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Secret Whisky Shopper Part 2 | Blog #13

Why does a Scot always instantly command respect when the topic of whisky comes up? Firstly, the accent, it sounds as though they have had a few drams already and are speaking from field tested experience. Secondly, given that the Scots have been making whisky for longer than anyone, except the Irish, they deserve the recognition.

If you haven’t read part 1 of this series, check it out here

Tony, true to his word brought Chris over and gave him a quick summary of my needs. Chris, a Scottish infiltrator into the US, has been working for Total Wine for a while in multiple cities. Chris jumped into the opportunity with both hands, He quickly and enthusiastically engaged me with confidence and knowledge.

1st Category Scotch

Like leading a horse to water and forcing it to drink. Taking a Scot into the Scotch section is pretty much going to be a done deal. They will try hard to sell you something from the homeland.

Chris straight away showcased the Shieldaig 18 year old (Speyside). This brand is exclusive to Total Wine. It is bottled at 40% and while Chris did not mention either Chill Filtration or Caramel, I suspect that there is a little of both involved. At $39.99 for an 18 year old Single Malt, it is to be expected that it needs to be 40% for sheer economy of scale and part and parcel of that ABV is chill filtration.

92 points Wine Enthusiast and a Gold Medal at the San Francisco Spirits Competition give it a decent pedigree. For the purposes of my shopping experience the $39.99 price tag was certainly putting it right up there as a front runner and peaking my interest.

Given that Tony’s Grangestone 30 year old blend suggestion was $89.99 & Chris’s Sheildaig 18 was $39.99, I already had a leaning due to an agenda to buy two bottles. Chris then also worked to swing my decision with a slightly personal bias against blends. I can sympathize as a lot of the mainstream inexpensive blends can be somewhat harsh and decidedly inferior to most Single Malts. Having said that however, older grain whiskies can be magical and premium blends with higher Malt percentages can be exceptional. With Single Malt stocks at risk due to market demand these premium blends will become the way of the future for affordable Scotch.

I asked Chris in a lighthearted way if he was pushing me towards a Scotch as a true Scotsman should. He smiled and promised me that he would show me some other delicious whiskies as he bustled me over to the Bourbons to show me just how multi-whisky skilled he was.

2nd Category Bourbon

The first Bourbon Chris suggested was the Hancock’s Single Barrel Reserve. 89 points in Wine Enthusiast for $38.99. Chris had a lot of good things to say about this whiskey. I asked him about the Willet Bourbon as a possibility but he came back to the Hancock on value and balance. I am a big sucker for a balanced whiskey so he had unknowingly lifted the Hancock up to the top of the pile with just that one comment.

The second Bourbon option was Chestnut Farms. Receiving a Double Gold at the San Fran Competition, it looked to be a very interesting option. I actually had it in my hand at one point and at $47.99 it would still work within the 2 bottles for under $100 ceiling.

3rd Category Rye

Rye finally got its due and is one of my favorite styles of whisky. I just love all things spicy and Rye scratches that itch for me.

The first suggestion from Chris in this section was Darby’s Reserve, at $21.99 it seemed like a really good deal. I was not convinced however and in this instance really wanted the best whiskey I could find closer to the $50 mark. I pretty much dismissed this option as soon as it was offered.

Chris also suggested the WIllet Rye Single Barrel which Tony had also done. This made it even more frustrating that there was none in stock. This is a great sales pitch though as it made me want to come back and buy it when it was. A good way to get me back to the store and to begin to build a loyal customer. Good work from both Tony and Chris on this one. 90 points in Whisky Advocate this Rye quickly disappears on the shelf and they had no date for a re-stock. One to look for in the future. $42.99 seems like a bargain.

I also asked Chris about the High West Double Rye and his take on it was that it was too spicy … is that possible 🙂 which put it out of balance. I had to quietly disagree with Chris a little on this one as the 16 year old portion of the Double Rye really does smooth out the spice and leave a lingering balanced finish. But I could see his point as the younger 2 year old does light up the palate with a big spicy intro. Always interesting to get someone else to give you their palate experience on a whisky you personally like. Sometimes the very things you like about it are the same things that causes them to dislike it.

So next week the decisions will be revealed along with tasting notes on the first whisky.

Let me know about a great retail experience that you have had in the past 12 months.

I look forward to talking whisky with you then.



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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