Saturday, January 19, 2013

Review: Longmorn 16 year old Single Malt Scotch Whisky

Ahh the dreaded 'to do' list.  We have them for work, home and well . . . . everything in between.  I seem to be adept, at attracting these paper reminders, and even more skilled at ignoring such mundane papyrus at my peril.

They are a fact of my life.  If I am not facing one drawn up by my assistant at work, I am being handed one, ink not quite dry, by my wife, or peeling it off the fridge as I reach the garage door.

The other evening, I was staring at a yellow one, with neat little lines.  All the tasks were ticked off.  It was late.  Maybe 9pm.  Cold as a witch's tit outside.  Biting winter wind chill outside of about -22 Fahrenheit, as I sat in my black Ford SUV with white road salt licks, in front of a grocery store, in the nearly deserted parking lot, lit by flickering fluorescent street lights.  The night sky twinkled.  Ever notice how brutally cold weather and clear night skies seem to go hand-in-hand?

I got the groceries, dry cleaning, went to the bank machine, and now I actually had a moment with nothing left to do.  A rare moment.  I savored it knowing full well the experience would be fleeting.  In this most pleasant state of calm, I decided to put something new at the top of the yellow lined paper in my hand.  I scrawled in script that might best be described as early Cro-Magnon, one word: "Me."

Yup!  At the top of the To-Do list was me.  My mind wandered, as I surveyed snowbanks and straggler shoppers pushing shopping carts, and I thought it would be nice if Penelope Cruz and Salma Hayek had me at the top of their respective to-do lists.  That would be mighty considerate of them.  Really!  The things I think of, when I have a moment for reflection, would raise the blood pressure of any psychiatrist and probably fatten their bank account too.

Anyway, what was I going to do for me?  As of late, I had been a relatively good son, husband, father, compliant/drone civil servant, tax paying automaton to the state, and now I needed a reward.  The world owed me.  What did I do?

I headed directly to the liquor store.

. . .

On the shelf were some left-overs from the recent whisky festival.  One of the bottles was Longmorn 16 years single malt.  Never had any Longmorn.  Matter of fact, didn't know a damn thing about the distillery.  $85.  Not cheap.  Must be good I thought.  The box declared it was non-chill filtered and 48% ABV.  I deserve this handsome whisky I thought to myself.

I opened the box under the suspicious eye of the store clerk and undoubtedly a security camera or two that swiveled to spy on me.  Leather wrapped base of the bottle gave it an air of sophistication.  Like most men, I am visual and many of life's most important decisions are based on looks.  I liked the looks.  I bought it.

. . . .

Back home I got the fireplace going and settled down to my newly acquired malt.

Nose (undiluted)
Apple, pears and vanilla.

Palate (undiluted)
Chocolate, cardamon, orange rind, exotic citrus notes, cloves and honey.

Finish (undiluted)
Grassy, leafy and minty.  Something is off.  Reminiscent of Chai tea (black tea with hints of cinnamon, cardamon, ginger, clove and black pepper -just don't add the milk and you know what I am talking about).  The more I drink of this, the stronger a ginger note is on the finish.

General Impressions
I am disappointed.  This single malt lacks complexity.  The finish is rather strange with the mint and grass notes.  They do not build on a palate that was orange chocolate, honey and cloves.  Hardly any smoke or peat worth mentioning.  That being said, this is not a 'bad' or offensive whisky, just unremarkable other than that peculiar finish.  Kinda like a cliff-hanger ending to a movie.  You walk out of the theater saying to your chum that the movie was okay until the ending.

It is smooth for an ABV of 48%.  However, at the price point it demands, we expect more.  The lack of complexity with an odd finish that is best termed as leafy, will leave you wanting more.

Here is the peculiar aspect to this malt.  Normally at 48% ABV I am thinking that some amount of water is a must.  But, any addition of water fails to improve on the flavor profile.  It becomes easily diluted in taste.  You add less and less water and not seeing any benefit.

There are those malt fans who dogmatically claim a higher ABV and non-chill filtration leads to a great malt. Longmorn is both and it is not a great malt.

If the price point was $20 less, I might be more charitable to this malt.  But, that is not the case.  Accordingly, it will not make the top of my to-do list, just as my name will not appear at the top of Salma's anytime soon.


Jason Debly

Copyright © Jason Debly, 2009-2012. All rights reserved. Any and all use is prohibited without permission.  Photo credits: To-Do List photograph taken by Flickr member John Schultz and used here pursuant to a Creative Commons Licence.  Photograph of Salma Hayek and Penelope Cruz is a promotional photograph for their film Bandida's (2006) widely available on the internet.  The remaining two photographs of Longmorn were taken by me.  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/humorous commentary, as it provides an immediate relevance to the reader more capably than the textual description.

Friday, January 11, 2013

Product Review: Whisky Stones

Over the holidays I received Whisky Stones as a gift from my brother.  My sister, independent of my brother, also had the same idea.  So, I had two boxes of this product to try out.  Not familiar with this item?  Worry not.  I have analyzed and tested this product, as only an incurable malt fanatic can.

The Marketplace
A marketable product is one that meets a consumer need/demand or better yet, is an innovation that no one else has brought to market.

The Consumer Need
To my mind, Whisky Stones is a product that targets the consumer who does not enjoy whisky neat at room temperature.  For them it is too strong.  So, such a consumer adds ice.  As you undoubtedly know, the ice chills the drink and at the same time dilutes the whisky, making it smoother and removing some of what novices or casual drinkers regard to be an  unpleasant 'bite.'

One of the problems with ice is that if you do not drink quickly, the melting ice will over dilute the whisky.

The Innovation
On the back of the packaging, I read:

"Teroforma's Whisky Stones are made in Vermont from natural soapstone, by craftsmen of some of the oldest soapstone workshops in the United States.  The stones are non-porous, and will impart neither flavor nor odor.  More gentle than ice, Whisky Stones can be used to cool down your favorite spirits just enough to take the edge off without "closing down" the flavors."

Soapstone instead of ice cubes?  The stones are non-porous, and will impart neither flavor nor odor?  That's a tall order, and if those claims are true, this product is a terrific innovation.  But, before we launch balloons and parade down the street high fiving each other, let's see what my field research turned up.

The Analysis
The instructions for the whisky stones are simple:

(1)  Rinse with water;

(2)  air dry;

(3)  place in the freezer for four hours before use;

(4)  add three stones to a tumbler and fill to the height of one stone your favorite beverage.

I did not follow the instructions to a "T."  I did wash the stones under the tap thoroughly.  I did not 'air dry' them.  Instead I dried them off with a tea cloth and tossed them in the freezer.  I did wait the minimum four hours, actually it was like 12 before I plopped three stones in a drink.

. . .

I started with Linkwood 15 years.  A single malt, whose flavor profile, I am well acquainted with, as you can judge by the level of the bottle pictured above.

". . . will neither impart flavor nor odor . . ." claims the packaging.

Sadly, I must report that the Linkwood flavor profile had been affected by the presence of the stones in the single malt.  The whisky stones impart a mineral, slate, flinty, even wooden taste to the malt that appears on the finish.  It's subtle, slight but those off notes are unmistakably there.

I thought maybe the fact that I did not let the stones 'air dry' may have contributed to the flavor impairment.  Using a cloth might somehow not be as good.  So, I repeated the exercise, but  adhered to the commandment that they 'air dry' before being transferred to the freezer.  Result: Still tasting those off notes as observed above.

Still perplexed, I thoroughly washed the stones again.  I mean I held the little bastards under the damn kitchen tap for an eternity (think a full episode of the wife's Gilmore Girls).   Air dry and back to the bleedin' freezer once more.  Ten hours or so later, when I fixed myself a drink, the flavor impairment still occurred but was somewhat more restrained.  I guess the washing helped . . . a little.

So far, all I accomplished was a waste of precious Linkwood.

Control Test
The last time I was in a science class was in high school and I was not a stellar student.  I remember two things from biology class: (1) Della, a red-headed girl in my class was drop dead gorgeous; and (2) the need for a scientific control when conducting an experiment.

In a nutshell, a 'control' is a baseline or a recognizable standard that can serve as a helpful reference for the results of an experiment.  Is that clear as mud?  I know, I should have just described how hot Della was.  Actually she could have been a control for a hotness scale.  Ahh better save that for another post and hope my wife is not reading this post . . .

Anyhow, what scientific control could I use that would serve as a baseline for comparison with the addition of whisky stones?  My knowledge of Linkwood is new.  Maybe I should be more conservative.  So, I went back to a blended scotch whisky that I know intimately (unlike Della).  Teacher's Highland Cream.

I know 'Teacher's.'  I can pick it out in a tidal wave of drams at a blind tasting.  I know that crispy bacon, malty, almost petrol peat flavor profile anywhere.

So, I plunked three whisky stones into a tumbler of Teacher's to see if I could detect an impairment of this most excellent of economy blended scotch whiskies.

The result?  More disappointment.  That damn flinty, wooden taste was there on the finish.  I tested, re-tested, matter of fact, I sent that tumbler to remedial class for more testing.  And!  It failed.  Dumb as a frozen boot I tell ya!

In the spirit of science I thought let's do a control test that is beyond reproach.

Water - Über Control Test
I drink a lot of water.  I know it well.  Brita filter pitcher and a glass is what I sip at night.  If there ever was a 'control' it is water.  Accordingly, I thought I would take a glass of water and add three whisky stones to it and see if it imparted any flavors?

I could taste something slightly 'off'' in the water.  By the time I got to the bottom of the glass there was something definitely Flintstone funky going on.  To the untrained palate, I suppose they might miss it, but if you are reading this blog and know one or two whiskies well, I assure you, you would pick up on the flavor disturbance produced by these stones.

Another claim made by the makers of the whisky stones is that they 'chill' the whisky, take the edge off without 'closing down' the flavors.

My experience is not consistent with this claim.  I find that the whisky stones barely chill the spirit in the tumbler at all.  I was expecting the stones to really knock down the water or scotch temperature with a frostiness akin to a cold stare from Judi Dench.    I was disappointed.  The stones very quickly warm up, unlike Judi.

I cannot recommend the whisky stones.  While they make impressive claims, our scientific method proved that their claims are . . . just that.  This product brings to mind automotive fuel additives that tout improved mileage with a hodge podge of psuedo science, but when critically examined prove to be hokey, like the potions peddled by snake oil salesman of the wild west.  Hopefully, these trendy whisky stones will go the way of the bouffant hairdomood ring, typewriter and bell bottom jeans.  Out of vogue and never to be seen again.


Jason Debly
Copyright © Jason Debly, 2009-2012. All rights reserved. Any and all use is prohibited without permission.  Photo credits:  Photograph of tumbler with ice melting adjacent to it is by Flickr member t2tantan who holds all copyright and licenses concerning its use.  No reproduction is permitted without obtaining the consent of t2tantan.  Photograph of chalk on chalk board was taken by Flickr member Dunja Dumanski, who holds all copyright and licences concerning its use.  No reproduction is permitted without obtaining the consent of Dunja Dumanski.  Photograph of Judi Dench taken by Flickr member Caroline Bonarde Ucci who has graciously granted a GNU Free Documentation Licence.  All other photographs were taken by yours truly.  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.