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Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Whiskey Wednesday #9

One last set of Irish, and this one's from my trip back in March. A three-day press jaunt to the new Tullamore Distillery. We were there for the launch of the new 14 and 18 year old Tullamore Single Malts. I got to see some old friends -- Ian Buxton, Mark Gillespie, and Gavin Smith among them -- and made some new ones. We also drank a large amount of whiskeys, and got in a lock-in at the Brewery Tap in Tullamore. It was a good trip.

The new Tullamore distillery is beautiful. The outside has been done in an old style of stone and tall windows (and in 50 years will probably look old, but it's rather fresh, now), but the inside is very modern indeed: spartan, almost, until you see the rubbed copper of the stills.

Now...none of the whiskeys I'm reviewing here were made at the new distillery. Can't be: the distillery only opened last year. Tullamore's been without a distillery since the 1950s. Irish whiskey's had a really rough patch, but it's back up, and this beautiful (and large) new place is just one more piece of evidence of just how well it's doing. We were told that the Wm. Grant company made the decision to build the place here (just outside of Tullamore, where the old distillery was), even though the ground was not of the best for construction, because they realized that the Tullamore Distillery had to be in Tullamore. Good thinking, boys.

Where were they made? The blend, at Bushmills and Midleton. The single malts? It was confirmed, verbally, that they were both made at Bushmills. Moving forward, they'll be made here, but not for quite a while yet. Here's the stuff...waiting.

Tullamore Dew 12 Year Old Blended, 40%
Didn't have the standard bottling handy (must have drank it all), so we'll go with this. Like that one, this is a blend of malt, grain, and single pot still whiskeys (I remember tasting this one next to the 10 year old and thinking there wasn't enough difference to make a distinction. But it's been a while, so let's see.

Definitely Irish: the single pot still fruity grassy notes are coming through, with a warm note of stewed pear that just rings golden in the nose ("rings" and "golden", of course, being a sound and a the organ of scent; just work with me, okay?). Oh, that's nice. The cereal notes are broad in the mouth, sweet and clean, and the fruit blends in, like a creamy hot breakfast. Fairly simple stuff -- I'd like some more wood character -- and just a touch of dry-oat pull at the end, but a nice glass. Does it rise above? Well, no. Mostly it's just nice.

Verdict: Okay

Tullamore Dew 14 Year Old Single Malt, 41.3%
Both the 14 and the 18 are four-wood whiskeys, aged in bourbon casks, then finished in a combination of bourbon, Madeira, port, and Oloroso sherry casks, with the whiskeys then blended in varying proportions to create a harmonious product. We got details, and I'll add that in a future post, but for now...I'm realizing that this is the first time I'm tasting this "off the premises," in the distillery bar and conference area, a nicely set-up place equipped with distiller, blender, and brand ambassador. It's also the first time I'm tasting it healthy: I was sick as a dog on the trip, and stayed sick for a couple weeks afterward. So this is, in a way, my first time tasting these.

Nicely dark gold in color, with a slight shine of green. The nose is of flowers and mixed pastilles, and high notes of rhubarb, with a darker layer of wood and anise underneath. Now, there is the complexity I was not finding in the 12 year old, and it's not simply piled on, either. Warm cereal breadth rolls with dry fruit, flashes of light caramel, and an undulating floor of solid, firmly-edged wood. The anise is a suggestion; pegs in that wooden floor. The finish is soft, with the oak receding and the dry fruit lingering. Nowhere near as sweet as the blend; not a cereal-heavy malt, either. Bushmills knows it needs wood variety to give its light malt spirit something to work with as it ages; clearly Tullamore has learned the same lesson.

Verdict: Good

Tullamore Dew 18 Year Old Single Malt, 41.3%
Distillery ambassador Jennifer Proctor demonstrates just
how much of the 18 year old Suzanne Redmond and I drank...
and then went and had dinner. Normal night.
Different ratios than the 14 year old, and finished longer in the four woods; a minimum of six months. I remember thinking that the 14 year old tasted fresher, and that I liked it more. Then the rest of the group went off to the hotel, which Suzanne Redmond and I took as an opportunity to sit down at the distillery bar with Jennifer Proctor as our willing host...and Suzi proceeded to work on changing my mind by the simple expedient of pouring more 18 year old in my glass. She's a clever one. It worked, but as noted I'm here, and not sick, so let's see how it stands up!

The nose is more elegant, more restrained; the 14 is almost puppy-eager in comparison. Everything blends together in the 18, even and balanced. The cereal notes are here, but so are clear port-rich tones, and that dry fruitiness, and wood like a cradle. The whiskey spreads rapidly in the mouth, floating and pooling. The sweet fire is fruity and rich, but framed by a solid oak press; it has depth, it most certainly has weight, but it also has a freshness, almost like cool water. Much goes on here, and doesn't stop, evolving right to the final wisp on the breath. What was likely a fairly simple malt has been nourished and nurtured to become a multi-faceted gem of a whiskey. Nothing is out of balance. Finishing this sample.

Verdict: Good

[Disclosure: Wm. Grant & Son paid for my trip, lodging, and meals...well, most of them. I got lunch and a surprising number of beers in Dublin before the official tour started. You can do a lot of damage in a short time if you're determined, and Dublin certainly has the opportunities!]

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Lew Has Left The Building

I regret to say that four months after resigning my position as managing editor, I will no longer be writing a column or whiskey reviews for Whisky Advocate. After more than 20 years of being part of the voice of the magazine, I was told on Monday that because the magazine was "going in a different direction," my services in those capacities were no longer needed.

I was afforded an incredible opportunity, and I'm grateful for that, however it ended. It has also been a complete pleasure to work with this loosely-knit team of the best whisky writers in the world. Every three months, fascinating writing would arrive in my inbox, affording me a fantastic whisky education.

It has been an equal pleasure to work with representatives from all parts of the industry, to watch that grow from a solid core of long-term veterans in the mid-1990s to a small army of exciting new personalities as the industry entered another boom phase, and then to welcome the small producers of the craft distilling category. I very much look forward to continuing that association.

I've certainly also enjoyed the readers of the magazine: their excitement, their loyalty, their engagement, and their eager interest in the brown spirit that's entranced us all. It's been fantastic to meet you at the events over the years, and I hope to see all of you in the future.

Of course, I'm not leaving whiskey! There's a new book project to work on, I've returned to writing this blog (really, I have, and I know I owe you some whiskey reviews), and several magazines have welcomed me back as a freelancer (with more projects in the works). I'm also back to writing about beer, which I missed terribly, and that will now expand as well. I may even expand my writing into new areas; I have a couple projects percolating.

Onward and outward!
One door closes, and many more open. What do the different directions of the future hold for me? Nothing's sure, but I hope it holds more opportunities to see each of you, and more chances to work with you, in some capacity or another. I'm certain it will hold more chances to share a drink and some laughs.

My very best regards,

Lew Bryson

Friday, April 8, 2016

Beer Friday #10 -- Post-Session Beer Day Blues

Well, Session Beer Day, yesterday, was great. I spent the afternoon at the Bulls Head Pub in Lititz, Penn. (and I'll be back Sunday afternoon to do a whiskey dinner...still a few tickets available!) cruising through 16 taps of session beers at 4.5% and LESS. Great time, some great conversations, and some very nice beers. I'll run through them in capsule style (like I did with the big beers from Split Thy Skull). But I'm kind of dealing with the let-down at this point, the post-Session Beer Day blues. I need some good music to get me going again. Liked this version better anyway; electrifying.

New Glarus Zwickel Bier, 5.3%
A "Zwickel" is a little valve on the side of a fermenting vessel where the brewer can, with proper care and sanitation, pull off a sample of the beer in the tank. An invitation to "tickle the zwickel" is always the high-point of a brewery tour: fresh, unfiltered, unaltered beer, as usually only the brewers get to taste. It's the real stuff.

Some lager brewers will package -- lightly -- a 'zwickel' beer, also called a 'kellerbier,' or 'cellar beer.' The beer gets minimal filtering, usually just a long settling in the tank, and is packaged for quick sale. Get it, drink it, love it. Let's see how Dan Carey did on this one; expectations are high.

Beautifully bright, dark straw gold, bright white head. Wetly-fresh bread, grassy-floral noble hops aroma: it smells fresh, which is the key to a good zwickelbier. Tastes clean, malty, balanced with a bitter finish. A bit sweet up front, but the hops quickly kick in.

Have you heard people say, "This tastes like beer"? Or complain about beers that don't 'taste like beer'? This tastes like beer.

Verdict: Good

Starr Hill Daily Grind Peppercorn Farmhouse, 6.2%
I like pepper. Not peppers, though I like some of them, too, but peppercorns, ground (or whole). I would have been one of those guys sailing leaky wooden caravels around the Cape of Good Hope, searching for the spices of the Indies, because I would want more pepper than anyone else. I'm told that the Pennsylvania Dutch love black pepper, and I do, and once I saw a Berks County friend shake pepper on his ketchup till it was black, that was me. Love that.

So when I see a peppercorn beer, I dive in, and I've rarely been disappointed. The Daily Grind smells a bit perfumey -- but peppery -- and I can't seem to raise a head on it, but I'm still optimistic. Sweet and yeasty, and I'm looking for the pepper. It's subtle, but it's there, and as I take another sip, I can feel it build a bit. But I'd really like more. More sips don't do more; we've hit peak pepper. I'm bummed, because the Starr Hill King IPA Habanero I had the other night was NOT subtle, it did the trick. Sigh. I'll have to keep looking.

Verdict: Okay

The session takeover at the Bulls Head
Session Beer Day Round-up at the Bulls Head
I went up to the Bulls Head Public House in Lititz, Pa., for Session Beer Day yesterday. They did a total session beer tap takeover: all 16 taps, including the two beer engines, were pouring beers at 4.5% and under. Beautiful thing, and only TWO of them were "session IPA." I tore into them, and here are some impressions.

Loch Ness Scotch Ale (tagged as "Malty Brown") -- Might have been my favorite of the day; on cask. "Malty brown" indeed; good body, chocolatey sweet malt, not a bit of cloying stickiness, great beer. If there hadn't been all the choice, I'd have happily drunk this all afternoon.
Neshaminy Creek Croydon Cream Ale -- Clean, lightly sweet, a bit of breadiness, and fresh as a daisy. Nice pint.
Stiegl Radler Grapefruit -- My guilty pleasure. "Like a beery Squirt," as one person put it, and it captures the best of both. The grapefruit is just tart enough, the beer's there without being gak weak. Totally enjoyable.
St. Boniface Bulls Head Bitter -- From a local brewer (Ephrata) specifically for the Bulls Head; nicely done, drinking easy, great light balance of malt and hops. Exceptional.
Enjoying the Tarte Nouveau
Weyerbacher Tarte Nouveau -- Light, tart, refreshing, just enough going on. Well-done sour session.
Oxbow Space Cowboy -- Session-strength biere de garde, which I've learned recently is not so odd after all; BdG was often relatively light. This one's good from nose -- spicy, malty -- to tail -- clean bitter finish. Nicely done indeed.
Ballast Point Mango Even Keel Session IPA -- I always have high hopes on mango beers -- love mango! -- always disappointed. This smelled perfumey with mango, almost too much, and then the beer just slapped me with stupid bitter in the mouth, totally out of frame for its weight, and the mango tasted way off. Not good at all, I left over half of it on the bar.
Harviestoun Old Manor -- Also cask, and delicious. Brit malt -- chewy, tasty, dry, biscuity -- and earthy hop, and light carbonation so you can actually taste it all. Delicious pint.

Verdict: Stellar Session!

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

(Irish) Whiskey Wednesday #8: RIP Merle Haggard

I just found out that country music icon Merle Haggard died. I still intend to continue with my backed-up Irish whiskey reviews, because hell, they're whiskey, after all; they even spell it right (though Merle was a Dickel fan, and they don't). But I am going to listen to some Merle, including his classic Okie from Muskogee.

Mad March Hare, 40%
"They still wave Old Glory down at the courthouse, and white lightnin's still the biggest thrill of all."
I'm not going to reach for Merle references in these reviews, but I'll be damned if I ignore one that's looking me right in the eye. This is poitín, Ireland's fabled "mountain dew," the white lightning of the Auld Sod. (See what I had to say about it in the sidebar at the bottom of the page here.) Mad March Hare got off to a rough start, being set for production at the Rathmooney distillery in Dublin; when that collapsed, they found digs in western Cork, an all-malt, pot stilled spirit, according to founder John Ralph. And that's about all I can tell you about it...for sure. Except how it tastes.

Well, it smells like it just came off the worm. Fruity and a bit feinty, grain, fat, and wet copper on the nose. A rare visual note: it rolls slowly in the glass, like chilled vodka. Ominous. Poitín, of course, has a reputation as a wicked strong and weird liquor, but this is at 80 proof only. Time to put that aside and taste it. It is thicker and a bit oily on the tongue, with a grainy sweetness. Not that hot, and there's an appealing mineral touch, almost like graphite from pencil leads. The sweetness is a bit much, but it's not gross. I'd want to mix this, probably with a bit of tea or light fruit juice, like apple. For all the Mad March Hare look, this is fairly tame, especially at 80 proof.

Verdict: Okay

Egan's Single Malt Irish Whiskey, 47%
Through a bus window; sorry.
Whup! 10 years old and un-chill filtered, and bottled at 47%. How 'bout that! Where's it from? Could be Cooley (not likely), could be Bushmills (could be, could be), and that's about it; nowhere else has been open that long in Ireland making single malt. Beautiful long tall bottle with a nicely embossed and detailed label. It's a grand old name, too: P&H Egan's were maltsters and bonders (buying whiskey and aging and blending it, much like was done with Green Spot) in Tullamore from 1852. I caught sight of their building when I was in Tullamore last month and snapped the picture you see here. But that's, again, about all I know about the stuff, so I have to fall back on the crutch of tasting it...

Spiced fruit and malt in the nose, with some heat and bright bark/pine hints. Quite nice on the tongue, and not clearly identifiable as one or the other...maybe Cooley, but I thought that was cut off by Beam Suntory. Okay, so it's a relatively dry and warm single malt, intensely focused in a tight spot of malt, like a Munich helles, not really wandering into the fruitiness thing. There's a fast flash of heat, then that unrelenting dry, almost dusty malt.

I'm liking that; it's not a whiskey that lets you relax, more like a sergeant of a whiskey. Come on, lad, there's drink to be had here, pay attention! None of this sweet fruit languor for us, hey? The finish is firm, without being overly oaky, but there's a touch of sweet alcohol in the middle that's not quite as happy-making as the rest of this, though it passes quickly. It's a different chapter in the Irish whiskey book, for sure, and that's a plus.

Verdict: Good

The Palace Bar Single Malt 14 year old, 46%
Now THIS little beauty is something I picked up last month in Dublin at the Celtic Whiskey Shop. I'd had it two days before at the Dingle Whiskey Bar in Dublin, and really wanted more of this. I'm glad I swallowed my usual reluctance to lay out long green on a bottle (90 Euro), because it's real good,'s gone. I got bottle 910 of 1000. It was blended and bottled by the folks at Teeling Whiskey Co. from casks selected by W. Aherne (owner of the Palace Bar) and Palace bar patrons. That's pretty cool.

Now, when you have a whiskey in a bar, with new friends and old, and the craic is great, and the hour is late...well, you have to wonder the next day just how good the whiskey really was. So I was a bit nervous the first time I opened it up. worries.

Doughy sweet malt, orange marmalade, and light baking spices, well-balanced and oh so pleasant. On the tongue, this blows away all the sophistry about "what is Irish whiskey?" Anyone familiar with whiskeys and whiskies would pick this out as Irish right away. The fresh and lively malt so high in the mouth and nose, the happy fruitiness of it, and the light hand of the oak, all come together and make merry, warming and yet cooling at the same time. Whiskey is a mystery. Whoosh, that's good stuff. I am going to draw up just short of that "Stellar" rating, though, if only because it's just a bit on the simple side. I want more depth, and a bit more rounded in the middle, where it gets a little hot. But that's very much on the high side of Good!

Verdict: Good

Well, Merle, you went out on your birthday. Kind of the way to do it. Hope I hear a lot of you this coming week. You didn't live forever, but you had your share. Cheers, fella.

Friday, April 1, 2016

Beer Friday #9

It's Beer Friday #9, and beer is a famous aid to love (ill-considered and otherwise), and it's Date Night in the Bryson home, so...what else could we play but this classic?

It's also the last Beer Friday before Session Beer Day, April 7, so today I'm doing all session beers, as defined on the Session Beer Project page: tasty, multi-pint drinkable, and 4.5% ABV or less. Pretty easy, these days.

Guinness Dublin Porter, 3.8%
I've had this beer three times now: last July at Davy Byrne's in Dublin, last month at...Davy Byrne's in Dublin (lucky, what can I say?), and now today. The other two were draft; this is not significantly different, which is great. One thing that won't happen today is that little frisson of sheer terror I felt when I thought the manager pulled out a pistol in the back of the place while having a sharp discussion with a waiter; turned out to be a heat gun that he was using to touch up the weatherstripping. It was a moment, though, I'll tell ya.

I'll tell ya this, too: if you're looking for "robust" porter, or "imperial" porter, or "Baltic" porter...this ain't it. This is a quaffer, and it has a very light body, a light roasted grain quality, a light chocolate note, and a hint of hop bitterness at the close. That said...if I had another, I'd drink it, like I did at Davy Byrne's. I've heard people slag this beer for being too thin; during last year's "heat wave" in Dublin (got up to almost 80°!!), it was beautifully quenching. Just what it's for. Still, I have to admit, if there were a good mild on, or Deuchar's, I'd probably be one-and-done on this one.

Verdict: Okay

Magic Hat Low Key Session IPA, 4.5%
I'll be honest: "session IPA" has become increasingly problematic for me. It's come to symbolize the depressingly low amount of true variety in American brewing, and the reductio ad amaritudinem of the beer-drinking niche masses. "All Must Become IPA" seems to be the challenge phrase of brewers ("Unless It Is Sour" being the in-group response). And since brewers started making "session IPA", the whining resistance to lower ABV beers has diminished significantly. As I remarked years ago about pilsners; as long as they have their hop-soaked sucktoy, they're fine.

Still, it's all session today, and what's in the fridge is what's in the fridge, so session IPA it is. Magic Hat's had a weird history with IPA for me. There was Blind Faith, which was good, and then not so good, and then good again. There was HiPA, which I loved, till it disappeared, and now it seems to be back again. There's the grapefruit-infused Electric Peel, which despite a growing suspicion of the whole fruited IPA movement on my part, I kinda like. And now there's this. Let's see.

Not screaming hops on the nose, more like a malt-balanced lager with a little bit of lemony citrus in there. Oof. More disappointing on the tongue: this is simply bitter, without much flavor of hop to it at all. I'm trying hard to find redeeming character here, and oddly enough, it's in the malt. There's a half-decent base beer under there, but the overhopping — cack-handed overhopping — is killing it. I'm afraid we have our first Crap beer. Magic Hat can do better, and I hope they kill this, or pull it in for a quick retooling.

Verdict: Crap

Omer Vander Ghinste Kriek des Jacobins, 4.5%
I can't recall the last time I had a genuine Belgian Kriek, and that's a damned shame. I got this sample from Lanny Hoff at Artisanal Imports; Lanny's carried great beers for almost as far back as I can recall, so expectations are high. Fruited Flanders sour, 4.5%: perfect for fighting the Session IPA Blues. Let's go!

Beautiful ruby beer with just-barely-pink foam: happy stuff. Tart cherry nose, with an additional acidic edge to it that's clearing my sinuses. Yeah, that's what I'm talking about. Roundly balanced, a beer that clocks in on your tongue with BEER over here and CHERRY over there and SOUR over there and JUICY over there, all hanging off opposite sides on the edge of the spinning top that is this beer on my tongue. One small complaint: about halfway through the bottle, it's getting a bit sticky in the back of my throat. I try a big swallow, and that's gone, but a small complaint.

It's not killer. It's not crazy, or over the top, or wicked sour, or any of that. And sometimes I WANT that; sometimes I want to get puckered and almost scared, sometimes I want to get hopsmacked right in the chops. But when I want to have a beer that lets me breathe, just enjoy life? I want a beer like this, a beer that knows what it's doing, does it well, and really delivers. Nicely done. Thank you, Belgium.

Verdict: Good

Doylestown R5 Lager, 4.5%, draft
Named for the old designation of the SEPTA Landale/Doylestown line, R5 has been out and a bout for a bit, and I grab one when I can. Tonight I took a bit of a longer linger with it, and here's what I found. It's a quick entry; I did say, it's Date Night!

Very nice lager, good mouthfeel for a session beer (which so few have), and no off-flavors. Disappearing quickly, too. Not overly hopped. Good quaff.

Verdict: Good

Thursday, March 31, 2016

Tasting Whiskey dinner at the Bulls Head, April 10!

We'll have more than two whiskeys, trust me.

Finally got the menu for my whiskey dinner at the General Sutter in Lititz, Penn. next Sunday, April 10 (that's Sunday a week, as we say in Pennsylvania Dutch country up there, now).

The details are below: I'll add that I'll have copies of Tasting Whiskey you can get signed, that these are some excellent whiskeys, especially...actually, especially ALL of them. That's a top-notch selection, and one you will NOT see at just any dinner. Paul and I picked some real beauties for this dinner, and I'll tell you all about them. This dinner is definitely worth the trip from Philly, the Main Line, Harrisburg, Lebanon, York, or Reading; I guarantee. Just be careful about getting home!

Join us for a Whiskey Dinner with Lew Bryson, the former managing editor of Whiskey Advocate and author of Tasting Whiskey

The event will feature the following "All American Whiskeys" 
• Smooth Ambler 10yr
• Henry McKenna Bourbon 10yr 
• Hochstadter's Vatted Rye 
• Pikesville Rye 6yr 
• Booker's Oven Buster 

• First Course | Smooth Ambler served with Grilled Peach, Toasted Almond & Manchego
• Second Course | Henry McKenna Bourbon served with Orange Tea Smoked Duck Breast, Blueberry Balsamic, Boxty Chive Pancake
• Third Course | Hochstadter's Vatted Rye served with Arugula, Watermelon Radish & Cucumber
• Fourth Course | Heaven Hill Pikesville Rye served with Venison Sausage, Roasted Parsnip Puree, Crispy Shallots
• Final Course | Booker's Oven Buster served with Sage Cheesecake, Organic Honey, Spiced Crisp Apple

• $68 plus tax and gratuity
To make reservations, please contact us at 717-626-2115.

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

New Brewery Tour in Montgomery County April 9!

Some good friends of mine are raising funds to bring a music camp to poor kids in Guatemala, using a very clever technique: beer. Here's the story -- THREE brand new breweries, transportation, raffles, music, fun stuff -- and HERE is the link to get your tickets. If I weren't judging a homebrew competition that day, I'd be on the bus (and I may drop by Stickman for a couple beers after things wrap up). Do this, for the fun, for the mission!

JOIN US ON THE CRAFT BEER BUS! Visit Stickman BrewsStable 12 Brewing Company, and Tuned Up Brewing Company with us. Tickets are $50 with $10 going to Music in Motion to help fund our mission trip to Guatemala. Read below for more details! 
Have you been wanting to try the three amazing new breweries in Royersford, Spring City and Phoenixville, but just haven't had the time? Well, mark your calendar for April 9th, because you'll get the chance to visit all three in one great afternoon. 

The tour begins (pick up location) at the new Stickman Brews brewery in Royersford then heads to Stable 12 Brewing Company in Phoenixville. Our last brewery is the newest of them all, Tuned Up Brewing Company in Spring City. We will then head back to Stickman Brews for more fun, food and beer!

This is the first tour of these new local breweries and you do not want to miss it. Each brewery has a unique way of creating beer so this local tour is a must for the true beer geek in your life! Each brewery is donating a portion of their sales back to the MIM mission while we're there, so let's fill the bus!!

At each stop you'll have the opportunity to try various styles of beer from three different types of breweries, learn more about craft beer and Music in Motion, buy some food and a beer (or two, or three - that's why there's a bus!), and take chances on raffles and other fun prizes. We'll have a 50/50 raffle going on all day! Rumor has it, there will be A LOT of singing on the bus, too. :) If you have a guitar, bring it along!

Help us raise money for a mission trip to Guatemala in August, to support a music-centric "band camp" for children.

Need I say more? Don't worry, I will. Music. Kids. Need.

(Irish) Whiskey Wednesday #7

I had good intentions ("paving the road to hell," as I like to say) of doing Irish whiskey reviews on the run-up to St. Patrick's Day, but as I've said several times, my health had other ideas. One of the worst colds I can remember laid me and my sniffer low for almost five weeks, and I'm still not completely recovered. But I'm well enough to review whiskeys, so I'm going to go ahead and do the Irish I had lined up, because they tell me that Irish whiskey isn't just about March 17th anymore.

This week it's two from Ciaran Mulgrew's new "The Quiet Man" line, blended and bottled in Derry, Northern Ireland. I talked to him back in January about his whiskeys, which are named for his father, John Mulgrew, who was a "quiet man" behind the bar he tended for 50 years: heard your stories, but kept them to himself. Ciaran's a bit of a quiet man himself when it comes to revealing the source of his whiskeys; Bushmills, given the location of his operation and the 8 year old single malt bottling? Cooley, where they've also done single malt? Neither are selling a lot of whiskey to bottlers. Nothing is confirmed or denied.

I asked Mulgrew what set his whiskeys apart from the growing flood of new entries to the category. "The Quiet Man is matured in first fill bourbon barrels," he said, "which have had bourbon in them but never any other whiskey. Most Irish whiskey and Scotch is matured in bourbon barrels, but the barrels may have had whiskey filled into them four or five times. This reduces the impact of the wood upon the spirit. In addition, the traditional blended variety has a high malt percentage, making it more premium and giving it a smoother finish."

Mulgrew's not a pro; or rather, he wasn't before he released the whiskey last year. "It has been a long time coming, but this is my first entry into the whiskey market." The Quiet Man is being distributed in the U.S. by Luxco, who should be able to supply fresh bourbon barrels. Luxco is supporting the brand with tastings both on and off-premise; keep an eye out for them.

The Quiet Man Blend, 40%
Quick grainy smell as I open and pour. Sweet grain in the glass, along with penny candies, cornmeal, and orange marshmallow. Quite sweet on the tongue, very Irish in character. Light, friendly, no overt oakiness. Sweet but not cloying, with some light golden raisin fruitiness. Pleasant and approachable; maybe a bit too sweet from the bourbon barrels, without corresponding depth, but a good whiskey for introductions and carefree drinking.

The question would be whether to have this, at a common price of about $35 a bottle, or Jameson/Tullamore/Bushmills/Paddy/Powers at anywhere from $7 to $15 less. This seems a bit pricey.

Verdict: Okay

The Quiet Man 8 Year Old Single Malt, 40%
Hoping for a bit more here. The blend, while not labeled for age, is thought to be about 4 years old. Expecting a bit more structure from an 8 year old single malt. Yup, more oak in the nose; nougat, sandalwood. A lot more oak on the tongue, more of the sandalwood, a nice warm cereal character, as well as a pleasantly oily texture. This has a lot more going on, not simply sweet and fun. If I didn't have more tasting to do today, I'd pour another full measure and just enjoy this one.

Verdict: Good

Coming up next: Egan's whiskey and poitin. 

Jester King and Cantillon vs. Texas

I don't normally plug events outside my region, but this one's supporting an excellent cause: beer freedom. Jester King, in Austin, has locked horns with the Texas ABC before, so it's no surprise that when the TABC thwarted their plans to host Cantillon's "Zwanze Day" release event in September of 2015 (the TABC has rules about what beers can be sold in Texas!), they cried "Bullshit!" and let loose the dogs of beer. They won — naturally! — and will be holding their Zwanze Day next month, and proceeds from the event will go to a fund to reform Texas beer laws. Brilliant. I'm so pleased that I copied the whole press release below (okay, partly it was to use that really cool graphic). Well done, Jester King!

We’re very excited to finally announce the date for “2015” Zwanze Day at Jester King — Thursday, April 14th, 2016 from 6pm to 10pm.

If you’re not familiar, Zwanze Day is the time of year when Brasserie Cantillon simultaneously releases a new, very special beer at dozens of locations around the world. 2015 Zwanze Day happened back on September 19, 2015. Although Jester King had the honor of being a location, we postponed 2015 Zwanze Day (with Cantillon’s blessing) until Cantillon could officially be licensed for sale in Texas. Unfortunately, Texas law makes it very hard to get beer from small breweries into our state. The Texas government sends the message that if you’re not prepared to sell at least 1,000 cases of beer per year in the state, you have no business being here.
Fortunately, due to help and good will from Cantillon, Shelton Brothers ImportersFlood Independent Distribution, and Jester King (if we may say so ourselves), Cantillon is now licensed in Texas! We previously wrote last year about our efforts on this front. As we mentioned, we’re using Zwanze Day as a vehicle to raise money for Texas beer law reform and to make it easier for small, out-of-state breweries to enter our state. 
Half the cost of every ticket ($25) will be donated to the Texas Craft Brewers Guild Legislative Committee and/or Open the Taps. Tickets are $50 and include a 4 oz. pour of 2015 Zwanze (a spontaneously fermented stout), a cheese pairing from Antonellis Cheese Shop, a custom Jester King 2015 Zwanze Day souvenir glass featuring the artwork shown above, and the aforementioned $25 donation. Two-hundred tickets will be available.

Guests will also have the first opportunity to purchase Cantillon bottles and draught legally sold in Texas.We expect to have Cantillon Gueuze and Kriek available for purchase on draught, and bottles of Bruocsella Grand Cru, Kriek, and Gueuze available to go. Due to the small number of Cantillon bottles we will be receiving from Shelton Brothers, customers will be limited to purchasing one bottle of Cantillon (either Bruocsella Grand Cru, Kriek, or Gueuze). We’ll have just enough bottles so that every ticket holder can buy one bottle. Also, we will just apply our standard markup to the Cantillon bottles and draught. No price gouging from us.

We’re hosting a lottery for the 200 tickets. To enter, please follow the link below and enter the requested information, including whether you wish to purchase one or two tickets if your name is selected. Lottery entry will close at midnight on Sunday, April 3rd. We’ll then notify lottery winners by the close of business on Monday, April 4th. Lottery winners will have 48 hours to purchase tickets. If tickets aren’t purchased within 48 hours, we’ll randomly select another entrant to offer the tickets.

You must be 21 or older to enter the lottery. One entry per person. Double entries will be eliminated. You must show up with a valid ID that matches the name on the ticket. Tickets are non-transferrable.

Finally, we’ll be announcing a few surprises for Zwanze Day in the coming days, which will include some special beer releases and special guests. We’ll also be allowing a bottle share for ticket holders at Zwanze Day again this year. We’re excited the long wait to have Cantillon in Texas is over and that “2015” Zwanze Day is finally here!

Saturday, March 26, 2016

Good Beer Friday #8

Normally at this time on Good Friday, I'd be running through the music for the 3:00 services with the St. Andrew Chamber Group. This year, sadly, I'm sidelined with lingering effects from the cold that's kept me from reviewing most of the past three weeks: gravel voice. So I'm going to drink beer and listen to the songs I'd otherwise be singing. Join me: Johnny Cash's version of "Were You There". (putting this up on the day after Good Friday because I didn't get out for a draft till today...)

Omer Traditional Blond, 8.0%
I love the family-owned Belgian breweries. Brouwerij Omer Vander Ghinste has been owned by the Vander Ghinste family for four generations. They mostly make pilsner -- gotta pay the bills -- but they're making a set of traditional ales as well, and Omer is the big blond in the family. A Vander Ghinste named Omer has run the brewery for all four generations; kinda solid. I like that, too.

So what do we have here? Bright yellow beer, clean white foam with tenaciously tight little bubbles. All beers are beautiful, but this one's especially captivating to the eye. Oh, and the nose, too. Sweet clovey candy, orange marmalade, sweet and spicy without being sticky or cloying. It smells interesting, which is what I'm looking for.

Sipping time. First thought: 8%? Really? That's scary. Because this drinks like about 5.5%. Well-attenuated but not thin, and still spicy-sweet without being sticky. The fizzy fine carbonation runs all over my tongue and teeth and roof and cheeks, what a rush! This is more spicy than sweet, and there's no stickiness in the finish at all. That's by God well done, and I'm kinda regretting that I gave half of it to my wife!

Verdict: Good

Goose Island Four Star Pils, 5.1%
Whatever shall I do? Goose Island is owned by ABInBev! I believe I shall taste the beer with an open mind and leave my readers (both of you) to decide what to do with the information. I will say this: Goose has always made refreshing and thirst-quenching beers, and I expect more of the same in this 16 oz. can. Let's crack it.

Hmmm...kind of funky smell like pineapple and sweet cream; not unpleasant, just totally unexpected. Is this some more of these new hop strains brewers have been experimenting with? Still, it looks proper, with a beautiful white bloom of foam. Tastes better: malt, bitter hop, the right body, clean finish.

Something's different, though, and it's not the pineapple. I'm not liking the way the bitter and malt balance, and the hops taste...burnt, or blaring, or harsh. It's just not clean, integrated. I'd maybe have another pint...but I wouldn't buy a case.

Verdict: Okay

A Bunch Of Barleywines, 7.5% and up, draft
First flight
I went down to Tattooed Mom in Philly today for Split Thy Skull XXI, the long-running barleywine/strong beer festival I blogged about Thursday. Hoo-whee, it was a good time. I didn't taste everything, but I had 8 of them, Here are some capsule reviews.
New Crustacean Barleywineish Imperial IPA Sorta -- Way different from the old Old Crustacean. Blonde, not dark; sweet and light and bitter, not bitter and hard and menacing. New age stuff.
Southern Tier Back Burner -- Everything Southern Tier does well: big malt, big hops, big body, and not clogging the pipes. Finesse? Yeah, in 14" naval rifle style.
Alesmith Old Numbskull -- A clearly big beer, but light on its feet, nimble. Orson Welles dancing ballet. Impressive achievement, and one I like...but I like da heavy heavy monsta sound, too.
21st Amendment Lower De Boom -- Only one I finished. Good stuff, big but drinkable, and not overly zealous on the hopping.
DuClaw Devil's Milk -- Fat all around, big in every direction, this is a great example of how Jim Wagner hits the mark every damned time...but never gets the cred. Underrated brewery.
Summit Old Blaggard -- Tasted kind of worty, grainy, but delicious. Sometimes that really, really works, and this is one of them, because it adds a huge note of freshness in a style that benefits from it.
Pizza Boy Wonder Whine -- Always impressive, Pizza Boy delivers again in a beer that was one of the biggest I had all afternoon (12.5%) but the fruitiest and most varied. Fun!
Smuttynose Barley Wine -- Wow. A throwback, not a fossil. One guy at the bar was not impressed, I told him: this is what barleywine tasted like in the 90s. Back when there were fewer of us to please, and brewers brewed for themselves. Hat tip to Smutty for staying on that: heavy malt, big yeasty esters, just enough hop. An unshaven, unapologetic barleywine.

Verdict: Stellar event!

Friday, March 25, 2016

Split Thy Skull XXI in Philly tomorrow!

Back in the day...way back in the day, like in the 1990s, one of the premiere beer events in Philadelphia was Split Thy Skull, a barleywine/strong beer event at Sugar Mom's in Old City, originally put on by Philly's pioneer beer promoter, Jim Anderson. For whatever reason, it was always held on the day before Easter, and -- thank you! -- in the afternoon. We'd crowd in the basement bar, eat sandwiches and red beet eggs, and scarf down glasses of beers that started at 7% and headed north from there. That's where I had my first Yards Old Bart, various iterations of Dock Street's barleywine, draft Kulmbacher G'frorns, and Rogue Old Crustacean. That's also where I first met Nodding Head founder Curt Decker, when both of us were "pretty well banged up," as Tom Peters puts it.

Oddly enough, Split Thy Skull was, in a way, the earliest genesis of the Session Beer Project. I distinctly remember supping a glass of cask-conditioned Young's Old Nick barleywine (at a quaintly mellow 7.3%, which would damned near get it laughed out of today's STS), and thinking -- I could point to the spot where it occurred to me, it's so sharp in my mind -- 'My God, this is so good; I wish it were about 3.5% so I could drink it all day.' The seed of an all-day drinking tasty beer was planted, and would come to fruition years later.

But enough history! Because tomorrow is Split Thy Skull XXI, to be held from 1-6 at Tattooed Mom, 530 South Street, and as always, it's gonna be a doozy. It's PAYG, with singles and flights, from over a dozen big fat beers of all types (and I hope some true barleywines are among 'em!). They don't usually release a list until the actual event, but they slipped me a few names that will be there. Check it: Pizza Boy Wonder Whine (12.5%); Southern Tier Back Burner (10.5%); Alesmith Old Numbskull (11%). Woof!

So...get on your bike, call up Uber or Lyft, take the bus, or get a friend to pick you up when you're done, because if you do this right, you'll be done. Not sure if I can make it this year or not, but if I see you there...Cheers!

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Hoarders Are Already in Hell

Back in January I wrote a piece titled "All Flippers Go To Hell." It was an observation, not a command, and I was expressing my disgust with the people who bought rare releases of beers and whiskeys with no intent other than turning around and reselling them at a sharp markup. They distort the entire market, they make it harder for people who really love the drinks to get them, and they pervert the intent of the makers. Ergo, I opined, they are likely to wind up in hell (assuming such a place exists in your philosophy, Horatio...)
Almost to The Bunker...but the Wasters are Waiting
I also said that wouldn't be my final word on the subject, and here is Canto II of Bryson's Inferno: the Hoarders and Wasters. I couldn't find flippers in the Divine Comedy (I'm looking at the people who flip genuine bottles, not counterfeits). But the Hoarders are already there in Circle Four, pushing about huge, unmanageable amounts of whatever drove them in life, only to meet the Wasters, who hurl identical loads at the Hoarders, smashing their loot. Then the whole thing starts over, of course. (I'm not really sure who the Wasters are; drunks? Don't stretch the analogy too far.)

What Hoarders am I talking about? These guys. And these. The guys who hear that a whiskey is being dropped, or changed, or may be in short supply...and immediately go out and buy up every bottle on the shelf to put in their "bunker." It's in short supply, they say, better stock up.'re part of the problem! It doesn't take a math genius to see that if you're buying up all the stock you see, that someone else is going to find nothing, and report that as a shortage.

Is there even a bourbon shortage? There is a shortage of some bourbons; rather famously, Van Winkle is no longer simply placed on the shelf, but allocated and auctioned and apportioned. Weller is harder to find, but I bought my last bottle (about two months ago) right off the shelf. There have been some bourbons change to No Age Statement (unhappily, the Elijah Craig 12 is one), and those quickly disappear. Buffalo Trace bourbons in general are harder to find (some of that is their relatively small production; Willett suffers from a similar problem). But I have not seen any shortage of excellent bourbons like Baker's, and Woodford, and Evan Williams Single Barrel, and Old Grand-Dad 114, and Old Forester Signature, or any of the bonded bourbons I love.

Hoarders tend to be driven by single-mindedness. They feel they simply must have a supply of the bourbon (or bourbons) they think are the best. I empathize, but the fact is...things change. We don't want them to, but they do, inevitably. You can find lots written on how whiskeys have changed; sometimes for the better, sometimes worse. For every regret, there is a corresponding joy, but nothing is made the way it used to be. Nothing. Hoarders are the Canutes of Consumption, trying to hold back the tide of change by stashing away booze. You know what happens when you stash booze? This. And this. And most of all, this

Hoarders put away the booze, and all too sits there. Doing nothing. Contributing to a panic over nothing. I'm guilty myself, or I was. I hoarded beers, big beers, specialty beers. I was saving them for a special night, a special friend, a special occasion that just never seemed to come (because when it did, we were having too much fun drinking fresh, delicious beers). Last year I decided I would start drinking them. And what did I find? Now they're nothing but a curiosity, and aside from a perishing few exceptions that aged well, mere shadows of what they were when fresh. I'm in hell, a hell of my own making.

Whiskey, happily, has never met that fate in my home. No matter what, out it comes when thirsty guests arrive. Lesson learned; hell avoided. Hoarders: learn the lesson. There are always good whiskeys available, good beers available. Stop worrying and enjoy them. Relax with your whiskey, enjoy beer as it happens, or...well, as Slayer says, Hell Awaits.

Friday, March 18, 2016

Beer Friday #7

Missed a few there.

I got really sick for a while; a head cold that knocked out my sense of smell, and a cough that kept me from getting any kind of decent sleep for about five days. Add to that a quick trip to Ireland to visit the new Tullamore Dew distillery (much more on that soon), on which I may have pushed things just a bit...and I was in no shape to even write a blog post, much less one in which I was reviewing beers or whiskeys. My apologies. But I'm back now, with enough of my senses and wits about me to get to work on this!

Music? I'm in Colonial Williamsburg for the Ales Through The Ages symposium this weekend (more on that very soon as well!), and I'm working right next to Chowning's Tavern, where this song, "Nottingham Ale" was recorded in 2010. Seems appropriate. Enjoy!

Hardywood Cream Ale, 4.4%
A fine pour

I totally crushed one of these when I arrived in Williamsburg last night after about six and a half hours on the road from Philly, and let me tell you: refreshing. Looking forward to a more relaxed and reflective sampling today. (My thanks to Carl and Joan Childs, my brother/sister-in-law, who are hosting me in Williamsburg this weekend, and whose refrigerator I'm raiding for these samples!)

Again, as I sit here on Duke of Gloucester Street in Williamsburg, carriages and contemporary-clothed guides rolling and strolling by, I thought it would be a good idea to have a truly American beer, and cream ale is all that. Snarl and snark as you may about light, fizzy beers, cream ale is, in my opinion, the apotheosis of that whole category; light and fizzy brought to a peak of not lightness and fizzyness (because that would be this shit), but to the optimal intersection of light-mouthfeel-sweet-bitter-tasty-refreshing,

Hardywood's version zeroes in on that intersection pretty closely. I've been drinking a lot of the classic Genesee Cream Ale recently (the brothers-in-law in upstate NY always have a suitcase of it cold, and that's a long drive too!), and if anything, the Hardywood's maybe a little too flavorful. If so, that's a 'flaw' I'm more than happy to overlook. Nose is sweet, even a little fruity, with a yeasty-hoppy cut to it (the beer's unfiltered, and that's my only issue here: did it have to be hazy?), and that all follows through on the palate. The finish manages to be...wet, almost like a little splash on the tongue (and just a hint of bitter pull) that makes this such a refreshing beer that I'm a third of the way through it without intending to have had more than a sip or two. Beautiful session beer at 4.4%, too.

Very impressed with the way Hardywood Park Craft Brewery has handled beers from their barrel-aged big boys (including the vaunted Gingerbread Stout) down to this light, happy drinker; haven't had a bad beer from them yet. Add to that a cool sense of history: Richmond was where canned beer was first introduced, in 1935, so of course this comes in cans. Well done, Hardywood, well done.

Verdict: Good

Sierra Nevada Five Hop Experimental IPA, 5.8%

Oh, Sierra Nevada. It's been an interesting trip. First they were pioneers, then they were solid citizens, then they were staid and boring, then they were cutting-edge pros. Erm...from where I sat on my barstool, they never changed. They were simply, consistently, amazing. I've rarely been disappointed by Sierra Nevada.

That said, I've been let down through over-expectation, so I'm trying to tamp that down here. The new rush of experimental hop strains has not always left me impressed: "tropical" fruit, limp lemon, kinda-pine, wood grain, coconut...really? So I'm actually a bit skeptical going into this, but let's have at it. has a beautiful cap of foam, I gotta say: Sierra Nevada brewing quality at work, there. The nose is full, but subtle; I want to say, it's this...but then I smell something else, too. Orange creamsicle, soft pine (sweet spruce?), and a fluffy general richness. A poofy pillow of a nose, but then the beer splashes in and it's sharper, brisk, and then hop-sticky on the back end. Nice change-up; you could make it to the majors with a pitch like that.

In the end, though...tasty, and well-made, but not exceptional. I'd have one, and keep hunting. Or maybe just launch another Torpedo.

Verdict: Okay

SweetWater Hash Session IPA, 4.2% 

(draft, at the Green Leafe, Williamsburg)
I wandered down to the Green Leafe, a student oasis, and it was cool and quiet on this summery March afternoon. What to have...the choices were good, but then I saw one I'd meant to try: the Hash Session IPA. SweetWater does this "hop hash" thing where there's more resin/lupulin and less leaf in the hop addition (I think that's right), and it's supposed to give the beer a more intense hop flavor/aroma without the "tannic" effect of the leaves. (Again, I think that's right.)

Well, I'm all for that. Let's try it. Light yellow, bright and clear, with a lemony-pine lilt to the nose. It's a bit thin on the palate, but not watery, and the good thing is that it's just right on the bitterness; it pulls and dries, but doesn't crush on the close. That's a nice beer: it's not overly bitter, it's not overly sweet, but it's not dull either. Thing is...does it call for another? I don't think so. I'm already thinking about my next beer, and it's not this one.

Verdict: Okay

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Why You Don't Like Canadian Whisky

Five years ago, I didn't know much about Canadian whisky. I thought I did, and I wrote about it like I did, and I'd been to one Canadian distillery (the Canadian Mist distillery in Collingwood, Ontario). Mostly though, I had written Canadian whisky off, with the exception of the stuff John Hall was making at Forty Creek. I was just another smug whiskey snob: Canadian? Brown vodka.

Then I read Davin de Kergommeaux's Canadian Whisky: The Portable Expert. If you haven't read it, you really should click on that link, go to Amazon, and buy it. I'll wait.

Done? Great, because it's fascinating. Canadian whisky has every bit as interesting (and long) a history as American whiskey, and — remember — they made most of the whisky that was consumed in the U.S. during Prohibition...and a hell of a lot of the whisky we drank during the Civil War, too. But Canadian, like the majority of Scotch whisky, is blended, and that's led whisky snobs to ignore it.

After reading Davin's book, though, and visiting more Canadian distilleries with him and Dave Broom (you really should read his The World Atlas of Whisky, too), and talking to Canadian distillers and blenders...that's when I really got it. First, they've only recently started sending the good stuff down here. We've been getting the Canadian equivalent of Jim Beam White and Johnnie Walker Red: big-selling stuff that goes in a glass with ice and soda. Fine, for your grandfather, and your father (and likely your mom, too), but you want more, right? I know you, I am you: we want more, and the Canadian distillers are finally getting it.

The second part, and this is the key, is that Canadian whisky makers just don't think the way American whiskey makers do. Everything is blended to them and they really don't look at the whiskies they're blending in the singular, as possible soloists stepping aside from the choir; "it's a unique landscape," as one of them told me.

A moment that really brought it home to me was when Don Livermore, master blender at Hiram Walker, was having us sample various whiskies at various ages, all the way from fresh new make to Wiser's 18 year old. He'd done some experiments with red oak, and we tried some at, I believe, 4 years old. It was blastingly woody, like vodka lapped off a deck; I'm afraid I made a face. What are you  going to do with that, I asked him. "I'm going to blend it," he said, with a slight emphasis that almost sounded disappointed, like, 'I've been telling you for three hours that we blend whiskies; don't you get it?'

I didn't...but now I do. I get that blends are what they're making, that the package of flavors is what they're thinking about, and that really, they're making whiskies for drinking, not delicately tasting. Highballs, simple whisky on the rocks, cocktails; that's what Canadian's made for. If we don't get that, if we try to force it to be a sipping whisky, we may as well be putting Islay whisky in a Manhattan. I mean, you can do that, but it's hardly what it's meant for, is it?

So when I taste Canadian whiskies now, I do try sipping them...and then I try them in a highball, or I make a Manhattan (with two cherries, and a full measure of vermouth). Some of them are fully delicious as sippers, like that Wiser's 18 Year Old, and some of the latest Crown Royal variants, like the wholly excellent Monarch (75th Anniversary), and yes, the Northern Harvest Rye.

I also like the Alberta Rye Dark Batch, which is made with 1% sherry...which is allowed in Canada. The folks at the distillery followed up with me on that, and they asked: if you were going to make a cocktail with it, what would you do? I thought about it, and told them that I'd like a Manhattan balanced to Dark Batch's flavor profile, something that calls out the sherry, and isn't afraid of the whisky's lush sweetness. I usually like a more austere Manhattan, a rye Manhattan, but sometimes I like to play Dean Martin and have something sweet and fun.

And you know, they got hold of Chris Goad at Canon, in Seattle, and gave him that description to work with, and here's what I got; they call it

The Prairie Triangle
7 parts Alberta Rye Whisky Dark Batch
1 part cream sherry
1 part Pierre Ferrand Dry Curacao (go find it; play with it; worth it)
2 dashes bitters (the recipe called for 4 dashes; that dominated the drink, IMO)

Add all ingredients into a mixing glass with ice and prepare your glass, letting the ice slowly melt in the mixing glass to reduce your stirring time. Add a large ice cube to your double rocks glass and garnish with a wide orange peel, cut and trimmed clean. (Don't hate me: I added a brandied cherry.) Finish mixing your drink and pour into glass. Cheers!

I found it wonderfully juicy, and the actual add of the sherry was, I thought, ballsy and brilliant. It's a great drink, and it needs Canadian to make it...and it needs verve to make it the right drink for Canadian. Thanks, Chris; thanks Alberta Distillery!

So think about Canadian as Canadian. And go out and pick up the latest copy of Whisky Advocate, where my latest column talks about the eureka moment I had with Canadian whisky at a tasting I did last year, and the happy results that came out of it. If this didn't show you the Canadian Way, that column will.

Friday, February 26, 2016

Beer Friday #6

I wasn't sure what music I wanted to go with this week. But after I tasted the Boon Mariage Parfait Gueuze, a beer I hadn't tasted in years...nothing less would do. Enjoy Dimitri Shostakovich's Festive Overture.

I love that stuff.

Boon Mariage Parfait Geuze, 8.0%
I still remember my first Boon Mariage Parfait. It split my nose open like a well-used outhouse; raunchy farmhouse assault, swelling bacterial aromas, brutal. And yet...I kept going back for more, like with a truly great raw milk cheese. I never forgot that, even when Boon tamed down a bit.

Then I got this sample from the Rare Beer Club, and I wanted to see if it still had that power, if it still gave up that funk. The cork popped sharply, the beer fizzed mightily, the dark gold color and bright white head were beautiful. Nosing time.

Well, it doesn't smell like a shithouse. What I do smell are classic geuze markers: blood, old iron, horse blanket, deeply tart grapefruit, soursop, and finally, some malt in behind. There's a sweetness to it that makes me a bit suspect, but let's get it over the lips.

A blend of sour, bitter, oaky tannin, and dry brett. The fizz is great, but the main body is so blended, it's almost too well-blended. Don't get me wrong: this is good, very good, and I intend to finish the entire 750, falls short of the true greatness it used to possess. I've seen people ding Boon for not being "as sour as Cantillon." I don't think they get it. I'm not a lambic expert, but I've had far more than my share, and the truth is, "lambic" doesn't mean one thing, one type of beer. There are differences among them: piercingly sour, crisply astringent, raunchily funky, dryly woody with brett. This actually reaches across several categories and brings them together. To be fair, the finish is spectacular, the beer's best aspect, where the full range of complexity catches fire and lights up your mouth.

Welcome back, old friend. You're not what you were, but what you are is worthy, and loved, and a great way to fill a glass.

Verdict: Good

Innis & Gunn White Oak Wheat Beer, 6.4%
This is where I get confused, by the confusion over wheat beers. The front label of this one says "Wheat beer with bergamot, orange peel, and orange oil added." Which sounds more like a witbier, right? Then the back calls it a "German-style wheat beer," aged 46 days over oak and finished with the bergamot and orange. So what the hell is it? Style considerations aside, let's find out.

It sure doesn't smell German-style (or look it; no huge head): mostly it's the bergamot (think Earl Grey tea) and the oak — mostly vanilla — in the nose. So let's have a sip.

Very creamy (almost feels nitro), like many of the Innis & Gunn beers, and not a trace of the German weissbier character. The orange and bergamot and oak are all there, though, and they come together in a weirdly pleasant way. It's beguiling, truly. I like about 1 in 3 of these Innis & Gunns, and I never thought this would be one of them from the description, but even though it tastes kind of sweet, weird sweet, the oak and the bergamot balances it. I like this one, and it's bewitchingly different.

"Different" is good, these long as it isn't disgusting.

Verdict: Good

Søle Clink, 4.9%
(I'm just going to type Sole, without the fancy ø every time. Had this on draft at a place that shall remain nameless.)
Is the pale ale coming back? Mebbe? Please? A new "gypsy" brewery in our area, Sole Artisan Ales created Clink as their "anytime" beer, a heavily dry-hopped pale ale without a ton of bitterness (though -- spoiler -- it does show up in the finish). I haven't seen it a lot of places, despite having some connection to the people who make it (as in, I've met them and they stay in touch), so when I saw it today I grabbed one.

Clean and clear, light yellow, white head. Good aroma -- pine and citrus, the American classics -- and the hop and malt are beautifully balanced in the beer. There's a bit of minerality that I'm not sure is the beer (might be the lines), and then the hops really kick in at the finish. A solid beer, not a great beer, but solid.

This, or another decent solid beer? Love the one you're with, baby.

Verdict: Okay

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Whiskey Wednesday #6

Yes, I'm aware I didn't do any tastings last week. Makes me wonder if anyone noticed. I didn't until Thursday. But I've got some whiskeys I want to write about, so we're going to keep this up, at least for a while longer.

Brenne Estate Cask French Single Malt Whisky, 40%
Allison Patel
I have two samples: the Brenne Estate Cask, and the Brenne Ten. I first tried Brenne several years ago at St. Andrews in Manhattan, at a table with a bunch of other whisky writers and bloggers, and Brenne founder Allison Patel. The whiskey is made from malt grown and distilled in Cognac, aged in new Limousin oak barrels, and finished in Cognac barrels. Each bottling is a single cask bottling, no blending. Neat idea. Nice packaging.

I wasn't impressed; I found it very sweet, almost gaggy sweet, but Allison was clearly very excited to be there and I didn't want to be the poop at the table. So I had a beer and kept my opinion to myself. I haven't had Brenne since, and when I was offered a sample of the two whiskeys, I thought it was time to do it properly.

The aroma is rich: fully ripe banana and root beer, but a really, really good root beer made with cane sugar, with a light but trenchant backing of soberly dry oak. Tasting it reminds me of that day at St. Andrews. Sweet tastes in a fairly heavy-bodied whiskey, with banana taffy and King syrup. There's malt there in the middle, but the banana engulfs it.. The finish is oddly hot for 40%, but the banana finally goes away, thank God.

I was right three years ago. This is really, really sweet. Too damned sweet.

Verdict: Flawed

Brenne Ten, 48%
The Brenne website says about the Estate Cask bottling: "NO AGE STATEMENT -- Because Brenne Estate Cask is bottled individually by barrel, the aging for each cask differs as it depends on how long the Cognac was in the barrel before. On average, the whisky ages for a total of about 7 years." This, on the other hand, goes to 10. And this is what I came for. These two little sample bottles have been sitting on my desk for over a month (sorry...), and now's the time. Pour the Ten.

Still banana, but nowhere near as sticky ripe, and there are other fruits -- cantaloupe, stewed apple -- and some oak. Nosed side-by-side, the difference is striking; the Estate Cask is sticky-sweet, young, almost silly, and the Ten is getting there, building a wooden framework. Wow, yeah, quite a bit more wood there, some quite pleasant floral notes, doughy malt, and the banana's much more in check on the palate. Quite hot, still, but the finish isn't burning, in fact there's a good roll of malt there with the oak.

Age helps, what a shocker! It's getting there, but I can think of better whiskies for $100.

Verdict: Okay

Elijah Craig Single Barrel 18 Year Old (Barrel 4090), 45%
This one's been sitting on my desk for a while too. I wanted to give it the attention it deserved. Given that it's selling on the shelf for anywhere between $250 and $350, I figure I owe it to you to give you my read on whether it's worth it.

Here's the thing: if you've read my writing, my reviews, and heard what I've said on a number of occasions, you know that this is a bit past my "best-by" date. I'm really a fan of younger bourbons, 12 years and under, and while I love Heaven Hill's whiskeys, generally it's the ones between 6 and 12 years old. That said, I know what you woody guys are looking for, so let's see if this baby's got it.

Oh, it's woody all right. The nose is oaky, like walking into a wall made of barrel. There's hair oil, cinnamon, maple, caramel, graham cracker, and, er, oak. The sweetness of the maple and graham makes me hopeful, so let's take a sip. That's pretty tasty, actually, with the sweet stuff all curling around: maple candy, caramel candy, cinnamon and dried mint, without the burning hot oak I was concerned about. The oak's there, but it provides structure, and balance, not palate death. The finish is civilized and pulls everything together. Nicely done.

But God above: $300? I can get two and a half cases of Heaven Hill Bonded 6 Year Old for that, and me, I'll probably like it more. This is rare, I get it. So if you really like older bourbon, you might pay that. I won't.

Verdict: Good...but pricey