Oct 132012
 

Hello all – it’s been a while!

For those who are keeping score this is the first Whisky Pilgrimage posting in quite some time. Since it has been so long, it is probably easiest to browse through the back-posts and get a refresher on what the Whisky Pilgrimage is all about, the rules of the game, and so on:

Episode 1 – A Long Journey

Episode 2 – Aberlour 10

Episode 3 – Riedel v Rocks

Episode 4 – Try it and you may, I Say

Episode 5 – Macallan 12

Episode 6 – Glendronach 15

Episode 7 – Glenfiddich 15

 

What the hell happened?

As you can see, when it comes to meeting schedule I’m starting to close in on a “Chinese Democracy” level of credibility. It just isn’t working out the way that I planned.

In January I was concerned that the 1 bottle / month stipulation was going to be too slow. Surprisingly, it turns out to be exactly the opposite of that. I am enjoying the variety and the focused appreciation borne of this Whisky Pilgrimage, but struggle to keep pace with the schedule. It’s not nice feeling that I’m constantly falling behind…not generating the new content quick enough…and so on.

Having spent about a week cut off from civilization without a drop of whisky in site, I came to a few realizations:

  • All Things Whisky is about appreciation of whisky, which has nothing to do with the pace at which I move through the lineup.
  • Slow as I may go, this Pilgrimage is far more enjoyable when I share stories and details about the journey. Most of the positive feedback I’ve received has to do with small observations or side stories. And as you might have guessed, these are the things I most enjoy writing about
  • So, for better or worse, schedule be damned. Onward with enjoying this all day by day without any artificial pressure to keep to a clock. The world has enough of those already, I needn’t add another!

 

Where do we go from here?

Despite my laissez-faire attitude towards the schedule we still have a journey to take, and we can’t get there without at least a bit of a plan. One step in front of the other. What I would like to do is continue on with three bottle cycles as planned, keeping in the $150 range for the cycle. Rather than arbitrarily cutting off at the 1 yr mark though, I’d like to add to the queue over time based upon my own personal interests and recommendations from readers. We currently have the following…

  • Sherry
    • Aberlour 10: $32 (warm, inviting whisky – best value of the bunch)
    • Macallan 12: $55 (bold, rich, and demanding)
    • Glendronach 15: $72 (warm, sweet, rich – best of the cycle, and worth saving for)
  • Speyside
    • Glenfiddich 15: $48 (a complex, interesting whisky – good value)
  • Blends
  • Peated

 

In no particular order, I would like to add Irish and Bourbon to the above list. I’ve never properly been able to get my head wrapped around Irish whisky, and this is exactly the sort of boundary smashing I had set out to accomplish on the Pilgrimage. I am a bit more familiar with Bourbon and will try and plan this cycle to hit right around summertime so that I can enjoy the odd mint julep outside on the deck on those hot summer days.

Any other recommendations or ideas you may have will go on a waiting list, which I’ll revisit from time to time.

 

And finally, what of Speyside?

Ah, Speyside. I am now on the 3rd and final bottle and have still yet to make up my mind on this region. Complex and subtle whisky requires equally complex and subtle thinking, and I am just not there yet. I will continue to try as I would like to put these thoughts to paper and get some conversation running that might help me to guide me out of the fog.

In the meantime, let’s get you all caught up. My Speyside selection #2 was none other than the ubiquitous Glenfiddich 12.

Glenfiddich 12 is undoubtedly one of the most recognized single malt scotch bottlings in the world and despite my reasonably broad level of exposure, I knew very little about it.

Personal confession: aside from the odd drink on an airplane, the only other notable occasion in which I had consumed Glenfiddich 12 was as the primary ingredient in a shooter called “The Douche Bag”. This charming drink consists of 1 oz of Glenfiddich 12 followed by a 1 oz chaser of pickle juice.

DO. NOT. RECOMMEND.

It’s every bit as nasty as it sounds. Having sampled roughly a 1/2 dozen in one terrifying sitting, I consider myself somewhat of an authority on the matter. Do the right thing and leave the Douche Bags, to well…the douche bags. No more need be said.

Obviously my Glenfiddich 12 education was lacking, and at $32 per bottle this was easily corrected.

I should admit that I was pleasantly surprised by the old ‘fiddich 12. It is a straight-arrow whisky with some nice light floral tones. This type of whisky is particularly nice before dinner on a hot summer afternoon – it is fresh, clear, and not too overpowering. I enjoyed several drams of it in this way and was never disappointed with the experience.

On the downside, you really have to dig in and concentrate to pick up on the complexities, and that job is made more difficult due to the addition of water to bring this down to 40%. Some whisky can handle a bit more water – Macallan 12 in my opinion gets a lot out of a low ABV – but in some cases, the water just cuts the legs right out from underneath a dram.  I fear that water is getting the best of this one. If anybody has spent some time with a higher ABV Glenfiddich, I’d be interested in hearing about that.

Glenfiddich 12 is a very friendly introduction to scotch and I can understand its popularity as a first time purchase, a general bottle for the liquor cabinet, etc. However, if you’re picking this one up for yourself, there are much better options even at this price point (Aberlour 10?) and if you’re willing to spot the extra $15 or so, the Glenfiddich 15 is a far superior drink.

Next up will be the revealing of my 3rd Speyside whisky. Other topics to be addressed soon are the long-promised whisky cooking adventure, and my thoughts on Speyside on the whole.

In the meantime I’ll keep moving forward with this journey. If there’s anything that I’ve learned in the past 8 months, slow-footed and haphazard as it may be…this is certainly a journey worth taking.

Thanks for reading along.

 Posted by at 9:47 am
Apr 242012
 

Hi again.

After three months spent exploring a whisky profile that I know well it’s time to move into unfamiliar territory.

If you’re new to the Pilgrimage and don’t know what I’m talking about, or it has just been a while and you need a quick recap, here are the rules of the game.

Every month I pick up a new bottle of whisky. To give the Pilgrimage some structure and set up some good comparisons the year is divided into 4 “seasons”. For each season I have budgeted roughly $150.

  • Winter (Jan-Mar): Sherry
    • Aberlour 10: $32
    • Macallan 12: $55
    • Glendronach 15: $72
  • Spring (Apr-Jun): Speyside
  • Summer (Jul-Sep): Blends
  • Winter (Oct-Dec): Peated

My hope was that by building in some rules and limitations I’d be creating an environment that fosters appreciation for even the most humble drams. So far I’d say it has been a success. If you need convincing read the earlier posts…and heck, play along at home! I’d be interested to hear if anybody is giving some of the selections a try, or if any of the Pilgrimage concepts have inspired you to think about things from a slightly different angle.

Moving onward. Speyside.

 

Why Speyside? 

Speyside is a prolific whisky producing region, home to some of the best recognized distillers in the world. Glenfiddich, Glenlivit, Glen Glen Glen…it’s a Scottish take on the Bubba Gump riff. I’d be willing to bet that in the vast majority of cases the 1st single malt a person tries is from Speyside. It’s perfectly nice accessible whisky…and I just can’t get my head wrapped around it.

In my personal experience the bold flavours delivered via special cask maturation (sherry, wine barrel, etc) and peating take a little while to get used to. After an initial breaking-in period, these bold face-blasting styles become sought-after favourites. By comparison the subtle bourbon-cask numbers come across as uninspired and frankly…a little dull.

I’ve dabbled in Speyside but have become discouraged and scrambled back to my safe zone every time. Picking out the notes and understanding what’s in the glass require time and patience…neither of which I have in abundance.

Or rather….had.

Because for the next 3 months, like it or not I’m committed to staying in Speyside. Time to challenge my existing ways of thinking and learn some new tricks. Are these truly dull whiskies, or will I learn to appreciate the subtle charms of Speyside?

Speyside Selection #1 – Glenfiddich 15

If you review the Sherry selections, you’ll note my appreciation for the mellowing and additional development that come from aging. So when shopping for my first selection Glenfiddich 15 caught my eye for a number of reasons:

  • The distinctive “buck” tins – Glenfiddich is a very well recognized brand, and when I looked at this, I realized that I knew very little about the whisky
  • 15 years – same age as the Glendronach that I really enjoyed from the prior month
  • This isn’t sherry-cask pricing anymore – I picked this one up for $47.99 – $25 less than the Glendronach 15. Good deal!

The Glenfiddich 15 is produced using the Solera vatting technique. More information on this method can be found on this site or Lance’s excellent writings on Liquorature.com. In this case a variety of Glenfiddich casks are used in the Solera vat. My poor research is evident in the fact that some sherry casks find there way in, something I would have known had I read the back of the bottle more carefully than I did the price tag. I acknowledge it’s a bit of a cheat on my part, but I don’t think they’ve gone too heavy on the sherry and as such I don’t think it is overpowering the baseline “essence” of Glenfiddich.

First impressions? It’s very nice stuff! It doesn’t have the same “oomph” as the sherry finished whiskies but makes up for that with some really nice flavours in a light, fragrant delivery.

 

Yet to come…

  • I’m definitely looking forward to giving Glenfiddich 15 a shot vs. the Glendronach 15 to see how they stack up against one another
  • Earlier in the pilgrimage I attempted an Aberlour 10 marinated steak. Yikes…I’m just about ready to post up a whisky-based food experience that did turn out well.
  • I have an embarrassing retraction to make. A few posts back I boldly stated that I would start producing proper tasting notes. Well, I am what I am…and as much as I thought that tasting notes would be the “right thing to do”, it just feels forced and wrong. In retrospect, I must admit that I got a little too wound up on the “try something new” ethic of the pilgrimage and as a result, lost sight of my ultimate goal here: having fun. My heart just isn’t in it and I don’t think that any of you need to suffer through the tasting note equivalent of “it was a dark and stormy night…”.

 

Thanks again for reading – all comments and feedback appreciated!

 

 Posted by at 6:54 pm
Apr 012012
 

Hi everyone,

Once again, an entire calendar month has drifted by and I’ve struggled to get this written and out the door. There were a number of circumstances that came into play – illness, computer crash, career change – and while I am a good soldier and carried on with the drams I simply did not get around to this. All is well though and I aim to get a little more snappy with the posts.
Let’s begin with Selection #3
March was the final month for sherry finished whiskies, and I wanted to build upward in age over the course of the 3 months. Keeping in mind that I have roughly $150 for 3 bottles, here’s where I was at near the end of February:
  • Aberlour 10: $33
  • Macallan 12: $55
  • Which leaves about $62 for Selection number 3
As per the last post, I decided that it would not be too much of a cheat to spend a little extra on sherry finished whisky, as I’m bound to be able to make it up down the road. Knowing this, I went out and purchased a bottle of the Glendronach 15 for $72.
Glendronach was an easy decision. I am a fan of the 12 and if I wasn’t going out of my way to try whiskies I am not as familiar with, I would have purchased it instead of the Macallan 12. I was gifted a bottle of a 24 year old single cask (Willow Park Wine & Spirits – may be long gone for all I know) and that is without doubt one of the very finest bottles to sit on my shelf. Curt has given the 15 good reviews so I thought that this would be a good fit for me given the reasonable price at age and my affinity for this distillery.
15 years, aged in Oloroso Sherry Casks, and bottled at 46%…it ticks all of the right boxes. Glendronach 15 has proven to be an excellent choice. This is a very rich, sweet, weighty dram. The nose on it is excellent. At 15 years, you start to lose some of the sharp edge that you get off of a younger nose. I suppose this is one of the benefits of maturity. The flavours are more developed than the younger whiskies, and the finish is very smooth. I’m very pleased with the purchase.
How did the sherry finished whiskies stack up against one another?
  • Aberlour 10 v. Macallan 12: throughout the past few months, I’ve done some side-by-side tastings. These two whiskies are very different from one another. Macallan has that intense purity of spirit characteristic…when stacked against something cozy like Aberlour, I don’t find that I appreciate the razor sharp definition of the Macallan. I was really surprised by this. It’s a bit of a Betty Cooper / Veronica Lodge scenario. Just like Veronica, on paper the Macallan makes a lot of sense. In practice, it is just a little too sharp on the edges for my tastes. On the other hand, the Aberlour may not be all that glamorous…but like Betty it’s got a lot of soul, and it doesn’t have any significant designs on your pocketbook.
  • Aberlour 10 v. Macallan 12 v. Glendronach 15: Having tried all three of these side by side on several occasions, hands down the Glendronach 15 is the best of the bunch. It should not come as a surprise given the additional maturation (50% longer than the Aberlour!), but what caught be by surprise most about this was just how much of a gap I put between these whiskies. The Glendronach is simply superior to the other two. The Aberlour still put in a decent enough showing, but the 3-way battle royale did nothing to help Macallan 12’s case.
  • Final conclusion: Of the three whiskies selected, the Glendronach 15 is the best and I would suggest that it’s actually a pretty decent value for the dollar. Aberlour 10 is a great bargain and I am sure that I will continue to pick it up. Macallan 12 was my least favourite, and in my opinion, it’s pretty difficult to justify the price tag on this one as compared to what you get for about $15 more for the Glendronach 15. Macallan does have its merits and is by no means bad, it’s just not to my taste. If you haven’t tried it, I would really recommend giving it a shot at a tasting or at a pub before committing to a purchase that may not be the best value for your dollar.
Overall, how is the pilgrimage working out?
  • I am learning a lot: By regularly re-visiting the same whiskies – or family of whiskies – I’ve learned quite a bit about each bottle that comes through. In the past, I’ve either blasted through the bottle before learning much or have kept a miserly clutch on a few wee drops and in doing so lose track of my opinions,  instead of just enjoying what I have and moving on. This approach forces me to try and try again, so I feel like I’m getting the very most out of what I buy
  • Comparisons Matter: When it comes down to it, if you enjoy whisky, you can enjoy just about ANY whisky. It is only when you have a couple of options you can bounce between (be it in the same sitting, or the next day, etc) that you really start to be able to pick out the unique elements of the dram that you’re drinking. It takes unique skills, experience, and focus to be able to study a whisky standalone…going forward I plan to make a point of having some variety on hand so that I can get the most out of my drams.
  • The budget is pretty reasonable: I have not been perfect in terms of measuring & a strict week-by-week schedule, yet I am in no danger of running out of whisky. From these 3 bottles I have a slight heel of Aberlour 10 remaining (which I should really just put to bed…keeping for experimentation though), about 1/4 of the Macallan 12 left, and about 1/2 of the Glendronach 15. The cupboard is starting to get a little cluttered, particularly with the addition of Speyside/Highland Selection #1 (more on this next week). I think that knowing that something new is coming each month is helping me to keep a sensible pace. I’m enjoying having a plan & sticking to it, and as I’ve hoped, putting these parameters into place has helped to appreciate what I have.
So, that is it for Sherry Finished Whisky – onward to Speyside, a whisky producing region that for whatever reason I have neglected in the past. I’ve picked up Selection #1, and look forward to sharing in the very near future (honest!)
 Posted by at 4:31 pm
Feb 292012
 

Holy smokes, this has been a very long time coming!!

This month has been busy beyond all belief. It’s hard to face up to the fact that this is the first entry for this month, but let’s not wallow in it & instead just jump into things.

February – Sherry Matured Selection #2

Following up on my initial selection of Aberlour 10, I had a few criteria I wanted to meet with selection #2.

First off, I wanted to go for something with a little more age to it and see whether or not the extra maturation (and the price tag that comes attached!) really makes a difference to me. I know that if I’m comparing between different distilleries it’s a bit of an apples-to-oranges exercise, but I am not too wound up about that…after all, this little journey is all about exploring my personal tastes. I can’t and won’t promise a scientific approach; all I can do is try what I want and give everything an honest effort.

Additionally, I wanted to select a whisky that I haven’t really spent any meaningful amount of time with. There are many young-ish sherry matured whiskies on the market but I haven’t really checked any of them out. It’s way too easy for me to pick up the Aberlour 10 because it’s a good dram at a VERY good price. How can I justify spending more on something I may not necessarily enjoy as much as the Aberlour 10? In this case, I’ll spend more on something different because I must. The rules that I set out are performing exactly as I had hoped – it’s only the second selection and I’m already being forced to step outside of my comfort zone.

Finally, I had to find something that fit into the $45-60 range so that I had enough for another upgrade in sherry matured selection #3.

In order to meet these criteria, I have chosen Macallan 12.

I’ve dabbled with Macallan in the past – a tasting at Willow Park, a ill-advised encounter with Cask Strength at Liquorature – but have never spent enough time on one of the expressions to form a solid opinion. There are plenty of characteristics to admire in Macallan. The brand is world renowned and is nearly synonymous with “great scotch whisky”. If you dig in a little further there is a load of material which details the fussy attention to detail Macallan puts into their whisky. Marketing spin or not, it’s an intriguing brand statement and in my opinion that helps to build the mystique of a unparalleled dram.

Premium branding + expensive production practices…you guessed it: relatively speaking, Macallan ain’t cheap! Nonetheless, it’s been purchased, time to get on enjoying.

 

A few words on the budget…

While shopping for selection #2 I realized that the budget friendly Aberlour 10 is an exception and not the rule. Sherry matured whisky is expensive as compared to others. My understanding is that this has something to do with the cost of acquiring good sherry casks, but I can’t help but suspect that some of the cost is market driven…the stuff is really that damn good!

It didn’t take long to do the math – with a $150 budget for 3 bottles I was probably looking at a range of three 10 yr sherry matured whiskies. This isn’t exactly the interesting variety that I had in mind. In order to make February and March a little more exciting I had to make an executive decision, and what I have decided is that I am OK to go over the $150 budget for sherry matured whisky, provided that my yearly total comes out at roughly $600 then I am OK.

Full disclosure, here is where I am at so far:

1 – Aberlour 10 – $32.99

2 – Macallan 12 – $54.99

Total – $87.98. Both bottles were purchased at Real Canadian Liquorstore locations in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. They don’t have a huge selection but it’s hard to beat their pricing. I’m not going to get into bulk chain vs. boutique retailer today, but I do believe that there is room for both types of retailers. More on this another time.

So…chances are I will go over budget for sherry matured, but I’m confident that I can make it up in another month. Blends are the obvious place to save money, and if the worst shall occur, I may end up on McClelland’s Islay as my final selection for the year. Don’t worry Curt, I will save you enough to do a review. I wouldn’t want you to miss out.

My initial thoughts on Macallan 12? Very nice – it’s a clean, smooth, straightforward dram with a big sherry punch. It doesn’t strike me as being as complex as the Aberlour 10, but it certainly matches up intensity wise. The the tidy profile of this whisky gives it unique character. I look forward to doing a head to head comparison between the Aberlour & this to see how they compare to one another. Lots of ground to explore. Until then, cheers!

 Posted by at 6:26 am
Feb 032012
 

Try It And You May, I Say…

 

I’m sitting down, relaxing, and enjoying what will most likely be the last of my solo Aberlour 10’s. I will soon be making my way to a liquor store to pick up another sherry matured whisky, at which point I’m going to have a few more options. In the meantime, I’ll catch you up on the last week or so.

To begin, it has only now occurred to me that I have not provided a proper set of notes for the Aberlour 10. So, here goes:

•In many ways, the nose on the Aberlour 10 reminds me of wine – there are a lot of heavy, earthy fruit tones

•These same notes are also prevalent on the palette. Along with the fruit comes some sweetness I would best describe as brown sugar

•The finish on this whisky does not linger terribly long in terms of flavour, but it is pleasantly warming

•This whisky is “compact” and dense. It’s a tasty, straightforward drink that is perfectly suited as an everyday dram but it doesn’t have an overwhelming oomph.

Our Liquorature gatherings typically fall on the last Friday of every month. About one week prior the e-mail starts to fly and by the time that we’re 3-4 days out, we’re behaving like children counting down the number of sleeps to Christmas Eve. It’s always a damn good time, and just the medicine most of us need by the end of the month.

As I was getting ready for bed on Thursday night, I decided that I was going to do something on Friday to treat myself. Per the pilgrimage rules I still had one of my 2x weekly drams left, but since there’s no shortage of great whisky on Liquorature nights, I didn’t see any sense in drinking what would be a forgettable dram of Aberlour 10. However, we did have some nice tenderloin steaks in the freezer. What the hell, why not? So into a little ziplock container goes one of the steaks and 1.5 oz of Aberlour 10.

By Friday afternoon, I was giddy with anticipation…as if Liquorature itself wasn’t enough to look forward to, now I have this badass steak just begging to be cooked up. Once arriving home from work I dashed directly to the fridge, stopping just long enough to give a cursory hello to my wife, kids, and a friend who was over for dinner.

I lifted the lid and goddamn…had I not known any better, I could have sworn that my steak had spent 18 hrs+ marinading in paint thinner. Without a doubt this is the worst “whisky” I have ever had the misfortune of sniffing. Take a look at Curt’s tasting notes for the McClellands, and imagine you’ve been a dram of that served out of a used jerry can. Absolute foul shit.

While I should have known better I clung pathetically to hope that all the good stuff had ended up in the steak. It’s only natural that tenderloin – being a particularly choice cut of steak – would be a culinary equivalent of an alchemist’s crucible and that my brilliant plan to combine the tenderloin & Aberlour 10 would result in magical transformation.

Again, I was dead wrong. Thankfully the green peppercorn sauce would be enough to mask the nasty flavours locked within my abomination of a steak.

Our Liquorature gathering kicked off about an hour later and I had soon forgotten about the vile “food”. As always we had a great time, and towards the end of the evening the topic of this pilgrimage was raised. Most were just interested to hear what I was doing, but Lance upped the ante (as is his style) and hit me with a challenging question: “what’s the point?”. I was able to rattle off a few generalizations – want to try new things, hone my appreciation by setting some limits – but I was not particularly satisfied with my answer.

One cannot wander the wilderness in perpetuity, so I have pondered Lance’s question and think that I have an answer worth sharing. In my present mode I’m certainly enjoying myself but it’s been easy – do some fun stuff, goof around, have some laughs. Unless I challenge myself all I will accomplish is to broaden the very rut I was trying to escape. It would be a shame if I don’t anything to show for my efforts at the end of the year. For this reason I’m going to be setting some goals for myself throughout the year.

My first goal: WRITE SOME CREDIBLE TASTING NOTES.

Revisit the top of this post – honestly, these are some pretty pathetic notes. No vocabulary, no cohesive thought…just some stuff. “The finish on this whisky does not linger terribly long in terms of flavour, but it is pleasantly warming” is the whisky review equivalent of “Richard seized her with his powerful, masculine hands and tore off her bodice”. While I don’t think that I’ll ever be able to write with the same sort of clarity and passion as Curt & Lance do in their reviews, I can do a good measure better than the hubris I “wroted” in this post. So, challenge accepted! Let’s see how these notes develop.

And fear not…while this particular foray into the (Dark) Culinary Arts backfired, there has been successes. I’ll post something more palatable in the next few weeks.

Until then, cheers!

 

– The Whisky Pilgrim

 

 Posted by at 6:32 am
Jan 262012
 

Episode 3…

 

After what has been a relatively mild winter, Mother Nature cranked down the thermostat and pushed Calgary into a week long deep freeze. Think -40 celcius with windchill kind of cold. It’s the kind of cold that chokes the life out of cars and puts the human mind into a state of semi-hibernation. These are definitely rotten conditions and it’s easy to let the bad weather put a damper on your spirits.

The only good to come of the poor weather is that it helped me to articulate one of the characterstics I enjoy most in sherry matured whisky. After shoveling off the driveway, I poured an Aberlour 10 and was struck by deep, rich warmth. Unlike the full-frontal-assault intensity of a peated whisky, a nice sherry matured whisky warms you up from deep in your belly. Having a dram of this whisky is comforting, like crawling under a heavy quilt, or having a cup of hot chocolate or chicken noodle soup after being out in the cold. Sherry maturation – the comfort food of whisky? Maybe so.

I recently split one of my samples evenly across a Riedel whisky glass and a Glencairn. Most whisky people I know are proponents of the Glencairn glass and after having conducted this test, I can confidently state that you get a hell of a lot more on the nose from a Glencairn than you do the Riedel glass. Scent plays a critical role in taste, and overall the whisky just tasted more complex and vibrant in the Glencairn.

Are there advantages to the Riedel? I suppose there are a few. First off, the nose on the Riedel doesn’t carry the same “edge” as it would from the Glencairn. I think it’d be an acceptable alternative if I wanted to pour something with a big nose (say, Ardbeg) with a guest who might otherwise be overwhelmed. And speaking of big noses, while I’m not exactly Gonzo…there’s no way to put this nicely…the Riedel fits my face better. The sips I take from the Riedel are very satisfying – they hit the entire mouth rather than being funnelled towards my tongue as they are with the Glencairn. It sounds weird, but this could be an advantage in cases where I’m not thrilled with the nose. 9 times out of 10 I’m probably grabbing the Glencairn, but the Riedel does offer enough of a different spin that it is worth going to time to time.

We are nearing the end of January. I have really been enjoying the Aberlour 10 and the month has gone by quickly. Liquorature is coming up this weekend and after that, it’s a few more days until I have to pick up sherry finished whisky bottle #2. I still don’t have anything particular in mind and I’m looking to spend about $50 (keep in mind, I’m in Alberta) so if any of you have any suggestions I’m open to trying something new. The past week has been pretty hectic and it has been difficult to rattle off this post, but it’s finally out of the way. I am having fun with the experiment so far, but I’m somewhat disappointed that I’ve had a few too many “straight samples” so I’m going to have to make the effort to do something a little more inventive. I have a few more “solo” Aberlour 10 drams left so I might as well try & swing for the fences before I introduce bottle #2 into the rotation. It’s something to ponder…preferably over a whisky!

 

– The Whisky Pilgrim

 Posted by at 7:09 pm
Jan 152012
 
Sherry Matured Selection #1 – Aberlour 10

The selection of Aberlour 10 as the first Sherry Matured single malt on the pilgrimage should not come as a huge surprise.

The Aberlour 10 is a vibrant, robust young whisky that is loaded with rich flavour. It has been a favourite of mine for a few years now.

A few words on this dram:

– Distilled by Aberlour

– Matured in ex-Bourbon and ex-Sherry casks for min 10 yrs

– Bottled @ 43%

– No mention of chill filtering or artificial colouring, so I assume both methods have been applied with reckless abandon. This ain’t boutique whisky, precious!

Given the budget rules I’ve laid out, it does bear mentioning that you can pick this one up for roughly $32 at Real Canadian Liquor Store locations in Alberta. For the purposes of this exercise I’ll call it $30, leaving me with $120 for two more bottles. I’m satisfied with the purchase knowing that I’ll have a trustworthy bottle on the shelf for the next 3 months at a very reasonable price and have plenty of money available for February & March.

On to the 2nd sampling of the week…

I had originally intended to split this one between 2 glass types (glencairn, riedel, rocks-style) and see what difference glassware might make. Of course, I’d enjoy & type up this post at my leisure.

Life decided otherwise. As my wife headed off to the gym, I finished feeding our daughter who finished her bottle with emphasis and spit up roughly 4 litres of formula. Luckily for the chair & carpet (not so much for the pants) I caught 90% of it in my lap. As you may expect, this left me feeling rather less than fresh. So after I got the poor little girl settled into bed for the evening I did what any self-respecting man would given the circumstances.

I took a nice hot bath.

Laugh if you will, but read on I’ll do my best to justify this behaviour and redeem myself.

I got into the habit of bathing after reading James Clavell’s brilliant novel Shogun. Incidentally, the fella who introduced me to both Shogun AND the Aberlour 10 was none other than ATW photog extrodinaire, Pat. In the book, filthy british privateer John Blackthorne is subjected to “barbaric” Japanese bathing practices. At first Blackthorne believes he will die from daily exposures to fresh water, but he later comes to enjoy his scalding hot daily baths. I can’t do it justice…you won’t regret picking up Shogun, and while I haven’t polled the Liquorature crew for feedback, I can’t see how anybody can read that book and not think “hell, I could go for a bath…a bath with sake!”

Of course, that’s the magic ingredient: Blackthorne’s bath would not be complete without a generous helping of sake. Surely Aberlour 10 is a reasonable substitute?

Into a rocks glass goes 1.5 oz of Aberlour 10. The reasoning behind the rocks glass was that with all the humidity, my nasal passages would be opened wide up and a sniff from the Glencairn would knock me silly.

As it turns out, this probably was the correct decision. I think that combination of humidity, heat, and my overall body temperature all contributed to what was an unusually intense dram of Aberlour 10. The merest sniff of the glass sent vapour rocketing up my nose, scoring a direct hit on the brain. Upon tasting, the flavours of the whisky lit up. It felt as though I was sipping on some premium high-ABV cask strength. The finish left my senses buzzing and I soon found my way to the bottom of the glass.

I was awakened from my sherry coma by the sound of voices out across the backyard. Sure enough, Curt and the MaltMonster were out back on the deck enjoying a cigar and a drink. I arrived to find an empty Glencairn and a bottle of a Laphroaig somthin’ or another (gents, you’ll have to help me out here). It looked very tasty, was well within reach, and the Malt Monster has a well known intolerance for wee pours.

It was very tempting and under any normal circumstances I would have gladly jumped right in. But these aren’t normal circumstances – how pitiful would it have been if whisky pilgrimage entry #2 was “Day 6: Torpedoed my plans. mmmm, Laphroaig!”?

Despite my basic instincts I took a pass on the Laphroaig (sigh!) as a conscious decision to establish my pilgrimage habits. Hopefully, this was the first step towards greater rewards yet to come.

While this has already been an interesting and informative experiment, there’s no point in getting too bogged down looking back on what’s happened so far – plenty of time for looking back as the weeks roll along. Until then, I’m looking forward to my next dram & sharing the results here.

 

– The Whisky Pilgrim

 Posted by at 8:50 am
Jan 102012
 

Happy New Year to all!

Might as well get right into it. It’s resolution time.

It’s been an awful long time since I’ve provided a post for the site. I enjoy writing, enjoy whisky…and yet for most (all?) of 2011 I managed to avoid generating any content. I would like to turn it around in 2012.

One of the reasons that I’ve struggled for consistency is that it is difficult to come up with topics for the site.

Curt is a prolific reviewer, has lined up some great interviews, run a handful of great tastings, and is always up on the latest and greatest. If this sounds like a tough act to follow, you’re not wrong. But I’ve since realized that’s hardly the point.

When Curt asked if I’d make the odd contribution to the site he knew that I wouldn’t be up on deeply involved in finding new drams, that I wouldn’t provide much in the way of structured tasting notes, and that I will not be able to keep pace with all that the whisky world has to offer. He likely understood this better than I. We all have our place in this little collective, and class clown antics aside I am not really sure quite where I fit into this all.

So, in the spirit of resolutions and self discovery, I’ve decided that in 2012 I am going to embark upon a Whisky Pilgrimage.

For the next 12 months I’ll be doing a hands on experiment in hopes of answering questions both big & small. What are my tastes? Do price and age really matter to me? Do I appreciate the basics any more? Can I truly claim to appreciate the elaborate and sophisticated? Can I confidently state my opinions by virtue of experience rather than by inference? Heady questions indeed!

What makes this a pilgrimage? Apologies if I take a liberal interpretation of the word, but I’m calling this a pilgrimage because by my view, pilgrimages are journeys which are spiritual in nature. This is a pilgrimage about spirits. Close enough, right?

While I won’t be travelling in the physical sense, I’ll be trying drams from a variety of profiles and locations. I’ll get into the specifics below, but to summarize I’m going to get into some variety I normally wouldn’t bother with and will be making a point of trying things that I have never tried before.

Pilgrimages have a certain stripped down, ascetic quality. Through discipline and humility comes enlightenment…something like that anyhow. I’m going to impose a number of conditions upon myself – some of which are downright draconian – in hopes that these conditions will inspire breakthroughs.

Without further ado the specific rules will be as follows.

The year will be divided up as follows:

– Winter (Jan-Mar): Sherry Matured Whisky – a personal favourite which bears further exploration. Building up my fortitude for what lies ahead!

– Spring (Apr-Jun): Speyside / Highland Whisky – a region & style I’ve struggled to appreciate

– Summer (Jul-Sep): Blended Malt Whisky – the “lesser” brother of single malts. Does it deserve a kinder reputation?

– Fall (Oct-Dec): Peated Whisky – Peated, not necessarily Islay…hearty drams to warm the soul & close out the year

Every month I will seek out & purchase a new whisky in the designated profile, and at least one selection for every profile must be entirely new to me. This means that at the beginning of the season I’ll only have one bottle to work with, and by the third month of the season, I’ll have three. For every profile I’ll be limiting myself to a budget of ~$150. In order to meet my budget I will have to be resourceful and hunt down the best value for my dollar (not necessarily in terms of volume). I will gladly look into any recommendations sent my way.

That will be it for my whisky purchases this year. I’ll remain a full participant in Liquorature related debauchery and I expect that I’ll come to value those evenings even more as a result of my experiment. I’m sure that there will be ATW tastings, social get-togethers, and lovely evenings spent chatting out in the communal backyard. For these, I’ll draw upon the remains of my humble collection – about 50 oz total if I’m being generous – which I must now jealously guard. I don’t fancy that I’ll be a strictly devout pilgrim, but I’ll do my best to stick to the pilgrimage ethic!

Two nights every week I will pour myself 1.5 oz in whatever combination I choose from the seasonal profile. The only rule is to do whatever strikes my fancy. If this means a straight up dram, comparing one against another, exploring Glencairn vs. Riedel, blending several together, marinading a steak, trying chilled vs. room temp, a cocktail (god forbid!)…ANYTHING is up for trial.

This experiment certainly lends itself to creativity. Directly relevant to ATW I will writing about what happens all along the way. I’m currently enjoying a dram of my January sherry selection while I type this, and the next time I sit down with a dram, will be typing up a little piece on my selection.

Until then, cheers!

 

– The Whisky Pilgrim

 Posted by at 6:22 am