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Movin’ On

The Whisky2.0 Blog lives on: You should still see the URL www.whisky2dot0.com working just fine, and this blog will live on here at whisky2dot0.wordpress.com. But now my blog is hosted at Blogger. I’m trying it on, so please be patient.

Why keep the WordPress site? I put a lot of work into collecting the physical locations of Scotch whisky distilleries and I want those to remain available, if for no other reason than so I can refer to them in the future. :-)

 
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Posted by on 15-February-2012 in Announcements, Whisky2.0

 

Tom Has Left the Building

Wait! Let me explain myself. My wife’s photo blog last night is a picture of my hat and coat – but no me, which was very apropos for today…my last day at my job of the last 6 years. What a big change! So when I saw her picture when I got up this morning, I titled it “Tom Has Left the Building.”

The reason I’ve been so preoccupied of late is that I have been in the process of getting hired by Google. This has been extremely stressful, due to the tension between my strong desire for a positive outcome vs. the long time that it took. The process basically involves a bunch of short, very stressful high-intensity periods of activity punctuated by long periods of nothing happening.

In possibly unrelated news, Google’s stock price has gone from $522.18 to $650.02 (i.e., up just over 24%) since I started down this road. The market approves, apparently. :-)

I hope to now have a chance to rebuild my mental energy reserves so I have the capacity to write more here again. I think I’ll find writing about whisky to be therapeutic…after I get a LOT of sleep!

I bet you wonder what whisky I celebrated with. No? I’ll tell you anyway: Dalmore Mackenzie. It is outstanding. I was lucky to have a sample on hand, because it’s way more expensive than my usual budget. With that said, now that I’ve had it, I am pretty sure that it’s worth the price.

 
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Posted by on 7-January-2012 in Whisky2.0

 

Bliadhna Mhath Ùr – Fàilte 2012!

That is Scottish Gaelic for “Happy New YearWelcome 2012.”

I hope you haven’t missed me – the last few months have been, um, hectic. More news as events warrant. Also, 2012 should bring more blogging from me.

Click this picture for an article on the misty origins of Auld Lang Syne.

 
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Posted by on 31-December-2011 in Whisky2.0

 

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Wine Is to Brandy as Beer Is to… ______

Fill in the blank: ________ The answer is “whisk(e)y,” but I might be skipping ahead too far.

The real question is: People drink wine and brandy (and specialized kinds of brandy, like cognac), but people don’t drink beer and whisk(e)y. You might think I’m wrong. Did I just say that people don’t drink beer?

The Real Question

Yes. Of course, people drink beer. But people don’t drink the beer from which whisk(e)y is made. So, let’s ask a related question that may be possible to answer:

  • Why Is Good Whisk(e)y Made from Bad Beer?

If we just focus on Scotch whisky and Irish whiskey, as far as I know, the beer (wash) from which these are made isn’t even drunk by the people that make the whisk(e)y, much less offered to visitors. Single-malt Scotch whisky is made from malted barley, water and yeast (period). Irish whiskey is made from a combination of malted and un-malted barley (and water and yeast). Even though the Scottish or Irish distilleries don’t sell or offer tastings of their starting product, their finished products turn out well enough….

  • Why isn’t whisk(e)y made from good beer?

I define “good beer” as beer that whisk(e)y producers would be happy for distillery visitors to drink, perhaps good enough that they’d sell it on the open market. I will point out that it’s all the rage to sell “new make” (or “white dog”) spirit, which is simply legal moonshine, so I wondered why no one had extrapolated this process further up the production chain. Whisk(e)y lovers seem to be clamoring for such “insider” experiences.

Yes, Virginia, You Can Make Whisk(e)y from Good Beer

I was very fortunate this Summer to spend time at the Charbay Distillery in St. Helena, CA. Marko, the 13th-generation Master Distiller, is doing just this. He’s making whiskey from Bear Republic Brewing Company‘s Big Bear Black Stout and their Racer 5 IPA. Both are likely to become fine whiskeys. Marko’s direct quote about the distilled stout is: “…green spice, rum tones, and its so smooth i want to bottle it right off the damn pipe.

Back to the moonshine comment above: I’m not a fan. I’ve tried many of these trendy “whisk(e)y” products and mostly they are pretty flavorless. As with anything I write here, this is my opinion. I know that many people like them and I am not disparaging their opinions. Please: If you like something, drink it! You don’t have to justify your preferences to anyone else. To my palate, these products do have more flavor than vodka, which is the closest thing I can compare them to, but it’s clear that — at least for the ones I have tried — they really need lots of time in wood (at least the traditional 2-3 years) to acquire their “whisk(e)y flavors.” Not so with Charbay’s product: According to Marko (see above), his white dog spirit actually has flavor before it has rested in wood for years. It doesn’t need those years of chemical reactions and magic to be palatable.

If you think about it, the distillation process is a way of concentrating flavors and smells by 15-20x, so in your mind, imagine starting with an excellent stout beer or IPA and extracting and concentrating the best flavors. You’d imagine that the finished product would simply rock…and it does.

This isn’t the first time Marko (and his Dad, Miles) has made whiskey from good beer: Marko’s solo project, Doubled & Twisted was distilled from an IPA (rather recently), after Marko and Miles got rave reviews on their first beer distilling collaboration that they produced from Pilsner beer. I was able to taste their Pilsner whiskey at one of the local retailers that carries their products, and it was amazing. You would be blown away at how the hops evolve in distillation. And these flavors are present immediately — as soon as the liquid leaves the still. This whiskey had been aged as well, so it was a deep and complex whiskey, one of the best I have ever had.

California has always attracted pioneers, explorers and dreamers, so it’s only fitting that you’d find a distillery in the middle of the Napa valley wine country that was experimenting with making whiskey from good beer. Honestly…where else?

 
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Posted by on 25-October-2011 in California, Whisky2.0

 

What’s the Flavor of Yeast?

Yeast is perhaps one of the most overlooked (or perhaps the least spoken about…) ingredients in whisk(e)y distillation. We all know the main contribution of the yeast: Ethanol. I wrote about yeast on my first whisky blog in 2008. But this Summer I learned a lot more about it in the best possible way: Using my nose and mouth.

What Gets Distilled?

If you think about it, the “liquid” that goes into the first still (in Scotch whisky production, the wash still) isn’t a pure liquid. It has dead yeast in it, and lots of other things, including leftover undistilled liquids from previous passes through the wash still. There are unconsumed enzymes from the mashing process, malted barley solids (or in general whisk(e)y terms, grain solids), and the latter contains every kind of biological chemical compound from proteins to amino acids to fats to DNA to complex carbohydrates to trace minerals absorbed from the soil into the plant when it grew.

Then you cook that mixture to boil/extract the alcohol and whatever comes along for the ride. That’s distillation, and it’s not nearly as simple as “extract pure alcohol” — chemical analysis of single-malt Scotch whisky has identified over 600 chemicals in the distillate! That’s a good thing, too, because pure Ethanol has no flavor to speak of…what’s brilliant is that many chemicals that we associate with various smells or tastes are alcohol-soluble. Good stuff comes along for the ride, and gets refined during aging.

The spirit still will further concentrate the esters and other chemicals which are the source of the pleasant flavors, smells and textures of whisk(e)y.

So: What Did I Learn?

I was privileged to participate in a side-by-side tasting of two identical unaged California Bourbon whiskeys made with identical ingredients in identical proportions. The only difference was that each recipe used a different kind of yeast. One of the Bourbons was noticeably smoother in texture, almost buttery, with a “flatter” flavor profile. The other was much “sharper” and had (for lack of a better term) a “watery” texture, at least compared to the first one. The two samples were at the same ABV, which was over 60%, and they were roughly equivalent in that department. Both were clearly corn-based because that came out in the smell of the whiskey.

The lesson was that yeast has a heck of a lot of influence on the final product. I now have a much higher appreciation of yeast’s “unsung” contributions to the flavor of whisk(e)y.

 
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Posted by on 23-September-2011 in California, United States, Whisky2.0

 

Third Time’s the Charm: Tasting the Cigar Malt

The Dalmore has produced a series of single-malt expressions (three, so far – to my knowledge):

  • Cigar Malt
  • Gran Reserva
  • Cigar Malt Reserve (the sequel)
None of these carry an age statement. The Dalmore is detailed here.

Cigar Malt

At 43% ABV, and with a price less than $50, this was a nice sherried dram that I always liked (sadly, it’s no longer available). The nose is very malty, with leather notes and citrus. It even seems to have a hint of sour cherries (must be the sherry aging…).

Despite the rumors, the whisky wasn’t ever aged in tobacco. :-)

The finish is not very long, nor is the whisky especially sweet, which may be why it would pair nicely with a cigar. I can’t say, since I don’t smoke. There are tart berries (black currants?) in the finish, but the finish is only average.

If you find a bottle of the original Cigar Malt in a liquor store, it’s a great value. Buy it while it lasts!

Gran Reserva

People told me that they did not like this as much as the Cigar Malt due to the fact that it’s much sweeter than the Cigar Malt. I would concur. There are still cherries and the sweetness reminds me of honey, however it’s not thick…actually it’s got a very thin mouthfeel. This might be a result of the lower ABV (it’s only 40%). There is less leather in the nose and this is much more mellow than the Cigar Malt. There is a tanginess or astringency on the tongue in the finish.

Cigar Malt Reserve

This is the strongest of the three, at 44% ABV. There is more malt (and hay?) on the nose than either of the previous iterations. There is pronounced orange and vanilla in the nose, which I really like, and something nutty (either hazelnut or walnut). The flavors are much more powerful overall, probably due to the ABV. It’s like it was dialed up a notch. The finish has nice oaky or woody notes mixed with what might be anise. I think this is the best of the three. Sadly, it’s also the most expensive (and at $125, I think it’s not a particularly good value).

Full disclosure

I received small samples of the latter two expressions via The Baddish Group. Slàinte! I hadn’t had a chance to purchase a bottle of the Gran Reserva before it sold out, and it was nice to get a sample of the “new” Cigar Malt, because it’s a bit out of my price range.

 
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Posted by on 17-September-2011 in Northern Highland, Whyte and Mackay

 

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It Literally Exploded

I don’t write whisky reviews very often, but here goes nothing! This will be a competitive tasting of two different yet “identical” whiskies.

Summary: Two whiskies with same name and same age couldn’t be more different!

Bruichladdich Port Charlotte

Official Bottling

The Official Bottling is intense, smoky and wild. It’s not a subtle dram. The intensity of the age 5 was incredible — it was out of control — while the age 6 was subdued by comparison. In the 7, the intensity is back, but it’s smoother than the 5. The 7 is malty and salty, with a complex nose that I have trouble parsing. It’s quite overwhelming! The saltiness makes your mouth water. The nose isn’t as smoky as you’d think, and there are spicy notes like cinnamon and you can even pick out heather (well, my wife says you can…I never could say what that smells like!). The peat smoke really comes in on the finish, which is long and quiet. It’s like a campfire, after it has been doused, which is still warm and humid and reeking of charcoal, with an occasional crackle. Yummy!

Scotch Malt Whisky Society

The Scotch Malt Whisky Society of America’s bottling of the “same” spirit at the “same” age is the same thing. Only it’s so not the same. :-) I can see the resemblance, but: The SMSWA version goes to 11.

How are the two different? Well, it’s easy to see that they are different: The SMWS bottling is several shades darker in color! You can see that it was aged in a Sherry cask, as advertised. Oh, and It’s seriously smokey. I’m drinking this (and writing this) rather late in the evening and I am sure I’ll be enjoying the peat all day tomorrow. I might be imagining it, but it seems to have a thicker mouth feel. Or my tongue might be getting numb. The finish is possibly infinite; I’ll let you know in the morning. Oh, btw, I had to add water to this. It’s 66.6% (the number of the beast??). The OB was “only” 61% ABV.

You can really see how a single cask can be very different than the “blend” of different casks that the distillery usually marries together to make the final product. That blending probably accounts for the uneven progression from the 5 to the 6 to the 7.

Credits

My good friend Christopher Jew (@whiskywall) was kind enough to share 50 ml or so of this precious spirit. You can find a very entertaining review (aren’t they all?) over at WhiskyFun.

Afterthoughts

The title of this blog post indicates that there was an explosion. Well, sort of. When I received the sample from Christopher, I was at work, and I couldn’t resist the temptation: I didn’t taste it, but I had to open it so I could smell it. That’s when it popped. The little white disk inside the cap came flying off, and there was an audible “pop,” much to my surprise!

I didn’t have to get close to the bottle to smell it…the room was instantly filled with the smell of a wet smokey peat fire. And now, I’m going to sit here and enjoy the long finish. If you can find this dram, and if you enjoy smokey whiskies, I do recommend it.

After-Afterthoughts

I really enjoyed sitting up for the last hour, until after midnight, drinking whisky and writing about it. :-)

 
 
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