Monday, November 28, 2011

Starting a WhiskyTasting Club in Korea

A month in to my tour at Camp Humphreys, in South Korea, my withdraw symptoms from missing my local whisky tasting circle in Germany drove me to try and find a group here.  Osan Air base has a Cigar and Scotch Club, but that seems to be mainly a place to sit, talk, drink Black Label from tumblers and smoke- no different really than any other bar or pub.  There is the emphasis on Scotch, but no presentations, tastings, or events, and all the smoke in the room makes serious nosing impossible.  Not exactly what I was looking for.  So, in the absence of anything like the Ansbach Whisky Circle, I am inaugurating my own group: The Humphreys Whisky Club.

I went ahead and posted announcements on the community facebook groups and have already gotten a handful of interested parties.  So, I am ordering a few bottles for the first meeting, working out the format and narrowing down the venue.  So, hopefully with a little luck, I will be meeting with some like-minded malt mates very soon.  Here is the Club's facebook page:  Humphreys Whisky Club

Wish me luck.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Whisky: The Cure for Canker Sores?

This is a topic I seldom discuss because I feel a little embarrassed and worry that others will be grossed-out by it, but I feel its worth sharing if it can help someone else.  So here goes.

For as long as I can remember I have had canker sores.  What are canker sores, you ask?  Well, they are small, white ulcers on the inside of the mouth, and they can make you miserable.  They often come in pairs or triplets, and can make eating an exquisitely painful experience.  Doctors don't yet know what causes them or why some people get them and others don't.  They don't seem to be contagious, or be caused by any known virus or bacteria (though these causes haven't been completely ruled out) and there is no known cure.  While, many doctors recommend swishing salt water, avoiding toothpastes with SLS and spicy or acidic foods -all of which may aggravate symptoms, experience shows that none of this actually provides much relief for most people who get chronic recurring mouth sores.

I struggled with this problem for years.  In fact, I usually had at least four of these little white lesions in my mouth at any given time.  It made eating anything with tomato, vinegar, or spices intolerably painful.  Many of my favorite foods just stung too much for me to be able to enjoy them.  That meant no spaghetti, no Italian dressing, no Mexican food etc.  It was driving me crazy.  I spent hours online researching various treatments, things to avoid etc. all with no luck. 

But what could all of this have to do with Scotch Whisky?  Well, a while back some friends of mine introduced me to Single Malt Scotch Whisky and I fell in love with it.  I began sampling offerings from many different distilleries and taking notes on which ones I enjoyed the most and why.  It quickly became a passion and a hobby.  But, one day, a few months after trying my first dram of whisky, I noticed something unexpected; I suddenly became aware that I not only didn't have a single sore in my mouth, but what's more, I hadn't had any for some time.  I began thinking through any life changes I had recently made which might account for this and I came up with a few possibilities.  Then, one by one I began eliminating them to check which one might have wrought the change, and none had any effect.  none that is, until I tried eliminating whisky for a couple weeks, within a short time the sores returned with a vengeance.  So I went back to enjoying a dram or two in the evening and sure enough, the sores quickly went away again.  The whisky seemed to be the culprit.

I can't say exactly how the whisky accomplished this feat, but it did.  I don't know if its the alcohol itself, or one of the many other substances found in whisky, like the astringent tannins from the oak barrels, etc.  I don't know if it was the topical application of the liquid to the mouth or some internal systemic action. What I do know is that I as long as I continue to enjoy a dram or two a few nights a week, I remain symptom free.  After years of continuous stinging pain from these horrible little sores, it now seems I have now found the cure in the pursuit my favorite hobby.

Do I know if this will work for everyone with canker sores? No. But, by sharing this discovery with you all, maybe some canker sore sufferers reading this will try what I did and have similar results.  If so, it could spark further interest within the medical community and result in further testing or even the isolation of the chemicals responsible for the effect.  Maybe you don't even have to drink it, but only rinse and spit.  That would certainly be good news for under-aged sufferers.  Of course, it is also possible that I am completely wrong, or that this method only works for me.  Only time will tell.

But for now, what is important is to share my experience and see if others have similar results.  For those interested in which whiskys I drink: they are primarily Single Malt Scotch Whiskys, mostly Peated Islay Malts, and Malts matured in Sherry Casks.  I tend to enjoy one or two 25cl drinks at a sitting, and this three or four times a week.  I invite anyone who has chronic canker sores to try this out and see if it works for you.  If it does please email me and let me know.  I plan on compiling a table of results.  Thank you and Slainte.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

A Dram that stole my heart.

After having a religious experience this summer with a Glenrothes 28 year, matured in a port pipe, I became a devotee to the mysteries of port maturation.  yea, I was transformed into a pilgrim who longed to relive the ecstasy of his conversion- and my dedication did not go unrewarded.  I was soon requited with a shower of kisses from above and was whisked away on flights of wanton-whisky-bliss.  This is what I found:

Within the walls of a sanctuary called Basket of Cheer in Dothan, Alabama, I found a sacred artifact.  The wise sage, who was the guardian of this healing spring, pointed me in its direction. The Glenmorangie Quinta Ruban is its name.  It is the Original 10 year, finished for two extra years in a Port Pipe.  Quinta is the proper name of the estates in Portugal from which the casks originate, and Ruban is Scottish-Gaelic for Ruby, an apt description of the liquids' color. Its Non-Chillfiltered, which is a big plus from where I stand, and it is a work of art.  Here are the notes:

Glenmorangie Quinta Ruban, 12 year, Port Pipe Finish, NCF, 46% ABV
Appearance: Amber Plus +1, Light body, Brown-Red Hued
Nose: Raisins, beer, complex wood, sour notes, salty and vaporous
Palate: Dry, woody arrival, peppery development, notes of orange, cinnamon, and lemon
Finish: Medium, with spicy wood and orange notes, complex tanicity
Conclusions: Excellent. The only thing is it could be more intense, but still a winner.  86/100

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

facebook whisky group

I wanted to share the link to a facebook group which hosts discussion on the history, appreciation, enjoyment and market of whisky. Stop by and join in.

Single Malt Scotch Whisky

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

My Alabama Survival kit

On my way from Ansbach, Germany to my new duty station in Pyong-Taek, South Korea, the Army was kind enough to sign me up for five weeks in L.A. (Lower Alabama).  Fort Rucker to be precise, the home of Army Aviation (Mother Rucker as we call it).  I am here to attend the Aviation Life Support Equipment (ALSE) Course to learn about maintaining survival equipment.

Being without a home for the next for weeks, I decided to create a small survival kit of my own.  The first thing I discovered was that it is not easy to locate many descent bottlings here in Bama.  But, after doing some searching, I managed to scrape together a few nice offerings.  At the state liqueur store in Dothan, I found a Laphroaig 10, a Glenfiddich 15 Solera, and a Balvenie 15 Single Barrel.  Then, in the Class Six on post (the Soldiers one-stop shop for all things intoxicating) I got my hands on a Macallan 10 year, and decided to try out an American Bourbon.  So, armed with this small arsenal, I began my stay here, attending class throughout the day and diving in to these interesting whiskeys in my Army Lodging hotel room by night (after completing my homework of course).  Travel Tip: the Glencairn Whisky Nosing Glass is quite robust, and in its original packaging, stands up quite well to the rigors of the airline baggage handling system.

Now we come to the fun part: new experiences.  The Balvenie 15 year intrigued me instantly because its label informs us that it is a single cask offering, and I confess to having wanted to dig in to this range for some time -as I was quite taken by the distillery's web site.  It has an impressive educational section called The Warehouse 24 Whisky Academy, which features a series of videos on the history, manufacture and appreciation of Scotch Whisky.  Its a real winner. Check it out: The Balvenie.

The Balvenie Distillery stands out for growing their own barley, using traditional floor malting procedures and employing their own copper smith and barrel cooper.  I personally find this kind of dedication to traditional artisan methods inspiring, and would like to see more distilleries follow suit.  So, lets get right down to the notes.

The Balvenie 15 Single Barrel 1995-2011, Cask 2001, Bottle 180, 47% ABV
Appearance: Amber plus 1, Rusty Hues
Nose: Orange, lemon, cinnamon, pine, plum
Palate: Warm cinnamon arrival with sour orange hints, spicy acetic development with complex woody and citrus notes.  Just a hint of salt.
Finish: Long complex woody finish, prickly with some bitter grass.
Conclusion: Powerful, spicy dram.  80/100

Next up is the Glenfiddich 15 year Solera Vat.  I have been wanting to try this member of the Glenfiddich Range for some time now because its unique maturation.  The spirit is separated to be matured in both American ex-bourbon oak and European Ex-sherry oak casks for 15 years, before being married in a large Oregon Pine Solera Vat.  The Solera method is essentially the use of a a container that is never fully emptied, where newer and older spirits are constantly mixed to create a whisky which grows more complex with each passing year.  But, does it live up to its reputation?  Here is what I discovered:

Glenfiddich 15 Solera Vat (2011) 40% ABV
Appearance: Amber minus 1, light body
Nose: Light grass, crisp apple, fresh oak
Palate: Light fresh arrival with oily, grassy notes which develop into floral flavors and a light pepperiness.  A touch of sour acidity throughout.  Lemon, apple, some mild spices.  Fairly complex.
Finish: Bitter grass with pepper notes.
Conclusion: Unimposing dram.  Lighter and more complex then the 12 year.  Maybe too light. 77/100
Not bad, but I expected a bit more from this dram.

Now we come to the Macallan 12, Matured exclusively in sherry oak casks from Jerez, Spain, Macallan is known for their curiously small stills.  One wonders if this imparts some special character to their product.  All I can say is that this one really stood out from the crowd.  Bold without being too overbearing.  Here we go:

Macallan 12 Sherry Oak 43% ABV
Appearance: Amber plus 2
Nose: Wood, butterscotch, leather and chocolate notes
Palate: Cool woody arrival, strong sherry influence with hints of spicy orange.  Develops into notes of leather, more orange and wood, and mild spices.
Finish: drying, astringent, slightly bitter wood, leather and chocolate, with a complex salty aftertaste.
Conclusion: Complex, rich, deep and provoking.  86/100  I'll be getting another bottle.

Then comes the Laphroaig 10, a smokey, peaty Islay Malt which I am already quite familiar with. I picked up this sultry dame primarily for the purpose of enjoyment.  But, since I have a duty to my fellow man as well, here are the notes:

Laphroaig 10 40% ABV
Appearance: Amber minus 2
Nose: sweet citrus, hay, Smoke of course, peat (no doubt about that), rusty metal and seaweed.
Palate: soft smokey arrival.  Develops from sweet to salty to bitter to metallic. 
Finish: long, full of smoke and peat, and warm lingering seaweed. 
Conclusion: An iconic Islay malt.  Delightful.  81/100  An old favorite.

Lastly, I decided to take an uncharacteristic detour, and try a Kentucky Straight Bourbon (I am, after all in the USA).  For this purpose I picked out Russell's Reserve, 10 year old, Small Batch.  Its sweet and smells like an old fashioned candy shop, with toffee, chocolate and caramel and a bit of glue (but not in a bad way).  Because I don't deal much with American whiskys, I am not going to share any notes or marks, but I will say that it is quite enjoyable and anyone looking to expand their experience to include the American Bourbons would do well to give this bottle a go.  It doesn't disappoint. 

All in all quite an interesting line up; one that has kept my evenings well occupied over the last two weeks.  One final travel tip though: some places water supply is so obnoxious smelling that simply having washed your glass in it can ruin the smell and flavor of good whisky.  Always smell your glass first before you pour, or you may be tempted, as I was, to conclude that you have managed to purchase five bottles of bad whisky.  Rinsing out your glass in bottled mineral water will quickly solve this problem.

Thanks for stopping by and sharing a dram.  See you next time.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

The life of a whisky

Did you ever wonder what goes in to the making of a Single Malt Scotch Whisky?  Join me as I take you behind the scenes as we follow a single grain of barley through its long adventure of becoming The Water of Life.

Field to Barley
In the midst a barley field in Scotland stands a single stalk of barley, one among many in a vast ocean of waving grass.  And, upon this shoot is a cluster of seeds, each one containing all that is needed to begin the life of a new barley plant.  These are the humble beginnings of the one of the worlds greatest liquids.  When the time is right, the barley is harvested, stored and dried.

Barley to Malt
It takes months for the necessary amount of moisture to leave the seed, but when the time comes, the tiny grains are revitalized by soaking in water, usually twice, in order to simulate multiple rains and bring them to the right moisture content for germination.  This tricks the seeds into reacting as though it were spring and time to start growing.  So they begin to sprout.  Germinated barley, with the first shoots protruding, is referred to as malt.  The malt needs to be turned and agitated to prevent the roots from interlocking together and forming bundles.  Traditional malting floors have various methods of turning the malt, some use simple shovels while others have machines.

 To Peat or not to Peat?
But as wonderful as all that sweet starch is for the production of alcohol, the artisans can't allow the process to go on for too long, so they stop the germination process by exposing the malt to warm dry air.  This is often done in a two-tier building called a kiln.  On the bottom level a fire is started to generate the warm dry air, and on the top level the heated air rises through a perforated floor to dry the malt.  Sometimes, the fire is stoked with peat, an ancient decomposing turf and plant material, which can give the final product a rich smoky flavor.  If this is done the malt is said to have been peated.

Malt to Grist
After malting the barley is placed in a milling machine and ground.  There are many different kinds of mill, some shred others pound, but the purpose is the same, pulverize the malted barley.  Milled malt is called grist.

Grist to Wort
The grist is then added to hot water in a large mixing vessel to be churned and further broken down into ever smaller particles.  The warm liquid gets smoother and more refined as it is mixed and turned, releasing all the sugars into the fluid.  This warm sweet liquid is called the wort (pronounced wert) is now ready for fermentation. 

Wort to Wash
The wort is moved to a fermentation vat.  To the wort, yeast is added.  The yeast consumes the sugars over a period of days and releases alcohol as a byproduct.  Once the sugars are spent, the yeast dies off leaving a thick foamy liquid of about 6-9 percent alcohol, similar to beer but without the addition of hops for flavor and preservation.  This is the wash.

Wash to Low Wines
From the fermentation tanks the wash is moved to the wash still.  A still is basically a large copper pot with a rising tapered top that bends off towards a condenser.  The wash is heated in the still from below, and since the different compounds in it have differing boiling points, the alcohol and other important components can be separated from the less desirable parts of the wash.  The shape and height of the still give the whisky important aspects of its flavor profile.  The liquid which comes out the other side of the wash still is called low wines, and is not yet at the desired alcohol percentage.

Low Wines to New Make Spirit
The low wines are then moved to the spirit still.  The spirit still distills the low wines into a much more refined liquid with a higher percentage of alcohol.  The first measures of liquid to come off the spirit still are called the fore-shots, and often contain undesirable odors and flavors.  The fore-shots are therefore set aside.  Next comes the heart, or the "spirit," of the distillate.  This is the clear liquid that will be retained for maturation.  Finally, following the spirit, come the feints: the portion which comes off the still when most of the desirable parts of the low wines have been used up.  Different distilleries cut the fore-shots and feints at different times imbuing their whiskys distinct characteristics.

Spirit to Whisky
The new make spirit is then filled into wooden casks, usually either American oak (ex-burbon) casks or European oak (ex-sherry) casks.  There the spirit begins its slow silent ripening from new-make to mature aqua vitae; whisky.  The casks spend years in warehouses where they are continually checked for maturation, giving up approximately two percent of their alcohol percentage per year by way of evaporation (the so-called angel's share).  And, when ready, several casks are combined (except in the case of single cask bottlings) and bottled with age statements.  From there they find their way to your local retailer and, by extension, your own shelf.

Quite a journey for a little seed to take; something to bear in mind next time you sit down to relax and enjoy a wee dram.  Its all too easy to forget the remarkable amount of hard work, chemistry and artistry that goes in to the creation of the worlds greatest liquids.  Until next time...  happy dramming.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Why Whisky?

When I first decided to start blogging about Scotch Whisky, it occurred to me that I owe my readers some explaination of my motivation for doing so.  Obviously, I am a big Scotch whisky fan, but why should anyone else care?  That is the question that I hope to answer in this first article.

Single Malt Whisky is one of Scotland's national treasures and brings with it the character of the region in which it was distilled.  Whether its the smell of a briney island breeze, a rich sherry oak cask, or a light cinnamon apple crispness, Single Malt Scotch Whisky delivers to your glass something of the character of the country where it was distilled and matured.

Scotch Whisky is a spirit of the highest caliber with a tradition that fades back into antiquity, the preparation of which requires the greatest patience, skill and artistry.  From the fields of golden barley, to the malting floors of traditional distilleries, from the towering copper stills to the skillfully coopered barrels, Malt Whisky stands out for its age, its powerful character, its diversity of flavor profiles and its luxurious sensations.  Try this brilliant Scottish export and you too may find yourself exclaiming that it truly is the medicine of marvels, the elixir of life, the summum bonum, the aqua vitae, the true wisdom and the perfect happiness, all in a bottle.

But why trust me? Best go out and get yourself a bottle and see what all the fuss is about.  I recommend Glenfiddich 15 year old as a good starting place- if you are just setting out to explore the world of Single Malt Scotch Whisky.  You won't be dissatisfied.  I promise.