Archive for the ‘Education’ Category

Where Whiskey Comes From

Friday, January 16th, 2015

Author - Lew BrysonI got a box from Michael Reppucci at Sons Of Liberty Spirits in Rhode Island last week. I’d reviewed some of their whiskeys before, noting that their take on craft distilling is to take craft beers and distill and age them. He was reaching out with “an experience that we think is pretty freaking cool.” Turned out that I agreed, because what they’d done was take two of the “beers” they make to distill, and instead, carbonated and bottled them. You know, like beer. The idea was to try the beers with the whiskeys.

In the box were four bottles: two whiskeys, two ‘beers,’ the before and after of Uprising and Battle Cry. I took the box home, chilled the beers, and waited for a quiet moment to do a tasting. When it came, I carefully poured the unfiltered beers, and the whiskeys, and tasted.



Uprising stout: Chocolate, coffee, slightly burn graham crackers, toast. Not any forward hops. Soft carbonation, flavors carry through on aromas. Sweet, no bitter grip on the finish, but no real husk/burnt bitterness, either. Sweetness is balanced by the coffee and roasted barley flavors, but still sweeter than most commercial stouts. I’d drink this in a bar.

Uprising whiskey: Oak and vanilla in the nose, but a hint of that chocolate, too. Tastes young, but the maltiness is there, and the chocolate comes through in the finish. Kinda yummy, actually.

Battle Cry

Battle Cry

Battle Cry Belgian: Smells tripelish, looks tripelish, though a bit of a sour edge to it. Oh, hey, that’s very refreshing! I was expecting something much thicker from the smell, but this is light, nice citrus cut to it, and yet enough body to cling just a bit.

Battle Cry whiskey: oak and honey on the nose, and quite a light whiskey on the tongue. The orange is there, but muted.

So does this work? I can’t taste the beers hugely in the whiskeys, but when you’re aging in small barrels (10 and 30 gallon new charred oak), you’re going to get a lot of oak; is it hidden? The chocolate came through in Uprising, the citrus not so much in Battle Cry…but I really like that light body. I also think it was wise to pick non-hop forward beers.

A unique opportunity, an interesting idea. Thanks, Sons of Liberty!



Rare and unique whiskies at WhiskyFest New York seminars

Tuesday, September 17th, 2013

John HansellIf you’re still trying to decide whether to splurge for the WhiskyFest New York seminar ticket, the six-hour whisky experience on October 12, maybe this will help make up your mind. That headline is no exaggeration: there will be unique whiskies at the event, and not run-of-the-mill uniques, either.

IMG_6113Start at 9:00 AM.The very first whisky you’ll taste is a Glenury Royal 23 year old, bottled in 1997. Right off the mark you’re tasting a 23 year old single malt from a distillery that last produced in 1983. Not rare enough, you say? How about Kininvie, the secluded “third distillery” tucked in behind Balvenie and Glenfiddich? There have only been a couple limited single malt bottlings under the Hazelwood label (but never in the U.S.), and one or two for employees and friends; we have some just for you, friend. Then there’s Sazerac 18 year old rye. So what, you’re thinking, that stuff comes out every fall! Not this bottling: this is the original, distilled in 1981, bottled in 2000. Then we cap it with a Stitzel-Weller bourbon. The stuff that’s at the heart of the oldest Pappy Van Winkle, locked up in the warehouses for over 20 years. We’ve got it, you’ll taste it.

And that’s just the first hour! How could we top that? Well, after a little interlude — just an intimate moment with legendary bourbon distiller Jimmy Russell and a one-off bottling of some of the oldest Wild Turkey anyone’s ever seen, no big deal — we will blow your minds with four unique, never-to-be-released-again whiskies. There’s an Ardbeg 1973 (presented by Dr. Bill Lumsden), the one-off Balvenie Offspring (presented by David Stewart), a Highland Park 1968 (presented by Gerry Tosh), and a 21 year old cask strength Aberlour (presented by Ann Miller). None have ever been bottled before; only these 12 bottles of each ever will be.

Remember…we haven’t even broken for lunch yet.Yellow Spot Whiskey

What else? Well, Jim McEwan has the last of this year’s Feis Ile bottling from Bruichladdich, and we have a sampling of three exceptional whiskies (from Compass Box, The Dalmore, and Glenmorangie) paired with exquisite chocolates (one presented by Chef Daniel Boulud). Then there’s that lunch, with four Taliskers and the lively repartee of Diageo’s Dr. Nick Morgan and our own Dave Broom, followed by a hot seminar on whisky trends (with the Taketsuru 21 from Nikka, and our 2012 blend of the year, Blue Hanger 6th Release) and a presentation of seven of last year’s Whisky Advocate award winners, including Glenmorangie Pride and Yellow Spot.

Still haven’t made up your mind? Wow, you’re tough. There’s one more whiskey you’ll get to taste: Master Distiller’s Unity, a bourbon blended from whiskey donated by seven master distillers from their stocks to honor Parker Beam. Parker will present it himself, and the ten bottles we’ll be pouring — for you — will be the first and only tasting of the whiskey. There are two other bottles, which will be sold together the next day at Bonhams, with all proceeds going to the Parker Beam Promise of Hope Fund. But you’ll taste it first. With Parker.

So…ready to buy that ticket now?

Top left photo: WFNY 2012 Seminar Day; Michael Gross

The Housewarming at Midleton

Tuesday, September 10th, 2013

Dominic RoskrowDominic Roskrow was at Midleton’s coming out party for their new pot still room, and a lot more.

Over the years Irish Distillers has built quite a reputation for making its major announcements with some style, and this week’s event in Cork was no different. But while the scale of the event itself was no surprise, the ambition from the flurry of news announcements certainly was. Irish Distillers is aiming for the stars…and then some.

The event, held at the Midleton Distillery, was called “The Housewarming,” and DC 040913 DISTILLERY 70was ostensibly to unveil the new (and not completely finished) still room for the production of pot still whiskey. It was staged in the heart of the old distillery itself, and about 900 people from across the world were invited to take part.

The party consisted of a generous number of stalls serving a diverse selection of quality food, live music, a limitless supply of Irish whiskey and cocktails, and the odd stylish flourish, such as the announcement that the old still room was to be named after retiring Irish whiskey master distiller and legend Barry Crockett.

But while all of this and a gorgeous late summer day gave the proceedings a carnival feel, it was the business end of the offering that made the day so special.

First there was the stillroom itself, capable of eventually producing an amazing 20 million liters of pot still whiskey: that’s equal toDC 040913 DISTILLERY 119 two Glenfiddich distilleries. Much of it will go into blends, but Irish Distillers showed its full commitment to the resurrection of the Irish category with the announcement that it will release two new pot still whiskeys a year for the next ten years. It hinted at Blue Spot and Red Spot products to join the existing Yellow and Green Spot ones, and suggested that very soon we might see an older Redbreast product, possibly 21 years old.

The big surprise, though, was the unveiling of an educational facility to teach about Irish whiskey, complete with a working mini-still made of glass, and stylish display and information material. It marks a clear commitment by the company to play a leading role in protecting and developing  Irish whiskey in the future. All the up and coming Irish craft distillers were invited to the event.

Impressive stuff, and proof positive that the Irish rebirth is not only safe from stalling, but is moving forward at pace.

A little knowledge can be a dangerous thing

Tuesday, September 11th, 2012

Want proof? Have a read through this short piece we found last week entitled “20 Facts That Will Make You Sound Like A Whiskey Expert.”

The point here is to educate. If someone is going to mislead, that’s worse than not even writing the story in the first place. What’s even sadder is that a similar version of this (“18 Facts You Must Know To Sound Smart About Whiskey” ) also ran back in 2010. (So much for learning from your mistakes.)

Why don’t we make the most of it? Read through it. If you see something that’s not true, let us know what it is. (No cheating: don’t read the comments at the end of the story.)

The proper way to drink fine whiskey: an anorak reality check

Friday, August 31st, 2012

It’s Friday, 5 pm. I’m about to enjoy a coveted Old Rip Van Winkle 15 yr. old 107 proof bourbon, which I purchased in the 1990s. Not a bad way to start the holiday weekend, is it?

Naturally, I’m going to savor  this rare treat it in a snifter (or nosing glass like Glencairn), at room temperature, with the careful addition of quality water, right?

Wrong! I just poured it into a plain small rocks glass and added ice to it, which you see pictured.

What? The Publisher & Editor of Whisky Advocate, a magazine devoted to enjoying fine whiskey and educating the consumer, drinking his treasured bourbon on the rocks? In a rocks glass??

Yes! If you’re one of those people who think that the only way to drink good whiskey is neat (or with a little water), in a nosing glass, then it’s time for you to take that extended pinky of your drinking hand and tuck it back in with the rest of your fingers.

There’s a time and place for everything, and there’s more than one way to drink fine whiskey. Sure, when I am reviewing whiskey for the magazine, I’m nosing and tasting in a proper nosing glass, at room temperature, adding water and repeating the process. But, there are other ways to enjoy the good stuff, and I’ll give you some examples.

Whiskey on the rocks is okay sometimes

When I’m drinking whiskey at the beach, like this weekend, I will be adding ice to my whiskey. Why? We like leaving the windows open to let the sea breeze in, and the room temperature of the house is warmer than my house back in Pennsylvania. I add an ice cube to bring the temperature back down to where I like to drink it.

Knowing this, what I typically do is bring barrel proof (or higher-proof) whiskeys with me when I go there. Adding an ice cube kills two birds with one stone:  it lowers both the temperature of the whiskey and the proof at the same time. Yes, in this instance, adding ice enhances my whiskey enjoyment and the whiskey tastes better than if I didn’t add any ice.

Good whiskey makes for better cocktails

I learned this first from my fiddling around with tequila and gin cocktails. The better the spirit–and ingredients–the better the cocktail. For example, I use 100% blue agave blanco tequila (preferably with fresh lime juice and Gran Marnier liqueur) when making my margaritas, and it kicks ass. The same goes for whiskey cocktails. You want an unforgettable Manhattan? Make it with good bourbon, good vermouth, and quality bitters!

Different moods, different glasses

I keep a variety of glassware on hand. Which one I use depends on my mood and situation. There is no one perfect whisky glass (contrary to what glassware producers will lead you to believe). If I’m evaluating a whiskey, then I will use a formal nosing glass. But if my whiskey is just part of an enjoyable experience, not the entire experience, and my attention is focused on other things–the company I’m with, the view in front of me, what I might also be eating at the time, or whether I’m smoking a cigar–then I might be more inclined to not be so damned picky about it.

In fact, one of my most memorable whiskey-drinking experiences didn’t involve a glass at all! It was just the three off us, alone on a frozen lake in Onterio in February, ice fishing, passing around a bottle of good whiskey and telling stories while we drowned our bait and entertained ourselves, because the fish weren’t biting.

It’s okay to have a fine whiskey with a quality cigar

Hey, if you don’t like cigars, fine. And if you don’t want me to smoke a cigar anywhere near you, fair enough. I won’t. But, don’t tell me that enjoying a cigar with a fine whiskey is a waste of good whiskey. It’s not.

True, I won’t be able to detect all the subtle nuances on the nose and palate of a whiskey like I would if I weren’t smoking a cigar. But that loss is made up by the contribution of new aromas and flavors a cigar brings to the table, along with the fun and enjoyment of marrying the flavors between the two. Kicking back with a fine cigar and quality whiskey (say a bourbon or sherried single malt scotch) can be a very rewarding experience.

The point I’m trying to make here is this: one thing that makes whiskey so treasured is its versatility. Try to keep an open mind when it comes to enjoying it. Only then, Grasshopper, will you become a true anorak.



Whisky Stones: do they “rock” or not?

Wednesday, April 11th, 2012

There’s an article in the New York Times dining section today on the popularity of whisky stones. Give it a quick read. I’m quoted in it.

For those of you who are not familiar with them, they are small stones that you can purchase, keep in your freezer, and put in your whisky instead of ice. The idea here is that you can cool your whisky without watering it down.

I was interviewed by the author twice before the piece was published, and think she did a good job in the article conveying my general opinion of them: I see very little use for them in my whisky-drinking life. I own some because I was sent samples to review. For the most part, they just take up space in my freezer next to whatever that is in the Ziploc bag with freezer burns all over it that my wife put in there last year.

Most people I know who are “enthusiasts” drink their whisky neat or with a splash of water at room temperature. And, as I note in the article, my friends who are not serious whisky drinkers (like my fishing buddies who drink bourbon and ginger ale on the rocks) have never complained to me about the ice watering down their drink. (It’s probably because their drinks don’t last long enough for melting ice to become a concern…)

Plus, there’s the whole logistical and sanitary issue with whiskey stones. You have to have them handy, in a freezer nearby, to use them. (Try asking for them with your drink order the next time you go out to a bar or restaurant and see what response you get from your server.)

The few times I have tried them, they became a nuisance at some point. They weigh down my drink, and I am stuck with them when I’m done with it. Then I have to wash them, dry them (heaven forbid any ice forms on them, right?), and put them back in the cute little bag they came in before throwing them back in my freezer.

To be fair, I really do see one situation where they would be useful. I mentioned this during the interview, but it was not included due to space constraints. I keep most of my whiskies in a bar in my house here in Pennsylvania. In the summer, the house is air-conditioned, so my bottles never get warmer than the temperature at which I prefer to drink my whisky. But, I have a vacation home at the New Jersey shore and we often keep the windows open and forgo the A/C to welcome in the lovely sea breezes. But, my bottles of whisky sometimes get a few degrees warmer than I would like and I find myself wanting to cool my whisky down a bit. I suspect many of you have similar situations, depending on where you live and if you have A/C or not.

Even so, I have several options available to me that are very convenient and do not require the expense and hassle of whisky stones. What I normally do is just add a little cold water or a small ice cube to bring my whisky down a few degrees. I often drink cask-strength whisky and would be adding some water anyway. Even in the times when I don’t want any water or ice in my whisky, in a pinch I can simply keep some glasses in the fridge or stick my glass in the freezer for a minute or two, which will cool my whisky down shortly after I pour it in the glass.

I guess the point I am trying to make is: who are the tens (hundreds?) of thousands of people buying these? If you’re using them on a regular basis, please chime in here. I’m keeping an open mind. I am all for progress and buying new things that will make my life better. (Our house has iPhones and iPads with lots of cool apps, for example). If I can help whisky stone producers sell more product, make more money, and at the same time making whisky-drinkers (and therefore whisky producers) happier, then I am all for it.

P.S. Just after I published this post, I was coincidentally sent an email promo for something called the “Instant Wine Chiller” which you can find here. They say it also works for vodka, tequila, etc. You put it on the end of the bottle and it cools the beverage as it flows out of the bottle before going into the glass. I don’t know anything more about it or how well it work, but it looks like another alternative to putting stones in your whisky.

Compass Box Whisky, Dave Wondrich, and breakfast cocktails for 500 people

Tuesday, January 24th, 2012

So, I told you about the whole day-long seminar thing we have going on during WhiskyFest New York 2012 weekend this October already here. I said that it’s going to be very cool. Well, here’s one example.

I approached John Glaser of Compass Box Whisky if he would debut a whisky for us at WhiskyFest during the seminar program, and he agreed. A few days later he came to me with this idea:

For our New York WhiskyFest slot on Saturday at 9:15 am, I would like to unveil a special, limited release Great King Street blend, inspired by and made just for New York City.

To help me present it, Dave Wondrich (world renowned mixologist, cocktail historian and Whisky Advocate columnist) will join me. I’ll introduce the whisky and we’ll taste it with the attendees.  Then, Dave will present the new blend used to make a classic morning cocktail from the 1890s, Harry Johnson’s Morning Glory cocktail.  According to Dave, this is one of the earliest known Scotch-based cocktails.

This is why the 9:15 am Saturday slot is perfect for us!

John, since the beginning of the development of Great King Street, I’ve been thinking about creating Great King Street blends over time for different places, different cities or regions or countries (inspired by Scotch blenders of old, and a passage in Whisky by Aeneas MacDonald).  In particular, I’ve been thinking for a while now about creating a blend for New York City.

And as I believe you know, a key part of the mission behind Great King Street is to enlighten whisky enthusiasts to new ways to enjoy their favourite drink.  An historical and arguably intellectual approach to enjoying Scotch whisky in cocktails (in morning cocktails!) as part of the new WhiskyFest format is ideal!

And this is just the first 15 minutes of the program! Wait until you see what we’ve got lined up the rest of the day. Details to follow.

Cocktail for breakfast anyone? Here’s how you can join us.

WhiskyFest NY 2012 Seminar Program Agenda

Friday, January 13th, 2012

We’ve completed the agenda for the Saturday seminar program for our 15th Annual WhiskyFest New York, which has now been expanded to an entire weekend. (The Saturday seminars will be book-ended by grand tasting events on Friday and Saturday nights. Follow my link above for more details.) I include the agenda below.

We are still putting together the list of whiskies that will be poured and whiskymakers that will be participating as panel members for each seminar topic. Two things I know for sure already:

  • The whiskies you will be tasting during the “Whisky Auctions and Collecting” seminar in itself will be worth the price of admission.
  • We will have the “A list” of master distillers and blenders at this event (in addition to all of our main whisky writers).

Stay tuned for more details.


WhiskyFest 2012 Seminar Topics and Schedule


9:00 Opening remarks (John Hansell)

An overview of the day’s activities

9:15 Debut whisky #1 (Scotch)

9:30 Whisky collecting and auctions (Panel Moderator: Jonny McCormick)

Fueled by the global demand in whisky, whisky auctions and collecting are booming right now. We’ll take a look at current auction trends, offer tips in collecting whisky and participating in auctions, and we’ll taste some very rare whiskies often seen on the auction block.

10:15 Debut whisky #2 (Irish)                   

10:30 Trending scotch (Panel Moderator: Dave Broom)

What’s hot right now in the Scotch whisky world? We’ll take a look at the latest trends, described first-hand by the master distillers and blenders who are making them. We’ll also provide a sneak peak of upcoming new releases.

11:15 Debut whiskey #3 (Bourbon)

11:30 Understanding Irish: deciphering Single Pot Still, Single Malt, and Blended Irish Whiskey (Panel Moderator: Dominic Roskrow)

Single Pot Still whiskey is unique to Ireland. How does Single Pot Still whiskey differ from Single Malts and Blended whiskeys, which are also part of the Irish whiskey fabric? We’ll sort it out, and we’ll taste our way through the finest Ireland has to offer.

12:15 Whisky and food pairing lunch (Moderated by Gavin Smith)

1:30 Bourbon and Rye Innovations (Panel Moderator: Lew Bryson)

There’s more experimental and creative whiskey releases now than ever before. We will assemble a panel of experts from the whiskey companies that are conducting this research to gain insight on what’s working, what isn’t working, and what’s to come.

2:15 A tasting of select Whisky Advocate award winning and other highly-rated whiskies

Moderated by John Hansell, but includes the entire Whisky Advocate review team (Lew Bryson, Dave Broom, Gavin Smith, and Dominic Roskrow)

3:00 Closing remarks (John Hansell)

Whisky Masterclass – any time, online

Monday, December 19th, 2011

We hope you recall Dave Broom’s piece from our fall issue of Whisky Advocate, in which he chronicled touring Scotland in a cheese-reeking motorhome with a South African camera crew. The purpose of the tour was to create a series of video classes on whisky, and that class is now available, both online and as a set of DVDs, called The World Masterclass.

It’s no small project. This first year of the course is a series of 50 lessons, each featuring Broom describing an aspect of whisky production, backed up by video clips of distillers giving their own personal perspectives on that facet.  That’s perhaps the most appealing part of this package; learning about malting from Eddie MacAffer (Bowmore), milling from Georgie Crawford (Lagavulin), distillation from Mickey Heads (Ardbeg), finishing from Jim McEwan (Bruichladdich)…this is no surface-skim of whisky education, it’s as geeky as you want to get.

“It’s all very well having the theory laid out,” says Broom, “but the only way in which you can understand whisky is by seeing the places in which it is made: the landscape, the weather — and it was pretty wild when we were there — and, most importantly, the phenomenal people who make the spirit.”

You can’t have a whisky masterclass without tasting, of course. While you can’t actually taste whisky coming through the screen, there are 100 three-to-five minute sessions of tasting readily available major whisky brands with Broom, featuring full descriptions of the flavors and positioning them in one of five “flavor camps.”

It’s a serious undertaking, and you’ll have to take it seriously to get everything out of it; each lesson presents a multiple-choice test at the end. You have to pass the test to unlock the next level (whisky education as video game progression?). There are other rewards: once enrolled, you get offers for whisky specials, events, and further filmed specials. Year 2 will add Irish whisky and blended Scotch whisky, as well as more in-depth focuses on specific Scottish distilleries.

The price for the online/5-DVD course is $150. Enrollment and more information is available at–Lew Bryson

Happy Birthday Michael Jackson!

Sunday, March 27th, 2011

Happy Birthday Michael: beer hunter, whisky chaser and my mentor. Save a seat for me in that great pub in the sky.

I’ll get there eventually. In the meantime, I’ll do my best to continue on where you left off. (But it will take many more people than just me to fill your void.)