Group Tastings…Insightful?

For anyone who has taken the time to read my blogs during the past few years it is obvious that I prefer group tastings over my own drinking alone of one sample of whisky at a time. Besides the fact that I lead a number of tastings during the year, over time I have come to learn more about whisky nuances in group settings where four (sometimes more) whiskies are sampled and compared.

So, you say, what are the benefits here? Well, my palate has dulled with age, sad to admit. My whisky vocabulary does not flourish like a bouquet of wild flowers – a skill that many of the bloggers and whisky tasters that I follow excel at. I know what I like when I taste it and what flavor profiles tend to bore me. The benefits of group tastings, broaden my world, and are many:

  1. Discussion about whisky with a group of tasters is stimulating, social, and informative
  2. Comments on the nose, palate, and finish expands and gets each taster thinking and evaluating his/her impressions
  3. No two tasters have exact descriptions
  4. Individual preferences are fascinating to learn about
  5. Comparing a few whiskies side-by-side highlights strengths and weaknesses of each whisky
  6. When a group does not know the price of a whisky and simply compares several, I find, the impressions more honest.
  7. As someone who enjoys writing about whisky, the information culled at group tastings gives me more to write about. Some of the best fun is hearing the stories a few glasses of whisky brings out in tasters.

During the months of December and January I led six tastings – three formal and three more casual with family and friends. Here is an example of one that falls in between the formal and the casual. The setting was a holiday dinner get together. There were five of us and we all planned to stay over at the host’s home to alleviate driving late at night. No driving takes the pressure off the tasting. Really.

The whiskies chosen were all open bottles that I had in the scotch cabinet and were slated to be on the heel slayer list. Obviously, because I owned them, they were whiskies that I enjoyed at one point or another during the year. Several may have popped up at other tastings,  but what would tasting them side-by-side reveal!

dottysxmas2016

The order of the four whiskies: McCarthy’s Whiskey (USA), Single Cask Nation Westland 2 YO, 1st fill Oloroso Barrel (USA), Benromach 15 YO (Speyside), Aberlour A’bunadh Batch 28 (Highland). No one knew the price of the whiskies and except for me, hadn’t tasted any of them before.

The two West Coast American whiskies were up first. My thinking was that they would be lighter than the two Scotch single malts. The notes are a combination of each taster’s comments.

  • McCarthy’s Nose: roasted, earthy, butterscotch
  • Palate: earthy, leather, charcoal, not too much peat
  • Finish: lingers but with alcohol, dryness, works well with the lemon pound cake dessert
  • Westland’s Nose: floral, buttery, vanilla, shouts out butterscotch, cinnamon, maple syrupy
  • Palate: spice and burn, black pepper, more cinnamon, more complex, softer with a drop of water –  less harsh and brings out some vanilla
  • Finish: buttery, better with the water
  • Benromach’s Nose: sweet, cinnamon
  • Palate:  alcohol up front, dirt in the butterscotch, kiss it up to God, hint of soap, nutmeg, smooth, give it the three second rule
  • Finish: all agreed “doesn’t linger”
  • A’bunadh’s Nose: cherries, black licorice, fruity,, rich and smooth, decadent
  • Palate: cinnamon with sherry, a bite to it!, rum raisin and figs
  • Finish: spice cake, sweet sherry, lasts and lasts

The results – preferences from favorite to least favorite:

  • Taster#1               Taster #2             Taster #3            Taster #4           Taster #5
  • McCarthy             Westland             A’bunadh           Benromach       A’bunadh
  • Westland              A’bunadh            Benromach        A’bunadh          Westland
  • A’bunadh             McCarthy             McCarthy           McCarthy           McCarthy
  • Benromach          Benromach         Westland            Westland           Benromach

Reviews the results of tasting scores always intrigues me. If I was to go shopping based strictly on the results, I would purchase the A’bunadh and not the Benromach. Perhaps tasting this combination together diminished some of the individual high notes, maybe not. Maybe I don’t enjoy such and such as much now. How can indivudal preferences be all over the place? Makes me wonder….and that is the tickle to group tasting for me!

By the way can you guess which taster I am?

I raise a glass to tasting new whiskies as well as tasting open bottles and comparing each with a group of friends!

Did someone say March is less than two months away? How did that happen?

 

 

 

 

Top NOTCH Whisky Weekend on Nantucket

blueboat
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….

signs888
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.

scotts-notch
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.

notchcases
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.

whiskytabledisplay
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!

lobsterbeef
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.”

mescotteileen
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.

dayafterbottles
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.

funnyface
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.

3expressionsof-notch
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.

triple8sign                  culinarycenterlogo

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

Summer Project: Whisky and Cheese Pairings

Summer-Party

What is it about summer that fosters days explained away by the old school expression “the road is paved with good intentions?” My list of “to-do” is long and as I sip a new single malt scotch I simply ponder scribbling down some tasting notes, writing a review and updating my blog. Ahh. Good intentions abound.

Fortunately, my living as a sloth was interrupted by a request to design and present a whisky tasting as a fall fundraiser for a local Senior Council in Aging. We will all get there someday, so to my mind, keeping the support line for seniors available is a worthy cause.

I have gotten off the chaise lounge and am pumping up the creative juices.  After considering which four whiskies to present I thought about the food that will be served and potential cheeses to pair with each of whiskies. Wait! Why not have a whisky and cheese infographic to have as a handout? Why not spend a few days doing some research and create my own version of a whisky and cheese infographic? Thus inspired, I forged ahead.

The topic is not entirely new to me. I included some suggestions for pairings in my book Whisky Tales: Tastings and Temptations. Over the years I have found whisky and cheese pairings to be an intriguing combination and one that gets tasting participants excited.

WhiskyCheesesamples

The resulting infographic is set up with five distinct whisky flavor profiles:

  1. Peat and Smoke
  2. Sherry and Fruit
  3. Salty and Peat
  4. Floral and Honey
  5. Spicy and Grassy

I have selected six scotch whiskies that fall somewhere within the parameters of each flavor profile and listed them by region. Most are single malt whisky, a few are blends.

July2015 194

The cheeses selected also have five distinct flavor profiles:

  1. Strong and Complex
  2. Rich and Versatile
  3. Nutty and Savory
  4. Fruity and Nutty
  5. Mellow and Delicate

Each whisky flavor profile has two or three corresponding cheese suggestions.

Now, keep in mind that, as with any whisky and cheese pairing, individual preferences may swerve away from the suggestions. That is A-Okay. The infographic is meant to be a general guide and offer but a glimpse into the tasting possibilities. I recommend trying out the suggestions and also try your favorites and discover what works best for you.

The infographic may be downloaded here: WhiskyCheeseInfographic8.2016  The sources are also available for your reading pleasure. Sources for the WhiskyCheeseInfographic2

Now, I can either go back to being a summer sloth or go back to my “to-do” list….first in line a whisky and chocolate infographic. Yum!  That research is worth getting up and moving.

I raise a glass to exploring whisky pairings and time to be a summer sloth!

Blarney on the Long Trail

BlarneyontheLongTrail

Blarney: talk that aims to charm, pleasantly flatter, or persuade. AKA: full of baloney.

No Blarney on this blog!

Spur of the moment trips oft result in unexpected surprises. Add to that the opportunity to sample six new whiskies and pure happiness fills the air. As it happens, two of us decided to spend a couple of days in the Green Mountains of Vermont away from the relentless heat of the city. The clever lady that I am, upon confirming a reservation at the Inn at Long Trail in Killington, had me quickly scanning for local distilleries to peruse. To my benefit, Vermont has joined the explosion of entrepreneurs spiriting enthusiastically.

Those who know my book and perhaps check my blog on occasion recognize that my preferred manner of tasting whiskies is to sip and compare with (sometimes) known whiskies of a similar genre. This blog will continue that style. One more caveat, I am a single malt scotch drinker first and foremost….perhaps some of my views below are, therefore, askew.

Let the Vermont journey begin…final destination about three hours north of Boston.

Silo distillery

The first stop was to Silo Distillery located in the same Artisan Park in Windsor that houses the popular Harpoon Brewery. One could easily spend extra time visiting the other new shops in the park – cheeses, sauces, ice cream, with more shops to come soon. My focus was lasered in on Silo.

Unfortunately for me they were out of their whiskey product, but the assistant quickly expounded the virtues of their new whiskey that was being launched that evening. She graciously went to see if a spare bottle was hidden in the office. Sure enough she appeared with a bottle of Aisling as well as the distiller, Chris Magiollo. I was served a generous pour, which I sampled, then quietly tucked the remainder to bring home for a comparison tasting.

Silo Aisling: 40% alc wheat whiskey aged in charred Ash wood staves. The whiskey is fairly colorless with a overly sweet wheat nose, and a taste that is a combination of nutty cloves, syrupy sweet and a bit puzzling to me, perhaps a memory of the concord grape that grows wild in New England. I tried it again at home side by side with a bottle of Bernheim Kentucky Straight Wheat Whiskey, 45% alc. On the box it has a quote by F. Paul Pacult, “Bernheim offers a fine balance of wood, moderately sweet grain, and acity…finishes elegantly, warm.” The color is a beautiful golden and offers whiffs of caramel. Completely different from the Aisling and much more to my liking. Could be Aisling is best served in a cocktail? Silo is a vodka producer after all. I rate the Aisling 1+. The Bernheim somewhere in the 2+ range.

alpacas

Next stop, Quechee Gorge, home of the Antiques Mall, a Cabot cheese sampling store, a few alpacas, and Vermont Spirits.  I have purchased VT Spirits vodkas for number of years now along with their very likable No14 Bourbon (with a touch of maple syrup.) Their latest edition is called Provisional Light Whiskey. Its 45% alc grain whiskey, light golden in color and sweet spice to the taste. It is aged a minimum of nine months and quite appealing. Don’t know how it happened, but I bought a bottle, as well as another bottle of No14.

Provisional whiskey

At home, I paired the Provisional with another whiskey new to me, Appalachian Gap Distillery’s Ridgeline. This baby is 49% alc, rich in color, thick with legs like a big red wine or cognac. The taste reminds me of a cinnamon chewing gum with chocolate finish. The rye shines through much to my pleasure.

I rate the Provisional a 2+ and the Ridgeline a 2+. I really want to give the Ridgeline a 3- but can’t quite justify it.

VT Spirits distillery

Back to the trip. At days end we settled in at the Inn at Long Trail. This rustic Inn is near the Appalachian Trail and Vermont’s Long Trail and usually filled with hikers from around the globe. If by some chance I can be called a hiker by association, well then I’m all in! The Inn has a great Irish Pub, named McGraths, with a predominance of Irish whiskies, all of which I have tippled over the years. The bar’s only new bottle caught my eye: 2Gingers. This little known expression is produced at the Kilbeggan Distillery.  At 40% alc it is very light, very Irish. Is it cinnamon or organge peel on the nose? After sipping, it fades so fast that I cannot find the flavor. That is not a bad thing, just a simple taste that doesn’t go big at all.  I rate the 2Gingers a 2-.

2gingers

The chef at the pub makes all the desserts from scratch, so not to disappoint and to show appreciation for all the hard work in the kitchen, I ordered the double chocolate Irish bread pudding with Irish whiskey sauce. I ordered a Bushmills 21YO to accompany the pudding and fell completely into bliss.

irishchocolate breadpudding

The following day was spent visiting a friend, touring Montpelier, the state capital, and by chance the Fresh Tracks Farm Vineyard and Winery in Berlin. If we must, we must. Established in 2002, Fresh Tracks is a nice distraction along an already scenic back roads drive. There were twelve wines to taste and the three of us managed to share our way through them all.  Several were surprisingly tasty. A few bottles were purchased. But I digress from the mission of whiskey.

Freshtracksfarm  FreshTracksfarmmenu

We couldn’t make it to the Mad River Distillery but Chris from Silo highly recommended its whiskies, so I eagerly purchased a bottle of the rye whiskey. I waited to taste the Mad River until home. For my own mini tasting, I cracked open a bottle of Copper Fox Rye from Virginia and a bottle of Ryan and Wood Rye from Gloucester, MA.

Mad River Rye is 48% alc, ages for a minimum of six months, bold and rich in color, bold and means business in taste – peppery, spicy grains. All that I appreciate in a rye.

Copper Fox is 45% alc, “aged (14 mos) with a progressive series of new and used Applewood and oak chips, inside used bourbon barrels and finished in a second used bourbon barrels.” Copper Fox is lighter and has a finesse as opposed to the boldness of Mad River.

Last up was the Ryan and Wood Rye, which I have written about before. It is overall lighter, softer with some tang to it.

My rankings are based not only on tasting and comparing but also on my preference for big and bold flavors: Mad River a 3; Copper Fox a 2+; and the Ryan and Wood a 2.

FlowersatInnatLongTrail

Visiting Vermont in the summer is an entirely different experience from visiting during skiing season. It is a beautiful state anytime. Actually, the only time to be wary of Vermont is during its fifth season…known to the locals as mud season. Really the mud can rule!

I never cracked open the bottle of Stonecutter Spirits Heritage Cask Whiskey I bought. A bottle to play with on another day. Anticipation!

I raise a glass to summer sipping!

 

Nine Middle of the Road Whiskies

middle-of-the-road-1431571-m

What can you say about the middle of the road? It’s not the beginning nor the end. Not the best nor the worst. Not a great place to be standing with traffic rushing by. Safe, average and not flashy. Maybe a safe way to drive when near an edge of a cliff. Boring but not the worst. The Beatles sang “why don’t we do it in the road?’ Did they mean the middle? Oddly enough there was a pop-rock group in the early 1970s from Scotland called “Middle of the Road.” Who knew?

Well, this foolishness can go on for pages, but let’s not!

I recently wrote about my latest tippling foray at a whisky festival…17 whiskies tippled, many yearned for, some completely overlooked. Found a few I will definitely purchase, such as Kilchoman 2008 Limited Release, Aberlour A’bunadh Batch 52 and Single Cask Nation Glen Elgin 18 YO 2nd fill bourbon hogshead. Yet, there were nine whiskies that I tried that simply said, “middle of the road” to me. None were god-awful and I wouldn’t say absolutely don’t waste your money on any of them. BUT, it makes me wonder. Am I becoming too zeroed in on specific countries, regions, big peat, no peat, lots of sherry, no sherry? Should I get a sample of each of the nine and retest them alone, side by side, over the course of several days?

quandary

Such is the quandary of my whisky life.  How deep in can I go, should I go? I want to try them all, but we know that will never happen…money, time, common sense, etc.  OK, so I primarily taste-seek out-purchase Scotch whisky and a smattering of everyone else, with the booming USA whiskey products that are assaulting the market taking up the rear. (I want to catch up somehow.)

Am I becoming a fickle consumer, bored with the recognizable names? Rigid in my likes and dislikes? Do I need to focus on the outliers hovering just under the surface of world fame and domination? Should I attempt to write another book about whisky? (It has been one year since I self-published; time flies.)

I read blogs and more blogs by other enthusiasts across the world. Their words compel me to try new whiskies, learn more, share more and enjoy this passion. (Thank you bloggers.) Introducing new whiskies or whisky for the first time to others is stimulating and rewarding. I don’t want to get caught in the middle of the road. Ha! That’s it!  I want to find the edge and keep it sharpened.

Why did I call the nine whiskies middle of the road? The jury is still out, but in the meantime…..fellow enthusiasts, let me know how you rank the following whiskies – middle of the road or otherwise. Tell me what I am missing, if anything, from your point of view. My ranking is 1 to 4, with 1 being absolutely don’t purchase, 2 – middle of the road, 3 and 4 good and wow, must have. Occasionally I add a + or a – to my ranking.

Glen Grant 16 YO

Glencadam 21 YO

Tullibardine 500 PX Sherry Cask

Forty Creek – all four expressions

Crown Royal Northern Harvest (whiskey of the year, really?)

Hibicki Harmony

All opinions respected.  I raise a glass!

 

 

Big Names Woo the Ladies

setupwithbook
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!

vombarrels
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!

placemat
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.

Americanwhiskey
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.

macspey
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+

cheeseswithname
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!

gentlemen
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-

appetizers
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

cheese
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.

crystalmalt
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.

Signing book Courtney
I’m signing a book. Really?
Tiffandbooks
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!

 

 

 

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.

OM2

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).

OM5
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.

-Nate