Saturday, June 30, 2012

The SMWS 39.75 "Cuban Memories" (750 ml mondo mini)

We're unbelievably stoked to announce that The Malt Impostor will appear in the next issue of Unfiltered, the member magazine for the Scotch Malt Whisky Society.  We're so stoked, in fact, that we're inclined to start celebrating early.  Toward that end, we're publishing this review that is essentially our audition write-up for Unfiltered.  This single cask bottling is long gone, we're sorry to report, but we thought the writing was worthwhile (ok, we just wanted to make some use of it).  We're posting it au naturel--that is, sans links--as it would have appeared in print.  And we collaborated more closely on this one than usual, thus the joint attribution.  Enjoy, and look for us in the next issue of Unfiltered 

Tasting notes: 
     Tasting this Society bottling took the three of us back to our last corporate-sponsored vacation Malt Impostor Board retreat in Havana.  We’d like to think it no more than a happy coincidence that the flavors and aromas of this expression just happened to line up perfectly with our own Cuban memories; but as a rule, we try not to underestimate the suggestive power of a name.
     On the nose, there are the halved lemons, coconuts, and tangelos the hotel packed—by wrapping them in whole tobacco leaves—for us to take on our deep-sea fishing cruise.  At first, the nose is powerful and a little intimidating, like Bill’s post-ICU recollections of leaning out over the gunwale, wearing the souvenir chum necklace his ex-wife thoughtfully gifted him, as the captain gaffed a Great White shark.   (John hooked said shark, but forwent it once the first mate brought out the cerveza.)  After a little time—and what is “time” in the Caribbean?—the burn fades and the nose effloresces, much like a seasonal ground fire clears out stultifying shoots, tendrils, and thistled briers.
     On the mouth, this expression is as wonderfully intense as enjoying a good Cuban cigar when you’ve never smoked so much as a clove cigarette—or when you, as Stephen did at the Cohiba factory, mistake a complimentary Robusto for a giant, brown after-dinner mint.  The heat builds in the mouth and is pleasantly prickly, like the xeriscaped gardens of our hotel, each plant rubbed carefully with cayenne pepper to discourage foraging muskrats.
     The finish brings more tobacco, but also hints of marinated (or maybe even masticated) cherries and caramelized sugars.  Of course, such flavors brought to mind our good fortune on the last night of our stay, when we chanced upon a crème brulée competition.  There, we were allowed to eat the dishonorable mentions and, later at the after-party, to fire grain alcohol-soaked maraschino cherries out of a hollowed out Esplendido.
     Add some water, and this dram is more like licking a Stradivarius (Stephen distracted the museum guards while Bill went for it).  But like the Havana surf, that flavor soon washes away, leaving behind baby stingrays in shallow pools, silver coins corroded into conspicuous lumps, mermaid scales, and the slightest hint of peaches. This is a whisky that, like an island we know, takes a long time to appreciate in all of its complexity.  And the length of its finish rivals that of some communist dictators, but with much more pleasant results for all involved.


--On the scale of famous American expatriates in Cuba—
The SMWS 39.75 “Cuban Memories” is Papa Hemingway—irascible, imposing, and utterly incomparable, he was more of a character than any of the characters he wrote.  Living at Finca Vigìa brought out his very best.  And when your very best wins you the Nobel Prize in Literature, you’re pretty damn good.

                                                         --Stephen, Bill, and John

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

The Jura Elixir (30 ml portable holy water vial)

Tasting notes: 
On the nose, this dram presents with the distinct aroma of a caramel dissolving in a mild solvent.  And next to the bin within which this reaction is taking place, there is a line of butterscotch candies, each one unwrapped so as to yield its odeur to the room more efficiently.  Then, with a moment of shock, on the nose we discover that just off the edge of the table along which someone has lined up the butterscotch candies, there is a marzipan chalk outline of a murder victim, and some aspects of the outline don't quite compute unless you imagine that the victim met a rather gnarly death.  On the mouth, the slight astringency one would expect after nosing this dram doesn't disappoint--in that it comes through.  The marzipan reappears here, too, though this time molded into a shiv and smuggled stealthily into wherever it is that one is smuggling it.  There's also the delicious tang of sawdust on the mouth, the powder-fine remains of a beautiful mahogany dresser dismembered with a tool inappropriate to the job.  However, we found great sweetness here as well, the kind one would expect to find after having flossed with cotton candy.  The finish presents with a hint of artificial sweetness or perhaps artificial coloring (we imagined F, D & C brown), though it's hard to say which.  The overall effect left us a bit split on this dram.  In fact, it provoked one Impostor to deem it eminently regiftable (should one be so fortunate as to have such friends as those who would give one whisky as a gift).  In response, another quickly but quietly quipped, "I'd take it."


--On the scale of split decisions that left viewers a bit dissatisfied--
The Jura Elixir is Rocky Balboa's loss to Apollo Creed in the film Rocky--It's certainly less unjust, but no less unexpected, than Michael Spinks' defeat of Larry Holmes (mainly thanks to the fact that Rocky wasn't real).  Plus, it was the perfect setup to the sequel.   

Ooops!  Sorry about the spoiler there.  Though if you don't know what happens in the film by this point...I don't know what to tell you, except perhaps:  I hope the rest of your initial introduction to Western culture goes well.


--Our thanks to Harry Hussain, Weber Shandwick, and all the good folks at Jura for the sample.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

The Classic Cask 1990 Glenrothes (50 ml Zim the Great* potion bottle)

Tasting notes:
     My first impression of the Classic Cask 1990 Glenrothes (18 years old) was pecans in caramel, or a pecan pie cut too soon after emerging from the oven.  But this pie was missing something.  Or perhaps it had one ingredient too many.  Still, there was an agreeable openness on the nose.  Think of farm-raised oysters which, owing either to low seratonin or learned helplessness from weeks of abuse, yield in the shucker’s hands with only slight pressure from his thumbnail.  As the nose opens further, the pecan pie shows itself to have a tarry quality, as if it rests in an asphalt crust.  None of this, however, prepares me for the mouth.  Oil and sand.  It’s a simple as that, except that the sand is so fine that you don’t taste the grit, just the mineral dryness that puts bright white balls of spittle into the corners of your mouth like those of a lecturer droning on long past the point that anyone can listen further.  But you’re thinking about what’s in your mouth and how you’ve never tasted anything like it.  Perhaps a diesel-drenched cormorant wrung out by a pair of FEMA-trained otters would come close.  Better still, fracking liquid, high in polyacrylamide and naphthalene, coursing down a hillside.  Mine, I’m not proud to say, is the revulsion of the rubbernecker.  For soon the lesser angels of my nature bid me to return to the glass.  With a steadily-building fascination, we find now floral hints—a hedgerow of gardenia swept up in that mountain flood, perhaps?  No, more like a heavy-scented flower on the cracked tarmac near the capital of a failed state during the second coup in a week.


--On the scale of additives for hydraulic fracking that look like amorous utterances between love-making Klingons--
The Classic Cask 1990 Glenrothes is “Alkyl Aryl Polyethoxy Ethanol.”--[John:  Stephen, is this acceptable to print here?] [Stephen:  I think you’re okay, John.]

*--Our thanks to Jerry Zimmerman (and Aron Silverman and the good folks at The Classic Cask) for passing on this sample to us.  In our book, that makes him Great.  Slàinte, Jerry!   

Friday, June 15, 2012

The Loch Chaim 1988 Macallan 18 Year Old (50 ml Zim the Great* potion bottle)

Tasting notes:
     On the nose, the Loch Chaim Macallan 1988 (18 years old) presents as Marie Antoinette's merkin, seized after the Battle of Agincourt, then lovingly preserved in a hermetically sealed drawer in the British Museum. [Stephen:  Bill! The Battle of Agincourt was in 1415! Marie Antoinette lived from 1755 to 1793! And what's a merkin got to do with it?] It's the Koa wood surfboard of Prince Kamehameha the Great after being scoured with pumice and oiled with coconut pulp. The surfboard, that is, not Prince Kamehameha.
     On the mouth, punky edam cheese, divested of its regal robe of cardinal red wax, wrapped instead in butcher's paper, left on a subway train, found by a six-year old, and eaten before his Danish au pair could stop texting her parents about her pet ferret to shriek at him. It's a port wine cheeseball, besplattered with roast hazelnut pieces—picked by specially trained wombats—and served by an impeccable waiter with a port-colored birthmark (in the shape of the Bacardi rum bat, which is neither a "rumbat" nor a "wombat"). All of which makes me wonder: why isn't the logo for Macallan a wombat? Anyone? Anyone? Bueller?
     It has a Macallan seriousness about it; almost as if it objects to my clowning it. It's as if it's playing Haydn String Quartets loudly to drown out the dissonant rambunguousness of my notes. [John:  Bill! "Rambunguousness" is NOT a word!]
     Something is, something as, something does: And the finish goes on and on. A beautiful Macoun apple, baked in Brie, maybe, sprinkled with brown sugar and currants. It reminds us of Beauty's relation to the Beast: a yin/yang dual, forming a frisbee to toss in the Elysian fields, frolicking towards Valhalla, then dangling on Calvin's spider webs, and finally ending up in a dystopic—but not dyspeptic—Marxist future. All good, especially if there is Raclette cheese melted on the apple, too…and no fish, no soap, no caramel, and no artificially introduced polypeptides.


--On the scale of sisters of famous South American guitar duos--
The Loch Chaim Macallan 1988 is Badi Assad--Do I read that as "Bad Ass"? How could I not, because the Loch Chaim Macallan 1988 is a bad ass; a bad-ass apple falling far from a namby-pamby apple tree: the sort of apple that will kick your ass, and take your name, all the while playing soulful ballads for you on a nylon-stringed purple heartwood guitar.

*--Our thanks to Jerry Zimmerman (and Aron Silverman and the good folks at The Classic Cask) for passing on this sample to us.  In our book, that makes him Great.  Slàinte, Jerry!  

Sunday, June 10, 2012

The Classic Cask 1989 Aberlour (50 ml Zim the Great* potion bottle)

Tasting notes:
     On the nose, the Classic Cask 1989 Aberlour (16 years old) presents with notes of honeycomb with hair caught in it.  Before you jump to the conclusion that that reference is meant to be off-putting, let me finish.  This isn't stray hair from the floor that the sticky substance picked up once dropped on the floor.  No, the hair caught in this honeycomb is Gwyneth Paltrow's--the result of a failed luxury treatment for split ends.  Improbable, you say?  When would Gwyneth ever have split ends, you protest?  Fine.  We also found notes of rosehip tea served in a Stan Smith Adidas sneaker--a left footer.  Is that sufficiently probable for you?  I thought so.  
     If the nose presents with honey, the mouth is dripping with it:  and not just any honey, but the rich stuff, reduced with Madeira in a Yoshi Blue™ frying pan.  There's something inorganic and, dare we say, rather urban on the mouth:  imagine being stopped at an intersection, only to have a Squeegee man wipe a honey-soaked rag across your windshield so he can charge you two dollars to squeegee it off.  And imagine it doesn't bother you in the least, because your windshield really needed to be cleaned anyway.
     The finish on this dram is unique, to say the least.  We got World War I medals dropped into a porcelain spit sink in a dentist's office alongside clean, loamy earth ordered from an airline shopping magazine.  Lest the mention of dentists get you down and make you consider doing bad things to yourself to avoid going there, it's not a real dentist's office in this case.  Rather, it's a sink from the set used in the classic movie Little Shop of Horrors in the scene featuring Steve Martin and Bill Murray.  Feeling better already, aren't you?  Thought so.  Now shut up, lay back, and read the rating!



--On the scale of clean dirtiness--
The Classic Cask 1989 Aberlour is Gopher, the eponymous burrowing rodent from the Disney movie Winnie the Pooh and the Honey Tree--definitely preferable to Perlite-fed worms, though not obviously better than The Underminer from The Incredibles.  Still, though Gopher may be less edgy than The Underminer, at least it's not the case that nothing is beneath him.

*--Our thanks to Jerry Zimmerman (and Aron Silverman and the good folks at The Classic Cask) for passing on this sample to us.  In our book, that makes him Great.  Slàinte, Jerry!   

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

The Glenfarclas 1953 58 year-old (50 ml airline bottle)

Tasting notes:
     Normally we thank the kind, if benighted, souls that provide our nips, drams, bottles, and analytical samples. However, this time we must thank God. (Pauses to get up from an extended Tebow crouch, replete with index fingers pointed to the heavens.)  
     With that out of the way, I've got to level with you.  We are a little afraid to start in on this. It's older than we are, for one, and it comes in a brilliant wooden case with dovetail joints. It's... well, it's hard to just crack it open and drink it so we stroke the bottle a bit, check out the tiny, rare-earth magnetic latch on the box, and read the attached literature for a while. (How in the hell did we end up with the bottle? I think we've found a suppressed sixth Thomistic proof of God's existence.) But as we note the ABV, we are stunned. How in the hell did this thing weigh in at 47.2% ABV after spending 58 years in a cask? Then it hits us. If the angels' share is, conservatively, 0.7% per year, and we multiply that by 58 years, then, carry the 2 (counts on fingers and toes), then it turns out that this was distilled at a whopping 97.8% ABV. This. Should. Not. Be. Possible. Stephen makes some crack about Satan guarding this whisky, else how would the angels fail to get their share?--but by this point none of us are laughing. Free whisky of impossible age and exceptional provenance, but with the kind of alcohol content you'd need the Cern accelerator to produce. What we have here the work of malevolent forces. It is not God whom we should thank. No, not at all. For one drop of this on our lips and we might as well drip a wax seal on our souls and express mail them to Hell itself.  As we wordlessly take this thought in, Bill hums the chorus from "Who let the dogs out?" but I impress upon him that we're not ready for middle-brow jokes about Cerberus.
     So having resolved not to drink this elixir of soul-stealing death we pause again to take in the box. What is it if not a tiny coffin for our loutish souls? And as we ponder the 58-year old whisky inside--wondering if that not some derivative of the number of the beast, what it would mean for this to be the last whisky to pass our lips--we know without speaking what we must do. That's right, not for ourselves, but for our readers. We will crack open this 50 ml bottle of doom and review it with all of our integrity and earnestness! Assuming we have any.
     Wood. Yes, we're starting there; and why not? There's some wood, okay? Think fatback kindling in a vat of sherry, or the prow of a trireme cutting through the wine-dark sea at the behest of an agrieved general, or jerk ham grilled on a cedar plank in the salty sands of Zanzibar. (And let me tell you, as the vegetarian in the bunch, I can detect ham. And there is ham here.) Nosing this dram I wish I was a Roomba® so that I could automatedly snuff up every last molecule emanating from this dram. Perhaps I can retrofit the gas masks in my panic room to handle 7/16" threaded opening of the airline miniature. But what need have I for a panic room anymore, when I am soon to be abused by trident-wielding Pan-shanked, hate-devils! At any rate, there is a faint fruit note, like fruit seen from underwater, or a trompe l'œil prompting ravens to peck noisily at tile. Cezanne's apples, Hieronymous Bosch's pears, and the Lady of the Lake fezzed à la Carmen Miranda. A Braeburn apple artillery shell with incredible complexity before coated in latex. Plums. Really old plums. Leading us to wonder whether you can age a plum without making a prune. Yeah, really old like that. Which leads us to ask what is the sound of one prune clapping?  And if it was in a forest alone with no one to hear it would it even--

      --damn it!  Concentrate!  There can't be much more time now!  The finish here is longer than the Lagavulin 25 recently drunk at the Albanach in Edinburgh.  Oh, memories of this earthly life!  Willst I be able to carry thee past Hell's gates as a diversion, or will my remembrances rather turn into cudgels and beat me into a remora of remorse?  The longevity of the finish makes us note, with bitterness and rue, how long our eternal torment will be. And the complexity bends our prose into paradox and illogic, so unlike our normal clarity and concision. Think of what it might be like if a sweet lassi energy drink were reduced into a pudding-like salve in a sous-vide oven and then applied to the holes in my breaking heart. My mouth is made happy--yes, it can at least enjoy that pleasure before my body becomes a vehicle for capricious wickedry--and we finally come to the conclusion: that it's worth it. Eternal damnation be damned!  All hail Satan and his no-money-down, 58-year-old whisky (with separate shipping and handling fee).

--On the scale of really expensive things that are actually investment opportunities--
The Glenfarclas 1953 is the Patek Philippe perpetual calendar chronograph watch, which is to say, it is both expensive and worth it. Think about it. At 58 years old it already has an AARP card, likes to get the early-bird dinner, it avoids places "with crowds," and it has all the socks and sweaters it thinks it needs. And in a few years it'll get Social Security payments well in excess of its price.  This is a value-investor's whisky if there ever was one!


--Our thanks to our mysterious benefactors for this extraordinary dram!

Sunday, June 3, 2012

The Balvenie Craftsman's Reserve #1: The Cooper (100 ml glask)

Tasting notes:
     Looking deep into the glass of the Balvenie Craftsman's Reserve #1: The Cooper is like locking eyes with a panther's 1000-yard stare, evoking a coiled tension---a perfection of motion---that is patiently waiting to spring. Fortunately, in the Malt Cave, we keep our glasses bound up with braided leather falconry jesses, so I wasn't worried about being attacked, except by Stephen's ferrets.
     The nose is like being in an old mahogany wardrobe festooned with brass hooks, feather boas, velvet cocktail dresses, and Narnia's cinematic witch, Tĩldã Swĩntõn and her equally hot German half-sister, Ümläüt Swïntön. But I was fearless (if a bit gaucho); besides the Lion, I was armed with a bolas sporting two dark chocolate oranges dipped in caramel that was made with heavy goat cream and maple sugar. For me, the caramel emerged from its lair only after mouthing the dram and mounting the panther: Before that, it was all the wardrobe and the Swintons for me. And raisins marinated in prune juice. Oh, and to an occasional honorary MI team adjunct✳, it was the plasticine scent of a Beatles LP coming out of its sleeve.

     This panther turns out to be hard to tame, but Bagheera-like in his affection for humans. On the mouth, fire, more fire, and a tongue depressor crafted from winesap apples. Fire burning on Rolo pretzel turtle coals. Anise-scented wanna-be hippies (they ran out of patchouli) doing the Monster Mash-up Dance of the Seven Batiked Veils Against Thebes. And more fiery raisins, this time marinated in honey made from bougainvilleas and purple tulips. With water, earth against fire. [John: This dram really volatilizes my esters!]  Autumn sunsets, and piles of leaves. Adze shavings from the cooper. Maple bacon minus the bacon. [Stephen: There's a little known Zen koan: What is the smell of frying maple bacon without the bacon?]
     The finish is as if conceptual artist Damien Hirst (of the cow in formaldehyde "fame") sculpted lemon and mango zest into a flash-frozen medieval mace, and smashed my face with it. But it goes from fierce to friendly, as if a genetically altered skunk that sprays camphor metamorphosed into Pepé Le Pew wanting to keeess you, mwah, mwah, mwah. More caramel, raisins, and the Tallis Scholars singing the masterpiece Spem in Alium.

--On the scale of removals from actual, real reality--
The Balvenie Craftsman's Reserve #1: The Cooper is the content farm link to the blog post review of the song ironically referring to the novelistic adaptation of a movie based on a picture of a drawing of a poster of the Olsen twins wearing t-shirts emblazoned with images of bobble-head dolls of Derek Jeter and Lance Armstrong☃.--What does it all mean? We don't know. But the Balvenie Craftsman's Reserve #1 is the Bradley Cooper of Coopers: Fabulously Rich (in flavor), Charming, and Dreamy. Is any of this real? What is "real"? Can we know the real? Help?

--Our thanks to Nicholas Pollacchi and the good folks at The Balvenie for the sample!  

✳ --XMC❅ John L.

--"XMC" = "ex-MiniCooper" (and we know that it's really just "Mini" now and they're made by BMW)

☃ --Does not actually really exist!

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