Happy Repeal Day?!

Good day whisky lovers!!!

Last night was an incredible time at the legendary Jack Rose Dining Saloon in DC where the entire bar celebrated the repeal of prohibition a short 84 years ago! The entire ordeal of prohibition (and really the current secondary whisk(e)y market) is a great demonstration of the futility of laws against free will but that philosophical conversation should be saved for another time. 😉

Jack Rose was looking as incredible as ever even with a Christmas tree obstructing the bottle view. It only looks empty because being the NERD that I am, I love being first to events like this. Getting to soak the atmosphere in from pin drop quiet to across the table yelling about the effects of wood on the spirit of whiskey absolutely cracks me up inside.

Here is the motley crew that I was seated with tonight. Two friends and a handful of friends-of-friends that were all here to drink whiskey and learn new things. Lucky for us, the wealth of knowledge in JR surprises me EVERY TIME. I mean, yes, I carry around a lot of whiskey information in my head but holy moly do some people carry even more!

(Being a scotch lover, I couldn’t help but order a scotch egg appetizer. It wasn’t as good as haggis covered goodness I had at The Classroom in Nairn, but it wasn’t bad considering haggis is banned in the states.)

My buddy Sean really wanted to try a Willett flight so he could figure out which Willett he’d like to find and buy so I suggested that he talk to the owner, Bill Thomas, who is a rabid Willett fan. So we did!

Bill, who introduced himself as “just an employee” dropped giant knowledge bombs on us about the history of Willett, single barrel picks, and even some details about the preprohibition whiskey that he had acquired for the night. It was humbling to hang with another enthusiast who is just as excited about whiskey but with ten times the knowledge!

I had this boring flight above so I could answer the questions that I get all the time on instagram about the Basil Hayden Dark Rye and the Joseph Magnus Cigar Malt Blend. The Van Winkle 12 Lot B was on sale and ironically, I’d never tried it… so I got that too!

The Basil Hayden Dark Rye actually contains a portion of port wine in it and that seems to translate into a cough syrup-y thick mess of sweetness shrouded in a touch of rye. Some of the folks who’d never had whisky in this capacity loved it. It was just too sweet for my palate. It was like a speysider on sugar steroids even with the rye spice finish. The Van Winkle 12 Lot B was a pleasant noser but is so far from the 15 and 23 mark that it was hard to take it seriously. The fact that it fetches more than four times it’s SRP on the secondary is mind boggling.

Our Whiskey Somm made some great suggestions and did a great job of helping folks pick the directions of their flights. I was impressed with all of his suggestions but one… but it’s amazing that our palates were even that closely aligned when it came to picking whiskies for the noobs in the group. The best recommendation he made was the try the Monticello PreProhibition Maryland Rye…

I surprised a few of the friends at the table when I told them to look for the smell of cream when they nosed it… I wasn’t trying to autosuggest flavors but it was so rich in cream on the nose and the palate that I was blown away. Something about a hundred year old whiskey being so vibrant was so impossible and so amazing at the same time.

The exact notes I typed into my phone read: “Notes of cream on the nose. The rye is subtle and veiled behind strong caramel. The palate is incredibly soft. Holy soft vanilla hiding behind the lightest spices. It’s still creamy. The rye spices bring up the rear in a light and inoffensive way. A second sip and that candied sugar center is ridiculous. The finish lingers for dayyyyyys.”

The raw sugar and cream blend kept making me think of how awesome coffee would be if it could have its bitterness balanced by this incredible hooch. *drool*. At $40 a pour, it’s pricey but it’s worth it to try at least once in your life!

There was ONE more bottle that got brought to the table by Bill but we’ll save my feelings on it for another blog post. Let’s just say the current version of this companies offerings and their offerings from 30 years ago are miles apart. Which is great if you were alive to enjoy the better version 30 years ago…

So Slainte! Cheers! Kanpai!

Have a great day and remember… prohibition is bad, mmmmkay.

Revisiting the Hakushu 12

Hakushu 12 was the second Japanese whisky that I ,[Scotch], had purchased after the Hibiki 12 year. Without knowing anything about Hakushu, I jumped right in head first thinking that it was going to be the sweet floral symphony that the Hibiki was. Boy was I wrong, but boy were my eyes opened to the Japanese way of handling peat.

C: A golden pale honey, syrupy and coating as I swirl the glass.

N: Very soft lemony, piney peat. A pine sap being reduced down over a fire to create  a resinous pitch. The nose is like walking into a Japanese tea shop, amongst all the bamboo accessories, and lifting each of the tea jars to sample a smell. across the street someone is starting a fire using the wood that they chopped from a neighboring forest, covered in moss, still green. Pear skins, and a mixture of plums and raspberries that are very unripe, very green. It’s hard to explain but the peat, as subtle as it is, is powerful and similar to that of an older peated whisky. Very light vanilla sweetness in the background. Fresh, green and like stepping out of a spearmint gum commercial.
P: The peat is apparent but quickly takes a back seat to green pear and crisp green apple notes. Smoked barley and spices dance around the peat, weaving a delicate strand. Wood sour and vegetal notes. Malted barley similar to The Balvenie style of being very subtle, while still being very pronounced. A slight spice develops around the outer portions of my tongues. The smoke intensifies, not like a billowing flame though, more like a blown out candle.
F: The finish is mainly smoke and soft edged spices. This is a very mature whisky for the 12 years the label presents. Slightly tannic and mouth puckering near the back of my mouth, reminding me of dried lemon rind. The peat presents itself again but only as a remnant of what was initially present. Waving at you, as you leave, reminding you of the good time you just had.
Hakushu reminds me of the restraint and the perfect execution that the Japanese command over things. Just google Japanese Woodworking and you’ll know what I’m talking about. Like a perfectly carved puzzle box, form one piece of wood. Sometimes it’s not about blowing people away with the high PPM of peat you have in your whisky. Sometimes it’s about how it all comes together.
[Scotch]

Balcones Texas Single Malt Whisky Batch SM 16-2 Date 3-18-16

Balcones Distillery is unapologetically real. They want you to know that from the very start. Very Texan if you know what I mean. Their pledge of authenticity lets you know that they never use other companies distillate, they never use aged whisky from other sources to blend and that they mash, ferment and distill 100% of what they sell. With well over 50 medals from different competitions, mostly gold, let’s see if the liquid in the bottle lives up to its massive hype!

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Balcones Texas Single Malt Whisky

C: Toasted oak with a light yellow rim.

N: An undeniable butterscotch smell emanates from the glass as my nose approaches. The kind of butterscotch you find at a grandma’s house. Not the good Brach’s variety, more the off brand that uses imitation everything but it still tastes good. Included within that smell is of course vanilla, a little peppery sawdust (like you just stepped into Home Depot’s lumber department), and Hungarian paprika (slightly dried and smoked red pepper). The oak on the nose is more similar to pressed wood beams than it is oak staves. Slight notes of wood sour and freshness, not burnt or charred oak. The last couple sniffs reveal caramel and sweet toffee notes, telling my tongue to be prepared for what’s next.

P: First sip reveals the sweetness that I was looking for in the nose. Vanilla and light oak are the dominating flavors. It’s very lightweight on the tongue and at 106 proof you would expect some kind of burn, but it’s very drinkable. The sweetness of this bourbon goes really well with the high alcohol, they both work together to make it very enjoyable. After each sip, an enjoyable dryness coats my tongue inviting another sip. Thankfully the oak isn’t sour as expected from the nose and it’s an enjoyable toasted taste. Tasting again, there’s a fair bit of nutmeg spice and pepper. The description on the bottle talks about “mellow notes of baked pears and apples” but I never get that. The fruit to me is very subdued, overpowered mostly by the spice and sweet vanilla note. Which is definitely not a bad thing. When I think of Texas, I think big, bold flavor with the authentic spice of the South and this is what I get with this whisky. Big bold delicious whisky flavor.

F: The finish is perfumed with spice, vanilla sweetness and a slight drying in the back of the mouth. Toasted malt and oak are left lingering for a short while with a light smoke coming out right at the end.

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Balcones Texas Single Malt Whisky ScotchNSniff Glencairn glass

The Balcones Texas Single Malt Whisky is a solid American whisky. A great thing to bring along with you to a camping trip or just enjoyed in front of a fire amongst friends.

Dewar’s 30 Year review

A buddy of mine from work went on a weekend trip and ended up going through a London Duty Free Store. Before leaving on the trip, he did what any awesome guy would do for a friend and asked me if I wanted anything in particular from the DFS. I said, “As a matter of fact I do!” and then proceeded to ask him for a Ballantine’s 30 year blend. The next time I see him, I’m anxious for the bottle to taste and review it. He says, “[Scotch] I had to pull an audible..” Okay okay, he didn’t call me [Scotch], but that’d be awesome! Anyhow, He continued and said, “The duty free guy said that this would be better, cost a little more, but you’d like it more.” I could see the worry in his face and being the awesome guy that he is, he’d already figured out a plan to split the bottle with me to cover the extra cost. I said, “Naw man, anything for our readers!!” Without any further ado, and anymore lengthening of this post, let’s see how it goes!

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C: Our regular readers will know how we feel about color, but this is a Cherry Wood with darker edges.

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N: The nose is incredible. I poured a glass and was occupied doing other things before I could try it, so it sat around for 5-10 minutes opening up. The air around the glass is filled with the scent of raw walnuts and thick toffee pudding. The Pedro Ximenez influence is easily recognizable in just the nose alone. It’s dusty, like an attic, and fairly smoky in the nose for a non-Islay variety. There’s dark chocolate candy bar as well as cocoa powder, dried figs and it’s like sticking your face into a bag of dried prunes, just sticky all over. A kola smell comes forward and near the end of my nosing a faint lemon smell, as if someone spritzed a lemon over a cocktail. This nose is layered and rich. My mouth is water because the nose is giving every indication that it’s going to be delicious. Cinnamon raisin bread covered in a smoked prune jam. I don’t even think smoked prune jam is a thing but this is it. Bitter orange marmalade. Okay I think I’m done. Quince paste. Done.

P: First sip is creamy, mouth coating and very savory. Almost a bready savory. Immediately I wish that the ABV would have been pumped up from the very basic 40%. But saying that, it does carry a lot of flavor. Second sip, everything continues to remain enjoyable. There’s a wonderful savory spice that undulates with spicy, then savory, then dried sweet flavors. Again and again layers of bran muffin, including the raisins, hearty grains covered in a sweetener that isn’t too sweet. You know how some people say that scallops can be sweet or milk added to your coffee can be sweet. Sweet like that. A very savory sweet. Rich malt, black strap molasses. Going in for another sip maple syrup covered French toast, with too much cinnamon (still good though). The dustiness from the nose carries over to the palate a little, you can definitely taste the age, not a bad thing, just apparent.

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F: The finish is mouth watering, no dryness whatsoever. The bready, wheat filled flavor lingers, like you just bit into a piece of wholegrain bread. A very faint soft smoke lingers in the background. The spices are subdued in the finish but very rich and not watered down. This whisky just drinks so easily.

With single malts, you sometimes have specific characteristics that you particularly enjoy. Tamdhu has an amazing sherry flavor, Laphroaig will smoke you out with peat and Glenfarclas will spice you up like Christmas morning. The thing with these older blends is that there are no peaks or specific characteristics, that’s the essence of blending. Like the Hibiki 30 year, this Dewars 30 year is an exceptional blend, and drinks like water. The nose is rich with individual layers. The palate is round, well blended and just plain delicious.

[Scotch]

World’s Best Whisky!!

I stayed up last night thinking a lot about this topic and how we’re kind of fooling ourselves. If you’re trying to find the worlds best whisky, sorry for the deceiving title, but you won’t find it here. What you will find, is the truth behind what will guide you, to find
the best whiskies of the world.

 

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Sniff’s Birthday Extravaganza!!!!

The three topics that kept me up last night were; Rating systems, Personal preference and Hype. I’ll soap box on each one of these separately.

Rating Systems: Rating systems are great aids for those who don’t know what they want and to potentially find the best versions of a certain whisky in a certain category. For example, using the 100 point scale that many reviews use, you could safely assume that a 95 point Islay whisky, like an Ardbeg Uigeadail, would be an exceptional example of a peated northern Islay whisky. What some may call a “Classic”. Without having tasted it, you can trust that the reviewers have or should have determined that the flavors present in the whisky should showcase that of an Islay whisky, to be at least 95% of the best of that style.

This may take into account the many factors of being a classic Islay whisky, BUT, what if you don’t like Islay whiskies?? What if peat makes you cringe? And even though this is one of the best peated Islay whiskies, you hate it. Then that 95 points means nothing to you.

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Ardbeg Dark Cove Committee Release

One way to get a better idea of if your taste buds are on par with a reviewers, is to drink a lot of the same whisky that they have reviewed, to see if you agree with them. But the thing about drinking a lot of whisky is; 1. You could develop a serious drinking problem, 2. A serious loss of money problem or even more seriously, 3. Be able to determine your own personal preference. The industry would like it if they could continue to think for you, aka “Influence” you.

The best thing I’ve learned about tasting and reviewing a lot of whisky, is that you become better at tasting and reviewing whisky. Just like anything else, practice makes perfect. Or a better saying in this situation would be, practice makes you more educated. But it doesn’t roll of the tongue as easily. The more whisky you taste, the better ability you have to determine what you like and dislike. After gaining the knowledge of knowing what you like and dislike, e.g. Personal Preference, then you can determine for yourself what is the best, for you!

Many people have this idea that they know what’s best for you. Not just random people, but companies. “Our soap is the best for your shower”, “these crackers will cure indigestion” and “our toilet paper will wipe better for you than any other”. When companies do this, it’s called marketing. When randos do this, it’s called hype.

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Glenfiddich 21 The Balvenie 21 The Glenlivet 21

Both marketing and hype are used to increase the perception of the value for things, often to ridiculous heights. Case in point, the 2013 Yamazaki Sherry cask which was named Best Whiskey in the World by Jim Murray (a whisky reviewer). This rocketed the Japanese whiskey scene, calling for thousands of dollars for the 2013 Yamazaki Sherry Cask and even raising the rest of the Yamazaki expressions to crazy inflated prices. The 12 year expression used to cost $65, now if you can find it, will run you $125. The 18 year expression used to cost around $200 and is now hovering between $399 – $450. Is the whisky good? Sure! But is it $400 good for the 18 year or $125 good for the 12 year? Maybe. It really depends upon how much you’re willing to spend for something that is hard to get and if you enjoy it. I love the Hibiki 21 year. I started purchasing bottles at $199 when I first saw it and I continue to purchase bottles when I find it for $350. When is my stopping point? My wife says, now.

Bottom line, use resources like this blog, other blogs and other reviewers to form a general idea of what it is you want to try. We try to use very easy to understand descriptions in order to appeal to the vast majority. Then, use online sites that sell samples of various bottles of whisky, or go to different bars to try different pours without committing to a full bottle. Determine whether you like sweet, peat, salty, medicinal or any other types of whisky and then continue down those lanes until you find your grail. That is the only way to determine what the best whisky in the world is, for you. And that’s why we love this whisky journey that we’re on.

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ScotchNSniff glass

So, what’s YOUR world’s best whisky??
[Scotch]

Scotch VS Scotch : Glenfiddich 21 Rum Cask Reserve vs Balvenie 14 Caribbean Cask

Happy Friday fellow scotch lovers!

It being Friday, I figure there are few things more fun than sharing some spirits with friends! What are you supposed to share with them though? Rum? Scotch? What If I told you, you could share BOTH with them at the same time? Welcome to today’s Scotch versus Scotch: the Glenfiddich 21 Rum Cask Reserve and the Balvenie 14 Caribbean Cask.

COLOR
Their colors are almost identical with just a slight tint of extra darkness edging into the golden Glenfiddich glass. As it turns out, a seven year difference in casks doesn’t always mean a huge difference in color. There are so many factors that go into the impartation of color (e-150a aside) beyond age. Sherry usually imparts a dark redness to the spirit but rum, it seems, is all about golden hues.

NOSE
The Glenfiddich’s nose is filled with butter cookies with a touch of their signature tree fruits waiting in the wing. There are some ripe citrusy notes from what smell like orange peels (with just a small splash of chocolate) to a touch of refreshing lemony-lime notes. It’s a fruity mixed cocktail that instantly transports you to a warm spot on the sand!

The Balvenie in comparison is a glass of brown sugar and fudge warmed over honey. Some fruits begin to appear and I’m sure I can see Glenfiddich on the other side of the same rummy beach.

Going back to the glenfiddich, you can smell the difference in the richness of the nose of each pour. This is one of the best parts of doing a side by side comparison of such contrasting spirits: some of the commonalities melt away and the distinct idiosyncrasies of the whiskies rise to the surface.

PALATE
Initially on the palate the Glenfiddich is light and unassuming. It’s raw sugar cane over baking spices with a slightly tannic mouthfeel. The oak from 21 years of aging in two barrels is starting to show which (most likely) explains the tannins.

Taking the Balvenie to the nose again, I’m anticipating the fudge before I’ve even sipped it! The mouthfeel is a much lighter body than the Glenfiddich. Where the Glenfiddich’s mouthfeel was a Jaguar F-Type, the Balvenie is an Ariel Atom. An Ariel atom filled with creamy, buttery, honey and vanilla cookies! Luscious for something so light and an absolute joy to savor!

FINISH
The Glenfiddich finishes with a bit of spices rising to the surface alongside more citrus. The oak really draws attention to itself as the medium bodied finish dips its toes into the Caribbean sand one last time.

The finish in the Balvenie is a bit lacking (in length and intensity) compared to the Glenfiddich but I’m not sure I’d like an overbearing oak finish to end something so decadent.

FINAL THOUGHTS
Picking the winner for this rum battle is EASY. Do you love big hulking flavors and wine? The Glenfiddich is for you! The rich flavors over slightly tannic mouthfeel will bring the beach home with you. Do you love to gorge yourself on buttery fudge cookies? Then the Balvenie is for you! The decadent nose and palate will set up a rum bakery in your glass.

Do you love all of those things??

(If you do, odds are your wallet isn’t going to like you very soon! 🙂 )

Which is YOUR personal favorite?

Slainte!

-[Sniff]

Auchentoshan Three Wood vs Kavalan Classic

Wait.

A scotch versus a Taiwanese whisky? Granted their both single malts, this review exists because of the magic that is sherry. 🙂

The three wood NAS offering from Auchentoshan is a dark molasses brown in the bottle and pours just a touch lighter, no doubt the color imbued by two different types of sherry casks. Im sure we’ll see how much the ex bourbon casks add to the bottle on the palate.

The Kavalan Classic (also a no-age-statement) is just a shade closer to gold than the three wood but packs the same type of bold sherry influence that is easy to love. Doubly so if you’re a Macallan fan.

On the nose the three wood immediately brings caramel chews to mind but carries a handful of oddly paired background notes including citrus zest and raisins. Yes, caramel raisins sound awesome but the citrusy, slightly vegetal smells might divide some noses. It’s a bit refreshing and a bit odd at the same time. This is all in contrast to the rich honey and syrupy sugar nose of the Kavalan. The sherry also shows its face but not in the same round fashion the three wood displays. My memory of each bottle definitely had the word “BOLD” written on them but side by side, it’s interesting to see the sherry take a back seat to their subtleties and nuances. Let’s get to tastin’!

The Kavalan is smooth on the tongue. Just a touch of alcoholic bite but it’s hard to drive attention from the sherry spices mixed in over light fruit syrup. It’s luscious on the tongue and borderline velvety with just a touch of fig. It finishes wonderfully with more sherry spices and a slightly oaky flavor. Man oh man. I knew there was a reason I bought two bottles after getting a taste at whiskey extravaganza last year. It’s hard NOT to like this dram! Let’s move on!

Ah, the three wood is sweet to start but finds itself sharing in the same vegetal notes that were hiding in the nose. It’s thinner on the tongue than the velvet blanket of Kavalan. It also has a bit of smoke on the finish. Alone, this isn’t a half bad pour but side by side with the Kavalan, its flaws really make their way to the forefront. This was a pretty terrible matchup but considering these bottles are within $15 of each other, it’s not too crazy to pit them against each other.

So there we have it.

Maybe it’s the third round of distillation at Auchentoshan… or maybe Taiwan really is onto something but this was a knockout by Kavalan.

If I were you though? I’d pick up at least one bottle of the Kavalan Classic. There’s a reason their “Solist” offering took Whiskey of the Year last year.

Slainte 🙂

-[Sniff]