In our experience, scotch whisky has long been the domain of men, with most of the women we know wrinkling their noses and opting for something that's not such a chore for them to drink. That's why it's refreshing to see this book, The Smart Guide to Single Malt Scotch Whisky, appear from author Elizabeth Riley Bell. Not only is she one of the first Americans to take a poke at making single malt scotch accessible, she's also one of the first women (though you probably figured that out by our use of the feminine pronoun).
According to our brothers from another mother at CocktailGoGo, Bell has "...been to over 100 distilleries over 25 summers to put together this compendium of Scotch knowledge." That's a lot of knowledge, and we're excited to check out her book.
The folks over at Topless Robot have gotten their hands on a bottle of Highland Park whisky called "Thor." They mention that it feels like a pretty obvious cash-in on the popularity of The Avengers, but we're big enough geeks that we find ourselves secretly hoping it's a reference to Starcraft's Thors. Maybe that's just because we like to picture ourselves piloting a giant mech while cradling a bottle of scotch.
The smell is smooth, earthy and sweet. The taste is likewise smooth, but with smoky hints of vanilla, a touch of honey, and a soft peatiness -- but it's still powerful, with a strong, clear finish with just enough spiciness that one might be tempted to liken to a powerful blow from Mjolnir if one were so inclined. If you think I'm ashamed for writing that, you're wrong -- because that's seriously the image that comes into my head when I drink it.
You had us at Mjolnir - though at $200 bucks a bottle we might have to do a little pillaging to afford a bottle. Read the full review at Topless Robot; if you've got enough plunder, buy your bottle right from Highland Park.
We like to think of Whiskypedia as a Wikipedia for whisky, but with way less useless facts. Not that we mind learning about how the plumed whistling duck crops vegetation instead of diving, or where the World Snail Racing Championships were held. We'd just much rather learn about whisky.
...the heart of these entries lies in the "historical notes" and "curiosities," where the author's research and enthusiasm are clearly evident. Buyers and collectors will find the list of "expressions" (commonly available bottlings) useful, while many users will jump straight to the informed, richly descriptive tasting notes (Dalmore smells "rich and sherried, with sweet malt, fruit cake, orange peel and marzipan.")
Do you remember those old Sally Struthers commercials for ICS? Y'know, "Do you want to make more money? Sure, we all do." That's how we feel about whisky...sure, we all want to know more about it. That's why we're so excited about the announcement of The Balvenie Whisky Academy, which we heard about from What Does John Know?.
Learn more about the program at his site, but here's a rundown of the modules...they had us at "whisky nitty gritty":
Module 1 - 'The History of Scotch Malt Whisky'
Experts featured: Charles MacLean and Sukhinder Singh of The Whisky Exchange
Module 2 - 'Production of Scotch Malt Whisky'
Experts featured: Richard Lake from Crisp Maltings Group, Marie Stanton, Stuart Watts and David Stewart from The Balvenie, Ian Grant from Glenfiddich and Leslie Gracie from William Grant & Sons
Module 3 - 'Whisky Nitty Gritty'
Experts featured: Eddie Ludlow of The Whisky Lounge, writer Gavin D Smith, The Balvenie Global Ambassador, Sam Simmons and Sukhinder Singh of The Whisky Exchange
Module 4 - 'Nosing and Tasting'
Experts featured: Leslie Gracie, Eddie Ludlow, David Mair, David Stewart and Sam Simmons
It's getting to that time of year when the prior planners need to figure out what to buy people on their Christmas list, especially since shipping at this time of year can be unreliable and the malls are some circle of Dante's hell. So where does that leave us? The answer to that question, just like so many others, is "the liquor store."
The liquor store is close, usually less crowded than your typical Wal-Mart, and full of delicious, delicious liquor. Tony Sachs over at Huffington Post has put together a list of a dozen gift-worthy bottles as well as a sort of "Scotch 101" vibe so you can choose with confidence.
This is the perfect time of year for a bottle of single-malt Scotch. After all, there are few more enjoyable ways to warm up on a cold winter's night than with a snifter of whisky by a roaring fire (or a Yule Log on TV if, like me, you live in an apartment without a fireplace). And a good bottle of Scotch says something about both the giver and the recipient. It says, "I have good taste. I enjoy the finer things in life. I'm an adult; this isn't Jagermeister or FourLoko we're talking about. I see those same refined characteristics in you, gift recipient. And if for some reason I'm wrong about you, well, invite me over and I'll be happy to down that bottle for you."
Yesterday, a friend of ours asked us to recommend good Scotch nosing glasses for a gift, and we pointed him in the direction of the Glencairn glass we covered last month. During our search we also uncovered this set of two Scotch glasses from Riedel, a brand we know and have used in the past.
Crafted with the help of master distillers in Scotland, Riedel's Single Malt Whiskey glasses maximize the sipping pleasures of top-quality malt whiskeys. Machine-crafted in Germany from 24-percent lead crystal, the shape is practical and charming, with a short stem and an elongated thistle-shaped body. The lip turns outward to catch the characteristic fragrance of the liquor.
Last month, we reported on a super-interesting book called "101 Whiskies to Try Before You Die" and at the time, it was slated for release in early December. It looks like Christmas has come early, because faithful reader Chuck ordered his and got a notification that it's already shipped out.
We've confirmed on Amazon that it's in stock and ready to ship - it's even Prime eligible if you're one of those folks who likes free shipping. We're getting out the old credit card right now and we'll give the book a read and give you our thoughts once we do.
We just got an email about The Balvenie's newest release, a 14 year old whisky called Caribbean Cask. It's called such because it's aged in traditional whisky barrels for 14 years, then transferred to rum barrels to finish. So what does that mean to you? It apparently means you'll be getting a bit of toffee and fruit flavor in your whisky, you lucky devil.
The full press release is after the jump, but we cut out the good parts and pasted them below. Learn more about The Balvenie, and if you're so inclined, friend 'em up on the Facebooks.
Nose: Rich, sweet and creamy toffee on the nose combines with fresh fruit notes
Taste: Rounded with vanilla and sweet oak notes, with a fruity character that develops with time
Finish: Soft and lingering
The Balvenie 14 Year Old Caribbean Cask is available nationwide starting in Fall 2010 with a recommended retail price of $59.99.
Based on the date of that press release (August) we're a little behind the eight ball, but Caribbean Cask is here to stay (it's not a seasonal release) so we suppose you'll forgive us.
Continue reading:"The Balvenie 14 Year Old Caribbean Cask"
Remember the Pepsi Challenge, back in the 80s? When people would be offered a blind taste test to see which they liked better between Pepsi and Coke? We just had the opportunity to do one that was way, way better than soft drinks. The folks at Chivas sent us a bottle each of their Chivas Regal 18-year-old and Johnnie Walker Blue, daring us to try both and see which we liked better.
We, of course, were up for the challenge, so we got out our tasting glasses and set to it after asking an intern to pour so we didn't know what was in each glass. We did the tastings blind, and then once we were finished we paired up our notes with the proper whisky. In the verdict below, we give more info about our thoughts before we knew which was which.
Chivas Regal 18 Year Old
80 Proof (40% ABV)
Typical Price: About $60
The Look: Squat, clear bottle that's different than a lot of the scotch brands we've seen. In the glass, it's light amber, looking a bit like honey. The Nose: We smelled very little peatiness, with the major notes being caramel, toffee, and spices. The Taste: Still very little smoke or peat until we added a drop of water, and then we got a hint. There were more caramel notes, with citrus peels and the dryness of oak. Big oaky finish, long and complex.
Johnnie Walker Blue
80 Proof (40% ABV)
Typical Price: About $150 at the lower end
The Look: Signature Walker bottle, in green glass. The whiskey looks like honey in the glass. The Nose: We smelled a bit of caramel, with hints of smoke, peat, and the sea, with some dried fruit in the mix as well. The Taste: Big and round, with a lot of smoke once we added a drop of water. Continues the peat and sea theme, with almost no sweetness. Notes of malt and spices.
Overall Verdict: Both of these are fine whiskies, and ones we wouldn't hesitate to order for ourselves or recommend for the blended scotch lovers in our lives. The Johnny Walker had the big smokiness and bold flavors we want sometimes, but at triple the price tag. We were impressed with the Chivas, with its nice soft notes and delicate sweetness, and we felt it held its own against the Blue.
Never having had either, we would have been hard-pressed to say one scotch was better than the other in our blind taste test. We tend to like a smokey whisky, so we liked the Blue, but there is definitely something to be said for the fruity mellowness of the Chivas Regal (and being Scotsmen ourselves, we're extremely interested in that significantly smaller price tag).
We forced one of our interns to live blog the Johnnie Walker Webinar while we're tasting. We know he doesn't know a thing about Scotch, but...don't miss anything Vito. And now, we give our full attention to Andrew Ford, master distiller for Johnnie Walker.
3:06 - Finally get online - with sound no thanks to our stupid speakers. Come in late for Johnnie Walker's history.
3:07 - We've been good. When will this nice Scottish gentleman let us start drinking whisky?
3:09 - Alexander Walker invents the square bottle. Other stuff.
3:16 - Someone asks a question about the legality of blending in Scotland back in the day. Let's get to tasting.
3:17 - Lowland whisky, lighter. Smokey whiskies out in the north coast...e.g. Islay. Speyside is full of distilleries...which is where the first distillery the Walkers bought was. We check out the flavor map...very science-y.
3:18 - Did he say time to taste?
3:21 - Forgot to follow directions -- running into kitchen for water
3:22 - "The right way to drink whisky -- Any way you like it." We love this guy. But if you're tasting go half strength (1/2 water, 1/2 scotch)
3:23 - Yum. Grain whisky. Feeling like a mad scientist using a graduated cylinder to measure out booze. "Grain whisky is the unsung whisky of Johnnie Walker"
3:27 - More science.
3:29 - Lowland malt is still a light whisky, but far "scotchier" than the grain. Someone tries to guess which malt we're sipping...and nails it. Turns out this little bottle has 12 year old whisky or more.
3:32 - On to Speyside malt. Still light and fruity compared to the smokier guys higher up the scale. So basically a breakfast scotch.
3:34 - Cardhu Speyside representing in Johnnie Walker but not the biggest factor.
3:36 - Scottish guy talks about how he went into a cold Scottish moor to get sherry cask malt delivered to us in time for this presentation.
3:38 - Sherry cask malt is f'ing delicious.
3:40 - The size of the cask affects the taste of the liquor. Or in other words, it's the size of the wood AND what you do with it. Also, things tend to happen slower with Sherry than with Bourbon, which we knew.
3:42 - Nosing...do you keep your mouth open or closed? The answer - figure out what works best for you to really hit that scent button and figure them out.
3:43 - Highland Malt from the West coast. Tend to be a bit more robust than lowland/Speyside. Definitely getting peatier, with some sea tastes. w00t!
3:45 - Admits he has no idea how flavors of the sea get into it. We're guessing magic.
3:47 - You'll be happy to know that peat is not going to run out anytime soon.
3:48 - Welcome to Smoke Town, population Island Malt
3:49 - Pouring all the malts we're supposed to dumping out into a pint glass science experiment
3:51 - Islay malt. Holy smokes. Tastes like your pants smell after a campfire.
3:52 - Starting to get buzzed.
3:54 - Color of scotch has more to do with the cask it was aged in than anything else. Who knew?
3:58 - It's interesting to try Black Label after tasting all those whiskies. We've always gone for big, smokey whisky, but this has opened up a lot of doors for us.
3:59 - Time to make our own blends. Argument has begun among the interns whether we're going to use the beaker/mad scientist route, or just make "mouth mixes" directly from the bottle. We'll probably land somewhere in between.
4:01 - Question about Andrew's favorites for singles - Talisker is at the top. Hmm...he seems to like Diageo brands...good thing he works for them.
4:05 - Black label is a blend of ~40 whiskies (malts and grains).
4:06 - Off to blend. Thanks Andrew!
If you're anything like us, the word "webcast" makes you want to head for the hills. As cubicle- and office-dwellers for the last decade or so, we've been to our share of these things, and they're usually relatively dry affairs, and by "dry" we mean there's no booze. Not so the one we've been invited to next week - there will be, and that booze will be scotch. It will be scotch, in fact, that comes out of this box:
The affair in question, with the jaw-busting title of "Johnnie Walker Black Label Centenary Journeyman Blending Webcast with Master Blender Andrew Ford," is entirely about blending scotch, not sitting around drinking it. But guess what you do with scotch after it's blended? That's right! Fedex dropped off our blending kit today, and we're not usually ones for unboxing posts and booze porn (y'know, like food porn but with liquor) we just had to share what we got. More pics after the jump.
A friend of ours sent us this excellent promo for Johnny Walker, a six minute opus on the history of the brand. Six minutes seems like a long time for a video with no exploding cars, girls on trampolines, or the other hallmarks of the Web, but this video, you'll notice, is done in a take with no cuts. Legend has it that means a full two days of shooting and 40 takes from a certain Mr. Robert Carlyle, and he absolutely nails it. We kind of wish Carlyle had gone just a little bit Begbie from Trainspotting and hit at least one dude with a pint glass, but we'll take it...at least he didn't go the Full Monty.
Thanks Doug - we're glad Tool Snob has time to drink in between playing with power tools.
As the chief intern at Liquor Snob, I'm going to come right out and say there's nothing more appalling than a naked Scot. That's based mostly on the fact that I'm mostly Scottish and the sight of my nekkedness in the mirror on the way from the shower to the closet is pretty much what drives me to drink.
Hopefully, however, Naked Scot whisky will have a little bit more curb appeal than my birthday suit. No promises, but we're thinking pesticide-free whisky made in Scotland is a damn sight better than the flab and fur I'm sporting (hey, it gets cold in Scotland). Also, the reason it's called naked is because it's free of herbicides and pesticides, which the creators claim leads to a hangover free dram.
Back in October, we told you about Glenfiddich's Vintage Reserve 1997 bottling, and said we were excited to try it. We got a little something in the mail yesterday that has us actively frothing at the mouth. No, it's not a bottle of the stuff - that's too much to ask for even the mighty Liquor Snobs.
No, instead they sent us a hunk of the barrel in which the whisky was aged. It's about as big as our fist, and it smells like fried gold. Sweet and spicy, with just the right hint of whisky, it's everything we can do not to chew on the wood like some kind of deranged beavers. We're this close to hanging it from our rear view mirror as an air freshener, but we're not sure how we'd explain the smell if we ever got pulled over by the cops. This seals the deal - we have to try this stuff.