Archive for the ‘whisky accessories’ Category


Dear Santa,
You take the milk and cookies, and I’ll have a nip of whatever made your nose that color!

I see that my 2009 gift guide has been getting a bunch of hits the past few days, so perhaps it’s time to do another one. Not that I’m an expert on such things, but I am a whisky enthusiast. Perhaps some of the things that I’ve enjoyed in the past year, or want for Christmas, will apply to the the whisky lover in your life.

I think most of the items in my 2009 gift guide would still apply, so rather than repeat those, I’ll supplement with some new whisky expressions, and some that are just new to me. There are also some new books, and additional accessories that I’ve discovered in the past year. I’ll include prices, with a link, where I can find good online deals…


Whiskies under $40

  • AnCnoc 12 – New to the U.S., both the 12 and 16 year have started hitting store shelves. A great alternative to the ‘livets, at $35 locally, the 12 year is a bargain!
  • Maker’s 46 – The first new expression from Maker’s Mark (in the U.S.) in 52 years, it’s got a beautiful bottle to add to the gift presentation. Less than $30 at my local Total Wine & More.
  • Old Forester Birthday Bourbon 2010 – A special annual release, with a nose to die for. This one is for the “woody” whiskey lover. I got it for $32 at a local Total Wine.
  • Redbreast 12 – I got a sample of Redbreast 15 this year, which is finally available in the U.S., but I’m sticking with the 12 year. If your whisk(e)y lover is new to Irish whiskies, or has only tried Jameson/Bushmills, introduce them to this beauty.

Whiskies under $60

  • The Balvenie Caribbean Rum Cask 14 year – I’ll post a review of this in a couple of days. For someone lamenting the disappearance of The Balvenie Founder’s Reserve 10 year, a bottle of this new U.S.-only release will cheer them up. ($53 online)
  • Dalwhinnie 15 – I got to sample this, but would love to have a bottle. This isn’t an “exciting” bottling, but it’s very approachable and a great whisky to share with the occasional drinker.
  • Tomatin 18 – I love this bottling, and for an 18 year, the price is right. A fantastic speyside with sherry influence and enough spice to make it interesting. One of my favorite discoveries this year. ($59.99 online)
  • Hibiki 12 – I haven’t tried it, but I’ve read so many good reviews, this Japanese blend is on my own Christmas list. The bottle is really cool looking, too. ($55 online)
  • The Dalmore Gran Reserva – I reviewed this recently, and while it’s a subtle whisky not likely to wow some single-malt aficionados, it’s another great one to share with friends who don’t drink much scotch. Good presentation, too. ($56 online)

Whiskies under $100

  • Glenmorangie Sonnalta PX – For the Glenmorangie lover in your life, this new release is a must buy. ($67 online)
  • Ardbeg Airigh Nam Beist 1990 – Make sure they like peat, but this one is more approachable than the rest of the Ardbeg line, and it’s going away for good, so it’s a great gift. The price is right, too. It’s going for half of what it sold for when it was in production! ($62 online)
  • Laphroaig 18 – Another peaty whisky, but also more approachable than the rest of the current Laphroaig line. Released last year, but slow to hit U.S. shelves, this will make your Islay-lover happy. ($70-90 online)
  • Compass Box Flaming Heart – A special release celebrating the Compass Box 10th Anniversary. I overlooked it initially, because i seem to generally like, but not love Compass Box (Hedonism being the exception). I’ve heard great things about this one, though, from others who feel the same way about Compass Box. Seems like a perfect gift whisky. ($80 online)
  • Compass Box Hedonism – Another one on my personal Christmas list. I tried it in a vertical Compass Box tasting, and this was easily my favorite of their expressions. It’s a vatting of older grain whiskies, and was quite the revelation for me. There’s more to grain whisky than you might gather from an inexpensive blend!
  • Pappy Van Winkle 15 year bourbon – Released in small batches, the latest bottling is probably already disappearing from your store shelves. This one seems to be the sweet spot in the PVW line. One of my favorite bourbons.
  • Parker’s Heritage 4th Edition bourbon – A limited release, the 3rd Edition “Golden Anniversary” is probably my favorite bourbon to date, and this one, just released this Fall, has gotten solid reviews, so a great gift. ($70 online)

The expensive stuff

  • The Glenlivet Archive 21 year ($130) – This was my Father’s Day whisky this year. Fantastic presentation in wooden box, and oh so drinkable.
  • The Dalmore Mackenzie ($150) – 90 points in my rating system, and my favorite Dalmore so far. This was to be a limited release only in the UK, but you can actually get it at Binny’s right now! ($150 online)
  • Parker’s Heritage Golden Anniversary ($135) – My favorite bourbon, made from a vatting of casks from 5 decades. If you’re going to spend more than $100 on a bourbon gift, it’s hard to do better than this. ($135 online)
  • Glenfarclas 1974 31 Year – I almost forgot about this one. I was lucky enough to get a sample of this (thanks Sean!), and if you like big, thick sherry bombs, this is absolutely incredible! It’s a U.S.-only release. For a heavily sherried Glenfarclas fan, this will be very well received. I want a bottle. Bad. ($190 – $230 online)
  • The Last Drop – Ok, who’s going to get this for me? I’ll share. 🙂 I only got to try a few ml of this, but it was amazing! ($2,000)

Not whisk(e)y

  • Germain-Robin XO Brandy – It’s made here in the U.S., but it’s made with an imported, antique cognac still by a guy with a cognac family background, and it’ll give more expensive cognacs a run for their money. I got it last Christmas and it’s amazing.
  • Remy Martin XO Cognac – Remy Martin XO is good stuff, too, with a really cool bottle. I mention it here because the price seems to have dropped recently. You might be able to get it for under $100.


  • 101 Whiskies to try before you die – Not intended to be the “best” 101 whiskies, but rather, a sampling of expressions to educate you (and your palate) on what the whisk(e)y world has to offer.
  • Whisky Bible 2011 – Worth picking up yearly for Jim Murray’s entertaining tasting notes, whether you agree with his scores or not. Thousands of whiskies reviewed, it’s great to have so many expressions discussed in a single source.
  • Malt Whisky Yearbook 2011 – I’ve got the previous two books, but for some reason, haven’t gotten around to ordering the latest version of this one yet. It’s definitely on my Christmas list, though. Another one worth buying yearly. Some of the best whisk(e)y writers in the world team up to share information about all of the major whisk(e)y distilleries, talk about the year in whisky, and point you to useful whisky resources.

Whisky accessories

  • Whisky glasses – Always a good gift. You COULD buy these Riedel Vinum glasses, but I think they’re over priced and don’t funnel the aromas very well. Get some Glencairns or copitas that work better and cost less.
  • Bottle Tote – Now that I’m regularly taking whisky to friend’s houses and attending whisky society meetings, I need something to tote my bottles around in. I think this one looks pretty cool. Although, this rolling wine luggage would be pretty handy (don’t know anything about that retailer, though)!
  • The gift of peat smoke! – You’ve tasted peaty whisky. Ever wondered what actual peat smoke smells like? These Ardbeg Peat Cones from the Ardbeg online store just cost a few bucks plus shipping. Light them up and take in the smoky aroma. Anybody know if they smell like the real deal or not?
  • SMWSA Membership – I’d enjoy getting a membership to the Scotch Malt Whisky Society of America for the new member kit alone. Even better, being a member gives you access to an exciting assortment of single-cask bottlings from various distilleries. Follow the link to find out about additional benefits. It’s pretty cool.
  • Tickets to a whisky event – What a treat this would be! Give your whisky loving friend/relative a chance to sample whisky, attend seminars, and meet some of the giants in the industry. [WhiskyFest; SMWSA Extravaganza]
Happy Holidays,

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I’m taking advantage of my down time with a head/chest cold to do some non-drinking whisky enthusiast activities. In this post, I want to point out my new Ratings Spreadsheet link in the side bar, which points to a Google Docs spreadsheet containing my ratings history. The spreadsheet lists the classification, numeric score and grade for each expression I’ve rated, along with a link to the blog post where I provided my tasting notes.

Why do ratings?

The whole point of the ratings is to help articulate my enjoyment of a particular whisky, both on a “good/bad” scale, and relative to others that I’ve tried. I don’t fancy myself a whisky “expert”, and I don’t believe there is such thing as a “universal” rating for whisky expressions that will apply to everybody. You need to understand the tastes and history of the person providing the scores for them to be useful. I talked more about this in a previous post on rating whiskies (and in the comments for that post).

About the spreadsheet

I created this spreadsheet as a convenient index for looking up previous reviews and scanning my ratings. The whiskies are ordered by Distillery and Age. If you’re so inclined, you can create your own Google Docs copy (if you have an account), or download to Excel (File | Download as…) to change the sort order. A little more info on some of the columns:

  • Classification: This is a distillery classification from Whisky Classified: Choosing Single Malts by Flavour, David Wishart, Pavilion Books, London 2002. On the web, here. The idea is to group distilleries based on similar traits in their whiskies. In some cases, I filled in a different Classification than is associated with the distillery. I’ve marked these with an “*”. An example would be a peated expression from a typically non-peated distillery.
  • Rating: This is the numeric rating that I gave to the expression in a blog post on a 0 to 100 scale. I discussed the scale in this previous ratings blog post.
  • Grade: This is a less specific rating than the numeric one. If I only try a small sample of a whisky and don’t feel comfortable giving a specific numeric score, I’ll use this broader rating only.
  • Blog Link: Note that if you click on this cell in Google Docs, you’ll get a link indicator on the left side of the cell that will take you to that blog entry.


Between the time I posted the spreadsheet and got to this point in the blog post (less than a day), I got caught in the cross-hairs of this Dr. Whisky blog entry (I do like his blog…you should check it out if you haven’t already). Therefore, I feel compelled to sneak some time on my lunch break, finish this post, and once again point out that I’m not publishing this spreadsheet as a “whisky expert.” I’m one of an increasing number of whisky enthusiasts taking advantage of blogging software to share a passion for whisky, and the processes and history behind its making.

[Update: Ok, maybe the good Dr. wasn’t picking on my ratings, so much as just making the same point I just did…that there are a lot of folks on the web with opinions about whisky. It’s kind of cool that he’s aware of a bunch of us amateur enthusiasts, actually.]

Providing a grade for the whiskies I drink is a personal choice, and just a small component of what I’m trying to share on this blog. If you’ve decided to follow my posts, and you’ve discovered a consistent similarity or disparity between my preferences and yours, perhaps these ratings will help point out other whisky expressions that would appeal to you. I’d certainly encourage you to do additional research (check out my Whisky Resources page), or take a leap and try new expressions as part of your own discovery.

Oh, and if you accidentally stumbled upon my ratings list in search of a mythical “matrix” of whisky ratings by the closest thing there is to whisky experts, the least I can do is help you on your quest. Follow this link and hit the yellow or red “MM” buttons.


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I got an email from Tom in Toronto, asking if I have a Windows version of the Easy ABVs Calculator that I wrote for the iPhone. He wants to compare varying strength whiskies at the same ABV. I don’t have a Windows version of the program, but it sounded like a good idea. Instead of writing an actual stand-alone Windows program, I decided to create a quickie Excel spreadsheet.

With this spreadsheet, you can enter up to 10 whisky expressions with their out-of-the-bottle ABV and have the spreadsheet calculate how much water to add in order to reach a desired final ABV. You can also use it to just manually enter the whisky and water volumes and have it tell you what the final ABV will be. Finally, the spreadsheet will keep track of drink units so you know your total alcohol intake for the tasting session.

Preview and download

I’ve uploaded the Excel spreadsheet to Google Docs.  Click this link to view it.

You’ll see that I’ve entered a number of Laphroaig expressions and requested that they all be converted to 40%, using 25ml of whisky as the starting point. For Batch 001 I entered an exeption, starting with 20ml of whisky. The spreadsheet is telling me to add 9 ml of water to the Batch 001, 5ml to the QC and 18, and no water needed for the Laph 10, which is already at 40%.

Downloading: From the Google Docs preview above, you should be able to click “File | Download as…” in the menu and save the spreadsheet in Excel or a number of other formats. If you don’t have Excel, you can save it as an OpenOffice spreadsheet and use something like NeoOffice (free) to use it.

Spreadsheet instructions

  1. Fill in the “Desired final ABV” that you would like all entered drinks to end up at.
  2. If you’d like to have the same total volume in each glass, then enter the “Desired total volume”. The spreadsheet will then tell you how much whisky and how much water to use for each expression.
  3. If you’d like to pour the same amount of spirit into each glass, then add water to reach the desired ABV, then enter “Desired spirit volume”, but make sure you clear out “Desired total volume” first.
  4. The Drink Unit size is used to determine how many drink units are in each pour. The standard UK and US drink sizes, as well as recommended maximum intake, are listed at the bottom of the spreadsheet. The default drink unit size is based on the U.S. recommendations.
  5. Now enter each whisky expression in the Drink Details area. The description is optional, but you need to at least enter the ABV as indicated on the bottle. If the alcohol content is listed in Proof, divide by 2.
  6. You can ignore/override the “desired” ABV and volume values by entering the Spirit and Water Volume in the Manual Calculation section. If you enter Spirit Volume here, this will override the “Desired total volume” or “Desired spirit volume” at the top of the spreadsheet.
  7. Read the Spirit and Water volume (in ml) in the Calculated Values area, as well as the number of drink units per expression. Total pure alcohol and drink units, as well as overall average ABV are in the “Totals” at the bottom.


So…what do you think? Is this something you can use? Any suggestions for modifications? You can use the links in the Scribd previews above to download the spreadsheets and use/modify them as you see fit. Like I said above, I personally prefer the second one. I just created the taller/narrower one so that it would divide things up more logically in the Scribd preview.

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Have you ever seen these nosing/tasting kits? I think it looks like a great idea, but they’re a little more expensive than I would like.

Nosing and tasting kit

Now The Balvenie is offering up a chance to get one for free. I got an email from them today with the following info:

Just in time for the holidays, The Balvenie is offering the chance to win a one-of-a-kind prize: An exclusive Scotch Whisky nosing and tasting kit. This unique kit contains 24 separate aromas and a dedicated nosing guide, as well as other essential whisky tasting tools. The lucky winner will also receive an exquisite Balvenie hipflask.

Visit this link to enter:

It’s really easy to enter. Just provide your name and email address. No long surveys to fill out or anything.

Good luck!

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I’ve had a number of people ask me about good gifts for the whisky enthusiast in their lives. I’m no expert, but I AM enthusiastic about whisky, so I can certainly share some ideas that appeal to me. A bunch of these whiskies and whisky accessories are ones I already own or have experience with, but I’ll also include some things that I’m interested but don’t have yet. I’ll mark those with an * so that my wife can use this as my wish list as well. 🙂

Before I get into recommending full bottles of whisky, I’m going to touch on a number of accessories such as books, glassware, and whisky samples. It’s much more difficult to recommend a bottle of whisky with confidence without knowing the recipient’s preferences and boundaries. I’ll take a shot at that as well, though.

Update: Check out the comments for some additional gift ideas. I also posted a 2010 Gift Guide here.


Here are some books I own that are current, and would make excellent gifts:

World Whisky

  • World Whiskey – Edited by Charles Maclean, with contributions by well known experts/authors such as Dave Broom, Hans Offringa, Ian Buxton and Charles himself. At first, this hardback book looks like potentially a “fluff” coffee table book (albeit one with great, current pictures of over 700 whisky bottles). However, dig in and there are tasting notes for all of those whiskies, plus behind-the-scenes secrets of a bunch of the distilleries. They also offer “whisky tours”, with recommended itineraries for visiting the different whisky-producing regions, including the Scottish regions and world whiskies from Ireland, Japan and the United States. Only $16.50 from Amazon right now, this one is a no-brainer.
  • Whisky & Jazz by Hans Offringa – Something a little different, for the whisky and jazz lover in your life. I’ve REALLY enjoyed this book. You can see my full review here. $40.
  • Malt Whisky Yearbook 2010 – Another book with contributions by multiple, well respected whisky authors, this one is updated yearly. The primary focus is on distilleries from all over the world, providing history, profiles, interesting facts and tasting notes. There’s also a section at the end on the year in whisky, with all of the latest interesting news from the whisky world, and lists of whisky-related resources. This is a very well respected publication with something for all levels of whisky enthusiast. Approximately $20.
  • Jim Murray’s Whisky Bible 2010 – Jim Murray is probably the most recognized whisky ambassador in the world since the passing of Michael Jackson in 2007. In his bible, he provides notes and ratings on nearly 4,000 whiskies! The book is printed on very fine paper with tiny print, though, so it’s small enough to easily carry around (almost pocketable). There seems to be some minor controversy around some of his ratings, as he has a hand in a number of whisky expressions as a consultant, but overall, he seems to offer unbiased opinions, and provides concise, entertaining notes. Highly recommended as an additional opinion source to go along with the myriad of whisky web sites. $20.
    • Update: Penderyn Whisky is offering 25% off of a SIGNED copy of the Whisky Bible. Details on Facebook.
  • Malt Advocate (magazine subscription) – I got my money’s worth out of this subscription just with the one article on sherry and oak interaction in whisky barrels in the Winter 2009 issue. The link I provided is to a blog post on the current offer to get 2 years for the price of 1 for new subscribers (good through December). $18.


Whisky Glass

  • The Glencairn Whisky Glass – Specially designed for nosing and tasting whisky, this glass has become quite popular, and is fairly readily available (at least online). This is a great all-around whisk(e)y glass. It’s my favorite in terms of hand feel and drinking. It does a good job of forcing the aromas up to the top of the glass for nosing, although I have another glass that I think is slightly better in this department. $8 to $14 per glass depending on source. Macy’s currently has a 6-pack for under $50. I’ve had good luck ordering from bkblankenshipon eBay.
    • Along with the Glencairn glasses, you can also order watchglass covers to keep the flavors in if the glass is going to be sitting out for a while (like during a multi-whisky tasting session). If you look at the bkblankenship auctions in my link above, you’ll see that some of the glasses come with the covers, and you can also order the covers individually for $2.
  • Nosing Copita

    Nosing copita – This seems to be a very common whisky glass style, specially designed for nosing the whisky. I do find it slightly better than the whisky glass for nosing, but not as good for drinking. Still, it’s kind of a fun little glass, and looks great. Note that it has a smaller opening than the whisky glass, so the watchglass cover that comes with this glass is smaller as well. Similar price to the whisky glass, and also available from bkblankenship on eBay.

  • Water Jug – I don’t put water in my whisky all that much, and when I do, it’s usually a few drops using a straw. However, I do like to put water out with the whisky when I have people over, and this is certainly an elegant way to do that. $35, or $60 as a gift pack with two whisky glasses. Once again, you can get this on eBay from bkblankenship.

Water Jug

Whisky Gift Packs

The Glenmorangie Collection

  • The Glenmorangie Collection – Pictured above. This range of Glenmorangie expressions is sweet and smooth. See my full review here. $30-$50.
  • Glenmorangie Original Gift Pack – This one is a full-size bottle of Glenmo 10, along with two tumblers. I usually go with whisky glasses, but as tumblers go, these are really nice. Heavy bases and a tapered opening to capture some of the aroma. $35-$50.

Glenmo Original Gift Pack

  • The Islay Collection – An amazing Diageo gift pack, containing 5 200ml bottles, including Port Ellen, which would cost $400 as a full bottle. Note that these are all big, smoky, peaty whiskies, so make sure the person you’re buying this for likes this style. See my full review here. $125.

The Islay Collection

  • Other Diageo gift packs – Diageo sells a bunch of other gift packs with 200ml bottles, typically with three bottles per box. If you can find these locally, they’re usually well worth buying. You can also find them online at The Whisky Exchange and Loch Fyne Whiskies. $40 – $70.


I’ll go ahead and throw out a few whisk(e)y ideas, including some that are on my wish list (for my wife to check out). It’s definitely easier to buy for somebody if you already have an idea what their preferences are, and if there are certain expressions/styles that they flat-out don’t like, or that they love.

  • The Macallan 18 – If you’re looking to spend a good chunk of change on somebody, it’s hard to go wrong with this one. It’s a very safe purchase. I think the worst I’ve seen written about it is that it’s too expensive for an 18 year old. I suppose a few negative Nancies will call it overrated, but they’re probably just upset about the price, too. However, any whisky lover is going to appreciate the effort to acquire a bottle of Mac 18 for them. Even if it’s not their favorite, it’s a very nice bottle to bring out for company. $100 – $140.
  • Lagavulin 16 – This is a little more risky, as it’s a strong, peaty Islay whisky. However, Lagavulin has a fantastic reputation, and deservedly so. If the backing of a pop culture icon would help, do a page search for Lagavulin in this interview with Johnny Depp. 🙂 Laga 16 is one of my favorite whiskies, and for the quality, it’s reasonably priced at $60 – $80.
  • Highland Park 18 – Voted “best spirit in the world” by Paul Pacult. This is one of the most balanced whiskies you’ll find. Like the Mac 18 and Laga 16, HP 18 is very widely acclaimed, and will be very appreciated as a gift by any whisky connoisseur. $85 – $100.
  • The Glenlivet Nadurra Triumph 1991 * – I’m specifically recommending the “Triumph” version of the Nadurra for my fellow Americans. It’s a limited bottling exclusive to the United States. I’m a sucker for that kind of thing. Plus, it got a great review by John Hansell (link). $85.
  • Diageo Special Releases – Each year, Diageo puts out a highly anticipated set of special release single malt whiskies. ANY of these would make fantastic gifts. At $60, I highly recommend Caol Ila Unpeated 10 year for something different. With a little water, this is like drinking lemon cream pie.
  • A few less expensive, easy drinking single-malt scotch whiskies to consider: Highland Park 12 ($40); The Balvenie 15 year single barrel ($55); Glendronach 12 year ($40); The Macallan 12 ($40); The Glenlivet 18 * ($50-$60)
  • Stranahan’s Colorado Whiskey * – This one is on my wish list. It’s from a micro-distillery in Colorado, which is cool. Plus, I’ve heard it tastes pretty good, and the shot glass cap is interesting. $50 – $60.
  • Wild Turkey Rare Breed * – Jim Murray went crazy over this inexpensive bourbon, calling it “one of the wonders of the whisky and whiskey world.” At $36 for a bottle, consider my curiosity piqued. I’ve also seen this in a wood box gift pack with two tumblers for the same price as the stand-alone bottle.
  • Evan Williams Single Barrel (2000 vintage) * – John Hansell gave the 2000 vintage a great review, and it’s quite inexpensive, so I want to try it. $26.
  • Buffalo Trace Antique Collection (BTAC) – For the bourbon and rye whiskey lover in your life, any of the five BTAC releases will be a slam dunk. These are limited bottlings released each Fall, and usually sold out by Spring. William Larue Weller is one of the top two bourbons I’ve tried. $65 – $85.
  • Johnnie Walker Blue (200ml) * – Now THIS is one that whisky connoisseurs often call overrated. On the other hand, to the uninitiated, JW Blue seems to often be considered the pinnacle of whisky excellence. While I’m sure there are plenty of single-malts that can best JW Blue for the price, I need to try it for myself and see what the fuss is about. I’ve seen 200 ml bottles in my local Total Wine & More for $60. That’s still pretty expensive per oz, but not an outrageous sum of money relative to the $180 – $220 full bottle price.
  • Johnnie Walker Gold – If the person you’re buying for is a blend drinker, and you know they drink a lot of Johnnie Walker Black, they’ll most likely consider a bottle of JW Gold a special treat. I’ve tried it and thought it was very nice. $60-$80.

For a more in-depth look at whisky gifts by flavor profile, check out this blog post over at Whisky for Everyone: Which whisky should I buy for Christmas?

Other ideas?

Any other whisky gift ideas out there? I’d love to hear about it in the comments. Obviously, there are tons of great whiskies to choose from. Are there unique ones that make especially good gifts – maybe because of special packaging or a good story? What about other accessories?


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Knob Creek commemorative barrel bung

Knob Creek barrel bung

Knob Creek has apparently closed out their Drought of 2009 marketing campaign, and they’ve done it in style. A bunch of Stillhouse members have reported receiving a package in the mail with a commemorative barrel bung to celebrate the resumption of Knob Creek bourbon bottling.  I just got mine today.

It comes in a box with the following text:

Dear Knob Creek Lover,

Thanks for being patient. After 9 long, rewarding years, your batch of 2000 Knob Creek Bourbon is ready to enjoy. In honor of this occasion, we’d like to share a commemorative 2000-2009 Knob Creek barrel bung.

Cheers! Your friends at Knob Creek

Now, I never actually saw any difference in availability on the shelves here in AZ, but it was still a fun campaign, and now i have my own barrel bung. That’s a pretty cool chotski for the ‘ol liquor cabinet. Perhaps they’ll send out the bourbon barrel that it goes with for Christmas, so hurry and get your Stillhouse membership. 🙂

Additional Pictures

The drought is over.

I survived the drought of 2009 and all I got was this bunghole.

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Mm, I love scotch. I love scotch. Scotchy scotch scotch. Here it goes down. Down into my belly. Mm-mm-mm.

– Ron Burgundy, “Anchorman”

That’s the ringtone I have on my phone right now. I downloaded it from moviewaves.com. Or did I? If it’s illegal, then I didn’t. Anyway, I thought some of my fellow scotch lovers might find it amusing.

We were at my parents’ house, and my phone rang. “…I love scotch. I love scotch…” My mom scrunched up her face and queried “who is Scott?” 🙂

As long as I’m sharing random, mildly amusing anecdotes…we were having dinner this weekend with some friends. We took dessert and a 20 cl bottle of Caol Ila 18 with us. They had a bottle of Laphroaig QC that had been given to them as a gift. They don’t like it (too smoky), and jokingly said that they keep it around to give to people they don’t like.

Anyway…I left the remaining 5 or so cl of Caol Ila with them and came home with two-thirds of a bottle of QC. Pretty good deal, I’d say!

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App Icon

App Icon

Following on my first post about my Easy ABVs application for the iPhone, I’ve now completed the application and thought I’d post a few pictures and describe how it works. Easy ABVs is a calculator application specifically designed to calculate alcohol content of a spirit, and show how adding water affects the final ABV (Alcohol by Volume). In addition to cleaning up the appearance, I’ve made pretty much all of the settings user-configurable, and added an information screen. I got around my lack of artistic abilities by going with a completely text-based application icon. It’s supposed to be a take on a grade school “ABCs” notebook ledger.

The calculator (Final ABV mode)

ABV Calc (Final ABV Mode)

ABV Calc (Final ABV Mode)

The calculator allows you to enter the original ABV of a spirit, the size of the drink you’re pouring, and by default, the amount of water you want to add. Note the combination of text boxes and sliders. I find the sliders to offer a level of convenience that you don’t get with similar web-based calculators. For one, I can enter the data a lot faster with the slider. Another benefit is the ability to progress through a bunch of numbers and see real-time updates in the results pane.

The results pane (panel at the top) displays a number of relevant calculations:

  • Pure Alcohol = Spirit Volume * (Spirit ABV / 100)
  • Drink Units takes the amount of pure alcohol and divides it by the number of ml considered to make up a single “drink unit.” There are standard drink unit sizes for the UK and US. More on that further down.
  • Total Volume = Spirit Volume + Water Added
  • Final ABV is the Alcohol by Volume for the combined water and spirit.

The calculator (Add Water mode)

ABV Calc (Add Water Mode)

ABV Calc (Add Water Mode)

The above image shows the calculator after I clicked the “swap” button right below the results pane. Now, instead of entering an amount of water to add and seeing the calculated Final ABV, you enter a Final ABV and see the calculated Add Water amount in order to dilute the spirit to the desired strength. This can be handy if you’re comparing a number of whiskies and want to try them all at the same strength. Simply set the Final ABV where you want it, and adjust the Spirit ABV for each whisky. The calculator will show you how much water to add.

The settings tab

App Settings

App Settings

Pretty much everything in the calculator is user-configurable. You can set the min/max values for the sliders. I recommend setting them so that the range is as small as possible, based on your normal use. This way you can be more accurate with the sliders. The more numbers, the more difficult to land on a particular one. The default values are also configurable. These are the values for when the application starts up, and when you hit the reset button. I’ll discuss the Drink Unit size in the next section.

The information screen

Info Screen

Info Screen

Clicking the “i” button in the lower right corner of the settings screen causes the screen to flip over and reveal some information about the whole Drink Units concept. The UK and US have similar guidelines for what they consider “moderate” drinking. They use different base drink sizes, but recommend similar total limits on a daily/weekly basis. The 10 ml drink unit in the UK is based off of a 25 ml serving of a 40% ABV spirit. The ~17.6 ml drink unit in the US is based on the amount of alcohol in a 1.5 oz shot of a 40% ABV spirit. I’ve set the default drink unit size to the UK 10 ml, but of course, it’s fully configurable. You could even come up with your own drink unit size based on your own habits/preferences.

What’s next?

I’m going to try posting this to the iTunes App Store and see what the process is like. I’m not charging anything for this application. I figure the potential audience is fairly small. You need to  not only be into drinking spirits, but you probably need to be something of a geek. 🙂

So…any whisky geeks out there want to give this a try before I post to the App Store and give me feedback, or see if you can break it?

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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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whisky_and_jazz_coverIntroduction and book synopsis

If you drink scotch and enjoy listening to jazz, you don’t need a book to tell you the two go great together. You might, however, be interested in a book that offers up large, artistic renderings of some of your favorite jazz musicians and scotch distilleries, provides deeper insight into the connections between jazz and whisky, and imparts historical knowledge in a way that both entertains and inspires creative thought. Enter Whisky & Jazz by Hans Offringa, available by mail order from Charleston Mercury (a South Carolina newspaper) for $39.95 plus shipping.

The marketing blurb for Whisky & Jazz on the Charlston Mercury site says:

“Hans Offringa, whisky writer for the Charleston Mercury, ingeniously connects ten famous jazz musicians with ten excellent single malt whiskies. The result is a collection of ten unique blends, each carrying a blue note as well as a tasting note, presented in a sippin’ and tasting guide.”

I was willing to buy the book based on the promise of some great pictures for the coffee table, the hope that this correlation between 10 whiskies and jazz songs would be interesting, and the fact that it was recommended by Serge of Whiskyfun.com. However, the book offers much more than I expected, making for a pleasant surprise when I started leafing through it. I’d like to try sharing a little more about the book so that you can see why I think it’s easily worth the $40 asking price.

Book layout and content

Whisky & Jazz is a good sized “coffee table book” with a little over 200 8.5″ x 11″ pages, about half of which contain full-page and double-page pictures. There is a Forward by Dave Broom (prominent whisky writer) with his own take on the whisky and jazz combination, then an Introduction by Offringa, where he sets up the book and dedicates it to his friend Michael Jackson (the whisky writer, not the pop star).

After the introductory material, there is a section titled The Origins of Jazz, which, in addition to telling the story of the origination of jazz, explains the etymology (breaking jazz down into its component parts), and then details three principal characteristics of jazz music. The next section, The Origins of Whisky, is also divided into origins, etymology and principal characteristics. Hats off to Mr. Offringa for managing to tie the two topics together through history and traits, without it seeming overly contrived in order to push his blending agenda.

Next, we have The Musicians and The Distilleries, with two or three pages (and as many pictures) on each musician and distillery, telling their story, and what makes them unique. I haven’t read all 20 of these yet, but the ones I have read were informative and entertaining. This material is well thought-out and clearly presented, not just a bunch of fluff to fill in between the pictures. There are all kinds of interesting tidbits…did you know about the Glenrothes “Toast to the Ghost”, or that the Stan Getz collaboration with Joao and Astrud Gilberto ended after Getz and Astrud had an affair?

The 10 musicians detailed in the book are: Cannonball Adderley, Chet Baker, John Coltrane, Miles Davis, Stan Getz, Dexter Gordon, Milt Jackson, Hank Mobley, Charlie Parker, and Art Tatum.

The 10 distilleries are: Aberfeldy, Balblair, Bowmore, Bruichladdich, Bunahabhain, Glen Rothes, Isle of Jura, Lagavulin, Oban and Springbank.

Whisky & Jazz with some whisky and jazz

Whisky & Jazz with some whisky and jazz

Finally, we have The Blends, a subjective “listening and sippin’ guide”  in which Mr. Offringa concocts “blends” composed of individual musicians and individual expressions of single malts. He acknowledges that these are subjective pairings, and encourages the reader to experiment on their own (in moderation). For each jazz/whisky blend, there is a one page summary providing:

  • A creative name for the blend
  • A “Blue Note”, with a paragraph each on the artist and whisky, tying them together
  • The blend “ingredients” (a specific expression and song)
  • Tasting notes – a blend of notes by Offringa and Michael Jackson.

Conclusion and credits

As you could tell by the time you finished reading the title of this post, I highly recommend this book by Hans Offringa. Jack McCray, a jazz historian and freelance writer, is credited as contributing editor on the book. On the book jacket, it says about Mr. McCray…”aspires to present ideas in a clear, resonant and consise style that would impart information in a meaningful way to the reader.” Whatever his influence on this book, he and the author have certainly succeeded in those aspirations. Gijs Dragt, who has apparently designed a large number of books for museums, provided most of the eye candy for Whisky & Jazz, and it’s quite the photographic treat.


  • Hans Offringa, guest blogger – Hans guest blogs on The Book Case blog, providing great background information on himself and the series of books that he’s working on. Check it out!
  • Hans Offringa’s web site – Hans’ official site, with links to more info about Whisky & Jazz and his other books.
  • Whisky & Jazz – A web site dedicated to this book, including a links [spoiler alert] page that lists the jazz/whisky combinations that make up his blends.
  • The Whisky Couple – Hans and his wife Becky are known as “The Whisky Couple.” Here is their web site. Right now, it includes a video from a Whisky & Jazz book signing and whisky tasting event.
  • WHISKYFUN.COM by Serge – A much more eloquent review and recommendation than I’ve offered (scroll down a little bit).
  • Accidental Hedonist review – A reminder that whisky and jazz are about enjoyment and spending time with friends, not sitting at home taking notes, and a recommendation for Offringa’s Whisky & Jazz and Taste of Whisky books.

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