April 20, 2012 § 19 Comments
A couple of weeks ago I had the ultimate whisky-geek experience of being temporarily uprooted from my busy life in NYC to partake in the more relaxed lifestyle of the Scots in Speyside, Scotland. One of the highlights being a very personal and memorable visit with David Steward at the Balvenie distillery (see my post on that visit HERE).
While there, I tasted some very rare and exceptional drams which I’ll continue to write about in upcoming posts. The first of which, however, was their new make (also known as “white whisky”) which is the distillate prior to any aging. It’s clear, fresh and bright and is the important base of all of their beautiful variations. This is not something that is ever bottled and sold by Balvenie, despite a trend across the pond by the American craft distillers who have been releasing their white whiskies & moonshines over the last few years. Sometimes these new makes can be a bit hard to drink, but I assure you, Balvenie never does anything rough.
NOSE: Sweet grass, malty, pungent sweet, celery salt, salted honey
PALATE: Eucalyptus, rich, complex, sweet after taste, bright, yummy esters (yup, I did just write that!)
WITH H2O: Eucalyptus is still present with white pepper introducing itself, still sweet, beautiful and something I wish I could buy to have on hand always!
I love a good un-aged whisky and this one is particularly delicious (in fact, I wish I was sipping on this right now as I write this post!). But if you can get your hands on one, and I’m talking about a good one, try it chilled in the summer or, my favorite way, paired with some kind of citrus dessert (think lemon bar or a crème brûlée seasoned with orange zest).
What about you? Do you have a favorite un-aged whisky or a preferred way to enjoy this kind of spirit?
April 6, 2012 § 14 Comments
Between the rain and the recent snow, there were a few beautiful, dry, warm & sunny days in Scotland … and I was lucky enough to have been a visitor during just those days!
After an incredible tour of Forsyths, the Scottish still makers (see my post on that visit HERE), next on the itinerary was a visit to another place in Speyside which has a deep place in my whisky-heart; Balvenie.
Not only was I lucky enough just being there – but my travel buddy (head distiller of Balcones, Chip Tate) and I were given a private tour by Balvenie’s Malt Master (aka, head distiller), David Stewart and their distillery ambassador, David Mair. And if that wasn’t enough – David Stewart was also in the midst of celebrating his 50th year at Balvenie! Congratulations, David!!!
We truly had a lovely afternoon walking the grounds, geeking out about all things “whisky” and of course – drinking some seriously special drams – a few of which David poured straight from the barrels into our open palms. Luckily, slurping was acceptable because I wasn’t letting a single drop hit the floor!
Below is a collection of photos that I took during the visit. Hope you enjoy!
The Balvenie Castle … not exactly where we were trying to go (it’s not that close to the distillery) but it is quite cool to see. Thanks to Google Maps for accidentally taking us here first!
Oh the Scottish weather!
The sign says, “Welcome To Dufftown” …. phew! Back on the right road and almost there!
We made it!!!
This is the view with our backs to the distillery. Isn’t Scotland just so pretty?
The Malting Floor. One of only about 3-5 distilleries left in Speyside who still have an active malting floor. It’s a lot of hard work, manual labor and expense for these distilleries to maintain so it’s a real treat when you get to see one with your own eyes. Highland Park is another one who malts some of their own barley. I don’t know if there is a single distillery left who currently malts 100% of their own barley… if you know of one – please share in the comments below!
Love their old, red grist grinder!
Inside a giant mash ton
This is what they’re talking about when they say, “wooden wash backs.” Not many places ferment their grains in wood anymore. Stainless steel is far more common.
Check out their shiny gold (ok, brass) spirit safes! This is where the distillate cuts are made. Meaning that during the distillation process, the distiller uses the switches and the hydrometer (the device that reads the % of alcohol content) to move the new make through the stills, the low wines receiver and the spirits receiver. Fancy, huh?
Sorry – no photos allowed of the aging rooms (though they were really cool!) – we need to let that liquid gold get it’s beauty sleep! Off to the tasting room we go!
This was the “planned” tasting round … but as luck would have it, the cabinet doors were opened up and we were treated to a few bonus rounds! David & David gave us to some really special pours which I’ll certainly share my tasting notes to later … so stay tuned!
Needless to say, it was a really special afternoon. Thank you David, David and Chip for the laughs, whisky and lasting memories. This day will stay with me for a very long time.
March 30, 2012 § 16 Comments
Last week I had the opportunity to be a part of the most unique tour in Speyside, Scotland. A tour that is quite uncommon and not available to the public – and one that I will remember for the rest of my life (in a way that only a true whisky-geek could).
I walked the grounds of the Forsyths facility – the Forsyth facility. You know the guys … the ones responsible for creating and maintaining all of the equipment that goes in to making that beautiful dram in your hand. The stills. The beautiful copper stills. To the likes of Balvenie and Bruichladdich, from Kavalan to one day soon, Balcones. These are the original still masters and they continue today to make the stills by hand – 3 generations later.
A most sincere THANK YOU to Richard Forsyth for being such a generous host and to Chip Tate (Balcones) for the awesome & unforgettable invitation.
So, put on your hard hat and your ear plugs, this Whisky Woman is going to let you peep inside this magnificent palace of constant construction!
The day ended with a few shared glasses of whisky and a solid game of pool. Naturally, I was on the winning team – kicking butt with my rock-star partner, Richard.
And just to come full circle, Richard’s father (also Richard Forsyth) was awarded the Icons of Whisky Lifetime Achievement Award in London later that week. Congratulations Richard on receiving such a high honor and much deserved recognition.
March 14, 2012 § 8 Comments
In preparation for my fast-approaching trip to Europe where I’ll be attending the World Whisky Conference, the Icons of Whisky awards, Whisky Live UK and doing a few days in both Scotland and France, I thought it best to do a pre-trip detox. Limiting myself to only the necessary sips of spirits and events that my life requires.
…But then again – I AM a whisky blogger…
I can’t totally abandon all fun drinking for a week, can I? I say no. So I have found myself wishing to revisit a beautiful bottle of Kornog that was gifted to me by the ever-talented head distiller, Jean Donnay, of the Celtic Whisky Compagnie. And since I already published my post about my visit to his picturesque distillery (click HERE for Part 1), I thought today was the day to abandon my carrot+kale+celery concoction and reunite myself with my trusty Glencarin glass. Here it goes!
ABOUT: 46% abv (92 proof), Peated Single Malt Whisky, twice distilled in copper pots over live flame, wooden washbacks, aged in French Oak on an earth floor where it rested in the salty-air climate of Brittany, France for at least 3 years
NOSE: Definitely classic, pure “peat” (think Sharpie marker), toasted cereal, hint of dried tropical fruit, ripe banana
PALATE: Sweet, buttery grain, smooth approach in the beginning, obvious peat appears in the middle which morphs into the black pepper that cuts through the buttered grains
FINISH: Happily strong, travels nicely through the mouth with a long, lingering finish. Black pepper re-appears on the tip of the tongue at the very end.
FINAL THOUGHTS: The little time in the barrels makes it very light and approachable and gives space to let this whisky’s classic peat notes shine through. If you’re new to whisky and want to find out if you like peated malts, this is a GREAT place to start. Not many barrel notes – which is expected. Very enjoyable. A PERFECT whisky to drink during the transition from Winter to Spring. The peat is there to add a little warmth while the lightness is refreshing.
February 1, 2012 § 3 Comments
Almost 2 weeks ago, I had the amazing & somewhat unexpected pleasure of spending an afternoon with Bruce Joseph inside the famous Anchor brewery & distillery in San Francisco, California.
Bruce is a legend.
After a long history of working in the brewery, he spearheaded Anchor Distilling with Anchor’s long-time former owner, Fritz Maytag. They started in the early 1990’s looking back into America’s history to understand and re-create the original American whiskey (we’re talking about figuring out what and how our first president, George Washington, distilled, folks). Turns out, it was 100% Rye whiskey that was aged in toasted, not charred, barrels. Thus, Anchor’s 18th Century Style Whiskey was born!
Anchor continues to make the 18th Century Style Whiskey and their Straight Rye Whiskey in small batches. They have also added two gins to their portfolio: Junipero (which is beautiful & I encourage you to get your hands on if you haven’t already) and Genevieve; a unique, 17th-style gin. This was the first time I had tried the Genevieve and was happy to have done so. It is very pleasant on the palate, light citrus and herbs with some serious complexity & viscosity as well. And this baby goes down very easily … almost too easily. This is not a gin to be used in a martini – no – this is to be enjoyed neat, over ice or, as per Anchor’s suggestion, shaken with ice.
After a five hour tour that was a perfect balance of tech talk, industry speak, distilling geek-out moments and, of course, some sampling of products, it was a magical afternoon that started with a random knock at the door and the luck of good timing.
Ok, enough chit-chat! Let’s get to the photos!
Hello Anchor! … the excitement grows!
Yay! Whole, beautiful HOPS!
Oh beer, how crisp, refreshing and lovely you are!
That’s some serious Steam Beer, baby!
Look at all of that gorgeous, shiny, whiskey-producing copper
Fermenting 100% rye, upon which we did a little impromptu tasting!
Bruce Joseph & me, Allison Patel … the Whisky Woman 😉
December 12, 2011 § 20 Comments
Earlier this year, I had the absolute pleasure of visiting the distillery of perhaps one of the best kept secrets in the whisky world (but not for long!).
Celtic Whisky Compagnie’s most popular brands are Kornog and Glann ar Mor. (Specific product reviews in part 2 of this series). On the heels of the Winter issue, before you send your 1st edition Fall 2011 Whisky Advocate magazine out to the recycling bin (or storage bin), check out their nice mention!
Stepping off the train from Paris to Brittany, you arrive in this beautiful, small, sunny, sea-breeze soaked town where it’s easy to start imagining ones’ early retirement. Shortly there after, we were graciously picked up by my dear friend and head distiller, Jean Donnay. As he drove us down the windy coastal streets, we watched the tide quickly retreat and the oyster farmers rushed in to collect their crops. After a blissful tour of the distillery, we shared the most delicious seafood lunch on the top floor of the distillery where we talked about and drank Jean’s amazing whiskies.
And amazing, they are. This is truly a labor of love. Everything they make is hand-crafted and produced by Jean and his wonderful wife, Martine. They do everything right; 100% Scottish malt, live fire, slow distillation, wooden washbacks, worm tube copper stills … but still, given the right skill, patience, investment and knowledge, all of that can theoretically be duplicated anywhere. However, in addition to their passion and drive, what Celtic Whisky Compagnie has that you can’t copy is their perfectly strategic location for “Seaside Maturation.”
Remind you of somewhere? Starts with an “S” ends with a “land”… exactly.
This carefully produced spirit comes off the stills and relaxes on the earthen floor right by the sea. The warehouse is on the tip of a peninsula so you get the wonderfully moist, salty sea air continuously swirling around the aging whiskies. When you sip Jean’s products, you are transported to this place and the amazing journey for your senses begins.
Those of you in Europe – get your hands on a bottle or two (if you’re lucky!). As for us Americans, definitely pick up a bottle on your next pass through Europe! You’ll be glad that you did!
September 14, 2011 § 1 Comment
If you haven’t figured it out by now – I love original whiskies.
I love seeking out and experiencing the delicious drams that the true artist distillers of the world are creating. Yesterday, I did just that with Meg Bell of Chicago’s Koval Distillery at the Four Seasons in NYC. We tasted 5 of their 26+ products, focusing only on the whiskies (dugh!).
I was going to write about all of the interesting, wonderful and unique techniques that the founders, Sonat & Robert use to develop their Lion’s Pride aged whisky line, however, the WhiskyCompetition made this great video of Meg, filmed in the Koval distillery, talking about just that! Click, enjoy, and seek out for yourself!
Straight from the Lion’s mouth…
September 8, 2011 § 6 Comments
Despite my late arrival into Austin the night before, I woke up extra early last Thursday because after much (and I think very patient waiting) I was going to see the Balcones distillery in person (see my previous post on Balcones HERE).
I’ve had the pleasure of visiting other distilleries before but none home to the unique, super-secret process of smoking the actual whisky not the grains technique that head distiller, Chip Tate, created and successfully applies to his wildly popular Brimstone whisky. (Check out the products rave review by Tasting Table Top Shelf HERE)
During my visit, the Balcones’ crew were in the process of bottling & shipping out their extremely limited 1st released Single Malt which I was honored to taste & try the barrels samples of for version 2.0. (BOTH are Ahh-mazing.) Get it while you can. This is something you definitely want in your whisky collection!
What’s great about visiting these craft distilleries is that you are up-close and personal with the whole operation. I got to meet everyone and of course, got in their way as soon as I went camera-happy (sorry!).
All in all – we had a great time (thank you, Chip!) and can’t wait to go back next year to see how they are progressing with the new space!
Check out the photos of my visit below!
But wait … the fun isen’t over yet! Chip took us on a side trip to visit the new space they will be expanding into. Along the way, yours truly got a lesson in barrel rolling! 😀
Ok – you all really have to try his products. The reason I have become so nuts for them is the layers and layers of complex scentes and flavors. He is not just making “another whisky” here – he executes everything with such passion, precision and curiosity that he is pushing the boundaries of tradition while still remaining true to his roots. We should all be greatful. To me, this is what is so exciting about the craft whisky movement here in America.
Take advantage now.