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Month: March 2014

“Hard a Port – Iceberg ahead!” | Blog #5

By far and away the most favoured way to drink whisky worldwide is over ice.

In much the same way that the Titanic, despite the best intentions of its captain, sailed on to inevitable destruction, so too do many stick to their firmly held beliefs about ice and if it’s good for whisky or not. So I ask for an open mind, full astern, and give yourself some breathing room to experiment with this foundation of whisky drinking.

Ice has been synonymous with whisky, and particularly Scotch, for a very long time. Golden whisky cascading down into a back-lit tumbler full of crystal clear ice cubes has been the marketing machine behind many a Scotch whisky campaign.

By far and away the most favoured way to drink whisky worldwide is over ice. This is regardless of the whisky category and includes all styles of Scotch, Rye, Bourbon etc.

Let me throw myself in front of the anti-ice campaigners bus by saying that when I’m on the deck with a warm summer sun shining down on me, I love a nice dram on the rocks. When we get into the Summer, I will be writing a follow-up on this blog with a few fun ways to enjoy “iced whisky”.

Ice does however really change any whisky that it comes into contact with.

The first and most obvious effect ice will have on the whisky is to chill it down. While this can bring a refreshing element, it also takes away flavour. The fastest way to take flavour away from most drinks is to chill them. Having spent a lot of time driving around Canada with whisky in my car I can vouch for the fact that at times my whisky bottles have been so cold that they almost tasted like vodka 🙂 So if your aim is to get as much flavour as you can out of the whisky, then ice will work against you.

Secondly, following on from Blog#4 on water, ice will melt and continue to dilute the whisky more and more. It is hard to maintain the perfect balance of whisky and water for your palate using ice. As soon as you have that balance, within a sip or two, it will be gone and potentially over watered.

If you have read my previous blogs then you know that I stand by my belief that you should enjoy your whisky in whatever form you enjoy most.

I do, however, want to challenge you to not always drink your whisky the same way or for that matter, to always drink the same whisky. The very essence of why whisky is so awesome is its diversity. Don’t lock yourself into only one way of thinking and break out of your self-enforced favourite zone now and again. You never know what you might find around the corner that could conceivably blow your ‘favourite’ out of the water and leave you wondering why you didn’t branch out years ago.

My goal with these blogs is to bring you on a journey into new and palate- expanding experiences while at the same time enjoying your whisky and having a lot of fun with it.

To that end I can be at times seen as at odds with traditionally held “whisky geek” views although I am a self confessed member of that club.

Write in the comments and let me know if you are a closet ice user or have always preferred a cube or more with your dram.

Try a little dram homework: Pour two drams and use ice in one and just room temperature water in the other. How is each dram affected? Which do you prefer? To be truly comparative, firstly grab as many cubes as you normally would pour your dram over and put them into a glass to melt. Figure out the volume of water then add that slowly to the second dram till its perfect (how much is left?). Then pour the rest in and note the result. Lots of fun to be had here really figuring out how this all affects your whisky.

My blog next week is a review on one of my favourite drams Amrut Fusion.

Until then,

“na zdrowie”

Jonathan Bray

Water Water Everywhere but not a Drop to Drink | Blog #4

Watering Whisky – How much is enough

If you have even a passing interest in whisky/ey. The topic of water inevitably comes up. How much is enough, am I allowed to add ice and so on, till the whisky newcomer can be completely confused or strong armed into a belief that really does not enhance their whisky experience.

Firstly why are you having a dram of whisky in the first place? Is it casually on the deck in the Summer months or with friends at a bar? Are you snuggled by the fire on a cold winters night or sitting amongst your whisky conglomerate sifting through the finer nuances of your latest acquisition?

What you should or should not be doing to your dram is entirely based on the circumstances surrounding the imminent imbibing.

My axiom has always been if you paid for it then you decide how and when you want to drink it. If you are being hosted and someone brings out a “special” dram then out of respect you should at least initially try it as they offer it.

When I talk about cask strength or higher alcohol whiskies (happens a lot) the feedback I invariably receive is that “I never put water in my whisky”. It comes as a statement of fact. Unmovable and irrevocable. As though someone had written it in stone from a mountain top with the very finger of God. But how then do you reconcile the fact that over 90% of whisky on retail or bar shelves today have already been watered by the master distillers and blenders that designed them? Most of this watering is purely for volume vs price point concerns. The legal minimum for most spirits and certainly whisky is 40%. The maximum number of bottles produced per barrel will always be the lowest alcohol number you can legally drop to. This is also an ABV (alcohol by volume) that most consumers can get their heads around and find smooth and palatable.

40% brings with it a number of relatively recently controversial and interesting topics which we will cover in subsequent blogs.

Suffice to say, however, often there is little room to play once the 40% ABV has been chosen.

Coming very soon to a kitchen cupboard near you (if not already) will be a number of drams at 46%. More room to add H20. Another whisky benchmark is this ABV could become the norm given time and consumer demand.

Cask strength, unadulterated whisky taken directly from the barrel and poured into the bottle without any water added is the ultimate toy box for any whisky enthusiast. Splash a little, or a lot, either way you are the master.

Water can bring out extra layers of complexity, soften somewhat harsh alcohol edges and make a dram smooth and subtle.

It really comes down to your pallet and how you want it. Check out my blog #2 on what makes a pallet tick to think about why you should muck around with your whisky.

Water can bring other flavors to whisky which under normal circumstances is not a good thing. Most tap water is chlorinated in smell and taste and can really ruin a whisky especially delicate and complex offerings. Try filtered or distilled water. Most bottled water works however some are heavily mineral orientated and can have a big impact on the flavor.

So how do you water your whisky? Simple answer is slowly. Have a sip “neat”, as in regardless of the amount of water added by the distiller or blender, then start to add water a few drops at a time. If you are at home you can accomplish this using an eye dropper. If at a whisky event with water bottle in hand try using the cap of the bottle to transfer water so that you can control the amount.

Attempting to use a water jug or bottle to pour directly into your dram is tough at the best of times let alone when potentially under the influence of several pre-warming ounces.

Don’t be limited however to adding small amounts if the whisky is hitting you particularly hard. 50/50 water to whisky is not an uncommon amount for many people so keep going till you think the whisky has hit the sweet spot for you.

As you add each amount stop and take another sip and think about what affect it has on the whisky. Is the alcohol as prevalent? are there more discernible flavors present? Is the nose more prominent and in what way. Did you like it more without water? Has water changed it into something almost completely different?

Exercise for the week – find the highest alcohol volume whisky in your collection and pour a healthy dram or two and play with it. If you don’t have anything over 40% then rush out to your best whisky retailer and get something higher, cask strength if possible. If you were a master blender trying to craft the perfect balance how much water would you add?

Ice,  another version of good old H2O and one of the most popular ways to enjoy whisky around the globe. This is a topic unto itself that we will cover extensively in another blog.

Write in and tell me about your watering experience in the comments.

Until then,

“Chok Dee”

Jonathan Bray

St. Patrick’s Day – Writers’ Tears Pot Still Review | Blog #3

I know this week was supposed to be a blog about Watering whisky, however given that today is St Patrick’s day I thought I would postpone that till next week and tackle a traditional Irish Whiskey review.

Every avid whiskey drinker should take time to consider Pot Still Irish Whiskey. It will add something different to your repertoire of tasting memory.

There are only a scarce few examples of this style of Irish Whiskey making available in the market today.

Green Spot, Red Breast, Jameson Pure Pot Still and Writers Tears the topic of today’s blog.

Pure Pot still or now called just “Pot Still” due to the US regulators finding issue with the use of the word “Pure” is Irish Whiskey distilled with both malted and un-malted (green) barley. We can actually thank the British for this delicious style of whiskey. In 1802 Irish Whiskey ruled the world and made up over 90% of all exported whiskey. The British looking to take advantage of it’s popularity introduced a heavy taxation on Irish Malted Whiskey. This prompted the Irish to use a large percentage of un-malted barley and “Pure Pot Still” was born.

With the decline in Irish Whiskey sales over the ensuing century the few remaining distilleries went back to blends and Single Malts and the “Pot Still” style of whiskey making almost disappeared.

Writers Tears is a Pot Still-Single Malt combination that harkens back to Irish Whiskies of 100 years ago.

Produced in small batches by the Middleton Distillery for Bernard Walsh (Hot Irishman), Writers Tears pays homage to the long history and tradition of Ireland’s rich culture of exceptional authors. I find mulling over a lovely dram really can fire the imagination and as so aptly stated on the label – “Ireland has been blessed with great poets, and playwrights down through the centuries. However, most, if not all of our great writers suffered from writer’s block. Many sought comfort and inspiration from “The water of Life”… Whiskey. It was said that when an Irish writer cried, he cried tears of Whiskey.”

Lets delve into the whiskey.

Writers Tears has a lovely golden hue that puts an Irish Twinkle in your eye straight away.

On the nose subtle wildflower honey layering into fresh hay. It reminds me of a glorious early Summer day walking out to bat for the first cricket match of the season with the sun on my face, the smell of fading Spring blooms in the air, complete with the tinniest hint of freshly cut grass. I’m drawn in now and the buds are eager in anticipation of what this dram has to offer.

The palate is layering and viscous which is surprising for only 40%. Creamy shortbread, nutmeg infused vanilla custard or perhaps Creme Caramel (a big spoonful of the custard with just the tiniest drip of light caramel sauce). No rough edges to be found. Easy and smooth. A lingering touch of white and milk chocolate rounds out the finish.

Weightier than its triple distilled cousins Writers Tears with is double distillation certainly offers a full and delicious offering.

For those just discovering whiskey and all of us that enjoy an easy going but flavorful dram at under $ 40 Writers’ Tears fits the bill.

As an official Christian Feast day and the lifting of the Lenten restrictions on eating and the drinking of alcohol. This St. Patrick’s day (also called the feast of St. Patrick) I hope that everyone can enjoy a good hearty feast with friends and family and a warming dram of Writers Tears.

Have you had a great experience with a delicious whisky under $ 40? Tell me about it in the comments section and just for good measure throw in your favourite St. Patrick’s Day experience.

Next week I promise will be my Blog entitled “Water, Water everywhere but not a drop to drink”

See you then.

“Sláinte chugat!

Jonathan Bray


Why You Should Stop and Smell the Mangos | Blog #2

This weeks blog is about every individuals unique palate and how it is honed. What makes your palate the way it is and what can you do to increase the range of flavors to develop your palates’ experience?

Stretching your palate and broadening your flavor profile will bring you a lot more pleasure as you delve ever deeper into the world of Whisky.

You’ve all heard the saying “Stop and Smell the Roses” and in fact some of you may own Ringo Star’s album… if you’re as long in the tooth as I am. This is a much broader and more important statement in terms of your life. If applied to whisky, it has a more immediate impact.

Some of you reading this blog will have sat through one of the many whisky classes that I have facilitated over the years (thanks by the way) and I have on many occasions talked about “Mango theory”. Smelling roses and eating Mango have a lot in common.

We all start life with a clean slate and through circumstances, upbringing and culture are honed into the individual that sits reading this today.

Where does the Mango come into it? Born and raised in Australia, I experienced Mango as a luscious ripe and full flavored fruit. Now living in Calgary for 12 years, my Mango experience has been lessened somewhat. Green, under-ripe, early picked expressions are shipped North to find their way to market shelves. Those born and raised in Calgary paying an eyebrow raising amount for these exotic palm sized versions would be wondering what all the fuss is about. If I were to pick a fresh Aussie Mango and wave it over the top of the latest batch to hit supermarket shelves, instilling just the barest essence of what it should deliver, I would have accomplished the same task.

Growing up in Calgary and never traveling you would have a very specific set of palate memory on what “Mango” constitutes in your library of flavors. It would be completely removed from mine.

Taste and smell are the two most important senses for building memory. The more you work at trying as many different flavors as you can, the more you will not only expand your range of enjoyable whiskies but you will also notice an appreciation for subtle flavors that you did not pick up on before.

Think of your palate like you would your body… work it out!

With continual exercise, working out, and challenges, your body will become fitter, more sharply honed and able to perform. Your palate is the same. Given the sugar orientated North American diet, most of us will have flabby, lazy palates used to only a tiny range of flavors and unable to comprehend much beyond those self inflicted borders.

So I challenge you, if you want to experience a wider range of flavors and enjoy the immense diversity that whisky/ey has to offer, step out of your comfort zone. Throw away those old foundational beliefs and absolutes and open yourself to possibilities that you have not yet imagined.

” Stop and Smell the Roses” and if you can’t get a tropical ripe Mango expand your palate in other ways. Don’t always order the same thing on the menu when on your weekly date night (another topic). Dare to be disappointed and take a risk.

The number one regret for those that are retired is that they did not take more risks.

Make a commitment as we continue on this journey, that you will pledge yourself to be a risk-taker, smell-er and taster of life.

What is your unique tasting experience, where you have discovered that all tastes are not created equal?

Have you had an “AHA” moment?

Share them below in the comments so that I can add them to my bucket list for new experiences to seek out.

Next week my blog is entitled “Water, Water Everywhere but not a Drop to Drink” – I delve  into whisky and water, the good, the bad, and the ugly.

“Huli Pau!” (Hawaiian for Cheers)

Jonathan Bray

What Do I Know About Whisky??? | Blog #1

Welcome to Singlemalting.com the passionate whisky soaked Blog, where passion and innovation meet history and tradition.

It's the dawn of a new whisky age and some of us are being dragged kicking and screaming while others are running ahead eager for a taste of the sparkling future. Why should those with feet firmly rooted in deep rich history embrace those, that having tasted that glorious past are renewed and emboldened by new complexities and imaginings that whisky dreams are made of.

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