Scotch Lesson #3: Single Malt vs. Blends

Johnnie Walker Red Label Blended ScotchLast time, we focused on the geography of Scotland, and how it affects the taste of the whisky in your bottle.  This time we’ll discuss the definitions, and differences between, single malt Scotch and blended Scotch.

Single malt Scotch whisky is very easy to define and understand.  To be considered a single malt, the whisky must be made of solely malted barely at a single distillery.  Single malt whiskies include the Glenlivet, Laphroaig, and the Dalmore.

On the contrary, blended Scotch is just what it sounds like; a blend of various Scotch whiskies.  Blended whiskies include Cutty Sark, Chivas Regal, and Dewar’s.

Now, here’s where the debate begins.  Of course, some purists will only drink the finest single malts.  Surely blended Scotch is for peasants!

Not necessarily.  While I will agree that to my discerning taste, Johnnie Walker isn’t necessarily my favorite.  But, look at companies like Compass Box.  Their whiskies are blended from very high quality spirits, creating a unique and complex balance.  They take very specific flavors and combine them to create some of the most flavorful whiskies around – like the Peat Monster for example.

I hope this helped clarify some of the major differences between single malt Scotches and blended Scotches.  Next time we’ll focus on age statements, and how important they really are; you might be surprised!

Class dismissed.



Eagle Rare 17 Year Old Bourbon – Review

Eagle Rare 17 Year Old BourbonEagle Rare 17 Year Old Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey

90 Proof

Price Point: $55 – $65 for 750 ML

Distiller: Buffalo Trace Distillery



Last week, I posted my review of George T. Stagg; my first review of a whiskey from Sazerac’s Antique Collection.  Two weeks ago, I reviewed Eagle Rare 10 Year Old.  This week, I’ll be combining the two!  Eagle Rare 17 Year Old has the same great formula as its younger brother, but aged seven years longer.  Surprisingly, this changes a lot of the flavor, mostly for the better.



The nose of Eagle Rare 17 Year Old is similar to the 10 Year Old, only more intense.  The sweet aromas make their way to your nose quickly, and in a big way.

The taste is wonderfully oaky, with that same vanilla taste as its counterpart.  I pick up more caramel in this expression.

Afterwards, the oak flavor is still there, and makes for a spectacular aftertaste.


Rating & Recommendations

Eagle Rare 17 Year Old is a great example of a whiskey being aged to perfection.  No longer does Scotch singularly hold the right to age their whiskies longer than ten or twelve years.  I rate this whiskey a 90 out of 100.

Even more so than the 10 Year Old, Eagle Rare 17 Year Old should not be polluted by a mixer.  Do yourself a favor, and drink this stuff neat, regardless of your urge to add ice.

Clearly I’m a big fan of the Antique Collection, and this whiskey certainly doesn’t disappoint.



How to Drink Whiskey

Whiskey SnifterWelcome to 2012!

According to some of the conspiracy theorists out there, this is the year that the world will end.  If that is the case, you’re going to need a drink or two, but you’ll need to know the proper way to consume.

Let me start this post by saying that, in my opinion, there is no wrong way to drink whiskey.  It really all comes down to personal preference and what makes you happy.  However, there are certain ways of drinking whiskey that will help you get the most out of what’s in your bottle.



We’re going to work our way backwards with this “lesson”, starting with the most difficult way to drink whiskey and work our way to the easiest.  Drinking whiskey neat is my preference when consuming my favorite drink, but will be an ordeal for the average person.  For those not sure what this means, neat means just the whiskey; no ice, water, or mixer.  This allows the drinker to experience the full spectrum of flavors (and alcohol content) that the whiskey has to offer.

You can use a regular whiskey glass, but the preferred vessel is a nosing glass or snifter (see picture above).  This doesn’t necessarily affect the taste of your whiskey, but rather allows you to experience the aromas of the whiskey, by funneling the scents to a narrower top, and clearly showcases the colors of your whiskey.  No need to pour a lot; whiskey should be enjoyed in small doses.


Whiskey Disks

If you’re not going to drink your whiskey neat, you should try Whiskey Disks.  A company called Hammerstone manufactures these soapstone disks that are made to slightly cool down your whiskey.  They do a good job of lowering the temperature without diluting your whiskey.  However, when whiskey is cooled down, some experts will argue that it loses some of its more intricate flavors.

I like Whiskey Disks, but they seem a bit unnecessary to me for my purposes.


Splash of Water

Here’s where the debate gets a little interesting.  Many whiskey purists, specifically Scotch purists, insist that a splash of water be added to your drink.  This is supposed to bring out the “bouquet” of the whiskey and open up all of its flavors.  Consequentially, it also brings down the proof and removes some of the bite.  I’ve noticed that adding water can in fact improve the whiskey, but to me, it often dilutes it too much for my liking, thus ruining the dram I am enjoying.

For ridiculously high proof whiskeys, like George T. Stagg, a splash of water really helps the drinker get past the burn.



Ice gets a bad rap in the whiskey industry.  Yes, it will “freeze” some of the flavors in your whiskey, which is why you shouldn’t put ice in a glass you are preparing to pour a high-quality whiskey into.  However, everything has its place, and ice can certainly make your whiskey taste a bit more refreshing when you’re just looking to relax.  Once in a while, it’s nice to sit back with a bourbon on the rocks, especially on a hot summer day.

Any whiskey that you pay more than $30 on, drink using one of the methods above; ice just dilutes it down too much.



I’m probably going to lose all credibility here, but once in a while at the bar, I’ll order a Jack & Coke.  Why?  Because I enjoy the taste, and it’s a good way to keep myself in check with the alcohol, especially if I have to drive home later.  Drinking whiskey with a mixer is also a great way to keep your finances in check, as ordering whiskey straight, significantly Scotch, can add up really quick.


I’ll end this post by urging all of you to consider the situation you are in before choosing your method of drinking whiskey.  And don’t be afraid to get a little more pure even if it seems too harsh to you at first.  As with all things, your palate needs to adapt to whiskey, and what starts as an unpleasant burn can become a vast world of flavors you never thought possible.



George T. Stagg Bourbon – Review

George T. Stagg BourbonGeorge T. Stagg Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey – 2009 Release

141.4 Proof

Price Point: $55 – $65 for 750 ML

Distiller: Buffalo Trace Distillery



This will be my last review of 2011, so I thought I’d end things with my first of five reviews of Sazerac’s Antique Collection.  And why not start it out with a bang with George T. Stagg!

Sazerac’s Antique Collection is kind of a big deal.  Most whiskey newbies will have never heard of these brands, but anyone in the know will understand the value of these treasures.

For those of you not following me, the Antique Collection is an annually released group of whiskeys sold around October/November every year.  The collection includes Eagle Rare 17 Year Old, William Larue Weller, Thomas H. Handy Rye, Sazerac 18 Year Old Rye, and George T. Stagg.  These whiskeys are world-renowned for their quality, coveted for their rarity, and questioned over their reasonable prices.  Most are barrel proof and extremely flavorful.

If you’re lucky enough to find one of these bottles in your local shop, pick one up.  They usually don’t last long.



George T. Stagg happens to be my favorite of the bunch, which is why I decided to start with it.  It’s also the highest proof at a staggering 141.4.  So that’s right around the range of Bacardi 151, which has about as much flavor as rubbing alcohol.  Stagg certainly packs a punch (so be careful with it!), but there’s plenty to taste in this complex bourbon.

Fair warning – when you are smelling this whiskey, your nostrils will burn.  Initially.  Once your nose becomes accustomed, you’ll pick out a heavy presence of maple syrup.  I also detect a small hint of raspberries and a little caramel.

The tastes of George T. Stagg are just as complex as the scents.  Despite the high alcohol content, the drinker can pick up a rich, caramelly taste.  Notes of chocolate can be detected as well.

Afterwards, the burning of the alcohol will sit with you, but the taste itself will not remain for all that long.  The maple mentioned previously will hang around for a short while, and then disappear.


Rating & Recommendations

George T. Stagg is a wonderful bourbon, and deserving of all of its praise.  I give this whiskey my highest rating yet, with a 94 out of 100.

If you haven’t already gotten the point that this whiskey is strong, then here’s my final recommendation – throw a little water in your glass or a couple cubes of ice.  No need to drink this one neat; it drinks far too hot!

Overall, this is one of my all-time favorite whiskeys.  I couldn’t drink it everyday, but every once in a while it really hits the spot.  If you can get your hands on some Stagg, I say go for it.



Pennsylvania’s Liquor Problem

Fine Wine & Good SpiritsBuying whiskey should be easy, right?  Not in Pennsylvania.

As many of my fellow Pennsylvanians know, the state stores where you can buy your booze aren’t all they’re cracked up to be.  These government-run liquor stores are often cold establishments, and I’m not talking about the temperature.  The employees are less than helpful and the selection is limited and often difficult to scan.

For those of you who aren’t following me, Pennsylvania is what is known as a “control state”.  This means that the wine and spirits stores in Pennsylvania are run by the state government, from pricing to logistics to taxes to hiring/firing.  Now, why would the government want to run these stores, when they could privatize and let somebody else worry about this?  Frankly speaking, it’s because we’re stuck in a faulty system run by unions that the popular vote just can’t break.  According to a blog written by Whisky Advocate’s Lew Bryson, the PLCB (Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board) isn’t even worried about being profitable.  In fact, over half of these stores are not profitable!

So let’s talk about service for a moment.  As a disclaimer, I will point out that I am not anti-government.  That being said, it’s no secret that your average, hourly government employee typically won’t go out of their way to help you.  I wrote a blog post called Whiskey Profiling about a month back about my issues with state store employees.  Just the other day, another incident occurred that really irked me.  I went to the store right across the street from where I live, and was browsing the Scotch section.  A woman walked out of the office (which was occupied by about three other people likely not getting much done…).  I said hello to her and she kind of shrugged me off.  She proceeded to walk right past me and ask two other (older) customers if they needed any assistance.  I was planning on purchasing well over $100 in whiskey for my wife for Christmas, but left the store in disgust at her blatant disregard and disrespect toward me.

A separate set of incidents strengthen my argument further.  While at Whiskey Fest, I tried a Canadian whisky called Forty Creek.  After speaking with the master distiller, he assured me that his brand was available in the state.  A few days later, I went to a state store down the road from me.  I  looked on the shelf and couldn’t find Forty Creek.  In the check-out line, I asked the clerk if they had any or could special order it for me.  He looked at me like a deer in headlights as if he had never even heard of Canadian whisky.  He told me to check with the guys in the office.  I walked up to the office and found two men sitting at a computer and asked if they could look into this whisky for me.  They hardly looked up at me and didn’t smile or engage me in conversation despite my efforts to be polite and friendly.  They said they could bring it in from another store about 15 minutes down the road.  They told me it would be about four days.

Let me stop right there.  They were going to special order a $25 bottle of whisky for me from a store 15 minutes away, and it was going to take them four days!  I reluctantly accepted and gave them my name and phone number.  Four days passed without a call, and about 10 days after the initial store visit, my wife called the store to check on their progress.  Not only did they not know anything about Forty Creek, they did not have my name or phone number documented anywhere!  My wife gave them my information again, and they gave the same BS answers about a four day lead time.  Well, I still have yet to receive a phone call and that was about two months ago.

Needless to say, there are a number of issues with Pennsylvania’s treatment of its liquor stores; problems that a new logo and shelf set-up can’t solve.  Nobody is happy about any of this except for the state raking in the taxes, and the worthless cashiers and managers keeping their jobs despite their sub-par performance and know-how.  Let’s follow in the trends of the 21st century and privatize before people get even more fed up and look elsewhere (as if they’re not already).



Eagle Rare 10 Year Old Bourbon – Review

Eagle Rare 10 Year Old BourbonEagle Rare 10 Year Old Single Barrel Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey

90 Proof

Price Point: $25 – $35 for 750 ML

Distiller: Buffalo Trace Distillery



Some distillers just plain get bourbon right.  They bring all the right components together to create a masterpiece.  Eagle Rare is one of those bourbons.

The particular bottle I am reviewing is special to me.  When we were planning our wedding, our organizer at the place where we were having our reception asked us if we would like them to have a special bottle for us.  At first I respectfully declined, knowing full well that we wouldn’t have much time to drink.  After looking at the spirits list at the bar more closely, headlined by Dewar’s and Jim Beam, I reconsidered.  I requested a bottle of Eagle Rare, a bourbon I had a lot of experience with.  They could also easily find it for us, and we probably wouldn’t be charged extra either.  Although my wife and I weren’t able to enjoy our drinks before being pulled somewhere else, we certainly enjoyed having such a great whiskey with us throughout the night.



The nose of Eagle Rare is mouth-watering.  For my particular preferences, it is near-perfect.  It smells of rich vanilla and sugar cane.  It’s very inviting and tough to smell without tasting!

The taste is a little more hot than the nose gives away.  A strong presence of vanilla is there, along with hints of oak and caramel.  To me, it is the epitome of what bourbon should taste like; a tribute to what the distillers at Buffalo Trace do so well.

The aftertaste is warm, and the oak flavor stays in the back of your throat.


Rating & Recommendations

Eagle Rare 10 Year Old is such a great bourbon, and well deserving of a rating of 86 out of 100.

As the back of the bottle clearly states, drink this stuff neat or on ice (it also says to use in a Manhattan or Whiskey Sour, but don’t waste your whiskey).

This is definitely a bourbon worth trying again and again . . . and again.  It’s reasonably priced for such a quality product, and any bourbon drinker would be mistaken to not give this whiskey a try.



Scotch Lesson #2: Geography

Scotland GeographyTwo weeks ago, we got a little refresher course on the history of Scotch.  This time, we’ll be focusing on the geography of Scotland and how it affects the whisky in your bottle.

Scotland is broken up into five main segments; Highlands, Lowlands, Speyside, Islay, and Campbeltown.  Each of these areas carry their own traditions of distilling whisky and, appropriately, create their own unique tastes.



Let’s start with the largest area and work our way down.  Whiskies from the Highlands region include Glenmorangie, the Dalmore, the Macallan, and Dalwhinnie.  These whiskies are the most even-tempered of Scotland; not too peaty, florally, soft, or intense.  Most distilleries in this region are near the coast, yet do not have the sea-inspired flavors of Islay.

The area appropriately named “Islands” is a subset of the Highlands region, and does not necessarily follow the same properties as its inland brothers.  These whiskies include the famous Highland Park, the complex Talisker, and the various Jura expressions, each of which have a unique and flavorful taste.



The Lowlands region of Scotland is the most densely populated area.  Once the site of numerous distilleries mass-producing whisky, there are only three remaining; Glenkinchie, Auchentoshan, and Bladnoch.  These whiskies vary immensely from the Highlands whiskies from the north.  They are typically much lighter in character, mostly because they are (almost) all triple distilled.  They may also have more of a florally/fruity flavor than other Scotches.



Despite its odd location and relatively small size, Speyside has the largest number of distilleries and are most popular, at least among American consumers.  Brands include the Glenlivet, the Balvenie, Glenfiddich, and Tamdhu.  In fact, the Glenfiddich distillery alone produces 10,000,000 liters of spirit every year!  These whiskies are typically very woody (oak-heavy) and are known for their high-quality and accessibility.



If accessibility is your thing, Islay is not the place to start.  These are typically the most difficult whiskies for new drinkers to appreciate.  Because the land is covered in peat, the whiskies of this island are heavily influenced by this flavor.  Combined with the crashing waves of the Atlantic Ocean, some of which actually reaches the warehouses where the whisky is aged, these Scotches have strong, robust flavors.  Brands from this island include Ardbeg, Laphroaig, Bowmore, and Bunnahabhain.



The smallest region recognized by the Scotch Whisky Association is Campbeltown.  Its three remaining distilleries are Glen Scotia, Springbank, and Glengyle.  Contrary to its influence today, Campbeltown used to host the largest number of distilleries in Scotland at the beginning of the 20th century.  Poor choices in production schedules and marketing led to its demise as the leader, and it now hangs by a thread as a producer of whisky in the southwest.


Sick of geography yet?  Me too.  Next time we’ll focus on single malt Scotch versus blended (or vatted).  Class dismissed!



Bastille French Whisky – Review

Bastille French WhiskyBastille Hand-Crafted French Whisky

80 Proof

Price Point: $25 – $35 for 750 ML

Distiller: Daucourt Ste



Quite possibly the greatest thing about whiskey is its diversity.  Flavor profiles are generated and differentiated by ingredients, distillation techniques, and geographic location.  The culture, knowledge/experience, and personal preferences of the distiller also have a large effect on the outcome of the spirit.  Because of this, I always get excited to try whiskeys from places that may have an entirely different perspective on the concept of whiskey than the tried and true methods.

I had my first experience with Bastille at Whiskey Fest 2011.  It was actually the first whisky I sampled that night.  Obviously I was giddy to try anything, but it was nice to start my night off with a whisky at the caliber of Bastille.



The nose of Bastille is very unique.  It’s light and florally, with just a touch of a Highland Scotch scent.

Bastille’s taste really stands out, too.  My first taste at Whiskey Fest immediately reminded me of Penderyn, a Welsh whisky.  Of course, Bastille retails for about one-third the price, so you already feel a bit smarter drinking this stuff.  Bastille is a bit lighter than Penderyn and less fruity.

Immediately after, you’ll notice a bit of a malty taste, which fades into the florally flavor you previously experienced.


Rating & Recommendations

Bastille French Whisky is another example of a unique whisky I would recommend trying, if anything, to say you’ve had a French whisky.  I give this brand an 81 out of 100.

This whisky is light enough to drink neat.  In my opinion, any ice or water added to this would dilute too much of the flavor.

Whiskey is such a diverse product.  What makes it great is that everybody sees and tastes it differently.  The French have given their own perspective with Bastille, and I have to thank them for that.



My First Visit to a Distillery

A. Smith Bowman BarrelsI didn’t really know what to expect driving into Fredericksburg, VA.  I guess I half-expected a backwoods, rural area with a general store and dirt roads.  Contrary to my ignorance, Fredericksburg is a very modern town, with just about any type of restaurant or store you could possibly want to visit.

I walked into the local ABC store, Virginia’s version of “Fine Wine & Good Spirits” – Pennsylvania’s name for all of its state stores.  The sales staff there were incredibly friendly and eager to help, a welcomed change from what I was used to in my native state.  I told one of the workers that I was looking for a good bourbon, and he didn’t hesitate to point me in the direction of his hometown favorites; the A. Smith Bowman collection (the A. Smith Bowman distillery would be what I would be visiting the next day).  I perused the rest of the vast inventory, and went on my way.

The next day, I ventured over to the distillery around noon.  The building looked very large, but there wasn’t a recognizable “main” doorway.  After a little confusion, I called the number on a pamphlet I had received at Whiskey Fest, and a woman answered.  She told me to meet her at the door next to the fire hydrants.  I walked over and she brought me inside to a very spacious room with very little in it.  She told me that they were renovating the distillery, and that many of the offices would be located in this first room.

As I walked across the large room, I was greeted by A. Smith Bowman’s master distiller, the one and only Truman Cox.  I had met Truman at Whiskey Fest just a month previously.  When you speak to him for the first time, you will be amazed at just how knowledgeable he is.  Yet, he is incredibly down to earth, approachable, and welcomes any and all questions about the distillery, their processes, and whiskey itself.

A. Smith Bowman Copper StillHe immediately apologized that he would have to give me the abridged version of the tour.  The distillery was in the middle of their winter distillation period; a two week process that only occurs twice a year.  Clearly they were more busy than usual, and it certainly wasn’t my place to interrupt any of their work.

He brought me over to, what he called, the “whiskey museum”.  It was in the far corner of the first room with a series of machinery used in the process of distillation.  He explained each one in plain English, so even a novice like myself could understand.

Next, we walked over to another vast room where the whiskey is aged.  The aroma in that room was the most wonderful thing I had ever breathed into my lungs.  It’s truly a terrific atmosphere, and it really feels like the whiskey is coming to life right in front of you.  Thousands of barrels are warehoused in this room, mostly Virginia Gentleman but also the rest of the A. Smith Bowman collection.

As we made our way to the room “where the magic happens”, I asked Truman how he became a master distiller.  He explained to me that he had been a chemist at the Buffalo Trace Distillery previously.  He learned the process of distilling whiskey and other spirits, and really got to know the machinery and the subtleties that make whiskey so great.  When I asked him how he uses chemistry as a master distiller, he sort of shrugged and told me (and I’m paraphrasing here) that the human tongue along with the brain are hundreds if not thousands of times more accurate to taste and quality than any chemical reactions or use of science.  He says that everything is taste-tested rather than put in beakers and studied.  I thought that was incredibly interesting.

A. Smith Bowman CollectionWe reached the distillation room, where a giant copper still named Mary was heating up and starting the process of making bourbon.  Truman told me that they named the still Mary because that was the name of the real-life mother of the Bowman brothers, for whom their collection of whiskeys are named.

He then brought me into the room where the spirit is put into barrels, and finally into the room where the staff at A. Smith Bowman distillery hand-bottle each bottle that goes up onto the shelves.  From start to finish, the people at this distillery are what make this whiskey.  Extreme care is taken in all facets of the process, and ensure that you will be getting a high-quality product each and every time you buy a bottle of their bourbon.  Of course, I couldn’t help myself from purchasing a few souvenirs of my own, each signed by Truman himself.

My trip to the A. Smith Bowman distillery was an unforgettable experience.  I hope to someday (soon) make it down there again to see more of the distillery and learn more about who they are and what they do.




Update: Truman Cox passed away on February 9, 2013.  You can read my post about him here.

Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Whiskey – Review

Jack Daniel's Tennessee WhiskeyJack Daniel’s Old No. 7 Brand Tennessee Sour Mash Whiskey

80 Proof

Price Point: $20 – $30 for 750 ML

Distiller: Jack Daniel Distillery



What kind of whiskey will most people order at a bar?  Jack Daniel’s.  What does the “Jack” in “Jack and Coke” stand for?  Jack Daniel’s.  What is arguably the most popular and well known whiskey brand in the world?  Jack Daniel’s.

Everybody knows this whiskey.  It’s popular for a reason.  It’s flavorful, affordable, and overall cool to drink.

The particular bottle that I am drinking for my review is very special to me.  It happens to be the bottle that my brother-in-law brought to toast before my bachelor party.  What started as a shot of Jack became a night I’ll never forget.



Jack Daniel’s nose isn’t quite representative of its taste.  It has a sweet scent, with a touch of cherries.

The taste of Jack Daniel’s is just as well known as its name.  It has a trademark sweet/smoky taste; not a smoke like the peatiness of an Islay Scotch, but an actual smoke.

The finish is sweet and will linger for a little while.


Rating & Recommendations

Jack Daniel’s is a good whiskey, but certainly doesn’t live up to the hype.  I rate this iconic brand a 70 out of 100.

The great thing about Jack Daniel’s is it can be drunk in a number of different ways.  It’s certainly flavorful enough to drink neat or on ice, but it’s just as good with a traditional mixer like Coke or ginger ale.

Jack Daniel’s is a special brand to me because of the experiences I have had with it.  Because of its popularity, I’m sure I’m not the only one who holds this whiskey in such a high regard.