Archive for the ‘Events’ Category

Your Islay dream home awaits you

Thursday, November 22nd, 2007

This is all good stuff: donate about $50 to a good cause, and have a chance to win your own dream home on Islay, in addition to other cool prizes.

The contest is called “Spot the whisky barrel.” Basically, here’s how it works. A whisky barrel (empty, sorry) is going to be dropped by plane off of Islay with a parachute. The person who guesses the closest to where the barrel will land wins the first prize of about $500,000 or three acres of land on Islay and cash to build a house on it! The other prizes aren’t too shabby either: vacations on Islay, barrels of whisky, bottles of whisky, etc.

For the particulars, go to: http://www.spotthewhiskybarrel.com/

Good luck!

WhiskyFest New York highlights

Thursday, November 1st, 2007

I’m slowly recovering from WhiskyFest New York, which Malt Advocate magazine hosted this past Tuesday night. As you probably already know, it’s my magazine (and event) so I was very busy that night. My primary goal at WhiskyFest is to make sure everyone else is happy and having a good time, but I did manage to discover some new whiskies (and even taste a few) along the way. Here are the ones that caught my attention.

Rye whiskey is still on fire, and I noticed two new ones. You may recall the Willett 22 year old barrel strength rye I reviewed and gave a whopping 96/100 to in the 4th Quarter 2006 issue of Malt Advocate. Well, they were pouring a new 23 year old at their booth (along with a new Willett Bourbon 47% bourbon in a cool glass pot still decanter). And speaking of 23 year old rye whiskeys, wasn’t that a bottle of the “soon to be released” Rittenhouse Rye 23 year old I saw hiding behind the Heaven Hill table? I’ll be getting samples of both. It will be fun to compare the two 23 year olds.

I saw the two new Aberlour whiskies at the Aberlour table: a 12 year old and a 16 year old. Both were described as “double matured” (i.e. aged in both bourbon and sherry casks). These two whiskies replace the existing 10 and 15 year old Aberlours. These recent changes were done with very little fanfare by Pernod, the distillery’s owners, so you may not have noticed the change yet. Reviews to follow in the near future.

Lorne Mackillop pulled out from underneath his table two new Tomintoul whiskies he will be releasing in 2008 in the U.S. The first one is a Tomintoul 12 year old which was finished in oloroso sherry casks for 18 months. I tasted it and it is masterfully balanced–Lorne’s trademark–and the sherry is very clean and polished. He’s told me he only has 15 casks of this whisky, so I don’t expect it to be around very long when it is released.

Lorne also showed me a second whisky coming out soon, a peated expression, which is a blend of 4-5 year old peated Tomintoul and 8 year old standard Tomintoul. (Think of it as a more mature Old Ballantruan whisky with a lower alcohol level.) It’s going to be called, “With a Peaty Tang.”

It’s good to see Scott’s Selection whiskies becoming more visible again. They were pouring a delicious cask strength 1967 Longmorn at their table. That one was bottled back in 2003. Hopefully we’ll see more new whiskies from Scott’s Selection in the near future.

Crown Royal replaced Dickel at one of the Diageo tables. We missed Dickel, but they were pouring the new Crown Royal Cask No. 16 at the table, which is finished in Cognac casks. That’s Malt Advocate magazine’s 2007 Canadian Whisky of the Year award winner. Those of you who “bah, humbug” Canadian whiskies should really try this one.

The two hottest whiskies of the night were at the charity table. Whiskies at the charity table required an additional donation of $20 to the American Red Cross before you could taste them. One was a whisky I donated. It was a 1979, cask-strength, sherry cask aged Springbank that was bottled by Sam’s in the early 1990s. It was hand-picked by the legendary “Joe C” who worked at Sam’s at the time. That whisky disappeared in less than one hour.

The other one was a bottle (bottle #1 of 1) made by Jim McEwan of Bruichladdich just for the charity table. He called it “Bruichladdich 100 years” because the three whiskies he married to produce this bottle added up to 100 years in age (36 and 34 year old in a bourbon cask, and a 30 year old aged in a sherry cask). I tasted it at the beginning of the evening. It was wonderful! That whisky commanded at $40 donation, and the bottle was empty before the night was over. Thanks Jim for helping to support the cause!

I’ll have more to say about the whiskies at WhiskyFest as the days go on, but I wanted to post these while they were still fresh in my memory.

Malt Advocate Whisky Awards Announced

Tuesday, October 30th, 2007

The 2007 Malt Advocate Whisky Awards were announced this evening by John Hansell, Malt Advocate Publisher & Editor (yes, that’s me), before a sold out WhiskyFest New York at the Marriott Marquis on Times Square. This annual awards program was established thirteen years ago to recognize excellence in the world of whisky. The awards categories and winners are listed below.

Best Buy of the Year: Black Bottle Original
American Whiskey of the Year: Old Forester Birthday Bourbon (2007 Release)
Canadian Whisky of the Year: Crown Royal Cask No. 16
Irish Whiskey of the Year: Redbreast 12 year old
Scotch Whisky Blend of the Year: Chivas 18 year old
Scotch Whisky Malt of the Year: The Macallan 1976 Vintage (Cask 11354)
World Whisky of the Year: Suntory Yamazaki 18 year old
Industry Leader of the Year: Mixologists
Distillery of the Year: BenRiach
Pioneer of the Year: Bruichladdich Distillery
Lifetime Achievement Award: Jim Rutledge, Four Roses Distillery
Lifetime Achievement Award: David Stewart, William Grant & Sons

In addition, the Top Ten New Whiskies for 2007 were announced by John Hansell. They are listed below, in alphabetical order.

Buffalo Trace Experimental Collection Chardonnay Aged Bourbon, 14 year old, 45%, $50/375ml
Crown Royal Cask No. 16, 40%, $100
Dun Bheagan (distilled at Springbank), Cask No. 1704, 35 year old, 1970 vintage, 50.5%, $300
The Glenlivet Cellar Collection, 1969 vintage, 50.8%, $750
Highland Park, Cask #13308, 1973 vintage, 33 year old, 54.4%, $280
Highland Park, Cask #7957, 1977 vintage, 29 year old, 48.5%, $300
Old Forester Birthday Bourbon, 1994 vintage, 47%, $40
The Macallan 1976 Vintage, 29 year old, cask #11354, 45.4%, $1,500
Parker’s Heritage Collection, First Edition, 1996 vintage, 61.3%, $80
Wild Turkey American Spirit, 15 year old, 50%, $90

A complete write up of the award winners will appear in the 1st quarter 2008 issue of Malt Advocate, which mails on January 15, 2008.

Highlights of WhiskyFest San Francisco

Wednesday, October 24th, 2007

Well, last night was Malt Advocate magazine’s inaugural WhiskyFest San Francisco. As it is with all WhiskyFests, it was a lot of fun, with many great whiskies to taste.

Some of the highlights that stood out for me included some very rare and old whiskies from the independent bottlers. I also was intrigued by some experimental whiskeys from Stranahan’s (they called ‘em “snowflakes”, because no two Colorado snowflakes are alike). For their seminar, Heaven Hill brought out some of their bourbons that they only sell to the export market, which was pretty cool. And John Hall from Forty Creek hosted a seminar that included tasting the individual components of his Barrel Select.

There were also plenty of new whiskies to taste. Here’s just a small sampling that was being poured:

Aberlour 12yr. “Double Matured”
Benromach Organic
Bowmore 18 yr.
Several new Bruichladdichs
The New Buffalo Trace 2007 Antique Collection
Compass Box Flaming Heart
New release of Evan Williams Single Barrel
New Glenmorangie expressions
Hazelburn
Lagavulin and Oban Distillers Edition
New 2007 release of Old Forester Birthday bourbon

And not to be outdone by all the whisky companies, Anchor Brewing Company was pouring this year’s “Our Special Ale” which will not be released to the public until November. It came off the bottling line the day before! How cool is that?

On top of all this, we had San Francisco’s best mixologists making signature whiskey cocktails. They rocked!

Many whisky legends were there, like Jimmy Russell of Wild Turkey, Jimmy Bedford of Jack Daniels, Parker Beam from Heaven Hill, Lincoln Henderson (Woodford Reserve and now Suntory), Richard Paterson of The Dalmore, and Willie Tait from Jura.

WhiskyFest New York is in six days. I have six days to recover and do it all over again. Cool…

Jameson Whiskey and “The Four Masters”

Thursday, October 18th, 2007

I’m back on the plane, returning from Ireland on my day and a half excursion to the Midleton Distillery for the launch of Jameson Rarest Vintage Reserve. The six hours flight gives me plenty of time to think about the trip–and the brand.

On the surface, it’s easy to just say that Jameson has been coasting for the past several years. After all, there hasn’t been a new expression of Jameson in a long time. From a marketing perspective, this isn’t a fair statement. The brand’s owner, Pernod Ricard, has been working hard at getting the brand into new markets and increasing sales of the flagship Jameson brand.

But there’s more to it than just the marketing. There’s also been four key guys working very hard behind the scenes to improve the quality of the entire Jameson portfolio and develop the framework for Jameson Rarest Vintage Reserve. Pernod Ricard refers to them as “The Four Masters”. (I’m not big on marketing speak, but in this case they are 100% accurate.) The Four Masters are Barry Crockett (Master Distiller), Billy Leighton (Master Blender), David Quinn (Master of Science), and Brendan Monks (Master of Maturation). These guys have been making whiskey for decades.

This is my fourth trip to Midleton over the past 15 years, and I can honestly say that I don’t know another distillery that currently has the depth and diversity of experience that these four guys have.  As I spent time with them the past two days–touring the distillery with Barry, knocking about in the warehouses with Brendan, discussing and tasting the blends with Billy and Dave–I was impressed by their knowledge, passion and dedication.

In many ways, this is almost a necessity, because the the dizzying array of whiskeys they have to produce. Plus, it takes time to create a new whiskey from scratch, and these guys have obviously put in their time. The Jameson Rarest Vintage Reserve isn’t just another new “wood finished” whiskey that was conceived and created within a year or two. A portion of the pot still whiskey in this blend spent its entire life–somewhere around fifteen years–in port casks. That’s how old my daughter is!! And the grain whiskeys in this blend are older than that. So, as you can see, the groundwork for this new whiskey (and the framework for future Vintage Reserve releases) began years ago.

Looking back at the Jameson brands over the past decade or so, it is clear to me that both the variety and quality of the brand has improved. Both are a tribute to these four guys.

(On a final note, Brendan Monks, who just turned 65, told me at dinner last night that he will be retiring from full-time work as of November. He’s not just a warehouse wiz or maturation marvel; he’s also one of the nicest guys you’ll ever meet in this business. I wish him well, but will miss him during my next visit to Midleton.)

Jameson Rarest Vintage Reserve: sneak preview

Tuesday, October 16th, 2007

I’m in Midleton, County Cork, Ireland (jet-lagged, but otherwise fine). The official launch of the new Jameson Rarest Vintage Reserve is tomorrow (Wednesday) at the distillery, with select press being invited to the launch. I was fortunate enough to meet this afternoon (Tuesday) with the four key players at Irish Distillers: Barry Crockett (Master Distiller), Billy Leighton (Master Blender), Dave Quinn (Master of Science) and Brendan Monks (Master of Maturation).  We tasted our way though the entire line of Jameson whiskeys, including the new Jameson Rarest Vintage Reserve. Here’s the scoop.

This is a new whiskey which completes the newly organized Jameson portfolio (12 year old Special Reserve, Gold Reserve, 18 year old Limited Reserve, and now Rarest Vintage Reserve). Side note: those of you who have been drinking Irish whiskey for a decade will notice that they’ve brought back Jameson Gold, a great whiskey (part of which is aged in new American oak) that was available in the U.S. back in the late ’90s, but was then limited to Travel Retail (a.k.a. Duty Free).

In brief, the new Rarest Vintage Reserve is a blend, like the other Jameson whiskeys, consisting of older grain whiskeys in addition to pure pot still whiskey (containing both malted and unmalted barley), some of which was aged entirely in ruby port casks (with the rest matured in second fill bourbon casks). They told me today that the grain whiskey is 23-24 years old, with the pot still component being slightly younger. The whiskey is bottled at 46% and is not chill-filtered!

The whiskey is the deepest, richest, and most lush of the Jameson family, and nicely layered. In short, it’s a great whiskey! Such luxury isn’t without a cost, though. I’m told that the whiskey will run approximately 10x that of the standard Jameson. And it really is a Vintage Reserve: the bottle is vintage-dated, and each vintage will be a limited edition, unique expression of Jameson.

As Dave Quinn told me: “The Rarest Vintage Reserve line allows us to experiment and have a little fun with the brand.”

Indeed.

I’m off to dinner with the same group of guys, along with a tour of the distillery with them tomorrow morning before the rest of the press show up, so stay tuned.

Midleton bound in search of a new Jameson whiskey

Monday, October 15th, 2007

Towards the end of the last decade, there were several interesting releases over a period of a few years from Ireland’s Midleton Distillery in County Cork. They included Jameson Gold, Jameson Pure Pot Still 15 year old, Jameson 18 year old, Powers 12 year old, and even a Midleton 175th Anniversary bottling. But it’s been several years now since we’ve had a new Jameson whiskey (or any other whiskey made at Midleton Distillery for that matter) to enjoy. (Yes, I know, there’s a Redbreast 15 yr. old out there, but it was never imported to the U.S.)

Finally, the wait is over. I’m heading off to Ireland today for the launch of the new Jameson Rarest Vintage Reserve. In addition to trying (and learning about) this new whiskey, I’ll also be meeting with the distillery manager, master blender, and warehouse manager while I’m there. My intentions are to get completely caught up with any distillery operation changes and also get the latest on any other recent or upcoming releases from the distillery. 

All this is for an Irish whiskey feature I’m writing for Malt Advocate magazine, which should appear in the 2nd Quarter issue in 2008. I’ve already been to the three other Irish whiskey distilleries this year (Bushmills, Cooley, and Kilbeggan). A visit to Midleton will complete my dance card. Naturally, I’m bringing my laptop with me and you will hear from me on the new Jameson as soon as I find out more about it. 

Buffalo Trace starts up microdistillery: tomorrow!

Thursday, October 4th, 2007

I knew this was in the works for quite a while now, but that’s all it was–in the works. Buffalo Trace is now making it happen. Tomorrow, October 5th, 2007, Buffalo Trace will distil their first whiskey–a special rye grain bourbon recipe–from a small distillery which should yield approximately five barrels of whiskey.

 Master Distiller Harlan Wheatley:

“It has been really exciting to see this come together after more than two years of planning. The still is a real show piece. We can’t wait to start using it. It is such a great addition to Buffalo Trace and will allow us to be more innovative than ever before.” 

According to my press release, which I just received this morning:

“The still will be used to further Buffalo Trace’s experimental whiskey program and will allow for the distillation of new, elite and ultra premium vodkas. It will also further the development of Buffalo Trace’s organic spirits selection and will be used for a ground breaking custom distillation program for consumers and connoisseurs of fine spirits.”

 Wow! Custom distillation programs for consumers and connoisseurs of fine spirits? Cool stuff! I’d like to place an order for a straight rye, aged in a No. 3 char oak barrel. Hold the mayo.

Bruichladdich to distil peated “Lochindaal” whisky

Wednesday, October 3rd, 2007

My friends at the “Laddie” are up to it again. As you know, Bruichladdich is known as the Islay whisky that is only very lightly peated. When the new owners took over Bruichladich and started making whisky in 2001, they began experimenting with peated whiskies: first Port Charlotte in 2001 (with 40+ppm phenol) and then Octomore in 2002 (with an envelope-pushing 80+ ppm phenol).

Now, whiskymaker Jim McEwan is going to distil, for the first time on October 26th, Lochindaal whisky, which will use barley that is peated in the 50+ppm level.

To quote Jim McEwan:

“There are few distillers that have the freedom that I enjoy to create the various styles of whiskies that we produce. As Progressive Hebridean Distillers,  we take our inspiration from the past and  make  it the future.”

The first 100 casks will be offered to the public at about $3,700 per cask. For more info, go to: http://www.bruichladdich.com/cask_offers.htm

New Chivas 25 yr. old debuts in NYC

Saturday, September 29th, 2007

I spent last night at the New York Public Library. It’s not what I normally do on a Friday night, but this was no ordinary night. I was invited by Pernod Ricard, along with four hundred lucky people who came from aound the world, to attend the debut of a new Chivas Regal whisky.

I don’t think we even got to taste the whisky until well after 11:00 pm. Before that, we enjoyed an excellent meal, along with being entertained by Grammy award-winning modern jazz musician Diana Krall, among others. I was joined by my friends, and fellow spirits writers, Gary Regan, Paul Pacult, and Dave Wondrich, which just made the evening even more pleasurable.

So, why all the hoopla? Well, about a century ago there was a Chivas 25 year old, but World War I and the Great Depression put an end to it. The 25 is now being re-introduced, and it debuted last night. Colin Scott, Master Blender and also a friend of mine, introduced the whisky to all of us.

Digression: My evening wasn’t all glamour. I live in Pennsylvania, and the most convenient way, from where I live, to New York City is (sadly) by bus. The plan was to get into NYC two hours early, which would allow me plenty of time to check into my hotel, change into my tux, and get to the gala on time at 7 pm. As luck would have it, my bus showed up late, and then it ran into traffic all the way from Newark through the Lincoln Tunnel. I arrive at the Port Authority Bus Terminal (a cultural experience on a normal day) at 15 minutes beore 7 pm. No time to get to the hotel, so I have no choice: change from my jeans into my tux in the Port Authority Bus Terminal men’s room and walk to the NY Public Library from there! (Just in case you think my job is nothing but glamour, try that sometime. The toilet was motion activated, so I enjoyed the sounds of constant flushing while I was getting all dolled up.)

Anyway, back to Chivas. First let me say that I have high regard for Chivas. I think that the Chivas 12 year old is a really good blended scotch. The 18 year old is one of the finest blended scotches on the market, regardless of price, for its complexity of flavor and impeccable balance. I consider it to be a benchmark whisky. (And the Chivas Brothers Royal Salute 21 year old isn’t far behind.) So, when I discovered that Chivas was coming out with a new 25 year old, I couldn’t wait to try it.

But let’s face it, it’s difficult to improve on a benchmark whisky, and 25 years is quite old for a blended scotch–there isn’t as much of a malty backbone (when compared to single malts) to balance all those years spent in oak.

I still think that the new 25 year old is a very nice whisky. It has a great nose, and the palate works for me too. But it is the finish where the whisky starts showing its age, by becoming dry, oaky, and lingering.

So, here’s what I would suggest. If you are a big Chivas fan, and you can afford the $300 splurge, get a bottle when it eventually gets in circulation and enjoy it. But, if you’re looking for the biggest bang for your buck,  the Chivas 18 year old is my pick among the Chivas portfolio. (Formal review forthcoming in the next issue of Malt Advocate magazine.)