The 3DC’s G+ Hangout Virtual tasting recap

I (Jason/Seamus) owe a huge thanks to Raz for working hard to guide us through the drams, and to Fergus for organizing such a stellar group meetup in the Bay area. All in all, I had the easy part: some basic marketing and logistic coordination to get it up and running, which was made nearly painless by Google.

From my perspective… all in all I consider our first virtual tasting to have been a mild success. While it was great to see so many people gathered for the tasting, I didn’t get the deeper interactions we’ve experienced at more official seated tastings. Our largest hurdle was some of the tech issues with sound, causing some feedback and echoing through much of the event. This helped to focus the 3 larger groups within themselves and treat the camera as merely another observer rather than using the camera to speak directly to the other participants.

So, what went well? Logistically, we were able to gather and get the hangout up and running easily. The kits were all shipped on time and contained the right products. We had enough connection slots for those who wanted to join thanks to organizing in groups to minimize the overall number of connections (hopefully something we won’t have to worry about in the future if Hangouts on Air are rolled out to us).

What didn’t work as well? As noted about, the sound issues prevented clear communication. Some groups rushed through the drams and some lagged behind, creating a disconnect in attempted discussions. I found that the discussions were so chaotic at times, that I was unable to take proper notes in my 3DC Tasting Notebook, leaving me without clear ideas about the whiskies we tasted, just general impressions. And, overall, we didn’t lead as well as we could have.

So… what, then, can we do differently to improve? Glad you asked 😉

First off, I believe any of our future virtual tastings need to be run like a proper conference call (I blogged about how to do this over on my work blog). Defining a specific speaker/host, ensuring everyone is muted unless speaking, and really focusing on guiding a collective tasting will take us far. A free for all is simply too chaotic.

Secondly, while the group environments helped to make the tasting fun for those in the groups, the dynamic unfortunately left our individual attendees faltering about for a bit while the groups talked amongst themselves. Again, this is where a driven leader, combined with controlled and focused groups would help us provide a much greater benefit to all attendees/participants.

I do believe that with a little more effort and a bit more focus we can run some really great and educational hangouts via GooglePlus. The tough part, as I see it, will be in retaining that 3DC personality to ride the line between fun and chaos.

 


The 3DC Invade Las Vegas in February…

OK Whiskies lovers, we can finally give out some more concrete details of our “3DC Invade Las Vegas” events on President’s day weekend 2012:

First excursion: Paired tasting at the Ri’Ra’ (Mandalay Bay)

When: Saturday, February the 18th, 8PM

Menu:

  • Pairing 1. Dalwinnie with Burran’s Smoked Salmon from Ireland
  • Pairing 2. Macallan 15yr with Shepard’s pie (lamb)
  • Pairing 3. Talisker distillers with Kerry gold sharp Cheddar Cheese from Ireland
  • Pairing 4. Jameson Gold with Pork Belly
  • Pairing 5. Tullamore Dew 10yr with Tomato Basil Soup
  • Pairing 6. Combass Box (Hedonism*) with a Dark Chocolate Desert – details pending. *Confirmation outstanding

$60.00, “all in” (includes taxes and gratuity)

Dress: Something stylish would be appreciated.
**Note: Food portions are sample sized and the drams are 1oz ea. We are limited to 25 seats at this event (cause that how many 1 oz drams you get in a bottle) but we need have at least 12.

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Second excursion: Field trip to the Whisky Attic at Freak’n Frogs

When: Sunday, February the 19th, 8PM

What: Field trip to the Whisky Attic at Freak’n Frogs and Adam’s 750+ expressions just waiting for you to choose from.
Open format. We can bring as just about as many people as we’d like so the more’s the merrier.
$?, pay as you go for the drams you order. The education you get from Adam is free. 😉
Dress: It’s a dive bar downstairs, your call…

Please email Raz atrazness@yahoo.com with your RSVP in the affirmative. No negative RSVPs are needed.

The official 3DC hotel is the Fiesta Hotel Casino, Henderson if you feel inclined to grab a room near us. (This as chosen as a convenient compromise location between another coincident event for the SCA that many of us are attending as well.)

***Note: This, as all 3DC events to date, is a not for profit venture. You pay for what you get and we don’t take a dime. Also note, to your advantage (should you attend) +Compass Box Whisky has been kind enough to comp their bottle for the tasting. Thank you very much to Robin Robinson of Compass Box for making that happen for us.


Order your kit, and get ready for the first 3DC Virtual Tasting!

Today we solidified the details for our very own virtual tasting. Here’s the break down:

Date & Time: January 28th, 2012 at 7pm PST  (Facebook Event Listing)

Location: Virtual! Hosted by the 3 Drunken Celt’s Google Plus (G+) page Hangout-on-Air

Drams: 

  • Amrut Single Malt
  • Singleton 12 Year Single Malt
  • Glenmorangie Quinta Ruban
  • Suntory 12 Year Yamzaki

How can you taste-along? We have worked closely with Forrest Cokely over at Hi-Time Wine Cellars to build a mini tasting kit comprised of 50ml minis of the drams noted above. You can order this custom built kit, for only $23.99 here: http://www.hitimewine.net/product.php?productid=68133&cat=268&page=1

Some logistic points of note: 

  • We are limited to 40 of the Amrut Single Malt, which will limit the number of kits available.
  • Google Hangout-on-Air is limited to 9 participants via web-cam, all others can watch via live feeds.
  • Some people are already planning “in person” type meet-ups to expand the number of live video participants. There is to be one in Orange County, CA and another up in Santa Barbara, CA. Anyone out East want to set up a meet up point?
  • If enough interest is shown for regional in-person meet-ups, full bottles could be substituted for the mini-kits to ensure everyone is able to taste. This would be the responsibility of each local organizer to handle.
  • Of course you don’t have to drink… with this setup you can just join and watch if you don’t want to order a kit or don’t even drink… in any case it should be an interesting night!

Once you order and receive your kit, hold tight, January 28th will be he before you know it!

In preparation for the tasting, you may want to join Google Plus and circle the 3 Drunken Celts page so you can see and join the Hangout. While there, you may also want to familiarize yourself with the hangout feature (who knows, we may host smaller unannounced test tastings leading up to the day) so you’ll be ready to go and join in on January 28th as we sample each dram and share our notes virtually, North to South, East to West, and across the globe!


PDX Whisky tasting notes from December 9th, 2011

As you’ve likely come to expect month to month now, here is the anticipated notes from the tasting event hosted by Ian of PDX Whisky fame.

This month was a bit unusual for us, as it was a bourbon, not scotch whisky, centric tasting. Additionally different was that Ted of Big Bottom Whiskey fame was also on hand to lead us through a tasting of his line of bourbons. As always, neither Ian nor Ted disappointed at the event. This go around we tasted five different expressions, with an added 6th ‘from the barrel’ brought by Ted. Following are my notes on each:

Big Bottom American Straight Bourbon, Batch #5 (3yr)

  • Nose: Some mild Rye and surprising hint of iodine/bactine followed by honey.
  • Flavour: Heavy honey into bubble gum on the front, followed by rye spice and into light toast
  • Finish: Nice balance of spice and toast, then followed by a rich honey sweetness at the end.
  • Viscosity: 3
  • Boldness: 4
  • Length of Story: 2
  • Personal Taste: A

 

Big Bottom Port Cask Finish Straight Bourbon, Batch #2b (3yr)

  • Nose: Hot and heavy on the port followed by a hint of honey.
  • Flavour: Tannins hit immediately, then into the deep port from the nose, followed by mild but balanced rye spice.
  • Finish: The spice moves back into the port, which fades into oak tannins again, an hour glass effect of flavour.
  • Viscosity: 4
  • Boldness: 4
  • Length of Story: 3
  • Personal Taste: A

 

Elmer T. Lee, Macadam Bourbon Bunch, Single Barrel (NAS)

  • Nose: Strawberry and bubble gum followed by mild rye.
  • Flavour: Oak and light toast, none of the sweetness implied by the nose.
  • Finish: Light and watery with heavy tannins.
  • Viscosity: 2
  • Boldness: 2
  • Length of Story: 2
  • Personal Taste: C-

 

Van Winkle Special Reserve, Lot B (12yr)

  • Nose: Char and honey sweetness, again the rye spice at the back.
  • Flavour: Wet hay and char, fades in to a rich chocolate
  • Finish: Heat, then nothingness. It slowly vanishes then returns a bit later with a surprise bitterness to the end.
  • Viscosity: 4
  • Boldness: 3
  • Length of Story: 4
  • Personal Taste: B+

 

Jefferson’s Presidential Select (18yr)

  • Nose: Vegetation, a slightly ‘green’ odor, followed by toast.
  • Flavour: Sweetness of light honey, followed by tannins as expected from an 18 year
  • Finish: A bitter back to the finish (akin to an underaged white dog bourbon like I tasted from my home aging kit at the 2 week mark.)
  • Viscosity: 4
  • Boldness: 4
  • Length of Story: 2
  • Personal Taste: C-

 

“Barrel tasting”of Big Bottom Port Cask Finish Straight Bourbon, Batch #3 (3yr, cask strength at 115 proof)

  • Nose: Sweetness of port and richness of fig.
  • Flavour: Hot and rich caramel, big flavour and a huge mouthfeel.
  • Finish: Char followed by chocolate into fudge.
  • Viscosity: 5
  • Boldness: 5
  • Length of Story: 4
  • Personal Taste: A+

 

Clearly from above (and not so clearly from my lack of description of the rest of the group’s feelings) the big winner of the night was Big Bottom Whiskey. You may think I expected this to be the case, given how much I enjoy Ted’s product, but given it was tasted along side of two twelve year olds and an 18 year old bourbon, this was clearly an upset in the making! The group as a whole, and the majority of individuals all agreed that Big Bottom Whiskey was clearly the dram we’d all buy and stock on our shelves, while the other bourbons ran the gamut from “I might buy it” to “Nope never paying money for that one”.

 

As always, a fun and enlightening night was had. Anyone within the Portland area should really “Like” the PDX Whisky Facebook page and join us in January when the next event is scheduled and posted! Y’all are missing a great time!

 


PDX Whisky tasting notes from 10-28-2011

Ah, whiskies… where would I be without them? Well, likely with a larger bankroll and more time on my hands, but alas, I can not ignore the siren calls of local tastings! None of you will be surprised then, as I share my tasting notes of the four bottlings we tasted during the latest PDX Whisky event, this time hosted by Amit Armstrong, Ian Itchner’s whisky cohort.

As usual, the light dinner provided was outstanding (both Ian and Amit are exemplary cooks, Amit’s specialty being Indian cuisine), and the group of both new and old faces was as talkative as ever. Each of the PDX Whisky tastings I’ve been to this year has seen around 5 or 6 regulars, and another 10 or so people who filter in and out making each tasting a new adventure in meeting people and sharing our different takes on the drams presented. Always such interesting perspectives followed with some great laughs as well.
But I digress, on to the tasting notes….

 

Auchroisk 20yr, 118 proof. (59% abv) Cask Strength

  • Nose: Caramel and a hint of smoke, some slight almost negligible brine
  • Flavour: very hot, but a pure speyside profile of balanced sweetness, with a hint of peat and smoke
  • Finish: sweet richness of graham cracker, toast, and more peat
  • Viscosity: 2
  • Boldness: 4
  • Length of Story: 4
  • Personal Taste: B+
  • Extraneous Notes: Darn good dram. Water adds a bur to the nose that didn’t exist before. Also adds caramel and butterscotch flavors to the palate.

Stronachie 12yr

  • Nose: Light toast, mildly sweet, talc with a hint of banana with a rich spice back (like banana bread)
  • Flavour: hot, deeper rich spiced bread in to a chocolate back evocative of 88% cocoa.
  • Finish: falters into nothingness. Surprisingly short story that just vanishes.
  • Viscosity: 3
  • Boldness: 3
  • Length of Story: 2
  • Personal Taste: B+
  • Extraneous Notes: This was a sleeper. Very tasty, far better than initially expected.

Penderyn, Aur Cymru, Madeira cask finished

  • Nose: Over ripe cantaloupe, a waxy sour greenness.
  • Flavour: Heavy oak then mimics the nose of slightly rotten fruit.
  • Finish: A final hit of caramel, but comes too late to save the dram.
  • Viscosity: 3
  • Boldness: 2
  • Length of Story: 2
  • Personal Taste: C-/D+
  • Extraneous Notes: This dram can’t figure out what it wanted to be. Too many competing flavours fighting for center stage rather than working in conjunction to be stellar. No single bad taste, just quite neurotic as a whiskey.

Redbreast 15yr

  • Nose: Rich spice, vanilla and mild pepper, balanced and complex.
  • Flavour: Caramel and mild chocolate into a bit of oak, slightly hotter than expected.
  • Finish: Heavier chocolate notes linger with a long balanced story. Complexly warm and rich.
  • Viscosity: 4
  • Boldness: 4
  • Length of Story: 5
  • Personal Taste: A
  • Extraneous Notes: The exception to the rule of light Irish whiskies with grassy floral notes, this is the darker more angry big brother that brings the bottom end of warmth and richness to the party, proving once again that you just can’t go wrong with Redbreast.

As a closing point, if any of you reading are local to Portland, Or. or find yourself in the area during one of these tasting events, you’d be a fool not to stop by. The settings remain intimate and conducive to connecting with everyone attending, making for both a technical tasting as well as a social event for any level of whiskies enthusiast. You don’t need to know a thing about whiskies to enjoy the PDX Whisky events, even though there’s a level of technical tasting going on as well that would appeal to the more experienced enthusiasts. Somehow the group always strikes that perfect balance for newbie and expert alike. I hope you’ll join us at the next one!


PDX Whisky tasting event, Sept. 16, 2011

Last Friday eve was another great PDX Whisky event. If you are local to Portland, Oregon and are interested in learning about whiskies, I will heartily urge you to follow PDXWhisky on Facebook, where Ian sends out the event notices (while you’re there, don’t forget to ‘Like’ the 3DC page too!). Really, come join us! The ‘events’ are informal, casual, and comfortable for all levels of enthusiast and are some of the best ways to try out whiskies you may not have access to otherwise.

This past event was no different and provided for some great laughs over the course of the evening. I won’t bore you with the comedy bits, you’ll just have to attend next time to enjoy the funny! As for the tasting notes, we enjoyed 4 bottles over the night in the order they appear below:

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Auchentoshan Three Wood

  • Nose: Brilliantly balanced caramel with subtle smoke and an unpretentious oakiness.
  • Flavor: Peat on the front, into oak (of course) and a hint of iodine.
  • Finish: Nice soft caramel, light peat and oddly harsh after clearing the palate with water.
  • Viscosity: 4
  • Boldness: 3
  • Length of Story: 4
  • Personal Taste: A
  • Extraneous notes: Palate was off due to having recently finished baklava for desert.

.

Highland Park 15 All American Oak

  • Nose: Nicely balance smoke. Rich but bright, hint of vanilla and orange.
  • Flavor: Oak first, light and watery/thin. Evocative of a Christmas chocolate orange.
  • Finish: a tad hot then trailing oak into a hint of spice.
  • Viscosity: 3
  • Boldness: 4
  • Length of Story: 3
  • Personal Taste: B

.

Douglas Laing Double Barrel (Highland Park and Bowmore, no additional details given on the bottle)

  • Nose: BBQ consiting of cumin and vinegar, red spice, heated rubber.
  • Flavor: simplistic smoke and brine. Very distinct and separate.
  • Finish: iodine and then smoke, second taste brings out a bit of surprise chocolate.
  • Viscosity: 2
  • Boldness: 3
  • Length of Story: 3
  • Personal Taste: D (*C)
  • Extraneous notes: *improved the second go around. Odd bottle, however, as the double barrel concept seems to cause the two to compete with each other rather than blend into a single different dram. Surprised at how it improved with another taste, but not enough to really be enjoyable beyond a technical tasting.

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Bowmore 20 year (A.D. Rattray bottling)

  • Nose: heavy iodine followed by smoke
  • Flavor: peat forward into brine and the suggestions of a wafting of spice
  • Finish: stays briny into a balanced smoky oakyness, but relatively light on tannins.
  • Viscosity: 4
  • Boldness: 5
  • Length of Story: 4
  • Personal Taste: C+
  • Extraneous notes: This seemed to be the top of the 4 for the night, though not for me. Not to my taste even though I can appreciate the complexities of the 20yr in comparison to the 30yr and even younger. A good dram to be sure, just not for me.

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Overall, I stick by the recommendation I came to the tasting with: The Auchentoshan Three Wood is a solid, relatively inexpensive dram which drinks far above its price point. You’d be best served to have a bottle in your house and at the ready for any whisky drinker. While not the top of the night, it was my personal favourite and was unanimously enjoyed by all at the table.


Another PDXWhisky tasting event 8-12-2011

First off dear readers, great apologies for the delay in this recap of the recent PDX Whisky tasting event held at Ian’s house on August 12th, 2011. Because of the delay in writing this post, it will be less detailed than prior posts, as my recollection is a bit muddied now. I promise in the future to be more vigilant in my note taking, and subsequent write ups.

I do have an extra special gift for you all, however… multi-media! Yes, a picture… in a post even! Will the wonders never cease?

Compass Box Magic Cask

Ah, dear friends, if you know me (Seamus/Jason) or the 3DC at all, you know our fondness for John Glaser and Compass Box whiskies. So this past PDX Whisky tasting was a real treat for me. No, not because Ian had some Great King St. to share, but because he had a bottle of Magic Cask; a bottle I should note is unavailable in the US, as it was only released to our Canadian neighbors. Any chance I have to taste something I can’t get is a privilege, especially so when it is from one of my favourite producers of the lovely water of life.

A quote from “The Scotch Blog” regarding this bottling:

“The Magic Cask was a special release for the Liquor Control Board of Ontario (LCBO) and is only available in Ontario. Because John Glaser created this product as an experiment, he wasn’t quite sure what to do with it until the LCBO opportunity presented itself. Because Canadian whisky makers are allowed to use up to 9.09% flavouring (i.e. other whiskies like bourbon, wine, fruit juice, etc.), many don’t, but they can if they so choose, John thought this would be a good product for this limited Canadian release. “

Read on at the link for their tasting notes which you’ll see are a bit different from my own.

In typical PDX Whisky style, we had four bottles to taste (though we had additional once the main 4 were sufficiently discussed). Notes on the four, in the order we tasted are below:

Tasting notes:

.

Karuizawa, 15yr 40%

  • Nose: Hot, heavy sherry, moves into oak then immediately into a vanilla finish.
  • Flavour: Vanilla and Sherry into oak, then toast and corn.
  • Finish: mild toast with a distinctly corn finish.
  • Viscosity: 3
  • Boldness: 4
  • Length of Story: 3
  • Personal taste: C+

.

Compass Box Magic Cask – 17yr Linkwood, 14yr Brora, 46%

  • Nose: Begins with a little brine then hits you with a mild heat, finally some green olive.
  • Flavour: Spicy, a bit watery but hot, almost like a cut oaked rye.
  • Finish: Hot finish here with oak and a floral hint to toast, with a touch of brine on the back.
  • Viscosity: 4
  • Boldness: 4
  • Length of Story: 4
  • Personal taste: B+

.

Glenmorangie Finealta 46%

  • Nose: Iodine and brine
  • Flavour: Oak and toffee/caramel.
  • Finish: light green apple, but hot.
  • Viscosity: 3
  • Boldness: 4
  • Length of Story: 3
  • Personal taste: B-
  • (side notes: not worth the cost, forgettable)

.

Glen Spey 21yr 50%

  • Nose: light brine followed by chlorine, green vegetation into thin rubber followed by banana
  • Flavour: Banana into oak, then brine
  • Finish: Hot, mashed green banana.
  • Viscosity: 3
  • Boldness: 4
  • Length of Story: 4
  • Personal taste: B+
  • (side note: need to revisit)

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Now, it should be noted that once we’d completed the ‘official’ tasting, is when things got a bit rowdy… my memory is a bit poor of the whole evening, but at one point, a bottle of “30 year old Chinese distillate” made its way out of the box and around the table. I will refer you to my wife’s tasting notes as she posted on Facebook: “Tasting notes – anise, bubblegum, Limburger cheese, stinky feet of an 11 year old girl. That shit was FOUL! http://t.co/KVqhUmi” followed by a clarification: “Chinese moonshine. 30 years old, apparently? J called it “challenging”. I worry about that boy.” And indeed it WAS challenging. Most/everyone at the table hated it; there was a permeating stink to it which makes me happy I didn’t spill any on me, but I wouldn’t classify it as bad per se, simply challenging. That said, I refused the bottle when I was told I was taking it home… so, you know, it was -very- challenging.

Thankfully there was still some Magic Cask to wash away the taste 😉


A PDX Whisky tasting, from a 3DC perspective

Friday night, I -finally- had the pleasure of attending a PDX Whisky tasting, hosted by the incomparable Ian Itschner. I’ve been trying to get out to one of Ian’s tastings since moving to the Portland Metro area in 2007. Yeah, four years of trying, and four years of bad scheduling luck as it would seem I was always booked those weekends Ian would put on a tasting. But no more. I finally made it and am happy to report back a successful gathering.

 

Because Ian hosts at his home, the atmosphere is far more intimate than a traditional seated tasting, and he goes out of his way to ensure guests are comfortable, and fed. For a paltry $25 donation, Ian provides (what he calls) a light dinner and a 4 bottle tasting course. At the caliber of bottles he is providing, the fee is indeed nominal for an evening out. With a capacity of sixteen guests, I think we hovered around nine or ten Friday evening, just enough to make a round-robin tasting table alive with one conversation, not the multiple sub-conversations which you may see with larger groups.

 

After some early ‘getting to know you’ time over dinner, we gathered round the outdoor patio table and dug in to the four bottles of the evening:

 

First up was the Nikka, from the barrel at 51%abv:

  • Nose: iodine, but only slightly medicinal, a hint of brine
  • Flavour: toasted new wood oak, not much else.
  • Finish: hot and bitey. A few drops of water adds a mild floral sweetness into caramel.
  • Viscosity: 4
  • Boldness: 4
  • Length of Story: 3.5
  • Personal Taste: B/B+

 

Next, we moved on to the an Cnoc 16yr:

  • Nose: peat, hint of oaked caramel and then into a hint of brine.
  • Flavour: young and vegetative, into oaky lumber. Hot, but oddly thin on the mouthfeel.
  • Finish: Citrus, then burnt chocolate, almost espresso
  • Viscosity: 1
  • Boldness: 3
  • Length of Story: 4
  • Personal Taste: B+

 

We followed the an Cnoc with the Balvenie 17yr Sherry cask:

  • Nose: big caramel, small oak, hint of iodine on the back.
  • Flavour: sweetness of the sherry comes through heavily, into toast, combining into Pepsi.
  • Finish: Toasted malt and sherry butt, finishes with fairly heavy tannins leaving a dry mouthfeel.
  • Viscosity: 4
  • Boldness: 3
  • Length of Story: 3.5
  • Personal Taste: A-

 

And finished off with the Oban Distiller’s Edition, 1993:

  • Nose: Hint of orange citrus and vanilla, chocolate, then raspberry.
  • Flavour: wet sherry, not as much of the oak coming through, then into a toasty richness
  • Finish: heavily sweet caramel, followed by mild oak tannins, a quintessential Speyside flavour profile though it is a Highland.
  • Viscosity: 4.5
  • Boldness: 3
  • Length of Story: 3
  • Personal Taste: A-

 

While I said ‘finished off’ above, what I really meant was finished the ‘official’ portion of the tasting, as we then moved on to a few other bottles from Ian’s collection after conversation brought certain bottles to the forefront of our attention. We moved on to a German distillery, called Slrys:

 

Slyrs, 2007 3yr

  • Nose: 1950’s locker room, old musty oak. Young mash but with a heavy mash complexity to the nose. Diner pie crust
  • Flavour: Smoke and peat. Not much complexity. Hard angles. Very German.
  • Finish: Short, structured, technical. (interested to see what their 12yr will produce)
  • Viscosity: 2
  • Boldness: 4
  • Length of Story: 3
  • Personal Taste: C+

 

And then on to the Brora 20yr, cask strength at 58.1%abv

  • Nose: Hot, brine.
  • Flavour: quite medicinal. peat, then heavy peat followed by brine.
  • Finish: Hot. the flavours simply vanish into the heat of the 58.1% alcohol.
  • Viscosity: 3
  • Boldness: 4
  • Length of Story: 3
  • Personal Taste: C+ (I didn’t bother cutting at this point, likely would be into a ‘B’ range when cut)

 

By this point, I scribbled in my tasting notebook: “palate gone”, indicating that the ability to pick out any sense of refinement in my tasting notes wasn’t going to happen from this point forward… which is probably a good thing as we moved on to a comparison of Arbeg’s Supernova, and Bruichladdich’s Octomore. Having imbibed in the Supernova first, I’d have to set the Octomore as less smokey and more to my liking as a decided non-peat head. Though, from this posting over on All things Whisky, I may have to change my tune soon as I am beginning to fall into the descriptors of a peat head. We’ll see how that pans out in the next few years I guess 😉

 

All said and done, it was a fabulous night out enjoying fines whiskies with some great conversation amongst like minded individuals. We laughed and carried on as though we’d known each other for far longer than the few hours of Friday night. And yes, I am kicking myself for not rearranging my schedules in the past to accommodate this tasting. Oh what I have been missing!


A TOAST event… a non-official 3DC tasting

On Friday, I had opportunity to attend TOAST, The Oregon Artisan Spirit Tasting event held in the Tiffany Center’s Crystal Ballroom in Portland. Joining me was my good friend Corey, whom also shares a taste for whiskies like myself, as well as gins and tequilas and beer.

The event was similarly structured to Whiskies of the World, so I was immediately familiar and comfortable with the atmosphere. Specifically, it was a single price entry, and the various distillers were free-pouring rather than the pour-by-ticket method employed by other events. I made an initial lap to get a feel for the offerings at each table, and begin a basic game plan. Realizing quickly that I had just begun walking around, leaving Corey in my wake, I paused to explain my intent and reasoning: I am looking for whiskies first and foremost, as well as to prioritize and make sure I got to the most interesting ones first.

There were a number of American Whiskies, bourbons, and ryes showing at this event. Enough so that I was able to focus nearly all my tastes on just the larger whiskies class and not concern myself with the gins and other liqueurs until the end. Of all the distilleries showing their wares, two really struck my interest: Woodinville Whiskey Co. and Big Bottom Whiskey.

The first of the two, Woodinville Whiskey Co. made a great initial impression on me. While their whiskies were well crafted, what made the impression was their “Age your own whiskey” kit. What a great concept! Provide some clear distillate, an oak barrel, and let the drinker manage the aging process on their own. While no one will be going into business based on the final product from the kit, it is sure to bring a new aspect to the home connoisseur, not only for what the kit will produce, but even after you’ve run the 4-5 uses for whiskey/bourbon you can likely even use the same barrel for even more experimentation with barrel aged cocktails and the like… Yes, I already have my name in for a kit once they become available.

And their whiskey? Yup, that’s darned good too… but you’d expect that from a distillery which can boast  mentorship provided by David Pickerell, master Distiller of Maker’s Mark fame. Unfortunately, I did not bring my tasting notebook and as such have only a vague recollection of the whiskies I tried here, noting only that I really enjoyed them as a newcomer to unaged whiskies, bourbons and ryes.

The other distillery to really stand out for me was Big Bottom Whiskey, based locally out of Hillsboro, Oregon. Two things struck me about this particular distillery: the whiskies and the people.

First the whiskies: Offered were two bottlings; the first a 3 year aged American Straight Bourbon Whiskey. Being new to bourbons this one struck me as rather mellow in comparison to some I’d tasted earlier the same evening, and with a rather tempered sweetness followed by some distinct tannins on the finish as I’ve come to expect. The second, however, is where the impression was really made on me:  this was a 2 year Straight bourbon whiskey Port cask finished. Now, being a Speyside and port wood finish fan, I was eager to taste a bourbon finished in a port cask, and I will tell you I was not disappointed. One would never mistake this bourbon for a scotch, but the similarities were striking to me. Again, there was a tempered sweetness which brought this drink closer to its port wood finished scotch brethren than most bourbons. While unmistakably bourbon, this one showed a complexity I’ve most typically encountered only in the Speyside port finished scotches. Of course, Big Bottom share a not-so-secret relationship with Woodinville as they also used David Pickerell as a consultant when creating Big Bottom. Hey, its a small community, and when you share, everyone wins!

You can bet I will be taking up Ted on his offer to call him around the time his next batch of port finished bourbon will be ready to taste… and maybe lend a hand in the bottling as well!

I did say two things struck me about Big Bottom Whiskey, and indeed the second was the people, though that may be a bit unfair as they don’t really come second to the whiskey, rather it seems to be equal footing. If you are reading this blog, you likely already have a good understanding of who the 3 Drunken Celts are and how, as a group, our attitude and outlook can be a tad contagious if not overwhelming to some… well the fine people at Big Bottom seem to share that zeal. Ted has the same crazy “what the heck, let’s try it” attitude which is the very same reason we love Jim McEwan of Bruichladdich. Like the 3DC, Ted doesn’t take any of this too seriously; he lets the passion and enjoyment come to the forefront of his creations.

If it is one thing I’ve learned over the past ten years, and which was highlighted in the last two tasting events I’ve attended, it is that while the whiskies are a great thing, it is the people and the passions they carry which really make this a fun, interesting, and exciting endeavor for us all. From the distillers to the critics to the connoisseurs, if you don’t have the passion and can’t find the funny, well your enjoyment of any dram is going to diminish as quickly as you can drink it… keep the passion and find the funny, and that same dram will last you far longer than the simple drink ever will.

Now, I think I need to go find some bottles so I can revisit and provide better tasting notes. I am really sad now that I didn’t bring my notebook with me… But I hadn’t expected such interesting things. Ah, yes, another lesson learned. Oh well, at least I had a good time, and I know Corey did as well since our conversation lasted the entire way home on the Max line as we compared/contrasted the various drams, and discussed the overall industry with admittedly inebriated gusto. Yes, it was indeed a good evening 😉


The Gospels According to Seamus: Chapter the Sixth- Rinse and Repeat, a lesson (Whiskies of the World 2011)

Ah, March, how I’ve come to love you. But, I’ll admit, I wasn’t looking forward to March 26th and Whiskies of the World this year. Coupled with work stress, not a lot of down time, and the fact that this was a relatively last minute plan (having decided last year that we wouldn’t be returning), I found my frame of mind was such that any excitement I’d had for previous years was simply not to be found this year. Of course I KNEW I’d have a grand time, but there was still a lingering malaise which stayed with me until I was in San Francisco and checking into the hotel. After a serious power nap in the early afternoon, I was finally starting to feel the excitement.

This year was also a bit off anyway, as Raz was unable to join us, along with missing many others from prior years’ attendance. We were a small group this time round, in part due to the late decision to actually attend. That lent to us breaking a few traditions, though we kept two: dinnerlunch before the tasting on Saturday, and closing out Saturday night at the Irish Bank. But this year we didn’t live at the Bank like we have in prior years. Rather we ventured out to other places, explored new bars, and enjoyed the company we did have. (Fergus and I -did- share a drunk gigglefit just before bed Friday night, but nothing like years past…)

Suffice to say the dynamic was different this year, but neither better nor worse than other years. With fewer people it was easier to get tables for meals, and to go a bit more ad hoc in our plans in so much as we didn’t have plans prior or beyond the grand tasting Saturday night.  It was a relatively free flowing weekend which allowed us to follow our fancies and go with the flow of things. This was likely the most relaxed year for Fergus and I because of the lack of plans.

But enough of that… here’s Seamus’ tasting notes from the Grand Tasting Saturday evening. I’m going to caveat this right now, however… I noticed a trend in my notes from nearly the start and think my nose and palette may have been off a bit as I am suspect about of few of the notes which kept recurring in various pours which I’d expect to be dissimilar. So, consume these notes with a hint of suspicion, as I may need to revisit some of the drams to confirm the validity here… You’ll also note the last 4 tastings were from the Craft Distiller’s Master Class panel and are bottlings not commercially available at present.

 

With that said: Seamus’ Whiskies of the World Grand tasting notes

Distiller/bottling: Bulleit Rye

  • Nose: Mild coffee and toast notes
  • Flavour: Green grape, hefeweizen, and slight anise
  • Finish: Long slow burn, rich with the crispness of apple
  • Viscosity: 4
  • Boldness: 4
  • Length of story: 2.5
  • Personal Taste: A

Distiller/bottling: Edradour 10 Port finish, Signatory bottling

  • Nose: All toast with some iodine and a hint of port
  • Flavour: Bite of caramel and cherry chocolate
  • Finish: cherry syrup and reprise of toasted malt
  • Viscosity: 3
  • Boldness: 3
  • Length of story: 3
  • Personal Taste: B+

Distiller/bottling: Aberlour 1990/20yr, cask strength, Signatory bottling

  • Nose: Heavy iodine and caramel
  • Flavour: pear, toast, then leads right into peat.
  • Finish: caramel into a very long burn.
  • Viscosity: 5
  • Boldness: 4
  • Length of story: 3
  • Personal Taste: B

Distiller/bottling: Aberlour 18yr, sherry cask

  • Nose: Complex wine and toast with a hint of iodine then moves into caramel.
  • Flavour: bitter, chocolate covered espresso bean and caramel.
  • Finish: more bitterness.
  • Viscosity: 3
  • Boldness: 3
  • Length of story: 4
  • Personal Taste: C+

Distiller/bottling: Amrut Fusion

  • Nose: Heavy smoke and iodine
  • Flavour: Peat followed by more iodine.
  • Finish: Vanishes. Moves from the peaty iodine, straight into a heavy Laphroaig style in the middle, but finishes quickly with lingering caramel on the end.
  • Viscosity: 2
  • Boldness: 4
  • Length of story: 4
  • Personal Taste: C

Distiller/bottling: Highland Park, 1991, Signatory bottling

  • Nose: Oak then slight iodine.
  • Flavour: Heavy, heavy peat into caramel
  • Finish: Sweet, but mellow caramel
  • Viscosity: 3
  • Boldness: 4
  • Length of story: 3
  • Personal Taste: C

Distiller/bottling: Pritchard’s Tennessee Whiskey

  • Nose: Typical sweet and sour of a bourbon but with a bit of anise
  • Flavour: oak heavy, sweetness of maple syrup.
  • Finish: heavy on the tannins from oak, a surprise of chocolate just at the end.
  • Viscosity: 3
  • Boldness: 4
  • Length of story: 3
  • Personal Taste: B+

Distiller/bottling: Copper Fox Applewood Whiskey (14 months)

  • Nose: Toasted pear and a tad bit of cherry on the end
  • Flavour: fruit forward then a great balance of fruit and mash
  • Finish: long finish lasts into perfect apple.
  • Viscosity: 1
  • Boldness: 3
  • Length of story: 4
  • Personal Taste: B+

Distiller/bottling: Balcones Brimstone Texas Blue Corn Whiskey

  • Nose: A little iodine into toasted oak, but ends with a brine of corn sugars
  • Flavour: sweet and oakey, more vegetable sugars.
  • Finish: Tortillas right at the start of the finish, toasted corn and balanced sweetness.
  • Viscosity: 3
  • Boldness: 4
  • Length of story: 5
  • Personal Taste: A

Distiller/bottling: St. George Bourbon (4 months)

  • Nose: Sour corn and a hint of iodine again
  • Flavour: Young. Bites hard, but has solid sugars.
  • Finish: Toasted malts, but not pleasantly so.
  • Viscosity: 1
  • Boldness: 4
  • Length of story: 3
  • Personal Taste: C+

So there you have it. Not many tastes this year for me as I focused more on a few particulars I was interested in and had some multiples to try and get a clear understanding of them. Of course after a few cask strength/51%abv drams, it became more and more difficult to find that clarity.

Since my return from this year’s tasting, I’ve have a non-trivial number of friends and acquaintances ask me how to start learning about whiskies. Most of these people have only had a tenuous introduction to whiskies by way of Jim Beam, Jack Daniels, or possibly Johnny Walker; not exactly a proper introduction in my book, and likely why most have never followed further down the whiskies walkway. So, in an effort to help some of the newcomers I’d like to provide a quick start guide to learning more about whiskies and enjoying it in the process.

Seamus’ 4 step starter course on whiskies appreciation:

  1. Find a friend who also wants to learn.
  2. Go to a bar, start ordering whiskies, neat.
  3. Sip, and discuss.
  4. Rinse and repeat… practice, practice, practice.

While there ARE more subtleties to the above 4 steps, the key is to drink whiskies you’ve not had and compare them. Soon you will find that you are able to discern particular flavours you like, and some which you don’t. One of the biggest lightbulbs for me was the realization that knowing what you don’t like is even more important than knowing what you do like; and the only way to figure that out is to try a many as you can.

A decent bar is a great place to start learning as it is cost efficient and you aren’t going to be stuck with bottles you don’t enjoy. Heading to a bar with a friend and ordering two whiskies (neat, so you can actually taste the whiskies as ice/cold dulls the taste buds) will give you both opportunity to talk through what you are tasting and compare your notes with each other. Don’t be afraid of price or to order glasses of bottles you’ve not heard of; in fact seek them out! Remember you are here to learn and sip, not shoot and get drunk. Try not to order the same dram twice unless you really want to revisit it to see if you really liked it. After all, practice does make perfect, and the more whiskies you taste, the more you will refine your particular preferences for your drams. That doesn’t mean you’ll be a snob, it means you’ll learn more about what you like in your whiskies and will soon be able to articulate the flavours you enjoy and the ones you don’t.

Of course you can also ask a friend who has been doing this for a while to help setup and guide you through a starter tasting. I know a number of us have enough bottles in our private collections to run a brilliant personal tasting and many would be more than happy to share a dram with a friend who wants to learn! Heck, if there’s enough of a demand, a few of the 3DC may even be swayed into hosting a starter class for you and help you get your feet wet with your first foray into the world of whiskies beyond Jack, Jim, or Johnny!

You’ll soon come to see why we’ve been attending Whiskies of the World for so many years now: there’s always something new to learn, and you can never get enough practice to improve your skills and enjoyment of the liquor of life we call Whiskies.