It is a great time to be a peat-freak. The popularity of the bold and smokey malts has lead producers to create an ever increasing variety of expressions for us to enjoy. We're seeing new heavily peated, some say over-peated expressions from many distilleries that are coming to us very young. That coupled with new peaty blends and blended malts and there is a flood of new tastes to explore.
The latest Islay to cross my desk is Smokehead. This one, from Ian Macleod Distillers has just barely made it to US shores and apparently is flying off store shelves. It bills itself as an Islay single malt Scotch whisky without an age statement or distiller, but don't let that fool you, this is a bottle worth having. I finally got a taste of this new immigrant this week, and you can too at Whiskies of the World on March 27th.
I've fallen a bit behind on the news recently, but I couldn't let this one pass by without comment. I can't wait to taste this one. It looks poised to fit well with the peat heavy monsters that have been coming out of Islay recently. It also took gold in its debut. More details below
NEW WHISKY BRAND LAUNCHES IN USA
December 2009; Ian Macleod Distillers is officially launching a brand new Scotch whisky into the USA aimed at the modern consumer.
SMOKEHEAD is a contemporary, individual and exciting whisky, already available in premium bars and retailers across the UK and worldwide.
Not so long ago a friend of mine picked up a bottle at the whisky shop in heathrow airport. Litle did I know that it would become my absolute favorite whisky and cement Caol Ila as my favorite distillery. Talisker and Caol Ila are responsible for my appreciation of peated Scotch.
2009 looks to be a great year for Scotch in America. Diageo has announced their line of 2009 Rare Edtions to be released world wide and there are some beauties in there (which we will talk about as soon as we get some).
Here is what the official releases say about this wonderful whisky:
With its abundant fresh sea air and robust, yet easy going disposition, Islay is birthplace to a unique malt Scotch whisky named Caol Ila (pronounced “Cul-Ela”).
The Caol Ila Distillers Edition finished in Moscatel casks creates an extraordinarily stylish and complex expression of Caol Ila; the Moscatel cask wood not over-evident; richly flavoured yet also drying and finely balanced.
UPDATE: "sources in Scotland" have confirmed that the list below is accurate, but no concrete details on which malts will make it to us here in the states. Also Caol Ila DE is coming to the states in October. Here's hoping we get to sample some of these newsmakers at WhiskyFest SF 2009!
A couple of days ago John Hansel clued us all into something special coming from Diageo regarding their malt whiskys on the 4th of September. This always leads to rampant specuation and more than a few google searches. I don't know exactly what is coming, but at least it has a name now;
The Manager's Choice Single Cask Selection.
The focus is squarely on our favorite brown spirit and the products represented are predominantly whiskies. Brandy, Vodka, liquers and Rum make appearances but are in the extreme minority.
For us, it's a whisky wonderland.
Every one of these shows has its own personality and character. Some of that comes from the format, some from the attendees and a health chunk comes from the sponsors. People like John Hansel and Riannon Walsh work very hard to keep these three forces in alignment and aimed in the right direction.
WhiskyFest is very much an industy showcase. The major players and minor importers are on the same footing here. Everyone has the same space to work with, but that doesn't imply that the presentations are at all equal.
Mark and I trace the genesis of our whiskey adventures back to a science fiction convention in March of last year, but perhaps the biggest watershed for us was attending WhiskeyFest San Francisco in 2007. WhiskeyFest is an annual event hosted by Malt Advocate Magazine in
Every field and venture has it's dangers. Being a whisky afficianado is no exception, and while some are well known (having a dram too many of the Laphroig and drunk-dialing an ex) some are a bit more...exotic. As a for instance, last October my esteemed WhiskeyBro Mark and I were perusing the plethora of possible pours at WhiskeyFest SF. If there was a bit of stagger to our step, well, it had been a long night. We encountered the Dalmore table with gusto, but not quite as much as the fiery Scot who walked us through the tasting. In fact, "fiery" and "gusto" don't quite do justice to the force we reckoned with. Suffice to say that we did not treat the Scotch in front of us with sufficient gravity, which resulted in, well....ice chucking. That's right ladies and gentlemen, Richard Paterson himself, award-winning, third generation, master blender for Whyte & Mackay threw ice at my brother-in-law.
UPDATE: I've decided to catch up with the rest of the world and start using a 100 point scale. We probably will never rate anything below 30 points (because we're not planning on rating anything that doubles as an industrial floor cleaner) but the conversions to the old ratings will be easy enough.
- Bushmills Original - 50
- Jameson Original - 50
- Crown Royal - 50
- Crown Royal Special Reserve - 55
- Midleton 2007 - 85
- Bushmills 21 - 87
I think this works, considering I also placed Bushmills 1608 at an 88
The other night, Mike, Travis and I got together to do some serious tasting. Before we began we had four new bottles to open. We tasted Bushmills 10, Bushmills 21, Midleton 2007, The Balvenie Doublewood, and Scapa 14.
This is hard work. There are so many great flavors there to try and quantify, codify and categorize them is very difficult. But that is what we do and we try to do it well.
One of my idle daydreams is to take possession of and restart a silent distillery. The two news stories here and here point to good news for the Scotch industry but bad news for me and my idle daydreams.
Soaring demand for Scotch whisky around the world has prompted another major distiller to announce expansion plans, this time on Speyside.
Chivas Brothers yesterday said it was reopening its mothballed Braeval Distillery and extending its Glenlivet production plant.
Diageo is also adding capacity like crazy:
Work started recently on the £40million plant at Roseisle in Moray - part of a total £100million investment in whisky by Diageo.
as is everyone else in the industry:
Ah blessed science.
To develop and select the Whiskey Bros. approved Rob Roy we need research. We pulled up the eight blended whiskys that we happen to have on hand: Buchannan 12, Chivas Regal 12 Chivas Regal 18, Famous Grouse, Johnnie Walker Black, Johnnie Walker Green, Johnnie Walker Red, And Suntory Hibiki for evaluation. We promptly put the Hibiki back away where it belongs, before my wife beat me.
The Rob Roy was First served at the Dorchester Hotel London, 1909 and Johnnie Walker was the Scotch of choice. Hence our inclusion of the three most common varieties of Johnnie Walker in this test.
We've decided to persue the "Perfect" Rob Roy, also known as Beal's Cocktail which is made with equal parts dry and sweet vermouth, a couple of dashes of bitters and Blended Scotch Whisky.
The Rob Roy is basically a Manhattan made with Scotch whiskey. It is named for Robert Roy MacGregor.
I don't have my own recipe yet, but I will get one together after some experimentation. I think that finding the right ingredients for me will take some thought. Many of the Scotch whiskeys that I would choose are "done". The idea of using Vermouth and bitters to "enhance" a scotch seems like using neon spray paint to enhance the David. Maybe that's just the single-malts talking again.
I think I will try Scotch that is generally available, one that could take the new flavors as an addition instead of grafitti. Johnny Walker Red or Black are used commonly but I try to be different, so maybe Glenfiddich. Using Johnny Walker Green seems like a case of subtraction by addition, but anything is possible. I won't know until I try. A lowland single malt Scotch would be from the same neighborhood as Rob Roy himself, though bitters and Vermouth aren't exactly local.
The IBA describes it this way:
Now that was fun!
The day was rainy and somewhat miserable, but this didn't dampen our spirits at all. We were prepared for an entertaining evening where we were part of the main draw.
Mike went down early to drop off the whiskey and to scope out the location while Mark was still working at his day job. There were many supplies that had still not ben acquired and they would have to come at the last minute like so much of this event.
My regular job requires me to travel from time to time. I find myself in Texas this week. Funny thing about Texas, they love Canadian whiskey.
When I spoke with John Hall at Forty Creek, he told us of his Small Batch Reserve. I managed to get a couple of bottles in from Toronto by way of Vancouver. He also told us that the only markets for this 6000 bottle run were Ontario and Texas. Since I'm here, I'm trying to get some.
Last night, I went to two different local liquor stores. Somehow I ended up in a dry city surrounded by dry cities and we barely made it before they stop selling at 9pm. I was surprised to see the extent to which Crown Royal is promoted here. They've got two 50ml bottles in a little purple baggie on huge endcap displays of 1.75L bottles. One place skipped the Special Reserve and only carried regular Crown, Cask No.16 and Crown Royal XR. I've also heard that Crown Royal outsells Jack Daniel's here.
There were a lot of firsts last night. Last night was the first time the CADHC had a Whiskey Bros. Whiskey Tasting at their event. This was also the first time we had done an event like this one and our first time out with the point cards. The first time I'd served whiskey in the same room with a camel was also the first time we had done a party at Long Branch Farms.
Best though, it was the first time many of our guests had tried the whiskeys we brought.
Mike spoke about our selection process for this suite, and I can honestly say that we were on the right track, but the audience was a bit of a surprise. We had assembled a list that was heavy on Bourbons and fairly common bottles, and adding in more Scotch as it became possible via donations. As it happens,this crowd was very much into the single malts. We had quite a few people that were interested in the high end stuff, more than I imagined.
Some had never tried premium single malts, others had some experience but wanted to learn more. Diageo provided us with a flavor map that helped us explain the regions and traditional flavors of Scotland better.