Seamus’ Opinionated Guide to buying Whiskies as Gifts

Are you close to a Whiskey, Whisky, or Scotch lover? Do you want to get them the perfect bottle as a holiday gift? Do you have no idea how to shop for a bottle of whiskies?

Because of my love for whiskies and my involvement with the 3 Drunken Celts, I am often asked for suggestions as to which bottle would be a good gift for a friend, family member, or boss. To this end I present: “Seamus’ Opinionated Guide to buying Whiskies as Gifts”

When accosted for a recommendation, my initial response is: “Find a bottle of ‘The Balvenie’ which suits your price point and buy it. You won’t go wrong…”

However, I have found that not everyone is as enamoured with the distillery as I am (cough, Raz, cough). So in a vain attempt to help out those recipients who don’t always prefer The Balvenie, I will attempt to provide some basic guidelines to choosing a suitable bottle as a gift. (If you just want Seamus’ top picks for each price point, scroll to the bottom past all the drivel in between…)

Ok, if you are still with me, let’s get to the substance of this article:

First and foremost, figure out what your price point is. There is no use finding the perfect bottle, only to realize it is way out of your range. Price can be used as a general guideline: the more costly, odds are it will be better than the cheaper stuff. But don’t let that get you down; there are some GREAT whiskies on the market which far outshine their lower price points. Just remember, there ARE deals to be had! Find some whiskies in the price range you are comfortable with, and then begin narrowing down from there.

Like price, Age is also a decent guideline where the older is typically better. On general principal a 21 year old whisky will be smoother than a 10 year old whisky. This guideline, however, tends to only stand up within the same distillery. Once you begin comparing differing distilleries and differing ages, the guideline begins to break down with too many exceptions.

When using Age as a guideline, it is also best to add Region in as well. You may well find a great 22yr Single Malt, only to discover it is from a region known for its brine when your recipient prefers peat.

If at all possible, you should try to determine of the recipient has any specific preferences when it comes to his/her whiskies. If so, you have it easy… stick with those preferences. Straying from a preferred distillery/region can be a risky venture as most connoisseurs are quite particular with their drams.

Assuming that the recipient has no particular preferences, you’ll have your work cut out for you. At the least, try to determine if he/she likes the smoky, peaty, briny, or sweeter whiskies. This will help you narrow down to a smaller regional subset and progress from there.

Some general regional characteristics to help you along the way:

Highlands – Arguably the most popular region appealing to the widest range of tastes including peat, brine, and smoke.

Speyside – A very popular and quite prolific region. Sweet, delicately complex; some with a refined smokiness, some with fruity finishes.

Islay (pronounced “Eye-la”) – Gives the Highlands a run at most popular. Challenging, Peat, brine, smoke and sometimes a tinge of salty seaweed

Skye and Orkney – Similar in character to the Islays but tend to be softer on the pallet. The Peat on the Orkneys is from heather which imparts a honey like flavor.

Lowlands – This region no longer boasts the copious number of distilleries as it once did. Soft, smooth and mild. A little of the peat and brine of the Highland malts, but much more subtle.

Campbeltown – This also use to be a prolific region, but is now in rarity. Slightly briny but not as aggressive as the Islay malts.

Irish – Not as popular as Scotch malts but this is a developing malting region its blends are quite popular. Distinguished by the un-malted barley used along with malted barley. Smooth, complex and frequently with some fruity flavor. Once known for peated whiskies, this is rarely done now.

Bourbon – From the Bourbon County, KY area of the US. Sour, sweet and smoky

American – Not from the Bourbon County area. Many are quite new to the market place with varying differences in flavours.

Assuming you have a set price range, you can really start narrowing down your selection set based on Age/Year, region, and the particular palette imparted by each bottling. Of course none of this can take the place of experience (i.e. sampling and knowing how each tastes); but if you knew already, then you wouldn’t need this guide would you?

At this point the internet is your best friend. You can find some great tasting notes on darn near any bottle ever produced! Start your searches on some on-line liquor retailer websites to find the bottles in your price range, and then do a few Google searches to find tasting notes and ratings on each. You should have a short-list selection in no time. From there, either order your choice from one of the sites who will ship to you (even with shipping you can get some wonderful deals on the internet), or take your list to your local purveyor of spirits to fill your order.

Now, it seems that even after I espouse my diatribe above, people still look at me and ask “…well that’s fine and all, but what do YOU recommend?”. I have two answers to that question:

1. If you are asking this question, then you haven’t understood a word I have said. Whiskies are a complicated thing and can be very personal for each drinker. You are best to follow the advice above, lest you buy a bottle which doesn’t meet the recipient’s desires…

2. If you are still going to demand a particular bottle recommendation, and were buying said bottle for MY palette, here you go:

Seamus’ Top Picks by Price Point (2 bottles each category):

$250 and higher:

The Balvenie 25 yearBowmore 35yr

$120 – $249:

The Balvenie 21yr Port Wood / Edradour 22yr Port Wood

$100 – $119:

Midleton Very Rare / Compass Box Hedonism

$75 – $99:

Compass Box Flaming Heart / GlenRothes 1987

$50 – $74:

Oban 14yr / GlenRothes 1991 14yr

$30 – $49:

Sheep Dip / Knappogue Castle 1992

$10 – $29:

Aberlour 10yr / John, Mark, & Robbo’s The Rich Spicy One

Other picks…

For the Bourbon lover: Bulleit Bourbon is an amazing distillation, which at $15-$30 can’t be beat at all!

For a fun grab-bag type surprise, choose any Bruichladdich bottling (pronounced ‘brook’- ‘law’-‘day’). NONE are the same and will challenge the connoisseur’s palette and expectations. You never know what you’re going to get!


Jim Murray awards Arbeg with coveted top Whisky title!

As gleaned from the BBC News:
JimMurray, in his 2008 edition of his best-selling Whisky Bible, has awarded the Ardbeg 10 year the coveted top title of “World Whisky of the Year”.

As the BBC News reports:

<Murray> said in his guide: “To me Ardbeg is – and always has been – the most complex malt on earth.”

He added: “I have been visiting the distillery for nearly 30 years – long before anybody had heard of Ardbeg.

“And because I have long regarded this as the finest distillery in the world, I actually try to handicap the sample to iron out any natural bias.”

He said in his guide: “To me Ardbeg is – and always has been – the most complex malt on earth.”

He added: “I have been visiting the distillery for nearly 30 years – long before anybody had heard of Ardbeg.

“And because I have long regarded this as the finest distillery in the world, I actually try to handicap the sample to iron out any natural bias.”

So, here’s to you Ardbeg… may your drams continue to garner such high praise and acclaim from all who taste you!


John Glaser of Compass Box Whiskies Featured in Wired Magazine

It should come as no surprise to anyone who knows a 3 Drunken Celt, that John Glaser is considered a friend of the group. Raz, Fergus, and Seamus all met John for the first time at the Whiskies of the World in 2006, where he had presented a tasting class surrounding his blends. The next year, we enjoyed his Whisky Pairing dinner the night before the Whiskies of the World expo where he masterfully paired a different dram for each of the 5 courses served including both his newly released “Oak Cross” and “Flaming Heart” blends.

John_Glaser

For this coming year’s WoW expo, Seamus has already purchased his ticket for John’s class on blending your own whiskies and highly recommends you do the same since it is sure to sell out quickly.

As you will read in the Wired Magazine article referenced below, John has a distinct knack for blending, and has shaken up the world of whiskies a bit with his revolutionary take on some long standing whisky traditions, sometimes coming face to face with legal ramifications resulting in a discontinued product. Ah, Spice Tree, we barely knew ye (this was actually the first taste the 3DC had of John’s work, which had been surreptitiously hand-carried across the pond in a blue water jug having been filled directly from the cask only a day prior).

If you haven’t yet decided whether or not to attend the Whiskies of the World expo in San Francisco on March 28th, 2008, use this Wired Magazine article to help convince you, if only to meet John in person. You will immediately find John to be both personable and approachable, but more importantly knowledgeable about whiskies to a degree that outshines most other whisky connoisseurs around the globe.

http://www.wired.com/techbiz/startups/news/2007/10/compassbox

Take it from the 3 Drunken Celts, you won’t be disappointed with any offering from Compass Box, or John Glaser’s classes.


Oregon whiskies highlighted in Food & Wine Magazine

I knew there was a reason I was drawn to the Pacific North West. In the latest issue of Food & Wine magazine, I ran across an article highlighting “America’s Best New Whiskeys” which, to my surprise, focused entirely on four Portland area distilleries. The full article can be found here: Food & Wine America’s Best New Whiskeys (and don’t forget to check out the side-bar for the contact info for the distilleries: Food & Wine Oregon’s Best Places to Buy Local Spirits )

Unfortunately, only two of the four are at a point where they are selling finished products. The other two are still (get it, STILL, ah, I kill me) working and waiting for their respective whiskies to be completed before putting them on the market. In either case I am dying to go visit the distilleries and hopefully get a taste of their various products. Rest assure when this happens there WILL be articles posted!

Since Clear Creek Distillery looks to be holding an Open House on Thanksgiving Weekend, I think this may be a good time and excuse to get John, Mary and Colleen (who will be visiting that weekend) into the city and enjoying something entirely new: Oregon peated whiskey!

So, it looks like I have some tasting work cut out for me in the months ahead. But I’ll jump on that grenade for you all and report back with my findings. I’m a giver like that.


Announcing the NEW and IMPROVED 3DrunkenCelts.com website!

After a series of unfortunate events resulting in loss of some configurations and some regressions in features, we have redesigned the www.3DrunkenCelts.com website to provide an easier, more user-friendly approach to the 3DC.

We are very excited about this new iteration of the 3DC website and hope this redesign will inspire increased usage and contribution of content. We are hoping for big things this coming year and already have doubled our group size for the Whiskies of the World 2008 expo! (Which means YOU ALL should come too!) But I am getting ahead of myself here…

 

Some of the key new items at www.3DrunkenCelts.com are:

Easier Navigation- All posts are categorized based on parent categories of Regions, Events, News, or Miscellany with sub-categories to contain the actual information. This will allow you to quickly find all posts which contain information on what you’re looking for.

RSS Feeds– We have set up RSS feeds for both Posts and comments, you can subscribe and read our content with your favourite RSS reader. SIMPLE!

Post Comments- Unlike the previous site, as a registered user on the new site, you have unfettered access to comment on any article posted to the site. This should help encourage discussion over the information posted and get better information out there and searchable to help us all learn about whiskies!

Post Articles– Yes, if you register on the new site and request to be made an author, you can post articles too! In fact we WANT you to post articles; the only reason you need to be approved as an author is to combat potential spammers. Once set as an author, you can post short articles, long articles, reviews, news, or other bits of information as they relate to the 3DC. Raz and I can not and should not be the only ones driving the content of the site. We KNOW you all have opinions and ideas, so here’s your sounding board to get those out there! To be set as an author use the contact form on the site, or send an email to admin@3drunkencelts.com and include your username so we can easily identify it.

Rate Posts– Find a post you LOVE? Rate it at 5 stars… find one you hate, rate it at 1 star. Help us learn what you like to read about. Think the author is full of himself and just likes to read his own words? Rate it and then comment too!

PDA Access– The site has now been configured to support PDA or Mobile access. Just point your mobile browser to www.3DrunkenCelts.com and away you go! I am working on mobile posting access as well for those who wish to be authors, but this feature will be in a future iteration.

And of course, no more splash page!!! This really excites me more than you know, and more than it should.


The YahooGroup here will still be available, however we’d prefer to take some of the more pertinent and content rich discussions off of this list and make them even more publicly visible on the 3DrunkenCelts.com site. This means instead of emails, we will see a single post with multiple comments by registered users. We hope this will help build a larger community on the website and hopefully encourage more content to be posted by users other than just Raz and Seamus.


So there you have it. Come one, come all. We hope to see the site grow into a fabulous resource of opinions and discussion on whiskies of all kinds!

 

To take a line from Raz…
Yours in Scotch,
Seamus O’Domhnaill of Devil’s Beef Tub
Mka Jason O’Donnell


On Absinthe…

I received my bottle of Lucid via UPS on Monday afternoon… After waiting for Jean to get home, we worked our way into the kitchen and began the “ritual” of la louche’.

Not having ANY of the absinthe specific tools, we had to improvise as best we could. We found two wine glasses which would work. I then “macgyvered” a slotted spoon by using the top of a salt-shaker (washed of course!) and banding it between two chop-sticks so it would sit on the rim of the glasses without having to use two hands to hold and pour.

I poured about a jigger’s worth of absinthe into the glass, and then retrieved the iced water from the counter. Placing a sugar cube in the salt-shaker top, I proceeded to pour the water -very slowly- over the cube to dissolve it with as little water as possible.

The green, yet crystal clear absinthe liquor began its change into the green fairy. With the slightest addition of ice cold water and sugar, the liquor clouded up perfectly into a mint-green glass of happiness.

Ah, now it was time for the first taste….

The initial hit is of anise, which mellows into a nice mild sweetness of sage, though the anise sticks around for the whole story to unfold. Unfortunately, the first glass was a bit too watery, as I seemingly overdid the ice water and under did the liquor. So, after consuming the first glass with only very mild effects, we ate dinner and came back a few hours later to pour out a second try.

This time, my ratio was dead on. I only eyeballed the liquor when pouring rather than accurately measuring, so I am unclear as to how much I actually used. We’ll say it was a good solid 2 shots. I la louche’d with less water than previously used, stopping when the look of the drink appeared “right”. (Knowing what “watery” looked like made this second attempt much easier.)

At first sip I realized that THIS is what the first drink should have tasted like. Much more potent, the only way I can find to accurately describe the flavour to someone who hasn’t tried it is:
Consider taking a handful of licorice Altoids, add some small pinches of sage, and add water to taste. The flavours which come out are a slightly minty, heavily anised herbiness cut so slightly by the sweetness of the sugar cube and, of course, the added water.

Halfway into the second glass, I found that the effects of the drink were a bit… different. The buzz was more of the stimulant variety than the depressant commonly associated with alcohol. Both Jean and I found more of a crispness and clarity to the buzz, in direct contrast to the fuzziness typically encountered with whiskies or other liquors. No hallucinations were encountered, though in our defense 2 glasses over the course of 4 hours isn’t exactly conducive to experience the heavy effects of ANY drink. I can, however, see how imbibing a bit more may push some of the other effects to the fore-front of the experience.

It should also be noted here that Lucid is indeed produced using the higher quality of wormwood available (Grande if memory serves) and as such the drink does contain low levels of thujone, the presumably “active” ingredient which is also found in sage and rosemary.

Moreover, I can absolutely see how this particular drink could and SHOULD be experienced in a social atmosphere. The ritual aspect alone demands an audience. One can almost envision themselves sitting in a dark café’ or pub in the alley-ways of France, sipping the green fairy, and just watching the world go by. Though, don’t be mistaken; even merely people watching is not a solo endeavor, but rather an experience to share with all your friends!

So, take this for what it is worth from a 3DC member… if you ever have the opportunity to imbibe in the Green Fairy… Jump at the chance. You will not regret it.
-Seamus


Second Gospel of Seamus, Chapter 1 (WotW Recap)

The alarm buzzed at 4:15 am on Friday, April 13th, 2007. I hadn’t much sleep from the night before, but I knew that wouldn’t matter much; I was going to be high on excitement and anticipation the rest of the day. Today was the day I joined my compatriots in whiskies and flew up to San Francisco for the annual Whiskies of the World exposition. We had attended last year, and had decided before that event was even over that we would be returning this year for more!And return we did. The flight up was uneventful. Raz and I got in to Oakland around 8.30am and found ourselves on the B.A.R.T light rail heading into the city soon after we touched down (Fergus was to meet up with us later once we was able to leave work). We emerged form the subway somewhere around the Montgomery exit, and began to get our bearings in the City. While it was still very early, and we knew we wouldn’t be able to check-in quite yet, we still made our way to our hotel to drop off our luggage.

With no responsibilities for the day, Raz and I decide it is time for a drink, and begin walking around the city. We found ourselves in Chinatown quite quickly, as the gates to Chinatown were less that a block from our hotel, and continued on that path, as it was interesting and we had no cares in the world. To our surprise, as we are entering the tip of North Beach, I get a call from Fergus who indicates that he is on his way into the city, much earlier than Raz and I had anticipated. With Fergus’ imminent arrival, Raz and I make our way down to the Montgomery B.A.R.T. station to meet up with our friend, only to find a nice small sushi place which had just opened for the day.

Taking a break from walking, we sit down to a nice sushi lunch and some Oolong tea…. apparently we were thirsty. Four cans of Oolong later, and we were finally beginning to feel human. Of course this is just about the time I get another call from Fergus telling me he just left work, and would be in the city within an hour, so Raz and I opt to head back to the Irish Bank pub for drinks, which just so happened to be next door to our hotel! Soon after, Fergus showed up and the fun really began. And this is where our photos begin… (click on the image to get to the full album from the trip):

We grabbed a bite of lunch, and headed into the hotel to try our hand at checkin once more… but of course we were still a bit too early, which left us back wandering the streets of Chinatown. In typical 3 Drunken Celts fashion, we find ourselves admiring some architectural facades, only to realize it is the entrance to a local bar. Of course we have to stop in for a drink now. I’ll tell you, that bartender saw us coming a mile away. She made her “special Chinese Mai Tai” and charged us out the ass for them. Oh well, it was worth the fun, and after all this WAS intended to be a drunken debauchery kind of weekend. Not wanting to spend too much time there, we opted to finish our drinks and leave so we could go checkin, get unpacked, and moving on to the next bar.

We made our way back to the hotel and finally were able to checkin and get our room assignment. Due to a small mixup, we got a room that was a bit cramped for 3 guys, but we made it work none-the-less (and were taken care of on checkout as an apology). The room was pretty darn cool:

Even better was the work being done on the outside “courtyard” area:

One of the artists had been given free range on the walls in the courtyard. What you see above is probably on 1/3 complete. I think we’ll need to return to see the completed project!

The three of us got settled in an unpacked just in time to get back out to the city and start walking again. This time, however, we were walking on a mission: we needed to get to Bourbon & Branch for cocktail hour before the big whisky pairing dinner later in the evening. We seemed to have misjudged our timing a bit, so we ended up at a bar just down the street for a bout half an hour. On our way back up to B&B, Raz encountered one of his funniest moments for the weekend.. a passerby stopped, looked Raz in the eye as he was walking and exclaimed “FARMERS DON’T PLAY!”, then continued on down the street. Really, what more could be said?

Bourbon & Branch is setup, mildly speaking, like a Speak Easy. I say mildly since there is a huge ANTI-Spirits league sign at the door. Not exactly subtle in my opinion. Upon speaking the appropriate password at the front door (“rain-pitchforks”, seriously, wtf???) we were escorted into the library at the rear of the main bar. I have to say, the mixed drinks on the special menu (using many Compass Box whiskies) were good, but nothing to write home about. So I’ll stop here and continue on with the rest of the weekend…

We ejected ourselves from the library, by way of the door to the street, since the door we came in from had no handle on the inside to return to the main bar. This was all fine and good since we were heading down towards the Palace Hotel anyways to meet up with my friend James for more drinks. Unfortunately, we only had about an hour with James once we found a bar with enough room for the 4 of us. Two drinks down, and we said our goodbyes as the 3DC headed back to the Palace for the night’s Whisky Pairing dinner as put on by John Glaser of Compass Box Whisky.

Because Fergus is a member of Rhiannon’s “Dram Club” on www.celticmalts.com, he was privy to an invitation to the dinner. Naturally, he asked if Raz and I could join in (not being dram Club members), and luckily we were allowed to tag along. Mind you this wasn’t a free dinner, but rather a 5 course whisky pairing to challenge any great restaurant’s vintner’s dinners, which came with an appropriate price tag of $115 per person. So, as long as we paid, we were welcome to obtain a reservation. Thank the stars we did. This dinner rivaled some of the best I have had. I happened to squirrel away the menu, as I knew I would need it for reference later, and I was sorely right.

The menu for the evening was as follows:

Starter, paired with Compass Box “Oak Cross” Arugula and French breakfast radish with malt vinaigrette & Seared scallop served over Marscapone polenta, pomegranite sticky, melon

Entree’ Selection paired with Compass Box “Peat Monster”, as well as 2004 SageCliffe Merlot, Columbia Valley, Washington Sous Vide Venison with water chestnut puree and brussel sprouts with cherry bacon vinaigrette & Roasted breast of Duck with an orange mapel glaze, pancetta mashed potatoes and sauteed beet greens

Dessert paired with Compass Box “Hedonism” and Compass Box “Flaming Heart” Cowgirl Creamery ricotta cheese cake with quince jam, Korean basil seeds and pear crisp

Yes, you can be envious now… I’ll wait…… There, all better now? good. Let us continue….

All in all, a wonderful dinner. My personal favourite of the evening was the Compass Box “Flaming Heart”, which has not been released as yet. This was an astounding dram which I will need to obtain at least one bottle of for personal enjoyment. Complex, but refined. “Oak Cross” was an amazing dram as well, which contrary to the name was not overly saturated with Oak, but rather held a pleasant balance of oak making it a very drinkable whisky.

At the end of dinner, there happened to be a full bottle of the SageCliffe Merlot on the table. You see we had all been poured a glass during dinner, and then a new bottle had been placed on the table for anyone desiring more. Well, after 4 glasses of whisky and a glass of wine during dinner, not many people were clamoring for more wine. Somehow, the bottle made it into Fergus’ jacket…. mind you we asked John Glaser at the end of the evening if it was okay, and he replied, “I think Rusty would be offended if you DIDN’T steal this bottle!”. So like good little drunks, we walked out with an unreleased merlot provided by the winemaker, Rusty Figgins. (It should be noted that we got to enjoy Rusty’s company the day after, and while initially concerned, he soon came to understand and was okay with our bit of shenanigans that evening.)

So here is a great photo of Fergus pouring a glass of wine while we walk the streets of San Francisco back to the Irish Bank:

Back at the Irish Bank, we greet the bartenders working, and pour a glass of the merlot for them. That started the decline for me… my last memory is drinking an irish coffee, then moving back onto whiskies. At some point Raz excused himself since he had a fairly bad migraine, and Fergus and I continued into the night drinking away. We finally hot the wall and returned to our room around 1:30am in a giddily drunk state, much to Raz’ chagrin. It seems we kept him up for another hour with giggle fits and a light-show at one point, though I am a bit hazy on the actual duration and sequence of events at that point. Suffice to say, Raz got us back in the morning….

Next Up… Retaliation, Seamus is an artless lying bitch, someone drops an “h”, and the main event of the weekend.


Johnnie Walker – Journey of Taste

The clock hit 5pm on Thursday afternoon, and I high-tailed my way out of work. I rushed home, showered, and donned my best suit so I would be appropriately attired for the night’s festivities. Fearing the worst of L.A. traffic, I didn’t have any time to spare, so I sped off armed with a pack of RedBulls at my side. I arrived at Raz’ place by 7pm, which gave us just an hour and a half before we had to be in line for the Johnnie Walker Journey of Taste set to start at 9pm in Hollywood. From Huntington Beach, the drive is a good 54 minutes by the map, which assumes a common freeway speed of 65mph. As you can guess, this left us with only a 30 minute fudge factor if we encountered any accident or other traffic inducing road hazard on the way. As it turns out we made outstanding time. Not one ounce of traffic hindered our progress, which meant we made it to Henson Studios spot on 8pm, giving us an hour before the next tasting began.With that hour downtime, Raz and I chose to make the most of it. Between sitting on a mock stoop and chatting about the future of the 3DC, we nosed our way around the studio grounds opting for a picture or two here and there. We even got the main door bouncer (decked out in a full tuxedo) to snap two pictures of us in from of the Johnnie Walker sign, and another in front of the Chaplin studio sign. Two points of note here: 1. always make friends with security early in the night, this will help later in the night, and 2. always be aware of your surroundings. The former will be discussed later, but the latter is important now. Not being much of a film geek, but enough that I know the value of true Hollywood history, I was thoroughly enjoying just BEING at Jim Henson’s Studios. That alone is worthy of note, but more importantly, is that a bit prior to becoming Henson Studios, the same lot and studio buildings were known as Chaplin Studios. Yes, THAT Chaplin. So not only were Raz and I geeking out over Jim and his Muppet magic, but also over being in the same location where the late great Charles Chaplin worked. (Pictures should be forthcoming once Raz gets the cable he needs to download them off of his camera.)

We queued up after a small handful of other people began arriving. We didn’t need to be FIRST in line, but also didn’t wish to be last either. Turns out this strategy worked well for us, as we were ushered over to deposit our required donation, and then directed towards one of the Walker girls who was ready to check us in. No muss, no fuss, no line either! It was this point in the night were we first saw our friend Dirt (who as you will recall, we met at the WoW expo last March, and who was kind enough to put forth the invite to us and our group). I chatted up Dirt as Raz checked in, and came to find out that we had chosen the best night and time to take part in the tasting. As 3DC luck would have it, Thursday night’s 9pm ‘show’ was to be attended by members of ‘tu Ciudad’ an up and coming Latino magazine for Los Angeles. The best part being that after the tasting, ‘tu Ciudad’ would be hosting an open bar after party where the entire Johnnie Walker line would be flowing freely! I attempted to impart this knowledge on Raz, who was a bit too busy making Leroy laugh behind us to really let it sink in…

Within minutes, the velvet ropes were drawn back and we were handed our token for a drink during the cocktail gathering prior to the tasting. I really have to say this setup was a perfect idea. Each guest was limited to one drink, to ensure their palates wouldn’t be ruined prior to the tasting event, but at the same time, we were given drinks which woke up our palates and got us in the mood to taste. As Raz staked out a table for us, conveniently next to the bar, I got us both a Johnnie Black label neat (as they were only serving Black and Red label at the beginning). Sitting at the bar-height table, we continued our people watching and noted at the diversity of the crowd. There was a good mix of nationalities as well as gender and age. While the average age was probably about 26, there were indeed a few older ones who obviously were experienced tasters. The whole vibe for the night was fairly youthful though, from the music to the types of drinks being poured for the guests. I noted quite a few whisky sours, ginger-ales and whiskies, as well as typical whisky on the rocks. Very few whisky neats were seen, Raz and I being two of them. The mix of people and drinks began to give me a good idea as to what we were in for.

Before we get into the tasting proper, Dirt makes his way over to us with a friend of his whom we “have to meet”. Ian Stewart (or Stuart, not sure of the spelling, sorry lad!) is introduced to us as a gent who will be making a name in the industry. While he doesn’t have a job quite yet, word has it he is poised to be part of a reputable Speyside organization, with promises to let us in on exactly which one upon confirmation of getting the job. After a bit of chatting and learning that his father recently retired from work at the famed Cardhu distillery, we are happy to say that Ian is indeed a true friend of the 3DC! Raz had a chance to bend Ian’s ear a bit more, as we were ushered into the tasting and the two sat next to each other snarking away during the presentation. I would have been annoyed if I hadn’t immediately enjoyed Ian’s company and stories. Plus he seems to “get” whiskies like we do, which is always a good thing in my book! (By the by, he lives up in the Bay Area, so Fergus should get into contact with him for future events…).

Which brings us to the core of the event; The Johnnie Walker Journey of Taste.

We were escorted to our seats (just behind the VIP section, not a bad turn of more 3DC luck!) which were white pleather bench seats with a bench in front to act as our tasting table. Each bench was imprinted to appear like a card with the standard 5 glass tasting layout, though specific for Johnnie Walker’s products of course. As a visual aid, I was able to find a picture of the tasting setup (courtesy of Johnnie Walker’s site: http://www.journeyexperience.com/ )

From this visual alone you get the feel that the entire night was geared more towards a vibrant, edgier crowd than we are typically part of. All the seats were configured in a square with an open center for the presenter. Behind each of the quadrants were three large projection screens displaying the ‘Striding Man’ logo which Johnnie is known by. (GREAT marketing by the by! The logo is memorable, classy, and easy to reproduce on damned near anything!) Over the course of the tasting, as an introduction to each label, mini promo spots were projected with loud music and minimal narration in quick successive images and moving pictures reminiscent of the MTV style of television/commercials nowadays. Truly, Johnnie is marketing to a younger generation now. The entire atmosphere was a bit too “hip” and trendy for my tastes, but still I was impressed at the balance between trendy and the presentation of a proper tasting.

Steve, the Johnnie Walker Ambassador for our showing, began to walk us through the tasting. Note that the opinions below are my own and –not- necessarily what was presented during the show. The actual tasting and presentation was designed to point out the various odors on the nose and tastes on the palate of the different expressions and teach some of the people new to tasting how to do so (as a typical guided tasting should do)…

First up was the Johnnie Walker Black label… and then continued in order…

• Johnnie Walker Black Label — this is a perfectly drinkable blend of as many as 40 whiskies, each aged at least 12 years. At the heart of Black Label lies the 12 year old Cardhu. I was quite surprised by this expression, as I had it in my mind that ANY JW label was inferior to my beloved single malts. As blends go, this one is quite enjoyable as an everyday dram. Not exceedingly complex or refined, but as good a whisky as any blend I have enjoyed.

• Johnnie Walker Red Label — a bold combination of spicy and smoky malts (the core being Talisker), designed to be mixed. Not a complex drink by any stretch, but rather full of simple and bold flavours which will punch through any mixer of your choice to reveal a distinct whisky drink. Presented with both Pepsi and Ginger-Ale in carafes to mix with; this particular expression seemed to sit well with Raz, while I found it a bit too overstated for my palate at the time. I may need to revisit this whisky to really nail down an opinion on this. Either way, it mixes as well as John, Mark and Robbo’s “The Rich Spicy One” (which for the price point would be my choice over the Red Label).

• Johnnie Walker Green Label (a.k.a. Pure Malt) — a vatted malt whisky that consists of approximately 15 individual single malts, the core malts being Talisker, Cragganmore, Linkwood, and Caol Ila. All malts in this particular blend are aged 15 years or older. Amazingly beautiful nose on this dram. It brings a woodsy heather and cedar along with the greenness of a newly cut lawn. The nose on this is so pleasing that it could be used as a cologne or aftershave. But that’s where this dram ends. The palate is disappointing at best with a heavy iodine taste completely divergent form the woodsy nose. That being said, I’d buy a bottle just to nose, but never drink.

• Johnnie Walker Gold Label — a blend of over 15 single malts which has at its heart the very rare Clynelish malt. Served at freezing temperatures, this whisky is lost to the cold. While interesting to drink as a novelty (really, who drinks whisky like a vodka?) this is actually better warm, but not by much. As it turns out, the cold masks the inferior nose and simplicity of the whisky. A fun drink to try, but this will never become one of my staples.

• Johnnie Walker Blue Label — at the heart of Blue Label is Royal Lochnagar a malt distilled near Balmoral. Now this is what I call a complex blend of rare malts. This expression has everything a high-end blend should have: a complex palate which tells a story that lasts for a good 30 seconds, a smoothness which whispers refinement and dedication to getting the palate just right, and a viscosity which gives a slightly thick mouthfeel letting you know there is more here than water. As enjoyable as this was, I am still partial to the Midleton Very rare expression as put forth by the Jameson’s Distillery for around the same price point. I will still, however, come back to this dram a few times “just to be sure”.

At the end, Steve invited all guests to hang around and enjoy the after party put on by the good people at ‘tu Ciudad’. Well, who were we not to oblige? Gods forbid we turn down and open bar pouring Blue label! With that, we adjourned back to the cocktail area where the bar tenders were waiting, bottles in hand. After getting our initial pours, Raz and I split from Ian and walked around the place chatting and generally just enjoying ourselves. At one point well into the night, we made our way outside where we happened upon Leroy, the good gent who had taken so kindly to Raz mocking me (in the sardonic way which Raz mocks me) when we were queued up for entrance at the beginning of the night. Come to find out Leroy and Raz share the same middle name, which they bonded over for a brief time. We met Leroy’s lady (whose name escapes me, but her necklace proclaimed “Mercy”) as well as Leroy’s mother, who also seemed to be fully enjoying the drams of the night. By the end of these conversations, I think there may be another 3 people looking for us at the Whiskies of the World expo come this April! (We already know that Ian will be there assisting Steve and Dirt in some fashion.)

As the night was winding down, we found ourselves back inside since it was warmer and less crowded than earlier. We headed back to the bar for one last drink, where we discovered that the earlier announcement that they had run out of Blue was not actually the case. When we got to the bar, the tender happily poured us two last snifters of Blue with a smile on his face, almost as is he had held some back just for us. Now, I wouldn’t delude myself to think that was the case at all, but rather, that’s just how it came off. In either event it was once again good to be 3DC.

By this time, we had commandeered another table around which we held closing court. Ok, again, not really, but given that everyone we had met earlier came by and chatted with us, it kind of felt like it. To top off that feeling was watching security begin moving people out so they could clean up and go home. As they swept by our table, they looked around made eye contact with Raz and myself, nodded at us and said, “You guys are good”, and moved on, leaving us to continue our conversations and finish off our drinks. Once again, the 3DC close out a bash with only the hosts around. Remember, make friends with security at the beginning, it WILL come in handy at the end!

We did hang around a bit longer, mainly to use the restroom and to drink a bit more water (and another red bull) before heading home. Or, I should say, before heading to dinner. I was hungry, and so was Raz, plus we both had Friday off and so we recapped the evening’s events over dinner and breakfast at Norm’s. By this point I was stone cold sober, but Raz was still enjoying the lasting effects of Johnnie Walker Blue, and continued to do so well past the point when I dropped him off at his door I am sure. I made it home by 3:15am, and was dead asleep by 3:30am. A long day to be sure, but well worth the sacrifice of sleep if for nothing else than to pimp the 3DC in style once again!

It seems at every event we attend, we meet some astounding new people and this was no different. We walked away, not only richer from the experience and enjoyment of the tasting, but from the friends we made along the way. Friends, whom I am sure we’ll be seeing again soon… and that, my friends, is the way of the 3DC. It’s not the whiskies, it’s the people you meet because of the common love for life!

Slainte’
-Seamus

Update!

As promised, following are a few pictures from the Journey of Taste event:

This is Raz and I prior to queuing up for the beginning of the night. The event was held through the hallway to the right of the image:

Raz and I being geeks over the fact that this is CHAPLIN Studios!

The core portion of the evening was the guided, seated tasting in the square:

I am not fond of this picture by a long stretch, but it is the only one we have of our new friend Ian:

Larger versions of all 4 pictures can be found here: The WaywardCelt Galleries

-seamus


6 days to Portland and back, 2 new Whiskies!

Be warned, the following post is long. It encompasses all 6 days worth of our trip to Oregon as part holiday and part scouting trip for relocation areas. Keep in mind the grammatical “tense” of my writing below will change dramatically and without warning as I wrote some of it on my laptop at the end of the days… then came back to it today to clean up a bit since I was very tired when originally writing.Day 1: 4am comes way too early. At 5am sharp and we were on the road. With just a few stops for gas (averaging around 35-40 mpg) by noon we had made it to just south of Weeds, Ca. about 45 minutes south of Redding, Ca.

This picture was taken while heading up into the hills through Shasta Lake:

By 4pm, we were crossing the Oregon Ca. border. At 6pm, we had stopped for the night in Roseburg, Oregon. We were no where near as tired as we expected to be (I could have easily made it all the way to Portland), we hit a brew pub called McMenamin’s for dinner and drinks… Get this; they not only brew beer, and ferment wine, but distill a whiskey (and rum, and gin) as well! It is called McMenamin’s “Hogshead” Whiskey from the Edgefield distillery. From the menu: “this rich, amber-hued whiskey is slightly smoky, with hints of vanilla. Hogshead is distilled from 100% malted barley & named after the oak barrels in which it is aged. $6.59 per glass.” So of course I had to order it! My take on it: very light nose of mild smoke and a hint of sweet vanilla. Palate has an immediate burn which fades out into vanilla again with short but fun story, then a smokey finish so light it stands as just a reminder of the charred barrel. Viscosity is light. Say 2-3 Boldness is the same 2-3 Story is a 3. Fairly short, but worthwhile. I give it a solid “B” rating.

The people we have met thus far (hotel reception, wait staff at the pub) were all amazingly nice. As it turns out one of our servers is a transplant from Brea who recognized the distinct bank card I use since she used to belong to the same credit union.

By the end of dinner, we adjourned back to our room, caught an episode of Lost and passed out. Seems we were indeed a bit tired from the 13 hour drive. We had decided to not try to get to Portland on the first night (tonight) as we wanted to take our time driving in to allow us to wander off the beaten path if the fancy struck. So we opted to bed down about 150 miles outside the city and wander in during the light of the next day….

My initial impression of the state thus far is one of wonder at its beauty. We have driven through only rural areas to this point, and have been surrounded by lushness of evergreens and other native foliage. Everything here is so wonderfully green! Still some yellow areas of dry grass in the southern part bordering California, but that just adds contrast to make the green even brighter.

Into Oregon; not exactly indicative of the beauty, but much greener than California!

I can’t wait to make the journey into the city tomorrow… if today is any indication, we will fall in love with a city that has lured us in before we even got there.

Day 2: Day 2 started out well enough. We checked out of our hotel in Roseburg, grabbed the complimentary continental breakfast, and got back on the road by 9am. I got a fair enough’s night sleep but not quite enough to really get me going in the morning, so this 170 mile drive was almost as rough as the previous days 800 miles.

Portland is only 105 miles away now!

We got into Portland at noon straight up, as we didn’t find any place between Roseburg and the city which was worthy of stopping at. Salem was on the radar until we actually passed through… really it is just another blue collar town just like all the rest, or so it seemed from the freeway. We wouldn’t know any differently since we didn’t stop to see.

Luckily our hotel allowed us for an early checkin, so we didn’t have to find ways to waste time. Once checked in we headed straight out for lunch at Henry’s tavern (the old Henry Weinhard’s brew pub). After a nice satiating lunch, and some orange wheat beers, we took the long way back to the hotel on foot just to see the sights and to visit Powell’s Books, a must do for any visitor to the area.

Back in the hotel, I took a bit of a nap, after which we decided that we would cut our stay here in the hotel short. You see, we realized what I had already known for a bit: we are not city people. I know this isn’t a shock to anyone who knows me, but the real breakthrough was with Jean. She realized as well that she just doesn’t want to live in the city either. The IDEA of a city loft is cool, but the realities of city living just aren’t our gig. That and the hotel was exactly what we were expecting. But that’s fine, you win some you lose some… so we decided that we’ll take Friday and look around the parts of the greater Portland area which we had scouted as potential living sites, and then head out to Astoria on Saturday for a bit of actual vacation. From there the itinerary is a bit open, to say the least… we’re not sure where or when we’ll end up, but it should be a fun adventure to fly by the seat of our pants so far away from home…

Once we got that all set with the hotel (cutting the reservations short, etc), we headed out for dinner at Kells:

Kells is a nice Irish bar that boasts an extensive whiskies list. I have to say the wall of whiskies is impressive to see, but the list left me a bit wishful. I only found about 5 I hadn’t had previously.

Following is a quick tasting note on the one I ordered: Tamnavulin Stillman’s Dram 25 year. $21.25 per dram at Kells in Portland.

Nose… Light caramel. A faint hint of oak. Palate… Caramel first then a nice mellow char (slight burnt taste) overall sweetness. Viscosity… 7-8 thick! Boldness… 6-7 Story… good solid 5. Not too short but not long either.

Personal taste… B+. I could drink this for a good long while. A nice initial sting flows into an easy to drink dram. Despite its viscosity, not chewy at all.

After Kells, we took the long way back to the hotel again to see a bit of the city. Once at the hotel we made our way to the top floor to hang out on the roof top garden patio area. We took in the view for a while, then headed back down to catch CSI before going to bed.

Day 3: We arose at about 8:30am and were out the door by 9. After another Hotel breakfast, we headed out to do our reconnaissance mission to see the areas around Portland.

We started with Gresham to the east of Portland. The city itself was nice, but the drive in was through some minorly depressed areas in all sorts of states of disrepair. Not exactly what we were looking for… so we pressed on.

Next up was Tualatin. A nice area which we began to see a trend in the homes… it seems that in most areas everything looks like the stereotypical middle American neighborhood with one added benefit: trees, and lots of them.

Beaverton and Hillsboro kind of meld together in look and feel. These two cities are true suburbs and show it. They are fairly self sustaining, with light industrial, commercial, and residential zones, with a population to support it all. We could see ourselves living in these two areas very easily.

Last on the list was Forest Grove, which is more of a rural area than a suburb. We loved the feel, but probably couldn’t handle the upkeep which the lots would require… we’ll see about this one. (As the days passed after our visit, the more Forest Grove is really looking appealing to us.)

While in Forest Grove, we found a nice winery and stopped in for a taste, which is how the afternoon began.

We ended up at 4 different wineries which all seem to specialize in Pinot Noirs, which isn’t too surprising for the area. They were all full of character in their own rights, but nothing special enough to warrant write ups here. Though we did buy 6 bottles…

While traveling through the different towns in the morning and then between wineries in the afternoon, Jean and I had a great chance to really discuss what we wanted, needed, and what fit us in terms of living arrangements. It was a great chance to really think and discuss what the right place for us really is.

After the last winery, we opted to take a slight detour through Lake Oswego to gawk and gander at the million dollar plus homes around the lake. Wow, what a DRIVE! These places would rival Newport Beach’s homes on the cliffs and in balboa. GORGEOUS.

From there we headed out to catch dinner at the local, ubiquitous, McMenamin’s. It is here we got our second detour… you see I asked where I could pick up a bottle of the whiskey distilled specifically for them by the Edgefield distillery (as a founding member of the 3DrunkenCelts I am obligated to do so). Turns out you have to go to the distillery to buy the bottles. So we got a brochure, entered the address into our GPS and got back on the road. Turns out it was only another 25-30 miles away, so it was an easy drive after the 100 miles we had already put on earlier, and the 1000 from the days prior.

We arrived at the Edgefield and found it to be entirely more than expected. The water tower at the Edgefield:

It was a hotel, and veritable campus of buildings housing the winery, brewery, distillery, restaurant, bar, pub, and other odds and ends which escape me. We got the bottle from the distillery bar, and then headed back to the front to take a look around the grounds and get a feel for the place. With European style rooms (no private toilets) I don’t think well be spending a night there anytime soon, though I may be wrong about that… perhaps I’ll save that judgment until tomorrow.

From the Edgefield, we headed back to the hotel for our last nights stay. So I sit here now, watching Dirty Jobs, drinking a nice gewürztraminer we picked up this afternoon, and logging the events of the day. Tomorrow is out to Astoria, then who knows what, our plans are REALLY open after that 🙂

All in all today was going to be the deal breaker for us if there was one. If we didn’t fall in love with the area today, we had no idea what we would do. Luckily, the more we find out about Portland, and the more we see of it, the more we love it and are SURE this is indeed the place for us. The people are amazing and the scenery is beautiful!

We KNOW that not only will we fit in around here, but many of our friends would as well if we can convince any of them to come up and live here…

Day 4: This morning started just fine… same as all the other days with a continental breakfast provided by the hotel.

From there we drove out to Astoria. The drive along the Columbia was gorgeous. We stopped in Astoria for lunch and then headed across the Astoria Bridge to Washington and back, for the simple reason that I just love bridges and this one was staring me down, demanding I drive on her.

We had left the day open in case we found stuff to keep us interested, but alas, Astoria is just a small port town. So we headed on south to Tillamook, Newport, and then on to Coos Bay.

Tillamook was a bit disappointing in that it was a bit more commercial than we had expected. The cheese factory parking lot was PACKED, so we decided to drive on and bypass the tasting/gift shop experience. It was far from the boutique type shop we had hoped for. This was pure American commercialism; which I can’t deny too much, but it still seemed a bit odd for the area.

We were, however lucky enough to find two separate lighthouses to stop at along the way. The first being the lighthouse used in the move “The Ring”:

And the second being a still in service lighthouse at the mouth of the Umpqua River:

The drive down the Oregon coast is the best part of today’s 400 miles as we were disappointed by Coos bay as well. What we expected to be a quaint little town like Astoria, was really just a depressed little shit-hole of a bay town with little to offer in terms of decent restaurants or accommodations.

So we pressed on to Roseburg for dinner and a night’s hotel stay just like the first night in Oregon. Not exactly to plan, but then again, it is better than Coos bay.

So here I sit, with a belly full of IPA and McMenamin’s American Dip sandwich, drinking another 22 oz. IPA I got “to go”. Tomorrow is our start down south, with a hopeful stop over in San Francisco to meet up with some friends. Then it is on to Santa Maria to hang with George and Kathy for a night before our return home… Stay tuned.

Day 5: Overall, this was just a boring day of driving and recapping what we had seen. Unfortunately and were both at a wedding in Sonoma the night before and wouldn’t be back in the city until well after we had already passed through/by. We were bummed we missed them, but such is life, especially since we hadn’t planned prior to the night before since we didn’t know when or if we would even be passing by the city.

This diverted the plan once more and we actually ended up at George and Kathy’s a night early, which turned out to be a good thing since it allowed us to take all of Monday and do some wine tasting in Paso Robles which we hadn’t done since at least 6 years prior.

Since I didn’t write up this at the end of the day and rather am attempting to recall from memory, I’ll cut this short and just say that we had a wonderful time visiting with Kathy and George. We very rarely get to spend time with just the two of them, and even more rarely do we spend much time with only Kathy, so it was nice to be able to take her to dinner Monday night while George was in a meeting.

While it was my intent to head home n the evening on Monday, the wine tasting had taken a toll on Jean and she didn’t feel like driving (read this as riding passenger in the car while I drove) and so we imposed on George and Kathy for one more night.

Day 6: We were up and out by 8:30 am, back on the road, this time headed straight home with no more detours. By this point, I was both ready to get home and sleep in my own bed, but at the same time I felt like I could drive for another week and just continue on discovering new places and people and food and drink!

Luckily we arrived home before I could commit to a hard left turn and keep on going. Home by Noon, and unpacked by 1pm, we took a nice nap at 3pm and ordered pizza for dinner so we could just sit on the couch and do nothing. That was very nice after a week of always doing something or planning something for the next hour/day…

The grand total mileage for the trip is 2,733.7 miles. With 900 miles up and back to Portland, that still left us with an additional 900 miles drive around the greater Portland area and Oregon Coastline. I think I’ll be riding my motorcycle for the next few weeks exclusively, just to get out of the car! The GPS doesn’t lie… unless you are looking at the max speed, in which case it does.