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Archive for the ‘whisky research’ Category

Introduction

I recently passed through Glasgow for a couple of days, and made arrangements to meet up with Craig McGill for drinks on my first afternoon. He does digital PR work for Whyte & Mackay. At the last minute, he contacted me and let me know that if I could head straight from my arrival at Glasgow Airport to the W&M office, I might be able to meet with Richard Paterson (aka “The Nose“), famous Whisky Ambassador and Master Blender for Whyte & Mackay, for a few minutes in his Sample Room. Challenge accepted!

The Whyte & Mackay Office

Located a short walk from Central Station in downtown Glasgow, the Whyte & Mackay office is a modern, shiny high rise building located next door to a Gothic style cathedral built in 1904. I met Craig on the ground floor, and he took me up 8 floors to where Richard Paterson’s playground, er…sample room, is located. We were a little early, but went straight past the quiet reception desk to the blending room to wait for Mr. Paterson. The room looks to be around 20′ x 25′ in size, with cabinets running the length of the long walls. On top of the cabinets were hundreds of sample bottles and dozens of tasting glasses (all business). In the middle of the room was a large table with commercial bottlings on display, and a small replica of a still (all show). Above the cabinets and sample bottles were cupboards filled with old whisky bottles (museum-like).

Just another day at the office for The Nose

Some old bottles...and a Mackinlay replica?

It was extremely quiet and clean, with a mellow vibe. Show pieces aside, I felt like I was standing in a medical lab. I stood in the middle of the room afraid to touch anything on the side cabinets, or see anything I wasn’t supposed to. Craig walked over to the cabinet on the right side of the room, nonchalantly reached over a bunch of samples and plugged his phone in to charge. He was obviously comfortable in here, so I asked if it was ok to look around. “Sure, go right ahead!”

That’s when Richard’s assistant [of over 30 years!] Margaret entered the room, grabbed a bunch of used tasting glasses from the cabinet on the left wall and put them into an industrial washer in the front corner of the room. As I started to check out the bottles on display, and sneak a peak at the labels on some of the sample bottles, she proceeded to place 20 clean tasting glasses out on the other cabinet in front of a set of sample bottles from Invergordon (photo above), and then poured the samples into the glasses. I guess this was to be Mr. Paterson’s afternoon work…checking to see how 20 barrels from the warehouse were coming along. About that time, I worked my way to the far end of the left wall and became aware of the labels on some of the sample bottles there (photo below). My heart jumped up in my throat…Dalmore 30 Yr, Dalmore 40 Yr, Dalmore 1951, Dalmore *1926*…just sitting there in front of me!

Some very old, very rare samples!

Enter “The Nose”

After stuffing as many sample bottles as possible into my pants pockets [no, of course not], Richard Paterson came through the door in his dark suit and bright pink tie, and the room came to life. If you’ve seen him in videos, he had that same high energy level that either sucks you in, or puts you on the defensive…like you’ve walked onto the set of a Billy Mays OxiClean info-mercial. I’m a fan of The Nose, so I let myself get sucked in, as it’s all in the spirit of fun and whisky appreciation.

In my next post, the “Richard Paterson Experience”…

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Well, good timing with my previous post on the Mackinlay’s Shackleton whisky replica. It looks like the National Geographic Channel is airing a special on the Shackleton whisky discovery and replication process tonight. I’ll be watching..likely while enjoying a dram of The Dalmore. :-)

[Edit: Oops! I accidentally posted this as a PBS special originally. It's actually on the National Geographic channel.]

Here is the info from National Geographic:

Expedition Whisky
Premieres Thursday, November 3 at 8pm ET/PT
Battling subzero temperatures and using only rudimentary navigational tools, explorer Ernest Shackleton set the record for reaching the furthest south in 1908, just 97 miles from the South Pole.  The expedition was cut short by a lack of food, and Shackleton returned home to a hero’s welcome in England and was knighted by King Edward VII.  But apparently, Shackleton left behind a few “necessities” from his epic journey to the South Pole.  In 2006, Shackleton’s stash of Scotch was re-discovered beneath the hut he used as his base camp.  With rare archival material and the last remaining film footage of Shackleton and his crew, “Expedition Whisky” not only tells the amazing story of Shackleton’s most successful adventure and his secret stash of whisky, but also shows a world’s top taster on a mission to sniff out and remake the vintage.

Shackleton’s Whisky Recipe
http://video.nationalgeographic.com/video/player/national-geographic-channel/specials-1/expedition-week-1/ngc-shackletons-whiskey-recipe.html

Whisky Find of the Century
http://video.nationalgeographic.com/video/player/national-geographic-channel/specials-1/expedition-week-1/ngc-whiskey-find-of-the-century.html

Cheers,
Jeff

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Introduction

There are plenty of resources out there explaining how Scotch whisky goes from new-make spirit to full-fledged Scotch via maturation in casks (I’ll include some links at the bottom of this post). However, I decided to go ahead and do a blog post that pulls together some of that information. More specifically, I want to point out and discuss areas where I often see confusion and debate even amongst whisky enthusiasts. Hopefully I’ve got this down, but I’m open to correction if I’ve screwed anything up. :-)

Scotch whisky, after being distilled, must be matured for at least 3 years in oak casks before it can officially be called Scotch. It’s right in the Scotch Whisky Association regulations. American oak (Quercus alba) and European oak (Quercus robur) are the most common species used for cask creation. Additionally, most Scotch whisky casks were previously used to mature bourbon or sherry. On a lesser scale, there are other  types of previously used casks, such as Rum, Madeira, Port, Tokaji, and other wines. These are often used to “finish” a whisky after its initial maturation in sherry or bourbon casks, but can also be used for the full maturation period. Springbank 11 year “Madeira Wood”, for example, was matured entirely in ex-Madeira casks.

It’s all oak!

This brings me to the first point of confusion that I’ve witnessed. American oak bourbon barrels are the most common source for Scotch whisky casks. I’m not sure where it started, but it’s common to see the term “traditional oak” used to describe a whisky matured in ex-bourbon casks. I think in conversation, this sometimes gets shortened to “oak.” Now you have people talking about whether the whisky was matured in sherry or oak casks. Oak becomes a synonym for an ex-bourbon, American oak barrel. That’s very misleading.

All of these casks (bourbon, sherry, madeira, etc.) are made from oak. The maturation differences come down to type of oak, whether the wood on the inside of the barrel was charred or toasted, and what kind of (if any) liquid was previously matured in it. Scotch casks can also be re-used, which becomes another factor in the flavor and color profile of the whisky.

Update: Immediately after posting this, I saw a tweet advertising Black Bull 12 Year, along with the claim “Matured in oak.” This is the kind of lame marketing that adds to the confusion. Stating this on the bottle or marketing literature would seem to imply that it could have been matured in something else. Doesn’t it just make them come across as looking either dumb or condescending, and not like somebody you would want to buy scotch from? I supposed the practice could date back to before oak was called out as the required wood type. However, wouldn’t that at least make it “lazy” marketing at this point in time?

American oak. It’s not just for bourbon.

Myth: All American oak casks previously matured bourbon.

This is point of confusion #2. While it’s true that you can generally assume that a whisky matured in ex-bourbon barrels was matured in American oak, you can’t assume that an American oak cask was previously used to mature Bourbon. American oak is also used to make sherry casks. In fact, Highland Park uses ONLY sherry casks for the maturation of their standard line of whiskies. To adjust the flavors in their expressions, they play with the ratio of American and European oak casks used, as well as the number of times those casks have been refilled.

Stop giving me the stink eye

When I mention that HP only uses sherry casks, I seem to usually get met with a stink eye look. It seems to be very commonly believed that when Highland Park talks of American oak influence on expressions like the 15 year, they’re talking about ex-bourbon casks. However, their web site very explicitly states that they only use ex-sherry casks. I think part of the reason this is hard to believe is that when you think sherry, you don’t think of America. However, keep in mind that using American oak for sherry doesn’t require that the casks were actually made and used in the United States. The wood can be shipped to, coopered and seasoned in Europe.

I actually wondered about this myself. I believe HP when they say they only use sherry casks, but how do they get the quantity of American oak sherry casks that they need? Then I read James Saxon’s blog post about his Highland Park distillery tour. Here’s how his guide explained it to him…very enlightening!

They have the most dedicated wood policy in the industry – £2 million a year on casks and wood management. This is more than the rest of the industry combined. This was the first I’d heard of it. When it comes to wood, it is Glenmorangie which toots its horn the loudest. Well, like Glenmorangie, Highland Park has its own forests in America where they harvest the wood, lend them to the Sherry industry, then bring them back to Orkney to mature Highland Park. There are no Bourbon barrels in the place, just American oak seasoned in Europe in addition to European oak.

Great stuff! I highly recommend reading the rest of James’ Highland Park tour description, and checking out his other distillery tour reviews on the Scotch Odyssey Blog.

Update: Ok, found another source on the HP sherry cask debate…direct confirmation from Gerry Tosh at HP via Jason Debly’s Scotch Whisky Reviews blog in his nice HP 15 Review.

New Oak. Also not just for bourbon.

Myth: Scotch whisky MUST be matured in used casks.

Scotch is almost always matured in used casks, but there are exceptions. There is nothing in the Scotch Whisky Association regulations prohibiting the use of new (or “virgin”) oak casks in the maturation of Scotch whisky. Meanwhile, there ARE regulations stating that Bourbon must be matured in charred new oak containers. I can see where one might assume that a regulation exists dictating used oak on the Scotch side, but that’s not the case. They just choose to go with used casks to get the flavor profile they’re looking for.

Great resources for more information

  • Malt Madness Beginner’s Guide – The whole beginner’s guide at maltmadness.com is awesome. For information on casks and maturation, check out Chapter 5.
  • Whisky for Everyone – For a quick guide to the types and sizes of casks used to mature whisky, check out this very straight-forward blog post on whisky cask types and sizes.
  • whiskywise.com – Here’s a very comprehensive article on whisk(e)y barrels discussing how oak gives real character to the whisk(e)y.
  • World Whiskey by Charles MacLean – This physical book is highly recommended, especially for the new whisky enthusiast, and served as one of my sources while writing this blog post. At $16.50 from Amazon right now, there’s no reason not to own this book. [No, my link does not earn me any kind of affiliate money]
  • The Balvenie Whisky Academy – The amazing Whisky Academy video series by The Balvenie includes a 10 minute video on Maturation in Module Two (You’ll need to enter your birth date before entering…Doh!). Satisfy your inner whisky geek and check out as much of the series as you can handle. :-)

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Wow, I see I haven’t posted anything since March 4th! I think that’s the longest I’ve gone without a post since I started blogging almost a year ago. I had intended to post about a couple of tastings I went to early in the month, but got busy with work and preparing for our family Spring Break vacation.

We went to Disneyland for six days and 5 nights. As a “Scotch Hobbyist,” I thought it would be fitting to share my findings on whisk(e)y availability at Disneyland, even though I actually went the entire time without any whisky myself (I did try a flight of tequila at Tortilla Jo’s in Downtown Disney one night, though).

If you’re going to be spending time in the Disneyland Parks (Disneyland-proper and California Adventure) and you’re not familiar with them, I thought you might be interested in knowing that there is only one place to buy alcohol between the two parks: The Cove Bar above Ariel’s Grotto in the California Adventure park. Actually…there IS Club 33 in Disneyland Park, but unless you’re one of the fewer than 500 members, you need to know a member to get into this exclusive restaurant. If you are a member, or know somebody who is…cheers to you. That would be extremely cool.

As for the Cove Bar, it’s pretty ordinary when it comes to whisky, as the focus is on mixed drinks. I stopped in to take a look at the liquor cabinet, and the whiskies I can remember seeing include Jack Daniels No. 7, Jim Beam White (what’s the deal with that? JB Black is so good for a tiny bit more money), Maker’s Mark, Bushmills, Jameson, Seagram’s 7, and maybe Canadian Club. From that list, I’d probably go with Maker’s Mark for a whisk(e)y to drink neat (or Jameson depending on mood). I actually didn’t see any Scotch there at all, not even JW Red…makes me wonder if I missed something on the other side of the bar.

Anyway, that’s my “whisky report” from Disneyland. Now, there are many more options once you get outside of the parks themselves, with a number of restaurant/bars in Downtown Disney, so you always have that option. However, if you’re in Disney’s California Adventure park and looking for a break with an adult beverage, go ahead and make your way over to Ariel’s Grotto and slide up to the Cove Bar. Perhaps the limited whisky selection would make for a good excuse to try one of their mixed drinks. I hear the “Black Pearl” is good.

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Introduction

Signed Bulleit Btl

As I prepared to leave work yesterday, I checked my Twitter feed and saw the reminder from Sportsman’s Fine Wine and Spirits that a free Bulleit Bourbon tasting was taking place from 5:00 pm to 7:00 pm. I was kind of tired and almost ignored it, but then…I’ve passed that unique flask-shaped bottle with raised lettering many times and wondered about the spirit inside. Why not take a few minutes to see what it’s all about? I’m glad I went, as company founder Tom Bulleit was there talking about bourbon and signing bottles. Not only was he a very entertaining and likable gentleman, but I also got the scoop on some new works in progress by this [currently] single-expression brand!

Tom talks about the Bulleit History

Tom bulleit at Sportsman's in Scottsdale, AZ

It’s Mr. Bulleit’s Great, Great Grandfather Augustus who is credited with formulating the original Bulleit whiskey recipe. He came to America with his French family in 1805, taking root in New Orleans. In the 1825 to 1830 time frame, he worked his way up to Louisville, Kentucky where he married and ran a couple of taverns. He also started making whiskey, which he sold locally, and would also take barrels back to New Orleans to sell there.

Tom Bulleit mentioned that he DID work at a distillery when he was young (he’s currently 67 years young), but his father was never really involved in the business. Tom went on to be a marine and a successful lawyer. However, he had always dreamed of resurrecting the family whiskey recipe and starting his own business. He said his father wasn’t too keen about the idea, but Tom felt compelled to follow his passion. He founded Bulleit and ran it as a family business until 1997, when they partnered with Seagrams. Diageo bought out most of Seagrams a few years later and Bulleit became their small-batch bourbon. He said that Diageo has been great to work for/with. They can still be very entrepreneurial and independent, but have access to vast resources.

The Bulleit Bourbon recipe

Now, the story goes that the Augustus recipe, after his death in 1860, was passed along in the family, and it was this recipe that Tom used when he founded Bulleit Bourbon in 1987. The current Bulleit recipe calls for 68% corn, 4% malted barley, and 28% rye. This is a significant increase in rye relative to other bourbons. What I found interesting was Tom’s description of the original Augustus recipe. He said it was originally about two thirds rye and one third corn…not technically a bourbon by today’s standards.

So…I guess the “original recipe” thing is a bit of a loose interpretation, with the key being that, as a bourbon, it has a very high rye content. Of course there are other factors involved in the recipe. Apparently they are very specific about how the grains should be grown. They also have a method of filtering the distillate so that they’re only using ethyl alcohol and none of the phenols (something to do with temperature and specific gravity…I took his word for it). This helps give it a very smooth character. They mature the barrels for at least six years, at which point they start checking them for “proper” maturity. The barrels used to make the final product are between six and eight years of age.

Tasting Bulleit

Bulleit Bourbon Frontier Whiskey; 45% ABV (90 proof)

Nose: Gentle, with very little direct alcohol influence. Vanilla and some light fresh oak and medium sweetness. Hints of citrus come and go.
Palate: Gentle at first, then a very noticeable pepper spice, almost Talisker-like. Turns dry fairly quickly.
Finish: The pepper has a medium-long duration, and this is VERY drying on the tongue. More vanilla, and just a touch of smoke in the back of the nostrils.

Comments:

I expected the 28% rye content to really give this a pop, but it’s quite gentle. It’s fascinating to experience that pepper and high level of dryness on the tongue, but have the rest of the experience be one of subtle toffee sweetness, vanilla and light oak. Bulleit compares price-wise with Knob Creek and Maker’s Mark. I’m having difficulty organizing their profiles in a linear fashion, though. The Bulleit lies in between the other two in relative sweetness and spiciness, but it’s lighter than either of the other bourbons. That lightness is similar to that of Gentleman Jack Tennessee Whiskey, but unlike the GJ, you can tell this one is whiskey, not flavored water.

My tasting notes are based on the in-store tasting last night, and another dram tonight. I’ll hold off on trying to rate this until I’ve had more experience with it. While I’m not going to give up Island or Islay Scotch for this bourbon, my initial impression is that it is a good value if you can find it for a little over $20. I’ll pull it out when I’m looking for something light, but I still want to get an entertaining tingle on the tongue (both from the dryness and the pepper spice).

Bulleit in cocktails

I can’t really offer much when it comes to bourbon cocktails. I like mine neat or with a few drops of room temperature water. Mr. Bulleit also indicated a preference for drinking whiskey neat or on the rocks. He fully supports everyone’s right to create whatever mixes they see fit, but what truly gives him pleasure is seeing somebody enjoy the profile that they worked so hard to create. He did offer up one particular cocktail recommendation. He said this ONLY works with Bulleit [with a sly smile on his face]:

  • A shot of Bulleit Bourbon
  • 1.5 – 2 oz tonic
  • A squeeze of lemon

That’s it…very simple, but he says it’s great. I’ll have to pull a lemon off of our tree this weekend and give it a try.

Conclusion

Signed Bulleit Btl (back)

It was a pleasure meeting Tom Bulleit, and he was incredibly generous with his time. I had monopolized a bit of that time towards the end of the tasting, and when I apologized, he said no apologies necessary. It was a pleasure to talk bourbon with people who are passionate about whiskey. I believed him. He’s a good salesman, but he also seems very humble, down to earth, and appreciative of his opportunity to follow his passion and share it with others. His bourbon is well crafted, refined, and very drinkable. If you’re scared off by the likes of Knob Creek, don’t be frightened by the “Frontier Whiskey” on the label. I’d think of that as more of a reference to Augustus Bulleit’s travels between Tennessee and New Orleans (with whiskey in tow) than to the character of the bourbon itself.

Oh, and I mentioned at the beginning that I got the scoop on some exciting new products they’re working on. However, when I mentioned that I have a whisk(e)y blog, he asked me to hold off putting anything in writing so that they can have first crack at sharing the news. However, I’m free to blog about it in four months if they haven’t gone public with anything. At least that gives you an idea of the time frame they’re looking at. We’re not talking about something that’s years away from coming to fruition.

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Hi. My name is Jeff, and I have a bias toward whisk(e)y distilled from peated barley. I also keep notes about the whiskies I drink and publish them, along with ratings, in a publicly accessible blog. Are these two statements at odds with each other? There are a growing number of whisky blogs with tasting notes. Some have ratings, some don’t. I never really thought of one approach as being right and the other being wrong. I just figured this was a case of communication preference on the part of the authors.

This blog post is really a follow-on to my recent post pointing out my new Google Docs ratings spreadsheet (link in the side bar). There are a couple of things that prompted me to continue the ratings discussion here. First, I’m still getting over a cold that has kept me from posting whisky tasting notes for the past 7 days. Second, I was just revisiting my trusty Malt Whisky Yearbook 2009 and read the following quote in the “Classifying Whisky” article by David Stirk:

Because scores are personal and very biased it is actually an arrogance to print them as it is the author stating: ‘This whisky is better than that whisky. Why? How dare you ask! Because I say so!’

Wow! Talk about forcing your personal bias on others (and putting words in their mouths). I decided to go to my favorite whisky ratings web site, WHISKYFUN.COM, and see what Serge has to say about his scoring system. I found a link in the sidebar to one of his E-pistles from Malt Maniacs #102 titled Serge’s Simple Tasting Tips. This is a great article on the topic of doing “serious” tastings. On the subject of scoring, he had this to say:

This is rather controversial matter… Some aficionados hate scores, some others will score even orange juice.
I do use scores myself, mostly because it’s the best way to remember to which extend I once liked a whisky without having to read my notes. But a score is not a judgment, it’s just a summing up of various feelings and likings.

Obviously, Serge isn’t trying to make a universal, objective statement with his ratings. His description very well summarizes my own feeling about doing ratings. It’s a way of summing up and tracking my whisky preferences over time. Why a particular score? There are corresponding notes explaining why, and I have yet to read or write any tasting notes that are likely to be paraphrased as “Because I say so!”

Let’s go ahead and assume that the majority of whisky hobbyists feel the same way as Serge when it comes to scores. They’re personal opinions at a point in time, and they’re likely to reflect any bias of the author. If we recognize that there is a bias, is it still appropriate to share our personal scores with others? I think so.

First, there is the obvious case where you find somebody whose preference seem very similar to yours for a particular kind of whisky. Once you’ve established such a connection, doesn’t it make sense to be interested in that person’s personal evaluation of whiskies you haven’t tried before?

As for bias, the key is getting to know a person’s preferences and taking them into account when you read their scores. I’m always on the lookout for “interesting”/different whiskies. One way such whiskies come to my attention is from an uncharacteristically high rating by a whisky enthusiast for a distillery not typically associated with their preferred tastes. Maybe I’m just too much of a whisky geek, but that kind of thing gets my heart rate up a little bit and makes me want to research that expression further.

Perhaps Mr. Stirk’s remark about arrogance in whisky rating is aimed more at the professional reviewer, such as Jim Murray. Admittedly, Mr. Murray comes across as a bit more “confident” than most others in his analysis. He states in his Whisky Bible that he’s honed his skills and ability to recognize certain traits in whiskies over 30 years, implying that he really DOES have a more objective viewpoint than most other whisky drinkers. Hey, I’m willing to give Mr. Murray the benefit of the doubt, and I appreciate the amount of time he’s invested into learning about and appreciating whisky. That doesn’t mean I have to treat his ratings differently than I do any others. It’s another source [with its own set of merits to consider] that I’ll compare against my own tasting impressions in order to help me pick my next bottle. I’m glad to have one person’s take on several thousand expressions available in an easy to browse reference.

Finally, I have this to say about ratings. If you’re looking for help picking a whisky, don’t forget to look beyond the number of stars, or points out of 100. Try to get familiar with the author so that you can apply a filter to their scores based on bias, experience, and relative consistency with your own findings. If you’re dead set against scores, then ignore them and focus on the corresponding tasting notes. No need to get your panties in a bunch. Just take what you will from a whisky review and enjoy your next dram.

Cheers,
Jeff

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Introduction

Black Label from 1920

Black Label from 1920

This is my second post about the Johnnie Walker webcast event titled “Johnnie Walker Black Label Centenary Journeyman Blending Webcast with Johnnie Walker Master Blender Andrew Ford.” Whew! My first, introductory post is here. Andrew Ford was the host of the webcast, airing from the Brandy Library in New York City. The webcast was divided into two parts. The first part being a history of Johnnie Walker, and the second being an overview and tasting of 7 whisky samples that represent the big building blocks of Johnnie Walker Black. These samples were sent out in a blending kit to the webcast attendees.

In this post, I’ll go ahead and share my notes from Mr. Ford’s history discussion, along with some pictures of the Walkers and some historic bottles for the history buffs out there. Then I’ll do another post with notes from the tasting, along with the Q&A from the interactive webcast.

John Walker and son Alexander

John Walker

John Walker

John Walker was thrust into the grocery business in Kilmarnark at the age of 15 when his father passed away. He somehow got into blending whiskies in an attempt to provide a consistent whisky product to his customers. [Note: The initial blends would have been solely comprised of single malt whiskies, as grain whisky didn't come about until 1832] That’s really about all that’s known of John Walker, and it was his son Alexander that took the family grocery business and turned it into a big whisky company.

Alexander built up a wholesale business and started exporting whisky worldwide. He’s the one that came up with the square bottle (possibly for better packing in shipping containers), as well as the slanted label.

Alexander II and George

Alexander II

Alexander II

Alexander Walker left the family business to his sons George, Jack and Alexander II. George took over the business operations and became CEO. Jack fell ill and died while looking after the Australian part of the business. Alexander II was the blender. They still have original blending notes from Alexander II in the Johnnie Walker archives. Mr. Ford showed a picture of Alexander II in a blending room sometime around 1910, and commented that the room looked similar to the blending rooms used today.

To ensure the supply of whisky for their blends, the Walker brothers started buying distilleries. Cardhu was the first distillery purchased, and is still a cornerstone of the Johnnie Walker blends.

Note: Mr. Ford noted during the webcast that this was one of the “happier” pictures he’s seen of Alexander II. Quite the serious fellow, it seems.

Johnnie Walker Blending Room from 1910

Johnnie Walker Blending Room from 1910

How did “Black Label” come to be?

JW Black 1950

JW Black 1950

Alexander II came up with the Johnnie Walker Black Label recipe around 1906 and named it “John Walker Extra Special Old Highland Whisky.” Quite a mouthful! The label was black, to distinguish it from the standard blend which used a red label. Given the long name of the Extra Special blend, people just started referring to it as “Black Label.”

In 1909, they added an extra label to the bottle with the text “Johhnie Walker Black Label”, and here we are 100 years later celebrating the anniversary of the official “Black Label” release.

Andrew Ford mentioned during the webcast that he had a chance to try a 1950′s Black Label from the archives. It wasn’t exactly the same as current Black Label, but he noted that some of that could be due to bottle aging.

Coming in Part 2…

Rather than create one huge post covering the whole webcast, I’m going to stop here and resume in another post, where I’ll cover the process of actually walking through the seven whisky samples provided to the attendees.

There were also a number of questions fielded by Andrew Ford during the webcast. I’ll provide the details from the Q&A in the next post as well.

Previous Post: Introduction and a look at the blending kit

Next Post: The Art of Blending webcast – Part 2

JW Black Centenary 2009

JW Black Centenary 2009

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Introduction

I’ve been reading up on iPhone development, and finally got around to creating something this weekend instead of just reading about it. It’s a pretty simple application, which is good, as it will allow me to get experience with the end-to-end iPhone App Development process fairly quickly. The purpose of Easy ABVs (as in “Alcohol by Volume”) is to help me quickly calculate how much alcohol I’m taking in (and keep myself in check), and to determine how much water to add in order to bring a whisky down to a particular ABV. I got the basic application working this weekend. I still need to make it “pretty”, and hook up the settings tab.

UPDATE: I’ve posted a Part 2 with pictures and details of my cleaned-up application. I’ve handed it out to a few people, but haven’t gone through the effort of putting it on the App Store, as I’m not sure it would appeal to a whole lot of people. I do use it now and then…mainly to figure out final ABV when adding water to a cask-strength whisky, or to figure out how much water to add so that I’m comparing at the same ABV in a head-to-head tasting.

Functionality and design

Easy ABVs Preview

Easy ABVs Preview

I want to be able to enter in the ABV of a whisky and the size of a pour, and immediately see how much pure alcohol I’m going to be taking in. In addition to having text boxes for data entry, I wanted to provide sliders. This way I can do everything one-handed using my thumb to control the application. With the sliders, I can also play around with different values easily, and scan the results as they’re updated in real time. I mean really…how much am I going to use this thing if I have to set my drink down to use it, or if it takes me a while to enter the data? :-)

I started out with the original ABV and volume at the top, as these are the starting data points for the calculations. It makes visual sense to go from top to bottom, right? The problem with this is that my hand ends up being over the bottom of the screen while I’m setting the values, and I have to move it to see the results. I decided it was much more useable with the data entry at the bottom and the output at the top. I also added a “swap” button next to the “Add Water” text box. This moves the Add Water value up into the calculations panel and the Final ABV down to the data entry area. Now I can select a specific ABV and have the application calculate how much water to add.

Next step

Next weekend, I’ll look into creating a background image for the calculations panel (I wish I had at least a LITTLE artistic talent). I also need to create the settings tab view. I want to allow customization of the min/max ranges of the sliders, and the default values. I thought I’d also add support for switching between US and UK modes, with the US mode showing proof and US drink units. I also want to go through the process of trying to add it into the App Store, just to see what that experience is like. I’ll post an update when I’ve completed the application.

Video Demo

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Introduction

Are you a Single Malt Whisky Fanatic? Serge from WHISKYFUN.COM posted a link on Twitter to this smwhisky.com web page, detailing the five stages of single malt whisky fanaticism: Curiosity, Enthusiasm, Fanaticism, Obsession, and Terminal.

Please follow the link to the original description (which is pulled from a Yahoo newsgroup from 2002), then select your stage in the poll. I’d be interested in hearing more details in the comments, too (have you figured out how to stop the madness?). I’ll provide details on why I’m a mid-level Stage 3 Malt Fanatic after the poll:

Confessions of a Stage 3 malt fanatic

I felt like such a sheep after reading about these stages and seeing how closely I fall in line with the provided descriptions. Where’s my originality?

Stage 1:

Curiosity: The novice may have tried a couple of expressions of malt, and finds that he or she really enjoys the experience, or is perhaps curious about malt from what he or she has read or overheard from other enthusiasts.

Analysis: I became curious about scotch whisky shortly before a business trip to the UK about a year ago. A day trip to Edinburgh, and a visit to The Scotch Malt Whisky Experience, propelled me right into Stage 2…

Stage 2:

Enthusiasm: The malt enthusiast gets into the game.  Unquenchable thirst for knowledge (and malt) drives him to begin buying books about malt whisky, surfing the web (and how did you find this site?), maps and other Scotland paraphenalia, and of course, bottles of Scotch. Typically in this stage, a form of denial may emerge where the enthusiast will refuse to spend over a set amount (maybe $50 or $100) for any bottle of malt. Bad move. Law of supply and demand. Good whisky costs money. Crap whisky can cost big bucks too (ask around before you buy if you are unsure), but good cheap whisky only comes along rarely (like $50 bottles of 100 proof Springbank).

Analysis: Let’s see:

  • Buying books – Michael Jackson’s Whisky Definitive Guide; Malt Whisky Yearbook 2009; Offringa’s Whisky & Jazz. Check!
  • Surfing web – Check out my Resources page. Check!
  • Scotland paraphenalia – Not yet, but searched a little bit to see if I could buy a block of peat like they give you to smell during the Whisky Experience tour.
  • Bottles of Scotch – Uh…yeah. Check!
  • Price limit denial – Initially $100. For my 40th birthday, I bought myself a bottle of Laphroaig 30. Check!

Stage 2 sidebar (connoisseur vs collector):

Somewhere in stage 2, two distinct personality types emerge: The connoisseur and the collector. The connoisseur firmly believes that all malt, no matter how rare or expensive, is meant to be consumed, preferably by sharing among friends. The collector hoards malt, puts it on a shelf to worship and collect dust and invites other collectors over to drool over his collection. He probably offers them a taste of crap whisky to quench their thirst, as he won’t destroy the collector’s value of his malts by opening them. The collector may then put bottles up for auction when he can be assured of tripling or quadrupling his original outlay. Connoissuers hoard malt as well, but only to trade among fellow connoisseurs or for drinking sometime in the future. Connoisseurs detest collectors.

Analysis:

The last sentence makes it sound like the two are mutually exclusive, but I have it in me to be a bit of both. I’m headed down the connoisseur path now, trying everything I can get my hands on. However, if I had the means, I probably would have bought a second bottle of Laphroaig 30 year and stashed it away. I’d love to be able to buy one to drink and one to collect for rare malts.

Stage 3:

Stage 3 – Fanaticism: The malt fanatic’s collection is now burgeoning. He may drop $1000 or more in a single liquor store visit. Cases of whisky begin filling his closets; he may invest in industrial grade shelving to store his malts. The fanatic may also register his own whisky related website. By this stage, he has already visited Scotland at least once, or is planning it. If he has visited Scotland, his luggage upon return is loaded with bottles of booty. He travels cross country to attend malt extravaganzas (like Ardbeggeddon). Unhappy about the number of malts available in his hometown, he orders them online from stores in distant lands. He possibly has a separate credit card account that his wife doesn’t know about and has malt shipped to an unmarried friend’s home, or at least stores some bottles there.

Analysis: Now we get into the scary stuff. I can say NO to the first couple…no $1000 trips to the store, and while our kitchen is filling up with 30-some bottles and lots of miniatures, I’m not buying by the case yet.

However…

  • Not only did I create a WordPress blog, I registered the ScotchHobbyist.com domain.
  • While my first trip to Scotland doesn’t count, as it wasn’t driven by malt fanaticism, I AM trying to set up a 2011 Feis Ile trip.
  • I’ve purchased from The Whisky Exchange and LFW in the UK. [totally worth it just for the 200ml Port Ellens!]
  • No separate credit card. However, it’s possible I used cash on a couple of bottles and accidentally failed to mention it to my wife.

Stage 4:

Stage 4 – Obsession: The obsessive probably has more whisky stored than he can drink in the remainder of his lifetime. He probably also owns casks (or shares of casks) that are maturing in warehouses. He knows distillery managers on a first name basis. Bank accounts are drained, maybe carrying a balance on credit cards or a second (or third) mortgage to finance his malt aquisitions. If previously married, probably divorced by now, or else has the perfect wife.   Count me as jealous!

Analysis: Danger! I’ve probably got 3-4 years worth of whisky, and I’d love to own a share of a cask (must resist). I’ve also spent roughly 2.5 times the scotch budget I set out at the beginning of the year, and there are still 5 months left in the year! Hmm…getting dangerously close on a couple of these.

I guess it’s time to really start watching myself. My wife has actually been very supportive, though, and has even humored me as I’ve talked about going to Feis Ile. Yes…you’re allowed to be jealous.

Stage 5:

There may also be a terminal stage 5; the terminal obsessive may wish to purchase his own distillery, thereby assuring himself of a perpetual supply of malt whisky. I have not personally witnessed this phenomenon, but I suspect at least a couple of my personal friends may be prone to this stage.

Analysis: I do kind of envy the Wild Scotsman.

Conclusion

Well, there you have it. I’ve confessed my malt fanaticism sins. How about you? Were you sucked in as easily as I was, or do you have more self control? Do you want to stop, or are you shooting for Stage 5?

Cheers,
Jeff

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