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Archive for the ‘whisky samples’ 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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Introduction

I’m going to be doing a few scotch reviews soon based on samples from Master of Malt. Four of them are free samples that I got as part of a promotion they seem to be doing with bloggers. Before I start posting these, I thought I’d write up a quick disclaimer to link to from my reviews. I know this is an area (free samples) that can be controversial with some people.

About Master of Malt

Master of Malt (MoM) is a pretty cool online whisky retailer. You can get some insight into the company by reading this blog post/interview from The Jewish Single Malt Whisky Society or this one from Whisky Emporium. They also offer a series of whiskies under their own label. What’s especially unique about them is their offering of 3cl samples (packaged themselves from full sized bottles) of many of the whiskies they sell.

I’ve been a big fan of the ability to buy whisk(e)y samples for some time. I was able to blog about the full range of Highland Park (up through 30 year) by purchasing samples from Loch Fyne Whiskies and The Whisky Exchange. These were samples bottled by the distillery. I was also able to try most of Diageo’s special releases last year via WhiskySamples.eu, who specialize in samples of rare expressions. Now we have Master of Malt with their “Drinks by the Dram” try before you buy service, with prices ranging from about $3 to over $100 for a Glenfarclas 1952 family cask.

Here’s the deal

Ok, so Master of Malt is focusing on their internet business, and trying to get the word out about their online store and services such as Drinks by the Dram. One way of doing that is via whisky enthusiasts such as myself who have blogs. I’ve received a few free samples from other sources in the past (and always disclosed that fact), but those were from the distilleries, or their marketing representatives. There was never any kind of stipulation tied to the samples. In this case, the four free samples I received from MoM did arrive with a few strings attached, which is what I wanted to clarify in this blog post.

MoM has requested the following from any reviews tied to the samples they sent me for free:

  • A link to the Master of Malt home page
  • A link to the product page for each dram
  • Links to their social media pages (Twitter, Facebook)
  • Mention in the post of who supplied the sample

That’s it. They also stated clearly that they have no expectations for any particular types of reviews – no minimum word length; no time limit; no specific link blocks or anchor terms. They stressed that the reviews should be totally independent and unbiased. Overall, it sounds pretty reasonable to me. I don’t feel any pressure to behave differently when posting about these whiskies than I do with bottles I bought myself, or samples I traded for with other enthusiasts.

As far as I know, this was a one time offer. I’ll plan on buying samples myself in the future (as long as the price point works for me).

Conclusion

If you have any issues with the idea of some of my blog posts being based on free whisk(e)y samples, that’s fine. I get it. I’m not going to turn them down, though. I enjoy having the opportunity to try new whiskies. Most of them will come from my own purchases, or trades with other enthusiasts. Now and then, a unique opportunity like this one will come up, and I have no intention of passing on these opportunities, as long as I’m not asked to do anything “sneaky.” If it makes you feel any better, I have no means of receiving any kind of income from this blog. It’s 100% amateur hour here…no affiliate links, etc. (not that there’s anything wrong with that).

So, with that out of the way, I’m going to proceed with a clear conscience, enjoying as many types of whisk(e)y as I can, and sharing my thoughts, for as long as I continue to have fun doing it.

Cheers,
Jeff

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Introduction

Having gotten into whisky in July 2008 on a trip to Scotland, I’m still in a “discovery” phase, trying to get a feel for as many different scotch whisky profiles as possible. This can be a somewhat expensive proposition if your approach is to collect full size bottles representing a significant portion of the distilleries (open and closed). Storage can also be an issue if you don’t have a large cellar at your disposal.

One way to deal with the cost and storage problem is to sample whiskies before deciding which ones you want a full bottle of.  You might know others with an interest in whisky, and be able to exchange samples with them. You can also buy miniatures at your local whisky store or online. Another option that I recently discovered is to order 3 cl samples from www.whiskysamples.eu.

About whiskysamples (and Luc Timmermans)

The whiskysamples web site, apparently masterminded by Luc Timmermans of Belgium, offers up for sale 3 cl samples of rare malts from his collection of 2,000+ whiskies. I found this YouTube video (embedded later in this post) from October 31, 2008 where Luc explained that they would start with 4 bottles, and open up a new bottle each month, from which you can order samples. Seven months later, with 148 available bottles to sample from, they’ve apparently decided to release them at a faster pace. Prices range from 2.50 Euros for a 7 year Berry Bros Bowmore to 66 Euros for a Glen Garioch 46 year.  They ship worldwide.

Looking on the whiskysamples About page, we can see that Luc is the Belgian representative of the Scotch Malt Whisky Society, and one of the 26 Malt Maniacs. You may have seen his name mentioned on the whiskyfun web site, as he and a few Lindores provided notes and scores for whiskyfun from the special bottlings introduced at the Feis Ile festival. Luc proceeded to make these bottlings available as samples through the whiskysamples web site. Obviously, he’s a well respected member of the scotch whisky community, which made me feel much more comfortable about ordering from his web site.

The whiskysamples.eu web site

On the main page of the whiskysamples web site, you will see the latest news and most recently added samples posted at the top. You can scroll down for additional news, links to whiskysamples on social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter, and finally a list of “Featured Items”. I’m not sure exactly what the criteria is for a sample to be in this category.

On the top left side of any page on the site, there is a search box so you can search for particular samples (by Distillery, for example). There are also links to “departments”, or groupings of samples. For example, as of this writing, there is a link to all of the Feis Ile 2009 samples that are available. This is what first brought me to this web site.

It’s reasonably easy to navigate the site and browse the available samples by department, or via search.  My only real complaint is that there isn’t (or I haven’t found it) a “view all” option. As of this writing, the front page says there are 148 samples available. I’m still not 100% sure I’ve viewed every single sample available. I did notice that if you search for “whisky”, you’ll get back a list of 117 samples, but I couldn’t figure out a search term to get all 148.

Ordering

Browse the site and add samples to your cart. If you want more than 3 cl, you can adjust the quantity from the cart. If you continue shopping, then want to get back to your cart, there’s a link in the upper right. Pressing the Proceed to Checkout button in the cart simply expands the page at the bottom and allows you to select your shipping destination. Select your destination and click the Calculate button to see your total cost including shipment. You might need to scroll down a little to see the totals, along with a Submit button that takes you through the payment process.

Tip: I found that for shipments to the United States, it was the same cost to ship anywhere from 2 to 7 samples, so you might want to find at least 6 or 7 samples to defray the shipping costs and get as much as possible for your money. I’m not sure if this is the same for all countries. You can always add one sample to your cart, play with the quantity, and check the shipping cost.

The web site is set up to take advantage of PayPal, which I really like, because 1) I didn’t have to go find my credit card and type in the number and expiration, and 2) they can just use your verified PayPal shipping address.  Easy!  One quirk…after your order has been placed, your items still remain in your cart.  I guess there’s a bit of a disconnect between the site and the payment system.

Delivery

My initial order was comprised of three special Feis Ile bottlings, and each of the expressions in the Port Askaig range. I already have PA 17, but they only offered these as a set.  It only took 5 days for the samples to arrive via air mail. Looking at the postage, I noticed the rate was exactly what they charged me, so no extra padding on the shipping cost. Here are a couple of pictures of the package and contents (click thumbnail for full size image):

whiskysamples box whiskysamples packaging

The bottles were protected from banging against each other, but there’s not any extra padding between the bottles and the box. The sample bottles are small and sturdy, though, and it doesn’t sound like they’ve had any real problems with shipping.

Taking the bottles out of the box, I noticed that they are labeled, but just with numbers. It turns out they print your invoice and mark the corresponding numbers next to each item listed in your order. Ok, that works I suppose.  I think I’d prefer more explicit labeling, though.

30ml bottles from whiskysamples

30 ml bottles from whiskysamples

Invoice with sample "number key"

Invoice with sample "number key"

The Port Askaig samples had additional markings to distinguish them, since they all corresponded to order item #1. I went ahead and put my own labels on the other bottles so I don’t have to worry about keeping the invoice around.

Sample labeling

Port Askaig samples in sealed 30ml bottles.

Testing the samples

Since I already have a bottle of Port Askaig 17 on hand, I decided to compare that with my PA 17 sample.  I’m happy to report that the product delivered does indeed appear to match the original.  Not that I was expecting any different, but since I’m writing up my experience, I might as well do the full investigative reporting thing.

Verifying sample size.  30 ml?  Check.

Verifying sample size. 30 ml? Check.

Sample Size

[Update 6/16/09] [I commented on this in response to a question, but I thought I'd add it into the post, as I meant to say something about it originally.]

I don’t have a problem with them selling 30 ml samples, but my personal preference would be for a 50 ml sample, as I can easily split that into two 25 ml drams for sampling on separate days. This gives me a better feel for the whisky. I understand that the 50 ml sample would be priced higher than the 30 ml, but it should be less expensive than ordering two 30 ml samples. Perhaps at least a 50 ml option where more than one source bottle is available, but limiting to 30 ml for very rare single bottles?

Conclusion

I was very impressed with the service provided by whiskysamples, and will not hesitate to order from them again. At this point, the selection feels somewhat limited compared to shopping at a big online store. However, what they do offer at whiskysamples is some very rare bottles that would be very hard to find, and extremely expensive to buy. Plus, there’s the new, limited release bottlings that they make available in a very timely manner (like the Feis Ile bottles, or the Paps of Jura collection). Finally, there are some samples of more easily attainable expressions like Lagavulin 1991 DE and Springbank 18.  With whiskysamples, you can try expressions like these out before paying what is still a pretty high cost for the full bottles.  [On the other hand...just go ahead and buy the Laga DE.  It's awesome.]

Additionally, Luc’s customer service is amazing! Moments after placing my order, another Feis Ile bottling was posted on the site.  Luc told me how to place another order with no shipping charge, and he added it in with my original order. He responds quickly to email questions, and is very gracious and polite in the way he deals with you. He was very patient as I asked him a bunch of questions (see Q&A below), and maintained the same level of promptness and pleasant demeanor throughout. He seems like a real class act.

Tip: If you’re interested in ordering from whiskysamples, make sure you follow them on Twitter.  They tweet new arrivals as soon as they’re available.

Q & A with Luc Timmermans

Me: Has anybody ever had a sample arrive broken, and do you have a policy to cover damaged shipments?

Luc: So far, only one customer had a broken sample. Yes, we have a policy for replacements. If one or more samples are broken, we will replace them free of charge. This includes free shipping. We do ask for a proof photo showing the broken sample and parcel.

Me: What if a sample is sold out by the time the damage is discovered?

Luc: We replace it with another sample of equal or lesser value, which the customer can choose from the site.

Note: Luc has now posted a link to their replacement policy at the top of their web site.

Me: Didn’t you originally offer both 3 cl and 10 cl samples?  I don’t see any options for 10 cl bottles.

Luc: Nobody was ordering the 10 cl option, so we decided to go with just the 3 cl samples.  This makes the shipment and parcel choices much easier too.

Me: Some samples are available for pre-order.  How is shipping handled if I place an order with a combination of pre-order and in-stock samples?

Luc: The entire order will ship together once the pre-order samples arrive. All samples are secured [they won't sell out a sample that you have reserved] once the order is placed. If you want to get the in-stock samples right away, you can place separate orders.

Me: Where do you store all of these bottles?

Luc: In a BIG whisky cellar.

Luc's whisky cellar

Luc's whisky cellar

I want to be there

I want to be there

Videos

Check out these YouTube videos to see Luc introduce whiskysamples, and describe a few of the bottles. It looks like these were filmed in Luc’s amazing whisky cellar as well:

Introduction:

Opening Bowmore 1965:

December 2008 bottles:

The End

Yikes.  1640 words?  No time to proof read this post.

Cheers,
Jeff

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How do the various batches of Aberlour A’bunadh compare?  What about the annual releases of Port Ellen or Brora?  How will my current (and discontinued) bottle of Laphroaig 15 year compare to the new 18 year?  I’m having trouble warming up to Ledaig 10 year because of the nose.  I wonder if that will change over time (but I won’t necessarily want to buy another 75oml bottle later to find out).

Boston Round sample bottles

Boston Round sample bottles

There are plenty of reasons to store whisk(e)y samples for use/enjoyment at a later time.  Maybe you have a large basement and plenty of space to store full size bottles.  I don’t, and I’m not sure how much more kitchen cabinet space I can take up before my very understanding wife finally pushes back.  Additionally, some would argue that it’s not a good idea to store whisky for an extended period in a bottle with lots of air in it (I’m curious to see what comes of this guy’s aging experiment).

I wanted to start setting aside some scotch for later use, and ended up placing an order from Specialty Bottle in Seattle for 15 Clear Boston Round 4 oz bottles at $0.56 each, plus another $0.04 each for an upgrade to polyseal caps.  The polyseal caps contain a cone-shaped insert that supposedly provides an extremely tight seal.  They also have 2 oz bottles for $0.44 cents each($0.48 with polyseal caps).

If you’re bottling samples to share with others, they also have shrink bands that you can cover the lid with (you shrink them with a hair dryer).  The shrink bands are only sold in 250 count packs for $5 each.  The 2 and 4 oz bottles use different size bands as well.  If you know somebody that you intend to trade samples with, you could go in with them and split the cost.

I used the first bottle to save 10cl of my Port Ellen 7th release (from a 20cl original bottle).  I suppose I could have just kept it in the 20cl bottle, but I wanted to play it safe and cut down on the amount of air in the bottle (and seal it up tight).  For the label, I used the original from the 20cl bottle.  I put about an inch of water in a pot and brought it to a boil, stuck a screwdriver in the empty bottle and held onto the handle, and dangled the bottle over the steam for about 2 minutes.  The label peeled right off, and had enough of the glue on it still to just stick it right on the boston round bottle.

[Update 6/9/09] These bottles are great!  I just bottled up some samples to exchange with another whisky fan here in town.  We’re exchanging a combination of 2 and 3 oz samples.  2 oz (60ml) seems like a natural amount to exchange for a true “sample”, so I’m getting ready to place another order for some 2 oz bottles.  I’m also going to order some shrink bands, as I’ll feel better about driving the samples around in a sealed bottle, should I happen to get pulled over or get in a fender-bender.

If you have your own tips for storing whisky, I’d love to hear about it in the comments.  Would you go with Amber or Blue bottles instead of clear?  I like to be able to see the color of the whisky in the clear bottles, and any samples I’m storing will be in a dark place.

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