Big Bottom Whiskey Port finish comparison, batches 1 and 2

You may recall this post a while back where I discovered Big Bottom Whiskey and subsequently fell in love with their port cask finish. So much that I had bought two bottles of it, when I normally would only by one of any single whisk(e)y.

In talking with Ted, the owner, he indicated that the bottles I had tasted and those which I purchased were of batch one and that batch two had been quietly sitting around and would likely be ready sometime in late August. Unfortunately I wasn’t able to get over to the warehouse when he was bottling up batch two due to a horribly conflicting schedule that week, but I did get out to my local purveyor when they called to tell me it would be in stock the next day. Again, I picked up two bottles…

And here’s where I was actually a bit smart: I had retained 1/4 of a bottle of the first batch with the specific intent of doing my own side-by-side tasting with batch two.

Right off the bat, before even opening the bottles, there’s a noticeable difference: Batch one was aged two years, batch two was aged 3.  While the distillate is from the same producer, they are aged for different times and finished in port casks at differing lengths of time as well. But really, that’s all irrelevant until you can actually taste it, right? Or at least until you can read my tasting notes below, after which I’ll likely wax on about more of the differences….

 

Big Bottom Whiskey, aged 2 years, port cask finish- Batch One

  • Nose: Heavy caramel followed by fruitiness of the port. Surprisingly no oak on the nose at all.
  • Flavor: Caramel oak, then the fruit of the port. Deep richness to the palate, and shows off the port finishing.
  • Finish: Just a hint of chocolate on the back, balanced with the tannins of the oak and fruit.
  • Viscosity: 3
  • Boldness: 4
  • Length of Story: 4
  • Personal Taste: B+
  • Extraneous Notes: The colour on this first batch is a deeper red hue showing the influence of the port cask. I gave this a B+ as it finishes a bit more harshly than a whiskey like this should. I’d expect the port cask finishing to have reduced any lingering harshness to non-existence.  Still, quite tasty, so high marks are deserved.

 

Big Bottom Whiskey, aged 3 years, port cask finish- Batch Two

  • Nose: This noses hotter than the first batch, with immediate fruit forward, followed by the sweetness of caramel. Overall a mild nose once past the initial heat.
  • Flavor: Chewier with a mouthfeel reminiscent of nougat. Heavier oak with a deeper more complex caramel note. Light port touch with the fruity sweetness peeking out in the middle.
  • Finish: Oak tannins then mild char and caramel in the front while a hint of port maintains the background through the length of the finish. The port cask finish on this one has seemingly married all the flavours into a deeper complexity and balance.
  • Viscosity: 4
  • Boldness: 4
  • Length of Story: 4
  • Personal Taste: A-
  • Extraneous Notes: The colour of this one, oddly enough, was a more orange-ish hue, still rich, but lacking that deep red from batch one.  Batch two received an A- here because it doesn’t finish as clean as I’d like. There was a lingering mild bitterness and dryness from the tannins when I had wanted a bit more fruitiness on the end. A wetter finish would have landed this dram at a solid A/A+.

So there you have it, a side by side comparison of batches one and two. I’d actually left some in each glass for Jean to enjoy when she got home (I tasted late afternoon when she was still at work, but I’d quit for the day).  But I was a bit cruel about it, as I removed the bottles from the table and made her do a ‘blind’ taste to see if she could pick out which was which.  Because batch one’s visual cue would typically indicate ‘older’ and that batch one tasted more of port, she incorrectly chose that as the newer release and noted it was her preferred of the two.  Understandably so, since darker colouring tends to make people think ‘older’ and the fruit forwardness of the port finish in batch one lends to her sweeter palate preferences.  And I nearly did the same thing too, until I had some of batch two and found my palate was much happier with the balance found there and less of the sweetness of batch one. But this is why there are so many whiskies out there: for every dram, there is a palate that will love it and one that will hate it, and others everywhere in between. Luckily both Jean and I found batches one and two to be equally enjoyable as good drinking whiskies (even if my more technical attempts at notes show less equality).

To wrap this up: Batch one is likely going to be difficult to find at this point, but batch two just hit the local shelves in Portland, Oregon and will likely be making its way out to a liquor store near you soon! Go pick up a bottle or two, you won’t be disappointed in the newer release. And maybe, if you can stave off temptation long enough, you can do a side-by-side with batch three, assuming Ted will be doing one…. Here’s to hoping!


Week 16 update- Age your own whiskey

Week 16 came and passed without an update on the whiskey sitting in the barrel I got as part of Woodinville’s “Age your own whiskey” kit. But can you blame me? I mean, there’s been a lot going on with the 3DC, especially as we ramp up into our annual tasting at “Great Western War” (the SCA event in Bakersfield, Ca.).

Have no fear, just because the weeks have come and gone does not mean I missed taking a sample of the distillate. I did indeed take notes, and even pictures to provide you all an update as to how the baby whiskey is maturing in the 1.7 liter oak barrel. The first round of tasting notes after weeks 1, 2, and 3 can be found here if you missed them, or just want to come up to speed for comparison. The initial setup, etc. can be found here.

 

Woodinville White dog, Aged 16 weeks in new American Oak.
(Casked on May 30th, 2011. Sampled Sept. 11th, 2011)

  • Nose: All alcohol. Expected for a 130 proof distillate. Caramel follows the initial shock, the if you can push through, there is a distinct corn mash of the original distillate.
  • Flavor: Chewier mouthfeel than prior tastes. No longer think and watery, but now shows great body and an oiliness expected from a proper bourbon/whiskey. The pallate is still very distillate heavy, but is showing more promise with a far heavier caramel body, though it is followed by a disappointing bitterness.
  • Finish: Caramel, with an increasing bitterness with every taste. Like a vegetable with all the sugars removed.
  • Viscosity: 4
  • Boldness: 4
  • Length of Story: 2
  • Personal taste: C
  • Extraneous notes: Dramatically different from earlier tastes, but still not ‘good’. Needs more time on the oak to mute or remove the bitter after notes. Looking to revisit in late November or December.

 

Overall, I’m not exactly disappointed, but not overly pleased either. I am hopeful that more time on the oak will help it mellow out further and become something worthwhile. Otherwise, I’ll have to admit defeat, bottle it up, and move on to a different distillate to see how a second round fairs.  That, of course, means finding a better raw distillate to work with, with means testing some cask ready samples from various distillers. Oh the pains I go to for this hobby 😉

 


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:

.

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.

.

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.

.

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.


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!


Aging my own whiskey: weeks 1, 2, and 3

Jason/Seamus here again… I know I missed a few weeks of tasting notes, so I’m playing a little catch-up to share what is happening inside my little 1.875 liter barrel from Woodinville Whiskey Co.

I last left off right at the beginning. I had just set two 750ml bottles down in the charred new oak barrel and began the process of waiting. I’ll tell you, that first week of not taking sips was tough! I was dying to see what the oak was doing minute by minute! I -was- however to steer clear of any tastes that first week, leading to a fun discovery on day 7 when I was finally able to pour a wee dram: Colour!

 

Pictures of week one:

Here are the tasting notes from week one (May 30th, 2011):

  • Colour: Light caramel colouring very similar to the levels of colour in Knappogue Castle and other lighter Irish whiskies.
  • Nose: Sweet and floral followed by a bit of iodine.
  • Palate: Toasty chocolate with a light oak. Woody, still mash heavy, but clean and hot.
  • Finish: Short story, as expected at this point. Finishes very clean with a mild caramel way at the end, almost as if the dram realized it ended its story too soon and came back to finish it.

 

Week two I ended up tasting two days early, and as I didn’t discern much change between the first week’s tasting and this one five days later, I opted not to write down my findings (really, I had no findings other than ‘no discernible change’).

 

Which brings us to week three (June 12, 2011):

  • Colour: Light caramel, again much like a light Irish whiskey similar though ever-so-slightly more rich than week one though barely even worth a mention.
  • Nose: Light oak notes followed by a heavier corn mash / rye spice overtone (which is odd since I don’t believe any rye is used in this distillate). Still young.
  • Palate: Initial sense is of the corn/wheat/barley mash, moves into a light oak with a brief bitterness in the middle reminiscent of week one’s bitterness, only slightly more muted.
  • Finish: sweet and hot. Not as clean as week one with the mouth-feel imparting more lingering oils.

 

Since week three was a slight disappointment in terms of changes seen (not surprising mind you, but I was hoping none-the-less), I opted to cut another taste with water at a 1 part water to 2 parts whiskey ration to bring it down from the 110 proof to a more reasonable 80 or thereabouts.

  • Nose: Floral notes become more evident after cutting. In this case the water really did ‘bloom’ the dram and coaxed it enough to release those florals.
  • Palate: Still hot, but with a diametrically opposed watteriness. The alcohol bites, but the rest of the dram tastes thin now. Only hints of toast followed by the mash again.
  • Finish: back to the clean finish of week one with greatly reduced oils, but still a big alcohol burn to contend with.

 

So there you go. At this point I think I will sit on this for a while before coming back to taste again. Woodinville indicates a finished product in 3-6 months, so I’ll likely cut down the frequency of tastes to once a month at this point in order to keep enough distillate in to actually fill a bottle when the process completes! Of course I’m also starting to think ahead of this run and see what I may change and do differently in the next run… my main idea being use of a different distillate…

 

 

If you’re dying for even MORE whiskies related content, you can also check out the 3DC’s “Whiskies News & Reviews Daily” over on paper.li: http://bit.ly/k3XNbj It is a GREAT way to stay abreast of all the cool things going on in the world of whiskies!

 


A wonderful whiskies centered weekend

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Until then, sláinte mhaith

-Seamus/ Jason


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.

 


Have you heard?

Our Tenth Anniversary Flaming Heart bottles from Compass box came in last week, were then hand labeled by Randy and Adrian… and they look Stellar! No, really, check em out:

Blank bottle, custom labels...

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Labelled and ready for distribution.

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One bottle, sitting proudly at a member's home.

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If you ordered one, contact Adrian Trespando for payment details, then either Adrian or Randy Ullon for delivery logistics (Adrian for NorCal/Az., Randy for SoCal). Adrian has noted he is going through the list and will hit the yahoo group. He will let you know how to pick up bottles and who still needs to pay.


kill da bottle tasting (or something completely random)

Raz – Hmmm, Whisky Sugar cookies are good. I’m starting with the Edradour series we are here to kill and proceeding on to the Edradour 16 for good measure. No tasting notes here sorry but it’s good to see so much good stuff on the table just on the fly.

Meliko – Going through the Edradour series was very interesting; they’re all quite different.  Least fave was the port, most fave was the burgundy, with the chardonnay and sauterne also both relatively pleasant.  The 12 year had the most readable story: sweet and caramel to the nose, initially mellow then gently smoky on the tongue. 

Fergus– The 14 year Balvenie is sweeter than the 12 and is improved when you try a rum before tasting the 14. Trying it with a 72% dark chocolate does not seem to improve the taste and if you try  it with chocolate the whiskey seems to avoid the areas the chocolate cover. The Balvenie 12 signature being better than the 12 double wood has the opposite  effect from the 14 balvenie  the whiskey is improved by the chocolate and the whiskey layers itself onto the chocolate flavor. 

Raz – The flaming heart (Compass Box) is like being bum rushed by a dorm full of exchange student co-ed fetishists. 

Jean  – I concur with Fergus’ opinions on the Rumwood with the chocolate.  The Rumwood on it’s own is complex, but adding water eliminates the complexity and makes it flat.  I really enjoyed the Balvenie Signature with the chocolate – very smooth and buttery. Overheard: ‘Oh, dude – uh, oi’   

G – The Balvenie signature 12 starts without the bite of so many others. It rolls smoothly through the mouth and departs with a gentle kiss; a definite favorite. The add of the dark chocolate broadens the flavor. With this start, sampling the nose of the Edradours was all that I could contribute to that particular effort. A sip of the Dos Maderas (yes, rum) was a great post-food flavor. The additional ‘sweet’ made for a good dessert, so the sip fit very well. And the Welsh Penderyn seems to simply be a glass of water that happened to be in the room when some poor sot opened a Laphroaig.