Balvenie 50 year? Pinch me, I must be dreaming.

A few weeks ago I got an opportunity to indulge in some of the most expensive whiskies available from The Macallan. It was a dram come true for many a whisky lover. The No 6. The M. The dream. Just when I thought I had woken up, like the movie Inception, I must have been subject to a dream within a dream. Even with the first kick of leaving the Macallan event, just a few short weeks later, I found myself drinking one of the most expensive whiskies to have ever existed.


[The Balvenie 50 Year Cask 191.]

I don’t know what you’re thinking but I know what I was thinking… did it taste like $40,000?

Some would argue that no whisky is worth that price of admission but for something distilled in 1952 only to be disturbed again in 2002, it’s hard to say that the cost per bottle wouldn’t be astronomically high considering the years of storage, care, and the angel’s share.

The color was a dark red. So dark red that it looked black any time you were looking at the edges of the dram in direct light. It was impossible to see through the bottle.

The nose had hints of fruit sweetness and actually made me believe that the pour would be on the lighter side of the palate. I was expecting something more typical of Balvenie’s signature profile but I am so glad I was wrong.

Uncharacteristic of Balvenie, the palate was an explosion of flavor. It’s typical of older whiskies that they can lose a lot of vibrancy and life from so many years in the cask but this 50 year old was alive and kicking! David Stewart, MBE., continued to try and assure me of the sweetness that I was tasting but my palate disagreed quite a bit. Yes, about 25% of what I was tasting was similar to raw sugar but the other 75% of the palate was definitely filled with spices. It wasn’t over whelming but it was definitely in your face. Amazing.

The finish was soft and unassuming, not too short and not too long.

I’m not sure what my brain was expecting beyond the honeyed and softer notes we’ve come to expect from Balvenie as of late but I definitely didn’t mind being surprised. This was bold. This was borderline brash. This was brilliant.

I’m so thankful that I had an opportunity to try it. It was certainly once in a life time and lately I’ve felt like I’ve been living enough to last a few.

Without further ado, my video interview of David Stewart, MBE. is below along with pictures from the event.

Enjoy! Slainte!


[The setup for the interview]


[@TheScotchFather and @theScotchWhisperer talking]


[Aaron of @whisky.arch interviewing DCS MBE]


[David C. Stewart, MBE.]


[A little group picture action! (thanks Jason for snapping this)]


[Tracie from Glenfiddich (@glenfiddichtf) with DCS MBE]


[Tim of @Whiskey_Library_DC speaking with Jack Rose owner @Mashbill_Thomas]


[Eric of @ScotchAndTime being ridiculous :P]


[Signature Time!]


[Tim of @Whiskey_Library_DC with DCS MBE]


[Raising a toast to @theScotchFather]


[Tracie (@GlenfiddichTF) exchanging a glance with Jen H. of Momentum who handles the marketing for WMG&S in the DC area!]


[All eyes on David]

Whisky Blogger Summit 2017 (OR How to become a whisky thief)

Whisky lovers, let me explain.

I didn’t go to a Macallan tasting assuming I’d become a whisky thief but sometimes in life, you find yourself doing something crazy.


Casa Luca in DC
(Casa Luca is owned by Fabio Trabocchi who also owns Michelin star rated Fiola)

A month ago, I received an invite from The Macallan for a special tasting at Casa Luca in DC. Without hesitation, I accepted and RSVP’ed that I would be there. I knew it was coming. Brian and Tim from The Whiskey Library DC were setting up the second annual Whisky Blogger Summit and needed everyone’s addresses well in advance to mail out the invites.


Casa Luca’s Bar

As a blogger, I figured this was the event to end all events. The event where I’d get to try the Macallan M and be done tasting expensive whiskies forever (ha!). Sure enough, the pre-dinner flight we had started with the Rare Cask and ended with the M. What I didn’t realize is my own personal adventure of owning Macallan stopped one bottle shy of the one that would change my entire palate’s perspective on whisky.

(on to the pictures)


A little private room action!


Don’t I own two of these?


@WhiskeyIsEverything and @Scotch_Trooper


@WhiskyWithAView aka @Whisky_Nate talking with @MacallanNicolas


Hors d’oeuvres (Horse day Oovers lol)


Two of the gents from @Whisky.Arch laughing it up


A little selfie action because all whisky comes in mirrored boxes, right?


Heck of a spread!


@Whiskey_Library_DC and @Scotch_In_The_City


The Macallan 1824 Master Series


A glass water dropping pipette.


Macallan Nicolas walking us all through the series, eh. (he’s Canadian)


Hello darkness my old friend… (remember when I made an old fashioned out of this?)


So much nervousness!


The pièce de résistance. The M.


But THIS spoke to my palate and my SOUL.

Let’s stop with the pictures for a minute. I didn’t even take notes for this dram, that’s how excited I was about it. Also, it’s an absolute shame that I didn’t write my thoughts down but I remember thinking dried fruits including fig with sherried spices were perfectly balanced in a way that I had never had before. Ab. So. Lute. Ly. Mindbending. I had fallen in love with whisky all over again.

Honestly. When you get to the point that you’ve tried a few hundred whiskies, your brain looks for easier ways to sort them all. I’ve literally created an immediate two pile separation of whiskies in my mind: Memorable and Unmemorable. Every once in a while a memorable whisky transcends reality and grows into a beast that haunts your dreams…. in a good way.

I still have favorites all over the cost spectrum from $27 to $1800 but now… now I have this $5k bottle in my hand contemplating the meaning of whisky itself. The problem is I have no desire to spend $5k on a single bottle of No 6. Let’s be serious, you could buy a used car for that price. That used car will provide you with the ability to drive great distances and travel to meet people you wouldn’t normally. All of those life experiences you could have for just $5k.

BUT. THIS. BOTTLE.

I don’t have it. But now I very seriously want it. What was the next logical step at a tasting where no one is allowed a second pour?

THEFT.
(G-d I hope no one from Macallan is reading this lol).

I brought some extra samples bottles with me originally thinking “Oh, I’ll grab some M to sample at home and do a legitimate review” but the No 6 changed my brain in ways I can’t explain. So I did it. I grabbed the bottle when everyone was pretty distracted and I poured a solid half an ounce into a clean glencairn before transferring it to my sample bottle at my camera bag. It was finished. I have the sample at home and I’m saving it for my birthday this year. YES. It was that good to me. *drool*

Back to the pictures of the rest of the event!!


The M’s topper is frosted only on the sides. It’s clear from the top. This is looking down at the triangular bottle.


The M


@Whisky_Nate helping @Scotch_Trooper with one of his IG famous shots


For pairing with dinner


Me playing with @Scotch_Trooper’s toys lol


A motley crew including the brand reps πŸ™‚


MMM


“This is how we take all of the bottles…”


Oh and dinner was incredible πŸ˜‰

So there you have it! Another adventure (and sample bottle) in the bag!

-Sniff

The SNS Trip to Scotland Pt.2

There are so many small details from Scotland that I can’t put into words but I’m going to try my best. As powerful as olfactory senses are, we haven’t figured out a way to transmit them over the internet so you’ll have to settle for descriptive words based on my experiences that might not match the same words you’d use based on your own experiences. Thanks to pictures and your imagination though, hopefully you’ll feel like you’re at the distillery having the time of your life. But in case these aren’t enough… just go to Scotland. It’ll be amazing, I promise. πŸ™‚

The drive to Old Pulteney involved a two and a half hour drive up the coast to a city called Wick. The coastal landscape is littered with “Whin” [link https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ulex%5D bushes so you get this gorgeous yellow landscape contrasting with the gorgeous blue waters of the ocean against a white cloud sky. The ocean was dappled with random sunlight that made a magical ocean surface where you were sure scotch would rise from the depths and call to you. I’m not sure we have any coastal areas like this in the states considering how quickly people flock to waterfront property. You could see sporadic houses in the middle of nowhere on this drive. Many of them with roofs that had vegetation growing on top of them. The water in the air and the ground seemed to be on heck of a catalyst for plant growth.

Hopefully you have all of that pictured in your mind because I couldn’t take pictures while driving on the left side of the road. πŸ™‚

We arrived in Wick and headed to the Distillery to meet up with Malcolm Waring, the distillery manager. Malcolm welcomed us and dove right into what would become information overload. There are so many aspects of crafting whisky that are the same at every distillery but there are so many details that make each distillery unique.

Walking out behind the visitor center, we can enter the actual distillery.

The first thing you’ll meet in the distillery is a Porteus mill. You’ll meet malt mills like this at every distillery and many are in fact, specifically, Porteus made. The company made a name for itself by building mills so well that it put itself out of business. Very few parts in the mill ever need to be serviced and upgraded which is amazing but it makes you wonder about the amount of engineer obsolescence we live with today.

Once we’ve milled the grain to retrieve the starch, it’s time to mash it! Generally three temperatures of water are applied to the grain to convert the starch to sugar.

Now that we have our sugar, it’s time to ferment it!

Old Pulteney uses stainless steel washbacks. (Some welder out there is pretty good at walking the cup!)

Let’s try a little wort!

Tons of draff (all of the leftover parts of the grain that aren’t used) can be mixed with pot ale (we’ll get to that later) to create feed for animals or biofuel for some larger distilleries looking to go greener. Nothing is wasted!

These stills aren’t small. One will accept the wort to create low wines (wash still, first distillation) and the other will accept low wines (spirit still, second distillation) and create new make spirit!

The wash still at Old Pulteney has a flat top O.O . The shape of the copper plays a large part in the flavor and viscosity of the spirit. We also learned here that the stills are originally created with 5mm thick copper but as the boiling spirits rage inside and the copper chains clean the pot ale, eventually the copper wears down. Still can actually collapse on themselves after a few decades of use so many times they’re repaired in sections.

Some distilleries still use worm tubs to condense the vapors of the spirit and many now use dedicated condensers to cool the vapors.

Ahhhh. spirit safes. This is where the spirit is rockin around 70% ABV depending on the distillery. This is also where the distiller picks out the head, heart, and tail or foreshots, heart, and feints. Malcolm also explained how the locks worked when each distillery had a tax man on site.

Malcolm’s retirement barrel! It might be a 2007 Cask #444 with Alligator char in an exMadeira cask πŸ˜‰

A little tasting that included their new whisky liquer Stroma.

#BottleYourOwn!!

On a fun side note, Malcolm is a big fan of Whistle Pig and Stranahans!

Oh the day isn’t over?? You mean we saw a second distillery on the same day?

Ladies and Gentlemen, Balblair.

John MacDonald is the distillery manager at Balblair and he’s another wealth of knowledge. He was the best part about Balblair. He’s full of stories and history and he’s lived a life that many would envy BEFORE he ever became a distillery manager. That’s the richest part of this trip and the richest part of whisky, without a doubt. The people.

John showing us how a peat cutter works! He’s got a lot of horrible memories tied to them as a kid so let’s not linger!

Wooden washback being filled at Balblair.

Traditional dunnage. Notice the exposed ground πŸ™‚

So there you go! Two gorgeous distilleries in Scotland and that was just day two!

The SNS Trip to Scotland (part 1)

Six days in Scotland

Sniff here. And oh yes… it’s finally time to talk about the legendary trip to Scotland. Before I really dig into the trip, I have to warn you that the story will not end in any way you are probably imagining. Obviously we didn’t die in a plane crash to or from Scotland but a trip like this really reveals interesting idiosyncrasies and even invokes some curious paradigm shifts in the way life operates.

To be completely transparent, I think it’s important to disclose how we went about booking this trip in the first place. We had planned (for quite some time) on visiting Scotland sooner, but due to our nutty schedules, it couldn’t have happen any sooner than it did. Luckily for us, the week we happened to be free to go overlapped with the end of the Spirit of Speyside Festival. This is a weeklong shindig in Scotland when the distilleries, industry folks, and locals, join together to create an amazing week of whisky inspired adventures. From whisky paired dinners to distillery tours to train rides with whisky tastings, this is definitely a week that any enthusiast would want to visit!

Originally, I had drawn up an itinerary for the entire week that incorporated much of the festival activities but [Scotch] thought it would be an awesome time to heed the advice of the brand ambassadors: “if you’re planning a trip to Scotland, talk to me first!”. Credit that quote to a handful of ambassador friends we’ve made in whisky industry (Gemma, Miles, Nicola, Cam, Matthew, and everyone else I’m unintentionally forgetting!).

After reaching out to them, our itinerary got thrown out and replaced by a dream trip. There’s no way we would have had the time and energy to organize the amazing visits the way that these friends came together to create, and for that, we’re eternally grateful.

We went from a speyside focused trip to a crazy whirlwind adventure that included 700 miles of driving, spanning from Wick to Inverness to Knockdhu and everywhere in between.

We visited Tomatin, Old Pulteney, Balblair, Glenfiddich, anCnoc, Glenfarclas, Glenlivet, Cardhu, and Macallan between Tuesday and Sunday! There was so much to see, learn, and do in just a few short days!

From a driving perspective, it’s important to note that Scotland has a zero tolerance for driving and alcohol. I’ve read that the limits are so low that most distilleries won’t risk giving a driver samples even by accident. Take sample bottles with you if you plan on driving! Some distilleries DO have “driver packs” which are just ziplock styled bags with samples bottles inside them but you really should bring your own if you plan on driving. If you’re staying in speyside the whole time it might be possible to taxi back and forth from your hotel the whole time but there is no uber out in the middle of what is essentially the Podunk of the UK. πŸ™‚

Also of note, many of the roads your GPS will take you on to get into and out of speyside are single lane or single and a half lane roads. Negotiating with cars headed in your opposite direction is sometimes a chore. The speed limit on many of the roads is 60mph but there are plenty of places where 60mph is impossible to do so give yourself extra time to get where you’re going. Driving on the left is always fun but you definitely have to keep your wits about you if you’re used to driving on the right. Oh, and the signs are in MPH and there are speed cameras (and average speed cameras) up and down the highway.

From a regular ol’ tourist’s perspective, the landscaping is beautiful and covered in what locals call “Whin bush”. Wiki says it’s actually called “Ulex” but it’s a strange and brightly orange colored bush that litters the areas around the ocean side roads. It’s visible from planes flying into Inverness so if you see it, that’s what you’re looking at. Also near Inverness, if you’re into the magical story of the Loch Ness monster, you’re not far from the actual Loch when you hop off of the plane. There are castles around the country side too but we didn’t have any time for castles, unfortunately. Some of them did look beautiful from a distance. The food was good too. πŸ™‚

The rest of the Scotland trip will be posted in separate parts after this one since they’ll be much more focused on specific distilleries and the details of those distilleries. Here’s to a handful of posts after this one!

Slainte!

SVS: Sagamore Rye vs Sagamore Rye Cask Strength

Wait, a rye from Baltimore?

There are a handful of articles out there about this new local hooch and how it’s sourced from MGP but the water used to bring it to proof is actually retrieved from a spring at the actual Sagamore Farm but that’s not what we’re going to talk about today. As usual, we’re about helping you to save a few bucks on a dram that you might not enjoy or encourage you to drop your wallet on a bottle that you definitely will love.

The biggest surprise about this bottle are the number of reviews out there that don’t talk about the vegetal notes that are RIPE throughout this bottle. If you’ve ever had the Brenne Ten year, this bottle will instantly bring back some memories for you as it boasts (suffers from?) those same vegetal notes that make you wonder if you’re not actually eating grass and weed clippings from a yard. We’re not even joking. But NO ONE ELSE is talking about these notes on the nose and flavors on the palate.

That said, let’s get to the review and maybe (if you’ve had it) you can comment and let us know if you get the same flavors going on in your bottle.

COLOR
If the Sagamore Rye Standard (SRS) is a tarnished brass color, the Sagamore Rye Cask Strength (SRCS) is a shade of brown darker of the same tarnished brass.

NOSE
The SRS is noticeably more vegetal than the SRCS. Where the SRS smells like peppery grass and rides an earthy wave all of the way into the ground, the SRCS actually shares a healthy hint of those notes but envelopes them in layers of rye spice (like the bread, not like dill) and sweeter notes typically found in whisky aged in American oak barrels. If you’re a fan of the dill rye flavors in Midwinter’s night dram, you might like the flavors in these brother bottles. If you’re not a fan of the MWND, you might need to cleanse your palate with Pikesville Rye (6) or Michter’s Barrel Proof rye. Both of which exude awesome rye flavors with no dill and no grass clippings.

PALATE
The SRCS rolls onto the tongue with heated authority and washes the tongue in more rye bread spices with just a touch of vanilla. The vegetal notes from the nose bowed out of the palate which is a pleasant surprise. The SRS on the other hand tastes muted against the SRCS and is not much more than the vegetal notes from the nose on your tongue. Everyone can appreciate a dram that delivers a palate in line with the nose but in this case, the SRCS abandoning the nose might be the more enjoyable way to sip this. With water the SRS is even weaker in terms of flavor and does little to mute the sharp grassy notes that soak the pour. A bit of water on the SRCS and the palate gets drenched in tannic dryness and exposes an almost candy sweetness subtly lingering around waiting for you to notice. A very interesting palate trick!

FINISH
Where the SRCS leaves the tongue awake and alive, the SR is its weaker sibling that suffers from sheer laziness. With water, the SRS is even weaker of a finish but the SRCS finds a bit more interesting complexity.

Well there you have it. Oddly enough, if we HAD to choose a bottle to have between the two, the SRCS would get the nod. Not because “whiskey at cask strength is better” but because the whiskey actually tastes better.

Have you tried either of these? Both? Let us know what you think so we can think we’re a little less crazy than we might be. πŸ˜€