Friday, December 18, 2015

Whisky Review: Glenmorangie 12 Nectar D'Or vs. Glenmorangie 18 yrs

I have just left a whisky tasting at my club hosted by whisky dawg George, and pictured above were the featured whiskies.  And, I feel compelled by the Holy Spirit of whisky to let you know my insight of the evening:  In a heads-up challenge between Glenmorangie 12 yrs Nectar D'Or vs. Glenmorangie 18yrs, the 12 comes out on top.  It was astounding!  I had noticed this before at other tastings and just thought I had drunk too many other malts, and so could not properly appreciate the 18.  I was mistaken.  My earlier excitement for the 12 over the 18 was correct.

I found the Glenmorangie 18 to have a consistent quinine/tonic water finish that just put me off a little.  The price is fiercely expensive and so I expect near perfection.  Where I live it is $157 a bottle.

Meanwhile, in saunters the Glenmorangie 12 year old that was finished in Sauternes casks, and it is a total delight for less than half the price of the 18.


Cheers!



Jason Debly

Monday, December 14, 2015

Whisky Review: Mortlach 'Rare Old' Single Malt Scotch Whisky

Holiday time again and you are searching for a whisky gift.  Maybe for yourself or someone else.  If it is someone else, you likely yearn to gift that whisky fan with an uncommon bottle of uncommon taste.  Johnnie Walker Black, Chivas, and Glenfiddich are too obvious.  Maybe you want to kick in a few dollars and get something really off the beaten track that is not a household name, even in a whisky household.  Your search can now end.  I present Mortlach 'Rare Old' for your consideration.

Mortlach is a distillery you may not know by name but may be familiar with in terms of taste.  It is a single malt that for the vast majority of its history was a key component in many blended Scotch whiskies, particularly Johnnie Walker.  According to the late Michael Jackson, the great pioneer of whisky criticism, Mortlach was highly sought for its' muscularity that gave structure and body to blends that would otherwise be listless.

Official single malt releases available from the distillery were scarce for a very long time.  Prior to 1995 or thereabouts, independent bottlers would occasionally release a bottle, having bought stocks from the distillery and carried out their own cask management.  As of late, Diageo (the owner of the brand) has made a bit of a push to promote this single malt.

This particular release from the distillery has no age statement and is not cheap.  In Canada, I paid $110.  Expensive in Australia too.  In the US and the UK, prices are better.  One Stateside reader reports this bottle can be had for $40 - $60 which is very reasonable.

ABV
43.4%

Format
750ml

Region
Speyside.

Age Statement
None.

Nose (undiluted)
Easy sherry, roses, violets, pleasant floral notes.

Palate (undiluted)
Thick, chewy sherry, salted milk chocolate with orange rind, hint of pomegranate, raisins and dark honey.

Finish (undiluted)
Fine graphite, pencil lead, malty, summer savory, za'atar, tumble weed dry sherry and beef stock in the background.








General Impressions
At the last meeting of my whisky club, the Mortlach Rare Old was the winner.  A close second was the Hart Brothers 17 years Port Finish Blended Malt.

Whisky Dawg Ken asked a Scotch whisky brand ambassador what single malt really impresses him other than his own distillery and he responded without missing a beat: "anything by Mortlach."  I really believe Mortlach is the choice of those in the 'know.'  I have enjoyed this malt before but always as a release by an independent bottler.  It impressed me then and does so now.  In this release, Diageo have taken care with the casks used, the blending, everything.  This is fine whisky.

This whisky is rich, luxuriant and velvety on the palate.  It may not be the best whisky in the world, but it beats the hell out of Crown Royal Northern Harvest Rye, and reminds me why I love Scotch so much.  Don't be hoodwinked by the marketing of the Whisky Bible.  You wanna give a gift of a high quality single malt, Mortlach Rare Old is the ticket.  No bite, just smooth aged whisky with great qualities the sherry fiend is sure to enjoy.

Cheers!


Jason Debly

P.S.  The only negative is the price.  Quite high.  Mortlach Rare Old price is indicative of a disturbing trend in Scotch whisky:  high prices!  Prices are creeping higher and higher while age statements are dropped and causing an impact on quality (see Macallan no-age-statement releases).  This is not the case for all single malts (like Mortlach Rare Old), but it is a trend with other distilleries.  Mortlach Rare Old is a fine single malt but the price is very much on the upper end for what you should pay.  As it is the holidays I make an exception, but during the ordinary year, there is comparable value for money to be found with Glenmorangie Quinta Ruban for about about $40 less!

Friday, November 27, 2015

Whisky Review: Crown Royal Northern Harvest Rye



In his book, the Whisky Bible 2016, Jim Murray declares Crown Royal Northern Harvest Rye to be the "World Whisky of the Year."  Another quote of Mr. Murray's praise for this Canadian whisky:

    "To say this is a masterpiece is barely doing it justice."

Being Canadian, I was proud and at the same time dismayed because I was happy Canadian whisky was getting international recognition, but worried about the source of the attention.

Jim Murray has a history of making baffling selections for best whisky.  In 2013, he awarded Sullivans Cove French Oak Cask the best single malt of the Southern Hemisphere.   A whisky that several members of my whisky club purchased and decided was the worst whisky they ever tasted period.  I found it to be terrible.  A bizarre selection we thought.

In 2011, he assessed Ballantine's Finest 17 year old blended Scotch to be the best whisky in the world, even better than all world single malts.  I do not have a problem with a blend being declared better than a single malt, indeed Hibiki 17 or 21 yrs is a prime example of a blended whisky that beats out the vast majority of single malts in its price range, but for Ballantine's to beat all whiskies, I found that hard to accept.  I bought a bottle and wrote about my disappointment: here.

So, here we are again, he has selected a Crown Royal release, Northern Harvest Rye, to be the best world whisky for 2016.

It is that good?

Jason, have you tried it?

Jason, are you going to review it?

In the past week, I have probably received about fifty such emails.  This blog gets about 75,000 hits a month and has had 3.7 million hits to date, and guess what they are all looking for?  As of late, a review of Crown Royal Northern Harvest Rye.  It does not matter that the whole concept of best whisky in the world is absurd, people want to know if this selection is any good?  You want to know, and you know what?  I want to know!  So, I bought two bottles.

Crown Royal Northern Harvest Rye

Category 
Blended Canadian Whisky

Price
$35 (in Canada)

ABV
45%

Age
No information is available with respect to the constituent whiskies.  If I had to guess I would say a lot of younger (ie. 3-6yrs) whiskies are present.

Nose (undiluted)
Rye toast, copper pennies, cinnamon, damp wood.

Palate (undiluted)
Initial spicy and crusty rye bread notes grip the palate, raw ginger, brown sugar.

Finish (undiluted)
More ginger, oak, tingling winter mint, fine black pepper milled to powder and then waves of rye return, and a wee little heat.

General Impressions
Upon opening this bottle two nights ago, I found this whisky tasting young, untame and a little raw.  The following night, it was the same.  Tonight, it has smoothed out a fair bit and is drinking gentler.  Oxidation can be a good thing.

Adding water doesn't improve the flavor profile.  Just smooths it out.  While it is 45% ABV, it is not strong or over the top with rye flavors.

I think for $35 you are getting fair value for money.  I think it is not a great whisky because it lacks great complexity.  The flavors are not simple, but not sufficiently refined to make me sit back in awe, as some other whiskies have done.  Really, for a whisky to be great in my eyes, it has to exhibit amazing complexity that leaves you blissed out.  It's not happening here.  There are the beginnings of complexity but only the beginnings.  And again, I do not find this whisky to be what I would call refined.

In my video review of last night, I observed the whisky tasted young and raw.  Tonight, it is more tame with time in the bottle and some extra air in there.  Still not knocking my socks off.

What really bothers me about Jim Murray's assessment of this whisky being the best in the world is that it will turn a lot of people off from the Canadian whisky category.  People will think that if this is the best of the Canadian whisky category, they will pass on trying any others.  That would be a mistake.  There are a lot of truly great Canadian whiskies like:

(1)  Wiser's Legacy

(2)  Canadian Club 20 years is a very fine Canadian whisky for $60!  Complexity abounds in the flavors and never offensive.  Highly recommended and far superior to Crown Royal Northern Harvest Rye.

(3)  Gibson's Finest 18 is classic Canadian whisky, smooth, totally inoffensive, but with some substance.  Price is sharking up though.  I still think it is a great example of Canadian whisky.

Alberta Premium Dark Horse
The availability of Crown Royal Northern Harvest Rye is going to be a problem for most of you reading this review. I was fortunate to get a couple of bottles due to sheer perseverance with a certain retailer.  But, what do you do if you can't get a bottle and still seek a nice Canadian rye of similar quality and price point?  Please consider Alberta Premium Dark Horse.

Category
Canadian Blended Whisky

Price
$30 (in Canada)

ABV
45%

Age
No age statement on bottle label, but we do know that Dark Horse is comprised of 12 year old rye whisky and 6 year old small pot rye.  Added to this is an 8% dollop of aged corn whisky and actual sherry wine has been added to the blend.  Very high rye content overall.  Aged in heavily charred American white oak barrels.

Nose (undiluted)
Dusty roses, black berries, cherries, very floral, raspberries.

Palate (undiluted)
Robust rye bread wrapped in sherry and prunes (in a good way), orange peel, red licorice and dried figs and strong brown sugar.  French roast coffee beans and cognac notes.  Nice!

Finish (undiluted)
Long lingering old port/cognac notes drying across the palate coupled with powder dry sherry.

General Impressions
The flavors are deeper, with notes of brown sugar, port, sherry, and of course plenty of rye, but the rye is swaddled in the aforementioned flavors that makes it truly interesting and very comforting at the same time.  The price and great quality make this what Teacher's Highland Cream once was to blended Scotch, great value/bargain blend.

No need to add water.  Great stuff!

In a match-up with Crown Royal Northern Harvest Rye, I am going to grab Dark Horse every time, save $5 and enjoy better flavors.

I ran into Davin de Kergommeaux at a recent whisky festival. He is the leading authority on Canadian whisky and if you want to learn more, please visit his website: http://www.canadianwhisky.org/  You will get plenty of ideas in your exploration of Canadian whisky and learn that this spirit is no longer simply the smooth cocktail mix of your parent's 1970s toga parties.

Cheers!


Jason Debly

P.S.  Crown Royal Northern Harvest Rye is no masterpiece of whisky.  For a masterpiece, see my next review.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Whisky review: Johnnie Walker Explorers' Club Collection "The Adventurer"

In my last post, I uploaded a reader's email, in which he lamented that it is very difficult to find the "Honda Accord" of Scotches, meaning something affordable, yet of great quality.

Normally, 'affordable' and 'whisky' are two words that do not work well in the same sentence.  Generally speaking, affordable Scotch whisky means you are looking at blended Scotch, and in the past there were a few gems.  Today, the same brands are still with us, but the great drams they were, at very reasonable prices, have disappeared.

Teacher's, Black Bottle, Monkey Shoulder and others that at one time delivered great quality at a great price are now serving up noticeably lesser quality at a reasonable price.  Now, you get what you pay for, whereas ten years ago, you glanced nervously over your shoulder, as you exited the liquor store fearing the manager would bolt out the doors demanding you return, as there was an error in price.

Nevertheless, I am still in search of that Accord, thinking it is just around the corner, on a lonely shelf, just waiting for me to discover it.  So, in the spirit of Japanese efficiency and value having an equivalent in the blended Soctch category, a friend picked me a up a bottle of Johnnie Walker Explorers' Club Collection "The Adventurer" at Duty Free.

Availability
Duty Free only

Format
1 litre

Price
$29

ABV
40%

Nose (undiluted)
Red licorice, easy peat, wisps of smoke, rose hip, strawberries.

Palate (undiluted)
Spicy/sweet entry of sugared strawberries, raspberries, pickled beets, peat, some malt notes and lots of sweet grain whiskies bulking it out.

Finish (undiluted)
Montreal steak spice, ginger, simple black pepper, and a tannic cola note.

General Impressions
"The Adventurer" appears to be the standard Johnnie Walker Red Label with an extra boost of smoke, spices.  It is a little smoother than Red Label with a little less bite too but hardly by much.  I really struggle to distinguish much difference in taste between this and Red Label.  A Scotch whisky blogger in Brazil holds the same opinion.

That being said, for $29.99, you are getting a lot of decent mix quality blended Scotch whisky.  I really think this blend is best enjoyed as mix, and at the price it is offered for, you won't feel guilty using it as such.  In a tumbler, add 2/3 ginger ale, 1/3 The Adventurer, ice, slice of orange, a dash of Angostura Bitters, and you are in business!  Much more enjoyable than neat.

So, I guess I will heed Johnnie Walker's advice and keep on walkin.'  Maybe a trip down the Spice Road will lead to my ultimate destination: an Accord!

Cheers!



Jason Debly

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Reader Email

Hi Jason,

Hoping all is well with you as we enter into the darker time of our year. As I'm sure you don't remember, I began a scotch journey in earnest this time last year. Never one to do much subtly, I'm pleased to tell you that I experienced 35 scotches in the past 12 months (39 if you count the little 1/3 ounce sips that they give you at Binny's on the way to buy what you really came for). In this time I discovered that there are some stark realities we each have to come to terms with.

First of all, it's a freaking expensive hobby, especially when you've just opened a bottle and two weeks later you're Jonesing to buy something else.
 
Two, it's immensely fun to get together and share bottles for the sake of expanding horizons. 

Three, it matters but really doesn't matter what reviewers and bloggers say, as it's my bottle damn it and I'll do with it what I want and have my own opinion of it world be damned! 
 
Four, its really hard to like an Islay without a cigar, and not being a cigar smoker that would just be another expensive hobby to add to the current expensive hobby (the Ardbeg Uigeadail was completely un-understandable to this palate but smoking a Montecristo next to a small bonfire in the yard in October it transformed into one of the sweetest, syrupy delightful malts ever to touch this mouth!! - AND oh if I could just get that Laphroaig Quarter Cask back to give it the same test).

Five, I love spicy scotch top to bottom of the bottle but sherried scotch one glass at a time with one special dinner plate and guest.

Six, my house should always have a member of the Glenmorangie and Highland Park families and shame on me if I can't provide that. 
 
Seven, good luck finding the Honda Accord of scotches, the best to date that I can recommend being Monkey Shoulder ($27 in Chicago) which I had the great fortune of two bottles separated by six months, the second a gift when I was in the middle of the Glenfiddich Solera 15 -- this being a very important distinction of serendipity and synchronicity as they are both vatted malts from basically of the same family and side by side there's no doubt the Monkey Shoulder is its younger brother but hardly less so in stature. 
 
Eight, good fortune shines on scotch enthusiasts, one example my chance meeting with Steve Lipp the CEO of Alexander Murray who private labels for Costco, Trader Joe's, etc.. I liked him so I bought from him, loved the prices and discovered only one dud (the TJ Highland 10) out of 5 tries, and one exceptional gem, the just released Kirkland Highland 16 for $49, which is so smooth, elegant, perfectly sweet, subtly complex with a light spicy finish (kind of like the Dalwhinnie 15) and unfathomably drinkable - a friend and I took down 3/4 of a bottle 10/30/15 (yes there was another fire and some medium caliber Davidoff's in the mix that gave the evening a Sodium Pentathol quality).

Nine, you'll always encounter something you don't like but can pawn it off on some other scotch drinker to their pleasure as they're so happy to meet someone with good scotch in the cabinet. 

Ten, somehow, someway, bottles somehow make a difference as I was so disappointed in my Balvenie Doublewood 12 last December but thrilled with it last month with good company, brats and german potato salad (I promised Warren I wouldn't drink it again until we get together again - a big deal since it had been 3 years!).

Thanks for helping on the journey.

Ken



PS Eleven, JWBlue while terrific is grossly overpriced!!! I'm saving up for Highland Park 18...

Monday, November 2, 2015

Review: Green Spot Irish Whiskey


Wife:  "You never told me how you want to end up?"  She is cradling a book in her lap.  Probably sitting atop the Man Booker Prize list.  She is very smart.  Me, not so much.  I am cradling my Sony TV remote.

Me:  "What?"

Wife:  "You know, do you want to be cremated?"

Me:  "What?  Hell no!"

Wife:  "I want to be," she cheerily declares.  She picks a microscopic speck of dust off her sweater sleeve.  "So, tell me about your funeral.  How do you want it to be?"

Me: (I am thinking, why does she have to start these types of conversations when a really good football game is on.  It's a sunny Sunday afternoon, I am collapsed on the couch, the kids are at someone else's house for once.  I mean the Cowboys might beat Seattle and she is asking me about my funeral wishes?  Really?  WTF??  'Do not start a fight Jason, play along,' I say to myself repeatedly like some updated Buddhist mantra that is chanted by husbands the world over. So, I sigh deeply followed by a pregnant pause, worthy of off-Broadway, and reply with near honesty)

"Well, honey, I'd like music to play at the wake.  I am thinking to start things off with a Dorothy Love Coates gospel number I'll Be With Thee excellently covered by Jerry Garcia.  While that is playing, I want my coffin to roll up in a hearse that is modeled off the 1971 Cadillac Eldorado from Superfly.

I want the music to fade from Jerry's gospel cover to Isaac Hayes' Shaft.  The funeral director will have to crank the music so that the wah-wah guitar is killer, but then he must carefully dial it down before Isaac sings because I think his lyrics really just glorify the outrageously transient wealth and flashiness of soulless ghetto criminals.  So, before Isaac would sing I want the music to drift into Pusherman by Curtis Mayfield.  That brother had a moral compass.  His music didn't romanticize Ghetto drug dealers who destroyed large swathes of their community."

Wife:  She stares at me blankly and whispers . . . "Whisky, what about whisky?"

Me:  "Oh yeah, you can serve Green Spot.  It's an Irish whiskey.  Very good.  Its expensive but I'll put aside some money for it.  The kids may have to miss one college semester, but hey I made sacrifices too.  If they whine about it, just tell 'em Papa Was a Rolling Stone.

Irish whiskey is somehow more fitting for a wake than Scotch whisky.  I am not a fan of the bottom shelf Jameson dear, so I'm going to pay a little extra and educate my well-wishers, from my afterlife, about the magic of Irish whiskey and that would be Green Spot."

Nose (undiluted)
Oranges, slices of green apple, ginger.

Palate (undiluted)
Spiced apple and pears, sesame brittle, sherry, melon and classic Irish whiskey oiliness with a nutty hint.  Herbaceous and complex!

Finish (undiluted)
Clean lemons, honey and more orient spices.

Me:  "Oh yeah, and you can play my video review of Greenspot on a giant screen."



Wife:  "Honey, you just lay there and rest.  I think I will get dinner ready."

Me: (Mission accomplished!  Now back to the game!)

Cheers!


Jason Debly

P.S.  Green Spot is an excellent Irish whiskey that rivals if not surpasses other great compatriots like Redbreast.  It is expensive but worth the price.

By the way, Superfly is an excellent film that you should check out.  Shot without a permit, it shows a gritty 1971 NYC with humor, seriousness, but no moralizing.   Internet Movie Data Base member, thomaswatchesfilms writes:

"This gritty, low budget film offers a unique and honest perspective on the underworld of black street life in the early 1970s, with an almost tragic, Shakepearian, bent. The look, the feel and language of the culture and the almost real-time look street life in NYC of that era is truly unmatched by any film before or since. Perhaps through genius, inspiration, maybe just plain luck, or all three, the producers and director hit the nail right on the head. Starring an excellent, intelligent cast of professional thespians, some with impressive stage and film credentials, and augmented by a wonderful infusion of genuine non-professionals right from the street in key roles, the film has an honesty and gritty reality that belies its budgetary constraints. Filmed largely without the permission of local authorities and unions, in winter and often after dark, it has a cinema verite feel throughout; almost a documentary. And the score! Composed and performed by Curtis Mayfield, it is as close to an utter classic as has ever been offered. It stands alone, and would have been a multi-platinum offering even without the film. If one takes the inherent flaws to this type of production; i.e. the rough editing, slightly uneven performances and almost clandestine feel, and places these in proper perspective, it is sure to delight all but the most hardened and jaded enthusiasts of film. Notable: this film set THE STYLE for black, urban culture for most of the next decade. It has no current rivals in that accomplishment. After this film, simply everything since has been empty posturing vis-a-vis popular rap music. It was "remade" during the mid 1990s and set in Miami as "Big Ballers", which was utterly horrible. Compare the two and you will see what style counts for. This film is the real deal. I spent money I didn't have to get this DVD. Go buy it, trust me."

Monday, October 12, 2015

Review: Hennessy V.S.O.P. Cognac

Creepy, eh?

It's a Belgian castle in ruins that plucky tourists seeking dangerous urban adventure like to explore at their own risk.

I stared at this castle and strangely it reminded me of a frightening experience from my past:  a cheap bottle of brandy.  At a time in my life when I was young and stupid (not much different from the present) and during my initial exploration of whiskies, I bought the cheapest bottle of brandy I could find.  I had read about brandy and cognac (a type of brandy) and wanted to know if it would lift my spirits?  Instead, this amber liquid would haunt me for a very long time.

Creepier!
I was in Boston or Halifax.  I really can't remember.  Well, I do recollect it was wickedly cold, windy and pitch black evening .  Still it could have been either city, but nevertheless, I ventured from my hotel into a slanting cold rain that made my ancient waxed Barbour smell more pungent, and  caused me to stiffen up like a corpse, as any normal body movement like walking promoted the rain to seep through to the inside of my jacket.

I wandered for quite a while until I found a rundown liquor store where I bought a couple different bottles, and this plastic bottle of Chemineaud 'Fine Brandy' with the twist-off cap.  It was Boston in November!  I remember it was a little way from the fancy homes of Beacon Hill.  Lurch, the guy behind the counter, actually asked me for ID even though I was probably 40 at the time.  Strange I thought and shuddered as to the real reason why he wanted to see my ID.

I sloshed my way back to the hotel, under the silver flicker of street lights, howling wind bent trees, through the stony stares of the homeless, and passed taxi drivers who pretended not to see me.  As I splashed through puddles, clutching my quickly disintegrating brown paper bag, my thoughts drifted to Edgar Allen Poe and how he was found dead in a gutter much like the one adjacent to the street I was crossing.  But, then I remembered that Poe died in Baltimore and I was in Boston and not a celebrated poet.

Back at the ironically named Liberty Hotel, which had formerly been a mid-19th century prison, I managed to return to my room without first being wrestled to the lobby floor by security.

I peeled off my Barbour, sat down at the hotel room's 'business' desk with faux banker's lamp, reached for a plastic cup, poured some 'fine brandy' took a sniff and was hit with a strong billy-club of alcohol.  I took a pull and my gag reflex quickly engaged as I tried to swallow.  It was boozy.  'Boozy' is the exact word.  Think rummy who lives in the woods, under a train bridge or is a tenured windbag professor in a worn Donegal tweed jacket with bony/nicotine stained fingers gesticulating wildly and you know what I mean.

The brandy was hot, ill-tempered and tasted of spoiled sherry.  Ughh, it can't be that bad, so again I took another sip and it was worse than the first, but a wave of warmth washed over me much like as a kid that first heave of car sickness during the stifling hot car drive to Grandmas or the heat and burn one feels before losing control of one's bowels in the midst of Bangkok traffic gridlock while riding in a rickshaw.  Damn that overly friendly street vendor's pad thai!

Subsequent sips were no better.  I tossed the plastic bottle into the sink and switched to McCallan 12 and all was well with the world.

After my misadventure with brandy in Boston, I avoided the spirit for 13 years or so, until last week.

 Last week I was in Ottawa for work.  I met up with Laurent, an impeccably dressed and cultured fellow who blogs on culture, art and food.  We are opposites, he is erudite, I am plebian.  He is diplomatic, I often lack an internal filter when speaking, and we had actually never met in person, only online, trading emails and comments on each other's blogs.  So, I was not sure how things would go over dinner at a fashionable wine bar.  Real life and the online life do not always align as we wish.

Deciding what bottle of red for dinner spurred a conversation that lasted 2 1/2 hours over rustic Italian/French food.  Dinner over, wine bottle empty, it was time for a spirit.  Whisky?  Maybe.  I glanced over the spirits list and saw little that excited me.  Ballantine's?  Never.  Chivas 12.  I can't.  Simply to light and apple-like after the meal we just had.  It had to be heavy.  There was nothing and then I spied "Cognac."  The evening had gone well.  Did I want to ruin it with nasty brandy/cognac?  The food had been great, ambience excellent, risk it all on bad cognac?  Well, inexplicably I did, as if I had been possessed by some ghost of great cognac past, and ordered Hennessy V.S.O.P.

ABV
40%

Age Statement
None, but the company says the eau de vie making up this cognac are aged 3 to 7 years.

Nose (undiluted)
Old wood, varnish, leather, black licorice.

Palate (undiluted)
Rounded, soft, viscous texture delivering spiced molasses, slight hint of pomegranate, dark chocolate, honey and stewed prunes.

Finish (undiluted)
Oak, strawberries, milk chocolate and earth.  I taste the terroir of the white wines that were distilled.  Drying brown sugar/English fruit cake that is powerful and stays with you, providing warmth and flavor.  Long finish with a sweetness that returns.

General Impressions
Cognac is a long lost cousin to Scotch whisky.  Cognac is very dry and acidic white wine that has been distilled twice in copper stills, and then blended with other eau de vive and aged in French oak. When the distillate goes into barrels it is colorless and acquires its color and flavors from the wood. The result is similar to whisky but different.  Very interesting.  Kind of reminds me of good sipping rums but more complex.

On the issue of complexity, there is an interesting weaving of flavors.  Maybe not as complex as many single malts, but interesting nonetheless.

For those of you who smoke cigars, Hennessy V.S.O.P. would compliment a Connecticut wrapper very well.  I am thinking CAO Gold, The Griffin's, Perdomo Champagne, Nat Shermans or a discontinued Winston Churchill "Chequers."

Hennesy V.S.O.P. is most impressive on its finish.  The flavors last a long time and there is some definite warmth that is not common to Scotch whiskies, making for an interesting and delightful change.

This is not a cheap spirit.  For the price you are assured smooth initial tastes of chocolates and fruit with honey and by the time of the finish, some orange rind and warmth that lasts.  It is really a welcome drink in cold weather.  Many a great fire side chat can start with a dram of this spirit.  If you are a newbie to whiskies or cognac, do not be afraid, this spirit is far more friendly than the ones inhabiting the Miranda Castle pictured at the beginning of this post.

Cheers!



Jason Debly

P.S.  If you do not like fruit cake, rum cake and prune/molasses like notes in your spirits drink, then do not invest in a bottle.  Buy a dram and evaluate.  I think cognac is not for everyone who is an ardent single malt fan seeking a complexity that only Scottish barley can deliver.  Moreover, it is sweeter than the average single malt, and if you are not a fan of a sweet finish, again this cognac may not be for you.  Buy a glass, evaluate and comment below.  Thank you for reading!

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Review: Jim Beam Signature Craft "Quarter Cask Finished"

A true appreciation of the Grateful Dead can only be achieved by listening to their live recordings.  Their studio work doesn't do them justice.

While there is a lot of debate as to their best concert, what hooked me was their May 8, 1977 performance at Barton Hall, Cornell University: click here!

The song that reeled me first was Morning Dew.  Others that will get their hooks into you are:  Scarlet Begonias, Brown Eyed Women and Jack Straw.  Click below to listen.



What does the Dead have to do with a whisky review?  Nothing really.  I just wanted to expand your musical horizons, even if I had to exploit your interest in whisky in order to do so.

Jim Beam Signature Craft "Quarter Cask Finished"

Price
$39

ABV
43%

Release Date
2014

Nose (undiluted)
Cinnamon, lavender, roses, oak.

Palate (undiluted)
Sweet corn notes, toasted oak, lemon zest, apricot. Oak dominates.

Finish (undiluted)
 Medium spiced rye, dark toast, oak and vanilla.

General Impressions
I found this bourbon to be very pleasant, quite smooth, with prominent oak and cinnamon at the forefront of taste.  For the price and 43% ABV, I expected a wee bit more flavor complexity.  So, the price is a little rich for what you get.  At $32, I would be singing its praises but at $39 there are some other aged bourbons that you may prefer if you like more vibrant and challenging flavors.

I think this will have mass appeal, especially for those who like to add ice or water.  I really think this is a very pleasant bourbon to explore neat if you want to know what all the fuss of bourbon is about and willing to pay a little premium.  And finally, I raise a toast to Jerry Garcia with this bourbon.  His positive spirit and improvisational genius has brought a lot of sunlight into this world.  Thank you Jerry!

Cheers!



Jason Debly

P.S.   I always admired the Grateful Dead for making their live performances available for free, even setting up a section at their concerts where fans could plug into their soundboard, and record the live performance, so long as they did not profit from the recordings.

Photo credits:  Jerry Garcia photo taken by Andy Leonard; Photo of Jim Beam taken by Jason Debly.  Mr. Leonard's photo is used here purely for entertainment and educational purposes.  Mr. Leonard retains all moral and intellectual property rights to said photo and may not be reproduced without his permission.

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Review: Monkey Shoulder Blended Malt Scotch Whisky

Trump:  Next question.  You!  Over on the left.  Go ahead!

Debly:  Moving away from ISIS and Sarah Palin's remarkable figure, I was wondering if you could tell us what you think of Monkey Shoulder?

Trump:  I don't drink alcohol.

Debly:  I sent you a sample with my tasting notes.  One of your aides said you tasted it, as it is from Scotland, "the land of his ancestors and the home of golf" as she aptly put it.

Trump:  Yeah, yeah, I took a sip.  Even though, I don't drink alcohol.

Debly:  Think of your opinion on this blended malt as a statement of your foreign policy on Scotland.

Trump:  I do love Scotland and I built a tremendous golf course there.  Absolutely tremendous!  It's a huge success!  . . . . Okay kid, read me your tasting notes, refresh my memory.

Nose (undiluted)
Citrus, oak, apples and a distinct but faint alcoholic note.

Palate (undiluted)
Smooth apples, caramel, honey and grapefruit.

Finish (undiluted)
Malty, mild pepper, lemon seed, a little rubbing alcohol chased by some slight smoke.

. . .

Debly:  Cheap price in the US.  Around $29.  Good value for money, but not north of the border in Canada.  At $59, grab a cheap single malt instead.  It may be a blended malt at 43% ABV, but not much complexity.  Actually, no complexity, much like your platform.

Trump:  Whoa?  Not much complexity?  Excuse me!  I am very rich!  I built a tremendous company!  I create jobs.  I will be the greatest jobs president God ever created!  We need to make America great again.  We don't have victories anymore because our leaders are fools outfoxed by China, Japan and Mexico, but I will change all that.  How is that for complexity?  AND!  I will win the Black vote and the Hispanic vote!

Debly:  Yes, but what about the Monkey Shoulder fan-base vote?


Photo Credits:  Photo of Donald Trump by Mark Wilson/Getty Images.  Mark Wilson's photograph is used purely for the purposes of education, entertainment and humor.  All copyright and moral rights are the property of Mark Wilson/Getty.  Photo of Monkey Shoulder bottle by Jason Debly.  

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Johnnie Walker Red: A Cocktail Recipe



It's summer time with the hot weather nothing is more welcome than a refreshing cocktail. Trouble is, some recipes are so complicated that by the time you master it, it will be winter. So, I present for your consideration a simple cocktail prescription for the hot days and evenings ahead.

You will need the following: 

1 1/2 oz of Johnnie Walker Red Label

Ginger ale Soda

Ice 

Angostura Aromatic Bitters 

Slice of Orange 

Whisky tumbler 

1. Pour 1 and a half oz of Johnnie Walker Red Label into your tumbler; 

2. Pour enough ginger ale soda to a little under 3/4 of the tumbler; 

3. Add three big ice cubes; 

4. A couple of dashes of Angostura Aromatic Bitters. By a couple of dashes I mean four or five heavy ones. It will noticeably darken the color of your drink. That's a good thing! 

5. Add in a slice of orange; 

6. Stir 

7. Enjoy!

Cheers!



Jason Debly

Sunday, June 7, 2015

Review: Glen Grant 16 year old Single Malt Scotch

"Glen Grant" is not exactly a household name in the abode of most Scotch drinkers, and that is precisely why I invited it into mine.  This stray cat needed a home and I had plenty of love and affection for it, second only to the near-retirement age librarian a little way down my leafy street with five Persians peering out her picture window and batting at suspended amethyst crystals, slightly out of reach.

So, one chilly evening, I stoked up the hearth, leaned back in my beat-up corduroy recliner, enjoyed the warmth and snap, crackle, pop of the straw yellow flames licking the split logs, tuned my radio to an NPR profile of  Ralph Nader, pulled an ancient (circa early 1970's) black and orange macrame blanket over me, glanced at a stack of unread New Internationalist and Mother Jones mags, but decided against them, and instead simply shared a pensive moment or two with kitty while lazily gazing into the blossoming fire.

Region
Speyside

ABV
43%

Nose (undiluted)
Apple blossoms, faint lemons, orange rind, country garden air.

Palate (undiluted)
Sweet light apple, pears, and then some intensity of orange rinds, plums and figs.

Finish (undiluted)
I am tasting some good dry wood, oak, malt notes and a little sherry.  Slight smoked kippers.

General Impressions
This tabby purrs like a little tug boat out in the bay.  No bite or sharp claws out, but he is a little playful.  Very well behaved, but not above attacking a ball of yarn.  The 43% ABV delivers good intensity and tapestry of flavors.  Did I mention it is very easy drinking?  Add a little water (eg. 1/4 teaspoon to double) and the dram delivers notes of English cream and milk chocolate.

I had some friends over and they all wanted to pet kitty too.

A good one for people who are new to this breed of animal.

Cheers!



Jason Debly

P.S.  Here is my video review of this whisky:

https://youtu.be/pOENlJb7wRg

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Finally! A Review of Johnnie Walker Green Label!

Finally, I have acquired a bottle of Johnnie Walker Green Label that has been temporarily re-launched in Canada and the United States.  Special thanks to Mike for asking his mother to pick me up a bottle while she was recently in Florida!

As you will recall, a couple of years ago Diageo decided to stop producing it for the Canadian and US markets.  However, it was still quietly sold in Korea and a couple other places around there because it had such a strong following.

So, why the re-introduction which may be temporary?  Here is my theory:  Maybe Diageo stopped selling it in Canada and the US because sales were weak.  It was priced around the entry level 12 year old single malts, and so consumers were opting for those products while operating under the mistaken assumption that a single malt is always of superior quality to a blended malt.  Or maybe Diageo thought with an expanding market in China, Russia, India and other countries that they could make more money simply selling the single malts individually that make up Green Label.  This  blended malt is composed of four single malts: Talisker, Cragganmore, Linkwood and Caol Ila.

So, why the change of heart?  Sales of single malt have been weak as of late.  Bourbon, Canadian and Irish whiskies are eroding market share once held by single malt Scotch.  Don't take my word for it.  Read about it here:

http://www.theguardian.com/business/2015/apr/01/scotch-whisky-exports-decline-sales

http://www.wsj.com/articles/scotch-whisky-gets-left-out-of-the-party-1427922058?mod=e2fb

So, if Cragganmore, Caol Ila and Talisker are not selling well in Ukraine, Russia and China, maybe its time to start blending them into Green Label to sell off the excess stocks of those wonderful malts?  I dunno why Green Label is really back, but in any event, here is my tasting note:

Price Point
This is priced around the same as many 12 year old single malts.

ABV
43%!  Nice to see that Diageo did not tinker with the ABV.  A higher than normal ABV allows the drinker to experiment with a little water in the dram.

Nose (undiluted)
Apple blossoms, citrus notes, oak, malty and milk chocolate notes.

Palate (undiluted)
Heavier body than I remember from a couple of years ago.  Really coats the palate.  Wild spiced honey up front with considerable sweetness.  Maybe a little too sweet for my liking.  Soon thereafter malty notes appear with faint sherry and a flourish of gentle peat.

Finish (undiluted)
Not what I would call a sherried dram by any means, but there is a faint sherry note on the finish and the taste of bright red raspberries.  Maybe some cherries too.  Part your lips and inhale and the smoke comes, mild cigar smoke.  Davidoff?  H. Upmann?  Dominican Republic?  You be the judge.

. . .

Years ago I enjoyed JWG with a little water.  Specifically, one teaspoon to a double pour (1.5 oz) made the dram flavors more complex, so I just had to try that again.

Nose (diluted)
Peat and sea air, damp Fall leaves, scent of gardening and getting caught in a light summer rainfall.

Palate (diluted)
The addition of a little water tones down the spiced honey and Graham cracker action, and in its place reveals some complexity. H2O definitely improves this whisky. It brings out to the forefront of the palate crystal clear spring water; takes the sweetness down a notch and in its place is some dray balsa wood with lime and blood orange flavors.  Key lime pie for sure.

Finish (diluted)
Part your lips and breathe and taste the smoke drying on your palate.  Oak, faint dry sherry and black pepper.

General Impressions
I have to be honest.  Johnnie Walker Green Label is not as good as I remember it.  It is a pleasant Scotch whisky priced on par with many 12 year old single malts.  Green Label is superior to some 12 year olds like Glenfiddich, Glenlivet, Aberlour, but not say Cragganmore or GlenDronach (both of which I prefer to GL).

Green Label is now sweeter than it used to be and still lacking some complexity that it used to have.  It is less peated and smokey on the finish.  Where there was once a zing of peat drying across the palate there is now some very nice, but less dry key lime pie.  I wonder if the Talisker and Caol Ila components are in a lesser proportion to the older JWG.  It tastes like that is the case.

I remember it being candle wax or Swiss cheese dry on the finish with a truly impressive complexity that made me think this could easily pass for a single malt in a blind tasting.

Not anymore.  It is a a little too sweet and needs the water to lessen that trait.  But, even with the water, it is not as complex as it once was.  I am sure of this.  I clearly remember what it tasted like before and my blog posts about how great it was were not hyperbole.  It truly was incredible.  The bottle I find in front of me is good, but not incredible.  It is fair value and in terms of flavor is good as a few 12 year old single malts like Auchentoshan, Glenfiddich and others.  But it no longer rivals 18 year old single malts as it once did.  I am a little disappointed.  If you are looking for a similar honeyed profile in a blended malt (no grain whisky) I highly recommend tracking down a bottle of 12 year old Poit Dhubh.  Really fantastic right now and tastes a lot like JWG used to.

The flavors now are dangerously akin to syrup you put on your morning waffles.  Too sweet my friend.

There will always be some variability from batch to batch that is bottled, but the JWG of a few years ago was a show stopper.  Glenfiddich 15 years Solera, Cragganmore 12 and others that it once stood shoulder to shoulder with are now taller.

Cheers!



Jason Debly

P.S.  JWG is still a decent Scotch whisky that will serve as a fine gateway 'drug' to the Scotch whisky hobby.  Newbies will enjoy this very much.  The price is barely reasonable if you can buy it for $50.  It just lacks the over-the-top 'wow' factor.  The old JWG was drier on the finish, crisper leaving your palate feeling like a brilliantly weaved Persian rug.  You marveled at the complexity.  Now, JWG is much sweeter initially and through mid-palate.  The finish does dry somewhat, if water has been added, but not enough and noticeably less peat action.  It leaves your palate feeling like someone just laid some nice, pleasant, comfy, cushioned bedroom carpet.  Your toes feel good on it, but you don't feel special like when you walk over the Persian down in front of the fireplace.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Update: Johnnie Walker Green Label

I received this email today from Diageo:

Dear Mr. Jason Debly,

Thank you for taking time to contact Johnnie Walker. Your feedback is important to us.

We value loyal consumers such as yourself and we appreciate your enthusiasm. In response to your inquiry, the  Johnnie Walker Green Limited Edition still has the same core single malts of Cragganmore, Linkwood, Talisker and Caol Ila. The product was released to help celebrate the 10th anniversary and is coming back as a Limited Time Offer in 2015 only.

If there is anything else I could help you with now or in the future, please do not hesitate to contact me.

Once again, thank you for contacting Johnnie Walker.

Sincerely,

Betty
Johnnie Walker Consumer Care Representative

To join a group of individuals who share an appreciation for Johnnie Walker and to enjoy access to unique offers and opportunities, go online and join the House of Walker at https://www.johnniewalker.com/en-us/scotch-whisky-blends/secure/registration.aspx

Keep walking at www.johnniewalker.com please Drink Responsibly.

. . .

Thanks to all of you readers, I have also learned that this release has retained the 15 year age statement.  The only difference between this edition and previous is the use of a twist off cap and a jigger device in the neck.  That's ok so long as the whisky is fine, and it sounds like they are continuing to use the same core single malts.

Readers, if you try this latest release, do let the rest of us know how it stacks up with the Green Label of a few years ago.

I am pretty psyched.  Just need to procure a bottle now.

Cheers!



Jason Debly

Friday, February 27, 2015

Here's Johnnie!!!

No, not that Johnnie!

I mean Johnnie Walker or more specifically, Johnnie Walker Green Label.  You know, the 15 year old pure malt that got discontinued a while ago.

For the past few weeks I have been receiving emails from people in odd parts of Canada and the US about the reappearance of Johnnie Walker Green Label on the shelves of their favorite liquor store.  These readers want to know if the late, great Johnnie Walker Green Label is back?

The chatter is on the internet too.  Check out this thread: http://www.connosr.com/wall/discussion/206700/johnnie-walker-green-label-to-be-discontinued/

Scotch Addict reports that he has received an email from Diageo:

"Johnnie Walker Green Label was discontinued in North America, however, to celebrate the tenth anniversary of this world renowned whisky we are releasing it as a limited time offering.  Johnnie Walker Green should begin hitting store shelves throughout February 2015.  I encourage you to speak with your local retailer to request they place an order for the product."

I have emailed Diageo, but no response so far.  Let's just say that I am on their 'naughty' list, so I am not holding my breath.  What I would like to know, if I could speak with them, is whether or not this Green Label release will still have the 15 year age statement?  Still have the same core single malts?

If anybody sees a bottle, drop me a line or better yet, post a comment below.

For those of you who have never tried Green Label, now is a good time to try it.  Wondering what it tastes like?  Here are my notes:

http://jason-scotchreviews.blogspot.ca/2010/04/night-with-johnnie-walker-green-label.html

http://jason-scotchreviews.blogspot.ca/2009/08/johnnie-walker-green-label.html

Don't be shy!  Chime in on any sightings or official announcements from Diageo.

Let's hope the rumours are true!  If only I could divine the future of Johnnie Walker Green Label like Carnac the Magnificent.













Cheers!



Jason Debly

P.S.  Johnny, we miss you!  Rest in peace brother.

Monday, February 9, 2015

Assessing Whisky Decanters & Home Blending with Teacher's



In this video, I compare an expensive lead crystal decanter that cost $200 with a $60 glass decanter.  Which one is better?

I also discuss Teacher's Highland Cream.  Do you find it a little flat and boring since they stopped sourcing Glendronach as a key single malt?  Me too.  Solution:  Pick an intuitively complimentary single malt that you can blend with it to get a final product that has some smoke, peat and punch that makes a mediocre blend into an interesting one.

Cheers!


Jason Debly

If you are interested in the glass decanter appearing in this video, please visit www.whiskeydecanters.net/

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Whisky Festival F.A.Q.



















Q:  How much does this year's whisky festival ticket cost?

A:  A lot!  But, don't worry.  If your spouse asks, you just say "honey, my love for you is priceless.  The Whisky Festival ticket?  Meh!  I can put a price on that."  Needless to say, don't mention the exorbitant price at the door (drink tokens not included).  Consider using a Jedi mind trick by steering the conversation toward how your mother-in-law is doing or what about that recently retired neighbor?  Is she still doing tai-chi across the street in the park every morning?  Hey!  Look at the time, let's go get a pizza.

Q:  Can I bring a friend?

A:  Absolutely!  Bring your ponytailed hipster landlord, the gray bun librarian neighbor (just have her leave the fifty cats at home), your sister's triathlon competitor turned playwright friend, and of course your significant other, even if he or she is only 'significant' for this evening, regardless of your making their acquaintance on Tinder or Grindr.  We want everyone here (no matter where they are located on the rainbow), so long as they pay our outrageous entrance fee (drink tokens not included and some other conditions apply).

Q:  How much do drink tokens cost?

A:   A lot!  But, hey, fun has a price.  So, buy as many drink tokens as you can unreasonably not afford and if you get too out of hand we will ask you to leave.

Q:  Beware of the Drunken Selfie!

A:  We will not be liable for embarrassing photos you take of yourself or worse: the group selfie!

Those career killing, date prospect limiting pics that will end up on Instagram will haunt you forever and assure the remaining days of your life are spent in everlasting bachelor/spinsterhood, while 9 to 5ing it in a flickering flourescent light lit basement call centre/boiler room where you make outbound life insurance sales pitches.  Yes, this is hell, and you have arrived all because of that stupid group selfie!

Q:  Is theft a problem at the whisky festival?

A:  Yes, so guard your purchases made at the on-site liquor store.  Plain clothes whisky police are constantly sweeping the ballroom for unattended shopping bags.  Such stranded and orphan bags of whisky pose a serious risk of harm in the form of obstacles that patrons may inadvertently trip over.  Worse, some patrons have been known to smuggle tallboy cans of beer, concealed in LL Bean knapsacks.  These cans if kicked by patrons can explode.  We liken them to improvised explosive devices (IED) and treat them accordingly.  Security will seize all unattended shopping bags, knapsacks and hipster male purses (murse).  To avoid this happening to you, just pretend you are in the Ben Guiron airport.  That will set the mood and atmosphere we are aiming for.

Q:  Beware of whisky bloggers!

With their smart phones photographing drinks and food as fodder for their blog cannons these negative nellies are nothing but trouble.
















If you see one, point him out to our head of security (he will be wearing a kilt and a dark blue armband with the image of a Glencairn glass sewn in silver thread).  The security head will put the suspect under surveillance and at the first stupid question asked of an ambassador, we will hustle this Fifth Estate poser to the nearest exit and strip him of his festival ticket, badge and cell phone.

Q:  Do brand ambassadors keep the 'good stuff' under the table?

A:  Yes, some whisky brand ambassadors keep a special, extra old bottle under the table for VIPs, hardworking security personnel and Maxim Hot 100 List Finalists.

Q:  Can I keep the festival Glencairn glass?

A:  Yes.  A small token of our appreciation.  Actually, a very small token.

Q:  Can I keep my friend's Glencairn glass if he gives it to me?

A:  No.  Sophisticated Glencairn theft rings have operated at past festivals.  Accordingly, be very wary of friendly, smiling criminals posing as whisky enthusiasts.  Avoid being baited into conversation about how good the whisky is or what is your favorite distillery?  We recommend you keep chin wagging to a minimum with strangers and walk away from any opportunity for friendly banter, unless you happen to encounter a VIP, Maxim 100 Hot List finalist or a member of our security detail.  If you encounter such a person, then you can fetch them a drink at the same time you get yours.

Q:  Who are the VIPs?

A:  David Beckam (in his role as brand ambassador for Haig Club whisky), Gerard Depardieu (in his role as bon vivant for all alcoholic beverages including whisky), Vladimir Putin (because he is pals with Gerard and martial arts master Steven Segal), Prince Andrew (because he is royalty and innocent of the outrageous allegations of late) and Boris Yeltsin (because he is a law and order guy with a passion for whisky).

Q:  I thought Boris Yeltsin died in 2007?

He did, but lives on in our hearts.  We have also not updated our list since 2005.

Q:  I thought vodka was Yeltsin's drink of choice?

A:  This is the type of insolent question that if uttered aloud will result in you becoming a suspected blogger.  Judge yourself accordingly.

Q:  How do I volunteer for a security officer role at the festival?

A:  Better question!  Please submit a detailed curriculum vitae with two boy scout or Target store security references to:

whiskypolice@worldwhiskyfestival.com



Copyright © Jason Debly, 2009-2015. All rights reserved. Any and all use is prohibited without permission.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Review: Buchanan's 18 years Blended Scotch Whisky



This is my review of Buchanan's 18 year old blended Scotch whisky.

ABV 
40%

Nose (undiluted)
Sherry, oak, very floral, orange zest.  Very nice!

Palate (undiluted)
Smooth entry, window pane smooth, orange, almonds, brazil nuts, some smoke and spiced sherry.

Finish (undiluted)
A wee graininess, citrus notes, graphite, malty, plums, black pepper, table salt, accompanied by acrid, stale cigarette smoke.

General Impressions
I paid around $85 for this bottle and I am not impressed.  At that price point, I expect some complexity.  None really here.  There is some concentrated red fruit and citrus notes, but that is not complexity.  At the same price point or less, I could be enjoying any number of entry level single malts that exhibit a more pleasant sherried flavor profile.  I am thinking Balvenie Doublewood 12 yrs or GlenDronach 12 years.  Both are cheaper and better.

I suspect that this blend was designed for that segment of the blended Scotch whisky market that enjoys smooth, totally inoffensive whisky that can be enjoyed with ice or as a mix.  I do not think at the price point I paid that this should be used as the base of a whisky cocktail, but that probably is a more suitable use than to be enjoyed neat.

A much cheaper alternative would be to pick up a bottle of Black Grouse blended Scotch.  You will get pretty much the same flavor profile at a fraction of the price.

Cheers!


Jason Debly