Indiana’s 6th Annual Whisky & Fine Spirits Expo presented by Vine & Table

Reader Nancy recently went to the Indy’s 6th Annual Whisky & Fine Spirits Expo, presented by Vine & Table (a wine and spirits store in Indiana), and I asked her if she could share her experience at the event… and she happily obliged!

It sounds like a fantastic event, I’ll let her share what it was like.

Hosted by my favorite liquor (read “scotch”) and gourmet food store in Carmel, IN, it was held at a beautiful reception facility on the north side of Indy called the Montage from 5pm to 9 pm.

Tickets came in 3 varieties, VIP, Regular and Designated Driver. Doors opened to VIP’s and DD’s at 5, and an excellent buffet was available to them until 7. Doors opened to regular attendees at 7. Everyone was given an appropriate armband.

VIP’s and DD’s were given a “goodie bag” containing a booklet with maps, lists, and locations of spirits and a tasting glass etched with “Vine and Table”, a copy of “Whisky Advocate”, a voucher for a gift set of Glenmorangie, and a voucher for $30 off a ride home (if needed) from “Uber”. (DD’s did not get the glass, but had a wide free selection of soft drinks and water available to them.

There were 55 (54 spirits, one with cigars) tables in two rooms and the VIP wristband allowed for the tasting of most of the higher end offerings, and any of the lesser spirits. The emphasis and majority was whisky (of ALL types), but there was Cognac and Armagnac, a few vodkas, tequilas and mescals, grappa (and a couple of grappa/wine blends that I didn’t taste), and maybe some stuff I missed. All 389 selections available could be purchased at a discounted price for later pick-up at the store.

There were also two classes offered (neither of which we attended, as we had Gladys Knight tickets at 8 pm).

One was “Bourbon Straight Up: An Inside Look at America’s Spirit”, with Chuck Cowdery, author and whisky expert.

And “The Art and Science of Whisky Blending: Deconstructing Johnnie Walker Black”, with Kyle McHugh, Master of Whisky for Diageo.

It was a fabulous evening and we noticed car tags in the parking lot from 5 or 6 surrounding states.

I am now on the email list for Vine and Table, so will be happy to post a notice here when I get it information for the 7th annual.

[Here] is a photo of 2 sides of the 3 sided whisky room at Vine and Table.

vine-and-table-spirits-expo

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What’s in Munich Airport Duty Free?

My good friend and yours, Gary, has come through again with another wonderful set of photos from yet another duty free store – this time it’s the Munich Airport located to the north east of Munich, Germany. This is the second busiest airport in Germany behind Frankfurt Airport and handled nearly forty million passengers in 2013, according to Wikipedia.

It’s the duty free store in Terminal 2 by H gates 19-28 and it is HUGE with a very extensive selection of Scotch, as you’ll see in a moment..

Pretty much anything you could want, you can find in the Munich Duty Free!

Dalmore, Glenmorangie, Jura, & More

dalmore 1

dalmore 2

Top row: Dalmore 12yo, Valour, 15yo, 18yo, Cigar Malt,Monkey Shoulder, Glen Deveron 16,20,30; Glenmorangie Original, Lasanta, Quinta Ruban, Nectar D’or, 18yo
2nd row: Jura 10yo origin,Superstition,Diurachs own,21yo, Turas mara; Smokey peat, Glengoyne 18yo, distillers gold, Glenrothes, Aberfeldy, Glen Grant 16yo
3rd row: Glenfarclas, Aberlour 12 and 15, Scapa 16yo, Glenlivet 12, Ardmore, Old Pulteney Lighthouse series, Ancnoc, auchtenshan

Glenfiddich, Balvenie

glenfiddich1

glenfiddich2
Top row: Glenfiddich 19 yo Age of Discovery, 21 year old grand reserve
2nd row: New travel exclusives, the gold has quite a bit of peat for glenfiddich
3rd row: 18 yo and the 3 pack of minis
4th row: Balvenie 12yo triple cask, 30yo, 25yo, 16yo triple cask

Grouse, Blends & Islays, Oh My!

grouse 1

grouse 2
Top row: Famous Grouse gold reserve, famous grouse, Dewars 12yo, standard dewars,Bushmill 10yo,Black bush Bushmill Honey, Slyrs, Ardbeg ooigie, Ardbeg 10yo,Bunnahabhain
2nd row:Snow Grouse, Black Grouse, Teachers, Tullamore Dew, Octomore,Port Charlotte PC11, Bruchladdich, Bowmore Blackrock Goldreef, white sands
Bottom row: Grants, Jameson, Tullamore Dew,Laphroaig cuan, Laphroig PX and QA

Johnnie Walker & Macallan

johnny walker

macallan and hp
Left side: Macallans 1824 series, whiskey makers edition, select oak
Right side:HP Svein, Einar, harald, sigurd, dragon?

Thanks Gary!

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5 Scotch Whisky Groomsman Gifts

If you’re getting married and thinking about a gift for your groomsman, might I suggest one related to the finest drink in all of the land – scotch?

A friend of mine asked me what would make a good gift for groomsman and honestly I never thought about it. I went online and saw some really silly ideas, like blending kits and aging kits and engraved barrels.

C’mon… that’s ridiculous. It’s expensive and who wants to AGE whisky in their basement? I don’t. I want it aged in a warehouse by professionals and I’ll enjoy the product of their experience and expertise. :)

Here are five real suggestions for groomsman gifts if your groomsmen are all fans of whisky.

A Bottle of Scotch

Credit: Vacacion

Credit: Vacacion

Clearly, the best possible gift you could get is a bottle of scotch. Decide your budget for the gift and then select a bottle at the store that fits within your budget. It doesn’t get much easier than that and I guarantee your groomsman will love it. If they don’t, I’ll come to your wedding in their place.

Who would turn their nose up at a bottle of Scotch, right? Here’s a list of double gold medal winners under $100.

Depending on your budget, you could also go with a gift set, where you bestow not only a bottle but a few glasses as well to enjoy them. Gift sets can get pricey relative to the Scotch you get. You might see the gift set be 50-100% higher than the bottle alone, sometimes less if you’re lucky.

You can get bottles engraved too for some extra flair.

Decanter

whisky-decanterA decanter is a nice gift because decanters get displayed somewhere. A constant reminder of your friendship and of, hopefully, all the fun you’ll have at your wedding.

Whisky decanters are pretty easy to buy, just remember to avoid leaded decanters and get something nice. You can get a set if you want but even just a well designed decanter on its own is a fine gift. Here’s a list of decanters I like.

If you want bonus points, get it engraved.

Hip Flask

Visol Hunter Leather Hip Flask Gift SetHip flasks are great because everyone likes a flask and they’re generally inexpensive, which is great if you have a lot of groomsmen and a small budget. A simple metal one will suffice, the more expensive ones are just heavier, and you can really make it stand out by getting it engraved. The downside to a flask is that a lot of men already have flasks, so you’ll have to consider that.

If you do get it engraved, be a good groom by engraving it with their name/initials – not the date of your wedding. Your groomsman will remember where we got it, not need to put it on the flask. :)

Travel Bar

Picnic Time Manhattan Insulated Two Bottle Cocktail CaseBar Tool Kit, MahoganyWhat’s a travel bar you say? It’s simply a nice case that holds bottles and glassware. It’s a traveling bar!

Pictured to the right is a super high end travel bar, the Picnic Time Manhattan Insulated Two-Bottle Cocktail Case/Bar Tool Kit in Mahogany, it’s nearly $150. It also looks amazing. Not sure how often your groomsman will use it but chances are they’ll be wow’d – especially if you throw in two single malts and get rid of those silly martini glasses.

Engraved Glassware

Pick the perfect set of glasses and then get them engraved. It’s simple, you know he’ll use them, and it’s pretty easy to do. This is a good idea if your groomsmen like to drink spirits but not necessarily scotch, since glass is glass and he can put whatever hew ants in it.

Do you have any good ideas for groomsmen gifts I missed?

Posted in Barware | 4 Comments

A Whirlwind Tour of Speyside (Balvenie), Part Two with Reader Wayne

Balvenie4This is part two of a two part series from reader Wayne, who is a staple in our burgeoning Facebook Group. He shares with us his experience touring several Scotch whisky distilleries this past summer. I’ll sprinkle in a few of my thoughts through but this is an awesome recap with some amazing pictures guaranteed to make you jealous! Part one is available here.

Balvenie

Finally (Ta Da!), the Balvenie Distillery.

This was fun, and even a bit funny.

The first thing you see as you walk onto the grounds is a warning not to proceed if you don’t have a reservation. They only do tours on a reserved-space basis.

Balvenie1

We got there before the other 4 people in our tour and the VERY nice woman immediately asked me if I’d like to sip some whiskies “quickly, before the others arrived.”

I know this will be shocking to all of you, but I said “YES!”

Balvenie5 Grains come inThis was a 3-hour tour and we walked through the entire process, starting with the room where the grains come in.

Balvenie6 Grains get wetNext, the grains go into a container where they are wet to begin the germination process.

Balvenie7 Grains go to malting floorAfter that, they go onto a LARGE warehouse floor to germinate. They actually grow a little sprout out of the end of the grain and this is also where they need to be constantly turned so that they germinate evenly. The shovels are flat wooden tools, the handle of which is cut to the optimum length for the person using it. They are also now mechanized and there is a man-operated machine that turns the grain that reminded me of the old rotary push mowers, but the romance of men actually turning the grains to properly malt is irresistible!

After the grains malt properly, they are taken upstairs to the drying floor. This is not a solid floor – it has screening so that heat can flow through. It’s very smoky looking into this room from the fires below, and every distillery has a characteristic pagoda-shaped roof which serves as a vent to let the smoke out… but not too quickly.

Balvenie19 the Pagoda RoofLarger distilleries just have more of these pagoda-shaped vented roofs. The furnace below is filled with various types of things to burn that flavor the grains. Also, the little sprout falls off the grain at this point and is used for feeding animals. (EVERTHING is used – every by-product, every leftover, etc.)

Balvenie10 Heating kilnBalvenie was burning anthracite coal to dry the grains and they also had some local peat. It’s important to note that the peat in this area is NOT like the peat in Islay, so even though Balvenie uses peat at some point in the process, it doesn’t yield the smoky flavor that the peat in Islay does.

Balvenie11 Mash TunOnce the grains are dried, it’s time to add water, re-wet them and make them into an ugly looking broth. They then go to the mash-tuns where the yeast will be added and the fermentation begins. The product that is left at the end of this part is beer!!! Interesting!

Balvenie Wines SafeFinally, this liquid goes to the stills, and heated to a precise temperature to cause the alcohol to evaporate first (before the water), the steam is collected and sent to the Wines Safe. The final step of course is to put the whisky in whatever kind of cask is selected to begin aging.

To be called “Scotch Whisky” the brew has to be aged for a minimum of 3 years, although as we all know, very little (if any?) is ready that quickly.

Balvenie17 inside Warehouse 24

Finally, came the REALLY fun part. We got to go into Warehouse 24 – Balvenie’s double-super-secret storehouse with a lot of stuff they don’t sell.

How to get the scotch out? The casks are horizontal with the stopper on top. There is a device they call “the dog” which is a long copper cylinder on a long chain.

The cylinder is sealed at the bottom and you lower it into the cask to fill up, and pull it vertically back out, filled with scotch. The tasting technique was totally unexpected – they poured the scotch into our cupped hands! No glasses. Because of the need to inhale while sipping so as not to waste too much before it leaks out through your fingers, you get an incredible nose. Very cool!!!

We tasted 3 different barrels in there as follows: One was a sherry cask, one was a bourbon barrel single fill, and one was a bourbon barrel refill. I have never tasted anything like the bourbon barrel refill – the most amazing distinct tones of chocolate I’ve ever had in a scotch. We had the option to bottle our own, which was only a small bottle (about 1/3 of the liquid of a US 5th) and it cost 25 pounds – about $42 bucks. Worth every penny as you cannot buy this on the market.

Jim: So jealous right now. OK, I was jealous before… but I’m so jealous now. :)

Balvenie18 the Tasting RoomAs if this weren’t enough, we then did a formal tasting, in a room with chairs & a table and glasses (!) of 5 different Balvenie products. There was the 12-year Doublewood, the 14-year Caribbean cask, the 17-year Doublewood, the new 15-year Sherry cask and the 21-year.

On a sad note for me, I did not like the new 15-year sherry cask as much as the discontinued 15-year single-cask. In general, I discovered through all of our distillery visits and tastings that I did not prefer the sherry-cask products as much as some of the others.

Of course, here, it’s all Balvenie and it’s all wonderful. Finishing that, we said our goodbyes and began our drive back to Edinburgh to fly home.

I hope you enjoyed this recount of our trip and I can tell you, I’d LOVE to go back. Feel free to send me messages through Scotch Addict, join the Facebook group and chat there, and let me know if you have any questions!

If you want to reach out to Wayne, you can always find him in our Facebook group!

All photos are courtesy of Wayne, thank you so so much for your generosity with the photos and this recap!

Posted in Travel | 6 Comments

A Whirlwind Tour of Speyside (Edradour, Dalwhinnie, Cardhu), Part One with Reader Wayne

Wayne Outside BalvenieThis two part series comes from reader Wayne, who is a staple in our burgeoning Facebook Group. He shares with us his experience touring several Scotch whisky distilleries this past summer. I’ll sprinkle in a few of my thoughts through but this is an awesome recap with some amazing pictures guaranteed to make you jealous! Part two will be published next Monday.

We’ve wanted to do a tour of Ireland / Scotland for a long time, so my wife and I decided it would be a great present to give to each other for our 30th anniversary. The Ireland part was for her – the Scotland part was for me!

Arrival in Edinburgh

EdinburghFor the Scotland portion of the trip, we flew in to Edinburgh on a Sunday afternoon. Before I start talking about our distillery visits, I have to say, Edinburgh was the COOLEST city we’ve ever visited, and we felt a little dopey for not scheduling more time to really enjoy the city.

We also happened to hit it, totally coincidentally during the Fringe Festival, which was a lot like Mardi Gras! What fun!

Fringe Festival Performer2

Speyside

Okay, enough of that. We engaged a tour service (Exclusive Scottish Visits) and our driver, John Harbour picked us up on Monday morning to start our drive up to Speyside. We were scheduled to be there for 4 days, and it was suggested that we visit distilleries in one region, which was fine with me.

Speyside is where Balvenie is, so that was an easy, if not automatic choice for me! Along the way, our driver called our attention to many points of interest we would have missed had we chosen to drive ourselves.

Edradour

EdradourIt’s a 3-hour drive to Speyside from Edinburgh, so our first stop was to Edradour in the early afternoon. This is the smallest distillery in Scotland – a statistic they are actually very proud of. Nevertheless, the tour group there was surprisingly large – maybe 12 people.

They bring in the barley but do have a malting barn. They (as every distillery claims to) use water from a nearby mountain spring. The tour guide was extremely friendly and went to lengths to explain their process. After seeing the fermenting process and then the stills, we moved on to the tasting.

Unfortunately, many of the areas at the distilleries are designated as “no pictures allowed” places. They say it’s a safety issue in that either the very fine powder in the air, or the alcohol in the air can explode with the right kind of spark.

That can ruin your whole day!

For a small distillery, they offer a TON of different scotches, AND a scotch-based cream liquor, which we did taste… it was actually quite good!

We also tasted a 10-year scotch aged in Barolo Wine casks. That was different, and I didn’t like it as much as the 8-year regular oak-aged selection we had. Either way, it was evident that their whiskies are of very high quality, but I’d be hard-pressed to say they had a characteristic “Edradour flavor.”

A point of interest was the casks we saw there with other distillery names on them. Apparently the whisky industry in Scotland is VERY incestuous… everybody seems to share with everybody else.

Dalwhinnie

DalwhinnieA quick stop for lunch, and we were off to Dalwhinnie, where, because of the late hour of the day, we opted for a tasting instead of a full tour.

Dalwhinnie’s scotches are interesting, with a notably higher level of smoke than the other Speyside choices and they do a really interesting thing by pairing the scotches you can taste with an accompanying piece of “matched” chocolate. It was a nice touch and they were on the mark with which chocolate worked well with each scotch.

As you‘d expect, the 15-year and the sherry-cask have that same distinction from each other, with the more prominent notes of vanilla being in the 15-year and the more prominent notes of spices being in the sherry cask stuff.

An interesting footnote here, the entire Scottish highlands appears to be covered with heather (purple) and as the plants die each year, the roots of the plant compress into the soil, making the peat they use in the drying process.

This is different from the peat used in Islay, which is made up of different vegetation leading to the intensely smoky flavor those scotches have. When Dalwhinnie describes their flavors as including hints of heather-honey, that’s why!

Jim: I did not know that! I always wondered how heather and “heather-honey” got into a spirit… funny enough, even if I knew, I probably still couldn’t pick it out!

Our hotel that night was the Archiestown Hotel, in… well… Archiestown. I described it as being on the Scottish map of Nowhere, directly in the middle. It was a tremendous pleasant surprise.

A very small place – maybe 12 rooms – the opportunity for personal service was great and oh boy, did they ever do that! It was that night, as I went to the bar to see what scotches were available that I was first informed that they don’t call it “scotch” over there – its whisky!

Anyway, they had about 100 “whiskys” to choose from so dinner was enjoyable!

This is in chronological order, so I’m inserting a personal note here… we woke up Tuesday morning to a phone call alerting us to the passing of my wife’s father. After realizing we couldn’t get back to the airport early enough to fly home that day, we had a decision to make – to drive back to Edinburgh and sit out the day in the hotel or to finish up Tuesday’s tours, and fly home the next day. We decided to do the tours, but this cut our Scotland from 4 days to two. It’s okay – the next two visits were really great!

Speyside Cooperage

Speyside Cooperage1First up was the Speyside Cooperage.

Jim: I didn’t learn this until I went to Scotland and did some tours but a Cooper is someone who makes “barrels” (of varying sizes) and a Cooperage is where a Cooper does his work.

I gotta tell ya, it was fascinating to see how casks are built.

I never expected that the job was done with no caulking, glue, screws or nails. Those damn pieces of wood are cut precisely enough so that when the metal bands that hold the cask together, they don’t leak! It was also fascinating to realize how much the cask contributes to the final taste of the whisky. The kind of wood (the most preferred is American Oak) the previous contents of the cask (everything from rum to sherry to port wine to even Barolo wine) and the conditioning of the inside of the cask with flames.

These guys are a special kind of craftsmen, and they have to be good because they get quality 100% checked, but they also have to be fast as they get paid by the piece!

Cardhu

Cardhu1After that it was on to Cardhu. This distillery was originally owned by a woman, and these were lovely people. The tour was interesting – much like the Edradour tour.

They made an important point about the shape of their stills. The long necks of stills make a bend at the top, which varies off of an approximate right angle. This bend in the top of the still will affect the flavor and the top of Cardhu’s stills go decidedly upwards. This is one of the factors that lends to their decidedly light floral flavor.

THIS was the whisky product that appealed most to my wife, and would be a lovely desert whisky!

An interesting footnote, for all the distilleries, is that all whiskys that come out of the still are clear – it is the cask that gives scotch the amber color.

The distilled spirits also flow from the stills into a locked collection device, some of which were named “Wines Safe”. It was explained that the lock is needed because the measurement of the flow through that device is how the distilleries get taxed. Only one or two people in the distillery, and tax officials, are authorized to open it. They also measure the ABV in here and “mix” the flow of the distilled spirits from the multiple stills to maintain a consistent strength to the raw product.

Next week, we’ll get Part Two of this whirlwind tour and a deep dive into one of my (and Wayne’s) personal favorites – Balvenie.

All photos are courtesy of Wayne, thank you so so much for your generosity with the photos and this recap!

Posted in Travel | 6 Comments

What’s in Nuremberg Airport Duty Free?

This week’s report from the Nuremberg Airport (Nürnberg) duty free store comes from none other than Gary, who has sent in the most duty free reports of any reader (thank you Gary!). This report and photos come from the duty free shop by Gate A16.

As Gary said, and I agree, “Nice selection for a smaller airport. A few things I haven’t seen before.”

That’s for sure.

Nuremberg is an international airport (obviously, since it has duty free) but it served only about 3.3 million passengers in 2013 and is the 10th largest airport in Germany. By comparison, the world’s busiest airport, Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, saw 94.4 million passengers in 2013. Germany’s most popular, Frankfurt Airport, saw 58 million passengers in 2013.

That said, still a decent selection at the store outside Gate A16.
irishwhisky-bourbon-whiskey

  • Top row: Ballantines and Tullamore Dew
  • 2nd row: Jim Beam and more Tullamore Dew
  • 3rd row: Jim Beam Honey, small bottles jim beam, Jameson
  • 4th row:Bushmill 10yo, regular Bushmill, Bushmill honey and teachers

scotch-whisky

  • Top Row: Glenfiddich Vintage Cask, Glenfiddich red wine cask, Macinlays shackleton blend, Aberlour, Talisker Dark Storm, Laphroig
    QA Cask.
  • 2nd Row: More Glenfiddich, Jura Superstition, Ardbeg 10
  • 3rd Row: Glenlivet 18, Glen Garioch Founders Reserve + 12, Bowmore Black Rock and Gold Reef.
  • 4th Row: Jura 16 and Jura Prophesy, Macallan Select, Glen Grant 10, Bowmore Surf,Bowmore 100 degrees
    proof.
  • 5th Row: Dalmore 12 15 and 18, Smoke Head extra rare, Highland park Vin2001 and Einar.

scotch-whisky-more

  • Top Row: Auchentoshan spring wood and heartwood,
  • 2nd row: Monkey Shoulder, Glenmorangie, And unfortunately the Balvenie which is all whited out
  • 3rd Row: Glengoyne big foot and distillers gold, Glenfiddich
  • 4th Row: Glenfiddich, Glenfiddich 3 pack, Scapa 16, Jura 10 origins, anCnoc Peter, Jura Tiraspol Mara,
  • 5th Row: Old Pulteney lighthouse, strathisla 12, Glenrothes

Their duty free has a list of spirits promotions its running too if you are planning a trip through there.

Thanks again Gary!

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FEW Spirits Bourbon & Rye Whiskey Tasting Notes

Paul Hletko, Founder & Master Distiller

Paul Hletko, Founder & Master Distiller

When I first started Scotch Addict, I was just getting into scotch whisky.

It would take me months, if not years, to learn the various subtleties of the spirit. How Scotch Whisky is made from the same basic ingredients as whiskey here in the states and how there are a lot of domestic productions worth looking at. Most notably, an entire class of spirits, Bourbon, that would open a whole new world after years of adherence to Scotch.

Fast forward to today and my love of things domestic (I like supporting the little guy, even if they’re not truly little by size and just little by how much television advertising they’r
e able to buy!) and I recently discovered a distillery named Few Spirits.

Few Spirits is based out of Evanston, Illinois and was the first legal alcohol-producing facility in Evanston, a city that extended prohibition until 1972. Yeah… that’s forty years after Prohibition was overturned by the 21st Amendment at the end of 1933!

They ferment, distill, and bottle everything on-site. They don’t buy stuff elsewhere and then slap their label on it (they don’t buy any outside alcohol from other producers), everything is made there and is legit (to be fair, newer distilleries don’t have a choice necessarily… but FEW has been around for enough years that they can do this).

They were kind enough to send me a few of their products:

  • Few Bourbon Whiskey
  • Few Rye Whiskey
  • Few Barrel Gin
  • Few Standard Issue Gin
  • Few American Gin

There was just one missing from their lineup, the Few Single Malt Whisky. It’s produced in much smaller quantities and not widely available but I did get a chance to sample five fantastic spirits so let’s talk more about what was included than what wasn’t!

I will skip tasting notes on the Gins for now because my experience with gin is extremely limited. But, that said, I can tell you that they smell wonderful, the flavors are all the botanicals you’d want from a well produced gin, but to get into the notes is beyond my experience.

As for the two whiskies… let’s dive right in.

Few Bourbon Whiskey

Few Bourbon bottle shotAs a recent fan of bourbon, I can say that this Illinois product does the name quite well (and I love the classy bottles). The mashbill consists 70% corn, 20% rye, and 10% malted barley.

The thing that really jumps out at you is the spiciness. Most bourbons are characteristically sweet and that’s it. This bourbon has a little spice kick to it that adds a different dynamic because of 20% rye. There’s a bit of youth in this too but not something that surprises, I kind of like it.

I don’t usually put much stock in awards or ratings but it’s worth noting that the Beverage Testing Institute gave it a 93 (Exceptional) earlier this year.

Few Rye Whiskey

Few Rye bottle shotI’ve been getting into more whiskies that have a higher rye concentration because I just love the added complexity that rye brings. The mashbill for this spirit is 70% Midwestern rye, 20% local corn, and then 10% two-row malted barley (an exact flip of the bourbon).

The rye gives it that peppery kick again but you get a lot of caramel and honey sweetness, much more than you’d expect with 70% rye, and a nice finish. BTI gave the Rye Whiskey an 88 (Highly Recommended).

Before I go, I wanted to throw in a few notes about the gins too. On a recent trip to Amsterdam, I had the pleasure of enjoying some Jenevere. Jenevere is juniper-flavored and was the inspiration for gin, so I’ve started to appreciate the subtle floral flavors in many gins.

While I haven’t yet evolved into sipping gin neat, there’s nothing more refreshing on a hot day than a gin and tonic!

Posted in Tasting Notes | 5 Comments

What is a Replica Scotch?

Credit: sandwichgirl

Credit: sandwichgirl

A replica Scotch is one that was created to recreate the experience of a famous bottle.

Do you remember a few years back when they discovered three crates of Scotch whisky underneath the Ernest Shackleton hut in Antactica? Ernest Shackleton was a famous explorer in the late 19th century, early 20th century and often made these epic polar expeditions. Beneath one of the huts from a 1909 expedition were three crates of whisky and two crates of brandy, perfectly preserved.

Now back in 1909, Whyte & Mackay had supplied the expedition with 25 crates of Mackinlay’s “Rare and Old” whisky. W&M would now take this rare and wonderful opportunity to recreate the whisky that was inside.

Why do they make replica Scotches? Because it’s fun. There’s no denying that it would be fun to drink a whisky once enjoyed by one of the most intrepid polar explorers, right? Even if you don’t like exploring, there’s a bit of magic and nostalgia wrapped around drinking a whisky from another era.

How do they replicate it? I’m not entirely sure, since this happens so infrequently and distilleries don’t reveal their secrets, but I suspect the master blenders just mix and match based on their experiences until the right flavors are recreated. Seems like an exceptionally tough task… but a fun one. :)

If you’re interested, the replica of the Shackleton whisky is called “Mackinlay’s Shackleton Rare Old Highland Malt – The Discovery” and goes for about $170 per 750ml. here’s more on the Shackleton expedition, the whiky, and the replica.

There aren’t a lot of replica whiskies out there outside of these rare situations, but The Macallan loves to make various replicas from the 19th century too.

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Picking Your (Friend’s) First Bottle of Scotch

Credit: donhomer

Credit: donhomer

Whenever a friend who doesn’t drink a lot of Scotch finds out I have a blog about Scotch, they want me to help them get into it.

I’m all for being an ambassador! But rather than repeat myself over and over again, I thought this blog post could do the repeating for me.

Where to Start

For picking your first, or picking a first for a friend, it’s valuable to know their preferences as compared to other beverages.

If they’re a fan of whiskey to begin with, you’re basically 95% of the way there because, as you know, Scotch is whisky produced in Scotland! I know a lot of people who love Bourbons because it’s relatively cheap (being made in the US means you avoid a lot of taxes!) without sacrificing much in the way of quality. Bourbon is sweeter because of the higher sugar content of corn and so a nice introduction would be something on the sweeter, fruitier, floral side of the Scotch spectrum.

The same logic could be applied to gins and vodka, which differentiate themselves from one another based on those fruit and floral notes. Rums are often sweeter too since it’s made from sugar/molasses. Skip the islands, where you get more smoke and medicinal flavors from the phenols.

At this point, it sounds like anything you could possibly think of them liking points you towards Speysides/Highlands and away from Islays and the Islands. Well, if they’re a fan of craft beer, do they prefer hoppy beers like IPAs? Or wheat beers? Or do they enjoy them all?

If the answer is IPAs, like Dogfish 120 Minute IPAs and 90 Minute IPAs (IBUs of 120 and 90 respectively) then you might introduce them to an Islay. Islays have a powerful flavor profile because of the phenols and they won’t be put off by it.

The goal with picking the right first bottle of Scotch for someone new to Scotch is to make sure it’s a gentle introduction. It’s a first date, not a proposal. So it’sa bout finding something that closely fits what they enjoy and then let the experimentation come after.

The three factors I think about

I like to break it down into several factors:

  • Overall flavor profile
  • Alcohol content
  • Price

Overall Flavor Profile
As mentioned earlier, I like to match it with something they already enjoy. This is where your experience will have to come into play – based on what you know, try to match them with a Scotch production area that meets the general profile. From within that area, you can pick a distillery you’re familiar with.

The major areas are Lowland, Speyside, Highland, Campbeltown, and Islay. My basic rule is that if they like fruity and floral, go with Speysides and Highlands. If they like a bit of punch, a campfire-ness, go with an Islay.

As an aside, these rules are very very general. Not all Speysides are the same, just as not all Islays are the same, but I use these shortcuts because they’re good enough. For example, pop open a Highland Park and you’ll get a little bit of smoke despite it being a Highland.

On Finishes: Finishes are tricky for a first bottle because they’re often more expensive (more on price later) and they introduce characteristics that can be fun, especially if your friends enjoy the other finish. For example, I love port so Laphroaig Cairdeas was a great bottle for me but it vaguely resembles a Laphroaig. I would hold off on a finish until later with the exception of sherry oak.

Alcohol Content

Try to stick with the 40-43% ABV standard and avoid any cask strength expressions.

If they’re new to enjoying Scotch neat, then sipping a beverage that’s 40% alcohol will be a bit of a shock. Even if you add a few drops of water or an ice cube (please don’t add an ice cube… please please please don’t), it’s still a lot.

Give them a beverage that’s 58.5% abv (Macallan’s Cask Strength) and you’ll likely burn their taste buds off.

Go gentle and go low.

Price

I like to stick with the middle of the road in terms of price.

I don’t want those super-cheap blends but I don’t want to start my friends off with a Macallan 18 YO at $180 a bottle. It’s not that I’m cheap and don’t want to share an expensive dram, it’s that I don’t want ruin average Scotches for them.

Macallan 18 YO is a good Scotch, you can ask anyone regardless of their preferences, but how does it compare with a Glenmorangie 10? Glenmorangie 10 is a perfectly fine whisky, I enjoy it often and I love their line of finishes to boot, but it doesn’t compare. It can’t compare. Glenmorangie 10 costs only $37 while Macallan 18 costs a whopping $180. It’s like pitting the a AAA baseball team against a Major League team – it’s just not fair.

And it’s not fair to your friend! He or she has now sampled this awesome Scotch, now loves Scotches, but everything he or she will buy that’s not $180 a bottle will taste bad by comparison.

It’s better to introduce them to a $37/btl dram and then move your way up the price spectrum so they can appreciate it properly.

My first bottle recommendations

These recommendations are based on my experiences but also what I think is widely available and easy to get.

If your budget is the lowest of the named single malts, which is around $35-45 a bottle, then the best introduction is the $40 per bottle Glenfiddich 12 YO. Glenlivet 12 is nice too but the spicy finish might put someone off and have them mistaken the spiciness for high alcohol content.

Interestingly enough, if my memory serves me correctly, my first bottle of Scotch was actually a Balvenie DoubleWood 12. It’s a 12 YO that’s finished in ex-sherry and ex-bourbon barrels and very affordable, very tasty, and already breaks the guideline I mentioned in the section on finishes! (Heck, I might as well really break the rule, if your friend is a fan of sweetness, give Auchentoshan Three Wood a try… it’s pricier, more like $60-65 a bottle).

If they want to know what smokiness and peatyness is, go with a Laphroaig 10 YO (~$50). You have smoke and peat but it’s not overwhelming if you like that sort of thing (if you don’t, it is overwhelming). It’s not as medicinal as a Lagavulin and not nearly as peaty as Ardbeg, so you have a sense of Islay without being overwhelming in any one area.

If they want smoky but are a little scared of an Islay, Highland Park 12YO (~$50) is a nice compromise. It’s like a richer floral sweetness with smoke, without the smoke being dominant and pushing everything else out.

What’s your recommendation for a “first bottle” of Scotch and why?

Posted in Tasting | 4 Comments

National Scotch Day

Credit: Ethan Prater

Credit: Ethan Prater

Did you know that there’s a National Scotch Day!?

Yes!

This year, it’s July 27th! As in this Sunday!

I have no idea why that day is National Scotch Day, nor do I know who chose it, but I will happily celebrate it! :)

But honestly, who cares? It’s not like we need an excuse to enjoy Scotch in the first place.

That said, it did pique my interest and I wanted to know about the other celebrated Days that focused on the delectible spirit that is whisky (or whiskey). Here’s what I found:

Other Whisky Days

National Scotch Day isn’t the only named “day” to celebrate the spirit of Scotland, there are several others and most of them, like any of these Hallmark holidays, have commercial origins. But honestly, who cares… it’s fun.

International Whisky Day was recognized on March 27th, 2014. That particular date has a clear meaning – it’s the date of Michael Jackson’s birthday (the famed whisky writer) and was started in 2008 to celebrate his life and raise money to fight Parkinson’s Disease.

World Whisky Day happened to be May 17th, 2014. World Whisky Day started in 2012 and was started by Blair Bowman, a student at the University of Aberdeen, and it’s grown to be a pretty big event each year with a ton of sponsors. According to their estimates, over 20,000 people took part in WWD last year.

Whatever day it might be, it’s always a good day for whisky!

The one thing I do like about National Scotch Day is that there’s no central body that has “claimed” it. There are organizations behind the other ones and they hold a singular central event. With National Scotch Day, it feels more organic because there isn’t some fancy website and sponsors and all that jazz. It could be that I didn’t look hard enough or it’s because true aficionados are too busy celebrating a dram!

What do you plan to do on National Scotch Day?

Posted in Events | 15 Comments