Wednesday, January 26, 2011

First sample from the barrel

Snow is falling, wind is blowing, a perfect night for a wee dram.  My rye whisky has been in the barrel for a month.  Let's see what's been going on in there, shall we?

First we liberate a bit from the cask.  I didn't want to break the seal on the bung, so I just opened the spigot and waited patiently.  Then tipped the barrel a bit when patience ran thin.

It has already picked up quite a bit of color from the barrel.  I would call it a light amber at this point.  Remember this is at cask strength, so the color is a bit concentrated from what we'll expect in the final product.

And the moment of truth.  Step 1: the nose.

And a magnificent nose it is, yes?

The scent of rye is almost overwhelming, and still the dominant aroma.  Hot alcohol follows close on its heels, but this was tamed by cutting it with water.

Step 2: the taste.

Again, the flavor is all rye and alcohol.  However, after diluting and tasting some more, the effects of a month in the cask start to become apparent.  A hint of caramel.  A taste of oak.  Character has begun to develop.

Step 3: glee!

So stay with us, dear friends, and find out what the future holds for our little barrel.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Since we happen to be at Glenmorangie

We might as well continue sampling their fine wares.  One more from the "extra matured" collection.  The Glenmorangie Nectar D'Or.  After 10 years in American oak barrels, this one spends extra time in Sauternes casks from France.

If you didn't know (and I didn't until about 4 seconds ago), Sauternes is a French dessert wine.  I would expect the Scotch to pick up some sweetness, maybe some of that smooth dessert wine mouthfeel.

I've had the glass sitting next to me, taunting me while I type this.  It's all I can smell and it's making me drool.  That means it's time for tasting!

Big, full nose.  Some honey, some vinous aromas.  Much different from the Quinta Ruban.  Not much oak at all, the nose is more crisp and clean.

Flavor is sweet right up front.  Honey notes, caramel, butterscotch, a little buttery like a Chardonnay.  Mouthfeel is velvety, like I'd imagined.

This is a Scotch I just want to keep drinking.  The finish is long and delicious.  The sweetness really lingers, along with a little bit of iodine and salt.

I added a little water and am tasting new things as I continue to sip.  A little spiciness is hitting me in the back of my throat.  Just a little astringency drying out my mouth, but not overpowering at all.

That will end the Highland section of my current collection.  The next post will be the first tasting of my Wasmund's barrel rye whisky!  Stay tuned for the excitement...

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

There's whisky in the jar-o!

Or rather in the can-o.  Whisky in a can.  From Panama.  Does the world need whisky in 12oz cans?  Is the world ready for it?

This site has some interesting information: "But last night the Scotch Whisky Association said it would try to ban the cans for breaching international labelling rules."

What do you think?  It doesn't bother me in the least.  If people want to shotgun their whisky, that's their right.  Some people drink to get drunk, some people drink for enjoyment.  This seems to be targeted at the former audience.

You can check out their website here.

I'll stick to pouring a dram from a bottle, thank you.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Continuing our walk through the Scottish highlands

We find ourselves at Glenmorangie.  The original Glenmorangie is a 10 year old Highland whisky.  Then there is a series of three that are "extra matured".  Today we'll be tasting one of those three - The Quinta Ruban, which has been matured in port casks after the normal 10 year maturation period in American oak casks.

I have this whisky because I saw it in a liquor store next to one of the other in the series.  I picked up both and brought them to a friend's house for a taste test.  He kept one, I kept the other.

I hear you: less talky, more tasty.  Let's start with some nosing around.  Very fragrant - not perfume-y fragrant, but very rich and inviting.  I'm getting a lot of oak, a little vanilla.  It reminds me of a glass of tawny port, but not in any way I can really describe.

And now a sip.  Warming, a little dry on the finish.  Lots of good wood flavor.  Nutty, and just a little sweet.  Very full-flavored but not a lot of lingering flavor after the sip.

Adding a little water really opens it up nicely.  Sweet flavors are more noticeable - caramel, maybe butterscotch candy.  The wood flavors still dominate for me.  Just a tiny hint of sea salt on the finish.

A lovely Scotch.  Rich and full-bodied, sweet and approachable.  Did I just describe The Quinta Ruban or a fine Scottish lass?  I'll leave that for you to decide.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

I don't know enough about whisky to enjoy that expensive bottle!

I've heard this from more than a few of my friends.  My reply is invariably: "Hogwash!"  Or a more colorful version of the same.  Then there is the complaint about not knowing the lingo.  To that I reply, "Who cares?"

Case in point: a good friend of mine is not much of a whisky drinker.  She's been following my blog, and we got to talking about a party over a year ago where she tasted a few different Scotches.

She managed to remember the name of her favorite (Laphroaig), then explained to me that she wasn't good at knowing what she was tasting Scotch.  In the same breath she went on to give me an astoundingly detailed description of the flavor profile of Laphroaig!

The phrase that stuck out the most was "sweet dirt".  She was embarrassed to use it and look silly, but "sweet dirt" is probably the most accurate description of a peaty flavor I've ever heard.

That really made me smile, and was the inspiration for this post.

You may not know the Isle of Skye from Islay, Glennmorangie from Glenfiddich, peat from smoke.  But I guarantee you know how to taste something and know if you like it.

You also may not be able to pick out every subtle taste you read on the side of the bottle.  "This whisky is rich with the flavor of spring heather gently wafted across the Scottish highlands, caught by our expert maltsters and lovingly infused into the grain."  Marketing horse puckey, at least in good part.

In my experience, everyone tastes things differently.  Otherwise we'd all enjoy the same things.  So never feel inadequate, dumb, or inexperienced if you "miss" a flavor, or taste something no one else does.  Instead enjoy every sip.  Don't worry about everyone else.

And always remember: whisky tasting is more fun with friends. moderation.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Enough talk. Time to drink! Ok, maybe some talk first...

So where do we start?  I decided to go through my whiskies by region.

Scotland is divided up into whisky producing regions, with each region producing whiskies with their own character.  This could be due to water, weather, geographical location, etc.

The Highlands seemed a logical place to start, being the largest of all the regions.  I also had thought it contained whiskies most of us are familiar with - Glenfiddich, The Macallan - but turns out those are from the Speyside region.  I had the last laugh, though - Speyside is actually a subdivision of the Highlands, so I was technically correct.  Here is an excellent link with some more info about the various regions.

Disclaimer: I'm posting my impressions of these whiskies without reading others' opinions.  I am not a professional taster, so my palate may not be as developed as some reviewers you'll see.  I may not get every flavor note you read in the description on their website.  And I'm OK with that.  That's one reason I'm so curious to hear any of your comments and experiences.

We'll begin our delicious tour with Oban 14.  The 14 tells us how old the youngest whisky in the bottle is (now we're getting into what a Single Malt is - more on that next post).  I'm going to try to photograph each as I taste it as well, to give you the whole experience.

Historically, Oban is not one of my favorite whiskies.  I don't remember why, so let's give it a nose.  Green apple is the first thing that hits my nose.  Interesting.  Then a little caramel sweetness.  Not getting much at all in the way of smoke or peat.  Ok how about a taste?

A little biting up front, but it opens up to a nice finish.  A bit of astringency on the finish as well, drying out my mouth and leaving a little heat on my palate and gums.  That caramel sweetness lingers, but it's not overly sweet like some "cigar" malts I've had.  It's actually very nice.  Am I getting just a bit of sea salt?  Yes, but long after I've swallowed.  That's fun.  I've also found the smoke - I didn't notice until I cleared my throat and smelled smoke.  It's almost unnoticeable when drinking.

Let's see what a little water does for it.  About a tablespoon of my well water, which is nice right from the tap.  Really smoothed out the initial alcohol hit.  More of the sweetness is coming through.  I definitely like it better with some water.  Overall, a very nice whisky.

We have work to do, my friends.

A friend forwarded me a link today.  Scottish researchers have found a way to turn whisky waste products into butanol, a fuel with nearly the energy potential of gasoline.  Even better, it allegedly works in gasoline engines with no modification.

So drink up, fellow Scotch lovers: we're saving the planet one dram at a time.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

A word on enjoying your whisky. And spelling it.

As I sit here listening to Dark Side of the Moon and enjoying a dram of Lagavulin, it reminds me of a night out with friends.  I ordered a glass of the same while we were waiting for a table at a local restaurant.  The glass arrived and I held it in both hands, lifted it to my face, closed my eyes and buried my nose in it.

For those who know Lagavulin, you can relate.  It's a fairly aggressive whisky and there's a lot to smell.  As I sat drinking in the olfactory orgy, I noticed the conversation had stopped.  I opened my eyes to staring friends.  "You must really love your Scotch!"  And I do.

That's what I'd like to talk about.  Getting into good whisky can seem as daunting as learning about fine wines, fraught with rules, traditions and people telling you what to do.  I will offer you suggestions here, dear reader, but I will never tell you there's a wrong way to enjoy a dram.

The question I hear most often is, "Should I add water to my whisky?"  My answer is to taste the whiskey by itself first.  Then add water a few drops at a time and see what you think.  It will change many whiskeys dramatically.  I will often add one ice cube to a glass and enjoy tasting how the whisky changes as it melts.

I have heard that water ruins, masks, offends or otherwise spoils a whisky.  Hogwash, or the protests of a snob.  All whiskies (except "cask strength") have water added to them before being bottled.  Most whiskies will benefit from a bit of good water in your glass.  As I was told by a representative of Laphroaig at a tasting, "Add water until it tastes good to you."  He was wearing a kilt; it must be true.

The other suggestion I will offer you is to take your time.  Stick your nose in the glass and take in the aroma.  Don't swirl the glass like wine - that just releases harsh alcohol aromas.  Just breathe in for a bit and enjoy.  Then take a sip and let it hang out in your mouth a bit - a second for each year the whisky is old was suggested to me.

Oh, one last suggestion: find a friend and take the journey together.  Like so many things, whisky is best enjoyed in good company.  Often talking about what you're tasting will help you notice new things.

When I'm not posting about my barrels, I'll sample the many whiskies I have in my collection and you can take the journey with me.  Most are single malt Scotch whiskies - we'll talk about what that means in a later post.  I hope if you have a whisky I'm tasting you'll join in with your impressions.

Finally, on spelling.  You'll notice I've been using "whisky", much to the spell checker's dismay.  Whisky - without an 'e' - is the spelling generally used for Scotch whisky, which I'm usually talking about.  Whiskey generally refers to Irish and American whiskies.  You can check out the Wikipedia entry for more info.