Best Buys of 2017 and the Big Bucks Favs

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I was cruising the whisky aisle in Park Avenue Liquors in New York City a few weeks ago. It was an in-country bucket list dream come through. Next to me where two suit-and-ties, with one asking the other about what to purchase for a gift. A few were pointed out with the response “He’s not worth that much.” I chuckled to myself because the whiskies what were pointed out were in the under $100 range. Not a close pal indeed. That being said, the whisky market has a whisky for every price range and palate. Under $50 whisky doesn’t necessarily translate to poor tasting whisky. I have four such decent whiskies that I tasted for the first time during 2017 that I am pleased to share.

If you are stocking your whisky cart for the first time and don’t want to break the bank, this are my 2017 recommendations:

  • Highland Park Magnus at 40% offers a touch of smoke, full-bodied flavor with a touch of sea brine
  • Glen Moray Chardonnay Cask NAS at 40% is perfectly nice and easy to drink
  • Paul John Brilliance from India at $46% offers the “this is different” moment with a sweet fruity and hint of lemon
  • Dickel Rye for the base of a cocktail. It is a soft rye that won’t overpower and blends well in a Manhattan or Old Fashioned.

On the flip side of the whisky price list are the three whiskies that stood out for me of the 80 plus whiskies that were new to me during 2017.  The price range is $175 to about $400 – depending on your location. The three are not in any special order – they all scored a 3+ out of a possible 4.  There were no “4” scores this year, which I find curious. I’ll have to ponder that a while.

The Top Three of my 2017 tastings:

  • Springbank  19 YO Fresh Port Cask at 52.4% has a beautiful nose of chocolate and warm Port, the palate is almost thick. Amazing!
  • Glengoyne 25 YO at 48% is a true sherry bomb. Lovely!
  • Chapter 7 (Independent bottler, Switzerland) 19 YO Small Batch of 2 undisclosed Highland casks. Where did the pineapple notes come from? And there’s so much more flavor bursting forth.

Where ever you are on your whisky journey, savor the pleasure; pause a moment and take in your good fortune of being able to raise a glass.

I raise a glass to health, happiness and prosperity for you during 2018!

 

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Top NOTCH Whisky Weekend on Nantucket

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Simple but typical and relaxing view just outside the town of Nantucket

An American single malt whisky taking top honors at the International Spirit Challenge! You probably read about it months ago. For us self-appointed whisky geeks, we perhaps scoffed at the idea that an American whisky would be so bold as to win single malt awards. And, to add injury to insult this winner is hard to find.  The gold medal winner, the 12 YO Notch from Triple Eight Distillery hails from Nantucket Island, Massachusetts. Do I have a story to tell about this whisky….

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Welcome to Cisco Brewers home of Triple Eight Distillery

It all started in September 2001 during the Nantucket wedding weekend of Eileen and Scott (E&S.)  The Triple Eight Distillery was fairly new and offering barrels of “whisky” for sale as an investment, with the first tasting available five years down the road. Being single malt enthusiasts, the bride and groom thought this would be an adventurous way to celebrate their marriage and connect them long term to the island. Who new that the craft whisky industry would explode and that their purchase would become an award winning enterprise.

Five years down the road a number of us joined E&S for the celebration and for a peak at the aging whisky.  Rumor has it I appropriated one of the five bottles – but that’s another story, which can be found documented in my book.  I’m innocent! Anyway, we tasted the five year old at the distillery and tasted  again at the evening party.  I expected harsh but was pleased to find light and buttery. Not half bad was my opinion. Time would tell how it aged at the next tasting planned for year 10.

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Official Tasting of the 10 YO Scott’s Notch at the distillery

Year ten brought us back to the island for more hoopla and notch tasting. In the meantime, the distillery released their first expression of Notch as an 8 YO. It was released on 8/8/08 and sold for a hefty $888.  Very tongue in cheek and as a specialty item, it sold. The bottle we tasted, officially named Scott’s Notch, was still very lightly colored, easy drinking with a hint of cinnamon and a touch of salt. The finish reminded me of a slice of toasted bread and nuts.   Oh, by the way, I do have a bottle.

At this point in time conversations between the distillery and Scott began about the final bottling, how many bottled might the angels have left, how many bottles the distillery would want to purchase back, and delivery. Hmmm, conversations can sometimes take a long time.  Final delivery would end up being the 15th anniversary weekend.

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The hooch boxed and hidden behind the sofa! Real safe.

 All this brings us to this September and the 15th anniversary of Scott’s Notch and the bride and groom. To kick off the weekend with a full-on whisky theme I lead a single malt scotch tasting for the group of 13.  The tasting of Scott’s Notch, officially a 12 YO, would be the grand finale.

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Three distinct whiskies for tasting and sharing

 

I displayed three bottles, handed out a description of each whisky, scoring sheets and a whisky flavor chart downloaded from the Internet for everyone to use. (Now, while, I can sling the bull with the best of them, describing whisky with pithy words is not my strong suit.) Each pour had its own glass and water for hydrating and for adding a drop to the whiskies if necessary was set up.

The caterer would provide four different warm appetizers during the tasting. A burrata and pear bruschetta, truffled mushrooms, coconut shrimp, mini beef tacos. A lobster and beef tenderloin buffet would complete the evening. Oh yeah, it was going to be a prime evening to remember!

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Dinner after the tasting

 

The group as asked to score each whisky from 1 to 4.

1 = Please don’t ever buy me this, ever. 2 = I’ll drink it and if I must, perhaps, maybe, buy a bottle, maybe.  3 = Honey, please buy me this bottle. It is fabulous. 4 = Honey, please buy me two bottles, I most likely won’t share it with anyone, I want it all for myself.

In keeping with the 15 YO theme the first pour was a Campbeltown Region, Springbank 15 YO at 46% alc. When preparing descriptors for handouts I usually look at the distillery notes and a few other reviews that best agree with my thoughts. “Springbank has an almost bewildering array of flavors: dark chocolate, figs, brazil nuts and vanilla. some find components of Islay…smoke, leather.”

Next up was the Orkney, Highland Park Dark Origins NAS at 46.8% alc. “Dark Origins is known for its double first fill sherry casks, which bring a richer “sherry bomb” flavor.  Notes of heathered smoke,, peat, caramel, and cocoa beams dominate the palate.”

I enjoy finishing tastings with a bold Islay. This night it was Ardbeg’s Corryvreckan, a personal favorite. At 57.1% it is a big boy! “The packaging states ‘not for the faint hearted’ and it is true.” The palate is deep with cream spices. Masters of Malt call this expression astonishing.”

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Eileen and Scott bring out the Scott’s Notch to taste

 

After a few additional appetizers, a cleansing of the palates. Eileen and Scott presented the 12 YO Scott’s Notch.  The comments included: apricots, caramel, malt, vanilla, smooth, and most surprising several folks agreed that it hinted of a warm rum. For me, the sweetness on the palate leaned it towards a bourbon. As with the whiskies leading up to the Notch, folks went back to compare, and to have a second whirl.

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Decently dented 

 

Comments from my not-too-scientific scoring sheet:

  • The Springbank was more enjoyable after trying the Ardbeg and going back to it – the sweetness was more prominent
  • Highland Park – felt a little sting in the back of my mouth, delicious
  • Highland Park – masculine
  • A little water helped the Ardbeg
  • I put a bit of the Highland Park with the Ardbeg and it became a “4”. (Egads!)

Tally totals:

Scott’s Notch 41 (Though I do think the group was biased. Though I am biased towards the Ardbeg.) Springbank 30, Highland Park, 29, Ardbeg 28. Really a neck-in-neck race.

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Am I excited at being given my very own bottle of the 12 YO!

 

What is interesting is that most of the group didn’t drink whisky, or if they had, it was the $30 a bottle type, and then mixed, or with lots of water.  So they did very well working their way through the four bottles.  I was thrilled when several of the non-whisky drinking women scored the Ardbeg quite high. No shrinking violets here.

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My Scott’s Notch Collection. One of a kind and all mine. Note how the color goes from almost clear to very dark. Time in a sherry barrel at the end of its aging.

 

The following day was to continue with the tasting theme at the Triple Eight Distillery for lunch and the Nantucket Culinary Center for an evening with Chef Greg and a five course dinner. Stay tuned for all the yummy details in my next blog.

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I raise a glass to good friends, family and sharing whisky together!

Lowland Single Malts. I hesitate.

How many Lowland single malts can you name? Exactly. Not too many lining the shelves of your favorite liquor store. I’ve offered Auchentoshan expressions at whisky tastings.  Being very light in flavor, they are the first up. Folks new to whisky enjoy the easiness and approachability.  Once the tasting moves on to Highland’s with depth and Islay’s robust peat, the Lowlands fade for most.

Yet, Duthies Auchentoshan 19 Y.O, a product of WM Cadenhead, is worth trying. I made the comment “that Lowland whiskies are way-too light” while visiting the Springbank Distillery and imbibing at a private tasting. Immediately, Peter Currie, Springbank rep at the time, pulled out the Duthies. I bought a bottle and tucked it in my suitcase to bring back to the US.

Gordon and MacPhail also bottles a few of the Lowland shuttered Rosebank Distillery single malts.  Yes, they are on the light side as well.  But, the Rosebank 17 Y.O. cask strength gives a kick just to make sure one notices. I noticed. The Rosebank 18 Y.O. is more typical.

Spring is here for some and coming soon for others, a good time to rotate the bottles in your scotch cabinet and bring out the lighter whiskies.

I raise a glass!