Thursday, June 11, 2020

Scotch Review: Cragganmore Distiller's Edition

Most people know I am an eccentric with a wide variety of eclectic interests and fixations, none of which are lucrative.  Life coaches say: make millions following your passion in life!  If I did that I would have a closet full of Saville Row bespoke clothes, every New Yorker magazine cover framed, all coffee table books devoted to Frank Lloyd Wright's Fallingwater, and a bank account far in the red.

Like the eyes of a cat fixed upon a bird chirping in a tree, my focus is often upon the weighty matter of good whisky.  And so, at whisky festivals, line-ups at the bank, grocery stores, and anywhere else I happen to be, the most common question I get is:

What scotch do you recommend?

Without knowing anything about the person, other than the fact that they have no inkling of what they like, I respond authoritatively with the  zeal of a megawatt smiling YouTube life coach:

Cragganmore 12 year old.  Try it.  If you don't like it, I will buy the bottle from you.

Money back guarantee always seals the deal!  And you know what?  I have never had to buy a bottle yet.  You see, Cragganmore 12 is what I regard as the gateway drug of the single malt world.  This Speyside malt with loads of honey, caramel, marzipan, the incredible lightness of clouds with a touch of smoke and a wee pinch of peat delivers satisfaction and that Day Tripper hook, that reels you back for one more sip.  Works every time!  So, when I spied the Cragganmore Distiller's Edition on the shelf at the store of my local purveyor of incredible lightness of being, I had to have it.

Now, I need to have a word with you about distiller's editions.  When these are released it is usually a new twist upon the standard malt offering of the distillery.  Often I have thought some distiller's editions are distiller's disappointment.  The higher priced DE fails to impress and often just falls flat.  The ABV is not even higher and chill filtration is still going on.  So, what am I paying extra for?  A different label and slightly different casks used?

So, I also had some trepidation when I purchased the Cragganmore Distiller's Edition (distilled in 2007 and bottled in 2019).

Cragganmore 'The Distiller's Edition'

Distilled in 2007.

Bottled in 2019.

Closure
Cork Stopper.

ABV
40%

Chill Filtration?
Yes.

Artificial Color?
Yes.

Wood Management
Here is the twist, what you are paying for: aging in port casks for an unknown period of time.  I like port finishes, so here's hopin'.

Price
About 25% higher than the standard 12 year old release.

Nose (undiluted)
Fruit forward, raspberries, strawberries, very floral too, roses?

Palate (undiluted)
Spicy, rich red liquorice, velvety texture, full mouth feel, big body, weighty, black grapes, orange peel and a complex tapestry of caramel and maple sugar.

Finish (undiluted)
Medium length balsamic vinegar, pears, port wine, and a dusting of smoked almonds.

General Impressions
Wow!  In spite of an ABV of 40%, this tastes heavier and more complex.  Complexity abounds in the warm almond/cashew and maple sugar profile with a little smoke.  Not too sweet.  Such balance.  I am really impressed.  So impressed, I bought a second bottle.

I always seem to gravitate to whiskies with a port finish and this whisky is no exception.  It is less heavy on the port notes than say Glenmorangie's Quinta Ruban, and instead offers a delicate/more complex port finish.

This bottle is a testament to how chill filtration and the use of distiller's caramel do not diminish the magic in a bottle.

Highly recommended!



Cheers!



Jason Debly

Tuesday, May 12, 2020

Rum Review: Goslings Family Reserve Old Rum


On the inside cover of the packaging, the pictured above tale is told of how a young man, son of a wine and spirits merchant, ended up in Bermuda, instead of America.  Mr. Gosling explored the island, and finding no one selling wine and spirits, decided to set up shop.  He astutely recognized that sailors do like a drink now and then.  His descendants expanded into rum, which is now the principal offering of the company bearing his surname.

A word should be said about the Goslings rum of Bermuda.  It is not actually distilled on the island.  This company imports rums from Barbados, Jamaica and Trinidad.  The imported rum is aged in ex-bourbon casks (and possibly other types of wood casks), and then blended according to recipe.  So, think of Goslings' enterprise as one of aging and blending rum for sale, as opposed to being a distiller.  Nothing wrong with that.  Goslings are to rum what independent bottlers like Hart Brothers are to Scotch whisky.  Just thought you should know.  A lot of incorrect claims on the internet state Goslings distill rum on Bermuda.  Not true.

About six years ago, I encountered this rum and really enjoyed it.  It came in a wooden box with straw.  I was a little skeptical of the quality of the rum given the extravagant packaging, but it proved to be an excellent sipping rum.  The packaging has changed.  In 2018, they switched to a box with a cover that flips open to reveal the story and the bottle.  I want to know if the rum has changed a little also from the last time I had it.

Catergory
Premium Rum.

Closure
Silicone/plastic cork.

ABV
40%

Age Statement
None.  I have not been able to locate any reliable source as to the approximate age of rums, but I would say based on my taste test that there are some older rums in the blend that I would guess in the 8-10 year vicinity.

Price
Expensive (e.g. $75)

Wood Management
Again, not a lot of verifiable information on what types of casks used in the aging of the rum.  But, charred ex-bourbon casks is one for sure.

Artificial Color?
German law requires the disclosure of the use of artificial color (E150a) in spirits.  So, I visited the Frankfurt Duty Free Shopping website and it states E150a is present for color consistency.


Nose (undiluted)
Brown sugar!!  Sweet cherries, melted caramel, chocolate, vanilla and oak.

Palate (undiluted)
Sweet and spicy nip of brown sugar, caramel, aged molasses, specialty root beer, black cherries, cream, Ethiopian coffee, syrupy and cognac like.

Finish (undiluted)
Long but still sweet, milk chocolate, fudge and treacle abound.

General Impressions
Goslings Family Reserve Old Rum is definitely an aged rum.  Lots of older rums in the blend dominate more youthful ones, which contributes to a rich, smooth and luxuriant experience.  So, no bite, no nastiness whatsoever.  Definitely an easy sipper.  Principal flavors are brown sugar, caramel, some spices and with a little drying note of cranberry on the finish.  In two words, this rum is: brown sugar.

Criticisms?  Very few, but for me, I find this rum a little too sweet.  However, one should bear in mind that I am a whisky fan and not an expert by any means in rums, but this rum is on the sweeter side, such that two drams would be enough before I would have to move on to something else.  Rum, like Cognac, will be sweeter than say Scotch in general, but even among rums that are sweet, this one pushes that envelope a bit in my opinion.

When I had a bottle about 6 years ago, I recall the Old Rum being much drier and complex.  It is slightly sweeter now and smoother, two features that detract from complexity.  Presently, Goslings Family Reserve Old Rum is not what I would describe as exhibiting much complexity.  That said, this is a fine rum and if you have a sweet tooth, do consider this the next time you visit your spirits merchant and seek something other than Scotch.

Best,


Jason Debly

Friday, April 17, 2020

Rum Review: Ron Zacapa 23 Solera Gran Reserva

COVID-19 has forced so many of us into a sequestered existence.  For me, it's a challenge because I'm like a dog: I run in packs.  Usually a couple mutts come over on Friday nights, and we have a few laughs watching bad hair minstrels like Mötley Crüe, Dio and Ratt on YouTube, accompanied by old college era hounds: Teacher's and Chivas.  As the bottle levels recede, tiffs and even arguments erupt over who is the better axeman: Eddie Van Halen or Randy Rhoads?  That's Friday night.

Saturday night, I and my Significant Other might entertain her friends.  I do my best to make a witty observation regarding the latest Trump inspired cover art of the New Yorker, and on cue, lament the passing of Maria Callas in a hushed voice, quivering with sadness, over some Russian River Valley chardonnay.  "Damn that Onassis!  If only he had married her and not Jackie," my guest opines as she reaches for another Carr's cracker adorned with a dash of cream cheese, smoked salmon and a caper, while her billowing tiger-print blouse sleeve stealthily avoids grazing the adjacent hummus bowl.

Well, COVID-19 has dispersed my various dog packs, and now I am alone with my thoughts, fears, introspection and bouts of melancholia, as I watch Whitesnake's David Coverdale wail in my basement, and simultaneously even miss those Saturday night cultural jousts with my neighbourhood Bengal tiger.

This semi-monastic lifestyle of mine has caused me to search my soul for meaning.  And after much thought, I have concluded I am intolerant and somewhat bigoted in my views on whisky.  Deep down, I am just convinced that Scotland produces the finest.  If we leave the whisky category entirely and venture into say rum, well, I am really challenged in my views.  So, in an effort to be more inclusive and tolerant, I am going to expand my pack by doing a number of rum reviews.

Ron Zacapa Centenario Sistema 23 Solera Gran Reserva
I have readers on here and viewers on my YouTube channel that occasionally suggest I review Ron Zacapa rums.  In particular, this 'Sistema 23 Solera Gran Reserva.'  I don't know much about rum other than those made from sugar cane tend to be a helluva lot better than their counterparts whose origins are molasses.  This particular Ron Zacapa rum has some promise before I open the bottle because it starts as a first pressing of sugar cane from southern Guatemala.  This sugar cane juice is then fermented using a proprietary strain of pineapple yeast, and distilled in copper-lined column stills.  After distillation, the rum is aged using a 'Solera' process.  Here is where my confusion begins.

Guatemala was a Spanish colony at one time and though it is now independent, the motherland left its imprint in the culture and life of the country that continues to this day.  This Ron Zacapa was launched in 1976 and by the 1990's the label started to use the word 'Solera' on it.  This term refers to a process of aging and blending rum.  Originally, it was a process used by Spaniards with respect to aging and blending of sherry.

Solera System Explained
Imagine rows of barrels or casks, stacked five or so levels high, and rum drained from the ground level casks is the oldest, and the empty space in the cask is replaced with rum from the cask of the row above.  Meanwhile, as the oldest rums are bottled by draining the floor level barrels, more young rum, fresh out of the still is poured into top row barrels.  This is the purported Solera system, but from what I have read, the term is used very loosely meaning the actual aging and blending of rum may not be adhering to Spanish tradition.  I read one rum expert said he had never seen a Solera system employed at any distillery as described above.  So, who knows what the truth is.  Anyhow, you and I now have some understanding of what Ron Zacapa wants you to believe.  I suspect the use of the Solera term is more marketing than fact.

Wood Management
Ex-bourbon, ex-sherry and ex- Pedro Ximenez casks to varying degrees are used.

Age Statement
None.  But, a visit to the website and a careful read of the label indicates that the rums making up this product range in age from 6-23 years.  A casual consumer might think this is a 23 year old rum.  That would be a mistake.  The use of the number 23 is a little deceptive I think (I am sure this statement will continue to prevent me from ever getting a brand ambassador job!).

Closure
Cork.

ABV
40%

Price
Not bad.  More expensive than standard rums for sure, but not outrageous.

Nose (undiluted)
Vanilla, cocoa, dark wood, varnish, dried orange peel.

Palate (undiluted)
Rounded, sweet entry of cocoa, old burnished wood, butterscotch, melted caramel, bruised tangerines, and Christmas cake.

Finish (undiluted)
Slight zing of brown sugar, warm sugared California raisins, deep white oak and cinnamon lingers.

General Impressions
This rum has complexity.  A lot of flavours are competing for dominance, ranging from vanilla, cocoa to some French roast black coffee.  It's a good rum for sure and I think, in general, people will like it.  For example, I am thinking newbies to sipping rum.  Why?  Because its sweet.  Sweetness is present all the way through the drinking experience with little variation.  While the sweetness is what will make this rum very popular with undoubtedly the younger drinker, I do think this attribute does detract also from another wise fine rum.

I would like this rum to have been a bit dryer.  Dry and spicy it is not.  It is sweet, rounded with notes of caramel, molasses and fruit cake.  A well made rum for sure, but not one that I could have more than two drams at a sitting as its a bit too sweet for me.  I am sure my wife's friends would enjoy this as a nice, fireside digestif following dinner to accompany and enhance discussion of that scoundrel, alpha dog, Aristotle Onassis.



Ruff! Ruff!



Jason Debly

P.S.  Now that you suffered through that long review, here is the snappy 8 minute video review.  Just doing my part to encourage literacy in a world with the attention span of a bumble bee:  

Sunday, April 5, 2020

Rum Review: Mount Gay XO Reserve Cask Rum

Generally, I am not a huge rum drinker because I find it a little too sweet for my liking.  Nevertheless, as you know, there are always exceptions to every rule.  Mount Gay XO is such an exception.

This rum is drier than most.  The master blender and his team have really produced a rum here that is different.  So, with that being said, let's delve into the basic stats of this spirit and then check it out in the glass.

Region
Barbados

Age Statement
None.  The website tells us Mount Gay XO is a blend of aged rums ranging from 8 to 15 years.  The 'XO' means 'extra old.'

ABV
43%

Closure
Cork stopper.

Distillery
Mount Gay Distillery is the oldest official rum distillery in the world, established in 1703.

Nose (undiluted)
Bananas, old leather jacket, stewed prunes, English cream, spiced oak, hints of sherry-like notes.

Palate (undiluted)
Warm, out of the oven, creme brûlée; melted caramel, cocoa, even some Nestle Quick powder and light banana. Molasses on pancakes, a sprinkling of cinnamon.

Finish (undiluted)
The sugar cane sweetness of the mid-palate transitions by the time of the finish.  Once gone from the palate, you are left with  sustained, dusty notes of baker's chocolate, with a sprinkling of sage, rosemary and thyme.

General Impressions
This rum is impressive.  The price point is affordable.  You could spend a lot more for purported 'premium' rums and end up with a lot less.  This is a very dry rum that delivers a lot of complexity by the time you reach the finish.  Well balanced, never hot or offensive, it's a real delight.

Give it a whirl my friend.  It will deliver!

Best,


Jason Debly

Creme brûlée's photo credit: Craig Lee for the New York Times.  Use of photo here is purely for illustrative/educational purposes only in accordance with the 'fair use' principle of copyright law.

Sunday, March 22, 2020

Whisky Thoughts in Coronavirus Times

Downtown Fredericton, New Brunswick


Empty are the elm tree lined streets of Fredericton where the only sound is the wind, at times, shrill like a wartime London air raid siren.  Unlit storefronts, empty mud parking lots, deserted Victorian houses converted into government offices, and a silent Saturday morning market is all that remains of this once bustling college town.

These March gusts portended an enemy invasion of my hometown: COVID-19.  This infectious interloper arrived one, otherwise, ordinary day.  Even here in this tiny township, the coronavirus has breached our defences and attacked two people on the university campus, where red brick Georgian architecture took hold and never let go.

I still have a job, still get paid, but I know so many people around me who have no money coming in because their job is gone, as one business after another is shut down by the insidious onslaught of this horribly virulent intruder.  Everyone needs a job and has financial obligations to meet.  I really feel for the unemployed, and if this goes on too long, I may be joining their ranks.  These are times of fear and economic devastation not seen since the Great Depression.  I now understand my great uncle Arthur's distrust of banks, his avoidance of debt of any kind and paying for everything in cash.  The Great Depression scarred him forever.

We all know the real threat of COVID-19 is more than just economic, it threatens our lives.  It's all to easy to slide into a state of fear and paranoia that brings out the worst in all of us like hoarding and snitching on neighbours.  We may lose our jobs, money and endure calamitous financial hardships, but more important is our health and protecting the lives of loved ones, yours and mine. We must be vigilant in maintaining social isolation from others, washing our hands and all the health recommendations from our government's public health branch.

British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, May 13th, 1940.








But, most of all, we must remember that we will get through this.  There will be better days ahead.  In this time, I often think about Winston Churchill during WWII and his absolute refusal to surrender to his own fears, but insisted that the heinous pestilence Hitler represented would be defeated.  In WWII there were no winners in terms of human suffering.  All civilian populations of Europe suffered horribly, whether they be German, French, British or whoever.  London was bombed with terrible consequences, but so too were the Germans (e.g. Dresden '45), the Japanese (e.g. Hiroshima & Nagasaki, 1945), and everyone else held in the cruel grip of war.  But, all those nations rebuilt and while many died, many survived and lived to see another day.

On May 13th, 1940, Winston Churchill addressed the wartime House of Commons of the Parliament of the United Kingdom:

"We have before us an ordeal of the most grievous kind. We have before us many, many long months of struggle and of suffering. You ask, what is our policy? I will say: It is to wage war, by sea, land, and air, with all our might and with all the strength that God can give us; to wage war against a monstrous tyranny never surpassed in the dark, lamentable catalogue of human crime. That is our policy. You ask, what is our aim? I can answer in one word: It is victory, victory at all costs, victory in spite of all terror, victory, however long and hard the road may be."

You and I also have to wage war against COVID-19 by sea, land and air.  Do your best and remember  Churchill persevered because he would never surrender.  You and I must do the same!



Take care,



Jason