Big Bottom Zinfandel Finish and Single Cask Zin series review!

img_5404This past weekend (well, black Friday, technically) I was able to help out over at Big Bottom Whiskey again and bottle up three different single cask runs of their Zinfandel Finish Bourbon warehouse series to complement the more widely available blend. I’m quite privileged to be friends with the owner, Ted, and more so to get some sneak peaks into the business and what’s to come.

I’ve know about the warehouse series zin bottlings for a while now and even had some small samples when I stopped in a while back as Ted was prepping the blend. Now that the warehouse series are bottled and I had some time to sit at home and really run through a decent side-by-side tasting, I figured I give you all the run down of what I think.

Following are the notes of the three warehouse series single cask bottlings as well as the commercially available blend (Note that I had a clean palate prior to sitting down to taste, cleared with both a small cup of black coffee followed by water prior to and after each glass.):

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  • Bottling: Amy’s Vineyard cask, finished 6 months.
  • Nose: Red licorice, currants, cardamom, and a citric whiff of orange and cranberry
  • Flavour: Fruit and oak tannins up front, followed by some white pepper and a return of red licorice
  • Finish: Light vanilla combined with the fullness of red fruit, almost jammy, then balanced quickly by the rye spice and dry finish.
  • Viscocity: 4
  • Boldness: 4
  • Length of Story: 3
  • Personal Taste: B
  • Extraneous Notes: Complex and subtle notes from the zin barrel come through, as well as the zinfandel itself. Heavier on the rye notes as well.

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  • Bottling: RedwoodValley cask, finished 6 months.
  • Nose: More red licorice and berries with a heavier oakiness.Orange as well, works into a cinnamon finish on the nose.
  • Flavour: Dry tannins roll into the oakiness of a heavy zinfandel with muted rye spice notes.
  • Finish: As the zin fades, the rye spice returns forward and finally balanced with the sweetness of cinnamon Christmas candies.
  • Viscocity: 3
  • Boldness: 3
  • Length of Story: 3
  • Personal Taste: B
  • Extraneous Notes: The explicit barrel notes really come through with this bottling.

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  • Bottling: Ancient Vineyard cask, finished 6 months.
  • Nose: Pepper and red fruit indicative of a good zinfandel. More red licorice with a slight toastiness that presents the entire dram quite big on the nose.
  • Flavour: Round sweetness and charred oak. Big fruit gives way to coffee and char, then moves right into a rye spice.
  • Finish: As the coffee and char fade, the ry spice and fruit comes back to linger with a distinct but mild alcohol burn.
  • Viscocity: 4
  • Boldness: 3
  • Length of Story: 4
  • Personal Taste: A
  • Extraneous Notes: Big and complex. Much more of the French oak. A great marriage of zin and bourbon here.

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  • Bottling: Zinfandel Finish, blend of four different zin casks. Same winery, but different vineyards.
  • Nose: Cardamom and red licorice, with orange, cinnamon, and very light oak.
  • Flavour: Berries and oak tannins move into a complex mix of char, toast, and a melange of spices including rye, cinnamon, cardamom, and white pepper.
  • Finish: The spice moves back to the sweetness of berries with a slight chocolate espresso note that lingers at the end.
  • Viscocity: 3
  • Boldness: 3
  • Length of Story: 4
  • Personal Taste: A
  • Extraneous Notes: This dram is surprisingly greater than the sum of its parts. The blend exemplifies how critical barrel choice and blending percentages can be. The blend results in a dram that is entirely new but still maintains the best qualities of the included casks. 

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All in all, I am amazingly pleased with how the entire vertical series turned out. While I enjoy the final blend the most of all four bottlings, I actually enjoy it more as a direct result of being able to compare it with the single casks that went into it. Of the single cask bottlings, I do have to side with the complexity of the Ancient Vineyard cask as it reminds me so much of the high quality and BIG California Zinfandels my palate grew up with; the rye spice in the bourbon being the perfect complement to the pepper in a good zin. The finished blend is a wine and bourbon lover’s dream come true.

The good news for you all local to the Portland area, the warehouse series should be on sale this coming weekend exclusively at the Big Bottom Tasting Room in Hillsboro, Oregon.  For the rest of you all, you may be out of luck, unless you can find an on-line retailer (connected to one of these distributors) to special order and ship you some of the Zin Finish Blend… unless you’re lucky enough to happen upon some in your local store  🙂

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Recap of Stuart Ramsay’s Whisky Academy- Amercian Craft Distilling

For fear that y’all think I only post about Big Bottom Whiskey, here’s one about Stuart Ramsay’s Whiskey Academy class I had the pleasure of attending Sunday, May 6th at Bull Run Distilling.

Stuart is a local whiskies guru, internationally recognized as an accomplished writer, editor, and speaker on both whiskies and beer. The fact that he lives in Portland means we are lucky enough to have access to such a wealth of knowledge on a fairly regular basis, as Stuart hosts not only his own classes on whiskies, but also presents tastings hosted by other local pubs and restaurants.

This particular class I participated in (hosted by the fine lads of Bull Run Distilling) was focused on the American Craft Distillers movement with a focus on the craft Whiskies of course. Not only did Stuart highlight some exception drams from across the US, but was also able to pull in a few of our own local craft distillers to talk about their own products, how they’re made, and highlight some of the more technical details of what goes in to a great craft distilled whiskey.

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I’ll spare you the specific tasting notes of everything we sampled, as the list was quite extensive:

  • Stone Barn Hard 8 Rye
  • Stone Barn Oat Whiskey
  • Stone Barn Buckwheat Whiskey
  • Stone Barn Hoppin 8’s
  • Corsair Wry Moon
  • Corsair Triple Smoke
  • Bull Run Temperance Trader
  • Silver Coyote White Whiskey
  • Dry Fly Wheat Whiskey
  • Fremont Mischief John Jacob
  • Colorado’s Own Corn Whiskey
  • Woodinville White Dog Rye
  • Ransom Spirits Whippersnapper
  • Ransom Spirits 1871 Irish Mash- 20 months in New American 4 char barrels
  • Ransom Spirits 1871 Irish Mash- 14 months in used French Oak barrels
  • Big Bottom Project X
  • St. George Single Malt
  • St. George Single Malt Batch 11
  • Buffalo Trace Experimental, Rice
  • Buffalo Trace Experimental, Oats
  • Clear Creek McCarthy’s November 2011 release
  • Clear Creek McCarthy’s November 2010 release
  • M.B. Roland Cat’s Meow

Stuart’s presentation style is relaxed and meandering through stories, periodically hitting on topics of note and diving deeper as the audience/participants ask questions and show interest in one topic over another. In this session’s case, we all tended to focus on the mash bill for each of the drams, finding the differences between heavy corn, wheat, or rye bills, and then comparing how the oak has changed each. We also had some good discussion over the various types of stills and what the benefits of each provided in the resulting spirit.

One of the things I really appreciated from the class was Stuart’s attention to providing information in the form of two packets: One with the history of American whiskies, the craft movement, making a single malt, and a primer on bourbon complete with a tasting wheel and guide to flavours. The second packet was a one-sheet for each of the distilleries we were tasting, along with notes on the particular drams. Both packets showed not only attention to the important technical details and overall histories, but they also allowed for the in-person presentation to flow using the packets as only reference. Too many times have I found people simply reading from their handouts or slides, and thankfully Stuart doesn’t abide by that habit.

What really made this class stand out for me was the opportunity to talk with three local distillers doing some amazingly different things with their whiskies, all of whom are not only approachable but deeply passionate and willing to talk at length about what they do. And really, that touches on the whole reason I remain involved and passionate about whiskies myself: the people. The industry itself is interesting in the shifts and trends and new stuff coming out, but it remains the people that keep it so exciting and fun. When you can connect with people like Stuart Ramsay, Lee Medoff of Bull Run, Sebastian and Erika Degens of Stone Barn Brandy Works, and Tad Seested of Ransom Spirits, (and even though he wasn’t in attendance at this particular workshop, Ted Pappas of Big Bottom), you can’t help but become as passionate and excited by what they are doing as they are! It truly is contagious.

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Big Bottom Whiskey’s Tasting Room Grand Opening

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

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

 

What ARE these new warehouse only releases?

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 


Recap: TOAST (The Oregon Artisan Spirits Tasting)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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


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.