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Liquid Pleasures Beyond Wine: Whiskey Around The World

March 10, 2015 7 comments

During 2011 I wrote a number of posts for the project called The Art Of Life Magazine – of course talking about my favorite subject, wine. The project was closed and  even the web site is down, but as I still like the posts I wrote, I decided to re-post them in this blog. Also, in that project, posts were grouped into the mini-series, such as “Best Hidden Secrets” and “Forgotten Vines”. The post I’m offering to you today was from the mini-series called “Liquid Pleasures Beyond Wine”, and the subject of this post is Whiskey. Well, it is almost an original – I had to make a few small edits.

Also note that the series was written for a slightly different audience – I hope none of my readers will take offense in the fact that sometimes I’m stating the obvious…

In the previous post about Whiskey, we focused solely on Scotch, a malt Whisky produced in Scotland. The whole world of Whiskey (see, we are even changing the spelling from whisky to whiskey to accommodate the change) is much larger, with various kinds of whiskey coming the from different places all over the globe.

CoonemaraLet’s take a look at those places. We can and should start from Ireland – a close neighbor of the Scotland. Despite the “geographical closeness”, Irish Whiskeys are typically very different in style from the Scotch – to be more precise, they are much lighter. There are a few factors which define the lighter taste of the Irish Whiskeys. First, they are usually triple-distilled, versus double distillation process used in production of the Scotch. The next factor is reduced use of a peat smoke (actually, it is practically not used with some exceptions, such as Connemara, which is nicely peated). Lastly, many Irish whiskeys are made from the mix of grains as opposed to the malted barley used in Scotch production, which also leads to the lighter tasting final product.

JamesonIrish Whiskeys are probably the oldest distilled spirit produced in Europe – at least based on information in Wikipedia, with the first notices going back to the 12th century. While there are only four acting distilleries in Ireland, one of those four, Old Bushmills Distillery claims to be the oldest officially recognized distillery in the world, tracing its history to 1608 (hence the name of one of their Whiskies, 1608). Each one of the four distilleries produces a substantial number of different lines of whiskey, so there is a good variety of the Irish Whiskeys available in the stores today. Some of the best known examples of Irish Whiskey include Jameson, Bushmills, 1608, Tullamore Dew – but of course there are lots more.

Let’s move to the United States, where a number of different whiskeys had being made for centuries. Some of the most popular kinds include Bourbon, a whiskey made out of the corn mash (mash should contain at least 51% of corn), and Rye Whiskey, which is, of course, made out of rye. As any other whiskey, American whiskey undergo a process of fermentation of the mash, distillation (usually single), and oak barrel aging. Sometimes a special filtration process is used in order to remove impurities and have softer tasting final product. Jack Daniels is probably one of the most famous examples of Bourbon, along with many others:

Some of the examples of the Rye whiskies include Old Rip Van Winkle, Whistle Pig and many others:

Whistle Pig Straight Rye

History of Bourbon and Rye Whiskey accounts for a few hundred years and includes interesting chapters such as Prohibition (you can read more about different kinds of American Whiskey here). What I have to mention is that today we are literally are living through the Whiskey revolution in the US – in addition to all the “traditionalists” in Tennessee and Kentucky, amazing Rye, Bourbon and Malts are produced in New York, Oregon, Texas, Utah, North Carolina, Colorado – and these are only some of those I’m aware of, I’m sure there are lots of others. It will make it for a very long post if I will start naming all those Whiskeys, so let me just give you a few examples in the pictures:

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In addition to US, a number of other countries should be mentioned here as the world-class Whiskey producers (I would be curious to know if you would be able to guess what those are, so pause your reading for a moment). To answer my own trivia question, here are some of them – Japan, Taiwan and India (surprised?).

In all of those countries, blended and single malt whiskeys are made in the best tradition of Scotch Whisky. Whiskeys from those countries are quite rare and hard to find, but definitely worth seeking. One of the most famous Japanese Whiskeys is called Yamazaki and it is made as 12 and 18 years old single malts, using copper pot stills very similar to those used in Scotland. Another Japanese whiskey which is somewhat available in US is Hibiki, which is a blended 12 years old (there is also Hibiki 18, but it is even harder to find). Both Yamazaki, Hibiki and many others are owned by Suntory, a Japanese conglomerate.

Then there is Amrut, which produces whiskey in India, again using the Scotch methodology – with very good results. Amrut produces a number of single malt and blended whiskeys – for more information and tasting notes you can read this blog post.

With this we are finishing our exploration of the world of Whiskeys – and remember that paper exercise can not replace an actual experience which a good whiskey can bring. If you never had whiskey before, you need to resolve to try it now. For those who already knows the beauty of the Whiskey spirit – pour some of your favorite in the glass and cheers!

Liquid Pleasures Beyond Wine: Scotch Whisky

March 6, 2015 7 comments

Scotch in Glencairne GlassDuring 2011 I wrote a number of posts for the project called The Art Of Life Magazine – of course talking about my favorite subject, wine. The project was closed and  even the web site is down, but as I still like the posts I wrote, I decided to re-post them in this blog. Also, in that project, posts were grouped into the mini-series, such as “Best Hidden Secrets” and “Forgotten Vines”. The post I’m offering to you today was from the mini-series called “Liquid Pleasures Beyond Wine”, and the subject of this post is Scotch Whisky.

Also note that the series was written for a slightly different audience – I hope none of my readers will take offense in the fact that sometimes I’m stating the obvious…

Moving from grapes to grains (last week’s subject – Brandy), now is the time to talk about literally my favorite spirit: Scotch Whisky, or simply Scotch for a shorter name. Scotch is a part of a broader category of spirits which are called Whiskey, which is a distilled alcoholic beverage made from the fermented grains. While Whiskey can be produced anywhere in the world, Scotch Whisky can be produced … yep, only in Scotland (by the way, note the spelling difference – Whisky versus Whiskey, and make no mistake using the right spelling when talking about Scotch – it is Whisky).

First mentions of the Scotch Whisky (will just refer to it as Scotch from here on) go all the way back to the end of the 15th century, so this alcoholic beverage has quite a bit of heritage and knew very turbulent times in its half a millennia history. Scotch can be made from different grains such as barley, wheat and so on, but many particularly famous Scotches are made from malted barley, and typically are called “malt”. And then if you ever paid attention to Scotch, I’m sure you heard of a “single malt” – that is a Whisky which is made out of malted barley at a single distillery. So just to emphasize – “single” here refers to a single distillery, and an opposite of single would be “blended”, in case Scotch from two or more distilleries is blended together. By the way – don’t be afraid of the blended Scotch – a lot of them are on par with the best single malts.

Making of the malted Scotch starts from the barley, which is steeped with water for some time to start germination process – during this process, complex starches will be broken down and converted into sugar. Next step is drying of the barley, which is typically done in the pit, using heated air. The heat is coming from burning of the peat (fossil fuel), which imparts the smoky flavor on the grains; later on the smoke becomes the part of the flavor profile of the final product – the intensity of the smoke varies greatly among different areas and different producers. Dried grains are coarsely ground and will be steeped with the hot water and will become a sugary liquid.

Next step is cooling off and then start of the fermentation process, which technically results in the beer with 7%-8% alcohol. From here on, the liquid goes through the first and second distillation process, which will get the level of alcohol anywhere between 40% and 94%, and then it is put in the oak barrels to age. The minimum age for Scotch is 3 years, but if we are talking about single malts, majority of them would age for 10 or 12 years (12 years seems to be a very popular demarcation line for introductory level Scotch from a lot of producers), and from there it can continue aging until it reaches 18-19 years (anything in between also goes). 25 and 30 years also seem to be a popular option, and 40-50 years old are not so rare – but keep in mind that the age of the Scotch will be appropriately reflected in the price (you expected that, right?).

Before Scotch is bottled, the decision is made regarding the strength of the alcohol in the final product. Sometimes it can be released at so called “cask strength”, which can be anywhere from 50% to 60% ABV or even higher. But more often than not, it is diluted with water to get to 43% – 46% of alcohol in the final beverage. One important note – unlike wine, Scotch doesn’t age in the bottle – however, once it is opened, again unlike wine, it doesn’t spoil and can be kept indefinitely in the bottle, just don’t forget to put the cork back every time you pour a glass.

With the same process used across the board (fermentation of the malted barley and [typically] double distillation), and the “fruit” (err, grain) being effectively the same (barley) versus many hundreds of different grapes used in the winemaking, would you expect that all the Scotch of the same age will taste the same? Well, it truly does not. What makes Scotches taste different? First of all, it is water, which is different in every Scotch-producing region. Then it is the type and intensity of peat smoke used for drying of the germinated grains. Of course the number of distillations matters, but more importantly it is the type or types of casks used for aging (some Scotches undergo aging in a few different types of casks before they are bottled) and the time of aging. Lastly, it is the type of filtering (or no filtering at all) which will also affect the taste of the final product. Oh yes, and a little bit of magic.

There are five official areas where Scotch is produced – Lowland, Highland, Speyside, Campbeltown (never tasted anything from this area) and Islay. There are also a number of small islands which produce Scotch in a very distinct styles (like Skye, Orkney and others), but they are technically considered the part of the Highland region. Each distillery produces Scotch in its own unique style, but there can be some general similarities between scotches. If we paint flavor profile for the different regions, using very wide brushstrokes, we can say that Scotches from Highlands are typically very balanced and round, with good balance of acidity, flavor and spiciness. Lowlands flavor expression is usually toned down, and Speyside are very delicate and nuanced – Orkney scotches (Scappa) are similar to Speyside in their expressions, but probably add a touch more body. Islay and Skye produce very powerful and assertive scotches, exhibiting tremendous amount of peat (read: smoke); those who like them (me!) find them very pleasant.

When you are looking at the bottle of Scotch, you would typically be able understand if this is a single malt or not, how old it is (10, 12, 14, 15 and so on years), or the year when it was distilled and when it was put in a bottle, as well as the type of finish  – Madeira, Jerez, Port and many others types of barrels this scotch was matured in. Of course alcohol content, cask strength or not and type of filtering would also be typically denoted on the bottle. Well, as a popular trend, that exact age statement can be nowhere to be found on the bottle nowadays – but this should be a subject for a separate post…

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There are hundreds and hundreds of distilleries making great single malt and blended Scotches. If you want to learn about all of the distilleries, you can start from Wikipedia link, or Malt Madness web site. At the same time, I would be glad to share the list of some of my single malt favorites: Ardbeg Alligator (Islay), Cardhu 12 (Speyside), Lagavulin 16 (Islay), Laphroaig 16 (Islay), Glenfiddich 15 (Speyside), Scappa 14 and 16 (Orkney), Talisker 10 (Skye). Of course the world is not limited by the single malts only. When it comes to blended whisky, there are a number of Whiskies which I can recommend – Johnnie Walker (Black, Gold, Blue), Chivas Regal 12 and 18, Monkey Shoulder, Compass Box, Blue Hanger, Black Bottle – and many others.

I hope I was able to share my passion for the Scotch Whisky  – but I’m curious to hear what do you think about Scotch? Also, just so you know, in our next post we will insert only one letter ‘e” into the word Whisky, to discover to whole huge world of Whiskey. Until then – happy dramming!

Cheers!

 

Looking for Liquid Pleasures Beyond Wine

March 3, 2015 1 comment

Cognac scotch tequilaDuring 2011 I wrote a number of posts for the project called The Art Of Life Magazine – of course talking about my favorite subject, wine. The project was closed and  even the web site is down, but as I still like the posts I wrote, I decided to re-post them in this blog. Also, in that project, posts were grouped into the mini-series, such as “Best Hidden Secrets” and “Forgotten Vines”. The post I’m offering you today was an opening post in the mini-series called “Liquid Pleasures Beyond Wine”.

Also note that the series was written for a slightly different audience – I hope none of my readers will take offense in the fact that sometimes I’m stating the obvious…

So far in this blog we mostly talked about wine, wine as an experience. We tried to uncover some of the hidden secrets of the wine world, such as Rioja, second labels of the famous wines, or French sparkling wines. We looked at the wines which were famous, then almost disappeared and now slowly coming back, such as Madeira and Jerez. We also searched for wine values, by comparing wines made from the same grape but coming from the different places. Did we explore enough the world of wines? Not really, we didn’t even touch the tip of a tip of an iceberg. Nevertheless, as we are looking for experiences, let’s take a step outside of the wine world, and let’s take a look at the other “liquid pleasures”.

I’m talking about the group which is collectively called “spirits”, otherwise also known as “distilled beverages”, which is a name which is used in Wikipedia. Overall distillation is a process of separating liquids with the different boiling points, and its application goes way beyond the world of alcoholic beverages. Distillation first was uncovered about 2000 years ago, but first use for production of the “spirits” happened less than a thousand years ago. When applied to the wine or any other fermented substance (meaning that some degree of alcohol is present in the liquid to begin with), the end result of distillation is a liquid with increased concentration of alcohol.

Historically, such high-alcohol liquids had various uses – one of the most important ones, which also has nothing to do with drinking the liquid, was medicinal. Strong alcohol is an excellent antiseptic; it is used in order to disinfect the area of the body, to kill any potential bacteria thus preventing any possible contamination. However, while this very important, such applications are completely outside of the scope of this blog, so let’s go back to the stuff we drink.

There are many different kinds of the spirits produced in the world. Some have more universal appeal and can be produced in many countries following the same basic methodology, but some can be also unique for particular place (but if it is any good, it is extremely hard to keep a secret). Let’s take a quick look at the various types of the spirits – we will discuss some of them in detail in the subsequent posts.

Let’s start with Brandy – brandy is a spirit which is produced from wine. This can be an actual grape wine, or it can be a fruit wine – both can be used for the production of brandy. For instance, Cognac and Armagnac are both made from the grapes, and Calvados, another famous French brandy, is made from apples. Brandy is produced in France, Spain, Italy (where it is known as Grappa), Georgia, Armenia, US, Mexico and many other countries.

Next spirit we need to mention is Whisky, which is made out of grains (barley, rye, wheat, corn). This group includes Scotch, which is made in Scotland, and then Whiskey, which can be made in many different countries – for instance, Irish whiskey is made in Ireland, and in US you can find both Whiskey, which is often made from rye, and Bourbon, which is corn-based. Whisky is also produced in Japan, India, Canada and other countries.

Then comes Vodka – made all around the world, from all possible ingredients. It is made in France, Russia, Poland, Italy, US, Canada and many other countries. It can be made from grapes, fruits, grains, potatoes and probably some other ingredients we can’t even think of. Vodka is often called a “neutral spirit” as it is typically produced flavorless (some flavor can be infused before bottling), and thus it is a popular component in many cocktails.

To complete the “big scale” list of spirits, we need to mention a few more. Tequila, which is produced from the Blue Agave plant, is a very popular spirit coming from Mexico. I can’t resist to mention Mezcal, which is also made in Mexico using Agave plants, but it has distinctly different taste (and very hard to find). Then we need to mention Gin, which is also a popular cocktail ingredient and has a very distinct taste as it is produced from Juniper berries. And last but not least comes Rum, which is produced from sugarcane, and yet another popular cocktail staple.

As we are looking for the great experiences, should we even look at all these “hard liquors” as they often called in the United States? Absolutely. Moderation is a key when it comes to alcohol (this universally applies to any kind of alcoholic beverages – beer, wine or spirits) – but once this is understood, one can definitely enjoy immense richness and variety of flavors coming from all these spirits. They definitely create a lot of great experiences and unique memories, and they bring lots of pleasure. In the coming posts, we will take a closer look at some of them – and until that time – cheers!

 

Month in Wines (and Whiskys) – December 2013

January 3, 2014 2 comments

At first I wanted to preface this post with the notion of December being somewhat uneventful in terms of great wine experiences, but as I was thinking about it, I realized that this would be a mistake to put it like that. So yes, December brought quite a few of the great discoveries.

Here we go:

NV Ayala Brut Majeur Ay Champagne, France (12% ABV, 45% Pinot Noir, 35% Chardonnay, 20% Pinot Meunier ) – one of the very best non-vintage champagne I ever tasted – perfectly complex, yeasty, showing aromas of the fresh bread and apples, all in a very bright and energetic package. Considering the price ($26.99 on special) is simply unbeatable (people, stop buying the yellow label, get the real thing and save some money!). 8

2011 Mt. Beautiful Sauvignon Blanc North Canterbury, New Zealand (14% ABV) – nice, restrained – recognizably New Zealand, but more in the Sancerre style, with grass and lemon prevailing over the grapefruit. Well balanced and very refreshing.  8-

2012 Mt. Beautiful Pinot Noir North Canterbury, New Zealand (13.5% ABV) – clean. delicate. perfectly balanced. perfectly delicious. Saying that Mt Beautiful Pinot Noir is beautiful sounds somewhat broken, but there is nothing I can do here – definitely an outstanding Pinot Noir of a rare precision. 8+

2010 Hooker Breakaway Chardonnay Oak Knoll District, Napa Valley (13.3% ABV) – Perfectly classic – vanilla, apple, butter and toasted oak, all elegantly connected, round and supple, perfectly balanced and supported by acidity. A pleasure. 8-

2011 Bogle Petite Sirah California (13.5% ABV) – probably one of the very best value wines in existence – I have to yet to taste a bad Bogle Petite Sirah. Amazingly consistent from vintage to a vintage – dark fruit on the nose and the palate, blackberries and raspberries, firm structure, powerful but elegant tannins, very good balance. 8-

2007 Talullah Syrah Bald Mountain Napa Valley (14.8% ABV) – inky black color in the glass, very restrained on the nose, nice dark fruit on the palate with the spicy notes. Definitely needs time to evolve. 8-

2004 Chateau Puy Arnaud Maureze Côtes de Castillon AOC (13.5% ABV) – very nice, rich, open and classic Bordeaux – hint of cassis, touch of bell peppers, well structured with firm tannins, good overall balance. 8-

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2008 Gorys Crespiello Cariñena DO (14% ABV, 100% Old Vine Vidadillo) – outstanding. Very restrained, with nice dark fruit on the nose, on the palate shows raspberries and elegant sweet oak undertones, nice earthiness. Well balanced and intriguing, a thought provoking wine. Medium to long, mellow finish. This is the wine to be enjoyed slowly, preferably with the book or by the fire. Highly, highly recommended. Ahh, and on top of everything – a new grape. 8

1998 La Rioja Alta 904 Gran Reserva, Rioja, Spain (12.5% ABV) – dialed back and elegant, needs time to open up. Nice fruit, cedar notes, well present tannins, good overall balance. Needs time. 8-

2010 Quota 31 Primitivo Menhir Salento, Salento IGT (14% ABV) – playful and elegant. Dark, dense fruit, raspberries and blackberries profile, round tannins, good balance. Very enjoyable. 8-

And here are few of the whisky discoveries:

Blue Ridge Distilling Defiant Whisky, North Carolina (41% ABV, 100% Malted Barley) – North Carolina, really? Well, I’m kidding, I’m not that surprised at all – after tasting great drams from Oregon, Utah, Texas and New York, I believe that great whisky can be made anywhere, as long as you apply enough passion. This whisky was unique and different, as it was the most scotch-like compare to all other US whiskeys I tasted. Very well balanced with nice viscosity, some caramel undertones, herbs and acidity.

The Lost Distillery Company Auchnagie Blended Malt Whisky (46% ABV) – one of the very best whiskys I ever tasted – touch of smoke, perfectly clean and balanced. It is also a very unique product – you can read my original post for more details about it.

Gordon & MacPhail Highland Park 8 yo (40% ABV) – I know that many people will just turn their nose away from this scotch simply based on the “low age” of 8 years. To me, this was absolutely delicious – excellent peatiness (I love peat in my scotch, if you don’t – this will not be your drink), clean, balanced – an excellent dram.

That’s all I have to report for December. Cheers!

Of Great Wine and Whisky

December 9, 2013 4 comments

I’m sure everybody loves the holiday season – at least in the US, where the holiday season is typically the time between Thanksgiving and Christmas. While there are many reasons for that, I think the wine lovers can have their own additional reason. All things wine make the perfect gift, and the wine stores want you to remember that – particularly, by running a lot more wine tasting events and bringing out more interesting wines!

Along these lines, I had an opportunity to taste a few of the great wines and whiskies, which I want to share with you here. Let me start with the wines first.

NV Ayala Brut Majeur Ay Champagne, France (12% ABV, 45% Pinot Noir, 35% Chardonnay, 20% Pinot Meunier ) – Champagne lovers, rejoice – as the New Year is getting closer, the opportunity to taste Champagne will be only increasing. But when it comes to this particular Champagne Ayala, this wine is a reason to celebrate on its own. Beautiful nose of everything you want in Champagne – baked bread, touch of yeast, a fresh apple. Considering concentration and complexity of all these flavors on the nose, it was more resembling a vintage Champagne than a regular NV (the fact that this AYALA Champagne ages for 2.5 years on the lees is probably a contributing factor). Fine mousse on the palate, light, effervescent, delicious – I had to ask for the refill of my tasting cup. At around $30, this well might be the best Champagne the money can buy. Drinkability: 8

2011 Mt. Beautiful Sauvignon Blanc North Canterbury, New Zealand (14% ABV) – I know that not everybody like the pronounced grapefruitiness of the New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc. So If you still want to experience the bright and uplifting character of New Zealand SB, sans the grapefruit, this might be the wine for you. Light straw color in the glass, the nose of lemon with some grass notes, vibrant acidity, clear cut lemon with a bit of a lemon zest on the palate, medium to full bodied, refreshing and invigorating. This wine will be great with food and on its own. Drinkability: 8-

2012 Mt. Beautiful Pinot Noir North Canterbury, New Zealand (13.5% ABV) – light garnet color in the glass, this wine was a quintessential Pinot Noir for me. First and foremost characteristic of this wine is a perfect balance and harmony, both on the nose and on the palate. Hint of cherries on the nose with the touch of mushrooms and earthiness – one of the wines you want to smell forever. On the palate, both red and black cherries, red plums, perfect acidity, soft tannins, medium body, overall extremely round and supple. Super dangerous – I’m sure the bottle will be gone in no time if you are just left alone with it. It is also a steal at $19.99. Drinkability: 8+

2010 Ferrari-Carano Siena Red Wine Sonoma County (14.1% ABV, 74% Sangiovese, 14% Malbec, 8% Syrah, 4% Cabernet Sauvignon) – dark garnet color int he glass, inviting nose of fresh dark fruit, very balanced on the palate with chewy cherries and touch of black plums. Good structure and acidity, overall very pleasant. Drinkability: 7+

2011 Damilano Barbera d’Asti DOCG (14% ABV, 20% aged in 225L Frenchbarriques, 40% aged in second use 225L French barriques, and 40% aged in 500L French tonneaux) – I would call this an ideal Pizza wine. Light cherries on the nose and the palate, with the addition of the tart blackberries, noticeable but balanced acidity. Drinkability: 7

2011 Produttori del Barbaresco Nebbiolo Langhe DOC (14.5% ABV) – excellent rendition of the young and approachable Nebbiolo. Brick color in the glass, earthy nose, good amount of dark fruit on the palate withaddition of leather and tobacco. Very enjoyable. Drinkability: 7+

2009 Damilano Lecinquevigne Barolo DOCG (14% ABV, aged for 24 month, 80% in 10,000L oak barrels, 20% in second use 225L French oak barrique) – this wine is a blend of fruit from 5 different vineyards, all from Barolo DOCG designated zone (Castellero in Barolo, Monvigliero in Verduno, Fossati in La Morra, Ravera in Novello and Cavourrina in Grinzane Cavour). This wine was [expectedly] similar to the previous Nebbiolo wine, but with “more of everything” – higher concentration of fruit, nice power, well integrated  after few hours of decanting, tobacco, leather, ripe cherries, hint of violet – a full package of an excellent Barolo. Also, at around $30, it is pretty much a steal. Drinkability: 8-

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And now, here comes Whisky. I will present to you 4 different whiskies – care to guess where they came from? I will give you a few seconds to think about it. So they actually came from … Scotland (of course), Japan and North Carolina!

Blue Ridge Distilling Defiant Whisky, North Carolina (41% ABV, 100% Malted Barley) – what a treat! This Whisky has a great story, which is well captured on the distillery’s web site and in this Huffington post article, so I will have to defer you to those sources for the full information. I can only tell you that this is a very young distillery (a bit older than one year), which uses a unique ageing process, where toasted white oak spirals are used instead of a cask to impart the color and character. This was a perfect whisky – smooth, round, with a touch of sweetness and perfect, oily, silky viscosity and texture, which is the trait of some of the best Scotland single malts. If you like whisky, this is something you have to experience to believe it. Outstanding.

Nikka Whisky Taketsuru Single Malt 12 Years Old, Japan (40% ABV) – Japanese Whisky are so hard to find! I have most of my experience with Yamazaki and Hibiki, both of which are some of my favorite. This Nikka Taketsuru 12 y.o. was nice but rather simple, without much of the explicit character. At around $70/bottle, this might not be the best choice for the money.

Nikka Whisky Yoichi Single Malt 15 Year Old, Japan (45% ABV) – this was a lot more interesting than the previous one – playful on the palate, with good power, hint of caramel, crisp acidity, nice and balanced. While this is a good dram, the pricing still makes the value somewhat questionable – at around $115, I’m not sure this would be the best investment.

The Lost Distillery Company Auchnagie Blended Malt Whisky (46% ABV) – in a word, spectacular! One of the best whisky I ever tasted, one of the very best! It also comes with the great story. The Lost Distillery Company has its mission to recreate the whisky made by some of the best distilleries in Scotland, which are long gone (actually, there are hundreds of those). Auchnagie, which existed for almost hundred years, 1812-1911, was a farm distillery located in Highlands. Recreation of the Auchnagie whisky was one of the first projects undertaken by The Lost Distillery Company – I can only direct you to their web site where you can read pages and pages of detailed research information. And to tell you the truth, I wouldn’t dare to describe this whisky from that few second I had to taste it (it was mostly a moaning session). I will hopefully get a bottle at some point and will write the whole dedicated post as this beverage deserves. But – if you are a whisky aficionado, I have only two words for you – find it! It is truly spectacular and you don’t want to miss it. Also, at around $65 /bottle, it worth every penny for the countless amount of pleasure it will bring.

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That’s all I have for you today. Happy Monday and a great week to all! Cheers!

Month in Wines (and Whiskeys and …) – November 2013

December 3, 2013 8 comments

Chamonix Pinot NoirIt is time to summarize yet another month in wines. This month, I decided to extend this summary to whiskeys and beyond, as I managed to make a number of very interesting discoveries.

Talking about wines, there were two clear standouts – Pinot Noir from South Africa and white Burgundy, but generally, there were quite a few good wines. Here we go:

2010 Clos du Val Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley (13.5% ABV) – nice round fruit, good acidity, hint of cassis on the nose and palate, soft tannins, light and balanced. 8-

2009 Chamonix Pinot Noir Reserve Franschhoek South Africa (13.5% ABV) – phenomenal. Muscular, powerful, intimidating – it attacks you with the dark smoky fruit right from the first sniff. An extremely pronounced gunflint, which has an effect of the light on the moth – you just can’t stop smelling this wine. Dark power on the palate, intense, dense, structured, full bodied and shameless. 9-

2008 Basel Cellars Merriment Estate Red Wine Pheasant Run Vineyard Walla Walla Washington (14.57% ABV) – Nice Bordeaux-style blend. Lots of depth, dark fruit, firm structure, good acidity and balance overall. 8-

2007 Mount Palomar Charbono Temecula Valley, California (13.2% ABV) – Mount Palomar is one of my all times favorite producer from the Temecula Valley. This wine was probably at it’s peak. Perfect nose of ripe raspberries. Raspberries and blueberries on the palate, dark chocolate, medium to full body, overall welcoming and heart-warming. Perfect. 8+

2011 Siduri Pinot Noir Sonoma County (13% ABV) – nice and clean. Beautiful nose of light cherries with a touch of herbal notes, a sage profile. Light, perfectly integrated fruit on the palate – fresh cranberries and tart cherries, nice underpinning of a touch of mint and sage. Easy to drink and delightful. 8

2010 Cala de Poet Maremma Toscana IGT, Italy – total surprise from Trader Joe’s considering the price of $5.99. Dark plums and herbs on the nose, tart raspberries, eucalyptus and dark chocolate on the palate, firm structure and nice tannins, very balanced. 8-

2012 Cecilia Beretta Brut Millesimato Prosecco Superiore Coneglian Valdobbiadene DOCG, Italy (11% ABV) – another surprise from Trader Joe’s – tiny refreshing bubbles, notes of fresh apple on the nose, round and roll-of-your-tongue on the palate with more of the fresh apple and yeast notes. Excelllent sparkling wine (and a great value at $9.99). 8-

2013 Georges Duboeuf Beaujolais Nouveau (12% ABV) – Georges Duboeuf Beaujolais Nouveau literally gets better and better every year. Young, fresh and inviting on the nose, with lots of juicy cherries. Very concentrated on the palate, with good, tightly knit, firm body, fruit and acidity fully in check, excellent balance. 8-

2004 Jade Mountain Syrah Napa Valley (14.6% ABV) – this was a total surprise. It was my last bottle from the case, and couple of the previous bottles were hinting that they are getting past prime. When I saw this bottle (unexpectedly) on the wine cabinet’s shelf, the first thought was “oops”. The first sniff and the first sip immediately proved me wrong. Fresh, dark fruit on the nose, same on the palate – nice, round, supple blackberries, dark chocolate, touch of espresso, full body, integrated tannins, overall excellent balance. Now I wish I had more left. 8

2003 Neyers Cabernet Sauvignon Neyres Ranch – Conn Valley Napa Valley (14.5% ABV) – one of my favorite cabernet Sauvignon wines. A classic, cassis nose with a touch of bell peppers. Dark fruit on the palate, more cassis with some blackberries, round, warm and supple. Full body, acidity and tannins are in check. Excellent balance.  8

2006 Clos Pepe Estate Pinot Noir Sta. Rita Hills, California (14.5% ABV) – Dark garnet color, nice touch of smoke on the nose, cherries. Classic California Pinot Noir. Fresh cherries on the palate, medium to full body, round tannins and acidity. Drinkability: 8

2005 Domaine Laleure-Piot Pernand-Vergelesses AOC, Burgundy (13% ABV) – I have no idea how this bottle ended up in my cellar. I also had no expectations, as previously I had bad luck with older white Burgundies. Boy, what a treat this wine was! Pale yellow in the glass, hint of an apple and gunflint on the nose. Touch of vanilla and more fresh apples on the palate, round, inviting, effervescent but perfectly present. Delicious! 8+

Whew, done with wines!

Regarding the whiskeys – I already had a separate post about them, but I want to specifically include them here:

Catskill Distilling Company Wicked White Whiskey – this is six-grain (corn, wheat, buckwheat, rye, smoked corn, malt), un-aged whiskey. Absolutely spectacular nose and flavor – complete impression of delicate single-grape grappa with round sweet fruit and all around delicious. You have to taste it to believe it.

Catskill Distilling Company Most Righteous Bourbon (70% corn, 20% rye, and 10% malt) – round, clean, caramel, butterscotch, all perfectly balanced together. One of the best bourbons I ever tasted.

Catskill Distilling Company One and only Buckwheat (80% buckwheat, 20% small grains) – unique and different. Nose is absolutely unusual, reminiscent of sun flower oil. Viscous, roll-of-your-tongue delicious concoction. Great complexity, another drink you have to taste to believe it.

Caledonia Spirits Barr Hill Gin

Last but not least – Gin! Yes, I know – if you ask an audience of 10 “who likes Gin”, you might be lucky if you will get one enthusiastic “yes”. However, this Gin was truly something else.

Caledonia Spirits Barr Hill Gin, locally produced in Vermont, made out of Juniper berries and honey – absolutely spectacular on the nose and the palate, with the refreshing scent of juniper berries and a touch of honey sweetness. Perfect balance. Ability to convert people – two of the gin haters became gin lovers after they tasted this nectar. If you will have an opportunity – find it and taste it for yourself, and let me know if you will become a convert too.

And we are done here. If you tasted any of the wines and spirits I mentioned – don’t be shy, and comment away. And just as a feature preview, the next up in the “best wines” posts is my personal Top Dozen wines of 2013. Don’t miss it… Cheers!

Indifferent, Okay and Spectacular

November 10, 2013 7 comments

Over the last few days, I had a few of the “accidental tastings”, which I would like to share with you. Oh yes, and if you are wondering about the title of this post – read on.

It is not the wine we will be talking about today – instead, it is the other type of “liquid pleasures”. Well, actually, not even one”type”, but a few – Tequila, Scotch and Whiskey!

I have to admit, I don’t drink tequila all that often. When I do drink it, I don’t do shots (as I don’t see a point of pleasure in a quick gulp of an alcohol) – as wine, scotch or cognac, I like to sip and enjoy it slowly.

Tequila DeLeón is definitely not something to look at lightly. I would say that in the overall image presentation, starting from the bottle itself (take a look below – that top is so heavy, it can be literally used as a weapon), to the web site and all the marketing materials, Tequila DeLeón is an attempt to bring out the tequila, shall we say it, of Rémy Martin’s level, and not just any Rémy Martin, but all the way to the top – Louis XIII de Rémy Martin.

Tequila DeLeón bottle

Tequila DeLeón bottle

I had an opportunity to taste through the full line of Tequila DeLeón, starting from the tequila blanco, which is unpretentiously called Diamante, to the Louis XIII-like Leóna. Below is the complete list with the descriptions and suggested retail prices (sorry for the quality of the picture, but I hope you will be able to see enough – or go to the web site for more info):

Tequila DeLeón The Juice line

Tequila DeLeón The Juice line

Here are my notes:

DeLeón Diamante – touch of sweetness, the classic Agave notes of tequila are very muted, viscous mouthfeel.

DeLeón Riposado – nice herbal profile, had some lightness and touch of spiciness. One of my favorites.

DeLeón Añejo – mind you, this tequila is aged in the used Sauternes oak casks, and not just any Sauternes, but venerable d’Yquem. Interesting palate, but not smooth enough, some rough edges.

DeLeón Extra Añejo – very nice, excellent flavor profile, some spiciness, very good depth. Probably my favorite – which is not surprising, considering that it is compared with the Scotch in the official description.

DeLeón Leóna – this is simply overdone. It has a lot of oak. A LOT. Oak is the only thing I was able to taste.

Now, if we look at the prices, which are ranging from $125 for Diamante to $825 for Leóna, this is where Indifferent part of the post’s title comes into a play. I would gladly take Chinaco and Don Julio for the sipping tequila blanco any day (both are under $50), and I never tasted Añejo better than my favorite Tres Generaciones ( also under $50). I appreciate the art of the Tequila DeLeón, and yes, if you need to impress, go for it; meanwhile, I will have another sip of Chinaco.

So you know what left me indifferent. Now, for the Okay part, I tasted through a group of Scotches.  Here they are:

MacPhail’s Collection Highland Park 8 years old – very nice! hint of smoke, perfect balance, touch of sweetness.

MacPhail’s Collection Glan Grant 10 years old – herbal notes, smooth, nice acidity, very good.

Mortlach 15 years old – nice and simple, but somewhat one-dimensional.

Old Pulteney 21 years old – nice, very complex, interesting nose, spicy profile – excellent overall.

Glenlivet 21 years old – okay, so it is a scotch, but it doesn’t do anything for me.

The Macallan 21 years old – least interesting of all. Just boring…

Based on the notes, you can probably see why this is just “okay”. But if you like Scotch, I would definitely recommend the Highland Park 8 and Old Pulteney 21 – those are worth seeking out.

And now,  let’s talk about Spectacular. I was given to taste (blind) four different spirits, one by one, and the most I could say after each one was “wow”. They were one better than the other. Zak was looking at me patiently, waiting for me to guess what they were. The first one, I said, was a grappa. The second? Bourbon. The third? No idea – absolutely unusual profile. The fourth? May be a Rye? Then he put 4 bottles on the table, one by one. Here they are:

Catskill Distilling Company Spirit's Collection

Catskill Distilling Company Spirits Collection

When I saw what they were, I had to say “wow” one more time. All of the spirits were produced about 90 miles away from my house, in the town of Bethel, New York . It is amazing how far the local New York producers went. You probably read my rave review of Hudson Distillery – I will definitely make an effort to visit Catskill Distilling Company when I will have a chance. Here is what I tasted:

Wicked White Whiskey – this is six-grain (corn, wheat, buckwheat, rye, smoked corn, malt), un-aged whiskey. Absolutely spectacular nose and flavor – complete impression of delicate single-grape grappa with round sweet fruit and all around delicious. You have to taste it to believe it.

Most Righteous Bourbon (70% corn, 20% rye, and 10% malt) – round, clean, caramel, butterscotch, all perfectly balanced together. One of the best bourbons I ever tasted.

One and only Buckwheat (80% buckwheat, 20% small grains) – unique and different. Nose is absolutely unusual, reminiscent of sun flower oil. Viscous, roll-of-your-tongue delicious concoction. Great complexity, another drink you have to taste to believe it.

Definat Rye – a very classic Rye, with a touch of sweetness, but otherwise dry palate, some spiciness and good acidity.

All four spirits are reasonably priced ( from $19 to $38) and definitely highly recommended.

There you have it, my friends – my story of indifferent, okay and spectacular. Enjoy the rest of your weekend and cheers!

 

Gumption, Tenacity and Whiskey

August 27, 2013 13 comments

DSC_0849Ralph Erenzo had a dream. Being an avid rock-climber, he had a vision of building a “resort” for the rock climbers, a place where they will be able to relax and have fun. With that vision in mind, in 2001, he acquired an old 35 acres farm in upstate New York, about 80 miles up north from New York City.

It appears that his new neighbors had their own idea of who the rock climbers are, as the first thing they told him was that they will do everything in their power to prevent him from successfully realizing his dream – they don’t need all these “bad people rock climbers” to come to their quiet neighborhood. And they did. Two years down the road, having sold 15 acres out of the 35 and practically out of money, Ralph had to think about what to do next.

He talked to the local authorities, asking “what can I do here”, and he got somewhat of an obvious answer – well, it is a farm, so nobody can object if you will use it as a farm. So, what can you do at the farm? Creating a vineyard was one option – but the wait time until the vines will be able to bear decent fruit was not acceptable to Ralph. Then something interesting caught his eye – New York state passed the law encouraging creation of the small distilleries, thus reducing the license fees from $60,000 to only $1,000 for three years. That was an “aha” moment, and this is how Tuthilltown distillery was born.

Ralph had no idea about spirits and distillation, but he was eager to learn – thus he built his first distilling apparatus out of the copper tea kettle and proceeded with practical exercises in the comfort of his own kitchen (boy, am I glad the Prohibition was over) – you can now see that original machinery on display in the tasting room at the distillery:

how the things started...

how the things started…

From there on, there was a lot of excitement, learning, selling, upgrading, building of a real business, selling it and much much more. You know what – let me ask for the 18 minutes of your time – you will much better learn everything which happened from the Ralph Erenzo himself. In return, I will tell you that you will learn about gumption and tenacity, and may be some of you will even feel encouraged to do something they’ve being postponing for the long time. Watch this TEDx video, and then come back for more fun facts and pictures.

When we visited distillery few weeks ago, Ralph Erenzo was leading our tour.

Ralph Erenzo leading our tour

Ralph Erenzo leading our tour

It was really a great experience, listening to someone who “made it”, and who is nevertheless very much down to earth. I hope you watched the video, as I don’t plan to repeat what was said there. In the day to day operations of Tuthilltown, there is a constant desire to optimize, improve, waste nothing, be self-sufficient and most importantly, to be a fun place to work at (the distillery currently employs 25 people on staff). Just to give you few examples of the mindset:

Ralph showed us their new steam boiler waiting to be installed –  acquired on eBay for the absolute fraction of the price of the new one.

Big solar panels are installed right on property – on a good sunny day, they generate enough electricity to power up the whole production and return electricity back to the grid.

Tuthilltown also grows its own apples (750 trees are planted, and another 750 will be planted soon), some of them on those 15 acres which Ralph had to sell, but later was able to buy back.

The distillery owns a cooperage, so they have control over the wooden casks, which are [the most] important part of making the whiskey.

After the grains are crushed, fermented and converted to liquid with alcohol, the leftover mass needs to be removed. Today, it means hauling it to the town dump and paying for the disposal. The distillery is about to install the machine which will convert the leftovers into the water (which will be used back at the distillery) and a little bit of ash – making the distillery completely green and even more self-sufficient.

The distillery needs grains to make whiskey. The grains are typically stored in silos. Say the word “silo” – what picture comes to mind? A super-boring, huge  column, colored in gray or brown, right? Well, not at Tuthilltown. The graffiti artists were invited, to make the silos look like the museum pieces:

Silos at Tuthilltown Distillery

Silos at Tuthilltown Distillery

you can see solar panels in the back

you can see solar panels in the back

Let’s talk quickly about how the whiskey are made (yes, I have a few more pictures to share). To make a whiskey, you need corn, or rye, or barley, or some other grain – something like you see below, only in slightly bigger quantities:

The beginning of whiskey

The beginning of whiskey

Then you have to run it through the mill, like this one used at Tuthilltown distillery (circa 1930s):

Manually operated (!) grain mill

Manually operated (!) grain mill

Add water and yeast to the coarsely ground grains, get some heat going, and fermentation will start. Once you are done fermenting, the leftovers mash will be disposed, and the water with alcohol will go through the distillation process, where they will be separated.

Distillation column at Tuthilltown

Distillation column at Tuthilltown

Once you have the alcohol, it can be either bottled as is, or it can be aged in the barrels. When it comes to ageing, Tuthilltown uses heavily charred new American Oak casks (made by the cooperage which they own).

Small American oak cask

Small American oak cask

DSC_0828

Ageing goodness

American whiskey is typically aged for 30-40 days per gallon, so if you have a 10 gallon cask, it will take a bit longer than a year to reach the proper age – of course whiskey can be aged for any period of time, but at least today Tuthilltown doesn’t produce any whiskey with extended ageing.

Once the ageing is done or close to be done, bottlers will decide when the particular batch is ready to be bottled. The bottling operation is located in the basement of Tuthilltown distillery. The process starts from filling the empty bottles:

this is where the bottles are filled

this is where the bottles are filled

Then the bottles are closed with cork, and dipped into the hot wax and lastly, labeled:

labeling part

labeling part

Labeling was one of the most mundane tasks which Tuthilltown automated very recently. By automating this task, it allowed people to use the freed up time for something useful and creative – and the new product, called Basement Bitters was born ( beautiful aromatic drops for your cocktail).

And once you are done with the labeling, you get … lots of whiskey, ready to be numbered (by hand!) and shipped for all of us to enjoy:

Ready to go

Ready to go

yes, ready

yes, ready

And of course after the tour you can go and taste the whiskey (and vodka, and gin) in the tasting room:

Tasting time!

Tasting time!

Don't forget the bitters

Don’t forget the bitters

Tuthilltown lineup includes Indigenous Vodka (made out of apples), Half Moon Orchard Gin, Hudson New York Corn Whiskey (unaged), Hudson Baby Bourbon, Hudson Four Grains Bourbon and Hudson Manhattan Rye Whiskey ( last three are all aged whiskeys). Hudson Baby Bourbon is my favorite, but hey, you have to taste it for yourself.

And I think we are done here. I hope you found the time to watch the video. And what I want to leave you with is this:

Dictionary.com defines “gumption” as:

1. initiative; aggressiveness; resourcefulness

2. courage; spunk; guts

Follow your dreams! Cheers!

Compass Box – The Art of Blending

January 10, 2013 10 comments

Innovation. This word is usually associated with high-tech industry, new cars, new gadgets, an iPhone 6 or 7 – I’m sure you got my point. Yet innovation is not a foreign word when we talk about food, and wine, and the other stuff we drink, even though the original concept didn’t change in many thousands or at least many hundreds of years.

If you scroll through the posts in this blog, you will see that most of them are about wine and food (with a bit of photography). However, from time to time I step outside of the wine world and talk about my second favorite type of enjoyable alcohol, Scotch – and this will be the subject of this post.

What was with all that talk about innovation, you ask? When it comes to Scotch, many of the products are deeply rooted in tradition. Yes, some distillery might change the label or the packaging, and that would be about the full extent of innovation. But then there are companies such as Compass Box – a relative newcomer in the world of fine whisky. Compass Box had a vision – a vision of taking the existent best of the breed whiskys from the different regions, aging them in the best available wood and then blending them together to create a new line of products which would be unique and exemplary at the same time. Most importantly – they managed to succeed with that approach and took their rightful place in the market.

About two month ago I had an opportunity to taste through the whole line of Signature Range of Compass Box whiskys, so here are my notes from that tasting.

compass box 2

Asyla – nice, standard, smooth

Oak Cross – touch of sweetness, very delicate, nice fruit

Spice Tree – very nice, less sweetness than Oak Cross, with coriander notes on the palate

Peat Monster – big, peaty, bad ass beauty, medicinal, round – perfect! Need campfire to pair

Hedonism – very viscous on the nose, nice, delicate, with touch of sweetness, very round – very nice, distinctly different from anything else.

Flaming Heart – beautiful. Peaty but very balanced. Best of tasting.

Orangerie – nice addition of fresh orange, very delicious.

I also sneaked by (no, I didn’t steal anything, I was offered the taste) Johnnie Walker Blue King George V Edition, which is pretty rare and needless to say, expensive – very oily in appearance and on the nose, but then super clean and fragrant on the palate, very very round (if you are into Scotch, this one should be on your “must try list”).

That is all I wanted to share with you, folks. If you know of Compass Box scotches and enjoy them, pour yourself another splash. If you never heard of them, try one – you might discover something new. If you don’t like scotch, there is a good chance you just didn’t happen to find the right one yet – keep trying as you might come across the one which will speak to you… Cheers!

Weekly Wine Quiz #27 – This Whiskey Can’t Age Any Longer…

September 1, 2012 2 comments

As you know, the subject of Whiskey is not foreign in this blog, so that is what today’s quiz will be all about.

Similar to the wine, whiskey is usually aged before it is released to the market. Again, similar to the wine, all kinds of wooden casks are used for that process of aging. Quite often used wine barrels become whiskey casks – you can see on the bottle “Port finish”, “Madeira finish” and many others – but this is not the point of this quiz.

Again, similar to wine, when whiskey is aging in the cask, it gains complexity and usually mellows down. There is nothing you can do to substitute time in this process of aging, so as you can expect, the older the whiskey is, the higher price it commands when in the bottle, but again this is not the point of this quiz.

Look at the whiskey shelf in the liquor store, and you will see a lot of bottles with the “age statement” on them – 10 years old, 12, 14, 15, 21, 25, or may be even 30 or 40 (I’m glad this post is not about prices). Typically the decision for how long to age each particular batch of whiskey is taken by the cellar master at the distillery, and whiskey is tasted along the way until it will be declared worthy of the release. But in some cases, external circumstances dictate the maximum age of the whiskey which can be achieved at the distillery, and nothing can be done to age the whiskey for longer. For instance, at Stranahan’s distillery in Colorado, whiskey doesn’t age longer than 5 years, and if they will try aging it until 8 years, they will have a big problem after all. What do you think can cause such a limitation?

Bonus question – explain what exactly happens with whiskey that it can’t age any longer?

Have a great long weekend! Cheers!

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