Johnnie Walker Blue “Smart” Whisky Bottle

via ThinFilm

via ThinFilm

You have to be kidding me.

I have about twenty different things I hate about this idea that Johnnie Walker will be doing with the Blue Label bottle. The gist is that they’ll be sticking a sensor tag on it that uses near field communications to talk to your smartphone (in reality, your phone is sending out signals and this label will respond).

They claim that this is good for the buyer because you can tell if the bottle has been opened, how long it’s been opened for, and, oh yeah, you can get personalized promotions, cocktails, and communicate with Diageo.

Personalized promotions, eh? Those are called ads. I don’t need more ads.

As for making sure my scotch has never been opened? I’ve never had that problem before. I’ve never purchased a bottle and discovered it was already opened!

via ThinFilm

via ThinFilm

And if you look at the image of the label, the “has it been opened” before test is whether the wire on the top part of the sensor has been broken (thus giving a different signal). It seems pretty easy to defeat since the wire doesn’t go over the top of the bottle.

And cocktails? If you use Johnnie Walker Blue Label in a cocktail… I’m not even going to say anything because I know you wouldn’t. 🙂

This reminds me of the dot com boom when every company decided to throw “dot com” at the end of their name because it tripled their valuation. Apps are hot right now, very hot, and it seems like everyone wants to figure out a way to use technology… even if it’s the wrong way.

I’ll tell you what though, I like the technology behind it, I like the innovation and the thinking that led to this (because it leads to more experimental ideas). I don’t think I’ll be installing an app but the sensor on the bottle itself doesn’t bother me.

Hat tip to Gary G. in our Facebook group for sharing this!

Is Johnnie Walker Green Back in Production? Maybe.

Johnnie Walker GreenA few years ago, Johnnie Walker discontinued Johnnie Walker Green Label, much to the chagrin of many a fan. As recently as October 2013, they had no plans to offer it again.

But readers in our Facebook group reported talking to their local liquor store and learning that JW Green was back in stock because it was in production.

Companies change their plans all the time and October 2013 was a long long time ago, was the store manager of the liquor store right? Is it back in production?

Turns out it’s not. I sent an email to Johnnie Walker and our friend Eliza (perhaps the same rep from Oct 2013!) has this to say:

Johnnie Walker Green Label was discontinued in North America, however, to celebrate the tenth anniversary of this world-renowned whisky we are releasing it as a limited time offering. Johnnie Walker Green Label should begin hitting store shelves throughout February 2015. I encourage you to speak with your local retailer to request they place an order for the product.

Hmmm… this makes it seem like it’s discontinued in North America only (otherwise why mention NA specifically, something they didn’t do in 2013), so it might be back in production. I sent another email to clarify and will update this post when I know more.

JW Green may or may not be back in production but it’s available, you may need to have your local store order it.

What is the Best Beginner Scotch Whisky?

Credit: petyosi

Credit: petyosi

When it comes to premium liquors, Scotch whisky is one of the more expensive categories.

That’s because Scotch whisky has to come from Scotland and is subject to a variety of duties and taxes as it enter the United States. It’s also aged, a minimum of three years, so when you combine the aging with the duties and taxes, it makes for a more expensive product. It’s hard to drop $35 on a bottle of Glenlivet and not be sure if you’ll like it. It’s more (financially) palatable to spend less than $20 on a bourbon (which is a whiskey made of corn, produced domestically, and no minimum aging period).

Scotch whisky also has the most character and variety. Scotch whiskies have more variety in their manufacturing processes, are aged for more than three years so the aging process can have a greater effect, and you can have two Scotch whiskies that are widely divergent in their flavor profiles. Islays and Speysides anyone?

Then throw in the fact that it’s 40%+ alcohol by volume and you can see that it gets to be quite intimidating for a new enthusiast.

It doesn’t have to be though. I tapped our Facebook group, a bunch of seasoned pros, to find out what they think is the best beginner scotch whisky. If you’re new, you’ll see a lot of names in the list below but if you fire up Google you can find tasting notes for them. A lot of them are Speyside/Highland malts too, which I think is the best way to introduce someone to Scotch.

Alright, onto what our group thinks!

Me: My choice is Glenmorangie 10 (Original) because it’s inexpensive, fairly representative of a crisp and clean Speyside, and it was one of my first so I’m biased in that regard.

I would’ve recommend Glenlivet 12, my actual first dram, but that spicy finish will confuse most beginners. They’ll probably be getting used to the alcohol and the bite of the finish might be too much.

Patrick J.: Macallan 12 is my vote. Glenlivet is a great Scotch, but Macallan 12 is what I use to introduce friends to Scotch since it is always a crowd pleaser. Easy to drink, great flavor, approachable, nice mouth feel, just a lovely dram. I don’t have any experience with Buchanan’s that I can truly recall back to, other than I know I had a glass some years ago and never sought it out again.
Daniel W: Jim, I agree with you 100% Glenmorangie 10 is a perfect dram for a beginner. The sweetness makes it very accessible.

Percy S: The OP 12 may take the throne for me after further tasting, but at the moment I have to give it to Glengoyne 12. I feel it represents the basics of scotch whisky as I think of it best. Good value and readily available.

Honorable mention to Highland Park 10, but it’s not widely available. I like it better than HP 12.

Ari C: I actually would recommend Glengoyne 10. No peat and not to over powering on the sweet.

For a beginners blend I would pick Monkey Shoulder.

Mike W: Another good one is Aberlour 10yr.

Bill M: For a beginners blend, I also like Dewars 12YO.

Clayton F: I often buy Balvenie 12yr double wood for anyone starting out, not to aggressive but not boring either. Fiddich 12yr is a pretty good starter also, easy to find too. Oh so many starters!!!

Gary W: For a beginner and in the price range you have mentioned, Dewars, Grants, Monkey shoulder, and Black bottle immediately come to mind. Not to much alcohol bite and really easy to drink. I think the lower aged “glens” are also a decent choice. All are low to no peats, smooth easy drinking, and really don’t challenge your palate.

David C: All great suggestions so far! I would like to throw Glenfarclas 12 into the mix. It’s less than $50 a bottle and a great introduction to the sherry cask finish style of single malt. A little bit spicy with nice fruit on the palate, it’s got a nice, well-balanced sherry-forward flavor profile.

Ray C: I shared a dram Saturday evening with several friends who were first time scotch drinkers. One had received as a gift a bottle of McClelland’s Lowland Single Malt so we tried it. I enjoyed it, but more importantly, they enjoyed it. Fairly mild but nice taste. We all are looking forward to the next time we have a chance to get together and share a dram!

Rob G: Auchentoshan 12. Easy drinking, inexpensive, range of flavours.

Brad L: I agree with Jim and some others. I always maintain a supply of (The Original) Glenmorangie. It’s a good “every day” whisky and is always well received by my guests who are not regular scotch drinkers.

Ray C: I agree with you guys about the Glenmorangie Original. It was the first single malt I purchased for myself and always keep one on hand. On bottle #4 now. Good stuff!

Randy H: Monkey Shoulder by far for a blend. I like Glenfiddich 15 for single since it’s not too expensive and easy to get.

David H: Highland Park twelve for those wanting to start with a bit of peat. For an inexpensive whisky great for beginners and long standing malt maniacs.

Wayne O: Hate to sound like a broken record, but Monkey Shoulder is a standout considering it’s very low price. Also love Glenmorangie original.

João B: Whyte Mackay Special . Not expensive , smooth taste, floral and sweet nose .

Aaron M: Will I be kicked out for suggesting a blend? Johnny Walker black is so easy to drink. That’s what got me hooked.

Anthony I: Highland park 12, though my buddy doesn’t usually like scotch and he really likes Laphroaigs Triple Wood…

Rogelio D: Monkey Shoulder and Glenmorangie 10 are great introductions for the price. As far as availability, Glenlivet and Glenfiddich 12 are everywhere so those are great to introduce to beginner’s also. Highland Park 12 is a great intro to smoke

Ken Feese Single malt to start Glenlivet 12 year, Blended to start would be Johnny Walker Black label. Both are economical examples of a basic Scotch and easy to enjoy. IMO
Yesterday at 6:48pm · Like

Arthur B: My first was Johnnie Walker Red Label and I’m not sure what brought me to seek Scotch but once I had decided on doing it I was attracted to the Red due to cost and liked the aesthetics of the bottle. After Red I went Black for a small price increase. I will be seeking out next a Glenlivet 12 for my first foray into the single malts.

Grant S: How about the glenrothes select inexpensive and very approachable.

William S: I started about 35 years ago with JW Black–and discovered single malts about 20 ago—For me Speyside and the highlands are great–I can’t handle Islay or Jura–but that is just me – Love everything Balvenie, MacCallan, Glenmorangie, Oban and Glenfarclas do

Michael D: Macallan 10 or 12.

I hope this list helps!

What’s Caramel Coloring in Whisky? (E150a)

Credit: sashafatcat

Credit: sashafatcat

If I put two glasses in front of you, one the color of pale grass Bud Light and the other as dark as a Guinness Stout… which one do you think has more flavor? Which one has more punch and power?

The darker one.

It’s a natural bias. I know I have a bias when it comes to the color of my whisky.

The richer and darker the color, the more flavor I expect and, thus, perceive.

There’s a reason I used the analogy of Bud Light versus Guinness – I think my bias comes from my early days of drinking beer. You have your pale straw colored light beers, nearly devoid of flavor, and you have your dark porters and stouts, which pack a lot of malty goodness.

With whisky, I also associate the darker color with maturity. New make whisky is transparent and clear. It’s moonshine. Much of the color comes from the aging process inside a charred barrel. Presumably, the longer it’s aged and the darker the char of the barrel, the darker your whisky will be.

Would it surprise you to find out that companies have turned to artificial coloring to darken colors without having to age as long? They do it with caramel coloring, commercially known as E150a, and if you ask them, they do it for a variety of reasons.

Let’s knock out the basics of what it is and then go into the why.

What is this caramel coloring? It’s known as E150, which is a European designation, and it comes in four degrees of darkness (a through d, or class I to IV). It’s sometimes called spirit caramel.

How do they make Caramel E150? They caramelize commercially available food grade sweetners, like corn syrup and sucrose. In other words, they burn sugars. For Class I or A, there cannot be sulphites and ammonia compounds, which makes it the color additive of choice for whisky.

Can you taste the caramel sweetness? This is up for debate but the folks at Master of Malt did a blind taste test with 10 of their staff. Only one could pick out the glass of water with the caramel color additive (and they expected 1.66, since there were 10 participants and one of the six glasses had the caramel). While hardly a definitive study, at the very least it’s not going to obviously affect whisky.

Why do they use it? This is the billion dollar question right?

Companies will tell you that it’s for consistency. People expect a whisky to look a certain way and different batches will yield different colors, it’s just the nature of the maturing process. This is a legitimate argument and I buy it… however, I’m sure they also do it for branding.

Do you care if your whisky has caramel coloring? Do you avoid it? Ignore it? Had no idea? Don’t care?

Best Scotch for a Special Occasion

Credit: Herkie

Credit: Herkie

“What is the best scotch for a special occasion?”

A reader recently emailed me that question and I absolutely loved it. In Chinese culture (and many many others), alcohol features prominently in celebrations of any kind. Almost every family has a few bottles of something (usually Remy Martin XO, a cognac, for whatever reason) they reserve for a special occasion.

So I loved this question and here’s my stab at answering it.

First, special occasions come in all shapes and sizes. Is it an important business meeting? Celebration of a monumental achievement like a graduation or a wedding? Or perhaps it’s an old friend you haven’t seen in years coming over? Different occasions call for different things.

It’s important to remember that there is no right answer to this question. Celebrations are about the people in attendance, not what they’re drinking, and so you really can’t go wrong with the scotch if you’re right about the people.

Whatever You LOVE

I had the idea that you need to spend a ton of money in the name of a “celebration.” Just buy a bottle of whatever you absolutely love, that puts a smile on your face whenever a drop touches your lips, and keep that around for special occasions. Good scotch doesn’t have to cost thousands of dollars and chances are you’ve developed a love of something that doesn’t break the bank.

Buy that, pour it in a glencairn, sip and celebrate.

OK, now that I’m off the soapbox… 🙂

An Affordable Scotch for a Special Occasion

Credit: guzzphoto

Credit: guzzphoto

Some can spend $27,000 on a bottle of scotch and others find it difficult to spend $100, which is nearly fourteen hours of minimum wage work before you take out taxes.

I want to offer two options for a delicious affordable Scotch you can break out for a special occasion – the first is The Macallan 12. Macallan has a rich history and a pedigree that boosts it’s price tag by a few dollars, but it’s a history and pedigree that most are familiar with. For $50-60 a bottle (Glenlivet 12 is under $40), you bring that majesty to your celebration.

The next one is one I chose because it’s unique – Talisker 10 Year (~$50 also). It’s not difficult to find but I like it for special occasions because it’s so different. It’s the only distillery on Skye and the mix of the seaweed/seasalt and the smokiness make for a really intriguing single malt. It’s special in flavor and while I’d drink it more often than on special occasions, it does make for a distinctive experience.

A Less-Affordable Scotch

Credit: sentxd

Credit: sentxd

What if your price points jump higher – to say under $200?

At this point, I’d say go with Macallan 18 or Johnnie Walker Blue.

I enjoy Johnnie Walker Blue but I think it’s overpriced for what it is. It’s definitely marked up because of the brand name (to be fair, many are but JW Blue carries that luxury premium unlike any other) and so I mention it simply because it’s a good blended scotch that universally recognized. If you’re celebrating this with folks, they know you’re celebrating.

Macallan 18 is my pick for a $200 bottle celebratory scotch whisky. For many of the same non-Scotch reasons as the 12 but now you add the fact that Macallan 18 is delicious. You will find no argument on that score, the only arguments are typically around price as you can find other delicious scotch whiskies for less.

An “Extravagant” Scotch

For this, you could pick any number of whiskies that have big age statement numbers or high price tags, but I wanted to go in a different direction with this. Here are some ideas of extravagance that refer not to the price tag necessarily but to the emotion.

First, if you’ve ever traveled to a distillery and they offer a way to bottle your own – do it. My friend Rick went to Aberlour and was able to hand fill his own bottle of cask strength whisky. That’s pretty cool, unique, and it’s not that much more expensive (not counting airfare and lodging!).

Rick: It was exclusive to the tour and hand fill process. If I remember correctly, the bottle was around £50-75 which isn’t crazy for scotch, especially for 15-yr single barrel expression. My memory is of an A’bunadh like scotch, but cleaner, smoother, and nicer. A’bunadh goes for £40 retail and £32 on sale so a bit of markup on the hand fill for a similar bottle, but not too bad.

Plus it is in a nice wooden presentation case. If I paid 75 for a nice bottle right now retail I wouldn’t think as highly of it (the retail bottle) so there is an intrinsic value of the experience.

Reader David from Italy shared an idea in the Facebook group (free to join) about buying a bottle distilled in the year you were born (or a significant year). If you’re aiming to open the bottle for when your kid graduates college, buy it now when it’s cheaper and then wait to open it. Personally, being born in 1980, I can find one with that date and not have it be exorbitant.

Good luck you folks who have a few years on me. 🙂

Finally, next time you’re in duty free, buy something that looks sexy on the shelf. Maybe it’s something in a wooden case or some other accoutrement, but it just looks bad ass. It’s something that, when you look at it on the shelf, you’re reminded of what’s to come and what’s worth celebrating.

For me, I bought a bottle of Glenlivet Archive 21 because I love Glenlivet and it came in this beautiful box. I also bought it at a time when spending $180 on a bottle of anything was a huge stretch. It acts as a reminder of an earlier time and I love seeing it.

What scotch do you have saved up for a special occasion? (And what’s the occasion?)