Thursday, January 30, 2014

Whiskyfest Richmond 2014

Ten friends get together in a kitchen with about thirty whiskies and some plates of nachos, cheddar cheese, maybe some taquitos.   Not a bad way to spend a Saturday night.  For the third year running, my friends and I got together for what we like to call Whiskyfest Richmond.  The rules are simple - everyone brings a whisky for us to try.  Try something you've never tried before.  Take your whisky home with you (although I sometimes wish people would forget number 3).  The rule about "whisky" has been pushed every year, in a good way:  Romanian palinka, Plum Moonshine, Skate:

I mean, my daughter helped me with the category signs, but seriously, what is that????

We also sampled a really nice whiskey from our college friend, George Ruotolo's label, Tom Lawless:

Every year, we've voted on the best in show and a lot of those whiskies are now regulars in the rotation: Glenlivet 15, Bulleit, Hudson Rye, and this year, Compass Box Spice Tree.  But it's not only about the winners - people tried Japanese whisky for the first time.  Some made a maiden voyage to Islay.  Personally, I got my first real taste of Makers 46 and Angels Envy Bourbon and was impressed with both.

Really, there were no bad whiskies (even Skate, when you have it late enough in the evening, is fine), maybe some expressions people liked more than others, maybe some tastes were expanded a little.  But it was really about whisky, friends, and taquitos - what could be better than that?


Monday, January 21, 2013

Building the Perfect Beast

A friend of mine recently asked me to write a blog about how to build a good whisky cabinet for the home.  I thought this was a fantastic idea and have been giving it a ton of thought.  The perfect whisky cabinet should appeal to you and your guests while pushing you to expand tastes and dispel stereotypes.  I also took this as a challenge – this isn’t meant to be my top ten list, or my wish list, or to appeal to my eccentric love of, erm, different whiskies.

Obviously, this is meant to be a guideline only.  Your collection will grow (and some of it will magically disappear).   But following these simple steps will give you the foundations of a collection to be proud of:

- Your favorite – Whatever scotch that is, it needs to be a constant in your collection.  This is what you’ll use to compare other whiskies.  (warning: follow these steps and your favorite may just change.

- The Applebees Whisky – You need a scotch for what everyone thinks scotch is, a good solid whisky with mass appeal.  You’ll almost always seem Glenfiddich, Glenlivet, and/or The Macallan on the top shelf of your local chain restaurant.  Instead of one of these three, I recommend going with Glenmorangie.  Wildly popular worldwide, it still holds a little bit of mystery in the US.  And, there’s the fact that this is an extremely good example of a highland whisky. 

- Lowland – Lowland whiskies are typically milder than other regions.  One of them may be a good introductory whisky for your friends.  There are only three Lowland whiskies currently on the market: Bladnoch, Glenkinchie, and Auchentoshen.  Go with Auchentoshen, it’s a LOT easier to find than the other two and it is a really nice dram.

- Island – An island whisky is perfect for a cold night, a long slow drink in front of the fire.  And with the whiskies available, it’s hard to go wrong: Arran, Highland Park, Jura, Scapa, Talisker among them.  Which one to pick?  If you’ve ever read this blog before, you know the answer is Highland Park 12.  There are so many reasons.  An excellent whisky, very reasonably priced, and very easy to progress – 15 and 18 year olds are readily available if you become more of a fan.

- Islay – look, you need an Islay whisky in your collection, OK?  End of discussion.  If you’re building a collection, with time, you’ll learn to appreciate a well balanced, rich peaty Islay scotch.  Laphroaig is probably the pick here, and it doesn’t taste like someone poured on the peat with a soup ladle (that’s Ardbeg – make that your second Islay whisky).

- Blends – a good blend is a great addition to every collection.  Sometimes, your friends will be adamant that that’s what they want.  You can have it over rocks as well.  Rather than go with a Johnnie Walker product (it takes a few color labels to get to a good one, in my opinion), I recommend going with Famous Grouse.  Very tasty, while being very budget friendly.

- Bourbon – Sometimes, you just want a bourbon.  You want some kind of cocktail, or it’s Kentucky Derby Weekend, or you’re watching Justified - any excuse will do.  Buy yourself Bulleit Bourbon.  It was a surprise hit at my whisky tasting last year and it makes a great Manhattan (by the way, get some sweet vermouth and bitters for you cabinet as well).

Well there you have it, six or seven bottles to get you started on your journey.  If you’re enjoying it, don’t stop there.  Explore other regions (Speyside, Campletown).  Look for some different age statements from distilleries you’ve enjoyed.  Find a cask strength whisky.  And call me to come over and hang out . . . please!

Thursday, December 27, 2012

International House of Whisky

As I mentioned in a previous post, WhiskyFest New York was certainly a highlight for the year.  One of things that made the night so memorable was the chance to sample whiskies from four different continents.  While there were obvious and wonderful expressions from Scotland and the US (Kentucky and Utah!), there were really interesting and flavorful samples from some very unexpected locations:

Sullivan's Cove (Tasmania) - When I settled in to WhiskyFest, the first booth I found was Sullivan's Cove.  From The Tasmania Distillery - that's what I'm talking about when I say whiskies from around the world.  The man behind the counter told me about the abundance of pure mountain water and Franklin barley.  That made sense to me.  I sampled the double cask, matured in French and American Oak.  It had a beautiful gold hue.  A little unfinished taste, not the long draw I like.  But still, it had nice vanilla and spice flavor and I just had whisky from Australia so, wow.

Amrut (India) - Sharing the table with Sullivan's Cove were two of the friendliest guys I ever met from Amrut Distillery in India.  I had read about the rise of Indian whisky - it's one of the fastest growing markets for whisky in the world - and I knew I wanted to try it.  The gentlemen explained how the climate presents different challenges to maturation and how much they lose through evaporation in the barrel.  Then they told me about the malt grown in the Punjab in the foothills of the Himalayas.  Himalayan malt in the glass in front of me.  I'm in.  I tried the Fushion and the Cask Strength expressions.  Very grassy and a little buttery.  The Fushion packs wallop - the guys were just waiting for my reaction and then smiled knowingly.  I'd go back for more of that.

Armorik (France) -This whisky comes from Brittany in the north of France. The distillery's website refers to this region as "a cousin of Ireland and Scotland, where the Celtic spirit lives on".  Because of the terrain, the sea air, and the grains, it makes sense that there would be at least one distillery here.  The Armorik Classic has a fruity flavor and hints of sea air.  It's a nice, smooth, fresh whisky that's extremely drinkable.  This would be easily mistakable for a middle of the pack Highland Scotch.

Mackmyra (Sweden) - One of the more recognizable names in international whisky, this Swedish distillery makes their whisky in the traditional style.  It's matured in bourbon casks and finished in sherry and Swedish oak casks.  The malt is dried using a combination including Juniper and peat.  It makes for a truly unique flavor.  Mackmyra is delicate and light, with a little bit of lemon in it and unusual smokiness.

One of my resolutions for the year was to sample whisky from different countries. WhiskyFest certainly helped with that.  Scotland, Ireland, America, Canada, England, Wales, Sweden, France, Japan, Tasmania, and India.  It's all out there waiting for you to try.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Thursday, December 6, 2012

SMWS Package

My Scotch Malt Whisky Society package arrived today! Let's do this!

Not for wee boys - 20 y/o Laphroaig

Seven year old Springbank

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Photos from Whiskyfest

More photos from Whiskyfest New York
(This is my first attempt with the Blogger app for iPhones, lets see if it works)

Monday, November 12, 2012

WhiskyFest New York 2012

I know I haven’t written a lot lately, but when I get to attend an event like WhiskyFest New York, my first ever whisky tasting, with over 250 expressions, it’s time to bring back the blog.

WhiskyFest is a combination seminar and tasting held annually in New York, Chicago and San Francisco.  It is organized by Whisky Advocate Magazine and its editor John Hansell.  My good friend Dave was celebrating his 40th birthday with his wife at the event, so my wife and I decided to tag along.

Gather. Taste. Discover. Share. OK.

It’s basically set up like any other convention hall.  But where you walk into a home show or IT conference and see samples of gutter guards or computer servers, here you see Oban 18.  About 95 booths-worth.  Needless to say, it was overwhelming.  Before we even entered the hall, my friend grabbed both Dominic Roskrow, noted author, and Dr. Bill Lumsden, chief distiller for Glenmorangie for a quick chat.  In both cases, I was speechless.  The guys were both extremely friendly and down to earth, but I acted like I just met Bruce Springsteen.  Dominic stayed and talk to us for about five minutes.  He had certainly sampled what was behind the doors of the convention hall and he was in a good mood.

Chris, Dominic Roskrow, Dave
When the doors did open, it was all too much.  We made our way over to the Diageo table for samples of Oban 14, 18, and Distillers Edition.  At the same table, we tried Talisker 10 and Distillers Edition and Lagavulin 12, 16, and Distillers Edition – all owned by Diageo.  It was a one-stop shop!  The Oban 18 and Lagavulin Distillers Editions were the stand outs at this table.

It was at this point – only ten minutes and eight whiskies into the evening – that I knew I needed a game plan.  I knew I wanted to hit old favorites, like Ardbeg and Highland Park.  But I really wanted to experience something new.
Dave, Bill Lumsden (gracious enough to pose in front of Ardbeg), Chris

And so I did, we looked for whiskies from around the world.  We tried whisky from four continents.  We met Dave Perkins, the owner and founder of High West Distillery in Park City, Utah.  It's the only ski-in gastro-pub in the world (of course it is).  He shared some of their excellent Rye Whiskey (OMG Pure Rye was phenomenal).  Then, he grabbed us by the shoulders and told us to come with him.  He took us over to a private bottler (Samaroli) who had some amazing samples.  "If you guys really like whisky, you can't leave here without trying this Tomintoul '67."  And he was right, just a perfectly balanced Speyside whisky, one of the most mature I've ever had.
With that, he was gone.  And I realized that even though he worked with rye in the Rocky Mountains, and there were countless Bourbon booths, and guys in kilts peddling scotch we were all just whisky fans - and that made it a great night.

<Look for more entries from WhiskyFest, including some of my favorite samples, more about the four continents, and maybe a guest entry>