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 ;-)