Wednesday, June 30, 2010

The Greatest Consumer of Scotch Whisky?

I am not what you would call a 'soldier of the mind' nor an intellectual.  But, I do try to keep abreast on what the hell is going on in the world, and so I do on occasion pick up The Economist.

I know, I know, you're thinking who the hell is he trying to impress?  Like who cares?  I hear ya brother.  Most of the time I read the articles not understanding what I am reading, but hoping by reading it some sort of osmosis action will take place and maybe I can drop an interesting tidbit at a party or get-together with other psuedo intellectuals.

In any case, I did come across an interesting article worth drawing your attention to.  It's entitled:  Whisky Galore: Which Countries Import Most Scotch  Whisky?   Without looking at the article, try and guess which country imports the most scotch whisky.  The United States, Ireland, Scotland, Hong Kong, China, Singapore?  Go on. Guess.  What about Russia?  They have a market economy (ok, with some growing pains) and a growing middle and upper middle class.  Who do ya think?  You'll never guess correctly.  Go ahead try anyway.

And the answer is: France!  What?  Yup! that's no typo mate!

The above chart was taken from the aforementioned Economist article.  Pretty shocking!  I mean who would a' thunk it?  If I had to guess it would have been the United States as they have the population and wealthy middle and upper middle class consumers.  Guess I was wrong. 

The article also goes on to discuss the emerging middle classes in South America that is responsible for the greatest amount of growth of sales.  It's a good thing in my opinion.

I gotta go but read the article.  Don't worry it's short and there is no test.  Ain't it great when I'm the teacher?


Jason Debly

Copyright © Jason Debly, 2009-2010. All rights reserved.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Review: Woodford Reserve Distiller’s Select – Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey

Nose (undiluted)
Inhale her scent of beautiful corn and vanilla when you lean close to the nape of her neck. Some roses too, surely from the corsage pinned to her dress. A real heady experience. Quite simply gorgeous.

Palate (undiluted)
Show some respect when you take her hand. Don’t grab it or squeeze too hard. She is like a steaming cup of tea. Take a small, I mean tiny, tentative sip. At 90.4 proof, she is not to be trifled with like the flotsam jetsam you encounter in those tawdry beer dance halls that you should no better than to patronize. She is not suitable for some carefree summertime fling. She demands you place her upon a pedestal . . . or else her Daddy may show up with a shotgun and angry, overalls clad, sons to teach you a lesson.

A dance with this fair Southern Belle of the ball will begin with her curtsey and a sweet smile reminiscent of corn fields bending in the wind. You bow to her sweet greeting. You and she advance towards each other. Her strapless gown is breathtaking. You’re staring! As you advance you encounter rye spiciness in her demeanor that compliments the sweet thoughts of corn fields in the wind.

Get ready for the do-si-do. You and she advance towards each other. As you pass each other, right shoulder to right shoulder, the contact is like the taste of vanilla and broken candy cane. Without turning you go around each other back-to-back and then step backwards to your starting position.

Finish (undiluted)
You and her move towards each other once more. This time you join hands and kiss. Charcoal, American oak and vanilla linger on your lips. There is a burn in your throat and she is gone.

After the Ball
You’re left standing there, the lights are on and she’s gone. Damn, you never should have turned your back on her and gone to the bar to get that drink.

Woodford Reserve is uncompromising like Janis Joplin’s rendition of the George Gershwin classic standard Summertime. Soulful, bluesy, bitter sweet shards of candy cane, vanilla, with a dash of brown sugar and . . . a little harsh. The harshness comes on the finish. What I am referring to is a little alcohol burn on the throat. This is unfortunate if you are seeking perfection in bourbon. It’s most noticeable on the first drink and fades with subsequent sips. For me, Knob Creek or Maker's Mark (competing small batch premium bourbons) are a little more refined on the finish. No burn! I’m not crazy about the burn on the finish. You can feel it in the back of the throat.  For me I would not pick this up again because of the burn and the price.  It is a little over priced to the point that I would opt for Maker's Mark or Knob Creek over it.  Woodford Reserve has legions of fans but I am not one of the die-hard ones.  I enjoy it and can imagine it working in mixed drinks well, but not completely satisfied.  In order to take away the nasty burn on the finish, I add to big ice cubes to a double pouring.  Problem solved!  Nevertheless, it is a very fine bourbon though a little lawless, unbalanced and unpredictable. You’ll just have to try it and decide for yourself if you can handle her.


Jason Debly

P.S.  Janis, we will always love you.  Rest in peace.

Copyright © Jason Debly, 2009-2011. All rights reserved except for photos of Janis Joplin which are published for the purpose of education and entertainment.   Photo Credits:  Janis Joplin singing: Photograph © Jim Marshall from the book Trust: Photographs of Jim Marshall (Omnibus Press)

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Review: Finlaggan Old Reserve Single Malt Scotch Whisky

I carry on quite a few email exchanges with people around the world.  Some people email me with questions like what would I recommend as a gift for someone.  I also get into conversations just about scotch and other whiskies in general.

Yochanan (his real name is Jon) is a regular contributor to comments on my reviews and so one day I thought, Jon if you write up a tasting note, I'll post it on this blog.  He agreed and so here we are.

Jon is a big fan of this independent bottler's offering.  It is a very affordable single malt scotch.  There is no age statement, but people in the industry tell me that it is probably a six year old Lagavulin.  Others say it is a six year old Laphroaig or Caol Ila.  As an independent bottler, the owner's of the Finlaggan Old Reserve brand, are not the owner's of a distillery, but rather simply buy the single malt of one and bottle and label it themselves.  So, one year it could be Lagavulin, while another year it may be Laphroaig.  Nevertheless, the bottom line is that if you like Islay scotch, that is to say, if you enjoy peat, you will enjoy this little gem.  Please read on:

Finlaggan (Old Reserve)- Single Malt Islay Scotch Whisky

by Jon S.

Notes about the bottle: This whisky has won “gold” in the International Wine and Spirit Competition, according to the bottle. Additionally, there is quote containing praise from none other than Jim Murray, as
taken from his “whisky bible.” It goes on, “BRILLIANT,…this is simply awesome. If you don’t get a bottle of this, you’ll regret it for the rest of your life!”

Now, onto the dirty deed.

Nose (neat)
Fairly big, semi-sweet peat, some smoke, a little petrol, and seaweed.  Lacks the medicinal “edge“ one might find in the peatiest of the Islays. I also detect pears and anise, I believe, faintly behind all the peat. Nice nose. Strikes me as being relatively subdued whilst maintaining a stern, and probably quite young, classic Islay character.

Anyone who has experienced a particularly peaty Islay knows the kind of atmosphere a dram can create in a room. The peat-fires lit at the whiskeys development are seemingly rekindled, and the room can become a
tiny little peat bog. This is pleasing to the Islay enthusiast, as well as an annoyance to the non-fan who must also be in the room. The strength of the bon-fire nose on the Islay at hand in this review is little different, albeit a tad less strong than the likes of the three “peat monsters” (is it?) that our host Jason has detailed: Laphraoig, Ardbeg, and Lagavulin. I consider the Finlaggan something borderline to this.

Palate (neat)
The palate flows through in a nearly perfectly parallel fashion from the nose. Right away: Big peat attack, with a large, spicy puff of cigar smoke following the tail-end of the increasingly sweet peat. I actually had a Romeo Y Julieta Habana Reserve (cigar) after my first night’s tasting of this scotch, and judging from the not-so-extreme complexity of the OR, makes it an ideal cigar-scotch, or scotch to sip with a cigar. The pears from the nose return mid-palate. I also even pick up a teensy bit of honey and sherry! This is nice, even if it is far from the most complex or sophisticated malt one could have: The flavors are mostly straight-forward off of the nose, and the more subtle flavors are nearly drowned out from the robust ones. Not a real flaw, though. This is, however, a no-age stated entry Finlaggan. I would be interested in trying out the cask strength of this whisky as well.

Finish (neat)
Lingering, persistent smoke, oak, and a little hot pepper. The finish is long.

Palate (diluted)
If one wants to experiment, feel free, but diluting any bit seem to only mute the more subtle notes and tame the peat a tad. This scotch is to be had neat, and only neat.

I have heard a very prevalent theory that this “mysterious” scotch is actually a young Lagavulin, and I suppose I can see this. Regardless, this is young scotch, perhaps between 6-8 years. While it tastes young,
it is actually relatively gentle (by Islay definition), a kind of interesting juxtaposition.

So, is there value for money here, Jon!?
You betcha. Once again, this isn’t the most complex scotch, but it is still thought-provoking to an extent and very enjoyable. In one regard, this whisky is robust. In another, it’s considerably gentler than a lot of other Islays. That, coupled with it’s smoothness, sweetness, and lack of medicinal character make this perhaps an ideal entry to Islay single malt scotch, and a little more appealing to newbies than, say, an Ardbeg 10 yr. Around my neck of the woods, a bottle runs around $30.  In less tax-hiked areas in the U.S, I have also heard of it running as low as $17. Very economical, and clearly a steal. I highly recommend the Finlaggan Old Reserve! Cheers!

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Glenkinchie Distiller's Edition - Single Malt Scotch Review

I have had this bottle of Glenkinchie Distiller's Edition (distilled in 1992 and bottled in 2007) for quite a while.  I had been kinda procrastinating the task of reviewing this single malt scotch.  Why?  Just read my review of it's younger sibling, the 12 year old and you will know why.  Not top shelf stuff by any means.  About as pleasant to drink as a trip to the dentist.

So, with great trepidation I opened the box packaging, uncorked the bottle and poured a dram. 

Nose (undiluted)
Sherry and strawberries.  Maybe dark chocolate lurking behind a doorway?

Medium bodied.

Palate (undiluted)
Initially sweet, high quality sherry that gracefully moves to velvety Marashino cherry. The initial sweetness gives way to dry, spicy cinammon sticks.  Nice complexity.

Finish (undiluted)
Cigar & esspresso coffee.  This finish is puckering dry.  The crushed velvet texture of this scotch is memorable.

Add Water?
Yeah, you could amigo.  But why?  A teaspoon to 1 & 1/2 ounces makes it more winey, port like and sweet.  For my palate, I prefer this single malt neat.  The water also takes away complexity of the flavors.  Don't do it!  Just say 'no' to water.

Distiller's Notes
On the back of the packaging is the following marketing blurb:

"A special Limited Edition from hand-selected casks, double matured in elegant Amontadillo cask-wood chosen to compliment the whisky's sophisiticated balance between sweet and dry, this Distiller's Edition reveals a fascinating, complex and malty depth in Glenkinchie's lowalnd character."

Surprisingly, I find myself agreeing with the above passage.  It is certainly sophisticated and there is great balance or what I would call great transition from sweet to dry.  What makes me chuckle when I read the above noted packaging note is the reference to Amontadillo.  I remember studying in high school The Cask of Amontillado by Edgar Allen Poe.  Amontadillo and Amontillado are the same words for the same fine Spanish sherry that appeared in the aforementioned short story.  In the story, the main character invites a fellow Italian nobleman to his wine cellar, located in catacombs, to taste some fine Amontadillo.  Well, that's just a pretext to exact some disturbing revenge.  I won't ruin the story.  Read it here.

Edgar Allen Poe was a rascal who knew good sherry.  The same good sherry that imparts great flavors in this Glenkinchie Distiller's Edition.

Price Point
Expensive.  No doubt about it.  It tests the limit of value for money, but in the end,  the value is there.  The high price is a testament to how good this single malt is.

What you will not taste in this malt is very much peat.  So, if you are a peat freak, look elsewhere.

This Distiller's Edition is a huge step up from the standard 12 year old bottling.  The two are very different.  The 12 year old is bitter and sour while this Distiller's Edition is refined, beautiful use of sherry flavors and great complexity of cinammon and some chocolate too.

This is so good, I am going to buy another bottle.  Great scotch for special occasions.  Skip the 12 year old and buy this.  Very good, high quality single malt scotch.


Jason Debly

Copyright © Jason Debly, 2009-2010. All rights reserved.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Review: Gibson's Finest Rare 18 years Canadian Whisky

Soft, light, polite, interesting and talkative, a little complex, but not overly so.  On the one hand, I could be making a generalization about Canadians. Oh hell, you're thinking Wayne Gretzky or Anne Murray crooning "Snow Bird."  Hell, even Candian rock music is polite like Rush and Neil Young.  On the other hand, I might also be making an observation about their whisky. Compared to scotch, Canadian whisky is lighter and sweeter. This is a result of blending. A lot of blending. It is not uncommon for Canadian whisky to have up to 50 different whiskies blended together. They must be at least three years old, but typically are older.

A great attribute of many Canadian whiskies is that while distilled from a wide variety of grains (ie. rye, wheat and corn) in addition to barley, it is rarely grainy in taste. You don’t have to spend a lot of money in order to get a good drink. This may be one of the reasons that Americans buy more Canadian whisky than they do of their own native spirits (ie. bourbon, Tennessee whisky). 

Probably the most famous Canadian whisky is Crown Royal. However, there are others.  One of the less known is Gibson’s Finest Rare 18 years old.  It has always been one of my favorites.  It is a great blend of whiskies resulting in a soft, light spirit with some sweet corn and spiced rye that finishes with a dry flourish. 

Getting infortmation on Gibson's is not easy.  Two books I have on world whisky fail to make any reference to it. Turning to the internet, there is scant information. So, I cannot tell you anything about how long it has been on the market or any other interesting factoid. There is a website, but it is hardly informative.  In fact, I visit the site and think it would discourage a whisky drinker.  Loud alternative rock music targeting a youthful, college age demographic that I am no longer a member of is the aim of the Gibson's site.  Never mind the website. It’s all about the flavor.

Nose (undiluted)
It seems every time I pull the cork on this bottle, I am hit with a sickening waft of pure alcohol. But don’t worry, it passes and in no way is a reflection on what follows.

In the glass, the nose is not offensive, but not memorable. I smell corn. Reminiscent of bourbon. Canadian whisky tends not to be floral on the nose and this is no exception. I am detecting some vanilla. The aromas of this Canadian whisky are very restrained.  Nothing special.

For a Canadian whisky it is full bodied, but compared to Scotch, it would be considered light, along the lines of Cragganmore, Glenkinchie or Glen Scotia.

Palate (undiluted)
There is a sweetness of corn chased by some spicy rye. But, don’t worry, not too spicy. Remember, it’s Canadian eh, renowned for smoothness.  Hmmm . . . good. Oak, citrus, cooked fruit, maybe stewed apples. Vanilla is there too.

Finish (undiluted)
Long, lingering, velvet finish of brown sugar and a spiciness that dries expansively with the warmth of a woodstove. The flavors really hang for a long time. Impressive.

A sign of many great whiskies is the ability to start out sweet, but gracefully transition to a dry as tumble weed, tart finish. Gibson’s Finest does this beautifully.

Ice and Canadian whisky go well together and are particularly refreshing during the summer months.  This whisky is very smooth and inviting.  Ice is not needed to tame the flavor profile.  It's a personal decision.  Neat or with ice, you will definitely enjoy it.

The Price is Right!
Don't worry Bob Barker is retired and I am not taking Drew Carey's job.  For an 18 year old whisky, I think the price is reasonable.  Not a steal of a deal, but a fair price.

General Impressions

Gibson’s Finest Rare 18 years is an excellent whisky and would make the perfect gift for the person you know likes whisky in general, but knowing nothing more as to likes or dislikes. Gibson’s manages to be instantly likable, but not boring. There is a complexity of flavor that reels the drinker in for more and more.  There's no fancy marketing campaign, just the quiet, humble Canadian way.  Give it a try!  You won't regret it.


Jason Debly

Copyright © Jason Debly, 2009-2010. All rights reserved.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Famous Grouse Scotch Whisky - You can never go back

When I first started drinking scotch it was blended scotch whisky that was my drink.  The first introduction was Johnnie Walker Black Label (a great blended scotch that I still enjoy!).  While enjoying that I also started sipping The Famous Grouse.  I used to have big ice cubes in a tumbler and pour in enough Famous Grouse to cover about 50% of the height of the ice cubes.  Let it melt for a minute or two and then sip. 

I drank Famous Grouse, Johnnie Walker Black and Teacher's Highland Cream fairly steady for about a year.  Every once in a while I would try a single malt and simply fail to understand what was the big deal.  Single malts seemed to be rougher, have more bite and burn whereas the aforementioned blends were always smooth, gentle and pleasingly sweet.

Times . . they are a changin'. 

Eventually, after continuing to try many single malts, there was one that intrigued me, I think it was Dalwhinnie at the time.  Thereafter, my blended scotch whiskies faded off into the distance and were replaced by bottles of single malts on the horizon.  Nevertheless, because of this history, I always have a soft spot for blends.

I pride myself on not being a scotch snob.  If you and I are sitting across from eachother in a bar and you declare that in your heart of hearts a preference for blended scotch whisky, I will not think less of you.  That is your inalienable right as a scotch lover.  The fact that you like blended scotch makes us brothers merely by other mothers.  Too many scotch snobs and well meaning enthusiasts dismiss blended scotch as for lesser beings and alley way lushes.  Not I!

So, I turn to this bottle of Famous Grouse in front of me and see if it still holds the fascination it once did for me all those years ago.

Nose (undiluted)
Malty and sherried.  Peppery too.  Not bad.  Nothing to write home to Mom about though.

Palate (undiluted)
Super smooth like 1970's soul singer Lou Rawls crooning "Lady Love."  Sugary, sweet sherry moving to a maltiness that frankly is on the cheap.  Reminiscent of Whyte & Mackay (not a good thing). 

Finish (undiluted)
Super short flavors of cloves and pepper.

Tasted neat, it's not sparking much passion.  Let's try it the way I did years ago.  That is with ice.

Nose (with ice)
More muted.  Nevertheless, some malt notes do drift out of the glass.  

Palate (with ice)
I gotta say I prefer this blend with ice.  Once it has melted a bit, the cheap sherry flavor is weakened while the sweet maltiness remains.  Refreshing and simple.  

Finish (with ice)
Pepper, cloves and carmelized onions. 

General Impressions

Well, I am disappointed to say that all the fond memories have not been revisited by this tasting.  Kinda reminds me of the saying that "you can never go back."  You can never go back to that great first love, the best time of your life, a favorite vacation, a hole-in-one or whatever it might be. 

I have moved on it seems.  My tastes have evolved.  I no longer love her, the Famous Grouse.  The embers have gone cold and I can't imagine how I liked her in the first place.  I'm a little saddened.

I used to like Ballantines Finest a lot, but now cannot tolerate it at all.  I think as a novice scotch whisky drinker I was pleased by smoothness, sweetness and a cheap maltiness.  If I continued to drink just blended scotch whisky maybe the affair would have continued.  Probably so.  I kinda admire that guy who can stick with one blend all his life, whether it be Teacher's or Bells.  I'm just not that guy.

Drinking Famous Grouse, Ballantines Finest and other bottom shelf blends is kinda like memories of highschool.  The memories are fond, but if you could go back you wouldn't and if you did it would not be the same.


Jason Debly

P.S.  Not all Famous Grouse offerings are as weak as the standard bottling.  Click here for my comments on the very impressive Famous Grouse 18 years, a blend of only single malts.

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