Part the second: Out of character – A whiskey guy goes wine tasting

So, we were at Evening land. Right.

This store was, while still in a dull grey warehouse, considerable better presented once you were inside than Fiddlehead. They had pleasantly Dim lighting and flowers in glass plates with rocks and water, display on a side table with some of the restaurant house wines they produce and the tasting L shaped cloth covered table with their own label wines on offer this day. (They had a much larger bit of warehouse space that would allow for this but that is neither hear nor there). Over all a nicer atmosphere than the first if you like classy joints, I’m impartial myself. They also had a $10 tasting fee and 5 wines uncorked. The odd bit about this one was that the lady running the store front needed to run an errand and the couple who’d arrived just before me had stopped her from getting in her car, now illegally parked right in front of the tasting room door. Apparently the couple were regulars and after I’d tried my first wine with the proprietor they offered to take over the pour for her and let her run her short errand which the proprietor accepted and scurried off leaving me with the other customer’s in charge. Not the strangest bit of decorum I’ve run into in the spirit industry but still a bit odd with the cash register just sitting there and all.

Since I was not in the hands of anyone working the shop professionally I contented myself with small talk about wine and whiskey and reading/discussing the tasting notes. As it turned out the woman pouring for me had a son who was enamored of whiskey and so I was exchanging my knowledge base for hers. They were heading up to the Portland area in a couple months and so I told them to keep on a look out for the micro whiskey distilleries that have been cropping up up there that Jay has been telling me about though the only name I could recall was Hog’s Head. The wines themselves save the first one, a 2009 Chardonnay – Borgogne Blanc (Blue Label) was the only one I actually liked at all and the others were not worth me noting down, so I didn’t. This company specializes in bottling house wines for various restaurants working directly with them to tailor the flavors to the dishes. Cool and all but I was hear to try something avant garde not what ever W. Puck was putting on the table. These were wines I’d tasted before and the reds were way too full of tannin flavor for me to deal with. This was not the place for me. They did however have a laminated map of the Wine Ghetto on the table which after a quick glance over I saw something of promise; “Flying Goat Cellars“.

I hopped in my car and drove half a block to another equally dull and grey warehouse with a poster depicting a purple square and a black goat jumping off the ground on the door, parked and walked in just 20 minutes before they were to set to close.

Despite my poor timing, the lady running the shop was friendly if obviously short on time and walked me through their 5 uncorked bottles. The decor was relaxed and a compromise between the first two shops. This one the decidedly more rustic of the three and most comfortable as it was at least twice the size of the first. Similar conversations took place as were had at Fiddlehead regarding me not particularly liking wine and preferring whiskey in general but being there to learn and so I did. We fairly quickly ran through the offerings, most of which were quite good to my pallet though my tasting notes seemed to have stopped at the last shop (and the fact that I’d stopped spitting when I got to the Goat Shed) as we were rushing a bit. I ended up getting a bottle of Pinot Noir, Solomon Hills-Santa Maria Valley, 2007 as a gift for Adrian as this was probably the most complex flavor profile of any of the 15 bottles I’d sampled this afternoon and had some characteristics and spice notes that made me think of some Speysides I’ve enjoyed over the years. I got nutmeg out of it, but hey that’s with my poor pallet. She corrected me saying “Cinnamon” but that she respects my pallet. I told her; “My pallet has been calibrated and was broken so there was no respect needed of it.” We laughed and I payed my $10 tasting fee and bottle price. I inquired after the name of the cellars and she said her husband, the blender / bottler used to have dwarf goats who had a tendency to climb up and jump off stuff. That’s a good a naming story as I’d like to have so I said my goodbyes. I went out my car right at her 4PM closing time and buzzed off to pick up Ginger and drive on over to the house to meet back up with the wake.

In quick summery; The 3DC tasting notes work quite satisfactorily on wine and I think could readily, without altering any significant alteration, be applied to this segment of the spirit industry. Fiddlehead had the most interesting and compelling expressions and were the most refined on my pallet save the bottle I bought for Adrian at Flying Goat Cellars. Evening Land had the classiest tasting room but lacked inspiration (to my pallet anyway) in the bottles. Flying Goat had good heart and love of the craft that showed through in their expressions even if most were not quite as sophisticated as Fiddlehead but in the end they got my money.


Out of character… A whisky guy goes wine tasting

Raz posting here (a rarity, I know):

So, I did something odd on Friday; Wine tasting.

After going to a morning funeral (for a dear sweet lady who welcomed us without hesitation into her family) and associated wake in Lompoc, CA. Ginger was feeling wiped out so I took her back to the motel. The Family headed back to the house and Casey went along with her Grand Parents while I took Gin back. I didn’t need to get straight over to the house and I’d seen on James May’s wine show recently something about a wine ghetto in town. I happened to have seen a sign directing us to where it was on the way into town earlier that morning and I needed to get Adrian a present too. Further I’d been toying with the concept that the 3dc tasting note format should work equally well with other spirits et. al. and I had my notebook with me as I’d not taken it out of the suit case since WOW last year. Thus all things seemingly lined up to accommodate the whim, I decided to give a go at a wine tasting, alone.

I drove back to the other side of town and turned into the industrial complex behind the Home Depot where Hwy 1 dumps into the South Eastern side of town. There in these bland blue-grey corrugated warehouses are around 12 boutique wine makers / blenders / bottlers that are treating the wine industry much the same way John Glaser seems to be going at the Whisky biz. I did not remember the specific one James May visited (though I would have liked to from the interview on the show, as they seem like 3dc peeps) so I drove about and sort of randomly picked a street Packard to follow into a tasting room.

First I went into Fiddlehead Cellars. A very congenial Kiwi stood behind the bar. By bar I mean a simple couple planks of wood on some barrels with the typical wine racks behind him for selling what was on sample in a room about 10′ X 15′. Friendly, but definitely not fancy. He handed me a tasting sheet and let me know that there was a $10 tasting fee and asked me a few questions as he poured me some wine into a glass. The conversation went something like this:

FH-Q: What kind of wine to you like?
Raz-A: I don’t really like wine; I’m a whiskey drinker, but (setting my tasting note book on the bar) I’m hear to learn.

FH: Well we do Sauvignon and Pinots exclusively so we’ll teach you about those.
Raz-A: OK then.

The first glass was the Sauvignon Blanc 2008 from a mix of barrels and stainless steel aging. It was a very sweet wine but not cloying. Not particularly dry, just the kind of deserty drink I usually go for. The second was the Honeysuckle 2005 put in all new oak aging. This was dry and clean, very light and subtle, especially in regards to tannin (which I hate). I liked this one as another deserty, though much dryer drink than the first. The Gooseberry, all Stainless Steel aged Kiwi wine was then poured. this was not particularly to my taste and though sweet and a bit sour was a bit too much like a candy from the 70s (that I can’t recall the name of). Next on pour was the Pink Fiddle Pinot Rose’ thing. Not really to my taste, very dry and oddly tasted “pink” whatever that means. Lastly was the 728, a Pinot. This was about the best of the lot for me personally. Very complex long flavor profile and despite the deep red color the tannins were very subtle. The most subtle tannins of any of the reds I had that day from any of the shops. This was by far the best overall quality, by my standards anyway, of the three shops I popped into.

Next post will be the next shop in line; Evening Land.


A wonderful whiskies centered weekend

This past weekend I had the pleasure of volunteering to help bottle over at Big Bottom Whiskey in Hillsboro, Or.  In just about 2 hours time, 6 of us had 58 cases of bourbon bottles stickered, filled, corked, capped, and boxed. Not too shabby, considering two of us had zero prior experience. Ted, the owner and all around great guy, placed me at the corking station while Jean held down the ‘capsule’ station placing the shrink-wrap tops on the bottles after I corked them. I won’t lie, manually corking bourbon bottles takes a toll on your hands. The whole crew really rocked it: Ted’s wife Taylor took the heat shrink station, Aaron took the filling station while Ted prepped the bottles for filling and Liz ran double duty placing the stickers and helping Taylor load the bottles into the cases. For such a small crew, I have to say we were efficient and effective in knocking out nearly a full palette’s worth of whiskey!

The day was productive and it was great to be able to help a small local business and local whiskey guy. Supporting the community of producers is important to me as there aren’t many people focused on whiskey and without support no one in the community can grow. But beyond lending my support to what Big Bottom is doing, it was really just fun to spend a few hours with people who are truly passionate about the industry, have decided opinions, and love talking shop. Being able to spend time talking about whiskies, comparing notes, learning about the business side of things, and just learning more about whiskies in general was truly the highlight for me.

Even better was the fact that Ted asked me to return at a later date for some more in depth tastings than the two we got to after our work was done on Saturday. We had some small tastes of the 3 yr bourbon which we had just bottled up, as well as the 2 yr port finish which had been on the wood for 7 months… spectacular! (I’m telling you again, if you can find the port finish buy it all, and then buy it again when the next batch comes out! You won’t be disappointed.) I am really looking forward to seeing what this next port finish batch produces. If the 7 month taste was any indication, it will be even more subtle yet complex than the first batch Big Bottom bottled up. Good stuff is on the horizon!

I even got some good advice from Ted which I was able to immediately implement when I returned home on Saturday…. but we’ll get to that in a moment.

It seems that every blog thus far in which I have spoken of Big Bottom Whiskey also includes mention of Woodinville Whiskey Co. and I can’t help but find that amusing if not wholly coincidental. This case is no different, as Sunday I put their “Age your own whiskey” kit to (hopefully) use. Well, maybe that is a slight misdirection, as I really started the process the prior Thursday….

I picked up my kit Thursday afternoon from Downtown Lake Oswego Liquor (at that time they had 3 other kits in addition to the one I purchased) and brought it home with the idea that I’d get around to it over the weekend.  (I am sure you can see where this is going. 😉 )  I dug into the instructions, figuring I’d at least learn what I needed to do to get the most from this kit. Silly me, I should have known… I’d have to swell the cask to seal any cracks and make it liquid tight before I could add the distillate to begin aging. Thankfully I started reading in advance, as this swelling process takes 2-4 days! So, I started the initial steps by filling the cask with water, as directed, and waited…

While I waited, I took a longer gander at the kit, which includes not only the cask and two 750ml bottles of White Dog, but 2 tulip style nosing/tasting glasses, and of course a funnel to fill the cask. Since the cask is only about 2 liters large, the funnel is rather small in order to easily fill it. Imagine the same sized funnel you’d use to fill a flask and you’ve got the right idea here. The kit is actually really well put together and the included instructions are very well written; clear, concise, easy to understand explaining some of the “whys” not just the “whats”.

Now, I did say I got some great advice from Ted. As we worked our way through the bottling on Saturday I’d mentioned I picked up this kit earlier in the week and had the cask swelling presently. This is when he hit me with a question I hadn’t thought of: “How long are you going to let the cask rest after dumping the water and before filling it with whiskey?”

Oh…. um. Well I hadn’t really thought of letting it rest as I didn’t want to run the risk of the cask drying and re-introducing leaks. And here is where Ted’s advice came in to play: “Let it rest/dry for 24 hours, otherwise you’re going to introduce too much water into the whiskey.” You know it seems perfectly obvious now, but I hadn’t even thought of that until he’d mentioned it. And with our Oregon humidity, I don’t really run any risk of the cask over-drying in 24 hours.

So, once we’d finished bottling and returned home, I dumped the water from the cask noting there had been no leaks past the first five minutes after I’d filled it (and kept it filled for the next two days). And then I just let it rest until Sunday.

That was a very long 24 hours. Perhaps I’m not the best person to try his (novelty) hand at aging whiskies after all… Sunday came, and I popped open the two bottles of White Dog. Luckily I was thinking while pouring and stopped after the first bottle so I could have a quick taste of the unaged spirit I was about to play with.

Tasting notes: Woodinville Barreling strength (110 proof) White Dog

Nose: Mild caramel sweetness. Heavier vegetation sweetness. Retains the smell of the mash even after distillation.

Palate: Heavy vegetation sweetness. Slight bitterness of the corn/rye mash comes through. Surprisingly heavy note of Anise.

Finish: Almost floral in tone. Light and clean, but very hot at 110 proof.

The cask itself holds about 2.5 bottles (750ml each), so there was a little ‘head room’ in the cask when I was done filling it. I replaced the bung, and set the cask in my pantry, atop my wine fridge where it sits just waiting. I do expect to lose some ‘angels share’, possibly a tad more due to not a complete fill of the cask. All told I figure I’ll likely get one full 750ml bottle, and a second 500ml fill from the two bottles I added to the cask.

And now the waiting really begins. Luckily for me, the smaller cask size actually accelerates the aging process due to larger surface area contact with the wood. The small 2 liter cask size roughly translates into an aging factor of 53 times faster than a normal sized cask. Because of this, the cask should begin imparting flavour and nose qualities within the first week of aging. Each week nearly acting like a relative year in a larger cask by my estimation. So, as you’d expect, I’ll be having a small taste every week and writing down my notes to contrast from the beginning distillate to the present week. I’m not sure when I’ll stop and rebottle, but I figure it will likely be after 3 weeks of no discernible change in flavour. That may come early in the process, or possibly months to a year from now, we shall see.

This is turning into quite a fun experiment, where I can really taste how the oak changes a whiskey from week to week… I’m really looking forward to this coming weekend when I get that first taste on oak and can report back my tasting notes to show what changes have occurred…

Until then, sláinte mhaith

-Seamus/ Jason