Wednesday, January 30, 2013

The 1991 Balblair Private Collection 20 Year Old Crozes-Hermitage finish from Gordon & MacPhail (100 ml walking the dog bottle)

Tasting notes:
     As is our Impostorish custom, we prefer engaging in wholly uninformed speculation about certain provenances to actually studying up on the region.  After all, there's precious little time left after assiduously researching the obscure facts and arcane vocabulary on which our writing style depends.  Such is the case with Crozes-Hermitage, the place from which the finish for this lovely Balblair originated.  "Crozes", as it turns out, are the grooves inside of casks into which the heads fit to help make for a tight seal.  So far, so appropiate.  But then a "hermitage" is a habitation of a hermit or--oxymoronically enough--multiple hermits (the latter being known in some circles as a misanthropy club).  So are we to understand Crozes-Hermitage as a barrel groove living alone?  Is that even possible?  Is that like the sound of one hand clapping?  Whoa.  That's really deep.  And deafening.

     As is also our Impostorish custom, we always feel at liberty to stop suddenly and plow off in a new direction or to veer sharply, thus imperiling the tenuous narrative threads we very nearly always accidentally find ourselves weaving (Woohoo! Four adverbs in a row! Score!).  Such is the case here as well.  Baffled by the questionable and potentially metaphyiscally problematic provenance of casks from "Crozes-Hermitage", we moved on to nose the dram and taste it.  On the nose, we got craneberries.  That's no typo: Early European settlers called cranberries that when they first encountered them, thanks to the shape of the blossoms.  So yeah, we got craneberries; that is, we got old school cranberries, the hardcore, longstanding New England kind.  This would be the Cliff Claven Sharp varietal, canned in cherry cranberry sauce.  That's what we get on the nose--at first.  Then the "hermitage" part suddenly becomes clear to us:  the note is of a lone cran(e)berry left on a tropical beach to see if it makes friends with coconuts and pineapples.  It doesn't.  In true hermit form, it crawls instead through the bunghole of a musty, neglected barrel that once held grog and sets up habitation there.  Hey, at least it was beachfront property.
     [Tires screech, several G's worth of force come on all at once, whiplash ensues] On the mouth, this dram is wonderfully aggressive with red fruit.  It's Conan the Balblairian on a quest to beat the Stoicism out of the Swedes (Good luck with that, dude).  The drying, tart finish of lingonberries mixes with the dank earthiness and wood on the mouth like this Conan's early encounter with the SJMG (Swedish Jam Makers Guild), armed as he was with nothing more than a large piece of freshwater driftwood.  [The steering wheel spins, massive force from the opposite direction, tires struggle to grip the road back in the original direction...]
     On the finish, there's more red fruit, if you can believe that.  A sake and raspberry jam reduction.  Cinnamon red-hots in juniper, burned together during sand paintings.  It's a truly haptic finish, not unlike trying to eat raspberry jam through a sock.  Despite the wrong impression that last description might give some of you (mostly a risk with the uninitiated), as we sat and tried this together, we found ourselves murmuring "Oh, this is lovely," in unison.  As in all at once.  That means it's true.
--On the scale of relative sweetness--
The 1991 Balblair Private Collection 20 yr. Crozes-Hermitage finish is the saying "Life is sweet"--not all the way to syrupy, and certainly not saccharine sweet, it's a wonderfully balanced, if not profound, comment on our existence, and one that we would all do well to keep in mind.


Our thanks to Chris Reisbeck and Gordon & MacPhail for the sample! 

Monday, January 28, 2013

The Ardbeg Day - Feis Ile 2012 (750 ml power-to-the-people bottle)

Tasting notes:
     The nose gives me the sense of cherry popsicles so powerful that it recalls the back porch and the hot night on which I last ate one.  Cicadas buzzed with an urgency fueled by humidity, the Spanish moss hung low from the branches diffusing the moonlight into a gothic mist, and fireflies flew by as if bobbing in an calm ocean, emitting their sallow lights like signal flares shot not in panic but for sport.  A jar of camphor quickly opened and just as quickly closed.  Sterno® canisters stuffed with honeycomb whose unionized bees pollinated only cherry orchards and never stung the longshoremen.  The nose gives only a hint of the dark, briny presence that haunts this dram like vetiver and red panda musk base notes in a curious Austrian cologne.  There is something subtle going on, but subtle and yet restive, and then, as I am about to bring it to my lips--

     --“Ooh, yeeeaaaah,” Stephen affirms with a groan so sexual I am embarrassed for his girlfriend (and she’s pretty).  Imagine salt and sweet are uneasy friends but then go out for the night.  After equal numbers of Cuttyhunk oysters and Long Island ice teas there they are, pogoing like punk fans at a Kimono Draggin’ concert.  As pleasant in the mouth as a fiercely articulated “f-ck you” in a traffic jam.  The finish is a little cloying; it’s like I’ve gotten dental work done and the cotton balls are still stuffed into my jowls.  They are, I later learn when the secret camera is pointed out to me, Marlon Brando’s cotton balls.  By which I mean they are the very cotton balls stuffed into his jowls on the day of shooting The Godfather when the catering truck drove away with them, balled up in a napkin with a half-eaten club sandwich.  Top-of-the-line menthol cigarettes steeped in peppermint schnapps and PCP, smoked through a hippopotamus-tooth cigarette holder hollowed out by a diamond-tipped drill bit.

--On the scale of quotations from The Godfather--
The Ardbeg Day 2012 Feis Ile Bottling is Luca Brasi saying, "Don Corleone, I am honored and grateful that you have invited me to your daughter... 's wedding... on the day of your daughter's wedding. And I hope their first child be a masculine child. I pledge my ever-ending loyalty."--Stephen's reaction notwithstanding, this whisky is most assuredly a masculine child.



Our thanks to Joshua Hatton for the sample and for finding Stephen a bottle


Friday, January 25, 2013

The Arran 12 Cask Strength 2012 Edition (30 ml Burns Afternoon bottle)

Tasting notes:
     Imagine you're at a ski lodge, high on a mountain, on a blue bird day: The sun beats down on the terrace where you lounge, drink in hand, Gore-Tex® unzipped, boots unbuckled, muscles in a state of X-treme glycogen depletion, when you catch sight of a pair of goggles: of Oakley Red Iridium goggles which were lately wiped with a microfiber cloth. You were wrong: that was just the Arran 12 Cask Strength sitting in your glass, inveigling you away from the slopes into the dreamy orange groves of Southern California, circa 1910. The pervasive odor in your fugue-state is that of a raku-glazed Mexican terra cotta vase holding limeade, ready to be served to you, the master of the hacienda. Your neurons fire desperately, trying to determine if you are, in fact, on the terrace of the ski lodge or the patio of your hacienda. But it matters not, the Arran whispers to your soul, your mind is a trap laid for you by Apollo and millenia of philosophers. Only I am real: smell my spearmint and fresh-cut fig leaves. Think of Double-Mint Gum™, but not the twins. Think of guava gum, available in Guam. Drink me!
     You succumb, of course, to the succubus in the bottle, the auburn genie, the bringer of respite from the world. You are surfeited with creamy pepper; a pepper ranch dressing? A Julius Pepper ranchero, sacking your groceries? Cinnamon morphing to cloves, magically transformed to a pineapple ham that is even more magically made kosher. Butterscotch, now whispers the Arran, and then startles by shouting, BUTTERSCOTCH! Your houseboy (or is it a ski bunny?) appears with a guava-cantaloupe daiquiri-tini, and you don't even think twice—but magically do think thrice. A potsticker Caesar salad appears, but you wave the waiter away, he's not in this film. Take that! and that! and those umami Edamame fresh fries back to your mommy! But to no avail; the Muses are not mollified.

     The finish finishes quicker than a wink, quicker than Lindsey Vonn barreling slaloming on the shoulders of giants. It's a magic trick! It's an illusion! you try to cry, still feeling the tingle at your tongue, the savor of the dram evaporating like Lance Armstrong's unshed tears. Only the magic is left, like the Cheshire Cat's grin, like Mr. Mxyzptlk's name, backwards, hanging in the air.

--On the scale of magical stories that start in one place, then go to many others, but are not one of those "Choose Your Own Adventure" Young Adult books--
The Arran 12 Cask Strength is the spinnings of Scheherazade in One Thousand and One Nights--Open anywhere, close somewhere else, enjoy your journey!



Our thanks to Sam Filmus and ImpEx for the sample! 


Tuesday, January 22, 2013

The Port Ellen 28 Year 2007 Limited Edition (50 ml dream mini)

Tasting notes:
     Nosing this dram, one is immediately confronted with notes of lemongrass, provided what one meant by "lemongrass" was an actual hybrid of lemons and grass.  Alternately, "lemongrass" here could be the quirky name for a strain of medical marijuana so potent that it induced paranoia in law enforcement.  Oh, and also eased glaucoma discomfort.  We also found on the nose hazelnuts that have been kept in a wax paper-lined bag that formerly held hazelnut coffee beans.  Finally, there's smoke from an argileh enjoyed on the banks of the Sea of Galilee, piece after piece of vodka-infused watermelon added until you see drunken American politicians cavorting in various stages of undress in the water off to your right.  No, your far right.
     That smoke continues on the mouth, like from a fire with wood soaked in alcohol for firing up a witches' cauldron.  There's wood and smoke, but buttery richness, too:  imagine a crematorium disposing of Marlon Brando's body, with the fat rendering...  Too macabre?  Then clearly you just don't appreciate Marlon like we do.  Really, though, the mouth presents a single, gorgeous note:  it's a variant of "Taps" composed by John Cage to commemorate the unknown soldier after a campaign during which no one lost his life.
     On the finish, the brininess is so complex and rarefied as to feel concentrated over generations.  And not just because the distillery no longer exists.  (However, teasing apart the psychological impact of that fact on our tasting of it is like trying to distinguish Scylla and Charybdis.  Hint:  Charybdis is the hot one.)  We thought we got hints of coelacanth sushi and dodo bird scrambled eggs over a bed of blanched Cry Pansies.

     Add a little water, and one magically adds sweetness:  sugar cane with basil, fermented bamboo drenched in honey, smoke from a lava flow of simple syrup.  With water, we also go notes of tannic leather, like you'd expect to get from swallowing a sporran key fob.  Recently tanned?  Untanned?  The sample wasn't large enough to allow us to pin that down.  On the water-added finish, we get a frolicsome hint of spice, like the faint mist from a bubble bursting next to you as you soak in a tub of chicken tikka masala.  Fantastic.

--On the scale of great quotes comparing one's personality to a spreadable food--
The Port Ellen 28 Year Old 2007 Limited Edition is "I don't want to spread the peanut butter of my personality on the moldy bread of the commercial press."--Like the Port Ellen, it's a one of a kind.


Our thanks to Leah Eagel, Alex Conway and Diageo for the sample! 

Saturday, January 19, 2013

The High West American Prairie Reserve Whiskey, Batch Number 3 (750 ml handblown prairie dog hole plugger bottle)

Tasting notes:
      We tried this on the 80th anniversary of the repeal of Prohibition.  Our hearts were light, our glasses heavy, and our minds turned easily to picture folks drinking a whiskey not unlike this, straight out of the antique bottle, decades before Prohibition, on some far away prairie after a hard day’s work.  We quickly realized we had almost nothing in common with them, so we returned to our glasses.
     On the nose, raisins and cactus.  Raisin Arizona?  There are roads on this nose.  Roads running through a meadow of clover and sorghum and brome grass and—hey! look at that!--jackalopes bounding merrily, scores of buffalo grazing gracefully, and groundhogs munching diffidently until—what’s that?!—I’m screeching to a halt to avoid Audrey Hepburn’s deer.  It staggered out from the brush and if I didn’t know better, I’d say it was drunk.  Now the nose gives way to burnt rubber, deer pellets, and marshmallow clouds.  Lucky Charms marshmallows.  “They really blended the shit out of this,” I averred.  And the literal minded Stephen replied.  “Yes, there is absolutely no shit in this.”
     The mouth prompts me to break the third commandment and contemplate breaking the second.  Rum raisins.  Lemon candies dropped onto a cast iron pan.  Then the raisins and candies stud a brass belt buckle posted into a horsehide belt hole.  This is a mouth that really stands up, the flavor commands attention like a pre-Prohibition travelling burlesque group.  Late on the mouth there’s a gingerbread man holding a gingerbread cookie and crying tears of darkened bourbon from his bourbon-soaked raisin-eyes.  He is a reluctant gingerbread man cannibal.  The finish (of both the whiskey and the cookie) is spicy and peppery.  Purified cayenne spice; all vim and heat.  It makes my saliva flow like an maple syrup sugarhouse operator tapping multiple maple trees under the moonlight. 

--On the scale of pre-Prohibition memoirs--
The High West American Prairie Reserve is H. L. Mencken’s "Bilder aus schöner Zeit"--  It is an impressive catalog of drinking, but sadly notable for its lack of bourbon in general and of the High West in particular. 


Our thanks to David Perkins, Troy Karnes, and the great people at High West for the sample!

Thursday, January 17, 2013

The Elmer T. Lee Bourbon (750 ml steamboat no-roll square bottle)

Tasting notes:
     "Elmer" is not a name that gets a lot of love any more in the modern world. The names that jump to mind are, in order: Elmer Fudd, Elmer Gantry, and Elmer Glue. (What kind of a last name is 'Glue'? Is that a typo?) Today, we apply a corrective to this unfortunate trend by praising Elmer T. Lee and the Bourbon named after him.

     On the nose, wood. But not just any wood; rather mahogany lollipops—and how many licks does it take to get to the caramel center of a WoodsiePop™, anyways? It's like taking an early fall, late evening hay ride through a field in which the corn was just harvested and wood chips and loam were laid down to re-fertilize the field. And there's a palpably round understated sweetness, like a shy baby playing peek-a-boo with a nice stranger in the checkout line of the grocery store. Nosing this is like looking through a scanner, darkly. If you follow me. [Stephen and John: No Bill, we don't follow you! ]
     On the mouth, a bit bite-y, a bit herb-y, and bit barrel-y, and a bit barley-y. The rye underlies the other grains like ambergris underlies the attar of rose. Popcorn flan, flambéed with, well, Bourbon. Caramel perfectly blended with the laughter of little children and the satisfaction of a life well-lived. Clean flannel sheets, old golf clubs, and Cinnamon-Oak burl Chewing Gum (light on the cinnamon).
     The finish lingers like the guest you're sorry to see go and wish could have stayed around another few days. Smooth and assertive, like Roger Moore's James Bond from the 70s, long before the idea of "gritty reboots" entered the movie industry's hive mind.
     With water, this genteel steel-edged Southern gentleman transforms into Conan the Bourbarian, explosive bon-bons on the palette leaving the afterglow of a nuclear holocaust as survivors emerge from their bunkers and dance with joy, because life triumphs again. How do the mix-masters, the MC "Big" Bourboners, pack all this into the Elmer T. Lee? Is it all hidden in the mysterious "T." ?

--On the scale of Bourbon monarchs--
The Elmer T. Lee is King Louis XIV, the radiant Sun King in all of his splendor, pomp, and glory--He was the most powerful King of France, and the country of France (and really all of Europe) blossomed during his reign. The name "Elmer" is forever redefined for me: splendor, pomp, and glory; the Sun King of Frankfort, Kentucky!



Our thanks to Jobie Smith and Sazerac for the sample! 

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

The WhistlePig "100/100" Rye (50 ml old school holy water vial)

Tasting notes:
     On the nose, we get cut grass, but the grass itself is amazing, high end stuff:  it's driving a lawn mower through the Elysian fields (thought we were going somewhere else there, huh?).  There's also a faint hint of chlorine, alongside butter and coconut, as if one were lying poolside betwixt a pair of Coppertone™-swathed lounge Betties.  Finally, we detected subtle tobacco notes, as with an antique brass ashtray merely dusted with Partagas ash, early in the cigar, before one's mind drifts to other things, like ferrets (but please note: not only were no ferrets harmed in the writing of this review, but it's also the case that we detected no hint of ferret musk in this rye). This whiskey is remarkably smooth on the mouth: the rye bite you expect never quite arrives.  It's a very young kitten gumming your throat, but from the inside.  And while you're inside an oak barrel.  The mouth is terribly flavorful:  a glob of vanilla ice cream on a thin base layer of cherry cobbler.  With some pepper on the back end.  Add a little water, and it's even smoother.  It doesn't modulate much at all with the addition of water.  It's like the world's longest door stop (coincidentally, with the world's lowest slope).

     As you get to the finish again, though, you find that the water has created, in a process as mysterious as that which gives rise to Sea-Monkeys, a spiny sea urchin with wasabi paste on the tips of its spines to linger in the throat.  But in a good way.  In the very best of ways.

--On the scale of prickly things that are oh so good--
The WhistlePig 100/100 Rye is the puffer fish--Getting your Fugu (河豚) on is cool: it's rare, it's dangerous, it's exhilirating.  But if you can get both, play it safe, and have the Whistlepig.  Actually, if you really need us to tell you that, then by all means, go ahead, have the fish!


Our thanks to Daniel Khan, Connor Wood, and WhistlePig for the sample! 

Saturday, January 12, 2013

The Arran 14 (50 ml Scottish isles ferry tolerator bottle)

Tasting notes:
Knock-knock.  Who’s there?  Banana.  Banana who?  Knock-knock.  Who’s there?  Banana.  Banana who?  Knock-knock.  Who’s there?  Arran.  Arran who? Arran you glad I didn’t say “banana”?

Citrus rind pried up from the fruit with scalpels.  They were needed for making a lemon twist after a grueling six-week surgery rotation.  Six-pointed star fruit genetically engineered in Tel Aviv.  Unripe melon, though not watermelon, cantelope, or honey dew.  Crenshaw melon.  It was chewed by Madonna during her Kabala stage.  Or so we thought until evidence established that it was chewed during the filming of the "Borderline" video and then spat into a bag and smuggled away for use as prison wine.  Splashes of formaldehyde onto ginger ale after splitting a corpse’s skull with a guisarme.  In case you’re wondering, yes, it happened at the same surgery rotation party, but early the next morning after it came upon a Renaissance festival encampment.  There’s a thin sheet of oil on the mouth, reminiscent of post-war Japanese industrialization.  The finish shows the dominance of bourbon casks: bright and puckering like a Lime Rickey.  Drying like an espresso in a Parisian café served with a small spoon and a withering stare.


--On the scale of knock-knock jokes that turn on repetition--
The Arran 14 Year Old is Knock-knock.  Who’s there? Knock-knock.  Who’s there? Knock-knock.  Who’s there? Knock-knock.  Who’s there? Knock-knock.  Who’s there?  Philip Glass.



Our thanks to Sam Filmus and ImpEx for the sample! 

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