Thursday, 18 February 2010

#370 - Freaky Gymnastics

Phew... I know that I promised that I would have some fresh whisky tasting notes for this log entry, but I just received an e-mail from a friend with a short, simple exercise. When I tried it, it freaked me out so much that I wanted to share it with as many people as possible. 

The exercise that proves that we don't always have as much control over our bodies as we like to think... Assuming you're sitting behind a PC at the moment, try to:

1) Lift your right leg from the floor and continue to make clockwise circles with your foot, and...

2) While you continue to make circles with your right leg, draw the number '6' in the air with your right hand.

If your body functions remotely like mine, you were unable to perform this simple task as well, because your leg automatically started circling in the other direction... Freaky, eh? Meanwhile, I don't have any fresh tasting notes, but I do have a few words to share about whisky. This morning I received this message from Kyle Anderson; 

"Dear Malt Madness, I am a recent discoverer of single malt scotch whisky when I went to this Pub/Restaurant: I usually stick to beer, but considering I was at the best SMSW bar in Chicago (Possibily all of the U.S.A.) I decided I would order whisky. I didn't know what to get because the Menu was so extensive and the most I knew about Scotland was the Spey river and how to Spey cast (I am an avid fly fisherman). The waitress asked what region (I picked spey side) and made a suggestion (Glenfiddich 12YO). Upon the first taste I was converted from a "Beer" guy to a "Beer and Whisky" guy. I am a college student in Chicago and have a limited budget, I took your advice and bought a bottle of Balvenie 12YO "Double Wood" ($39 USD) along with some snifters to serve it in. It is the best whisky I have had, but alas my budget is still tighter and I must make more modest purchases. I was wondering if there were any less expensive blended Scotch Whiskys (e.g. Chivas Regal, Johnny Walker, Cutty Sark, etc.) that came the closest to having a SMSW taste or in other words what's the best blended whisky. I have looked online and didn't find any comparisons of the blended whiskys. Any address in this matter is greatly appreciated."

I have to admit that it has been at least two decades since I bought a blended whisky because the presence of too much grain whisky spoils the fun for me. However, some malt maniacs don't share my prejudices, so here are a few tips from a few other malt maniacs; 

Lawrence Graham: "Well, odd as it may seem and for good value there’s Bell’s (just the standard garden variety) and as I just discovered in Hawaii…….. Clan MacGregor (Grants) for……..$11.99 which is certainly excellent value for money and being a college student dollars are always an issue. Before you start throwing your empty malt bottles at me try them…..I expect the Clan MacGregor is older than the stated 36 months; perhaps even 40 months. Lauders 36 months (Barton Brands) should be avoided…….. and the Scorseby 36 month (Diageo) is OK  and these also are around $11.99."

Louis Perlman: "Kyle is lucky that he has one of the best liquor stores in the country in his backyard. Tell him to go right over to the nearest Binny's, check for locations. Low end blends that I have found to be half decent include Grants, Ballantines, and even the latest Johnnie Walker Red, the last one much improved from the days it headlined the MM Bad Malt Alert list."

Serge Valentin: "Sorry, no real experience with blends... But BTW, I've seen that there's now a cold-distilled gin, Oxley (distillation by freezing of the water). Ever heard of such experiences with 'whisky'? (SWA forbid!)."

Lex Kraaijeveld: "Something I wrote some time ago on freeze-distilled ‘whisky’ (published as a ‘Whisky on the Edge’ column on the celticmalts web-site): Distilling of a spirit from a low-alcoholic liquid is basically nothing more than increasing the alcohol concentration by making use of the difference in boiling point between alcohol and water. But besides having a different boiling point, alcohol and water also have a different freezing point, which makes it possible to make a strong alcoholic spirit by gently freezing a low-alcoholic liquor: the water will freeze out of the liquid first, leaving an increasingly stronger spirit. Chinese records of 'frozen-out' wine go back to at least the 6th century, and possibly even further. In Europe, the Vikings had a drink that was called "winter wine" but it is unclear whether this indeed was a 'frozen-out' spirit or not. The earliest solid European record of a 'frozen-out' spirit is from the late 16th century. Dutch sailors were forced to overwinter on Nova Zembla, an island off the north coast of Siberia, in 1596. They made the chance discovery that when their beer barrels started to freeze ..... There was scarce any unfrozen Beer in the barrel; but in that thick Yiest that was unfrozen lay the Strength of the Beer, so that is was too Strong to drink alone, and that which was frozen tasted like Water ...

This Dutch-Siberian spirit was 'frozen-out' from a grain-based fermented liquor, so it basically was the 'frozen-out' counterpart of whisky! Producing an alcoholic spirit by heat-distillation is a technique that needed to be invented, but the use of temperatures below the freezing point of water to make a strong alcoholic spirit can easily be discovered by accident; just leave a barrel with beer or wine outside in the cold. Such a chance discovery could be made in any part of the world that has a climate where temperatures drop well below freezing in winter. To my knowledge there are no records to support this, but I wonder if some farmers in the Highlands of Scotland didn't know about whisky's 'frozen-out' sister centuries before the heat-distilled spirit came into being ....".

Serge Valentin: "Yes, thanks Lex. 
And there's this beer, 'Brewdog', that's made that way if I'm correct. I've also heard stories about cattle that got completely plastered ;-)  But ever heard of 'whisky' made like this? ('beer' being 'cold distilled' and then matured in wood)" 

Dave Broom: "Not all Brewdog is made this way.. sometimes (occasionally) they're just normal brewers. The first freeze distilled beer "Tactical Nuclear Penguin' was above 30% abv. It's status was almost immediately usurped by a German brewer who made one even stronger. The Brewdog guys have just retaliated with one at 41% ABV called 'Sink The Bismarck'. Old-style Canadian applejack was allegedly made by the freezing method."
Right.... Well, sorry Kyle - I tried, but as you can see the discussions among the malt maniacs have a tendency to get side-tracked ;-)  From my end, I can only offer one additional suggestion: try an Irish whisky instead of a blended Scotch; they often offer better value. The same goes for French cognacs these days IMHO.

Sweet drams...

Friday, 12 February 2010

#369 - Slave To The Google?

I've been a fan of the (mostly) useful stuff that Google shares with nerds around the world for quite some time now. Most malt maniacs have a Gmail account these days, we use a Google Calendar on the Malt Maniacs site, we share YouTube links, I've started this new 'Blogger' blog (which is owned by Google), I use Google's 'AdSense' programme to show some ads, etc.

However, oddly enough I've somehow managed to avoid their iGoogle personalised homepage until now. I like to wallow in paranoia every once in a while, so the thought of the almighty Google knowing absolutely everything about me didn't really appeal to me. Somehow the thought of not using every single service that Google offers gave me a false sense of security and privacy. I've recently realised that Google already knows so much about me that the addition on one extra service would probably not make a very big difference. What's more, because I've worked in advertising I've learned to ignore most of it and 'read between the lines' of the remaining advertisements. I'd like to think that I've built up quite some resistance against the thousands of glossy lies that are fired in my general direction on a daily basis.

So, after switching to this Google 'Blogger' blog a few weeks ago I decided to jump into the Google pool with both feet forward. Not all the 'services' they offer are equally brilliant from the start. For example, the malt maniacs experimented with a Google discussion board before we moved to the Malt Maniacs & Friends group on Facebook to facilitate some interaction with our readers. At the time, the Facebook interface was more intuitive than Google's, but that has changed dramatically over time. While Google keeps perfecting and fine-tuning their services, the usability of Facebook has deteriorated because they lack Google's vision for the future. Sure, Google presents me with modest amounts of advertising, but at least the advertising is RELEVANT to me. By contrast, virtually all advertising I've seen on Facebook so far has been misleading. The type of advertising they show on Facebook suggests that, unlike Google, they don't care very much about the interests of the end user... In other words; Google understands that serving the needs of the end users helps them achieve their own goals while Facebook still follows 2nd millennium corporate logic. If that doesn't change, Facebook will probably go the way of Altavista, Geocities and thousands of other companies that didn't think far enough ahead.

Anyway; thoughts along these lines made me decide to give iGoogle a shot yesterday after Serge suggested I should check out NetVibes to help me keep track of RSS feeds. That seemed like a cool solution, but since I already use stuff like Gmail and Google Calendar to manage my on-line life, I felt it would probably be easier to stay within the Google cloud. I'm happy to report that it was, especially after the news about Google Buzz dropped in my mailbox yesterday. I'm not entirely sure how that works yet, but I'll make sure to give Google Buzz a thorough test drive to see how I can use it in my virtual life.

These were some thoughts that have nothing to so with single malt whisky, but I felt like sharing them nonetheless. I'll get back to whisky in my next entry...

Sweet drams,

Tuesday, 9 February 2010

#368 - Exotics from Wales & Brittany

It's the same old story; I've been suffering from a long string of 'bad nose days' during which my nose was clogged up. Meanwhile, a handful of fresh 'deviant drams' have been eagerly awaiting my opinion. 

Tonight I couldn't contain my curiosity any longer, so I went ahead and opened the Penderyn NAS Peated Whisky (46%, OB, Bottled 2009, 5cl) that was produced in Wales. The nose showed its tender age, along with fairly gentle peat and smoke, along with sourish, farmy notes and a subtle sweetness that keeps lingering about. 

I also found some clay in the background; the whisky grows chalkier over time. Quite 'spirity' - in the sense that it reminds me of freshly distilled spirit. More vanilla after a few minutes, followed by some metallic notes. On the surprisingly smooth palate I found a sweet touch of caramel; the smoke emerges in the dry finish. The whisky feels very 'green' with notes of sappy wood and grass. Perhaps a touch of pine? Grows even drier after a while; clean smoke. It's not the sort of profile I usually enjoy, so my score of 64 point may not sound like a enthusiastic recommendation. However, given the tender age of this Welsh whisky that score is not too bad at all! Besides, it's VERY different from most 'modern' Scottish single malts. The certified malt maniacs have been discussing the 'Parkerisation' of malt whisky recently; some maniacs feel that the variety in the Scotch whisky world has diminished in recent years. This whisky is an interesting detour from the 'bourbony' profile of many modern Scotch whiskies. Especially sniffing the empty glass reveals many different elements.

I had the chance to compare the peated whisky from Wales with a peated whisky from Brittany, France; the Glan Ar Mor NAS 'Kornog' (57.1%, OB, Peated whisky, Britanny France). I already tried this one for the Malt Maniacs Awards 2009 and gave it 84 points at the time. I could write almost the same tasting notes... Nose: Mellow start with sweet orange and lemon notes after a few seconds. Honey. A little rough, but very expressive. Some more subtle fruity notes in the background. Cucumber? Taste: Surprising blast of peat - the nose didn't prepare me for that. Wait, it's not so much 'organic' peat; rather smoke and anthracite. Grain whisky smoothness. Harsh but pleasant finish with some meaty notes emerging. Surprisingly sweet. I'll stick with my score of 84 points - this particular cask plays in the same league as many Islay malts; a good job by Jean Donnay!

Last but not least, the 'regular' Glann Ar Mor NAS (46%, OB, Britanny France). The nose seemed dry, clean and quite 'veggy'. Sorrel? Some sour apples too. A little chalky. After circa 10 minutes it grew more metallic. A whiff of ant acid? Quite some evolution over time; it became very light after half an hour. It starts very sweet on the palate with more and more different fruity notes emerging. It has quite a lot of body at 46%. Grape skins in the finish. A little 'acetonic'; it reminds me a bit of 'bauerngeist' (an Austrian fruit spirit) - in a good way! Hey, and it has some traits of calvados as well. Quite a lot of difference between the nose and the palate. Feisty; perhaps a little less integrated than the average Scotch single malt, but that makes it interesting. Let's go with 71 points for this one... Like the Penderyn, it's quite different from the average Scotch single malt. In fact, I'd say that these two 'European' whiskies resemble each other more closely than Scotch single malts. I don't ENJOY them as much as some other whiskies because the profiles simply are not really 'up my alley', but some people will love these profiles and at the very least they add to the overall variety in the whisky world - which is a good thing...

I'll leave you with news that I'm still working my way (alphabetically) through a large update of the Distillery Data section on Malt Madness; I've just updated and expanded the Bruichladdich and Caol Ila distillery profiles. And if you're interested in the idea of 'Parkerisation' of single malt whisky (the phenomenon that many producers try to achieve a certain taste profile to appeal to one or a few 'authorities' in a certain drinks market) I have some good news: Serge is working on an E-pistle right now...

Sweet drams,

Friday, 5 February 2010

#367 - What's In A Brand Name?

Granted, the malt maniacs can be a crusty old bunch at times. Because many of us have been interested in single malt whisky for at least two decades, we personally experienced a time (during the 1990's) when single malt whisky still was a more-or-less authentic product. What's more, we started building our 'collections' (actually mostly deferred drinking stocks) when bottles from the 1970's and 1980's were still affordable...

Of course, the influence of "big business" and corporate ownership could already be felt on the 'production' side of the whisky world, but consumers could still enjoy crafted single malts that displayed a distinct distillery character. This situation has changed dramatically in recent years; there's little room anymore for the miracle of coincidences in the ISO-driven processes of most alcohol conglomerates. These days, the goal for most malt whisky distilleries is to produce as much malt whisky as possible, as cheaply as possible. This effectively means that single malts are now often marketed in the same way as blends. The name of the distillery used to be the only 'brand' in the single malt whisky world, but these days the connection between brands and distilleries has grown very slim indeed.

Take 'Singleton' for example - it used to be the brand name for single malts that were produced at the Auchroisk distillery, but these days Diageo uses the old 'Singleton' name for three different single malts that are marketed in three different markets under the same name; the Glendullan 12yo for the USA, the Dufftown 12yo for Europe and the Glen Ord 12yo for Asia. So, that's three completely different malts (granted, not as different as they used to be in the 20th century) that are sold under one generic brand name for people that buy 'by the label'... That's why one malt maniac prefers the brand name 'Simpleton' for these simplified, relatively generic whiskies. 

Another example of the growing gap between the brand and the product is the recent sale of the Glenrothes brand from Edrington to Berry Brothers. While Berry Brothers become the owners of the brand, ownership of the Glenrothes distillery itself stays with the Edrington Group. In exchange, ownership of the Cutty Sark blend transfers to Edrington. The deal is supposed to be concluded by April 2010...

Sweet drams,