Glenmorangie 12YO Quinta Ruban Tasting Notes

glenmorangie-quinta-rubanI’m a sucker for a good finish and lately I’ve been poking around all the port finishes of my favorite whiskies. My last tasting note was for the 2013 Laphroaig Cairdeas, which I really enjoyed, and today I’ll be looking at a more common dram – Glenmorangie Quinta Ruban.

Curious how they chose that name? Me too.

I emailed Glenmorangie and Barbara Hirst, in the Visitor Centre, responded!

Quinta is what they call an estate in Portugal where the grape for the Port is grown. (Just like we would call a farm in Scotland a Croft) Ruban is a Gaelic word for ruby which is the ruby red colour of the whisky as it takes on the colour of the port wine that has been in the cask before we have used it.

I chose Quinta Ruban as my next note for a couple reasons. First, Glenmorangie is readily available in the United States and Quinta Ruban is a finish that I’d seen numerous times in the store. Next, they scored a Gold in the 2013 IWSC, which is just a notch under Gold Outstanding (top award). Ealanta and Nectar d’Or, two other finishes, also scored Gold in 2013.

How did it stack up? Tasty.

  • Color: Reddish gold.
  • Nose: Sweet but rich, hints of chocolate and oranges
  • Palate: Toasted cereal, walnut, salted caramel, sweetness of brown sugar
  • Finish: Lingers but not long, warm brown sugar, very mild chocolate bitterness/cocoa and some bite (spiciness) that disappears in an instant

Personally, I enjoy port quite a lot. There is, however, a reason why it’s typically served in tiny glasses. It’s very sweet, very warm and inviting, but it’s almost too sweet. Too much of it is just that – too much. It’s like ice wine, delicious as a change of pace, as a closer, but you don’t want to drink many glasses of it.

Of the various port expressions I’ve had, this one most strongly reminded me that I was enjoying a whisky finished in port. To be fair, Laphroaig Cairdeas starts with Laphroaig, which packs a powerful and distinct punch. Glenmorangie was good, but, like port, not something I could drink for an entire night (honestly, I don’t drink any scotch for an entire night anyway, I like to mix things up, but you get my meaning I hope) because the port influence melds so well with Glenmorangie that it almost amplifies it. I’ve, in a way, offered up whatever one would call the opposite of a backhanded compliment. :)

In terms of price, it costs $60 for 750ml here in Maryland, which isn’t expensive for a finish (especially port, go check out the cost of other port finishes and you’ll be stunned) but pricier than your average bottle of that age. By comparison, Glenmorangie The Original (a 10YO) is $38.

To summarize, it’s a good marriage of a fine scotch with one of my favorite finishes, without the heavy price tag.

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What would you do with $631,850?

Source: Sotheby's

Source: Sotheby’s

If you had $631,850, what would you buy?

Think about that for a moment.

It’s not enough to get a Bugatti Veyron

… but you could easily get a Maserati, Bentley, or a Porsche (or several).

Me? I’d probably get an Aston Martin Vanquish (MSRP starting at $280,000) and use the rest on scotch for the rest of my life.

That’s the sum one fan paid for a six liter bottle of M by The Macallan in a Lalique decanter. Lalique makes some beautiful, and exceedingly expensive, decanters but this one really goes over the top. M by The Macallan, the scotch within, has a retail price of $4,500 and so 6 liters at that price means you’re getting $36,000 of whisky in a rare (only 4 made) 6L decanter.

Here’s what The Macallan has to say about M:

M is one of the richest and rarest whiskies ever pulled from The Macallan’s Spanish sherry oak casks. Identified with more than 25 flavors including port-like notes and elements of brown sugar and dark chocolate, Master Whisky Maker, Bob Dalgarno, meticulously selected the M liquid from a pool of casks that showed ultimate character and brilliance of color, making M a coveted rarity. Inspired by the spirits complexity, Fabien Baron designed the M decanter with six angular facets that reflect the six pillars of The Macallan. And drawing further inspiration from this precious single malt, Lalique’s handmade, mouth-blown crystal decanter is a nod to the iconic triangle found on each label of The Macallan.

The Macallan made 355 individually numbered decanters of the “regular” M and the decanter was designed by renowned designer Fabien Baron. The retail price puts it out of my price range (by just a weeeeee bit), though I suspect each of the 355 have been spoken for. :)

Records broken?

As far as I know, this eclipsed the former record for most expensive scotch whisky in the world set at another Sotheby’s auction in New York in 2010.

Can you guess the distillery and the bottle designer? If you said Macallan and Lalique, you’d be right! A Macallan 64 Year Old in a Lalique decanter was sold for $460,000 and only held 1.5 liters of The Macallan, aged a staggering sixty-four years.

I’d still take one of these… :)


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How to Make Crystal Clear Ice Cubes

Credit: Barta IV

Credit: Barta IV

I never put ice cubes in my single malt scotch, at most a few drops of water, but when it comes to cocktails I recognize that a bit of chill often improves the enjoyment of said cocktail.

When it comes to ice cubes, or ice balls, there is something a bit strange when the ice is all cloudy. I know it’s mostly air bubbles, my logical brain says that, but my emotional brain says… it just doesn’t look right. I don’t seem to care much when it’s ice in water, but a clear ice cube is just beautiful when in a cocktail.

So how do you get clear ice cubes?

Simple, it’s really a two step process.

First, you want to use filtered water. Filtered will remove some of the minerals and dust that is in the water when it freezes. Those contribute to the cloudiness. (one added benefit of filtering the water is that those minerals don’t get in your beverage)

The next step is to freeze the ice slowly. By freezing it slowly, the air is able to escape. Some places will tell you that you should boil the water a bazillion times, that each boil and cool cycle will release more of the air. That might release some of the air but it doesn’t result in crystal clear glass.

The reality is that to get clear glass, you just need to freeze it slowly. This isn’t me talking, this is advice from Sother Teague, a former R&D chef for Alton Brown on Good Eats.

How do you freeze it slowly?

  • Get your molds and fill them with water.
  • Now put them in an insulated cooler and seal the cooler.
  • Put that cooler into another cooler full of water.
  • Put this outer cooler, without a lid, into the freezer.
  • Wait forever.
  • Once the entire block freezes, take it out and let it sit at room temperature for a minute to give it time to separate from the outer cooler. Then cut out the molds and retrieve your perfectly clear ice cubes.

If you’re keeping track at home, the outer cooler’s water freezes, which then freezes the molds inside a cooler full of air. It really is a long long time. If you can handle almost crystal clear cubes, using clean filtered water that you boiled is the next best alternative.

I’m not really sure if it’s worth it to get crystal clear ice cubes… and whisky stones might be better anyway. :)

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Finally! TSA let’s you keep duty free in your carry-on

Credit: BoogaFrito

Credit: BoogaFrito

Whenever I fly internationally, which isn’t very often, I always make it a point to visit duty free.

The selection in duty free is always cheaper and sometimes varied enough that you can find some gems you’ve never heard of. About ten years ago, that’s how I discovered Jura.

On the most recent trip, from Shanghai to New York’s JFK Airport, I made sure to buy a few bottles in the duty free in Shanghai’s Pudong Airport. After I made my purchases, I stuffed them gingerly in my carry-on (which I made sure had room for a few bottles!) and hopped on the plan for my awesome fifteen hour flight.

The flight itself was fine, except our one year old son didn’t sleep at all, but when we landed in JFK we had to transfer for our final leg to Baltimore.

We went through customs and were led to a huge room with a bunch of folding tables. Our checked luggage was waiting there because we would have to transfer all of our duty free bottles from our carry-on luggage to checked luggage!

It wasn’t a big deal, just a minor hassle, but it always stuck out in my mind as being… silly.

If this happened to you, it’s because of the TSA but it won’t be happening for long.

TSA has relaxed the rules and now you won’t need to pack the bottle back into your luggage as long as it was placed in a secure, tamper-evident bag (STEB). They’ll still scan it, as they would other medically necessary bottles, but now you won’t need to check it.

Personally? I’ll still check it. It would be horrible for some overzealous TSA agent to not clear that bottle of Macallan 25 because, well, they’d rather confiscate it.

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Who Owns What in Whisky

Who Owns What in Whisky

(Click to enlarge)

American Public Media’s Marketplace created an interesting graphic last week, a chart that shows which conglomerate owns which whiskies. Knowing what I do about whiskies, it’s obvious that they started the chart with the four big companies on the left (Pernod Ricard, Diageo, Suntory, and Brown-Forman) and simply listed their owned brands on the right.

That’s the only reason why you could possibly exclude the Edrington Group and its ownership of popular brands like The Macallan, Highland Park and The Famous Grouse. Macallan is one of the most well-recognized single malt scotches and The Famous Grouse is is one of the most popular, and Highland Park is a fine name as well.

How about William Grant & Sons? Owners of Glenfiddich and Balvenie, two of my favorites. (can I get some love for the Balvenie DoubleWood?)

Oh, and let’s not forget the enormous United Spirits Limited, which is Indian based, and owners of The Dalmore, Jura, and Whyte & Mackay.

Finally, how they built the chart is also why you don’t see a lot of independent brands on the right, companies like D Johnston & Company (owners of Laphroaig) and

That said, this trend of big conglomerates buying up smaller companies (or simply merging with other large companies) is not unique to whisky. Or beverages.

It’s everywhere.


(Click to enlarge), from Reddit

Personally, I have no preference. I like what I like and I’ll continue to buy more of it, whether they’re independently owned distilleries or ones owned by conglomerates. I’m pretty sure I have a bias towards the whisky distributed by conglomerates because that’s simply what I’m able to find in stores in the United States.

If you have a favorite “small” distillery not (yet) owned by a conglomerate, let me know in the comments!

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Bourbon: Scotch Whisky’s Cheaper But Still Awesome Cousin

There’s a reason why a lot of folks think scotch drinkers are snobs – it’s a (relatively) pricey dram.

But so is anything that’s been stored in a warehouse for 12+ years and then exported over the Atlantic ocean. The reality is that scotch whisky is expensive because it’s often aged for a very long time and in another country. If we were to shorten the aging period and do it domestically, it’d be cheaper.

But wait! We do – it’s called bourbon.

By Scottish law (Scotch Whisky Regulations 2009), scotch whisky must be produced in Scotland from water and malted barley. It must also be matured in an excise warehouse in Scotland (aged for at least 3 years). So until it goes into a bottle, it has to remain on Scottish soil. There are, of course, other rules and regs but these are the ones that matter for the comparison between Scotch and Bourbon.

For a bourbon to be labeled as such in the United States (The Federal Standards of Identity for Distilled Spirits), it must be produced in the United States from a grain mixture of at least 51% corn and aged in new, charred-oak barrels. Straight bourbon must be aged at least two years (if less than 4, the age must be listed on the bottle) but there is no minimum required aging period for other labels.

I know some of you will say that bourbon is different because it uses 51% corn with rye and barley instead of just barley. And you’re right, it is different. But is the difference that much greater than an Islay and a Speyside? Comparable.

I’d had a few bourbons before, Four Roses sent me some of their fine spirits in the past, but I really didn’t get a full appreciation of it until my friend Dave brought over a bottle of Basil Hayden Bourbon. We poured a few glasses of it neat and thoroughly enjoyed it. The price, around $40-45 per 750ml, puts it on par with some of my favorite scotches (Balvenie DoubleWood comes to mind).

Of the 23 Double Gold bourbons from the most recent SF Spirits Competition, ten could be had for $35 or less. In my research about affordable bourbons, I discovered this fantastic post by one of the judges of the SF Spirits Competition in bourbon, Fred Minnick. The next time I visit the local store I’m going to try to find a few of these gems, especially the $20 1835 Texas Bourbon (a search online showed it wasn’t going to be there :().

Do you enjoy bourbon? Do you have a favorite I should try?

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How to Start a Fire in a Fireplace

I absolutely love sitting in front of a roaring fire on my comfy leather couch, a dram of whisky in my hand and a few hours to rest and relax. There’s something about flickering of the flames, the hint of firesmoke complementing the whisky, and having not a care in the world… for at least a few hours.

If you have a fireplace and haven’t yet enjoyed the marriage between a fire and whisky, you’re missing out. Starting a fire doesn’t have to be hard and it doesn’t have to take a lot of time.

Preparing Your Fireplace

First things first, let’s get your fireplace and chimney ready for a fire.

  1. Inspect, clean, and clear your chimney. If you’ve never used your fireplace before, you should get your chimney inspected. If you bought your home, you had it inspected and should have a report about it from the inspector. Sometimes chimneys are simply ornamental, because they’ve been sealed, and you’ll want to know that before you start a fire! If your chimney is operational, you’ll want to make sure it’s been swept and cleared of debris before you start a fire.
  2. Clean up your firebox. The firebox is the area that holds the fire itself, you’ll want to tidy that up a bit but clearing away some of the ash from previous fires. You want to leave a little bit of ash, about an inch or so, because it’ll insulate your fire, but don’t leave too much. Periodically clear out debris and discard it.
  3. Open the damper and prime the flue. The damper is essentially the door that closes your fireplace, and home, from the elements. The flue is duct the inside of the chimney. To open your damper, you may have to turn a knob in front of your fireplace or reach inside and push it open. Make sure it locks in place. If it’s closed, you’ll smoke yourself out of your home. Priming the flue just means lighting a small bit of paper so the smoke and heat rises, clearing out the cold air inside the flue (hot air rises, cold air falls… pushing back into your home) – depending on whether or not your chimney has a smoke shelf (this deflects downdrafts and rain from above), this may not be necessary.

Now you’re ready to start a fire!

30 Second Firewood Guide

The key to a successful fire is to have seasoned wood. Seasoned simply means it’s been sitting around for 12-18 months and had a chance to dry out. If it hasn’t had a chance to season, if it’s “green” wood, then your fire will have to work even harder to stay at the right temperature. The heat is being used to boil and “dry out” the wood, which is heat it can’t be used to keep you warm or maintain itself.

Each pound of wood generates the same amount of heat, hardwoods are simply denser and thus contain more heat. This makes sense because all wood is the same chemical composition, some woods are simply denser. If you’re not using a fireplace for heat, and it’s mostly for fun and looks, a denser wood means you have to add fewer logs and can enjoy the fire longer. (fireplaces aren’t great heat sources anyway)

If you can find dogwood, holly, birch, oak, hickory, apple, or maple – you’re in pretty good shape. Here’s a list of firewoods and their BTUs, just to get an idea.

If you’re out collecting wood, be sure to collect a decent amount of kindling too. You’ll need this to start a fire.

Starting a Fire

My favorite way to start a fire is known as an upside down fire, which I was turned onto by Tim Ferriss. The premise is simple, take large logs and layer the bottom of your fireplace. Put smaller logs and put those on top of the larger logs. Follow that up with kindling and leaves and newspaper, basically anything easily combustible. He used firestarter squares or sticks, that’s the best alternative if you don’t kindling.

The idea behind this is that the material burning at the top will burn into embers. Those embers just burn onto the layer below. Hot embers resting on dry wood is a recipe for more fire. Your layers must have no gaps for the embers to fall through, so pack them in tight.

The hidden benefit to this strategy? No maintenance.

Here’s a video about it:

In fact, you shouldn’t do anything to it because it manages itself and you’ll just mess it up. :)

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Laphroaig 10 Tasting Notes

Laphroaig 10 is one of the cornerstones of any Scotch whisky library and a name that most aficionados are familiar with. Hailing from Islay, it has all the characteristics you expect – peat, smoke, even medicinal (smells like band-aids though not as iodine-y as Lagavulin) to go along with the spice. It smells like a campfire, there’s no mistaking it, and I love enjoying it besides one or sidled up to the fireplace.

Personally, I like Islays because they’re different.

They’re distinctive.

I have friends who absolutely love Islays and hate other regions (“Speysides are too sweet and floral, it’s like eating a flower”). Other friends hate Islays because of the smoke and iodine (“It’s like chewing on charcoal wrapped in a band-aid”).

Hey, to each their own right? You like what you like, so let’s find more of it.

I think it’s an acquired taste and while Laphroaig isn’t as smoky and peaty as Ardbeg (peatiness is measured in parts per million of phenols and Ardbeg is king), but it has enough punch that you couldn’t mistake it for anything else.

I recently picked up a bottle in order to taste it side by side next to the Laphroaig Cairdeas (2013), which quickly became a favorite of mine. The difference between the two is significant. The Cairdeas, having matured about 14 months in port casks, is much sweeter and masks much of the medicinal flavors of the 10. The smoke is still there along with the seaweed and salt but the medicinal nature is almost completely gone.

As Paul commented, “The only thing I would definitely say is that the port wood edition is not the way to have someone tell if they like Laphroaig because it is so out of step with literally every other scotch they produce.”

Onto my notes:

  • Color: Light yellow
  • Nose: Smoke, iodine and some more smoke. Some grass and seaweed mixed in. Or it’s just my shirt because I just started a fire in the fireplace, but I’m pretty sure it’s the whisky.
  • Palate: Again the smoke and iodine plus the unmistakable “band-aid” from the phenolics, which I like and I’m not entirely sure why. There’s big oak notes, which I love, and ash. There’s some sweetness in there, and a maltiness/cereals, but I can’t pick out anything specific.
  • Finish: Long and drawn out, heavily of smoke.

One thing I didn’t do last time was add some water, which is said to open it up immensely and release the sweetness and maltiness. At 40% abv, I didn’t think to do it (not that % of alcohol is any indicator), so next time I’ll give it a try.

Locally, it’s available for $50, which is pricey for a 10 year old scotch but about par for an Islay. Ardbeg 10 goes for ~$56 and Lagavulin’s youngest standard bottling is a 16 YO for $68. (while there are other Islays, Laphroaig, Lagavulin, and Ardbeg are the three most widely available in the United States).

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How to Drink Whisky with Richard Paterson

Great video with Richard Paterson of Whyte & Mackay teaching duty free staff how to drink whisky (first two minutes cover the how, the rest cover tasting notes for some of their brands). When I first started drinking whisky, I was doing it wrong. I was nosing it properly and I was holding the glass right, but I wasn’t holding it in my mouth long enough. The next time you drink whisky, hold it. Then hold it a little longer.

After only a few seconds, something magical starts to happen when it begins mixing with the saliva in your mouth. It feels like the taste buds on your tongue awaken and open up, letting the flavor in. It’s actually quite amazing once you start to do it and that’s where the real fun is (and close your eyes).

My favorite part? When he pours a little into the Copita glass and then pours it out. He cleans a glass with whisky! (when he has a conversation with the whisky is a close second favorite)

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Is Peatyness Measurable?

Credit: Panoramas

Credit: Panoramas


Peaty-ness, or more accurately smokiness (the smoke comes from the burning of peat as a fuel source to heat to dry the barley), is measured in parts per million (ppm) of phenols in the barley before it’s been milled.

What are phenols? It’s a class of chemicals, one of which is Phenol itself, that contribute the medicinal and peatyness.

It’s actually five phenols:

  • Phenol
  • Cresol
  • 2-Ethylphenol
  • Xylenol
  • Guaiacol

These chemicals are naturally occurring in peat.

Not being a scientist, I can’t say what contributes to what and to what extent but most people think cresol contributes the most. We think it’s medicinal because it’s used in disinfectants (it’s used to dissolve other chemicals), but those are the chemical compounds you’ll find in whisky (that is attributed to the peat).

Non-peated barley might have phenols of around half to 3 ppm. On the other end, Ardbeg will see around 50 ppm. Another familiar name is Laphroaig which starts at 40 ppm but ends up around 25 ppm. It’s estimated that 30-50% of the phenols make it into the final new make whisky.

If you want to find out more, this PDF does a great job explaining the whole process.

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