Sunday, March 28, 2010

Jack Daniel's Old No. 7 - Tennessee Whiskey Review

I spent the past week in Halifax, Nova Scotia for a work related conference.  Trapped in a meeting room by day and bored by night, my habit when travelling for work is to seek out great restaurants and the best purveyors of fine whiskey.  My trip to Halifax would not deviate from this practice.

I landed in the early evening, hopped in a cab and headed for the hotel down by the harbor.  Check-in involved slapping down a credit card, tossing my luggage on the bed and a quick double-back to the concierge's desk.

"Where's nearest liquor store?" I inquired.

"They are all closed," the blue blazer wearing early sixties gent replied with a Magnum P.I. Higgins character English accent.

"There is of course our mini-bar . . ."  His voice trailed off as precipitously as Thelma and Louise headed off that cliff in the closing scene of that stupid movie that I had to endure with some long forgotten girlfriend in a living room with red shag carpet, wood paneling on the walls, and her ever watchful, military, father down the hall. 

"Mini-bar . . . mini-bar" I fumed as I headed back to my room.  As I unpacked, I debated whether or not to wait until tomorrow, find a nice liquor store, select a great whisky and enjoy it in the evening.  On the other hand, I said to myself, "ya never know, there could be a real gem in the mini-bar just like that time I was in Maine and in a grocery store and all they had for whisky was Jim Beam Black.  That was a gem!"  More than a gem, it was a revelation of the tallest order, up there with Moses coming down Mount Sinai.  Anyway, you get the picture.  I was a tortured soul.

To distract myself, I flicked on the television, started unpacking and thought about going to the gym and doing some running.  One time I was in Vancouver for a meeting and was up every morning at 4am, ran for an hour on a treadmill, did a day of meetings and still had pep for a restaurant at night and touring that delightful city.  This time around, the urge for running didn't seem to come so effortlessly.

To make a long story short, I opened the mini-bar, peered in and saw the usual array of light beer for middle aged men worried about carbs and calories.  I surveyed some spicy Clamato juice, Grey Goose Vodka, yeesh!, and a 375 ml of Jack Daniels Old Number 7.  My first thought was "what the hell is Tennessee whiskey doing in a refrigerator!"  What depraved soul could commit such an inane indignity upon a bottle of this American whisky?  I knew what I had to do.  God himself would have commanded me to do it if I asked him.  Matter of fact Moses probably had it chiseled into the tablet, "Thou shalt rescue all Tennessee whisky from bowels of any refrigerator!"  The commandment or mitvah must have got lost at some point.  I am sure of it.  It is such a self-evident truth.

Of course, I did what any God fearing man would do, I plucked the chilled bottle from the fridge and set it down on a table next to a rather comfortable wing-back chair.  It needed to warm up.  Coincidentally, so did I.  I retrieved two glasses, one filled with ice water, the other empty, waiting for Ol' No. 7.

The last time I had Jack Daniels was in a trendy wine bar a couple of years back that was so trendy they didn't have any scotch.  I reluctantly asked the waitress repetitively "what else do you have?" until she finally remarked there was Jack Daniels.  I said sure and tried it on ice.  It was not what I expected.  First of all, I was ready for a snake bite taste coupled with a burning sensation that would leave me writhing on the Italian tile floor winded like Dustin Hoffman in the Marathon Man.  That was not the case.  I recall it was corn sweet with no burn.  The ice softened it nicely and there was some vanilla and charcoal.  In a flash it was gone.  Tasty drink.

Once the bottle warmed up, I tasted it neat.  The ice water was for drinking in between sips of Jack Daniels.  Over the course of the week, (except for one night when I went to a sushi restaurant and enjoyed some Yamazaki 12 and 18), I sampled this Tennessee whiskey and finalized the following tasting note:

Damp leaves; big American oak; a whiff of turned over earth with a spade in the early morning in search of worms to take brook fishing; big time vanilla.

Starts on sweet, that's the corn.  Moves to oak, charcoal and vanilla.

It's short.  The sweetness leaves and it dries across the palate.  Flavors of oak and vanilla dissipate almost instantly.  Nothing lingers very long.

General Impressions
I was again surprised at how mild this whiskey turned out in the glass.  No burn, rough or out of balance flavors.  It's very easy drinking.  Kinda reminds me of Basil Hayden's bourbon, but without the complexity.  If you drink Jack Daniel's Old No. 7 with ice, it is about as easy drinking as one can get.  Trouble of course is easy drinking runs the risk of not being overly interesting.  That would be the weakness of this whiskey.  It is not complex.  The flavors roll out in a straight forward manner.  Mind you, this is the entry-level, standard bottling of Jack Daniels, and so this observation has to be tempered by that fact.  Just as we do not expect wondrous complexity from Jim Beam White Label, or moving across the pond, from Famous Grouse, Johnnie Walker Red label and others, it would be unfair to place such demands on this standard, entry level offering from Jack Daniels.

For my tastes, I enjoyed it for what it was, a simple, mild American whisky.  Would I buy it?  No.  I require some complexity, even when I want an easy-going whisky.  Accordingly, I would buy Jim Beam Black Label but that is an 8 year old bourbon.  I am sure that Jack Daniel's premium lines like Gentleman Jack and Single Barrel would offer the complexity I seek. 

Do I dislike it?  No.  Would I recommend it?  Sure, for someone who has never tried American whiskey.  This is a good place to start.


Jason Debly

Copyright © Jason Debly, 2010. All rights reserved.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Glenfiddich 18 year old Single Malt Scotch Review

Desert Island Scotch?
Years ago, I think there was a BBC radio program called Desert Island Discs or Records.  Anyway, you know the premise, if you were marooned on an island, what records would you want to have with you?  This is before compact discs, IPODs and all that techno crap.

I like music but after highschool, women and liquor became more deserving of my limited attention span.  Yes!  Janis Joplin's early work was great, but shit, she's dead!

So, if I was marooned on a desert island, naturally with a fair, brunette maiden from the downed ship, who has large tracts of land (to borrow a phrase from olden days), what case of scotch would I manage to salvage from the wreck?  There's a huge selection of 18 year old single malts, but I can only fetch one case.  What's it gonna be scallywag?  The Glenfiddich 18?

On the beach at dusk
Dinner is over.  The oysters were a nice appetizer and managed to simultaneously satisfy and stimulate my hunger.  Having dined on this fair food, with maybe a seafood stew of prawns and shrimp, it is time for a wee dram.  It was a long day on the white sand beach filled with much activity.  We also looked for driftwood to build a fire and shelter.  Now is time to rest and watch the sun set into the ocean and listen to the waves beneath the azure sky.

I do not usually mention the color of whisky in a review because frankly it doesn't mean much.  When whisky is first poured into barrels, it is clear like water.  As it ages the color is acquired from the casks.  A darker color, implies a lengthy period in say a sherry cask.  Trouble is that distillers now use caramel to color their whisky.  Accordingly, a dark colored whisky does not necessarily have any bearing on the age of the whisky.  I am unsure whether or not Glenfiddich uses caramel.  The color of the 18 year old is surprisingly light copper, like that of a penny. 

Glenfiddich 18 is aged in Oloroso sherry and bourbon casks.  If it was aged exclusively in sherry casks, I would imagine it would be darker.  Anyway, what we need to take away from these meandering thoughts is that color is really unimportant to a whisky tasting if you know caramel has been added.  Especially when the tasting takes place on a tropical beach at dusk in the presence of a beautiful lady who ate the lion's share of the oysters.

Nose (undiluted)
The scent to first greet you is rich and luxuriant Corinthian leather of the new Chrysler LeBaron!  No!  I just couldn't resist saying that.  The nose on this whisky is languid sherry, malty and fresh orchard apples.  Rich yet subdued, kinda like those New England private school girls who would never give me the time of day.

Palate (undiluted)
The first flavors to taste is luxuriant sherry.  Glenfiddich 18 year old is not known as a sherried scotch, but sherry is here and plays an important role in the flavor profile.  It's not over the top like in the case of The Macallan 12 and 18 year olds, but it is here.  It is soft, sweet, rounded and followed by boiled raisin bread flavors and strawberry/rhubarb pie. 

Finish (undiluted)
While the palate was sweet, the finish (the flavor that hangs after you have downed your scotch) is drying.  Flavors that linger in the mouth are crab apple, oak, a faint tendril of smoke and that Oloroso sherry from mid-palate.

General Impressions
Somebody's getting sleepy under the palm trees, so I have to make this quick.

Glenfiddich 18 year old is a fine single malt scotch that is reasonably priced and delivers quality.  However, compared to other 18 year old single malts, it falls behind.  This is not the greatest booty this scotch pirate has plundered.  It's not bad, but not what I consider to be truly great 18 year old single malt scotch.  So what is?  Highland Park 18 year old , The Macallan 18 year old and some othersThose 18 year olds have more complexity of flavors.  I guess a criticism of the Glenfiddich 18 year old is that for the age I expected more flavors.  Not a lot more, just a little.

While Highland Park 18 year old and The Macallan 18 are superior in flavor profile, they are also much more expensive.  So, let's level the playing field a bit and compare the Glenfiddich 18 to another 18 year old in the same price range, namely The Glenlivet.  Again The Glenlivet edges out Glenfiddich 18.  Tasted neat, they are neck and neck, but add a little water and The Glenlivet pulls out in front with more complexity.

How Does it Compare to Glenfiddich 15 Year Old Solera Reserve?
In a heads-up Pepsi taste test challenge between the 18 year old and its' younger brother the 15 year old Solera, the younger sibling comes out on top.  This is not to say that the 18 year old is not a fine dram.  It is very good, but amazingly the Glenfiddich 15 year old Solera Reserve (my review here) is better, and at a lower price to boot.

What Happens if We add Water?
Adding anywhere from a drop to a teaspoon of water to scotch can improve or degrade the flavor profile.  With Glenfiddich 18 year old, I like it both neat and with a teaspoon of water.  Really just depends on my mood.  Here is what a teaspoon of water can do to a shot:

Nose (diluted)
Apples move to the forefront.  Definitely more floral.

Palate (diluted)
The apples on the nose appear initially on the tongue and quickly moves to honey.

Finish (diluted)
Oak, smoke and sea salt ocean spray surrounded by a more complex Oloroso sherry flavor.

The Glenfiddich 18 year old is a pleasing, easy-going Speyside single malt offering up apple, oak and sherry flavors with some measure of complexity.  If I was marooned on a desert island, I would not seek this 18 year old to be my sole drink of choice because there are better ones out there.

If you want a safe bet of a scotch gift for someone without knowing their tastes, the Glenfiddich 18 year old is the purchase to make.  If the recipient of your largesse is a scotch nut, choose something else.


Jason Debly
Copyright © Jason Debly, 2009-2011. All rights reserved. Any and all use is prohibited without permission.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Review: Auchentoshan 12 year old - Single Malt Scotch Review

I had this a couple of weeks ago at a whisky tasting.  It was the second one up.  The first dram was from the Glen Scotia distillery and was unremarkable.  The Auchentoshan was very malty and even had some complexity I thought.  So, I made a mental note to buy a bottle and review it.

I bought a bottle even though a friend of mine, James, had mentioned that the Auchentoshan 10 year old was one of the worst single malts he has ever had the misfortune of tasting. 

Price Point
I paid $54 for a bottle.  Very reasonable in my part of the world for a 12 year old single malt.

Nose (undiluted)
A little smoke, very malty, faint pine needles.

Palate (undiluted)
Ridiculously smooth.  Definitely malty.  Cloves, sweet cinnamon sticks and the slightest taste of spices.

Finish (undiluted)
Oak.  Very subdued zing of ground pepper and quite grainy.  How a single malt can be grainy on the finish is beyond me.  Especially odd when you consider grain alcohol does not make up a single malt.

Add Water?
I did.  The results were not an improvement.  It became slighlty bitter.

General Impressions
Not impressed.  I feel like I wasted some money on this scotch.  I expected something more.  It did not live up to my recollection of the scotch tasting.  When I buy a single malt, I expect flavors that are superior to blended scotch in the same price range.  Not true in this case.  I'd take Chivas Regal 12 year old over this any day of the week.

It is not a horrible whisky, just sweet, malty, flat and boring.  There is nothing to this one.  It is an ingredient single malt in Ballantines Finest, and quite frankly, I would also drink the latter over this.

When I compare this 12 year old single malt to other 12 year old single malts, the disappointment deepens.  Highland Park 12, Cragganmore and others are light years ahead of Auchentoshan 12.

Who should buy this? 
If you have never tried a single malt scotch, I could understand trying this as a novice scotch fan and enjoying it.  Why?  Because of the smooth texture, the complete lack of any offensive flavors, virtually no peat flavor (novices rarely enjoy big peat flavors) and just a little spice and smoke on the finish to let you know that you are drinking scotch and not cherry Coke.

Auchentoshan scotch regardless of the particular bottling, is triple-distilled like many Irish whiskies.  The result is a very smooth scotch.  If you prefer Irish whisky over scotch, this may be one you will enjoy.  It shares many common characteristics with Irish whisky like Bushmills.

Auchentoshan 12 year old (which replaced the old 10 year old bottling) is not terrible.  It has no 'bite' or 'roughness' but no memorable flavors.  Again, this is one for someone new to scotch or for the ladies.  Guys, if you are caught sipping this, I and others are gonna wonder where your purse is.

For me, I detected little complexity of flavor whatsoever.  For unabashed scotch fans, who like some intrigue and challenge, skip this Plain Jane and continue your search for a Jayne Mansfield. 


Jason Debly

Copyright © Jason Debly, 2009-2012. All rights reserved.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Whisky Blogs - Unbiased or Spirits Industry Influenced?

Before I started this blog, I would conduct a little online research regarding single malts or blends that I was considering buying.  I am sure you, as I have, purchased a scotch or other whisky, took it home, poured a dram, had a sip, and quickly realized the purchase was a huge mistake. 

During my research, I quickly discovered that all single malts and blends are glorious.  None were bad, poor, weak, etc.  They were all just a great ray of sunshine.  How can that be?  Well, it can't be.  I can appreciate that I might dislike intensely a whisky that you like a great deal.  I have no problem with that.  We all have our respective likes and dislikes.  What I have a problem with are reviewers or sites with whisky reviews that praise all whiskies, finding no fault in any.  That, I say is impossible.  So, how do I explain this peculiar phenomenon?

Here's my theory.

Free Samples
A lot of the whisky bloggers are posting reviews of the latest releases from distilleries.  Some of these whisky releases are very expensive.  How do they do it?  Simple, they don't.  I mean they do not purchase the whisky.  They are supplied free samples by the distiller or more properly by the multinational company that owns them, and asked to do a review.  That's like Pablo Escobar handing a kilo of cocaine to Keith Richards and asking him for his thoughts! 

In my view, the trouble with free whisky samples is that it will taint the ability of the reviewer to provide an impartial opinion.  You can't be a little bit pregnant.  If I take a free bottle or whatever, there is a pressure on me to write a positive review or at least take a bad whisky and put a positive spin on it as much as possible or downplay what I dislike.  If a reviewer writes too many negative reviews, he or she jeopardizes access to freebies in the future, as well as invites to exclusive tastings, etc.

So, I asked a couple of these reviewers what their thoughts were and they said I was wrong.  They said that they could give unbiased reviews.  Hmmm.  I don't buy it.  When I posted comments on this subject on other blogs, the bloggers often deleted my comments.  If I posted a comment that I didn't agree with their review of a whisky, my comment got deleted.  There were some exceptions but not many.  All of this makes me wonder if some apparently amateur whisky blogs are not actually owned or heavily subsidized by industry players.  I wonder.  I also find it very interesting where one blogger seems to have multiple websites and presence on Youtube with respect to his/her reviews.  Why so many sites.  How about just one?  Are you in this for the money or for the whisky?

The Multinationals
Whisky is big business.  A multi-billion dollar business.  Marketing is extremely important to maintaining and/or expanding market share.  These multinational drinks companies have no problem supplying free samples to reviewers, inviting them to dinner, maybe paying their expenses to travel to a tasting or even be a consultant for one of their distilleries (it has happened to one reviewer).  It is perfectly legal for these companies to do that.  There is nothing wrong with marketing by whatever means.  I think they are trying to encourage "organic" marketing on the internet, create a "buzz" that causes people to buy their product.  Hey, that's fair for them.  I am a capitalist too.  Go for it! 

The trouble for you and I though is that we don't get the straight goods on the merits and flaws of a whisky if the reviews we read are by reviewers who lack impartiality.  So, when reading another blog or website, how can we tell the reviews or idiotic ramblings (especially true in the case of myself) are of a total outsider of the industry or a person who is very much a part of the industry or essentially "in bed" with the whisky industry?

Here are some tell-tale signs:
  • Reviews of very expensive scotch or other whiskies that are beyond the wallet of the average consumer.  One blog reviewer was reviewing a bottle that cost nearly $1,000.00.;
  • The reviewer is travelling all over the world to whisky tastings in the trendiest places and have the professional photos to back it up.
  • The reviewer seems to review a different whisky for each day of the week.  Something the average joe cannot afford.
  • The website is so slick that you think you are in the embrace of a used car salesman.
  • There are no negative whisky reviews!!!!!!!!!!!! 
So where am I in all this?

Do I make money off this blog?  Ahh no.  To date, nearly a year online, Google owes me a grand total of $9.42.  I am not in this for the money.  Money is generated when a visitor clicks on the advertising.  For example, Amazon has an ad for whisky books on this blog.  If you click on that ad, I will earn around one cent.  Yup, you read that correctly.

Anyway, that is my rant for this evening.  I hope I do not sound to holier-than-thou or sanctimonious because that is not the intent.

Readers, if you read any review on this blog that you do not agree with, fill your boots and give me an earful.  I will not delete your comment.  The only exception is for libelous or profane comments.

Ok that is the rant for tonight.  Comments?  Please, I welcome them. 

Now, I need a drink!



P.S. I guess the bottom line is that you have to consider the perspective of the person writing the review.  What is their association with the whisky industry?

Copyright © Jason Debly, 2010. All rights reserved.