Big Names Woo the Ladies

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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!

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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+

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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!

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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-

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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

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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.

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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.

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I’m signing a book. Really?
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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!

 

 

 

Jack Teeling Master Class: Four Teeling/Vom Fass Bottling

 Jack Teeling

Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons sang the hit song “Oh What a Night” many years ago. Last night’s experience at Vom Fass Sarasota with Jack Teeling brings the song to the fore once again. Yes, one needed to be over 21, and the doors were locked enclosing a group of 20 held by tales and the Irish whiskey produced by the 2015 World Whiskies Brand Ambassador of the Year. Then there was cake.

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Hefty Teeling glasses. As Jack says, “They are for drinking not for nosing.”

Vom Fass is a franchise business which supplies its stores with gourmet products including a unique selection of whiskies. In their own words, “Every batch of whiskey…has been tasted at our headquarters in Waldburg, Germany. We hand-pick every whiskey carefully and add refining touches to it before we fill the casks and send them off on their journey to the Vom Fass stores.”  The additional plus is that you can purchase four different sizes of the whiskies – 100ml to a full sized 750ml.

As a whisky fan who is always in search of a special whisk(e)y to taste, the Vom Fass store in Sarasota, Florida always offers a whisk(e)y that impresses me. Impress my palate and expand my knowledge of the spirit. Every time I visit, I come away with a smile, something new learned, and a bottle in my bag. Add to that the friendly customer service by owners Robert and Debbie Kay – a win-win all around for me!

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Back to Jack.  The Teeling Family has had a long connection with Vom Fass through their Cooley Distillery days.  John Teeling sold Cooley to Beam, which has since been bought by Suntory. Fortunately for all of us Cooley fans the Teeling/Vom Fass relationship continues. Jack was at the store to lead a Master Class on the four exclusive Teeling whiskies that were produced for Vom Fass.

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Jack presented a bit of his family’s distilling history and the ups and downs of Irish whiskey in general.  I still feel the need to apologize for the USA Prohibition. Talk about impacting the whisk(e)y world! (Do read David Okrent’s Last Call detailed book on Prohibition.) Anyway, on to the tasting.

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One more thing. What is integral to the tasting of these four whiskies is remembering that they originally came from Teeling owned Cooley stocks and are not part of the new Teeling whiskey that is currently being distilled in Dublin.  Hmmm…that tells me that when they are gone they are truly gone.

First on the line was the Irish Single Grain 5 YO, bottled at 40%. These ½ bourbon casks fills and ½ cabernet sauvignon casks fills resulted in a fruity, light and feathery whiskey.  Jack stated that this bottle is 95% corn and 5% barley.  I find it appropriate for a person who prefers a soft appertif, one that is gentle and easy to drink. My Islay palate gives this a 2 out of 4 rating.

Next up was the Stephen’s (Teeling) Choice Single Malt 5 YO, bottled at 40%.  There is a vibrant citrus nose, some fresh cut grass on the palate.  A fellow taster exclaimed, “It’s like an Auchentoshan on steroids.” Maybe. The chocolate I paired with it brought out some more intensity of the flavors whereas the cheese pairing dulled both.  I give this decent dram a 2.

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Is it me or does Paul actually look like a younger Robert DiNero?

Before and in-between each tasting Paul Duffy performed easy to listen to Irish music on his guitar and wind pipe, which added to the social ambiance along with the delicious nibbles of food. Three expressions of Irish cheddar, dark chocolate, veggies, fall-spiced apples with a whipped cream flavored with the Brothers in Arms whiskey were perfectly balanced to pair with the whiskies. Yes, then there was cake. More on that later.

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The third whiskey brought a bigger grin to Jack’s already beaming pride of his whiskies. This one, Jack’s Choice, is an 11 YO, bottled at 43%.  As Stephens’s big brother, Jack’s Choice brings forth a complex more sophisticated whiskey.  Finished in a sauterne cask, it hints of spice, oak and exclaims – Wait for it! Yes, the finish has a big burst of flavor that highlights the sauterne.  This one grabbed my attention and woke up the senses.  I excitedly give this a 3.

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The final dram was the Brothers in Arms Single Malt 14 YO, bottled at 40% with time in port, sherry and bourbon barrels – a real combination of the brothers, Jack and Stephen.  My first taste yelled, “scratchy, a little rough.” But as I delved into it, I found some raisins, bits of fruit, then a briny spicy finish. It grew on me.  Not as bursting in my preferred flavor profile as the Jack’s Choice, but strong enough to earn a 3-.

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This homemade fruit cake left me in awe! Why don’t American fruit cakes taste like this piece of heaven?

Did someone say cake? A simply luscious fruit cake – like none ever served in the USA – was prepared by a fellow guest and regular at Vom Fass events.  Let me say, it was to die for and I rarely enjoy a cake that does not have chocolate as its main ingredient.  The recipe belongs to Ireland’s renowned Chef Darina Allen and can be found in her Ballymaloe Cooking School Cookbook. I just want someone to make the cake on a regular basis for me, please. Yum.

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My Swally Shirt is becoming a must wear at all tastings.

After the tasting was completed and palates and tummies satiated, Jack spent time with the guests, signed bottled, gave Teeling glasses as souvenirs and proved himself to be an all-around great guy to spend time with talking about whisk(e)y.  If you can, find a Vom Fass store in your area and try these unique whiskies.  Next for me is comparing these Teeling/Vom Fass whiskies with the new Teeling Dublin whiskies that are causing quite a buzz around the world.  (Well, actually, I did try two of them at a Whisky Festival last year – but tried them towards the end of the evening and my palate was shot so I can’t give an objective review. Ergo, must try again.)

If you are ever in Sarasota, Florida, stop in and meet Robert and Debbie at Vom Fass – they will serve you well with distinguished products.

I raise a glass to the Teeling/Vom Fass collaboration and to damn good Irish whiskey.