Sunday, June 17, 2012

Glenmorangie - Flight of 8

For those that are interested in Scotch, hear ya go.  A couple of us local guys got together last Friday evening and decided to try a flight of various Glenmorangie (Glenn-Morrun-Jee) selections ranging from the standard 10 year shelf offering Original to the cask strength Astar.

I've mentioned before that my whiskey journey all started with Bourbon and that's still my mainstay drink. whiskies are getting my attention as I'm starting to find and try various selections.  Late 2010 I posted a blog series called Global Tippler where I sampled various whiskies from different countries, starting with an American Whiskey, Van Winkle Family Reserve 12 year.  Since that 'round the world trip, I've come across other great selections.  Last summer my wife and I cruised the Easter Caribbean and one of the stops I always look forward to is Philipsburg St. Maarten due to the fact they have a good selection of liquor stores where I can find stuff not sold in the U.S.  One bottle I picked up on that trip was a Glenmorangie Sonnalta PX.  I was really impressed with the whisky and added that label to my list of acquisitions. 

So, last Friday the group cobbled together a flight of 8 different selections of Glenmorangie pulled from our respective bunkers.  Here's what we sipped on over the course of the early evening:

Original: 10 year old 86 proof.  From the Glenmorangie website ".....maturing for ten long years in a range of ex-bourbon casks such as our famous slow-grown and air-dried 'designer casks' from Missouri, that our raw spirit develops a perfect balance between sweetness and complexity"

The Original was a pale golden color with orange zest on the nose with undertones of vanilla and floral.  The feedback from the group included "viscous, fruit, honey, citrus zest, sweet, transitions nicely, good finish, delicate and lighter profile"  Overall rating 85/100

Nectar D'Or: 12 year old 92 proof.  From the Glenmorangie website "...hand selected wine barriques from Sauternes: the most famous and ancient sweet wine growing region of France, that this whisky develops its rich, spicy and dessert-like flavours."

This one I really like as the Sauterne second finish added a very nice musty, light fruit quality to it.  From the group comments included "Winey, hint of mustiness, earthy, sweet, creamy, light fruit, Sweet, viscous, long finish, almond paste"  Overall rating 87/100

Quinta Ruban: 12 year old 92 proof.  From the Glenmorangie website "The darkest and most intense whisky in the extra-matured range, Glenmorangie Quinta Ruban has spent 10 years maturing in American white oak casks, before being transferred into specially selected ruby port pipes from the Quintas or wine estates of Portugal.  Extra maturation in these port pipes develops Glenmorangie Quinta Ruban into a voluptuous spirit with a complex balance of sweet and dry flavours and an intriguing contrast of smooth and crisp, cooling textures." 

Another expression that hit home with the group.  I liked the winey character of this offering as the port finish really popped on the nose.  At entry the port was less dominant but there nonetheless.  Group feedback included "Big dark fruit notes, winey, cocoa, citrus, long finish"  Overall rating 88/100

Sonnalta PX: NAS (No Age Statement) and 92 proof: From the Glenmorangie website "Having spent 10 long years maturing in American white oak casks this whisky is transferred into Spanish ex-Pedro Ximenez (PX) casks for its final two years of extra-maturation. Often described as the 'king of sherry casks' this rare wood was brought back from Jerez in Spain by our head of whisky creation Dr Bill Lumsden."

As I mentioned, this was my introduction to the Glenmorangie line and it really captured my attention the first time I tried it.  This expression to me exhibited a creamy entry with dark dried fruits like raisins and plums.  There's vanilla and cocoa that pop in about mid palate.  From the group "creamy, dry floral, elegant, sweet honey finish, complex, spice cake"  Overall rating 87/100.

Finealta:  NAS and 92 proof:  From the Glenmorangie website "Glenmorangie Finealta is a painstaking recreation of a recipe dating back to 1903. Matured in a combination of American white oak casks and Spanish Oloroso sherry casks this whisky is unusual for its light touch of peatiness - a reminder of a time when Glenmorangie dried its barley in a peat fired kiln.  Distillery archives show that at this time, Glenmorangie Highland Single Malt was being served at The Savoy in London. Making this whisky a window onto a grander age, where optimistic young souls toasted sweeping changes within Art, fashion, and technology. And where society demanded a drink of both depth and distinction.  Glenmorangie Finealta is the second release in our prestigious Private Edition range: carefully selected, limited edition whiskies chosen from the 'cabinet of curiosities' of Dr Bill Lumsden, head of our Whisky Creation Team."

This was the only expression in the lineup that exhibited traces of peat and just a hint of smoke.  I picked up light summer fruit in this sample with pear and melon making it's presence known.  A well rounded pour.  Group feedback included "very light peat / smoke, slight heat, white fruit, good mid palate, smoke comes on stronger in the finish"  Overall rating 85/100

Lasanta:  12 year old 92 proof: From the Glenmorangie website " Elegant but full bodied this whisky has spent ten years maturing in American white oak ex-bourbon casks before being extra-matured for a further two years in Oloroso Sherry casks from Jerez in Spain. Lasanta is Gaelic for warmth and passion, a reminder not just of the Spanish provenance of these Oloroso sherry butts, but also a reflection of this expressions lusciously soft texture and deep, enticingly sweet aroma."

As someone who gravitates toward the sherried Scotch, this one was interesting to me.  We discussed this expression as compared to the The MaCallan 12 year which is about $35-$40 more than the Lasanta.  We agreed that this was as good if not better than The Macallan for a fraction of the price.  I thought this offering was very good exhibiting a profile of sweet dark fruit, baking spice, just a hint of citrus and vanilla.  Very warming and chewy.  Group comments were "chewy, sweet, rich, viscous, spice, concentrated flavor, caramel, long finish"  I personally rated this one a 90 with the overall group rating this an 88/100.

Artien:  NAS at 92 proof: From the Glenmorangie website "While crafting Glenmorangie Artein Dr. Bill Lumsden, Glenmorangie's Head of Distilling & Whisky Creation, was intrigued by the influence of stone in the natural ingredients of the whisky, especially considering the material's special significance to us.
This relationship begins with the Hilton of Cadboll Stone, an ancient monument that is the whisky's inspiration. But of no less importance is the layer upon layer of limestone that filters our Tarlogie Spring water, giving Artein its fruity aromas and layers of complexity. Or the rocky Tuscan hillsides which concentrate the flavours in vines that will, in turn, add complexity to the 'Super Tuscan' casks in which we extra mature our precious spirit."

This is another one that I really liked with an entry of fruit and fact my comment to the group was "this is berries and cream".  This was probably the most complex of the selections as the Tuscan influence really added layers of flavors while experiencing this whisky.  Group comments "berries, peaches, plums, very creamy, honey suckle, concentrated flavors, huge finish."  Group rating 90/100

Astar: NAS at ~115 proof:  From the Glenmorangie website "Five thousand miles away on a secluded Missouri hillside, oak perfect for the maturation of this whisky reaches straight for the heavens. Here, in the relative shade of these north-facing slopes, we hand-select oak that has grown slowly enough to create a spongier and more porous wood. Perfect for welcoming the spirit and imparting the maximum amount of flavour.  The 'Astar', meaning journey in Gaelic, has certainly come a long way. But with its bright gold colour and smooth but spicy finish, we feel the journey has been more than worth it."

Since I tend to like barrel strength expressions, this last one I was looking forward to trying.  Unfortunately, it didn't ring my bell.  Surprisingly, the nose on this selection was the least compelling of the eight and the entry showed flavors of fruit and vanilla with heat taking over about mid palate.  The group comments included "big fruit, melons, sweet, heat on the back, nice finish."  Overall rating 84/100.  I personally put this at 80/100.  
After the tasting, the group played guinea pig trying out a CAB (Cert Black Angus) Brisket that had been smoked in a Cookshack.  I say guinea pig because this was the first time our host had used CAB but I have to say, the final product was outstanding.  We enjoyed the BBQ with some other Scotch expressions that included cask strength 14 and 20 year Rosebank, 1965 Johnny Walker Black 12 year, MaCallan Cask, Balvenie 15 year Singularity '66, The Arran Malt Cask, Springbank 12 year Claret, Springbank Alchemist, Compass Box Great King Street and Yamazaki 18 year (not Scotch).  

This was a great tasting that allowed us to experience different expressions we don't currently have in our respective bunkers.  I'll be hitting a Montgomery County ABC store on Tuesday to pick up a couple of the Glenmorangie expressions that I don't have.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Fall 2011 Barrel Tasting - John J. Bowman Single Barrel

I posted back last year about a group trip to A. Smith Bowman distillery in Fredericksburg, VA.  I remember that day well not only because of the tasting but also because it snowed, and I hate snow.

This particular selection took some time make its way from distillery, through distribution and then finally to retail.  The tasting took place last October, bottling in February and final delivery of the bottles mid May.  Why so long?  Well, the pallet with our barrel selection got......misplaced; or something to that effect.  For a spell there, the bourbon went missing and it took a little while to track it down.  I suspect it ended up in some distribution warehouse and sat there for a bit.

Many of our barrel picks get bottled at proof with the exception of the Old Weller Antique which is 107 proof and the Bowman selection which was done at 100 proof.  As an enthusiast, I like to control the drinking proof because the sweet spot varies from barrel to barrel.

The barrel date for this bourbon was 12/31/97 making the bourbon almost 14 years old when we tasted it in October.  At bottling, it had another 4 months in wood on it but due to the fact that it was in the barrel over the winter probably doesn't mean much happened in the way of change.

The barrel at bottling yielded 210 bottles which once again, fell below the expected yield of about 250.  This has happened with just about every barrel.

Now, to the bourbon itself.  Maybe I'm drunk on my own bathwater but I find this 14 year Bowman to be fantastic.  As one friend put it "this is reminiscent of  the 70/80's vintage bourbon....".  The nose is very compelling giving up aromas of toffee, vanilla, and chocolate.  The entry, well it's fantastic as well.  Big flavor entry, mild to moderate heat that diminishes quickly leaving behind traces of caramelized sugar, vanilla, sweet corn, dark fruit and chocolate all wrapped in a creamy mouthfeel.  Viscosity on this one is very nice.  The finish is moderate to long with a sweet spice profile trailing off.  When I first tasted this at barrel strength, I was skeptical about cutting it down to 100 proof but I have to say, it drinks very fine at that proof.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Do Booze and Weight Loss Go Together?

For a number of years I've been overweight.  Not grossly obese but carrying around much more weight than is healthy.  December of last year I came to conclusion that it was time to stop playing with my health and get serious about getting in shape.

I've gone through exercise and healthy regimens before but my expectations were, in my opinion,  unrealistic.  In this day and age of immediate satisfaction, I wanted the weight to come off and come off quick.  To achieve that, my plan was to work out like a maniac and cut out anything that hints of high calories or fat.  This time around I took a more rational approach and set my expectations at a more moderate rate of success.  The way I look at it, as long as I'm progressing, that's what's important and if it takes 1 or 2 years to reach my goal weight and fitness level, then so be it.

My approach encompassed three prime areas.

1. Modify food intake and eat responsibly
2. Exercise program will include a form of metabolic workout providing three dimensional vs. one dimensional exercise.
3. Continue to enjoy guilty pleasures

January 2nd of 2012 was a miserable day.  I began tracking my food intake on a daily basis using the Livestrong website.  The food database is robust and allows one to enter a missing product, food or recipe into the database to use in your personal profile.  The truth is, if you don't know what you're eating, how can it be managed?

So, looking at #1, I modified my caloric intake in order to achieve a weight loss of 1-2 lbs a week, which is 3500-7000 calories.  I also modified what I eat.  My whole life I've pretty much hated vegetables and seafood.  I disliked both of these food items because to be honest, my Mother was a horrible cook and would cook veggies until they liquified and seafood, well Lord knows how she ruined that but she managed.   So now, it's mostly veggies, fish, chicken and on occasion, a small helping of a carb like rice or potato.  At present, my intake is about 1850 calories a day.  I also track my fat, sodium, carb and salt intake as well.

January 2nd I also began my workout regimen as defined in #2 above.  It was killer.  By definition, I consider running or elliptical training to be one dimensional.  Something like Metabolic Training or HIIT to be three dimensional.  My exercise program consist of three dimensional movement using a 20lb weight that includes high intensity activity with short rest periods in between. I still run but that's in addition to the other exercise.

What does this have to do with booze?  I'm coming to that.....

Guilty pleasure, again, in my opinion, must be part of the equation.  We all have cravings and knowing myself, I wasn't going to set myself up for failure.  Pizza? Check.  Hamburger or Philly Cheesecake.  Check again.  You get the picture.  I haven't cut those thing completely out of my diet, but those are the exception now where they used to be the rule.  I still have the occasional sweet but again, in very limited quantity.

Now, about the booze.  Obviously, I like whisk(e)y and beer and those are still part of my diet.  Whiskey is actually fairly low in calories so that's one thing that has stayed a part of my almost daily intake (I typically don't drink every day).  Beer on the other hand has gone from maybe 1 a day or every other day to 1-2 a week.  On the days that I want a beer, it's also a day I work out so I bank some calories to offset the beverage.

I'm now almost 2 shirt sizes smaller and 2 pant sizes smaller.  Because of the high intensity work outs, some of the flab has turned to muscle so the weight loss hasn't been as dramatic as I would have hoped but in all I'm 30 lbs lighter.

Moderation is the key to my success.  My workouts are still killer but later as I sit and sip on a dusty Old Fitzgerald Bottled in Bond, a MacCallan 18 year or maybe a Founders Kentucky Bourbon Stout, I do so with no guilt. 

Monday, June 4, 2012

Dusty Hunting Redux

A friend was recently visiting from Arizona so we decided to make a run into Washington DC to poke around and see what could be found.  I have to admit between myself, my brother and other local enthusiasts, DC has been picked over pretty well.  Not to say things can't be found, which I'll show in a second, but it's getting harder to find the gems.

Out of the approximately 200 or so liquor stores in the city, I've hit maybe 2/3 or 3/4 of them.  Most you can walk into and within a split second know whether anything is lurking on the shelves.  There are a couple of stores that over the years have been honey holes of dusty bourbon and I hit those when I'm hunting.  One in particular I hit again on my most recent hunt and wasn't disappointed.

I'll simply call this store ACME Liquor and this particular store I've been into at least 6 times previously. Each time I've visited this particular location, new stuff is on the shelf.  The stores in this part of DC have plexiglass and iron bars in order to discourage patrons from hopping the shelf and acting up.  In any case, I've been let behind the glass many times and rummaged around the back room looking for treasure which has turned up numerous goodies.  So, walking in recently I was shocked to see yet more stuff on the shelf that I either clearly missed the previous trips or was brought in from another location.  In either case, I was there to score and score I did.  I ended up bringing home the following:

1988 Old Fitz BIB Handle (1)
1993 Old Fitz BIB 375ml (1)
1990 ND OGD 86 pf Gift Boxes (3)
1985 Old Fitz Prime (Color is quite dark on these) (2)
1984 Old Crow 80 pf (2)
1985 Benchmark 86 pf (3)
2002 Weller Special Reserve (1)

In all with tax, my out of pocket was around $170, or an average of $13 a bottle.  Not too shabby for good dusty juice.  Special mention about the Benchmark.  I ended up opening a bottle at a guys get together that evening and it was delicious.  Tons of fruit and caramel on the palate.  We had around 30+ bottles of various whiskey on the table but the Benchmark managed to get passed around frequently.

Spring 2012 Barrel Tasting - Buffalo Trace

Last fall our group did our barrel pick at Buffalo Trace selecting two barrels of Old Weller Antique.  These of course were bottled as single barrels and aged at just over 8 years.  They are both fantastic and are my favorites (not including most older SW versions) of this particular label.  I provided tasting notes on both of these here.

The process Buffalo Trace typically goes through when conducting a barrel tasting is they pull samples at barrel strength and then provide samples cut to 50 proof.  They say it's so you can pick out the nuances.  Here's what I don't understand.  Why wouldn't they simply provide samples of the bottling this case, 107?  Well, in an effort to get to ground truth as to what the bourbon will taste like once bottled, a member of our group at last Fall's tasting brought along a graduated cylinder.  The BT rep said that was a first for him as he had never seen a group come in and cut their own whiskey.  Not to say it hasn't been done, but we made a point of doing it right then and there.  

Fast forward to this past April and we find ourselves at Buffalo Trace once again.  As we did the first time, we provided reference samples to the BT lab in advance to use when selecting barrels that matched the flavor profile we were seeking.  We also requested they not provide any samples at barrel strength or cut to 50 proof but to simply provide samples at 107 proof which they accommodated. 

The group tasted through 12 barrel samples of Old Weller Antique.  Each participant took tasting notes and scored each selection.  At the end, the results were collected and tallied up.  Because of the size of our group, we actually conducted two tastings so while one group was tasting barrels, the other half of the group was going on the distillery tour.

We ended up picking three barrels but one in particular really stood out and was the hands down favorite of the majority of tasters.  One member, ticked that his personal selection wasn't picked by the group ended up purchasing a barrel for that's hard core.

We had a great visit and once again, BT really did a great job in the barrel selections as we walked away with another allocation of great bourbon.  Now I have to wait patiently while it makes its way through distribution.