The Norlan Whisky Glass – A Comparative Review

The day has finally come. After having backed the Norlan Whisky Glass on Kickstarter back in November 2015 (funded successfully in mid-December), the promised backer reward finally made it to my doorstep Monday afternoon. I wasted no time upon arriving home that evening in unpackaging and pouring myself (Jason as well as Jean) a few drams into the new glass as well as a more traditional Glencairn-styled whisky glass for comparison, in this case I used my daily drinker: a Single Malt Dianco glass. Not *intending* to do a full review until later in the week, I couldn’t help myself but to write down our notes and dig in to a proper review as we began the initial testing of the glassware.

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Unboxing

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Unboxing

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Unboxing

 

My initial impressions:

Comparison notes: For this comparison, I chose to sample Tualatin Valley Distilling’s Oregon Experimental Series American Whiskey, Project Cherry Wood Smoke, at 100.6 proof (sadly currently sold-out).IMG_2532

Nose

  • Norlan – Deeper caramel and stone fruit notes with a more delicate overall presence of slight, nearly imperceptible alcohol.
  • Traditional – Substantially punchy alcohol notes followed by aromas of grass, nougat, and bubble gum.Comparison note: The glassware absolutely has a dramatic impact on the nose of the whiskey, though I am not sure I can decide which I preferred. On one hand the more traditional style gave me a deeper sense of the higher proof of the whiskey as it sat in the glass, whereas the Norlan provided me more refined structure of the aromas without the more powerful impact of the alcohol bowling over the nose.

IMG_2537Palate

  • Norlan – Grassy forward then into a mellow stone fruit and mild hint of smoke, followed by soft butterscotch.
  • Traditional – Grassy forward then into a mellow stone fruit and mild hint of smoke, followed by soft butterscotch.

    Comparison note:
    Yup, same tasting notes for both glasses. We found no appreciable difference in the actual palate of the whiskey when sipped from either the Norlan or more traditional Single Malt Dianco glassware. Note, however, that our glasses remain on a side table as we sampled back and forth, where a more appreciable difference may have presented itself if the glassware were constantly help in the hand under differing usage scenarios.

Usage

  • Norlan – The thicker, more rounded lip of the glass removes the glass sensation from the lips and allows more focus on the flavour of the whiskey as presented. Jean found it more comfortable to sip from but also noted a less precise sip occurred in part due to the light weight of the glass regardless of quantity of fill. The external facets feel comfortable in the hand, though overall the glass has a very delicate presentation in feel.
  • Traditional – Far more substantial and weighty in the hand, lending to a familiar sip and control. The sharper edge of the glass lip becomes part of the overall tasting experience and slightly impacts the initial sharpness of the whiskey presented.

    Comparison note:
    This is going to come down to personal preference as far as usage. Many people tend to prefer more substance in their glassware than the Norlan would initially present. While I’d have no qualms about running my more traditional style through the dishwasher (side note, I don’t, but feel it could withstand such an undertaking) I don’t feel the Norlan would survive such treatment due to it’s overall sense of a very delicate nature.

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Conclusions:

This is a cool glass that any whisky/whiskey geek should have in their arsenal. Some may find it is the absolute perfect glass for them, but I have not yet come to that conclusion for myself. With the palate reflecting the same profile in both vessels, I’d recommend it as a worthwhile purchase for a whiskey nerd, but the average whiskey drinker may not find any discernable difference between the Norlan and traditional Glencairn-style Single Malt Dianco glassware. This would make for a fun gift for any whiskey drinker who takes their drams ‘neat’, so definitely recommended as a wonderful whiskey gift. For those expecting a dramatically different experience, however, you may not be as impressed as you were hoping to be. Sadly, the Norlan glass will remain on my shelves as a cool gadget novelty while I continue to imbibe using my Glencairn and traditional style glassware for daily drinking. I’m very please to have a set, but they won’t be replacing my current daily drinkers.

You can preorder your own here, if you missed out on the Kickstarter backing: http://www.norlanglass.com/norlan-glass/

 


The gospel, according to Seamus: Revelations- No longer a 3DC in exile

I landed Friday at noon, feeling the familiar pang of excitement for the weekend ahead as I let the past week’s stresses slough off, slowly but surely. I was, once again, in the city to meet up with some of my chosen family; those with whom I’ve shared many a drinks and laughs over the past 16 years sine we started this silly tasting club. Yes, it was time for another Whiskies of the World adventure in San Francisco, and I was gearing up for some serious professional level drinking this weekend.

Friday started as it has in the past: with many of us getting into the city at different times, all meeting up in whatever venue we happen to be in at the time. For me, as the first one to arrive, this meant loitering around the hotel lobby waiting on the next. When Rhawnie and Brian arrived, we began the weekend in the hotel’s executive lounge with wine and beer to while away time before the next round of friends arrived. Having a slow start to the weekend isn’t always how things go when we arrive (often times jumping right into on the plane or even on the way to the hotel), but this time it felt right as we all eased back into familiarity and away from our real life worries without grinding too many gears as we gained traction. Little by little others began to filter in, and our little party grew in numbers as we collected friends on the way.

Dinner was had at the Irish Bank, our local go-to spot where we either begin or end every day when we are in the city. While it started as an intentional choice, our collective ability to end up at the Bank has become a default setting. It is the 3DC home-base, always the first place to look for anyone if they aren’t where they said they’d be, or just to assume that is where we should meet up unless otherwise specified. We shy away from calling this tradition, as we’ve found that trying to force anything as tradition typically fails in spectacular ways. As such, we merely find comfort in the familiarity of a space like the Irish Bank that has a decent whiskies list, good food, and a space in the back that can accommodate a large and fluctuating group such as ours.

Over dinner, we ramped up the evening with Raz and Fergus who had joined us earlier at the hotel. It was a later dinner, so after a few pints we decided to move on out since Fergus was falling asleep at the table and needed motion to remain conscious. It was at that point as we made our way out of the Bank that we received the best recommendation of the weekend: the bouncer at the door told us the checkout the Rickhouse a block and a half away, noting their spectacular cocktails and whiskies list. Let me tell you here and now, he wasn’t joking.

The Rickhouse is an interesting bar on Kearny st. in San Francisco; consisting of a front bar, back bar, and little known downstairs bar, the tenders at all three are slinging some of the best cocktails I’ve experienced. Raz immediately ordered a whiskey sour and in doing so ingratiated himself to the staff who inquired if they could use egg whites, to which Raz’ reply of “well, are you going to make it right?” was met with adoration. That adoration didn’t ware off either, and somehow transferred to the rest of the group as we moved downstairs and continued to order old school whiskey cocktails that were delivered with exceptional precision and care. The downside here is that I can’t recollect the specifics of what I had, as I was ordering bartender’s choice, and they were riffing on Old Fashioneds and Manhattans in new and amazing ways. All said, after having a sip of Raz’ Whiskey Sour, I have to agree with his statement that it was indeed the best whiskey sour I’ve ever had.

It is while we are in a world of mixology induced ecstasy that the remainder of the 3DC crew arriving on Friday finally show up. It is with warm welcomes, hugs, and exuberant effusive exclamations that Sean and Justin enter the lower bar. As when more in our group arrives (regardless of location) a scene is made and the bar pauses to determine if the commotion is a threat. Quickly determining that there is no threat, nor celebrity sighting, the bar goes back to ignoring us and we continue to passionately imbibe and share our cocktails as if we were Ponce de Leon discovering the fountain of youth. And, perhaps in that moment, we really had discovered the mythical elixir, as for me at least, it was as if I were thrust back into the wonder of it all 16 years prior; a them I found would repeat itself throughout the weekend. Having drunk our fill (and being herded upstairs as they closed the lower bar), we opted to move on and head back to the hotel for more drinks in Fergus’ room where he had some special bottles waiting…. but alas, we were sidetracked on our way.

Another not-quite-tradition ran us into a delay as we were derailed from our due course into an alley bar boasting a bright blue flashy light as the siren song for Sean. You see, Sean has a history with the 3DC of leading us all into some of the worst bars we’ve encountered, one of the more magnificent failures being a hair salon serving beer in the back. We know this will happen, and are always expecting it, but are never really prepared for when it happens. In this case, we only spent a few minutes in the bar (enough for one drink, though a few of us declined to imbibe there), and we were soon enough on our way back to the hotel were we found ourselves once again among quality whiskies and a less-divey more subdued environment in Fergus’ hotel room.

For the next hour or two we imbibe in some of the most spectacular whiskies around: a flight of Knappogue Castle, beginning with the 1954 and working our way to the 16 year, with a number of other Knappogue Castle expressions in between. Since it was so late at night, I didn’t bother with any proper tasting notes. There are some times and situations where it is simply more important to experience the whisky in the moment, enjoying the company and passion surrounding you than focusing on documenting the tastes. This was obviously one of those moments, and truly one of the main reasons the 3DC do what we do; it is the bonding of lifelong friendships with the excuse to come together imparted by the whiskies, not the whiskies themselves.

Moseying to bed around 3:30am, I slept the sleep of the intoxicated; deeply and impervious to the snoring in the bed next to mine. As is normal for traveling (even after such a late bedtime) I was up, showered, and out the door by 9am. Gathering in the lobby awaiting the others, we finally collected and headed out to find sustenance. With the group moving rather slowly, and relatively ambivalent about where we chose to eat, we soon found ourselves looking for any place without a wait. Luckily we stumbled upon Original Joe’s where we found meals in abundance over our appetites. I don’t think any of us actually finished more than half of our plates.

Bellies full, we determined the hotel was an appropriate place to be, some of use noting that naps before the event Saturday evening would be a solid idea to ensure the rest of the day and night were not wasted. I can vouch for the fact that rest was indeed the right idea at this point and in no way impugns my status as a professional drinker. With an hour and a half of an air-conditioned nap, another shower, and a 5-hour energy drink behind me, we made our way out to yet another non-tradition that seemingly sneaks up on us every year: early dinner at Kennedy’s Irish Pub and Curry House. You may think curry before a whisky tasting is a bad idea, but I assure you it hasn’t impacted our experience at Whiskies of the World in the least and in fact serves us well to have a light dinner before hand. It was at this point even more of the group came together, and I was able to introduce two friends from Portland (Carrie and Courtney) to the wonders of the 3DC and a Whiskies of the World weekend.

I was really looking forward to Carrie and Courtney’s visit as it allows me to see the event through the eyes of first-timers and renew the passion and once again find the wonder in it all as seen through new eyes. Mind you these two aren’t any slouches when it comes to whiskies; they have now hosted a few PDX Whisky events themselves and have proven their own preferences and tastes fit right in with the 3DC crowd. These girls know their whiskies and because of that level of knowledge I was very interested to see how they reacted to Whiskies of the World and the immediate barrage on the senses when you enter the boat.

Having finished our dinners and reconvened at the boat to queue up for entrance, the final remainder of our group began arriving, making introductions and chatting through the wait for the doors to open. Lots of disparate conversations were to be had and I found it difficult to pay attention to many, rather finding myself focusing in on a small group at a time, which of course meant I didn’t get to interact with as many people as much as I’d have preferred. Ah, one of the few down sides to a group as large as ours. Even so, once the doors open, our group takes the free for all approach and tries not to move in packs as that tends to slow everyone down. Instead we flow through the tables finding what we are individually looking for, then as we cross paths during the night, trade information about any new discoveries or fantastic drams we think the others would enjoy. This always ends up with ad hoc small groups coming together for 10 minutes, then splitting off again, only to reform in a different group minutes later.

This particular event was different for me, however. While I’d normally taste and note down my findings in our 3DC Tasting Book, I found this year I was more focused on the experiences and talking with a few of the reps and distillers presenting their products. It’s no surprise why this was my focus, especially once I realized how many new American whiskies, and specifically American single malts were being shown. I’ll admit, I was initially deflated when I realized how many were there, as my own business was built with my partner to focus on an American Single Malt Whiskey when there were none on the market. So, to see so many now was a bit like the wind in my sails had just been taken by larger ships in the same tack. It took me a moment to regain my composure and remember that competition like this is what our company thrives on; that it just pushes us to do better and improve at every opportunity. So, with renewed vision, I was very please to make another observation: the hit tables of the evening were all the American distilleries. While the Scotch tables were busy, some being busier than others, there were also a number of tables from what I’ll call the “big boys” in the industry which were virtually unattended; no lines, no queues, no one clamouring to talk with those reps… just open space around them while the crowds gathered around the small independents who are admittedly putting out some remarkably good drams.

Two of note for me were the Westland Single Malt and Peated Malt whiskies, as well as the Wayward Single Malt by Venus Distilling. Both companies are created some wonderful expressions right in line with my own. Of course I also sought out Corsair Artisan Distillers since they have been a very influential part of my own focus on innovation in the industry. Speaking with Jason, the Director of Sales for Corsair, he walked me through all of their expressions including their newest gin and the barrel aged version of the same. Having the opportunity to sample their line of products was a highlight for me even though I could have obtained them easily elsewhere… but here I was able to talk about them with Jason and experience them anew next to Courtney and Carrie whom had found space at the table as well and were eagerly enjoying the samples as I was.

For the early part of the night, I moved from table to table alone; but quickly connected with James, my friend from our old LiveJournal days who shares a love of The Balvenie with me, and we then moved together from table to table comparing notes and ideas about what we were experiencing. Just as I enjoyed experiencing the event through others’ eyes, it seems James was enjoying seeing it through mine, with more of a technical, business, and production focus than I’ve had in prior years. Again, not entirely surprising.

As happens, the later the evening gets, the more our group tends to congregate and linger together with one or two running off to discover a new dram we’ve all been talking about, or to nurse our waters and while away the remainder of the evening until it is time to disembark and head on out to the next watering hole. The pack migrated from the 3rd floor down to the stern of the boat, outside as we waited to collect the others. Just outside the door, as the attendees were leaving, Sheridan took it upon himself to remind all participants about the “Irish whiskey tasting tomorrow morning… details are on the site”…. There are few pure amusements as watching Sheridan troll inebriated whiskey fans with so much confidence and unadulterated deception.

Here’s where I skip ahead to the Rickhouse as Courtney, Carrie, James, and I were the first to arrive. The bar was busy as you’d expect for a Saturday night, but the cocktails didn’t suffer (the wait might have). As we were waiting on the rest of the group, the main bar erupts in a loud chorus directed at a single individual… “RAZ!” we hear the bartenders shout, as the godfather himself enters the bar. A true 3DC rockstar entrance if there ever was one. Mind you, we’d only been to this bar once before and Raz is already being welcomed like a famous regular. Unfortunately, after another 40 minutes of waiting for drinks, we determined that the Irish Bank was going to be better for the group, and so made our way the block and a half over, where we find more of our group had already landed for a late night bite. The remainder of the evening was spent in inebriated bliss, surrounded by friends and chosen family singing Irish drinking tunes, inducting new members, and feeling like home is not necessarily a place but a feeling when events/circumstances/and people align just right. For those fleeting moments, I realize that I am no longer a 3DC in exile, but rather a 3DC at home when 3 or more gather with the passion of friendship and whiskies surround us.

Like the night before, the evening ends with us in Fergus’ room drinking whiskies. After all, there were new people to share the Knappogue Castles with! Pizza was ordered, and consumed, more whiskies were imbibed, and at some point we all made our way to our respective rooms and passed out…. again at 3:30am. It was a long day, but a day that will continue to bring me down to the city for fear of missing such amazing people and experiences that you just can’t plan. Weekends like this are organic in their flow, and any attempts to force the flow one way or another are met with disaster…. following it like an inner-tube on a lazy river always rewards with rich experiences.

Sunday comes far too early, but most of us are up, showered, and at the hotel’s breakfast buffet by 9:30am. A nice leisurely meal is had while our group filters in and caffeinates, rehydrates, and takes sustenance for the trip home. As most of our group is leaving in mid afternoon, we opt to take a quick walk through China Town, partially in hopes of having a drink at Li Po, but alas they were closed when we passed by. Without much fortitude for thought at this point, we all opt to go back to the hotel, collect their bags, and have some final drinks at the hotel bar before it is time to depart. When everyone flitters off, Raz and I are left and we decide to go find a late lunch which involved another walk through China Town, only to end up back at the Irish Bank for a last meal. A nice, quite time for us both as we chuckle, recap, and reflect upon the weekend. I can’t help but consider myself unbelievably blessed with such an amazing group of friends that can come together as we have, time and time again, to enjoy life in a hedonistic frenzy of whiskies and love for one another. We really do enjoy a very special kind of life together.

I see Raz off, and realize I now have the city to myself. I get a hold of James, who invites me over to a friend’s house where they are watching their children play and enjoying some adult time. This is big for me as I am finally able to meet James’ wife, but his nearly 2 year old child as well. I’m quite touched by the warm reception I encounter, and have a lovely late afternoon sipping wine and whiskey. James’ friend invites a neighbor over, who owns a wine and spirits shop in the city, to sample the whiskey I brought and we chat about the industry some. Such a random unplanned connection, that I am hopeful may help in some small way down the line. I only wish I had distribution set up already so I could get bottles into his shop! Truly, more 3DC luck, quite like what we have experienced all weekend long.

After a wonderful, but all too short visit with James, his wife, and kidlet, (in which they introduced me to a Hungarian brandy-type drink called Pálinka that made me feel like part of the family, though that could be the liquor talking), I found my way back to the hotel for a late dinner and an early night to bed. The next morning I travelled back to Portland, with San Francisco all but a memory now. Another year at Whiskies of the World under my belt, and another year of amazing memories in my head. Someone remarked during the weekend that it seems the actual event Saturday evening isn’t really what we all travel for… and they’re right. We don’t travel for Whiskies of the World. The event is merely the excuse we use to join one another year after year, to enjoy our chosen family and let loose of all the things binding us down elsewhere…. to partake in a safe weekend of debauchery in only the way the 3 Drunken Celts can. Cheers to you all, my brothers and sisters. You are the reason we do what we do!
Slainte’ Mhath!


Brenne French Single Malt Whisky Review

IMG_6531I’ll admit, when I first heard there was a new French whiskey on the market, I was skeptical. I’d had a French whiskey previously, and to say it was a challenge to my palate would be overly kind. But, the chatter around this newcomer to the industry had me cautiously optimistic, especially since it was brought to market by a person I now consider a friend, even though we’ve never met in person.

I met Allison Patel on twitter, as happens nowadays. We exchanged pleasantries via her @whiskygirls account and the @3drunkencelts accounts on twitter and G+, as well as through my own individual accounts as I retweeted her from time to time when I wasn’t logged in as the 3DC. True to the power of social media,  I was able to watch from a far as she worked in New York to launch her newest endeavor: Brenne French Single Malt Whisky

Imagine how cool it is to get in on the ground floor of a product coming to market like hers, watching it grown and starting to hear more and more people talk about it. Every little success she shared was a huge win and brings a smile and hope for the future. But alas, for the past 6+ months since its launch in October, I’d not procured a bottle of my own to taste. I’m sure you could imagine my shame in having to admit that point to Allison and then immediately rectifying such an issue.

I am happy to say now, I did in fact obtain a bottle last week and have had some time to sit with it and take down some tasting notes. As with every bottle we taste and review on the 3DC blog, we have not been paid nor received freebies in exchange for reviews, so what you get are indeed my own opinions without bias, as much as I can possibly muster. I’ve also integrated my wife Jean’s notes as well since we tasted simultaneously and talked through it together.

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Distiller/Bottler: Brenne French Single Malt Whisky Finished in Cognac Barrels

  • Bottling notes: 40% abv, no age statement. Aged in new Limousin oak barrels, then finished in Cognac barrels.
  • Nose: Immediate apricot coming from the cognac finish with a hint of green apple which quickly relents to malted milk balls and softer notes of chocolate  and cream.
  • Flavour: On the palate I got a heavy creamy mouth-feel which continued the malted milk ball notes and shifted to a milk duds note as the caramel from the barrels came in later. Almost reminiscent of a cream soda at points.
  • Finish: Continues with the caramel notes and into a lingering heat of alcohol with a balance of malted barley and a green raw chocolate note.
  • Viscosity: 4
  • Boldness: 3
  • Length of story: 2
  • Personal Taste: B+
  • Extraneous Notes: A solid B+ score for personal taste here. I think that some more age may help reduce that lingering green note I get on the end, which would move this from a wonderful dram, to an exceptional A score. I was surprised by the depth of creamy chocolate notes, as I wasn’t expecting that richness from a cognac finish. Once my mind embraces the richness, I found it to be sweet enough for my preference, well balanced without being over powering or cloying.

So, yes, thankfully Brenne didn’t disappoint, and happily broke my preconceived notion of a French whiskey; it is indeed a truly enjoyable dram. Since it is rather new, I’m fairly certain most of you have not yet had opportunity to taste this dram. Now that I’ve finally picked up a bottle, I’m even more disappointed in myself for waiting so long; I should have bought a bottle back in October…

Don’t be like me: take this as your personal invitation to flood Allison with orders, as you do not want to miss this bottle. If you do wait, you’ll be kicking yourself like I am, and wondering why you prevented yourself from so much enjoyment.

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Big Bottom Zinfandel Finish and Single Cask Zin series review!

img_5404This past weekend (well, black Friday, technically) I was able to help out over at Big Bottom Whiskey again and bottle up three different single cask runs of their Zinfandel Finish Bourbon warehouse series to complement the more widely available blend. I’m quite privileged to be friends with the owner, Ted, and more so to get some sneak peaks into the business and what’s to come.

I’ve know about the warehouse series zin bottlings for a while now and even had some small samples when I stopped in a while back as Ted was prepping the blend. Now that the warehouse series are bottled and I had some time to sit at home and really run through a decent side-by-side tasting, I figured I give you all the run down of what I think.

Following are the notes of the three warehouse series single cask bottlings as well as the commercially available blend (Note that I had a clean palate prior to sitting down to taste, cleared with both a small cup of black coffee followed by water prior to and after each glass.):

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  • Bottling: Amy’s Vineyard cask, finished 6 months.
  • Nose: Red licorice, currants, cardamom, and a citric whiff of orange and cranberry
  • Flavour: Fruit and oak tannins up front, followed by some white pepper and a return of red licorice
  • Finish: Light vanilla combined with the fullness of red fruit, almost jammy, then balanced quickly by the rye spice and dry finish.
  • Viscocity: 4
  • Boldness: 4
  • Length of Story: 3
  • Personal Taste: B
  • Extraneous Notes: Complex and subtle notes from the zin barrel come through, as well as the zinfandel itself. Heavier on the rye notes as well.

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  • Bottling: RedwoodValley cask, finished 6 months.
  • Nose: More red licorice and berries with a heavier oakiness.Orange as well, works into a cinnamon finish on the nose.
  • Flavour: Dry tannins roll into the oakiness of a heavy zinfandel with muted rye spice notes.
  • Finish: As the zin fades, the rye spice returns forward and finally balanced with the sweetness of cinnamon Christmas candies.
  • Viscocity: 3
  • Boldness: 3
  • Length of Story: 3
  • Personal Taste: B
  • Extraneous Notes: The explicit barrel notes really come through with this bottling.

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  • Bottling: Ancient Vineyard cask, finished 6 months.
  • Nose: Pepper and red fruit indicative of a good zinfandel. More red licorice with a slight toastiness that presents the entire dram quite big on the nose.
  • Flavour: Round sweetness and charred oak. Big fruit gives way to coffee and char, then moves right into a rye spice.
  • Finish: As the coffee and char fade, the ry spice and fruit comes back to linger with a distinct but mild alcohol burn.
  • Viscocity: 4
  • Boldness: 3
  • Length of Story: 4
  • Personal Taste: A
  • Extraneous Notes: Big and complex. Much more of the French oak. A great marriage of zin and bourbon here.

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  • Bottling: Zinfandel Finish, blend of four different zin casks. Same winery, but different vineyards.
  • Nose: Cardamom and red licorice, with orange, cinnamon, and very light oak.
  • Flavour: Berries and oak tannins move into a complex mix of char, toast, and a melange of spices including rye, cinnamon, cardamom, and white pepper.
  • Finish: The spice moves back to the sweetness of berries with a slight chocolate espresso note that lingers at the end.
  • Viscocity: 3
  • Boldness: 3
  • Length of Story: 4
  • Personal Taste: A
  • Extraneous Notes: This dram is surprisingly greater than the sum of its parts. The blend exemplifies how critical barrel choice and blending percentages can be. The blend results in a dram that is entirely new but still maintains the best qualities of the included casks. 

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All in all, I am amazingly pleased with how the entire vertical series turned out. While I enjoy the final blend the most of all four bottlings, I actually enjoy it more as a direct result of being able to compare it with the single casks that went into it. Of the single cask bottlings, I do have to side with the complexity of the Ancient Vineyard cask as it reminds me so much of the high quality and BIG California Zinfandels my palate grew up with; the rye spice in the bourbon being the perfect complement to the pepper in a good zin. The finished blend is a wine and bourbon lover’s dream come true.

The good news for you all local to the Portland area, the warehouse series should be on sale this coming weekend exclusively at the Big Bottom Tasting Room in Hillsboro, Oregon.  For the rest of you all, you may be out of luck, unless you can find an on-line retailer (connected to one of these distributors) to special order and ship you some of the Zin Finish Blend… unless you’re lucky enough to happen upon some in your local store  🙂

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Review: Mackinlay’s Rare Old Highland Malt (Shackleton’s Replica)

img_4456 This is probably the single dram I have ever actually looked forward to. Most drams I am simply pleasantly surprised to find out they exist, but this one… this one has been on my radar since it was announced after the Shackleton expedition find hit the news sites. Imagine, a replica whisky built off of actual exemplars which have literally been on ice for a hundred years, preserving the contents in a spectacular fashion!

For some of our newer readers, I’ll remind you that whiskies do not age in the bottle, so what was discovered in the crates in Ernest Shackleton’s hundred year old base camp was unchanged from when it when in the bottle so many years back. This provided an amazing opportunity for some lucky few (one being Richard Patterson, also known as “The Nose”, of Whyte & Mackay) to test, sample, and ultimately reproduce a new blend whisky to replicate the original as closely as possible with today’s available stock.

If you’ve not seen the show, I highly recommend checking out NatGeo’s “Shackleton’s Whisky” episode on the discovery of the whiskies he’d purchased for his expedition. This show delves into a good balance of the history of the expedition, as well as the process used in recreating the replica bottling. They really treated the bottles with utmost care and respect; amazing they held up so well for so long in such harsh conditions, but they do show their age 😉

So, of course, when I heard the replica was finally released and available in the States, I had to grab a bottle for my shelves. (Can’t quite say collection, as I don’t collect…. though this one will likely be opened far fewer times than most bottles on my shelves.) Well, it just arrived today, so I took the opportunity to snap a few photos then crack her open for a wee dram to take some studious notes and share for you all to drool over…

My first amusement was the packaging, which does a great job at mimicking the original crates. Of course the bottles weren’t individually packaged for Shackleton’s voyage, so Whyte & Mackay had to take some small liberties with the individual cases. The packaging could have been gimmicky and simple novelty, but thought was obviously put into this and resulted in a job well done. I will admit, as I stood in my kitchen opening the box, I did feel a bit of an explorer uncovering a long lost treasure, and a slight silly pang of guilt for not wearing my white gloves for the job. Gingerly pulling off the tissue paper wrapping, noting tears in expected places from the boxing, I was greeted by a lovely sight:

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But, as I noted above, I’m not a collector and can’t leave well enough alone, so I grabbed a tulip glass and gently shuffled the tin wrapper up and off without causing a tear (easily replaced back to original effect once I poured my dram). Right off the bat I noted how surprisingly light the whisky actually appeared. A few pictures later and I got down to tasting…  here are my notes:

 

Mackinlay’s Rare Old Highland Malt “Shackleton” Whiskey

  • Nose: A bit of heat at the start, then straight into the sweetness from the sherry butts and a waft of smoke to compliment. Next some subtle spices like a Major Grey’s chutney slink in, but hang around the shadows while lightly buttered toast enters only to highlight the orange zest originally hidden by the initial ethanol heat.
  • Flavour: Mild and subtle are the two words to spring to mind at first taste. There is very little bite from the alcohol, which at a higher 47.3% was as surprising as the light colouring. The first flavours to hit my palate are cheesecake with a nice toasted graham-cracker crust into a smokey fine quality toffee, then the oak follows to balance the sweet with the dry.
  • Finish: This dram has a middle to long finish which moves into heavier oak on the end. Quite dry during the last half of the finish as it slowly fades away leaving a nice woody tannin dryness to contrast the sweetness from the start.
  • Viscosity: 4   (it looks quite crisp in the glass, but in the mouth it is surprisingly and pleasantly chewy)
  • Boldness: 2
  • Length of Story: 4
  • Personal Taste:  A+
  • Extraneous Notes: It is very light in colour than what I was expecting for the age and casks of the distillates used in creating this replica, as well as the final marrying. This really is a quintessential Speyside dram though, as it drinks with far more depth than the colour would initially indicate. Like all quality aged whiskies, the subtleties really shine here, as the recipe is perfectly balanced to highlight each of the mild and balanced tones coming through. Not only is this dram balance at every point on the palate, but the balance transcends the immediate taste and works effortlessly to balance the entire length of the story; a task easily but brilliantly achieved by this blending.

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I’m sure none of you are surprised to find this rated so highly on my personal taste; after all it is an expensive dram with a Speyside pedigree which I have been looking forward to for a while now. And yes, that may well indeed cloud my perception of this dram to some extent. But I tell you this: I’ve had far older, and far more expensive drams which don’t compare to the complexities and balance of Shackleton’s whisky. There is an impressive marriage of notes to this whisky which take it from a simple good dram, to an outstanding dram which may now take the top spot as my favourite (bumping the Balvenie 21 Portwood to a meager second place), but I think another dram or two will be needed before I close the books on that end. I’m quite pleased to have obtained a bottle for what I did, as I can imagine the price increasing exponentially from here on out as supplies become more limited. This IS a strictly limited 50,000 bottle run. Once gone, well… you’re only hope will be if another adventurer stocks away a case or two which are later rediscovered and replicated within your lifetime.

If you’re a fan of slightly smoked Speyside whiskies, do yourself a favour and pick up this bottle soon… you’ll regret it if you don’t. Thus far, my only regret is that I can’t buy more!

 

 


Barrel Aged Manhattan Cocktail- aka “The Manhattan Project”

Generally, the 3DC don’t speak much about cocktails and rather prefer to imbibe in the dram straight, neat of course. But there are indeed cocktails we enjoy, one of them being the traditional Manhattan.

So what to do once your 2 liter barrel has aged two runs of whitedog whiskies and is essentially spent when it comes to aging bourbon? Well, you take a page out of Jeffery Morgenthaler’s blog (soon to be book), and barrel age your Manhattan, obviously.

Here’s the recipe I used (thanks to Big Bottom Whiskey’s website ) to mix up my first batch of what I un-creatively dubbed “The Manhattan Project”:

  • 2 ½ oz Big Bottom American Straight Bourbon
  • ¾ oz Sweet Vermouth
  • 2 dashes Angostura bitters

I scaled the recipe up to fit my 2 liter barrel using the following amounts:

  • 2200 ml Big Bottom American Straight Bourbon
  • 660 ml Sweet Vermouth
  • 60 dashes (18ml) Angostura bitters

Once the 2 liter barrel was filled, this recipe yields an extra 750ml bottle of finished cocktail plus enough for one drink while I’m cleaning up… You may wish to scale down the recipe slightly if you don’t wish to have that much extra. In my case I wanted to see how the same cocktail faired in glass versus barrel storage, so having a bottle extra worked perfectly for me.

I filled my barrel and promptly forgot about it for a week. To my utter shock and surprise, when I remembered to test a sample a week and a day later, the change was remarkable. So much so I opted to halt the experiment then and there, bottle up the first run, and mix up a second batch.

Because of the large difference I tasted after only that first week, I was hesitant to keep it in the barrel any longer for fear of getting too much oak and tannins from the wood in the final cocktail. As it stands after only a week, the cocktail has pulled a nice mild smokiness and woodiness from the barrel while at the same time marrying the vermouth, bitters, and bourbon into a single entity rather than three distinct parts. A comparison of the glass bottle cocktail aged for the same length of time shows the marrying beginning to occur, but only in its infancy stages after a week. Obviously the glass version doesn’t have that deeper richness imparted by the 2 liter oak barrel either. The difference a single week in the barrel made was a spectacular showing of just how distinctly different barrel aged cocktails can be from their normal counterparts.

I enjoyed the outcome of this experiment so much so that batch 2 is now resting in the barrel, perhaps for even a bit longer this go around. After that I may experiment with only barrel aging the vermouth rather than the entire cocktail (a suggestion from Ted Pappas of Big Bottom Whiskey) based on the fact that the bourbon is already oak aged but the vermouth is not. The only component missing being the time to marry the ingredients, which could then be done in a neutral vessel like glass.

Of course, next up I can really start playing with the variables and find the perfect vermouth and bitters, or even go down the path of making my own bitters… but I think I’ll save that rabbit hole for some other time and simply enjoy my pre-made cocktail for a bit instead 😉


Broadcasting live: a 3DC tasting you probably missed

As many of you know, we’ve been moderately active over on Google+ testing out their Hangouts, and most recently the Hangouts On Air features.

Well, last Friday (June 1st, 2012) five of us got together for an on-line interactive tasting to celebrate Friar John Cor Day, which we broadcast using the On Air feature. Since we didn’t promote this in order to protect ourselves from catastrophic failure, you likely missed it. Well have no fear, the On Air feature automatically saves the broadcast to our Youtube channel for posterity! While we don’t expect you’ll wish to sit through the full hour, we would ask that you take a gander for however long you are able and give us some feedback. If you enjoy it, we will likely hold more and open it up to more participants… suggestions to improve are also welcome! In either case we want to hear from you!

The 3DC go through a few bottles of tasting notes in honour of Friar John Cor’s Day (June 1st)
You can get…..

 


PDX Whisky tasting notes from May 11th, 2012

This was a tasting I was personally looking forward to with great anticipation as we were to be sampling the Aberlour 12 Double Cask, Aberlour 12 Non-Chill Filtered, Caol Ila Distiller’s Edition, and Compass Box The Last Vatted Malt. Since we can’t get this last bottle retail in theU.S., I was really looking forward to being able to sample it. I even made some idle threats in Ian’s direction that I may kick him in the shins and abscond with the bottle…  I don’t think he was swayed by my warnings though…

Luckily, I didn’t have to resort to violence, as we soon got to the tasting and began passing the bottles around… here’s the notes I took on each:

Aberlour 12yr, Double Cask, 43% abv

  • Nose: Immediate Sherry and vanilla, into a deep oak.
  • Flavour: Nice mellow caramel notes, a bit hot, then red fruit, followed by a touch of cinnamon and a hint of dark chocolate.
  • Finish: Moves back into a crisp lingering heat
  • Viscocity: 3
  • Boldness: 4
  • Length of Story: 1
  • Personal Taste: B
  • Extraneous Notes: This dram had a shockingly short story. While good, the palate simply vanishes quickly.

 

Aberlour 12yr, Non-Chill Filetered, 48% abv

  • Nose: Light vanilla and oak. It presents as a rather simple nose in the middle, then shows just a hint of brine
  • Flavour: Mildly chewy mouth feel then some direct heat. A little tire rubber followed by a slight nuttiness on the back.
  • Finish: The nuttiness hangs for a while then moves into a nice round finish of balanced caramel and oak notes
  • Viscocity: 4
  • Boldness: 4
  • Length of Story: 3
  • Personal Taste: B-
  • Extraneous Notes: I enjoyed the double cask more, but likely due to the use of sherry casks in half of the matured spirit of that dram. This one proved slightly more challenging, though I’d likely have been very pleased had I sampled this first and the double cask second.

Caol Ila, Distiller’s Edition, 13yr, 43% abv

  • Nose: Mild smoke into brine. This noses as a quite complex dram, but very clean as well.
  • Flavour: Mild brown sugar into smoke. I noted here that this was oddly balanced with brine and smoke, as the 18yr I’m used to is much heaver on the smoke.
  • Finish: Fades consistently with the nose, in that the smoke dissipates revealing the brine again, and finishes as a complex but clean dram on the palate.
  • Viscocity: 3
  • Boldness: 4
  • Length of Story: 3
  • Personal Taste: B
  • Extraneous Notes: Complex and enjoyable. I’d continue to cook with the 18yr but happily drink this along side.

Compass Box, The Last Vatted Malt, 53.7% abv, Recipe is 22% from the younger of the two distilleries in Aberlour 36yr / remaining 78% from Caol Ila 26yr

  • Nose: Nice heavy maltiness with a deep toasty grain and cereal note, with a hint of caramel running throughout.
  • Flavour: Hot, very hot, even for a 108 proof dram. Much like the nose this hits with a good balance of oak and toast.
  • Finish: I was surprised that at such a high proofing this dram took a long while to finish, though not a complex story it finished with lingering cereal notes.
  • Viscocity: 2
  • Boldness: 4
  • Length of Story: 3
  • Personal Taste: B
  • Extraneous Notes: A solidly good dram, but lacking the complexity of what I would have expected from whiskies at 26 and 36 years of age respectively. This would be a stellar dram at a different price point. As it stands, I am please to have tried it but likely won’t be searching it out purely based on cost.

And since we were talking about how The Last Vatted Malt wasn’t available in theU.S., Ian decided to pull out another Compass Box offering only available inCanada. Ian had actually pulled out this particular bottling once before so the notes below will be a combination of both times I’ve tasted this:

Compass Box, The Magic Cask, Limited Edition, 46% abv

  • Nose: Light brine, mild heat, and green olive. This second nosing was light on the nose, but still showing hints of the brine and olive.
  • Flavour: Spicy and watery, but hot. Much like an oaked Rye. The second tasting showed more complexity with a balance of grain and cereal, while still remaining hot.
  • Finish: Hot, Oak and final toast with some brine. The second finish showed the same cereal and toast notes but a bit lighter than previously mentioned.
  • Viscocity: 2
  • Boldness: 3
  • Length of Story: 3
  • Personal Taste: B+

And then came the final bottle I enjoyed that night. Sadly I stopped taking tasting notes just prior, though to my benefit I was able to enjoy the little bit that was left in the final two drams of the bottle… I will say, the Tobermory 1798, 15yr is a spectacularly wonderful dram to finish out an even of amazing drams.

Sometimes, it is indeed good to be me 🙂

 

 

 

 


Recap of Stuart Ramsay’s Whisky Academy- Amercian Craft Distilling

For fear that y’all think I only post about Big Bottom Whiskey, here’s one about Stuart Ramsay’s Whiskey Academy class I had the pleasure of attending Sunday, May 6th at Bull Run Distilling.

Stuart is a local whiskies guru, internationally recognized as an accomplished writer, editor, and speaker on both whiskies and beer. The fact that he lives in Portland means we are lucky enough to have access to such a wealth of knowledge on a fairly regular basis, as Stuart hosts not only his own classes on whiskies, but also presents tastings hosted by other local pubs and restaurants.

This particular class I participated in (hosted by the fine lads of Bull Run Distilling) was focused on the American Craft Distillers movement with a focus on the craft Whiskies of course. Not only did Stuart highlight some exception drams from across the US, but was also able to pull in a few of our own local craft distillers to talk about their own products, how they’re made, and highlight some of the more technical details of what goes in to a great craft distilled whiskey.

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I’ll spare you the specific tasting notes of everything we sampled, as the list was quite extensive:

  • Stone Barn Hard 8 Rye
  • Stone Barn Oat Whiskey
  • Stone Barn Buckwheat Whiskey
  • Stone Barn Hoppin 8’s
  • Corsair Wry Moon
  • Corsair Triple Smoke
  • Bull Run Temperance Trader
  • Silver Coyote White Whiskey
  • Dry Fly Wheat Whiskey
  • Fremont Mischief John Jacob
  • Colorado’s Own Corn Whiskey
  • Woodinville White Dog Rye
  • Ransom Spirits Whippersnapper
  • Ransom Spirits 1871 Irish Mash- 20 months in New American 4 char barrels
  • Ransom Spirits 1871 Irish Mash- 14 months in used French Oak barrels
  • Big Bottom Project X
  • St. George Single Malt
  • St. George Single Malt Batch 11
  • Buffalo Trace Experimental, Rice
  • Buffalo Trace Experimental, Oats
  • Clear Creek McCarthy’s November 2011 release
  • Clear Creek McCarthy’s November 2010 release
  • M.B. Roland Cat’s Meow

Stuart’s presentation style is relaxed and meandering through stories, periodically hitting on topics of note and diving deeper as the audience/participants ask questions and show interest in one topic over another. In this session’s case, we all tended to focus on the mash bill for each of the drams, finding the differences between heavy corn, wheat, or rye bills, and then comparing how the oak has changed each. We also had some good discussion over the various types of stills and what the benefits of each provided in the resulting spirit.

One of the things I really appreciated from the class was Stuart’s attention to providing information in the form of two packets: One with the history of American whiskies, the craft movement, making a single malt, and a primer on bourbon complete with a tasting wheel and guide to flavours. The second packet was a one-sheet for each of the distilleries we were tasting, along with notes on the particular drams. Both packets showed not only attention to the important technical details and overall histories, but they also allowed for the in-person presentation to flow using the packets as only reference. Too many times have I found people simply reading from their handouts or slides, and thankfully Stuart doesn’t abide by that habit.

What really made this class stand out for me was the opportunity to talk with three local distillers doing some amazingly different things with their whiskies, all of whom are not only approachable but deeply passionate and willing to talk at length about what they do. And really, that touches on the whole reason I remain involved and passionate about whiskies myself: the people. The industry itself is interesting in the shifts and trends and new stuff coming out, but it remains the people that keep it so exciting and fun. When you can connect with people like Stuart Ramsay, Lee Medoff of Bull Run, Sebastian and Erika Degens of Stone Barn Brandy Works, and Tad Seested of Ransom Spirits, (and even though he wasn’t in attendance at this particular workshop, Ted Pappas of Big Bottom), you can’t help but become as passionate and excited by what they are doing as they are! It truly is contagious.

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