Tag Archives: whisky

The best whiskey you’re not drinking…yet.

 

Kavalan

At the NoMad, Leo Robitschek mixes Kavalan-spiked cocktails. (Image courtesy Liz Brusca)

Last night, I had the opportunity to quaff a few drams of Kavalan, a whiskey from Taiwan that’s about to launch in the U.S. Guided by master blender Ian Chang and whiskey expert Jim Swan,  we tried out some expressions never seen here before (notably, the delectable Kavalan Fino matured in sherry casks and the fruit-forward Kavalan Vinho Barrique). But this wasn’t my first experience with Kavalan, which I wrote about for Wine Enthusiast a few months back. Here’s an excerpt from that piece, about the pleasures of serendipity (and whiskey). You can also read the full article here.

 

The Best Whiskey You’re Not Drinking

Sixteen glasses of whiskey were lined up, glinting amber in the glass, perfuming the air with delectable aromas of vanilla, caramel and smoke – and lucky me, I get to sample them all. Some people might call this a special occasion, or a potential overindulgence.

As spirits reviewer for Wine Enthusiast, I call this … Tuesday.

But this particular Tuesday, I was in for a big surprise. Among those glasses of whiskey –single malt Scotch whiskey, to be specific, since that was the category up for review – a single malt from Taiwan somehow slipped in. And its score was off-the-charts good.

I was floored:  a single malt whiskey from Taiwan? – not Scotland, home of the most-lauded whiskies in the world. As it turned out, this one was made by Kavalan. It hit all the right flavor notes – fresh fruit, light smoke, mouthwatering butterscotch. In short, it was delicious.

It got me thinking: Why haven’t I been drinking more whiskey from Asia? Why isn’t everyone?

Frankly, Asia’s rising crop of whiskeys are every bit as good as some of the finest Scotches around. Most of them were deliberately made in Scotch whiskey’s image, but twists have been added that give Asia’s whiskies their own distinct identity. For example, the local water sources used to make standout Japanese whiskies are credited for creating that unique silky texture. India’s Amrut uses Indian barley in its mash bill. And the inhospitable heat and humidity in subtropical Asia is said to accelerate aging time, creating bold flavors. It makes perfect sense that whiskey would be shaped by the world around it.

In the end, I’m glad that Kavalan snuck into the Scotch lineup. It was a welcome excuse to forget about the restrictions of provenance and just focus on what’s in the glass. It was a much-needed reminder to be open to surprises and serendipity, whatever the source. And of course, it was a reminder to drink more Asian whiskey.  –Kara Newman

 

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For Burns Night: DIY Bottled Bobby Burns cocktails

Photo credit: Teri Lyn Fisher, for Cocktails for a Crowd

Photo credit: Teri Lyn Fisher, for Cocktails for a Crowd

Pre-batched, bottled cocktails are officially a thing.  Bars across the nation are mixing up batches of cocktails ahead of time.  (I’ve even received a couple of press releases for bars that are offering nothing but – are bartenders obsolete?) You can even buy pre-batched cocktails by the bottle at liquor stores.

Or you can go the DIY route, for a party or to keep in the fridge at home after a long day. Here’s my recipe for making Bobby Burns cocktails by the bottle. Whip up a batch for Burns Night this weekend.

 

Bottled Bobby Burns cocktails

From Cocktails for a Crowd, by Kara Newman

Serves 8

Looking for an excuse to chase away the late-January blahs? Celebrate Burns Night on January 25. This drink—perfect for Scotch lovers—is named for the famed Scottish poet Robert Burns, who wrote “Auld Lang Syne.”

12 ounces (1 1/2 cups)  Scotch
12 ounces (1 1/2 cups)  sweet vermouth (such as Carpano Antica)
5 ounces (1/2 cup plus 2 Tablespoons)  water
2 ounces (1/4 cup) Benedictine
8 lemon twists, for garnish

In a pitcher that holds at least 5 cups, combine the Scotch, vermouth, water, and Bénédictine and stir well. Using a funnel, decant into a 1-liter liquor bottle or two 750-ml liquor bottles. Cap tightly and refrigerate for at least 2 hours, until chilled.

To serve, set out a bowl or wine bucket filled with ice. Shake the bottle to ensure the cocktail is well mixed, then set it in the ice so it stays chilled. Pour into coupe or martini glasses and garnish each glass with a lemon peel.

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Pictorial: Four Whiskeys, Old and Rare

A couple of weeks back, I attended an auction preview event at Bonhams. I knew that auction houses like Christie’s and Sotheby’s often sell off old and rare wines, but this was the first time I’d seen spirits up for auction. While the main event was a bottle of 50-plus-year-old Bowmore Scotch (estimated to fetch between $160,000 and $190,000 – a real bargain, don’t you think?) a number of other old and rare whiskeys on display caught my eye, particularly the following four.

Maryland Rye Whiskey (priced at $200-$300). It’s not just the half-gallon milk jug or the wooden carry-handle. It’s that Maryland was once known as a rye-producing state, famed for its sweet, light style of rye (vs. the intense, spicy rye we know today), and it’s not something you see much of anymore. This was a bottle I’d be curious to try, if I ever had the opportunity.image

American Medicinal Spirits Co. – Special Old Reserve (priced at $500-$700). Seven one-pint bottles of “Prohibition bourbon” (distilled in 1916, bottled in 1933) were on offer, all labeled “For Medicinal Purposes Only.” Mmm-hmmm. If you say so.

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John Hancock Whisky (no price listed). Oddly, this bottle wasn’t listed in the auction catalogue, so I have no benchmark on pricing. The best part is the label note:  “Pure and without drugs or poison.” Yikes! Although it’s hard to tell from the label alone, based on that telling little line, I’m guessing that this bottle is either Prohibition era, or even earlier, since the Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906 was intended to combat such adulteration.

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Hanyu Distillery (priced at $400-600 for two bottles). This limited release bottling of 18-year-old Single Nippon Malt Whisky was a limited release bottling, and the distillery is now closed. Released in 2006, this is by no means an old whiskey, but apparently it sold out with lightning speed and the “shameless but classic” label is iconic in Japanese whisky circles.
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Is this the last Irish whiskey you can taste only in Ireland?

During a recent trip to Ireland, I stopped into the Palace Bar, the oldest bar in Dublin. It still has all its original Victorian-era fittings, including a “Writer’s Bar” – now, how could I possibly resist that?

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While seated at the bar, I noticed a display of private-label Palace Bar Irish whiskey. Although it’s becoming a novelty for U.S. bars and restaurants to have their own private-label brand or barrel, it’s not a widespread practice across Ireland. At least…not any more. (A side note: I saw very few people drinking Irish whiskey during my stay – it’s broadly a beer and wine culture– and very few bars offering more than a handful of bottlings. And no wonder:  it turns out that a whopping 90% of Ireland’s spirits are exported.) But here was a rare Irish whiskey that can’t be obtained anywhere else but in Ireland.

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I asked the barkeep for a closer look at the bottle. It’s a 9-year-old single malt, single cask whiskey, bottled at a fairly strong 46% abv, and touts the bar as “Famous for Intellectual Refreshments.” It’s also made by the Cooley Distillery, newly acquired by U.S. spirits company Jim Beam. Cooley was the last indie whiskey distillery in Ireland; William Grant owns Tullamore Dew; Diageo owns Bushmills; Pernod Ricard owns Jameson. Cooley had been the last indie holdout.

Would Cooley continue to make the Palace Bar whiskey? “No, they have no interest in smaller bottlings,” the barkeep said mournfully. He’d been working at Palace Bar for fully four decades, and was there when they’d launched the Palace Bar whiskey not even a year prior. In the 1940s, he continued, it was traditional for pubs to have their own brand, but that practice had largely died down. The Palace Bar last had a private-label whiskey maybe 50 years ago.

So that means that the remaining Palace Bar bottles may soon be rare. Priced at 50 euros, it doesn’t sound like they are in danger of selling out right away, however. At least not according to the bartender: “People come in around Christmas time and buy a bottle as a gift for family, or for friends who stopped in 20 years ago.”

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My essay is in the New York Times!

A personal essay I wrote about an ususual Scotch experience is running in the “Opinionator” section of The New York Times this week - read it here: Drink and Thrive.

After the piece came out yesterday, a few people on Twitter and Facebook tried to guess the magazine and the magazine editor around which the story revolves. “The New Yorker?” Nope. “Vanity Fair?” Strike two. “Esquire?” Thanks for playing, but no.

Funny enough, the original version of the essay named both the magazine and the editor. In fact, the original title of the piece was “A Drink with __{Magazine editor’s last name}.” But since the editor is alive and well and retired to Florida, the NYT column editor suggested that it might be kindest to remove the identifying details.

Want to know which magazine had the Scotch-loving editor that had interns fixing drinks for the editor-in-chief in best “Mad Men” style? (Go on. Take a guess.  Then you can scroll down to learn….)

 

 

 

 

…..that I was an intern at New York Magazine.  (Did you guess it right?)

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5 things I’ve learned about…Irish Whiskey

Just in time for St. Patrick’s Day, the March 2012 issue of Wine Enthusiast magazine will include (among other things) my review column on Irish Whiskey!  You can pick up a copy at the newsstand, or view it in digital format on Zinio.  Here’s what I learned:

1. Compared to just about every other whiskey, Irish whiskies are lighter and smoother. In general, they don’t have intense peat, intense caramel from barrel aging, or deep dark colors (golden vs. amber). At their best, they have a gentle finesse. Many are honeyed (vs. burnt toffee flavors) or have floral or even light tropical fruit flavors.

2.  Irish whiskeys are building quite a fan base on American shores — the category racked up an astonishing 25% increase in U.S. sales between June 2010 and 2011, according to SymphonyIRI Group. Damn!! What other spirits category can claim that…beyond candy-flavored vodka?

3.  So what’s the appeal? Frankly, Irish whiskey is approachable and affordable, but still complex enough to be interesting.

4. But it appears that no one has told the Irish whiskey distillers that they’re hot stuff.  Scotch tends to be accompanied by reams of marketing materials and boastful claims on the back of the bottle; American whiskey is pretty macho in its claims too, and tends to have flashier packaging. Marketing materials and bottle labels for Irish whiskey don’t tell you much, and the bottles generally are plain. Attention PR and marketing pros!

5. Ironically, just as bartenders are rediscovering Irish whiskey, they’re finding that very few are used in classic cocktails. No worries, they’re happy to create new ones. The Redbreast 12-year is called for in a handful of new craft cocktail recipes, but Jameson seems to be called for most of all. This time of year in particular, look for the cheerful abomination known as “The Pickleback”:  a shot of the Jameson basic blend, served with a “back” of pickle juice.

If you have a favorite Irish whiskey or cocktail featuring Irish whiskey, please add a comment, I’d love to hear about it!

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Five things I’ve Learned About…Single-Malt Scotch

The December 15, 2011 issue of Wine Enthusiast magazine is out, and it includes (among other things) my review column on Single Malt Scotch.  You can pick up a copy at the newsstand, or view it in digital format on Zinio.  Here’s what I learned:

1. I now understand why people go bananas over the whiskey category, and Scotch in particular. It’s mind-blowing what can be accomplished with grain, water, and barrel wood…and nothing else.

2. This was the category that finally got me to spit during tastings. SO many of these are uber-aged, and have such high alcohol levels, that it became a necessity. It was a survival technique; otherwise I’d have been sozzled during every tasting session.

3. The scoring range was totally different from say, flavored vodkas — significantly more in the 90+ area, and very very few below 85. Although I think what I was sent generally was top of the line (in some cases I know it was), the takeaway is that there’s a surplus of excellence in the single-malt Scotch category.

4. I also had the opportunity to sample the most expensive spirit I’ve ever reviewed: $1300. It was a highly limited edition, but based purely on the blind tastings, much more reasonably-priced spirits were just as good or better. (sorry!)

5. The biggest surprise of all to me – I don’t hate peat!  It turns out, I just hate heavy-handed peat — that overpowering smokiness that I imagine must be like licking an ashtray.

Got a favorite single malt Scotch? I’d love to hear about it. Comment away…

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3 New Ways To Smell Booze

Iain McCallum demonstrates the “Live Long and Prosper” technique

Apparently, there’s more of an art to sniffing hooch than I’d realized.

It’s no longer enough to bring a glass to your nose and simply inhale. Depending on who you ask and what’s in your cup, you may be advised to swirl first; stick your nose in the glass altogether or just wave it gently below; inhale with mouth slightly open or closed — all in the name of maximizing aroma.

My take:  whatever works best for you is the right way.

That said, at a recent Scotch-tasting event, Iain McCallum, Master of Malts for Morrison Bowmore Distillers, demonstrated three ways to coax extra fragrance out of the glass. Although I’m tempted to scoff, I see the wisdom of having alternate ways to nose spirits, especially when dealing with cask-strength whiskey.  The point is to avoid inhaling a snootful of alcohol.

At least one of these worked for me; some were just amusing to watch. Try these techniques for yourself and let me know what works best for you.

 1. The Live Long and Prosper. I call it that because the first step is to make a Spock-like “V” sign with the third and fourth fingers of your hand.  Palm up, place the stem of a wineglass in the crook of the “V” and cup the bowl in your palm to warm the liquid inside. Put your other hand on top of the glass, trapping the aroma inside.

Swirl the glass, and bring it to your nose. Slide the top hand away, and quickly smell.

2. The Milkshake. Assume the Live Long and Prosper pose.  Instead of the circular swirl, this time shake the glass up and down, violently enough that the spirit splashes up on to your palm (but not violently enough to catapult the glass across the room, please).

Put the glass down, and rub palms together. The alcohol should evaporate; cup hands together and smell the fragrance left on your palms.

3. The Basset Hound. Bring the glass to your nose. Sniff it three times, quickly, and then stop. Repeat this (sniff three times, stop). Repeat it a third time. By the third sniff-a-thon, your nose should be acclimated to the alcohol, and you should smell only the fragrance of the spirit.

I found this last technique surprisingly effective. When I tried it with a tableful of people doing the same thing, I also found it remarkably hilarious.

Do you have a special technique for smelling spirits? Or seen one that’s just kind of nutty? Post it below – I can’t wait to hear about it (and what you think of the ones above).

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“When a woman orders whiskey, it’s an aggressive act.” WHAT?!?

Over the past couple of years, I’ve been invited to an increasing number of “Women & Whiskey” themed events. 

Some of these are transparently marketing-driven posturing, where chocolates and cupcakes accompany whiskey, as if all the spirit needs is the right accessory.  

But lately, I feel an earnest wind blowing in, from the direction of the Scottish Isles.

Ardbeg Flip

In mid-August, I attended a “Single Malt & Seafood” pairing intended “for women only,” with no chocolate in sight. Instead, the menu ran to well-made Rob Roy cocktails (Glenmorangie LaSanta, Carpano Antica, orange bitters) paired with scallops, and smoky Ardbeg Flips paired with Warm Bread Pudding.

And last night, at the Food Network kitchens, whisky specialist and Glenfiddich ambassador Heather Greene hosted a kickoff event for a “Women & Whisky” series – a whisky dinner, hold the cupcakes. Again, the focus was on Single Malt Scotches.  What surprised me most wasn’t that it’s possible to pair seared duck breast with Scotch, but rather the attitude struck by a couple of dinner-mates. 

When a woman orders whiskey, it’s totally an aggressive act,” said one woman (who later chuckled over the fact that her 30-year-old dram was older than she). Another woman, in a separate conversation, described the same act as “shocking.”

I was floored, and promptly sent that “aggressive act” comment out on Facebook and Twitter. The responses flew back (I’m sparing the names, but noting the genders):

 If that’s the case, then I’ve been witness to a lot of aggression over the years…  (Male)

Sounds like bullshit to me! And my wife, big whiskey fan. (Male)

 That statement drove a switchblade into my liver! (Female)

False. Capital F.  (Female)

Aggressively hot!  (Male)

How narrow minded. I’ve been a Scotch drinker since I was in my 20s. I’m pretty sure no one who knows me would call me aggressive. (Female)

Good heavens! By that judgment I’d be Ms. Bitch on wheels. (Female)

Telling, don’t you think?

Label - rare 15yo Scotch

By the end of the evening, clearly some whisky walls had broken down, as the woman sitting to my right plopped a dollop of vanilla ice cream into her snifter of rare 15-year-old Glenfiddich, a bottling that Heather had carried back from Scotland the previous week. Of course, I tweeted that too. I tried a little of the combination together, ice cream and Scotch — and it was a surprisingly lovely combination, not unlike the creamy Ardbeg Flip I’d tried a few weeks earlier, minus the smoke.

But when I checked Twitter, clearly some people were scandalized.

Quipped one pithy tweet:   I would classify ice cream in 15 yr old whiskey as an aggressive act.

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5 Things I’ve Learned About…Blended Scotch Whiskey

The September 2011 issue of Wine Enthusiast magazine is out, and it includes (among other things) my review column on Blended Scotch Whiskey.  You can pick up a copy at the newsstand, or view it in digital format on Zinio.  Here’s what I learned:

1. We hear constantly about single malt Scotches, but not much about blends. Some of them are pretty darn good. (of course, some not so much.)

2. What is blended Scotch?  The Scotch Whisky Association provides downright draconian guidelines. For starters, It comes from Scotland.  Yes, this seems obvious, but I think it bears noting that the “blend” doesn’t mean whiskey from other countries can be blended in there. It’s all Scotch whisky (the Scots drop the ‘e’), and it must be distilled and aged in Scotland. However — it may be bottled in other countries.

3.  (aka “2a”) There’s at least one Single Malt Scotch in blended Scotches. The pesky SWA has more to mandate here: Blended Scotch mixes together one or more Single Malt Scotches, often with one or more Single Grain Scotches. For this tasting, blends ranged up to 40 different whiskies in a single bottle (that was Johnny Walker Black Label). A blend that contains only Single Malts is called a Blended Malt Scotch Whisky.

4. (aka “2b”) Wait, so now I have to figure out the difference between Single Malt and Single Grain Scotches? Damn you, SWA. Fine:

–Malt whiskey is made from malted barley (grain that’s been germinated or sprouted), and is distilled in old-fashioned pot stills, considered an essential part of the whisky’s flavor and character.

–By comparison, grain whisky, which mixes together malted barley with unmalted grains (primarily corn), is distilled in a continuous still – a more efficient technology than old-school pot stills, but many experts say the resulting liquor is correspondingly less flavorful.

(*Screeching to a halt*)  You know what?  I’m changing my “what I learned” points here:

3. (Revised) The Scotch Whisky Association is a pain in the butt.

4. (Revised)  It’s a good thing that I have a copy of Gaz Regan’s “Bartender’s Bible” to help clarify the finer points of Scotch nuisance appreciation.

5. Where was I before that peevish digression? Right. Bartenders are understandably reluctant to mix rare Single Malts into cocktails. But they are less skittish about mixing more readily available –and often more affordable– blended Scotches into classic drinks like the Blood and Sand or the Bobby Burns.

…Or to create original new cocktails. In fact, at the Manhattan Cocktail Classic in May, bartender Jason Asher created the Northshore Cocktail for my “Whiskey is the New Black” seminar, made with Peat Monster from Compass Box. It turned out to be a lovely, smoky riff on the tiki genre. Here’s the recipe. Enjoy, and be sure to to curse, I mean toast, the SWA when you drink.

Northshore Cocktail

By Jason Asher

1/2 ounce Hum liqueur

3/4 ounce Monin almond or orgeat syrup

1/2 ounce lime juice

3/4 ounce Peat Monster whiskey

Serve on rocks, garnish w/ lemon peel

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