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!


Stag Party – a Dalmore tasting

LA Scotch Club – ClubMez Dalmore tasting and paired dinner at the Far Bar

EventFlyerWell that was a mouthful, and so was the evening.  I’ve always liked Dalmore, but it never made a distinct impression on me until now – and now I even know why. Through conversation I learned Dalmore chill-filters and uses coloring additives. I find the later more disturbing that the former – but it does explain the uniformity of color across the six drams offered.

And for the taste – while chill filtering can remove some of the particles and oils that can add distinction to a dram, I learned every bottle of Dalmore has been  in at least two barrels, American oak, then sherry.  I think this tradition is what leads to the sameness of flavor throughout expressions . . . but I’m getting ahead of myself.

Continue reading


LA Scotch Club – XXX Tasting

No, not that kind of Tripple-X. From the L.A. Scotch Club website: (The specific meeting page is now archived) Scotch is traditionally distilled twice while Irish whisky three times. By tradition, an “X” is used designate each time a spirit has been distilled. Scotch would normally be XX, but on the occasions when it is distilled three times, you get a XXX expression. Only one distillery in Scotland regularly distills three times, Auchentoshan.

LA Scotch Club Malt Poutin' Night - archived

This evening’s tasting included several offerings from Auchentoshan, a Benriach and an Octomore Trestarig (pronounced “trace-arak”) Futures bottle that was limited to investors of Bruichladdich.  Continue reading


Single Cask Nation at Southern California Whiskey Club

Southern California Whiskey Club
Single Cask Nation tasting with Joshua Hatton

A few weeks ago I went to a whiskey tasting to promote Single Cask Nation, a club that makes bottles available from a distiller’s single cask negotiated by Mr. Hatton.  It is a brilliant concept for the whisky connoisseur collector; and if someone wants to really impress me for any gift-giving occasion, I’d love a membership; but right now it is out of my price range.  The clubs offerings are all cask strength, and all have a researched history, which I’ll link to with each post.

The tasting itself was nicely run, and the host venue, Blu Jam Cafe in Sherman Oaks, provided several light diner options and cold water. We sat out on the back patio, which presented a few challenges for a tasting that I will get into later. It also is the reason I don’t have pictures: I relied on my cell phone, that does not have a flash, and as the light quickly faded I realized I was not going to be able to capture any quality images.

Since he has a relationship with the distillers and is such a lover of whisky, Joshua had a great story to go with each offering. He quickly built a rapport with the attendees and the evening passed all too soon. If you have an opportunity to attend one of these tastings, I highly recommend it.

If you, however, you might want to bring your own glasses.  Only one was provided for each of us – so not only was some whisky wasted as those who didn’t want to finish their (measured) pours were forced to pour it in a waste container, but we were on our own for cleaning the glass between drams.  I was the only one being so diligent as to rinse, wipe, then rinse again to remove any lint, and leave the glass up-side-down to let the water drain out.

Also, on the “needs improvement” list, there were no palette cleansers and since time was a factor, we moved rather quickly through the drams, not leaving much time for blooming or color appreciation between pours.
Continue reading


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.

photo-barrels-srwa

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.

photo-barrels2-srwa


Big Bottom Whiskey’s Tasting Room Grand Opening

It’s no secret; I’m a fan of Big Bottom Whiskey. This past Saturday, both Jean and I had another opportunity to join in and help bottle up more of the batch 3 Port finish, and get the Wild Bill warehouse series dram in the new bottles as well. As always, we had a fabulous time meeting new people and laughing our butts off through the various bits of conversation and chatter that occurs on the production line.

More importantly, though, Saturday was when Ted and Taylor opened the Big Bottom tasting room at the front of the warehouse. This is huge news for some of us locals, as they will be exclusively selling the warehouse series through the tasting room; yup, that means nowhere else, folks. While the rest of you can get the American Straight, and maybe some of the Port Finish whiskies, you won’t be able to get your hands on any of the Wild Bill, Project X, or other upcoming warehouse series drams unless you come to visit.

 

What ARE these new warehouse only releases?

Wild Bill is a cask strength version of the Tawny Port finish bourbon after a year in the port casks and bottled last Saturday around 118 proof. This dark and moody dram has a powerful kick, but seduces you with a balanced complex sweetness you’ve come to love from the port finish. Just look at the deep, rich colour of this dram sitting on the bottle filler… if I didn’t know better, I’d swear this was an American version of Loch Dhu!

 

Project X is even crazier. This is a bottling of a 4 year old whiskey finished for a year in White Port casks… yep, you read that right: white port! This is a dram I had the pleasure and honour of sampling from start to finish over the past year, and damn if I’m not impressed with the outcome. It started out almost void of any real colouring, but in the last two or three months transformed into a deep nearly ruby red dram; surprising for a white port! And the flavour, oh the flavour followed suit! This a wonderfully sweet bourbon with similar complexities to the Wild Bill (though at a lower 91 proof), but developed a richness and balanced tannins from the oak with just a slight almost wafting hint of acidity cutting through the depth to bring this dram to life.

 

Both of these drams SHOULD be on sale in the next 30 days, pending label approvals and of course actually getting the labels ON the bottles. You can rest assured I’ll be one of the first in line to grab me some of this goodness.

The Big Bottom tasting room is open every Saturday from noon to 4pm. (Like them on Facebook for the most up to date news and hours, etc.) Stop by, say hello, and tell them Jason of the 3 Drunken Celts sent you… it won’t get you anything other than a laugh and an eye-roll, but it’ll make them (and me) smile 🙂

 

Until then, here’s some more pictures from the bottling and tasting room opening:

 


Recap: TOAST (The Oregon Artisan Spirits Tasting)

This past weekend was TOAST (The Oregon Artisan Spirits Tasting), an event put on by the Oregon Distiller’s Guild (like them on Facebook here) and touted as the largest craft spirits tasting in North America! The event featured over 55 local and national artisan producers, all told pouring over 170 different unique spirits. How, I ask you, as a founding 3DC member can I pass this up… I mean it is almost an imperative that I go, learn, taste, and report back, right? Well, I’m not going alone, so I dragged Jean and Corey along with me (ok maybe not dragged, more like enabled).

This is the same event where last year my friend Corey and I met Ted Pappas of Big Bottom Whiskey along with a few others, so I was very pleased to see some great whiskey representation by even more makers and distillers this year. It seems our local craft artisans are really doing some great work and growing by leaps and bounds. The event itself also seemed to indicate this with a shift in venue to the Portland World Trade Center as well as the critical addition of an on-premise bottle shop.

From my view as an attendee, the addition of the bottle shop was the perfect compliment to the tasting hall as we were able to immediately buy bottles we enjoyed, without the burden of having to remember them for later 😉 I can only hope the addition of the on-premise shop proved beneficial for the vendors as well since the convenience of purchase would likely make for some good sales likely missed if an attendee would have to go searching their local stores for some of these bottlings.

Since this is a whiskies blog and tasting group, I won’t bother with the details of all the other spirits we tasted on Saturday, instead will focus on just the whiskies side. You’re also in luck, as I didn’t bother with my normal tasting notebook, you’ll not have to bear through the specific tasting notes of each dram I had, which given the expanse of the event is likely a good thing for us all!

Our initial whiskey of the day was Cabin Fever Maple Whiskey which is an 80 proof maple infused rye whiskey that is aged in uncharred barrels and then chill filtered to remove excess sugars. This one was simply too sweet for my palate to be a sipping whiskey, and really struck me as the perfect cooking ingredient (or breakfast dram to pour over your pancakes if’n you swing that way).

Next we moved on to Dry Fly Distilling where we sampled their Washington Wheat Whiskey. I recall discovering Dry Fly a few years back at Whiskies of the World where they were pouring what must have been thier first commercial run of the Washington Wheat. I’m happy to note here that they’ve really begun to fine-tune the dram and are producing a very pleasant, very smooth wheat whiskey that eschews much of the bitterness of corn based mashes leaving a nice soft story the whole way through.

Then it was over to Big Bottom to harass Ted, Taylor, and Monique. I’ve discussed Big Bottom’s merits in detail before, and it always seems strange to go to tastings where I’m so familiar with the pours being served. Luckily Ted always seems to have some small surprise for people like me and pulled out a brilliant New York cocktail to sample, with Big Bottom as the core bourbon base of course. I’m quite glad we could only sample that in our small shot glasses, as it is one of the tastiest cocktails I’ve had in a while and may just have hung out there the rest of the day had I a larger glass…

Luckily we were able to peel away and head off to more vendor tables, this time stopping at Ransom Spirits to sample their Whippersnapper Whiskey. This was an interesting one to me as it uses two different base distillates: one Kentucky whitedog corn based mash which is re-distilled, and the second being a recipe of malted and unmalted barley mash distilled in Oregon. This combination, as well as the use of use bourbon barrels and their own Pinot Noir barrels makes for an interestingly complex dram that still has the soft sweetness you’d expect from an American whiskey but without the bitter finish so many bourbons can leave you with after aging. The year average in the barrels definitely does this dram right.

A hop over to Few Spirits caught us a bit off guard as we found their Whitedog whiskey to be better in flavour and finish than their aged bourbon. If I recall correctly (I’ve been unable to verify this online *edit below because I was wrong*) the whitedog is actually made with a mash created from Oat flour rather than solid grains. Whatever the case, this whitedog is one that is just as easy sipping as any of the bourbon and American aged whiskies in the rest of the show. Truly a happy surprise.

*Edit* I knew I kept Corey around for a reason 🙂 He just informed me that Few Spirits was unaged only, with the interesting gin along side. The aged at that table was Old Pogue, which was good, but the unaged still won me over.
It was actually Stone Barn Brandyworks which was the source for the oat flour based whiskey. Their 100% rye was the one better as unaged. Both were surprising and wonderful drams to be had. If you find yourself in Portland, they are a must try.
Thanks for the updates and corrections, Corey!
*/edit*

Next was Mischief Spirits where we sampled both their Fremont Mischief Whiskey as well as their John Jacob bottling, both rye spirits. This stop exemplified for me that most American whiskies do best aging between 1 and 8 years, no longer. I say this as their Fremont Mishief whiskey is aged eight years and to my palate was on the way down from what may have been a peak aging at 6 years, leaving me to prefer their John Jacob offering which I don’t recall showing any age statement, most likely around 12- 24 months in the barrel. While both were good, John Jacob came out the clear top to me.

We then scooted over to the next table for what turned out to be my show favourite: Angel’s Envy. With a name like Lincoln Henderson behind this distillation it shouldn’t be any surprise that this dram topped my list. But it should surprise you, as on paper this dram is an amalgamation of everything I dislike: It is aged in new oak barrels with a 3-4 alligator char. It is a 72% corn mash bill, with a meager 18% rye content. And to be perfectly fair, it comes from a ‘big name’ in the industry. I’m not a fan of heavy char (preferring a light 2 in the barrels), I gravitate to high rye content whiskies, and love the passion of the boutique distillers who haven’t been broken by the industry yet. Well, Lincoln is doing some crazy stuff with a reinvigorated passion which really comes out in the dram. There’s some madness in his combination of mash bill, 4-6 years aging on heavy char, and then finishing another 3-6 months in Ruby Port barrels from Portugal. Just goes to show that you can’t judge a dram by its recipe. This one truly struck me as inspired insanity. So much so we went home with a bottle from the on-premise store, not wanting to wait for the next day to enjoy it again 🙂

Next, we moseyed across to Eastside Distilling, where we sampled their Burnside Bourbon. I was pleasantly surprised by this bourbon, as it finished quite smoothly without hint of the bitter finish I’ve come to expect from high corn based mashes. Unfortunately the two reps manning the table weren’t able to provide more specifics on the mash bill, so I was unable to verify if it truly was a high percent corn mash or if it had a substantial rye content. Surprisingly (or not) I didn’t even noticed that it is bottled at 96 proof… that either tells you how soft it really is or how much I’d had by this point.

To round out the day we finished off at Bull Run Distilling since I was already very familiar with their Temperance Trader Whiskey. It should come as no surprise that I enjoy this ‘high rye’ whiskey given the commentary above. Like Big Bottom, this bottling from Bull Run is not distilled on premise, but rather is a selection of distillate from outside sources. Given the selection that the boys at Bull Run have made, I’d say our palates are very much in line, as this is a wonderful dram to sit back and sip, or to add in as a base for some outstanding cocktails. Plus, Lee and Patrick are good guys to chat with, obviously passionate about what they do, which is brilliantly obvious in their on-premise distilled vodka and rum, both which drink as if they were top shelf whiskies. Also doesn’t hurt that they open their doors to Stuart Ramsay for his Whisky Academy series of lectures and tastings… makes for building a nice little community and connection between enthusiasts and the creators.

All in all, not a single truly disappointing dram was to be had. Obviously some shined more than others, but when it comes down to it our local distillers and artisans are really knocking it out of the park with their varied and quite unique products. I enjoyed the show so much these past two years, I may have to make a point of really promoting it next year to get some of our SoCal contingent to drive/fly up for the weekend and enjoy it too… seems a shame to keep this all to myself 😉

I guess I’d be remiss if I didn’t share a picture of my lovely new decorative purchase from Essential Oil, another local shop… yes, I might have a thing for copper, why do you ask?

image credit “TOAST”: All rights reserved www.OregonDistillersGuild.org

.


Recap of the 3DC Vegas Invasion of 2012 Parts the 1 & 2

The 3DC Vegas Invasion of 2012….  February 18th & 19th to be more precise.

The 3DC had arranged two events coincided with an SCA event happening in Boulder City, NV just 30 or so miles from the strip. The first of these was a 6 dram paired tasting at the Ri’Ra’ (Mandalay Hotel/Casino), and the second night was to be a visit to the Freakin’ Frog’s Whisky Attic to take advantage of the 850+ drams Adam Carmer has sitting on the shelves just waiting for folks like us.

To that end, and having had a grand time swishing and a poking all day at the Practicum of the Sword event, Jeff and I (Raz) trundled back to the Hotel in Henderson to get cleaned up and grab a light snack to prep our tummies for the drams that were to follow. After doing so, and courtesy of Melissa’s kind offer of transport and Stephen’s equally generous offer to be the designated driver for the weekend, we set off from Henderson. With Saul at the wheel we charged down the 215 to the Ri’Ra’ and valeted our golden chariot, then strode into the hotel lobby and, via a misstep past one of the worst bar bands in living memory, we made it to the bar about 45 minutes early. Scott (Ri’Ra’s manager) met us at the front door and showed us right back into our own private side room. It was kind of like a toss back to the 1970s stylistically but had it’s own wee bar staffed by our own wee Irish bartender. A round of cider was ordered to whet the palate and we had great conversations with folks as they trickled in. In the end we numbered a scant 8 actually participating, but Scott was OK with it since they haven’t done more that a couple tastings before and were looking at our event as a way to gain more experience. 3DC luck plays out in out favor again it seems.

.

To the meat of the matter then, the pairings:

  1. Dalwinnie 15 and the Irish Salmon. The dram was better than I’d remembered it. Personally I didn’t like the salmon at all, which is no surprise to me at least, but those who actually like salmon said it paired well and was quite tasty.
  2. Macallan 12 and the (lamb) Sheppard’s pie. A wonderful smelling dram (ended up dabbing a bit on as a cologne) and paired quite well with the pie. The pie itself was spectacular. There was some extensive conversation around whether the dram helped the pie or if it was the other way around. The consensus around the table came out in favor of the influence of the dram this time.
  3. Talisker Distiller’s Edition and the Irish Cheddar. The dram hit the table ahead of the cheese so we sipped on it. This was powerful and full of brine like an angry sea. The table seemed to agree that we wouldn’t likely be getting all the way through this one. It really was grabbing us by the balls after the Speyside in the last pairing. The cheese showed up and was very salty and very tasty too. That’s when the magic happened. This was the paring that most surprised everyone. The greatest impact one to the other of any of them on this evening. The conversation about which was the greater influence reared it’s ugly head again, this time falling in favor of the cheese. Far from not finishing the dram as it turned out, we ran dry before we’d finished the cheese. I’d give this one the award for most astonishing pairing of the evening.
  4. Jameson’s Gold and Pork Belly / spinach. The fist pairing of the evening to fall a bit short. Partially, at least, in the execution. The dram itself was quite good, full of spice and vanilla as would be expected. The pig however was a bit cold and underdone. The fat did not pair well with the dram; contrarily the few burnt end pieces actually did pair quite well with it adding complexity not originally in the dram. The spinach was actually more complex than the dram so that kind of took away from it. All in all, it was kind of nice to have this pairing not work as it showed us both possibilities. A huge improvement in #3 to a degrading of the dram here. I think if the belly was end pieces or even proper Irish bacon it would have worked much better.
  5. Tullamore Dew 12 and a creamy tomato soup. This also did not pair well though not because of the execution. The tomato soup may possibly have been the best I’ve ever had. A truly wonderful concoction. Paired with the dram though all kinds of acid and sharpness was present. An utter failure of a pairing. That being said the soup was far too good not to eat, so I shot the dram, had a sip of water and enjoyed the rest of the soup at my leisure.
  6. Compass Box Hedonism and dark chocolate cake with a dollop of fresh cream and a thin shaving of strawberry. This was likely the best pairing of the night and I was so very glad to end the pairing menu on this instead of #5. This was a wonderful cake and a wonderful dram that when paired together was ecstasy. I can’t recommend this pairing highly enough, but it was a pretty safe bet.

 

We ended the event with more great conversations and another cider. Not sure how, but no one really was all that tipsy. This was a grand evening and we learned so much.

Special thanks to Melissa for taking notes as we went along so that I could reference back to them here. A huge thanks to Stephen for getting us home safe. Another huge thank you to Robin Robinson and Compass Box for the bottle hookup. It really saved our tasting.

.

Sunday, after another fun day of swinging swords about, we met the gang back out in front of our hotel and opted for dinner at Freakin’ Frog’s ahead of meeting up with Adam in the Whisky Attic. A moment to further endorse this little off strip dive bar, the food was really good. I would warn you against to the nuclear hot chilli fries unless you are looking for that kind of experience. The Dogfish Head Sah’tea beer I had with my dinner was amazing. Ask Saul if you don’t believe me. I’d ordered it blind from seeing just the top of the bottle not realizing it was a 750ml bottle so I needed the help. My new favorite beer EVAR!

Sometime just after 8PM we told Adam we were ready and we scaled the stairs passed the velvet rope up into the wonderland that is the Whisky Attic. By the time the evening was done we numbered a pleasant 13 or so in our group. Adam was a wonderful and quite funny host. Normally he runs structured seated tastings but given our reputation, he opened up the bar and let us wander around the shelves each picking drams willy-nilly. Jeff stumbled onto what was probably the best way to do a freestyling trip to the Attic. He picked a dram and then asked Adam where he should go next. Adam put together a 4 dram journey of flavors building in intensity and ending in an unexpected far off land. I however, arrogant as I am, knew what I wanted: drams to which I don’t normally have access.

  1. I started with the best whisky in the world (to my palate) the Bunahabhain 25. It’s like the 18 but +100 points for, oh I don’t know, everything. An expensive dram to be sure but as someone who generally doesn’t necessarily appreciate the more pricey drams over munitions grade fare, I was blown away.
  2. I chose as my second dram I picked the Sheep Dip 1990. A hefty dram to be sure. Not subtle at all but not harsh either.
  3. For my last dram of the night I let Adam pick for me and he gave me Heart Brothers bottling of a Glen Turret Cask Strength 10 year. A surprisingly soft and smooth dram for a cask strength dram. Down the Speyside road for complexity.

A very nice way to end my visit with Adam and all in attendance seemed to have had a great time and we all learned a lot and had things we didn’t know existed.

Adam wrote me a note thanking us for the visit and saying how much he enjoyed our group and that he’d love to see us anytime. I’m thinking next year we let Adam set up a tasting for us and I’ll coordinate it with the SCA event. I’d be interested to see how Adam runs a structured tasting. I’m sure I could learn a lot.

.

Thanks to all the 3DC and friends there of who came out and played with us. The great conversations I had each night were what makes all this worthwhile for me.

.


PDX Whisky Blind Tasting, Feb, 24th, 2012

This past weekend was another PDXWhisky tasting hosted by Ian Itschner. As always, we had a lively group show up, all interested to see what this blind tasting had in store for us.

Unlike prior PDXWhisky tastings, this time around Ian went to pains to obfuscate the Distilleries/brands to keep preconceived notions away from the drams and allow our senses to do all the work; to find our favourites without the benefits of advertising or other biases. Of course that didn’t stop us from guessing and taking pot shots based on bottle shape, the colour of the whisky itself, or the general characteristics of the dram once we were tasting. (After all some bottles are so distinct in shape, you just KNOW if it is a Highland park, a Bruichladdich, or a Glenfiddich… its hard NOT to guess!)

To help you get the sense of what I’m talking about here…. these are the four bottles as presented to us:

You’re guessing already, aren’t you? See, it’s hard NOT to immediately start in with those biases and preconceptions! I’ll bet you even have some good guesses based on #2 and #4’s shape, as well as #1’s neck height, don’t you? I know we did! But don’t let that cloud your mind… work through it and you WILL be rewarded with some fun surprises.

In the spirit of the evening, I am going to present my tasting notes in the same blind fashion: showing you the notes without indicating the distillery or other bottling notes:

Bottle #1

  • Nose: Hotter than expected, and briney with mild caramel, cereal comes in late and then a light char.
  • Flavour: Hot and bitey. Some brine then light smoke and bran.
  • Finish: Toast into balanced cinnamon and smoke. Some said redhots, others said a higher quality cinnamon instead. The room was divided.
  • Viscosity: 3
  • Boldness: 2 (despite being so hot, not exactly a bold dram)
  • Length of Story: 2
  • Personal Taste: B-
  • Extraneous notes: On nosing I guessed this was at 45%abv, on tasting I upped it to 50%abv. First guess was Auchentoshan, then I scratched that out and changed a second guess to Kilchoman.

.

Bottle #2

  • Nose: Grilled plantains, presenting a mild vegetative sweetness
  • Flavour: light and watery, hint of caramel, but rather bright and crisp.
  • Finish: middle oak and lingers with mild tannins
  • Viscosity: 2
  • Boldness: 2
  • Length of Story: 3
  • Personal Taste: B+
  • Extraneous notes: No abv guess here as it generally felt like a standard 40%abv. I took a guess at the region rather than distiller and put this in the Lowlands and aged at 12- 14 years based on the tannins that came out at the end.

.

Bottle #3

  • Nose: Port, then heavy port, into wet dirt with a side note of ‘red fruit’.
  • Flavour: Brine and port, astringent and hot.
  • Finish: Heavy but wet tannins at first, which then dry out to the end. A constant port finish through out.
  • Viscosity: 4
  • Boldness: 4
  • Length of Story: 4
  • Personal Taste: B+
  • Extraneous notes: This was another hot one, but a bit more mild than the first. My guess from nosing was at 41%abv while I upped it to 45%abv on the palate. Normally I love port finishes, but this one threw me for a loop as it nosed like a Speyside, but drank like an Islay. My guess put this as an Islay with a port cask finish aged 16 years.

.

Bottle #4

  • Nose: Fruit, a smokey apple hookah tobacco type scent.
  • Flavour: Immediate anise, which moved straight to peat and then into fruit with semi-sweet almost bitter chocolate (akin to a 77% cocoa)
  • Finish: Balanced oak and sweetness of fruit without the acidity.
  • Viscosity: 2
  • Boldness: 4
  • Length of Story: 4
  • Personal Taste: A
  • Extraneous notes: This was quickly noted as my favourite of the night, guessing region as Highland and aged 18 years given the balanced sweetness with a hint of peat.

 

… and to push the reveal text far enough down so as you can’t see it while reading the tasting notes above, here’s another look at them:

There, now that you have the tasting notes, and obfuscated images of the bottles I’ll stop the torture and reveal what each bottling was in relation to my guesses above. So, without further ado, the BIG REVEAL:

 

 

  • Bottle #1: Auchentoshan Valinch, 2011 limited edition, bottled at 57.5%abv
  • Bottle #2: Compass Box, Great King Street
  • Bottle #3: Glen Scotia, 19 year, single cask port finish, bottled at 59.5%abv
  • Bottle #4: Ledaig 10 years, 46.3%abv

 

 

I should have trusted my first instinct on bottle number one and not second guessed my distillery choice as I was apparently right on with my initial guess! I WILL come clean and note that was primarily driven from the bottle shape and my knowledge of what Auchentoshans typically taste like. Still, I was surprised to have been so close on my first guess.

The second bottle was a bit of a shock as I’d gone through two bottles of Compass Box’ Great King Street with friends since November. I’m a bit settled by the fact that the bottle is comprised of 51.4% Lowland grain whiskies, letting me breathe a bit better when I guessed lowland as the region. Unfortunately, not having done a proper tasting note for the GKS, I don’t have a personal taste comparison to show how close or off this blind tasting was. I’m guessing that blind, this rated a bit lower than I likely would have rated it otherwise, given my predilection to towards anything Compass Box produces. Nice to keep me honest. That said, even at a B+ I’m absolutely going to continue buying this bottle for whisky & sodas!

The Glen Scotia came as a real surprise being a Cambeltown, not an Islay. This one to me was like a Johnny Walker Green: I loved to nose it, but wasn’t pleased with the palate at all. That said, I did guess the port finish correctly, and was even a bit closer on the age than I expected with my guess of 16 years versus the actual 19 years.

The real surprise for me came with the fourth bottle: the Ledaig 10 year. After the Glen Scotia at 59%, its no wonder this one didn’t rate as hot for me, coming in at 46%. Colour me shocked, however, that I’d guessed 18 years when in reality this Ledaig is only aged 10 years. And again, it is an Isle of Mull whisky when I’d originally guessed it as a Highland.

Ah, well, you win some, and even when you lose in this game, well you still win! In fact, I was so pleased with the Ledaig after this blind tasting, I opted to pop over to my local whisky shop and pick up a bottle (shock of shocks, they actually HAD it!). I have to say, this was also the least expensive dram of the night, generally around $50/bottle. Seeing As to where it was my personal favourite of the night, how could I not grab a bottle?

 

All images used by permission: (c) 2012 PDXWhisky.com