A Narrative in Whiskey

As we reached the bend, just ahead of the final summit, we crossed paths with the Tallest Man on Earth.  We’d passed through over a thousand feet of elevation, ice and snow, before the gateman gave warning.  According to the Tallest Man, ahead were slicks of ice running right off the cliffs, perilous for even the best equipped.  He had carbide spikes in his shoes, he showed.  We did not, nor did the petite pup, Buster, who was our accompaniment.  As we thanked the Tallest Man, who I feel at this point obliged to note was not even the tallest man present, but who bore a striking resemblance to a Mr. Kristian Matsson, (stage name the Tallest Man on Earth) we decided we would move forward and assess our assets and risks for ourselves. We walked about 20 feet forward, reviewed our supplies and the map.  I found the perfect scapegoat in Buster, for of course our adventurous party could navigate the ice cliffs without fear, but what of the poor little dog?  We turned back that day, turned back from the ridge, out of a learned and measured caution, knowing it was perhaps not what we had preferred to do, but what was right to do.  The Camel’s Hump, that day, was just out of reach.

A day prior, our adventures were of a far different nature.  The party of this confused and ambling story, Monseigneur Charlie his lovely fiancée Megan and I, went to the lovely town of Middlebury, Vermont at my strictest urgings.  It presented the opportunity for long scenic drives, but more importantly, I was in pursuit of a certain spirit.  Months ago, if you’ll kindly scroll the homepage, I found myself in possession of the finest white whiskey I can recall, Appalachian Gap’s Snowfall.  It was remarkably unusual in character, possessed a certain flavor profile that defied all needs of characterization beyond “delicious.”  Then I heard the aged version was out, Ridgeline. In short summary, Ridgeline is Snowfall self-actualized.  Like your sophisticated friend who’s travelled the world and returned with a new perspective, Ridgeline has traveled the barrels, and grown deeper, darker, and unlike your traveling friend, richer.  This whiskey does it’s time swapping between full-sized (53 gallon I believe?) fresh oak, ex-bourbon, and ex-port wine barrels taking some time to reach a ruby amber maturity.  But more on that later.

On our fine day trip, after some wanderings and google map mishaps, we located the sought after distillery.  We entered shortly before their planned closing hours due to our travels, and found ourselves the only visitors.  Hoping the outfit would recall my prior kind words, I introduced myself, and attempted to use any credibility this collection of mumbled minuets could buy me to curry favor.  Fortunately, the gents recalled my praise for their labors, and we struck up easy report.  They permitted us samples of each of their products, including some secret projects I cannot divulge on, because I’ve already broken my word to keep quiet on them.  I’m sorry guys; I want to seem cool, like I get special privileges for writing and junk.  Anyways, the visit to Appalachian Gap was well worth our trip, and the gentlemen distillers treated us with the utmost kindness, and exalted true joy in their craft, in spite of one of them mildly splitting his head open on a shelf in mid conversation.

In the course of our conversations, they shared their story and their passion. For them, Ridgeline was a journey of trial and error and discovery.  They’d spent time perfecting their mash in making Snowfall, an effort which clearly reached its summit, and now they were hoping to reach their pinnacle in Ridgeline.  They planned to take no short-cuts, no small barrels, brief aging, to take the metaphor as far as I can stretch it, they were willing to bushwhack their way to the peak  if required.  We spoke to them of our plans to hike Camel’s Hump, and they gave us words of warning which we should have heeded, noting that word about was that it was a skating rink. We were too brash for warnings. They also told us that the distillery itself was named for childhood hikes in the Green Mountains in a region known as the Appalachian Gap.   Given the distances I’d traveled to taste the distillate of their labors, I found it necessary as our visit ended to take a bottle home, and for my prior pseudo-poetics they rewarded me with one of their hats for the parting, which I have taken with me on all of my hikes since.  On parting, I told them I would share my impressions, once fully written, and I have regrettably procrastinated on them for several months, saving the last half of the bottle for the writing as a restricted corner of the bar for some future inspired Ryan to drink.  Now’s as good a time as any…but before that, back to the ridge.

While good sense kept us from seeking the peak of the Camel’s Hump, our team would not turn back in utter defeat.  Instead, on review of the map, we plotted a new course.  Our renegotiated path would be to follow the Long Trail, looping back south to steal the peak of Mt. Ethan Allen, the Green Mountain boy himself.  We found ourselves following only one set of footsteps in the fresh snow on the Long Trail, which deepened with each foot of elevation, and as we neared a shelter on the trail we once again met up with the Tallest Man. After moments of balking at the anti-bear defenses of the shelter, we proceeded,with the Tallest Man on recon, to break trail through the virgin snow towards Ethan. The Tallest Man, who it turns out is a Torontonian engineer and well regarded mountain biker named Chris, spoke to us about his well-founded confusion with the current state of American politics, particularly the phenomenon of Donald Trump, and we shared his views.  Meanwhile the snow continued to get deeper, and the diminutive Buster began to struggle; the trail became less clear.

We tramped onwards, Buster leaping between footprints, Tallest Man and I digging our way forward, until finally it leveled, and there was a brief break in the trees, overlooking the Appalachian Gap.  Or so I will claim, for the purposes of poetics and all that bullshit.  We rested, satisfied at having found our peak, and I proffered my flask of Old Grandad (bonded) to Mr. Charlie and Tallest Man, passing it about as I set my Jetboil in the snow and fired it up for a restorative coffee, which I bollock’ds up into a boiling mess of coffee grounds.  Nevertheless, the boiling mess restored feeling to my hands, we took one last look over the Gap, and we departed together with a successful expedition at our backs.

Much like a hike along a New England ridgeline, the process of making whiskey is one of exertion, unpredictability and adaptation.  While the hiker may be forced to seek an alternate route, the distiller may be forced to dump a whole batch and reformulate their mash.  Worse, the whiskey may spend years in the barrel, only to turn out to be a wash of malign flavors.  As a hiker (and also as a drinker I suppose) I am often toiling to reach a height of sublime beauty from which I can see the world lay bare below me.  As a distillery, Appalachian Gap is hoping to make Ridgeline that peak.  So what shall I say of the Ridgeline?


I should begin by stating what Ridgeline is: malt whiskey and bourbon had a baby. With a bill of 45% malted barley, 30% corn and 15% rye, as well as the aforementioned barrel combination, I cannot think of a whiskey on a similar track.  On the nose this distinct recipe yields an intriguing interplay of crisp pear and darker plum notes with an underlying base of rich molasses, somehow without a single hint of alcohol in spite of the robust 98 proof behind it.  Similarly, the taste of the whiskey strikes a tantalizing balance between a fine highland scotch and a downhome Kentucky bourbon.  The first taste gives me a very crisp green apple note that somehow gains spice and warmth more tantamount to an apple pie with every second I let it linger. Each successive sip leads to me finding new flavors, pear, vanilla, sweet corn and sherry.  I feel as though each sip I take could lead me to change my flavor profile, but I promise to stop overthinking it, and just tell you it’s somehow a balance of warmth, light esters and crisp fruit.  I suspect that doesn’t make any sense, so I’m going to have to tell you, just get a bottle for yourself.  The finish, similarly is warm, with a lovely sweet spice that I can only compare to a fine monkey bread.

After a brief two days journey, which admittedly took several months to write about, I departed from my dear friends Megan and Charlie,  returning home with a bottle of whiskey, probably a hangover, and a lesson of the trail.  Obstacles are opportunities, and forging a new path, in whiskey or fresh snow, can bring great rewards.

Aging, with John Dewar

The name Dewar’s probably conjures a lot of memories for a lot of people.  Some of them are probably not particularly clear, many of them not particularly good I would imagine.  As a fellow who always put scotch on the backseat, my memories are of the vaguest kind.  I remember liking it more than Johnny Walker Red, because it tastes a bit less like someone added liquid smoke to the water inside an old tire. Beyond that I don’t think I’ve given it much stock, because for a similar price you can buy a number of far better smaller label scotch or even Irish expressions.  There is perhaps only one clear memory I can account to Dewar’s (the old white label,) several years back and in the wee-est hours of the morning.  I had secured through donation a few various big name label liters of whisky (I’ll omit the “e” out of respect,) one of which was the aforementioned White Label.  About that time a good friend was returning across country from a tin-tube in the sky, and in celebration a gathering was planned at the lake house of another friend.  To skip the irrelevant, after having retrieved our friend from his late flight, we came to the lake house at about 11pm, and with the youthful exuberance we once had, decided to get things started.  Entree Dewar’s.  Over the next several hours we took to a bit of the sing-song, guitars and screaming our throats bloody to the dawn’s early hours across the lake to the rising sun.  After that, we keep singing.  At some point the Dewar’s expired and onward we went, until in the clear light of day (sometime about noontime) we too expired.  When I awoke later that afternoon, I had lost the capacity to speak, which was fortunately a temporary state, and seemed fair payment for such a fine night.

“Ah, but I was so much older then, I’m younger than that now.” Older indeed do I drink, which is where the star of tonight’s show comes in.  Aberfeldy Perthshire Distillery of the Central Scottish Highlands was founded in the year 1896, by…wait for it…John Dewar.  Aberfeldy 12 year Single Malt, therefore is like a respected older brother to the young blended white, and quite frankly, the brother has become quite a bit more civilized in the years of experience, or oak.  On first glance it is not even obvious this is a Dewar’s product, it’s essentially in the fine print, and the handsome, distinguished packaging gives a nice aristocratic touch that would be at home on Churchill’s breakfast tray.


In this dram, the juice of John Dewar’s has matured, and it’s beyond skin deep.  That may be poor phrasing.  Anyways, our new friend Aberfeldy here has a masculine cologne to match the suit.  The opening nose is to my ol’ factory a feint bit smoky, which dissipates to a rich warm interplay of baked apple, spices, dark fruit, and just a hint of citrus.  It’s an aroma that is desperately hard to resist.

I have very little powers to resist today, so here I go.  Each taste is supple, with an oily viscous quality that holds a fine honey nectar, with a rich dark sugar, figs, and a pleasant dusty malt.  Sadly, the palate notes are a bit ephemeral, but luckily enough we are granted a long and pleasant finish, with spice, orange rind, a bit of smokiness that lingers in my breathe.

I think I am a bit older, even more mature, than that kid who sang himself mute on Dewar’s white. I may not always act like it, but it sure is damn nice to drink like it, and this is a fine dram to do so with. It’s also worth noting that while “growing up” with cost you nearly twice your Dewar’s white, that’s only a cool $40, and for that price you’ve done quite well for yourself.

The Irishman: Founder’s Reserve

Tomorrow is St. Patrick’s Day. On 3/17/2015, at about 7 am local time, my father and I touched down in Dublin for our all too brief visit.  In that time we covered many miles, decided to completely change the course of the trip toward the sunny south, and drank many a lovely dram. It is with this fond memory that I write now, looking back, and I hope looking forward to that lovely land, and those lovely people.  To all ye over in Ireland, I raise a glass, sláinte!

Which leads us to tonight’s libations, The Irishman: Founder’s Reserve.  My quick and distracted research (one laptop streaming Netflix and writing while browsing on the other like a master of the multi-task) leads me to a bit of information about The Irishman, first that the founder for which this is reserved is Bernard Walsh, father of the brand.  I’ve also learned that the brand themselves does not do the distilling, rather they’re a 3rd party blend and bottle outfit, which doesn’t have the stigma in Ireland that it seems to have here.  This blend, so the bottle tells me is a blend of 70% single malt and 30% single pot straight whiskey, which my fantastic internet pseudo-journalism tells me, may have at least partly been sourced from the famed Cooley distillery. I can prove none of that, and don’t really give a damn.  What I care about is the taste, and this Irishman doesn’t let me down.  I’ll cut the bullshit.  Here it goes:


The nose leads with a strong wave of tart and mouthwatering green apple which really takes some cutting through, before you’re rewarded with softer honey notes and just the light hint of spice.  The first sip cuts back that green apple immensely, leading strong on the honey, with a very warm pear pie thing going on about the mid-palate and bit of peppery spice on the finish, with just the right amount of burn.  As it finish the warmth really hangs resilient on the tongue, with a clinging warmth to get you through a chill drizzly night.  I happen to be typing in just such a night.

So, as you all paint shamrocks on your faces tomorrow and get right pissed, I beg of you to do one thing, to make the holiday a touch more Irish.  Okay, a few things.  One, don’t drink piss beer dyed green.  Two, take a minute to sniff your drink, taste your drink, fuckin’ enjoy your drink.  Finally, say cheers when they give you the drink and sláinte when they give it to you, that’s the proper way.

Crown Royal Northern Harvest Rye

I’m going to keep this brief, as there are a lot of superfluous words populating the internet in regards to the subject.  No, I’m not talking about Donald Trump’s bigotry, I’m talking about Whisky Bible’s 2016 Whisky of the Year 2016.  If you really want to get some quasi-professional input you should check out Geoff Kleinman’s review at Drink Spirits here.  I am anything but professional, so let me tell you what I think in cliché; the best whiskey in the world is the one in my hand (and belly and bloodstream and brain and all that.) That is not to say that some whiskies are not of a higher level of distinction, because of course they are, but with any enjoyable whiskey, any whiskey of a certain quality, it’s the individual qualities that count.  I’m not in the game of superlatives, so let’s just get to those qualities, with another one of my not-even-remotely-famed single shot reviews…because that’s apparently all I have left.  Final note to the reader before getting on with it, take the bag off Crown bottles, otherwise you’ll have no idea how much is left.


Right, tasting, let’s start on the nose.  From first sniff the dominant notes are warm apple pie (or should it be apple crisp?) with a very heavy spice footprint, like maybe the top came off the cinnamon shaker.  Filling in that lovely crisp is definitely a rich brown sugar note, but following up we get a hint of sawdusty must and an interesting twist of lemon zest also comes across.

The priming note on the palate is a tart crisp apple note which spreads across the tongue leaving in its wake a touch of dryness similar to the mouthfeel of a hearty Cabernet.  The spice, of course, is not left by the wayside, with nutmeg and cinnamon present in spades, but seeming to leave the apple on its own, clinging instead to some kind of oaky sawdust scone, which is far more pleasant than the Civil War rations I’ve made it sound like.

The finish on this is surprisingly light and a touch short, with a mellow heat wisping down the throat at 90 proof, which leaves the tongue with just a soft dry tingle and a hint of honey around the edges of the mouth.  Nothing too startling, just a friendly Canadian cleanliness.

I really do not have too much more to say.  I know I’m not the man to slay the hype beast, I’m just another fella out there drinking whiskey to see what the fuss was all a-boot*.  What I will say is that it is nice to be able to drink a whisky rated as the best offering of the year (agreeing or not with that distinction) without having to drop more than $30.




*This article could not have been complete without a Canadian diction joke, I apologize.

West Cork

Sunday morning, waking up.  Slight headache, perhaps that last one before bed was a touch much, but I hadn’t timed my Netflix to drink ratio properly.  Rookie mistake.  Breakfast, things to do. Shower and all that shit.  Sweet glorious coffee.  I told my father that I would come over for dinner and the fútbol games and all that, free food, good company.  Good plan, good day, sunshine, all of that.  As the caffeine starts to take hold my brain begins to fire on all 5 cylinders, like an Audi or something.  I’m not sure why they use 5 cylinder engines, but I also know I’m no V12.  Full speed ahead Sunday, sort of, not too fast.  I seek fresh air, beauty, nature.  32 degrees is lovely flannel weather, these woods are lovely, dark and deep, and this is a pleasant but small mountain and…holy shit what a view.  I crack open a Smutty and marvel at my glorious decision to trek through the snow on a crisp winter’s day.  Sunday morning coming up into a lovely afternoon.

Anyways, I carry on to the stated goal and make moves, hustling down the icy slopes to the valiant steed Cecelia and onwards to father’s home.  My father is a good man, good conversation and the like.  The Patriots are playing like absolute shit, and I assume Benedict Arnold must have something to do with it.  Fortunately I don’t really care, it’s football, and my mind is on the prize.  Bangers and Colcannon.  Wild Boar Andouille and po-tay-toes.  La vie en emerald, I shall wash it down for authenticity with Guinness extra stout (the bottle as stout as the contents.)  I gorge myself, as I am wont to do, yet I must also hit the road and I know.  With fare-thee-wells I hit the road and wend my way home to rest and digest.  In the event of pleasant day, crack bottle and nightcap—today’s prize needed to be one to suit the diet of the day, Irish Whiskey, which brings me (sadly only figuratively) to West Cork.

West Cork Distillers is a relative newcomer to the Irish Whiskey biz, one of many fresh brands to invigorate a once threatened, and still under-rated market.  Since their founding in 2003 it seems the Distillers have grown immensely, while sticking close to the roots and their own methods.  In under 13 years (at this writing) West Cork has expanded to include a second distillery, and has expanded sales into 35 countries across the globe, including, glory-be, the Democratic Republic of New Hampshire.  Also of note, as I steal all of this information so thoroughly professionally from their website, is that they are the only distillery in Ireland to malt their own barley, and one of few to use fresh spring water.  (In-text citation, plagiarism.)

Tonight’s West Cork offering, which I highly doubt will be my last, is their base-model blended.  The nose on this (mine is a touch stuffy) is strongly of citrus, to the point where I must ask myself if there is lemon oil in the soap I used to wash the glass—no?  Well then, lovely light lemony liquor with a hint of warmth at the base so faint as to be a possible mirage.  Shockingly I have confirmed I am not drinking straight lemon oil, which is a relief, because what I am drinking is quite pleasant.  The taste is lightly of biscuit, with a base of sweet grain note I’m inclined to call “sconey” because I’m rather fond of scones.  There is a light and pleasant vanilla, which after this many whiskey articles is starting to seem like a worthless thing to say, but it’s there dammit and it’s delicious. The lemon which dominated the nose is present, tingling round the edges of my tongue and flashing a tad with a deep breathe, truly a vaporous entity of the whiskey.  Finally, that warm note hiding so cleverly in the nose again is lightly present on the finish a touch of light brown sugar, and even a dusting of spice, which I can only attribute to the possibility the bourbon barrels they age in once head a high rye jewel.  Baseless accusations, I know.


In short, this was the perfect ending to a pleasant day of Irish culinary delights.  Except I the bangers we had were far from traditional Irish, more Creole or something.  I have noted before, and I will note again, that Irish whiskies can be very difficult to rate, because they play a fine game of subtle eloquence, like a liquid Yeats.  As an entry offering, West Cork has done a lovely job of offering yet another fine piece to the canon of Irish liquor-ature, with a distinct and balanced blend, which only entices me to further explore their catalogue.


Appalachian Gap: Snowfall

It’s winter time in New England.  That means cold. That means waking up in the morning and losing feeling in your extremities before the hot water hits the shower head.  That means scraping stubborn frost off your windshield into line blow lines that your windshield wipers won’t even deal with, while your warm breathe fogs the inside of the windshield and the morning glare blinds you.  If there is one thing it means a lot of, that’s snowfall.  Except thus far this winter…we seem to have gotten off with just a touch of the stuff, enough to paralyze anything south of the Poconos for a week, but not enough for your average New Englander.  I’ve got a little secret, over Christmas, I was given a little extra snowfall, as it were, and of a kind I much prefer…


No, I did not get cocaine for Christmas, no feliz navidad Medellin over here, officer.  Instead I got my snowfall as it tends to come, sweep east from the moisture of the Great Lakes, dusting over the Green Mountains, and landing swift and pure in my lap.  I got my Snowfall from Appalachian Gap—Appalachian Gap Distillery that is.


Appalachian Gap is an outfit out of Middlebury, Vermont, a town which itself is a miniature mecca of drinking delights.  Otter Creek Brewing Company, Drop-In Brewing Company, Vermont Hard Cider (of Woodchuck fame,) Lincoln Peak Vineyard, and hell I just realized the coffee I drink every morning from Vermont Coffee Company comes from Middlebury.  Into this (presumably drunken) scene arose Appalachian Gap, whose spirits are as unique as the town itself.  They have staple spirits like Mythic Gin, which in this case isn’t an adjective, and Mosquito Fleet Rum, the even have Kaffevän Coffee Liquorbut they also have some far out drinks too, like a spirit distilled from corn, barley, and coffee, Kaffekask.  More inventive yet is their very Vermont take on tequila, Papilio, which is distilled from blue agave and…maple syrup?  Yes, maple syrup.  Next up, fermented and distilled Ben and Jerry’s liqueur. But none of those beverages are the subject of my article, because, if I’m honest, I haven’t had any of them.  Tonight, the forecast is Snowfall.


Snowfall, in my experience is an experience devoid of most of the senses.  Its sensation is numbness, its image is a blank yet lustrous white, its smell is an almost startling absence of smell, crisp, cold, pure.  Snowfall, however, is a stunning sensation.  The nose of snowfall is a wonderful and unique expression that does not draw easy comparison to anything within my frame of reference.  It’s light, vaporous, and has a full sweetness which is I can only think to describe as “pure.”  None of this aroma would give the slightest hint that this is 108 proof, which is stunning given that I am basically huffing alcohol fumes.  That unique characteristic of sweetness carries on into the first sip, opening up marvelously to display a pastiche of flavors, with a hint of warm cornbread opening into an almost taffy like note of round chewy sweetness with light fruity esters expressing just the suggestion of a banana note.  The finish, is like the glow of a woodstove, with a gentle warmth which engulfs the palate, and just a touch of rye spice dances on the tongue and down the throat, lessening with each breathe.


I’ll be honest, I tend not to drink too many white whiskies, because I find them frankly unsatisfying, and they’re just a step (or a filtration) too close to being vodka.  The same cannot be said of this fascinating expression.  I have to imagine that the mash bill of this spirit, 45% barley, 30% corn, and 25% rye, has a lot to do with how lovely it tastes.  That is not a normal mash-bill, and to my knowledge leaves this spirit, and its aged counter-part free of any legal classification beyond whiskey or delicious.  Yes, you heard me right my friends, there is an aged counterpart to Snowfall, and while I have not yet had it, I know that my next trip across the Connecticut River will find me on a search for at least one Ridgeline.

Uisce Beatha Real Irish Whiskey

Every thirty seconds the slow wash of tires passes across my right shoulder, over to the left, behind my neck, out my left ear into the hallway.  Spinning forward to my right periphery a red illumination shines from the grove of a black disk, spinning, spinning, spinning, and moaning… “you betta come on / / in my kitchen / / babe it gonna’ be rainin’ outdoors.”  It’s a misty, chill December shower.  Inside, in the mellow warm candle light with Marrakesh smoke on the air, every thumping bass note on old Bobby Johnson’s thumb seems to urge the floor to tickle the increasingly numb souls of my feet.  The draining circulation in my fingers makes for spasmodic and pained typing.  Perhaps more pained because I’m still not sure what I mean to say.  It is rare this late in December, in this Northeastern clime, to still be awaiting our first snowfall.  And yet we are.  And still—warm enough to rain, winter enough to frost—I’m ready to embrace an instinct familiar to other mammals, hibernation.  This in-between weather, this wet and confused New Hampshire December, I imagine is how most of winter must pass in Ireland.  As ancient coal stoves burn, turf stoves, even, I imagine many among the Irish fight the mammalian instinct of hibernation in turning to one more human.  I imagine on a night like this, sometime in the 14th century, some tonsured monk drink a fluid warm from the still, and he said to his brethren, “this is the water of life,” uisce beatha.


From these words, uisce beatha, comes the modern word for the sweet nectar and societal scourge, that is whiskey.  Of course, if you’re reading a whiskey blog in your free time, I probably don’t need to tell you that.  But if you learned something, well, the more you know.  Why do I bring this up, with unnecessary verbosity and noir musings?  Well, because someone done gone made an Irish whiskey, and guess what they’ve called it…yousebetya, Uisce Beatha.


It takes a fuckin’ fully functioning spleen to go and brand your whiskey as its etymological root. Before you say anything, the spleen does have a purpose, look it up, smartass.  Now while we’re on the point, I’ll give you some brief background.  Apparently this whiskey, Uisce Beatha, *redundant* is a product fresh from the mind of John Paul DeJoria, who is best known for bringing the world Patron Tequila and Paul Mitchell shampoo.  One of these things is not like the other.  I think I’m just going to leave your mind lingering on that without further comment.  Anyways, the Patron Mitchell guy happens to be a cofounder of a company called Rok Drinks, which has decided to churn out whiskey under its original moniker.  Sadly, I cannot figure out where the juice these “Rok Stars” are using to make this whiskey, but they have clearly disclosed that it is blended of whiskies aged at least 4 years in former bourbon barrels. That’s about is far deep as I’m going a googling tonight, so let’s get to the point—I’m seriously flagging in the life department and giving that hibernation thing some consideration.  Let us put some life in my blood.

Uisce Beatha

The nose on this is delightfully rich, honey was a given based on the color of the whiskey, but there are pleasant dimensions of richer molasses and dark fruit, a touch of spice and maybe even a hint of hazelnut.  The base note which seems to first hit the tongue and then lingers steadily throughout the palate is something akin to a sweet but gristy whole grain muffin.  On top of this are layers of flavor, including a more fully expressed cinnamon spice—which I’ll be bold enough is from the barrel of a high-rye bourbon—some light citrus, and the ever Irish honey sweetness which is more than usually subtle in this expression, I imagine due to the bourbon barrels. The finish is very light, with an almost cold breath around the edge of the tongue passing and leaving just a grassy sweet reminiscence of loving life on the tongue.

So, does this young upstart, new to the market from the mind of a tequila slinging hairdresser live up to its Gaelic name? Well, it certainly is whiskey, that’s an accurate start.  Beyond that, it’s a pleasant whiskey, distinct from the many other expressions in the field, with a refreshing complexity for its youth.  Yes, I do feel a bit less like sinking into hibernation, I feel a bit more blood running in my fingers and toes, and I may in fact be on the verge of having a touch more life.

Monkey Shoulder

Sometimes life is a bitch.  Sometimes the inane and unrelenting shit spray coming off the fan is blinding, and there’s so much weight on your shoulders you have to shimmy out of bed first thing in the morning.  That’s not my excuse, but it does occasionally happen.  Me, I’ve had a touch of the writer’s block, but in order to treat an illness, you have to identify the cause.  It didn’t take too long before I was able to source this, it was a severe lack of motivation.  Weariness.  Apathy.  Unfortunately, a lack of motivation and apathy are hard to treat, because it’s in the nature of the condition to make you, ya know…not give a fuck.  Oh well.  Well, it has taken a couple of volleys to break me past this blockade of mine, but here we are, on the other side.

Let me first explain the circumstances in which I have been able to overcome the apathy.  A couple of weeks ago, a great and inspirational friend of mine came to visit me in my new home, a nice little cozy space that I’ve settled into with the result of additional weariness, because, moving does that.  Anyways, my friend, we’ll call him Winston Legthigh, also tends to write, and has a very thorough understanding of what it’s like to wrestle with words until they get you in a chokehold and strangle you until you pass out.  Mr. Legthigh, additionally, happens to be one of those friends who encourages the creative instinct, praises your driveling mind and understands that “you must lift him up, and never knock him down.”  Anyways, Winston gave me a good shove in the right direction, while simultaneously understanding that it isn’t there, and there ain’t no use fishing in a bathtub.  Then we got drunk.  A couple of times, it was great.  Given that this tends to be a whiskey blog, and not usually the pointless meanderings of a poor writer pontificating on the writing process; we decided that doing some tasting notes would be in good order for getting my good for nothing freeloading sphincter back on track.

Our muse, in this strange venture of reigniting the spark-plugs of my ½ horsepower heart, was a worthy one indeed, and one I’ve heard often mentioned of late.  Monkey Shoulder, Blended Malt Scotch Whisky.  See, I’d purchased this Monkey Shoulder as a portion of the stocking of my lovely bar in my new digs, enchanted by the bottle with the inlaid little monkeys, and even more so by the reviews I’d read of this whiskey which promised that it wasn’t just a charming name and bottle, but a credit to mid-priced blended scotch as a category entirely.  Since mid-price tends to be my budget, I snapped at the promise of this distinctly styled dram.  Enter two, slightly beyond mildly intoxicated fools, a sheet of paper, and here we are.

Before I compile these mad rumblings into a coherent review of a fine offering in the world of Scotch, let me give you an excerpt of our source material, to provide a glimpse into what we’re working with… “Earth, sweet mud of the bleeding fuckin dead. Let’s edit this tomorrow, else every other word will be a curse.”  Ben, eh, I mean Winston…is a faithful scribe, bless his heart.  Anyways, here’s an actual review, based on true events.

Over the course of our, shall we say, “extended tasting,” my compadre and I found this nose the most mysterious element of the whisky.  At first we noted an orange peel note, one which was mellowed and mingled with a touch of light smoke and oak must, which slightly reminded me of a very pleasant composting smell, for some reason. Later in the night, perhaps our senses were heightened, or perhaps deeply and troublingly impaired, another note reached the nose, opening up that smoky note into something deeper recessed within the memory of any diehard New Englander, that of smoke rising off of a stuck on ice.  Well, beyond that there are of course the constancies, a touch of straw and honey, and on more sober reflection, maybe a hint of elderflower to my current taste. For some reason we were also very pleased with the appearance of this pour, noting that the legs in our Glencairn glasses reminded us of those of a super-model, and the color was a touch richer than your average light honey, I believe the bullshit phrase I used was closer to a first-running maple syrup…but not that heavy.”

Of course, as things would go, we were not merely content to sniff at this, and we were sure to make a thorough go of tasting, indulging, delighting in our work, and of course this meant many tastings.  A thirsty taste revealed rich honey notes, as well as a bit of dry oak and soft grain, which seemed to ripen, revealing a sweet almond note and perhaps some plum.  Perhaps we were deluded, but that’s what we thought anyways.  The mouthfeel was, per our very legible and descriptive notes, a soft-honey velvet consistency, rich, lightly oily and pleasing.

Finally, we note the finish, which is where our guest contributor seemed to have the most… unique…perspective.  As we inhaled, passing the elixir onto its final resting place, Mr. Legthigh noted that the burn was light and localized, a point which I could not disagree with, and which he stated hit “…right between the tonsils.  [The] Same spot you would use to self-induce vomiting.”  Well said, old chap.  The final aftertaste was rich, and lingered gently several minutes on the palette, with a touch of smoked meat revealing itself.

Monkey Shoulder

I can’t say that we’ve brought you any closer to the point with these insightful words of ours. What is there to say, really, for Monkey Shoulder?  Well, it’s a pleasant Scotch, a gentle entry into the category, and welcoming for those who are not exactly wild about peat.  Additionally, it’s very multi-dimensionally, and artfully blended to make a consistently intriguing taste, and at a fair price point.  It’s also delightfully named, if you like monkeys—and if you don’t like monkeys, you’re really just a self-loathing sonuvabitch.

Tincup American Whiskey

Let me first make multiple apologies.  First off, I haven’t posted in a good while.  To be honest I’ve been in a rough state for the last month or so.  It started when I sprained my ankle hiking, and intensified when after a weekend in Montreal I came down with a chest cold.  Which I took to Charlotte the next weekend and let intensify with the help of some super powered allergies. Believe it or not, I have taken many days off the drink in the effort of trying to heal these ills.  Then again, as you can gather by my travels I did have some pretty good drinking time in there, over the course of a very tight schedule.  None of this was conducive to me writing reviews.  My second apology is that I didn’t make any acknowledgement of the 4th of July.  I’m sorry, I was just enjoying it too much, with the barbecue and beer and Sam Elliot in The Frogs, I kind of forgot.  Now that I’ve gotten that out of the way, onto business, and a post 4th celebration of a couple fascinating American pioneers—George Stranahan and Jess Graber.

The George Stranahan epic begins in Aspen, Colorado in 1990 when he started the Flying Dog Brewpub.  Now, us younger lushes take a good brewpub for granted, so let us acknowledge that when Flying Dog was founded in 1990 it was one of the first brewpubs in the Rockies since Prohibition.  The avid reader or writer may also find it intriguing that among the bars regular patrons was an aging political journalist and lunatic named Hunter S. Thompson, well known for violence, drugs and insanity.  As Flying Dog grew, it became a bit more than your average brewpub, gaining mass distribution, but always keeping its gonzo edge with obscene names like “Raging Bitch Pale Ale” and “Pearl Necklace Oyster Stout.”  Since those early days there’s been a move to Frederick, MD and the loss of the Hunter himself, but Flying Dog keeps going strong, and so has George Stranahan.

The way I see it, George is probably a good deal of drinkers, or at least the ones that count.  He can’t be tied down to one fuel.  Sure, I love craft beer too, and I know there’s enough variety in that world to keep my palate entertained forever, probably—but a man needs more than one hobby.  Like I imagine many of my readers are, George shared his love of beer, with a love of whiskey.  If you don’t like whiskey, you may be on the wrong blog.  In 1998, serendipity struck in Colorado.  On what we’ll pretend was a stormy night with dramatic flashes of lightening and shit, George Stranahan’s barn took alight.  As they tend to do, brave and daring firefighters answered the call to save this barn, and among them was a young volunteer, Jess Graber.  Somehow, amongst the smouldering ruins, Stranahan and Graber bonded, and developed a brotherhood that can only be explained by a blood borne element…whiskey.  From the smoke of Stranahan’s barn rose a greater Phoenix, conjured by Stranahan and Graber, and Stranahan’s Colorado Whiskey was born.  I’m not going to go too in depth on Stranahan’s, mostly because I’ve never had it, but we’ll pretend that it’s because I’m saving it for another article…should someone send me a bottle.  Hint hint, nudge nudge.  What I will say is what I know; they were a pretty early player in the microdistillery boom, with a unique product that came from aging barley based whiskey in charred oak in a fusion of single malt and bourbon styles.  Like Flying Dog, Stranahan’s was a breakaway success.

Like Stranahan, it seems Graber is not a man to rest on his laurels, and his newest creation is a tribute to a different generation of Rocky Mountain pioneers.  Tincup, so Jess declares, is a whiskey made in tribute to the prospectors of the Colorado Mountains, the whiskey drank, and the tin cups they drank from.   We’ll start with the obvious on Tincup, and judge the apple by looking at the tree…or something.  Anyways, it’s a damn cool bottle.  Inset in the glass we are advised (in case we didn’t know) that this is Colorado whiskey, made from pure Rocky Mountain water.  The big stand-out and, if we’re honest, the gimmick; is the little tin cup that perches on the top of the bottle, stamped with the pick-ax company logo.  Yes, it’s a bit of a gimmick…but its damned cool, and a rather unique approach to branding your company.  I may have to drink a few more bottles just to have a set of these little things.  Inside the bottle, so I’m advised by the neck tag, is Rocky Mountain bourbon (though they don’t call themselves such) from a corn, rye and barley mash, which spent an unspecified amount of time in American White Oak.  So, we must ask ourselves—how far does the apple fall from the tree?  (That is really a meaningless maxim to reference in this situation.)


The nose on this actually makes that cliché ring a little truer; it smells quite a bit like a sweet, heavily spice apple crisp.  It’s a touch mouthwatering, and notice I avoided making some kind of American as apple pie statement?  On sipping this whiskey I find it to be quite delicate, with a rather light body that opens up well with a warm caramel center, just a hint more of crisp apple or pear and a nice backing of earthy cinnamon / nutmeg from the rye.  The finish is correspondingly delicate, with not a hint of burn at the mellow 84 proof, and just a touch more spice, some lingering oaky dryness and a hint of a brown sugar and dark fruit taste that holds to the tongue.

Overall, this whiskey is a very well balanced, rather unique expression, with a nice interplay between airy flavors and rye spice.  With a bottle down I’ve found that this whiskey holds a light dash of bitters beautifully, and is gentle enough that even casual whiskey drinkers could enjoy a few fingers neat.  In the end, Tincup comes as a pleasant surprise at a democratic price point, and pays a fitting tribute to the tin cupped Rocky Mountain miner, and even more so to the pioneering “spirit” of those early brewers and distillers of Colorado, including George Stranahan and the brains behind this fine product, Jess Graber himself.