Annual Whiskey Tasting: 2007 edition

In December 2007, I held my annual whiskey tasting – and that’s right, that’s whiskey with an "e" – since, for the first time, I served all non-Scotch whiskies.

This party is an annual event to which I invite friends – many of whom are NOT whisky geeks, but have over the years, developed an appreciation for, or at the very least expressed an interest in, whisky.

Some, like my friends Jeff, Neil and Edward, are big fans of whisk(e)y; some come for the camaraderie,  while others just come for the abuse.

In another switch from tradition – because I have so much to choose from – and because all attendees had designated drivers or rides, I had an extended tasting flight – consisting of a flight of core six expressions, as well as a secondary flight of four whiskies.

Our Primary flight

Preludium:05 Single Malt Whisky

Brand Web site
Parent Company: Mackmyra Svensk Whiskey
48.4% alcohol
The Scotch Blog story

At first, on the nose, this stuff is light and elegant. Nothing more than a hint of smoke, but the tantalizing smell of dried berries. The alcohol is a little dominant on the palate, and definitely affects the nose once you’ve tried it – as the spirity notes are highlighted.

Reacts well to water – and a sweetness falls into place. The finish is a little harsh. Coming along nicely.

Tullamore Dew Blended Whiskey

Brand Web site
Production site: Midleton Distillery (Pernod Ricard)
Brand Ownership: Cantrell & Cochrane
40% alcohol

I get a lot of corn on the nose, but in a pleasant and unassuming way. The taste is quick and clean and unoffensive in every way – but also doesn’t bring a lot of complexity to bear. Finish is light pear/diluted apples. Again – unoffensive.

Don’t bother adding water – the whiskey may disappear completely.

Regardless, this is my official Irish easy-drinker. A great introduction to the world of whisky – primarily due to that inability to offend.

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Independent Bottler, Eh?

I recently had a chance to chat with Barry Bernstein of Premium Bottlers- Canada’s first and only Independent bottler.

The company was formed by two enthusiasts who were frustrated with the limited quantity of Single Malt Scotch available on the Canadian market.

The IB and Canadian Liquor Law

You are likely familiar with the concept of an Independent Bottler (or IB) who sources casks of whisky (usually, but not always, fully matured) from brokers or directly from distilleries. They then bottle, label and market the products – usually to specialty shops, you seldom find them in your corner liquor shop.

PblabelThese casks are often – but not always, hand selected by the IB and usually, but not always, bottled as “Single Cask”

Canada’s “interesting” liquor laws create special problems for a company like Premium Bottlers – the interesting law I am talking about dictates that a spirit marketed by Canadians must contain at least 1% of spirit (not necessarily whisky) which has been produced in Canada.

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Your Dad was not a fag. But apparently you are.

Canadian_club_your_mom Canadian Club, a product of Beam Global Spirits* is about to roll out a new ad campaign.

The concept of the campaign? Your Dad was much cooler than you are.

Yep that’s right – they are saying it’s cool to drink whisky BECAUSE your dad drank it, not despite it.

They are also saying that your Dad was probably more of a man than you are.

According to the press release:

The thought-provoking campaign challenges consumers to embrace their dads classic masculinity, most visibly expressed through their choice to drink Canadian Club whisky cocktails. In launching Damn Right, CC invited Beam Global employees to search through their photo albums to submit images that epitomize the campaign.

Eh. I’m not buying it.

The message I get from the attached ad? Your Mom likely wasn’t your Dad’s last either. <click on the picture to read the ad>

Some of the headlines created for the ads (seriously):

"Damn Right Your Dad Drank It"
"Your Dad Was Not a Metrosexual"
“Your Mom Wasn’t Your Dad’s First”
"Your Dad Never Got a Pedicure."

I always try to be helpful, so I thought I’d offer up some more "Dad was awesome" ideas for future ads:

For the "Dad was tougher than you" ad placement

  • Damn right your Dad never wore a seat-belt.
  • Your Dad was twice the man you’ll ever be.
  • When your Dad was your age a DUI was expected.

For the "Dad was a sex machine" ad placement

  • Your Dad didn’t use condoms when he was in Saigon.
  • Before Paternity Tests.
  • Damn right your Dad was getting more than you – DESPITE the leisure suit and side burns.
  • Ah, the days when STDs could be cured with penicillin.

For the "Things were just plain better back then" ad placement

  • When men were men and cars got 3 miles per gallon.
  • You Dad never picked up maxi-pads on his way back from picking the kids up from Soccer*
    • *And your Dad never picked the kids up from Soccer
  • Your Dad never had to cuddle.

For the "Misogynist" ad placement

  • Daddy only hit Mommy because he loved her.
  • Dad didn’t call it "Date Rape" it was just a "Date".

Ad sites like Adrants are loving the campaign:

Are we seeing a full-on return to the glory days of the hard liquor
cocktail when beer was for factory workers and wine was for sissies?
Can we now go back to the three martini lunch, pinch asses in the
afternoon and have three more martinis at night while watching Mad Men?  We might not get any work done but it sure sounds like fun.

Adrants also reports that the campaign was created by BBDO and ads will appear in Rolling Stone, Sports Illustrated, Sporting News, with additional placements in Playboy, Men’s Journal, Esquire, Outside and Men’s Fitness in December and into 2008.

Well it IS a different approach.

* Disclosure: I am a shareholder in Fortune Brands, parent company of Beam Global

Stranahan's Colorado Whiskey

This past March at Binny’s Whiskies of the World expo (Chicago), I had the opportunity to meet Jess Graber, the man behind Stranahan’s Colorado Whiskey and sample his wares.

I also had the opportunity to chat briefly with him the next night at the Chicago Whisky Fest. But it wasn’t until very recently that I had a chance to sit down with Jess without people jamming a glass in his face.

There’s a growing number of non-bourbon, non-rye American whiskies hitting the shelves. Yep. Single malt American is becoming a category – but Jess disdains the term "Single Malt Whisky" (even though that is exactly what his product is) and instead prefers the simple moniker of Colorado Whisky.

Stranahan’s exudes an elegant ruggedness (or a rugged elegance, if you prefer), much like the state in which it is produced. If you’ve spent any time in Colorado, this statement will make sense. The people of Colorado revel in the fact that they are surrounded by some of the most incredible natural beauty in the world. Yet Colorado also provides some of the most genteel and sophisticated amenities you’ll find anywhere.

The Package

That elegance starts with the packaging. According to Jess, "The bottle says ‘Colorado’", and you can see what he means. The labeling is minimalist, allowing the whiskey to speak for itself; the bottle ia tall and slender while the neck and mouth are crowned by a tall metal cap. That cap is more than mere decoration – it’s meant to replicate the look of a frontier closure – but it also serves a more mundane, and useful purpose – it conveniently doubles as a 3 ounce tasting cup. Coloradans spend a lot of time outdoors and by providing the tasting cup, Jess effectively turns the bottle into a flask.

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Crown Royal Cask No. 16

Crown Royal, everyone’s favorite Canadian blended whisky, is getting the special treatment. Or at least a single expression of it is.

Cask16Crown Royal Cask No. 16 begins with a blend of more than 50 different
aged whiskies. The blend is then placed in French oak casks which had
previously held cognac. There is no age statement associated with the

Marketing Bull Alert: Despite the name, there’s no indication that this is the product of a whisky finished in a single cask.

This new expression should be available across the US by the third week of October, but I had a chance to try it early.

Mine came is a small sample bottle – but when you buy yours, it will come "in a
faceted 750ml decanter-style bottle, which is wrapped in a black velvet
bag with gold stitching. The bottle is then encased in a black and gold
gift tube."

Sounds very posh.

But what about the taste?

Bags and decanter-style bottles aside, this is good stuff.

Nose: The winey notes on the nose are unmistakable, with a good dollop of oak (maybe a little too much?) – but all in all the entire nose is very subtle, very clean and very pleasant.

Taste: Oh yeah, that characteristic Canadian rye bite is there, but much more subtle than your standard Canadian. The cognac has done a good job of taming the rye.

First you get hit with a fruit-sugar sweetness – followed by the bite. Complexity? Medium, but often complexity is lost in favor of smoothness. And Cask No. 16 is very smooth. Most of the complexity is contained in the finish.

Finish: The rye comes back in a long finish with which turns slightly bitter at the very end. Late finish is very much like cognac or a dry white. Wait a second. What’s that? Irish Soda bread!?! Yeah that’s it. I get the dryness and sweetness (and occasional raisin) one gets in a bite of Irish Soda Bread. Damn it, I love Irish Soda Bread!

All in all, this is an excellent premium whisky and Crown Royal gets a fair shake from the cognac finish.

Crown Royal Cask No. 16
SRP: $100 (USD)
40% abv

Australian for Whisky

Td2Hellyers Road Distillery is the largest single malt whisky distillery in Australia, but they’ve
only started bottling within the last 12 months. The distillery itself is actually located on Tasmania, an island best known (in the US, at least) as the home of the Tasmanian Devil.

And now for the geography portion of our program . . .

Tasmania is located approximately 240 kilometers off the coast of Victoria, almost directly south of Melbourne. Tasmania  has a population of around 500,000 with approximately 200,000 living in the capital, Hobart.
The island is
the smallest Australian state with a coastline of 3200 Km and a total
north south distance of approximately 300 Km.

Back to the good stuff . . .

Whisky Tasmania was established in 1997 in Burnie (on the north west coast of Tasmania far from Hobart) and trades as Hellyers Road Distillery. Hellyers Road Distillery is a wholly-owned subsidiary of Betta Milk Co-operative Ltd. Established in 1956, Betta Milk (100% owned by Tasmanian farmers) processes and supplies fresh milk to the Tasmanian market.

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England's patron saint goes to America. Does good work there.

OK, OK. Enough with the Indian "whisky", politics and opinion.
Let’s move on to another type of opinion – my opinions of St. George Single Malt Whiskey.

Even before trying this American single malt, I already had a good taste in my mouth about this product, and that good taste was the taste of the fantastic Hangar One Vodka. Both spirits are produced by St. George Spirits, based in Alameda, California.

I’ll have to talk about Hangar One for a minute so you understand why my expectations were so high.

Hangar One "Straight Vodka" starts out life pretty much as a brandy – pot-distilled from viognier wine. Then they blend it with a column still produced wheat vodka. With a soft grapey-delicious nose, this is quite unlike any vodka you’ve likely tried. The addition of the viognier really does diminish the alcoholic edge one associates with neutral grain spirits. (And yes, I nose and taste vodka just like single malt – and try them at room temperature). I’m not sure if those subtle grape notes will hold up in a cocktail, but it made a fantastic wet martini.

St. George also makes Hangar One in several fruit-infused flavor variations – none of which I have had the pleasure of trying.

On to the single malt…

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This Just In…

Chris Bunting over at Nonjatta, writes to tell us that another site has joined the graveyard

NonjattaI feel like a cub watching the passing of the head of the pride. Taylor Smisson has announced that he will no longer be producing the Malt Drinker’s Diary, which he has been publishing out of Tokyo for five years. This is sad news indeed.

my enthusiasm regarding single malts has not waned and my health is
still good, I find I no longer have the time required to search for,
drink, photograph and write about good malt whiskies."

Malt Drinker’s Diary was a tour de force. As Smisson put it: "An
ongoing bottle-by-bottle journey through the city that is the Scotch
single malt drinker’s heaven on earth
– Tokyo." The whisky web will be a poorer place without the diary,
which was published in both English and Japanese, and it is to be hoped
that its 500 plus editions will be preserved as a resource. Smisson
managed to taste more than 4,000 bottles of single malt during his
odyssey and, though his public whisky adventure may be ending, his
personal journey is by no means over. The final post finishes: "See you
on the Malt Trail!"

If you are not familiar with Chris Bunting and Nonjatta, it’s a fantastic site focusing on the whiskies of Japan – a topic much under-served in the western whisky world. In the future I hope to have Chris share some of his stories here.

Father of our country; Whiskey peddler

I was invited to the opening ceremony for the George Washington Distillery on Friday March 30th in Mount Vernon, Virginia.

It was a very nice event – yet a little too politically focused for my tastes. There were way too many speeches – the Director of Historic Mount Vernon; the head of the Mount Vernon Ladies Association; The President of the Distilled Spirits Council; the chairman of the Virginia Alcohol Beverage Council; a  Virginia State Senator; John Manfreda from the Alcohol Tax & Trade Bureau; and more. Yet somehow Virginia Governor Tim Kaine didn’t deem it important enough to attend.

F’ing politicians.

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Best of: The Big Fellow


Developed by Sidney Frank with the partnership and whiskey production expertise of the Cooley Distillery,
Michael Collins has been released in two versions, a Blend and a Single
Malt. Michael Collins was developed for the U.S. market, but will be
available at select upscale retailers as well as Duty Free in Ireland.

The whiskey is named
in honor of "The Big Fellow" who spearheaded the fight for Irish
independence and who was assassinated in 1922 at the age of 31. Both
are bottled at 40% and aged in small oak casks to accelerate the
maturation process.

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