Thursday, October 30, 2014

The Whisky Extravaganza Boston 2014--Bill's review

     The 2014 edition of The Boston Whisky Extravaganza was, as always, an adventure akin to a trio of ferrets rooting around in a cornucopia the size of a warehouse, stuffed with the finest of viands, the rarest of delicacies. In other words, we probably shouldn’t be allowed there, but we root and tunnel around, consuming glaore, somehow managing to disarm people’s natural reaction to call an exterminator when they see. Well, when they see John and me, anyways.
     This year saw a few changes, all of them welcome. First, the large tables in the center of the room were greatly reduced in number, which allowed a greater freedom of rootling and footling about. The food, too, was different: No carving stations, but instead, better salad and antipasto choices that included all-we-could-eat bacon and prosciutto. (Note to organizers: We could—and did—eat a lot of bacon and prosciutto.) There were also gourmet pizzas, and... [What’s that? Write about the whisky? Oh, sorry.]
     It was great to see the Shaynes, though we missed Gabby, and to meet Gemma Cole from Tullamore D. E. W., which I believe stands for Delightful Extravaganza Whiskies (that's her in the pic above). Also, all of us having long been Laphroaig lovers, we leapt at the rare chance to meet and chat with John Campbell (see pic below), the Master Distiller from Laphroaig and star of the Evil Dead movies!  [What’s that? It was Bruce Campbell who starred in the Evil Dead movies? Oh, my bad.]
     As always, there were so many sterling whiskies to try that it would have been the work of many nights to try them all. The standouts for us were the Kininvie 23, the Girvan 25 and 30 year old grain whiskies, the Highland Park SMWSA offering of which Julio’s bought the entire allotment, and the wonderful line of First Editions Whiskies poured by the knowledgeable, self-confessed spirits geek, Jillian Boone. We also sampled the 13 and 23 year old Craigellachies, which were terrific, and then settled into the Classic Casks. After exulting in their offerings, culminating in a glass of their remarkably delicate and flavorful 40 year old blend, we moved on to SMWS line, which was, as always, spectacular. We capped the evening with an unexpected pair of jewels, veritable vintage diamond earrings of blended whiskies. Joe Hyman, with Skinner auctioneers, was pouring from a Chivas Regal bottled in the 1950s, and another bottled in the 1960s. It was astonishing to see how the times which were a-changing changed also what the master blenders were accomplishing. It was like stepping back through a time portal to other eras and marvelling at the radical differences.

     All told, there were about 110 whiskies to try. Assuming I had 25 nips on the night, combinatorial theory says that there were about 3.6 septillion distinct sets of 25 I could have tried. It’s hard for me to imagine a more perfect set of nips than I had, and I assume everyone there felt the same about their choices. Yum, yum, yum. 


Wednesday, October 29, 2014

The Glenfiddich Excellence 26 Years Old (50 ml great-souled mini)

Tasting notes:
      Before I open this, we’ve got to talk about the name.  I mean, this is a real hardo move to just go ahead and give yourself name like this.  It’s kind of like the Subaru Impreza except without the subliminal communication.  They just own it.  Love this move, Glenfiddich. 

     On the nose, it’s French linen tea towels mopping up orange juice from a marble tiled countertop.  Then more citrus.  Sliced lemons pulled off of the flank of a poached salmon and dropped into glasses of iced tea when the kitchen prep workers were too busy to cut fresh ones.  It really clouded up the iced tea but none of the customers minded. Biscuit-sized rounds cut from slippery elm branches.  Then they are sanded into hockey pucks by urchins, offers Bill.  The sea creatures? I wonder.  No, street kids, was his tart reply. 
     I see.  But that would be incredibly artisanal to have the hockey pucks made by echinoderms.  I can just see the product description touting the “pedicillaria-made sustainable hockey pucks.”  I know the latest rage is aquaponics.  But why not put the humble sea urchin to work in a craft?  Give a sea urchin a puck, he plays hockey for a day.  But teaching him to make a puck…
     What’s that, Bill?  You want me to talk about the mouth?  Okay.  Lovely mouth.  Spicy, sweet, savory.  A taste delight.  Beautiful mouthfeel.  The Aristotelian mean has been hit with a bowman’s precision.  I now think they missed the opportunity when they named it with an English word.  Why not get your Greek on and call it "The Arête”?
     The finish is really wonderful.  Think of a Louisiana bayou-themed water park with a “lazy river” style inner tube ride.  Lush vegetation crowds in at all sides, the water is warm except in those spots where the shade cools it, and you can stick your hand down into simulated cypress tree root balls to noodle frosty beers.  After you’re refreshed you can throw the empties at the heads of your friends.  If that sounds like a good way to spend a Sunday afternoon, then I think the Glenfiddich “Excellence” is going to be your go-to whisky. 

--On the scale of Aristotelian virtues--
The Glenfiddich Excellence 26 Year Old is megalopsychia--No, this is not one of Godzilla's rivals, it’s the virtue having to do with honor on a large scale.  The great-souled man thinks himself worthy of great honors, and is.  'Nuff said. 

--Our thanks to Wm. Grant & Sons for the sample! 

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

The Ardmore Traditional Cask (50 ml time capsule)

[With the Ardmore Legacy coming out, we thought it was an appropriate time to review the old Ardmore Traditional Cask, which is set to be tweaked next year.] 

Tasting notes:
The Aardmore Traditional Cask opens with bananas flambée moving rapidly towards bananas flamboyant. In fact, it was like a banana boat, not that kind of banana boat, but a canoe carved out of a giant banana, that’s on fire, producing self-referential power-chorded smoke on the water. That is to say, the nose is a Joycean narrator, but less reliable.
     On the mouth, heavily-salted retsina brownies. There’s a high note that goes low, like the tag applied at second base to an imprudent attempted steal. For a non-Islay expression, it’s…pretty darned Islay. Kind of like a Bowmore long-lost cousin, a feral malt that’s long been locked in an attic, forgotten by civilization. Not clear whether the situation is more Flowers in the Attic or Flowers for Algernon: A consensus could not be reached. There’s a light oily peat, a refracted full-spectrum peat, cutting through volcanic ash like a Q-tip through earwax.
     The finish is part and parcel with the mouth, an axis that goes straight from sinus to intestines, bringing pleasant peaty fire the whole way down. 

--On the scale of Aardman Studio characters--
The Aardmore Traditional Cask is Gromit--Wallace loves cheese just a bit too much, and I don’t think this dram would go well with cheese, except maybe smoked gouda. Gromit is expressive, Gromit is ingenious, Gromit saves the day. Sorry, Wallace, maybe next time.

[John: Bill! It's "Ardmore," not "Aardmore"! Canna ye nae spell Gaelic?]


Saturday, October 25, 2014

The Ardbeg Supernova 2014 Edition (50 ml space cargo mini)

[There was great fanfare in the blogosphere over the release of this whisky and the craze amongst mini collectors that predictably followed. This led some prominent whisky bloggers to destroy the minis they were sent--and to do so on video. Ever the followers, we decided that we, too, needed to make a statement against the avarice of collectors who are always out to pay big money for these limited editions sent to bloggers. We recorded our efforts, which we've deemed "The Supernova Swag Smash," though as you can see from the video towards the end of this post, we found the whole experience less than fully satisfying.]

Tasting notes:
    Put your nose near the glass and inhale slowly. If you brace for the peaty hit of an Ardbeg, you  just might miss the super-smoothness on the nose. There's a well-oiled peat smoke sliding between the fine mesh in the kiln and between the individual grains, barely touching any of it. "Oh, it's an Ardbeg," John muses. Yes, it is, but it's a golden Ardbeg: balanced, pretty, and nice. This is the Ardbeg you want to bring home to meet your parents, despite the fact that it also smells like a forest fire scorching rabbits, elven dells, and Rapunzel's hair. Finally, there's a note of lemon spearmint toothpaste on a toothbrush fashioned from an oak twig with an acorn hat fixed to one end (but no acorn).
      The mouth carries the lemon spearmint toothpaste theme forward, albeit without great fanfare: imagine a lesser-known olympiad's torchbearer gliding through Manhattan largely unnoticed (he's running with two spray paint cans to the Bronx Graffitilympics). The mouth oozes complexity: cut grass on Pebble Beach that was recently traversed by a seal; super-refined sugar dusting an oat and craft seaweed scone on a cedar plank; a hipster's attempt to market artisanal weeds. Bill bellows, "Bark!" which we take to mean "Yes!" It's so smooth and light, so beautiful and balanced, we can't help but agree. Bark, indeed, Bill.
     The finish is delicate, delicate: it's weaving Gwyneth Paltrow's hair into a microscopic mesh sieve for processing campfire ash into a super-fine face buff. Long on spice, it's a crackling finish of folded linen napkins. This is what onion could be without the tears and bad breath. It's unbelievably smooth, savory and sweet for a whisky at 55% abv. This is a dram that could easily achieve escape velocity on its own.


--On the scale of remakes of classics that work really well--
The Ardbeg Supernova 2014 is The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo--The original Swedish film (and trilogy) was excellent, but the Hollywood version is, to the minds of many fans of Stieg Larsson's millennium novels, more faithful to the books and captures something important that the Swedish films seemed to have missed.

The M. I. Supernova Swag Smash

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

Friday, October 24, 2014

The WhistlePig Boss Hog Rye Whiskey, 2014 Edition: The Spirit of Mortimer (750 ml bomber with pewter angelic Mort)

Tasting notes:
      We know that whiskey tasting is more art than science.  We know that the context matters, suggestibility is rampant, subjectivism hides behind every corner.  There is no way to correct for every variable.  One thing is certain, however.  Every whiskey tastes great when you’re enjoying it in the company the distiller, eating pork sliders, rubbing shoulders with the glitterati, and cooling oneself off by licking the flanks of a massive ice sculpture

     So this raises a fascinating question: how would the Boss Hog fare when we subject it to our normal tasting protocols?  These protocols, I should remind our readers, were once lauded by none other than Consumer Reports as “apogee of risibility, the apex of tartuffery.” Under such rigorous testing, would the Boss Hog continue to impress?
     The answer is yes.  The nose is a hecatomb of pecan pies baked to honor a nameless god.  Then a lemon grove with trees rooted in coffee grounds.  Whole meadows of wildflowers aspiring to become wax-wrapped hard candies.  A dell of amanita muscaria mushrooms eaten tenderly by penuche reindeer, who then prance around on their back hooves to imitate satyrs.  Delicious, candy satyrs. 
     The mouth is a gunpowder-dusted caramels.  Or perhaps it’s better to say that it is salted cubes of C4 explosive.  My eyes widen in the manner of an anime character surrounded by rainbows and shooting stars.  For I am anticipating the classic rye bite at the center of the mouth.  But this is nothing like the aggressive dentition of those dusty, floor-level rye whiskies of yore.  No, the bite here is that of your lover on your ear: soft and warm, yet redolent with purpose.  Think of the activity of the most unusual menthol in your mouth, but with taste of tree syrup obtained by false promises from a magical forest. 
     The finish brings more surprises.  You expect the power of this whiskey to explode, or at the very least to bring jagged prison shivs to your throat.  But instead there is improbable smoothness, like the beautiful waves on a Moog synthesizer, as if it were capturing the pulsing, infrasonic rhythm of the harmony of the spheres.  On the open, the flavor settles into an approximation of orange chocolates, wood resin, and caramel.  The palate pans back to take in the grove, meadow, and dell from a panoptic vantage point.  This is the transcendental effect of such a fine spirit.  

--On the scale of prehensile non-mascots for this whiskey--
The WhistlePig Boss Hog, 2014 Edition: The Spirit of Mortimer is this guy--What relish! What gusto! What a healthy diet! And he's blissfully unaware that he's been supplanted by a hog (no disrespect to Mortimer, of course).

--Our thanks to Gregory Gatti and WhistlePig for the sample!

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

WhiskyFest NYC is only a week away! Join Stephen there!

Last year, Bill and I stormed the WhiskyFest weekend, and all sorts of craziness ensued, including the dawning of Billy Glencairnhands™. This year, it will be on a Wednesday night, not spread out over a weekend--and my liver is thanking the gods as I type this. 

I will be flying solo this time around, but just look for the Grouchos and say hey if you see me there.

WhiskyFest is put on by the good people behind Whisky Advocate (and the guy in the pic to the right is the magazine's Editor, John Hansell). Now, if this picture doesn't capture all the fun you thought would expect from the vaunted WhiskyFest event , then you might want to try the one below. 

If you're not already a ticketed passenger, regular tickets are still available. You can find them here:

If you're kicking yourself for having missed both the Early Bird pricing and the VIP tickets now that they have sold out, you may just be in luck: Stephen has one VIP ticket he's looking to sell for exactly what he paid for it, and nothing more and nothing less ($274). 
If you're interested, email him at:
       stephen (at)

The event is the biggest and the baddest of the whisky festivals you'll come across. If you're around and can swing it, it's well worth experiencing. 

Hope to see you there.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

L'esprit de Tiffon, Cognac (30 milliliter-seconds of Heaven)

[We do not normally review cognac, but when we received this vial from Wealth Solutions alongside the vial for the Gordon & MacPhail 1948 Glen Grant 66 Year Old, we decided we needed to review it. Oh, and the fact that the grapes involved here are crazy old didn't hurt, either.]

     This all takes place, in a sense, outside our normal spacetime continuum. The offering was sold out before being made available to the general public, and short of an inconceivable auction or the unimaginable good fortune of being a Very, Very, Special Friend to one of the Few Purchasers, we live outside the light-cone emanation L'esprit de Tiffon makes in the cognac field. The "milliliter-second" is not a commonly used unit in the study of Physics. How could it be? I just invented it, and I’m not a physicist. There are, among many other units, meters-per-second, foot-pounds (which are joules), and joules-per-mole—which obviously should be joules-per-ferret, but I digress. The milliliter-second is appropriate for a drink like this, because it reintroduces L'esprit de Tiffon into the spacetime continuum via a portal in the cognactime spectrum. In spacetime, L'esprit de Tiffon is made from pre-phylloxera grapes; for those of you not up on your wine history, phylloxera spread throughout France, beginning in 1863, wiping out much viticulture before remaining grape vines were grafted on resistant—if barbaric—American roots. (It’d be ironic if it weren’t nearly tragic.) These grapes, in the cognacspectrum, were harvested from from 1805 to 1860. Between 150 and 210 years old: Outside spacetime. The ml-sec is my personal consumption unit for this inestimable drink. So far, and I’ve been thinking and typing for quite a while, much like the House of Tiffon vis-à-vis this spirit, my consumption rate is 0 ml-sec.
      Two brief notes before the review. First, as the cognac aficionado of the three of us, I nearly managed to make off with the entire glass vial. Damn John for reading the fine print and learning the details of the sample we were sent! Second, I had to decide what vessel to drink the cognac from. A Tang Dynasty golden chalice? A Fabergé rock crystal goblet carved by renowned workmaster Michael Perchin? The cracked-by-my-dishwasher cognac snifter I’ve used since 1982? Ultimately, I decided that I’d just mainline it from the 30 ml-sec container that it came to us in.

Tasting notes:
     The nose of L'esprit de Tiffon is beyond the feverish and maniacal conceptions of Walt Disney’s crew of animators for Fantasia. Beyond Tex Avery. Apple blossoms sanctified by kisses from adorable children who always wash behind their ears, raw sugar plum faeries dancing to Debussy, militarized Free French Raisins—dried in Morocco, resistant to all forms of oppression. Rich butter caramel fudge: the smell of victory over Spain, Italy, and Prussia. A grasshopper chirruping in dried herbal leaves in a sandalwood cage festooned with candied clove lanterns. Crème brûlée paratroopers storming the beaches of Rio de Janeiro, intent on liberating Carnaval revelers from ennui and angst. Or caramelizing them.
     The mouth—I don’t want to drink my last few milliliters! I want it to stay here, untouched by time, forever scenting the room, calling back to my ancestors, relaying dim but unmistakable echoes of lost time to the undefinable future. But duty calls: A whooooooosh, a buzzzzzzzz, a Champagne flute playing Prélude à l'après-midi d'un faune, a cedar drillbit boring into the Koh-i-Noor diamond, a surge of, uh, amazing cognac taste.

[John: Stephen, is Bill saying that cognac tastes like cognac?]

[Stephen: Yes, John, yes he is.]

Impressions of the second, and last, sip are: distilled cinnamon bark that was purified and purged before being rolled into a stick, the exultation of landing the starring role in a Quentin Tarantino movie, and a wisp of aged but unfermented winesap apple cider like the last vestige of a dream that lasted an entire lifetime before sunlight woke you.
      The finish is expanding ghost oranges and hologram peaches eaten by a hungry soldier in Shiloh. There’s a continued dialogue between the spectral fruits, ever more heatedly engaging, the whole way down my gullet. C’est extraordinaire! C’est formidable! C'est à la fois une machine de temps pour le passé et l’avenir! C'est l'usage et l'abus de Google Translate!
      Before the rating, imagine all the occasions this cognac may plausibly have been drunk to celebrate or mourn milestones in French history. The conquest of Europe by Napoleon, Waterloo, the restoration of the House of Bourbon, the Orleans monarchy, the birth of Impressionism, the premiere of Le Sacre du Printemps, the conclusion of the Great War, the eviction of the Germans from Paris in 1944, the bestowing of the Légion d’Honneur on Jerry Lewis…the mind boggles while considering that the private reserve of the House of Tiffon remained undrunk...until now!

--On the scale of time machines available to humanity--
The L’esprit de Tiffon is The Book--A book is a bridge from the author’s mind to yours. It is a distillation of the author's thoughts, the author’s passions made incarnate through our imaginations, immortal ideas captured in crystal, a mirror to see one’s self, a flame to ignite our sensibilities, and a portal from our time to the author's. Notwithstanding the internet, it is humanity’s greatest achievement; the locale of our greatest works, the bedrock of our civilizations, and the hope of our future. If only the L'esprit de Tiffon existed in time, if only I could make manifest a bottle: What a book I would write for future posterity!

   --Our thanks to Piotr Suchodolski and Wealth Solutions for the sample! 

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