A blend of distilled spirits news and commentary from around the web. In this edition: The wisdom of the Rum Guru, crafting in Colorado, Cask Master's on the rocks, and a battle without honor or humility. We miss you, Eren.
Feature: A Rum Guru's Wisdom
This will unblock your rum chakras. I'm not sure a more definitive or revealing expose of the secrets of distillation has ever been written. Originally posted on KLWine's Spirits Journal, this open letter from Bryan Davis (Lost Spirits Distillery) to David Driscoll (KLWines) comes across as impromptu but genuine. Posterity demands that I repost the entire tomb.
Everyone wants to talk about age, but in truth the barrel should only represent the final step that catalyzes a chain of chemical reactions and brings all the work together from each step of the spirit production process.
Nobody would ever accuse Lost Spirits Distillery of following the beaten path. To be honest, I was not the biggest fan of their Leviathan II or Ouroboros single malts (uniquely matured and American peated). This description of the process behind their navy style rum is forcing me to reconsider my initial conclusions.
I had this particular theory myself after hearing about Glenmorangie's latest Private Edition release. I must correct an error from my last Nosing the Net post where I said Cask Master's was intended to crowd source Glenmorangie's next private edition. It wasn't. Instead, it was intended to pick the next addition to the company's core lineup of ACE'd whiskies (next to Nectar D'or, Quinta Ruban, and the Lasanta). Taghta will join those ranks at a similar price. Interesting, then, to see the stone that the builders rejected make its way into this year's private edition at a much higher price point. I'll be sure to post my review on Companta in the "Drink" section soon.
The Age of Acquiring Us
No Age Statement (NAS) whisky: a battle without honor or humility. "No Age Statement Will Kill Us All." No it won't. Yes it will. It's a conspiracy. It's complicated. It's business. Don't act like you're not impressed. "What do I say? Yes, the 18 tastes 3 better than the 15?" Who cares? This whisky is 60 years old.
I was fortunate to have the opportunity to tour Breckenridge Distillery this week. There are good things going on there, including an outstanding bitters reminiscent of Drambuie and a single malt in the works. Colorado has a great thing going on here, and I'm excited to see what the future brings. Nobody could tell me whether they were experimenting with ACE'ing their bourbon though. How about it, Jordan?
One of my very first reviews on this blog was of Sons of Liberty's seasonal summer release, a craft hopped whiskey. Well, it seems Sons of Liberty's winter release (a pumpkin spiced whiskey) has just achieved the incredible honor of "Best Flavored Whisky" in Whisky Magazine's World Whisky Awards. Regardless of your feelings on flavored whisky, this is a huge win for a distillery I've followed and believed in from the beginning. Look for a review on the winter release (along with cocktail suggestions) in the "Drink" section soon.
Sullivan's Cove won "World's Best Single Malt" with their French Oak expression, which is instantly worth 10 times as much. I'm kicking myself for not buying a bottle when I had the chance. I did get a chance to taste the expression and speak to their master distiller back in January. Super nice guy.
I've never turned to whiskey for self-medication (nor would I ever recommend it), but 4 weeks on, I miss you, Eren.
Someone once asked me,
"Why do you drink so much coffee?"
and I fought the urge to say
if I didn’t drink coffee, it would be whiskey
Because it takes 8 cups of coffee a day
to get my mind racing fast enough
to skip over thoughts of you
But one bottle of whiskey
not only who you are,
but who I have been.
- Author Unknown
A blend of whisky news and commentary from around the web. In this edition: Those Yeasty Beasties, Japan moving in the business space, whisky in the movies, ambience (admit it, you love saying it), Whisky Web 3.0, and Holy Grain Spirits, Batman! Editor's note: all Nosing the Net links will now open in new tabs, allowing you to continue to browse this page without annoyance. Enjoy!
Feature: Those Yeasty Beasties
Popular Science has an amazing article about those marvelous organisms that make this entire whisky affair possible:
You might say that a master brewer is to yeast what a dog breeder is to a champion purebred. Both disciplines harness the power of artificial selection, also known as selective breeding. As Harvard microbiologist and avid homebrewer Sarah Douglass explains, “when you add yeast to sugar, you’re putting them into into their ideal environment for rapid evolution via rapid growth. You might see several generations of yeast live, reproduce, and die in a single fermentation.”
Whisky companies (I'm most familiar with the work of Seagrams) pour millions of dollars a year into research behind proprietary yeast strains and their effect on fermentation and flavor. Four Roses' four-letter recipe codes (there are 10 proprietary recipes at the distillery; ex. OBSV would be one recipe) all end with a letter that designates the yeast's contribution to the mash (either V, K, O, Q, or F). When the recipes are tasted separately, they reveal distinct differences in each bourbon's style and body. Beer brewers have known for years that yeast was the "brewer's best friend"; it seems that master distillers may soon be coming to the same conclusion.
Suntory (great Japanese whisky makers) created quite a stir early this year when they announced their acquisition of Jim Beam (American bourbon icon). Predictably, the move brought about a rash of ignorant comments from interweb warriors. The spectacle was unfortunate, since the merger is really a win-win for both sides. Japan gets access to great American bourbon (which continues to represent a single digit percentage of all whisky consumed in Japan), and our bourbon gets access to new markets and new converts. It will only make the Jim Beam brand stronger, and it's unlikely Jim Beam's daily operation will change much, if at all.
There's a good (if short) track record of Japanese management of American brands. In 2002 Kirin purchased Four Roses bourbon as part of a realignment of Seagrams' portfolio, and it turned the brand from a bottom shelf also-ran into an elite player at the top of its industry. Four Roses' single barrel bottlings are now consistently my most recommended bourbon purchases, right alongside products from Heaven Hill. What's more, it's not like a move to Jack Daniels is going to make you feel any better. They're owned by beverage giant Diageo, a British company. This is just how international distribution in the whisky boom works now, friends. If you really like small and local, find thee a craft distillery! There's plenty to choose from nowadays.
I'm coming around to Canadian grain whisky. It really has been getting an unfair rap for the last few decades. Still, they can only blame themselves. You can't rest on your laurels during a disruptive whisky boom.
There are lots of online whisky auctions popping up in recent months. You'd better be REAL sure you're not getting duped.
Also, regarding rye: been sayin'.
[And now you will know why I write about whisky instead of blogging for Rotten Tomatoes.]
I have a lot of good things to say about The Angel's Share, a heart-felt and well-paced Scottish drama about whisky, mild shenanigans, redemption, and persevering through adversity. My wife and I rented it through iTunes, but I understand it's now available on Netflix and a host of other digital distribution sources. It's not a whisky documentary, it's a drama with plenty of unemployed millennial street-kid angst and cussing (hey, they're Scots, deal with it). The subtitles are actually totally necessary, unless you're a native. Check it out sometime (but earmuffs for the kids). I started drooling when they brought out the 35 yo Springbank.
If you've read my recent review of Nikka's 15 yo Japanese single malt, then you may be interested in this documentary about Nikka founder (and Japanese whisky industry co-founder) Masataka Taketsuru's wife: "the Scot behind Japanese whisky." There's a rich and wonderful history here, told alongside a beautiful romance.
Finally: it's tough to beat out Bruichladdich when it comes to pairing whisky zeitgeist with cinematography. This is just gorgeous...
We now know that ambience affects whisky flavor, because science. Say that word with me again... ambience. :-)
By now we've put lots of thought into how the grain, the yeast, the fermentation time, the design of the still, the wood, the maturation time, the finish, and the ambience all contribute to whisky flavor. I thought it was particularly interesting to add warehouse design to the list of variables.
I generally feel that whisky is less susceptible to the sorts of psychological marketing gimmicks that haunt wine-buyers. On second thought... never mind.
Science finally does something useful by bringing you the iPhone-controlled micro-brewery. If only the law would accommodate iPhone-controlled micro-stills...
In case you didn't already know that whisky could come in "vintages" (Balblair isn't always easy to find, depending on your distributor network), now you do.
Glenmorangie's Cask Master's Project (an attempt to crowd-source the company's next Private Edition release) nailed down the finishing touches on Taghta last year. So this year's Private Edition release... was not Taghta. Companta was the burgundy-finished cask series that formed one of three finishing choices in last year's Cask Master's Project (and was actually my second favorite, Taghta - a Manzanilla finish - was my third; I have personally tasted all 3 expressions). So... I can comfortably predict you will now see all three of these finishes released as Private Editions in the next few years (SIGH). Taghta, wherever you are, you were a brilliant marketing stunt. So much so that the Glenlivet is now following suit. Wake me up when the Bordeaux finish arrives (for what it's worth, a friend has already acquired a bottle of Companta and enjoys it thoroughly).
The Antipode: cool name, cool coffee.
Holy Grain Spirits, Batman! It really is fantastic cave vodka (HUGE vanilla hit). I'm very sad to hear that they're following the micro-barrel craze with their whisky maturation. Still, I'm trying to work out a personal distillery tour and see what it's all about before we move away from KC this summer.
A counter-point to that Canadian whisky article: whisky water may not make a huge difference before distillation, but think about the water you're using after. I personally will not spend extra money for source water. Talk about obnoxious.
I love barrel-aged gin, but barrel-aged sriracha? Hokay.
Jim Beam continues whiskey's sorry descent into flavored obscurity. This was before the Suntory acquisition, BTW.
Quote: "Whiskey, like a beautiful woman, demands appreciation. You gaze first, then it's time to drink." - Haruki Murakami
And you thought YOU were opinionated. "Unless, in a stroke of true, 3-dimensional-chess-playing brilliance, Goldman has created a brand that hipsters will embrace precisely because it’s marketed to them, and is therefore so lame it becomes cool again. 'Oh look at me, I’m drinking Kansas Whiskey, because I’m so totally a hipster.' But something tells me he’s not that smart. Something tells me that if he were here, I’d pour us both a tumbler of Michter’s and he’d tell me all about how his wife never lets him do anything fun, and always makes him dress up in a hoodie and skinny jeans before she’ll so much as give him a peck on the cheek. And I’d listen like a good friend should. And suggest we go up on my roof deck where the view is better and point out the hill you can see if you stand right up on the corner parapet, where my father gave me some very important words of advice. 'Son, women are the single best thing in all this blue, beautiful world. But never let 'em tell you what to drink.' Then I’d shove him off into space and out of his misery. Hush now Paul, the hard part’s over. You’re going where she can’t hurt you any more."
This kind of stuff is fun to read, but its defamations are rather personal. Did Dan Dunn even try Kansas Whiskey, or is he just pissed off (pissed... off?) about marketing? MARKETING. Shoot, I'd love to hear his opinion on the primary ingredient of Bernheim's Wheat Whiskey! "To achieve the desired non-whiskeyness in Kansas Whiskey, Goldman and the team at FAB harvest amber winter wheat, a lighter grain than the corn, rye and barley used to make most other American whiskies. Then they distill in column versus traditional pot stills, resulting in a spirit that is 'flawlessly smooth.' Or, as it's also known in the business, 'vodka.' They marry the final distillate with 'premium artisanal whiskey' and – voilà – whiskey-flavored vodka. Let’s do some shots and turn Branson upside down!" I'm going to safely assume that "The Imbiber" has never heard of Maker's Mark either.
I saw Kansas Whiskey on the local shelves when I first moved out here to what the author rudely dismisses as flyover country. I have yet to try the whiskey to see if it deserves this hyperbolic level of snitticism. On the flipside, I'm sure I'd love to hear Mr. Dunn's expert, evolved opinion on the delicious Templeton Rye they sell 'round these parts. That's Templeton, Iowa, producer of Al Capone's favorite whiskey. But by all means, keep mouthing off in cyberspace about how you want to shove some guy off your roof just because he markets his whiskey differently. That kind of stuff worked out great for Justin Carter.
"I don't know what to do, Godfather." (snivel, sniff)
YOU CAN ACT LIKE A MAN! (slap)
And seriously, leave the guy's wife out of it. But I guess your father never told you that (smh).
Turns out that there is indeed a BuzzFeed... feed?... about whiskey. It's terrible. You're telling me this is the best anyone can come up with? Like I care about Jack Donaghy's Six Sigma emphatuation, and No. 8 is just absurd! In response, I'm proposing my own list (complete with links) of just 7 simple reasons to drink whiskey that don't have anything to do with ridiculous pop culture:
You're welcome :-)
News and Reviews
All of you chomping at the bit to know what was inside Glenlivet's Alpha have finally had your patience rewarded. What an interesting one that was!
All my shippies in Virginia, you've got some fun distillery stuff happening near you. 'Bout time, amirite?? I personally would love to have a whiskey aged in Williamsburg Winery's ex-Trianon casks. Make it happen, VDC.
Beware the vaportini. Also, WHY?!
Great, summer's upon us and NOW you know.
It's even crazier if you narrow it down to craft distillers. Who says I can't post an article about beer? Damn straight; all whiskey starts as beer anyway. We just need to make them an offer they can't refuse...
Unlike that Kansas Whiskey piece above, Cleveland Whiskey really is terrible. So the operative question here (for the willing investigative journalist) is how much it costs an independent distiller to commission a puff piece.
io9 kickstarts your road to bulimia. Good LORD. (warning: incredibly disturbing)
Perhaps the end really is near. :-( But at least we'll still have Gin Wigmore.
Happy World Whisky Day, everyone! I do hope you're making the most of it. This wonderful day has its roots deep into... well, last year! when it was invented by a 23-year-old student from Aberdeen. That's Scotland. Blair Bowman, take a bow, sir! I wish I had been that forward-thinking when I was 23, but then Facebook was only a few years old. I'm not even sure if crowd-sourcing was even a word then, much less an entire concept (I'm being at least a little facetious).
This is Nosing the Net's World Whisky Day Edition - a chance to celebrate the manifold accomplishments of those courageous souls who first pioneered "that beautiful, soft spirit".
Starting with this :-)
My, my, how far we've come. You tell me whether it can be called progress.
The Perfect Whisky
Well, in case you're curious about whether a whisky could ever be considered to have achieved perfection, here's your answer. Apparently Highland Park's 25yo recently captured an unprecedented score of 100 (out of 100) at Ultimate Spirits Challenge [Ed. Is that like UFC with whisky? Bring it!]
This is an interesting decision on behalf of the judges. Interesting as in it has obviously never happened before. The salient question then is whether or not it ever should. You see, it's one thing to aim high and achieve that illustrious 99/100. A score like that is certainly nothing to frown at, or at least it wasn't until the first coming of our mighty redeemer (see photo above). When you see 99/100 on a bottle or a price sticker, it's a reminder that judges obviously thought this whisky was just about as good as mere words can describe. But 100... 100 is an entirely different plane of existence. I mean, if you're the winner of such a score how else are you supposed to react other than to literally shove this in the just-became-the-99-percent's faces? Luckily, Highland Park restrained from spiking the football and actually acknowledged there were competitors. May Highland Park's face shine upon them and be gracious unto them.
I'm not really sure we've grasped the ramifications of this decision yet. These judges (experts in their field) just said that this whisky is as good as whisky gets. This isn't a 98 or 99, where you - the jury - are left to determine the merits of the case. This is a judge (or panel of the same) trampling on due process. For crying out loud, 100 is a score that is supposed to be reserved for the soul. In that sense, 100 proclaims something beyond even "perfection" (which - truthfully - is unknowable). It proclaims enlightenment.
Now here's the rub. With a score this utterly adulerated, what happens when someone inevitably creates a better whisky? Do you go back and break up with Highland Park 25? Sorry baby, but this other whisky just gets me. She makes me feel things I've never felt before. I hear the creaking hinges of Pandora's Box.
In non-mountain-out-of-a-mole-hill commentary, congratulations to Highland Park for this stunning achievement. Congratulations also to Ultimate Spirits Challenge for completely delegitimizing your scoring system.
The Complete Widget
Some of you remember my article from quite a while back where I basically compared Ardbeg to Apple as far as how each company approached marketing and hype. I stand by those observations. However, when it comes to the production of the whisky, there is another son of Islay that I believe is more deserving of the Apple reputation.
Enter Kilchoman Farm Distillery, the first distillery built on Islay in 124 years, and one that has only been laying down spirit since 2007. I myself own a Kilchoman release from an independent bottling company I'm a member of (Single Cask Nation). Not yet reviewed on this website, the whisky is a 4yo expression aged in ex-bourbon barrels from Buffalo Trace Distillery. It is magnificent, complex, and mature beyond its years.
It's clear that in only 5 years of distillation Kilchoman has come into its own (amidst impressive Islay competition), as critics are calling it "The Little Whisky Farm Distillery That Could." Kilchoman's Machir Bay (a vatting of 4 and 5 year old whisky aged in ex-bourbon barrrels and finished for 4 weeks in Oloroso sherry butts) recently took the Gold Medal at the International Whisky Competition. This was a stunning win for a whisky so young, and it definitely got the whisky press' attention. The reason I think Kilchoman's successful future is now assured is because there's a story behind this distillery that will impress the thousands of enthusiasts now asking "Who's Kilchoman?"
Kilchoman is one of the only distilleries (it may be the only distillery, but I need to do more research) that produces the entire widget. "The entire widget" is a term coined by Steve Jobs to express the way in which Apple controls its entire hardware-software production and ecosystem. Mr. Jobs maintained it was this counter-intuitive approach to control (vs. "open source") which allowed Apple to build superior products. Taking a page out of Silicon Valley's playbook - and with great timing considering the rise of the organic / locavore movement - Kilchoman owns nearly every aspect of the production of its whisky, from farming the barley, to malting the barley (which only a handful of distilleries still do on their own), to distilling the wort, to warehouse maturation, to bottling. Every. Single. Aspect.
It's no wonder that a fascinating business ethos coupled with a "David vs. Goliath" narrative would appeal to the current generation of whisky consumers. With such an unprecedented amount of quality control, is it any wonder that we then have this unprecedented win from such a young start-up? There's even an upshot for would-be collectors. Given its very young age, even the most expensive single malt from this distillery can usually be found for under $70, a positive steal. Check 'em out.
The night is young, and you want to do something interesting with your whiskies that doesn't involve a Glencairn glass and cool, still water. I get it - whisky does have a unique flavor dynamic that makes it irresistable to mixologists. I give you then this delightful little gem of an article, complete with the most famous whisky cocktails and their more experimental incarnations. You're welcome :-)
Speaking of mixology, if the robot apocalypse happens to occur anytime soon, at least we can rest assured that all the little T-1000's will still be able to enjoy a proper Old Fashioned. No word on whether "Liquid Metal" will become an instant cocktail phenom in those days, but I'm willing to bet that some Applebee's will survive the carnage.
Blade Runner 2
In case the future is more of a sunny, android-infested dystopia than robot apocalypse, we'll settle for the idea of an "inhalable whisky tornado" that will totally get you drunk. No, for realsies.
Slainte, friends, and a blessed weekend to you all!
Well, well, WELL. There have been some interesting developments in the net space since I last posted, so I thought I'd do a quick follow up, given the extreme amounts of win I am about to display to you.
Whisky Culture: A Follow-Up
On the heels of what I wrote in my 28 April "Nosing the Net" article is this Esquire piece: "How Whisky Got It's Mojo Back". It documents the dazzling rise in global whisky demand and popularity, then couples it with basically every example of how the industry is getting it completely f***ing wrong right now. Consider this little gem:
"Chivas Brothers has held tastings with watchmaker Bremont and teamed up with jewellers Garrard, creating a £124,000 blend presented in a bottle adorned with diamonds and gold.
Because nothing says "accessible' like a bottle of whisky that exceeds the price of a nice car, amirite? Funny enough, the shoe maker (attributed above) Tim Little is the one who actually realizes why the industry's products are succeeding: "I think modern, affluent men are rediscovering the pleasure of buying something that's well made and has an interesting story." Emphasis on the story, folks. Whisky is terroir, story, and craft all bundled up in the perfect organico-rawvolution context. It's zeitgeist in a glass. You can't mine stuff that valuable, as Madison Avenue will attest to. But notice, even Tim thinks that men are where it's at. We certainly wouldn't want to create growth amongst Bourbon Women. Whatever you do, don't target middle-aged women who love spending their husbands' money... or even crazier, their own. Why, that would be almost unethical, blasphemous.
In other news, women can probably nose whisky better than men, especially during ovulation. It's science.
Whisky Pranayama: Click Bait, Tongue-in-Cheek, or a Bridge Too Far?
Did my article on whisky pranayama seem a little out there to you? It would seem I wasn't the only one with these radical ideas. Also, it would seem that - at least in spirit (I am nailing it) - Maker's Mark Master Distiller agrees with me. Checkmate. :-)
Speaking of Drinking the Right Way
Five cocktails that only a dickhead would order. Read it - the truth hurts sometimes.
Did it snow on you this week?
Time Magazine reports that beer companies are blaming bad weather on the fact that people are not craving a cold one right now. In other news, demand for warm, American whisky seems to be at the high water mark. Coincidence? You tell me. Now the progressive dilemma: which segment of the alcohol industry gets the most subsidies under a proposed carbon tax? ;-)
Did you know?
You can get a flask that looks like an iPhone. Yes, it is called iFlask. Sorry Android lovers :-( And we know Windows Phone users don't drink ;-)
Here's the round-up from the web this week. Apart from THE FEATURE it's a bit shorter this time - largely because this weekend is AlchemyWife's birthday :-)
Whiskey Tech: The Blend-Your-Own Movement
This follows up on our article on Whisky Tech this week. Have you ever tried blending your own whisky? I tried it once with stuff from my cabinet, but the results were ... mixed (bwahahahah!) :-D There's nothing wrong with getting a little experimental in the kitchen, but if you do, maybe don't use your most expensive bottles. Or, try a home blending kit. Or...
... let Web 2.0 do it for you :-) I think I'm so going to have to do this.
Here are two good people (recommended in order) that will blend and bottle whisky for you, all with the touch of a mouse (plus, you get your own customized label! - GlenHighley, here we come).
Scandal: Drink It or Sell it?
By now you've probably heard of the dude in Toronto who thieved a $26,000 (Canadian dollars?) bottle of whisky - Glenfiddich's 50 yo to be exact. I particularly liked the article's rather "nosy" description of the man: "[...] five-foot-ten, aged between 35 and 45 years old, clean shaven with black framed glasses. He was last seen wearing black jeans and a Burberry plaid shirt, with a finish that includes a jaunty brown hat and brown trenchcoat."
There are some immediate questions right off the bat: (1) How do you just take a $26,000 bottle out of a glass case? (2) Without help? (3) Or anyone noticing? (4) If you own a liquor store, how careful are you about which employee has the keys to the good stuff? I'm not implicating anyone, but where there's smoke there's fire. Every time I've ever wanted a spirit from a locked glass case the employee takes it up front for me. Just sayin' - something doesn't add up in this story.
In case you had doubts, prominent whisky journalists who've had a taste of this rare 'Fiddich testify that it is indeed delicious, and not over-oaked. Only 500 bottles of this oldie-but-goodie have ever been made (from 2 casks), and only 50 bottles are released each year. Which begs the question - do you drink it, or do you sell it? I would love to think that this guy just has a romantic interest in fine whisky and is right now enjoying one of the most marvelous drams to ever grace his palate. But odds are he's at least tempted to sell it (blasphemy!). Decisions, decisions. Of course, I know what I would do.
(Sell it and then buy all the oldest and rarest Bruichladdich I can find!) :-D
Okay, so we're not hating on Glenfiddich here. Remind me to talk about their superb Solera Vat expression after I make a trip out to Hillrock Estate Distillery in NY. May need to review those two products side by side.
Feature: New Releases and Whisky Culture
Talisker, not waiting for the ozone to settle from Storm (I'd link to the page, but Talisker's web presence is horrendous - enjoy Master of Malt!), has announced a new permanent addition to its lineup - the smoky, port-finished Port Ruighe (pronounced "Port Ree"). I penned some thoughts on the interaction of smoke and port pipes in my review of Bowmore's 1991 Port Matured Limited Release. I expect this one to be meaty, husky, and in all quite a degree spicier than Bowmore's concept (especially considering that the new make spirit was aged in deeply charred casks). I don't think fans of Skye's only distillery will complain.
On the other hand, it would seem The Glenlivet is on the verge of jumping the shark with the release of ALPHA. That's it - that's all you'll ever know about it (other than the color of the bottle - not the spirit, the bottle mind you) until 6 weeks after the release. I get it. They're channeling the mystique and announcement hype that Ardbeg is famous for hoarding, but seriously - good luck with that shit. It would usually be safer to assume that we can trust established distilleries with providing a spirit that will be worthy of fetching that premium price, but why would you want to? Have we not accepted - with only slightly hedged enthusiasm - the dawn of the NAS (No Age Statement) era? Is it not enough for us to be entertained by the Black Arts of the whisky world? Would you pay over $100 on a gamble verses a sure thing? I can think of 20 whiskies off the top of my head I'd pay that amount for right now, and I already know everything about them.
This all begs one more delicate observation. I'll preface it with a question: Why do you think the worldwide whisky revival happened?
If your answer is that we improved marketing and these things are cyclical you know and ooooOOOooo new sherry finish! then you really haven't been paying attention.
If your answer is that culture shifted to create this massive opportunity for growth, I'd say you were spot on.
20 years ago, if you asked someone what predominant age group would most enjoy a neat glass of Scotch (and not necessarily single malt) they would have probably guessed the 40-65 crowd. If you asked that same question now, your response would be dripping with cultural symbolism. Someone who enjoys power, or someone who appreciates the finer things in life, or someone who knows what they want and has arrived, or someone who understands that distillation is as much an art as it is a science. They don't care about age. WE don't care about age. What the 18 to 30-somethings in America care about is a story.
We're the Millenials and Generation X-ers. We're disillusioned, we're idealistic, we're spoiled, we're go-getters, we're contradictions. We rebel against the past (progress!) but we recall fondly the sunny days of our youth. We tell the government to take away our parents' wealth, but we want all the fine things that we've watched them enjoy for ourselves. We're a mess, but can you blame us?
We grew up using MS DOS prompt and playing 8-bit Reader Rabbit, and now we surf the web on tablets more advanced than anything Star Trek could come up with. Somewhere along the line the future happened and we didn't even notice. There's precedent for these sorts of socio-political shifts, but they have Weimar Republic overtones. We're all just struggling to understand our history before it's too late.
Hence the explosive growth of the "go back to nature using massively available information and affordable technology" movements. The paleo diet, minimalist footwear, locavorism, Under Armour "wicking" clothes, pop-up craft breweries, craft distilleries, "certified organic", health and wellness podcasts, YouTube cooking celebrities, you name it - we seem to share an idea that technology and progress are supposed to put us more in touch with the natural world, not less. We just want something that will slow us down and let us appreciate the time we have: something real, something tangible, something unique.
Whisky, especially single malt whisky, is the perfect expression of that something. Whisky is place. It is art. It is a spirit that has grown up as quickly (or as slowly) as we have. Each bottling has its own unique and marvelous story! If you're still reading this blog, odds are that you enjoy hearing and communicating little pieces of that story yourself. If you don't know the story, or if you down the dram and absolve yourself of any professional curiosity whatsoever, where's the fun anymore? Head the words of G.K. Chesterton:
“Drink because you are happy, but never because you are miserable. Never drink when you are wretched without it, or you will be like the grey-faced gin-drinker in the slum; but drink when you would be happy without it, and you will be like the laughing peasant of Italy. Never drink because you need it, for this is rational drinking, and the way to death and hell. But drink because you do not need it, for this is irrational drinking, and the ancient health of the world.”
One More Thing
Even the term "dram" - which I'll be damned if that isn't communicable - is working its way deep into our socio-political consciousness. It isn't that I'm entirely opposed to the idea of quantifying pours through the concept of an established colloquialism. It's just that this should be seen - in all respects - as wholly unnecessary.
Once a week or so I will be questing to gather spirit news & notes from the perilous precipices of the interwebs. The result will be an article filled with worthy, readable, aggregated hyperlinks (very much in the vein of Ben Domenech's "Transom", so h/t to him). The links will generally reflect the trends that we're discussing in the blog that week. As a reader, feel free to submit articles you feel are interesting and/or pertinent and we'll consider including them. Given that this is our inaugural week, here's what we're talking about:
New Release: Sons of Liberty Spirits Co. Hopped Whiskey
This is a local release in Rhode Island, but if you live nearby it's definitely worth a drive to find some. We'll be reviewing their summer seasonal release on the blog tonight, but if you want to read about it yourself just follow the link. Tours and tastings at Sons of Liberty distillery are phenomenal - I Highley recommend taking a group sometime ;-) Can't wait to see what they come up with next.
Reaction: Flavored Whiskey?
So, Sons of Liberty has their seasonal flavored releases here in Rhode Island (and it's not like we haven't seen honey flavoring added to whiskies all over the place here in America), but you may have heard about the recent brouhaha over in the UK when Dewar's tried to release their Highlander Honey expression.
For what it's worth, I understand the Scotch Whisky Association's (SWA) concern here: see "What the Fuck Happened to Vodka?" I am tempted to support flavored whiskies in moderation, even without the appellation "spirit drink", but may God have mercy on the first distiller to release a PB&J flavored malt. I. WILL. FIND. YOU.
In case you were curious, I actually tried Highlander Honey at Whisky Live in New York this year just to see what all the fuss was about. Although it may not suit the purists, I found it to be imminently drinkable (you'll never hear me use that abominable word "smooth" in my own spirit reviews).
Feature: Tasting notes? You're doing them wrong.
When it comes to tasting notes, you should know that everyone has their own style. In many cases the notes are the signature "voice" of the blog or publication, ranging from lists of scents or flavors to poetry, prose, and metaphor. Often times the literary devices are combined in creative ways. Since this is the first time we're truly broaching the subject, I think we'll investigate those voices that will be vying for your attention (besides mine). What, Cereal Alchemist for Communicator of the Year? Maybe someday...
In last night's blog I posted a screenshot from Glenmorangie's website near the end of the article.
I'm afraid I was rather sarcastic about the tone of just this sort of notation. "Oh, well if it has a hint of aniseed then it MUST be good!" Seriously, do lists of semi-edible materials help you in your purchasing decisions or valuations? When a whisky writer tells you that the aroma of the Ealanta is "classic Glenmorangie mentholic top-note" are you transported? Is it enough to convince you that this expression is the quality you've come to expect from such a renowned distillery?
Worse yet, it creates a barrier to entry for those who don't understand the etiquette of the nosing / tasting process. If your own odoriferous journey doesn't reveal a "mentholic" character after you've just plunked down $120 for this bottle, then what gives? Do you feel disillusioned? Do you feel inadequate for your nostrilific (we're big on nonce words) shortcomings? "Man, stewed fruits sound disgusting, this is totally F---ED." Well, just wait until you hear Richard "the Nose" Patterson talk about notes of baby sick! The perfect aperitif!
Trust me when I tell you that these sorts of tasting notes are de rigueur in the spirit world. We have 21-year-old Don Draper wannabees going out and buying brand new leather "spirit diaries" and filling mindless pages with just this sort of analysis. And you know what?
The first internet tasting innovations come in the form of unique visualizations and creative commentary (example: Joshua Hatton's blog over at JewMalt - it was nice to meet him in person at Whisky Live NYC). I actually love the way Joshua does his tasting notes, and if I'm about to buy a new whisky, I'm definitely going to head over there and see what he has to say about it. Succinct, successful, communicative, and delightfully light and humorous. What else could you ask for?
Well, if it's creativity you desire, just know that some commentary is more creative than others. I positively adore Jim McEwan's tasting notes over at Bruichladdich (I have it on record that a thesaurus is a permanent article next to Jim's computer for just these occasions). Follow that last link up there and click through the notes for their Eroica. Have you ever read such prose regarding a whisky? " You just know that this is authentic Islay heaven, simultaneously delicate and potent. The amorous embrace of France has not turned the islander's head. He remains mature and mellow while thoroughly enjoying the smouldering warmth of the femme fatale." A spirit "as much for the mind as for the palate" indeed! Bravo Zulu, Jim.
Sometimes, just for the hell of it, I head over to Malt Imposter. This guy... well, half the time I have no idea what he's saying, but it sure is fun to read. I'm sure there's some inside baseball and all that jazz, but sometimes it's just out of control. And to think, I almost bought that bottle...
I'm not saying words and pictures can't be descriptive, but there is a revelatory moment that every true, self-confessed potions master has privately experienced. I'll never forget the first time I purchased Glenmorangie's Original 10yo. I picked up the box in the store and read "wood from the Ozark Mountains in Missouri" and thought "why, that's where I grew up!" I immediately brought the bottle home and opened it. The scent of the spirit permeated my small living room, and then - almost magically - I had flashbacks from my youth: crunching through dead leaves in a brisk, autumn forest, listening to squirrels noisily scrabbling for acorns, the soft heat and smoke of an evening campfire, the trickle of the distant creek as I shuffled into my sleeping bag. It was then that I realized the full evocative potential of what I now call the ultimate artisan spirit, and it has shaped the way I host spirit tastings ever since.
If you shuffle over to our review page tonight we're going to post our first few reviews of select spirits. The page will continue to be populated over the life of this blog. At Cereal Alchemist each tasting experience is a unique one - best experienced with a nosing glass, some cool, still water, and hi-fi sound ;-)