First entry of 2013


The time is here and it is now!  My first blog of 2013.  A little late I know, but I am still wishing everyone a Happy New Year!

Sitting here listening to one of my current favorite songs (Deadman’s Gun” by Ashtar Command) I think of nothing but how well this song goes with whiskey!  Now, where to start this first entry into my journey of whiskey in the New Year?  I have struggled to find a beginning.  I have a number of whiskey samples to report about and the list keeps getting longer, but I just was not ready to start pouring on about these whiskeys until I acknowledge the wonderful end of a year I had with the holidays and my birthday!

The time leading up to Christmas saw a trip to Chicago for whiskey and music!  One of the music groups I play with held a concert and clinic at the Midwest Clinic, an event held every year for the betterment of local to international bands and orchestras.  While there I was also tasked with sampling some whiskey and visiting one of the local gems in the heart of Chicago.  Warehouse Liquors, which is located deep in the heart of Chicago, offers the consumer a huge selection of whiskey from around the world!  Bookcase upon bookcase is filled with whiskey and other spirits and should be a destination stop for picking out a bottle while in town.  The staff was extremely helpful and friendly offering opinions and knowledge about all of the products!  They report the staff has sampled almost everything on the shelves which allows for a better and more informed ability to describe whatever you may pick off the shelf.  My sampling while in Chicago entailed products from Nikka, Amrut (I get a kick out of the opening page every time I use it…check it out!), and Chicago’s local distillery Lion’s Pride.  Tasting notes will not be available for a while, sorry about that!

Getting back home two days before Christmas, we really needed a break but there were still preparations to make.  Shopping for the Christmas meal was done and final presents were bought.  I’m happy to say I successfully sent all of my family and friends presents before we left with enough time to get to their destinations and at last, I could relax and enjoy time with my wife, some good food, and whiskey!

A few days later my birthday happened and it could not have gone any better.  We saw a movie (Lincoln, which was great, go see it) and was overjoyed to have one of my best-friends surprise me from out-of-town!  Nothing better than to have a great surprise like that, and what did we do, broke out some whiskey…after we got some from the store that is, let me explain.  Andy and I have a twisted tradition whenever we see each other for the first time in a while.   He and I go out and find the cheapest, nastiest beer we can find and start the evening at as low a point as possible so no matter what we drink next it will always be better!  This time we went with the cheapest and what we thought would be the nastiest whiskey we could find!  We went to the closest military Package Store.  The cheapest one we could find was a handle of Military Special Fine Blended Canadian Whiskey.  I am happy to say it was a lot better than we were expecting, mind you it was not good, just a lot better than what we expected.  We moved up from there with a bottle of Stranahan’s Colorado Whiskey Batch 91 and some Lagavulin 16 yo.

We weren’t finished there, dinner still was coming!  Since moving to Virginia I have found an amazing whiskey bar both in food and selection of spirits.  Still-Worldy Eclectic Tapas is a fantastic destination to go for a special occasion or to have a well balanced and eventful meal!  The establishment serves their meals Tapas style and offers a diverse drink menu with a heavy emphasis on whisk(e)ys.  Their “well” whiskey is Woodford Reserve at $6.50/shot and the most expensive is the Rittenhouse Rye 21 yo at $35/shot.  While the menu is heavy with American whiskey, Irish, Canadian, and Scotch (single malt and blends) can also be found.

The Entrance to the Still

The Entrance to the Still

With such a good selection of whiskey I went against the grain and had nothing but mixed drinks.  While I have sampled many whiskeys neat or with a dash of water, my experience with mixed whiskey drinks is extremely lacking.  That being said, I went for the classics.  I started with a Sazerac.  Their recipe calls for a Sazerac to be served with bourbon, but knowing my history I requested it be served with rye whiskey which is what was used when the drink was first created…and it was delicious!  The rest of my drinks consisted of an Old Fashioned, a Manhattan, and a Rob Roy.  So yes, I kept it traditional since I had never before tried these drinks.  My favorite was the Sazerac and highly recommend it!  Food varied and since the portions were small we were able to sample many different things.  To give you a taste of some of the awesomeness we had… Mixed Game Sausage Trilogy (made from turkey, boar, and duck), Fried Green Pickled Tomatoes, Blackened Tuna (which was the best thing that night and possibly the best Blackened Tuna I’ve ever had), Carolina Bison Short Ribs, Fall Squash Gratin, and Oysters Rock-A-Fella.  This was about half of what we had and it was all amazing!

My next entry will continue this blog and review some whiskey related gifts I received!

All in all, it was an amazing birthday and Christmas and I’m thankful to have spent it with family and friends.  I wish you the warmest New Year and I look forward to writing more about the passion I have about whiskey and sharing with you my experiences.

Thank you!
Whiskey Ben

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A “Scottish Way” to bring in the New Year!

Hogmanay fireworks.JPG

Hogmanay fireworks.JPG (Photo credit: katy-mac)

OK, full disclosure, I got this from the Laphroaig Facebook page, but had to share it!  Please enjoy, and hopefully if you try it, much success!!!!!

Also from the site, some Hogmanay toasts!

Happy New Year! And many it be filled with good tidings, a lot of luck, and an ever full glass of whisky! Cheers!

Don’t forget to celebrate Hogmanay tomorrow night.
Hogmanay is the Scottish New Year’s festival that commemorates the solar divinity Hogmagog.
In former times, animal hide was wrapped around sticks and ignited, producing a smoke that was said to be very effective against evil sprites. This talismanic smoking stick was itself known as a Hogmanay.
In all the traditions and customs surrounding Hogmanay, one theme predominates: the new year must begin on a happy note, with a clean break from all that may have been bad in the previous year. It is from this underlying hope that the most common of all Hogmanay traditions has its root, that of the new year resolution.

“First Footing” on Hogmanay

A Tall, Dark Handsome Stranger
The first person to cross the threshold at Hogmanay brings all the luck, good or bad, for the year ahead. And, to follow in tradition they have to fulfill certain criteria.
They have to be male, tall, dark and handsome. They cannot be doctors, ministers or grave-diggers and your first footer cannot have eyebrows that meet in the middle.
The first footer carries a lump of coal and a bottle of whisky – the lump of coal to keep the house warm throughout the year and the whisky to keep the host warm throughout the year!

The first footer (sometimes called the “Lucky Bird”) should knock and be let in rather than just using a key. After greeting those in the house and dropping off whatever small tokens of luck he has brought with him, he should make his way through the house and leave by a different door than the one through which he entered. No one should leave the premises before the first footer arrives — the first traffic across the threshold must be headed in rather than striking out

Here’s our pocket guide….
Hawf (half) Bottle
Your most important travelling companion. For it’s traditional – and polite – to offer just about everyone you see a “dram”. It’s also traditional for it to be whisky.

Lump of Coal
In days of yore, it was traditional for First Footers to carry a lump of coal with them. This was lovingly placed on the host’s fire. If you’re determined to do Hogmanay by the book then take the coal by all means but be prepared for some grief when you set it on top of the central heating radiators!


Hogmanay Toasts

Hogmanay — A Scottish New Year by Charles Campbell
Get up, good wife, and shake your feathers, 
And dinna think that we are beggars; 
For we bairns come out to play, 
Get up and gie’us our Hogmanay. 

The Sacred Three
To save, To shield, To surround
The Hearth, The House, The Household,
This eve
This night
Oh! this eve
This night
And every night
Each single night.

A guid New Year to ane an a’ And mony may ye see
(A good New Year to one and all And many may you see)

Here’s tae us. Wha’s like us. Damn few, and they’re a’ deid!
(Here’s to us. Who’s like us. Not many, and they’re all dead!)

Gaun yoursel’, Big Man!
(You’re a big chap, drinking a lot and are going to continue to do so!)

Gie it laldie!
(Party furiously!)

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An understanding rant about flavored whiskey!

Time and time again I have tried flavor infused whiskey and been let down and almost have felt dirty for having tried it.  I once believed it to be an affront to everything I love about whiskey and that it was ruining the character of the drink I love.  This opinion has softened a bit.  Do I still feel adding flavor to whiskey is wrong?  Yes!!!!!!  But like adding color to whiskey, the distilleries are again using something foreign to try and appeal to a larger audience.

By adding the flavors more people might be prone to trying the whiskey.  I am always for people trying new things, and if flavoring whiskey opens the door for some people to such a wonderful drink, then let it be.  My hope is at some point these people try an unflavored whiskey and find out what an amazing drink it is.  Some people have advocated that adding flavor is exactly like aging the whiskey in wine or rum barrels to impart different character, and to a point they are correct, but there are major differences.  In one process the maker is pouring flavoring into a batch of whiskey and bottling it (simplified explanation of the process).  In the other, the master distiller is choosing barrels which will be married together and pouring them into the finishing wine or rum barrel.  Then the distiller will use his/her years of experience and after some more aging bring those barrels together creating a whiskey enhanced rather than flavored (again, simplified explanation of the process).

One process takes decades of practice to master, the other, a machine can be programmed to put just the right amount of artificial additive.  Put it that way, how can anyone want a flavor whiskey?  It’s in the numbers unfortunately.  Sales of flavored whiskey are rising and companies are beginning to put more product on store shelves to accommodate.  This trend only seems to be hitting the U.S. and Canadian products (and yes, most of the Canadian distilleries are owned by U.S. companies) with the most of the rest of the world watching the effects.  It makes me hope that it is only a fade and dies away in the near future, but until then…

So in summary, the consumer will like whatever they want and my opinion is just that, mine.  I will continue to avoid flavored whiskeys, but I understand why they are becoming popular and will continue to hope they are a gateway for people to appreciating whisk(e)y without all the extras!

-Whiskey Ben


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Review of The Glenlivet- Nadurra 16 yo

Whisky- The Glenlivet Nadurra

Complexity- Demanding

Type- 16 year old, cask strength at 53.0% ABV, batch No. 0911P, bottle code LD31360, Non-Chill Filtered

Appearance- a dark Chardonnay bordering on Sunlight with slow medium think tears.  No visible Impurities.

Aroma- A fun ride of aromas and from the start you know this is going to excite the senses.  Sweet, succulent melon with pleasant and happy vanilla start the show.  As time goes on the melon gives way to smaller fruits with flurries of apples and grapes.  As I continue to explore, spices begin to emerge and I have also found coconut.  Out of no where hints of semi-sweet chocolate sprinkled with ginger find their way to my nose tailed by now dried fruits in the form of prunes and raisins.

Taste-The ride continues with my first drink.  I am overjoyed that the complex and eventful nose stays through in the mouth.  Buttery sweetness with pleasant malt is forthcoming laced with vanilla touched by honey and tails with a drier wood accompanied with a floral hue.  The spices return but remain undefined.  Dried fruit comes through again in a very pleasant way with a touch of candied citrus and prunes.  Towards the end I am surprised with two elements I was not expecting.  If you have ever tried eating rose petals there is a floral bitterness in their taste which I found in this whisky.  The chocolate I nosed earlier has returned but with a very definable “cake batter” taste.  The mouth feel is very silky with a touch of creamy and it just feels classy.

With Water- The water settles this dram, but I have found it to be in a negative way.  The whisky is already very smooth which is a little surprising considering the 53% ABV and may be the reason I find adding the water flattens it just a touch.  Everything I tasted without the water is still present with little being accentuated more than another except for one.  A very curious change happened with the chocolate cake batter.  The cake batter transformed into a very tasty chocolate fudge flavor.  Even with the one change however, I still recommend drinking this one neat with only a couple drops of water for the aroma.

Finish- The finish starts with welcoming honey accompanied by strong notes of oak.  The finish becomes more dry but not bitter, which helps to bring out notes of toasted nuts.  As I let the finish settle the toasted nuts and honey combined with the malt and I am very much reminded of honey-nut cereal.  Vanilla makes a fleeting visit as does the dried fruits but they do not last long and can easily be missed if not looking for them.

Verdict- Must Have
Balanced and superb.  When drinking this I thought of nothing but class and high standard.  Full bodied with both sweet and dry playing together in a very delicious feet of cunning and showmanship.  I full endorse drinking this dram without adding water.  The different flavors and aromas played very well together making for a stellar performance.  I have tried a couple batches of the Nadura following this one and have found subtle differences but they seem to be keeping a good consistency with small variances in the balance of flavors and most of the characteristics are present across the board.  To date this has become my favorite single malt knocking out a number of heavy hitters.

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Awesome Whiskey Gifts

Every one looking for a great gift this holiday season with whiskey being the focus, check out this blog for some awesome ideas!

The Whisky Woman

I look forward to putting together this post all year!  I LOVE conjuring up a little collection of my favorite whisky themed gifts to give to loved ones this holiday season.

Hope this can provide a little help – either to you as the giver, or perhaps as the receiver (just send your gift giver this link!).  And in no particular order, I present to you this year’s list of Whisky Gifts!


You can go about this two different ways: new or old.  Here are some of my favorites!

Crate & Barrel launched a nice line of decanters this year, ranging in price from $29.95 – $44.95.  I think these are pretty great for the home, office or home office!

Or you can go with something like this! – a vintage piece with unique accents.  Etsy has a lot of cool ones (tip: just search for “decanters,” if…

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Review of Old Forester

Whiskey- Old Forester

Complexity- Easy

Type- Bourbon, no age statement, 43% ABV

Appearance- Young Sauternes with thin fast-moving tears.  No visible impurities.

Aroma- wafts of bubble gum hit the nose followed by heavy caramel.  The nose dries up at this point and you are left with a limited and flat experience.  Hints of cinnamon make a brief appearance with a touch of Maraschino cherries but it is too little to late.

Taste- unbalanced with alcohol overpowering the flavors.  Charred oak makes a strong appearance and the whiskey is drier than the nose suggests.  The mouth feel is light with an almost watery feel.

With Water- water helps this bourbon marginally.  Some nut flavors come through but does nothing for the overall taste.

Finish- the acerbic/alcohol tone found in the taste continues into the finish dominating the flavor profile.  There is also an overpowering “soda pop” taste to the finish almost as though the whiskey came from a mixed drink.

Verdict- Never Again

To date, the worst whiskey I have had.  I really did not think there was such a thing as bad whiskey up to this point, but I have found it.  This one just does not speak to me and did not offer me any redeeming qualities.  I tried mixing it to help offset the bad experience but even as a mixer the cola and whiskey did not help each other.  I do not like wasting whiskey and just could not bring myself to throw out the bottle so I reluctantly finished it, but never again.  Luckily it was not that expensive.  I am happy for the experience though, I now have a low bar to judge things by.

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Colorado 2012 Distillers Festival and tasting notes

Colorado of yesteryear was rich with history laced in precious metals.  From the pioneering days of old people have flocked to the state looking to get rich and enjoy a life filled with “golden” opportunities.  Fast forward decades and the State is again experiencing a gold rush.

Nestled minutes outside the heart of Denver The Rackhouse Pub played host to the 2012 Colorado Distillers Festival.  While The Rackhouse is attached to Stanahan’s Colorado Whiskey it is an independent establishment.  “Local Ingredients, Nothing Fried, Independently Owned” is proudly displayed on their website playing true to the character and atmosphere felt upon walking in the front door.  The senses are overwhelmed with an “Old West” ambiance and I truly felt like a cowboy coming in from a hard days work to the local saloon.

So what better place to host a festival!  As I looked around the outside of the building the smell of young whiskey permeated the air from neighboring Stranahan’s.  Warm and inviting, my first glance inside was happily met with over 60 kinds of whisk(e)y ranging from well-known Scotch to local craft creations and 20 kinds of beer on tap…truly heaven on earth!  The decor also did not let me down.  The “Wild West” feel took me back to a time  more free willed and spirited, pun intended!  The connection to Colorado’s wild past was palpable creating an environment I was only happy to drink and have a good time.

The stage is now set, let the sampling begin!  With registering early the entry fee was a reasonably priced $40.  The priced did go up to $45 two weeks before the event and ended with $50 at the door.  The cost entitled me to sample at all the booths (no limit was imposed), finger foods, a commemorative sampling glass, and entry into one of the three seminars.  For a mere $5 more a ticket could be purchased to one of the other seminars which I believed was a steal.  On tap were 16 distilleries and three key-note speakers.

Glass raised and pen in hand, I walked into what quickly became a well packed room.  Please keep in mind, this was a distiller’s festival so all the major spirits were represented.  To warm up my faculties I sampled a vodka, gin, and brandy keeping the samples extra small as to not overwhelm the palate and ruin my senses for the whiskey yet to come.  One of my favorite experiences came from Overland Distillery and the Trinity Absinthe.  This being my first venture into the world of absinthe I was taken aback by the flavors which came from this spirit…and no, this was not the hallucination causing cousin found in other parts of the world.

With my senses ready and a thirst for whiskey I approached the different distilleries.  While not all 16 participating distilleries had a whiskey entry, most did.  Keeping time constraints in mind I would only be able to “fairly sample” 4 or 5 of the distilleries so I concentrated on what I believed to be some of the lesser known companies.  In making my choices I also tried to get a variety of expressions.  I found one corn whiskey (Black Canyon Distillery), a rye whiskey (Distillery 291), a whiskey made in the Irish tradition (Downslope Distilling), a bourbon (Dancing Pines Distillery), and a hybrid using both Scotch and bourbon traditions (Deerhammer Distilling Company).

As you will see in my tasting notes below I had a great time with these whiskeys.  Each had very unique character and offered different avenues of exploration and while any whiskey is good, there was a diamond among the liquid gold. With summer in full swing I was not anticipating the cold and wonderful memories of winter. Roasted chestnuts, sweet coffee, and the smoke of a warm fire entrenched my senses when sampling “Down Time” by Deerhammer Distilling Company located in Buena Vista, Colorado. Tucked away in the corner of the venue like a rare gem waiting to be discovered foot traffic seemed to be passing the booth.  Little did people know one of the most complex and intriguing whiskeys at the event was sitting in an unmarked bottle, unmarked because it won’t be available until December 2012 according to Distiller Lenny Eckstein. The Whiskey “Down Time” is an aged expression of a “white lighting” release of the same name (now known as “Whitewater Whiskey“).  The younger version carries most of the flavors and aromas but it is astounding how 6 months in a barrel transforms this whiskey into a profound statement of Colorado craftsmanship. If you get the chance to visit Colorado this distillery will be worth a visit!

In between sampling sessions I attended all three seminars.  Each of the speakers are current industry leaders in Colorado.  The first was Beer Cocktails by Justin Lloyd of Star Bar.  Mr. Lloyd was a passionate speaker who very much believes in

supporting the local community.  The different  drink creations were  interestingly delivered with his charismatic views on the way flavors interact.  He freely admitted some people will enjoy his home-made concoctions , and others will not, but encouraged the crowd to be open to the new flavors.  One of my favorites was a combination of IPA beer and London Dry Gin.  Next was Proper Whiskey Tasting by Rob Dietrich, head distiller at Stranahan’s Colorado Whiskey.  Mr. Dietrich aptly took the audience through a full whiskey tasting explaining how an individual can enhance their appreciation for the spirit.  With a funny anecdote and showing much pride in his product Mr. Dietrich expressed Stranahan’s Colorado Whiskey is not one that should ever be mixed with cola!  Finally I attended Guided Gin Tasting by Rob Masters of Spring 44 and President of the Colorado Distillers Guild.  While I do consider myself cultured about whiskey, Gin is another matter and Mr. Masters presentation was very informative raising my appreciation for the drink.  He went over 5 different styles of Gin and introduced me to a specific brand I found outstanding!  St. George Spirits, based in California, has created a Gin using rye.  The St. George Rye Gin was used to highlight how different grains can be used to make the spirit and while it was not from Colorado, it fit well into the atmosphere of the event.

While my primary mission was to sample some new whiskey and report about them, I thoroughly enjoyed everything the venue and event had to offer.  The people of Colorado are a warm and inviting bunch who love their spirits as much as the state they reside in.  As everything came to a close the “Wild West” feel struck one last time as I left with the sun slowly making its way down behind the Colorado mountains reminding me of western heroes riding off into the sunset.

Tasting Notes: 
Please note- the venue was not conducive to judging color or purity of the whiskey and those remarks will be omitted from these notes.

Nose- sweet almond dances across the nose with hints of wood and roasted chestnuts tailing the ballet. Like a jealous lover the sweet turns to bitter, but in a lovingly good way. Smoke and pipe tobacco make a rush at the senses dripping away to the welcoming smell of espresso coffee.

Taste-sweet coffee laced with traces of vanilla play around on the tongue while smoke and toasted nuts help to reveal a delicate, silky mouth feel. Towards the end an unexpected wisp of cardamom, and possibly ginger, with an emerging dark chocolate bridging the finish.

Finish- the dark chocolate lingers holding hands with the greeting bitterness of a relaxed coffee. Pleasantly long and slightly warming it continues with toasted nuts, spices, and sweet pipe tobacco poking their heads just above the surface. As the finish clings to life a very faint but undeniable licorice opens its eyes and leaves me satisfied yet wanting more.  This was my overall favorite whiskey at the event and is well on its way to becoming an outstanding entry into the whiskey world!

Nose-undeniably a corn whiskey.  Fields of maze spring to mind as very evident corn aromas pierce through.  As I take more time it opens and slowly becomes one of the better corn whiskeys I have sampled.  Buttered popcorn and slightly honeyed paraffin wax are prevalent.

Taste-as with the nose corn is very present but it is now complimented by light caramel and a slight hint of vanilla.  Undefined spices trickle their way in and out of the corn, and while this whiskey shows signs of a very much appreciated aging, the process has not been long enough for spices to become more prevalent.  There is a small amount of oil on the mouth feel, but not as much as I was expecting.

Finish-just like days at the state fair one of the first flavors on the finish is a gentle caramel and butter popcorn.  As it sits it gets sweeter and spices are again making an appearance.  While this has a somewhat short finish I am still left happy and have elevated this whiskey to one of the better corn whiskeys on the market.

Nose- with a mashbill of 61% rye and 39% corn, this is one of the more interesting rye whiskeys I have encountered.  Rye whiskey tends to be more forceful, but the corn definitely calms things making the nose more relaxed.  Not overly complex, buttered toast is very evident with notes of sweet licorice and to a lesser degree pepper.

Taste-with a deceivingly light and uncomplex nose the flavors are much more rich in the mouth.  Spices are the first to greet me with pepper, light salt, and sweetly mild buttered corn.  It sweetens faster than others ryes with cinnamon and maraschino cherries mixed in a light cookie.  A flavor eludes me for a brief time but I am finally able to detect a slight hint of wood.  There are light oils on the mouth feel and a touch of silkiness.

Finish- the wood comes through a little more on the finish.  The sweet turns a touch bitter and the maraschino cherries have transformed more to a medicinal cherry flavor taking away from the finish.  This whiskey had a mild start and did not finish on a good note, but the taste is good and with a little more refinement could really be a great rye whiskey.

Nose- very much a classic bourbon nose with corn, rye, and barley being definable.  Lightly buttered popcorn with a definite sweet aroma almost making it kettle corn in character.  With classic bourbon characters I am happy to find a presence of wood and vanilla on the nose.

Taste- keeping true to the bourbon character buttered popcorn is again taking main stage but the sweet flavors have defined themselves more in the mouth.  Vanilla is welcome with traces of caramel.  The wood flavors also assert themselves more with almonds becoming a presence and hints of coconut.  This has a very delicate mouth feel and light silk tracing the tongue.

Finish- the finish is not as strong as the taste but is consistent with the classic bourbon expectations.  The finish is extremely smooth and does hold a surprising bit of fruit in the form of melon.  This whiskey speaks more to me as a mixer and would do extremely well in that capacity.  As a sipping whiskey it will definitely hold its own, but is a little too light to be a standard and needs just a bit more character.

Nose- the nose starts with pleasant notes of fruit taking the form of red apples and melon.  With a sweet and gentile character cinnamon and a touch of honey make their way to the surface.  A slight alcohol smell becomes present but it does not take away from the aroma and it is quickly followed by various undefined spices.

Taste- a very smooth and light mouth feel are my first impression of this drink and I can not help but think “relaxed.”  The malt comes through with this one and various breads float over the tongue.  The spices are again present but only cinnamon differentiates itself and the sweet character continues to persist.  The fruit has calmed and vanilla with a dash of honey, a sliver of wood and other subtle grain flavors can be detected but are more fleeting than consistent.

Finish-the sweet which was present in the nose and mouth still abounds but has changed a bit and is now a little more medicinal.  The change of the sweet flavors also had an effect on the cinnamon and it has become more of a “cinnamon chewing gum” flavor than the spice itself.  A bit of wood comes through and ends the finish which is somewhat short.  I was very happy with the nose and taste but a little let down on the finish.  The two former are much strong than the latter but overall it is very good and I believe the creators have hit their mark in making whiskey in the Irish tradition.

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Review of Penderyn- Aur Cymru

Welsh Gold

Welsh Gold (Photo credit: Tiggrrr42)

Whisky- Penderyn– Aur Cymru

Complexity- Hard

Type- Single Malt Welsh Whisky, Non Chill-Filtered, 46% ABV, no age statement, Madeira Barrel Finish, Bottle Code 11208

Appearance- the darker side of fino Sherry but leaning toward the light.  Very clean with thin tears.

Aroma- What a gift from the Welsh!  A strong presence of raisin and malt are first to bless the senses.  Interwoven in the mixture are lovely spices which all but heighten the sweet flavors wanting to break through.  As I take more time with this the raisin defies nature and regresses into lush fat green grapes.  The vine then relaxes allowing sweet caramel/toffee to wrap itself around dried fruits and vanilla with an ever-so-slight hint of fig and at the very reaches cherry.  Delicate and light, this is a gentle whisky that has just enough bite with the higher alcohol content to make one approach with a friendly caution.

Taste- Gentle spikes and tingles are first to great me which are attributed to the ABV.  Giving my mouth a moment to adjust I take another drink and welcome the flavors.  In the mouth this is a semi-dry whisky with lovely notes of grape and wood.  The vanilla plays well with those and helps me experience a light and creamy mouth feel.  While the wine flavors do not dominate they do make it a little harder to find the malted barley, but give it a little effort and those nice bread flavors are there.  As I explore I am happy to find the caramel/toffee again but to a slightly lesser degree.  I take my time with this and warm it in my hand.  As it opens up even more I am happy to find some red apple and vanilla (again) making a play for attention.

With Water- Water helps the Sherry relax taking a step back giving way to some missing spices.  Salt fleetingly makes an appearance and I am barely touched by some citrus.  Nature returns to normal with the lush green grapes drying again and returning to raisins.  The mouth feel becomes a bit more creamy.

Finish- Wine, grapes, and wood!  They really make an impression on me and are the first to show their faces.  As it sits and fills my palate Madeira casks fully express themselves.  Intense and medium long the finish is laced with vanilla and quickly disappearing semi-tart red apples.  The longer it sits I am reminded of some of the Sherry flavors experienced after eating a really good Chicken Marsala and I am satisfied!

Verdict- Again
As stated on their box “Aru Cymru” is “Welsh Gold” and do they have it right.  A well-balanced and enjoyable drink, the masters at Penderyn have successfully married the grape and the grain in this whisky.  I am happy to find all of the fruit mixed with barely and really enjoyed having the wine flavors play such a complimentary role.  What I am not happy about is the limited availability!  There are three expression of this whisky and while I lived in New York I was only able to find one and most have not heard of it in Virginia.  Yes, on-line is the option for my current local, but knowing the distillery’s small production I am not hopeful seeing it soon in my local market any time soon.  This is one to get and if you are able to find it, you wont be disappointed!

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Great eye opening opportunity for a wine faithful reviewer makes for a new appreciation!

The Oenophiliac

I’ll make no bones about this, spirits aren’t really my thing. Anyone who knows me will tell you, I’m all about the grape and not the grain. So imagine my surprise when I was invited to a Whisky tasting. Not any old random shindig either, a UK launch tasting for a multi award winning American Whisky. With eyebrow raised, and never one to turn down the chance to be one of the first in the UK to try something new, I cordially accepted.

In 2008, after a summer of intensive training under Jim McEwen of Bruichladdich, Balcones Distilling was set up in

Waco, Texas by company President and Head Distiller, Chip Tate. During 2002 Chip received his diploma from the Institute and Guild of Brewing and Distilling’s (IGBD). He then went on to work as a professional brewer and brewing consultant around the US before settling into distilling.

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Laphroaig 10 year old

English: bottle of Laphroaig 10 YO

English: bottle of Laphroaig 10 YO (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Whisky- Laphroaig

Complexity- Hard

Type- Islay Single Malt Whisky, 10 yo, 40% ABV

Appearance- Strong Pale Straw to full Young Sauternes with medium thick slow moving tears.

Aroma- not for the faint hearted.  There is a reason this is one of the few whiskys allowed in the United States during prohibition for medicinal purposes.  Intense, strong, powerfully delicate, these are some of the things which come to mind when nosing Laphroig.  The use of peat in this whisky has produced a very interesting and deep character.  If you have ever been on a sea ship and taken in the various “sea smells” you will have some perception of the aromas, then stick your nose in the nearest hospital or medicine cabinet combining some single malt smells and you have Laphroig.  This has become one of my favorite whiskys because of the unusual smells and the seer boldness of the experience.  I am blasted with iodine followed by Band-Aids.  Smoke entangles my senses as sea salt is intertwined in the beach fire.  Then back to the hospital with the familiar medicinal smells.  Once my nose has succumbed to the wildfire the softer side of things blossom.  I am greeted with undefined smoked meats accompanied by the now evident sweet malted barley.  With so many strong scents and so many delicate ones as well, I am having a lot of fun exploring this dram.

Taste- to my utter surprise I am not walking into a hospital or on a beach, but am face to face with a sweet, malted barley.  This introduction eases my way to the more medicinal with iodine and bandages being present and welcome.  The smoke invites me to explore and I have found a new friend.  The fire has created smoked meats again drying them  almost to the point of a salty jerky.  As I dive more into the smoke I discover earth.  Peat, grass, and yes earth like when I was a child and I planted my nose into tall grass and explored all the way down to the dirt, so familiar, yet so forgotten and now rediscovered.  The smoke also reveals mildly “sea soaked” wood floating just underneath wanting to come out but shy enough to stay almost out of reach.  This whisky has an almost velvety silkiness to it as it coats the mouth

With Water- the fire has been dulled just a touch.  Smoke has cooled and hovers instead of overpowers (not in a bad way) and takes on an even sweeter character.  The peat flavors are slightly more defined as are the medicinal but as with the smoke, they have settled into their place instead of competing to steal the show.

Finish- While the distinctive iodine and bandages have gone away, the medicinal remains to the end.  Very rich and fulfilling with smoke and the welcome peaty earth staying.  As time passes and the smoke dissipates I am left with touches of wood and hints of nut while the sweet flavors make their last gasps.  This is one of the longer finishes I have experienced and it allowed me to reflect happily on all I was able to explore.

Verdict- Must Have
I need to start by saying, you will either like this or not.  I have recommended Laphroig to friends and offered it at tastings and  “I loved it or I hated it” always seems to be the reaction.  I remember my first experience with Laphroig, I had just finished a very delicate Speyside single malt and then had this and was blown away.  I went from delicate and heavily sweet to medicinal and smokey, and at that point I was mesmerized with Islay and all it has to offer.  With all of the competing flavors and aromas I was happy to find they balance and work with each other instead of one being stronger than another.  This whisky has made its  way up on my list of favorites and for me is a must have/must try, but please, if you can, sample it before you buy it because while I love it, you may find it unapproachable and come to the realization you just wasted money.


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