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Month: November 2015

Blended Malts – wake Up and Smell the Awesome | Blog # 89

So a day before we delve into this years Scotch Whisky Advent Calendar, it’s time to stir the pot a little with what for me has been a growing irritant.

The Scotch Whisky Association has certainly helped this irritant to grow and in some circles it has permeated even level headed and seemingly open whisky drinkers to shun this category altogether.

I am of course talking about Blended Malts. This is for me going to be the closest I get to a rant as I have just had one too many well educated whisky drinkers tell me that blended malts are rubbish.

Once upon a time Vatted Malts was the moniker but in complete disregard for what this category should be called so as not to confuse consumers the SWA decided to let the lawyers have a go and behold a second “blended” category was born. Many Single Malt consumers upon reading that dreaded word do not even look to see if the word Malt is following.

“But single malt is the ultimate expression of Scotch and Blended Malts are an inferior option” What a load of BS.

As the majority of you are aware a high percentage of single malts are made up of dozens if not hundreds of different barrels. All this to make a consistent bottling that the distillery can put out on a regular basis and most distilleries are really good at hitting that consistent note. If you drink any of these multiple cask single malts and decree that the concept of a blended malt is crap then we may have a major disagreement on our hands.

If you think about taking different casks from multiple distilleries that are all Single Malt and then combining them to create something greater than the some of their parts you are only adding an extra layer of complexity not taking it away. I know the argument is that blended malts are just a way to use the sub par casks and cover up deficiencies. In some cases I’m sure this may have been true but you can also say that combining 100’s of casks to make a Single Malt is also a way to cover up those sub par barrels. It is my experience that  independent bottlers that are crafting blended malt like Compass Box are making delicious whiskies not rubbish.

Let’s take Samaroli for example. December 25th in last years calendar was a 33 year old Blended Malt that was by far and away everyones favorite whisky receiving almost half the votes. No one even thought to complain about the fact that it was a blended malt. It was just an amazing whisky using 100% malted barley which is the only ingredient allowed in the production of Single Malt. Samaroli carefully selected only 2 casks to marry into that expression because they believed the end result was more delicious than just bottling each as a stand alone Single Malt.

The sad truth of the matter is that the European market is much more advanced in terms of general whisky education than North America. Despite the acceptance of “blended malts” in Europe there is still some resistance. In North America it is a much stronger deterrent to have the word blend anywhere near the label for mid to high level whisky consumers.

What saddens me even more is that many retailers do not help enough with educating the up and coming whisky drinker as most of them seem to lump “blended malts” straight into the “blended scotch” category and disregard it as either a quaffing whisky or a lesser option to the many bright and shiny “Single Malts” lining the shelves.

Singlemalting is the name of my blog and I unabashedly love it. For me single cask expressions are particularly near and dear to my heart but there are many multiple cask single malts and blended malts that are knee buckling, awe inspiring, life changing events.

If you love single malt and your pallet just can’t get enough but you then turn around and dismiss blended malt the stark reality is that you are only BS’ing yourself.

You simply cannot enjoy the complexity that 100% malted barley brings from the one distillery and then say that the addition of another 100% malted barley expression from a second distillery destroy’s it.

Bottom line is that “Single Malt” has become a term that some use as the ultimate expression of Scotch snobbery. Time to wake up and smell the awesome that is “blended malt”

If I’ve offended anyone well……. to bad. I feel that now I am nearing the 100 blog mark that I might actually be able to put my opinion out there and accept as many friend and foe comments as you will fling at me with a small sense of whisky foundation behind it all.

Looking forward to the next time I pull the cork on an amazing blended malt. I hope you will too.

Cheers!

Any Portanova in a storm | Blog # 88

It has been well over a year since I represented Amrut Distilleries in Canada and the US. Time however has not diminished my love of this Distillery and it’s iconic whisky.

Today I want to review a bottle that I have had for a while and an expression that I believe Amrut still releases on occasion.

Portonova Batch Number 1 – Bottled in October of 2011 – Cask Strength of 62.1% (a little cheat here as this is the maximum the Indian Government will allow a whisky to be bottled so it was probably a little higher than this out of the barrel).

Amrut tells us that this whisky was named both for the use of port pipes imported from Portugal and also the town of Portonovo (Parangipettai) on the East coast of India in the Southern state of Tamil Nadu which was under Portuguese control from the 16th to the 18th century.

Spending the first part of it’s life in New American and Ex-Bourbon Oak casks for about 4 years it was then transferred into the Port Pipes for around another year then back into Ex-Bourbon casks for a further 6 months or so. Remembering that Amrut experiences about 12 to 18% Angel’s Share every year, a 6 year old whisky that has been re-racked several times is going to have a very advanced age profile compared to Scotland.

Sign at the entrance of the barrel room at Amrut, Bangalore  Sign at the entrance of the barrel room at Amrut, Bangalore

I have been hiding this bottle away in my collection for almost 4 years and today is the day to crack it open and hop into this much lauded whisky.

This is a whisky that absolutely makes a mockery of the adage that “older is better”. Should Amrut have the 6 year old age statement on this package? My answer is a resounding “no” for several reasons. Firstly, most consumers will see the 6 and compare it instantly to what they know of age statements and dismiss it as too expensive for a whisky that young so never purchase it. Secondly, it would be unfair for Amrut to be compared in the same aging terms as climates that evaporate whisky at a snail’s pace in comparison.

This whisky as NAS should just be measured by what is in the bottle and oh boy, is there something worthwhile inside.

Colour:     Rich Mahogany. This whisky looks like it should be in the mid 20’s minimum with such a deep hue.

Nose:     Shut the front door…… and lock the kids out of the house you are going to need some time to sit and think about this dram if you can get a bottle.

This is one absolute explosion of the deepest richest exotic fruits and spices I have ever nosed in a glass and all with the support of a 62.1% that leaves very little if any nose prickle or high alcohol scents. Citrusy Pomelo and ripe tropical banana topped with high cocoa dark chocolate. There is so much there I could just sit and sniff at this for hours and still probably not be able to completely get to the heart of everything that is making this tick. Baked Cherry Clafoutis just like my sister in law likes to make, warm and inviting, topped with rich fresh farm cream. Good lord, this is awesome…

Palate:     Madagascar Spice Market, dark black fresh vanilla bean, Chocolate Fondue, caramelized orange zest and sticky date pudding. These are a few of my favorite things……

Finish:     On and on and on like riding a hand painted horse on a gaily lit carousel, holding hands with the most beautiful girl in the world. That’s one ride that I never want to finish. Amazingly smooth considering the volume and a drop of water released even more bursts of spice, cinnamon, nutmeg and clove with a touch of star anise.

Something this good definitely has to be a staple special release on a regular basis. Not sure what batch # they are up to almost 5 years later but I’m sure it’s just as good.

Amrut is just plain awesome for any whisky fan. As an equal opportunity drammer, I find it actually sad when I hear other whisky fans belittle Single Malts that are made and aged outside of the Scottish isles. The very things that make Single Malt Whisky so diverse and incredible are only enhanced by the addition of an array of new and unique variables.

This is what makes whisky so freaking amazing. To stop at just one style or one country is to do it a massive disservice.

Next week will be the last blog before we plunge into 25 days straight with the Scotch Whisky Advent Calendar 2nd Edition.

Are you ready?

Cheers!

This is how it’s “Spelt” | Blog #87

G’day everyone,

As promised last week I am reviewing a very unique whiskey offering. Distilled at the KOVAL distillery in Chicago. This Organic Spelt Whiskey really intrigued me on my recent visit to KOVAL and being a rare and discontinued bottling meant that I just had to have a bottle.

Spelt has become more popular amongst organic farmers in recent times as it takes less fertilizing however it is also mis-labeled at times as gluten free which it is most certainly not.

I had a choice of either the Toasted or Charred version of this Whisky and went with Toasted as the lighter flavor and delicate nature of this whiskey was overtaken a bit by the heavy char.

KOVAL Single Barrel Whiskey – Toasted Barrel Limited edition – Spelt 40% ABV – Tasted in a Jewbilee Festival tasting glass that is like a slightly smaller cut off Glencairn glass. The top is almost the same with a slightly smaller diameter and instead of the mushroom stem it is flat on the bottom like a tumbler. Great for such a gentle whiskey.

Colour:     Oak Aged Chardonnay in appearance getting lighter towards the edges of the glass.

Nose:     A lumber yard fresh wood shaving pile, a little wheat like but going in a completely different direction with persistent nosing. Baked poached pears drizzled with melted light honey.

Palate:     So soft and light this might be the most delicate American whiskey I have ever tried. Seductively smooth and barely causing a ripple as it flows softly over the palate leaving behind floral notes of Spring blossoms.

Finish:     A sweet pepper note grows over time with freshly baked scone complete with subtle apricot jam and cream. Right at the end and after a couple of sips at it I suddenly was hit with something that really took me back to my childhood. Sweetened Condensed Milk was a staple on my dummy (pacifier). Mum and dad must have known what they were doing because it shut me up every time. Still a flavor that brings warm comforting feelings.

After tasting an array of KOVAL organic whiskey’s this was my favorite and with availability restricted to the distillery itself I’m glad that I was able to get a bottle.

If you are ever in Chicago I would highly recommend a visit to KOVAL. They are what micro-distilling is all about. Great job guys on thinking outside of the box with a lot of your unique offerings.

KOVAL are available in Canada with their Rye, Millet and Bourbon. No doubt you will have to hunt through select boutique whiskey stores to find a bottle. If you do it will be worth the effort.

That’s two really interesting and amazing whiskies in two weeks. The American distilling scene is really cranking out some brain twisting bottles right now. Boy it’s a great time to be a whiskey/y fan.


The countdown is now on until we start into our 25 days of the Scotch Whisky Advent Calendar blog. Those of you that have yet to secure your calendar there are still plenty available and you can find retail locations on our website at www.secretspirits.com


I hope you will join in as we countdown to Christmas with the daily dram.

Until then keep on the whiskey/y trail

Cheers!

Chicago Whisky Jewbilee Festival Bottling | Blog #86

As promised last week here is my review on the very exclusive Chicago Jewbilee Festival bottling.

To say that these guys think ahead would be an understatement. Everything from the ongoing story told by the labels to the tie-in of barrels being re-used. In this case, the whiskey was firstly aged for 8 years in new American Oak and then transferred into a barrel that was initially used to age a 6 year old Midwest Grain Products Rye (bottled for a previous Jewbilee) and then used again to age a special edition Schmaltz Hop Manna IPA which was bottled in celebration of the New York Jewbilee festival earlier this year.

The amount of time in the beer soaked Rye barrel is not disclosed so lets get into some numbers that we do know.

Whisky Jewbilee American Light Whiskey – 8 Years Old Finished in a beer barrel.

Bottled at Cask Strength 65.1% and only 255 bottles produced tasted in a crystal rock glass (Glenglassaugh).

Colour:     Has that nice classic IPA Amber look to it but with a touch of reddish tinge that I can’t figure out. Could be the back of the label reflecting the light as the red does not really transfer to the glass.

Nose:     Good thing I am sitting down as my knees were feeling a little weak upon smelling this unique and ridiculously interesting nose. Like smelling a freshly baked Hungarian Chimney cake (yes I have had this experience and in Budapest, albeit almost 30 years ago, amazing how smell and memory are so strongly linked) with sweet orange popsicle topping. There is something so unique about this……. Perhaps it is just knowing that this spent time in a beer barrel but as I slowly inch my nose closer I find myself searching for beery elements and thinking that the extra sweet nature of this nose could be partly related to the previous inhabitant. IPA’s are normally quite citrus dominated and even though I never got to try the Jewish Whisky Company Beer I bet is was a big Citrusy, Hoppy IPA that I would have loved. This is also the first whiskey ever, that I have heard of being aged in a barrel used to age beer. It’s messing with my nose and head in the most fabulous way possible.

Palate:     The 65.1 percent does make itself known so a wee sip is a good start. Real fruit Orange and Tangerine pastilles. I used to sometimes get some super soft high end pastilles in Australia that came in a really nice box and far surpassed the quality of the everyday brands. This takes me right back with a dusting of fine sugar. As it develops the tiniest hint of Rye spice comes through and a touch of vanilla essence. When I close my eyes and really concentrate on letting the flavor roll I can get a nice soft hop influence in amongst the citrus.

Finish:     Tingly 65% goodness that makes itself felt all the way down and keeps the gums and tongue dancing. Citrus is certainly the dominant characteristic of this whiskey and the finish is no exception and that lovely sweetness just keeps on coming. Orange Sherbet stands out especially with that zingy tingle going on. What a whiskey.

I have never had a whiskey like this….ever.  Great job on this Jewbilee special. I’m sure that in years to come this will be just as rare and sought after as the other editions. My humble opinion, maybe more so as this is one unique dram.

Rush out and join the Nation and see if you can get hold of this bottle somehow.

My passion for how amazing whisk(e)y is and how diverse it can be just gets underlined when trying funky bottlings like this one.

Next week I will be going even more obscure with a whisky that is another first and will fall into the weird and wonderful category.

Until then feed your thirst with awesome whiskey!

Jewbilee | Blog # 85

Off to the Windy City (Chicago) for my first ever whisky Jewbilee as a guest of the Jewish Whisky Club, Jason, Joshua and Seth.

One of the fun opportunities in putting together the Scotch Whisky Advent Calendar this year was the inclusion of a whisky from these guys and to help launch the Single Cask Nation club in Canada.

Spending 3 days in Chicago is always an exciting prospect. When you add a whisky event like Jewbilee and a chance to spend time with some really quality guys that just love to get their whisky geek on well lets just say that I have been looking forward to this trip for a long time.

Chicago put on an amazing day of fall weather for our arrival and Cindy and I took full advantage wandering the length of Michigan Avenue and taking in the sights.

No trip to Chicago is complete without some Italian and our dinner experience at Volare was awesome. Despite the restaurant being packed we were treated with personal care and seated as fast as humanly possible. Creamy chicken risotto along with fresh pasta topped with black truffle really made the wait worth it. An extensive Italian wine list gave us plenty of yummy options and even after a bottle was unfortunately corked, a fresh glass of Barbaresco was quickly delivered with a touch more added for good measure.

Rounding off the whole amazing evening was in house Limoncello. Thanks Volare for such a great evening. A leisurely walk back to the hotel and whisky dreams of the coming Jewbilee.

Started 3 years ago in New York Jewbilee has grown from 150 to a maximum cap of 450. The Chicago version was the inaugural event and the 4th Jewbilee. Every event warrants it’s own bottling that is only available to Single Cask Nation members and those attending the festival. I promise a review of this extremely rare whisky in the coming weeks.

On show at the Chicago Jewbilee was an array of whiskies from all over the world. Small local producers like Koval had some mind blowing whiskies on offer, how many of you out there have had 100% Millet whiskey? I spent a lot of time at the Koval table.

Keeping the number of consumers to a reasonable limit meant that everyone was able to have great conversation with each table and really delve into the story behind the whiskey/y.

Being careful to sip and dump, Cindy and I were able to get around and try a large array of delicious drops. The other most notable table was manned by Jason with a host of Single Cask nation bottlings. We are very excited that the Nation has officially come to Canada (Alberta). Everyone buying or receiving the 2nd Edition Scotch Whisky Advent Calendar will not only taste their first Single Cask Nation Whisky but also find all the details they need to become part of this exclusive club.

While Jason was working hard pouring all things Nation for the Jewbilee whisky goers Joshua was wandering the aisles shmoozing and making sure that everyone was having a great time.

Salvage One was a really interesting venue loaded with amazing items from times past. It set such a great backdrop for the event and will no doubt be the regular venue for years to come.

Get ready Canada because the Nation is coming. The first whisky has already landed and will be available to the first new members soon. In Edmonton the ambassador store is Unwined that has two locations, downtown and St Albert. In Calgary the ambassador store is Point McKay Wines and Spirits.

Head on over to Single Cask Nation to check out all the goodies and send off an email to Jason and Joshua at info@singlecasknation.com to get full details on the Canadian memberships.

Next week as promised the Jewbilee bottling will be tasted and dissected. I know this is a teaser as you will not be able to get a bottle unless you a) join the Nation and then b) head to the US and arrange to get one from Jason or Joshua.

Our evil plan is to eventually have a Canadian Jewbilee in Alberta which would be more fun than you could throw a kippah at.

L’chaim!