Monday, February 8, 2016

Accident Whiskey: a Stupid Genre

Diageo recently released its latest whiskey in the Orphan Barrel series, the Gifted Horse, in which a young corn whiskey and bourbon were "accidentally" mixed with some older bourbon. Wow! How lucky for the largest spirits company in the world that some corn whiskey (which usually sucks) was poured into a 17 year old bourbon...and now it's $50 a bottle.

Unfortunately, the "accident whiskey" seems on the way to becoming a genre of its own. First came Serendipity, a blend of Scotch in which someone poured young Glen Moray into old Ardbeg.  How...serendipitous. Then Wild Turkey introduced Forgiven, in which someone dumped rye into the bourbon.

Just like those old Reese's Peanut Butter Cup commercials in which someone eating a chocolate bar collides with someone eating a jar of peanut butter and makes a delicious discovery, the Accident Whiskey backstories are silly and seem implausible. (Who the hell walks around eating peanut butter right out of the jar?)  Then, the company bottles it and gives it a name like WTF Whiskey which emphasizes the accidental nature of its creation.

The prevalence of these Accident Whiskeys would lead one to believe that either these stories are marketing fluff or whiskey distilleries are run by total idiots who randomly dump barrels together. The whiskey companies can let me know into which category they fall.

Friday, February 5, 2016

Even More Whiskey Festivals

Over the past couple of days, I received even more suggestions for the list of the best whiskey festivals in the US, so here are some additions.

  • Bourbon Classic. This Louisville, Kentucky event sponsored by the Bourbon Review will take place February 26-27. The price ranges from $269 to $375.
  • Go Whiskey Weekend. Sponsored by Julio's liquors in Westborough, Massachusetts, this year's festival runs from February 24-28. You can pay for events separately or buy a VIP ticket for $150. 
  • Kentucky Bourbon Affair. Another Kentucky bourbon festival, this Louisville event will be June 14-19. The general tasting is a WhiskyLive event which costs $129, but the bulk of the festival consists of masterclasses which range from $35 to $275 per class.
  • Kentucky Bourbon Festival. Located in Bardstown, Kentucky, this year's Kentucky Bourbon Festival will be September 13 to 18. Prices vary by event.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

The Best Whiskey Festivals

On Monday, I asked folks for their favorite whiskey festivals excluding the most well known (WhiskyLife, Whisky Fest and the Scotch Malt Whisky Extraveganza).  I got a lot of interesting replies for events big and small:

  • Binny's World of Whiskies. There was lots of love for this event sponsored by Chicago liquor chain Binny's. It takes place annually just before WhiskyFest Chicago (March 16 this year). Price looks to be around $40.
  • The Nth Universal Whisky Experience. This Las Vegas show is known for it's high-roller crowd. This year's Nth will be on March 4. Ticket prices range from $525 to $2,495 for a package that includes super pours of rare whiskey and "whisky speed dating" with "whisky celebrities." 
  • Pittsburgh Whiskey Festival. The Pittsburgh festival happens every fall and costs $102. They do not appear to have a date yet for this year's event.
  • Tales of the Cocktail. America's premiere cocktail event takes place every July in New Orleans. While it's not a whiskey festival, there are plenty of whiskey related tastings and events. This year's Tales is set for July 19 to 24. Tickets are sold per event so there are many options.
  • Victoria Whisky Festival. This is one of the big ones. It's not in the US, but it is US adjacent in Victoria, British Columbia. It takes place over a weekend in January. There are various events and classes, but the main tastings seem to run from $110 to $175.
  • Whisky Jewbilee. Sponsored by whiskey bottler Single Cask Nation, the Whisky Jewbilee started in New York five years ago. This year, they will be in Seattle (March 8, $95), New York (June 15, $130) and Chicago (Sept. 1, price TBA).
  • Whiskey Obsession Festival. This festival takes place in Sarasota, Florida. This year, it will be March 30 to April 1. ($50-$211).
  • Whiskey on Ice is a Minneapolis tasting that started last year. This year's event is on April 10 ($85-$125).
  • Whiskies of the World is another travelling event. This year they have shows in San Jose (March 24, $80), San Francisco (March 26, $130-$185), Austin (Sept. 29, price TBA), Houston (Oct. 1, price TBA), and Atlanta (Oct. 22, price TBA).

Monday, February 1, 2016

The Best Whiskey Festivals

There are a growing number of whiskey festivals throughout the U.S. Three of the oldest and most well known festivals are Whisky Advocate's WhiskyFest, Whisky Magazine's WhiskyLive, and the Scotch Malt Whisky Society's Whisky Extravaganza, all of which travel to multiple cities.

In addition to these established festivals, in the last few years, there have been many newer, independent single-city festivals. Whiskey festivals can be a great way to taste a variety of whiskeys, so I'd be interested in knowing about these newer festivals and putting together a list of the best.  So....

What is your favorite whiskey festival (other than those mentioned above) and why?

Friday, January 29, 2016

New Whiskey Labels: Ice and Circus

This week's most interesting new labels from the federal TTB database:

Compass Box cleared a label for a new blended Scotch called The Circus. Per the back label, they found "old parcels of Blended Scotch and Blended Grain whisky" which had been aged in sherry casks. They added some sherry aged malt to the blend to make The Circus.

Edrington cleared a label for Highland Park Ice Edition, a 17 year old.

And for those of you who are mixologically challenged, here is a label for pre-mixed Jim Beam and ginger ale. By the way, I've heard this product used to be available in the US in the '90s; I don't know if they took it off the market completely and are bringing it back or if it has always been available in some regional markets.

Note:  The fact that a label appears on the TTB database does not necessarily mean it will be produced.  In addition, some details on the label, such as proof, can change in the final product.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Diageo $pecial Releases

One of the great things about being in a whiskey club is you can pool resources and taste things you would never be able to afford on your own. At the LA Whiskey Society, we benefit from that pooling (as well as some members' immense generosity) and are lucky enough to get to taste some great stuff. Recently, we tasted the latest line up of Diageo special releases. This is stupid expensive whisky from some of the most heralded distilleries in Scotland.

This is one of those reviews I debate about posting. On the one hand, these things are so expensive that it's sort of silly to review them, because no matter how good they are, I wouldn't recommend anyone buy them unless you just won the Powerball or something. On the other hand, I figure people might want to know how they taste (and to engage in therapeutic schadenfreude if they suck), so here they are, in order of my least favorite to my favorite of the bottles we tasted. (There are two bottles in the collection that we didn't get to, a 17 year old unpeated Caol Ila and a 12 year old Lagavulin). I've also included links to the LA Whiskey Society entry for each whisky so you can see how some of my colleagues rated them.

Dalwhinnie 25, distilled 1989, 48.8% abv ($400)

This one was pretty standard stuff with typical malt and vanilla notes and a slight touch of acid. It was good whisky, but it was very straight forward and not very interesting. Several people commented that it didn't taste much different from the 15 year old Dahlwinnie you can get at Trader Joe's for about an eighth of the price.

Dailuaine 34, distilled 1980, 50.9% ($650)

One of the more obscure distilleries that made it into the special releases, the Dailuaine 34 was light and fruity on the nose with a touch of peat. The palate opened with light peat and sweet notes. This was a nice, light, peaty malt but nothing particularly special.

Clynelish Select Reserve, 56.1% abv ($900)

This one has no age statement but is said to include whiskies at least 15 years old. It was very true to the Clynelish profile with creamy malt and sea water notes. An on-profile Clynelish is always good, but this one wasn't better than many much cheaper on-profile Clynelishes available from independent bottlers.

Pittyvaich 25, distilled 1989, 49.9% abv ($550)

The Pittyvaich Distillery operated for less than 20 years, and while I've had a few, I can't say I have a firm impression of the distillery. This one was probably the sleeper hit of the night. It had typical bourbon cask vanilla and malt notes but also a savory, mineral quality that gave it complexity and depth along with very slight floral notes. There's something great about the purity of a malt that is able to show complexity without peat or sherry, and this one definitely did it.

The Cally 40, distilled 1974, 53.3% abv ($1,350)

This is a 40 year old single grain whisky from the Caledonian Distillery in Edinburgh which closed in 1988. This was another sleeper hit as few people, myself included, ever seem to expect much from a Scotch single grain. On this one, a pure bourbon nose was matched at first sip with sweet bourbon caramel, turning spicy and then ending with a taste of honey (tasting much sweeter than wine). The late honey on the palate gave it an almost Canadian Whisky type of profile, but like the best Canadian Whisky ever. The finish was drier with spice and coconut. It was sweet and delicious and fun to drink.

Brora 37, distilled 1977, 50.4% abv ($2,300)

I'm a huge fan of the peated distillate that came out of the Brora Distillery in the late 1970s, and this one hits the mark. It's got that characteristic mixture of fuel like peat notes, grassy malt notes and ocean air, along with a touch of lemon rind late in the palate. It's perfectly balanced with no single element dominating. Back in the heady days of the late 2000s, this was really, really expensive, but not totally unreachable, especially with a group of friends going in together. Tasting a great Brora again brings a tear to my eye.

Port Ellen 32, distilled 1983, 53.9% ($4,000)

In the pantheon of closed distilleries, I usually prefer Brora to Port Ellen, but this 37 year old Port Ellen aged in a combination of European oak casks, including some sherry, is a near perfect specimen. The nose starts with a blast of peat followed by oak and a touch of sweet sherry which grows as you smell it. The palate also starts with peat, then reveals dry sherry which is remains present but never in an overwhelming way. There are dried pineapple notes and plenty of peat. The finish is an old fireplace, or maybe even the smell of just lit firecrackers after they explode (aka my neighborhood on the Fourth of July), along with an old, dry red wine. Everything about this is rich, thick and wonderful.

Well, I would love to have been able to tell you that these whiskies sucked, but that just wasn't the case. The Pittyvaich is definitely the best bang for your buck, but it's still a really big buck and more than I would ever pay. Sadly, except for that Pittyvaich, the "cheaper" whiskies were the more disappointing ones.

Prices aside, Diageo has always done a pretty good job with these special releases. They know they have some great whisky on their hands, and they are going to make sure anyone who wants it pays dearly for the privilege.

Monday, January 25, 2016

If We Treated Other Reviews Like Whiskey Reviews

I was chatting with a friend, when our conversation turned to recent movies we had seen. He asked me, "Did you see Star Wars yet?"

"Yeah, I didn't like it that much."

"What do you mean you didn't like it?"

"It was okay, but the plot was almost the same as the original movie. I thought they could have been more creative. Plus, the acting was stiff."

"Hmm, well that doesn't really make sense, because most people really liked it. Maybe you should see it again?"

"Why would that change anything?"

"You might not have been in the right frame of mind. Did you have a cold? Were you taking any medications? Did you see anything else right before you went that might have affected your perception?"

"Um, I was feeling fine. I don't really remember what else I watched that day."

"Maybe you got a bad theater or something in the theater impacted your experience. Where were you sitting?"

"I don't know. In, like, the middle? Why does any of this matter?"

"It just doesn't make sense that you would have a different opinion from so many other viewers."

"Why not? People have different opinions of things all the time. That's why they're opinions."

"Sure, but it was either a good movie or a bad movie. An experienced viewer should be able to tell the difference. Now, did you watch it blind?"

"What the hell does that mean?"

"Did you know what movie it was before you went to see it?"

"Of course I did. How would I end up at a movie not knowing what it was?"

"Well, for your criticism to be legitimate, you really should have gone without knowing what it was so you wouldn't have any preconceptions."

"I have no idea what that even means."

"Oh, and let me guess, you ate popcorn."

"Yeah, so what."

"Well, that explains it. It sounds like your reviewing technique is pretty flawed. I assume the critics who thought it was great are the ones who are right."

"What do you mean right? It's a frickin' opinion. Why don't you see it for yourself, and then you can decide if it's good or not?"

"Oh, I already saw it."