Archive for the ‘Whisky-related items’ Category

Automated Whisky Dispense at Grane in Omaha

Monday, September 22nd, 2014

Lew BrysonHow do you like your whisky? I don’t mean whether you like it neat, or watered, or in a cocktail; how do you like it socially, how do you like it served?

Grane, a new bar in Omaha, Nebraska, has a completely new way to serve whisky: by automated machine. Grane’s founder, Daniel Matuszek, explains that the whole bar is built around the system, developed by WineEmotion, a European company that developed the technology for wine dispense.

“We went to them over a year ago and told them about the growth of whisky,” Matuszek recalls, explaining that they were looking to use the technology for whisky instead of wine. “They resized and retrofitted the pistons that push the liquid. They used the same technologies, but remade for whisky bottles. We got an exclusive arrangement for spirits dispensing with this for a year, global exclusivity. We’re the first and only place to use this; not Chicago, LA, or NYC, not London: Omaha.”

Grane has a “speakeasy feel,” according to Matuszek, but the whisky dispensers are sleekly modern, hard-edged technology. A customer buys a smart card (see the video, below) and “loads” money onto it. It’s whisky, so you probably want to load heavy. Then you take a look at what’s on offer; there are currently 35 bottles available at any one time. “We have a world whisky machine, a bourbon machine, two Scotch whisky machines, and a high-end machine,” Matuszek says.

You choose a whisky, press one of three buttons (½, 1, or 1.5 ounce) above that particular spout, and the whisky pours into your glass. It’s quick, it’s accurate, and you can see the bottle directly below the spout. It’s all customer-operated; no bartender involved. “It breaks down some of the barriers,” he says about the direct operation. “People can read about the whiskies, and then they can try by themselves, at their own pace, their own judgment.”

You’re probably wondering the same things I was. Is there potential for the whisky to be harmed, or changed, or contaminated? Keep in mind that the same issues for whisky are there for wine: contamination, oxidation, and — prime importance considering the cost of whiskies — waste. The whisky is pushed by food-grade argon gas, with the uptake from the bottom of the bottle; the headspace fills up with argon. The spout will drip two or three drops, but cut-off is precise. There is very little to go wrong here.

“The majority of people have been hitting that half-ounce button; they want to try things,” Matuszek notes, which must not surprise anyone who knows whisky lovers. “We don’t keep them on for months at a time. we have a barrel of Dickel 9 year old we selected, and we’ll keep that on. But we go all the way from the biggest baddest Ardbeg to Glenmorangie Nectar d’Or. We’re teaching people about Japanese whisky, Canadian whisky, and all that.”

Will people like getting whisky without a bartender? (Grane’s bartenders are fully employed making cocktails, of course.) Will automated dispense catch on outside of Omaha? Will this be the next thing where people will say they can taste the difference? Would you buy auto-dispense whisky?

The Vinturi Spirit Aerator: a little afternoon fun

Friday, February 28th, 2014

Author - Lew BrysonJohn recently reminded me that I was going to try out the Vinturi Spirit booze aerator we received about six months ago. Well, here I am on another of this winter’s snow days, and it seems like a perfect time to pull it out and have a go at it.

Comes with a base; doesn't come filled with whisky.

Comes with a base; doesn’t come filled with whisky.

First look: it’s clear plastic, but quite weighty. It looks like Magneto’s prison in X-Men 2, which is appropriate, because the button that activates the valve is not connected to the valve: it works by magnetism, so that no metal parts touch the whiskey, and there are no seals to leak whiskey. Unobtrusively cool, that. The Vinturi’s inventor, Rio Sabadicci, says that the “proprietary material” it’s made from is “more inert than glass,” which is either hard to believe…or scary, I thought glass was pretty darned inert.

Anyway, after fiddling with the magnetic button for a while, and rinsing it well with water, it’s time to play. First up was a Balblair 2001, bottled in 2012, uncolored, non-chill filtered, at 46%. Straight up: orange nougat, wet meadow, wildflower honey, dried pear, and a light piney tang, with some cocoa/fudge in the mid-palate; a thin entry that grows in the mouth. Into the Vinturi with it! The only difference I notice is that the pine backs off quite a bit, and the mouthfeel is a bit fuller. So what the heck, I ran it through again. This time the whisky tastes a bit sweeter, the fruit has backed off somewhat, more malt is coming to the fore, and the finish is warming up.

(Click on the video link to hear the odd sound it makes as the Balblair aerates.)

Let’s try something else: Jim Beam Single Barrel. That’s pretty different: 47.5% single barrel bourbon, around 6 years old. Light orange and cinnamon blend with warm caramel and dry oak in the nose, a pleasantly light corn, caramel, and citrus sweetness in the mouth, spiked with more cinnamon and some pepper, drying with oak toward the finish. Whatever: let’s whirlpool it! Erk. Something herbaceous has crept in, stemmy and rank…and then it’s gone. What happened there?! Now it’s like before, with maybe a bit more orange. The flavor, like the Balblair, seems sweeter after the aeration, and similarly, the finish seems hotter. Odd.

I’m not done, though. I have a new craft whiskey I haven’t reviewed yet: Ranger Creek .44 Rye, one of their “Small Caliber Series” of young, small bottle format whiskeys. This is Batch #1, 7 months old, and 47%, “distilled from 100% rye mash.” Very grassy, oily nose, with a floral touch to it. Crackling bitterness up front, followed by a wildly wrenching transition to a big sweet finish; like the .36 bourbon, this is not for the faint of heart, exciting whiskey. Let’s load this wildcat round in the Vinturi and pull the trigger. The nose seems more minty than grassy now, and the mouth is less bitter, the mint comes out, and again, the finish seems hotter. This is more changed than the other two, but the differences are still rather small.

What to make of this? The Vinturi Spirit sells for $20 on Amazon; $30 at stores. I’m sold on the value of aerating red wine, but on aerating whiskey? Not so much. The results of these three experiments make me think of something a brewer once said to me, after suggesting what I might be tasting in his beers. “They’re dog whistle flavors,” he said. “You don’t really hear them, you hear them because I told you they were there.” I’m not sure there’s really any difference in what I’m tasting pre/post-Vinturi, but there’s supposed to be a difference, so I look for one.

I think the Vinturi is like the Whisky Rocks; something a well-meaning friend or relation will buy you as a gift. You’ll play with it a couple times, and then put it away. That’s what I’m going to do. And then I’m going to finish these whiskies and call it a day!

The drop that makes the dram

Wednesday, September 5th, 2012

Jonny McCormick, Whisky Advocate contributor brings exclusive news of a new product which could enhance your enjoyment of single malt Scotch whisky.

Here’s the thing. When you reward yourself with a decent single malt whisky, most of us add a little splash of water to bring the alcohol strength down to allow the aroma and flavor sensations to blossom fully. It’s a personal thing, but do you stop to think about the water you add?

That’s where Uisge Source hopes to make a difference by launching a range of bottled Scottish spring water specifically chosen for the single malt drinker. Starting with the belief that the best water to splash into your dram is the water from which the whisky is made, they set out to research the benefits and science behind this. I’ll admit, I was sceptical at first but the arguments are plausible and intriguing. I’m aware that if I drink single malts when I’m travelling and ask for water, I may be offered anything from a giant vessel of city tap water to a bottle of sparkling mineral water depending on the establishment. Here and there, I suspect you may have had similar disappointments too (or you’re drinking in more sophisticated bars than me). The type of water you add does irrefutably alter the flavor and experience. Just try drinking a whisky you know intimately far from home with the local tap water and you’ll see the difference.

There has to be a scientific reason behind this phenomenon? Dr. Bill Lumsden, master distiller, the Glenmorangie company, agrees, “It’s the provenance and sense of place which makes single malt whisky so unique. Adding water from the same source can only help protect the integrity of the spirit”. Furthermore, the character of the water is intrinsically linked to the geology of its origin, a concept explored by Dr. Stephen Cribb, author of Whisky on the Rocks and a geologist who has studied the origins of water supplying Scottish distilleries. “The chemistry of the water used to make whisky affects the character of that whisky. Adding source water or water with similar properties will ensure that no additional chemical factors are introduced and the character remains unchanged.”

As whisky matures in the cask, the interaction draws flavor from the wood. Similarly, water draws minerals which affects its character as it filters through the terrain whether its sandstone, limestone or peat. The team behind Uisge Source come from strong whisky industry backgrounds and set about trying to establish the character of the water in different distilling regions. They measured seven key minerals and graded each water according to its Total Hardness Score. Next, they explored the localities seeking wells and springs that would provide a suitable source of high quality, pure, clean spring water. Easier said than done and I’m told several sites were rejected for not meeting the quality standards or ideal water chemistry to represent the region. In the end, they have secured supply from three private springs for the exclusive use for the Uisge Source waters. The water to complement Islay whiskies comes from the Ardilistry Spring, Islay and is the first bottled water from the Scottish Isles. It has a higher natural acidity due to the water filtering through the peat. The Highland water comes from St Colman’s Well, Ross-shire, the most northerly bottled water in Scotland and like the water used in the popular Highland distilleries, it is hard water very high in minerals. The predominance of granite in the hard rock strata of Speyside means that the soft water picks up fewer minerals and is one of the reasons behind the concentration of distilleries in the area. The Speyside water from The Cairngorms Well, Moray is from one of Scotland’s highest natural springs and provides a soft water low in minerals. The 100ml bottles are hand-filled and contain sufficient supply to complement 5-10 drams and will be sold individually or in a three-region selection pack. Expect to see them in specialist whisky retailers in the UK initially (but refreshingly, there are no restrictions on posting water internationally), but expect them to appear at other specialist retailers, whisky events and the kind of bars and hotels who keep ahead of the curve.

My take on this, as I anticipate getting hold of some and playing around with some familiar malts, is that this should help drinkers get the very best from their whiskies and makes for good discussion. I can see that partnering the whisky with complementary regional water should retain the true and original character of the whisky – an antithesis to my experiences with whiskies dulled by tap water in large cities. I find parallels with audiophiles listening to incredible music recordings through superior acoustic equipment compared to the same performance relayed through cheap tinny speakers. Similar to the successful introduction of the Glencairn glass, this could help complete the perfect serve. I’m curious and looking forward to trying it and hearing what everyone else thinks.

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.

The Macallan announces next installment of “Masters of Photography” series

Thursday, May 13th, 2010

 You might remember the first time Macallan did this. I wrote about it here back in 2008. It involved a well-known photographer, a beautiful naked blond on the distillery grounds at Macallan, and the eventual images being showcased on bottles of 30 year old Macallan. To say the least, it created quite a stir. 

Well, The Macallan has introduced the second installment in this series. This time it’s with a different photographer. I’m not sure if there will be any naked blonds, but they do promise “a dramatic and yet romantic ‘art noir’ voyage; a stylish couple and the key secret behind The Macallan.”

Wow, my imagination is running wild with that description! You’ll find all the details below in the press release I received.


Today, The Macallan single malt whisky announced that the next photography partnership in their Masters of Photography series is going to be with the legendary Albert Watson.

Scots born, Watson is famous worldwide for his celebrity, fashion and art photography. Photo District News named him one of the 20 most influential photographers of all time. He has shot posters for major Hollywood movies such as ‘Kill Bill’, ‘Memoirs of a Geisha’, ‘The Da Vinci Code’, as well as shooting over 200 covers for Vogue and Rolling Stone magazine. In fact, in 2007 one large-format print of his sold for $108,000 at auction. He is also an acclaimed director with over 500 TV commercials to his name.

The Macallan Masters of Photography II will be in an entirely different style to the first edition in the series, shot by Rankin.

The subject of the project must be kept under wraps, for the moment, until shooting is complete but the key ingredients include: a dramatic and yet romantic ‘art noir’ voyage; a stylish couple and the key secret behind The Macallan.

Ken Grier, Director of Malts, The Edrington Group, said: “I am extremely excited about working with the hugely talented and influential Albert Watson. His creativity is fabulous, but not only that, he exudes an aura of charm and quiet confidence that is very much in keeping with The Macallan   

“As part of this unique project, art and whisky lovers alike can follow The Macallan shoot with Albert Watson by following my daily blog.  The blog posts will start from 31st May at

Albert Watson, added: “I am looking forward to working with The Macallan on such a prestigious project. The partnership with a premium, Scottish iconic brand will give me a once in a lifetime photographic opportunity to create a lasting legacy as part of The Macallan Masters of Photography series.”

The final result will be revealed by The Macallan at a series of glittering events later in the year.  Further details will be revealed in the months to come.


Please enjoy our brands responsibly.

Notes to editors


  1. The first Macallan Masters of Photography was launched in 2008 with Scots photographer Rankin.  Rankin produced 1,000 individual black and white images captured on Polaroid.  Each limited edition bottle of rare 30 year old Macallan Fine Oak single malt displayed a bespoke label featuring one of Rankin’s images, accompanied by the original Polaroid.


The array of images featured artistic nude studies of Tuuli, Rankin’s muse and wife, contrasted by shots of the dedicated craftspeople of the distillery, and still life images of the surrounding flora and fauna at Easter Elchies Estate.

  1. The Macallan is ranked number two by value* among the world’s top selling single malts and is recognised as being a leader within the Scotch Whisky industry when it comes to innovation.

*IWSR figures ending December 2006

Here’s something cool: Whisky barrel flooring

Wednesday, May 12th, 2010

This would look a lot nicer on the bar floor in my house than the carpeting and tile that’s there now. More details here, on the blog of the company who makes it.

(Thanks to Richard Paterson for Tweeting about this.)

Okay, so can anyone figure out which distillery this came from?

Your whisk(e)y-related holiday gift recommendations?

Monday, December 7th, 2009

We talk enough about whisky, but what about the things that enhance our whisky-drinking pleasure (books, glassware, water pitchers, etc)?

Excluding whisk(e)y for the moment, what have you used and enjoyed that can you recommend for the whisk(e)y enthusiast this holiday season?

Of course, the first item on everyone’s list should be a gift subscription to Malt Advocate, especially since I am offering a “two years for the price of one” deal here until the end of the year. :) But what else can you recommend?