Tuesday, 17 January 2012

Pre-Whisky Fest Fun: Day 4

Whisky Cocktails.  I could not think of two words that would make most whisky "aficionados" (AKA: Snobs) cringe more.  Even adding a cube of ice to a nice whisky is enough to raise the blood pressure of said "aficionados".  So it would come as no surprise if this following blog post gave a few people heart attacks, because this blog post is all about whisky cocktails!

Now before I begin, I do have one rules when making a cocktail with any spirit, not just whisky.  I'll never mix a spirit that I have to pay more than $80 dollars for.  To give you a good example of the ridiculous taxation on alcohol here in British Columbia, here are some very common bottles (750ml) and their prices:

  • Ballantine's Finest - $25.99
  • Glenfiddich 12 Year Old - $48.99
  • Highland Park 12 Year Old - $66.95
  • Laphroaig 10 Year Old - $84.99
  • Lagavulin 16 Year Old - $124.99
  • Macallan 18 - $249.99

Flower of Scotland
- 1 oz Glenfiddich 12 Year Old
- 1 oz Giffard's Ginger of the Indies
- 1 oz Noilly Prat Dry Vermouth
- 2 Dashes of Angostrua Bitters

- Add all ingredients to mixing glass
- Add ice and stir
- Strain into chilled cocktail glass
- Garnish with a flamed lemon zest

The idea behind this cocktail was to deconstruct the flavours present in Glenfiddich 12 year old (ginger, christmas spices, citrus), and highlight those particular flavours.

Blood and Sand
- 1 oz Blened Scotch
- 0.75 oz Cherry Herring
- 0.75 oz Sweet Vermouth
- 1 oz Orange Juice

- Add all ingredients to cocktail shaker
- Add ice and shake
- Double Strain into chilled cocktail glass
- Garnish with flamed orange zest

Blood and Sand
A favorite cocktail of mine, the Blood and Sand is a classic cocktail named after the equally classic 1922 movie of the same name.  

For this particular cocktail I like to use a blend with a pronounced smokiness, like Black Grouse.  I find that lightly smoky blends tend to get lost amounts all the other ingredients. 

One note about cherry herring, if you're like me and live in B.C. you probably know we can't get cherry herring here.  The best alternative is the cherry liqueur from Okanagan Spirits.

1806 Whisky & Cola
- 2 oz Bourbon
- 0.33 oz Kola Tonic
- 2 Dashes Chocolate Bitters
- 2 Dashes Fernet Branca

- At the bottom of a mixing glass muddle one large orange zest
- Add all remaining ingredients to mixing glass
- Add ice and stir
- Strain into chilled rocks glass with one large ice cube
- Garnish with flamed orange zest

1806 Whisky & Cola
An obvious twist on the Old-Fashioned, the 1806 Whisky & Cola is named after the year in which the word "Cocktail" was first defined in print.  If you are wondering what the hell kola tonic is, it is basically concerted cola syrup.  A quick google search of "Cola Syrup" will reveal various sites that carry the product.  If you are a B.C. resident, I suggest outofafricatrading.com. They are B.C. based so your product will arrive in no time. 

The Scofflaw
- 1.5 oz Rye Whisky
- 1 oz Dry Vermouth
- 0.75 oz Lemon Juice
- 0.75 oz Real Pomegranate Grenadine

- Add all ingredient to cocktail shaker
- Add ice and Shake
- Double Strain into chilled cocktail glass
- Garnish with a long thin lemon twist

Another classic prohibition era cocktail from Harry's New York Bar in Paris, The Scofflaw is a reference to the 20s term of the same name.  A "Scofflaw" was a term coined by the media to describe someone who enjoyed visiting his/her local speak-easy.

Monday, 16 January 2012

Pre-Whisky Fest Fun: Day 3

In the single malt world, alot of emphasis is put on the proof.  It is very common to hear a whisky expert say something along the lines  of, "This whisky could be greatly improved by being bottled at 43% ABV.", when reviewing a whisky bottled at 40% ABV.

So why not prove if there is any truth to this theory.  I have two near identical bottling.  Both produced by Laphroaig and bottled at 10 Years of age.  The only differences being one is bottled at 40% ABV and the other at 43%AB.

I will review both whiskies based on four attributes: aroma, taste, finish, and complexity in order to determined if a mere 3% alcohol makes any noticeable differences.  Each category will be rated out of 25 for a total score out of 100.

Laphroaig 10 Year Old 40%

Aroma: No too complex on the nose.  Typical Laphroaig notes of peat and seaweed, as well as nuances of red bell pepper, ginger, straw and a touch of sweetness.  The lack complexity and ability to develop in the glass hurts the potential for a higher score.


Taste: Beyond the peat and earthly characteristics are notes of basil, citrus peel, anise, burning rubber, BBQ, dark coffee, and a touch of sweet barley.  The taste is definitely the best feature of this whisky.  A good amount of complexity and balance of flavors gives it a very respectable score.


Finish: Unfortunately the finish is were this Laphroaig falls short.  Considering this is an Islay bomb, the finish is far too short and lacks any depth of complexity.  It's a rush of peat smoke with subtle salty background notes, and then it's gone.


Complexity:  Over all, the complexity of this Laphroaig 10 was fairly reasonable, although the absence of complexity in the nose, and finish really hold this back from being a superb whisky.


Total: 86.5/100

Laphroaig 10 Year Old 43%

Aroma: The peat is much more integrated and balanced on this one.  Lots of subtle notes of green bell pepper, seaweed, new band aids (yes, new band aids), black pepper and sea salt, as well as a aroma reminiscent of fine Mezcal.  More  Complexity on the nose then the predeceasing 40% Laphroaig, as well as a better balance allow for a higher score for this Islay malt.


Taste:  More typical Laphroaig: huge peat smoke, basil, black pepper, smoked fish, anise, dark chocolate, and a blast of fresh espresso; what a refreshing surprise.  Lots of complexity and unique characteristics result in a exceptional score in taste.


Finish: The finish is long and lingering with lots of peat smoke, sea salt, and herbaceous notes.  A predominant anise and burnt rubber lasts well into your next sip.  Very complex and an ever changing finish; possibly the best characteristic of this whisky.


Complexity:  Great complexity through out all characteristics of this malt.  A bit heavy on the peat, but what else would you expect from Laphroaig!


Total: 94.5/100

Conclusion: So did 3% ABV make a difference? Hell yes.  The Laphroaig at 43% ABV had a much broader range of flavours and complexities over the somewhat boring 40% Laphroaig.  The 40% was by no means a bad whisky, but when standing beside the likes of the 43%, it was only a shadow of a spectacular dram.  Luckily, the Laphroaig 10 Year Old at 43% is now a permanent stable in the line up of Islay Malts available in B.C. ; as well as a stable in my liquor collection.

Mmmmmm, Laphroaig

Pre-Whisky Fest Fun: Day 2

Scotch Whisky is such a huge area of the spirit world.  With dozens of laws and countless distilleries, it's not easy for the beginner to absorb all this information at once.  In hopes of helping those with little knowledge in the field of Scotch Whisky, I have compiled a beginners guide to scotch.

The Basics of Scotch Whisky

Scotch Whisky is similar to every other whisky distilled all over the world in the sense that is a grain based and oak aged spirit. What makes Scotch whisky unique is the dozens laws protecting it, and the various styles of distillation and blending that exist under the larger title of Scotch whisky.

The Basic Laws of Scotch Whisky

In order to protect the reputation and tradition of Scotch whisky, a lengthily list of legal regulations has been put in place. Of the dozens of laws, there are several key ones you should know:

  •  Made solely from water, cereal grains, and yeast 
  •  Distilled and aged exclusively in Scotland 
  •  Aged for no less then 3 years in oak barrels 
  •  The age statement on a bottle displays the youngest whisky in the bottle 
  •  Is a minimum of 40% alcohol by volume 
The Subcategories of Scotch Whisky

Scotch Whisky has five subcategories: Single Malt and Blended Malt; Single Grain and Blended Grain; and lastly, Blended Scotch.

The three main subcategories of Scotch whiskies are Single Malt, blended malt, and Blended Scotch. Single Malt differs from all other subcategories of Scotch whisky in a few ways:

  •  Uses 100% malted barley in the Mash Bill[1]
  •  Pot Distilled 
  •  Is a Product of only one distillery 

Blended Scotch does not follow such strict guidelines as single malt Scotch. Blended Scotch may be made from grains other than malted barley; unmalted barley, corn, rye, and wheat are other optional grains for those making blended scotch. Additionally the restriction of pot stills does not apply to the blenders.   Column stills may be used to distill any grain (with the exception of malted barley). Lastly, Blended Scotch always contains whisky from various distilleries across Scotland. 

Blended Malts fall somewhere in the middle of Single Malts, and Blended Whisky.  A Blended Malt still follows stick guidlines similar to that of Single Malt Scotch, but a Blended Malt may be made using single malt whisky from more than one distillery in Scotland.  The most widely available example of a blended malt is Johnnie Walker Green.

[1] Mashbill: A recipe that describes the proportions of grain used to make a particular whisky. For example, Bourbon Whiskey is typical 70% corn, with the remaining 30% being made from barley, and rye or wheat.

Tasting and Appreciating Scotch

Scotch is like any fine wine or Cognac, and should be treaded like so.  Scotch should be savored and sipped, not shot back like bad bar tequila.  Here are my basic dos and don'ts for getting the most out of your fine scotch.

  • Do: Take your time to appreciate your scotch
  • Do Not: Drown your scotch with soda
  • Do: Try your Scotch neat (no ice, water, etc.)
  • Do Not: Be Afraid to add a touch of water to open up the whisky.  But only a teaspoon at a time, or risk drowning your Scotch
  • Do: Use a proper glass:  Tasting glass, GlenCairn, brandy sifter, or even a red wine glass are best suited for appreciating the aromas of your fine Scotch
  • Do Not: Be a whisky Snob.  Be open minded to all varieties of Scotch: Single Malt, Blended, Single Grain, etc.
  • Do: Be reasonable.  There is no way to appreciate Scotch (or any spirit of that matter) if your sole purpose when drinking is to get drunk.  Like Robert "Drink Boy" Hess says, "Drinking just to get drunk, is like having sex just to get pregnant." 

Saturday, 14 January 2012

Pre-Whisky Fest Fun: Day 1

The Victoria Whisky Festival is only a five days away!  In anticipation of the best alcohol festival I have ever attended, I wanted to do daily posts leading up the event.  Included in this five day series of post will be whisky reviews, cocktails, and other helpful information related to the world of whisky.  For this first post I just wanted to give a preview of the weekend ahead for me.

Thursday - Jim Murry Tasting

Jim Murray, the most renown whisky connoisseur and reviewer, will guide the lucky 90 guests through the winners of the 2012 Whisky Bible.  If you don't have the 2012 Whisky Bible (which you should), the three top winners of the 2012 whisky awards were as followed:

  • 3rd: Paker's Heritage Collection Wheated Mash Bill Bourbon Aged 10 Years
  • 2nd: George T. Stagg
  • 1st: Old Pulteney 21 Year Old

I have never been to a master class hosted by Jim Murray, so to say I am excited would be a vast understatement.  Asides from the three top winners, a few of the whiskies I would love to see at the master class are the Hibiki 21 year old (Japanese Single Malt), and the Glendronach  Single Cask 1992.

Friday - Laphroaig Grand Tasting

If I were to choose my top three distilleries, Laphroaig would undoubtably be a contender for first place.  That is why the Laphroaig Grand Tasting on the Friday night is my most anticipated event of the weekend.  What I expect to be tasting from Laphroaig is the Quarter Cask, 10 Year Old, Triple Wood, Cairdeas, and lastly the 18 Year Old.  I'll cross my fingers that they'll have a 25 year old Cask Strength as well.

Saturday - Master Classes / VIP Tasting

Saturday is the zenith of the Victoria Whisky Fest.  A day full of master classes, followed by the grand tasting is results in a eventful day.

Master Classes

Gordon & MacPhail 
11:15 - 12:15

I have no experience with any bottlings from Gordon & MacPhail, but with their reputation for some of the best single malts in the world, I could not pass up this master class.  Along with Gordon & MacPhail's independent bottlings from various distilleries, they also own the Benromach distillery.  Winner of the best Single Malt ages 28-34 in the 2012 Whisky Bible with their 30 year old (95.5/100), Benromach is a distillery that has been gaining alot of popularity as of recently with an increasing amount of critical acclaim.  As much as I'd love to see one of the 70 year Old bottlings from Gordon & MacPhail, I'll be a bit less demanding and hope for the Benromach 30 Year Old

1:00 - 2:00

Waking up at 4:00 to get a good place in line for tickets definitely paid off.  Glenfarclas is another of my favorite distilleries, mainly due to their great quality to price ration.  After all, a 40 year single malt for only $412 is an absolute bargain!   Family run for generations, Glenfarclas is know for producing some of the best single malts in Speyside.  From what I've heard from others who have attended Glenfarclas master classes in the past, this one could potentially be the highlight of the weekend.

The Balvenie 
4:20 - 5:20

Only a stones throw away from the Glenfiddich distillery, The Balvenie is single malt that I have little experience with.  But with a recent increase in selection from The Balvenie here in BC (including the 15 Y.O. Single Cask, 17 Y.O. Peated Cask, 21 Y.O. Port Finish, and 30 Y.O.) I saw this master class as a "try before you buy" opportunity.

V.I.P. Grand Tasting
6:00 - 7:00

After three master class and a lot of whisky a handful of attendees -including my self- will have the opportunity to sample even more whisky.  One of the advantage to paying the extra cash for the V.I.P. tasting is having the chance to actually conversant with others, because once the general public rolls in, it's too crowded and far to load to be able to do so.  Also, the occasional table will have a special dram underneath the table, if you're lucky.

In addition to the Victoria Whisky Festival, Clive's Classic Lounge will be hosting "Clive's Whisky Week".  Included are seminars from Glenrothes, Highland Park, Macallan, and Marker's Mark.  As well as seminars, nightly whisky themes based on specific distilleries (Kitlling Ridge (Forty Creek), Buffalo Trace, and Ardbeg & Glenmorangie) will lay host to flights and cocktails based around some exceptional whiskies.

This Year's Victoria Whisky Festival is sure to be a great one.  I'll be on my best best behavior in ordered to report back with plenty of pictures, reviews, tasting notes and possibly, interviews.

Saturday, 7 January 2012

Classic Cocktail of The Month: Boulevardier

If you were to go into any reputable cocktail lounge, no problems would occur if you were to order a Negroni.  Every bartender knows how to make one -or at least should know- and most bartenders would even recite to you the story of the origin of the Negroni.  So the story goes in short, in 1919, Count Camilo Luigi Manfredo Maria Negroni travels to Italy where he demands the bartender of Cafe Casoni, Fosco Scarselli, to prepare his Americano with gin in lieu of club soda: thus the Negroni is born.  A close relative of the Negroni, the Boulevardier, sees only a fraction of the limelight in comparison to the Negroni.  While a recipe of the Negroni does not see print until more then a decade after its inception, the Boulevardier appears in the 1927 Barflies and Cocktails, by Harry McElhone.

Now, if you were to order a Boulevardier in most bars, chances are you would only get a confused look in exchange.  The Boulevardier is a cocktail that has only recently seen a revival.  Once again, due to Ted "Dr. Cocktail" Haigh's Vintage Spirits and Forgotten Cocktails, another prohibition cocktail now lives again.

- 1.5 oz Bourbon
- 1 oz Campari
- 1 oz Sweet Vermouth

- Add all ingredients to mixing glass
- Add ice and stir
- Strain into chilled cocktail glass
- Garnish with a orange zest

Unfortunately, due to BC liquor laws, cocktails must not exceed 3 ounces of liquor (regardless of the ABV),  So we have to opt for the equal parts approach; a great cocktail non the less.

Sticking to the DNA of the Boulevardier (whisk(e)y, bitter aperitif, and fortified wine), I've utilized an Islay Single Malt, Tawny Port, and every bartender's favorite, Fernet Branca in this month's variation.   Just a warning anyone who is wanting to try this drink, this is one of those drinks that you really have to like Fernet Branca to enjoy.

Gaelic Medicine
- 1 oz Laphroaig Quarter Cask
- 1 oz Fernet Branca
- 1 oz Late Bottled Vintage Port

- Add all ingredients to mixing glass
- Add ice and stir
- Strain into chilled cocktail glass
- Garnish with a orange zest