Are Whiskey Clubs Worth It?

Do you ever buy a bottle of something, have one dram, and realize you absolutely hate it? It’s happened to me before. Twice.

To be fair, the price was worth taking a flyer on it. $30 for 750ml of 18 year old? Sure, why not.

Here’s the thing — I didn’t buy them because they were interesting. I bought them because they had high age statements and were strangely inexpensive relative to other whiskies aged that long. You get what you pay for. :)

I think part of the fun of whisky is the discovery process. I’ve long wanted to try more Japanese whiskies, especially since they’ve been collecting all the awards, but the price of a single bottle is too high to try something I might not like.

What if I spend $90 on a 750ml bottle of Yamazaki 12yo and discover I hate it? That’s a lot to spend to “try it out.”

Here’s where a whisky club might make sense and one that I recently learned about is called Flaviar. Flaviar sends you small samplings and private bottlings from a variety of craft and premium distilleries, giving you the opportunity to try small samples without committing to 750ml of something you don’t want to finish. That’s what they pride themselves in.

Flaviar sent me a box to help me understand what the service would be like – I opted for the Asia and Oceania Whisky package because if I was going to try something, it’ll be stuff that’s hard for me to find. I don’t need small samples of stuff I know. :)

flaviar-outside-box

Nice cardboard box with the package clearly labelled, and the inside consists of the samples a little introductory card about Flaviar, plus two pamphlets.

flaviar-package-contents

The two pamphlets are great – one discusses how to host a tasting (they recommend one pack per three people! might not be enough!) and the other talks about each of the whiskies in the package. The tasting guide explains how you should approach tasting whisky, what aspects of the production process contribute to which flavors, etc.

The guide to the whiskies is really fun. The five samples included in this kit were:

  • Kavalan – This is the one I wanted to try, Kavalan is produced in Taiwan; it’s where my parents emigrated from to the United States.
  • Milford 10yo – New Zealander done in the Lawland style, another one I’d never heard of and wanted to try.
  • Paul John Brilliance – Indian whisky that is made with Indian barley, matured in bourbon barrels and is unpeated… most Indian whiskies are usually molasses based, this one isn’t.
  • Lark – Rum Cask Finish – They are located in Tasmania!
  • Togouchi Blended – A Japanese blended whisky

Here’s a closeup of the five I received:
flaviar-45ml-sample-closeups

Flaviar bills itself as “a club for explorers at heart,” and I think this the only way a whisky club “works.” It needs to be more about discovery and trying new things and less about getting a good deal.

If you look at Caskers Whiskey Explorer club, it starts at $159.99 quarterly and gets you three full-size bottles a quarter (so a bottle a month). Is there a theme? Not that I can tell. You pay $53.33 per bottle, which can get you a fantastic bourbon or a decent scotch. It’s hard to know and with no theme, even harder to justify getting it. I’d rather just buy the bottles myself as I go.

Flaviar isn’t cheap though. If you try to buy their Asia & Oceania Whisky kit a la carte now (it was the kit from October 2015), it’s three samples (Lark Rum Cask, Milford 10yo, and Paul John Brilliance) for $42.

The membership itself is $60 per quarter and you get one package a quarter.

The most recent one (March 2016) is called The Canadian Lot and features McGuinness Old Canada Whisky, WhistlePig Straight Rye 10yo, and Crown Royal XR. Is that worth $60? I can’t find McGuinness anywhere here, WhistlePig is a $75 bottle (so the 45ml is “worth” $4.50), and the crown is an $87 bottle (45ml = $5.22). Strictly on value, it’s not. But as a premium for discovery, that’s up to you to decide…

The tricky part here is that you really need to bring obscure whiskies in each package for it to work. I look at The Canadian Lot and I only see one unfamiliar name – McGuinness. I was far more intrigued by the Asia & Oceania Whisky box – some Australian whiskies, an Indian whiskey, and one from Taiwan I always wanted to try? Bring it on!

There are some other perks to membership which are non-obvious and… depending on how they develop, might be really interesting. Flaviar, like many places, also sells harder to find bottles and membership also gives you 3 free package shippings a quarter. This could be a good deal if they get bottles you like. For example, one deal they have now is Kilchoman Machir Bay, a release from 2014 that is about $10 cheaper than anywhere else that has it. That’s a nice benefit but it’s hard to know how useful that would be on an ongoing basis.

They also have private bottlings under their Deer, Bear & Moose label. The first one was a 20yo single malt from Tobermory and the second is a Ben Nevis 18yo. They go for about $125. Here’s a photo of their first and second private bottlings.
DBM_1st_and_2nd_edition

THIS would be interesting… since members get first crack at it. But is it interesting enough to join?

What’s your take on whisky of the month clubs?

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Four Roses Single Barrel Tasting Notes

four-roses-single-barrelAs scotch whisky prices creep upward, I’ve been dabbling in the world of bourbons and other domestically produced whiskies. There’s a whole rich world of spirits here, a rapidly growing craft distilling culture, so why limit myself? I’m sure you’d all agree… whisky is good, whether it has an E in it or not! :)

On a recent trip state-side, my friend Rick asked me to pick up a bottle of Four Roses Single Barrel because he’d heard it was good and it wasn’t available in the UK. I decided that if it was good enough that he wanted me to pick one up for him when he came by, it was certainly going to be good enough for me to buy for myself… the logic is sound, right? And at just $43 a bottle at the local store, it was hardly a big bet.

This wasn’t my first meeting with Four Roses. I’d tried their Small batch, Single Barrel, and Yellow Bourbon back in May of 2011. Back then, I didn’t have the experience, vocabulary, or the palate to appreciate a 100 proof bourbon.

Fast forward five years, a lot of drams, and you bet I can appreciate it now!

The label of my Four Roses Single Barrel stated it was from Warehouse No. TS, Barrel No. 41-6E, for what that’s worth, and I suspect there will be small variations between all the single barrels from different barrels.

Tasting Notes

  • Nose: Cherry, plum, vanilla, maple syrup
  • Taste: Big red chewing gum (i.e. cinnamon), sweet
  • Finish: Medium, spicy

In my mind, they could’ve replaced the Four Roses logo with four cherries, that’s how pronounced that flavor was on both the nose and the palate. Cherry was the high note flavor while plum and vanilla rounded it out. Cinnamon presented itself like the chewing gum Big Red, it was unreal because that was my first thought and it’s been 20+ years since I’ve smelled or chewed that gum, and there was a sweetness ever present. Finish was nice, a little heat and spice, but complemented the cherries, vanilla, and cinnamon.

I wonder how much of the fun of this bottle was in the nostalgia of a gum I haven’t chewed in many years. I wasn’t even a big fan of Big Red too, I preferred spearmint gums over different flavored ones. But when I did get a stick of Big Red, the novelty was always fun and it reminded me of all the fun I had in the first few minutes of a Fireball (after the spice was gone, I usually spit those out!).

Thoroughly enjoyed it, would get again. :)

(photo source)

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The Macallan Edition No. 1 Tasting Notes

Photo Courtesy of Gregg Albert

Photo Courtesy of Gregg Albert

The Macallan is one of the most celebrated distilleries in all of Scotland and one I’ve visited before in the past. It’s a great tradition and most scotch aficionados make it a point to try their signature bottle, the 18yo.

In more recent times, Macallan has been leading the way in non-age statement whisky. If you go through any duty free store, you won’t find any Macallan with an age statement. They’re all NAS in travel retail.

Regardless of what you think about the general move in that direction (I am not a snob about age but I think something does get lost when nothing has an age statement), you can’t argue that distilleries still have to put out a good product. You may be swayed by the label on the bottle but you won’t be tricked by the dram inside (hopefully!).

Macallan’s latest entrant into the NAS whisky market is the Macallan Edition No. 1. 48% ABV and priced at around $100, Macallan says it’s aged in 8 different styles of European and American oak casks, hand picked by Macallan Master Whisky Maker Bob Dalgarno.

I didn’t try it but one of our intrepid Facebook members did, Gregg Albert, and this is what he shared with us:

  • Nose: Orange peel, vanilla, and a sweetness that reminded me of funnel cakes at the Fair a few days ago.
  • Palate: Full of spice and rich fruit, toffee. Hits with a punch.
  • Finish: Spiced! lingering and smooth.

He added – “This stuff is complex and changes with every sip. It’s going to the top of my list…” He has Edition No.2 also, which may make it into a future tasting note on the site (I hope!).

Posted in Tasting Notes | 7 Comments

Usquaebach Reserve Premium Blended Scotch Whisky Review

Last year, I tried a bottle of scotch that I’d never heard of before — Usquaebach.

For us non-native speakers of Gaelic, the word looks like a lot of other scotch whisky names. But it’s a variant of uisge beatha, the Gaelic words meaning “water of life.” The name Usquaebach was commemorated by Robert Burns in a poem, titled Tam O’Shanter (he uses the line “Wi’ usquabae, we’ll face the devil!” – with the water of life, we face the devil!).

usquaebach-flagonWith that name origin in mind, what is Usquaebach? It’s is a blended scotch whisky and the product is over 225 years old. To prove it, they still sell some of it in an old timey flagon. And for those who are audibly curious, it’s pronounced “oos-ke-bah,” which I probably would’ve gotten on the sixtieth try!

43% abv, the bottle I tried (sent by their PR company) didn’t come in flagon but a regular bottle. Shucks. :)

Tasting Notes:

  • Nose: A younger blend with bits of honey, sugar, and citrus. Not much oak on the nose and some spice, like the soft warmth of ginger and some vanilla. It has a little bit of everything except iodine and smokiness but not a lot of anything.
  • Palate: Toasted malt with a sweetness and vanilla. A little pepper spice to it. Light in the mouth, not much heft to it.
  • Finish: Medium with light caramel, chocolatey finish and a bit of pop with the pepper.

It was a tasty whisky and they state it has a blend of 10-18 year old whiskies, which I believe. At a price of $43, I wouldn’t rush out and get some (the value proposition isn’t there) but it’s a nice middle of the road (nose/palate-wise) that doesn’t disappoint.

Posted in Tasting Notes | 10 Comments

How to Wash Out and Clean a Decanter

Decanters are beautiful.

They can also get dirty.

Anytime you have glassware that has a narrow neck and a wide bottom, it be tricky to clean because you can’t get your standard brush in there. If you have some gunk in your decanter, whether from dried whiskey or something else, swishing it with hot water and soap (after soaking) might not do the job.

How do you up your cleaning game? How do you get some scrubbing action in the decanter through the narrow neck?

Try a different cleaning solution. If soap and hot water isn’t working, you can try a 50-50 mixture of white distilled vinegar and water. This is a time tested cleaning solution that you can use anywhere. Vinegar is a fantastic cleaning agent and easy to rinse out. If that’s not working, you can also try baking soda and water because it acts as a mild abrasive.

Use a scrubbing agent. By scrubbing agent, I am referring to something that will fit through the narrow neck and act as your brush. The best ones to use are rice, salt, and crushed ice. Some places have suggested ball bearings and sand, but I don’t recommend those because they can (thought unlikely) scratch your decanter.

As a last resort, buy a bottle brush. These are inexpensive and they will fit into the decanter so you can scrub any nooks and crannies that defy other methods.

Once all the residue is gone, put in a small amount of bleach and let it sit for 10-15 minutes to sanitize it. Then rinse out your brand new decanter and air dry.

That’s it! Dirty decanter is now clean!

Posted in Barware | 2 Comments