Wednesday, August 29, 2012
In the Visitor Centre, we met Jennifer MacIntyre, Brand Home Lead Guide for Caol Ila, and she marshaled us along with at least ten other folks into the tasting room to sample an impressive array of Caol Ila expressions. We ended up seated with a boisterous and unruly group of five Italian male tourists who knew very little about whisky, but were nonetheless very interested in learning the most rudimentary basics, even though only one of them really spoke any English. It was the fact that they so embodied Italian stereotypes that really disappointed me. I mean, do they really have to gesticulate so much when they talk? Of course, I'm just joking: their ignorance of whisky was truly appalling, and was much worse than their "hand talking."
OK, all joking aside (including joking about joking), we found the Italians to be great fun. They were so exuberant and curious and funny that one couldn't help but enjoy hanging out with them. Still, they were not ideal tasting customers: they asked so many questions, that if we hadn't tried to answer many of them, Jennifer would have never made it over to the other table of (apparently much more typical--and probably much more boring) tasters. After all, typical tasters deserve attention, too. I think Jennifer noticed that we were helping keep the Italians at bay, or at least from dominating her time completely, and later she showed us a level of kindness that I could have sworn had a hint of gratitude in it, but that may have just been typical Ileach hospitality (I just don't think so, and I appreciate it). So even though I was less than fully focused on the whiskies we tasted, I was intrigued to taste new make Caol Ila and the Unpeated 12 year-old, and was thrilled to taste the 25 year-old. The standard 12 year-old and Distiller's Edition expressions were like visiting again with old friends.
The Italians took off after the tasting, so the tour was a much more focused and subdued affair. Our tour guide, Cara McEachern, was young and fairly new, but she displayed a great deal of knowledge of all of the workings of the distillery and demonstrated great poise in leading the tour (especially as she tried to talk over loud machinery in operation). She seemed quite at ease giving the tours, and her confidence and energy helped make it a very good tour. I'd probably say it was an excellent tour, but yet again, no pictures inside the distillery, which was a negative, as was the fact that nearly everything there was automated. There were only one or two other people in the distillery running the place when we were there. This, along with the fact that the recent renovation/upgrade had the place looking a little too clean and freshly painted--to the point that those factors took away from the character of the place a bit. Still, it's fascinating to see the sheer size of the operation, especially given that it's mostly automated and running on its own. This set up may lack a bit in terms of character, but this is where the industry is headed (or where it already is), so it's definitely worth seeing.
• The medicinal, iodine-y, adhesive bandage notes characteristic of standard Caol Ila expressions show up in the other expressions in the tasting as well, but in varied and cool ways. I won't give away any more than that.
• Caol Ila has one of the smaller Visitor Centres and distillery shops on Islay, but it has some of the rarer expressions on offer in it (including what I remember as a 5-pack that had a Port Ellen in it).
• 95% of the whisky Caol Ila produces goes to blends like Johnnie Walker--and leaves the distillery in tankers, no less--while only 5% goes to single malt expressions.
• The influence of Diageo as a major multinational corporation shows up more obviously in the Caol Ila distillery than in the Lagavulin distillery, but that's probably as much due to the previous bullet point (that is, Caol Ila's role in Diageo's overall production scheme) as anything else.
Caol Ila is a great distillery in a beautiful location, with wonderfully kind folks running the visitor experience. Beyond that, it's helpful to realize up front that Caol Ila whisky, for all of its Islay peaty charm, is a big, big contributor to blends. With that in mind, the distillery tour is a great experience for real whisky aficionados, because it's one of the few places you can see that side of the industry in its recently renovated form--and see it nestled amongst some of the best scenery Islay has to offer.
Stay tuned for reviews of more Caol Ila expressions in coming days...
Monday, August 27, 2012
The Malt Impostor is very pleased to note that we will have a presence at the Boston event this year (exact content to be determined) and the event last year in NYC was utterly fantastic, so we can recommend you join us for the experience. To help facilitate that very thing, we here at the Malt Impostor are very pleased to offer our readers a promotional code good for a 10% discount on their ticket prices to the Boston event. To get the discount, you must hit the red "Redeem Voucher" button on the Checkout page and type in the word "impostor" (without the quotes--and be careful, as the code is case-sensitive).
Book your tickets for the Boston event here:
You can find information on the other events taking place in the U.S. and around the world here:
Hope you can attend one of the events this year. We'll have some representation in Boston--hope to see many of you there! Enjoy, and slàinte!
Saturday, August 25, 2012
[This is the fourth of many shorter reviews we're posting on current Scotch Malt Whisky Society offerings (and we're keepin' it real with some Lo-Mob photographic effects). More details at the beginning of this other post. If you want to find out more about the SMWS or their bottlings, you should visit www.smws.com]
Wonderfully winey on the nose, like a Sonoma dump bucket just after the limos have exited the vineyard’s gates. Wet hay, soaked in wine, as though a drunk ostler had upended his “decanter”—in this case, a worn pommel holster that said ostler long ago lined with lacquer to prevent it from leaking or soaking into the leather—whilst chasing a stable girl. There are also hints of the wood cork our ostlericious friend had earlier in the day yanked from a dusty bottle with his teeth just before “decanting” it. On the mouth, this expression transforms to something like a cranberry liqueur—or better, a lingonberry ice wine from Sweden, complete with a pair of reindeer carved into its tall, thin, and otherwise overly mod bottle. Then comes a long, prickly finish. On the upper palate, it’s spongy yet full, like a Nerf™ ball inserted into your sinuses. Meanwhile, on the tongue, it’s pāhoehoe-esque, coating your mouth in smooth, undulating molten-ness that warms and reassures and leaves your feet intact, unlike normal lava.
The SMWS 30.68 is a free-range farm in Guadalajara—Why? Because there’s bacon there! Duh!
Friday, August 24, 2012
[This is the third of many shorter reviews we're posting on current Scotch Malt Whisky Society offerings (and we're working in some Lo-Mob photographic effects just to keep it fresh). More details at the beginning of this other post. If you want to find out more about the SMWS or their bottlings, you should visit www.smws.com]
The SMWS 24.122 opens the "Let's dine in reverse" meal with a buttery-crusted lemon tart garnished on the side with the wages of sin. (Tart? Garnished? Wages? Sin? Too soon after the DNA lab results, Stephen?) Really, on the side the pâtissier has gifted the tart with a dollop of blackberry ice cream with cherries on top—but it could be cherry ice cream with blackberries on top, because I am colorblind. Drinking it is like coming to consciousness after failed last rites and a miraculous cure in a large cathedral: Vast architectural detail, swung censers burning special incense normally reserved for Archbishops, Knights Templar, Rooks, and other cedar-carved chess pieces doused liberally with apricot sauce and blue cheese. Refined, balanced, spectacular. With water, it's out of the cathedral and into the florid florally Florida meadows.
The SMWS 24.122 is Teuscher chocolates airlifted daily from Switzerland to the United States--I love our global economy!
Thursday, August 23, 2012
[This is the second of many shorter, link-free reviews we're posting on current Scotch Malt Whisky Society offerings (and we're working in some Lo-Mob photographic effects just to keep it fresh). More details at the beginning of this other post. If you want to find out more about the SMWS or their bottlings, you should visit www.smws.com]
The nose on this sterling dram is the confluence of two very slow-moving rivers: one of maple syrup, the other delicious leatherwood honey. The two merge and then grudgingly break over a muskrat lodge constructed from popcorn and chrysanthemums. The mouth is an entire meal: hibiscus gratin, tartiflette with reblochon cheese and lardons, and the unmistakable notes of Tasmanian sea trout à la grecque. I would add to this a maple fruit sorbet and a mood of Icelandic reserve, as the finish far surpasses in depth and insight the conversation at the table. Stephen was struck by the wisp of exhaust pipe smoke on the finish. Bill remarked on how the addition of a few drops of water took the allegro of floral notes on the nose and mouth and slowed them to an adagio, but I thought was like walking into a room the Queen had departed fully two hours before. Enticing, mature beyond its years, and the object of intense, unreciprocated desire—as I enjoy it, I see that I have been thrown back into my middle school crush on [name redacted]. Oh, how I wished then that I could take her [noun] and [verb] it, just [adverb] [verb] it!
The SMWS 7.69 is demi-sec--It flourishes, unlike the Zapotec or Chiang Kai-shek; and it is more refined than a discotheque or hunt-and-peck. Finally, it is fitting to borrow from the champagne lexicon when describing this wonderful whisky.
Tuesday, August 21, 2012
[This is the first of many shorter, link-free reviews we'll be
crafting on current Scotch Malt Whisky Society offerings. We've been asked to give our objective impressions of these expressions. That is all that the SMWS has asked from us in providing us with these samples, and that's what we're providing. Still, if you're worried about our journalistic integrity, please see our disclaimer for MoM here--the same sentiment applies to these reviews. That said, if you want to find out more about the SMWS or their bottlings, you should visit www.smws.com]
The reconditioned Stanley Steamer screeches to a stop, tires smearing skid marks, and she steps out—sultry—smoking a salty, svelte, stubby, sea-brined cigarillo. She approaches me, and swooping down, the actress Rachel Macadams, heir to the road-tar-paving fortune of Angus MacTarpaver, kisses me sensuously, deeply, longingly, lovingly. [John: Bill! The actress is "Rachel McAdams," and you need to stop gibbering at the keyboard!] There are burnished kumquats rolled in halls of oats, tobacco, and bituminous coal. Strange sea life, from symmetric single-celled organisms up to sperm whales. Down in the beds, fossils not yet hardened, like semi-frozen ice cubes in an asphalt tray. All this to say: Islay Lucy! Was that too forced? [John and Stephen: YES!] It's an Islay incendiary device, lighting up the Tarry, Tarry Night! It's an Atari console being used to balance a tray of steak tartare that was smoked by burning Satan's boxer briefs. The long finish is a funnel down to...Dick Cheney's undisclosed locations.
Adding water brings out the floorwax at the Alhambra, a shy sweetness, temperate elk pudding, and urethane wheels with steel ball bearings skidding at a roller rink where hipsters skate (ironically, naturally) holding hands humming Clash songs against the sonic backdrop of Chuck Berry and Sha Na Na. It's sassy, like icing on a prison cake.
The SMWS 3.182 is Tchaikovsky's 1812 Overture (finale) performed with real cannons--Boom! Boom! Boom!
Thursday, August 16, 2012
Who-WEE! This is bourbon! This is the kind of bourbon that will get you out of bed early—and if you’re not careful, put you right back there before lunch. If it were an India Pale Ale, it would be an Imperial IPA of hop-tastic cunning and stupefying deliciousness. If it were a dictionary, this baby would be the OED. If it were a member of the weasel family, that’s right, I’m looking at you, Mr. Fisher Cat! Run on, now, back into woods. Please?
But as a bourbon? Let’s put it this way: If it shushed you at Church, you wouldn’t talk again until Wednesday. There is so much vanilla on the nose I’m reminded of my Cousin Sarah’s Brown Cows. Two scoops of Breyer’s vanilla ice cream in a tall glass, then Coca Cola (pronounced “Co’cola” in her coastal North Carolina drawl) filled to the foamy top. So delicious. So refreshing. And that’s the Four Roses Single Barrel in a nutshell. Refreshing to the point of invigorating, like a really great bar of soap in an outdoor shower. Now hold your horses, I’m not calling this whiskey soapy. Just work with me for a minute. You’re in an outdoor shower stall, unfinished cedar walls on all sides but open to the sky above and below the shins. A couple of Daddy Longlegs are your only company. The low crash of waves can be heard over the water shooshing out of the shower head, and both of the sounds mask the creak the door makes when the love of your life walks in to get your back. Sure, this scares the hell out of for a second (did you not see the ABV on this bourbon?), but quickly enough you’re ready and offer your shoulder for some scrubbing.
Though I’d rather not leave this image behind, my duty bids me to forge ahead [Stephen: Yeah, John, “duty”; that and the State of Iowa v. Malt Gone Wild. Remember that? Two malts, one Glencairn Cup was your idea! Jeez!] The legs on this whiskey just hang there like they’re sitting in a hammock chair on a screened-in porch. The vanilla and caramelly nose gives way to greater complexities. A maple wood-cured venison cutlet in a foil pack with parsnips and bicycle inner tubes. Dark chocolate orange candies. Oh, and a few of those banded hard candies that look like little pastel Saturns and taste like sweet tarts, the kind you find for 25 cents in the vending machines near the cash register at the Piggly Wiggly. There’s the taste of an acquisitive child’s handful of red hots, but without the red and a really different kind of hot. Sure, there’s cinnamon, but I’m thinking of the caramelized overflow from a cherry pie landing on the baking sheet, a pulsing magma of sweet and savory that you’d risk second-degree burns to have all to yourself. This feeling envelops you like a ridiculously large water balloon that hits you in the face and bends, bends, bends, before SNAP exploding all over you. What you thought was a sniper round is a bomb of flavor that radiates through you. Adding some of that water balloon water tames the expression, but only slightly. Imagine opening the door of a boudoir with game-used ash baseball bats inside. The water gives something new to the finish, too: a slow upsurge, like an economic recovery so slight that it requires an exotic metric (and a lot of election year spin) to detect. Lastly, there’s pear in there, a brine-soaked sponge, and a pink flip-flop, size two, dusted in beach sand. In short, it's just candy. To understand its delights, imagine nonagenarians arrayed in a phalanx of wheelchairs in anticipation of a visit from the only therapeutic hedgehog company to still receive state funding. They hold out their arms to receive the little darlings, swaddled in angora blankets of agape, tenderness hanging in the air like Spanish moss on a southern oak older than the French-American War.
The Four Roses 2012 Limited Edition Single Barrel is their propensity to self-anoint when in the presence of toxins--When they catch a whiff of an unusual smell, it triggers a Flehmen’s response and much foaming at the mouth, at which point they lick their spines to make themselves into poisonous badasses. I mention this response because like hedgehogs, Stephen nosed the Four Roses, began grimacing wildly and foaming at the mouth, and attempted to lick his own back. (Bill has the video, Stephen, so we’re expecting you’ll see the wisdom of sharing what remains of the whiskey.)
Labels: Four Roses
Friday, August 10, 2012
The "The Macallan 10 Fine Oak" begins with two questions: First, in the preceding sentence, since the "The" is already there, is the 'The' in front of the other "The" gratuitous? [Stephen: Yes.] Second, since the label essentially promises that the cask wasn't previously filled with sherry, why am I getting so much sherry on the nose? Ghosts of departed quantities?
After the sherry that shouldn't be there—like the 'The' in front of the "The"—a round soft nose, but with a lurking menace behind it, sort of like a YouTube mash-up of Pete Postlethwaite and Rudolph, the Red-nosed Reindeer. Star fruit, crenshaw melons, maraschino cherries marinated in a honey suspension of snap dragons and narcissus. Dried apricots. And vanilla—of course.
Smooth in the mouth, with fresh apricots. Instead of sherry casks, did The The Macallan use a hogshead previously employed to transport apricots? [John: No.] Peppercorns wrapped in raisins bespeckling a five-year aged Gouda (with a touch of salt), but without the cloying funk. An avocado-pit ball-gag from the fine oak nightstand of an eco-dominatrix who doesn't think PETA is sufficiently serious about sustainability. Sorghum pancakes made with wheatberries ground by a marble mortar and pestle and elephant cerumen melted onto a paper plate by the sheer force of John's personality.
Finishing with candy cane crooks wielded by jelly belly shepherds in fields of phlox. Steadfast intransgience yields to mounting self-referentiality, devolving through whimsicality to the essence of tenderness.
The The Macallan 10 Fine Oak is a black hole--Enormous gravitational attraction, no actual physical space occupied in our universe. It's possible that black holes are portals through time, space or dimensions. The The Macallan 10 is a portal to Planet Eudaimonia, and the event horizon is always receding.
Monday, August 6, 2012
Stephen's leading his first formal tasting tomorrow night, and the group organizing the event, WhiskyRI, asked him to write a guest post for its blog. Click on the link below to see the post:
Enjoy and slàinte!
Sunday, August 5, 2012
Fortunately, we were allowed to take pictures during the warehouse demonstration that followed the distillery tour. Iain MacArthur and his 40+ years of experience commanded the room, even though the staff had crammed too many people into that particular warehouse demonstration--and despite the fact that it was a rather rowdy bunch. Now, I attended the Lagavulin warehouse demonstration for the first time a little less than a year earlier, with a wonderful guy named Paul leading the demonstration. But Paul had fewer than a dozen people to contend with, and he poured rather standard stuff for us. Iain, by contrast, had upwards of thirty people in the room and opened some amazing stuff for us. I should note that while Paul did a great job, Iain did a fantastic job: he held that room in more or less rapt attention, mostly just by dint of his formidable presence. Still, the charming stories, Iain's wiping the whisky off his hands by rubbing it on a guy's head, and the back-of-his-hand level of familiarity with the distillery and its whiskies didn't hurt, either.
Somewhere during my post-Islay travels, I lost my list of the whiskies he poured for us that day, but I do remember an 8 year-old and an 18 year-old, both straight from sherry casks, and I think I remember a 14 year-old from a bourbon cask. Whatever they were, they were amazing, and I was given the impression that at least some of that amazingness was for my benefit. For that, I am deeply grateful. I do not for a minute believe my presence warranted such a revision to the warehouse demonstration, but such is the hospitality of Iain MacArthur and Lagavulin. Many thanks, again, all around.
Finally, having a chance to chat with Iain in his office over a Port Ellen was a pleasure, once again, I am quite sure I did not deserve. I'm glad to say, however, that I didn't let that stop me. Iain was so kind and gracious, I don't really know where to start. I will say, though, that he is about as steeped in Islay as a human being can get, and it makes him a singular figure, and one whom I feel extremely lucky to have had the chance to meet. (And if you want some flavor of the man, he made an excellent video for Lagavulin that you can find here.)
• Though Lagavulin is known for its peaty character, it's only peated to 35 ppm. Oh, and the distillery reeks of the peat notes that are very particular to Lagavulin. For me, that last fact made the distillery tour a ridiculously happy experience.
• Lagavulin is just down the road from Laphroaig, which is just down the road from the town of Port Ellen (and Ardbeg is just down the road from Lagavulin). And it takes longer to get to any of these places from Bowmore than you'd think based on a map or a SatNav/GPS. Especially in the rain.
• Like Ardbeg, Lagavulin boasts a stunning location right on the water, and one that warrants a little time to admire--even in the rain.
• Lagavulin is owned by multi-national drinks company, Diageo. On Islay, Diageo also owns Caol Ila. I assume the no photographs policy is corporate dictum, in part because Caol Ila has the same policy. Otherwise, though, nothing about my distillery experiences at Lagavulin felt corporatized. I credit the amazing people running the distillery and the Visitor Centre for the authentically Ileach feel to the place. That and the location.
• The Lagavulin distillery only bottling, should you be so lucky as to find it there when you visit (it's often sold out), is basically a cask strength version of the Lagavulin Distiller's Edition, which another way of saying it's incredible.
I have a very, very special place in my heart for Lagavulin. It's the stuff that got me so into whisky in the first place. Beyond that, I simply love the stuff. And my experience at the distillery--and especially the opportunity to meet and chat with Iain MacArthur--did absolutely nothing but reinforce that sentiment.
Lagavulin is sometimes maligned for being part of Diageo, on the grounds that Diageo is too "corporate." When you visit the distillery, however, you see why Lagavulin continues to be an extremely popular brand, especially amongst whisky afficianados, despite its connection to Diageo: it's the people behind the spirit. They know its long traditions well, and they honor and keep them close to their hearts. The result is a whisky as excellent as the people who produce it.
Stay tuned for reviews of more Lagavulin expressions in coming days...
Wednesday, August 1, 2012
On the nose, this dram is a felt-tip marker used to make a Bison hide, dried in a cave with peat smoke, resemble more closely reptilian skin. The peat and smoke on the nose are beautifully balanced and invite the noser into the aforementioned cave to discover more wonders therein, including the complete fossilized remains of a velociraptor gnawing on a caiman that had inadvertently wandered into a caveman's fire--lying just beneath a cave painting version of the Kama Sutra. The mouth leads one out of the cave, as it were, to the higher reality of refinement that the nose obscures ever so slightly. That is, on the mouth one comes to participate in the essence of Islay in its ideal, Platonic form. Either that, or it's like anthracite flavored Orbitz™ gum that will surely blacken, rather than whiten, one's teeth. The finish adds a note of brininess, albeit a controlled one: the flavor bubbles up as though from the charcoal filter of an aquarium populated only by defanged moray eels (you know, so you can play with them...). Add water, and it turns this dram into a powerful tool, quite unlike Donald Trump. It's much more like Wittgenstein's poker...or the business end of Socrates' irony: it's sharp, commanding, and likely to leave lesser individuals at a loss.
The Ardbeg Alligator is a successful beach rescue fire--Sure, you could have learned to spear fish and would have had your friend Wilson™, but this flaming pile of smoky goodness worked out so well, it's easy to let your other options go by the wayside.
*--Our understanding is that, in this case, the Committee release and the regular release were basically the same whisky.