Drinking Buddies Personified

A number of my posts have featured drinking ….. with friends, our escapades, and our journey on the whisky path.  There always seems to be another bottle as yet untasted and poking at our curiosity. And just when we are bored with what we own or have tasted, someone purchases an unexpected treasure for us all to taste and share.  Our personal reach with other like minded whisky fans moves us along the path with nooks and crannies filled with, to blatantly quote my book, “tastings, tales and temptations.” The gift of whisky pleasure surrounded by friends. How lucky we are.

The outgrowth of one such trail has led to a one-of-a-kind whisky tasting experience open to all within traveling distance to Cambridge, Massachusetts.  The Olde Mouldy, a weekly pop-up bar, is the brainchild of my drinking buddy Nate.  I have asked him to write a piece highlighting his journey for my blog this week.


Hello, dear reader, my name is Nate. Like many people, I expect, my friendship with Linda and the nascence of my whisky journey coincided quite closely. Imagine that. I’ve brainstormed a great long list of possible topics for a post on which to write for this blog, but ultimately decided that you, dear reader, are a mystery to me. I have no idea what you want, what you would find useful, where you are in your own whisky journey. So, in the grand spirit of Whisky Tales: Tastings and Temptations, I thought I’d share a bit about my own journey, in the hopes that you might parse some helpful tidbits for yours.
My interest in whisky didn’t supersede my interest in other spirits until I met a very pretty girl who was a bourbon devotee when I was twenty years old. How surprising, Nate. Finding her adherence to brown spirits incredibly charming, I set about googling “what’s a good bourbon” hoping I might impress her. Oy. Anyway, these were the days when a typical bourbon shelf in a liquor store in New England only had up to a dozen different options and it would still be a couple years until I was ready to the plonk down the $90 for that bottle of Pappy van Winkle 15 year old I’d been eyeing on the shelf. Ho ho ho, heady times. So that’s when I started looking up whisky reviews online, combing through the archives of Drink Hacker, discovering the Whisky Advocate Blog, and turning to Yelp to find out which liquor stores in Boston had the most serious bourbon selection. That was eight years ago and I while the list of blogs I follow obsessively has changed, I still read a bunch of ‘em every single day.
The store to which I was pointed by Yelp was one named Federal Wines and Spirits. At the time, I didn’t have much of a preference for bourbon or Scotch or any other type of whisky, but had done a bit of research on bourbon as the Scotch world seemed impenetrably huge to me. On my first visit there was a family of four standing at the counter, telling the store’s whisky expert a tale of their grandmother who emigrated from (or had some other connection to, I forget exactly) the Orkney isles and had a special connection to the Scapa distillery there. Whisky expert Joe was out of Scapa, but asked the family if they were interested in tasting a splash from neighboring distillery Highland Park. They accepted and Joe, having never seen me before but with a bottle of single-cask Highland Park in hand, looked over at me, me hanging back waiting patiently for the family to finish, and asked: You drinkin’?
I was! (It’s maybe worth mentioning that I’d turned 21 by this point). And from the moment that whisky touched my lips I knew: screw bourbon, Scotch is for real. One year later, I met Linda at a Scotch tasting in the basement of that very store; seven months after that, I got a job working for Joe, walking deliveries around the Financial District of Boston.
Having a mentor who is that knowledgeable, who has a collection so vast, and who is so immeasurably generous, makes for an education more thorough and expedient than one could ever hope for. Working at the finest Scotch shop in the city (a liquor store which was awarded the honor of best whisky bar in Boston by Whisky Magazine) also introduces one to a number of similarly knowledgeable, generous collectors, who wind up being great friends as well (Linda very much among them).

So what is one to do, then, with the knowledge one has amassed? How is one to give back to the community which has been so generous? My answer was to approach a couple friends in the restaurant industry and strike a deal. One evening a week, I take over a private dining-room above a restaurant and turn it into a high-end whisk(e)y bar. Now, I don’t, myself, go to whisky bars much, because quite frankly when you stock your apartment with the sort of Scotch that I do, ain’t no bar in a small city can hope to compete. But to start your own — with a tightly curated but constantly rotating selection of the very best bottles you can amass — that’s pretty cool. And so it is that I’ve begun the next step in my journey, acting as educator, curator, and bartender, with the help of my girlfriend, Tania, who’s been with me for most of this journey and who has been and continues to be essential to the opening and operation of this little tryst we call The Olde Mouldy.



Notes from a Master Class: Laphroaig Bursts Forth

The rugged lineup of Laphroaig. Bring it on!

The night was not for the timid palates nor the empty wallets. The night was prime time for those of us who seek out peat and ash and the rare and exquisite in an intimate setting will fellow enthusiasts. The night was buzzing with excitement.

Nate Shumway. And is that a halo from heaven shining on Joe Howell?

Joe Howell of Federal Wine & Spirits and Nate Shumway of The Olde Mouldy led this private event with humor and historical factoids.  Opening toasts acknowledged Laphroaig’s celebration of 200 years of Islay whisky and for keeping America flush with whisky for “medicinal” purposes during the Great Prohibition.  Hundreds of projected photos of all that is Islay rotated in the background throughout the tasting, causing sighs of longing, memories, and shared plans for upcoming visits. I miss Islay – the blustery wind, the surf on the rugged shores, the fields with cows and sheep, and the distilleries all within easy reach no matter where one sits on the island.

The ubiquitous Laphroaig 10 YO kicked off the tasting as folks settled in and the presenters set the tone for the night. The 10 YO is not the whisky to offer anyone who generally drinks fruity white wine (ouch but true), with its big peat nose, and rough and rumble over the tongue. Put a robust cigar in hand, and there, you have a match. I offer a 2+ out of a possible score of 4.

Some of us have a few bottles of the Laphroaig 15 YO from the early 2000s and were curious as to what the 15 YO expression created for the 200th anniversary would offer.  The color is deeper than the 10 YO and the nose offers more ash and toffee. The taste brings forth a briny, ashy, iodine rush that is smoother and lingers longer with a smoky finish. A 3- score for this release.

Taking pics, texting notes, tasting awesome whisky, grinning all the way.

After a short break to rest the palate, the much anticipated 30 YO with its Olorosso Sherry, took the tasting to a higher level.  This gem holds a fruity nose compliments of the sherry. The mouth feel is thick and syrupy with a hint of cinnamon; the peaty iodine takes a back seat. The finish brings back the sweet sherry.  When I went back to the dram the nose reminded me of wooden match sticks. Hidden Sulphur peeking? The gem is a 3+.

Spelling errors don’t count after three whiskies!

The 40 YO, which is lovingly described as a “beautiful juice” by Joe, and is no longer available anywhere, made its grand entrance. Its red carpet reputation did not disappoint.  There is a whiff of springtime and hints of Laphroaig. If the 30 is syrupy then the 40 is lightly spicy. The natural cask strength adds an earthiness at the finish. I saved some of the 30 to compare with the 40 and, for me, the 30 edges out the 40 ever so slightly.  The 40 is beautiful with a score of 3.

And we weren’t done yet! Much has been already written about the 2015 Cairdeas. Word is that this expression was modelled on the 1960s 10 YO. I have and enjoy the 2013 bottling and wasn’t sure what to expect with the 2015. The nose is deceptively mild, the dram is bursting with peat and smoke. Love it and the long lingering finish.  A solid 3 for this baby.

Look at that deep, rich color of the 1969 10 YO. Significant!

To test the similarities, the 1969 Laphroaig 10 YO was up next. This last dram of the master class, totally puzzled me. I didn’t get the Cairdeas at all.  The color is deep and rich. The nose brings me back to Glasgow and the malting aroma that is often in the air. Boiling potatoes pop into mind. The thick fruit and overripe raisins on the palate are too much for me. I wrote two scores in my notes a 3- and a 2+.  Still can’t decide.

Ames St. Deli Charcuterie to round out the night.

The master class met all my expectations and then some.  Unexpectedly, Joe announced to the group that my book, Whisky Tales: Tastings and Temptations, has been published. He then asked me to say a few words of self-promotion, which naturally I jumped at the chance.  A few books were sold and deeper discussions with other participants ensued at the end of the tasting. Pleasures that are total surprises are the best!


I raise a glass to Joe and Nate and the distinct whiskies of Laphroaig.

I wrote the book as a promise to myself to put pen to paper about my whisky journey and “barrels” of fun! Gotta have some flagrant self-promotion once in a while.


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.