Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Review: Bell's Blended Scotch Whisky

Bell's Blended Scotch Whisky

Everybody likes a bargain!  Teacher's Highland Cream is one great deal.  In the American whisky realm, Jim Beam Black is another. 

I am always on the look-out for a low priced blend that delivers good value for my hard earned cash.  With inflation and rising taxes eroding my purchasing power, I really have to have some reasonably priced spirits.  But, when you are staring at the bottom shelf of the whisky section of your local purveyor of fine spirits, you certainly run the risk of buying some very terrible whiskies.  So, you understand my motivation for picking up a bottle of Bell's Blended Scotch Whisky.  Could it be another Teacher's or Jim Beam Black?  Let's find out.

Price Point
Bell's Scotch Whisky is priced the same as Teacher's, J&B and Dewar's White Label.  So far, so good!

Nose (undiluted)
Sweet, grassy, cookie dough and some peat.

Palate (undiluted)
Super sweet, wheat, biscuit, sugared shortbread cookies, and a little peat.  Thereafter, turns malty.

Finish (undiluted)
Very short.  What you experience in the blink of any eye is Cool Whip, fresh out of the cannister, a couple of salt licks, hints of peat and a grand finale of unrivaled GRAININESS!!!!!!!!!!! 

Simple, boring, terribly sweet!  Flat tasting.  Just no dimensions to this blended scotch.  Would be suitable for mixed drinks, but on its own or with ice, it is just a huge dive into the sugar bowl of whiskies.  Sure, economy blended scotch is not meant to be overly complex.  I agree, but hey, that doesn't give the blenders carte blanche to create an extra boring whisky.  I think this whisky exists in the marketplace because it appeals to the lowest common denominator of whiskies, namely smooth, super sweet, no playful bite and virtually no evolution from the initial cloyingly sweet beginining to the Cool Whip finish.  Ugh!  This is the handy choice of drunks who wake under a bridge and college students looking to get loaded. 

Oh, did I say this was sweet?  That's all it is.  It's like a mouthful of sugar cubes slowingly melting in your mouth.  Not a pleasant sugar cane  or honey sweetness.  No!  Think high-fructose corn syrup!  Gumballs, dime store candies, vending machine candy.  That's the sweetness Bell's Blended Scotch Whisky exhibits!  Yuck!

Ever read a whisky tasting note and the critic speaks of tasting the 'grains' of a scotch, and you think "what the hell does grain taste like?" 

As you probably know, blended whisky is made up of many grain and malt whiskies.  The grain used in scotch is mainly wheat.  This grain imparts a light, sweet taste and provides a narrow flavor field of sugar, vanilla and sweet toffee.  If the grain whisky is young it can be harsh (tasting bitter or acidic) and lacking in much flavor because grain whisky in blends may be aged (however briefly) in poor quality casks for too short a period of time. 

Grain whisky can be delightful in blended scotch, but much will hinge upon the quality of the casks.  Are they first-fill ex-bourbon casks?  Are casks made of American or European oak?  How long are they in the casks?  The quality of the wood making up the casks is just as important, if not more important than the grain making up the whisky.

Malt whisky is whisky derived from barley.  Barley provides a much broader spectrum of flavors than wheat, which is probably an enormous factor in explaining the importance placed upon it.  Malt whisky, especially when young, is very distinctive, and blending it with sweet grain whisky can make it more palatable.  The tremendous sweetness of Bell's suggests to me that there is far too much grain whisky used and not enough malt whiskies.  My theory would explain the absence of flavor in this scotch.

Returning to Bell's, when I say it is grainy, I am saying it is terribly sweet, cloyingly so.  Honey sweet is nice.  High-fructose corn syrup sweetness is not, unless it is the flavor quality of cough syrup you are trying to convince your 4 year old child with a fever to down.

Bell's Blended Scotch Whisky is not a bottom shelf bargain.  It is a terribly sweet whisky suitable for mixed drinks at best.  There are no interesting flavors to be found.  You just get wicked sugar, biscuits and some oak.  No sherry or great treatment of peat here.  No licorice, toffee flavors either.

Don't buy it!

Jason Debly

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

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Musings on Lee Marvin, the Dirty Dozen & Johnnie Walker Black

Lee Marvin pouring Johnnie Walker Black in "The Dirty Dozen"

I like old films.  Especially flicks from the late 60's and early 70's.  One of the gems I watched the other night was The Dirty Dozen (1967).  Two bottles of Johnnie Walker Black Label make an appearance during a conversation between Lee Marvin's character and an army psychologist.  The bottle shape looks slightly different than the ones appearing on shelves of your local liquor stores today.  The bottle is more rounded, but the slanted black label is unmistakable.  Besides noting Marvin's good choice in blended scotch, it got me interested in his career and thinking about what kind of a guy he was.

Lee Marvin in "The Dirty Dozen" (1967)

 In The Dirty DozenLee Marvin portrayed an American army 'Major Reisman' who was tasked with taking twelve military convicts, awaiting execution or doing hard labor, and whip them into shape, such that they can invade a Nazi military retreat and kill as many Nazi officers as possible.  Sound crazy?  Not well thought out?  Well, maybe you have not worked in government . . .  If ever there was a place capable of spawning crazy ideas. . .   Anyway, that is a topic for another post.

The Dirty Dozen is a great military adventure film.  A lot of the success of the film rests on the shoulders of Marvin.  He is very convincing as a jaded career soldier.  A guy who has disdain and contempt for the inefficiencies of the military brass, its purported authority and the absurdity of war.  He also comes off as very tough.  And I don't think it was much of a stretch for him.  He was in the United States Marines and served as a Scout Sniper.  He saw action too.  He killed people (something he was not proud of), wounded by machine gun fire and saw most of his platoon die at one point.  He was conflicted over violence in film, judging by this quote:

All I can say is that, in Europe, American pictures are the most popular, which amazes me. They do love the violent pictures. And, of course, they have seen violence. So maybe an acting-out on the screen alleviates the pressure on them. I know when I was a kid and would see John Wayne punch some guy and knock him through the wall, I'd say, 'Boy, I'm glad I wasn't that guy.' Or I didn't wan't to be involved in that relationship. So maybe there is good value to it. Now in acting, when craziness is shown in a sick manner or, in other words, 'to no value', I look down on it. Because real violence is a thing that must not be tolerated, and in order not to tolerate it you must be educated in knowing what it is. Violent films come out with value ... When I play these roles of vicious men I do things you shouldn't do and I make you see that you shouldn't do them. I played a lot of what I hate, now I like to play parts which I love. I can play bigots, etc, parts no one else will. I am not fascinated by death any more: there is lots of anti-violence in my heart, and after committing murder it was hard to find peace. Acting is a search for communication - that is what I am trying to do, get my message across. Marines are all volunteers: when it gets rough, you say to yourself, 'Well, you asked for it.'  

(emphasis added)

Think about pretty boys like Brad Pitt, Tom Cruise and Matt Damon.  Those guys are just posers.  Marvin was the real deal.

He was also 'tough' in terms of character.  He supported John F. Kennedy's 1960 presidential campaign, opposed the Vietnam war, and was a supporter of gay rights as far back as 1969.  He did all this while being one of the most successful mainstream film celebrities of his time.  Would have been a lot easier to remain silent or very 'diplomatic' on positions that were outside the mainstream, white picket-fence realm of respectability.  A guy who marched to the beat of his own drum.

Just a thought or two to consider as you sip Johnnie Walker Black, Teacher's or whatever you have at hand.  Maybe watch The Dirty Dozen too and see a former marine convincingly portray a major?  I recommend it!


Jason Debly

Copyright © Jason Debly, 2009-2011. All rights reserved.  Poster owns no copyright to images of the film, The Dirty Dozen (1967), which is posted for the purposes of nostalgia, education and entertainment.  Copyright of images belongs to MGM or successor corporate entity.  Copyright to picture of Johnnie Walker Black held by poster.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Review: Canadian Club Blended Whisky Aged 30 years

About a month ago, I received email from fellow whisky nuts,  Davin de Kergommeaux ( and Chip Dykstra (The Rum Howler Blog).  These Canadian guys operate their respective spirits review websites, and wanted to know if I was interested in participating in reviewing the same whisky and post simultaneously in front of you, the reader.  You get the bonus of three points of view.  I thought hmmm . . . could be interesting.  It would also be a welcome change for you the reader, who may be tired of my pop culture analogies of how a whisky performs on my untrained palate.  So, I thought, what the hell!  I have nothing to lose . . . other than my dignity, reputation and the budding friendship of two, whacky whisky boob, internet acquaintances.

Canadian Club 30 year old whisky
In 2008, to mark the 150th year of the distilleryCanadian Club 30 years old was released.  Davin and Chip also selected it as the first of possibly a series of whiskies to be reviewed.

I am Canadian, and so, am familiar with the Canadian Club brand.  In my college days, I drank Crown Royal.  Didn't care for 'CC' as it is often termed lovingly by its' legions of fans.  I found the standard bottling rather sweet, kinda like perfume.  In college, I sought out perfume, but wanted it accompanied by a female body, not a whisky bottle!  That's my knowledge of this brand.  Ok, let's move on to the 30 year old (err whisky that is . . .):

Nose (undiluted)
Fragrant rye, roses and vanilla.

Palate (undiluted)
Big rye flavor that brings to mind certain great American bourbons.  Maple sugar, hickory and massive oak towering overhead.  Nevertheless, the flavors are all in balance with a nice symmetry. 

Finish (undiluted)
Cinnamon and a ginger intensity merging into a fast moving stream of vanilla.  A little spice here at the tail end, but not a lot.

General Impressions
Super smooth.  Balanced.  Polite.  Much like Canadian people abroad.  "Yes, sir" or "Please" or "May I know the time?"  This whisky is not taking any chances, because risk taking in distilling involves the possibility of offending.  No one will take offence here.  Smooth, no nasty, naked alcohol rolling around on the palate.  Everyone has their clothes on at this party. 

So, as a gift for ol' grandad, he'll sure be happy.  A pleasant enough drink.  That's for sure.  But, at nearly $200 a bottle, your more serious whisky fan (me, myself & I) will not be impressed.  Question:  Why?  Answer:  Canadian Club 30 years does not roll out a flavor profile of any great complexity.  You literally taste in the most linear and uninspiring fashion: rye, vanilla and oak followed by cinnamon and ginger on the finish. 

Remember the stodgy narrator, the wheelchair bound criminoligist of the Rocky Horror Picture Show?  What do crowds of college students repeatedly shout at the top of their lungs, the world over, standing defiantly in the aisles, at midnight screenings of that ridiculously funny film?  Boring! Boring! Boring!   

I have the same sentiment as I sip Canadian Club 30 years old.  It's just not doing anything for me.  This whisky is not worth the price.  Buy Gibson's Finest Rare 18 years, another Canadian whisky, that is a fraction of the price, and enjoy a flavor profile that is just as satisfying.  Canadian Club 30 years is proof that age statements are not definitive of quality.

At $200 a bottle, you expect to be 'wowed.'  You want some 'pizazz.'  Not a slice of white bread!  This is vanilla when I am expecting neapolitan flavor ice cream.

Another Opinion?
Ever heard the saying:  "If there is not enough work in a small town for one lawyer, there is always enough for two?"  Same holds true for whisky reviewers.  At least with this review, there is a triumvirate of sorts.  If you want to read the review of a recognized authority of Canadian whisky, visit Davin de Kergommeaux's site here for his take on CC 30.  If you want to read another review of a rum expert, who analyzed Canadian Club 30, try Chip Dykstra's site


Jason Debly

Copyright © Jason Debly, 2009-2011. All rights reserved.  Poster owns no copyright to image of Rock Horror Picture Show which is posted for the purposes of nostalgia, education and entertainment.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Review: Clynelish Distiller's Edition 1992

Pictured above is a view of my backyard.  For an idea of what it looks like in late summer/early Fall try my review of Balvenie Doublewood.  Judging from the above photo, I am sure you can surmise that winter has arrived.  She is here, but her arrival is late and sadly she doesn't tend to stay long.

You see, when I was a kid in the mid-1970's, Mistress Winter would arrive with her white legions, frosty gaze, cold air about her and she would stay.  I mean snowbanks were typically five feet high and remained the whole season.  From early November till mid-March she visited.  Rusty, yellow painted front-loaders piled snow high in the center of the court in front of my house, maybe 12 feet high.  After the loader left, I and my friends would dig quite extensive tunnels that would probably have impressed the Vietcong

Those days are gone.  I'm 44 years old, and I can attest to the existence of global warming.  When Winter arrives now, she's a total tease!  In the evening as I look out my window at the blizzard of her arrival, I am fantasizing about my snoblower doin' a number on her, clear that driveway right down to the pavement!  But, damn! I get up in the morning and she's like . . . gone.  She has melted from my driveway, left my life, hell, left me standing there in the morning sun glow of my glistening driveway thinking was last night's winter storm just a dream?

When she is here, we go for long hikes through snow packed trails, snow shoe, ski, toboggan, we do it all.  Afterwards, I like to get inside the house and warm myself with Clynelish Distiller's Edition 1992 by the fire.

Clynelish Distiller's Edition 1992 (special release: Cl-Br: 172-4i)

Nose (undiluted)
Apples, sherry and an elegant perfume of cherries.

Palate (undiluted)
Velvet flavors of high quality sherry heavily blankets the palate like how a snowstorm envelopes a sleeping city at night.  Sweet, very rich cherries and blackberries coat the palate before a slight drying transition to brandy and a little corona cigar smoke.  A slice of dark, rich fruitcake in a tumbler.  Hmm, if there was ever a winter/Christmas dram, this is it.

Finish (undiluted)
Malt and spice adorn a sherried taste with a touch of smoke.

General Impressions
Good stuff!  No obvious flaws.  Initially, kinda sweet though.  So, not something you would want to sip weeknights.  It's quite different from Clynelish 14 years, a stellar single malt, in my ever modest, delicate and restrained opinion. 

I prefer the 14 year old to this Distiller's Edition.  While the DE is very good, it lacks the fragrant and pixie light flavor profile that is truly a delight to experience with the Clynelish 14 year old.  The Distiller's Edition has complexity of flavors, but not to the degree that the 14 owns.  The 14 is lighter and able to be more nuanced.  The DE is just there, like a Mac Truck, big grill and all, demanding you move the hell out of its way, or get run over by its big sherried smoke, malt and fruitcake chassis. 

Price Point
Very expensive.  If it has a flaw, it would be the price.  Damn expensive.  For less money, I could have enjoyed Highland Park 18 or Glenlivet 18 year old, which happen to be two great single malts that I would opt for in any sort of head-to-head Pepsi Challenge with this malt. 

Clynelish Distiller's Edition is a very good single malt with no obvious flaws other than price.  It is smooth, yet textured enough to make the whole tasting experience interesting.  Warming, big too at 46% abv, sherried, but fortunately drying with some smoke on the finish meaning satisfaction if given as a gift to a whisky nut.  The flavor profile is big, so may overwhelm the novice.

My drink is gone, but luckily not my mistress . . .

. . .but then again, the evening is young!


Jason Debly

Copyright © Jason Debly, 2009-2011. All rights reserved.