Does the bottling or distillation year matter for Scotch or other whiskies?

Macallan 18yo 1980Not really and definitely not in the same way as it does for wine.

When it comes to wine, the year to year seasonal variability in the grape crop can have a big impact on the final product. Different wine producing regions experience different weather, from year to year, so sometimes you get more rain, sometimes you get colder or warmer temperatures, and that all impacts how the grapes grow.

Just check out this list of Bordeaux vintages, going back to 1959, and how the different each year can be. Bordeaux is any wine produced in the Bordeaux region of France, though nearly 90% of it is red wine.

2005 Bordeaux is considered a “stunning vintage from top to bottom in all appellations and in all price ranges. If you have the money, this is one of the best Bordeaux vintages to lay down in your cellar. These stunning wines will only get better and more expensive. Hold 100 Pts.” (of their rankings, only two years were ranked 100 – 2005 and 2000)

Just two years later, 2007 was categorized as “Overpriced, early drinking vintage. Drink or hold 87 Pts.”

With wine, it is intuitive that the weather plays a huge role in how good the grapes are. The grapes are mashed and fermented. The end product can be immediately bottled or aged in barrels for a few years and then bottled. Generally speaking, from grape to your mouth, it’s usually only a couple years at the most.

With scotch and barley, I’d argue that year to year crop yields doesn’t matter.

I believe it doesn’t matter to the end product because:

  • Barley is pretty much barley, weather can impact the overall yield but I think variations don’t impact the flavor of the end product because…
  • .. the malting process. Malting involves tricks the grains into germinating through a water soak, then halted by drying with hot air. This process helps convert the grain’s starches into sugars, which are fermented. In grapes, the sugars come from the growing process; in barley, it’s created during the malting process.
  • Whisky is distilled, so now we’re talking ABVs in the low 60%s (usually 62.5%) before aging for many years (3+).
  • Lastly, unless it’s single barrel, they will blend different barrels to achieve the characteristics they want.

So… the distillation date and the bottling date are fun to know, but they really have little impact on the end product.

That said, there are two caveats:

  1. If the characteristics of the distillery have changed, the bottling year will give you an idea of what they were going for in that time period. Tastes change, production techniques change, so there value in knowing the date if it’s many years in the past. But it’s not for the same reasons as wine.
  2. Single barrels and batches can vary from one another in a single year. It won’t be a huge difference (I’d argue you couldn’t tell if you had them independently on different days), but there are subtle differences if you try them side by side.

That said, I’d love to get my hands on a bottle with my birth year. :)

Do you think bottling or distillation year matters?

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Syndicate 58/6 12-Year Old Tasting Notes Review

Syndicate-586When I first heard about Syndicate 58/6, I was a little skeptical at the name.

Where are the Glens? What’s this Syndicate? I can pronounce it too easily… what’s with the numbers?

Let’s talk about the name, the Syndicate 58/6 refers a group of six original members of the group (hence the six) and how the origin dates back to 1958 (hence the 58), when a blend of whiskies was discovered in Edinburgh, Scotland. It is said that after the discovery, six of the founding members of the Syndicate went on to bottle it and replicate it for future years.

Names are fun but what about the whisky? Syndicate explains that the blend consists of 18 single malts and 4 single grains, mixed with some of the original 1958 batch, and is aged in a Solera system. Solera is an aging process where older and older whiskies are blended in and aged, with the average age increasing with each blend. The younger spirit is transferred to a new barrel, with the older spirit on the bottom. A lot of dessert wines, like Sherry, Madeira, and Port; are aged this way. (you may recognize the name as it appears in Glenfiddich’s Solera Reserve)

After all the blending is completed, they finish it in Oloroso Sherry casks for up to two years. The 58/6 has a 12-year old age statement and 40% abv.

I’m a little hesitant to fully buy into the idea that there’s much of the 1958 batch included in each blend, unless there was a tremendous amount or the production runs of 58/6 is tiny (neither of which seem too plausible) and Oliver at Dramming did a little research on the company and its constituents. I personally am not that skeptical or cynical but I saw his writeup and felt it warranted a mention.

That said, it’s about the whisky.

Tasting Notes:

  • Nose: Light fruit on the nose and alcohol, give it some time in the glass and it opens up. There’s malt, vanilla, sugar, bit of grass
  • Palate: Some grassiness and wine, probably from the Oloroso finish, along with molasses and cinnamon.
  • Finish: Somewhat short finish with the vanilla and cinnamon coming through

All in all, it’s a fun blend that isn’t overpowering in any particular area. It’s lightness, likely owing to its single grain blend, is comforting and lets you really investigate some of the subtler flavors. It’s a delicious dram.

The budget minded consumer in me thinks that at $160 a bottle, it’s a stretch strictly based on dollars. The whisky is good but I think the exclusivity premium is a wee bit high. If you’re into collecting and want something that isn’t always available, this would make sense on your shelf. If you’re looking for a daily drink, this is a fine one at a not so fine price.

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Whisky Sour Cocktail Recipe

whisky-sourOne of the fun things about food, and drink cocktails, is that there are a series of ratios that almost always work.

For example, there’s a ratio of 5:3 when it comes to dough. 5 parts flour to 3 parts liquid (usually water). You add other things to it, such as yeast to make it rise, but the ratio is 5:3. These ratios exist everywhere.

For cocktails, the 2:1:1 ratio. Two parts spirit, one part sweet (simple syrup) and one part sour (lemon). Like bread, you can add other things to it but the base is the same – 2 parts spirit, one part tartness and one part sweetness – you’re good to go.

Have you ever heard of the old rhyme – “one sour, two sweet, three strong, four weak” – that’s a ratio for a punch. Sour and sweet refer to the obvious, strong refers to the alcohol, and four refers to water. Boom – punch ratio.

With the whisky sour, you have the 2:1:1 ratio with some added fun like bitters for aromatics. Garnishes are fun to add a little complexity as well, but don’t go crazy because too many ingredients can muddy the waters.

My friends from Usquaebach sent me this simple recipe (keep an eye out for tasting notes on their whisky soon once I open the bottle!) for a classic Whisky Sour:

  • 2 oz. Usquaebach Reserve Premium (or your favorite whisky)
  • 1 oz. fresh lemon juice
  • 1 oz. simple syrup
  • 1 egg white
  • Angostura Bitters

Mix everything in a cocktail shaker and shake like crazy! Then strain into a glass, add two dashes of Angostura Bitters, and garnish with lemon peel and a cherry.


Posted in Cocktails | 3 Comments

How to Make Your Own Simple Syrup

There’s nothing like having a batch of simple syrup on hand for cocktails.

Stirring in sugar is … OK. But it never dissolves and you’re left with not enough sugar at the beginning to a sugar bomb at the end.

Fortunately, making simply syrup is simple. Just boil some water and stir in the sugar.

What are the ratios? For cocktails, it’s one part water to one part sugar.

Here are the dead simple instructions, in case you need them:

  1. In a saucepan over medium heat, bring water and sugar to boil.
  2. Stir until the sugar dissolves.
  3. Let simple syrup cool to room temperature then move to a sealed, clean glass jar.

Sugar is a preservative so it can stay for a while. Eventually, mold will find a way in there so discard if you see any mold. Fortunately simple syrup is completely clear so if you see anything in it, toss and make it again.

Want to get fancy? You can infuse flavors into the simple syrup. After the sugar dissolves and has been removed from the heat, drop in your favorite aromatics (cinnamon, vanilla, cloves, peppers, whatever) and let it sit for thirty minutes and then strain it out. Don’t leave it in there once you store it in the fridge.

Enjoy your simple syrup!

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Grangestone Bourbon Cask Finish Review & Tasting Notes

boubon-cask-tube-and-bottleI’m walking through Total Wine (and More, though I don’t know anyone who says that part!), a cart full of beer and wine, when I see a random display of scotch in the middle of the aisle. Our cart is jammed because we’re having a birthday party this weekend (it’s for a four year old but kids have parents and parents need survival supplies too!) but it had room for another bottle.

There’s always room for another bottle.

Grangestone. Bourbon finish. $25.

Eh, why not? I knew that Grangestone wasn’t a private label by Total Wine, unlike Shieldaig, so I thought I’d give it a try. It did, after all, win a gold medal at the 2015 San Francisco World Spirits Competition.

This NAS whisky is 40% abv and it is first matured in traditional American oak, followed by a finish in first fill bourbon casks.

Tasting Notes:

  • Nose: Vanilla, floral, hint of raisin and toffee
  • Taste: Smooth, again the floral and a little spice, not much sweetness.
  • Finish: Goes pretty quickly, not memorable.

It’s OK, not my favorite and I wouldn’t get it again. I don’t dislike it, it’s just young, tastes young, feels young, and that might be my excuse to leave it in my case for a while (yes yes, I know it won’t do anything).

A quick search online found a two year old post on Reddit where someone sleuth that it might be Kininvie. Kininvie is one of the three (the others being Glenfiddich and Balvenie) that go into Monkey Shoulder.

Personally, I’d spend more and go with Monkey Shoulder. And throw those stupid spirits competition awards out the window… Shieldaig won a Gold too and I found that to be on the other side of bad. Grangestone Bourbon Cask is not bad, just not great and likely worth the $25 price tag… if I didn’t have a blend I like better in that range.

Posted in Tasting Notes | 9 Comments