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Daily Glass: Scotch for Every Day

February 7, 2020 6 comments

Yes, Scotch. Yes, Talk-a-Vino is a wine blog – mostly, anyway.

When I was looking for the name for this blog, my first choice was Grapes and Grains – unfortunately, the domain was taken, and of course, you know the end result of this search. But this is not important. The important fact, the truth of the matter, is that in the making of this snob/aficionado, Scotch was there before wine.

Unlike many wine lovers, I never had my pivotal wine – many wine lovers can refer to a specific bottle which was a revelation and a turning point for them to become faithful wine lovers – however, this was not my case. At the same time, when it comes to the world of scotch, my story was different.

I tried to find my love in scotch for a while, but nothing worked – I couldn’t derive pleasure from a sip of this dark yellow liquid – whatever I tried was too harsh for my palate. And those were not necessarily Dewar’s, Cutty Sark, or J&B – standard staple single malts, such as Glenlivet 12, Balvenie 12 and similar – nothing was working for me.

One day in the liquor store, looking helplessly at the great selection of the beverage which was not singing with me, my eye stopped at Cardhu – a 12 years old single malt from Speyside (there are five main regions in Scotland producing distinctly different scotch – Highland, Lowland, Speyside, Islay, and Campbeltown, plus a number of islands, such as Orkney and Skye). It was reasonably inexpensive at $27 (this was in the mid-1990s, today the same bottle is $40+), and I decided to try it. The first sip of Cardhu was a turning point – it was mellow, playful, and elegant – enough to make me an instant convert.

For Cardhu’s revelation to happen, I can only guess that my palate was ready at that time by all the previous attempts – this is what we call an acquired taste. I had a similar scotch revelation in 2005 when I all of a sudden fell in love with Talisker, peaty and medicinal tasting scotch from the Isle of Skye – until that evening, I couldn’t stand Talisker’s iodine and smoke loaded profile. An acquired taste again, yes. Anyway, this is my scotch lover’s story.

When drinking for pleasure, scotch is a perfect drink (once you acquire the taste, of course!). Today, you can buy a bottle of good scotch for $50 – $60. You can spend a little less, and you can spend a lot more – as with the wine, the sky is the limit. While $60 sounds expensive, versus, let’s say, a $25 bottle of wine, let’s look at the things in perspective. $25 bottle of wine means 5 glasses, so each glass is $5, and you can only keep the wine bottle open for so long. Good scotch is a sipping beverage, so one ounce of that is perfectly good enough to enjoy (if your idea of drinking scotch is by doing the shots, you reading the wrong post for a while). $60 for 25 ounces means less than $2.50 per drink. Plus, you can take your time drinking that bottle – I have some bottles at home which had been open for a few years – they are still perfectly enjoyable as on the day when I opened them. I hope you can see my point that scotch makes a perfect drink for every day.

Recently I got two bottles of Speyside scotch for review. The idea was to write a post before January 25th, to celebrate Robert Burns’ 261st birthday. Born in Scotland in 1759, Robert Burns was one of the most celebrated poets, who also happened to mention whisky (scotch) in many of his poems, so it makes perfect sense that his birthday is best celebrated with a glass of dram. Well, that blog post didn’t happen on time, but the scotch I received was simply delicious, and this is what I want to share with you.

Source: Speyburn Speyside Distillery

Source: Speyburn Speyside Distillery

If you will read the stories of the different distilleries in Scotland, you will find one common theme in those – the water. Distillery’s unique water source is often cited as the foundation of the “distinct character” particular scotch has.

Speyburn Distillery was founded by John Hopkins in the 1890s when he “discovered the Granty Burn – an untouched stream hidden in a secluded Speyside valley”. The first Speyburn whisky was distilled in 1897 to celebrate Queen’s Jubilee – it was not a simple task, and you can read more about the challenges on distillery’s website.

The making of whisky at Speyburn distillery starts with the best quality malted barley, and of course, the water. The barley is crushed, and then it is sprayed with hot water for 4 hours to convert starches into the sugars. The next step is fermentation which is done in stainless steel tanks and wooden barrels made out of Douglas fir. Once fermentation is finished, the liquid goes through the double-distillation process which results in the production of alcohol. It is only now the most important part – aging – starts, using bourbon and sherry casks. 10 (15, 18, …) years later, we get the golden liquid which we can then enjoy.

I had an opportunity to taste two different scotches from Speyburn. Speyburn 10 Years Old Single Malt Scotch Whisky ($30) was beautifully mellow, with playful herbal aromatics on the nose, and citrus, honey, and spice on the palate. It is perfectly smooth and easy to drink. I have to mention that in today’s world, this scotch offers an insane QPR.

Speyburn Arranta Casks Single Malt ($44) (Arranta means “intrepid” and “daring” in Gaelic) takes your taste buds to the next level. On the nose, it offers more of the vanilla and butterscotch profile, adding honey, mint, lime and a touch of white pepper on the palate. Beautifully round and complex, with a long playful finish – this scotch really lingers, going and going for the next 3-4 minutes after the sip. Delicious, and again an excellent QPR.

There you are, my friends. If you like scotch, Speyburn perfectly represents Speyside and offers a tremendous value for every day enjoyment – but it will also play perfectly well for any special occasion you might have in mind. Cheers!

 

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!

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!

 

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!

 

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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