Sunday, December 30, 2012

Happy New Year!

The above poster appears on the wall outside of the office of a colleague of mine.  She is a very kind lady who is an ocean of calm in a workplace that is often anything but.  She placed the poster on the wall one day simply because she liked it.  She did not know the history behind it.  I did.  

Back in 1939, the beginning of World War II cast a shadow over the lives of the British people.  The government of the day designed three posters that were intended to function to improve the morale of the citizens.  The first two posters were: "Freedom Is In Peril.  Defend It With All Your Might" and "Your Courage, Your Cheerfulness, Your Resolution Will Bring Us Victory." These two posters were printed in great numbers (400,00 and 800,000 copies respectively).  Moreover, they appeared everywhere in the British public.  You have to remember that in those days posters were a major form of media consumed by the public before television, whose popularity was in its infancy.

The purpose of those posters was to improve morale and also serve as a message from King George VI to his subjects.

The third poster: "Keep Calm and Carry On" was printed up too.  Specifically, the British Ministry of Information printed 2.5 million copies, with the intention of posting it everywhere, in the event of a national catastrophe.  The posters never were put on public display even though the British suffered bombs dropped from above and of course the tremendous loss of loved ones.  If that was not catastrophic enough, I am unsure what they were waiting for.  Probably the Ministry of Information simply forgot about the posters.  The war ended and nearly all the posters were used for pulp.

However, in 2000, a bookstore owner bought a box of books at a nondescript auction.  Among the books was the old war time poster, the third one, that never got posted.  The bookstore owner's spouse liked it so much, she framed it, and placed it on a wall in their bookstore.  Soon customers were asking how much it was?

The bookstore owners printed up the posters and started selling them.  And how they sold!  Then other entrepreneurs got in the game and suddenly you see it on all manner of knickknacks. 

. . . 

"Get to the point Jason," I hear you say.  

I hear ya.  I do.  Really.

"Keep Calm and Carry On."

Really.  It resonates today, as much as it was intended to more than seventy years ago.  And, I guess that is my New Year's wish to you.  Hopefully, the New Year will be good for you.  But, if it is not, borrow some of that great British sentiment, and with dignity, persevere my friend.  Things are good and will get better.  You will encounter challenges, but keep positive, keep your head up, and you will be all right.  Every culture has some bits of wisdom worth embracing and this is one for us.

Cheers and all the best to you in the New Year!

Jason Debly

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

A Final Scotch Whisky Holiday Suggestion: Gordon & MacPhail's 'Linkwood 15 years'

Ok, suppose you are sitting on Santa's knee and he asks what you would like for Christmas?  What would you ask for?

I know what would be near the top of my list:  Linkwood 15 years, matured and bottled by independent bottler, Gordon & MacPhail.

Never heard of Linkwood?  That's okay.  Linkwood is not exactly a household name.  The distillery does not have a 'visitor' building.  Matter of fact, it is not open to the public.  Why? The answer lies in where we find this malt.  You probably have already drank Linkwood and not known it, as it is a favorite malt of master blenders.  Think White Horse and the Johnnie Walker product line too.  In particular, it turns up in the discontinued Johnnie Walker Green Label.  It is a core malt of that pure malt bottling.

The distillery doesn't help raise its profile either by its habit of releasing little, and selling the vast majority of its output to blenders (in the Diageo stable).  However, Diageo mercifully permits the sale of some of its 'new make' spirit to independent bottlers.

Independent bottlers like Gordon & MacPhail take the malt and age it in their warehouses and make decisions about how long to age in various wood casks.  The result can be delicious, but generally not well known, because such players in the drinks industry lack the enormous production, marketing and distribution capacity of say a Diageo (who by the way are the owners of the Linkwood distillery).  Nevertheless, these smaller players do make gems and Gordon and MacPhail's Linkwood 15 years Speyside Single Malt  is a prime example.

Nose (undiluted)
Slight and whispy smoke and peat.  Subtle floral notes.

Palate (undiluted)
Lightly smoked with burnt toast and drizzled wild honey.  But that initial taste gracefully yields to bourbon, dark red fruits, raspberries and cherries.

Finish (undiluted)
Nice drying lemon zest, strawberry cakebread and the glowing embers of morning smoke of last night's beach bonfire.

General Impressions
Linkwood 15yrs by Gordon and MacPhail represents all that I enjoy in whisky.  It is light bodied, delicate, fragrant and very floral and of course complex.  This malt leaves you with delicious notes of salt and peppercorns weaved in with the malty and ethereal strawberry.

Do Not Add Water
There is no need for water.  This malt is truly best served neat and would make an excellent introduction for the novice to single malt scotch whisky.

Peer Group?
If you like Johnnie Walker Green Label, Cragganmore 12, Glenfiddich 15 yrs Solera, Glenkinchie Distiller's Edition, Littlemill and Clynelish 14, I think you will be very pleased with Linkwood 15 years.

Independent Bottlers
Independent bottlers like Gordon and MacPhail make a valuable contribution to the consuming public by bringing to market malts that might not otherwise see the light of day.  For example, they currently have bottlings from obscure distilleries like: Aultmore, Balmenach, Caperdonich, Coleburn, Convalmore and many others.

The skill of independent bottlers is their vision to see a modestly aged spirit of a distillery has the potential to become great with the right amount of aging and wood management.  Sometimes the reason other distilleries sell their new make spirit to the likes of Gordon and MacPhail is because they consider it somehow inappropriate for use in their mainstream bottlings.  Their loss is our gain!

Possible Replacement for Johnnie Walker Green Label?
As you know, Green Label is no longer being made.  This Linkwood 15yrs tastes enormously similar.  I would imagine 1/4 teaspoon of Talisker to a double pour would make it almost identical.  Try it!

Holiday Wishes
Happy holidays!  Relax, take it easy, enjoy your family and friends.  Wishing you the best!


Jason Debly

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Canadian Whisky Suggestions for the Holidays

Well, it is that time of year again.  Holidays are upon us.  Christmas parties, Kwanzaa and Hanukkah observances too.  I am sure I am missing some other world religions and so please feel free to post a comment pointing out my omissions/ignorance.  Oh yeah, and then there are those atheists who do like a good party too.  They belong to a religion too, just one that affirms there is none.

I'm cool with whatever you are into as long as it is tolerant of others.  Okay, I sound preachy, but don't worry, the only sermon you are going to receive concerns holiday whisky recommendations.

Anyway, you know the deal, there are so many parties, the office Christmas party, maybe the service group you belong too (Royal Order of Buffalo type), the guys at the office want to tie one on, the wife has social engagements too, which of course you must politely attend.  Maybe you are a college student, well you just party all the time, even with exams looming.

In spite of our confessional differences, we do have spiritual commonalities   Maybe not the same Holy Spirit, but at least the need for gift giving and the appreciation of heavenly or divine objects: whisky!

What do I buy the boss?  The professor?  The realtor who shaved a point off his commission to get the deal done.  Maybe the doctor that did her job fantastically well (okay the mole was not cancer, but damn, I was scared).  What do you buy all these people that you understand like a little whisky?

Don't worry!  I am full of suggestions.  Today those suggestions are Canadian whisky.  This whisky is generally much loved by everybody because it is not offensive.  The holidays are all about easy, no-muss or fuss.  We want to avoid conflict.  Let's have a good time.  Canadian whisky is a very good choice in that regard.

Crown Royal
Always a safe bet.  Gentle vanilla, honey and oak.  You can't go wrong with this.  Everyone likes it, and it is superior to Canadian Club.   If you have always picked up a bottle, maybe it is time to try something with a little more punch.  Please consider Canadian Club 20 years.

Canadian Club 20 Years
While I am not a fan of the standard bottling of Canadian Club, and have suggested you reach for the Crown Royal as the safest, most mainstream, least offensive whisky flavor profile that comes to mind, that is not to say that you couldn't shake things up a bit.

Canadian whisky can be complex and impressive and this is available in the Canadian Club 20 years.  Concentrated flavors of sweet ginger, lime, and black pepper dusted Camembert.  The finish is composed of lovely oak, cinnamon and candy cane.

Alberta Premium Dark Horse

I have one more Canadian whisky suggestion:  Alberta Premium Dark Horse.  More powerful than Canadian Club 20 is this little number that does not have an age statement.

This Canadian whisky was launched earlier this year and it is impressive.

Dark Horse is a return to what made Canadian whisky great in the first place and that is: rye!  91% rye to be specific and you can taste it on the palate.  Rich, spicy, powerful!  Flavors?  Think Morocco dates,  plums, figs, and the zest and  spice of rye laid over top with a good measure of oak.

This is a big whisky.  Lots of body and spice that can certainly be enjoyed neat or deliciously on the rocks.

. . .

So, there you have it, a couple of heavenly spirits to provide good cheer during the holidays!


Jason Debly

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

One Million hits and Counting!

This blog has recently hit the one million hits mark.  Look at the site counter half way down the page on the right.  I know you are shocked.  So am I.

I started this blog three years ago out of frustration with not being able to find reliable whisky tastings notes that delivered the straight goods.  Ahh, the hedonistic thoughts and ambitions I have seem to be shared by people around the world.

Now you may be thinking why am I trumpeting this fact?  "Jason, leave the trumpeting to Miles Davis," you say.

I will try to hit a few high notes, maybe not as elegantly as Miles, but please take a listen for a moment.

I believe the high traffic is a testament to how whisky seems to be of interest to a lot of people around the world.  Check out the pie chart of readers from around the world:

55.2% of the readers are from the United States.  Within the US, the top three states that tune in are:  California, New York and Texas.

11.4% of readers are to be found in Canada.

5.1% of visitors are in the UK, who are probably shaking their head at what they read and muttering to themselves: What a stupid "git" that Debly is.

Crikey! 3.6% of web traffic is from Australia.

The kiwis from New Zealand like American bourbon, and so I receive a lot of visits and email from them.

And then there is the rest of the world!  Too many countries to list, but I can tell you India ranks the next highest.  Germany, Sweden Finland, Russia, Brazil, Argentina, Turkey and Greece are growing too.

So, what do I take away from this?

I need to post more whisky reviews!  People want more info!

What can you take away from this?  You need to post more comments so that readers get your point of view also.  Well, you have actually been doing a pretty good job.  At the time of this post there were 2,010 comments.  Thanks.  Keep it up.  Whisky and your thoughts are important!

I always admired the American philosopher William James.  Why?  When he was at Harvard and chairman of the philosophy department, he had great influence as to the hiring of other professors.  He did something that exemplifies what university should be about.  He purposely hired professors who held views that were very different or even strenuously opposed to his own.  (It has been argued that others in similar academic positions of power were not as enlightened as James.  For example, I have heard compelling arguments that erroneous Freudian views would have been disposed much sooner if Freudian academics had . . . well not hired more Freudian academics.)

Similarly, I want to publish all comments (except for those ones about little blue pills and money making gambling schemes - I keep those for me).  Especially if those comments criticize or correct my errors as perceived by the critic.  Everyone benefits from this healthy discourse, regardless of how hedonistic the subject matter may be.

I suppose I have not threaded together notes as elegantly as Miles has done in his great career.  So, take a listen to the master in one of his more obscure recordings (1958 record, issued in France), but nevertheless great composition:


Jason Debly

P.S.  Next week I will list some holiday gift suggestions of the whisky kind.

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.