Monday, September 26, 2011

The Dailuaine 27 Year Old 1983 Single Cask (3 cl MoM* mini)

[This is one Master of Malt sent us just to review for them (see our Disclaimer here).  Actually, that's what they asked of us before.  They didn't even ask that of us this time, but we like Master of Malt, so we're continuing the tradition.]    

Tasting notes: 
    We’re aware that Diageo owns Dailuaine Distillery, and we’re aware that Dailuaine is a significant contributor to the blend that is Johnnie Walker.  Actually, we know its whole char-grilled history.  As fiery as the real story might be, we prefer to imagine Dailuaine is actually Welsh for “Dwayne” and that there are an inordinate number of thugs wandering around Cardiff engaged in regular hooliganism while bearing that moniker. 
     What does that have to do with the flavor profile of this particular expression, you say?  Well…ok, nothing.
     On the nose this 27 year-old expression offers notes of a rich, dank field you traipse gaily through until you trip over a short but especially sturdy mushroom and land face down in the sweet wet soil, only to discover that the ground is sodden not with heavy rains but rather with bracing alcohol.  This heat on the nose focuses the attention nicely, preparing you for the especially smooth mouthfeel. 
     Then comes prickly, pointy, plucky spice, punctuated by pervasive, pulchritudinous phenol-derived synthetic vanillin.  The effect is immediate and actually a bit jarring:  you are transported from your fungal field faceplant to an immaculate dojo in which  you find yourself under the direction of a karate master who refuses to countenance Chuck Norris in any way, shape, or form.  This master—we’ll call him “Leonard”—already has you chewing on a glass bottle of vanilla extract in a wholly unorthodox but nonetheless enlightening exercise of tameshiwari.  “Be one with the Dailuaine on the mouth, young karateka.”  You do, you achieve zanshin, and Chuck Norris is none the wiser.
     You follow your master’s direction, but you swallow and the mouth of the Dailuaine 27 Single Cask becomes the finish, and you find yourself once again transported.  The setting is nearly idyllic, but then you realize, around the same time you notice the elbow patches on your tweed jacket, that the Dailuaine’s finish is all too familiar.  It is a run-on sentence: it goes, and it goes on for quite a while, but you’re not happy about it. 


--On the scale of famous Dwaynes (or Duanes)--
The Dailuaine 27 Year Old 1983 Master of Malt Single Cask is Dwayne Johnson—He went from professional wrestler to starring in and as The Tooth Fairy to playing as “The Rock Obama.”  He ranks below Duane Allman (rated by Rolling Stone the second greatest guitarist of all time (behind Jimi Hendrix)), but well above postmodernist sculptor Duane Hanson.



*--Master of Malt   (Dailuaine 27 Year Old 1983 Single Cask)
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Friday, September 23, 2011

An Impostor Abroad: Stephen visits Bowmore

     Not 30 minutes after I left Bruichladdich, I was having a dram at Bowmore whilst Distillery Manager Eddie MacAffer went to find Wellies for me and my fellow tourists, Barb and Brad.  Speaking of them, I'd be remiss if I didn't note what wonderful tour partners these two Canadians turned out to be:  you couldn't ask for a more amiable and laid back couple to join you in touring a distillery.  And I loved that Brad couldn't stop grinning from ear to ear throughout the entire afternoon.  But then again, it was a gorgeous day, and we were on Islay...
     With all due respect to Speyside and Campbeltown, Islay is simply and undeniably Whisky Heaven.  And the Bowmore Distillery is located in what might be properly called Heaven Central:  it occupies a prominent spot right on Loch Indaal, but is also just across the street from the Bowmore town center (even though Bowmore is the main town on Islay, it is, by most standards, a quaint village).
      On to highlights: 
--Bowmore Distillery offers a top-notch tour.  And you don't have to take my word for it:  VisitScotland gives it 5 stars.
--Bowmore malts some of its own barley on-site (but the majority of the barley Bowmore uses comes already malted from the mainland).  The malting floor is a key aspect of what makes the Bowmore Distillery--and the distillery tour--so great.
--Bowmore uses its heat exchange system to heat the public swimming pool next door to the distillery.   

--If you ever get a chance to try turning malted barley with the traditional wooden paddle, do it.  You'll suck at it, but do it anyway. (Eddie, however, will not suck at it).
--And if you ever get a chance to stand within a peat-fired kiln, under the deflector plates, do that, too.  No suck of any sort involved there.  
--Julie Torrance and all of the other people working in the Visitor Centre are tremendous.  And so is Brand Manager Cara Laing.  In other words, 5 stars is no accident.
  --If you get a chance to cut peat, do that, too.  Suck or not, you will walk away with a whole new appreciation of that traditional component of the distilling process on Islay (and elsewhere).

     As I mentioned above, my first interaction with Distillery Manager Eddie MacAffer involved his asking me my shoe size so he could fit me with Wellies.  Intentional or not, that move was completely disarming:  I would have never expected a distillery manager to get boots for me.  But that move was also, as I soon learned, characteristic of the man:  Eddie is simply disarmingly personable and charming (not to mention patient and generous with his time).  And though one would expect him to be incredibly knowledgeable about all aspects of the distilling process (which he certainly is), Eddie also has the uncanny ability to explain each step of that process in a way that is engaging and accessible to schlubs off the street like myself.  But again, you don't have to take my word for it:  take a look at the Bowmore site and check out the distillery tour video clips featuring Eddie.  
     Tasting Bowmore whisky straight from casks in the warehouse was nothing short of revelatory.  The peatiness is more pronounced, of course, but big spiciness comes through, too.  But tasting it that way was like tasting Bowmore for the first time all over again--and by that, I mean that the more concentrated notes in the cask-strength whisky reminded me of how taken I was with the unique flavor profile of Bowmore when I first tried it, now so many years ago.    In other words, the Bowmore Distillery tour reawakened my initial attraction to Bowmore whisky.  This, it seems to me, is the ultimate measure of a distillery tour.


Stay tuned for some "revisited" tasting notes on some specific Bowmore expressions in the coming days.  Since Bowmore minis were some of the easiest to come by in the early days of this site, most of the Bowmore "tasting notes" we've done date back to a time when our notes were less detailed, albeit punchier, but also nearly wholly detached from reality.  In light of that, Bowmore expressions surely warrant some revisiting on this site...

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

The North British 20 Yr 1991 Single Cask Master of Malt (3 cl MoM* mini)

[This is one Master of Malt sent us just to review for them (see our Disclaimer here).  Actually, that's what they asked of us before.  They didn't even ask that of us this time, but we thought we'd be good eggs and do it again anyway.]    

Tasting notes: 
The nose is like turning on the air conditioning in a car after months of not using it.  What’s more, cotton candy is jammed in the vents.  There’s also a Styrofoam container on the passenger seat that squeaks open to reveal an uneaten order of jalapeno poppers topped with grated Good n Plenty’s.  All of this is to say that the nose is decidedly… curious.  In the mouth, my lips curl into a Billy Idol snarl.  The initial impressions are of an emetic made of household ingredients by eighth graders at a slumber party.  Maybe we have so attuned ourselves to the pleasures and vagaries of single malt Scotch that we no longer know how to handle grain whisky.  Or maybe we're just snotty, pretentious gits (and if so, hooray! because that's what we were going for).  But for us, this dram unsettles the bowels more than a drunken wedding toast by a best man who got after the vodka tonics (and at least one of the bridesmaids) earlier than anyone expected.  There is little finish here, but the reviewer regards this fact as a blessing.  In fact, the whisky evaporates more quickly than the opportunity to buy a bag of crap in a woot off.  Sooner than it ought to be possible, a hangover settles in like a coastal fog.  It is times like this—when the body passes its judgment before the mind reaches a conclusion—that you realize the wisdom of research that regards the stomach as a second brain

--On the scale of 19th Century endearments--
The North British 20 Yr 1991 Single Cask is Gustav Flaubert calling his dear friend, Louis Bouilhet, “my left testicle”--Broadminded fellows that we are at The Malt Impostor, we very much wish to give this the benefit of the doubt, but the stomach makes its disfavor known.  Besides, M. Bouilhet’s middle name is Hyacinthe. 



*--Master of Malt   (North British 20 Yr 1991 Single Cask)
Check out other Master of Malt Drinks by the Dram here
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Thursday, September 15, 2011

An Impostor Abroad: Stephen visits Bruichladdich

I find reading bloggers’ accounts of distillery tours to be about as exciting to read as the twitter feed of…well, anyone, really.  Narcissistic drivel, most of it.  Just tell me if it was a good tour or not:  beyond that, if I wanted to know the information contained in the tour, I’d go on the freakin’ tour myself, even if it was going to be a very long while before I made it there.  So I’m not going to do that here.  Plus, in some cases, as was the case with Bruichladdich, I didn’t get a typical tour.  Mary McGregor, the Shop Manager, was kind enough to arrange for me to meet Jim McEwan, Master Distiller and Production Director for Bruichladdich, and Duncan McGillivray, General Manager, and to chat with them for a while as they took turns showing me around the distillery and the warehouses.  Both men were incredibly generous with their time, and I am thankful to them both for what was an amazing experience seeing the full operation at Bruichladdich.
      Without going into mind-numbing detail, here are a few interesting highlights: 
--Bruichladdich has an open mash tun.  Very cool and not typical.   
--Bruichladdich bottles its whisky on-site.  Also very cool and atypical.
--Every Bruichladdich employee is a part owner (that is, owns stock in the privately held company).
--There is a very relaxed and familial feel to the interactions between employees at Bruichladdich:  it’s clear that they’re having fun working there.  

--Bruichladdich produces gin made from Islay botanicals, and they produce it in a great old still called Ugly Betty.  Oh, and it’s far and away the best gin I’ve ever tasted.    
--Shop Manager Mary McGregor is da bomb.
--Bruichladdich has a system that treats waste water and the draff from the distilling process with bacteria that cleans the water and produces methane the distillery uses for fuel.  This keeps them from having to move waste water by tanker to Port Askaig, thus saving a monster amount of wear and tear on Islay roads and significantly reducing the distillery’s environmental impact.
     When I met Duncan McGillivray, he was in coveralls covered in white paint, because he’d been painting a part of the distillery before my arrival.  At Bruichladdich, this kind of thing is apparently not uncommon.  There are a lot of things that need to be done at the distillery, and just about anyone there can be expected to do those things if need be.  But it was very clear to me from the start that Duncan’s heart and soul is housed within the distillery’s walls.  

Jim McEwan’s reputation is larger than life, but I found the man himself to be down to earth and very kind.   Even in one-on-one interactions, though, his charisma and passion comes through, and the fire in his eyes is undoubtedly that of an industry trailblazer and a visionary.  Jim spoke to me of the recently released 10 year-old (it was five days away from release when I visited) and of the Port Charlotte whiskies as his children, with all of the pride and love one would expect to hear in the voice of someone describing his kids.  Then again, he also used a military metaphor (which I won’t repeat) in which the two featured prominently.  I guess the take-away is that he’s ready to send his own beloved kin into battle, and anyone willing to do that is indeed formidable.  Other whisky producers take heed:  the Laddies and the PCs are coming of age, and they’re coming for you.

     On the issue of producing so many varied expressions, Jim told me what he’s told many others:  this is something they had to do to make money while they made up the gap in their production from the years before they took over, when the distillery was shuttered.  But he also added another, more interesting angle that speaks much more to the current owners’ ethos:  “If you have this amazing kitchen, why would you want to make nothing but ham and eggs?”  Mr. McEwan, we here at the Malt Impostor couldn’t agree more:  why would you indeed.  Plus, John’s a vegetarian. 


Stay tuned for tasting notes on specific Bruichladdich expressions in the coming days...

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

The Lark Distiller's Selection Tasmanian Whisky, Cask #659 (50 ml holy water travel vial--46% abv)

Tasting notes: 
     To call your dram the "Lark Distiller's Selection, Cask #659" is to invite the question of the meaning of 659.  Have the good people at Lark gone through 658 prior permutations before settling on this expression as the epitome, the apogee, the ideal?  Has it been aged for 659 years?  Can a distinguished non-Impostor palate sense 659 distinct flavors and sensations?  Does it cost 659 Tasmanian monetary units?  Inquiring minds want to know.
     But the questing intellect soon is derailed from these overly intellectual pursuits and immersed into the world of the senses.  The nose brings you to your Manhattan brownstone, perched on a stool by the kirschwasser steeping in a sourdough bread bowl situated on your tastefully amber-colored Corian™ counter.  You follow your nose out of the kitchen up to the locked attic, after passing the door and throwing open the skylights, you caress the gunstock of your Purdey & Sons double-barrelled shotgun, and breathe deep of wafting Birchwood Casey gun oil.  Locked and loaded lest an intruder disturb your luxurious lassitude, you return to the kitchen and tend to your dal-pan that is currently melting ghee.  The air is redolent with many spices from previous uses: Nutmeg? Allspice? Posh Spice?
     On the mouth, a stroll into your mahogany-panelled library, where lately you hosted Martin Scorsese and Brett Ratner. Your masseuse, Stieg, already has the table open and the supple leather has rarely looked so inviting.  As per your request, your biceps are rubbed with lemon oil--Stieg looks askance, stifles a remark--and the hands whirl, swirl, and spiral on your torso, tracing arabesques of splendor.
     The finish is a one-note, a long note, the eddying of Swarovski crystals going down the Italian Carrara marble bath drain.  Who bathes in Swarovski crystals?  Evidently you do.

--On the scale o flush, romantic pieces in the 20th century classical music canon--
The Lark Distiller's Selection, Cask #659 is Ralph Vaughn Williams' The Lark Ascending--Perhaps the Lark merely ascended from the number 658, or from the southern hemisphere to the northern, but here at the Malt Cave, we like to think that it ascended to the top of the Capitol Dome, and pooped on all the Congressional heads.


--Our thanks to Rob Imperial and the Marsalle Company for the sample--and to Brian Dvoret for leading us through a tasting of the whole Lark line on the Boston Whisky Cruise!

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