Friday, September 30, 2011

Why I like Whisky . . .

I was thinking this evening why I like whisky.  I guess I liken it to great art.  Huh?  Yeah, great art, in all its forms, whether it be writing, film, dance or music.  There is a link.  Now, just bear with me.

I can tell you every great whisky I have had.  I can tell you where I was, what I was doing (or shouldn't have been doing), the color of the carpet, the angle the sunlight poured in through the window, and what we were talking about.

Great whisky, whether it be American, Canadian, Scotch, Japanese and Indian too, has the ability to crystalize a moment in time.  At times, it makes me pensive.  I think ever so briefly about the profound issues of life.  For a moment,  I realize my materialism is wrong, my career ambitions are not important, and what is important is time with family and friends, whether it be a barbecue, playing cards, sinking a long putt, and of course enjoying great whisky or even a cheap one.  Someone once said, "you will be dead a long time."

Great art can do the same.  Certain songs frame a moment in your life, make you reflect on the past, maybe something you don't want to do, but know at times it is important to do.  Have you been there?  I have.  Don't believe me?  Listen to Suspicious Minds, Bridge over Troubled Waters, Killing Me Softly or Wild Horses.

Why I drink whisky is not for the intoxication.  Nor is it exclusively for the taste.  It's something else, that intangible, the hard to express, maybe a catalyst for the occasionally needed melancholic introspection.

Jason Debly

Copyright © Jason Debly, 2009-2012. All rights reserved except for photo of Aberlour A'bunadh which belongs to David S. Bloom. Video of Killing Me Softly by the Fugees is presented solely for entertainment and nostalgia purposes.  The song copyright belongs to Charlse Fox and Norman Gimbel.  

Saturday, September 24, 2011

First We Take Manhattan!

"Big Apple Manhattan" at the Yew Bar - Four Season Hotel, Vancouver

Ahh, well not exactly, and I sure as hell don't take Berlin next, as Leonard Cohen mysteriously once crooned in the late '80's.

I'm taking Vancouver instead!  I had to come here for work.  Got up this morning at 4 a.m., caught a flight out of Fredericton at 6:10 a.m., flew to Montreal, got delayed, eventually got on a plane to Vancouver, only to arrive at 11:15 am!  Ouch!  Jet lag!  By evening, I had been up like way too many hours to even do the math.  Hadn't eaten all day, other than those stale pretzels served by tireless stewardesses.  Anyway, I felt quite foggy before sipping that beautiful doll pictured above and below!

Just a little more whisky cocktail porn!  I couldn't resist!

Knowing that I had to come to Vancouver, I thought I would take the opportunity to develop a nice post for this blog.  I just had a general idea.  You see I am not big on structure, to-do lists, strategic plans, action plans, change management and all that MBA mumbo-jumbo.  I'd rather just wing-it.  So, I landed in this fantastic city thinking, I dunno what I am going to write about, but I am going to write something.

The first thought that came into my head was that I am not going to sip new single malts and review them.  That just seemed to damn obvious.  The second thought (I don't have a lot, so I can count them!) that just came out of nowhere, was to check-out some cocktails, and so here we are at the Four Seasons Hotel.

Maybe not splitting the atom, but damn, it's important work!

The Manhattan has been around a long time, like back to the late 19th century, and probably originated at the Manhattan Club in New York city.  It's has endured as classic cocktail because it makes rye whisky or American bourbon palatable for the non-aficionado consumer of spirits.  It's smooth, with a playful little bit and sometimes dry.  This cocktail takes the bourbon or Canadian whisky and showcases the black cherry and oak flavors with a great battle of sweet and dry vermouth for dominance.  Caramel and dark fruit are there too.  A supremely satisfying drink. 

Various Recipes
Surf the web, pick up a book, and you will get variations on a common theme.

  • 2 oz Canadian whisky (Alberta Premium is what they used at the Four Seasons);
  • 1/2 oz of sweet vermouth;
  • add a dash or two of dry vermouth;
  • marashino cherry
  • 3 or 4 dashes of Angostura bitters;

The barman making my Manhattan.

Mixing Instructions
  • stir all the above ingredients in your mixing glass with lots of ice;
  • let it sit for a moment so the flavors can meld well;
  • pour into tumbler, garnish with the maraschino cherry.
I like my Manhattans a little on the dry side and with some spiced bite of the whisky.  So, dry vermouth dashed on is a must as well as using good quality whisky.  Some Manhattans are made with bourbon.  Maker's Mark is what they used at a very hip and swank Vancouver eatery: Blue Water Cafe + Raw Bar.

Blue Water Cafe + Raw Bar - Vancouver

This is a fantastic restaurant for those seeking the finest seafood and sushi.  The sushi chef is Japanese (very rare in Canada) and makes his own soya sauce.  It's to die for.  Have a couple of tuna or eel rolls with a fine beer or light whisky, and after that you can shoot me because I just entered Heaven.

Besides the world class dining on sushi, this establishment takes great pride in relation to its 100+ single malts.  Sushi?  whisky? great ambience, my life's work is complete. 

Blu Water Cafe Bar - Vancouver

The Manhattan was good, but a little sweet.  I forgot to pipe up to the barman while he was making it that I like it more on the dry side, which would have meant just the addition of dry vermouth. 
. . .

The Manhattan is a drink that show cases Canadian rye whisky or bourbon.  Done well, it will be a little tart, a little sweet, but then becoming dry on the finish.  Every bartender has his/her own twist on this classic.  For example, at the Yew bar, the finishing touch of the barman was to place my drink in front of me, then light a wedge of orange on fire and drop it in my drink!  The carmelized and slightly burnt orange wedge imparted great flavors that intermingled with the black cherry flavors of the rye whisky very well.  Unique and flavorful!

Back at the hotel, following dinner I decided to have a final night cap.  After much deliberation, "The Elizabeth Taylor Cocktail" was the winner.  Getting to sleep was no longer a problem following that number.


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

Friday, September 9, 2011

Review: The Dimple Pinch 15 years Blended Scotch Whisky

The Dimple Pinch 15yrs Blended Scotch Whisky

Apparently "The Dimple Pinch" ranks fourth in world sales in the 'blended scotch' sales.  I am unsure if this is accurate, as it seems every blended scotch producer makes similar claims that their spirit is in the top 5 somewhere.  Anyway, the owners of this brand sell a helluva lot of it, particularly in the United States.

The Dimple does have a following in the US that is pretty large.  A lot of ordinary working men enjoy this dram at the end of a day.  Whether they be grandads, dads, sons and grandsons, they like their Dimple Pinch, and like it a lot.  Why?  It's friendly, unpretenious, smooth, sweet, not peaty and quite honeyed.  Add ice and it transforms from a loving labrador retriever into a pussy cat.  What's not to like?  Me, being a total scotch nut, must investigate this passion of so many, and see if I too, can join their ranks.

Nose (undiluted)
Dandelion, malt notes, apple juice and wisps of peat.  I mean wisps or was that my imagination?  That's how faint it was.

Palate (undiluted)
Sweet Graham crackers, some maltiness, chased by a spiciness that quicky degenerates into graininess.  Also an apple cider aspect to this flavor profile.

Finish (undiluted)
The spiciness of the palate that I said turned grainy does not leave on the finish.  Down this sweet spirit and you are left with a grainy taste mixed with apple cider.  There is some vanilla and oak, but it's stale and reminiscent of the smell you'd suffer when sitting in a taxi, that is supposedly non-smoking.  Remnants of stale cigarette smoke, windows up on a hot summer day with car sickness only minutes away.

Price Point
I paid around $33 in New Hampshire for this bottle.  Not worth the money.  I expected a lot more for the price and for allegedly being a 15 year old blended scotch.  No value for money here.

Here's a thought.  If you like the sweet, malty flavor profile, and don't mind a little grain flavor, try Cutty Sark.  A much more reasonably priced alternative.  Nothing special, but it is comfort scotch for when you need it.

General Impressions
This blended scotch is aged 15 years, but tastes much younger. Not a good thing.  It exhibits no complexity of flavor. Light body with a sweet cereal or wheat style that leaves the drinker bored and unimpressed. I’d rather stare at a TV test pattern than take another slug of this cheap perfume. Or worse, start reading books recommended by Oprah. Calgon take me away! Far away, to a place where single malts and good blended scotch reign supreme!

There is a Zapruder-esque graininess to it and perfume quality that is very disappointing. I expected a lot more from a 15 year old blend that is supposedly made up of single malts like Lagavulin, Linkwood and Glenkinchie. I could not detect any Lagavulin in this blend at all. I can understand the Glenkinchie, which no doubt contributes the sweet honey entry. As for Linkwood, not detecting it either. I think a lot of grain whisky makes up this blend.

This scotch was clearly styled for the occasional, non-serious scotch fan, who wants a smooth taste, no alcohol bite, and lots of Juicy Fruit gum sweetness. To achieve such a medical flat-liner, middle of the road, mainstream, snorefest, Piers Morgan type of scotch, you have to sacrifice peat, smoke and complexity that would make this spirit interesting. Very easy-drinking, pronounced sweetness, and little else.  This is perfectly suited for the vast majority of blended scotch consumers who infrequently drink and want just a friendly, inoffensive nip.  If that's you, then I can recommend the Dimple.  If you require more from your scotch, like me, then I cannot recommend this whisky.


Jason Debly

Photo credits: Dimple Pinch photos - Jason Debly; Taxi Interior photo by Galan Pang (click here), and used with his permission. All rights of taxi photo vest with Mr. Pang.