Co-Hosting a “Super Tasting”

If you’ve been following my blog for a while, you know that I spend a consider amount of time at Spirit World, and I’ve written about a number of awesome events I’ve attended there, including last year’s “Super Tasting” of nine rare whiskies. Almost exactly a year after that event, I had a very special opportunity – I was invited to co-host this year’s Super Tasting!

I accepted the offer as soon as it was extended – I would have  been attending as a participant anyway, but the opportunity to help plan and organize the event, and geek out even more, was just too good to pass up. The preparations began a couple of weeks ago, when I met with my fellow co-host, Spirit World’s head bartender and cocktail master, Alzuri, to go through the “arduous” task of tasting all of the whiskies for the event.

The 2016 Lineup

In a deviation from last year, this year’s tasting focused solely on American whiskies, with particular emphasis on rare, limited, or otherwise sought-after bottles. In particular, we featured several bottles from Diageo’s Orphan Barrel line. Although some of these releases have been divisive, they certainly are interesting and hard to get a hold of, so it was great to have the opportunity to try them, compare them, and get other people sharing their opinions.

As we underwent the “arduous” task of tasting our way through each of the whiskies, we noticed some interesting things. One was that, despite the fact that several of the whiskies share the same mashbill (a few of the Orphan Barrels, as well as the I.W. Harper 15), they each had a unique character of their own. It made for a fun comparison, and gave us some good talking points for the main event.

One thing about preparing for an event like this that posed a challenge for me involved my tasting notes. Normally, like many whisk(e)y bloggers, I tend to geek out a bit and try to pick everything apart (if you’ve followed my blog for a while, you’ve noticed this). My usual tasting notes are a jumble of flavors, aromas, and quirky experiences I had while enjoying a dram. I hope that, by writing them up people will at least be intrigued and, if they try the same dram, they can compare notes with me – after all, we each smell and taste different things, and it’s fun to see what unique characteristics different people pick out.

However, when preparing to lead a tasting, I tried to steer away from overly detailed notes, since I didn’t want to give the impression that people “should” smell or taste certain things. Instead, I focused on the basics, and tried to make note of points that would generate interest and discussion. That means my own notes weren’t as detailed as usual, and that’s reflected below. Hopefully I can give you enough of a sense of the experience!

Anyway, after the initial “practice session,” I couldn’t wait for the main event. Finally, the Big Day rolled around and I headed off to Spirit World to co-host my first-ever event like this.

The Venue

As always, Spirit World’s private tasting room was an excellent, intimate venue for a memorable event. Once the tasting kicked off, this room was packed with whisk(e)y fans of all ages and experience levels. It was great to see everyone from ultra-knowledgeable super fans to enthusiastic novices turn up for an event like this, and it seemed like everyone had a great time.

The Tasting Spread

Okay, if you’ve made it this far, it’s probably because you’re eager to hear about the whiskies that we had on offer that night. So, without further ado, here we go:

1. Orphan Barrel Forged Oak – This one struck me as the lightest of the bunch, both in terms of the aroma and taste. In fact, I didn’t get much off of it at all at first. However, when left to sit in the glass for a while, it got more interesting. On the nose, I got some notes of damp earth and something a little musty and composty, making this more vegetal than I typically get in a bourbon. On the palate, that vegetal note remained, along with some simple fruity notes. It wraps up in a dry finish that  doesn’t coat the tongue much.

2. I.W. Harper – Like Forged Oak, this whiskey was also distilled at the Bernheim Distillery, and uses the same mashbill. It’s also the same age, which made for a natural comparison. It has some of the same vegetal notes, but with a bit more of a tangy body. This was coupled with some mild spices and a little saltiness. It also tastes quite punchy, like there is substantially more alcohol presentthan the 43% it actually clocks in at. Personally, I found this a bit more complex and engaging than the Forged oak. But, as I said, the comparison was fun

3. Orphan Barrel Gifted Horse – The newest Orphan Barrel release is also one of the most unusual. Instead of being drawn from rare old casks of (usually) Bernheim whiskey, this  is a blend of 17 bourbon from Heaven Hill, vatted with four year old MGP bourbon and four year old MGP corn whiskey. Since the other whiskies we were tasting were split bewteen Diageo and Heaven Hill, this one was an interesting transit, in that it quite literally merged the two.

More interesting, though, was the whiskey itself. The combination of corn whisky and young and old bourbon produces a blend that is both richly flavored and fresh, with notes of citrus on the nose blending with a bit of vanilla and butterscotch. On the palate, I got some more citrus, spices (especially black pepper and ginger), and plenty of creamed corn. This was a unique experience, with each sip revealing something new. I was a big fan of this whiskey, and wouldn’t hesitate to call it my favorite Orphan Barrel release yet.

4. Parker’s Heritage Malt Whiskey – I’ve been eager to try another Parker’s Heritage release ever since I tasted “Promise of Hope” at the Library Pub. This one in particular has had my attention since it was first announced, as it’s been quite divisive among American whiskey fans. As an American (non-single) malt whiskey, it’s a pretty unusual beast, with a blend of 65% malted barley and 35% corn. A lot of people have apparently been put off by it, not knowing how to characterize it – it doesn’t taste anything like a bourbon, and it doesn’t taste anything like an American single malt. I’ve been dying to try it for myself.

This whiskey may defy classification, but it’s darn good. In fact, it was easily among my favorite of the drams we sampled. The nose is complex and rich, but the aromas themselves were hard to place. I had an easier time picking out flavors on the palate, where a fudgy (Kari at Spirit World said “Tootsie Rolls,” and that fit perfectly), with some banana and apple. The corn emerges as a sticky-sweet pudding note, and all of this  delicious sweetness masks the potent 57% abv punch. I really wish it was easier to get a hold of this whiskey, because wow, do I want a bottle!

5. Parker’s Heritage Wheat Whiskey – We followed up with another unique Parker’s Heritage dram. This one  was last year’s 100% wheat whiskey. Like the Malt Whiskey, it was among the best whiskies we tried, with a nose packed with hot cream of wheat cereal, some damp hay, and a substantial hint of maple  syrup. The palate is massively rich, with creamy cereal notes, toffee, cinnamon, and maple. It’s like  my favorite childhood winter breakfasts rolled into one adult-friendly drink! Fair warning though – unlike the malt whiskey, this one doesn’t hide its alcohol, and at over 127 proof, it hits hard! We cautioned people not to sniff to closely or quickly, or noses would be going home crying.

6. Orphan Barrel Barterhouse – After a brief break to recover from the awesomeness of Parker’s Heritage, we returned to the land of Diageo to try the very first Orphan Barrel release. This one smells a bit like sawdust to me (a smell I’ve always liked), mixed with coconut and caramel. It’s a gentle and approachable nose, like many of the orphan barrel releases. On the palate, the dominate flavor for me reminded me of these plastic bubbles my mom used to get for me when I was little (anyone else remember those…?), mixed with some pepper and light fruits. This one shares a mashbill with Rhetoric, Harper, and Forged Oak, but you’d never know it – the whiskies taste completely different.

7. Orphan Barrel Lost Prophet – This was my favorite of the Orphan Barrel line until I tried Gifted Horse. Lost Prophet deviates from most of the Orphan Barrel releases, in that it was distilled at Buffalo Trace, rather than Bernheim. In fact, this whiskey has a mashbill quite similar to (if not the same as) Buffalo Trace’s rye-heavy mashbill #2 (the recipe used for Blantons, Elmer T. Lee, and several others). On the nose, this one had plenty of toffee, vanilla, and orange, with a strong praline note dominating. There was also a bit of a cherry cough syrup note on the nose. It tastes just like it smells, with buttery nuts, a little salted caramel, and some cinnamon and vanilla. The finish fell away quickly on my dram, but that might be because the bottle level was pretty low and the whiskey had probably oxidized quite a bit.

8. Orphan Barrel Rhetoric 21 Year Old – This is the second release in Diageo’s new Rhetoric experiment. The plan is to release successively older Rhetorics each year. Last year’s inaugural release was a 20 year old Bernheim whiskey, and this one is supposedly the same whiskey, just aged a year longer. We compared the two (for, y’know, science), and I found that the 21 was deeper flavored and more engaging, with some lemon, a hint of cherry, some honey, and a bit of fudge on the nose. The flavors are all dark and rich, with figs, toasted almonds, and caramelized sugars.

9. Elijah Craig 18 Year Old – It was nearly a three-way tie for my favorite whiskey, with this one neck and neck with its Heaven Hill siblings. Elijah Craig 18 is just a finely crafted bourbon. It doesn’t necessarily have unique flavors or aromas, but everything there is perfectly proportioned and astonishingly well integrated. The nose is classic bourbon, with vanilla, cinnamon, black pepper, and lemon, as well as some toasted oak. On the palate, this one really shines – it immediately coats the tongue and delivers citrus, toffee, ginger, and lemon, with each flavor lingering more or less forever in one of the longest finishes I’ve ever gotten from a bourbon. Eventually, it dries out with some tannic oak and a bit of wood smoke. Wow. This is so good that I almost forgive it for killing Elijah Craig 12 (almost…).

Anyway, this event was an absolute blast, and I’m already looking forward to hosting another tasting (hopefully soon!). In the meantime, there are many more drams to be had!

I’m off to California tomorrow, but when I get back, look for that long-promised Compass Box post. It should be fun!

Questions of the Day: What are your thoughts on the Orphan Barrel line? What’s the best tasting you’ve been to?

The Real Demon Drink: Malört and Friends

You guys have heard me talk about goings on at Spirit World plenty of times before. But this Monday night was different. Late at night, after the store closed to the general public, several of us retreated to their tasting room to experience true horrors the likes of which many mouths are unprepared for. Last night, we experimented with tasting a flight of malört and malört-inspired spirits.

Malört is a Swedish spirit made from wormwood (the name actually means “wormwood” in Swedish), so it has a bit of an absinthe-like quality, but that doesn’t begin to describe this spirit. It’s notorious for being harsh, unforgiving, and massively bitter. Many people who try the stuff absolutely hate it, or eagerly foist it upon unsuspecting friends as a prank. To these people, malört is a beverage that no sane person would drink willingly.

And in case you were wondering, yes, I rather enjoy it.

If you’re unfamiliar with malört, the following video will get you up to speed quickly (fair warning: it’s not for the easily offended).

If you’ve watched that video, you should have a pretty good understanding of just how “unique” an experience you may get from a swig of this stuff.

Malört was brought to the U.S. by Swedish Immigrants, and there were once many producers subjecting my fellow countrymen to the stuff. Among them was Carl Jeppson, a Swedish immigrant to Chicago who put his all into spreading his unique brand of liquid mayhem around the city. Now, Jeppson’s Malört is the last remaining brand to bear the malört name.

Until recently, it was the only bitter wormwood liqueur of the sort left available at all, but in the past few years, several other brands have started producing malört-like spirits. Jeppson’s now holds the copyright to the “malört” name, so other brands have resorted to alternative names for their ridiculously bitter wormwood spirits.

My first introduction to the stuff was a shot of Letherbee’s interpretation, called Besk (after the Swedish word for wormwood brandy. It was originally just called “malört” but…copyright lawsuits). On the first of my late-night pilgrimages to Spirit World, I was subjected to a shot of this stuff, and I found that I really liked it. It tastes like… well, I’ll get to that. For now, let’s just say that it was unusual and unforgettable.

So when I heard that we’d be tasting a flight of malört-likes, I was quite intrigued, even as my palate cried out in anticipatory agony.

Malort Flight

We of course started off with Jeppson’s Malört, which was a new experience for me. It was easily the most heinously bitter of the four drams we tried.

Jeppson's Malort

Normally I might complain about the addition of artificial coloring, but you know what? That’s the least of this spirit’s sins.

As you can see from the rear label, despite it’s sudden rise in popularity around Chicago, Jeppson’s Malört is now produced in Florida. Somehow, that seems fitting to me, since it tastes like something that fermented in a swamp.

For 35% ABV, it burns like rocket fuel, and has to be one of the roughest, least refined drinks I’ve ever tried. There is no grace or subtlety here whatsoever. There are plenty of flavors, but they all clash with one another, and each can be described as “aggressive,” “astringent,” “ungodly bitter,” or “drain cleaner,” depending on your preference.

There’s no way around it; Jeppson’s Malört is heinously bitter, but it sneaks up on you. It’s a surprisingly thin spirit, and it doesn’t make much of an impression when it hits the tip of your tongue,  but once it rolls to the middle and sides of your tongue, you know you need to brace yourself for the coming onslaught. Once it hits the back of the tongue, the bitterness crashes down on you, starting with a rough, medicinal tang, graprefruit rind, and a grassy, acrid bite. As it slides down your throat, the flavors converge into into a potent note of dissolved pills. Jeppson’s Malört also has one of the longest and most persistent finishes of any spirit I’ve ever tried. with sugary sweetness and grapefruit rind lingering more or less forever. Whether that’s a good think will depend on your reaction to this brutish drink.

Oh, and whatever you do, do not add ice to Jeppson’s Malört! No, I’m not being snobby about telling you how to drink your spirits. This is purely a warning for your own survival. Chilling this stuff down and diluting it a bit dials back the sweetness and allows the spirit to open up. However, much like Pandora’s Box, it’s much better left unopened.

Next up was a “gentler” malört-like: a wormwood spirit from FEW, which bears the inviting inscription “Anguish and Regret.” Yeah, that ought to tell you about all you really need to know about this sort of beverage.

FEW Anguish & Regret

Note the black spot where FEW crossed out “Malört.” Gotta appease the copyright lawyers.

FEW’s interpretation of malört is made with ras el hanout in addition to the traditional wormwood. This Moroccan spice blend infuses the liqueur with bold notes of clove, ginger, and allspice. The characteristic bitterness of malört is there, and it builds the more you sip, but it’s far less intense than Jeppson’s. In fact, I found this to be a pretty easily drinkable liqueur, at least compared to the others (not that this is saying much). A few other attendees who hated the night’s other drinks found this one palatable. If there is such as thing as a “beginner” bitter wormwood liqueur, this might be it.

Next up was Letherbee’s Besk, my introduction to malört-like spirits and one I’ve had plenty of experience with. I’ve sipped it, shot it, and had it mixed in cocktails (Try pairing it with an Ardbeg rinse. Seriously).

Besk

Besk warns you about its bitterness on the nose, with plenty of grapefruit rind and anise up front. When you sip it, it arrives viscous and sweet, coating the tongue with flavors that are both sugary and deeply bitter. It reminded me a lot of biting into a grapefruit that had been slathered with honey and broiled  (a favorite treat of mine when I was growing up). The finish is long (but not as long as Jeppson’s) and both extremely sweet and massively, almost chokingly bitter. Somehow, this works – the bitterness keeps the sweetness from getting too cloying, and in turn the sweetness mutes a bit of the otherwise ridiculously bitter kick. Despite its potency (this 50% ABV liqueur is still brutal), this liqueur might actually be sip-able. If you’re sick in the head like me, that is.

Finally, we closed out with one of Spirit World’s special house experiments – a barrel-aged Besk. Although my palate was completely demolished by the time we got to this one, I can still safely say that this is the holy grail of these unholy spirits.

The Besk Damn Barrel

This spirit isn’t balanced by any means, but the flavors are far more in harmony than they are in the unaged spirit. It lost a lot of the characteristic roughness (okay, sheer violence) of the base spirit, but it’s an intruiguing, complex, and – yes – tasty dram. (Disclaimer: The previous statement was written by a sick individual who actually enjoys this stuff to begin with.  Individual results may vary…)

The oak tannins from the barrel mingle with the grapefruit bitterness in a rather pleasant way, along with some great notes of sweet cinnamon, honey, and anise (I also wrote “angst” in my tasting notes, and somehow that seems fitting too). The sweetness and spices give way to bitter grapefruit, more like crunching on seeds and pith than the fruit itself. The sweetness and cinnamon reemerge on the finish, along with some vanilla, keeping the bitterness just restrained enough to be bearable. That might not sound like an endorsement, but believe me, I really liked this one!

It took several days for my palate to completely recover, but this experience was totally worthwhile. I probably won’t be revisiting Jeppson’s Malört any time soon, but trying these unique spirits side-by-side was a blast, and I did really enjoy the total weirdness of several of them, particularly that barrel-aged Besk. I’ll definitely be back for more!

Question of the Day: Have you tried Malört or any similar spirits? What are your thoughts?

An Exciting and Varied Whisk(e)y Tasting

Last Thursday, I hosted another whisk(e)y tasting. Like last time, we covered a lot of ground, but this time, the offerings were even more varied and unusual. I was really looking forward to writing this one up, but work has really quite busy this week, and I’ve had to turn my attention to things other whisky. Now though, it’s time to dive into the realm of rarities, oddballs, and otherwise unusual or unconventional spirits.

I feel really fortunate to have a great venue available for hosting events like this. My apartment has a community room that can be reserved for private functions, and it includes everything you’d want to set up a whisk(e)y tasting. There’s a sink and fridge for washing up and keeping (non-whisk(e)y) drinks cold, a sizable countertop for laying out some snacks…

Snack Spread

…and of course, a huge table for spreading out an excessive variety of whiskies (and a couple of other spirits).

Whisk(e)y Spread

Each person brought one or more whiskies to share, and we sampled small pours of each. As you can probably tell from the photo, it wasn’t exactly a traditional single malt or bourbon tasting. For whatever reason, we all gravitated toward the unusual with our bottle selections, which led to a great time all around.

Many of the whiskies we sampled were awesome, some were…”unique,” and all were fun to try in the company of friends. I took lots of notes and got ideas for quite a few future blog posts and reviews, so you can look forward to some fun content in the near future. Rather than doing a full rundown of 15 (!) bottles in this post, I’ll highly a few of the best and weirdest (not necessarily the same thing!), and save some others for future blog posts.

IMG_2548

Woodford Reserve Master’s Collection 100% Rye – This release is unusual for a few reasons. First, it’s one of the few whiskies made from 100% rye. That means it’s super pungent and spicy (which I love). Even more uniquely, it’s sold as a two-bottle set. The base spirit in each is the same, but one bottle was aged in new oak barrels, while the other was aged in reused casks. Both were really tasty, but personally I preferred the rich oakiness of the new cask version; I thought it really complemented the spicy spirit. Opinion-wise, we were split down the middle, though! I also heard that a 50/50 mix of the two is supposed to be excellent. Sadly, I didn’t get to try this at the time, but maybe I’ll have occasion to in the future!

Copper Fox Rye – This unusual rye is made with a blend of 2/3rds rye and 1/3 malted barley. What makes it unique is that the barley is smoked over applewood and cherrywood prior to mashing, and then the whisky is further aged over applewood and oak chips. This adds an extra level of wood influence to a young (one year old) whisky. The smoking…well, it imparts an…”unconventional” aroma and flavor.

This was easily the most divisive whisk(e)y of the evening. One person compared the aroma to plastic fishing lures, and another said it smelled like an electrical fire in a McDonald’s ball pit. Even Islay whisky fans didn’t really like the weird, plasticy-yet-metallic, acrid smoky smell, and the palate delivered exactly what was promised, so you can probably imagine how it went down. That said, I kinda liked it, even though no one else did! Say one thing for Copper Fox, at least they tried something unique! I also really appreciate the crazy amount of information they put on the label! I mean, look at that thing!

Hart Brothers 17 Year old Malt Blend – I’ll be brief about this one, since I plan to cover it more fully in an upcoming review, but this bottle represents an awesome, affordable release. It’s a blend of highland malts, aged for 17 years and then finished in sherry butts for (I suspect) a pretty substantial amount of time, because the sherry influence is quite prominent. It’s also bottled at 50% ABV, which doesn’t hurt, either. It’s rich and fruity, with chocolate, oranges, and spice. I also get a substantial note of marshmallow from it, but everyone else thought I was crazy for that, so make of that what you will…

Single Cask Laphroaig

Single Cask Laphroaig – One of our attendees had the pleasure of visiting Laphroaig earlier this year, where he was able to try samples from several casks and then fill a bottle from one of them. This single cask bottling is around ten years old, and bottled at cask strength. In addition to being a really cool looking bottle, this offering was really tasty. Justin said that he selected the cask that tasted most like a traditional Laphroaig, and the medicinal peat is definitely there in full force,  but there’s also an earthy roasted malt note on the palate that I really enjoyed. It almost felt like I could chew on this whisky.

Ardbeg Supernova – The contents of the miniature Ardbeg bottle were not Ardbeg 17 (Sigh), but nonetheless were also exciting. This little glass bottle contained a sample of the very first release of Ardbeg Supernova! I’d tried this back when it was first released, but I was new to whisky and probably didn’t appreciate it as much as I do now. Coming back to it, it’s definitely got the in-your-face shotgun blast of peat that Supernova is known for, but it’s richer and more full flavored, with fruity nuances that would normally get lost in the briny smoke.

Santis Snow White No. 2

Image Source: Whiskybase.com

Säntis Snow White No. 2 – This whisky is an…experience. I bought the bottle online last fall after being fascinated by the description. It’s a Swiss malt whisky (already intriguing to me), aged in beer casks (an uncommon practice), and finished in spiced cherry beer casks (I’d never even heard of those!). When I first opened it, I expected something spicy, lightly fruity, and complex. What I got what a syrupy, overly sweet, and weirdly herbal spirit that I would never have classified as a whisky. The general consensus was that it tastes quite a bit like cough syrup, and quite honestly, no one enjoyed drinking this whisky in the least. That said, we did enjoy talking about it, and we had a lot of laughs, so I’d say it was worth it.

As another positive note, when I was desperately trying to find a way to salvage this whisky, I actually did stumble on a way to use it. The sweet and herbal nature of this spirit actually makes for a reasonable substitute for sweet vermouth. Now, it’s bottled at 50% ABV, so it’s rocket fuel compared to any real vermouth, and it won’t win any taste tests next to a Dolin, Carpano, or Cocchi di Torino, but it holds up pretty well in cocktails, and it won’t expire. (PSA: Remember folks, your vermouth expires!). I made a modified boulevardier with it (scaling the quantities back to about 25%), and it worked pretty well! Would I buy another bottle? No. But it won’t go to waste after all, either.

Christian Brothers Brandy – This was a fun way to close out the night. I’m not a brandy connoisseur by any means, and Christian Brothers isn’t exactly a top-shelf brandy, but this particular iteration was very cool. These little sample bottles were probably from the 70s or 80s, and packaged in one of the most interesting gift sets I’ve ever seen, bound into a rather elaborate-looking wooden story book. I could see gathering around the fire on a chilly day and opening this up for a dram and a tale. That said, the packaging did no favors for the spirit by storing the bottles sideways, which caused the paper inserts in the lids to impart a damp, cardboard-y taste to the spirit. Still, it was a great conversation piece, and entertaining to try.

Overall, I’d say that “entertainment” was the theme of the night. We tried a substantial spread of whiskies (and some other spirits), and got some good banter going (such as when I tried to defend my enjoyment of Copper Fox to the shocked onlookers). This event was a great reminder that spirits of all types are best when shared in good company.

Question of the Day: What’s your favorite “unusual” spirit?

A Night out at The Library Pub

Last night, I had the pleasure of meeting several friends at a classic Omaha institution: The Library Pub.

Image Source: The Library Pub

Image Source: The Library Pub

This bar may look relatively unassuming from the outside, but open the door and you’ll be greeted by this incredible sight:

Image Source: The Library Pub

Image Source: The Library Pub

Yes, this little Omaha bar is an absolute Whisk(e)y paradise, with a massive collection of Scotch single malts. This includes a huge number of rare, limited, discontinued, or otherwise hard to find bottlings. I can’t count the number of times I saw a bottle that I couldn’t believe they actually had available to try.

Let's have a closeup. My poor little phone didn't do such a great job, but hopefully it's enough to get you drooling.

Let’s have a closeup.
My poor little phone didn’t do such a great job, but hopefully it’s enough to get you drooling.

But with such a selection, how can you decide what to order, you ask? Just consult the Scotch Bible!

Library Pub Scotch Bible

Plenty of whisk(e)y bars have a list of their spirits, but the Library Pub goes above and beyond – each Scotch whisky gets its own page, with a bottle photo, detailed description, and even tasting notes and reviews. I’m still not sure if this wealth of information makes it easier to decide on a dram, or if it just paralyzes me with choice, but either way, it makes great reading material (preferably with a glass in hand)!

Scotch Bible Contents

A few selections from the Scotch Bible.

In addition to all of this delicious Scotch whisky, the Library Pub has a great selection of American whiskies, located in a recently renovated corner of the bar.

Library Pub - American Whiskies

How many rare or highly sought after bottles can you spot in this (sadly under-illuminated) photo?

Perhaps best of all, their prices are incredibly reasonable. Put this value together with their wide selection, and it makes the Library Pub an excellent spot for whisk(e)y geeks like me who want the chance to sample plenty of awesome spirits.

My friends and I started off by sharing a flight of beers before moving on to the whiskies (Did I mention that the Library Pub also has a great selection of craft beers on tap? Because they do).

Page one of the draft list

Page one of the draft list

After warming up our palates, it was time to move on to the main event, which I kicked off with a dram of Parker’s Heritage “Promise of Hope” release. This was a bourbon I’ve heard such great things about, and was eager to try.

Parker's Heritage 6th, 7th, and 8th releases

Parker’s Heritage 6th, 7th, and 8th releases, with “Promise of Hope” in the middle.  I’ll be coming back to try the other two.

I’m pleased to say that the Promise of Hope more than lived up to my expectations. In fact, it was easily among the top five bourbons I’ve ever tasted! The nose was absolutely loaded with vanilla, cream soda, and cinnamon, with a heavy dose of sweet cherries, cardamom, toffee, and poached pears.

On the palate, I got lots of vanilla and cinnamon, along with caramelized banana, butterscotch, wildflowers, and a bit of camphor. The finish was long and rich, with dark chocolate, vanilla, and black coffee, as well as a hint of black pepper and a little astringent oak to dry it out. This was a stunning, rich, and decadent bourbon, and somehow, some way, I need to track down a bottle!

Sadly, my glass eventually ran out, and it was time to move on. Next up was a Glen Moray 25 year old, finished in port barrels. This whisky was originally on the docket for the Dundee Dell mega tasting, but the bottle disappeared, so I was excited for a second chance at trying it.

Glen Moray 25

This whisky was worth the wait. It was crazy smooth and easy to drink! The nose was extremely fruity, with cherries and apples, as well as a lot of caramel, vanilla, and toffee. There was also something sweet and nutty, like candied almonds, and a hint of buttered toast.

The palate followed suit, with red apples, sweet cherries, and spiced oranges, along with cinnamon, salted caramel, and a bit of candied orange. This is thick and syrupy malt, which coated my tongue and lingered with finish that was both sweet and earthy.

I followed up with a dram of a very unusual Caol Ila. This 21 year old Murray McDavid release was finished in red wine casks. I’m a sucker for wine-finished peaty whiskies, and this one didn’t disappoint.

Caol Ila 1990

Jim McEwan selected the casks used for this cask strength Caol Ila, and he sure knows his stuff! The nose was herbal and spicy, with oranges, lots of red wine, cinnamon, and a bit of light peat smoke. There were also delicious notes of cherries, raisins, ginger, and cardamom.

On the palate, I got inundated by delicious oranges, dark fruits, and sour bing cherries. These fruits were followed by dark red wine, oak tannins, and a zesty herbal tang. (I said that some of the notes reminded me a bit of Campari, but I got funny looks for that, so it may just be me). Through it all, there was a light, floral smoke and lingering baking spices. The finish was long and astringent, with light but earthy smoke, orange zest, oak tannins, and rich red wine.

I finished up for the night with a Chieftain’s bottling of Bunnahabhain. This ten year year old Bunna is insanely dark for it’s age – and don’t worry, it’s not due to caramel coloring. It spent its full ten years in first-fill Oloroso sherry casks, making for a rich and fruity peaty dram.

Chieftain's BunnaThis dram opened up with notes of dark chocolate and black coffee on the nose, followed by orange zest, pungent coal smoke, and a mild (but noticeable) coppery tang. On the palate, the arrival was sweet, with candied oranges and chocolate covered toffee. This initial sweetness rapidly gives way to black coffee and darker chocolate, bittersweet herbs, and a flinty, mineral note, along with wisps of mild smoke. The finish is extremely long, with oranges, black coffee, pepper, and a lingering coppery tang.

As much as I would have loved to keep going, at this point it was time to call it a night and head home. It was a memorable, dram-tacular night out with friends, and I’m already looking forward to heading back.

As I was reviewing the pictures for this post, I noticed at least a half dozen exciting bottles I didn’t see last night, which made me even more eager for a return trip. I know I’ll be heading back soon! If you’re in Omaha (or might find yourself here in the future), you owe it to yourself to stop in here!

Questions of the Day: What’s your favorite whisk(e)y bar? If you’re in/been to Omaha, have you been to The Library Pub?

A Mega Tasting at Dundee Dell

On Sunday, I was fortunate enough to attend a particularly special Scotch whisky tasting. The Dundee Dell in Omaha hosted their annual “Mega Tasting,” and the event certainly lived up to its name. For those of you outside the Omaha area, the Dell (as it’s known to locals) is famed for their prolific single malty whisky selection – which is purported to be among the largest in the country.

Dundee Dell Whisky Menu

This massive menu catalogs the countless single malt offerings available at the Dell. (It’s great reading while enjoying a dram!)

Not only do they have a huge variety of whiskies from countless distilleries, but they have a seriously impressive collection of limited releases, rare vintages, and old bottlings that you would be hard-pressed to find anywhere else. This particular tasting was focused on these rare old whiskies, which ranged in age from 24 to 40 years old.

A huge amount of credit for the Dell’s incredible whisky selection (and for this event in particular) goes to owner Pat Gobel and his clear passion for single malt Scotch whisky. His enthusiasm, knowledge, and hospitality made for a truly memorable experience.

Pat pulled out all the stops for this tasting!

Pat pulled out all the stops for this tasting!

As an example, I arrived to the event quite early (as usual for me), and Pat came and greeted me moments after I walked in. Then he retreated and came back with a dram of Strathisla 40 year old for me! He said I shouldn’t be waiting empty handed. Kudos to you, Pat, for your incredible generosity! I took careful notes on this excellent dram, and I’ll have a full review up in the near future.

Strathisla 40!

As the actual start time drew near, trays of snacks were brought out to accompany the upcoming drams. There was plenty to snack on, but the standout for me where the chocolate ginger muffins, which were absolutely decadent with some of the fine old sherry cask whiskies we sampled!

Those chocolate ginger muffins were so crazy good!

Those chocolate ginger muffins were so crazy good!

Of course, the whiskies were the star of the show, and wow did we taste some unique and fantastic ones!

Tasting Mat

The Tasting Lineup (Note that the Glen Moray listed was subbed out for another expression)

The Bottle Lineup

1) Glen Grant 28 Year Old (55.6% ABV) – This Malt Trust bottling was distilled in 1979, and was absolutely delicious. The nose was rich and tangy, with vanilla, lemon zest, and roasted almonds, as well as ginger and a bit of copper. On the palate, I got lots of creamy vanilla, spun honey, and cinnamon. A few drops of water brought out maple syrup, wildflowers, and some black pepper. The finish was long and viscous, with ginger, caramel, and a little tangy oak.

2) Longmorn 27 Year Old (40% ABV) – This Connoisseur’s Choice bottling was distilled way back in 1962, and was probably one of the most unique whisky experiences I’ve had. By Pat’s admission, the bottle had been open and at a low level for a very long time, and oxidation had a pronounced effect. The nose was exquisite, though, with lots of leather, almond, and walnut, with a bit of camphor a little brine, and a hint of damp earth. It had a rich, unusual, and enticing nose that I just wanted to keep smelling. It didn’t fare so well on the palate, where (sadly), I think oxidation sapped most of the flavor and finish from the whisky, leaving it flat, with some pungent earth, a bit of leather, and some roasted grains, which fell off in a watery finish. In my opinion, the incredible nose, coupled with the experience itself, more than made up for the limitations of the taste.

IMG_20150802_161100787

3) Glen Ord 30 Year Old (58.7% ABV) – The alcohol was clearly present in this one, and I found that it needed a few drops of water to tame it and open up its delicious tropical fruit flavors. After adding a bit of water and letting it sit for a bit, I got lots of ginger, pineapple, and vanilla on the nose, with a bit of mild wood smoke. On the palate, there was an explosion of ripe peaches, pineapple, and ginger, with a little dark chocolate, cinnamon, and wildflowers. The finish was long and sweet, with the ginger and peach flavors lingering, touched with a bit of black pepper.

4) Inchgower 27 Year Old (55.6% ABV) – The nose was a little briny, coupled with candied apples, raisins, almonds, and some lemon zest. The taste was rich and sweet, with raisins, chocolate orange slices, and honey. A few drops of water brought out even more sweetness, with cherries, sweet roasted grains, and some baking spices. This was a very tasty, albeit somewhat straightforward, whisky from a distillery I had not previously tried. A great experience!

5) Dalmore 29 Year Old (45% ABV) – A rare bottling from Whyte and Mackay’s old Stillman’s Dram line, this is probably one of the absolute best Dalmores that I’ve tried. It was incredibly full-bodied and strongly flavored, with a nose full of honey, brown sugar, raisins, and chocolate covered cherries. There’s also a little leather and damp wood adding an earthy nuance to the nose. On the palate, this whisky comes across as a bit less weet, with mild tannic oak, leather, and coffee, as well as cherries, raisins, and some bittersweet chocolate. The finish is long and luxurious, with leather, cinnamon, oranges, and damp earth. However, I found that this exceptional finish became a bit stunted after sitting in the class for a while (roughly 45 minutes). This is probably due to oxidation of this old spirit, rather than a characteristic of the whisky itself.

I didn't mind polishing off the last drops of this one.

I didn’t mind polishing off the last drops of this one.

6) Macallan Caledonian Selection (51.3% ABV) (26 Year Old) – Now this is an awesome, old school Macallan sherry bomb! The nose was incredibly enticing, with rum raisins, cocoa, cinnamon, allspice, and some gentle wine tannins. On the palate, it arrived heavy and full-bodied, with rich dark chocolate and raisins hat melt away into dry dark fruits, cinnamon, and allspice. The finish is extremely long, smooth, and sweet, with plenty of chocolate, cherries, and candied orange rind. As far as I can tell, this bottle is long gone, and “newer” (i.e., distilled in the 1980s) expressions are extremely rare and prohibitively expensive. I feel very fortunate to have had the chance to try this!

7) Mosstowie 30 Year Old (48.1 % ABV) – Now this was a unique dram! Mosstowie closed in 1981, and very little of its spirit seems to be available. Tasting this Duncan Taylor bottling was a great experience, and I have to say, I’ve never had a whisky like this before. The nose and flavors were jarring, disjointed, and unexpected, and they seemed to shift and change over time. And yet, I don’t mean any of that as a negative – I thought this was a fascinating and delicious, if challenging, whisy. On the nose, it arrived bold ,with lots of orange and lemon, as well as some ginger and honey. After this, the aromas become mildly earthy, with some slight musty wood, parsley and some other fresh herbs, and some picked vegetables. The palate is where things got really weird. Basically, it was like a list of book of tasting notes got dropped into the still, and somehow all of those flavors made it into the spirit. I got lemon, pine sap and needles, all kinds of herbs, some sort of wood smoke, ginger, toasted oak, and red apple, as well as lots of other things that fled from my mind before I could pin down what they were. This whisky wouldn’t wait for me to take notes, marching on to the next flavor before I’d figured out “what the heck did I just taste?!” This was definitely the most fun I had with a whisky all night.

Easily the weirdest whisky I've ever tried.

Easily the weirdest whisky I’ve ever tried.

8) Benrinnes 24 Year Old (40% ABV) – I’ve been hearing more and more great things about older Benrinnes whiskies recently, and so I was excited to get to try one. Despite being bottled at a low strength, this was quite a nice whisky, with candied oranges, wildflowers, cinnamon, and honey on the nose, as well as something slightly briny. On the palate, this whisky was a nice balance between sweet and herbal, with orange, cherries, ginger,  and some parsley and dill. The finish is a bit acidic and clean, with light black pepper and ginger. It tapers off a bit faster than I’d like, but it’s still very enjoyable.

9) Glen Moray 1964 (43% ABV) – The Glen Moray originally on the docket couldn’t be located (and may have been consumed already), but this was a very satisfying substitution! In fact, this was one of my favorite whiskies of the evening. The nose was a nice balance between sweet and earthy, with wildlfowers, clove, and ginger, as well as coffee grounds, a hint of dark chocolate, and some vanilla. On the palate, the arrival was a bit dry, with dark toasted barley, bittersweet chocolate, and some mild wood smoke, as well as a little vanilla sweetness. The finish was extremely long and dry, with toasted oak, rich roasted grains, black pepper, and a little leather and damp soil.

10) Glenfarclas 40 Year Old (46% ABV) – Ah yes, an amazing expression from one of my favorite distilleries. This final whisky was also my overall favorite for the day, and probably the only whisky we sampled that’s still “readily available” (provided you have the money!). The nose was a Glenfarclas sherry burst  through and through, with rich, dark cherries and raisins, spiced oranges, cinnamon, and clove. I also got plenty of ginger, cranberries, and dark chocolate. On the palate, this whisky was thick, sweet, and spicy, with dried oranges, dark chocolate, coffee, and cinnamon. Of course, there were plenty of raisins and sweet cherries, too. The finish is ridiculously long, with lingering bittersweet chocolate, cloves, allspice, and chocolate covered raisins and cherries. Despite spending forty years in oak, the whisky doesn’t taste “woody,” with only mild tannins nicely accenting the sweet, rich malt.

I always feel like Glenfarclas pairs well with chocolate, and this one in particular went quite nicely with the chocolate muffins! (Why yes, I did pair a 40 year old whisky with baked goods…don’t judge – it was delicious!)

Glenfarclas 40

Overall, this was an absolutely awesome tasting, full of not only old and rare whiskies, but (more importantly) interesting ones that I probably never would have otherwise had the chance to try. Thanks again to Pat and the Dundee Dell crew for putting together this great event!

Question of the Day: What’s your most memorable whisk(e)y tasting experience?

A “Roarin’ 20s” Tasting at Grane

On Sunday, I took a trip back in time.

Okay, maybe not exactly, but I did attend a “Roarin’ 20s” single malt whisky tasting at Grane in Omaha.

Source: fsmomaha.com

Source: fsmomaha.com

Grane is a pretty unique whiskey bar, with a great Prohibition-era vibe. Hence part of the “Roarin’ 20s” theme. I love the atmosphere there, which is at once casual and kind of ruggedly elegant, if that makes sense to anyone other than me.

The other thing that makes Grane stand out is lineup of self-service whisk(e)y dispensers! Grane is actually the first bar in the country to feature a system like this, where patrons can dispense whiskies in half ounce, one ounce, or ounce and a half pours, all with the swipe of a card and the push of a button. I love this system because it lets me sample small tastes of a lot of whiskies, including those that I couldn’t otherwise readily afford.

I’ll have a more thorough post on Grane coming in the near future, but for now I’ve gotten sidetracked. In fact, I spent this entire tasting event with my back turned to the whisk(e)y dispensers. And if I wasn’t looking at these things for two hours, you know something special must have been going on.

See, the other portion of the “Roarin’ 20s” theme refers to the fact that we were tasting six single malt whiskies, all over 20 years old! This event was hosted and curated by Monique Houston, an Omaha native who now lives in Chicago is widely respected for her passion and knowledge throughout the whisky industry.

Throughout the event, Monique provided us with plenty of information about the whiskies we were tasting, as well as great anecdotes about some of the many colorful figures involved in the production of these incredible spirits.

Grane Collage

Over the course of the event, we nosed and sipped our way through whiskies from all across Scotland. Once again (as it always strikes me at events like these), I have to marvel at just how distinctive each spirit can be, considering how they are all made from essentially the same raw ingredients.

I’ve had the pleasure of trying a few of these whiskies previously, but several were completely new to me.

Tasting Lineup

Each of these (both the familiar and unfamiliar) were a blast to try, and Monique’s background and stories definitely enriched the experience. It was definitely a memorable event! Unfortunately, I got so Without further ado, here’s what was on offer:

The Drams

1) Glenfiddich 21 Year Old (40% ABV)- After aging for 21 years in a mixture of second-fill Oloroso and bourbon barrels, this whisky was finished for four months in Caribbean rum casks. This finish really added a sweet, spicy complexity to the nose, which was packed with cinnamon, nutmeg, honey, and sweet tropical fruits like pineapple. On the palate, the arrival was really nice, with bold apple, peach, and candied orange sweetness. This quickly dries out with ginger and baking spices like cinnamon, clove, and nutmeg. Unfortunately, I felt like it dropped off really quickly after this, with a short, peppery finish that fades too quickly. It was a tasty dram, and a unique experience, but ultimately not a favorite for me.

2) Gragganmore 21 Year Old (56% ABV) – Before this event, I had never tried a Cragganmore whisky, and didn’t really know what to expect. However, now I suspect that this one has me spoiled. The nose was a nuanced blend of vanilla, caramel, nutmeg, and lemon zest, with a subtle hint of strawberry, and a crazy big blast of alcohol. A little water softens the nose and brings out lots of cinnamon, honey, and some delicious coconut. On the palate, water again helped to bring out the flavors, which are otherwise masked behind an alcohol burn. Once it opens up, I got lots of ginger, lemon, cinnamon candies, and a rich burnt sugar caramel. The finish is long and spicy, with ginger, black pepper, and clove.

3) Glenfarclas 25 Year Old (43% ABV) – I first tried this at a vertical Glenfarclas whisky tasting at Spirit World and I thought it was an astounding whisky. Coming to it again, I’m still incredibly impressed by the rich, bold flavors that this primarily Oloroso-matured whisky can deliver. On the nose, there’s lots of black cherry, orange zest, dark chocolate, and raisins. When taking a sip, these same flavors cascade across my tongue, joined with candied ginger, some milk chocolate, and toasted walnuts. The finish is long and luxurious, starting sweet and drying out with bittersweet cocoa and bing cherry tartness.

4) Balvenie 21 Year Old Portwood (43% ABV) – This Balvenie spent the last five or six years of its maturation in port pipes, and all of those dark, fruity notes come through in force. The nose promises cherries, raisins, and grilled peaches, along with tangy raspberry sorbet and baking spices. The palate follows suit, with lots of cherries and raspberry, as well as plenty of orange zest, toasted walnuts, and cinnamon. A few drops of water brings out milk chocolate and even more delicious spices. This might be among my favorite of the Balvenie whiskies that I’ve tried.

5) Highland Park 25 Year Old (45.7% ABV) – I’ve already expressed my love  well-balanced Highland Park 12 year old, and its big brother is even more delicious. This whisky has a little bit over everything, wrapped up in a briny, rich dram. The nose is an enticing mix of wildflowers, mild smoke, ginger, and brown sugar, with some grassy notes and a pronounced briny edge. On the palate, this whisky arrives sweet, with ginger, clove, cinnamon, and orange. A grassy tang keeps the sweetness from getting overpowering, and the whisky then dries out with salty brine. The finish is extremely long, with ginger, coffee and orange zest. This is a staggeringly excellent whisky, and I only wish it was priced such that I could afford to keep a bottle on my shelf.

6) Bruichladdich Black Art 4.1 (23 Years Old) (49.2% ABV) – Monique explained that when Bruichladdich was reopened, they found a number of barrels of spirit lying neglected in the warehouse. After being left untended for years, the whisky was in a sorry state, but the folks at Bruichladdich refused to abandon it; instead, they attempted to resuscitate the whisky by finishing it in a variety of casks to see if it could be turned into something enjoyable. Happily, the end result turned out delicious, and Black Art was born. The product was so successful that Bruichladdich has produced several batches, with this fourth iteration generally being considered the closest to the original. The nose on this whisky delivers briny seaweed and mild smoke, along with dried cherries, candied orange rind, and a bit of honeydew melon and lime. On the palate, The brine arrives first, followed quickly by cherries, orange, lime, and black pepper. A few drops of water brings out coconut, chocolate covered raisins, and salted caramel, which gives way into a long, tangy citrus finish. I have a small sample dram of this that I got from a whisky swap, and after trying it on Sunday, I’m looking forward to revisiting it on a special occasion.

For me, the standout whiskies of the day were the Highland Park 25 and the Black Art, but each and every whisky was unique and worthwhile to taste. The event was an excellent experience, and I have to give kudos to Monique and the Grane crew for putting together such a memorable event.

Questions of the Day: What’s your favorite “old” whisk(e)y? Do you have a favorite whisky region?

Hosting a Whisk(e)y Tasting

This past Thursday, I finally did something I had been wanting to do for quite some time now; I hosted my first whisk(e)y tasting and bottle share since moving to Omaha. I can’t believe it took me so long to host an event like this, but it was an absolute blast, so it won’t be long before I host another!

I’ve always thought the idea of bottle shares was great – the only thing better than drinking delicious whisk(e)y is sharing it and geeking out with friends. Thankfully, I’ve met quite a few like-minded individuals since moving here,  and each person attending brought a bottle or two of really neat stuff to share.

Whisk(e)y Spread

Before I go too much further, a quick apology – I normally like to take lots of photos to document events like this, but between playing host, washing glasses, and (of course) pouring whiskies, I forgot to take many pictures! It’s definitely challenging to play photographer when you’re running an event, but since I definitely want to keep this blog going, and also keep hosting events like this, I’ll need to get better about it.

Thankfully, I did get pictures of the most important things: the whiskies (and one non-whisky) we were sampling. We had a really broad spread, with two ryes, a bourbon, an English whisky, a Scotch single malt, and two Scotch blended malts, plus a mezcal that I broke out to cap off the night. More detailed reviews of some of these will be coming soon, but for now, I hope you enjoy the highlights:

  • The English Whisky Company (Chapter 6) – This young whisky from England’s St. George’s Distillery was quite enjoyable, despite only being three years old. It was a little simple, but the flavors were pretty nice. The nose and palate were both citrus-heavy, with orange sherbet and lemon zest on the nose, and oranges, lime, and a bit of cinnamon on the palate. This was a bottle of mine that I cracked open for the event, so expect a full review soon!
  • Cedar Ridge Iowa Bourbon – I always like to support local distilleries, and these guys are located only a few hours away in Iowa. I’ve seen their products on store shelves quite frequently, and I’ve been meaning to check them out for a while now, so I was understandably excited to try it. This is a seriously sweet bourbon, with a nose packed with ripe bananas, vanilla, and brown sugar. All of those flavors come through on the palate, along with cinnamon and caramelized sugar. It really reminded me of Bananas Foster, which just happens to be my favorite dessert. Needless to say, I really enjoyed this one!

Cedar Ridge Bourbon

  • Templeton Rye – I won’t say too much about this right now, but suffice to say, this isn’t just an off-the-shelf bottling of Templeton. For a rye, it was quite smooth and mild. The spicy rye notes were there for sure, but they were subdued, primarily coming through as baking spices intermixed with a slight sour bite. It was tasty enough, but in my opinion, as ryes go it paled in comparison to…
  •  Willett Family Estate Single Barrel Rye – Wow, every time I taste this rye, it completely smacks me across the face with its rye-ness! The nose is an explosion of camphor, spearmint, clove, and dill. And oh yeah, a heaping blast of alcohol (It’s 58.6% ABV, after all). Given that strength, I think this one needs a sizeable splash of water to mellow the burn and bring out its flavors, but once that water’s in there, it’s really awesome. I get lots of dill, mint, toasted pumpernickel  bread, as well as a substantial burst of cloves, cinnamon, and allspice. This is one of my bottles, so I’ll definitely be reviewing it (In fact, I thought I already had, but it looks like I was mistaken – I’ll rectify that soon!).Willett Rye
  • Glengoyne Distillery Cask (Cask 3655) – Bottled by one of our attendees while he was visiting the distillery, this Glengoyne was a sherried beast. Though it’s only about ten years old, it drinks like a substantially older whisky, and doesn’t taste like it’s nearly 60% ABV (though the alcohol is definitely not completely hidden, and it can take some water). The nose is rich and fruity, with raising, bing cherries, and dates, as well as toasted almonds and cinnamon. On the palate, I got lots of cinnamon, dried cherries, raisins, and prunes, and more almonds than I got on the nose. This whisky was particularly excellent with dark chocolate (We had some cherry-infused chocolate that paired exceedingly well!).

Glengoyne Single Cask

  • Serendipity – Now this is a fun whisky! As the story goes, back when Ardbeg and Glen Moray were owned by the same company, someone accidentally mixed some twelve year old Glen Moray into a batch of much older Ardbeg. Rather than scrapping the batch, someone decided that it was delicious, and so Serendipity was born. Now, I don’t know whether this story is true or just a clever bit of marketing, but this 80-20 blend of old Ardbeg (one of our Ardbeg guru friends suggests that much of it may be seventeen years old or more) and young Glen Moray is quite tasty indeed. The nose has creamy vanilla toffee, some burnt toast, soot, and woodsmoke, with a nice light floral note running throughout. On the palate, more soot and coal come through, along with caramel, red apples, and buttered toast. It’s a little disappointing that something this unique is bottled at 40% and chill-filtered, but nonetheless, it’s really a great whisky, and one I’m thinking of seeking out. It was produced quite a few years ago, but there are still some bottles floating around.

Serendipity

  •  Big Peat Christmas Edition – I’ve reviewed this whisky already, and I’m happy to say that remains just as delicious now as it was then. All of the creamy, sweet, and smoky notes mingle together in a cask strength spirit that is complex, rich, and too easy to drink neat.
  • Zignum Añejo Mezcal – Okay, so this wasn’t a whisk(e)y, but I think it tastes closer to one than it does to a mezcal, so it seemed like a decent way to cap off the lineup with something a bit unique. It reminds me a lot of a cross between a bourbon and a cognac, with cinnamon and spices, baked apples, and some mildly astringent oak. I’m particularly fond of this odd spirit – if you want to read my full thoughts, check out my review.

I was glad for the opportunity to get a group of like-minded individuals together for a memorable evening like this. I’m looking forward to hosting another one soon. This is a passion that’s best when shared!

Question of the Day: Have you ever hosted a whisk(e)y tasting?

 

Ardbeg Day Recap! (Part 2)

In yesterday’s post, I thoroughly geeked out about the Ardbeg Day festivities I attended at Spirit World. As I said then, the event was spectacular. Hopefully you found my write up interesting, but I probably left you hanging a bit, since I didn’t actually give you my thoughts on the delicious whiskies we tasted!

If you’re checking back in now, you’re probably eager to hear all about the peaty goodness we sampled in honor of Ardbeg’s 200th anniversary. So without further ado, here are my thoughts on the spirits on offer at Spirit World’s Ardbeg Day festivities!

Look at all that delicious whisky

  • Ardbeg Ten Year Old (46% ABV) – Ardbeg Ten was the second bottle of single malt whisky I ever purchased, so I’ll always have a soft spot for it. I love the heavy, sooty coal tar nose, and how it’s balanced by wildflowers, lemon zest, and cinnamon apples. On the palate, there’s plenty of that phenolic punch I so often crave, mingled with dark coffee, cinnamon, and limes. Dan cautioned against adding water to this one, and I have to agree – even a couple of drops drowned the complexities and washed away the floral and citrus notes.
  • Uigeadail (54.2% ABV) – Ah, more nostalgia! Uigeadail was the first cask strength whisky I ever tasted, and it showed me just how effective alcohol is at transferring flavor. Uigeadal is a blend of 55% ex-bourbon cask-aged whisky and 45% Oloroso sherry cask-aged whisky, and the sherry influence really shines here. This whisky is bursting with toffee, butterscotch, and spice cake on the nose, with buttery caramel apples, cloves, pecans, and aromatic smoke coming through on the palate. It paired incredibly well with the sticky toffee pudding!

Uigeadail Tasting

  • Corryvreckan (57.1% ABV) – Like Uigeadal, 55% of this whisky is matured in ex-bourbon casks, but the remaining percentage is aged in virgin toasted (not charred) French oak barrels, resulting in (I think), a lighter and more floral expression of Ardbeg. There is a strong creamed honey and wildflower nose, with a sweet salted caramel ribbon running through it. On the palate, I got more floral notes, brine and smoke building as I sipped. For a whisky of this strength, Corryvreckan is scarily easy to drink neat, but a few drops of water really opens it up, bringing out wonderful beeswax and sweet cinnamon notes on the nose, and coaxing out a long coffee and dark chocolate finish. This was my favorite of the readily available Ardbeg offerings, and tasting it again reminds me that I need to pick up a bottle soon!
  • Alligator (52.1% ABV) – This whisky was an experiment using heavily charred virgin American oak barrels to mature the spirit, and it worked extremely well. The heavy char acts as a charcoal filter, further purifying the whisky as it aged, while imparting incredible rich, sweet flavors. The nose was packed with woodsmoke, toffee, cinnamon, vanilla, and a bit of pipe tobacco, and the taste was full of caramel and vanilla, followed by brine and heavy phenolic smoke, maple syrup, with a long briny finish. A few drops of water brings out salted caramel, caramelized nuts, and bittersweet cocoa.
  • Galileo (49% ABV) – This whisky was released to celebrate Ardbeg’s mad experiment – they shot whisky into space! A portion of this spirit was aged in marsala wine barrels, which contributes some really nice sweet and tangy notes. The nose is sweet, with butterscotch, cinnamon, cloves, and earthy smoke. The whisky is pungent on the palate, with some heavy phenols softened by vanilla buttercream frosting, with hints of balsamic vinegar. The finish is rich and smoky, with charcoal, cinnamon, and clove. A little water brings out more vanilla sweetness and rich spices on both the nose and palate. Honestly, although this whisky was quite good, it wasn’t one of my favorites of the night; it just fell a bit short compared to some of the more interesting offerings, like…
  • Ardbog (52.1% ABV) – A portion of this whisky was matured in manzanilla sherry casks, which contributes some really excellent fruity notes. The nose was full of butterscotch and vanilla, with plenty of figs, dates, and raisins. I also got a really nice lavender note in there, which I hadn’t picked up in the other Ardbegs I tasted. On the palate, the arrival is rich and sweet, with caramelized pecans, toasted walnuts, and salted caramel. Despite the heavy, sweet arrival, this whisky finishes dry, with oaky tannins, cinnamon, and strong coffee. I thought the dry, bitter finish was a great counterpoint to the initial sweetness, and made this one of my favorite whiskies of the evening.
  • Auriverdes (49.9% ABV) – Another experiment by genius master distiller Dr. Bill Lumsden, this whisky was matured in heavily charred ex-bourbon barrels with the barrel ends replaced with proprietary toasted virgin oak panels. The nose was heavy with cinnamon, aged balsamic vinegar, and toasted pecans, with some briny smoke and phenolic peat. On the palate, I got a dose of toasted pecans, burnt sugar, and green apples, with mild smoke and a hint of burnt rubber (which, as a peat head, I mean in the best possible way).

Three Great Bottles

  • Perpetuum (US Release) (47.4% ABV) – Released in honor of Ardbeg’s 200th anniversary, this whisky is a blend of stock for quite a few of Ardbeg’s other releases, resulting in a complex spirit with a lot of aromas and flavors to take in. Perpetuum isn’t yet available in Nebraska, so Dan very generously shared some of his personal bottle with us, and I’m glad he did! The nose of this whisky is fruity and floral, with honey, apples, wildflowers, and cinnamon candy, with light, briny smoke. The taste was sweet and salty, with creamy vanilla, bittersweet chocolate, salted almonds, and lingering aromatic smoke. I really preferred this one without water; I found that even a couple drops drowned out the nuanced flavors.

Cheers Ardbeg!

  • Perpetuum (Distillery Release) (49.2% ABV) – In addition to the more widespread release, Ardbeg also produced a somewhat different version of Perpetuum for sale as a distillery-only bottling. Thanks to the generosity of one of the attendees, we had the chance to try it and compare it to the US release. Although the two whiskies were relatively similar, the distillery release was richer and creamier, with more vanilla and sweet cereal notes on the nose, and a great baked apple note on the palate.

Perpetuum Distillery Release

  • New Make (63.5% ABV) – At this point, it looked like Supernova was all we had left, but Devin, Dan, and company had some surprises in store. First up, Dan brought out a sample of Ardbeg’s new make spirit, which was a really interesting experience. The nose was briny and smoky, with coal tar, pickled fish, and almonds. The taste was surprisingly sweet and floral, with honeysuckle, licorice, and amaretto, coupled with a hefty dose of tarry smoke. Tasting the new make really highlighted the light, floral nature of Ardbeg’s spirit, which plays very nicely with that delightful peat.
  • Still Young (56.2% ABV) – For a period of time, the Ardbeg distillery was sadly closed for production, and came dangerously close to being demolished. Thankfully, in 1997 the distillery was reopened and soon began producing spirit again. Still Young represents one of the relatively early releases as Ardbeg worked toward replenishing their stocks. Bottled in 2008, this eight year old whisky did not taste rough at all, with a peppery, briny nose, sweetened with butterscotch and wildflowers. The palate has a bit of vanilla sweetness, but overall is dry and tannic, with heavy phenolic peat, salted peanuts, and a long, smoky finish.

Still Young

  • Airigh Nam Beist (46% ABV) – Considering the momentous occasion, I was glad to be able to share something special from my personal collection as well. This particular bottle was the fourth bottle of whisky I ever purchased, and I think is a particularly spectacular Ardbeg. Airigh Nam Beist was distilled in 1990, and was released in three batches over the course of three years. This particular bottling is part of the third and final release from 2008. I love the fresh apple, honey, and cinnamon nose, with hints of coal and beeswax. The taste is fruity, with honeysuckle, baked apples, vanilla, and beeswax, coupled with plenty of peaty goodness, in the form of hot asphalt, burnt rubber, and woodsmoke.
  • Kildalton (2015 Release) (46% ABV) – This limited distillery-only release whisky was sold as a fundraiser to aid struggling communities in the North Highlands of Scotland. Again, one of the attendees very generously shared his personal bottle with us. I found this whisky to be extremely light bodied, with light, sweet flavors of tangy apples, honey, and butterscotch. The finish was a dry counterpoint to the sweet arrival, with some tannic oak and a lingering whiff of smoke.

Check out that Cross

  • Supernova (2014 Release) (55% ABV) – Finally, we closed out the tasting with a peat-tacular beast. Peated to 100ppm (a measure of peat levels in the barley, not in the bottle, Dan explained to us), this whisky packs a phenolic punch! The nose is rolling waves of hot car tires, coal smoke, and briny seaweed, coupled with almonds, honey, and cinnamon. On the palate, the peat definitely delivers, with plenty of brine, iodine, coal, and rubber, but there is also a pronounced sweetness, with caramelized almonds, burnt sugar, and a hint of wildflowers. A bit of water brings out more brine, but also green apples, mild chile peppers, and honey. The finish is exceedingly long, peppery, and packed with thick smoke. This is one that peat head (like me) will adore.

Supernova 2014

After the tasting wrapped up, the Ardbeg Day festivities kept going. Several of us moved over to the bar to try out some Ardbeg-inspired cocktails.

I started off with a Negroni made with Old Tom gin that was aged in a barrel that previously held Ardbeg whisky, topped off with a dash of Ardbeg 10. This one might sound familiar to you if you follow me on Twitter – I’m kind of hooked on this glorious concoction! Next, I moved on to a Blood and Sand, made with Spirit World’s house-blended Scotch and an Ardbeg rinse. The peat and brine from the Ardbeg played really nicely with the fresh squeezed orange juice in the drink. I’ll have to remember that one!

The secret ingredient is love (and peat)

In both cocktails, the spritz of Ardbeg Ten was delivered via this great device. A burst of peat in a jar! I really need to get one of my own…

I need one of these

Eventually, my clothes and breath smelling like a chimney, I had to pack up and head home. This was a thoroughly epic tasting, and I feel so lucky to have been a part of it!

So once again, Happy Ardbeg Day! Cheers everybody!

Stay tuned for my next post in a couple of days… It’s going to be something that several of you have been asking for!

Questions of the Day: Did you celebrate Ardbeg Day? Have you participated in any other Feis Ile-related festivities?

Ardbeg Day Recap! (Part 1)

Hi everybody! I hope you all had an awesome Ardbeg Day on Saturday! I know I did. Spirit World hosted an all-out, peaty birthday bash in honor of Ardbeg’s 200th Anniversary, and I was thrilled to attend. I’ve got a lot I want to cover about the event, but I don’t want to burn out anyone’s eyeballs with an overly long post, so I’ll be splitting this into two parts. Check back tomorrow for my thoughts on all of the awesome whiskies we tasted!

Happy Ardbeg Day!I’ve been waiting for this event for months, but their manager and whisky geek Devin has been waiting far longer. He was hoarding bottles of Ardbeg for the past four years in anticipation of these festivities.

Some of the rarities on offer!

Dan Crowell, regional brand ambassador for Ardbeg, generously came out to guide the tasting. He was a wealth of knowledge on the brand, their whiskies, and the industry in general. Dan filled the evening with knowledge and no shortage of laughs. His presentation was a crucial part of what made the night so successful.

Dan Crowell

The event took place in Spirit World’s tasting room, which was as cozy and inviting as always. The event was sold out, and the room was full of whisky fans geeking out about delicious spirits.

Ardbeg Day in full swing!

This time, the room was decked out with a few additional details, including some smoldering Ardbeg peat to set the atmosphere. Dan also brought along some peated barley from Ardbeg, which several of us thought made a delicious snack.

Peat and Barley

Ardbeg themselves also got in on the festivities and sent along some sweet swag. Check out the shirt and gigantic Ardbeg tumblers.

Swag Bag

I also have to call attention to the delicious food prepared for the event. People raved about the reubens with house-cured corned beef and sauerkraut. I’m a vegetarian, so I abstained, but everyone was saying just how well they complemented the peaty punch of Ardbeg.

The dessert won my heart, though. They prepared an amazing sticky toffee pudding with rum-infused dates, topped with house-blended Scotch-infused whipped cream and (of course) Ardbeg salted caramel sauce. Oh wow, was that incredible! (I can neither confirm or deny eating the sauce by the spoonful…)

So Gooey, So Good!

Of course, the highlight of the evening were the whiskies themselves, and wow, did we get to try some great stuff! The main tasting lineup was arranged in order of when each whisky became available for sale in Nebraska (except for Supernova, which had to be saved for last so that we could actually taste anything else).

There were nine whiskies on the “formal” tasting lineup, but this was really just the starting point. Thanks to the generosity of Devin, Dan, and several of the attendees), we were fortunate enough to get to try several more Ardbeg icons – fourteen whiskies in total!

Minus a few surprises

One of the things that struck me in tasting so many Ardbegs side by side was that, despite the distillery’s reputation for potent, smoky, and tarry whiskies, the base spirit is light and incredibly fruity and floral.

Dan explained that this is due to the shape of Ardbeg’s two stills, which use a purifier and have the lyne arm tilting back toward the still. This shape exposes the spirit to greater contact with copper of the still and also results in more reflux, leading to a cleaner distillate. I also really appreciate that Ardbeg doesn’t color or chill-filter their whiskies. Everything they produce is naturally presented, which is great, because they should be proud of these spirits exactly as they are!

Cheers!

And with that, I’ll leave you hanging for the day! If you want to know what I thought of each of the whiskies we tried, check back tomorrow for part two of my write-up!

Happy Ardbeg Day! Cheers!

Questions of the Day: Are you and Ardbeg Fan? What’s your favorite expression?

It’s Almost Ardbeg Day!

Well everyone, the day is almost upon us – This Saturday (May 30th) is Ardbeg Day! As part of Feis Ile, the annual music and whisky festival on Islay, each distillery gets a chance to show off in the spotlight. Though I sadly can’t make it to Scotland to celebrate in person, this year I’m thrilled to be part of the festivities here in Omaha.

savethedate

This year, Spirit World is hosting a special tasting event in honor of Ardbeg’s 200th Anniversary. There’s sure to be plenty of great whiskies to taste, both new and old, and perhaps I’ll get the opportunity to give my thoughts on a few rarities…. Who knows? If the gods of whisky shipments look favorably upon me, I might even get to go home with a bottle of Perpetuum! (We’ll see about that last point).

In any case, I’m super excited for the event (especially after the awesome Kilchoman tasting last week), and can’t wait to share my thoughts with all of you. Expect a full write up early next week!