Tuesday, July 22, 2014

The Wemyss "Winter Larder" 20 Year Old Speyside Single Malt Scotch Whisky (50 ml spice pantry bottle)

Tasting notes:
      On the nose, it's nice ripe melon, the smell of a dragonfly beating its wings against the sides of an oak barrel--no, a woven rush basket. The rest of the nose is a salted raincoat whose wearer holds prunes in her armpits.
Under the Raincoat? Under the Armpits?
     Behold the deep, rich, Sherry power on the mouth! Then the power shifts from Sherry to charcoal and then to a cherrywood-smoked loofah (unused, of course). During the momentary power vacuums, really ambitious prunes assert themselves and try to stage a coup. And they have some badass in them. The Wolves of the Supermarket.
     The finish is drool-inducing. It draws us out like a foreboding scream in the woods does teenagers in horror movies. Or like a non-herbaceous spit poultice that replaces the liquid it removes with melted caramel. Actually, what it leaves behind is richer than that: it's cantaloupe cognac with bacon. By "with bacon" here, I mean in the mash and as a side dish. And that's a side dish of three--count 'em, three--pieces (or rashers). That cuts down this dram's Bacon number dramatically.


--On the scale of possible meanings of "Winter Larder"--
The Wemyss "Winter Larder" 20 Year Old Speyside Single Malt Scotch Whisky is the target of my summer workouts--Fortunately, by this point in the summer, it's gone from "Winter Lardass" to this kinder, gentler term. OK, you might've preferred not to hear about that, but you have to admit that it's much wittier than "cold weather pantry."


--Our thanks to Karen Stewart and Wemyss for the sample!

Sunday, July 20, 2014

The Ardbeg Uigeadail (750 ml psychic balm bottle)

Tasting notes:
      The nose has grain and cereal notes, like dough balls retrieved after a bakery fire.  White pepper cracked open with lasers during some down time at the CERN accelerator.  I’m too excited to study the nose anymore.  Down the hatch!

     Wow, the mouth is a battlefield in the aftermath of war.  It’s the Second Battle of Grape Run, pitting sultanas vs. raisins; there are surprisingly intractable doctrinal differences between them.  Then, everywhere, the ashes of the fire of Alexandria.  They even burned the books on tape!  It mugs my tongue, but I should have known it would: the dark alley, the barking dog, the quickly closed curtains and darkened shades in the overlooking windows.  Too late I see that the ABV is nearly 55%.  This is what it feels like after a dragon breathes fire.  The desolation of smug; the thwarting of earnestness.  I need to step back.
     But then I say, “Cut me, Mick,” because I want back in there.  Chastened, I add a few drops of water.  I step over the raisin carcasses, deflated cases whose pulp extrudes and becomes clotted and jellied with ash.  Occasionally rivulets of grape juice come together in pools, and some drain into sorrowful streams like the earth itself is weeping.  On the open it’s smoother and nuttier.  The round and very sherried peat finds me muttering “Red wine licorice, but smoked.”  I think I have tamed the lion, but in this dream it is now no longer a lion.  It is a balm for psychic wounds.  The finish requires the word that completes this series: long, longer, longest, __________.”  Something more superlative than superlative. 


--On the scale of of what character would this be if it were in the whisky-AMC mashup entitled, Breaking Beg--
The Ardbeg Uigeadail would be Sherried Peat--Like his counterpart in Breaking Bad, Skinny Pete, this whisky leads with menace but yields soon enough to tender loyalty, couch-surfing laziness, and occasional gnomic utterances of stoner wit and wisdom.

--Our thanks to David Blackmore and Ardbeg for the sample!

--And John thanks Mike C. for an earlier gift of this whisky, and he encourages other friends--and complete strangers--to send such gifts of whisky at any time.

Friday, July 18, 2014

The Wemyss "Heathery Smoke" 30 year old Islay Single Malt Scotch Whisky (50 ml performance art piece)

Tasting notes:
      The nose of the Wemyss "Heathery Smoke" 30 yo Islay opens with lavender in a steel bottle in a time capsule set down by your great, great spinster aunt Heather of whom many stories are told. It's like a thermometer loaded with ricin and mercurochrome: Breaking it would be Bad, but you get a vicarious thrill from popping it in your little sister's mouth, ostensibly to take her temperature. It's akin to a bully shoving a potpourri sachet up your snout (if you were a dog) and even more akin to your coarse-grained sandpaper bursting into flames while you were sanding down your ebony baseball bat. [John: This really needs to be edited out.] Sorry, John, this is my review. Sweetness and fruits explode after a time, like throwing a banana instead of a bone in the opening scene of 2001: A Space Odyssey (and then watching in stupefied awe as it turns into a mango that rockets into space).

     On the mouth, it's clover filling a cleft palate while eating a cloven-hoofed demon. (Are there any other kinds? Angels dancing on pin heads disagreed.) Anise on the tongue, burning autumn leaves, smoldering rosemary sprigs, and the Peatman Cometh. It's ninja peat that crept up on you, but rather than an assassin, this ninja is simply networking and giving out business cards. Much more ominous is the Romulan Peat Vessel decloaking in Federation Palate Space outside of the neutral zone. Down-shifting bathetically, we got peat made from lavender-leaf sarongs worn by Pict mimes who perished in a hypothetical mirth quake during the Stoned Age of Mythic Giros.
     The finish goes on and on, dropping peat references like a person with an eidetic memory seeking to impress an English teacher by giving the Merriam-Webster definitions for all irregular intransitive verbs over 15 letters. An epic fail for the nerd, but an epic success for the Weymss. The finish is actually a refined Peat who prefers to be called Pyiotr. The finish finishes with elote heavy on the Cotija cheese and tajin spices. Spectacular.  

--On the scale of  tweakable adages from the late 1960s--
The Wemyss "Heathery Smoke" 30 year-old Islay Single Malt Scotch Whisky is "Never trust anything over 30—thank goodness that the Weymss 'Heathery Smoke' is not over 30!"--And I think that about sums it up! Yum.

--Our thanks to Karen Stewart and Wemyss for the sample!

Thursday, July 17, 2014

The Lost Distillery Gerston Vintage Blended Scotch Malt Whisky (100 ml Breakfast of Champions bottle)

Tasting notes: 
     On the nose, it's cherries ad vodka. Cheerios and vodka--also known as John's pre-Malt Impostor Breakfast of Champions. Good Bless You, Mr. Rosewater--without the rosewater, but with an ozone-infused flan. Billy Pilgrim juggling a banana, a pineapple, and a mango a little too long.  The Nobel Prize that should've been.
     The mouth is really nice, like no South of the Border in South Carolina ever is. It's like running into a waiter in Paris who is friendly to tourists. There's oil and cream on the mouth, too, but then ignition occurs, and the next thing you know the train bound to North Dakota blows up. (OK, tanker cars blowing up isn't really funny, but they seem to do that a lot these days.  I mean, what the frack?) The heat that explodes as the mouth ends and the finish begins is intense and awesome, not unlike the feeling in your cheeks after realizing your fly was open the whole time you were chatting with an unbelievably gorgeous woman. 

     As the heat of the mouth dissipates, the finish is long and satisfying, like eating truffle oil tater tots right out of the oven, only they were made with heirloom potatoes cultivated by heirs putting on airs. There's also a smoky overnote and undernote that conspire to form a vice grip of delight on the palate. Add a little water, and the nose is pineappled pork ribs sizzling in a stone bibimbap bowl. Then there's Thai curry on the mouth, with eggplant, yellow curry but without the military coup. Water cuts the highs, opens the lows, like Beats by Dr. Dre--or like a one-armed guy at the fat end of a marimba.

--On the scale of great Vonnegut novels--
The Lost Distillery Gerston Vintage is Cat's Cradle--Religion, technology, and the arms race all fall under the satirical ambit of this one, and one could even go so far as to say hell freezes over.  A Vonnegut tour de force.


--Our thanks to Jeffery Karlovitch and the Lost Distillery for the sample!


Tuesday, July 15, 2014

The Highland Park Freya (100 ml shield maiden potion bottle)

Tasting notes:
      We’re big fans of HP and have really enjoyed these special releases.  And this offering makes quite an impression.  The nose is exceptionally light.  A ragout of wren marrow.  Pin feathers and meringue cookies dropped from the Tower of Pisa in a test of gravity.  A marshmallow crowded into a canvas bag with die packs and banded stacks of cash after a bank robbery. 

     If I were nosing this blind, I’d say it was Highland Parky.  Mermaid-bacon smoke [Bill: Wouldn't that make it Highland Porky?], Sherry Butt staves, but above all, floral.  Grapefruit tree flower in full bloom, from which high-end mixed drinks with housemade bitters can be made.  Make it a wet-hopped bespoke cocktail, with the bartender squeezing the last drips from a sachet she found at the back of Oscar Wilde’s silk ruffle drawer. 
     The mouth is delicious.  Beautiful Fig Newtons made with kirsch-soaked dried plums and angel-sifted pastry flour.  An ethnic minority of plaintains militating for revolution in a banana republic.  A fireworks show viewed by a drone and then replayed backwards.
     The finish is the sensation of sucking spring water through a straw made of gardenia petals.  Sugar cookies in the shape of gingerbread men: lemon drop eyes, cream cheese mutton chops, and a rakish ascot from mascarpone cheese.  On the open it’s candy candy candy candy.  Fruit salad.  Slight bitterness, like dandelion leaves in a large salad with shaved arugula.  If the goal was to create a brilliant whisky that says, “I am a fantastic Highland Park,” then you have done well.  I shall be applying forthwith to be Freya’s shield maiden. 


--On the scale of super old national parliaments--
The Highland Park Freya is the Althing of Iceland--Founded in 930 AD, you could argue a case in the Lögberg rationally…or you could bring a bunch of bad-ass Norsemen with big-ass swords and spears and win that way. I'd bring a case of the Highland Park Freya: Case opened, case closed! 


--Our thanks to Steph Ridgway and Highland Park for the sample!

Monday, July 14, 2014

The M.I. Interview: Stephanie Ridgway, Brand Manager - Highland Park US

MI: In Norse mythology, Freya (or Freyja) is the goddess of, among other things, love, sexuality, beauty, war, and death. Legend has it that Freya also owns the necklace BrĂ­singamen and rides a chariot pulled by two cats.  Knowing you and having heard some rumors about your rolling "cat carrier"--are you sure you're not the contemporary manifestation of Freya?  And if you are, please don't kill us for asking that.  And a follow-up: if so, how do you think that helps you sell this whisky?

SR: Ah, yes. The rolling cat carrier. I’m not sure if it helps me sell the whisky or not, but it sure does get a lot of attention while I’m rolling it around the streets of Bay Ridge, Brooklyn. I have considered putting the HP logo and Freya image on it. Kinda like the whisky NASCAR…or ‘NASCAT’ as the case may be…I don’t know. As for being the contemporary manifestation of Freya, I’ll take that all day, every day. She was a supreme badass!
MI: We noticed that Freya comes in a wooden presentation thingy similar to the ones that came with the Thor and the Loki, and they all look a bit like Norse ships from times of yore.  Are these meant to serve as vessels for flaming burials at sea for empty bottles?  If so, does Highland Park have a position on making them dual use?  John famously used a wooden presentation box for a high-end miniature as a hamster casket, and we wouldn't put it past him to send another pet into the afterlife alongside an empty bottle of Freya.  Your thoughts?
SR: Well, my first thought is that you guys are ridiculous. And John might consider seeking a little help or taking some time off, at the very least. But back to the ‘wooden presentation thingy’s’ (that really is the technical term for it, you know). The dope on those being that we produced the series to be collectible and having each expression encased in a replica of a Viking long ship makes for a very stunning display once you’ve acquired all four in the series. Plus, you can have hours of fun drinking whisky and playing a Viking version of Battleship. 

MI: Orkney peat differs from Islay peat, and it is speculated that the absence of trees for the last six millennia explains the difference.  But having taken the extraordinary Magnus Eunson tour of the distillery, we know that the real difference lies elsewhere.  But John's notes became hazy at this point.  Could you clarify the tour guide's point about the role of lining American Oak casks with fruit leather?
SR: John’s notes were hazy after sipping extraordinary drams of HP at the distillery in Orkney? No, I refuse to believe it! Ok, let me straighten him out. Yes, you have got the Orkney peat story correct. No trees = no wood influence. What we do have a boat load of is heather, a floral shrub. When you burn our peat, that influence results in something more akin to incense burning that it does a campfire. Hence, our whisky is gently smoky. The other half of the equation, as you so aptly pointed out, is our casks. Ex European and Ex American oak that have previously held Oloroso sherry. We build those casks ourselves, loan ‘em out to Sherry producers in the south of Spain for seasoning then pull ‘em back to fill with new make. That’s where our whisky gets it sweetness from. Of course, we could probably skip all that nonsense and just line the casks with fruit leather…. 

MI: We have cross-checked the rate of special whisky offerings from Highland Park against the number of noteworthy figures in Norse mythology, and frankly, we're worried.  At the current pace, your 2021 special offering is likely to be named for a virtually anonymous 11th C. accountant who died after ingesting a gift of bad pemmican.  Your thoughts on this?
SR: Now you’ve gone and done it. You’ve divulged the inspiration behind our fourth and FINAL, I might add, expression in the series! Curses! Seriously though, we know we had over 1000 Norse gods/goddesses to choose from and it took a bit of restraint not to go wild. We worked hard to narrow it down to the four that we felt we could have the most fun replicating their personalities in the whisky. (Our sincerest apologies if we offended the descendants of the aforementioned pemmican ingesting accountant. We considered your forefather, really we did.)

MI: You have bottles of Freya.  I have a mailing address.  I believe this is the beginning of a beautiful relationship.  [Stephen: John, that's not a question.] [John: Shhh..., let's see how she answers first.]
SR: Wait, what? Oh, I’m sorry, I stopped paying attention. What was that again? (nice try)

MI: If whisky is the water of life, and Freya is the goddess of love, then what is Primanti Brothers?
SR: Duh. Food of the gods. In fact, you don’t what living is until you have a Primanti Brothers (pay 50 cents extra for the fried egg) with an Iron City Light and a Freya back. Yeah, I said it. Iron City Light. There. Now you know.

MI: Unlike Stephen and John, Bill is a Promise Keeper, and although he's had no personal experience in these matters, he's heard that "inter-course" is part of Love. He wonders which courses should he drink the Freya between? Between Pebble Beach and the Indianapolis Speedway? Between salad and the main course?
SR: I really think this interview would have been easier if I’d have had a few drams prior to answering these questions. You guys are certifiable, I swear to all the Norse gods. Really though, whisky and food pairing is becoming a hot ticket. Move over wine and beer, make room for the big guns! Freya, in particular, with its creamy sweetness is amazing with a variety of soft cheese. Brie, Camembert or Saint Andres.

MI: Speaking hypothetically, if we were to steal a cask of the Freya from a warehouse, do you think we'd be able to smuggle it out of Scotland disguised as New Jersey Governor Chris Christie?
SR: I think I’d rather ask the Governor to assist me in the smuggling endeavour. Now THAT would make for some headlines.

MI: In an earlier interview, we understand that we botched the premise of one of our questions that cited Highland Park.  We mistakenly suggested that Highland Park was using Budweiser-style "born-on dates" for some of their UK whiskies, when it turned out that HP merely put out a few "vintage" whiskies for travel retail and hasn't done so since.  Again, please don't kill us.  Oh, right, the question: Can you give us any information on new expressions Highland Park has coming around the bend?  HP has released so many delicious whiskies in recent years, and we're just trying to gauge how long it's going to be before Bill ends up in debtor's prison thanks to his compulsion to buy them all?
SR: Oh, you guys are forgiven for that. (I’ll never forget it though. “born on dates’, indeed! Grrrrrrr) Ok, back to the question at hand, new Highland Park expressions. You may have read something about a little bottling that just hit the international streets called Dark Origins? Well, you can count on seeing it in the USofA in about two months. And I gotta say, MAN oh MAN, is this whisky a game changer! So much so that I fear for Bill’s financial health (I’ve already written off his mental health). DOUBLE first fill Sherry oak casks, 46.8% abv and inspired by the man who set us on this path so many years ago: Magnus Eunson. A churchman by day and a whisky bootlegger by night. But that’s all for now about that. I know, I know. I’ve got the whisky and you’ve got a mailing address….sheesh.


 --Look for our tasting notes on Highland Park's Freya tomorrow!

Saturday, July 12, 2014

The Lost Distillery Stratheden Vintage Blended Scotch Malt Whisky (100 ml shamanic pulque bottle)

Tasting notes:
      The Lost Distillery Stratheden Vintage noses like shiitake mushrooms being toasted on the smoldering remains of Robin Hood's yew bow and Little John's hawthorn quarterstaff alongside a river of sludgy meandering Graham's port (1985). Nearby, Allan-a-Dale is juggling Oro Blanco grapefruits from the rubyfruit jungle, while Friar Tuck is cleaning out PVC pipes with grilled corncob pipes. (No one said this would be easy nor that it would make sense.) Rarefied, transmogrified pineapple mists condensing into pulpy liquid, much preferred by Ferrari salesmen to mix with carnauba wax to polish hubcaps.

     It's sizzling on the tongue, as if I'm sucking on lollipops made from pre-LED Christmas lights, sparklers, red hots, and Michelle Pfeiffer's smokin' bedroom eyes (circa 1985). After thunder, rain. Although in this case, it's more like buttered lemons playing at a water park with their pals, bitter celery roots. And if the water was really an Aztec shamanic pulque, but not so sweet. We also got a rhubarb hemlock compote—Socrates reportedly said, "I just ate what?!" There's a tart-bitter, rindy, burnt pomme de terre thing going on, maybe wrestling with a thick lime fudge? Socrates notably didn't eat that. Despite my best efforts, not even my prose can diminish the power of this whisky!
     The finish is light and zesty—not lemon zesty; more elfin zesty like a trained poodle ice skating and pulling off a triple Lutz. There is a tinge of bitterness; perhaps the residual disappointment in the militarization of domestic sporting events, the corruption of international competitions, and the fickleness of judged events. It's smooth as a dragon kite soaring on an updraft.



--On the scale of movies from 1985 that are so damned fun and feel just right for this dram-- The Lost Distillery Stratheden Vintage is Back to the Future--It's vintage, it's now, it's a paradox, it's all good, McFly.


--Our thanks to Jeffery Karlovitch and the Lost Distillery for the sample!

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