2016 Whisky Wind-down, 11: The Price of Admission


Today’s dram: Ardmore, Traditional Cask (Peated Single Malt, No Age Statement), dressed for the holidays

Today’s tasting notes: Full, rich, warm Highland single malt with a pleasant earthy aroma and plenty of peat on the way down.

I’ve had this bottle kicking around for a bit, but I just went looking for more information on it and learned a couple of things: 1) It won a gold medal in the Highland Single Malt — No Age Statement category at the 2010 World Whiskies Awards. 2) It is no longer being made, having been supplanted by a different line from Ardmore.

Since this whisky lacks an age statement, let’s talk about what that means. (For your sanity and mine, we’ll stick to Scotch whisky, since age statements mean different things to different types of whisky.)

Say you are a distiller with some whisky you have been aging for 12 years, but you aren’t happy with it as-is and feel it needs a bit of mellowing to be just right. You don’t want to wait another year (or two or three), so you decide to mix in a bit from an older batch to get the flavor profile you seek.

First, so long as you’re using another whisky made at the same distillery with the same ingredients and methods, you can still call it single malt. So long as it’s all malted barely distilled at the same location, it qualifies, even if you end up blending different batches of different ages. (The term blended Scotch whisky refers to one that is made from multiple malt whiskies made at different locations OR one that contains grain whisky in addition to malt whisky. Or both. If that sounds confusing, well, yell at the next member of the Scotch Whisky Association you meet.)

So, you think that 12-year-old whisky needs a bit of older whisky mixed in to mellow it out. Even if you add some of your precious 25-year-old to the mix, you still have to call it 12-year-old on the age statement, which legally must be no older than the youngest whisky included. (So, even if you went barking mad and produced a mix that was 99% whisky aged 25 years, with the remaining 1% aged only 12, legally you would have to sell it as a 12-year-old whisky. Right after you got your head examined, I suppose.)

So, what’s the big deal with No Age Statement whisky?

The rise of NAS whisky (as the kids call it) is allowing Scotch whisky distillers to meet today’s increased demand for good whisky by using younger (minimum aging three years) products, blended perhaps with a bit of precious older stock, to make new expressions.

Generally, such whisky is marketed as an artful creation of master tasters, rather than an expedient answer to demand in a booming market.

It’s either that or sell less whisky.

It’s not like there’s a way to speed up the aging process … wait a minute … there is, sort of.

Let’s talk about quarter casks.

These smaller vessels hold less whisky (duh) so it’s a more labor-intensive, materially-expensive way to mature whisky, and you don’t see them employed very often.

The advantage of this method — aside from being able to use nifty marketing spiel about “19th century methods” — is that the whisky spends more time in contact with the wood, owing to the greater circumference-to-volume ratio. Or something. Pi may be involved.

Point is, more contact means more flavor, faster.

Also, being able to say you used “traditional methods,” hearkening to the days when casks had to be lighter to fit on the backs of the donkeys who would carry them through the Highlands, well … it helps people get over their snootiness about your lack of an age statement.

Rounding back to the beginning, the whisky in my glass today was produced in quarter casks, and it has no age statement.

Some people have a philosophical beef with both those factors. For them, Scotch whisky that does not display an age statement, but does use marketing as cover for a distillery’s changing methods, is to be looked down upon.

Me? I can’t say I’m indifferent to these factors, but I care more that you’re serving a good whisky for the price you’re asking.

This fits the bill. It’s a full, flavorful peaty whisky that compares well to many 10- or 12-year-old Highland single malts I’ve had the pleasure of sampling.

Today’s thoughts: The distillers who laid down their whiskies a quarter-century ago might well have thought they were making enough, or more than enough, to meet the future’s demand. Long-term gambles like that are very difficult to get right.

It’s almost as difficult, say, as having children and then wondering what your life will be like a few decades hence when they bring home their spouses for the holidays.

<cough>

I like to think my in-laws are at least tolerant of their poet-in-law. I’ll ask them again in a day or so.

Today’s observation on holiday decor: If you think a whisky bottle dressed as Santa is weird, you should see my mistletoe-bedecked bourbon.

Today’s toast: To families coming together for the holidays: May your homes be as warm and inviting as a good Highland single malt, however old.

 

2016 Whisky Wind-down, 12: Procrastination 


Today’s dram: Laphroaig, 18-Year-Old

Today’s tasting notes: Strong, deep breath of the sea. Somewhere a fire is burning. Sit here and remember with me, the things we loved in days gone by.

Today’s thoughts: This one is a bit late, especially considering I had basically all day to get it done.

Well, not all day.  

I had presents to wrap, shopping to finish, dishes to catch up, probably other tasks that are slipping my mind …

So, I slept in.

I thought I might just have a quick lunch and then get going, but Cat looked at me pitifully, so I sat on the couch and let her flop with me a bit.

Then she reminded me the remake western The Magnificent Seven just dropped for streaming rental today, and she really likes westerns and The Empress of Whisky (who does not) is away hiking, so …

Yeah.

Decent flick. It ain’t Seven Samurai, but then, what is?

Then an unusual thing happened, the sort of thing that I suppose happens a lot but I never notice because I am away at work — a crew came by to pressure-wash our building. The water made weird sounds out there, and the sounds made Cat anxious, so I stayed on the couch to console her, and I decided to read a bit …

Next thing I knew, The Empress of Whisky was home with dinner.

Not only had I accomplished nothing on my personal to-do list, I also had yet to even pick today’s whisky.

The topic, however, basically writes itself.

I have long had the great ability to put off ’til tomorrow what cannot be accomplished today.

“And what can be put off ’til tomorrow might just as easily be put off ’til day after tomorrow as well.”

I forget who said that, but I remember it was Douglas Adams who said, “I love deadlines. I love the whooshing noise they make as they go by.”

I love being on holiday when the only deadline I have is a self-imposed one to daily drink a dram and then write about it.

I realize how incredibly fortunate a position that is to be in. Moreso, I realize how, when I’m not on holiday I mostly work by a set of generous white-collar deadlines that would be the envy of most workers the world over.

So being unhappy that I cannot meet my own deadlines is an admittedly advantaged position in which to find myself.

Doesn’t make it any easier. But I do acknowledge it.

Today’s deeply morbid thought on tomorrow: A good friend of mine — the same who gave me the Laphroaig 18 — once said to me, as I was lamenting my lack of progress, feeling like I was spending too much time on trivial pursuits, “Someday this will all be dust and no one will be here to remember or care; so, in the long run, idle chit-chat is about as useful as anything short of building an empire.”

Today’s toast: To the reader: I’ll have something for you tomorrow. Probably.

2016 Whisky Wind-down, 13: Whisky, Cats, Fortune


Today’s dram: Craigellachie, 13-Year-Old

Today’s tasting notes: I rather enjoy this one, even if I can never remember how to spell or pronounce it.

It’s a warm whisky with a bit of bite, but it isn’t peaty, and there’s no smoke. There is a real sharpness to it, though, and probably what I’m getting (and failing to adequately describe) is the sulfuric note that is supposedly this whisky’s trademark. (The distillery refers to it in marketing as “Scotch with a touch of brimstone.”)

Whatever is going on, I rather like it. It’s the sort of whisky I like to sip slowly over an afternoon, never quite remembering what I like about it, then sipping to recall, then forgetting again. It’s weird that way, and I love it.

I’m not sure what’s up with the age being 13 years. Most single malt Scotch whiskies are at least 10 or 12 years old, with the next jump usually to 18 (though 15 pops up here and there) then 21, and beyond that you can’t afford it, anyway.

Does the extra year make a difference? I’d have to taste it at 12 to tell you. And that isn’t an option, since Craigellachie doesn’t bottle anything younger. Only relatively recently, in fact, has it bottled much at all under its own name. Despite being around since 1891, for most of its existence the distillery has sold its production for use in blended Scotch whiskies, notably Dewar’s.

With some irony, the production of its own lines seems to have begun only after John Dewar & Sons, Ltd. bought the distillery in 1998. (Production was increased to keep up enough for both purposes.)

Why age the first one 13 years, though? I couldn’t say.

Maybe the distillery is just making a point about superstition.

Today’s thoughts: I’m not superstitious. Mostly. I grew up with a few superstitions, including religion, but I have mostly gotten over those. Mostly.

The thing about getting a weird idea in your head is that it can be hard to shake. I mean, when your mom tells you that her mom told her that her mom told her that … you should not wash clothes on New Year’s Day because to do so would be to “wash someone out of the family” in the coming year, your rational mind can realize this is bullshit while the lizard-brain still feels queasy.

So, you say, “Fuck it. I don’t like washing clothes, anyway,” and you put it off a day. Totally normal. If it happens to make Mom feel better, that’s fine, too.

I always thought the bit about the ill luck of having a black cat cross your path was just nonsense, but that’s probably because we had a black cat when I was a kid, and she crossed my path so many times — seriously, did the person who thought this up not consider how much cats get around? — that I would have been an utter shut-in had I tried to avoid having her cross my path daily. Also, if you believe this, when does the bad luck from the crossing expire? Do you have to see the black cat cross your path for it to count? What if one went by just before you rounded the corner? Would you appreciate someone rushing forward yelling, “Stop! Whatever you do, don’t keep walking this path! Black cat alert! Black cat aleeeert!”

Ahem.

The “don’t walk under a ladder” thing just makes sense. Things fall. People knock ladders over. Be reasonable.

What else?

Oh, being born a Southerner, I am under obligation to eat black-eyed peas on New Year’s Day, lest I suffer a terrible run of luck the next year. Fortunately, I love black-eyed peas, so I don’t see making a big pot of them that day to be any hardship at all, and I expect them like pie at Thanksgiving or pizza at Christmas.

(You don’t eat pizza at Christmas?! No wonder your luck is lousy.)

Today’s unrelated note: Although she is not a black cat, it can be serious bad luck if our calico crosses your path. I mean, she really likes to trip people, so watch it.

Today’s toast: To the superstitious: Good luck!

2016 Whisky Wind-down, 14: Getting Out

Today’s dram: Crown Royal, Limited Edition

Today’s tasting notes: This one is special. It’s a blend of extra aged whiskies, specially selected to be smooth, sweet, and a cut above the regular Crown Royal. It was only sold in Canada, and, as far as I can tell, is no longer being made. (The company has since introduced other limited bottlings under other names.)

Crown Royal has a bit of an interesting history. It was created (so the story goes) by Seagram’s owner Sam Bronfman to impress and be worthy of the whisky-loving British King George VI upon his visit to Canada in 1939. The truth is probably more that Bronfman, who rose to wealth selling whisky across the border during American Prohibition, simply knew a good marketing ploy when he saw one.

Whatever the truth, Crown Royal — good enough for the King! — has been the best-selling Canadian whisky for many years now.

I acquired a couple of bottles of the Limited Edition a few years ago on a trip to Toronto. Between the exchange rate and the lack of American taxes, I paid only slightly more for the rare pair than I would have for one bottle of the regular back home.

Thing is, I don’t really care for it straight-up. It is, to be sure, well-made whisky, but I am not its target. It is sweet — the aroma is even sweet — and ultra smooth, and I could probably drink a pint of it as easily as a pint of beer.

That isn’t what I look for in whisky, though.

So what do I do with this rare whisky that was never sold in my home country and is now no longer available anywhere?

I put it in my coffee when I’m feeling decadent.

As disrespectful as that may sound, it makes for really good coffee. Take a rich, dark coffee. Brew it strong in a French press, then add sugar, a slug of heavy whipping cream, and a couple of ounces of this. Mmm.

Today’s thoughts: I was in Toronto visiting friends. Specifically, one of The Empress of Whisky’s oldest, dearest friends and her wife.

They are wonderful people, and we have seen them often elsewhere, but this was our first trip to their home. Point of fact, it was my first trip outside the States.

I enjoy travel, but most — all, aside from Toronto — of mine has been within the bounds of my own country. To be fair, it is a big country, and I have barely scratched the surface of all the fun places to go. Yet the outer world is bigger still, with even more destinations worthy of the visit, so I suspect we shall voyage farther afield in the years ahead.

Travel is still somewhat novel for me. I grew up poorish in rural southern Georgia, and I was an adult before I began to voyage in any serious way. The Empress of Whisky is a much more experienced traveler and has friends around the globe.

I will say it is true about travel that it broadens the mind. Seeing and experiencing other places (even within one’s own country) firsthand, meeting and getting to know other cultures, other ways of life, does more to fight the spread of hatred and small-mindedness than all the bombs ever built.

Pity the people who most need this exposure are stuck at home, comfortably hating The Other from afar.

Today’s serious suggestion: Get out. It will help.

Today’s toast: To the travelers: May your passport pages runneth over.

2016 Whisky Wind-down, 15: You Had to be There


Today’s dram: Fireball Cinnamon Whisky

Today’s tasting notes: Wait, what? How did this get on my list? Or into my bar, for that matter? Is it even whisky?

Yes. 

Also, no. 

Per its manufacturer, Fireball is made from a base of Canadian whisky, aged (no statement on how long) in used bourbon barrels with natural cinnamon sticks. 

Of course, it doesn’t drink like whisky at all. It drinks like liquified cinnamon candy. 

So why the hell am I including it? It’s all the dragon-born sorcerer’s fault. 

Today’s thoughts: As I mentioned earlier, I have been a gamer for a long time. Recently, The Empress of Whisky and I joined a Fifth Edition D&D game. We played today, actually. (It’s partly why this entry is late.)

At one point in today’s session, our entire party was captured, disarmed, and chained up. We managed to escape, but as we were attempting a stealthy exit, our dragon-born sorcerer made the iminently unwise decision to start a fight. As a magic-wielding, naturally fire-breathing badass it never occurred to him that it might be a bad idea to start a fight by throwing  fire at guards in the middle of an otherwise quiet camp at night. His completely unarmed companions might have preferred another option. 

The fact his player was drinking Fireball at the time is just a funny coincidence. 

Today’s in-joke to be appreciated by at most six other people from another gaming group altogether: We later had to go back to the place where we had been captured. It was the first time we had been there since the last time we were there. 

Today’s toast: To players who always stay in character, damn the consequences: Fire away!