardbeg’s Lord of the Isles only to see the recipient immediately throw it down the sink after one teeny tiny sip.

5. Bringing an unopened bottle of the Bruichladdich 20 YO, 2nd edition to the office party, only to realize that it was my autographed bottle by Jim McEwan. Now it is empty. Still autographed but empty.

4. Forgetting to have a picture taken of me and lead chemist Truman Cox, while having a private tour of the chemist lab at Buffalo Trace. Truman passed away suddenly in 2013 at the age of 44.

3. Giving away an unopened bottle of George T. Stagg to a person thought bourbon was too sweet. The plan was for him to try it (like it) and then to share it with his son-in-law who is considering opening up a craft distillery.  The larger miscue was realized when the son-in-law said he never heard of George T. Stagg.

2. Offering a weeklong guest at my home free reign of my scotch cabinet while I was at work; then discovering an irreplaceable bottle was drained to within an inch of its demise.

My number one miscue: I simply don’t spend enough time with the dozen or so bottles of American bourbon and rye that I own, aka drinking it. It would help all the other mishaps and miscues fade away.

For more on some of these stories and other tales please check out my book: Whisky Tales: Tastings and Temptations.

Master Class with Jim McEwan – Revelry Untamed

Back in the early days of my learning curve about whisky drinking I attended a Master Class led by Jim McEwan and hosted by Federal Wine and Spirits at the historic Omni Parker House in Boston. The date: October 25, 2007.

Up until that point I had learned two things: 1) Write down what you drink and what you think of it; and 2) save your notes.

When I heard this past week about the imminent retirement of Jim McEwan, my mind when back to the night I met him and fell under his spell of showmanship. The class was full, of course, of men and just two of us ladies. We sat in the front row. The lesson I hadn’t learned, and still have trouble with, is sip and spit. Especially when tasting ten good long pours of whisky.  I do hydrate with lots of water but not drinking the full shot of Bruichladdich or any other substantial whisky feels a bit like heresy.  My palate was young and unskilled. I was ambivalent about several of the expressions and wowed by a few others.  But, I was totally enthralled by Jim and his presentation.  I wrote about this class in more detail in my book Whisky Tales: Tastings and Temptations.

To give you a glimpse of the tasting: my top three favorites of the night – as my notes detail were: 125th Anniversary, 3-D Peat Proposal 3rd Edition, and the PC5. And, somehow I have at home a signed bottle of the 1973 30 Y.O. Laddie.  Remember what I said about sip and …..sometimes one doesn’t actually recall the minute details or purchases! Did I purchase it that night or another. Lost. Another lesson not learned at that point: put the sales slip with price paid and date purchased in the box the whisky comes in or keep the slips or write it down in a safe place.

Times have changed since that 2007 Master Class, some bottles are now off the shelves and tucked away in personal scotch cabinets, some sold out and in the hands of collectors, and others simply basic bottles still available.  Here is the list.  You tell me where they are and how much they now fetch $$$.

1. Rocks                                      $51.95

2. 12 Y.O. Second Edition       $64.95

3. 14 YO Links Carnoustie      $77.95

4. 14 YO Sassocaia                     $79.95

5. 14 YO Gaja Barolo                 $79.95

6. 125th Anniversary                 $495

7. 40 YO                                        $2395

8. Infinity                                      $77.95

9. 3-D Peat Proposal 3rd Edition $69.95

10. PC5                                           SOLD OUT

To Jim and all his expressions I raise a glass.

 

The Dark Side of Bruichladdich

One of my go-to books is the 5th Edition of Michael Jackson’s Malt Whisky Companion (2004). It is always within reach. I carried it with me throughout my whisky week in Scotland in the fall of 2009. On its inside cover I wrote the names of all the whiskies I tasted during the trip which began in Glasgow and ended in Glentrool. I drank Highlands and Lowlands, Campbeltowns and Islays. The book has notes from distillery visits and interactions with one local on Islay.  The elderly Mr. Willie Powell lived in a small white house with peat bricks piled obsessively neat on either side of the house. He had a barrel stamped with the Kilchoman label in front.  Kilchoman launched its first whisky the month we were there and the barrel, said Powell, was stationed to help visitors find the distillery. I was informed by the Kilchoman representative at the 2014 Sarasota Whisk(e)y Obsession Festival that Willie Powell was still living in his home on Machir Bay. Go Willie!

Willie Powell's Peat Stack Machir Bay, Islay
Willie Powell’s Peat Stack Machir Bay, Islay

More than holding my rambling and scribbles the Malt Whisky Companion is a vessel of whisky knowledge. In his section on peat, Jackson speaks about the ppm (parts per million) of phenol that is measured in whisky. As an example, he refers to Bruichladdich as having whisky in the 2-5 ppm range. He notes that Bruichladdich was in the process of created two distinctly high ppm whiskies.  I made note of both for future purchase:  Port Charlotte 5 Y.O. (PC5) and Octomore 5 Y.O.

I watched and waited and kept in close contact with my whisky-guy, Joe at Federal Wine and Spirits, and upon their separate release, I purchased both and joined what I call the dark side of whisky. These are not for the faint of heart nor “I’ll have a white wine spritzer” type. They are for those who think rugged, deep pungent, and full power of smoke. Robusto cigars and blizzard conditions swirl around the aura emanating from these now hard to find single malts. The PC5 has a 40 ppm level and 63.5% alcohol , but the Octomore 1st release is at a remarkable 131 ppm and while at the same 63.5% alcohol. The peat pulls me in and hugs me in a bear-like grasp. The Octomore, and I hate to admit this, screams for a touch of water to save me from going over the edge.

Big and Burly - bring 'em on!
Big and Burly – bring ’em on!

The Port Charlotte and Octomore range of whiskies are detailed on the Bruichladdich website. I’m attached to the 1st releases. One bottle of the PC5 was finished and it was a challenge finding another 1st release. It’s safely in my arms now. I am all about sharing but the select and limited bottles in my collection are special occasion drams for a small, also select, few.

To Bruichladdich for always taking chances and not being deterred by anything, and to Mr. Willie Powell for being a welcoming gentleman to a car full of tourists, I raise a glass.