Thursday, June 28, 2012

Suggested Scotch Whisky Food Pairing: Oysters

Next time you are in a nice oyster bar, be different!  Be a little zany!  Don't ask for the standard condiments like lemon juice with shallots, or seafood cocktail sauce, and then drown that still living mollusc such that you totally disguise what you are eating.  Don't do that!  Follow these easey-peasey steps to free yourself from the social conformity that stifles your inner culinary spirit.

Step 1
Eat the first couple raw.  Savour the salinity, the brine of the ocean, the sea weed. The squishy texture, hold it and swallow.

Step 2
Now ask the barman for a bottle of Laphroaig 10 year oldLaphroaig Quarter Cask or Ardbeg 10 year old.  Hand him your credit card because he is gonna need it.

Ok!  Now that we have ripped the band-aid off, let's have some fun!

Grab a bottle of one of the aforementioned big dawg Islay malts and generously drizzle the oysters (still in the half shell) coquettishly staring up at you from the bed of ice.

Step 3
Wait fifteen minutes.

Let the Islay malt infuse your fruits de mer with its complimentary flavors of bacon, smoke, peat and sea weed.

During this downtime make friends with your barman or barmaid.  (I remember one waitress in an oyster bar in Prince Edward Island who was clad in a t-shirt that read "We shuck 'em good!"  The t-shirt made for an interesting starting point of a conversation.)  In any event, you want him or her on your side when that bill comes at the end of the night.

Drink water.  No scotch.  Drinking scotch will deaden those taste buds that you need in full working order for the heavy lifting to come.

Step 4
Your fifteen minutes of patient waiting are up, under the nervous glances of the barman who ensured his baseball bat is in reaching distance.

Carefully lift that oyster to your lips, tilt the head back, and enjoy the raw/untame/naked taste with your chosen Laphroaig or Arbeg.  Remember! Hold, savour, swallow!  Let the smoky flavors of the scotch seduce your palate.  Now delight in how those flavors embrace, meld and become one with the oyster's coy game of fleshy brine and salt.  Wow!  How's that for fun?  Let's do it again, again and again!


Jason Debly
Copyright © Jason Debly, 2009-2012. All rights reserved except for photographs of oysters. The first oyster photograph was taken by Aubrey Dunnuck.  Ms. Dunnuck holds all copyright to said photograph and it appears here with her permission.  No reproduction is permitted without her permission.  Check out more of her great photography at: eat.repeat.  The second oyster photograph was taken by an anonymous "David" and uploaded to Wikipedia and graciously released into the public domain.  

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Review: Glenfarclas 21 years Single Highland Malt Scotch Whisky

In 1836 there was quite a lot of drama:

- The battle of the Alamo;

- Slavery was officially abolished in Texas;

- Davey Crockett arrived in Texas;

- Samuel Colt received a patent for his Colt revolver;

- ZZ Top members entered puberty (. . . it takes a long time to grow those good 'ol boy beards!)

And more importantly, across the pond in Scotland, a distillery was born: Glenfarclas

Family Business
Continuing with our history lesson, I thought I would mention that in 1865, John Grant acquired the distillery and it has been in his family ever since.

Not too many Scottish distilleries are still in family hands.  Most are owned by multinational corporations that suck the souls out of their employees leaving empty shells of men littered in fluorescent lit cubicles all over the world, and worse:  a computer, a technician and a cat are at the helm of some distilleries (I am not joking!).

Still owned by the same family after all these years, eh?  One would assume that is a good thing.  Depends on the family.  I mean, think of the Kardashians, Paris Hilton's clan or G-d forbid, the most gauche of them all: Donald Trump at the head or the tail of a scotch whisky dynasty?  Yeah, perish the thought!

Anyhow, I think I will evaluate the efforts of the Grant family based on my tasting of Glenfarclas 21 years, as arbitrary and unfair, as bleeding heart, tree huggin', hemp necklace wearin' hippie wannabes may think such an evaluation methodology may be.  That's just how I roll.  Ok, let's do this!

Nose (undiluted)
Powerfully minty!  menthol cigarette taste (but in a good way).  Some medical bandages too.

Palate (undiluted)
Huge sherry! Da bomb!  Oak abounds too.  Salty milk chocolate.

Finish (undiluted)
Mint leaves, peppercorns, basil, lemon and pistachio flourish.

General Impressions
For a 21 year old single malt, it is surprisingly delicate.  The finish is the best aspect of the drinking experience.  All the flavors meld well leaving a little tapestry of flavors that pleases oneself.

Nevertheless, I can't say I am a huge fan.  It is not a bad whisky by any means.  I am just expecting something more for the price and age statement.  Certainly more complexity of flavors.  A certain je ne sais quoi is missing.  There is no 'hook' or in musical terms a 'riff' like in Day Tripper or (I Can't Get No) Satisfaction that reels you in time and time again.  This malt, for the price, needs a 'riff.'

I have been sampling this bottle for quite sometime and it can on occasion taste kinda woody, like a mouthful of balsa wood, if that makes any sense.

Peer Review
When I compare Glenfarclas 21 to other 21 year old malts, the shortcomings are more obvious.  Balvenie Portwood 21yrs or Highland Park 21 are far superior in range and intrigue of flavors.  Matter of fact, Glenmorangie Quinta Ruban 12 years is more interesting.

Again, Glenfarclas is not a flawed whisky, just lacking some buzz or panache that would justify the price point.

Family Honor
Ohh maybe the same family running the show for five generations has meant the family tree branches need some pruning . . . but the family honor is still intact as they did create the great Glenfarclas 17.


Jason Debly

Copyright © Jason Debly, 2009-2012. All rights reserved. Any and all use is prohibited without permission. Photograph of ZZ Top was taken by Alberto Cabello and used in this post by way of a Creative Commons license.  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.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Review: Glenfarclas 17 years Highland Single Malt Scotch Whisky

No ridiculous segues into whisky reviews this week.

Just you, me and this bottle of Glenfarclas 17.

What can I say about this bottle?  Well, it's actually what is inside the bottle that has brought you to this page, and if I do not get to the point rather quickly, I suspect you, bored to distraction, will click on the "Eastern European brides looking for nice western guys" advertisement, never to return.  Now, I don't want that to happen.  So, ignore such primal/utterly stupid impulses, and instead, exercise a more doltish muscle, which involves simply continuing to read this post!

Nose (undiluted)
Sweet sherry, warm morning berry tarts, roses and peat smoke.  Cherry pie just out of the oven.  Well done!

Palate (undiluted)
Herbal, mineral like notes introduce some impressive austerity in spite of being at the same time a big sherry malt.  The sherry casks that seasoned this spirit were very good quality.  Great oak notes too!  I am happy.  The circle is complete.  I can now go gently into that good night!

Finish (undiluted)
A pleasant zing of oak, pencil shavings, red currants and orange rind.  Hmmm!  I love this finish!  The flavors really hang for a long time.  And then there is smoke . . .

Ohh, the smoke.  Good smoke you can enjoy when you part your lips afterwards and inhale through your mouth.  I'm serious.  Take a sip of this malt, swallow, open and inhale.  Wow!  Really good smoke mon!

I better stop the praise now before my Peter Tosh level of enthusiasm attracts an over zealous DEA agent, who spends his spare time lamenting the early prison release of Tommy Chong, and decides to lash out and have this site shut down.

. . .

Compared to the 12 and 15 year old offerings by this distillery, Glenfarclas 17 is minimalist within the sherry bomb whisky universe.  Its equivalent in the cinematic realm is: Lost in Translation or Broken Flowers.

The sherry flavors are not over-the-top, out-of-control or punchy.  This is probably due to the fact that the abv is a reasonable 43%.  Enough to deliver complexity, but not so much as to knock the flavors out of balance.

Hence, Glenfarclas 17 is a well put together malt, balanced, refined and my favorite of the distillery's range of 12, 15 17 and 21 year offerings.  At the same time it is muted and the pencil shaving/oak finish makes you wonder.  Just as the aforementioned films sometimes give rise to more questions than they answer, this malt reels you in repeatedly as you try to fathom that interesting finish.

It's worth the price of admission (roughly $10 more than Glenfarclas 15), and a helluva lot cheaper than clicking on the previously mentioned dating website.

Verdict on Glenfarclas 17:  Highly recommended!


Jason Debly

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

Friday, June 8, 2012

Review: Glenfarclas 15 years Highland Single Malt Scotch Whisky

Have you ever just wanted to hop into a big Buick, like a '61 LeSabre or convertible Invicta, and just drive?  I have.  Screw work!  Call in sick.  Tell the missus you gotta conference!  Whatever it takes!  This is something we gotta do.

"Where we headed?" you ask apprehensively, as I back out of your drive.

"Who knows?  I gotta full tank of gas, my wallet is fat, and I wanna see the American mid-west.  Let's head for Kansas!"

We may take the highway for a while and then peel off on an exit ramp into some town with a quirky Norman Rockwell-esque name and take secondary roads that meander over hills, around mountains and through national parks full of pine trees and bears.
. . .

Vintage Standard Oil Co. Road Map
I am not big on structure as you have probably surmised.  If I land in a new city for work, I just walk out of that hotel without a map, and just start wandering.  I'll turn down a street because there is a shop with a neat neon sign or whatever.

Similarly, what whisky I choose to review on this blog tends to be fairly whimsical.  "Oohh!  I like that packaging, yeah, I am a sucker for that impressive looking box.  What a cheap price?  Yeah, let's do it!" I think to myself.

Now, if I was organized, a real little poindexter, I would review bottlings of distilleries in the order of their age statements (ie. 12, 15, 18, etc.), as one reader has urged me to do in an earnest email.  That my dear is not going to happen for much the same reason as the nature of my fantasy road trip.

Anyhow, I did review Glenfarclas 12, but never got around to reviewing the 15, 17 and 21, all of which I have and been sipping for quite sometime.  Well, I am getting to the 15 today.  Let's see where this vehicle of malt takes us:

Nose (undiluted)
Spicy, mildly medicinal with big sherry notes.

Palate (undiluted)
Rounded rich sherry notes.  This is a big sherried scotch.  A wee bit of charcoal interspersed with the sherry.  Raspberries and peppermint.  Lots of oak (maybe too much).  A little bit of a strong drink that makes it slightly off-balance.

Finish (undiluted)
Candied ginger, smoke, and oak again.

Bottled at 46% abv, I always like to add a little water.

Nose (diluted)
Damp leaves, turned over earth as you hunt for worms for that early morning fishing trip.  Smoke and camphor.

Palate (diluted)
I like what a little water does to this malt.  It makes it softer and takes away a bit of a wild alcohol taste that rears its head when neat.  What else is going on here?  Your sherry taste is tinged with pencil shavings, ginger and malt.

Finish (diluted)
Slightly drying.  The big sherry is complimented by nutmeg, cloves, smoke and oak.

46% ABV
At 46% alcohol,  Glenfarclas 15 is as big and muscular as my '61 Invicta barrelling down the I-95.  If there was ever a case for adding water, Glenfarclas 15 is the incontrovertible proof of such a proposition.

Personally, I find many malt whiskies at 40% could use a kick up in the abv, which will result in more vibrant, textured (think velvet on the palate) flavors.  Ideally 43% seems to work best.  At 43% it can be enjoyed neat and the flavor spectrum is at its best.  Go over that and some malt may get a little raw and wild.  Some people enjoy the liveliness, but not likely scotch newbies or people (younger generation) like me who tend to gravitate to the gentler variety flavor profiles.

Any distillery that can make malt in excess of 43%, but not taste the spirity alcohol is very talented (I am thinking Highland Park 25).  The raw alcohol taste can appear and that is not a good thing.  So, we manually dial it down to 43% with a little water and all is good in the world again.

General Impressions
As I said above, this particular bottling is very robust.  As a result it is less complex.  The sherry bomb is a little raw.  Again, water is a must with this one.

Online there is a lot of praise for Glenfarclas 15, but I must say I am a little disappointed.  It tastes a little too young in spite of the age statement.  If it was up to me, I think a couple more years of aging would have helped take away the powerful alcohol presence.

That being said, Glenfarclas 15 is a classic introduction to the big sherried scotch whisky that everybody should try once and decide for themselves.  Just do your best to buy it on sale, as the current release (2011-12) seems a little vigorous.

Maybe the proportion of older whiskies in excess of 15 years is less than in past years.  I dunno, but that unruly alcohol takes away a level of textured/velvety complexity of flavor that is mandatory at this age statement and price point.  You know what?  In all honest at the $70 I paid for this, I can't say I can recommend it.  Not sufficient value for money here.  It is a decent sherried single malt, but not sufficiently exceptional to warrant the price.  $50?  Ok.  $55 maximum.

Suggested Alternative
If you like sherried single malts of Speyside, I would recommend GlenDronach 15 over Glenfarclas 15.  The former is more reasonably priced, more complex, yet a race car of sherry too.

. . .

C'mon, hop in, and lets hit the road and see what else happens upon our way!


Jason Debly

Copyright © Jason Debly, 2009-2012. All rights reserved. Any and all use is prohibited without permission. Photography credits:  Great close up photograph of a 1961 Buick LeSabre taken by Paul Kucyzynski at who holds all copyright and may not be reproduced without his permission.  Photograph of interior dash of 1960 Buick Invicta uploaded by Flickr member Ate up with motor, who holds copyright to said image  Used in this post with his permission  All reproduction is prohibited without his permission.  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/humourous commentary, as it provides an immediate relevance to the reader more capably than the textual description.

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Review: Auchentoshan Three Wood Single Malt Scotch Whisky

Well, I guess I find myself eating crow or humble pie (depending on which side of the pond you find yourself on).

You see, I wrote a review of a couple bottles of Auchentoshan.  Specifically, the 12, Three Wood and the 18 (click here).  I was not gentle in my opinion. And I stand by it with respect to the super mediocre Auchentoshan 12 and the shamefully overpriced and uninspiring 18.  But, I erred with respect to my comments concerning Auchentoshan Three Wood.

The Three Wood I had tasted was musty, of damp wood, bilge water, black coffee and pickled beets.  My whisky club friends agreed that the Three Wood was . . well . . . pretty dreadful stuff.  And guess what?  The bottle we had was terrible.

So, where am I going with this?

I received many comments on the Auchentoshan review I posted, and a fellow "JK" suggested that maybe, just maybe, I had a flawed bottle of Three Wood.  JK is in Los Angeles and also belongs to a whisky club.  Other comments he has made on this blog suggests that he knows quite a bit about whisky.  Bottom line:  I respect this dude's opinion, and when he tells me that maybe I got a flawed bottle, I gave it some serious thought.  To ignore JK's opinion is up there with dismissing out-of-hand Ben Bernanke's public musings on the direction of interest rates.

Accordingly, I inspected the Three Wood bottle I had.  There was no cork floating around in it.  There was no bad odour.  Just that damn mustiness on the palate.  Tasting of bad wood.  The master distiller at Auchentoshan could not have blessed this bottle, I thought.   Well, there was only one way to find out.

I drove like a maniac back to the liquor store, squealed to a stop, hopped out clutching the bottle, original receipt, some serious attitude, and tried to push open the entrance doors, but they parted automatically like the Red Sea, so I stumbled through like an idiot.  Moses would not be impressed.

Stocking a shelf was a pot bellied, 50ish, seriously grey haired, ex-hippie judging by his hair pulled back into an unkempt ponytail, yellow stained fingers, black tee-shirt, and jeans.  He had some tats on his knuckles too.  He was kinda of a what you would get if you crossed Ron Jeremy with Jerry Garcia, if such a same-sex mating was possible in some bizarre alternate universe.

"I want to exchange this bottle.  It's flawed," I said.


"It's flawed," I repeated.  Somebody's short term memory is seriously gone.

"Whadya mean it's flawed?" said Mr. Cannabis.

"It tastes bad.  Musty."  I was gonna add that it tasted like cat pee, but I feared he would ask:  How do you know what cat pee tastes like?"

"I never heard of scotch going bad," Captain Bud replied.

"Well, it's bad.  Taste it.  Check it out.  I just want another bottle."   I thought about hitting him over the head with it, pulling the cork and shoving it in his mouth for a taste.  I mean what's the harm?  He wouldn't remember the experience an hour later.  But, wisdom got the better of me and I continued the highbrow banter.

"So, you don't want your money back."

"No.  Just another bottle."

There was a painful pause.

He scratched his retro Yasser Arafat/Bjorn Borg, five-day old beard and continued his painfully slow thought process.

"Okay, I can do that."

. . .

Back home, free of Mr. Hippie, I settled into my lazy-boy, poured a dram of Auchentoshan Three Wood and was pleasantly surprised.  The mustiness and beet preserves on the palate were gone.

Nose (undiluted)
Peat and floral.  Really floral.  Fragrant.

Palate (undiluted)
Sweet, smooth entry of chocolate, hazelnuts, malty notes, with oak and subtle orange rind.

Finish (undiluted)
Sherry/raisin, black grapes and peat.  Some black coffee.

General Impressions
The Auchentoshan Three Wood price point where I live is $63.  Too much.  If this was $44, I would be all over this malt like a bra on Salma Hayek.  Anyhow, at this price point, I feel I am paying too much.  I require more complexity and refinement.  That being said,  this is a good, decent malt that is pleasing.  It delivers its constituent flavors of oak, malt, milk chocolate with a zing of peat and orange rind quite well.  Kinda reminds me of a really good, well put together blended scotch.

Flawed Whisky
We should all remember that whisky is an organic compound that is susceptible to damage due to excessive heat, light, maybe cold, broken seal, air or bad cork.  When you get a bad bottle, it may not be readily apparent.  If it tastes seriously bad, maybe it is flawed.  Err on the side of caution and take it back to your retailer and tell them you don't want your money back but rather another bottle.  Usually as soon as they hear that you don't want a refund, you are representing to them that you are not some sort of a scammer.  If they still resist tell them that hey, you paid good money for a product that is defective.  The primary function of whisky is to deliver great flavor.  If you buy a TV that doesn't work, what do you do?  You return it.  And that is just what you are doing with a bottle of defective whisky.  Moreover, they can get a credit from the sales rep for the distillery so that they are not out of pocket.  How can they argue with that?

Quality Assurance Issues?
What makes me hesitant to buy another bottle is the past experience of a friend of mine with the Three Wood.  James bought a bottle a couple of years ago and regarded that experience as contributing to one of the worst single malts he ever tasted.  James, I must say, is not a fussy single malt consumer.  He's your average joe consumer.  He tends to like it all with rare exception.  So, was his bottle from a couple of years ago flawed too?  I dunno.

All this talk makes me think of Woodford Reserve, a bourbon that had problems a few years ago with quality assurance.  Lots of flawed bottles were making it to market.  I bought one so I have direct knowledge of this.  Click here for a discussion thread on the Whisky Magazine Forum on this issue.  Apparently, Woodford Reserve has addressed this problem.

So, the $64,000 question is:  Are there any significant quality assurance issues with Auchentoshan Three Wood, or just my bad luck?

If you have had the misfortune of a bad bottle, post a comment and let me know.

In any event, I like the current bottle of Three Wood I have in front of me this evening.  And, I like it more when I can pick it up at a good price.  This is not earth shatteringly good whisky.  It's the Teacher's Highland Cream of single malts.  What I mean is it's good single malt to chill out with.  Put that brain in neutral and watch TV, stare at the beach, read a book.  Listen to some Jerry Garcia too, but no, do not imbibe in this and watch any film featuring Ron Jeremy!


Jason Debly

Copyright © Jason Debly, 2009-2012. All rights reserved. Any and all use is prohibited without permission, except photographs of Ron Jeremy and Jerry Garcia.  Those photographs are reproduced here pursuant to a Creative Commons License.  Specifically, photograph of Jerry Garcia was taken by Carl Lender.  Photograph of Ron Jeremy was taken by Nate Igor Smith.  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.