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.

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-

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.

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-

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.

Gnac Night

Cognac? Armagnac? But aren’t we all about Whisky?  Yes, but we also focus on learning, and an important part of knowing about whisky is knowing what distinguishes it from other fine spirits.  On May 25th the LA Scotch Club will travel down the Chunnel from Scotland to France to explore HIGH END Cognac and Armagnac… the kind that don’t make rap videos. These featured “Gnacs” are rare and highly acclaimed. To sweeten the deal we’ve invited Franck Vigneron of Maison Comandon to present an introduction to Cognac. Comandon is a great house that’s starting to turn heads. They’re old (1821), yet young in that they’re innovative and are gaining notoriety with awards piling up.

The event will be at Jack and Jill’s Too, near Beverly Hills. We’ll have a crepe dinner and dessert and the following Cognacs and Armagnacs:

Pierre Ferrand 1965
Ragnaud-Sabourin 35 Cognac
Tariquet 1982 Armagnac
Tesseron Lot 29 Cognac
Labaude Armagnac 1974
Tesseron Lot 29 Cognac
Comandon VS
Comandon VSOP
Comandon XO
Comandon Single Barrel

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.

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.


Charbay – The American Hop Whiskey

Perched nearly 2000 feet above Napa, a little distillery nicknamed “Still on the Hill” has been quietly making some of the best whiskey in America. Charbay is a name that doesn’t get tossed around a lot, unless you’re Californian and pay top dollar for quality drinks. It’s run by the Karakasevic family, which is on its eighth generation of distillers. Miles, the family patriarch, emigrated from Yugoslavia and founded his little family distillery, Charbay, forgoing the “Karakasevic” family name which rolls off the tongue like thistles and saltwater. The company makes vodka, wine, port, brandy, and quite frankly anything you wouldn’t admit to drinking at a checkpoint, but who cares… this isn’t That’s where Marko comes in. Miles’ son is a bit of an experimenter, and a good one at that. His Charbay Whiskey is arguably the best whiskey in America. Granted it’s quite different than bourbon and rye and is hard compare within those categories. Actually, it’s hard to categorize it anywhere because he did something unusual. He distilled beer. You just scoffed at my ignorance, didn’t you? No, Marko distilled BEER, not a wash similar to beer, but bottles of beer that he popped open and dumped into his still. Okay, that’s an exaggeration. They probably didn’t make him open thousands of bottles, but it was completed beer, hops and all. That’s why Charbay Whiskey is in a class of its own… a hop whiskey.

Among the very small whisk(e)y loving community in southern California, Charbay has a cult following, not because the drinkers or the product are weird (sorry, cultists), but because it’s what we refer to as ‘great s%#t’. Here’s the catch, Marko works his butt off to make it and he knows it’s good, so he charges premium prices. Charbay Whiskey can set you back over $300 if you’re lucky enough to find it. Reviews from those in the know range from solid to raving and even neighborhood local (American football) quarterback Joe Montana has dropped a significant amount of Super Bowl bucks on Marko’s creations (no word on whether he owns cask #16 or not.) Since part of my charter is to recommend where to spend your money, I’m ready to tell you. Here it is: Charbay Whiskey is great, but $300 is a lot of money. We’re talking fine scotch money here. If you’re just a whiskey dabbler and money is tight, pay your light bill. If you insist on trying new things and/or have money to spare, Charbay Whiskey should be at the top of the list because it’s unique and exceptional. They have another younger range called Doubled and Twisted, which per friends’ advice (I haven’t had it) is best enjoyed in a cocktail. I have reviewed the first Release, Charbay Whiskey I, as an A-. It’s mostly gone now but I’ve done a formal review of current release, Charbay Whiskey II at the end of this article. For those outside California, Charbay will find a way to sell you its wares if you contact them.

Marko Karakasevic was kind enough to offer an interview. He called late because he had to save someone caught in a deep ravine near the distillery. Marko believed the angels had already taken their fair share at Charbay.

Here a little cheat sheet:

• Charbay Whiskey I: Aged 2 yrs in New American Oak
• Charbay Whiskey II: Aged 6 yrs in New American Oak then aged 4 yrs. in stainless steel
• Charbay Whiskey III: Aged 12yrs in American Char 3 barrels
• Charbay R5 IPA Whiskey: 2yrs in Chardonnay French Oak
• Charbay Whisky Release S: Big Bear Stout Whisky Aged 2 yrs in French Oak
• R5 Light Whiskey: Aged in stainless steel
• Big Bear Stout Light Whiskey: Aged in stainless steel
• D&T Light Whiskey I: Aged 1 day in French Oak, then aged 2 yrs. in stainless steel
• D&T Light Whiskey II: Aged 4 yrs in French Oak, then aged 2 yrs. in stainless steel

The Interview with Marko Karakasevic, creator of Charbay Whiskey

Andy: So there was no Charbay Whisky… and then there was. How’d it come about?
Marko: I started to brew beer in high school. More and more, I made different beers with different grains, hops, and yeasts. I had yeasts from the winery to use and those made different beers for sure. Prior to brewing beer, I was learning to ferment wine with my dad. I soon learned that whiskey is a distilled beer… jump to 1999 and Dad and I took 20,000 gallons of Pilsner beer and double alembic distilled it. It took 3 ½ weeks 24/7 non-stop to make 20 barrels. All the hop flavors came over, but some were lost due to being lighter than alcohol and vaporized out with the CO2. We barreled in new American Oak because this stuff was so different than any other whiskey, so we wanted a bit of flavor profile that people could associate with. The guys at Bear Republic let me do whatever I want while they are brewing my loads. They’re the nicest guys and are wonderful to work with. I distilled Racer 5 (beer) last year and it is probably coming out early next year.

Andy: 24/7? Had to do that or you just wanted to get it done faster? I’m not a distiller myself so I have no idea.
Marko: Running 24/7 is how I was taught. Your beer or wine won’t oxidize on you, so you don’t have as many heads and tails (first and last of the liquids produced during distillation) to deal with. Plus, if it took 3.5 weeks of 24/7, that would have taken 1.5 months doing one run a day.

Andy: So you take pilsner and make Charbay I, which is possibly the best barley whiskey ever made on American soil. What are the specs and how did it sell?
Marko: It sold out! It was in the barrel for only 24 months, the very least it had to be in the barrel for. I found 2 barrels that I liked, pumped them into a tank, and bottled it un-cut, unfiltered, splinters and all. 129.4 proof. I am very excited about my whiskey program at Charbay. I’ll release some after 24 months, save some for a 110 proof 6 year soak, and then a couple of barrels at full strength after a 12 year soak. The next release, Charbay Whiskey III, will be a 17 case release. 138.2 proof. I’ll be waxing and labeling it next week.

Andy: Soak?
Marko: My slang for barrel aging.

Andy: It had to be aged 2 years to be called whiskey? (In California)
Marko: There are several regulations on each style or “class” of whiskey. Some have minimums, some have type of oak requirements (new or used and char #3). One of more stupid laws in US Whiskey is the one about Tennessee Whiskey: it must be at least 51% corn, charcoal filtered after distillation, aged in new char#3 barrels at least 2 years, then charcoal filtered one more time just to make sure there is no body left and the finish lasts about 0.6 sec.

Andy: Some would say the faster it goes away, the better.
Marko: I am happy that I can distill whatever and however I want. I’m not trying to take over the world, just trying to make the best product I can. My style of distillation is this: the nose will be very nice, the taste will explode with flavor, and the finish will be long and show even more flavors that were not in the front of the taste, be it rum, whiskey, tequila, or brandy. I distill them all and stay true to my style. I think it took about six years or so to sell out (Charbay I) at $350 a bottle. There was no real track record for a California Pilsner Whiskey.

Andy: Charbay I is mostly gone. Is Charbay II still available?
Marko: Charbay Whiskey II was barrel aged for 6 years, then cut to 110 proof and stored in a stainless steel tank for 4 years, then bottled two years ago. It was a five barrel release, about 1,500 bottles or so. I have 19 or 20 cases left in my distillery.

Andy: This is going to drive some people crazy in Scotland because it goes against scripture… your whiskey ages (changes) in stainless steel?
Marko: Oh yes, Scotch does too; everything does, tequila, rum, brandy, wine, beer, vodka.

Andy: Hmm, wine for sure but if scotch aged like wine everyone would be saving it. I think the Scots would say it’s negligible. You?
Marko: I do agree not as much as wine, but it ages in stainless steel, mellows out, and doesn’t get all oaky. I can’t stand over oaked anything. I want to taste what is in the barrel, not the barrel. I don’t buy a bottle of oak extract with hints of grain, smoke, and peat, but it seems that is what is happening these days. Please direct me to a whiskey that you can taste and have the flavors of the beer be the dominant flavors and the oak only accenting and complementing the flavor.

Andy: Okay, without a time machine a perfect check can’t be done. The best we can go with is Marko’s 4 year memory. How would you say Charbay II compared with the whisky prior to the 4 year steel aging?
Marko: After the 6 years of oak aging, I put it into the stainless. It had extracted a ton of oak (in my opinion) and then it was time to let it age and mesh all that oak to all the Pilsner flavors. Did it really require me to do it for 4 years? Not really, I wanted to pull it and not get any more oak. It definitely aged and mellowed out in the tank. When it was time to bottle, it was totally ready. The 12 year version has even more oak, but I think this whiskey has so much body that it can handle 12 years and not have the oak dominate. For me, I like the 18 to 24 month (barrel) soak.

Andy: But you said 2 years is minimum.
Marko: Well, Charbay Whiskey (non-light) is in the “hop flavored” category they created for us back in 1999. It has no age requirement.

Andy: Nice. What products are available now and what is on the horizon (whiskey)?
Marko: The next release of D&T Light Whiskey is from 2005, aged in French Oak for 4 years and then aged in stainless for 2 years, and I’m about to release it. Cask Spirits in SF bought the whole thing and it should be about $85 for a liter, 35 cases, 99 proof. Next is Charbay III, 17 cases, 138.2 proof, distilled in 1999 from Pilsner and pulled out of barrel this October and bottled. Also coming out is the Charbay R5 IPA French Oak Aged Whiskey distilled from Racer 5 IPA beer from the Bear Republic Brewery, aged for 24 months in two year old French Oak barrels that had Rombauer Chardonnay in them. The whiskey will be 99 proof. I also have Big Bear Stout called release “S” to release both in the 24 month French Oak aged. There will be Light Whiskey versions of both.

Andy: The last Doubled & Twisted was barely aged, right?
Marko: The first D&T was barreled in used oak for one day, and pumped out the next, to appease the TTB so I could call it Light Whiskey.

Andy: Are you US only?
Marko: Yep, and

Andy: no plans to share with Europe?
Marko: No connections and it’s a bitch to export. California will suck up a large majority of it, and Manhattan.

Andy: Let’s say a guy in Germany reads this and wants to buy Charbay. What are his best chances?
Marko: I think we can find a store that will ship to him. I know we have shipped to Norway via a shipping company here in the Napa Valley.

Andy: And now for the final question because I run a club and always get asked this type of thing: price?
Marko: the light whiskey and the 24 month olds will be about $55 and $85. Charbay III will be $350.

Andy: $350? A lot of people will be asking why.
Marko: I’ve lost at least 3% due to evaporation per year plus what has been sampled, so the price reflects the lost product, plus the cost of using bottle-ready beer, new barrels, and I actually want to make a profit selling this. I don’t get $350. I have to sell it dirt cheap to my distributor, he makes a $100 on it, then the store makes a $100 on it, plus the government gets about $4 per bottle before it goes out our door, and there is the (California) State Excise tax, and sales tax. I often wonder how much it costs to brew a gallon or 3.785 liters of distillers’ beer out of 2 row barley. I use bottle ready beer that I really like to drink.

Andy: But not peated, right?
Marko: Not peated. Hops? Oh hell yea!

Andy: Desert island, one SCOTCH bottle. What is it?
Marko: I’d be stoked to have a bottle on the island, but I’d probably end up cutting down a tree, boring it out, finding a bottom plate or stone, and a top plate or stone, and making a still to ferment wild fruit and make brandy.

Andy: Aw shucks, so your favorite scotch is a brandy? Fair enough, but don’t say that in Scotland!
Marko: Hey, don’t get me wrong man, if there is grain on the island, I’ll make whiskey. No fruit, root, leaf, or grain is safe around me!

Charbay Whiskey II – Andy Smith/known
• Nose: Fantastic! Red oak, mulling spice candle, nail polish, and new tennis ball can (Penn or Wilson, not sure.)
• Palate: Christmas tree sap, nail polish, isopropyl alcohol, grass, and hops. There’s a lot going on. The finish sort of leans toward the hops. FYI, I don’t like beer at all, and although the hoppy flavor brings beer to mind, it didn’t offend me in the least. Very enjoyable.

{see the scale}
Charbay Whiskey III

This isn’t out yet, but I’ve had an informal preview of what it is likely to be. It surpasses Charbay II in my opinion. Look for it in the coming months.

The Nth Universal Experience – Interviews from Both Sides of the Luxury Event

There’s a little something happening in Las Vegas on March 2nd and 3rd that you should know about.  There won’t be chips, tokens, cards, humorless dealers, obnoxious lines, or bikini optional pools.  There will however be some world class whisky, and I don’t say that lightly, because I know world class whisky (I know it more often than I get to taste it, unfortunately).  Mahesh Patel is on his second year of the Nth Universal Whisky Experience, the only luxury whisky tasting I know of.  Mahesh is a successful real estate developer also known as “the guy who bought that $150,000 bottle of Dalmore” and he’s put together quite a show.  I don’t really want to try to sell it here, that’s Mahesh’s job, but I will say that I didn’t go last year and I think I missed out.  One reason I’ve decided to attend this year is the stellar review a friend gave it in 2011.  Tim Puett is creator of The Ardbeg Project and a very well respected whisky resource.  When he told me what he tasted, I was convinced I needed to give it a try.

One thing I want to be careful about is transparency.  If you look at the front page you may notice an advertisement for Nth.  I assure you that nothing of that trickles down to me and I don’t have any financial benefit one way or another (and this interview was my idea.)  As for how I know Mahesh, he’s a swell guy and has reached out to many of the whisky clubs around the country, including myself.  Mahesh has made considerable efforts to get true whisky lovers on board.  It’s not about wealthy whisky lovers, it’s about serious whisky lovers, and I respect him for that.  Speaking of wealth, you’ll lose quite a bit.  It’s not cheap, and that’s a fact, but you get a great deal.  Buying a $30,000 car might make you pause, but what if it’s a Rolls Royce?  Worth it, right?

Mahesh and I have only spoken on the phone.  He’s is a good guy and I like him.  Does that affect my judgment on the Nth?  Yeah, probably.   The fact is that there just isn’t really anything equivalent.  Where else can you try gobs of four figure scotch?  I know for a fact that you can walk out the doors of Nth, sit on a barstool at Encore, and spend more on one dram of Macallan then you’ll spend on an Nth ticket that lets you experience dozens of the equivalent.

Honestly, I can’t predict the future so I don’t know for sure that the Nth is going to be all that we hoped for.  I don’t like to gamble if the odds aren’t in my favor.  When I go to Vegas on March 2nd I will be making exactly one bet… a ticket to Nth.


Interview with Tim Puett of The Ardbeg Project and 2011 Nth attendee.

Andy: Was Nth as fancy as you expected?

Tim Puett: Yes, it was fancier than other whisky events, and a lot less crowded.  Most people were in suits and very well dressed.  Jackets are required.

Andy: fancy ballroom?

Tim Puett: Yes, the rooms where the event was held were all decorated nice.

Andy: So you walk in, what do you have?  A Super Pour ticket and glass?

Tim Puett: I walk in, and the Ardbeg table was facing the front doors.  My first Super Pour was a 1974 Single Cask.

Andy: Nice.  Tickets?  Or does security stand over your shoulder counting your Super Pours?

Tim Puett: Mahesh (Patel) definitely doesn’t stand over your shoulder.  He and his wife were really gracious hosts, and they were very welcoming and all of the hosts at each distillery/whisky table were very friendly.

Andy: So there were tickets?

Tim Puett: Yes, when you signed in, you get your package and I had a Super Pour ticket plus a ticket to taste the 1966 Glenfarclas that he imported through Binny’s.   Also, the tables usually had a better selection of whisky than your normal whisky festival.

Andy: Did they skip the low end garbage?

Tim Puett: There was a wide selection of whisky, and definitely a step up from your standard whisky show in the US.

Andy: How long was the main event?

Tim Puett: It was about three hours.  Dinner was held just after the main show.  Definitely don’t have to rush through it, and there weren’t really any lines at each table… plenty of time to talk and sample.

Andy: Aside from the local brand ambassadors, how many VIPish guys (Master Distillers, upper level administrators) showed?

Tim Puett: Ian Millar, Glenfiddich master distiller, was pouring and talking with attendees.   Paul Skipworth, CFO (now CEO) of Glenmorangie PLC.  Richard Paterson from Whyte & Mackay, and many other Global Ambassadors.

Andy: Nice!  Go to any of the master classes?

Tim Puett: I went to four master classes the next day. They were all worth attendance as the whisky was top notch.  Glendronach poured the Grandeur and a 1972 Single Cask as well as 3-4 others.  Ardbeg poured another 1974 Single Cask, and Glenlivet poured the current Cellar Collection.

Andy: Were they pouring better stuff there, or was it just that the “lesson” was worth it?

Tim Puett: The lessons were great, but there was whisky offered that was high level.

Andy: Did you get one of those fancy cut Glencairns?

Tim Puett: Yes, you get a crystal cut Glencairn as part of your package… and a cigar.

Andy: Best thing you had at Nth?

Tim Puett: Although the Ardbeg Single Cask, Bowmore Gold, Glenfarclas 1966 and a few others were great, I remember the Glenfiddich 50 the most.  It was an awesome Glenfiddich.  One thing to remember…take it easy at the show on Friday night.  It was way too easy to finish everything poured, which led to a rough night, and an even tougher next morning.

Andy: Geez, Bowmore Gold is $5000.  Was that at a master class?

Tim Puett: The Bowmore Gold was at the show…a Super Pour.

Andy: Most expensive pour?

Tim Puett: Either that or the Glenfiddich.

Andy: Did you say once that the Gordon & MacPhail Mortlach 70 made an appearance?

Tim Puett: It did make an appearance, but you had to be fast as it was offered at a small room just before the main show.  I didn’t get to try it, but if you got to the room, you could taste it.  I didn’t hear about the 70 year old until the room was already full.

Andy: Doh!   That’s where it helps to be smaller, like me, slipping through the cracks

Tim Puett: haha…exactly.

Andy: How big were the pours?

Tim Puett: The Bowmore Gold pour was huge, and the others were all respectable pours.  Nothing that made me say…hey…a little more please.

Andy: I’m looking at this year’s schedule.  They have events starting at 4: 15 in special rooms.  Is this the preshow stuff?

Tim Puett: Yes, I didn’t see that schedule last year, but there were a few things happening in smaller rooms that I was surprised to see.  I arrived Friday afternoon, and I didn’t get down to registration until about 5pm.  It was my fault for not checking for any pre-show events.  Sorry I don’t have more details of the exact whisky, but I do remember all those offered were very respectable at the tables.

Andy: How much $ do you think you consumed?

Tim Puett: As for $ value in whisky pours, easily over $1000 at the show, and probably over $2000 after counting the masterclasses.  Also, I can’t say enough about how easy it was to move around the show floor.  It wasn’t crowded at all, less than VIP at other events.  Everyone I talked to at tables knew whisky, which made the event all the better.

Andy: I’m trying to convince friends to go.  What would you say to them?

Tim Puett: Tell them Nth is worth the price…easily.

Interview with Mahesh Patel, the founder and host of the Nth

Andy: This is a LOT of hard work.  Why would you do this to yourself?

Mahesh: I’ve been a passionate whisky connoisseur for 25 years and have been to so many events worldwide and it’s gotten to the point where most events were the same old whiskies coming in and there wasn’t much on the premium to high-end side,  so I decided I wanted to create something that was really at the mid to top level.  That was my passion and motivation, I wanted to create the best whisky experience for people to enjoy.  A lot of these whiskies are not available to most people, and we can present these at our tasting for a reasonable price.  We’re doing two levels this year, a high roller level where we’re throwing in all the bells and whistles, but then the connoisseur package is a high level as well.

Andy: Tell me more about the high roller package.

Mahesh: We introduced the high roller package this year, it’s $2000.  There will be a special event called whisky speed dating especially for them where 5 brand ambassadors will be pouring something very special.  There are only 25 high roller tickets (now sold out.)  They start off with that experience, then they get to do all of the other activities that everyone else will do.  We have a lineup of  27 bottles of super pours.  Everyone coming to the show will get two super pour tokens, but the high rollers will get to try every single super pour.  Then on day 2 they have all of the master classes included for them, and then there is a special high roller dinner reception for them as well on Saturday.  This year they’ll be trying the Glenfiddich 50 year old which is a $20,000 bottle (in most places) as well as dinner at SW steakhouse.  They’ll also get a nice gift bag valued at over $300 with some nice whisky and glassware.

Andy: What special whiskies will there be this year?

Mahesh: If you go to the website, you can see the ones we’ve got up there.  The Gold Bowmore’s back, the Highland Park 40 is back.  We’ve got from my own premium whisky series a Dalmore 1967 cask strength whisky and a 1966 Fettercairn that only yielded 42 bottles.  We’ve got some interesting stuff coming from Samaroli.  Bruichladdich is bringing  in a very special bottle.  Glenlivet 1964 is coming.  Macallan has a 1960 vintage bottle and Glenfarclas has a 50 year old.  One last thing we’ve added is a Chieftain’s Springbank 40 year old.  We’ve got a couple of Port Ellens in there as well.

Andy: Tell us more about your new brand.

Mahesh: It’s called Sirius Intrepid Whisky Purveyors.  We’re coming out with for single cask whiskies this year, all 40-50 years old.  There will be two single malts and two single grains whiskies.  We have a 1967 Dalmore and a 1966 Fettercairn, as well as a North British 50 year old and a 1965 Carsebridge.

Andy: And we’ll be tasting them at the Nth?

Mahesh: Yes, and we’re going to be doing some more of our series of whisky dinners, this year even on the west coast (USA). We’ve partnered up with Dalmore.  There’ll be eight of their range as well as our four. Our bottles will only be available at select retailers, but will be available through UWE Concierge.

Andy: What does the companion ticket get you?

Mahesh: The companion ticket evolved from my own experience.  My wife is not really a whisky drinker, and a lot of the spouses at the events didn’t really get the full experience since they don’t drink whisky.  Here, they will get the full experience, including the special events and the dinner.  Even if they try a little whisky, there’s no problem there, but they will get to try some premium wines,  champagne, and  take home a champagne flute glass.

Andy: Tell us about those early tastings before the main event.

Mahesh: This year, we’ve done a preshow.  Last year when we did these events it pulled people away from the main show, so this year we’ve extended the hours of the show.  These special  hour long events  will start at 4:15 and everybody gets to choose one.  We have the Shackelton recreation.   Richard Patterson and Whyte and McKay recreated Mackinlay’s old brand, which was the whisky that was actually found in Ernest Shackleton’s Hut in the Antarctic.  Then we have Alec Bradley, a boutique brand of cigar that won the best cigar by Cigar Afficiaonado.  They’ll do a seminar on pairing a cigar with a good malt.  Number 3 is a subject close to my heart.  I’m into whisky collecting and investing.  Andy Simpson from Scotland will giving a presentation about how certain top-tier brands perform in whisky investing.

Andy: So do you just pick one and walk in?

Mahesh: No, on our ticketing page you’ll make your request since it is limited seating.  Everyone can go to them, even those with companion tickets.

Andy:  The master classes are purchased ahead of time?

Mahesh: Yes, on day two we have fifteen very good classes.  I feel  comfortable that they’ll sell out this year.  These are intimate, with about 20-25 people, so they’ll get to spend some quality time with the ambassadors.  Most of the whiskies being poured are a very good value for the ticket price.

Andy: There will be bottles that weren’t poured the day before?

Mahesh: That is correct.

Andy: What do you think the total value of the bottles at the show will be?

Mahesh: I did a little analysis of this.  I did it by “pour value”.  We estimate it at somewhere over 3 quarter of a million dollars.  And that’s assuming you could even find them somewhere else.

(Andy’s Note:  I believe “pour value”  is the bar price)

We also have a new service called UWE Concierge.  If there’s a bottle that you can’t find, send us an enquiry and we’ll find it for you on our retail or private collector networks.  We’ll have a concierge stand at the show, so everything you see will actually be able to be ordered.

Andy: Any interesting names going to be there?

Mahesh: Lot’s of interesting people.  Of course Mr. Patterson is going to be there, as is Dominic Roskrow.  We’ll have Jim Rutledge from Four Roses, Andy Simpson, Ian Logan from Glenlivet, the global brand ambassador.  He’ll be doing the master class which I highly recommend.  Ian Miller, will be there.  He’s the global brand ambassador for Glenfiddich.  Sam Simmons , the Whisky Doctor, will be there for Balvenie.  We have Dave Robinson from Whyte and MacKay, Michael Urquhart from Gordon & MacPhail, George Grant (Glenfarclas), Ian MacCallum from Morrison Bowmore.  There’s a few people.

Andy: One last question; ever come back from a tough day at work and think of cracking open that Trinitas?

Mahesh: (laughing) I got quite a few  good bottles, so I could crack them.  That’s the whole idea for this event, to present a lot of whisky at a high caliber.  Last year we had one of the Ardbeg double barrels and this year they’ll bring a similar vintage for a super pour.  We’ll have Gold Bowmore and all that sort of stuff.  Trinitas?  Well I have tried and enjoyed it.  Right now I don’t feel like cracking it open because I haven’t had a bad day yet.  I enjoy sharing and that’s why I created this event.  I just didn’t want to see the same old same old being presented all the time.

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

I’ll be doing a lot of reviews on 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.


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, 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.

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”

Burns Night Supper at Beckham Grille

Robert Burns, Scotland’s most lauded poet, penned famous words about whisky and women at about the time that America won its independence. He’s probably best known to us as the author of Auld Lang Syne, that New Year’s song that’s never been sung sober or in tune. “Robbie” died young but somehow became more famous in death because the Scots felt as if he was the embodiment of the Scottish spirit. They honor him on his birthday, Jan 25th, with a Burns supper.

The Burns supper is a relatively formal dinner that may include, but isn’t limited to supper, a reading of ‘To a Haggis’, the sharing of Haggis, pipes, poetry, scotch, and finally a singing of Auld Lang Syne to close the night.

Everyone makes the Burns Supper into what they want. The Burns Supper with the LA Scotch Club concentrates on that liquid with fueled Robbie’s passion, scotch. So, on January 25th, the LA Scotch Club will be having its 3rd infamous Burns Night Supper at Beckham Grille in Pasadena. Like last year, there will be a drunken poetry contest where wit meets whisky (or is defeated by it), haggis, a fine British supper, and of course lots and lots of scotch.


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 (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 (and perhaps some notes!)