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!)

Ardbeg Day

Ardbeg is having a bit of an event on June 2 that they are calling ‘Ardbeg Day’. It’s big and worldwide, although the distillery itself will be the epicenter of the party. Little satellite parties such as the 16 spread throughout the United States will surely be awash in peated spirit. To celebrate the occasion, Ardbeg is releasing a new single malt, as they have tended to do annually.  This year’s release: Ardbeg ‘Day”.   I’m not sure this idea was brilliant or a flop.  I for one missed the distinction between the malt and the event until I stumbled across the bottle itself.  This Ardbeg is a limited Committee Release so jump on it if you see it.   Here’s what the bottle notes have to say about it:

“A spectacular fusion of two different styles of Ardbeg, the first being sweet and spicy (vanilla fudge, chocolate limes, cloves, aniseed balls); the second a powerful, deep, botanical Ardbeg.  When brought together for six months in re-fill sherry bitts, they have combined beautifully.”

And here are my tasting notes:

Ardbeg Day:
Nose: Burnt toffee, tar, paraffin, and pumpkin pie.

Palate: A bit waxy in taste and feel.  Fresh hay dipped in iodine and a little bit of butterscotch.  Waxy cashews. Hot, put a little water saves the day without dampening the flavors.  Vegetal finish is decent. B/B+.

A bit waxy in taste and feel.  Fresh hay dipped in iodine and a little bit of butterscotch.  Waxy cashews.  Hot, put a little water saves the day without dampening the flavors.  Vegetal finish is decent.

Is it good?  Sure, I’d drink it all day.   I wouldn’t call it hype-worthy however.  The Gator and Corry releases were better (although pricier.)  I’ve included some informal notes I dug up for some of the more recent Ardbeg releases, just for comparison.

Rollercoaster:
Nose: Grassy and fresh tar. Decently strong

Palate: Very thin mouthfeel, moldy grass and mint. Asphalt and coat leather. Altogether just a simple young Ardbeg, very much like Ardbeg Still Young released a few years ago. The finish is fleeting although I’m not sure I’d want it to linger. Disregarding the collectability, I’d call it a good $25 peater for when you’re in the mood. C+/B-

Supernova:
Nose: Strong. Superbubble bubblegum, lemon pine sol and briney air. Taste is, wow, aggressive. Reminds me of a PC6. The peat is there, but the 100ppm isn’t the big player here (i.e., 60 ppm would be similar). The pine-sol sticks to the back of the palate and stays until you wash your mouth out. The sweetness is fleeting, which is a drawback for me. Water only makes the bitter-leafiness more prominent.

Corryvreckan
Nose: Red hots and fruitcake. Strong and sharp.

Palate: Christmas! Evergreen (noble fir) and Christmas spice all lingering over this smoky base that reminds me of a fireplace whose flames just died out. This is exactly what I’m going to tell my son to leave out for Santa. B+/A-

Alligator:
Nose: Water sealant on a new wooden deck. Nice

Palate: This is a great hard-hitter. Carpentry chemicals and charcoal at Christmas. The finish REALLY sticks to you. Bites, but in the good way.

Great Buys for New Scotch

One of my quests in life is not only to find great whisky but to find good whisky deals. Of course there are the classics, like the $32 (£20) Laphroaig I get down the street, but there are some new players too. I’ve found three bottles that have piqued my interest in the last few months. I was about to write about how these reviews were completely unbiased, but then remembered that two of the three were poured freely at events for my club, and the third will do the same this week. Honestly, I like the folks who offered these free tasting events. How can I not? So is it a coincidence that I’m only listing scotch I’ve gotten as freebies? No, these guys are out “pushing” these whiskies because they are worth it and they know it. The distilleries have put in the effort to produce good bottles and they are sealing the deal with top ambassadors and even a master distiller to make sure the world knows what they have. I tip my hat to them and thank them for a job well done.

Low Range – Tullibardine Aged Oak
Tullibardine was quite recently a discarded distillery. Its stills lay cold for 8 long years when Whyte & Mackay lost interest in it in 1995. Under a new independent ownership the distillery revived the brand and did their best with what stocks they had, hoping to rekindle interest in a name that was only recognized by the most ardent of scotch enthusiasts. Although they’re selling older stocks of Whyte & Mackay-made whisky, the Aged Oak is their first major and mature release under the rebirth, and is impressive for the price. In a tasting that involved a lot of teenaged Tully bottles and this young whipper snapper, youth won out. The victory wasn’t decisive, but when we learned the price difference there was no doubt that it was the best deal on the table and likely one of the best deals in any whisky store. It was relieving for all of us that the malt quality had improved, unlike many major brands that are clearly coasting with whisky that isn’t nearly what it was decades ago. And to top it off, as of 2011 Tullibardine has a new owner, Picard Vins & Spiriteaux, who came in and decided that the distillery needed an update and facelift. Picard, one of the most popular employers in France, had enjoyed success by using Tully in their own Highland Queen brand. They believe in the spirit and company and are willing to make the investment needed to bring the distillery to the top of the game. I imagine that by the time my son is old enough to drink with his dad, there will be plenty of Tullibardine on my shelf for him to choose from.

Tullibardine Aged Oak – known (non-blind)
Price: $38 US, £23 UK.

• Nose: Rubbing alcohol and toffee. Not so great.
• Palate: Vanilla, olive oil poured from a leather cup. Nice mouthfeel. The finish has a bit of lemon too.

Mid-Range – Tomatin Decades
Back in the days of bell-bottoms and peace signs Tomatin was the biggest beast in Scotland with 23 stills cranking out booze for blends in fantastic quantities. Like the pants it fell out of fashion with the blenders, thanks in part to conglomeration, and is now just a morsel of what it used to be. Realizing they could no longer rely on blends to keeps the lights on, they polished up the ol’ Tomatin logo and started producing more single malts in a strategy to rebrand itself. Gone is the crummy black label Tomatin I bought 7 years ago, which got demoted to lighter fluid. Their new lineup is solid and can stand proudly in the pantheon of single malt brands. Emphasizing how serious Tomatin is about getting the word out, we were being poured by none other than the master distiller himself. Douglas Campbell wasn’t above visiting a rec room in the less fashionable corner of Los Angeles to speak to 20 lowly scotch lovers. Douglas has been with Tomatin longer than some of the mortar, and to commemorate his resistance to leave, casks from every decade he’s worked at the distillery were vatted together to make Decades. This was the bottle that immediately stuck out as the winner of the bunch, even before I knew what it was. The casks used are written in the fancy box, but not the formula, which he had scribbled on some paper:

One 1967 sherry hogshead
Two 1976 refill hogshead
Two 1985 refill hogshead
Four 1990 refill bourbon barrels
Three 2005 1st fill bourbon barrels (peated)

Now let’s see how they celebrate the secretary who’s been around since ’58.

 

Tomatin Decades – Known (non-blind)
Price: $85 US, £65 UK

• Nose: Sugar plum candies (yes, it’s Christmastime)
• Palate: Watermelon jolly rancher with a faint hint of rubber band. The long finish leans toward fresh cut hardwood. Good scotch.

High Range – Balvenie Tun 1401 Batch 3

Balvenie’s not going to sneak up anyone.  They’ve been the epitome of consistency and quality for years.  Everyone likes it because there’s nothing to dislike.  Unfortunately, universal approval comes at a cost because it avoids the polarizing flavors that puts the ‘love it or hate it’ fun into scotch.  Balvenie’s the best friend you ask to the prom after your first choice shoots you down.  Good ol’ Balvenie.   Actually, great Balvenie can be readily found if you crank your head up to the tip top of the shelf, behind the locked glass.  Balvenie 30 will set you back £350 in the UK and over $600 in the US.  Want the 40 year old?  Multiply that price by 6.   Fortunately, while running the corked gauntlet with Balvenie’s Sam Simmons at the Nth Tasting, I came across this champ.  Granted, everything in the room was good, but when told the price on the Tun 1401, I wasn’t expecting scotch nirvana in my glass.  It matched the 30 year in quality, at less than half the price.  Batch 3 is a US release but I’ve heard Europe’s Batch 2 is very similar and mostly sold out.  Tun 1401 is a vatting of 7 bourbon and 3 sherry casks into a tun, a very large 2000 liter cask that looks like something out of an old winehouse.  The different malts “marry” for three months into a new cohesive whisky before being pumped out, which you can see in this video (try to find the Balvenie ambassadors.)

Actually I think I’m going to buy a few more  bottles before I hit the ‘send’ button on this article.

Balvenie
Tun 1401 Batch 3
– Known (non-blind)

Price: $240 US

  • Nose:
    Dark fruits.  Plums, Cherry snow cone syrup.  Rich, strong, andfantastic.
  • Palate:
    Flash of sweet candies.  Cherry and licorice sugar plums. Hints of mint.  The mouthfeel could be thicker, but the flavor isoverwhelming enough as it is. The finish leans toward orange wedge candies andthe slightest hint of Spanish cedar.  Not a scotch for dessert… a dessertin itself.

Balvenie’s not going to sneak up anyone. They’ve been the epitome of consistency and quality for years. Everyone likes it because there’s nothing to dislike. Unfortunately, universal approval comes at a cost because it avoids the polarizing flavors that puts the ‘love it or hate it’ fun into scotch. Balvenie’s the best friend you ask to the prom after your first choice shoots you down. Good ol’ Balvenie. Actually, great Balvenie can be readily found if you crank your head up to the tip top of the shelf, behind the locked glass. Balvenie 30 will set you back £350 in the UK and over $600 in the US. Want the 40 year old? Multiply that price by 6. Fortunately, while running the corked gauntlet with Balvenie’s Sam Simmons at the Nth Tasting, I came across this champ. Granted, everything in the room was good, but when told the price on the Tun 1401, I wasn’t expecting scotch nirvana in my glass. It matched the 30 year in quality, at less than half the price. Batch 3 is a US release but I’ve heard Europe’s Batch 2 is very similar and mostly sold out. Tun 1401 is a vatting of 7 bourbon and 3 sherry casks into a tun, a very large 2000 liter cask that looks like something out of an old winehouse. The different malts “marry” for three months into a new cohesive whisky. You can see them filling the tun in this video (try to find the Balvenie ambassadors.)

 
Actually I think I’m going to buy a few more bottles before I hit the ‘send’ button on this article.

 

“The Audacity of Note” or “How I Will Review Whisky” – Whisky Notes Part 4

I’ll be doing a lot of reviews on Whisky.com so you’ll need to know where I stand. As I said before, there are a lot of rating systems out there, and I have to choose one.

The System

We’ll be using the A-F rating system here, and just like school, C is average, without merit or demerit (except for grad school.) Because I’m likely to review whiskies of significance, you’ll probably see a lot of reviews of B or more. If you’re like me, then you’re more interested in better whisky and that’s where we’ll focus. You may also notice that although a C isn’t bad, I might get a little bitter about it wasting my time and liver.

My Scale

As stated before there is a lot of number inflation with some of the more commercial reviews. I’m not going to get too critical about that since a lot of that is conformity with what has become a standard. For better or worse, my livelihood does not hinge on my whisky ratings, so I do as I want. Many whiskies that the pros rate in the “low 90s”, I will put in the “B” range. It’s not because I’m snootier or have more experience, it’s just MY own opinion on how I want to scale my ratings, and I do try to stay true to the spirit of the descriptors. It’s also nice to have a little breathing room in the A range for the truly great whiskies.

Categories

There’s the old adage, apples to apples, and oranges to oranges.  I hope I used the right fruit. Being VERY simplistic, there are two major types of whisk(e)y that have taken hold.  The first is the barley-centric old-world whisky that is found in Scotland, Ireland, Japan, and elsewhere.  The second type is the bourbon/rye whiskey that sprouted in the United States.  Because these are different animals, I tend to rate them according to their peers. BTW, some whiskies made in America are malted barley, and I will tend to group them with scotch and such.My Notes

I appreciate good long notes, and may get a little windy myself on occasion, but for Whisky.com, I’m going to try to be quick and opinionated.  Most readers just want to know whether a whisky is good or not, and I’ll make sure I deliver that.  “Hey, this is great!” is a good note; far better than just a list of obscure European jams.  I will say what comes to my mind, even if I’m describing how a whisky reminds me more of an experience than something that once landed on my tongue.  Anything that can put you in the moment I’m in when I taste the whisky is fair game for print.  My rating will be a final overall whisky experience.  I don’t parse and tally sub-scores because I consider it more of an art than science.  Of course the nose matters, the finish matters, and the mouthfeel matters, but I lump it all up into one big drinking experience.  Color… don’t give a rat’s ass.

Knowledge Bias:One tidbit I’ll always add is the knowledge I had about the whisky I reviewed.

• Blind:  The ultimate review.  Whisky is handed over in a glass with no information offered.  No bias is possible.  This is the best type of review.

• Semi-Blind:  The reviewer is offered a whisky and knows it is one of a limited number of possibilities but not specifically which one.

• Known:  The reviewer knows exactly what is being tasted.

Guest Reviewers:

I have numerous whisky drinking friends.  On occasion I will ask them for a review, often blind.  I won’t hold them to my notes standards but will ask them to consider the ratings guide.  The more notes, the clearer the picture.

Alrighty then, let’s get to my first review ever (here).  Remember what I’ve been saying for a few months about professional reviews?  Well I decided to take on the granddaddy review of them all, the 2012 Whisky Bible World Whisky of the Year, Old Pulteney 21, which wasn’t easy to find because it was the #$%#$ Whisky of the Year and was sold out.  My plan was to get as many BLIND reviews as possible.  Unfortunately I could only try it semi-blind because I didn’t have time to wait for a friend to surprise me.  I had never had Old Pulteney 21, and hadn’t had any OB Pulteney for many years, so semi-blind wasn’t a bad plan.  My friend, Fuji, poured 3 glasses, an Old Pulteney 21 and two other cask samples that I’d never tried.  Of course I attempted to guess which was the Pulteney… and got it wrong.  So here it is… the 2012 World Whisky of the Year:

Old Pulteney 21 – Andy Smith/semi-blind

• Nose: Freshly tanned leather

• Palate:  Starts dull, then quickly heads into a warm minty rubber.  Oily sawdust. Little else going   on.  B/B-

Old Pulteney 21 – Andy Smith/known (tasted while typing this)

• Nose:  Wow, there’s a lot of vapor.  Reminds me of the fake leather seats of my family’s 1977 Toyota Corona on a hot day.

• Palate:  Mint, but faint.  Carpentry.  There’s an oily or melted butter texture.  Balloon.  This is pleasant but a tad pedestrian.  The finish is bitter.

Old Pulteney 21 – Friend #1/Blind

• Nose:  Banana bread and sour cherries

• Palate:  Bitter cinnamon, anise seed, a little leathery warmth

Old Pulteney 21 – Friend #2/Blind

• Nose:  Bubblegum, cherry, hint of soap.

• Palate:  Spicy up front.  Turns to a dry grassiness (heather?).  Reasonable finish.

Old Pulteney 21 – Friend #3/Blind

• Nose: Initial heather with honey comb and malt. Plenty of floral with hint of lemon oil. B+

• Palate: Heavy and thick mouthfeel. Dense golden honey with light tobacco. Nice oak influence, grass and heather make for a solid balance. Long honeysuckle finish. “A dessert of honey” A-/B+

Old Pulteney 21 – Friend #4/Blind

• Nose:  Sweet fruits and flowers mixed with creamy malt.

• Palate:  Licorice, wax, and peppers.  Bit of citrus and saltiness on a medium finish.  B/B-

And there you have it, the 2012 World Whisky of the Year from a different perspective.  Did Jim Murray have it wrong when he gave it a 97.5 (his A or A+)?  Well, if he believes in what he wrote, then no, because it’s his opinion.  I’m comfortable taking his word on it.  I would, however, like to politely disagree, because in my humble opinion Old Pulteney 21 isn’t a winner… but we do like it.

How to Write Tasting Notes – Whisky Notes Part 3

Thanks for listening to me whine and moan for parts 1 and 2 about other peoples’ notes. Now we get to the good part where I stick my neck out and say how I think notes should be done and this is especially important because I need to lay down the groundwork for how I’ll do notes on this blog. Here we go…

When am I ready to do tasting notes?

Here’s a number I throw out, because it’s the number of unique whiskies I had before my palate settled to something I could rely on consistently: 300. Yeah, it’s a lot, but fine-tuning a palate to taste whisky takes time, especially to get over the whisky burn that many get starting out. When I first started drinking good whisky, I truly believed that some $50 bottles I tried were the best things ever distilled and scored them accordingly. As it turns out there is some fantastic whisky to be found (that unfortunately is rarely $50) and the bar was raised, so much so that I had to revise earlier ratings. Now, perhaps you have a buddy mentoring you and force feeding great whisky down your gullet. Maybe then you’ll learn faster. Otherwise take your time, 300.

What do I take notes about?

Here’s what most people talk about when reviewing whisky, in order of importance.

• Palate (taste)
• Nose (smell)
• Finish (what you taste 5 or 10 seconds afterwards)
• Viscosity (thick and velvety vs. thin and watery)
• Color

Palate: How it tastes.

Nose: Take a few whiffs, but not too deep or you’ll burn your nose. If it’s not strong enough, cover the top for a few seconds, then nose quickly when you pull the lid off. Some folks recommend rubbing whisky on your palm and sniffing that. I just end up smelling sweaty palm.

Finish: This is rather optional and can be included with the palate. Sometimes it’s not even worth mentioning. Your call.
Viscosity: The texture of the whisky. Again, this can be included with the palate. I recommend not mentioning it unless there’s a superlative quality.
Color: Who cares? People can see that by looking at the picture.

How do I rate whisky?

There are plenty of scales out there. Most go from 1-100, from 1-10 with decimals, and A-F. Sadly, we’ve never escaped the scoring dogma we learned in first grade. For most part, scores that are published and receive of lot of views fall into these ranges:

• A, 90-100, 9-10 Range – Fantastic. Typically (and unfortunately) high end or limited edition type bottlings. It’s hard to mass produce with this quality. I’m not saying it hasn’t happened, but it’s hard.

• B, 80-90, 8-9 Range – Good. Quite frankly, most whisky that is a single malt scotch or whisky of comparable pedigree will fall in this range with the exception of some of the lower tier bottles. This is a bottle that a whisky drinker would never turn down.

• C, 70-80, 7-8 Range – Not good, but not bad. This is a whisky that you drink if you don’t care. It’s the ‘meh’ of whisky; the ‘there’s nothing better around’. You’ll find most respectable blends or introductory level malts here.

• D, 60-90, 6-7 Range – Bad. Something is wrong with this whisky. Either this is bottom shelf stuff intended only to cause inebriation, or a mistake was made and a bad batch occurred.

• F, 50-60, 5-6 Range – Terrible! This is something that has to be spat out. Undrinkable. A horrendous mistake was made and another horrendous mistake was made by allowing it to be sold.

Do you need to use these scales? No, it’s just an example of what’s out there. When trying to calibrate yourself, please keep in mind that all ‘professional’ reviews that are in any way related to whisky sales, indirect or not, tend to be a little be inflated; especially towards high volume moneymakers.

Be brave, offer an opinion

When I look at reviews, I skip all of the nuts and berries, and get right down to what I want to know – ‘Is it good and why’. Remember, this record is an invitation or warning to anyone interested in the whisky. Here’s an example:

• Whisky note: Peaches
My comment: Do you even know if I like peaches? Worthless.

• Whisky note: The gods compressed the essence of peach nectar and delivered this bottle as a gift for mankind.
My comment: Yum, I want it. Even if I don’t like peaches I’m glad to be warned.

• Whisky note: Ick! Turpentine soaking a rotten peach.
My comment: I’ll spend my money elsewhere. Thanks!

Have the courage to be honest

Sometimes I offer whisky to friends with the caveat ‘Feel free to say it sucks, I didn’t make it’. It’s natural to want to agree with someone or be upbeat. Fight the urge. Be honest. Disagreement is more fun anyway. Every time I failed to give an honest opinion, it’s backfired, badly.
It’s very rare that any two people get the same specific notes from whisky. Take notes with a friend but agree not to share until you’re done. You’ll probably identify different flavors, and the world won’t end because you disagreed.

Change your mind

Unless you’re running for president, flip-flopping is fine. Most whisky drinkers will admit that they’ve had a whisky that tasted differently than before. The fact is that there are a lot of factors that can affect your palate. Neither review is wrong. Include them both and average the score. Again, be honest.
Calibrate

Do you have a favorite bottle that’s always on the shelf? Memorize the taste and make it your calibrator. If you think your palate is off, swig the calibrator… maybe your tongue is having an off day.

Tastes like nothing

Sometimes you just can’t find anything to say. Unless you have a cold or have burnt your palate (see below) it’s probably just bland whisky. Perhaps there’s just nothing there. Maybe you can tell you’re drinking alcohol but that’s it. Write it down. Don’t try to find things that aren’t there and invent notes. That’s the distiller’s fault, not yours, if there’s nothing to write about.
Don’t try too many notes at once

Whisky ain’t wine. It will battle your tongue and win. Always. Even if you can enjoy good scotch or bourbon all night, realistically you can only handle detailed notes on 5 or 6 of them. If you try to do more, you won’t like what you find in the morning. I need to heed my own advice.

Taste it blind

Now that’s the ultimate review. Having no preconceptions gives every whisky a fair shake. Let’s be honest, we naturally don’t want to review the cheap bottle well and the expensive bottle badly. Let it happen. I do that all the time. I smile and go purchase the cheap one. Yay!

Oh no! I’ve dragged on too long. I suppose there will have to be: Whisky Notes Part 4 – “The Audacity of Note” or “How I Will Review Whisky on this Blog”

Whisky Books, Whisky Awards, and The Best Whisky in the Universe – Whisky Notes Part 2

Whisky Books

Every newbie has done it. I sure did. When I encountered my first wall o’ malts at a good spirits shop, I crumbled in joy, then confusion. But wait, someone wrote a whisky book to tell me what to buy? I bought the book. I bought another book. I bought scotch. You know, sometimes the books were right. And sometimes… what the #$%? Please remember that reading a review is reading just ONE opinion. How many times have you seen a movie reviewed with widely differing conclusions? What if the reviewer doesn’t like what you like? Keep this in mind. There are alternatives…
Whisky Reviews Online

Here’s where I go. Even before I had a computer in my phone, I looked online. The best sites are a matter of opinion, and here’s a few of mine:

Malt Maniacs Malt Monitor – A ridiculously large list that just gives raw scores from a vetted group of reviewers. This is a data crunch but often the last resort for something incredibly rare.

WhiskyFun – This is the brainchild of Serge Valentin, one of the more (if not most) prolific Malt Maniacs. It’s a bit cumbersome to navigate, but once you figure it out, there’s a ton of well regarded reviews. He’s European, so most of his bottle reviews are too.

WhiskyNotes – A well done blog by Ruben Luyten of Belgium

LA Whisk(e)y Society – Not the Club I founded, but one that I attend. I’m biased since I post there (as do 20 others), but with 1500 bottles reviewed, and most with numerous members, I think it’s safe to say its hit prime-time.

Sku’s Recent Eats – Stephen Ury loves his American Whisk(e)y but will review a scotch if his arm is twisted a fraction of a degree (he’s a friend.)

The Sour Mash Manifesto – Jason Pyle dispenses video reviews about bourbon and rye that are longer than the time spent in the barrel.

Whisky Awards

Most awards are bunk. Many have few entries and charge participants who expect a gold plated diamond award for $25 swill that hasn’t changed since my grandfather sipped his first hooch. These contests are the equivalent of entering the same ugly pig in the state fair for fifty straight years and result in decisions that Don King could easily control predict. For fun, read about the International Whisky Competition 2011. Hilarious. Whisky book or magazine awards that are graded by one person aren’t really definitive. These awards are five times worse than having five Norwegian political hacks dictate who the world’s most peaceful person is. Blind tastings such as the Irondram Try-Athlon (shameful plug, beware!) are the only way ensure a fair decision. Most contests won’t taste anything blind because they’re just big brand advertisements under cloak. The only one of worldwide significance that maintains strict standards of blind reviews is the Malt Maniacs Awards. If you don’t know the Malt Maniacs already, you will if you love whisky. (Disclosure: a few “Maniacs” are friends of mine).

The Best Whisky in the Universe

What is the best whisky? That’s going to be as hot a topic as politics and religion. Let’s just say what it isn’t… something that’s in 20,000 bottles. Some pretty common bottles have gotten big awards. Don’t get excited and buy them because if it’s too good to be true it probably is. The sad truth is that you just can’t mass produce the magic of a good cask of whisky. Each cask is unique, and only the best one is the best one. Wouldn’t it be nifty if the best cask ever had 100 exact duplicates that could be bottled en masse as the single best whisky in world? Pigs will sprout wings and propellers when that happens. The “best whisky ever” will be a limited bottling from one or perhaps a few casks. It will cost what it’s worth, and it will never be a blend, because blends are inferior and boring. Did I just say that out loud? Oops, I forgot knocking blends was out of fashion.

I’m going to slink back to the table with all of the other unpopular kids now…

Coming soon (if I get my Christmas shopping done):

Whisky Notes Part 3: How I will do notes on Whisky.com (and perhaps some notes!)

Whisky Notes Part 1: Suggestions About Tasting Notes
Whisky Notes Part 2:  Whisky Books, Whisky Awards, and The Best Whisky in the World

Whisky Notes Part 1: Suggestions About Tasting Notes

Whisky Notes Part 1: Suggestions About Tasting Notes I’ve barely started this blog, but I’m ready to start teeing people off. Here goes!

With the thunderous sound of a no.2 pencil scratching a Wal-Mart note card, our tasting notes ring out harsh and swift judgment upon a trembling malt. We defy the whisky ambassadors and their rehearsed dogma, we eschew the notes suggested on the box, and we thoroughly scoff at the weenie at work who thinks he knows his scotch. Then we bury our notes in a random pocket, comforted at our permanent and valuable contribution to the annals of whisky history.

They’re probably worthless; as in ‘no value’. But what value can tasting notes have anyhow? Well, let’s get down to the main purpose (and I will be oversimplifying). Tasting notes are a recommendation or warning to someone, even yourself. I’m sure we’ve all dreamt of our notes etched in stone and displayed in a museum , but that ain’t gonna happen. The best they’ll ever be is a public recollection; the worst, a big fat waste of ink and fuel for my someone’s fireplace.

Here’s a few ways that tasting notes become worthless.
1) No one reads them, including the writer
2) No judgment or opinion
3) Bias

1. No one gives dram.
Do you really REALLY want to do whisky notes? Will anyone care? Will you care? Whisky notes can be a pain in the ass and can ruin a perfectly good night of dramming and socializing with your friends. Plus, you’ll feel guilty anytime you drink something new without taking notes or at least snapping a blurry dark photo from your phone. Some of the most experienced tipplers I know shun notes. Think of the benefits! Freedom! So ask yourself again “is worth it?”
But then again, sometimes it is. When you take notes you pay more attention, and may notice some flavors you wouldn’t have if you were sipping during a MarioKart race. Those notes will come in handy if you or a friend needs a recommendation in the future.

2. So, did you like it?!
You can list 10 berries that aren’t in my supermarket, you can tell me it smells like Neptune in autumn, and you say the bottle is reminiscent of your favorite 18th century sculptor. But did you like it? Did you hate it? Is there any indication of whether I should waste time and money adding it to my whisky shelf? Adding a grade (number or letter) is a way to save on ink and adjectives.

3. Bias
Bias in some form is inevitable. Even if a friend hands you an unmarked glass and asks you to taste, you’re still looking her in the eye to know something. That’s forgivable. Unfortunately, some reviewers have a major interest in the outcome. Many make a livelihood selling ads, and many have friends who had a hand in making the whisky, or had a hand themselves. I can’t say that they should be dismissed, but consider that ratings may be inflated, even if it was an unconscious act. Ignore label notes for anything other than the most basic idea of what the malt is. You’ll get a better idea from the distillery, age, cask, and ABV information.

I’ve been poured really old and expensive scotch. I liked it. I reviewed it well. When I received it blind at a later time, I thought less of it. I didn’t think I would be biased, but I was. Now imagine if the person pouring the scotch paid my bills and fed my family. I bet it would have been the most delicious whisky ever!
Try to taste things blindly. Get a drinkin’ buddy to help. It’s nerve wracking but a true exercise at studying a malt. The good news is that no matter whether you like it or not, you’re right! It’s your opinion and you’re entitled to it.

Thanks for reading this far into a grinchy article. I’ll pick on some other folks in Part 2 so that EVERYONE hates me, but I’ll be a stand up guy and offer constructive advice in Whisky Notes Part 3. I’ll also include the method I’ll use to review whisky, which I plan to do a lot of in the coming months.
Coming soon:

Whisky Notes Part 1: Suggestions About Tasting Notes
Whisky Notes Part 2: Whisky Books, Whisky Awards, and The Best Whisky in the World
Whisky Notes Part 3: How I will do notes on Whisky.com (and perhaps some notes!)