Poor Man’s Pappy Review

Back in February, I wrote about the process of whipping up a batch of Poor Man’s Pappy. Since then, several of you have been sending me emails and tweets asking when I would finally post my thoughts on the blend. According to what I’d read online, the whiskies would take about six weeks to marry together.

Poor Man's Pappy

Well, it’s been closer to… eighteen weeks, so I suppose you’re well within your rights to bug me about it! I have a few good reasons for the delay, though:

  1. I’ve been tied up with other exciting spirits and events to cover (and I finally managed to find a good window!)
  2. I wanted to hold off until I could sample Pappy 15 as a comparison (which I finally did!)
  3. It just din’t seem quite ready when I tasted it at six weeks (Okay, that doesn’t explain waiting three times as long…)

Anyway, sorry for the delay! Hopefully you find this write-up worth the wait!

Rather than keeping you in suspense (I’ve done that long enough), I’ll get this out of the way up front: No, sadly, Poor Man’s Pappy (at least my batch) tastes nothing like Pappy Van Winkle. I get the slightest similarity in flavor on the finish, but that’s it. As much as the goal was to see if I could make a substitute for Pappy Van Winkle, considering just how dramatically different this turned out, I think it’s best to evaluate this blend on its own merits. Otherwise, disappointment is sure to follow.

Are you my Pappy?

Nose: The first impression I get is heavy cinnamon and some vanilla. There’s a bit of honey as well as some red apple. There is almost no alcohol evident on the nose. It’s a pleasant, if simple nose, but it doesn’t have the rich complexity I get from Pappy 15. The nose is also somehow distinct from both the Old Weller Antique 107 and the 12 Year Old; it’s less floral than the 107, and doesn’t seem to have as much butterscotch on the nose as the 12 Year Old. The cinnamon is more pronounced in my Poor Man’s Pappy, so if that’s your thing you may not mind this change.

Taste: It’s a bit hard to describe, but it tastes”fractured” at first. It’s like there are two different flavor profiles that aren’t quite meshing (probably because there are two distinct whiskies in there). Someone suggested transferring the spirit to a larger container and letting it sit for a while – maybe a bit of oxygenation would actually help the marrying process. In the meantime, the arrival is soft and smooth, almost candy sweet. It reminds me of red hot cinnamon candies, coupled with honey and baked apples. However, just as I’m settling in to savor those flavors, the sweetness disappears and is replaced by a rough bitterness on the middle of the palate. It reminds me of burnt walnuts, coupled with something herbal that isn’t unpleasant, but just doesn’t match the sweet arrival.

That roughness also surprised me because both of the base ingredients are really easy sippers. This is probably the blend’s the clearest deviation from Pappy Van Winkle, which is ridiculously smooth and easy drinking. When sipped neat, the finish is also quite short, burning away into those bitter walnuts and disappearing as fast as it arrives.

Pappy and his parents

Just like on the nose, Poor Man’s Pappy tastes quite different from either of its component spirits. It’s sweeter on the arrival than the 107, and has a peppery bite to it that that spirit doesn’t. It also seems a bit fruitier than the 12 Year Old is to me.

Adding water really helps the flavors to coalesce, and rounds off the  rough edge that I got on the arrival when I sipped it neat. After some experimentation, I found that I could add a substantial amount of water to this, and it kept improving. I actually added three full eyedroppers worth of water  to hit what I think is the sweet spot. For my usual tastes, that’s a ton of water!

Don't be of drowning this one!

Letting it sit in the glass to open up really helped, too. I recommend adding water and then covering it and letting it sit for at least fifteen minutes After that, even though it tastes completely different from Pappy, it’s pretty darn good as it’s own spirit. In fact, the longer I let it sit in the glass, and the more I sip at it, the more I like it. It’s actually quite a tasty whiskey!

Nose with Water: Wow, did this evolve! It’s sweeter now, but less cinnamon-spicy, and there’s a very nice floral note running through it. I also get a bit of orange, some clove, and green apple (not just the red I got neat). There’s also a bit of something that reminds me of buttered wheat toast,and a little black pepper. It’s still not the most complex nose, but there’s more to it, and the aromas are quite pleasant.

Taste with Water: There we go! The arrival is still sweet, but less cloyingly slow. More importantly, it now rolls right into a spicy and mildly bitter burst of flavor, rather than leading to a clash in the middle of the tongue. The initial tastes are cinnamon, nutmeg, vanilla, and strawberry jam. These lead into toasted pecans and walnuts, a bit of orange zest, and butterscotch. The finish a nice dry counterpoint to the sweet arrival, and it’s  longer now as well, with cinnamon, walnuts, and green apple lingering for a reasonably long time. 

Overall, even though this blend doesn’t remotely resemble Pappy Van Winkle 15 (or any Pappy that I’ve tried), it’s a solid whiskey in its own right. With a little water and time in the glass, some fun aromas and flavors come out. It may not have been what I was going for (and the results may not be what you were hoping to hear), but I’m glad I tried this little experiment, and I know I’ll enjoy the rest of the bottle!

Questions of the Day: Have you tried (or made your own) Poor Man’s Pappy? How was it? Do you have any suggestions for tweaking the recipe?



In Defense of Everyday Whiskies

Brora, Port Ellen, Octomore, Supernova, Glenfarclas Family Casks… Words that make any whisky geek’s mouth water. If you’ve tried them, you’ll be smiling at the memories, and if you haven’t, you’re probably tingling with anticipation for what they might be like, hoping that someday fate (or whatever monetary gods may be watching) may smile upon you enough to for you to try a(nother) dram.

I recently had a conversation with a friend about rare whiskies in our collections (always a fun topic). However, it got me thinking and I realized that whisk(e)y culture is infused with a substantial amount of good-natured one upmanship. Generally speaking, people tend to be very friendly and eager to share, but they always want you to know about the latest rare, unusual, or hard to obtain dram they’ve tried, squirreled away for later, or just missed out on getting.

I’m just as guilty as anyone, hoarding my last few drams of some precious old whiskies, and searching sales and auctions for the occasional rarity or odd goodie. I came into the whisky world already socialized into craft beer culture, in which this pursuit of the rare and unobtainable is perhaps even stronger.

Hidden away for later

Hidden away for later

There’s absolutely nothing inherently wrong with this – it’s endemic in just about any hobby or interest with a passionate community. Let’s face it: we tend to geek out the most over the things that are hardest to come by. Which elicits more excitement, a young Glengoyne, or a Brora? Caol Ila 12, or a Port Ellen? There’s also merit in it, for sure. There’s something to be said for trying something that few others have, or few will again. And, of course (in the consistently generous world of whisk(e)y drinkers), there’s something to be said for the hospitality of sharing a dram of the rare stuff with good friends.

However, the problem with seeking out these rare drams is that, by and large, they’re awfully limited. No matter how good they are (and in my experience, these idolized whiskies tend to be held on a pedestal for a reason), when they’re gone, most mere mortals can’t afford to seek them out.

These standout experiences certainly make for great memories, but as a whisky enthusiast, at the end of the day, I want to be able to revisit my favorite experiences again and again. The aromas and tastes bring back memories, they unite friends, and yes, they can bring satisfaction and enjoyment.

A good dram can make me feel as relaxed as this little guy.

A good dram can make me feel as relaxed as this little guy.

Therefore, no matter how much I love the rare stuff, at the end of the day, I love being able to return to affordable, readily available, “everyday whiskies.” Sure, they may not be as exciting as one-off releases and bottles from mothballed distilleries, but these whiskies have some definite things going for them. That is, some reasons to fall in love with these everyday drams are that…

  • They’re easy to find – you don’t need to worry about running out, because you can always snag a fresh bottle (if you don’t already have one waiting to be opened)
  • They’re relatively affordable -Sure, few single malts are really “cheap” (at least on my budget), but these are whiskies that won’t break the bank if you want to keep them around.
  • They offer a more-or-less consistent experience -This is important if you’re going to be buying a whisky with some regularity. These seem to be consistent and taste relatively similar each time you buy them. That’s one possible negative against those highly prized single cask bottlings – even if you find ostensibly the same whisky again, it may taste quite different.
  • They can act as a benchmark for other tastes  – Sure, these whiskies may  not be the most earth-shatteringly exciting drams, but they can be quite important in their own right. In order to understand what’s unique about a rare/one-off/elusive whisky, you need a solid understanding of what “normal” tastes like. These can provide such a basis.
  • Some “normal” whiskies are just damn good – The most important criteria of all, and the main reason why these everyday drams remain so ubiquitous. Simply put, these are things you want to keep experiencing again and again.

So, here are a few of my favorite everyday whiskies, which I think are well worth keeping in your collection and seeking out over and over again:

  • Laphroaig Quarter Cask – My introduction to single malt whisky remains one of my all-time favorites. Sure, part of this is nostalgia talking, but this is just a damn solid, peaty malt. In my mind, it’s a great basis for understanding what medicinal peat tastes like, and therefore an excellent starting point for exploring other Islay malts. Of course, it’s also just plain tasty on its own.
  • Ardbeg 10 Year Old – Ardbeg releases get quite a cult following. They’re often delicious, but just as often incredibly pricey or flat-out unavailable. Not so with the Ten Year old; it’s reasonably priced, widely available, and always excellently smoky.
  • Dalwhinnie 15 Year Old – Light, floral, and elegant, this is a great malt for introducing novices to the world of Scotch whisky. That said, even experienced drinkers can find a lot to enjoy here! Sometimes you just don’t want something heavy, and this dram fits the bill quite nicely.
  • Balvenie Doublewood – A wonderful introduction to the ways in which barrels can influence the flavor profile of a whisky, plus a consistently solid dram on its own. A few of Balvenie’s other offerings get quite pricey, but I never mind returning to the wonderful balance of the Doublewood.
  • Highland Park 12 Year Old – Another great “starter whisky” that’s just as well appreciated by experienced whisky geeks. This malt is complex, but well balanced, with a little bit of all of the common flavors found in Scotch whisky. Even when you’re not sure what you’re in the mood for, HP 12 can almost always fit the bill.
  • BONUS: Elijah Craig 12 Year Old Bourbon – I’ve spent lots of time talking about Scotch whisky so far, but there are great everyday bourbons, too. This one in particular is surprisingly affordable for what’s actually quite a bit of age on a bourbon. More importantly, it’s richly flavored, with lots of wonderful caramel, vanilla, and spice. It’s one of my favorite winter drams.

In short, keep seeking out those exclusive and rare whiskies (and of course, sharing them with friends), but don’t forget about the everyday whiskies out there, too! There are many great, widely available drams that demand your attention.

Question of the day: What are your favorite “go-to,” readily available whiskies?

My Most Sought after Whiskies

Over the past week, I’ve been working on refurnishing my home office/whisk(e)y storage area (don’t read too far into that overlap…). The redecorating was initially spurred by the collapse of my desk (which served me well for many years, and will be suitably mourned), but I’ve been taking this as a great opportunity to redecorate and make the space a bit more inviting.

A major part of this, of course, has been reorganizing my whisk(e)y collection, which has been sadly limited to an undersized and cramped bookshelf. Unfortunately, my interest in whisk(e)y has grown far faster than my current storage capacity. Seriously, this space is a mess!

My Whisk(e)y Collection

Bourbon is mingling with Scotch, Irish whiskey is stuck in the middle, blends and malts are scattered, and generally, chaos has ensued.

The reorganization and storage expansion is an ongoing process, but a positive outcome is that it’s caused me to reflect back on what’s currently in my collection, as well as what’s not currently there. Today, I want to  focus on those vexing holes.

With that, I bring you my most sought after whiskies. Some of these are whiskies I’ve never had the opportunity to try, whereas others are things I’ve tasted but can’t afford, and still others seem to be perennially on my “must buy” list, but somehow never on my shelf.

I’d like to keep track of these, both in order to help encourage myself to track them down (where possible), and to keep a record of my likes and experiences (where actually acquiring them isn’t feasible).

Highland Park 18 – My favorite of the core Highland Park line. the 12 year old is always solid and enjoyable, but there’s something really enticing about its more mature 18 year old counterpart. It has a great balance of oaky character, smoke, and a bit of vanilla sweetness to round it out. True to Highland Park’s nature, there’s a bit of everything here, made even more inviting by the extra bit of age. It’s a bit pricey around here (hence why I don’t have a bottle), but it’s so good that I’ll probably be splurging in the near future.

Glenrothes 1998 – Back in 2011, I first tried this at a small tasting event at Park Avenue liquor in Manhattan. I loved the spicy, fruity character that really reminded me of the holidays. It was such a rich and inviting aroma, and it greeted me with so many of my favorite scents. Shamefully, that was the only Glenrothes I’ve had in my collection, and it’s long gone now. I’ll have to acquire another one soon! The current 1998 vintage has several more years on it (being bottled in 2014), but I’ve heard very good things, and I’m tempted to pick it up soon.

Laphroaig 25 Year Old

Image Source: www.masterofmalt.com

Laphroaig 25 – As I’ve said in several posts, all the way back to my very first, I’m a peat head at heart, and Laphroaig was my first love. I had the privilege of trying a 25 year old Laphroaig at Whiskyfest in New York a few years ago, and was blown away by what I experienced. The peat is there, but the phenols are mellowed by age and sherry sweetness. It was jam packed with rich smoke, leather, and tobacco, interlaced with a surprisingly mild spirit. Being relatively new to whisky at the time, I didn’t realize just how lucky I was to sample this. Now, with the 2014 release sitting north of $6oo for a bottle, it’s unlikely I’ll be revisiting it any time soon. Nonetheless, the memories (and my tasting notes) are nice to dwell on.

Rosebank – Back in 2011, I was in Binny’s in Chicago, where I had a Signatory bottling in my hands. It was under $100, and I didn’t buy it (I was a poor grad student, and I convinced myself to be “responsible”). Four years later, I still regret that decision! I’ve had the pleasure of tasting a similar bottle at a friend’s house recently, and was blown away by the mellow, light, and floral nature of this Lowland whisky. Now even being gainfully employed, I can’t really justify buying a bottle, and there’s not much of it left for sale. Thankfully, I do  have a couple of samples from Master of Malt that I’m looking forward to cracking open down the line.

Brora 24 Year Old

My Very Own Brora – Decanted for Posterity

Brora (Official bottling) – Okay fine, so this one’s probably on everyone’s list. As one of the most sought after, rarest, and most expensive closed distilleries out there, it makes sense. I will say that I feel quite fortunate to have a bottle of Brora in my collection. I purchased it on eBay for a very reasonable price in 2011, and I hoarded it for a special occasion. Two years later, I opened it to celebrate defending by dissertation. I shared a few drams with my wife and a whisky-loving friend and professor who gave me a lot of help and support in graduate school. This was an incredible memory to cap off a momentous time in my life. Honestly, the memories are worth more than the whisky ever could be, but I still would love to have another Brora in my collection. I’m still rationing what’s left of mine, but I would be thrilled to add an official bottling to my collection some day. I certainly can’t afford to buy one, but if the Whisky Gods are listening, I promise that I’d save it to share with friends, rather than reselling it!

Yamazaki 12, Lookin' fancy

Image Source: www.suntory.com

Yamazaki 12 Year Old – This may be the “basic” Yamazaki, but this whisky is still, in my opinion, world class. (I’d certainly lose the ice in the otherwise pretty picture, though!) With prices on the rise and availability way down, it’s getting quite hard to find around here, so when I find an available bottle, I’ll definitely be picking some up! I’ll probably hold onto it for a while too – prices are expected to continue climbing, quickly threatening to push this one out past “splurge” territory – especially for a relatively young whisky.

Pappy Van Winkle 15 Year Old

Image Source: www.scotchnoob.com

Pappy Van Winkle 15 – I’m going to deviate from single malt whiskies  for this one; I’ve tasted this Pappy once, and thought it was incredible; a nuanced, full-bodied, yet balanced bourbon. Of course, with the move to distillation at Buffalo Trace, newer Pappy may be a wholly different experience than what I tasted years ago, but I have high hopes that, should I ever get to try it, it will still be excellent.With secondary market prices being so absurdly prohibitive, and the retail supply being extremely limited, I know that I’ll have quite a challenge getting a hold of this one. Luckily, I like a good challenge. Of course, I’d love to get the 23, too, but I don’t reasonably expect to ever find it for a reasonable price.

So there you have it, a non-exhaustive list of some of my most sought after whiskies. I’ll be back with a more traditional review in a few days, followed by something a little interesting. In the meantime, is anyone else feeling thirsty?

Questions of the Day: What are your most sought after whiskies? What’s the rarest whisk(e)y you’ve tried?