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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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You Put Whiskey in What?

Yesterday, my wife (always on the lookout for interesting mentions of whisk(e)y in the world), forwarded me an email from Daily Candy:

This company (Gelateria Naia) has a lot of very interesting Gelato flavors (and really, how could you make it better? PUT IT ON A STICK!), but two flavors jumped immediately to the fore:

  1. St. George Single Malt Whiskey
  2. Blue Bottle Coffee

So, of course, I ran right out to Whole Foods (the only nearby place that had this product) for experimental supplies. For science. 🙂

There is a distilling connection to both of these. St. George Spirits in Alameda, CA makes St. George single-malt whiskey (and I have a bottle of lot number 6). So this was a match made in heaven: Would I be able to tell that there was St. George single-malt in the eponymous gelato bar? But before I reveal the answer, to the real question of whether it’s a good idea to make ice cream with whiskey in it, I have to reveal how St. George is related to Blue Bottle Coffee (btw, they have the world’s simplest web page!).

Blue Bottle makes outstanding coffee and they got started in the San Francisco Bay Area as a micro-roaster. They acquired a loyal following and grew into a small set of stores with a bigger loyal following. They worked with St. George (another local company) to create Firelit, a coffee liqueur, a brandy with the essence of coffee at its heart. I was lucky enough to get some of the first batch. It’s amazing. Tomorrow’s experiment will be to see how close the gelato is to the Firelit.

But for today, we have an interesting observation. I personally never have whisk(e)y with ice. I believe that cold temperatures dull the palate. I am ok if you have it with ice. It’s your whisk(e)y…have it how you like it. But I think that while the gelato definitely tasted of whiskey, and I had some of the precious liquid handy for comparison purposes, the cold definitely dampened the flavor (and aroma). It was clearly made with whiskey, but what you end up with is a shadow of the original spirit. With that said, it’s one of the best gelati I have ever had!
 
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Posted by on 5-June-2011 in Whisky2.0

 

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Balvenie Roadshow

I’m sitting here at the Balvenie Roadshow event at Epic Roasthouse in San Francisco with DG Blackburn and other bloggers (@whiskywall, @the_casks, others) and press. And it’s cold. San Francisco. Bayside. Windy. May 2nd. OMG, fffffreakin’ COLD.

For some unknown reason, the Balvenie folks (who are on an excellent adventure, crisscrossing America showcasing handmade, artisanal products), really messed up here. I’m sad to say it, but they put the bloggers and press outside, in the cold, with no food, while there was another event that was inside, with food. Presumably it was warmer inside. It wasn’t all bad…we did have ice water. 🙂

Besides the weather being outside of the Balvenie’s control was the fact that the restaurant started a very smoky wood fire in the outdoor fireplace. This really interfered with my ability (albeit already limited) to taste the whisky. Finally, it’s possible that I mis-read the invitation, but I had expected the 40yo Balvenie to be on offer. Maybe the non-press folks in the warmth got that. Truth to tell, with the smoke it would probably have been wasted on me.

Despite my environmental concerns, this was a really cool idea for marketing their brand. It really is hand-crafted, and they are realtively unique in the Scotch whisky business in that they do control every aspect of the Scotch-making process, from growing the barley to making the casks, to making and maintaining the stills I am sure that their marketing of the various artisans was appreciated. You should check them out. And I do really like their products. Their new limited release Peated Cask is excellent. As Nicholas, our host, said, this is a dram that simultaneously makes your mouth wet and dry. It’s true! This is a unique Speyside whisky with a distinct peat smoke finish, that is not OTT on the peat. It’s about perfectly balanced in my opinion.

 
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Posted by on 2-May-2011 in Whisky2.0

 

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More on the Glenfiddich “Cask of Dreams”

It’s a contest, too. I didn’t mention that because it’s mostly not applicable to folks in California.

Here’s why: Under California law, it’s apparently illegal to pay someone more than $5 to encourage them to drink alcohol (distilled spirits, to be specific; there appear to be separate rules for beer, and for wine). Mitch from Glenfiddich told me about this. So the $15,000 grand prize is a bit “offside” (at least for folks in California!). I didn’t want to write about this until I had a chance to investigate further. Bottom line: It sure looks like Mitch is well-informed! 🙂

Mostly, our liquor laws are fairly liberal, but this restriction was news to me. I think this legal constraint is spelled out in “section 25600” of the California Business and Professions Code in paragraph (c). I am certainly not a lawyer, just skilled with the Google machine.

Anyway, I encourage people outside of California to enter the Glenfiddich Cask of Dreams contest. The link above will tell you all about the very interesting prizes. Best of luck! If you heard about it here, and you win, please do tell us what your dream was!

 
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Posted by on 25-April-2011 in Whisky2.0, William Grant & Sons

 

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Scotch Whisky-Producing Regions

One of the most important ways we organize the many thousands of single-malt whisky expressions on the market is by their region of origin. Single-malt Scotch whisky is an intensely local product, and due to that locality, the styles tended to co-evolve among distilleries that were near each other.

These regional names at least give a small clue as to the style of the product. After all, a single-malt comes from a single distillery, so logically it comes from one specific place. This is a familiar way to categorize similar products, e.g., wine.

Note: Regional appellations don’t apply to blends since they may include ingredients from multiple regions.

However, it’s not a perfect system…

Even though whiskies from a given region do tend to have common flavor profiles, not all Speyside whiskies are unlike all whisky from other regions (the same could be said of any other region). As they say: The exceptions prove the rule….

One of the most awesome things about learning about single-malt Scotch is that you are frequently surprised, and you have to be open to that.

What are the officially recognized regions?

There are five official regions of single-malt Scotch whisky that have legally protected names:

  • Campbeltown
  • Highland
  • Islay
  • Lowland
  • Speyside

You will frequently see more specific (yet unofficial) descriptive names used in books, even by very esteemed whisky writers like Michael Jackson (e.g., names like Eastern Highland, Island, Northern Highland, etc.). I am sure that these writers use these terms consistently but since there is no generally agreed definition of the terms, it’s safer to stick to the standard five names.

With that said, I do tag my distillery listings with the more specific names if I know them, but always in addition to the legal name, so you can find it either way. I wrote about this topic a few years ago, and it became clear the other day that it’s worth repeating.

Are they really different?

In a word: YES.

  • Most single-malt Scotch is double distilled, except for those from the Lowland region, where triple distillation is more common.
    • The rules don’t prohibit quadruple distillation, which Bruichladdich experimented with in recent years with their “X4” whisky. Note that Bruichladdich is on Islay, and that didn’t stop them from trying something different (they even make Gin, of all things…from Islay botanicals, of course!).
  • The Highland region is the most diverse, both numerically and stylistically — even when you exclude the Speyside district, a dense conglomeration of Highland distilleries along the River Spey.
  • Campbeltown is tied for the smallest region with the Lowland region (with three operating distilleries each), though Campbeltown used to have on the order of 30 distilleries. Campbeltown and Lowland aren’t similar by any means.
    • Campbeltown is famous for whiskies with salty notes redolent of the sea, with deep fruits and strong flavors, whereas Lowland malts are generally lighter and more delicate, compared to other regions.
  • Islay whisky has a reputation for being strongly flavored, i.e., intense, peaty, smoky, and while that’s true in many cases, there are more than a few exceptions.

Why are they different?

You might think that Scotland is a small country and the weather must be pretty uniform, but you’d be wrong. All over Scotland, there are lots of protected valleys, and elevation differences, prevailing wind differences, etc., that conspire to make real differences in the finished product.

For example, if you had to point to one thing that caused whisky on some parts of Islay to be smoky, it’s the persistent, driving rain off the Atlantic. Making malted barley for whisky in this kind of humidity is a real challenge. The malt had to be exposed to the peat smoke longer to compensate for the humidity.

This is no longer an issue today; malt is made in factories and the peat level is now a choice, not a byproduct. But people choose it because over many generations, it’s what they have learned to love. Ultimately, regional differences persist because they the people like it that way.

The styles are passed down through the generations, and when people grow up liking a certain style, and learning to make it, the style takes on a life of its own. Also, now that these businesses have global audiences, the customers’ expectations have to be satisfied as well. 🙂

Which region is best?

The one you like best. People get very passionate about questions like this, and what’s great is that there are so many good arguments, but in the end they are opportunities to try new things and expand your horizons.

There are lots of regions, and lots of expressions. Go taste them!

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

 

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More Coverage of Yesterday’s Lunch with Richard Paterson

I have added some new blogs to my blogroll based on having met my new friends!

And we can’t forget Laura Baddish, who organized this event to everyone’s delight:

It is always awesome to meet new people and I hope to see them again soon! I know many of them are at Whiskies of the World tonight. Sadly, I can’t make it. 😦

 
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Posted by on 26-March-2011 in Whisky2.0

 

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I Learned Something Today

  • In talking with Richard Paterson (I still have to pinch myself and look at the pics to know that this actually happened), I learned that the Mackinlay blend that was sent to Antarctica with Shackleton was specially designed to handle the cold. The usual recipe of the Mackinlay blend from that time, apparently, would have separated and turned cloudy in the extreme cold.

Richard didn’t provide much in the way of details on what’s going on re: reproducing the archaeological spirit, other than confirming that it’s going to happen. Don’t ask me when — he didn’t say. One component of the blend is Glen Mhor, and I asked him about that because it’s one of the distilleries that is no longer with us. Apparently, Whyte & Mackay has adequate stock of that single malt so they can re-create the Shackleton version of the Mackinlay blend. I am eagerly anticipating this chance to taste history.

  • I also learned that Jura and The Dalmore have another connection (besides the fact that they are both owned by Whyte & Mackay): Jura means Island of Deer (stag) and the Stag is the symbol of The Dalmore. Also: There is a whole new range of expressions coming from Jura this year, including a 21-year-old, and some older ones, too. I shared a bottle of Jura 10 with my whole company at our Christmas party and it was a big hit. Jura is the best whisky you haven’t tried.
  • The 21-year-old (but no-age-statement) “1263 King Alexander III“expression that we tasted is “finished” in 6 types of wood. This is apparently a record for single-malts. The whisky is aged for a time in ex-Bourbon barrels, Methusalem Sherry butts, Port pipes, Cabernet Sauvignon, Madeira and Marsala barrels. I asked if these have to be done in a specific order, and the answer was no. Richard said that the only thing that matters is the amount of time the spirit spends in each type of wood, and when it’s done that stage, it moves to the next type. They can go in any order. I bet Bourbon is first, though. 🙂 The result is sublime. This is a many-layered dram, with fruit (peaches, citrus, dried fruits), nuts and tobacco/leather notes. I could spend an hour with it, and then want more time. I will be looking for a bottle at a good price.
 
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Posted by on 26-March-2011 in Whisky2.0

 

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