Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Hot Summer Night Scotch Suggestion: Islay on Ice!

Presently, it is a very hot, humid, summer evening in Atlantic Canada.  How hot?  98.6 degrees for my American readers with humidity so thick you can cut it with a knife.  For you Canadians and Europeans, 37 degrees celsius.  I have readers in India, China and Hong Kong too.  I have never had the pleasure of visiting your exotic, very hot and humid countries, and so I am unsure whether temperature is recorded in fahrenheit or celsius.  I apologize for my meteorlogical ignorance which knows no bounds.

In any case, all of you (especially in India and Hong Kong) know what unbearable summer heat and humidity can do to one's soul.  Before you know it, it's 3 a.m. and you're staring at an Anthony Robbins infomercial telling you that "you can be all you can be!"  Awaken the Giant Within!  and other jingoisms light on meaning, but big on enthusiasm and insipiring hope (which is not necessarily a bad thing!).  Sometimes hope is a good thing, no matter who is the source of it, including Anthony Robbins.

Anyway, here is my message of hope and inspiration for the lost and overly warm due to terrible summer humidity:.  Add ice to a pour of Islay single malt or even a blended scotch of Islay whiskies.  Huh?  Ice?  I know, I know.  Your mind is racing and thinking does this guy know what he is talking about?  Ice will destroy the flavor, the flavor that some elderly Scottish distillery worker slaved to develop (and no doubt is in the hands of some big multinational that despises blogs like this one) that is the content of the packaging on too many bottles of scotch. 

Ice with scotch?  Yes, it is possible and a religion practiced by many men and women the world over.  Myself included.  A lot of self-professed experts in scotch and whisky appreciation turn their noses up at ice and scotch in the same glass.  Mind you they don't turn their nose up at some cheap blend that they are reviewing if the distillery has hired them as a consultant or supplied them with free samples.  Ok, ok, Jason stop preaching and drop the holier than thou shtick, it's wearing thin.  Got it!

Here's the deal brothers and sistas.  Ignore the snobby guy at work or the stupid git on some site saying that ice and scotch are a 'no-no.'  I am here to shatter that ridiculous position.  Islay whisky on ice is refreshing and just what the doctor ordered on a night of insufferable humidity.

I happen to be drinking Laphroaig Quarter Cask tonight, but it could have easily been Bowmore 12 years, Black Grouse, Islay Mist and a host of other Islay blended or single malt scotch whiskies.  Why? Because these whiskies are remarkably refreshing and pleasing to one's spirits during the crush of summer's heat.

Yes, I am drinking from a tumbler.  Never mind trying to nose of aromas and sip like it is rare scotch found in a shipwreck at the bottom of arctic seas.  Drink your iced whisky from a tumbler and celebrate the fact that you are marching to the beat of your own drum or taking the road less travelled.  Let the peat and smoke refresh and intrigue your senses simultaneously like no other drink can!  Islay single malts and blends on ice are the cure to a midsummer's night humidity!



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

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Review: Chivas Regal 18 years Blended Scotch Whisky

Snake in the Grass
You know the phrase.  What does it mean?  Someone who betrays your trust.  That's how I feel about Chivas Regal 18 years.  Please, let me explain.

I like Chivas Regal 12 years.  I am a fan.  I also like Royal Salute, the 21 year old blended scotch whisky offering from Chivas Brothers.  So naturally, I assumed Chivas Regal 18 years would be pretty good.  Ahh no!  No, it is not.

Reasons?  It's sweet, smooth to the point of being boring and worst of all: a tad bit grainy on the finish!  Yes, I used the 'g' word, the most cutting of descriptors of an amateur scotch reviewer.

I reviewed Chivas Regal 18 years about nine months ago (read that review for a precise description of the flavor profile).  I thought maybe I had been a little harsh.  So, I picked up another bottle.  Have been sipping and am still not impressed.  What really ticks me off is the high price.  At the price of Chivas Regal 18, you could buy excellent single malts at the same price or less.  For example, I could have bought:  Cragganmore 12, Dalwhinnie 15, Highland Park 18, Highland Park 15, Glenlivet 18 and Glenfiddich 15 years to name but a few fine bottles.  Naturally, if a blended scotch whisky commands such a high price you expect to taste great quality and complexity of taste.  Not so! 

Some readers may say that it is unfair to compare an 18 year old blended scotch to single malts.  It's like comparing apples and oranges one might say.  And I say: "Rubbish!"  If Chivas wants to charge the same price as single malts then it is only logical that consumers will compare their product to other products in the same price range.  Nevertheless, if we turn to 18 year old blended scotch whiskies like Johnnie Walker Gold 18 yrs and Famous Grouse 18 years, both of those competitors deliver more nuanced, complex and frankly all-round superior flavor profiles.  Move outside Scotland and other whiskies deliver more powerful and intriguing flavors like Jameson 18 (Irish whiskey), Yamazaki 18 (Japanese), and Gibson's Finest 18 (Canadian).

For the high price, Chivas Regal 18 years delivers disappointment at every sip.  How so?  Let me count the ways:

Smooth:  People who do not drink a lot of scotch, namely Dads and Grandads (ok maybe Aunt May too) at holiday time, tend to place a premium on smoothness of the spirit they drink.  If you drink scotch three times a year, you will like Chivas Regal 18.  If you drink more frequently than that then smoothness can easily move from a positive to a negative feature.  The trouble with this blend is that it is so smooth that it renders the tasting experience boring, flat, about as interesting as watching paint dry on a barnyard door.  Of course none of us want to drink sharp, bitter whisky that produces welts on our tongues.  But, hey!  I like a little challenge.  Not here.

:  Novice scotch fans love sweet whiskies.  Why?  Again, they do not offend, especially when you imbide only a couple of times a year.  Scotch for the person who hardly drinks is a challenge at the best of times and so a sweet one makes it enormously more palatable.  The challenge of every scotch and whisky is to deliver an interesting interplay of sweet yet dry or tart flavors.  That's not easy.  Typically, quality whiskies may start sweet but finish dry.  Not easy to do.  Chivas Regal 18 is sweet like Barbara Walters like her smiles and opening questions in one of her soft ball, made for TV, celebrity interviews.  It's also as sweet as Lionel Richie crooning: ""I'm easy like Sunday morning . . ."  Ugh! 

Near Total Absence of Peat:  Scotch newbies generally shy away from peat and smoke flavors.  Especially Islay weighted blends.  No worries here.  Chivas Regal 18 is sweet honey with hardly any peat.  I mean hardly any!  Did I say hardly any?  Just in case you didn't hear:  Hardly any peat!  Take a big slug of Chivas 18 and there will be the flashing glimpse of peat like a meteorite unexpectedly coming into view for a few seconds on a summer night sky. 

Grainy Finish:  Blended scotch uses grain whiskies in order to soften the strong personality of single malts that are blended to give a core or distinct flavor profile.  Grain whiskies have no flavor.  Well, not entirely true.  They taste like raw onions to me at their worst and at their best like carmelized onions you fry to add to your barbecued t-bone.  Chivas Regal 18 has a grainy finish.  Not good.  Not acceptable at the price point you have to pay.  If this blended scotch was 50% less than the current asking price I wouldn't complain.

When I drink Chivas Regal 18 I really get the sense that I am being duped.  I've been tricked into trading my hard earned cash for an inferior product that comes with flashy, social climbing, snobby, elitist packaging.  To make my point abundantly clear, consider the following:  One of the core single malts making up Chivas Regal 18yrs is Strathisla single malt.  You can buy Strathisla 12 years for nearly half the price of Chivas 18.  No heavy marketing of this decent highland malt takes place.  I bet you have never heard of it.  Guess what?  It is a helluva lot better than the blended scotch it goes into.  I suspect that the profit margin on Chivas Regal 18 (that is filled in part with grain whiskies) is far greater than Strathisla 12 yrs.  

Ouch!  What just bit my ankle?  This is getting biblical.  I gotta go . . . until next time.


Jason Debly

Photo Credits:  Chivas 18 in the Grass - Jason Debly; Barbara Walters photo - http://www.thehealthyeverythingtarian.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/11/barbara-walters-affair.jpg ; Barn Door - by Steffe at: http://www.flickr.com/photos/steffe/16532764/sizes/l/in/photostream/

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

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Review: Talisker 10 years old Single Malt Scotch

Ripley, a regular reader, has accepted my invitation to submit some of his own scotch whisky reviews.  I like his insights and more importantly, he is a peat head.  I mean a fan of the big, peaty and smoke infused malts of Islay, and in the case of tonight's post, the Isle of Skye.  Me, I am more of a mainland (Speyside, Highland, etc.) rube.  I think it is important to have divergent opinions on scotch, some from the Speyside perspective and some from the Islay/Isle of Skye.  Ripley will advise on appreciating the latter.  So, here is Ripley's review:

Talisker 10
Do you remember learning how to ride a bike? I mean the actual moment you went from "trying" to actually doing it without thinking? At that moment, did you finally understand how to ride the bike - did you finally get all the instructions? I'm betting the answer to the last question is no - you didn't finally know something you didn't before, your body just did it without you thinking about it.

For me, learning how to drink whisky has been a lot like learning how to ride a bike some forty years ago. I tried lots of different suggestions, read all I could and tried to relate it to what I was tasting, and occasionally rode a few feet without falling. But one day it just all clicked together (I rode a few blocks without falling) and it was "ah ha" this is what whisky is all about! Like you develop balance on a bike, you develop an ability to smell and taste sometimes very subtle, sometimes very different, components within the malt. At least for me, I have never had drink nor food that has as much complexity and requires so much of my senses to fully comprehend and appreciate.

Unfortunately, I first tried Talisker 10 when I still had my 'training wheels' on. With my newbie senses, I could only taste big smoke which overwhelmed my ability to detect all the other components of this malt. I wasn't even able to detect the subtlety within the smoke (like the obvious sweetness). It wasn't until months later, when I had much stronger smoky/peaty malts (Islay), that I had my significant ah ha moment. What has become abundantly clear to me is that time is required for appreciating whisky. Time between sips, time for each dram to breathe, time for water to mix, time between each trial, time to learn etc, etc, etc...

Personally, my "drams" are only about 1/2 to 3/4 oz (about 1/3 to 1/2 a normal dram). As Jason has suggested many times, I drink plenty of water between sips - this has got to be the #1 best tip of any I've read/heard. I'll wait 1/2 hour or more to go back for another "dram". Before my tasting, and sometimes during, I cleanse my palate with a little sour dough bread (Jason likes French bread). Each time I go back, especially the longer I've waited, the more I smell and taste. In fact, for me, the Islays and other "peaty" malts, get sweeter at each tasting. The point is, read other's opinions and just experiment and try different things - you'll discover what works best for you!

On to the Talisker 10. But one last thing! Unlike Jason, I am definitely a peat-head, as soon as I hit the Islay islands (so to speak), I knew I found my home. With that one caveat behind us, I think you may find this review interesting. With that said, give each malt it's own few nights or space of time with yourself. If you break it up with a powerful one like a peat monster, you won't likely be able to appreciate any subtlety on its own.

Talisker is the only distillery on the Isle of Skye, Scotland. In many ways, Talisker is a closer cousin to the other Island whiskys (Islay, Orkney), than to it's mainland brethren. But despite these similarities, it is quite unique from them as well.

The color is an area I haven't paid much attention to before, but it's a nice golden-brown hue in the tumbler. If it was in a burgundy or wine glass, I may be able to tell you about its legs...but it's not.

The first nose is pure smoke and a light peat medicine (clean band-aidish) scent. Second and subsequent nosing's are increasingly richly sweet like a sweet almond biscuit with a little sea-salt banana around the edges. The peaty scent starts fading in the background as the sweetness increases.

Crispy caramel banana sweetness in front with a big kick of pepper dryness in the middle then a peaty top note. This one you can roll around and around your mouth for a long time picking out the different levels. The texture is right in the middle between light and thick, perfect for rolling.

This has a short to middling length finish. You get a light smoke and crispy burnt-sugar aftertaste. It's very pleasant but not long-lasting, which is perfectly acceptable since this isn't a peat-monster.

As I have learned, the complexity of the whisky grows as your experience with it, and it is definitely not tangible with just the first dram. This is a very nice whisky, much more complex than when I first tried it. The depth is both subtle and obvious - very interesting for a growing relationship. This is actually surprisingly malty-sweet, with a kick of pepper peat. This particular characteristic (hidden and growing sweetness) is quite common with peaty malts (at least for me), but is something I only recently learned and experienced. I love this particular element about them and about the Talisker 10 in particular.


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

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Yellow Whisky Journalism = "Canadian whisky: It's called 'brown vodka' for a reason"

What is "yellow journalism?"  Turn to Wikipedia for a definition and you will read:

Yellow journalism or the yellow press is a type of journalism that presents little or no legitimate well-researched news and instead uses eye-catching headlines to sell more newspapers.

I read the following eye-catching headline on the Washington Post site: 

"Canadian whisky: It's called 'brown vodka' for a reason"

Canadian Whisky is brown vodka?  When I saw that headline, I thought, I must read on.  The author of such a provocative headline is a "Mr. Jason Wilson."  Is his article well-researched?  Well reasonsed?  In the fourth and fifth paragraphs of Wilson's article are the following comments:

"Most Canadian whisky (which like Scotch is spelled without the "e") is just awful.  I confirmed that last week, when I did a tasting of the usual Canadian whisky suspects, several purchased in cheap pint-size flasks. I sipped through VO, Canadian Club 6-year-old, Canadian Club 12-year-old, Canadian Mist, Black Velvet, Windsor and the standard Crown Royal (which of course comes in the  nifty purple velvet bag)."

I think Jason Wilson's sample of Canadian whiskies is flawed and of course leads to the inaccurate conclusion.  If I only sample the most mediocre of bourbons like Old Crow and other nasty American whiskies like say Sunnybrook Kentucky Whiskey, it would be quite easy to make the erroneous conclusion that American whisky is revolting. 

With the exception of the standard bottling of Crown Royal, Wilson's whisky sample failed to include middle of the road and great Canadian whiskies like:  Forty Creek Barrel Select, Gibson's Finest Rare 18 years,  Crown Royal XR, Crown Royal Cask No. 16, Glen Breton, Wiser's Small  Batch, Wiser's Very Old 18 years and Wiser's Red Letter.  If he did, he would not have equated the whiskies with brown vodka.

A paragraph later Wilson contradicts himself and admits there are great Canadian whiskies.

"Okay, maybe I'm being too hard on Crown Royal. If I ran out of every bourbon, Scotch and Irish whiskey in my cabinet, I'd be willing to drink standard Crown Royal, which still feels a little pricey at $25. Crown Royal Black, at around $40, is admirable but also pricey for what you get. Even better, I tasted the special Crown Royal Cask No. 16, aged in cognac barrels.  It's an excellent whisky."

In the very next paragraph, he writes that the old standards like Seagram's VO are, nevertheless, "brown vodka."

"As for the other old standards, including my mom's VO, they tasted thin, dull and out of balance, and with a nose that's too marshmallow-sweet. These whiskies clearly are going for the adjective "smooth" at the expense of everything else: complexity, flavor, richness. They showed why Canadian whisky is referred to as "brown vodka," which I might add is somewhat insulting to vodka."  (emphasis added)

So, on the one hand he is saying bottom shelf Canadian whisky is pretty bad, but the high end stuff is great.  Well, that is not a revelation.  Isn't that pretty much a true statement of any merchandise?  I can buy a subcompact Toyota or a Mercedes S class, which one do you think has the superior ride?

Jason Wilson has little credibility as a writer of spirits in my eyes.  Consider what sparked his interest in Canadian whiskies.  He writes in the 11th paragraph of his article:

"I revisited the category because I attended an interesting panel called "The Many Faces of Canadian Whisky" at the Tales of the Cocktail conference in New Orleans a few weeks ago. It was sponsored by Buffalo Trace Distillerywhich makes some of the finest American whiskeys, including bourbons such as Eagle Rare, Pappy Van Winkle and Blanton's." (emphasis added)

He revisited the Canadian whisky category because he attended a seminar on Canadian whisky that was sponsored by the American bourbon distillery Buffalo Trace Distillery!  A distiller of American whiskey!  Mr. Wilson you really should check your sources before you rely upon them!  Ever heard of bias or lack of objectivity?  Are you new to journalism?

In light of the above, I respectfully submit that Jason Wilson's article fits the definition of yellow journalism:

". . . a type of journalism that presents little or no legitimate well-researched news and instead uses eye-catching headlines to sell more newspapers." 


Jason Debly

Cartoon Credit: Puck US magazine 1888; Nasty little printer's devils spew forth from the Hoe press in this Puck cartoon of Nov. 21, 1888.  Cartoon copyright expired.

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

Friday, August 13, 2010

Review: GlenDronach "Original" 12 years Highland Single Malt Scotch Whisky

Above is a picture of my favorite shoes.  They are old, beat up, worn, cracked, soft leather that fit perfectly.  My wife has delicately suggested I not wear them to work.  I think she would also rejoice if I decided to toss them out.  That will never happen.  I like them because they are so damn comfortable!

GlenDronach "Original" 12 year old Highland Single Malt Scotch Whisky is much like my old pair of shoes.  From the first sip I am put at ease.  Like renewing an old friendship after years of separation.  Just a matter of picking up from where you left things last. 

Nose (undiluted)
Very sherried. Not particularly elegant. Let’s hope it tastes more exceptional than what is presented on the nose.

Palate (undiluted)
Quite sherried. Lightly spiced. Rich, sweet, red fruits like strawberries and red currants. Very light peat. Medium bodied.

Finish (undiluted)
Some somewhat dry sherry, raisins and cloves linger a decent amount of time. Finally, there is a zing of burnt toast with strawberry jam and some rasberries. Oak is there too.  Not bad. Not bad at all.

Nose (diluted)
Addition of water makes the aromas less sherried and more floral. Maybe dandelions.

Palate (diluted)
More creamy. The sherried flavors still dominate, but less so.

Finish (diluted)
Flavors linger much less with water added. Sherry flavor still there but transitions to carmelized onions that usually fry up to go with your Saturday evening barbecue steak. A flavor that neither adds nor detracts to the over all tasting. In general, I prefer drinking this single malt without water.

Value for Money
Great low price!  At least where I live, this is probably one of the lowest priced 12 year old single malts.  It delivers rich flavor, red fruits, oak and some complexity of flavor.  A good choice for the scotch newbie and the tramp (that would be me).

General Impressions
When I first tasted GlenDronach, I regarded it as an average, middle of the road, girl next door, 12 year old single malt. Not bad, but not great. The flavor profile is straight forward . . . or so I thought.  A little complexity mid-palate when you taste the crunch of burnt toast and strawberry jam. But! Upon subsequent tastings it really started to grow on me and I started to unlock some complexity of flavor.

It’s smooth, tremendously easy drinking, coupled with a low price, makes it attractive.  No bite or bitterness on the palate. Easy to like. Not grainy and basically not offensive in any fashion. No towering peat and smoke either that is generally not a hit with the novice scotch fan. 

Over all, I am happy with this recent purchase. A very consistent taste from opening to the last drop.  This represents good value for money. When you just want a nice scotch while you watch the game or chill out in the backyard after a long day, this works well.  I wouldn’t pull this out for your scotch fan or the father-in-law you seek to impress. This is a “go-to” economy 12 year old single malt for the budget minded person seeking a decent single malt with a flavor profile that is familiar yet interesting.  Comfort food. That’s what this scotch is. Just like my old pair of shoes that I just can’t stand the thought of parting with.

Photo Credits:  Jason Debly
Copyright © Jason Debly, 2009-2013. All rights reserved.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

The Talented Mr. Ripley

No, this is not a post about the psychological thriller of the same title written by Patricia Highsmith  and published in 1955.  Also eventually made into the 1999 film starring Matt Damon.

This post is about a recent email I received by one of the regular readers of this blog, "Ripley."  He has a surname, but I won't divulge it.  Actually, it is probably not his real surname, as I have never met him in person.  Not sure of his age, attire or interests other than a clear passion for scotch and whiskies of the world that makes him a brother by another mother!

In any case, he and I correspond via email from time to time and here is his most recent correspondence:

Hi Jason!

After all these months with different whiskys and learning new things, trial and error, as a newbie, here are some things that I've learned:

#1 - your first taste could be meaningless - you need repeats of at least 3 times - this, even after you are no longer a "newb". Also, your taste-buds change day to day and one day everything can pretty much taste like "what I am doing paying this much for this cr__", and other days...you know..this is the best...I am in love...fill in the blank....

#2 - come back and try the same malt after months more of experience, or just a break, and compare your notes - you find lots and lots you didn't before and you realize - "there is no bad whisky..."

#3 - when you add water, you need to swirl and give it a least a couple of minutes to blend and release the burn, otherwise you end up with ick

#4 - when you don't add water you still need to swirl for a couple of minutes to release the burn and open the nose - you need to let breathe either way

I decided to revisit Talisker 10. I'm a dork - this is an awesome malt: you smell a strong sweet almond (marzipan-finally know what that means) biscuit with a light smoky peat perfume. Then crispy caramel banana taste with a kick of pepper drops you into a sleepy dream-like world. The light smoke and crispy burn sugar after-taste has you floating...and wanting another sip. Jason, retry this one - its sweetness is actually reminiscent of Highland 12, less but with the peat/pepper contrast.

Laphroaig 10 yo Cask Strength: Hallucinagenic first experience, second had me trying different amounts of h2o and having love/hate thoughts. Third time: wooooowwww. OK, you put a little water in and don't sniff or drink until it is properly mixed for a few...but you can do this straight as well. A rosy-cheeked nurse's aid is serving you a seriously beautiful and subtle, sweet cake with a creamy/crunch BIG peat bonfire nose. You taste a Cuban coffee sweetness with a Big peat and smoke taste, with maybe a little burnt banana. This goes into a lovely and long peat and smoke finish with lingering sweet coffee cake. There is something VERY special about this one. I can't nail it on the head but it it big, beautiful, and complex, unbelievable for the $50 I paid - I would pay much more (but don't tell). It now is my favorite over the Lagavulin - which I think of now as "elegant". I am in love again...you really need to try this one. I got it for $50 at the NH line liquor store.

All this peaty smokey stuff has really opened my buds to the other malts - I can taste so much more in the Highland Park now - it is actually quite a bit more sweet to me now and very complex. It works really well when using as a comparison to others.

I'm a bit worried about my local big discount liquor store. On my last trip there was only one bottle of Caol Ila 12 left and no Laphroaig Standard. I'm thinking when you find something good and you love it, then you buy another bottle and save it.

Your friend,

Ripley the whisky apprentice
. . . .
I think Ripley provides super/excellent/astute advice!  And yes, Ripley, I'll give the Talisker 10 another go.  While I can appreciate it is a good single malt, I have not been a huge fan and maybe that is because I have not had a bottle to meditate on over several weeks.  Will have to do that.
Readers, in the next few days, I will be posting a review of Glendronach 12 yrs single malt scotch.  Nice stuff, so tune back in.  Until then . . .
Poster for the film The Talented Mr. Ripley (1999).  © 1999 Paramount Pictures Corporation and Miramax Film Corp.  Source: http://www.impawards.com/1999/posters/talented_mr_ripley.jpg

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