Archive for September, 2007

Two new Compass Box whiskies headed to the U.S.

Tuesday, September 18th, 2007

What luck! Two new Compass Box whiskies showed up on my doorstep. Both are headed to the U.S. Both are delicious, as I discovered during an “informal” evaluation last night while watching the Philadelphia Eagles lose again.

The first one, Canto Cask 46, is a Park Avenue Liquor exclusive. (Contact them directly for more information: info@parkaveliquor.com). Straight from the horse’s mouth, this is how John Glaser of Compass Box describes it:

“Cask 46 is one of several dozen casks I have aging on different types and different toast levels of oak. Cask 46 is made of new French oak heads and used American oak bodies. The French oak is Sessile oak, fine grain (the highest grade), two years air-seasoned (air dried outdoors). This is the highest quality/grade and most expensive French oak you can buy for cooperage purposes. The French oak heads have been given a custom toast which is very heavy and which is specified to bring out extra toasty character along with clove spice and rich toffee/vanilla characters. The whisky has been in the cask almost 18 months.”

The second one, is the second limited edition release of Flaming Heart. (The first one was not imported to the U.S.). Details from the press release:

“Flaming Heart” is a made only from single malt Scotch whiskies, aged up to 16 years. It’s flavor profile is unique within the world of malt Scotch whisky: it delivers a very big, full palate of flavour, including peaty and smoky notes combined with fruity, malty and vanilla notes, accented by a clove-like character. The whisky is bottled at 48.9% alcohol in the Compass Box Limited Release dark glass bottle and dark copper labels. Like all Compass Box Limited Release whiskies, it is batch-dated so collectors and enthusiasts can identify subsequent bottlings. Just 750 cases (of six bottles each) have been bottled for the world, of which 300 will be available in the U.S. The suggested retail price is $85 per bottle.

I will post formal reviews of both whiskies in the near future. The Eagles may have been losers last night, but these whiskies were not.

Highland Park Single Cask Bottlings to be discontinued

Monday, September 17th, 2007

I just spoke with my contact at Edrington and he told me that the Highland Park single cask bottling program offered to specialty retailers and restaurants throughout the United States is being discontinued, effective April 2008. Yes, now is the time for you to go out and get a bottle if you want one. Here’s the official statement from my Edrington contact:

“The intention is to finish the program at the end of the current financial year (April 08) and only release single casks beyond that date if there is a very good reason to do so. We are not short of stock, the program has been very successful and has built strong relationships with some of the finest spirit retailers across the world. We could easily continue it, but feel that after 4 successful years we should focus on our core expressions.

Our permanent core range which will soon have – 12, 15, 18, 25, 30 and 40 (later in 2008), plus 16 and 21 in travel retail, we do not want to confuse the consumer with too many offerings and are pulling back on releasing single casks. There will be the odd one for key customers or individuals from time to time.”

Review: Highland Park Single Cask Bottlings

Monday, September 17th, 2007

Below is a review of all the single cask bottling of Highland Park in 2007 at the time of this writing. Most are heavily sherried (my notes imply which ones aren’t by their lighter color), and some are stunning. The owner of each cask is listed at the end of each review, so you know where to get a bottle that appeals to you.

95 Highland Park, Cask #13308, 1973 vintage, 33 year old, 54.4%, $280
Dark and decadent. Notes of old pot still rum, roasted nuts, chocolate fudge, burnished leather, Dundee cake, tobacco, and a hint of damp peat. When I drink this, I feel like I’m sitting in the study of a stately Scottish mansion contemplating a fine, aged Cuban cigar. Royalty in a glass. (Bottled for Binny’s Beverage Depot)

94 Highland Park, Cask #7957, 1977 vintage, 29 year old, 48.5%, $300
A delicious, well-balanced, ultra-matured expression of Highland Park. Toffee apples, molasses, and vanilla fudge provide a sweet foundation, with evolving notes of dark chocolate, dry spicy oak, tobacco, subtle smoke, and lingering brine on the finish. Nicely done. (Bottled for Old Oaks Cigar & Wine Company)

93 Highland Park, Cask #691, 1983 vintage, 23 year old, 59.8%, $150
Very sophisticated and subtly complex. Perhaps the lightest-colored of the bunch. Fresh, appetizing brine and spice (cinnamon, vanilla, white pepper, and clove) on a bed of soft honey and creamy vanilla, with just a hint of fruit. The notes are bright, clean, and tight. Spicy, briny finish. A beautifully delicate Highland Park. (Bottled for Green’s)

92 Highland Park, Cask #8998, 1974 vintage, 31 year old, 45.4%, $438
Antique gold, relatively light in color compared to the rest of the Highland Parks reviewed here. Nicely rounded on the nose and palate, and surprisingly youthful for such maturity. Mouth-coating texture. Quite fruity—especially with some water—with notes of honey-drenched citrus, sultana, key lime pie, and melon. Caramel and bitter chocolate notes emerge, with the chocolate and a wisp of smoke lingering on the finish. I could drink this all day and never tire of it. (Bottled for Virginia ABC)

88 Highland Park, Cask #1673, 1992 vintage, 13 year old, 57.7%, $125
Richly sherried, great mouthfeel, and well-balanced. The sherry is clean, and is only one facet of this multi-dimensional whisky. Notes of lush orange and apricot, soaked in molasses and maple syrup. Fig cake and oak resin add structure and complexity. Dry, spicy cinnamon, resinous finish. (Bottled for Delilah’s, and for Bull and Bush)

87 Highland Park, Cask #10146, 1990 vintage, 15 year old, 53.6%, $78
The darkest and most decadent of the three 15 year olds here. Notes of molasses, demerara rum, apricot, and dates. More subtle notes of mixed nuts, sap, tobacco, and fig, with just a hint of Moroccan spice and leather. Surprisingly complex for a whisky this young, and the most intriguing of the younger expressions reviewed here. (Bottled for Beltramo’s Fine Wines & Spirits)

86 Highland Park, Cask #686, 1983 vintage, 22 year old, 56.4%, $175
Dark and complex. Sweet notes of toffee and caramel are spiced with notes of cinnamon and cocoa. Background notes of smoldering peat, oak resin, and clove add intrigue and balance the sweetness. Long, resinous, dried spice finish. (Bottled for Sam’s Wines and Spirits)

84 Highland Park, Cask #2498, 1986 vintage, 19 year old, 53.8%, $120
Amber-gold colored (not as dark as the other Beltramo’s offering here), with notes of caramel, honey, heather, and bright fruit, evolving into gentle cinnamon, vanilla, and ginger. Soft finish. A Highland Park for a lazy afternoon. (Bottled for Beltramo’s Fine Wines & Spirits)

83 Highland Park, Cask #2310, 1991 vintage, 14 year old, 56.7%, $80
Generally sweet notes of honeyed fruit, orange marmalade, dark chocolate, and salt water taffy. Soft, gently briny finish. Pleasing enough of a whisky—with no miscues—but missing the depth found in some of the older bottlings. (Bottled for Texas)

80 Highland Park, Cask #10140, 1990 vintage, 15 year old, 52.7%, $75
Caramelized, fruity notes of mandarin, pineapple, golden raisin, and plum. Heathery honey notes add an additional sweet dimension, as do some light toffee and nougat. A dusting of cocoa powder emerges occasionally. Like the other 15 year olds, this one is quite sherried, thick, and heavy on the palate. (Bottled for Hi-Time Wine Cellars)

79 Highland Park, Cask #10132, 1990 vintage, 15 year old, 56.3%, $80
Lushly fruity and quite sweet. A bit too sappy on the nose, but more even-keeled on the palate. The fruit notes (nectarine, plum, orange marmalade) sit on a bed of caramel, shortbread, and thick honey, with chocolate-covered almonds emerging on the finish. For those who like their Highland Park youthful and very sherried. (Bottled for Grape Vine Market)

70 Highland Park, Cask #7380, 1981 vintage, 25 year old, 55%, $225
The sherry is very dominant and cloying, which is unfortunate. And I’m not crazy about the quality of the sherry (or perhaps even the wood it was aged in). I have great respect for both Highland Park and Binny’s, but this is somewhat disappointing for a Highland Park. Tasted twice, with the same opinion. (Bottled for Binny’s Beverage Depot)

A Toast to Michael Jackson in support of Parkinson Disease

Monday, September 17th, 2007

On Sunday, September 30, at 9:00 pm EST, there will be a toast throughout the United States and Canada in Michael’s honor and to raise money to fight Parkinson Disease. Various establishments will celebrate his life and contributions with a toast. Some might pass the hat to solicit donations. Others might donate a portion of their revenue this night to this cause. Specific details can be found on Michael’s website, www.beerhunter.com.

If you love beer or whisky, encourage your local pub, bar, or restaurant to participate. If you can’t attend an organized event, you can still toast Michael and make a donation in his name, by writing a check to:

The National Parkinson Foundation, Attn: Kay Houghton,
1501 N.W. 9th Avenue / Bob Hope Road,
Miami, Florida, USA 33136-1494

Be sure to write “Tribute to Michael Jackson” in the memo line, so your donation will be attributed to this event.

Bushmills to release Limited Edition Expression to commemorate 400th Anniversary

Friday, September 14th, 2007

In 1608, the region of Bushmills was granted a license to distill. The Bushmills distillery is commemorating this anniversary in 1608 by releasing a limited edition blended whisky called Bushmills 1608.

Interestingly, according to my press release, the whiskey is a blend of three different types of whiskey–a malt whiskey, a grain whiskey, and a third component which is said to be a malt whiskey produced from crystal malt. Brewers and homebrewers will know crystal malt well, being a slightly caramelized version of malted barley. The whiskey is being bottled at 46% ABV, and it’s nice to see it bottled at the higher strength.

Bushmills 1608 will be available in the U.S. from February through December 2008, with a suggested retail of $75.

As a side note, it’s nice to see Bushmills promoting the licence accurately. For quite some time the distillery promoted themselves as the oldest licensed distillery in the world, citing the 1608 license. But the license was not specifically for the Bushmills distillery, but rather for the Bushmills region. I suspect that this is why they are releasing an “approachable” whiskey from a financial standpoint, sort of downplaying the anniversary to a degree. I just received a small sample and will offer you my thoughts to you shortly.

Bruichladdich releases final Legacy bottling

Thursday, September 13th, 2007

This past week Bruichladdich announced their final release of the Legacy line of whiskies. This is the sixth and final annual release of older “Laddies” dating back to the late 1960s and early 1970s. My press release states:

“Unusually, this bottling is not quite what it seems: legally a 34 year old whisky, being the youngest age in the bottle, it is actually a cunning mix of six venerable casks from the 1965, 1970, and 1972 vintages.

Production Director Jim McEwan: It’s a cracking dram – as can often be the case when ‘the whole’ is even better than the individual component casks. It makes for a sensationally compelling whisky.

The 6th and final Legacy was bottled naturally at the distillery on Islay, at a cask strength of 41.0%. Exclusively from bourbon casks, the release is limited to 1,704 numbered bottles retailing at £200 ($400).”

For those who are keeping track, here is a list of all six Legacy releases:

Sept 2002 – Legacy 1 – Bruichladdich 36 year old @ 40.6% – numbered limited edition of 1,500 bottles
Oct 2003 – Legacy 2 – Bruichladdich 37 year old @ 41.8% – numbered limited edition of 1,500 bottles
Nov 2004 – Legacy 3 – Bruichladdich 35 year old @ 40.7% – numbered limited edition of 1,572 bottles
Nov 2005 – Legacy 4 – Bruichladdich 32 year old @ 47.5% – numbered limited edition of 900 bottles
Oct 2006 – Legacy 5 – Bruichladdich 39 year old @ 40.9% – numbered limited edition of 1,690 bottles
Oct 2007 – Legacy 6 – Bruichladdich 34 year old @ 41.0% – numbered limited edition of 1,704 bottles

Two New Releases from Wild Turkey

Thursday, September 13th, 2007

Two new whiskeys will be available from Wild Turkey this fall. The first one is a limited edition, bottled in bond (100 proof), 15 year old bourbon which will retail for $90. The second one is a six year old, small batch, rye whiskey, bottled at 90 proof. It’s good to see a new rye from Wild Turkey. Excerpts from the press releases are below. I will be getting review samples shortly and will pass on my thoughts to you as soon as I taste them.

Press release–The first is Wild Turkey American Spirit, a very limited edition, 100 proof, 15-year-old bourbon. Just in time for September, which has been officially declared National Bourbon Heritage Month by the U.S. Senate, this bourbon will be be bottled at bond proof, in recognition of the historic tradition of storing barrels of whiskey in bonded, government-supervised warehouses, thereby insuring their unimpeachable age and purity. Available nationally, it will retail for $90.

In addition, Wild Turkey Bourbon s legendary Master Distiller, Jimmy Russell and his son, Associate Distiller Eddie Russell have combined their 80 years of experience to create a new six-year-old small batch rye, Russell s Reserve Rye. Bottled at 90 proof, the Russells have created a benchmark in rye whiskey full bodied and robust, yet uniquely smooth. Its introduction will be welcome news for true lovers of whiskey.

Upcoming Changes to Laphroaig and Ardmore

Monday, September 10th, 2007

As you probably already know, after the recent Allied Domecq dissolution, Beam Global picked up Laphroaig and Ardmore. Laphroaig has been available in the U.S. for many years (primarily the 10, 15, 30, quarter cask and Cask Strength versions), while Ardmore has not been available. I spoke with the Assistant Brand Manager for Beam’s Scotch whiskies and here’s what she had to say is in store for 2008:

“Ardmore has just launched in several Duty Free markets and will launch in limited US markets in 2008. Exact timing is still TBD. The Ardmore web site has just gone live if you would like to check it out: www.ardmorewhisky.com.

As for Laphroaig in the US, 15 yo will be replaced by an 18 yo in July/August 2008 and 30 yo will be replaced by a 25 yo (which was partly aged in Oloroso Sherry casks) in late 2008.”

So, as you can see, there are some exciting things in store for both brands in 2008. The Ardmore website speaks of a new expression called “Ardmore Traditional Cask”, which is a 46% non chill-filtered smoky Ardmore which is finished in a Quarter Cask.

And for devotees (and collectors) of Laphroaig, now is your time to pick up a 15 or 30 year old, while they are still available.

Slainte,

John

Remembering Michael Jackson

Tuesday, September 4th, 2007

Imagine this page being blank. That’s what it would look like if it weren’t for Michael Jackson. In fact, there would be no Malt Advocate, no WhiskyFest.

Michael was my mentor, when it came to learning and writing about beer and whisky. His books-World Guide to Beer, Great Beers of Belgium, World Guide to Whisky, and Complete Guide to Single Malt Scotch-were like bibles to me, just like they were for many of you. He inspired me to go to Scotland and Belgium in the early 1990s back when single malts and Belgian beers were not popular. He opened new worlds of drink to me, for which I will be forever grateful.

Michael also taught me to be a responsible journalist. One of my first writing assignments was for a small supplement of All About Beer magazine called Suds ‘n Stuff. (Actually it wasn’t even an assignment. I wrote something up about Belgian beers, sent it to then publisher Mike Bosak unsolicited, and he published it.) A couple years later when I started up Malt Advocate, I called Michael and asked him if he would write for us. He brought up that beer piece I wrote and told me that he read it and it looked very familiar to him. In fact, he said it was similar to what he wrote in his book. I told him it was probably because much of the information I gathered for my article came from his book.

Then he asked, “Have you ever even been to Belgium?”

I said, “No, I haven’t.”

“Then you should go,” he said.

I realized then if I was going to be a good journalist, I needed to travel to the breweries and distilleries to learn about the products. I have since logged in many frequent flyer miles, traveling around the world. Through my travels, I learned that it’s not just the product, but the people who make the products and the cultures where they live that captures the essence of a given drink. I owe this to Michael.

Michael was also very supportive of Malt Advocate. He was the busiest guy in the business, but he somehow managed to find time to write for us-even back in our early days when I could hardly pay him anything. And he didn’t just write for us. We would spend hours in pubs-often after some press event-over a pint or dram and he would offer advice on how to improve the magazine.

Very quickly, Michael and I became friends. Whenever I was in London-or if he was near my hometown just north of Philadelphia-we would try to sneak out for a drink someplace quiet and escape all the activities that were going on. We spent lazy afternoons in The Dove, an old pub overlooking the Thames just down from the Fullers Brewery and a brief stroll from his home. On one particular afternoon, we were on finishing our second pint of Chiswick Bitter, when I asked him if he wanted to join me in a third. He said that he better make it just a half pint. When I asked why, he replied, “I have to taste 26 vodkas and write up a piece for The Independent that’s due by the end of the day.”

I just looked at him and laughed.

I remember fondly a Sunday in winter when the Standard Tap in Philadelphia opened up early in the afternoon just so Michael and I could visit. (They opened up for him, not me.) He wanted to visit the Standard Tap, and his only free time was that afternoon. It was just the two of us, along with the bar manager, sitting at the bar, sampling local beers, and chatting about whatever came to mind. Michael was a regular guy, just like the rest of us-hanging out and enjoying a couple of beers with a friend.

We shared our passions about non-work related issues. And he had many passions that ran the gamut from rugby, to jazz, to cats. One weekend when Michael stayed at my house, I think he spent more time looking for and playing with our cat Cosmo than he did with us. One night we were late for a beer dinner that he was hosting nearby. We searched all over the house for Michael, but couldn’t find him. I was concerned that something happened to him. We found him out in our back yard playing with Cosmo, oblivious to everything else.

Michael was human, too, like the rest of us. For reasons I will never understand, he always seemed insecure about his career. He was so busy because he had difficulty turning down new assignments. While he never admitted it, it he seemed to fear that someone would take over his spot on top of beer and whisky journalism and he would be left out in the cold, unemployed. So many times I would encourage him to just say “No” to people. I would tell him that there’s only one Michael Jackson, and there will only ever be one Michael Jackson.

And then there was his Parkinson’s disease. Michael confided in me about this many years ago, because I was also suffering from some health issues at the time and we would share our trials and tribulations. I kept encouraging him to come “out of the closet” with his problem, because his Parkinson’s would make him look like he was drunk. He wasn’t. The discussions about our mutual health issues, along with our friendship over the years, were the reason why he chose Malt Advocate to reveal his condition earlier this year. I’m glad that he finally did.

Writing this, I am deeply saddened, because I know that Michael had so much more to share with us. I also have a heavy heart, because I lost a very good friend. His last piece for us, which he wrote back in August a few weeks before he died, will appear in the next issue of Malt Advocate. It’s classic Michael.

Before you move on with the rest of your life, pause for a moment of silence for Michael and reflect on all he has done for us. Then, tonight, do what Michael would prefer you do in his honor. Pour yourself a glass of something delicious and drink it.