Peatin’ Meetin’ V

Begun in 2009 as LA Scotch Clubs backyard BBQ and celebration of all things peated, Peatin’ Meetin’ has grown into what is likely the world’s largest tasting of purely peated whiskies. Known especially through Islay’s scotch, peated whisky is smoky and earthy.  With its bold flavors, it isn’t for the timid, but peated whiskies are now among the most sought after in the world.   Peat is boggy soil made from vegetation that has only partially decomposed over thousands of years, and the Scottish and Irish burn it in a same manner as coal.  Peat’s unique smoke flavors the barley used to make the whiskies featured at Peatin’ Meetin’.

Like the club itself, the event has grown phenomenally and on June 29, 2013 three hundred whisky lovers are expected to meet in Los Angeles to taste over one hundred whiskies from Islay and around the world.  In addition to peated masterpieces shared by whisky sponsors, the LA scotch club sources rare bottles from shops and auctions worldwide to share with lucky attendees.  True to its roots, Peatin’ Meetin’ is a large festive outdoor celebration with live entertainment and BBQ smoked onsite with peat imported from overseas.  Unlike other whisky events, Peatin’ Meetin’ is not driven by companies to make money or generate sales, it is organized by a club of scotch lovers whose only profit is to taste great whisky, eat great food, and to share their favorite night of the year with friends new and old.

ATTRACTIONS

All of Islay’s famous peated scotch will be poured by sponsors (Laphroaig, Ardbeg, etc.) at the event.  In addition, independent bottling companies (Chieftain’s, Douglas Laing) will select the peatiest malts from their collection to share with everyone. Unlike other events, Peatin’ Meetin’ isn’t solely about advertizing whisky. LA scotch club also uses its own funds to source rare peated whisky around the world.  Bottles that can’t be found in America and bottles sold long ago find their way onto the tables for no other purpose than to share a great dram with friends.  Peatin’ Meetin’ is also a BBQ and has perfected the art of imparting peat smoke onto a great piece of meat.   This year 175 pounds of grass fed NY strip will be professionally peat smoked onsite by Hickory Creek BBQ and served with a generous portion of sides.  The Brick Top Blaggers and Green Ashes will play their brand of Celtic rock and Seven Grand’s master mixologists will be making peated cocktails that have been perfected at one of Los Angeles most famous whisky bars.

A first ever whisky event app will be available to smartphone users who wish to read about the bottles, then rate and take notes.  There will be old whisky and new technology, not the other way around.

Additionally, LA scotch club’s infamous Peat Monster will be on hand with his own cask of mystery whisky for anyone who wants a photo op and a dram straight from the cask. Peated beer will also be available and various sponsors will offer discounts such as a free VIP upgrade to LA’s WhiskyLive in the Fall.

Register at www.peatinmeetin.com

Ardbog – Known

Price: $90 • Nose: Damp and dirty leaves. Plastic packaging from a new toy.

• Palate:  Rubbery and vaporous. Definitely asserts itself. Faint butterscotch lingering on the edges saves it from being one dimensional. Finish sticks around. This one is going to have enemies. It’s different.

B/B+ but it’s a bit thin, so

Santis Malt, Cask Strength Peated – Known

Price: $80 (Europe) • Nose:  Wet firewood and cured meats. • Palate:   Very, very different than scotch.  Caramelized bacon wrapped around mesquite wood.  Sweet white pepper.

I really have no idea how this is made.  It reminds me of Balcones Brimstone or an experiment a craft distiller made for me by wood smoking a mason jar used for whisky storage.  It also reminds me of liquid smoke used for quickie meat flavoring.  I have no idea why this is darker than its non-peated expressions as traditional peating doesn’t add color.  Hmmm.  Anyhow, worth a try for the fun of it.  Apologies for the missing umlaut.

Laphroaig QA Cask – Known

Price: $75 (Duty-free) • Nose:   Wet socks in a tar bucket • Palate:  Thin and coal watery.  It’s a gentler version of the 10 with a twist of orange.  Good for people afraid of Laphroaig 10, but weak for everyone. It’s more boring than bad. B-/C+

WHO’S LOOKING OUT FOR YOU?

A schism in the whisky community is showing. It’s a play on the same battle that has been waging since Sumerians first haggled over goats… sellers vs. buyers, and the gloves are coming off.  On the seller side are the distillers, importers, auction houses, and yes book and magazine publishers.  On the buyer side are the millions of novices, experts, and investors who spend time at jobs they don’t like to be able to spend hard earned money on whisky that they do.
My clarified vision leads us back to our problem with Bonhams and a rather sad defense of their latest foibles in Whisky Advocate, Spring 2013 edition, page 26.   < Go read it and come on back>

Last summer blogs such as this one castigated Bonham’s for misleading and wrong descriptions in their whisky catalog.  As Adam Herz’s (LA Whisk(e)y Society) latest article suggests after thorough research, all mistakes were rather curiously in favor of Bonhams.  Where it gets worse is that not only is Bonham’s remorseless, but that their tool of defense was a sweetheart article by a magazine that many consumers mistakenly assume advocates for them.

A few of the weak excuses for Bonhams’ mistakes in the article, with my retort.

1. Sure we may have thrown out some dates for bottles that were inaccurate, but since the prospective buyers could have done their own research with the bottle photos and didn’t, it’s their fault.
If these details were so easy to spot then why didn’t you spot them?  Either you knew and were dishonest, or you didn’t and you should no longer bill yourselves as a world authority on whisky.  Many of the bidders are not experts and trusted Bonham’s over their own knowledge due to reputation.

2. “If this was an attempt at deliberate deception, it appears relatively motiveless, and would have been a colossal gamble on their reputation and clients’ trust, not to mention clumsily naïve…”
The motive is money.  Money can be a motive.  For reference see police records, any of them.  It was clumsily naïve and you have been called out.  At least have the decency to admit it and offer refunds.

3. “A single large consignment of bottles… arrived late at the warehouse, very close to the catalog print deadline.”  “Bonhams regret some lots were entered into the catalog using meager information gathered from initial discussions with the vendor prior to the physical receipt of the bottles.”

Mistakes were made because we were in a hurry?  I tried this on a cop once. Didn’t work.  Still illegal.  I lost.  The difference is my speeding was victimless but the auction buyers got screwed.  To save time this reputable agency asked the owner to provide the published information.  It would appear that the world class appraisals were often from a non-expert seller with the most motivation in the world to be biased or exaggerate.  Most respected auction house indeed.

THE BIGGER PICTURE

I only illustrate this one situation to illustrate the broader point:  Anyone in the whisky industry or anyone receiving financial support from the whisky industry should not be assumed to be completely forthcoming.  This isn’t part of a “grand conspiracy”, it’s not black helicopters, it’s a fact of life… follow the money.  Magazines, books, and other media who are paid by the industry through ads or with free whisky samples are going to naturally favor the hand that pays the rent.  Whisky prices are shooting up, and those on the sellers’ end of the sellers’ market want to ensure that momentum continues.  Big whisky can’t sell their new offerings at inflated auction prices if auction prices are stagnating, now can they?

ONE BIG HAPPY FAMILY?

The first scratch in my own naiveté came years ago during a phone conversation with an importer.  In our discussion I brought up the opinions of some well known whisky collectors and quite a bit of venom entered my earpiece.  I came to learn later that they had publicly disagreed on pricing and quality of the whisky being imported and had put a sour note on the importer’s storyline.  Truth was an unwelcome player.
Some of the kindest, politest, and most respectable folks on Earth hail from the whisk(e)y regions of Scotland and Kentucky.  When we read reviews we can almost hear a friendly drawl or brogue easing our hand toward a wallet.  The days of yokel whisky is over.  These are big multi-national businesses and their true voice is through strategic marketing.
We’ve grown up in a commercialized age.  We’ve seen ads on tv for years and have bullshit filters for everything we see there.  However, when we read glowing reviews and big ratings on a bottle, it’s easy to consider that the ridiculous price is justified because it’s from a respected whisky publication or institution, and not just some catchy jingle and graphic.  Don’t fall for the siren songs, know your malts!

KNOW, KNOW, KNOW YOUR WHISKY

Folks who get compensated to push a cause aren’t advocates, they’re lobbyists.  Everyone knows that a lobbyist’s purpose is to spin for money, so next time you hear or read anything about whisky, consider the source… and how they pay for lunch.

Of course there’s no need to punish yourself over this.  If you like whisky, buy whisky!  Buy from the big companies and buy from the little ones. Enjoy the magazines, enjoy the books, but know what you like.  Don’t let “them” tell you what to buy.  Trust YOUR palate.  Trust YOUR friends.  Trust respectable bloggers that earn it (not me, RESPECTABLE bloggers.)  If you love whisky, drink it.  Learn it.  Love it.  Then share that knowledge with your friends.  That’s our advantage.

WHISKY REVIEWS

I still have a sour flavor in my mouth, so I’m going to move on to a sweeter one.  Here’s some whisky reviews from bottlers I like.  Malt Trust is an American company run out of Florida.  They’ve got fair prices on good stuff. K&L is a well respected wine and spirits shop in Los Angeles.  They’ve begun a very serious program to personally select casks and sell them as shop exclusives. Single Cask Nation based in New York is also sourcing their own casks but are operating more on the SMWS model as a private club. Full disclosure, K&L and Single Cask Nation are friends, as are the Kilchoman folks in America and Scotland.  Still, I honestly think these are great.

Glen Grant 1975/2007 Malt Trust, Cask 3131 – Known

Price: $190

• Nose: Plum cake and hint of gasoline.  More of a dry sherry profile.  Not great but makes you really think there is something special to taste.
• Palate:  Yep, dry sherry.  Mulling spices and wintergreen minus the sweetness.  There’s some citrus in there but it doesn’t hit the forefront until the finish which is like that bit of a candy orange wedge lingering in your mouth 10 minutes after you ate it.
I’ll B+ this due to my soft spot for sherry, but if you don’t like sherry bombs, I’d shy away.

 

Glen Grant 1979/2008 Malt Trust, Cask 3136 – Known

Price: $180

• Nose:   Wow, pungent.  Leather being tanned.
• Palate:  Toasted oats and shoe leather.  Spinach leaves with a hint of sugar glaze.  Not for the timid.  Glen Grant just ages better in sherry casks.

 

Kilchoman 2007/2012 Single Cask Nation, Cask 378/07 – Known

Price: $95 (private)

• Nose:   Asphalt and rubber eraser. Muscled peat.
• Palate:  The color black.  Charcoal, tar, asphalt, Darth Vader.  Ashes on the finish.  However, there is a twist of lemon oil in there too. Does lemon oil exist? Somehow makes me think of coal mining.  This is for the peatophile.

Kilchoman 2008/2012 100% Islay, K&L Exclusive, Cask – Known

Price: $120

• Nose: Red hots meet red oak.
• Palate: Lacquer and more red hots.  A punchy sweet and sour finish.  Unique and fun.  Perhaps my fave from Kilchoman thus far.
B+/A-

LA Scotch Club Celebrates With Laphroaig 40, bottle 1929

On December 2nd, 2012 the LA Scotch Club gathered in Pasadena to share in a solemn ritual: the complete and utter annihilation of Laphroaig 40, bottle 1929. May it rest in peace (in my belly.)
Alas, one more prized bottle has been robbed of the opportunity to rot on the top shelf of a collector’s hutch, a prize to be smugly exhibited toward intimidated or salivating guests, but never, never, never, NEVER opened and tasted.

Some of us take a different approach to rare whisky: find friends, drink the shit out of it, and savor the memories. And we did. Now bottle 1929 is just a handsome carcass whose juice was divvied into thirty 25 oz. portions a consumed in orgy of peat that was the LASC Laphroaig Vertical.

Vertical?

Generally put, it means to try every level of a company’s products in one sitting. In this case it meant trying all OB (official bottlings) of Laphroaig from the 10yr to the 40yr. Trying Johnnie Red up through Johnnie Blue could be considered a vertical. For the maltly challenged, imagine a going to McDonald’s and trying everything with a bun from the lowly hamburger to an Angus Deluxe. Because you’re comparing apples to apples, this is the finest opportunity there is to find out what expressions you prefer and what the profile of the line is while taking notes and ratings, either on paper or in your head.

Profile?

By profile, I mean that certain flavor or smell that is omnipresent throughout the company’s whisky range. In this case, what makes Laphroaig Laphroaigy. Yes, I said ‘Laphroaigy’.  I’ve had Ardbeg that tasted Laphroaigy and I’ve had Laphroaig that tasted Ardbeggy, but that’s rare. Master Distiller John Campbell wouldn’t be worth his weight in gold if he didn’t know what ‘Laphroaigy’ meant, and you can bet he spends a lot of time keeping the profile consistent… because it’s a damned good one.


How to Do a Vertical

Wanna do one? The biggest decision is whether the vertical should be ‘blind’, meaning that you don’t know what you are drinking. This is easy if you have a non-participating buddy (like Mrs. Smith) who can pour secretly in another room. Otherwise it gets tricky. I’ve done a few different verticals. Here’s how two Laphroaig events went down:

 

Laphroaig Vertical #1

17 bottles, IB (independent bottling) and OB: this was a ‘blind’ tasting, although technically semi-blind because we all knew which bottle were participating, but didn’t know what we were drinking at any given time. This is daunting for a couple of reasons. Firstly, it’s natural to want to match your ratings with the better bottles. It’s mighty embarrassing to give a D rating to a $300 bottle that you claimed was your favorite the night before. You just have to let yourself go jedi ; trust and accept your senses. This is a chance for an unbiased review. Perhaps you’ve been wrong about what you liked. Perhaps you’ll save some money!

Equally daunting was to try 17 whiskies in one sitting.  I believe that my own palate starts to wane after 6 whiskies, but what fun is a dinky little 6 bottle vertical.  Keep the pours small and don’t try for perfect notes.  Perhaps you want to skip straight to ratings based on one sip.  Who wants to burn out before the last lap?  I know my notes didn’t when the Pulitzer.  Perhaps next time.

Laphroaig: Andy Fuji Dirty Uncle Michael Average
Cadenheads 1984 12yr B+/A- B+/A- A- B+/A-
10 yr C+/B- C C- C
AD Rattray 1990 18yr for Alberta B+ C-/C C C+
Dram Collection cask 184 C+/B- B- B- B-
15 year B-/B B- B B-/B
30 Year B+ B+/A- B+ B+
Signatory 2001 15yr Cask Strength #6984 B B- A- B/B+
Signatory 2000 – Unchillfiltered B- B- B- B-
Triple Wood B/B+ B A- B+
Cask Strength Batch 3 C B- A- B-/B+
Signatory 1990 B/B+ B- B+ B
Cairdeas 2011 B B B- B-/B
Quarter Cask B- B C C+/B-
18 yr C B- B- C+/B-
Murray McDavid 1998 C B C- C-/C
Murray McDavid 1987 C B- B C+/B-
Duncan Taylor 1997 12yr cask 56441 B B B+ B/B+

 

The winner:  a 12 year old Cadenhead’s Laphroaig from a sherry cask.  It beat the Laphroaig 30 hands down with a solid A-.

Laphroaig Vertical #2

Ooh-la-la. Twelve bottles, all OB, from the 10yr to the 40yr.  This was a formal event with 25 people and blinding was just too difficult handle, so we divided the tasting into 4 groups of 3, trying to keep bottles of a similar quality grouped together (ex. 10, 15, Quarter Cask.)  When given the chance to taste the whole series most people preferred… the 21 yr.  For the curious, I’ll some review at the end of the article.

Iheartscotch.com also posted a nice article about the event.

Note: The first 36 seconds is silent so don’t crank up your volume .

 

December 2nd, 2012 worked out for everyone.  Collectors are happy because their prized Laphroaig 40 just got a wee bit rarer.  The rest of us have tasting notes for the 40 on the top shelf of our hutch.  Look on our notes, ye Mighty, and despair!

Slainte!

 

Laphroaig 40 – Semi-blind/known

Price: $3000 US at auction

• Nose:  Antique furniture with leather and a cracked open chocolate covered cherry inside the drawers.

• Palate: Citrus on leather or cedar. The Laphroaig and even Islay profile have been stripped out or covered up the wood flavors. The mouthfeel is good but not quite velvety.  The finish is a winner as the citrus fades and the cedar lingers forever. B for its solid palate.  A- for a finish that makes this malt incredibly drinkable. 

 

 

Laphroaig 30 – Semi-blind/known

Price: $600 US at auction

I have a long history with this one and my opinion is constantly evolving.  Guess that makes this a complex whisky.

• Nose: Fantastic.  Pine wood soaked in Christmas spices and simple syrup.

• Palate: Rubber and motor oil.  More bitter at first than the nose suggests.  The finish gets a bit firewoody.  Not a knockout but highly drinkable.  Over 10 different attempts, it’s a safe

 

Laphroaig 25 2011 – Known

Price: $450 US

• Nose: Iodine and metal

• Palate:  Perhaps the most medicinal scotch I’ve had.  This is the doctor’s doctor.  There is a hint of smoke, but of all the “peaty” descriptors, the iodine overshadows them all.  There is a playful bite to it though. 

 

Laphroaig 21 (US) – Known

Price: $500 US

• Nose: Rubber bands and recently laid asphalt

• Palate: Monstrously rich, with white pepper and new plastic.  The finish is incredibly sticky and a little bit tarry. This is a powerful dram.

 

 

Laphroaig 18 – Semi-Blind

Price: $120 US

• Nose: maple, raisin, brine

• Palate: spicy and salty.  Old shoes and vanilla.  A bit dull for a Laphroaig. 

 

Laphroaig 15 – Semi-Blind/Known

Price: $100 US – at auction

• Nose: Dank and earthy peat.  If I had a peat house my son would get timeout in the corner that smelled like this.

• Palate: Lemon, mold, and a gob of soil.  Not nearly as smoky as the 10 might seem.  The finish stays a while but is a little bit soil-ly.

 

Laphroaig Triple Wood – – Semi-Blind/Known

Price: $70 US

• Nose: Classic Laphroaig tar and iodine with a bit of steroids.  Fireplace ash.

• Palate: Much more charcoal than a standard Laphroaig. More woody too.  A nice malt that’s a step up from the 10. 

 

Laphroaig Cairdeas 2012 – Known

Price: $90 US

• Nose: Hint of lemon and cinnamon.

• Palate: Lively.  Grapefruit and earth.  Actually a lot of earth.  Dagobah in a glass.  Drink it, I must.

 

Christmas Cheer and Laphroaig

You’re a Mean One, Whisky Grinch

You’re a mean one, Whisky Grinch
You’re from a rotten cask
Your liver’s fully flooded and
Your heart’s an empty flask
Whisky Grinch!
You’re a Japanese run Bowmore distilled in the ’80s
Loaded with soap!

You’re a blotto, Whisky Grinch
You’re hammered, sloshed, and pissed
You threw bottles at your grandma
‘Cause your shotgun pellets missed
Whisky Grinch!
I wouldn’t dram with you for
thirty nine and a half scotch malts

You’re a drunkard, Whisky Grinch
You’re a bitter bacchanal
You’ve gone sottish with the Scottish
And your throat’s a booze canal
Whisky Grinch!
You’re soul is a foul and blackened cesspool
Filled with Loch Dhu

You’ve got an I-V, Whisky Grinch
With liquor on the drip
Your forehead’s full of liver spots
that fled the sinking ship
Whisky Grinch!
The three words that best describe you
Are as follows, and I quote,
“Drink, drank, drunk!”

You’re toxic, Whisky Grinch
You’re life’s a scotch assault
You’re a binger twixt your benders
And you’ve mixed your blended malt
Whisky Grinch!
If I had a choice between that crap you mixed, and you yourself
I’d be guzzling up!

You’re always plastered, Whisky Grinch
You really are a souse.
You’re a walking whisky wasteyard
And a liquor licking louse
Whisky Grinch!
You’re a Famous Grouse, Cutty Sark, and Johnnie Red finished in a septic tank
With Dewar’s on top!

I’ll be Drunk on Christmas

I’m dreaming tonight of a place I fear
Even more than I usually do
December is here and though family is dear
I promise you

I’ll be drunk on Christmas
You can count on this
Mistletoe, above scotch rows
Sweet bottles, I plan to kiss

All the kids are screaming
Throwing toy at me
I’ll be drunk on Christmas
To cope with family

I’ll drink Scotch on Christmas
As the others feast
While the herd eats dried up bird
I’ll be sloshed by the tree

Christmas Eve will find me
Hiding from the glee
I’ll have Christmas spirit
One-twenty ABV

One-twenty ABV

Boozy the Snowman

Boozy the Snowman, was a jolly happy soul,
With a big white ass and a whisky glass, he was on his third parole

Boozy the Snowman, was just three balls made of ice
But they poured some scotch on his button lips, and then Boozy came to life

There must have been some magic in that whisky glass they poured
For when he got his first gold sip, well he robbed the liquor store

Oh Boozy the Snowman, drank as much as he could find
He’d pass out face first cause he was submersed in three bottles at a time

Chugety Chug Chug, Chugety Chug Chug
Look at Boozy drink
Chugety Chug Chug, Chugety Chug Chug
Puking in my sink

Boozy the Snowman, claimed he was a guy in need
Beggin’ for a buck at every car and truck.  Said he had snowballs to feed

While he was drinkin’, Boozy’s snowy liver popped
But a kid named Grant did quick transplant With a shovel and a mop

One day poor Boozy leaned against a glowing heater screen
But instead of melting just a bit, he lit up like kerosene

That’s when our daddy, said that Boozy paid the price
He was quite concerned that the children learned not to put – fine – scotch – on – ice!

 

Smart Shopper/Dumb Shopper

I saw a funny thing the other day. Or perhaps it was a scary thing: the Bonham’s auction results. I’m not going to beat up on Bonham’s this time, but the high bidders are going to take a hit. Scotch, and more recently, American whiskey prices are climbing for some reasons that are legitimate, and others that involve speculation and idiocy. I see a lot of bottles sell for hundreds or even thousands of dollars and prices from store to store vary a lot. Now if you can save five bucks on Jack Daniel’s by driving 10 miles, you probably won’t bother; but if you’re searching for a 1955 Glen Ambrosia , then perhaps you should sniff the air before dropping your money like a teenager in Tijuana.
I’ve collected some pretty bad rookie mistakes from the recent Bonham’s, New York auction. Keep in mind that auction or private sale prices should always be less than retail. Note: European VAT removed.
Macallan Anniversary 25 year old

Retail: $1099 – Holiday Wine Cellar
Bonhams: $1428
Balvenie 1971- 33 year old

Retail: $720 – Sendliquor.com
Bonhams: $833
Macallan Select Reserve
1946- 52 year old


Retail: $4016 – Lion’s Whisky
Bonham’s: $7735
Glen Grant 1958- 49 year old


Retail: $435 – Arkwrights
Bonhams: $773
Springbank 25 yr- Millennium


Retail: $1002 –  The Whisky Exchange
Bonham’s: $1011
Bowmore Bicentenary 1964
Retail: $1596 – John Gordons Wine
Bonham’s: $3094
Mind you it did not take me long to find the retail prices.  The internet is a marvelous thing.  The world is interconnected, so use it.  I’m not sure how many specialized drink “searchers” there are out there, but my friends and I use http://www.wine-searcher.com/, and spring for the Pro version.  Search anywhere in the world immediately.  Cripes, this sounds like an ad but it’s not.  If you buy whisky and value your money, use it or something like it.
TIPS
• For Americans, some of the big shops like The Whisky Exchange, Royal Mile, Master of Malt, and WhiskyBase will remove the 17% VAT and ship overseas.  Some smaller shops won’t remove VAT or won’t accept credit cards.  Also, bottles are 50mL smaller in Europe than the US.  It’s a 7% penalty but often worth it.
• Don’t assume that a shop with traditionally bad prices won’t have good deals.  The whisky shop near my home has some prices that make me laugh, except when wine-searcher.com finds a bottle that’s the best price in the world.  That makes me happy.
• If an online shop lists in checkout that they are out of stock and can restock in 3 days, then forget about it.  They’ll never get that Laphroaig 40 in stock again, no matter what they say.
• The best gauge in the world for current whisky prices is whisky-auction.com.  Their “past auctions” search is difficult to use but the data is golden.
Please, please, please don’t be an idiot and drive up prices; unless of course it’s with a bottle I’m trying to sell myself.  In fact I think I might auction off that Macallan 1946 I’ve been sitting on for a long time.  I just hope that Lion’s Whisky can ship it to Bonham’s before the next auction starts.

WhiskyFest Jumps the Shark – San Francisco

“Whiskyfest, San Francisco… we were lovers once.”  She made my heart palpitate.  The skies opened and the sun yada yada yada.  I remember years ago, dashing toward the best tables while trying to preserve a shred of dignity.  It was a Halloween for whisky geeks and there were so many more king-sized butterfingers than crappy little hard candies.  Tickets were $110, but $150 would get you in an hour early with the chance to try rare stuff.  Ridiculous stuff.  All of the best brands were there and they weren’t messing around.  There was no point bothering with a bottle that wasn’t worth at least $100 because every Glen Schmuck 10 meant one less delicious and dark Glen Grant 30-something you’d get to try.  Pencil, paper, picture, nose, taste, and pour another.  It was a furious pace to try everything worth trying.  This was how my Christmas wish list was made.  Taste it.  Grade it.  Consider the price.  For the curious tipplers a few extra bucks could get you a generous pour of $5000 bottles.  Four hours was never enough time.  WhiskyFest SanFran had the newest releases.  It had the oldest bottles.  It had what I wanted.   Angels dropped through the ceiling dripping golden whisky from jeweled bottles, matured for 400 years in wood from Noah’s Ark.  It was magnificent.

In 2012 something different happened.

It sucked. Granted, WhiskyFest  was well managed, but it was packed and the selection was lame.  Pouring tables were swarmed by desperate bodies, struggling like piglets for a teet.   And what was our reward Okay, not crap, but for the most part the same stuff that that’s been around since whisky festivals was spawned.  Apparently a misprinted rule read “no dram over 21 admitted”, and it was taken seriously.  I did the “non-VIP” ticket this year and found that every table had an “old” 20-ish year bottle corpse as if to say “hey dumbass the average stuff is gone, so have a try at that scotch you almost ordered from the Olive Garden bar.”

The glorious rows of independent scotches lined up in days past like glorious soldiers were now gone, replaced by vodka, rum and craft distilleries not old enough for preschool.  We bought a $155 seat to a ballgame then found the all-stars had been replaced with tee-ballers and ballerinas?  Duncan Taylor, Springbank, AD Rattray, Glenfarclas… stayed home.  And what of those brave brands that did show to square off for the battle of the bottles?  They left the heavy artillery home and brought butter knives.

Why did this happen?

Fortunately, I know many people in the whisky industry or at least in it recently enough to give me some ideas.  Oddly the only overriding theme I could get was that everyone is afraid of saying anything negative about WhiskyFest or even the whisky industry in general.  The feds had an easier time finding squealers for Gotti than I had in getting anonymous comments about WhiskyFest and the industry in general.  John Hansell and Whisky Advocate are a real force in the whisky market now and some companies indicated that they want to stay in good graces, even if it means showing up with squat and wasting a weekend.

WHISKYFEST ENTERS THE CORRYVRECKAN
WhiskyFest, and to be fair, big whisky events in general, just don’t sell whisky.  Most of the industry considers it a drunk-fest, and maybe they’re right.  But if folks are being offered the same whisky they drink when they go out to get drunk, then what can you expect?  Here’s what I think happened, and I’m going out on a limb, so if you smell bs, that’s fair.  Just put on your boots and watch your step.

• In the beginning WhiskyFest was the playground of the whisky snobs and snobby whiskies.  Great drams were poured.  Everyone was happy.  And it was good.
•     Local whisky geeks told their friends, who, being sophistimacated Friscans, delighted at finding an even haughtier way to get schnockered.  Word spread.  The show got popular.  The space stayed the same.  More people wanted in.  More people were let in.  The organizers noticed.
•     Whisky fans got worried.  The best bottles emptied earlier and earlier, often into the glasses of fools looking for a whisky “legs”, spitting as if it were wine, or just pounding shots like a frat hazing.  Tables got packed.  The best you could do was point at what you wanted, extend your arm, and hope you got lucky.  The pours weren’t being appreciated.  The brands took notice.
•     Word spread.  Guys in SF loved drinking fancy schmancy whisky; even it was mostly training wheels single malt.  They’d pay more if they had to.  They had to.  The brands began to cater to a different audience.  Independent whisky sellers with one-off casks bottlings didn’t see a sale so didn’t bother.  Big distilleries figured a drunky would learn just as much brand recognition from an 18 year as a 30 year.  The good whiskies disappeared.  Whisky connoisseurs took notice.  They stopped attending.  And it was bad.
Thus happened the death spiral, and where it ends no one knows.  But this is certain: the event is now a disappointment… from our perspective.  And by “our”, I mean those of us who spend our hard earned money finding new favorite whiskies.  Let’s consider:

WINNERS AND LOSERS
•     Whisky Advocate:  Every year they raise the rates on booths and attendees:   WINNER
•     Big Brands:  Brand recognition for mixer scotch is through the roof.  Master classes are full because WhiskyFest was oversold and there are no good bottles on the main floor:  WINNER
•     Sophistimacated Friscans:  $185 is still cheaper than a night of shots at a city bar:  WINNER

•     Small Brands:  You were attractive when the guys were drinking, but any memory of you will be politely offered a free taxi ride in the morning.  At least you may get that 1.5 page article in Whisky Advocate:  DRAW
•     Whisky Aficionados:  You dropped three figures to try the bottles you normally re-gift for Christmas.  Your whisky cabinet has better stuff and didn’t cost $36 to park near:  LOSER

The night wasn’t a complete loss for me.  I attended with a friend I don’t get to see much of these days.   He sent me a message before I found us two scalped WhiskyFest tickets. “We could also buy a $400 bottle of Scotch and drink it at home.”  I should have listened to you, Matt.  Let’s do that next year.

Ardbeg Galileo – Space Meets Whisky

The Ardbeg Galileo release is a celebration Ardbeg’s ‘space maturation’ joint experiment with an American space research company . They say that anyhow. This whisky is a marriage of marsala and bourbon casks to keep up the theme of experimentation. Ardbeg admits the research isn’t directly related to the spirit, and marsala also has a pretty tenuous association with Galileo (both are from Italy, so expect an Ardbeg Mussolini soon.) It bears the words ‘Space 1999’ seemingly (and I’m not kidding here) because 1999 sounded cool and someone remembered the old sci-fi show Space: 1999. Technically, of course, it does now have to be at least 1999 or older.

Cynicism or not, the marketers have waved their magic wands and we want it, we want it, we want it.

I got it, I got it, I got it. For an Ardbeg comparison, see the Ardbeg Day article.

Ardbeg Galileo – Semi-blind/known
Price: $95 US, £75 UK/Europe

• Nose: Compared to other Ardbegs (which I have done extensively now), this one has less of the classic earthy and rich nose and leans more toward dark fruits and mustiness. I don’t think I’d pick this as an Ardbeg completely blind. It’s not bad, but its cousins are better.

• Palate: For a second or so it’s Ardbeg again (yay!), but then it veers off course (boo!) The word dank springs to mind. It conjures an image of something that has sat in the dark for a long time and gone stale. Sure there’s a splash of sweet peppery Ardbeg at first, but from the 1 second mark to the end it’s just, well, annoying.

As for the ‘special releases’, this is my least favorite and comfortably so. The makers and pushers of this are claiming that it’s ‘well rounded’. If dank and stale are somehow circular in shape then they are correct. Kudos for trying (seriously), but this one failed and should be on the shelf with the other so-so $50 bottles. Better luck next time!

For information:
Bill Lumsden interview
Ardbeg Galileo article
Galileo Galilei (did he drink whisky?)
Space 1999 (great campy show!)

Peatin’ Meetin’ IV

Peatin’ Meetin’ 2012 is creeping around the corner. With the addition of a few sponsors, we’ve got about 80 bottles. The latest news is that Pedro Shanahan (as seen on Last Call with Carson Daly) of 7Grand has agreed to do bartend our whisky cocktails. We’ll have LA’s best making us Ardbeg Juleps and Blood and Smoke (Blood and Sand with Lagavulin). This is just the icing on the cake for what is going to be a spectacular evening. Last year we charged the same price. No cocktails, no T-shirt, no band. Actually, in retrospect I don’t know what I was thinking not raising the price. OH, WELL. 1000 flyers have been printed and the price ain’t dropping… so lucky YOU! Just a reminder of what $75 gets you:

1. A “Perfect Dram” whisky glass engraved “Peatin’ Meetin’. Additionals for $7.
2. A Peatin’ Meetin’ T-shirt (sizes not guaranteed)
3. Peat-smoked Tri-tip dinner
4. Whisky Cocktails valued at $35 for the pair (at 7Grand)
5. The smokiest whiskies made in the world, including multiple versions of Octomore (the world record holder) and Ardbeg Supernova. No limit. No early cut-off times, no snootiness, just awesome and rare whisky, much of which isn’t even available in the United States.
6. Entertainment by the Irish Rock Band “The Brick Top Blaggers”

If that’s not enough to convince you, then you don’t like whisky. But you do, so……………….. Register today!

Time: 5pm, July 28th, 2012
Place: UCLA Sunset Canyon Upper Picnic Area

Bonhams Auction Embraces Datieness


Mr. Herz,
You recently criticized Bonhams Auction for dating what is likely a 1938 Ardbeg as ‘Circa 1900’. Sir, that was unfair. Modern thinking has evolved quite a bit since you left school, and you clearly have been out of the loop. Think about it: nowadays men can wear a dress and use the women’s restroom if they ‘feel’ feminine. Since they ‘feel’ that they are women, who are we to say that our ‘perception’ of an Adam’s apple and whiskers is more valid? We have evolved. Even more progressive than that is the new theory of “Datieness” that has been embraced by the New York intelligentsia, but clearly hasn’t made it to the backwoods of Los Angeles yet.

Datieness

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Datieness is a “date” that a person claims to know intuitively “from the gut” or because it “feels right” without regard to evidence, logic, intellectual examination, or facts. [1]
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Datieness is changing the way we look at dates and, Mr. Herz, it’s coming whether you like it or not. You say that 1938 isn’t 1900? Is 38 years here or there really an issue? Take a peek at any new elementary school history book (non Texan) and open the page to the year 1900, the year that the Union defeated the Confederates in the Battle of Shiloh while Adolf Hitler and Neville Chamberlain negotiated for peace. Thirty eight years isn’t much if you ‘think outside the box’. You, Mr. Herz, are trapped inside the box and I pity you.

My recommendation is that you stop complaining and open your eyes to how datieness and chronologic relativism can benefit you. Don’t like the parking at Disneyland? Park in the senior citizen spot. Don’t like the $75 ticket? Tell them you’re 2 years old. I’m sure they’ll be fine with that. Mr. Bonham himself refers to his wife as ‘circa 1900’, and she takes it quite gracefully.

You are also overlooking that the owner of this fine bottle ‘swears’ that it is from 1900, and if that doesn’t make you “feel right” enough, I’ll remind you that he swore on his “grandpappy’s grave.” His grandpappy’s grave, Mr. Herz, is a far more evidence than your silly claims of glass bottles that didn’t exist before 1934 and tax stamps bearing a 1938 date.

Sir, if you wish to speak with me in person about this issue, I can schedule you in next week or the year 2050. Same thing, really.