Glenmorangie 10: A Memorial Day Tribute

For some reason for special occasions we raise a glass of something fine.  I’m a big proponent of this.  At times, however, these occasions necessitate solemn reflection and respectful remembrance. Today is such a day—Memorial Day.  On a day such as this, rather than raise a glass it may be more appropriate to pour out a dram to those fallen.  In spite of my political beliefs, which wars I believe were necessary and which were essentially criminal, today I pour a glass out to this country’s fallen soldiers.  As it seems scotch is often the choice for such tributes, tonight I too shall consume scotch. I’m not pouring any out though; I’d prefer not to get booze in the carpet.

My beverage tonight is a bottle of Glenmorangie 10 year that my mother and stepfather gave me for my birthday.  Since my birthday is in March, clearly I’ve been saving this review for a special occasion…Or a night when I can convince myself  to write; tonight it just so happens these things coincided.  Anyways the 10 year is Glenmorangie’s base-line baby, aged in old bourbon barrels and presumably providing the base that all their special offerings build off of.  So, is this bottle a worthy tribute to the roughly 1.4 million U.S. soldiers who have died in combat?  Shall we taste?

Morangie

The Nose on this whisky is quite interesting, with grassy notes, a heavy citrus presence that reminds me of a well-made margarita and, finally, a peach cobbler with ice cream note that seems to come in after I’ve stopped inhaling.

This scotch is somehow walks a line between very light flavors and a rather rich body, with soft vanilla dominating throughout, just a touch of caramel in the middle and a hefty share of green apple / pear notes near the end that brings just a touch of tart astringency to the palate.  The finish returns with a bit more acid and astringency that remind you of that citrus nose, and wipe your tongue off like orange oil on a guitar fretboard.  It’s pleasant, crisp and surprisingly refreshing—perfect for a cool night while I walk the fine line of chilled toes and open windows.

So let’s go back to the theme of the day, and the question I previously posed— is this bottle a worthy tribute to the roughly 1.4 million U.S. soldiers who have died in combat?  Can anything be?  I highly doubt there’s a bottle of bourbon worthy of a man’s life, and I love nothing more than bourbon.  As a tribute however, this stands up as well as any, and I feel it fortuitously matches the weather of this Memorial Day as well. So, tonight I drink to those who gave the last full measure of devotion to this land, so that we may live to drink another day.  I pour out a dram to thee, right into my thirsty mouth.

Tomatin 12 Year Single Malt

I’d like to start this evening by stating that I hope all you disloyal readers had a great Thanksgiving.  I’d like to give thanks to the people of Hydro Quebec who brought power back to New Hampshire.  Because of you bastards I’ve had to work all week.  On the plus side I had a great Thanksgiving, because in spite of not having power from Wednesday to Saturday last week I have a bully good time reading, playing guitar, stoking the woodstove and drinking Wild Turkey (the only turkey I had on a powerless veggie burger’s giving.)

Now to the business at hand; drinkin’ scotch. Tonight seems as good as any for taking a Scotch geography lesson, so I’m going to brush up and pontificate.  See, my pupils, Scotch, made in…Scotland—you morons—comes from several regions around the country, each renown for certain characteristics imparted by their “terroir.” Terroir is frenchy for the effect of earth, climate and straight environmental magic that plays into booze.  The regions for Scotch can be broken down most simply as Lowland, Highland, Speyside and Island (Islay and Skye subregions.)  The islands, think Ron Swanson’s Lagavulin, are all peat smoke and sea brine.  Speyside you get a bit of light brine and crisp fruity notes alongside your classic scotch malt and vanilla.  The lowlands are known for being more representative of the grains and can be light, floral, even grassy.  The highlands, well, that’s where our palate visits tonight…*

Tomatin, the sponser of tonight’s program is a Scotch distillery established in 1897.  That’s about all I know, and I’m not going to do more research.  You have google, do your own goddamn footwork.   I’m going to be honest, if there was going to be an angle to this article, this is where I would be putting it.  Probably would have something to do with Sean Connery, Highlander, and how “there can only be one.”  I don’t have one, so I’m just going to drink this scotch and give you some notes, because highlander don’t spit no bull.

Tomatin

On the nose Tomatin 12 is full of vanilla, very round malt notes, a bit of honey, and something a bit like some tart fruit, maybe Lychee? The nose doesn’t tell the full story of what hides in my glass.  The mouth of this opens up quite well, with a fair share that honey that rolls over the palate, and a bit of pear, and a world of grain.  There is one note that hangs out a bit like musty hay that perhaps comes from the environment, perhaps from the barrel, but doesn’t detract much from a nice warm and delicate mouthfeel. Likewise that finish leaves with perhaps even more lingering ethereally over the tongue with warm vanilla, the tiniest bit of spice and a pie of chest hair.  Shit wait, that’s Connery again.  That note was something like a granny smith apple after taste, tad tart, plenty delicious.

On the whole I find Tomatin’s 12 year old single malt a quite pleasant experience, the more so because it doesn’t cost you any more than a bottle of blended Famous Grouse. While there were some notes we’ll refer to as…unique…I feel as though this Tomatin 12 year, as a “young” single malt (you’d get the Mann Act for this,) is a nice entry for the brand, and shows quite a lot of promise for the older vintages available; and at that price, you’re doing quite well for yourself.  Verdict?  In the wide world of Scotch there are bargain single malts, and there are bargain single malts worth drinking.  This is the latter.

*Disclaimer, this is probably all bullshit, I don’t generally drink much scotch, so I’m basically being a scotch racist.

Driven to Distilling: A trip to Wiggly Bridge Distillery in York, ME

I wasn’t exactly sure what the angle was when my mom and stepdad asked if I wanted to join them on a trip to a distillery.  Neither of them drink whiskey.  Neither of them drink much (by my standards), though my stepdad is a home brewer, soon to be brewery owner. Regardless of these facts, it doesn’t take much to convince me to go anywhere, never mind a distillery.  In the days before going over the pieces of the puzzle started to fall together.  The distillery owner started experimenting with distilling in Montserrat, my mother and stepdad are moving their to start the brewery.  The guy owns a wide variety of businesses around York, including carwashes—my stepdad owns a carwash.  It was a socially oriented business affair, it seems, but with me along to drink whiskey.  Sounds good to me. 

I woke up to head over there earlier then I do on the average work day, made the rendezvous with my companions for the day and we headed out to the Maine coast.  The town was dead, a dark hazy sky overhead and a crisp sea wind driving through the streets past the still boarded store fronts, closed for the season.  Inside Wiggly Bridge it was a different story.  Well lit and dank with the smell of fermenting grains and at the center of it all a man, who I would soon find out was a ball of endless ambition.  Dave Woods is well known around that part of Maine for his entrepreneurial ventures that span from the oil business to the pizza business.  Nowadays it’s his tight knit family that runs day to day operations, and Dave’s interest in whiskey consumes his days.  Between snippets of conversation on carwash bay doors and the like Dave’s story came together.  He was interested in whisky (he uses the scotch spelling) and decided, much like it seems he has decided many times before, he’d like to try his hand at it.  Dave and son David started hammering out the details in copper and wound up with a 60 gallon Arkansas style still.  Then he did a lot of reading.  Not much more than a year later I found him living on a timer, making required readings every 15 minutes, tossing 50lb bags of rye into a mash while simultaneously doing a stripping run.  All the while conversation bounced between carwashes, distilling, brewing and life on the island.  From what I gather the month or two that Dave spends in Montserrat are his only rest from 14 hour work-days, though I’ll admit a certain envy to what I call work in this case. 

At some point Dave broke out the whiskey.  The moment I’d been waiting for, naturally.  The first pour came from one of those little decorative one gallon casks that consumers can home age in.  It smelled decidedly smooth with hefty helpings of vanilla and a bit of spice.  I took a sip and started mulling over flavors.  The front was strong corn sweetness and a hefty vanilla.  There was a bit of an apple/peach note, and a deal of spice.  I went to speak and found my vocal chords a bit numb.  Turns out the little barrel was hiding about 125 proof.  The mash bill Dave has worked out is something like 56 % corn, 38% rye and the rest malted barley.  Honestly, I don’t remember exactly, I wasn’t taking notes—regardless I was pleased by his boldness on the rye side, mostly because I love rye and rye heavy bourbons.  Next Dave brought out some work in progress samples, one that he plans to age a bit longer, another that he planned to release.  Planned, I say because it turned out to be a failure.  The work in progress, a baby bourbon as the works in progress all are, was at a far more reasonable proof, with more open flavors but heavy on the vanilla from its short barrel time and full of hearty mid flavors, the dominant to me being that sweet peach flavor I found in the other tasting, and a nice cinnamon / nutmeg finish that lingered on.  The other work, the unreleased baby bourbon, was interesting to me.  Not because it had a nice flavor profile, it was musty and saccharine sweet, but because it showed Dave’s willingness to show the process—the failures.  Dave later shared with us a story of his first foray into the oil business, in which he boomed and busted, and it seems that this attempt was that first foray, but Dave showed that he’s learned his lesson, and rather than putting out this admittedly inferior product he’s tinkered around.  The final result of that tinkering is his latest white whiskey.  His white whiskey showed what I see as the promise of things to come.  While I’m not crazy about the white whiskey category, I see it as a tool of gauging what a whiskey will become, with age.  Dave’s current white shows he has found the sweet spot, so to speak, and it’s delightfully smooth with a soft sweetness and spice to spare.  Give this stuff some time and we may have something special.  But that brings me to another point.

Wiggly Bridge’s aging process brings up a debate that is raging through the craft whiskey world right now, when bourbon traditionally take 5 years to age, how do you get off the ground?  While other distillers turn to quick turnover products that require no aging, vodka, gin, and rum, Dave has decided to focus most of his energy it seems on bourbon.  He is doing a white rum, and planning selling his white whiskey as such, but he’s also playing a controversial game—speeding the aging process.  Using five gallon barrels and 30 gallon honeycombed barrels Dave is looking to release his first saleable product in mid-May, just a year and a half or so after starting the business.  The question now is will Dave’s gamble pay off?  Find out in our next installment:  Wiggly Bridge, High Tide or the Tipple Topple—Coming May 2014, likely.  

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There’s also pretty cool merch there, for the consumer looking to get ahead of York fashions

Deanston Virgin Oak: Or the Legend of the million pound IRN BRU

When I went to the liquoría this evening I was met with a rare conundrum. I didn’t actually need anything.  I’ve got plenty of bourbon around, so I had free reign.  I was debating buying an Irish whiskey, a cognac, or, dare I say, a scotch.  Yes, I’ve said often in the past that I don’t drink scotch but after the Glenlivet Nàdurra I reviewed not long ago I haven’t been as averse to scotch.  I still think it’s overrated and overpriced but, in the end, I convinced myself to take a chance.  I bought the scotch.  What drew me to the Deanston was quite simple—I’d never heard of it, it was affordable, and it stated on the box that it was un-chill filtered.  Chill filtering takes out a lot of the wood oils from whiskey, and I wanted those oils.  Additionally it seemed bold to leave all the oils in from the fresh American oak (coopered and charred at the heart of bourbon country) they used.  I’ll also admit I was a little afraid.  In my experience scotch around the $20 price point is at best mediocre.  This didn’t even have an age statement on it.  So, for $24 I became the somewhat skeptical owner of a bottle of Deanston Virgin Oak.

This story took a strange turn about 4 hours later.  My family decided we’d watch a film on the Netflix, and I became drawn to a film called The Angel’s Share.  If you’re wondering why, you’ll want to look up that term.  Anyways, the film is a story about a rather rough bunch from a little city in Scotland.  These folks have gotten themselves in a spot of trouble with the law for a variety of reasons and are stuck doing community service.  While doing community service the main character, a lad named Robbie with a history of violence begins to befriend the fellow who runs the program after having the shite beaten out of him by the family of his baby mama and over a glass of good scotch.  The fellow, Harry, ends up making Robbie and several of the other buggers into big fans of their native spirit by bringing them to distilleries and tastings and Robbie begins to develop quite the palate.  The story then takes a turn as Robbie, trying to escape his past, hatches a plan for a heist of a wee bit of a cask of ultra-rare scotch.  I’ll leave the rest to you to find out.  Anyways, this film coincided perfectly with my night.  By coincided I mean there was a coincidence, and a rather large one at that.  That distillery the fellow takes Robbie and the other cons to? Deanston.  The scotch they’re sampling at that distillery—Deanston Virgin Oak.  The stars not only aligned, they collided and exploded.  Anyways, I found it to be a very enjoyable film that balances drama with humor and leaves you feeling good.  The scotch, well, the scotch…

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I really need glencairn glasses…

The scotch is a pleasing stroke of luck.  I took the chance fearing I’d regret my decision and, well, I do not.  This dram presents itself a very pale golden yellow, with legs longer than a Czech model and a nose that starts light with a bit of airy citrus and honey and then sneaks up to stab up my nostril a bit with smoky booze.  The taste matches the light nose with a very delicate yet supple entry that rolls toffee, vanilla, pear and a hint of peat lusciously over the palate  and leaves the tongue with a slick citrus finish and an appropriate 46.3% alcohol of mid throat heat.  As you’d expect with the lack of age statement this is clearly a young whiskey, but at that it’s possibly a child prodigy.  Overall this is a full bodied, dare I say, voluptuous, whiskey with a light crispness and a subtlety beyond its age—and price.

Review: Glenlivet Nàdurra

I had a rough day.   I won’t over burden you with details, but the crux of things is that I was pretty pissed off when I left work.  Peeling out of the parking lot pissed.  Being that circumstances often fall out of our control and all that bullshit I’ve stewed and steamed and leveled my head, but I still feel unsettled and could use something to take my mind off things until I hear the Rolling Stones at  6:30am and need to face another day.  Tonight that something shall be a treat.  The way I look at things there are several way I could have dealt with my frustrations.  I could have had a drink when I got home and let the anger fester within me until I felt low instead of angry. By now I’d be Don Draper drunk and bitter and there would be no joy in it.  That’s alcohol abuse, and by that I mean a waste of good booze.   I could have been destructive in some way or gone out and tried to chop down a tree with an ax.  I could have just remained an asshole all night.  That’s probably what I do most of the time. What I did was vent and let myself cool down.  As the hours have passed my mood has improved and that means that now I can enjoy a drink, and tonight I have just the beverage to reward my Gandhi approach, Glenlivet Nàdurra.  If you’re a regular reader of this blog, which no one actually is, you’d realize this is the most expensive booze I’ve had the honor to waste words on.  It’s certainly not because this site is raking in big bucks—I got lucky.  I have a great father and he lets me sponge up some of this excellent nectar he got for Christmas.

I’m no scotch connoisseur.  Actually, I rarely drink scotch, mostly because the scotch I can afford is piss.  Somehow, people who know me somehow still ask me “What are you drinking, Scotch?” constantly.  Usually I insist I don’t drink scotch, I drink bourbon, and most of the time people either don’t know they’re both whiskey (whisky) or don’t know how different they are.  As I sip Glenlivet Nàdurra I am for once happy to say, “Yes, I am drinking scotch, and it’s damned good.”  How good you ask?  Why are you still rambling, you ask?  Well let’s just say that if I could afford this I’d drink it often.  I’d probably even start drinking less bourbon.  The problem, as I see it, with Nàdurra and most drinkable scotch: price.  This bottle is roughly $65.  I usually spend around $20 on a bottle of bourbon and thoroughly enjoy that, and am proud it’s not priced for the elite.  The elite price does provide quite a bit though.  Glenlivet Nàdurra is a 16 year old scotch aged in bourbon barrels.  That explains its sublimity.  That, and the fact that Glenlivet makes a LOT of scotch and know what they’re doing.  This single malty goodness is bottled gracefully at cask strength, 54.2% alcohol (108.4 proof in our words).  I say gracefully because it’s so smooooooth.  There’s a little bite that hits your uvula, but from the tip of the tongue all the way down there’s such a gentle warmth that spreads slowly to your extremities and brain.  Of course the taste is what matters most, and Nàdurra doesn’t fall short.  In fact, after my first sip I remember thinking “the roof of my mouth even tastes good.”  My impressions start off with an almost apple like bite followed by a pear juice sweetness and finishing with something like peaches and cream.  The supple and oily consistency of the drink lingers on the surface of your tongue and every time I exhale it tastes like vanilla.  Yeah, this is nice.

Drinking Glenlivet Nàdurra I feel like I finally truly enjoy a scotch.  It’s still too expensive and a bit too highbrow, but from time to time we all have the right to shrug off our worries and indulge a little—with Glenlivet Nàdurra I can sit back and forget that I’m poor and had a rough day at work, because inside, I’m feeling like a million bucks—or $65.

Scotch Showdown: How far does $25 go?

I should preface everything that I’m about to write by informing you of my stance on scotch.  I’m led to believe that scotch is one of the signatures of manliness, the drink of those with taste and refined palates—it’s traditionally treated as the most refined of the whiskies.  To me all this gives me the feeling that scotch is the drink of elitist swine that are trying to oppress us.  Maybe that’s an unfair judgment, but what I’m saying here is that scotch that isn’t piss is prohibitively expensive.  Or is it?  Can 25 bucks get me a scotch that doesn’t taste like somebody put liquid smoke flavoring in the blandest whiskey imaginable?   I’m sorry, since it’s scotch, it’s “whisky.”

As you can tell by my aforementioned prejudices, I’ve never been truly impressed by a scotch.  Granted, I haven’t had all that much good scotch, it’s overpriced—Glenlivet 12 is basically the most expensive stuff I’ve had.  Other than that, there were a bunch of blends that well basically barely drinkable and cost more than I usually spend on a solid bourbon.  For this article I decided to step outside of my comfort zone, and acquaint myself with some scotches, so here’s the showdown:  Speyburn 10 Highland Single Malt and Famous Grouse.  I chose a single malt and a blend specifically because I wanted to see if a cheap single malt would be cheap because it’s worse than a more regulated blend, which is specifically designed to make a consistent product.  The Speyburn cost me $20, at $5 off, and the Grouse was $23 or something.  Similar price=similar quality level? No.  So let’s evaluate.

Speyburn 10:

I was hesitant about a $20 single malt.  Clearly it must be pretty bad if it’s so bad and on the bottom shelf, right? Well, it’s not bad.  I’d buy this again, if a scotch drinker were to visit or something.  The nose on this is nice, a tad astringent, but also rich and a bit fruity.  There’s very little peat to this scotch.  I’m happy about this. I’m not too fond of peat.  So the sweet apple and pear notes here are rather likable.  It’s gentle, though 86 proof, and though this whisky won’t confound you with complexity I find it to be very pleasant—and it’s cheap!  So for what is usually $25, it’s a good buy to me—I’m not much of a scotch drinker, but I enjoy it.

Famous Grouse:

I’d heard good things about this blend—it’s been billed as a best buy in scotch, blended to perfection to cut costs and make a consistently better product than rivals in its range such as Johnnie Walker Red or Dewar’s White.  I’ll stipulate that it’s better than those rivals. But not by much.  It’s a bit one-dimensional—light peat smoke and a bit of chewy caramel.  It’s not swill, but it’s not particularly exciting.  Got someone coming by who insists they only drink scotch? They sound like an ass, don’t buy them something too expensive, if this is on sale, maybe buy it.  But over Speyburn 10? Naw.  It’s rather boring.  But it’s the best blend in the range as far as I can tell.

So what’s the conclusion here?  There isn’t much of one.  There are a lot of scotches under $25.  I haven’t had them all.  But from my fuzzy memory of what I’ve tried Famous Grouse is the most drinkable blend in this range, and Speyburn 10 is actually quite likable.  Unfortunately, this article isn’t worth much.  I’m still a bourbon guy.  But in Speyburn 10 I found a scotch that I could consider buying and actually afford to buy. So maybe I’ll try some more budget single malts, and maybe scotch isn’t just the whisky of the power elite that drain us all of our life blood—maybe there is a good single malt at a working class price.

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Think I’m a moron ignoring plenty of great cheap scotches? Let me know in the comments or send me a bottle!

Review: George Dickel No. 8 Tennessee Whisky

Let’s start off by addressing the basic fact of what no. 8 is: Tennessee whisky.  In America we produce a lot of different whiskies, but primarily we are known for the beauty this is bourbon.  Tennessee whisky is not bourbon.  Basically it’s not bourbon on a technicality, because theoretically it’s the same process and all that jazz, but it’s made in Tennessee, therefore Tennessee whiskey.  They also tend to taste a bit different.  George Dickel, our producer here, has a number of different whiskies.  I believe I had their no. 12 before, and clouded memories told me I liked it; it served me well for making me hung-over as all hell for my college graduation.  Clearly my memory of no. 12 could use to be refreshed.  Anyways,  when I bought no. 8 I was a bit surprised, because this is not what I expected.

You see, I tend to do as little research as possible when writing these reviews.  I don’t want to cloud my judgement with things such as “knowledge,” or “facts.”  That would be silly.  What I like to do is tell you what I taste.  What I get from no. 8 is a pleasant caramel and charred oak in my nose.  Basically a bourbon.  The taste however is where we find a difference.  This isn’t anything too hot, nice and mellow—and by the taste I’d say that part of that has something to do with some kind of charcoal tower filtering thing.  That’s something that Jack Daniel’s has always boasted of doing, and the thing is, this is a rather similar whiskey. Shit, whisky—Dickel uses that silly spelling.  Anyways there isn’t too much more to this whiskey.  A bit of sweetness and caramel, a light warmth, and a smooth charcoal taste.  I don’t dislike it, it’s still whiskey, I like whiskey—but it’s just not what I look for in whiskey.  While George’s no. 8 may not exactly be for me, I think I know exactly who this is great for.

Are you:

a).  A college guy who drinks a lot of Jack Daniel’s and wants to look less Kid Rock?

b). A Jack Daniel’s drinker who is bored with over paying for your charcoal flavored booze?

c). A Jack Daniel’s drinker that wants something that looks better on your bar?

If you’ve answered yes to any of these questions, you’ve hopefully realized I’m saying that George Dickel no.8 is, in my honest and uninformed opinion, an alternative to Jack.  Interesting, George’s no. 8 is generally cheaper than Jack’s no. 7.  It also looks less like the logo you’d see on a t-shirt at a Toby Keith concert.  Sadly, there are no pictures of The Rolling Stones drinking Dickel out of the bottle, but in the end I do feel like this is a better drink. Also, I like the bottle better, and it’s cheaper—so what could go wrong?  Jack drinkers, give it a shot, maybe you’ll take a step up from no. 7 to no. 8.

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To me charcoal mellowing tastes like drinking out of my woodstove… Also, the label confirms that charcoal tower stuff