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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