Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Whisky of the Year!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

I am the worst procrastinator of all time.  Christmas is one day away and do you think I have my gift shopping done?  No!  I am the worst.  No doubt about it.

My procrastination extends to this blog too.  I was at a whisky festival in late November and walked out of there bedazzled and gobsmacked by an incredible run of single and blended malts.  I thought, I must write on that cold wintery night and let you know that there are still some stars twinkling in that inky, foreboding night whisky sky.  Did I get that post out?  Hell no!  The black hole of procrastination bent back any ray of ambition I had..  Well, until now.  I'm gonna tell ya all about it now brother!  I have broken free of the gravitational, soul-sucking force of the collapsed dead star of my procrastination.

So, I was at this whisky festival and most of the tastings were OK, but no surprises, and well there were a lot of no age statement releases that left me wanting, left me with considerable Charlie Brownesque discontent.  However, the last tasting of the night put a smile on my face like the rare one on Chuck pictured above.

I and the whisky dogs (that's how we pretentiously refer to our whisky club members) went to the usual tastings put on by Ardbeg, Macallan, Highland Park and others.  But, like I said, the magic just wasn't there.  Fortunately, I had suggested we check out Hart Brothers.  Alistair Hart would be leading a tasting of Hart Brothers latest releases.

Hart Brothers are independent bottlers.  As you know, independent bottlers do not own a distillery and therefore do not actually make whisky.  But, they inhabit a special place in the whisky cosmos where they have the uncanny skill to see merit and potential in unwanted whiskies of an established or even a mothballed single malt distillery.  So, Hart Brothers, Gordon & MacPhail, Berry Bros, and others are constantly buying up the unwanted stocks of distilleries both famous and unknown.  They do their own blending and wood management/aging, warehousing, etc and the end result can be pretty amazing at times.  Needless to say, I was pumped to attend the Hart Bros tasting.

The first whisky up was the Mortlach Distillery 14 year old single malt.


Pale straw.

Nose (undiluted)
Lightly peated, rich  yet restrained sherry notes, damp earth, a delightful mustiness too.

Palate (undiluted)
Concentrated citrus, apple juice, hay, honey, spiced marmalade.

Finish (undiluted)
Malty, sherried, raspberries appear, drying, pomegranate.

General Impressions
Wow!  This is good!  This is the reason why I like whisky and deep down believe Scotch to offer what no other varieties of whisky can: magical complexity.  Specifically, there are mineral notes delicately weaved with honey, that delivers a fine mosaic of flavors.  This is complexity, this is what great whisky is all about.  But, this is not the whisky of the year. The others were good, but then I had my moment of oneness with the universe . . .

Hart Brothers Blended Malt 17 year old Port Finish
When I tasted the 17 year old blended malt with a port finish, I was stopped dead in my tracks.  Atheists!  Take note!  Drink this and you may abandon your previous notions of a lack of divinity.  This spirit has been touched by the hand of G-d.

I don't have a tasting note, but I can tell you this, it was incredibly complex, the port finish delivered what sherry never can, dark, rich fruits of plum, blackberry, logan berry and the best Christmas cake with COMPLEXITY.  The tapestry of flavors woven so well, it left me at a loss for words (a truly rare phenomenon).  Aging in port pipes is tricky and fickle business, but Alistair Hart and his team succeeded where many have failed.

While I don't have a tasting note written down, I and everyone in the room held their breath when they drank this blended malt.  It was the best of the night and the festival.  I was so in awe, I wanted my picture taken with Alistair.  I mean, I wanted to stand next to the guy who had a hand in creating this masterpiece.

The ABV of the Port Finish Blended Malt is 50%, but of course I was enjoying it neat because it was that damn good!

I tried to get Alistair to tell me what were some of the single malts making up this blended malt.  With some prodding, he mentioned Glenfarclas.  He also said that this and other malts were aged in first fill port pipes.  No chill filtering and color added.  This is the real deal.

I rarely get super excited about a whisky, but this is one, that I can say in the past year was the best.

You've got one day till Christmas, a few more till New Years, so do the right thing and pick up a bottle as a gift for that special person in your life!

Cheers!  Happy Holidays!  Merry Christmas and I hope Santa finds you!

Jason Debly

Saturday, December 13, 2014

What does Pierre Cardin and Macallan share in common?

That's me on the right in my Pierre Cardin, 100% white polyester, ready-to-wear, leisure suit, circa 1972.  Next to me is my brother, who looks like he has a future with one of New York's Five Families, and on the far left is my smartly dressed cousin May in forest green bell-bottoms.  Looking down is my mother with the Mobutu Sese Seko style leopard fur trimmed green coat.  These early 70's fashions got me thinking about brands, and that got me thinking about whisky.  Before you stop reading and move on to a sensible whisky blog, please hear me out.

Remember the Pierre Cardin brand?  There was a time when it was the leading brand in the fashion world.  He was the first designer to go from designing strictly for rich people, and selling through very exclusive boutiques to introducing a ready to wear/off the rack collection that would be available everywhere, even my local Kmart!  The brand was hot, the styles were cool, but over time, he started licensing his name to everything including car interiors!  Check out this Cardin interior of a 1972 AMC Javelin:

What do you think that did to the "Pierre Cardin" brand?  Suddenly licensing the Cardin name for everything under the sun, ranging from "industrial design" of cars and airplanes to apartment interiors and furniture took away the cachet and the value of that brand.  Similarly, I notice the same phenomenon happening to single malt Scotch whisky brands.

At a recent whisky festival, I attended numerous tastings by major single malt brands.  The whiskies were unexceptional.  They tasted fine with no obvious flaws, but were not exciting.  The lack of amazing and downright magical flavors I attribute, in large part, to the decision by major brands to move to no-age-statement (NAS) releases.  I think there has been a loss of quality.  Examples?  Macallan.

In the past, Macallan was a single malt brand with an exalted status.  It was expensive, but worth it.  The 12 year old was a classic sherried single malt that was a benchmark against which all other sherried single malts would inevitably be measured.  The 18 year old sherry oak was an Everest peak on the single malt landscape that was responsible for grown men having first time conversations with their souls that they never knew were possible.  The 25 was fantastic, but too costly for us lesser mortals, who only enjoyed it at festivals or when a Macallan rep would pour some if we were a really good audience.

More recently, Edrington (owners of the Macallan brand) have announced that they are slowly discontinuing the core range of 10, 12, and 15 year age statement editions while at the same time launching 1824 Series NAS releases: Gold, Amber, Sienna and Ruby.  I have tasted these precious metal and semi-precious stone libations and I have been left cold (except for the Sienna, but the price is outrageous).  What gives?  They had something good with the 12 year old, like my Pierre Cardin leisure suit, but moving to NAS bottlings is like Pierre branching out to the Javelin.  These whiskies are leaving me disappointed (except for the Sienna, but it is too damn much!).

Macallan is not the only brand going Cardin on us.  Diageo got rid of the 18 year old Johnnie Walker Gold label and moved to inferior NAS Gold and Platinum Labels.


Let's return to Macallan.  My personal theory is that the demand for Macallan has outstripped supply.  Based on limited stocks of aged whiskies in their warehouses, the age statement releases are naturally finite in annual supply.  But, if Edrington drops the requirement of an age statement, younger whiskies can be used, thereby boosting supply to meet that insatiable market demand for Macallan.  By boosting supply, I bet Edrington boosts profits too.

Profit is not a dirty word in my vocabulary.  I am all for capitalism, while flawed, it is still the best way to organize our economy.  But, I believe this pursuit of profit is impacting the quality of whiskies being produced by Edrington and other multinational drinks companies.  The deleterious affect on quality is not one that I would term dreadful or terrible, but rather a slight lowering of the bar.  The prices are still high, but the malts are not tasting as good.  Initially, sales will be strong and maybe profits, but over the long run this move to NAS allows a decrease in quality of whisky to creep in.  Please note, I am not saying that NAS automatically means mediocre whisky.  I am saying that by lifting the age requirement, the temptation to add in whiskies that are too young and much less expensive can result in a dram that once was great to one that now is about as much fun as watching golf on TV.

What Macallan should do is stick to its core business: producing great single malts.  I always think of Oban when this topic comes up.  Oban is limited in annual supply because its water comes from the local town.  It gets an allottment and when it is used up, that is the end of production.  Prices tend to stay firm and demand high.  Diageo are not launching NAS Oban and I pray they never do.  There is no need.  A great product with a loyal following means steady profits.  Maybe profits would spike for a year or two if they went the NAS route but in the long run, Diageo would damage this wonderful brand.

Ultimately, I am unconcerned because the market will correct the problem of Macallan and other brands that venture too far with NAS releases.  Just as a lot of consumers turned away from Cardin, so will a great many whisky consumers move away from high priced NAS releases in favor of other distilleries and independent bottlers that are producing higher quality products.  And, there are great NAS whiskies, but lately I am noticing they are coming from the smaller producer and independent bottlers.  In my next post, I will tell you about a great NAS release as well as an age statement single malts that I discovered being brought to market by an independent bottler that has the magic we are all seeking in our whiskies.


Jason Debly

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

A Little Humor!

I was at the pub last night with some friends.  The bartender took one look at us and pointed to this sign:


Jason Debly

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.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Review: Buchanan's "Finest Deluxe" 12 year old Blended Scotch Whisky

(please double click on the screen above for full size video)

I am always on the look out for an affordable blended Scotch whisky.  So, I thought I would try Buchanan's 12 year old.  This blend has tough competition with Johnnie Walker Black Label 12 yrs and Chivas Regal 12 yrs, so let's see how Buchanan's fairs:

"Nose" (undiluted)
Initially, I am confronted by a whiff of strong alcohol, so I push the glass away, catch my breath and make another eye-watering attempt.  This time I note some sweet grain, dandelion, malty notes too.  Not an impressive aroma coming from the glass, but given the price point I was not expecting much either.  It could still be a delight.

"Palate" (undiluted)
Sweet grains, malty, grapefruit, flat 7-Up, day old Alpenweiss wine, stale oak, before the once sweet grains take on the taste of caramelized onions, a taste that belongs in a frying pan with a steak, not in my Glencairn glass!

"Finish" (undiluted)
Stale, acrid cigarette smoke, extremely grainy lemon-lime flavored Fresca like flavors, and other over ripe citrus notes emerge.

General Impressions
Bleh!  Car sickness comes to mind or how I feel when I reach for an air sickness bag on a long air flight with lots of turbulence.

What really bothers me is the number of gold and silver medals this blend was awarded at past San Francisco World Spirits Competitions, which frankly draws into question that malt whisky arms race.  Consider how Buchanan's 12 scored in the 12 year old blended Scotch category:

2013 - Gold medal
2012 - Gold medal
2011 - Silver medal
2010 - Gold medal

If this blend can get those medals then I think I will whip up my own concoction of 7-Up, discount boxed allegedly German wine, mix with windshield washer fluid and I should be in the running too!  I mean really, this is why I started blogging about Scotch whisky in the first place.  I live to expose absurd awards for truly mediocre and subpar whiskies touted as the Second Coming in the malt world.  That, my friend is my raison d'etre!

Ridiculous Packaging Claims
I really get ticked off when I read the packaging this embalming fluid came in.

Buchanan's spiritual home is Dalwhinnie Distillery in the heart of the Scottish Highlands, the highest distillery in Scotland.  Dalwhinnie Distillery produces a gentle highland malt whisky.

The Buchanan's name and packaging stand for authenticity, quality, integrity and tradition.  The original red seal on the bottle is a guarantee of absolute quality.

Let's start with the first paragraph.  What is actually being said?  "Buchanan's spiritual home is Dalwhinnie Distillery . . ."  What defines a spiritual homeland?  I think of immigrants coming to a strange new country who end up spending a lifetime there, but in there hearts they are still deeply attached to a village outside Prague, Beijing, Mexico City, Dublin, etc.

Can a whisky have a spiritual homeland?  I suppose if the blend pays serious homage to one of the core malts that make it up, as would be the case with say Teacher's Highland Cream and say Ardmore single malt.  But, does Dalwhinnie even constitute one of the many malts that are blended with grain whiskies to make Buchanan's?  I couldn't find any evidence on the net or in many of my whiskies books stating that Dalwhinnie is in this blend.  Moreover, I cannot detect a scintilla of the signature Dalwhinnie flavor profile and character in this cheap bath water blend that could easily double as rubbing alcohol for skid row junkies at their local injection site.

So, what is the connection between Dalwhinnie and Buchanan's?  The only fact linking the two is James Buchanan was an owner of Dalwhinnie at one point.  This single malt was used in a blend he marketed "Black and White" (still available today).  Again, no mention of it in his 12 year old blend.  Spiritual home?  I guess a bad blend can aspire to taste as good as a brilliant single malt.  In short, disregard the packaging and judge the whisky by its taste, a taste that is truly unexceptional and bordering on bad, at least judging from my gag reflex.  However, it is really appropriate to consume on Halloween if you are seeking a good fright.

Jason Debly

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Review: Glenburgie Single Malt Scotch 10 years - Gordon & MacPhail

When you hear the words "Scotch whisky" you probably think "Glenlivet" or "Glenfiddich" or maybe just visualize the iconic green triangular Glenfiddich bottle. Of course, there are so many other distilleries, even ones that start with the first four letters: Glen . . . but then you draw a blank having never heard of them.

You probably have never heard of "Glenburgie," but you may actually already be familiar with it. Glenburgie is a little known Speyside distillery that produces a lot of malt whisky for some blended Scotch whiskies that are household names: Chivas Regal 12 years, Ballantine's Finest, Old Smuggler.

It is always an enjoyable exercise to try the core malts that make up famous blends to see if the malts are better on their own.

I was able to try Glenburgie because the independent bottler Gordon & MacPhail have released a 10 year old, which I picked up for the very reasonable price of $44 in Canada. In the US, you will get this much cheaper.

'Independent bottlers' are companies that typically do not own distilleries, but still manage to have a hand in bringing to market great single malts. These companies buy up stocks of surplus malt from various distilleries, age them in various casks, and then bottle when they consider the malt is at its zenith. Some of these companies do a brilliant job in this regard. Gordon & MacPhail is one of them.

By way of astute cask selection, aging in their own warehouses, Gordon & MacPhail is able to take what was a mediocre or subpar malt and transform it into an interesting and sometimes even marvelous single malt.

They have succeeded with Glenburgie 10 years.

Malty, cereal, warm apple pie.

Sweet entry of baklava/marzipan, vanilla, oatmeal with a dash of brown sugar.

Florida oranges, crisp red grape skins, lemon zest.

General Impressions
Great value for money here.  A little complexity too!  Virtually no peat or smoke, so if you are a novice whisky fan who is put off by Islay malts, rest assured Glenburgie is a traditional Speysider that will not offend. Smooth, not offensive, very quaffable malt that starts sweet but nicely transitions and become drying by time of the finish.

Highly recommended!


Jason Debly

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Review: Glenmorangie Highland Single Malt "The Original" Ten Years Old

It's summertime.  Scotch whisky or any whisky for that matter is not foremost on your mind when thinking of a refreshing libation in the humid days of July and August.  I understand where you are coming from.  Who wants a sherry bomb from Macallan, GlenDronach or Glenfarclas as you watch the mercury rise.  You have a enough heat!  Islay is not the epitome of cooling refreshment either with it's skyscraper high smoke, peat and phenolic levels that bring acid flashback-like memories of your last stay in the hospital with its gauze, stinky eucalyptus based ointments and a nurse that could have inspired a Stephen King novel.

There is another possibility: the light bodied and tasting Scotch whisky that is devoid of smoke, peat and heavy sherry.  Glenmorangie "The Original" Ten year old is such a candidate.


Nose (undiluted)
Buttercups, red grapefruit and other citrus notes, nutmeg and almonds.

Palate (undiluted)
Sweet pear juice, French vanilla ice cream, cake bread, honeyed cereal, and fresh salted pretzel.

Finish (undiluted)
Lemons, malt and a little heat that leaves a clean and tingling sensation.  There is an effervescent quality that is reminiscent of Perrier.

Price Point
This 10 year old single malt is very reasonably priced.  In the US it ranges from $29 to $39.  In Canada, $50-$59.  As for the rest of the world, I dunno, but what I do know is that this is great value for money.

Serving Suggestion
'The Original' is a very light bodied malt, and I have noticed because of that one must be mindful to put a bit of distance between your last meal and tasting this whisky.  Ideally, try to taste this three hours after your last meal so that you can really taste this delicate malt in all its splendor.  If you have a meal of spicy foods (tacos, curry, barbecued menu items, etc) your palate is roughened up.  Drink this malt afterwards and you will pick up raw alcohol and grainy notes.  Follow my advice and your drink enjoyment will significantly improve.  The alcohol and graininess is gone.

Just my theory, but I think spicy foods have a way of causing tiny abrasions to the palate which results in a deleterious affect upon one's sense of taste.  Moreover, depending up the texture and salt content, other foods can do the same.  Particularly salted mixed nuts.  Consume the nuts with your beer, but not your Scotch whiskies.

Glenmorangie 12 Nectar D'Or
Glenmorangie 'The Original' is interesting because it hints at its older brother by 2 years, the Nectar D'Or that is a great delight.  Both are light whiskies, but if you are seeking a little more depth and honeyed complexity, the next one for you to try is the Nectar D'Or.

General Impressions
Novices and newbies to single malt Scotch whisky will enjoy "The Original" because there are no offensive elements.  Newcomers to Scotch tend not to be fans of Islay whiskies and others that are heavily peated and smoked.  Newbies like honey, donuts and icing.  The honey icing donut of whisky is The Original, but in a good way.  It is sweet initially but the mid-palate introduces cake, cereal and cream before a finish that leaves a drying effervescence.

This whisky will appeal to the connoisseur in your life.  Complexity is present and the elegant, yet simple style will cause your serious whisky fan a moment of pause and contemplation that best can be summed up as "It's good!"


Jason Debly

Sunday, June 29, 2014

The Challenge of Reinventing the Whisky Review Genre

The typical whisky review starts with the writer trotting out a brief biography of a colorful founder, followed by a quaint history of the distillery, which invariably involves a fire, valiant reconstruction, and a succession of owners that reads like the biblical lineage of the House of David.  After the scintillating history lesson, the author veers, as if Stevie Wonder is behind the wheel, into a geography lecture involving an explanation of how the heather adorned landscape, peat bogs and the water running through impacts the flavor profile of the whisky, a narrative that deep down you know it is about as reliable as consulting an astrologer with respect to your love life.  Eventually, the whisky critic may move into some utterly confusing technical geek speak about the special steps in distillation and types of cask wood, which frankly, nobody cares about (other than engineers.  They always want to know how things work).  Finally, we get to the tasting note, which is where we wanted to be in the first place.

There is nothing wrong with the above convention of writing, other than it gets stale mighty quick.  I, like many others, am guilty of such fallen cake, yesterday's forgotten donut, style of whisky writing.  So, lately I've been trying to stretch the genre a little.  I will take ideas from anywhere that spur unusual approaches to a whisky review and try and run with it.  Let's introduce some yeast to the old unleavened writing recipe.

It is interesting how random thoughts lead to other random thoughts that lead to a new way to write about whisky or lead to more random thoughts that lead to very confusing and nonsensical blog posts.  My penchant for following my thoughts in absurd directions happened earlier this week when I was in my old college library (pictured above), on a noon hour to do a little work related research.  But, once in the library my mind meandered from the reason I was there to a place long ago.

For a couple of years, oh hell twenty odd years or so, basically since I was a student last, in the dark recesses of my mind, I have been haunted by a damn good poem.  No!  Not of the Andrew Dice Clay variety that were circulating my peers dorm rooms (even I have more class than that).

Back in the mid-1980's, when Belinda Carlisle was a hottie about whom I had impure thoughts, I was in the library ostensibly to write an overdue essay.  So, with the Dewey decimal call numbers of some books scrawled on a piece of paper, I and my armload of musty tomes, collapsed into a leather wingback chair in a quiet corner of the library.

Rather than crack open a book and start reading, I, a 5th degree black belt master of procrastination, noticed a couple of volumes on a little table.  The remains of some other student's abandoned essay research, no doubt.  Modern American poetry books.  And what pray tell was my interest in poetry?  Nil, nada, non, zilch, zero.  But!  It beats getting to the task at hand, namely reading some texts for my essay.

As I read, most of the poems were either too hard to understand, downright bizarre, monstrously boring, or snorefests that would cure one's dependence on Ambien.  So, what did I do?  Yes, that's right!  I kept on reading.  Finally, I stumble upon a poem that was amazing.  It's about this couple walking through a town fair.  They are young, in love, yeah it is a little sappy, but well done.  I think the poem was called "The Fair" or "Town Fair" by Katherine Anne Porter or Anne Porter.  I tried to make a mental note, and thought I will have to copy that poem down and refer to it again.

Years pass, my procrastination abilities well honed, until one day I decide to do a Google search for that poem.  The search is a failure.  I can't find the poem, and I am unsure which of the two Ms. Porters' wrote it.  But, my Google search does lead to an interesting website with a poem by Anne Porter.  The interesting little website is called the 'Poem Elf.'  The premise of the blog is quite inventive.  The lady running the site likes straightforward poetry that one can understand on the first read, and then she likes to tape hard copies of poems on trees in a park, a storefront, park bench, etc.  You see, she writes:

"Poem Elf was born out of two inclinations: I like poems and I like secret tricks. The mystery of a poem and elfin mischief come together as I loiter about until I can post these poems in secret around my mid-western city and wherever else I may be.

I am neither a poet nor a scholar. My tastes are pretty simple. I like poems I can comprehend on the first reading and understand over a lifetime. These posted poems are intended for everyone, not just for those few who own a shelf’s length of chapbooks, but also for those who last read a poem on a graduation card.

And what happens to each poem after I leave? Perhaps it lands in a trashcan, pulled down from a wall by an amused janitor; or it’s blown away from its scotch tape fastenings, picked up by a bird, and woven expertly into a nest; or raked into a leaf pile and composted, helping things grow in a different way than I had intended; or shoved in a back pocket, forgotten, and balled up in the wash; or, my best hope, tucked in a stranger’s wallet, pulled out from time to time, each reading bringing an expansion of sorts, each reading taken in like a drink to quench the deep thirst we all have for meaning and beauty

What an inventive way to promote poetry and enjoy that fine hobby!

So, the Poem Elf got me thinking that maybe there is space in this world for even more elfin mischief: Whisky Elf!  I could print off some tasting notes of various whiskies, armed with masking tape, post them in secret around my town.  You know, I could visit the local park and tape my tasting note of  Highland Park 18yrs to a tree, and maybe the note would resonate with someone and they would go buy a bottle, read the note as they tasted it.  Maybe I could post a tasting note of Oban 14 years in a retail garden center, maybe on the pot of peonies, or on the windshield of a car at a dealership and the customer would take the note, buy a bottle and be as enthused as I.  Or maybe the customer would call the police, claiming this public enemy number one is promoting alcohol among our youth.  An investigation of public mischief and charges of crimes against the public morals would be laid.  The criminal inquiry would start with determining who are the usual suspects that would create such a public disturbance and corrupt the morals of the local population?  Hmm the coppers would think . . . who could it be?  Before I know it, I would find myself, in a basement interrogation room with a naked light bulb paired with a lone mosquito buzzing around it while a burly officer, who looked like he walked off the label of a bottle of Beefeater Gin, would stare at me with folded arms.  With his first question, I'd collapse like a folding chair at the beach into a fevered confession.  At sentencing, the judge would shut this blog down, I would lose my job and be the scourge (okay, a bigger scourge) of my local town, that would prove once and for all that my community is indeed dripping in Victorian drool.

So, I abandoned the idea of being the "Whisky Elf" of my town, having followed the logic of my above noted random thoughts.  Instead, I will continue to just write with elfin attitude, and a mind attuned to new possibilities as to how to bring more people into contact with whisky.  Whether it be a conversation with Big Bird in Central Park or me acting as a commentator of a whisky death match, just remember, I am trying to stretch and reinvent the whisky writing genre in an effort to bring more people into our little world.


Jason Debly

Copyright © Jason Debly, 2009-2015. All rights reserved except for photograph of the poem "Whistlers." That photograph was taken from the Poem Elf website and here is a link to that great post.  The anonymous Poem Elf holds all copyright, world rights and moral rights in that image.  I just use it here as I consider it 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.  I have contacted the Poem Elf for her permission to reproduce the image here. 

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Review: Glenfiddich 15 year old 'Distillery Edition' Single Malt Scotch

Glenfiddich 15 year old 'Distillery Edition' is the result of a master blender's decision to combine ex-bourbon casks with ex-Oloroso sherry casks, which have been aged for a minimum of 15 years, and bottled at the sky high ABV of 51%.  No open flames near this bottle please.  Actually, you would expect that one could spontaneously combust given such a high level ABV, but this malt is surprisingly drinkable.  I wouldn't call it "smooth," but rather very vibrant and a wee little astringent at times.  But, more about that later.

This bottling I believe was first released around 2010 into the Duty Free shop network and also sold at the distillery.  Two years later, distribution expanded to conventional brick and mortar liquor stores.  It finally made its way to my humble spirits emporium.

Nose (undiluted)
Strong notes of grapefruit, exotic citrus, pineapple and wood.

Palate (undiluted)
Powerful, bursting with blackberry flavor, deep caramel, spiced orange peel, black pepper.

Finish (undiluted)
Black pepper, malt, salt and oak.

At 51% ABV I really think the addition of water is a must.  How much is open to your personal tastes, but my suggestion is have a single pour, and add 1/4 of a teaspoon of water.

The water really opens this whisky up.  The flavors of sherry become much more textured, velvety, 3-D if you will.  Here is my tasting note with a little water added:

Nose (diluted)
Water brings out much more friendly scents of sherry and vanilla.  Peat and sea air become present.

Palate (diluted)
Velvety and interestingly textured sherry flavors emerge.  The American oak bourbon casks contribute a creamy oak note, which is a nice counterpoint to the sherry.

Finish (diluted)
Drying across the palate with dark red fruits like strawberry and black grapes, malt, salt and wee black pepper.  Some smoke emerges now that was hidden when consumed neat.

General Impressions

Glenfiddich 15 year old 'Distillery Edition' is a perplexing malt.  You can see my enthusiasm with this malt in the above video, but I must say that it took me a while to figure out how to best enjoy this spirit.  Unlike some Scotch whiskies that are mind blowing from the get-go, this particular malt let's you know from the start it is good, but you might not think it is incredible or going to make your top ten favorites list.  Why?  Because it is hard to judge how much water to add such that you unlock the complexity.  Too much agua and you could risk over-dilution and end up with a taste akin to strawberry sorbet.  So, the challenge for you is find the proper amount of water that brings the sherry notes to their zenith.  I know because you are reading this post that you are up to that challenge.

Target Audience
I would not recommend buying this single malt as a gift for the newbie or casual single malt consumer because of the 51% ABV.  Buy this for a friend who may think that Glenfiddich is just the 12 year old release and therefore can't be any good.  Prove them wrong.

Distillery Edition vs. Solera
Some people may also wonder how this single malt stacks up against the 15 year old Solera release by Glenfiddich.  My answer would be that these are two very different single malts.  The Solera is pears that are drizzled with wild honey, vanilla, and white chocolate.  Light as a rainbow and almost as elusive.  Meanwhile the 'Distillery Edition' is very robust and a sherry biased malt.  If you like GlenDronach 12 years or 15 years, you will certainly enjoy this punchy malt.  Fans of Glenfarclas will also enjoy the 'Distillery Edition.'  Are you a Macallan 12 fan who places all your praise on the smoothness of that sherried tour-de-force single malt?  If so, you may not be as excited about the 'Distillery Edition.'  You might find the DE too coarse.

If you like Glenkinchie 12, Linkwood, Cragganmore, Auchentoshan and other lighter bodied, honeyed and delicate tasting whiskies, then the Solera will be your preference over the Distillery Edition.

Until next time, I remain your faithful friend in whisky.


Jason Debly 

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Review: Islay Mist 17 years Blended Scotch Whisky

I am a bit eccentric, weird, peculiar, bizarre, outlandish and down right abnormal at times, and the aforementioned characterizations are reflected in my affection to walk endlessly in the rain.

While everyone else hides from a great cloudburst in their comfy dry homes, fluorescent bright shopping malls, plexi-glass bus shelters, under an umbrella, under a train bridge or whatever, my pulse quickens as I venture out into Mother Nature's deluge without even the simplest of secular head gear (ie. ball cap, rain hat, hood or even yesterday's newspaper).  A rain forest grade downpour coupling with Mount Everest-esque winds means icy rain pelting my face like mini-daggers, more stinging than my worst bout of teenage acne, and in spite of all that She may mete out, my mood remains bouyant.

I amble up honking yellow cab congested wet asphalt streets, through grassy parks, cross misty slate gray business districts, down leafy residential lanes, via ethnic pockets filled with specialized grocery stores, to explore bad areas, good areas, Georgian college campuses and tugboat adorned waterfronts.  These jaunts usually take place in unfamiliar cities like Newport, Vancouver or Seattle that I travel to for work or happen to be in as a bumbling tourist.  You are thinking why?  Why get drenched?

Why?  It's all about the reward.  I walk for hours, usually after some painfully slow, death-by-PowerPoint morning seminar that makes watching my white gym tube socks bounce around in the dryer a riveting experience.  I skip the lunch with the self-important bobbleheads in blue chalk stripe suits, black Chanel power skirts and the mandatory corporate jewelry of a crackberry in one hand and a twirling Mont Blanc pen in the other.   Instead, I head out in search of a falafel street vendor or a spicy Thai noodle cart.  After a lengthy urban hike that can take all a rainy afternoon has to give, I arrive back at the hotel, exhausted, drenched and chilled to the bone.  'Tis a condition that can only be cured by a hot shower and a warming single drink of whisky, but only one (otherwise you can easily get carried away and end up playing bouncy castle on a king size bed with a couple of college age escorts à la Charlie Sheen).

Where was I?  Oh yeah, just one drink.  The one and only dram is magical.  Physically spent, my mind, Tibetan-monk clear, having frittered the afternoon away thinking about utterly nothing, the whisky is warming to my body and gray matter, leaving me with a nice peaceful blissed-out feeling, but as I said, I stop at one!  This is my reward.  What a great reward it is!  I could be sipping Johnnie Walker Red or Macallan 18 and I think, in such a state, both would make me equally happy.  Simple pleasures are to be found in nearly any whisky after a long walk.

So, recently I was on one such extended mid-afternoon saunter, but sans any precipitation.  The day was just plain cold, windy and gray.  I was making my way back to the Plaza Hotel, when I made a celebrity sighting.

"Are you Big Bird?"

"Who's askin'?"

"Jason Debly," I moronically sputtered.

"Where ya from?"


"Canada?  Toronto?"

"No.  It's a big country."

"Do you know Casey and Finnegan?"

"I know of them, but no, not personally."

"What are you doing here?"

"Just out for a walk.  On my way back to the hotel."

"What's in the bag?"  Big Bird motioned with his massive hand or was it technically a claw?

"Scotch.  I picked up a bottle today."

"What is it?"

"You drink?"

"Listen Mountie, I am off-duty pal.  You can chill-lax."

I pulled it out of the bag.  Islay Mist 17 years.

"Any good?"

"Dunno.  Haven't tried it yet.  I do reviews on a blog."

"A blog?  You review whisky?"


"Well, how about a review right now?"


"No.  Next Christmas."

"I guess I could.  Aren't there laws against open liquor in public?"  My eyes darted nervously around to make sure there were no cops on horses conducting surveillance on suspicious park characters talking to suspicious Sesame Street characters.

"Trudeau, we're in New York.  No Laws are broken until you get caught.  Cm'on pull the cork on this one.  Gimme a review.  I'm thirsty."

Without a Glencairn glass, I resorted to taking a sniff of the bottle, in order to nose the spirit.

"On the nose, it is exhibiting salt air, damp forest notes, briny sea water, gentle smoke."

I tilt the bottle and take a sip.  "This is smooth, malty/minty with some sherry hidden in the background.  But, make no mistake, this is an Islay blend.  Gentle salt and iodine balance perfectly with some easy peat, blackened wood smoke and ash notes.  A great place for a novice whisky enthusiast to start to learn the Islay flavor profile."

Big Bird cocks his head a little to the left and asks,  "what about the finish?"

I sit down next to him on the park bench.  "The finish?  Do you drink whisky?"

"Do I drink whisky?"  His famously high pitched voice sputtered with the disgust of a hippie getting frisked by security at a Phish concert.  "I know more about whisky than you and your Toronto Maple Leafs whisky blog ever could.  Animal got me into Islay Mist ages ago.  We also did a lot of Jack Daniels Ol' Number 7 with Van Halen back in the day, till Animal got wasted and puked on David Lee Roth's suede leopard print sofa and pulled the rocker's wig off.  The heavy metal Goldilocks was a wussy, called the cops and Animal got tossed in the clink.  And, that night all started with a bottle of Islay Mist, not JD."  He paused and then exhaled rhetorically a final time,  "Do I know whisky?"

"Yes, the finish," I said quickly.  I took another pull and contemplated it for a moment before finally swallowing and added,  "Sweet peat, very slight sherry and an ashy finale."

"Pretty good, eh?"  Big Bird eyed a cooing Morning Dove sitting in a weeping willow tree.

"Yeah, but too expensive for what you get and lacking in complexity.  I would expect a 17 year old blend to have more character.  I can't really taste much difference between this and Islay Mist 8 years.  Islay Mist 8 is a little flatter, but not by much and a third of the cost.  Plus you could buy Bowmore 12,  Laphroaig Quarter cask and Ardbeg 10 for less."

"It's a seventeen year old blend.  What beauty!  You gotta taste of Laphroaig, softened by sweet grain and Speyside whiskies.  Probably some Highland Malt in there too.  Your generation want it all.  In the 1970's, a time of no bicycle helmets, sunscreen, seat-belts and helicopter parents, whisky was rough!  Real rough.  We would die for a smooth one, and now we have it and your generation whimper it is too smooth and lacking in complexity.  WTF?  Hand that bottle over to me," the 8 foot tall, winged and yellow feathered giant demanded.

The Morning Dove seemed to coo affirmatively for me to do so.  I meekly complied.

He pounded back a fairly big measure I thought, but then again he is a giant, at over eight feet and several hundred pounds.  I was not objecting.  It started to drizzle and he lightened up a bit.  Told me he flew the coop at a young age, as his mom did not have much of a nesting instinct.  Near the bottom of the bottle, he handed it back to me, I had a final pull.  It was empty.

"Let's leave the bottle on the bench.  One of the rummies will find it and take it to recycle.  It will buy them a donut."

I didn't argue with his charitable gesture.

Jason Debly

Copyright © Jason Debly, 2009-2014. All rights reserved. Any and all use is prohibited without permission, except for the photo of Big Bird and Animal.  I found those on the internet, but cannot determine who was the photographer or who holds copyright and/or moral rights with respect to them.  If you know the proper photo credits, please let me know so I can give credit.  In any case, these photos 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.  I am the photographer of the Islay Mist bottle on the park bench just as Big Bird left it.  Cheers!

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Review: Old Grand-Dad Bonded 100 Proof Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey

Think of your Granddad.  What kind of a man was he?  He was probably a lot like mine.

My Grandfather was James "Jimmy" Mooney and he was a professional boxer from 1940 - 1960.  He was tough and principled (more about the prinicipled part later).  His record was 185 fights, 175 wins (151 KO's), 8 losses, 2 draws.  With a record like that he drew the attention of the American boxing scene.  In the 1940's he moved his family from New Brunswick to Boston and signed with a promoter of some note, Angelo Dundee.

In Boston he fought a number of boxers, but there was one named Beau Jack, that proved to be a turning point for my Grandfather's career.  Jimmy Mooney defeated Jack in a bout that everyone thought would go the other way.  The victory for Jimmy attracted New York promoters who wanted him to go to NYC.  Bigger fights and bigger purses.  One NYC promoter offered him a $12,000 purse for one fight.

Granddad wanted to go to NYC and make the big money, but his promoter, Dundee, had him under contract.  Dundee would not let him go (probably because it would mean Granddad would sign with another promoter).  Jimmy didn't go to NYC.

I asked my mother why and she said because in those days, "A deal was a deal.  Your Grandfather felt he had signed a contract that prevented him from going to NYC."

"He probably could have broken it and there was little they could have done about it," I replied in typical lawyerly weasel speak.

But, then I imagined how my Grandfather would have reacted to such advice.  He wouldn't say anything.  Just silently dismiss the idea, as he leaned back in his brown leather lazy-boy, and stared out the picture window with his piercing blue eyes.  His silence would speak more than any words could.  I know he would have ignored any such advice from a lawyer.  Matter of fact, he did not consult one.

Needless to say, he and Dundee had a falling out and he moved his family from Boston back to New Brunswick.  His boxing career petered out pretty much after that.  However, Beau Jack would go on to become  a world champion, and headline at Madison Square Garden 21 times, a record that still stands to this day.  Sadly, Beau Jack's post-boxing career life would be one of poverty, and because of such meager circumstances, he decided to lobby hard for a pension scheme for retired boxers.  He was also a principled man.

When I drink Old Grand-Dad Kentucky Straight Bourbon whiskey, the above thoughts preoccupy my mind.  Old Grand-Dad is truly old school.  The dominant trend in bourbon, as of late, is to be smooth, gentle, and flavored, but above all, approachable/easy-drinking.  Bourbon is becoming a drink raised by frat boys and used as a base in cocktails for college girls.  Not necessarily a bad thing, but far from where bourbon once started.  If you are at all nostalgic or want a taste of what it once was, I think Old Grand-Dad is a good place to start.

Nose (undiluted)
Rich corn, rye, oranges, subtle vanilla.

Palate (undiluted)
Sweet corn quickly chased by very spicy rye, which turns to cinnamon and cloves.

Finish (undiluted)
Drying yet there is an element of limestone water.  Some heat too.  That's the old school burn coming through, but it is somehow pleasant.  The final and lasting flavor is distinctly ginger and slightly acrid.  Medium length.

100 Proof
At 50% alc/vol you can well imagine there is quite a bit of kick to this bourbon, and you would be right.  So, adding a little water is by all means understandable.  In fact encouraged.  Ice is an option too.

Adding water will tame the heat, and make it more palatable to those accustomed to a smoother whisky.  The judicious use of water will bring out vanilla notes.

Ice?  Yeah, I have done it and I do not have hair on my palms.  Do not be embarrassed.  Everyone does it.  Toss a couple of ice cubes in a tumbler with a good measure of Old Grand-Dad and you have a drink that becomes very pleasant as the ice melts.

I have had this bottle open for several months and the flavor profile has been completely unaffected by oxidation.  I find that a lot of high ABV whiskeys are more resilient than their lower ABV counterparts, and Old Grand-Dad is no exception.

Price Point
Regular price hovers around $20.  I stole a bottle in New Hampshire for the fire sale price of $14.95!  Value for money here in a very big way!

The mashbill of this bourbon is reportedly 27% rye.  Most mashbills of bourbon have a rye component of nearly 50% less.  A high-rye mashbill makes for a bourbon that will be spicy.  In the case of this particular bourbon, the high-rye mashbill makes it very gingery on the finish.  I am ok with it, but some readers may find it a bit too much and off-putting.

I think this is not a bourbon for the novice whiskey enthusiast.  They will likely find the flavors and heat are too much, even with the addition of water.  For the whiskey newbie or the enthusiast who prefers a tamer flavor profile, yet experience the old time bourbon style, he or she should consider the standard bottling of Old Grand-Dad.  I reviewed it a year ago and really liked it.  It was not as hot, wild and gingery as the 100 proof version.  Unfortunately, Beam Global has has reduced the standard version's ABV from 43% to 40%, and so my review of a year ago is less of a guide than it could be.  I still hear it is a good drop.  It still, I am sure, has much of the unique character.

For those of you who like Knob CreekWild Turkey 101, and other high proof, powerful, robust style bourbons, then I think you will really enjoy Old Grand-Dad 100 proof.

My Recommendation?
Personally, I find Old Grand-Dad 100 proof, served neat, a little too powerful for my liking.  Frankly, it is a guilty pleasure that I enjoy best with ice.  Yes, ice!  I like to toss two good size ice cubes, give it a moment to melt, and then sip.

At $14.95 to $20 a bottle, it is well worth the money.  Is it the greatest of bourbons?  Of course not!  In spite of the great price and worthwhile drink experience, when shopping for even a $20 bottle of bourbon, I will probably gravitate to something a little gentler like the standard bottle version at 40% abv.  This probably reflects my affection for the easy-going, gentle bourbons like Four Roses and Basil Hayden's 8 yrs.  At least that is how I feel as of late.  Of course, when I wrote the Basil Hayden review, I was whining that it did not have enough kick.  Once again, I am a mass of contradictions.

Old Fashion Values?
My Grandfather rarely drank.  Usually at Christmas or other holidays only.  He would have a small tumbler of Black Velvet or other cheap Canadian whisky.  For him, it was a treat, and therefore, he sipped it neat or with a little water, but always sparingly.

Old Grand-Dad is a whisky that I think demands to be treated in the same way.  It is strong drink and insists of you to take the tiniest of sips.  You will be rewarded with an explosion of flavors that are at first spicy, mouthwatering before becoming quite dry on the finish.  I understand that in its infancy, bourbon was such a drink.  Powerful, rough, and not capable of being drunk like soda.  Grampa believed in moderation and Old Grand-Dad demands it from you from the very first sip!


Jason Debly