Friday, March 30, 2012

Headed to Mexico!

Photo credit: Matthew Lowery Copyright 2011

My sister-in-law, a person my wife aptly describes as: "Mary Poppins on stilettos" (given her Prada-esque sense of fashion and excellent skills as a mother a la Betty Crocker) has generously offered to look after our brood for a week while we head south, way south to the Mayan Riviera for a vacation.

In Mexico, I will be studying the sand and waves from a white chaise lounge.  Armed with a dog-eared, yellowed, 1976 copy of Tai-Pan by James Clavell, I will imbibe iced cocktails that will be created by a bartender who will be heavily tipped in order to ensure his artistry and attention address my need to mitigate the slightest possibility of emotional or physical dehydration.

So, this site will be silent for about two weeks, and then I will be back.  Emails and responses to comments will be returned upon my return.  Until then . . .


Jason Debly

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Slow-Whisky Movement?

Ever heard about the Slow-Food movement?  Basically it's a rejection of fast-food (think McDonald's and other perpetrators of gastronomic urban blight) and the embrace of a lifestyle where people take time to prepare and enjoy natural, flavorful, non-genetically modified, locally grown food.  Clearly, it is a reaction to the hurry-sickness of many people's lives that involves eating on-the-run, relying to heavily on the microwave, canned goods, bags of potato chips and generally the ridiculous fast pace of modern life.

According to Wikipedia, there are now lots of other slow-movements:

and even . . . Slow-Sex!

Anyhow, as I have read more about this cultural phenomena, I wondered how it might apply to the appreciation of whisky.  What about a 'slow-whisky' movement?  

Just as we can easily get caught up in our hectic lives and not really be in the present moment, always worrying about the future or dwelling too much on the past, so too can our enjoyment of whisky be hurried.  

You may find yourself obsessively worrying that you should be buying a renowned single malt when you, deep down, just want a widely-available, blended scotch that is generally not receiving any accolades.  A fact that bothers you greatly.  You may rush your drinks, almost as a chore, because you want to finish that bottle while the flavors are supposedly 'optimal,' because if you wait too long, the oxygen exposure of the half-full bottle will cause those flavors to become irreparably diminished.  At the same time you are scanning, at the speed of light, a tasting note of the whisky in question while thinking this is not what you are tasting and somehow feeling you "just don't get it."  Who knows what else is going through your mind, but one thing is certain, your mind may be racing like a freight train with all manner of whisky related thoughts, when all you should be doing is relaxing and enjoying a dram in an unhurried, present moment.  How we get there is the mission of what I call the Slow-Whisky Movement.

Tenets of the Slow-Whisky Movement
No. 1:  A couple of hours after your last, non-spicy meal, seek out a quiet place where you will not be disturbed.  Preferably in the evening when your abode is quiet.  No T.V. or radio.  Blackberry, smartphones, turned off and preferably buried in the backyard.  Get comfortably ensconced in your favorite chair.  Next to you will be a glass with 1 1/2 oz of your favorite comfort scotch or whisky of the moment.  Make sure it is what you want, not some recommendation of a fool whisky blogger or a critic's windy must-buy malt suggestion of the moment.

No. 2:  Close your eyes.  Focus on your breathing.  Listen to it.  When your mind wanders, come back to your breathing.  Just be aware of it.  If a thought comes into your head, that's ok, but again, be conscious of your breathing.

"Full Catastrophe Living" is a book written by Jon Kabat-Zinn that espouses the use of secular meditation (mindfulness) to deal with life's stressors and crises.  A passage highlighted below from this book is instructive in our quest to belong to the slow-whisky movement:   

Do this for three minutes.  That's it.  I just want three minutes of your time.  After that, open those eyes.  You feel relaxed.  Calm.  Peaceful.  Good.  You are now ready for the third tenet.

No. 3:  Reach for your glass of whisky.  Hold the glass and look at the color of the whisky.  Is it dark?  Light?  Reddish?  Really look at it.  Don't worry about the 'proper vocabulary' because there isn't any.  Just you and a glass of whisky. 

Roll the glass around a little.  Does the whisky have legs?  

Bring the rim of the glass to your nose.  Close your eyes and gently sniff twice and move the rim of the glass away.  What do you think of?  Old leather books?  Grandpa's steaming tea in a Thermos?  Cherry pipe tobacco?  The sea?  Eucalyptus oil?  Hospital bandages and pungent ointment?  Bring the glass back for one more sniff.  Again, do some free association?  

No. 4:    Eyes closed, take the tiniest of sips.  How does the spirit behave on the palate?  Sweet?  Sharp?   Spicy?  What else is there?  Cherries?  Oak?  Honey and sea salt?  Kosher pretzel.  Let your mind wander into the past to good thoughts.  Childhood food and baked goods.  Note the range of flavors.  Marvel at them.

No. 5:  Swallow.  What remains?  Smoke?  Iodine?  Coarse salt?  Malty notes?  Spiced honey and oat cakes?  Balsa wood?

No. 6:  Slowly repeat steps 3 through 5 until your 1 1/2 oz dram serving is gone.  Once it is gone there will be no refills.  One key aspect of the 'slow-whisky' movement is the restriction of your enjoyment to one modest serving of whisky.  In this way, you will relish and catalogue in your mind every nuance, fabric, weave of flavors of the spirit.  Remember!  No refills.

Follow these main tenets and drinking any whisky will be a much more immediate and special experience.  You will experience a greater range of flavors, that would be lost with subsequent refills.  It's kinda like listening to two versions of "What I Did for Love."  One great with fantastic range of voice delivered by Shirley Bassey and the other, not as great by Jack Jones.

Take a listen!  I am serious, just listen, expand your mind, open it, don't be judgmental, just listen to an incredible voice:

Now that is what the first and hopefully only 1 1/2 oz serving you enjoy at one sitting, as a participant of the 'slow-whisky' movement.  

If you break the rules and pour yourself another dram, the palate loses it's ability to discern the great range of flavors.  What's left is a flattened tasting, less exciting, kinda like Jack Jones' rendition of the same ballad:

Welcome to the burgeoning 'slow whisky' movement!  Don't be a Jack Jones!  Stop at one drink and enjoy a taste experience on par with listening to Shirley Bassey!


Jason Debly

Copyright © Jason Debly, 2009-2012. All rights reserved. Any and all use is prohibited without permission, except for the book "Full Catastrophe Living" by John Kabat-Zinn who holds copyright it.  The book is quoted only for the purposes of education, and as a means of illustrating the subject matter.  Photograph of McDonald's burger and fries taken by anonymous Flickr member BigFreaky who is holder of all copyright to said photograph.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

A Sad Day . . .

There is great weeping, wailing, gnashing of teeth, and maybe even the wearing of black arm bands as a sign of mourning, in some parts of the whisky drinking public for there is very sad news to report:

Johnnie Walker Green Label has been discontinued (click here).

Photo credit: Lukadlo

How could the multinational alcohol beverage company Diageo (the owners of the Johnnie Walker brand) make this decision?   Green Label is a great scotch whisky.  A blend of single malts.  No grain whisky.

Some of the landmark malts making up this scotch whisky include: Talisker, Cragganmore, Linkwood, Caol Ila and several other lesser known ones.

It's a stunner that I have written about a couple of times.  In one post I declared it was a blended malt that beat many single malts.  In another post, I describe it as one of the best whiskies of 2011.  In other words, my excitement about this whisky has not faded since my original review.

Photo Credit: zombie slam

Here's my tasting note:

Distinctly floral, coupled with malt and cookie dough, faint wisps of anise, peat and pipe tobacco.

Initially a honeyed dram, surely due to the core malt of Cragganmore.  Honey gently expands across the palate followed by vanilla, moving to a drying sea spray (I realize this is an oxymoron) and pepper corns across the palate.  I recognize this taste to be unmistakably Talisker.

Dry cinammon, restrained fresh ground black pepper and sea salt linger. A very long peppery/honey finish. Great length. 

. . .

What may not be obvious in the tasting note is the complexity of this whisky.  Wow!  You take a sip and you will be impressed.  The interplay between Cragganmore and Talisker is great.  The individual flavors dance on the palate.

I often recommend Green Label to people who want to cross that bridge between blended scotch and single malts.  In the middle is Green Label.

. . .

So why did Diageo decide to discontinue this great scotch?

No one knows.  No explanation has been given.  But, in a way, we all know.  It's about money.  A for-profit enterprise has that intrinsic right to make decisions about what wares its sells, and I certainly do not think 'profit' is a dirty word.  However, I have a theory as to why the economics worked against this gem.

Unfortunate Price Point
You see, Green Label was priced in the vicinity of many introductory single malts.  The average consumer faced with the prospect of shelling out the same amount of money for a blended malt (Johnnie Walker Green) when they could buy a single malt for the same price, a little more or less, invariably opted for one of the introductory malts (Glenfiddich 12, Glenlivet 12, etc.).  So, this phenomenon may have weakened sales.  Diageo cannot be blamed for market behaviour unless they could have reduced the price to eliminate this phenomenon.

Photo credit: copyright 2011 Matthew Lowery
 Lack of Marketing $$$$!
I bet there are plenty of regular readers of this blog who were not even aware of Green Label.  They may have assumed the Johnnie Walker product line was Red, Black, Gold and Blue.  Actually many people are not even aware there is a Gold label.

My point is that everyone has heard of Red, Black and Blue labels.  Especially Blue Label.  Why?  Advertising!  I see Blue Label advertisements in magazines.  Same with Black Label.  Go overseas and the advertising for Johnnie Walker Red, Black and Gold goes into over drive.  Ever been to the Middle East?  I have.  In Lebanon, the national drink should be Black Label.  I mean, everyone drinks Black Label.  Everyone.  Have you been to Dubai?  Blue Label rules.  Israel probably has its share of scotch fans too, judging by all the visitors to this blog.  And then there is the Pacific Rim.  Ever heard of the Johnnie Walker Classic?  A golf tournament played each year in the Asia Pacific region.  In particular, the tournament was held several times in Thailand and Singapore, two juggernaut markets for Johnnie Walker.  Everyone knows Red and Black Labels there.

Maybe if Diageo had spent a few more dollars promoting Green Label it would have had better sales.

In any case, let the hoarding begin!  If you see it in your local store, pick up a bottle because it may be the last one you see!


Jason Debly
Copyright © Jason Debly, 2009-2012. All rights reserved except for photos appearing in this post.  Copyright is held by the photographers and appear here in this post with their permission,  No reproduction is permitted without the permission of the relevant photographer.  By the way, the last photo by Matthew Lowery is excellent in my opinion.  Check out more of his great work at: and 

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Whisky Death Match! Glenfarclas 12 versus The Macallan 12

For your entertainment and gustatory pleasure, tonight's main event is a death match between two fierce sherried competitors:  The Macallan 12 years Highland Single Malt Scotch and Glenfarclas 12 years Highland Single Malt Scotch

These adversaries inhabit the Speyside region of Scotland and are sworn enemies on liquor store shelves everywhere.  They compete for territory in the 12 year old single malt sherried scotch marketplace jungle.

The Macallan 12 years Highland Single Malt
Introducing first:  making his way from the north side of the river Spey in Speyside, weighing in at 40% abv, fighting out of the sherried oak casks of Jerez, Spain corner, a legend of sherried single malt, third best selling single malt after Glenfiddich and Glenlivet, the one and only: The Suave & Sophisticated!  The Macallan 12 years!

Glenfarclas 12 years Highland Single Malt
Introducing the challenger to the sherried single malt 12 year old title belt:    Hailing from just south of the river Spey, weighing in at a robust 43% abv, this is no herbivore of a dinosaur, but a carnivore, looking to draw first blood from his no-caramel-added opponent!  The dangerous and unpredictable!  The Barbarian!  Glenfarclas 12 years!

Announcer:  Ok boys!  I wanna clean fight.  No caramel added and see what you can do to avoid being chill-filtered.
. . .

Announcer (con't):  The Macallan makes his move first stealthily with incredible finesse suggestive of the highest training in Aikido.  Lift your Glencairn glass of Macallan 12 to your nose and enjoy:  Cherry blossoms, crushed strawberries ready for making jam, vanilla and roses, which are caught up in a lungful of North Sea air.  Languid, sublime nose, simply fantastic!

With this terrific effort of aromas, it comes as no surprise the Macallan 12 lands a perfectly executed roundhouse kick to the snout of the Glenfarclas.

The Barbarian Glenfarclas stumbles from this unexpected assault upon his olfactory abilities.  He's bleeding heavily from the snout, as he attempts to retort:  Lifting the Glencairn glass of Glenfarclas 12 you will sniff concentrated sherry, port (even though port plays no part in production), big Cabernet Sauvignon notes too!  A little whiff of something untamed though, not raw alcohol, but something out of place, maybe like damp wood smoke, but eventually you get some hot cherry pie.  Not the best nose of a 12 year old malt, not terrible, just ok.  The Barbarian Glenfarclas' punch fails to land on the Suave and Sophisticated Macallan.

Palate (Macallan/undiluted)
The Macallan easily ducks his unrefined adversary's out-of-control lunge at his nose, and now aims for a deft combination punch to the jaw:   a nanosecond of ripe watermelon and then quickly moving into black grapes, before the flavor profile goes deeper into blackberries and plum.  French Pinot Noir notes, wine of the earth, red earth.  Subtle sherried dram with the elegance of an Audi meandering along the coastal highway of west coast wine country.  Should we stop in Carmel?  I dunno Becky?  Is it a little kinda been done to death?

Palate (Glenfarclas/undiluted)
The Barbarian laughs off this girlie man subtle attack upon his palate, and with his long reach slams the delicate jaw line of Macallan with a webbed and scaly fist of:  far more concentrated and robust sherry flavors; and then follows that up with a lightning uppercut to the palate with semi-sweet chocolate with delightful bitter moments.  The Macallan is stumbling . . . but the Barbarian is not done, as he unleashes a fury of combination punches delivering passion fruits, pomegranate, raspberries, dragonfruit, loganberry and then towering sherry in all its multifaceted ruby splendour. . . but the Barbarian goes too far.  The bell has rung ending the round, but he continues to strike his opponent.  He has gone too far leaving a slightly raw or bitter taste in the mouths of the judges.

Finish (Macallan/undiluted)
The Macallan 12 is wobbly as the end of the round nears.  He's unsteady as he vainly tries to launch a final assault of: rich, luxuriant Merlot like wine finish, with very faint smoke accompanied by orange chocolate.  Repeated sips delivers more smoke on the finish.

Finish (Glenfarclas/undiluted)
The Barbarian Glenfarclas attempts move in for the kill:  "Macallan you fool!" (pronounced with Mr. T's voice) unleashing a finish of: dusted sherry, old port and the powder dry tannins of Pio Cesare Ornato Barolo,  the red wine of kings and the king of wines, but what is happening now?  Camphor and French Roast coffee bean?  It's out of place, that last minute head fake was a mistake because the Macallan has landed one last blow!  Glenfarclas' raw and unruly taste mid-palate is there a little in the finish causing a tactical error in this match to the death.  The refinement of the Macallan in the palate and through to the finish results in an uppercut that takes the Barbarian to the mat and to his most certain death.

While the Suave and Sophisticated Macallan 12 would have preferred to settle the claims to his title with the upstart Glenfarclas by way of a more dignified duel, he nevertheless prevailed because he kept his balance and guard.

Announcer:  Well there you have it!  The raw and unruly midpalate attack of the Barbarian Glenfarclas was its downfall.  Had he been more balanced and poised as The Macallan 12, he would have been victorious.  Instead, he is under the heel of the Macallan.


Jason Debly

P.S.:  These are excellent 12 year old single malts.  Glenfarclas 12 is more robust and also more wild in its sherried flavor profile.  There is ginger or something akin to near alcohol that makes it a little out of balance, and for that reason I prefer the Macallan 12.  Macallan gets a lot of bad press for being too predictable, but I think such a view is a mistake.  The Macallan 12 is a surprisingly subtle whisky.  The sherry profile is complex, but subtle.  Some critics I think have equated subtlety with being predictable or not interesting.  That's the key to Macallan 12, the appreciation is in it's refinement and restraint.  Similarly, the failure of the Glenfarclas is it's a little too robust.

Copyright © Jason Debly, 2009-2012. All rights reserved. Any and all use is prohibited without permission.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Whisky Clubs, Admission Denied, and My Solution

Thirty years ago, a few good men got together and formed a whisky club.  They liked whisky and decided to pool their resources, buy some bottles, find some cosy lounge area of a private social club, meet regularly, discuss and enjoy all things whisky.  Over time the club grew.  With many members, all paying fees, the club could buy expensive bottles, organize tours to Scotland, even organize a whisky festival and get a cut of the festival proceeds to fund the club.

A friend of mine, who was a former member, told me about the club and suggested that I should join.  I thought sure.  Where do I sign up?  But, the website offers no mailing address, no contact info (other than an email link), no explanation about how to join or anything else along those lines.  It also appeared not to have been updated in about 7 years, many bad links, and a "members only" login area.  My friend suggested I speak to the gentleman in charge of the club.

I approached the stout, greyish gentleman in charge of this whisky club, and inquired about joining.  This affable serjeant-at-arms type of fellow replied that membership was full and until someone left, I couldn't get in.  I was cool with that.

I understood that membership attrition at this whisky club was not at the same Wile E. Coyote plunging-off-a-cliff rate as say the latest multi-level marketing "No Money Down - Get Rich Quick in Real Estate" scam hatched by some slick Herb Tarlek wannabe that was infecting late night TV and hotel ballrooms everywhere.

Super Salesman Herb Tarlek of "WKRP in Cincinnati"

About six months later, casually, in an off-handed kinda way, over lunch I inquired once more.  "Nope."  I asked again after that and the answer was still 'no.'  And maybe I queried one final time, trying not to grovel, and the response was a bemused glance to the ceiling and a shake of the head.

To make matters worse, this past November I found myself seated at a whisky dinner that was attended by a member of this seemingly secret society.  At my table is a young lady around I would say 25 years.  I was relieved to see that women could be members.  I ask her what are her favorite malts?  She sputters a little and replies unconvincingly that she likes them all.  A couple more questions and I surmise she has some interest in whisky, kinda like I have some interest in watching reruns of that whiny harpie, Sarah Jessica Parker, on Sex and the City in my spare time (I don't think so).  What gives?

A couple of months later, another ex-member tells me he got out because his work schedule was too demanding, but also the organization had become increasingly formal and populated by a growing number of members who were not necessarily passionate whisky fans.  As an example, he told me about the stockbroker member who was working the room like Bill Clinton at a gala event for Miss America contestants.  Networking!  Bleh!

Problem:  Weighing all these factors in mind, I quickly realized that my chances of gaining admission to this rarefied whisky club in my home town was about as likely as I getting through the front door of New York's elite private club: Century Association (pictured left) or the Union Club of New York (not pictured, but you can click on the link and imagine the scent of red leather wingback chairs in dark burnished wood panelled rooms).  

Solution: I decided to start our my own whisky club!

Let's Keep it Casual
Of paramount importance for 'this thing of ours' (pronounce with Brooklyn accent), to borrow a phrase from another equally nefarious secret society, is to have a casual social function where whisky enthusiasts, whether they be novices or connoisseurs, can, in a relaxed, non-snobby environment, enjoy a dram and marvel at what a magical blessing it is.  Have some nice conversation, and basically a good time.  No need to burn a photograph of a Christian Saint in the palm of an initiate's hand while he or she recites Robbie Burns  poetry or at the very least, reads aloud the distillery tasting note off the back label of a bottle of Glenfiddich 12.

I do not want this club, I am putting together, to look like this:

A black tie affair at "The Union Club of New York"

Nor do I want the club to look like this:

A black leather affair at the Sons of Anarchy club house

I need a happy medium.  Not a psychic medium.  Just a happy medium. Shirley Maclaine need not apply here.

Money collected in support of a whisky club has the ability to take a laid-back meeting of some hapless whisky fans sitting on a couch, and turn it into a behemoth of corporate governance around a  bloody boardroom table.  Don't believe me?  That's ok.  That's why I like you.  You're a skeptic.  Here, let me bend your ear for a moment.

I have called together seven guys (no ladies because none I know want to be caught dead with us) that will meet at my house in two weeks or so with $100 each to hand over to use as start-up capital.  That means we have $700 to go out and buy: some whisky; Glencairn glassware; and maybe a couple of books on bourbon and scotch for the club.  At each subsequent meeting, attendees have to hand over $10-$20, in order to keep regular cash flow coming in to buy more whisky, books, glassware, snacks, etc.

If membership expands beyond the founding members, you got some serious cash coming in.  Who is going to collect and account for the funds?  Should that person be the same one that buys the scotch, books, etc?  Should the two functions be separated?  What about financial statements?  Do we need to review those at each meeting?  Maybe we need a treasurer?  Should the treasurer collect directly from new members or should an "admissions officer" handle that task?

Ok, you're starting to get the picture.  And as my mother always says, you get to see a person's true character by observing how they handle money in relation to others.  Is everyone gonna be on my wavelength?

What am I to do?  Let it evolve baby!  When I was a freshly minted 22 year old college, know-it-all graduate, I would tell you in exhaustive detail, a very linear solution.  We'd have a governance structure that would look like it came right out of the pages of some consulting accounting firm.  Well, I am not 22 years old.  I'm much, much older.  And as I get older, I am less structured and more intuitive.  In fact, I abhor structure.  It's all about gut instinct!  How this club evolves and how I endeavour to keep it from becoming as exclusive as Augusta National Golf Club cannot be explained, but it's gonna happen.  Because if need be, I'll call in a couple of hoods, along the lines of TV's fictional Sons of Anarchy motorcyclist enthusiast club 'Samcro', in order to enhance my powers of persuasion, and if necessary: a little Stalinesque membership purge!

Hey, a thought just ocurred to me.  Am I becoming exclusive like the other club that rejected me?


Jason Debly

P.S.  Sons of Anarchy is one helluva an entertaining show!  Watch it and you will be hooked by some great drama!

Copyright © Jason Debly, 2009-2012. All rights reserved. Any and all use is prohibited without permission except for the following images: (1) The Century Association front entrance photograph - photographer is Ashley Mungo who holds all copyright; (2) Wile E. Coyote image - created by Chuck Jones for Warner Bros. "Looney Tunes" series;  (3) WKRP in Cincinnati" screen shot taken from an optical disc - copyright holder is 20th Century Fox Television; (4) "The Dark Knight" full promotional image released by Warner Bros. Pictures who are copyright holders; (5) "Sons of Anarchy" promotional image made available by production company FX Productions via their website.  (6) Photograph of black tie affair at The Union Club of New York - photographer unknown - source of photograph is website of world renowned Florentine portrait artist Maria Teresa Meloni.  Note:  All images appearing in this article are for the purposes of nostalgia, education and entertainment.  Moreover, all images used are considered by the author to be significant in illustrating the subject matter, facilitating artistic/critical commentary, as it provides an immediate relevance to the reader more capably than the textual description alone.