Archive for March, 2009

Irish whiskey media coverage: what about the rest of the year?

Monday, March 16th, 2009

Over the past two weeks, I’ve been reading about Irish whiskey everywhere I look:  trade magazines, consumer magazines, newspapers, etc. I was even asked to be on Fox Business TV Network this morning for an Irish whiskey “shoot-out” between Jameson and Bushmills. (I declined, but for the time being you can watch a video of it here. I’m not sure how long they’ll have it up there.)

Yes, it’s great that Irish whiskey is getting this coverage now. I love Irish whiskey and am very happy for any exposure it gets (as long as the information is accurate). But what about the rest of the year? How much Irish whiskey coverage will you read about in April? Or October?

Irish whiskey is as good as Scotch whiskey and equally as versatile as Scotch whiskey. But for Irish whiskey to be treated with the same respect as Scotch whiskey, it has to be covered by the media for the whole year–and perceived by the consumer as a year-round drink, rather than being pigeon-holed as something to do shots of on St. Patrick’s Day or to drown in an Irish Coffee (or worse, a Car Bomb).

Two single malts from Park Avenue Liquor

Saturday, March 14th, 2009

Old Pulteney (Cask #4931), 1990 Vintage, 57.8%, $121
Fresh, briny, and very appetizing. Mouth-coating vanilla, lightly toasted marshmallow and a kiss of honey add a soothing balance, while pineapple, nectarine, gentle spice and subtle seaweed offer intrigue. Old Pulteney has great potential if only given the opportunity. Bottling at cask strength and not chill-filtered really brings out more of the whisky’s subtle complexities. I welcome more single cask, cask-strength Pulteneys in the future.

Advanced Malt Advocate magazine rating: 86

Glenfarclas, (Cask #128), 1981 Vintage, 27 year old, 53.4%, $200
When I toured Glenfarclas in May 2008, George Grant told me that, while it is usually not their policy to stray from aging their whisky in sherry and bourbon oak casks, they have done some experimenting. One of these experiments, aged entirely in a port cask, has finally been bottled. The nice thing about Glenfarclas is that it is a rich spirit and can stand up to a good dose of port wine (or sherry for that matter). The port notes are lush, with ripe fruit (plum, red grape skin, caramelized apricot, prune) and dates compliment the whisky’s malty, maple syrup foundation. The 27 years also imparts a good dose of polished oak for balance. Not as complex as other Glenfarclas whiskies of this age, but this is certainly a solid, enjoyable change of pace for Glenfarclas.

Advanced Malt Advocate magazine rating: 85

What topics would you like to discuss?

Thursday, March 12th, 2009

This blog is so popular because it is a two-way street.  So, let me ask you: what topics would you like me to post up for discussion? I can’t promise I will get to every topic (or when I will), but I’ll do my best. — John

P.S. The guest bloggers so far have been great, haven’t they?

Review: “Single Malts of Scotland” (distilled at Cragganmore), 1985 vintage

Tuesday, March 10th, 2009

The Whisky Exchange in London has their own line of whiskies. They sent me several review samples  and here’s one I found intriguing. 

Single Malts of Scotland (distilled at Cragganmore), 1985 vintage, 22 year old, 56.7%, approx. $100
If you’re looking for a bold, dry, spicy Speysider, this is the one. There’s lots of oak here, with bourbon undertones. A fighting vanilla sweetness manages to keep the whisky from becoming too austere. Gritty texture, with cedar wood, clove, spearmint, anise, herbal notes, dried fruit (apricot, sultana) and dark chocolate. A whisky that awakens the palate. Very invigorating.

Advanced Malt Advocate magazine rating: 84

Whyte & Mackay is for sale (again)

Sunday, March 8th, 2009

So is Burn Stewart.

I don’t normally blog about the business of whisky, but when you have beloved distilleries (and the people who work for them) being bought and sold like pawns in a chess match, it’s impact is far reaching. Every time these distilleries change hands, new importers are usually involved and it causes a (often long) hiccup in the importation of the brands. For example, where is The Dalmore in the U.S.?

The Sunday Times has the story here. The Whyte & Mackay sale impacts The Dalmore and Isle of Jura, among others. The Burn Stewart sale involves Tobermory (and Ledaig), Bunnahabhain and Deanston, along with other brands.

Whisky boom?

Guest Blogger: Jim Rutledge, Four Roses Distillery

Friday, March 6th, 2009

Good Lord! Am I blogging too much? Let’s let someone else speak this time.

Jim Rutledge is the second guest blogger to grace the pages here of “What Does John Know?”.  He’s the Master Distiller at Four Roses. Four Roses is doing some amazing things right now, and they have many formulas they can tap into when making their whiskey. Below Jim talks about the formulas and actually gives us the explanation of the various codes you find on the labels of Four Roses whiskey. Is that cool or what? Not many distilleries are willing to do something like this. And le also tells is what he has planned for new releases this year. Thanks Jim!

So, if you have any questions for Jim about what he posted below, ask them, and maybe he can answer some of them. (He’s a busy guy, so give him time to respond.)

The Uniqueness of Four Roses

Four Roses Distillery will introduce another Limited Edition Single Barrel Bourbon in mid-June 2009, and as we have done in the past with this series the bottles will be filled with Bourbon using one of our unique ten recipes that has not previously been on the market, as a “stand-alone” brand. The recipe we’ll use for this special offering will include a yeast culture that generates a floral essence plus light fruit characters. The selected barrels are few and will have been aged 11 years by the time we bottle in May. I think we will fill nearly 2,000 bottles, but we won’t know for sure until the barrels are dumped and processed. The bottles will be filled with barrel strength Bourbon that will not be chill filtered, so it’s as close as a consumer can get to sampling a Bourbon straight from the barrel and that’s the best of the best.

Four Roses is a unique Bourbon operation. Most distilleries use one mashbill (grain recipe) on a regular basis and one proprietary yeast culture. Numerous flavor characteristics, for various brand labels, may be filled in this manner by offering combinations of different age Bourbons and different strengths, plus unique flavors are created, and later close to duplicated, based on the warehouse or location within a specific warehouse in which barrels are aged – for example, using specific floors of a warehouse for a specified brand. Four Roses consistently mashes (synonymous with cooking) grains from two mashbills – 65% of one recipe and 35% of the other. Both recipes use more small flavoring grain (rye) than other Bourbons, which results in robust flavors with a touch of spiciness. One recipe uses 20% rye and the other a whopping 35%. Four Roses also uses five proprietary yeast cultures in conjunction with the two mashbills; hence, ten unique Bourbon recipes, and distinctively different flavors, are distilled and aged separately in barrels. Basic flavor characteristics generated by the yeasts include: 1) a light and delicate fruitiness, 2) spicy characters, 3) robust fruitiness, 4) herbal essence, and 5) floral essence with a hint of fruitiness.

The 2009 Limited Edition Single Barrel Bourbon has combined the mashbill using 20% rye grain with yeast number 5 above.

With ten Bourbon recipes, Four Roses has an infinite number of flavor options available for its Limited Edition renditions, and also its regular Bourbons on the market – Yellow Label, Four Roses Single Barrel and Four Roses Small Batch. Each Four Roses Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey brand will always have its own unique blend formula and all are different in character, aroma and flavor. To illustrate the significance of this, our single barrel and small batch Bourbon brands are so different it would be highly unlikely that an evaluator, participating in a blind tasting, would recognize they are from the same distillery. The recipe used for its regular Single Barrel is not used in the recipe for its Small Batch.

We are very close to selecting the formula proportions of two recipes, which will be used for the 2009 Mariage Collection, which will be introduced this September during the Kentucky Bourbon Festival. One of the recipes (OBSK for those who closely follow the Four Roses brands) is our highest rye content mashbill combined with the yeast that generates a touch of spiciness. We will use some 19 year old barrels and 12 year old barrels of this code. The other recipe (OESO) uses the mashbill containing 20% rye and the yeast that creates the robust fruity characters. These barrels have been aged 12 years, and as with all single barrel and small batch Bourbons in the Kentucky Bourbon industry, the barrels are super selects. I promise this will be exceptional Bourbon, and as always it will be one of a kind and never duplicated.

(“Mariage” is the French spelling of marriage. The idea behind this special Small Batch Bourbon is 1 + 1 does not equal two, but instead 1 + 1 = 4 or 5 – something very special, like a marriage should be.)

Because of the versatility of the Four Roses Distillery and the various regular Bourbon brands, plus our Limited Edition series we offer consumers, Four Roses was presented with Malt Advocate’s award for “Distillery of the Year” at WhiskyFest in New York City in November 2008. At WhiskyFest in November 2007 John Hansell presented me with Malt Advocate’s “Life Time Achievement Award.” I can’t express the surprise, astonishment and excitement I felt when John called my name. I was nearly humbled to the point of tears as I walked on stage to accept the award, but even that moment did not compare to the emotions I felt as I accepted the 2008 award on behalf of all our employees and staff, who are as passionate and dedicated to our brand as I. “Thank You” is not adequate nor any where near totally expressive of my gratitude, but Thank You, John and Amy, for the recognition you’ve given Four Roses.

Now, my taste buds have settled and I must head back to the lab for more organoleptic analyses of the Mariage options. A tough job!

     10 Total Recipes

Two Mashbills:
                                   OE             OB
Corn                        75%         60% 
Rye                          20%         35%  
Malted Barley       5%           5% 

Five Yeast Cultures:

Yeast Codes:          V, K, O, Q, F     

 Basic Flavor Descriptors:
V – Delicate fruity flavor
K – Slight spicy character
O – Robust fruitiness
Q – Floral essence
F – Light herbal essence

Jim Rutledge
Master Distiller
Four Roses Distillery

Beer Hunter, Whisky Chaser: a new book dedicated to Michael Jackson

Thursday, March 5th, 2009

After we lost Michael Jackson, fellow writer and editor Ian Buxton approached me and other beer and whisky writers to see if we could collaborate on a new book of essays, with the proceeds going to Parkinson’s research (the disease that afflicted Michael). How could we say no to such a good cause in the name of someone who inspired us so much?

A dozen of the best writers (six whisky writers, six beer writers, including yours truly) each wrote a chapter, and now the book is being printed. It will debut later this month on March 27th, Michael’s birthday. I read through a draft of the book, and the essays are diverse and entertaining. My chapter is entitled “My friend, whisky” and I describe my relationship with whisky (both good and bad) from when I was a child through to today.

Here’s the list of contributors, in no particular order:

Whisky: F. Paul Pacult, Dave Broom, Ian Buxton, Charles MacLean, Hans Offringa, John Hansell

Beer: Steve Beaumont, Julie Johnson, Roger Protz, , Gavin Smith, Conrad Seidl, Lucy Saunders

There’s also a chapter by Carolyn Smagalski, Michael’s partner at the time of his passing.

We are having books shipped to us in time for WhiskyFest Chicago on April 1st, plus we will also be selling it on the Malt Advocate website beginning in April. Price: $18.99.

I have an image of the cover, which I will post up soon. (I’m currently having problems with my blog software uploading images.) It’s pretty cool looking.

History Channel “Whiskey” show rebroadcasts on St. Patrick’s Day

Thursday, March 5th, 2009

In case you missed it when it originally broadcasted on St. Patrick’s day last year, the History Channel’s Modern Marvel’s series “Whiskey” show will be rebroadcasted on March 17, 2009 at 10 AM and 4 PM. (That means you can learn about whiskey and then still go out later on and drink it!)

If you haven’t seen it yet, it is informative and entertaining. And yes, you’ll have to put up with several quotes from me throughout the show. I tagged some of the distilleries that they visit during the show.

If anyone wants to really see the difference between bourbon and Tennessee whiskey, this is the show to watch. They show the sugar maple charcoal mellowing vats. In fact, they actually show the sugar maple being burned to make the charcoal. Cool stuff!

The Balvenie “Golden Cask” vs. “17 yr. Rum Cask”

Wednesday, March 4th, 2009

The Balvenie Golden Cask, 14 year old, 47.5%, $62/L
Gold color (as its name suggests), with a hint of copper. This whisky, which was finished in Caribbean rum casks, follows on the heels of the limited edition The Balvenie 17 yr. old Rum Cask. The 17 yr. old was pleasant enough, but quite sweet (I rated it an 80). This new Golden Cask is an improvement, because the higher alcohol level along with an array of dried spice helps to balance the sweet rum notes. Lively, bright tangerine, nectarine and pineapple combine with Balvenie’s signature honey, nougat, Heath Bar, light molasses and milk chocolate. Dried spice (vanilla, cinnamon, nutmeg) and gritty oak resin kick in on the finish, rounding everything out quite nicely. Now if we could only have the best of both worlds—the balance of the Golden cask 14 yr. old, and the maturity of the 17 yr. old. That could be a whisky worthy of a 90s rating. (Exclusive to Travel Retail.)

Advanced Malt Advocate magazine rating: 86

Where does bourbon come from?

Tuesday, March 3rd, 2009

While I was watching TV last night, and sipping my Red Stag on the rocks, one of the actors said something that almost made me spill my drink:

Something I never knew before–if it ain’t from Kentucky, you can’t call it bourbon.

I think it was while I was watching “24” and I don’t remember which character said it. (It wasn’t Jack Bauer.) I scribbled it down on my TV guide and forgot all about it until I noticed it at lunch today.

As most of you know (and for those of you who didn’t know, now you do), bourbon can be made anywhere in the U.S., not just Kentucky.