Happy New Year!

Happy New Year!Despite the reports of my disappearance (Thanks Tina! :)), I have not disappeared. I’ve just been home with two kids for the last ten days with the Christmas break and then the New Year… it’s left little time for writing about scotch but plenty of time enjoying it after the kiddos have gone to bed.

Over the break, I had a chance to meet up with old friends and drink our fair share of whisky.

We rented a vacation house in Deep Creek, Maryland, for four days with about ~8 families and had a blast. During that time, my friend introduced me to High West Whiskey, a product out of Park City, Utah. I’ve never been to Utah but he explained the convoluted alcohol laws there, as a result of the Mormon influence, and how it resulted in the most curious of pub experiences.

For example, you can’t have two drinks of the same type. So you can have a shot of liquor and a beer but you cannot have two beers. And a beer has to be under 4% or it’s considered liquor. And before a bartender can mix your drink, they have to go into a separate place and behind a “Zion curtain.” And no liquor before you order food. It’s wild… and by wild I mean convoluted.

But! High West Whisky was pretty good. To be honest, nothing sticks out as memorable and I think I know why… it’s from an Indiana factory. This might upset some folks, but it doesn’t bother me. How do you expect a new company to survive aging their own stuff for three years and selling nothing? If they do this in year 5, then we have a problem.

I brought my own bottle share and I went with something a little off the wall. We stopped by the Costco in Washington D.C. and, among other things, I picked up a bottle of Kirkland brand Bourbon, aged 7 years. Many many years ago, I actually tried a Kirkland branded Scotch, but the label said it was from The Macallan distillery. That was a safe bet, I wish I bought more.

This time, the Kirkland branded bourbon had no other distillery’s name on it (it does mention Clear Springs Distillery, which is owned by Buffalo Trace). It was strictly a blend of a variety of bourbon producers. I was curious what my money got me. It was nice, sweet as expected, had a little more bite than the High West, and seemed like a decent value.

The last bottle we had were a class above – Balvenie Triple Cask 16yo. I bought my own in duty free coming back from the UK last year and was still in love. It tasted smoother than a baby’s butt compared to the bourbons (an unfair comparison). Hints of vanilla, fruits and toffee with a gentle caress of a finish that leaves you wanting to take another sip.

Bourbons are deliciously sweet but this trip was a reminder I do love a good scotch.

One Man’s Journey to Blend Your Own Scotch Whisky

One of the great pleasures of being in a Facebook group with nearly a thousand members (join us!) is that there are so many experiences. There’s always someone who has an opinion on something, whether it’s a whisky or a glass!

I think different opinions, and arguments, are the lifeblood of any good community. Take all the opinions, mix them together, and then formulate your own.

One of the ideas that’s been floating around the group is the idea of blending your own whisky. Take a few drams you like and just experiment by mixing them together, letting it sit for a bit and then see what comes out of it.

I’ve personally never tried it but one of our intrepid members, Mike, has and I wanted him to share his approach.

Take it away Mike!

Blending Your Own Scotch Whisky

One Man's Journey to Blending his Own Scotch WhiskyI was inspired to home blend Scotch after watching after watching Ralfy Review46. I enjoy, and agree, with his take on whisky and spirits in general. I wouldn’t call myself a connoisseur, that sounds too stuffy and self-important, and consider myself more of a hobbyist. I enjoy researching, tracking bottles, and collecting what might suit my taste.

In review 46, he suggests lining up four short drams of the same unpeated single malt. Then, leaving the first one alone, adding incrementally more drops of peated malt into each of the other three glasses with a straw. Two drops, then four drops, then eight drops. Then nose and taste each to experience the changes that occur.

This is a cool experiment for your palate.

What’s also cool, and what I would discover as I did this myself, was that you can change a single malt into a variation of itself. Adding peat to Glenfiddich 12. Adding heavy sherry influence to something that doesn’t normally have it. The combinations are endless for collectors who have a lot of bottles on hand.

I first did this after being disappointed by a bottle I purchased and had been struggling to finish. It was a bottle of Ballantines 17 and I didn’t like it very much. I think I was too new to whisky. It’s a fine blend that I was probably not ready to enjoy early in my whisky journey.

After pouring a dram one night, I decided to try “perking” it up with a teaspoon of another bottle I was not enjoying – Aberlour 18. The result of this “in glass” blending? I learned that my palate loved the blend far better than the two separately. It was more than the sum of it’s parts, so to speak. The lightly citrus blend was lifted by the inclusion of more single malt and it’s sherry influence.

I would do an “in glass” blend a few more times before graduating to blending into a separate vessel. I cleaned several small jars for blending.

My first small jar was just an old maraschino cherry jar from the fridge. It worked fine but I wanted something better. I moved onto little 2 ounce snap top bottles I found at a local dollar store, four for $3. Now I always have five mini blends sitting around waiting to be sampled. When I want to go for a slightly different taste, I can crack one of these minis and drink something totally unique.

When blending, I don’t get too complicated. I mix 50/50, 75/25, and even 33/33/33. The point is you are using your own collection and working on choosing from you own favorite taste elements. You also don’t need to blend a lot of volume, a few ounces is all it takes to experiment. If you enjoy it, make it more.

In addition to playing with different flavor elements, you can work on “fixing” a bottle you don’t otherwise enjoy on its own. Better to blend and try to find a dram you enjoy than pour it down the drain!

Also, there are some whiskies that are so revered you might never think to “taint” it by blending. No worries, that’s ok too. But imagine if you put a few drops of Talisker 18 into your glass of Macallan 18? Give it a shot, you might be surprised. Maybe you decide to never do it again, OR, maybe you just stumbled onto a new favorite.

My current blends marrying:

  • Glent Grant 2003/Coal Ila 12 – 75%/25% – Here, I love the GlenGrant on it’s own, it’s light, subtle, almost buttery. I just want to taste a hint of that quality with some peat smoke. Coal Ila is similar in subtlety (as much as an Islay can be), and without any Bowmore 12 on hand, easy choice to inject the peat. I have high hopes for this one.
  • Springbank 18/Highland Park 18 – 50%/50% – Simple blending of two 18 year old quality malts to see if the sum is better than the parts. My bottle of Highland Park 18 has never really blown me away, possibly part of batch variance I’ve read about with the brand. So mixing some funky barnyard Springbank into it could make something special. This should be good.
  • Arran Amarone Cask/Glenlivet Nadurra 16 – 50%/50% (both I disliked, so I’m a bit twisted) – This is pure Franken-blending. I hated the Nadurra (I’m a confirmed Glenlivet enemy), and I did not like the Amarone Cask much either. Arran makes much better age statement whisky than this Cask Finish line. Only thought here, empty the last two swallows of two bad bottles into a blend. How much worse can they get?! HAHAHA, not much hope here.
  • Bowmore 12/Glenlivet 12/GKS Artist Blend – 33%/33%/33% – Again, trying to make Glenlivet palatable to me, by adding the last of my Bowmore 12, and also and already very good blend in the Great King Street Artists Blend. Adding a little single malt to a successful blend has given me some of my best blending results, and hopefully this continues that trend. The Glenlivet 12 is the least offensive, so this may turn out ok.
  • Jura 16/Glenlivet 15/Redbreast 12 – 33%/33%/33% – Similar to the last one. Using up the last of Glenlivet 15 and matching up age groups. Jura 16 was enjoyable and mostly sweet toffee and honey. I was hoping to hide the Glenlivet, and Redbreast is a very good Irish whiskey to add, and my first attempt to include some Irish.

An update on the Jura/Glenlivet/Redbreast blend – since I wrote this I tried this blend. Utter failure. The Glenlivet remained a strong presence, and while I enjoyed Redbreast and Jura 16 separately, this mix was an abomination. But it was a fun trial. I learned something about the strength of the Glenlivet here, and that Redbreast would do better blending with less sweet, as I successfully have mixed it with Coal Ila in the past. It’s all about the education.

Have fun people! Post your trial combinations, no matter if they succeed or fail.

What’s up with all this Scotch in space news?

In the last few weeks, there’s been a lot of news involving scotch and space, the final frontier.

Some of it was fluffy, some of it was legit, but it’s interesting how these stories clustered together.

The two that I found were more on the legit end were Ardbeg’s results from sending new make into space and Ballantine’s Space Glass.

Ardbeg’s Space Experiment

Ardbeg Space Whisky

Courtesy of Ardbeg

We had Ardbeg reporting back on a space experiment they started four years ago. They sent some Ardbeg distillate (new make whisky) along with shards of Ardbeg casks to the International Space Station. Those vials stayed on the ISS for nearly three years and then sent back home. The study was to analyze terpenes, which are organic compounds produced by plants like conifers.

Those vials made the trip back home and were compared with control vials left on Earth. Ardbeg’s Director of Distilling and Whisky Creation, Dr. Bill Lumsden, analyzed the results and discovered that the maturation was different when not subjected to gravity. Different flavors (ratios of wood extractive compounds from the barrel shards) just because it was in space. It means there are more levers to pull in making more distinctive single malts and kind of fun to see it play out.

OK so that’s the level of detail you probably have seen written about in most mainstream press – at this point I would’ve said “ehhh nice marketing move Ardbeg.”

There’s a lot more to it, they performed three tests – gas chromatography (GC), gas chromatography-mass spectrometry (GCMS), and high pressure liquid chromatography (HPLC).

GC measures key volatile compounds of alcohols, aldehydes, ketones, and fatty acid esters. For this, they found the same compounds in both the Earth and the Space samples.

The GCMS is a more serious version of GC and they discovered that one phenolic compound was much lower in the space samples.

And HPLC measures phenolic compounds and wood extractives, where they saw the biggest difference. With wood extractives, there are some compounds that come out of the wood easily and some that are harder. They discovered that without gravity, the easier to extract compounds were less prevalent than in the Earth sample. Gravity was a factor. Space whisky just didn’t get as much of the easy to get wood extractives.

Ballantine’s Space Glass

ballantine-whiskey-space-glassBallantine designed a glass that will let you enjoy your whisky in space.

At first glance, it sounds soooooo gimmicky. I mean a space glass? Really?

But as you read about it, it’s kind of cool. No doubt it’s gimmicky in the sense that you’re not going into space so you’re not going to need a space glass.

But… it’s also a really fun story because they didn’t just slap “Space Glass” on a regular glass, like Frozen’s been slapped on everything. (OK a Frozen glass with Elsa would be truly gimmicky).

It’s a James Parr designed 3D printed plastic with a metal base that contains a one-way valve and a 10kg pull magnet. I’d go into all the different parts of the design but I’d rather you take five minutes to watch this video from the designer himself.

Not gonna lie, I’d give it a try. 🙂

Is Whisky a Good Investment?

Impressive Scotch Collection - Courtsey of Bill in our Facebook Group

Impressive Scotch Collection – Courtsey of Bill in our Facebook Group

Reader Mike sent me this question the other day –

I have read a few articles about using Scotch whisky as an investment, not a primary source of investment though. I was wondering what your thoughts on this would be and if you know of any articles that might help point me in the right direction to start investing wisely. Unfortunately I don’t have the deep pockets to spend thousands of dollars on a bottle.

This email came into my inbox just a couple days after Reader Antoine shared this news item in our Facebook group. The summary is that a recent auction for the 2014 Balvenie 50 year old sold at a £11,400 loss to retail value, that’s a big loss in a single year.

But that’s collectibles for you.

And that’s why I don’t invest in whisky. Or art. Or any other collectible for a financial return.

Whisky falls under the category of a collectible. Collectibles are fun but they all share two things in common that make them terrible investments for me.

First, there is a limited market which makes the illiquid. Real estate is illiquid too, think about how long it takes to sell a house, but at least there is a large market for it.

Second, because they are so illiquid, they are volatile when they do move.

It’s not like the stock market where a particular stock’s price is set by multiple buyers and sellers. This is a single item usually the only one being sold and so the price is affected by a variety of factors independent of the item itself. You could get lucky or unlucky very easily.

I view investing in collectibles a lot like gambling. It’s more about entertainment than it is about making money. No one ever sits down to a blackjack table in Vegas thinking they’ll walk away a richer person. You do it because it’s fun. If it weren’t fun, you wouldn’t do it because you’re probably going to lose money too!

If I haven’t dissuaded you yet… I found this pretty good article that’ll teach you a little bit so you don’t lose all of it!

Do you invest in whisky or other collectibles? Tell us about it. I may not like doing it myself but I love hearing about it. 🙂

What do you think of artificial aging?

 Credit: twicepix

Credit: twicepix

I read an article in Wired today titled “This Guy Says He Can Make 20-Year-Old Rum in 6 Days.” The article is very detailed (and thus long) but it tells the story of how Bryan Davis started Lost Spirits and developed a way to artificially age spirits through chemistry.

Aging is chemistry. The spirit reacts with the burned wood barrel and that, over time, imparts different flavors. The longer you age, the more time chemistry has to work. Davis has figured out how to force the issue.

Personally, I think this is awesome.

I think that if he’s successful and he is able to create a 50-year old whisky in a very short period of time, I’ll one day be able to taste a close facsimile of a 50-year old whisky. I don’t think that you can replicate it completely (heck, by definition one 50-year old barrel’s contents will be different than one right next to it in storage!) but that doesn’t matter.

It’s close enough.

And it’ll be affordable enough, which is key.

And it won’t take anything away from existing 50-year old whiskies either. Part of the enjoyment of whisky is the story and there’s nothing super-romantic about “we chemistrified this frankenmalt to make it taste like it was aged 50 years.” It’s cool, but it’s not steeped in anything except science.

What do you think?