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

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A new “Age your own” experiment: 100% Malted Barely whiskey

Last year, I tried Woodinville’s Age Your Own Kit with slightly disappointing results. Once I bottled up that run, I was determined to find a white dog whiskey that would more closely match my palate, as I’m not a huge fan of corn mash based bourbons.

It will likely come as no surprise that Raz, my friend Corey, and I have all been on the hunt for a barley based American whiskey. Since we are all bigger fans of malted barley than corn mash, we’ve hoped to find an American created whiskey that focused on a majority barley based mash.

Well, you can imagine my surprise when browsing a local Portland area liquor store and luckily happened upon House Spirits’ White dog whiskey made with 100% malted barley! Ah, just what we were looking for! While it had been bottled at only 100 proof, I figured it was still high enough to weather some decent aging, and picked up three 750ml bottles to begin my second run experiment in the still-wet barrel from Woodinville’s kit, but with a markedly different distillate than before.

House Spirits’ White dog 100% barley mash based whiskey was barreled at 100 proof on December 27th, 2011. Following are the tasting notes I took down on Dec 27th, 2011 before the barreling process to get a sense of what I was starting with:

  • Nose: Distinct malt ball candy, off-putting to me but likely pleasant if you enjoy malt balls. Almost sickly sweet, but not sugary. Slight vegetation and a confusing hint of toast.
  • Flavour: Chewy and viscous, then straight into the heat before getting to a tongue coating sweetness. Of course, serious barley notes all over the place, as expected from an unaged barley spirit.
  • Finish: This surprisingly finished hotter than when it started. The sweetness from the malting hangs around for a bit while the front burn fades with a hint of vegetation that permeates just like the nose.
  • Viscosity: 4.5
  • Boldness: 4.5
  • Length of story: 3.5
  • Personal taste: B
  • Extraneous notes: Solid. The use of 100% malted barley for the mash makes a huge difference. Since I tasted this immediately after the aged corn mash based white dog from Woodinville, the barley based white dog from House Spirits here felt much more approachable to my palate with no hints of bitterness and the softer familiarity of scotch and Irish whiskies.

Of course, that was before aging… and given how the initial barrel run improved the Woodinville White dog (though not to my taste) I was REALLY looking forward to the notes imparted by some time for the barley distillate from House Spirits to sit on the oak and think about what it had done.

Unlike my prior run, I didn’t sample this one at all in the first few months. One of the ‘issues’ I encountered on the first run, was the rapid depletion of the distillate due to the angel’s share which was exacerbated exponentially with every small taste I had. With a 2 liter barrel, even small tastes make a big dent, and the more air that gets in the more room the angels have to take their shares as well. So I abstained from frequent testing during this second barreling in hopes of retaining more of the distillate at the end.

At 4 months on the oak, I determined that a sample was indeed in order to see if more time was needed, or if it was good to bottle. Following are my notes taken on April 11th, 2012:

  • Nose: Oak and caramel, a hint of raw mash, an almost ethereal waft of brine then heavier golden brown toast.
  • Flavour: caramel sweetness followed by mild tannins of oak, then the heat hits mid-taste and moves into a chewy salted caramel like sweetness.
  • Finish: Following the sweet, it transforms into a subtle Islay with a touch of brine much like the nose, finally leaving with a suggestion of vegetative raw mash to remind you it is still young.
  • Viscosity: 4
  • Boldness: 3
  • Length of story: 3
  • Personal taste: B
  • Extraneous notes: Four months in the barrel has been nice to this dram, mellowing our some of the unpleasant sweet notes, replacing them with pleasant more refined sweetness throughout the entire story. The barley truly helps this dram move into the more subtle and complex realms of Irish and Scotch whiskies to which I am more drawn. The heat was surprisingly diminished after aging in comparison to when it was initially barreled. While still hot, it isn’t nearly as bitey on the front of the tongue as initially noted. Still a solid “B” on personal taste though, as it isn’t quite up to par… yet.

After tasting this dram at four months in a second use barrel, I am making the call to leave it sitting on oak for another two to three months before coming back to it for another test. I am hoping in that time to see the caramel notes diminish some, replaced with a bit more tannins and toast to bring deeper balance and complexity to the profile of this expression. I think the base distillate has the structure to get my personal taste up to an “A” grade, but the big unknown here is how the barrel and time will treat the final profile.


PDX Whisky tasting notes from 4-06-2012

Last Friday evening was another gathering of the PDXWhisky group, hosted again by the incomparable Ian Itschner. As we’ve come to expect, Ian outdid himself yet again with the ‘light meal’ he provides, this time opting to produce 20 or so individual Guinness meat pies, and even adjusting the recipe for the vegetarians in the group. Leave me wondering what he’s got left up his sleeves for the next tasting.

It seemed this time around we were all raring to go and dug in to the tasting quickly after having fortified ourselves with the delicious savory Guinness pies…

We enjoyed four selections during this tasting:
Springbank 12 yr – Claret cask finish. After finishing for 3 yrs in claret casks, this was put back into bourbon barrels to smooth out the wine influence.
Tobermory 15 yr – A new limited edition from the Isle of Mull, matured in González Byass Oloroso sherry casks.
Ardbeg Alligator – This Islay whisky is aged in heavily charred new oak casks. Highly rated.
Laphroaig Triple Wood – Bourbon casks, quarter casks and sherry butts. Softer and richer than the standard Laphroaig.

 

 

Following are my tasting notes for each expression:

Springbank 12 yr – Claret finish, 54% abv

  • Nose: Red fruit sweetness with a slight earthiness (raw vegetation and mineral mix) like damp potting soil.
  • Flavour: Oak into unburnt caramel, contained the richness just not the toasted quality of caramel. Quite hot and bitey at the front of the tongue.
  • Finish: Moves into mild brine and then a weak salted caramel profile.
  • Viscosity: 4
  • Boldness: 3.5
  • Length of story: 4
  • Personal Taste: B
  • Extraneous notes: This struck me as if a Speyside spent some time on holiday in Islay. Slightly challenging and complex because of this, but a fun tasty dram.
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Tobermory 15 yr – Limited edition, 46.7% abv

  • Nose: slight brined raisin and soft rubber.
  • Flavour: Peat and brine with a hint of unsweetened fig newton. All flavours here have been married well and balance without challenging the palate too greatly.
  • Finish: Savory into a rich sweet wild cherry with a whisper of mint
  • Viscosity: 5
  • Boldness: 3
  • Length of story: 3
  • Personal Taste: A
  • Extraneous notes: This was my favourite dram of the night, and seemed to be so for a large portion of the rest of the group too. I found it complex and interesting. I came back to this after a dram of the Ardbeg Aligator which transformed this dram of Tobermory into a surprisingly wonderful fruitcake bomb.
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Laphroaig Triple Wood- 48% abv

  • Nose: Heavy iodine and peat, with a bit of band-aid like rubber notes.
  • Flavour: Mild smoke with a surprising sweetness in the middle.
  • Finish: Brine into oak with a hint of spice late at the end.
  • Viscosity: 3
  • Boldness: 4
  • Length of story: 4
  • Personal Taste: B-
  • Extraneous notes: I quipped at some point during this dram that it tastes like the Springfield Tire Fire so oft referred to on episodes of the Simpsons. But don’t take that as a bad thing, I actually enjoyed this dram far more than the Laphroiag 10yr, and would likely partake again if offered.
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Ardbeg Alligator- 51% abv

  • Nose:First and foremost smoke, then moves into a touch of iodine and peat.
  • Flavour: Tannins and charcoal, then the heat hits. Some semi-sweet burnt chocolate makes its way in as well.
  • Finish: More heat, then it vanishes with just lingering smoke and a final chalky dry finish.
  • Viscosity: 4
  • Boldness: 4
  • Length of story: 3
  • Personal Taste: C+
  • Extraneous notes: Surprising heat for a 51% dram, I’d have expected upwards of 54% to have that much bite. My least favourite of the night, given it is a single trick pony. No complexity or grace. It is as if an American designed this dram to simply be excessive.

 

All in all, another rousingly fun evening learning about whiskies. In part that was due to having such a wonderful crew of newcomers to the tasting, which provided interesting conversation and differing points of view, as well as my own vicarious way of rediscovering new whiskies through newer eyes/palates.

As always, any of you who are local to Portland, Oregon need to make an effort to join in on one of Ian’s tastings. I can assure you, you will NOT be disappointed!

Image credit: (c) 2012 PDXWhisky


Jason’s “Age your own” experiment results

You may recall last year I picked up Woodinville’s White dog aging kit to test test run as a novelty experiment. My apologies for the delay, but I now have the results from the experiment which ran from May 2011 until late December 2011 (my notes got buried on my desk).

Woodinville’s White dog bourbon mash was barreled at 110 proof on May 22, 2011. I tasted at various times, frequently at first, then tapering off later, but averaging about a taste every 6 weeks. On December 27th, 2011 I determined that no more time would benefit the whiskey and bottled it up. Following are the tasting notes I took down on Dec 27th after 7 months of aging:

 

  • Nose: Heavy on the mash notes still. Corn followed by the expected mild caramel notes imparted from wood aging. Balanced sweetness as I have come to expect from bourbons.
  • Flavour: Immediate oak and hard tannins, followed by caramel and a jarring shift into the corn mash. Heat all the way through with a trail of bitterness.
  • Finish: Fades from the distinct mash notes into caramel again, finally ending on a bitterness either remaining from the early raw/vegetative mash or imparted directly from the barrel itself.
  • Viscosity: 3
  • Boldness: 3
  • Length of story: 2
  • Personal taste: C-
  • Extraneous notes: Not a whiskey I will enjoy drinking straight. Even after 7 months in the barrel, the bitterness on the finish still stuck around and makes this dram less than enjoyable. I have noted, however, that as an aged spirit, it mixes quite well with cola for a surprisingly delightful cocktail. A solid B grade if used to mix.

 

After being relatively disappointed with the results, I dove in to some ideas for a second use of the barrel. My third use will be for barrel aging cocktails, likely Manhattans, but I still needed a second run distillate. Luckily, I happened upon House Spirits’ White dog whiskey bottled only at 100 proof, but made with 100% malted barley, ah, just what I was looking for…

But that’s a story for another day.

 

 


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. It really has no comparission, we both have a good amount of experience on sites like online-casino-sverige.se but playing live is such a thrill! 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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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


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.

.

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!