Westland – Peated Whiskey (46%)

How is there ever a line at Chick-fil-A?! There are only, like, three things on the menu. It’s so simple, those bible school dropouts manning the drive through should be shooting them out of fucking cannons. Nope! 30 minutes for a sandwich and half the time it still ends up being soggy even though you clearly waited for them to finish murdering and feathering the chicken to feed you a fresh patty. Assholes!

Really, that’s what I get for planing my day so poorly that I need to quench my morning hangry with fast food. I’m usually super early to all my commitments. In that respect. I guess it’s fortuitous that I was running late last week, because I realized something: Chick-fil-A and whisky are a home run. Even the occasional, inevitable, soggy-because-I-was-made-by-human-garbage sandwiches are pretty good when you’re chasing them down with a belt of whisky. It’s like a reverse pickleback. Try it!

 

 

This one ain’t bad!

 

Nose: The first time I tried Westland someone poured it for me blind. I couldn’t wrap my head around it and was thoroughly convinced it was a Scotch. This nose here is no different. Very nutty, a little peaty, whiffs of ocean and dusty barnboard. Very Scottish but with a strange, romantic note that it’s hard to put my finger on; a secret ingredient, like fish sauce, that changes the dynamic of the flavor without letting on to the source.

Rating: Recommended

Palate: It’s got all the coffee and roasty malts that the American Whisky has, but the youth gets a bit trampled by the peat which ends up balancing things out. The finish is great!!! It’s not well-aged but again the peat comes to the rescue and makes everything seem richer. Not a super complicated whisky overall, but solid and very easy to dwell on.

 

Now, before people send me an imperial shit ton of hate mail about how I should be nicer to Chick-fil-A, you should know I also dislike NASCAR and think people who don’t put cheese in their grits are animals, but if you have any favorite fast-food/whisky pairing leave them in the comments below! Cheers and happy eating!

Thank you to the team over at Westland for the samples!

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Westland – American Whiskey (46%)

Last night I dreamed that cars had been replaced by flying, plexi-glass bubbles. The engines worked on a principal that only made sense in sleep, but one of the fun side-effects of the process was that the accelerator acted exponentially.

As long as the pilot kept their speed down and only accelerated in small, reasonable increments then the pilots would be fine. Every so often a person would be in a hurry, or sneeze, or simply make a bad decision, and jerk the accelerator too quickly. Recklessly approaching the asymptote of the rate of acceleration would shoot the pilots forward at unfathomable speeds, placing them so far away in a split second that they would likely never be able to turn around and accurately direct back to earth.

Whether this was an intentional design to subtly remove the most dangerous drivers from our travel-ways or an unavoidably cruel reality of the physics behind the device was unclear. I’m still not totally sure how I feel about people in a senseless rush randomly flinging themselves mathematically impossible distances through space… but my gut reaction is to chuckle in the most detached way possible. I wish whisky had a fail-safe like that, sometimes. “Oh you’re looking for a quarter cask because you don’t want to wait for a full size cask to mature?” *FLING*

Maybe we wouldn’t fling the distillers and their loyal retailers into the cold, dead vacuum of space… maybe just a quarter mile or so into the ocean. Just terrifying and far enough to teach them a lesson. Unfortunately, prepare for heartbreak, that’s not actually how whisky works.

The hyper-inflated craft-whisky scene seems to draw its biggest crowd from innocent people trying desperately to understand what all the fuss is about. I assume its next biggest crowd is people who don’t understand either but will tell you they do because they have money in the game. Fortunately, there are exceptions to this grim conspectus. For the next few posts we’ll talk about a contemporary, American distiller that seems to be eschewing the craze for small casks, staves, or fancy machines. Westland Distillery of Seattle, Washington.

I’m not going to wax poetic the entire time. It’s an ugly business and I’m not a huge fan of this flagship Single Malt. Not at the $60-70 which it seems to be retailing for. Not at two years old and definitely not in this format. Don’t let that detract from the fact that I’m a huge fan of what the distillery is doing. Stay tuned for my next reviews, a few other Westland malts, because this bottling is a poor example of what they’re capable of. Please don’t think the American Whisky is undrinkable, either, despite that I believe this is one of their worst offerings.

Think of that as good news! If you enjoy this one more than I do, which there’s a good chance you will, then you’re going to love the rest of their stuff as much as I do and it’s only going to get better.

Nose: It begins beautifully, like a classic, unpeated single malt Scotch. Malty and floral turns over to a dry, overpoweringly nutty hazelnut. Westland uses a lot of different roasts of malt, a few of the more heavily roasted malts account for the darker flavors. It’s very much an unrefined, beastlier version of Glenmortangie’s Signet, with coffee, dried orange peels, figs, and slightly burned chocolate. If they used a more delicate hand with the heartier roasts and aged it a little longer in the cask, I think it would be hard to drink anything else.

Palate: It tastes a lot younger than the nose lets on, at first. Loads of grain contributions. Carmelized sherry syrup, freshly washed coffee grinds, raw cocoa, and dusty canvas dominate all the lighter flavors. You can find a lot of apricot and orange peel, but with every other flavor shouting in your face it doesn’t go far enough to balance it for me. It has a slightly tangy finish, kind of like a well-aged rum. The palate really struggles to pair the nutty, roasty aspects with lighter notes, but I suspect cigar smokers wouldn’t notice or mind. 

Rating: Try itA bit pricey for me at the moment, but the payoff is definitely coming! This bottle is kind of unique in its category (American Single Malt) in that it doesn’t totally suck ass. Hurray!!!

Notice: If you’re a smoker, then disregard my TRY IT and consider this a strong RECOMMEND!

Thank you to Westland Distillery for the sample. Cheers!

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Mortlach – Rare Old (43.4%)

Losing loved ones sucks. It can shut down parts of your brain, parts of your personality… your blog, if you’re vain enough to have one. If you also suffer from depression, like me, it can get a little more complicated.

Depression can trick you into thinking you’ve always felt that way, that nothing will ever change, or if it does, it’ll only get worse. You can feel it physically. I feel like I can even see it when I close my eyes sometimes, so when terrible things happen in life, it can be hard to distinguish them from the every day, usual terror of being depressed. Life simultaneously becomes inescapably surreal yet increasingly difficult to be a part of. That seems like a normal part of losing someone, but for most people there’s an arc to the misery and a circumstantial reason for the suffering. When I think of depression’s impact on me, I measure it in confused lifetimes.

So a few lifetimes ago I lost my grandmother. I could write a book about when I was a teenager how I came to be legally emancipated from my mother. It would be long and angry, and probably the most boring thing you’ve ever read, but the story ends with my grandmother taking me in and offering me a place to stay. In short, she saved my life, so when she first went to the hospital for that last round of visits, well, you can see where my posts first get a lot less frequent; I can’t remember if that’s when she first went into the hospital or a little bit after it all started to go to hell, but either way it was a long, arduous journey once she was there and it wore me out.

It felt like I was already in the middle of a lifelong existential crisis, and losing her like that reminded me what it felt like to be completely empty again. Like a lost child. It’s easy to use alcohol to numb that away. I won’t lie and say I didn’t drink a few glasses to her on a  few different nights, but that’s a dangerous place to be for too long, especially in a stumbling city like Hartford CT. It’s easy to lose pieces of yourself to that. I started to feel pressured to drink more and began questioning whether blogging about alcohol was healthy for me. For a bit it was tough to justify, but I kept it online. In the end, I just needed some time… and sertraline. Mostly sertraline.

Hartford CT! Come for the empty stadiums, stay for the omnipresent fart smell!

Is writing like this good for my depression? I don’t know. I feel like maybe it’s more of an indicator that I’m doing okay than the reason I am. On that note, whether focused or rambling, whether it’s good or bad writing in good or bad times, good or bad for me, writing this blog feels good so I’m going to start doing it again when I can.

Today, let’s talk about Mortlach, more specifically, their first widely available, official bottling in recent history, the Rare Old. Mortlach has traditionally only been available mixed in Johnnie Walker blends, as occasional releases by Diageo’s Flora and Fauna series, or from independent bottlers. They never really had a widely available bottling for the public so I was excited when this distillery, known for their bold and meaty whiskies, announced a new line of bottles back in 2014. Mortlach has a cult following, so asking more than $100 for the entry level, no age statement release, kind of tickled my bullshit meter, but I was still excited.

Nose: What nose? This isn’t at all like other Mortlachs. I’m used to finding some kind of beast in the glass, but this is a whimpering puppy compared to what I was expecting.

Palate: The low proof is damning… why am I even drinking this?! I’m suddenly angry. My dog is scared and wondering why I’m yelling at my computer. Rrrrrraaaaahhhhh!!! I feel like somebody just smothered one of my friends. Aaaaaand now I’m sad again… damn.

Rating: RiskyIt’s not offensive, exactly, but if I wanted to spend upwards of $100 on a flavorless bottle of pedigree, I’d shell out the cash for some Johnnie Walker Blue Label. At least people know what Johnnie Blue is. Well, I guess in that respect it is offensive. Fuck this Mortlach!

Save your money, especially because there are plenty of delicious Mortlach bottles from independent bottlers still sitting on shelves at lower prices and better ABVs. This new bottle, which is neither rare nor old, definitely won’t please the esoteric tastes of the distillery’s current fanbase.

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High West – Valley Tan batch 3 (43.5%)

highwestvalleytanThere’s an arms race going on in the world of hot peppers. Most people have heard of the ghost pepper by now, the former hottest pepper in the world according to the Guinness Book of World Records, but since 2007 four others have taken the title, the latest contender winning the title in 2013… the Carolina Reaper.

What makes the Reaper so hot? Well, in normal chili peppers most of the yellow capsaicin is in the white, fleshy “fins,” otherwise known as the placenta. In superhots such as the reaper, the veins that hold the capsaicin grow all over the inside of the flesh and not just the placenta. The flesh is also rolled around and folded so the actual size of the pepper is misleading. In a normal pepper, when you remove the seeds, you take out most of the spice, but there’s no such shortcut with the Reaper. It’s everywhere.

I can tell you… this shit is HOT! Worse, it tricks you. Once you start chewing, the unreasonable amount of oily capsaicin takes a few seconds to settle and connect with your wet mouth flesh, so at first you say to yourself, “Naw, this isn’t that bad. It’s actually kind of good!” Then it makes you look like a complete idiot. It slurred my speech, destroyed my concentration, and the morning after it proved something I never really believed in all my years of loving spicy food: hot in, hot out.

So, now that you just learned something really cool, let’s talk about something really dumb: this whisky. This whisky is dumb. Really, really dumb. I would rather try to eat an entire Carolina Reaper than cough up another $60 for a bottle of this garbage. I’m kind of sad that somebody burned a shitload of fossil fuel to bring this to me.

Inside the Carolina ReaperHaving tried a lot of fantastic whisky from the Utah based distillery, I can’t see how any sane employee there would think selling this was a good idea. It’s not like they have terrible taste in whisky. On the contrary, their rye whiskies are some of my favorites. How did this happen?! I can’t even bring myself to repeat the bogus story they sell this crap with so I’m going to truncate it.

The Mormons who settled Utah had all kinds of crazy ideas: like how men should have as many wives as they can manage; Native Americans were from Israel; magic underwear; black people are cursed by god; and Mormon whisky, if it tastes anything like this, was delicious. I could go on… but I won’t.

Nose: Oof! Wood. Like a freshly sanded floor in a house made, finished, and furnished entirely of wood. Even adding bitters and citrus-y syrups can’t overcome the stomach wrenching wood. It smells like someone took a whisky that wasn’t quite ready and then cut it with a whisky that definitely wasn’t ready.

Palate: I wasn’t sure it was possible, but it tastes woodier than it smells. It kind of reminds me of Kansas Spirit whisky, except, you know, more terrible and not nearly as sweet. I kind of wish they advertised with a similarly douchey campaign as Kansas, because at least then I would have had a laugh, too. If you can choke down the wood, there’s some buiscut-y flavor… like a biscuit made with sawdust. If you really dig, there’s an indiscernible fruitiness I can’t quite put my finger on.

Rating: RiskyIn one sense, this whisky has a lot in common with the Reaper. There isn’t a whole lot you can do with it that everyone will love. In fact, only a certain subset of people who like chili peppers or whisky will try to grow or acquire them, and an even smaller set will actually enjoy them more than their less infernal cousins. In a historical sense, this whisky was interesting for about ten seconds while I thought about how this was designed to taste like the booze of antiquated Utahn society. As a repeatable commodity, both seem kind of dumb, with the chili being a little less so. The rest of my Reapers will be mixed in with friendlier peppers and enjoyed in moderation, while the Valley Tan will sit on a shelf undisturbed.

I’ve read rumors about the next hottest pepper coming up… the HP56 aka Death Strain, roughly 50% hotter than the Reaper or almost 1,200 times hotter than a mild jalapeno. I can’t imagine how much hotter that is any more easily than I can imagine how much worse High West’s next dumbest whisky will be. I don’t plan on trying either… but then again, if I know anything about myself it’s that I’m curious to the point of extreme stupidity.

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Rational Spirits – Santería Rum (46%)

santeria_rumWait, what the hell is this?!? Rum??? I thought this was How to Drink Whisky?! What’s next? How to Drink Mezcal? How to Drink Vodka? How to Drink Shit Mixed with Redbull? Well okay, How to Drink Mezcal sounds pretty awesome. I definitely wish I paid better attention in Spanish class so I could pursue it. Que lastima! Maybe it’s not too late to learn.

To summarize a hundred bloggers who wrote about this before me last year, in 2015 Bryan Davis of Lost Spirits fame announced that he was waiting for a patent. Studying a 20 year old rum, he claimed to have made a machine that could take a spirit, fresh off the still, and combine it with oak in a way that would create a cocktail of chemicals with a similar composition to the older spirit.

Every serious whisky drinker anywhere collectively rolled their eyes at the announcement. We’ve all heard that story a hundred times. Sure you can change that spirit dramatically by boiling it in a pressure cooker, spiking it with sawdust, or shaking it violently, but it will always taste at least a little but like mulched goat piss… and those sad, New York hipsters will love it just the same.

I’ll admit, I was as jaded and skeptical as the rest. At first, I secretly hoped it wasn’t true, that whisky-arsonist and friend of the blog Davis hadn’t just committed the ultimate whisky maker’s faux pas. Now he’s got a waiting list of spirits companies in line to lease his machine. The first to sign up, Rational Spirits, just released their flagship rum, Santería. Looks (and tastes) like success to me.

Discussing it with Davis, he’s clear that he’s not selling a machine. It’s more like he’s selling a mad scientist starter kit with warranty and consultation with an actual mad scientist… and there are good reasons why he has a waiting list now. Analog maturation’s main drawbacks are that it takes lots of time and then there’s usually a high degree of variability in each individual cask. Davis’ digital setup makes the best effort yet to control that variability and make a product extremely uniform on a much faster pace. The implications for the spirits business are exciting… and certainly a bit terrifying.

Jeffeesons Aged at Pug Small Batch

It’s not a box you pour liquor into, press a button and after a period of time it spits out 20 year old brandy. At the same time, this specificity seems to be one of it’s most desirable assets; with Davis’ reactor, the product will be exactly what you craft it to be, and once you set it up, it will produce consistent results over and over. You like that honey barrel you found by the rickhouse window? Analyze it in the spectrometer and imitate it. If you know what you want in a whisky and can provide a sample for analysis, you can probably make it.

In the end none of this written chatter really means anything if the product doesn’t taste real. I was expecting an uncanny valley of sorts, where the spirit would be close to old rum but something wouldn’t seem quite right in an almost imperceptible way. Not the case. Santería is undeniably delicious. For $36 a bottle, too? Get the fuck out!!! Now, I can afford to drink mai tais all night long! Does it taste exactly like the 20 year old rum they tried to imitate? I can’t say, but it’s damn tasty and if you told me blind that it was an honest 20 year old, I would believe it.

So how does his machine work? Well, there are a few different processes that happen in different parts of the setup. Once you have a snapshot of your target spirit’s profile, your own spirit as it came off the still, and snapshots of all the components, you juggle these four processes, analyzing it along the way to create the final spirit.

I won’t bore you with too many details but one process holds wood suspended in spirit at a precise temperature which seems to extract a catalyst from the oak. The spirit is held at other temperatures which are tuned in to expedite reactions between the various carboxylic acids, phenolic acids and alcohols created or extracted in the other processes, speeding up the creation of precious, targeted esters that typically take long periods of time to form. Another process utilizes photocatalytic science. Pondering the way the sun was breaking down the surface of his deck, Bryan realized wood degrades in sunlight and unleashes a lot of the same components unleashed when wood breaks down in alcohol, most importantly lots of precursor acids. So another stage employs an extremely powerful light, powerful enough to give you a sunburn in under a minute, shining it at the wood suspended in alcohol to accelerate the break down of the wood. One process bubbles measured amounts of oxygen into the spirit to convert certain acids into aldehydes. The last process is another temperature process that utilizes bacteria from the wood to create new carboxylic acids which would usually be breathed in by the barrel and later converted to esters. Wash, rinse, esterify, and repeat.

Rating: Highly RecommendSo is this the end of barrel aged spirits? It could be. At the very least, it’s changing the landscape and understanding of the aged spirits industry. I knew this guy was going to do great things.

Thank you to Bryan and Joanne for the bottle. Cheers!

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Crown Royal – Northern Harvest Rye (45%)

20160229_145208Today’s guest blogger produces a television program back in his native England titled Friday with Furray. A self-professed full-time whisky-writer, he’s only 16 years young but still old as hell in human years, and definitely smells like he’s been slightly damp for a very long time. He likes Buffalo Trace, but loooves going for a walk and will hump your leg whether you want him to or not. Here to talk with us about his decision on this year’s Most Unbelievably Delicious Turd, ladies and gentlemen, please welcome, Jim Furray!

Jim: Rrrrrr-woof.

HTDW: Thank you. The pleasure is mine. Thanks for making the trip to come see us. So, I read your book and it says you’re from Corryketterburroughtonshire. How did you like growing up there?

Jim: Hrmphhh. (starts licking balls) Mmmrrrrrrrrr.

HTDW: Wow, that’s… heavy. You seem like such a casual guy about it all, though. Is that why you moved to Kentucky?

Jim: Rrrrr-oof. Rrrrrrrr-r-r-r-r-r. Hrmphhh.

HTDW: Hahahaha! Yea, I hear squirrel is a delicacy out there, but if I could change the direction of the conversation really quickly, can we talk about the whisky for a second?

Jim: Woof. Wwwwwwwoof woof. Arrrrrrr. Mmmhhhhmmmrrrooooooo!!! Woof woof rrrrrruf!

HTDW: That’s certainly high praise. I’m not offended by it, but I wouldn’t say it’s heavenly… it’s a $30 bottle of Canadian whisky. That’s stuff for cooking or making cocktails… or making cocktails and cooking… or ma-

Jim: Arr…rr…rrrrrooooo. Ruff. (shits on carpet)

HTDW: Aw, what the hell is this??? Bad dog! Bad, bad dog! You’re lucky I don’t rub your face in that… somebody get this asshole out of here. Sorry about that folks.

crownroyal

Nose: A bit of cedar, spiced orange rind, and malt. There’s a Bourbon hint, but it’s more like a first-fill unpeated malt… or Cognac. Actually, it has a lot of those Cognac grape notes. Over the top rye perfume, like the chemical tincture Templeton uses to flavor their whisky. Is that… powdered carpet deodorizer? Actually, the more I smell it the more I think of carpet deodorizer, especially after taking a sip.

Palate: Watery. Canadian. Tastes a little bit like marshmallow, as if the light whisky component were replaced with Kansas’ mellow spirit whisky. It tastes a bit like wine; Cognac really. Rye kicks up once it makes it down into your chest. I really liked the first glass, but after another I started to feel like I was drinking perfume mixed with apple juice.

Rating: Try itI understand feeling like you need a guide. It’s a huge market to explore. Maps are helpful, but nobody needs a gospel. Whisky is meant to be explored. It’s supposed to be fun, so while there are great whiskies and shitty ones, there is no singular “best whisky,” and if there were, it would never find itself on a shelf for $30.

As for Crown Royal overall, it’s cheap, not terrible, and widely available. It’s far from the worst whisky out there, but it’s not the best whisky in Canada, not the best in North America, and certainly not the best in the world.

*all characters appearing in this work are fictional. Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.

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