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.