Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Whisky Brand Ambassador Aptitude Test

1.  If our 18 year old blend costs 22% more than the competitor's 12 year old single malt, and 46% less than the stunner, independently bottled, vatted malt, comprised only of celebrated mothballed distilleries, which of the following is true?

(a)  As a guest judge of a whisky competition, you must pour our 18 year old blend into the 12 year old bottle, and pour the vatted malt into our 18 year old bottle, and surreptitiously add a teaspoon of vinegar to the vatted bottle, to ensure we win gold!

(b)  Tell the other judges that our festival swag includes a 5-pack of Viagra.

(c)  Remind the judges that every vote for our blend entitles them to a vacation at The Villages, Florida's friendliest retirement home!

(d)  All of the above.

(e)  None of the above.

2.  You are standing at the faux wood podium, mic at your lips, palms damp, a pregnant pause, as the crowd waits for you to begin by:

(a)  telling them how you are on a whisky crash diet and have already lost one week . . .

(b)  not thinking about your son's declaration at breakfast, "Dad, I want to become an actor."

(c)  not dwelling on your wife's bubbly voice mail of 5 minutes ago:  "Honey, we were out of Grey Goose for the girls' Cosmopolitans, so we substituted it with your Highland Park 25."

(d)  wondering if United Airlines might still hire you as a steward on the Vegas red eye.

(e)  All of the above.

(f)  None of the above.

3.  A voice pipes up in the audience wanting to know how many seconds is a long finish?  You respond:

(a)  "Next question."

(b)  "6 or 60 seconds, not sure as I'm dyslexic."

(c)  "Depends on the wash cycle of your dishwasher or you could switch back to Electrasol for a longer, cleaner finish."

4.  You have been entrusted with a $5,000 promotional budget to spend at a whisky festival.  How do you spend it?

(a)  $3,000 on catering of smoked salmon and oyster hors d'oeuvres, $1,000 on crystal Glencairn glasses; $1,000 on key chains, fridge magnets and brochures promoting our brands.

(b)  Empty out our dreadful 18 year old blend and re-fill with $5,000 worth of that great blended malt from the independent bottler.

(c)  $5,000 on an appearance fee for # 1 on the Maxim Hot 100 list.

(d)  All of the above and, then look for a new job the following day.

5.  By pure chance you run into George Clooney at the Four Seasons.  You both hit it off and he expresses a willingness to co-host a whisky tasting with you.  Do you:

(a)  get his contact information?

(b)  suggest in light of his recent nuptials that you don't mind relieving him of his burdensome little black book.

6.  Logical Reasoning

A recent scientific study demonstrated that when lab rats are given our extra-special 18 year old blend, an increase in the incidence of bizarre rat behavior results (ie. sharing cheese, making nice-nice with cats, etc.).  When our company was asked if we would voluntarily place warning labels on our bottles, our American spokesman responded that it would not because the study was funded by loyal Democrats who want to rob all freedom loving Americans of fun.

Which of the following most strongly undermines our statement above?

(a)  One whiff of our plastic screw cap bottle, and Ann Coulter becomes in favor of publicly funded Medicare and Canadian style gun control.

(b)  One dram into our bottle and Sarah Palin agrees to shut down the "Sarah Palin News Channel."

(c)  Two drams into our bottle and John McCain decides to run again for president.

7.  Based on your personal experience, which warning label should appear on our bottles?

(a)  Warning:  The consumption of our whisky may lead to unplanned pregnancy.

(b)  Warning:  The consumption of our whisky may cause you to think you are more attractive, stylish, and stronger than everyone else in the bar.

(c)  Warning:  The consumption of our whisky may cause you to tell your boss what you really think of him at the annual Christmas party in front of staff just before he was going to give you a surprise award for best new employee.

(d)  Warning:  There are many better single malts at half the price of this 18 year old blend.  Specifically, that independent bottler's blended malt.

8.  If we hired you and it didn't work out, what would you accept in lieu of reasonable notice of termination?

(a)  4 weeks salary?

(b)  A case of our finest whisky?

(c)  George Clooney's little black book?

(d)  Maxim Hot List #1's phone number?

(e)  (c) and (d)

(f)  (a) through (d)

Photo Credits:  Classroom Chairs by Eric James Sarimiento used in this post pursuant to a Creative Commons License;  Photograph of Sarah Palin taken by Shemp Howard, Jr. and used here pursuant to a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported License.  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.  Finally, I would like to thank Ethan Kuperberg for his hilarious piece entitled S.A.T. For Adults which appeared in the New Yorker on Sept. 23, 2013.  It really generated my idea for this post.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Review: SIA Blended Scotch Whisky

The blended Scotch whisky jungle is crowded and inhabited by some very big, dumb apes with enormous stores of bananas.  But, swinging up high, from treetop to treetop, are some agile and more intelligent chimpanzees, and above them are the erudite and utterly cool rainforest birds, the macaws and the toucans.  Meet Carin Luna-Ostaseski:

I think she is a toucan!

Bright, colorful, passionate, and determined to launch her own brand in the blended Scotch whisky biosphere, from her perch, high above the knuckle dragging, silverback gorillas that adorn the densely populated jungle floor below.

Carin likes whisky.

She didn't always.  At one time, she regarded whisky as an old, stinky iodine spirit that inhabited dark green, dusty medicinal bottles that sat on shelves in her grandfather's study.  Whisky, she thought, was something only old folk liked for reasons that escaped her.

One night that all changed.  A whisky enthusiast friend asked her what types of food she liked, and then chose a whisky for her based on her tastes.  She took a sip and was in awe of the interesting flavors contained in such a tiny measure of spirit.  Soon thereafter, her work as a creative director for an online business no longer appealed to her.  She didn't start a whisky blog, as that was a lame, overdone and stale social media activity of boring/nerdy middle aged/older men, ne'er do-wells, shut-ins, professional students and well . . . friendless losers in life (present company excepted!).  No, she had something else in mind.

Well, that's not entirely true.  At first, it was just a fascination with whisky.  She tried a wide variety, went to whisky events and soon was hosting her own tastings in an effort to spread the word that "Hey! Whisky has something to offer hip, young people, especially women."  Over time, her ill-defined passion led to the idea of starting a company that would sell a whisky she felt would appeal to her crowd, her homeys, her peeps!

So, she ditched the creative director gig with her online employer and pulled the trigger.  She met with countless people in the whisky industry (many of whom were very helpful, and some of them were silver haired gents too!), who advised her on pricing, sourcing bottles, labels, regulatory issues, shipping, distribution and of course finding the right distillery that could deliver the taste that she was determined to bring to market.  She even did some crucial crowd funding on kickstarter.  Yeah, yeah, I know, I had to look up what "crowd funding" meant too, and never heard of "Kickstarter" either, and yeah I am not even fifty (but, close to it).

I asked Carin how she came up with the name of her blended Scotch, which is distilled, aged and bottled by Douglas Laing & Co. Ltd.

"I was thumbing through a English/Gaelic dictionary looking for a word that would be suitable as a name for my whisky.  I stumbled on the number six, which happens to be my birthday too, and I liked it.  Six in Gaelic is Sé (pronounced 'Shay').  I thought I would drop the 'h' and somehow came up with SIA (pronounced 'see-ah')."


Currently available in California, Illinois and a number of online retailers (i.e. Binny'sBeltramo's) who can ship elsewhere.


Age Statement

Malt to Grain Ratio

Regional Breakdown
Speyside (50%), Highlands (40%), Islay (10%)

Nose (undiluted)
Very malty, sweet grains, dandelion, slight sherry.

Palate (undiluted)
Sweet malt, creamy, Cheerios, spiced honey, funnel cake, vanilla extract, faint sherry.

Finish (undiluted)
Salt, zing of lemon peel, buzz of black pepper, a slight smoke when you breath through your mouth following a swallow.

General Impressions
This is very smooth, not grainy, no alcohol notes or bite either.  Very inoffensive.  It's pretty sweet too, with a slight transition to a more drying mouth feel on the finish.  No peat and very little smoke in the flavor profile.

If you like Cutty Sark, Monkey Shoulder and Cardhu, then you will enjoy this blend.  It is a traditional Speyside flavor profile, one that is sweet, honeyed, smooth, and as I said above, with hardly any peat and precious little smoke.  This whisky is really designed for the whisky newbie.  It is very, very smooth, but not grainy, which is nice.  It obviously would work well as an ingredient in Scotch based cocktails, as recommended on Carin's website.

I enjoyed it, as a soft, gentle, simple blend, and there is a place and time to enjoy this flavor profile.  The holidays are coming and it would make a suitable gift for the person dabbling in whisky or has a budding interest.

SIA is not for the serious connosieur  seeking complexity.  They will find it boring, as it is very smooth with minimal spice notes.  But, hey, I don't think Carin is targeting the grey power/Cocoon segment of the market at all.

I must tell you a little about the price.  It is high for a no-age-statement blend.  $49 is rich.  Within that price range, and well below it, there is Chivas 12 and Johnnie Walker Black 12 years and even some entry level single malts.  But, those large simian brands have much lower costs of production, synergies and efficiencies that they can leverage.  They have bland corporate websites that are filled with too much information, while SIA is cool, urban and well . . . young, an elusive quality that becomes more attractive as us silverbacks become well, uhmm . . . more and more silver.


Jason Debly

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Review: Black Bull 12 year old Blended Scotch Whisky

You know what I like about football?  It represents a totally mindless distraction from the pressures and competing priorities of my everyday life.  It is pure escapism.  Every football fan has an opinion and nobody is wrong, well until his team plays.

There's Andrew in my office who is a walking encyclopedia of football.  We debate stats, strategies, players, coaches, everything on Monday morning.  Probably the best part of my work week.  When I am laying on my deathbed, I will warmly remember all the crazy bets of free coffee I made with him on NFL games.

Football, cigars, whisky and even meditation all have something in common.  They force a guy to slow down.  He can't rush a cigar, chug whisky, or meditate quickly.

I tried meditation once, to slow my mind down and de-stress.  Even read a book on it and sat on the tatami, and tried to keep my mind pure while the super hot, college age lululemon chick in front of me warmed up with some downward-facing-dog poses.

Anyway, I was supposed to close my eyes (which I did once Ms. lululemon sat down) and focus on my breathing.  I was directed by a silver haired, diminutive Zen master, clad in black, with John Lennon glasses, to let my thoughts drift in and out of my mind, just observe and not ruminate on them.  Trouble was, my meditative thoughts comprised a fast-moving Ganges stream of visions of me sitting in front of my beloved flat screen Sony, sipping whisky, smoking a cigar and watching a Sunday afternoon NFL game.

Suddenly, I had an epiphany that I could not be a silent witness to such thoughts.  This meditation was stressing me out!  So, in the spirit of Abraham Maslow I was going to address my own hierarchy of needs and take all necessary steps towards my much needed self-actualization.  To that end, I leapt up from my meditation mat like a coiled cobra, hopped into my indefensibly expensive European SUV, and ripped out of the parking lot with Steve McQueen worthy driving gusto (I would have squealed the tires too, but the 4matic all-wheel drive system prevents any tire spinning).  My ascetic journey brought me to the retail tranquility of my local liquor store where I employed my powers of mindfulness and selected Black Bull 12 year old Blended Scotch Whisky.

Before taking a sip, I knew that Black Bull was a beast of a blended Scotch.  The label read 50% ABV!  The back label also read 50% malt whisky and 50% grain whisky, and has not been chill filtered.  I imagined taking a sip and burning my esophagus with this spirit.  I am always concerned with whiskies in excess of 43% being over the top strong and basically undrinkable.  So, with great care and after the lighting of joss sticks from the local hipster store, I added one teaspoon of water to a 3/4 oz pour, and settled into my lazy boy on NFL GameDay.

Nose (diluted)
Sherry, muted black earth, crushed strawberries, jam, fruit notes and nice oak.

Palate (diluted)
Rounded sherry, strawberry, dark malty elements, pomegranate.

Finish (diluted)
Salty sherry, molasses, oak, some espresso.  Think Italian coffee done in a moka pot in Umbria.

. . .

Having added water and enjoyed this whisky, I thought I must try it neat.

Nose (undiluted)
Richer sherry, oak, sandalwood, nutmeg, more spirity, cold misty morning air, red licorice.

Palate (undiluted)
Initial sweet spiced attack of sherry charging upon the palate, but in a splendid way.  Rhubarb and treacle soon follow.  Creamy caramel and dark toffee dominate.

Finish (undiluted)
Thick, dark, ok hell burnt toast with a smear of Grandma's homemade blackberry jam that lingers forever.  Damn this is good!

General Impressions
This blend renews my faith in blended Scotch whisky.  This is a very good blend that holds up very well against some 12 year old single malts.  I would take this any day over Glenlivet 12 or Glenfiddich 12.  A word of caution though is needed.

Black Bull is not for newbies.  It is strong drink for the novice.  I would also not recommend this as a gift purchase for the casual blend consumer.  Give this to the serious whisky lover, who may think all blends are inferior to single malt.  This whisky will shake such a foolhardy belief.

Black Bull is remarkably smooth, in spite of the high ABV.  Surprisingly, I preferred it neat.  I found water diluted or muted the flavors more than I cared for.  No peat and virtually no smoke either.  This whisky is all about the sherry, oak, molasses, pomegranate flavors that start sweet, and become more drying on the palate.  Due to the 50% malt content, there is no graininess that plagues many flavor profiles of blended Scotch whiskies.  No bitterness or burning alcohol bite.  Really quite impressive.  This is not nirvana, but damn close in the blended Scotch whisky category!

My path to enlightenment:  hanging with some Houston Texans fans!

Jason Debly

P.S.  Special thanks to Whisky Dog George for donating the bottle of Black Bull for review.