Sep 19, 2014

Bowmore 16yo (1989 vintage)...

Bowmore Limited Edition 1989 vintage 16 yo (51.8%): And here is the second and last sample I received this week from Jens Fischer a.k.a. Mr. Whisky-Quiz. It is a cask strength Bowmore distilled in 1989 and the first in their vintage series. Aged primarily in ex-bourbon casks and it was the very first official Bowmore expression not to be chill filtered back then. The vat is a blend of 134 casks. Color: Pale, lemon chiffon. Chardonnay. Nose: Here we go... I'll be around here for about half an hour: Fresh, green and grassy. Very subtle and sweet peat, salty sea spray and green olive brine. Bitter greens, fresh cut grass and kumquat zest. Guava, seaweed, vanilla and cold pear compost. Gorgeous... Palate: What the what..? Hold your horses here! All of a sudden a bottle of perfume exploded in the glass (FWP..!). It's Christmas time, I am stuck at Macy's perfume department and desperately trying to find my way out... Rose water, lavender cologne, Chanel No. 5 and hyacinth flowers. I really didn't see this one coming... Adding some water cuts the alcohol burn but all the perfume notes are still there. Bone dry with oak tannins, very distant peat and artificially flavored raspberry soda water. Finish: Long and dry with white pepper and rose liquor notes. Damn, I still cannot focus straight. What was that all about? Overall: This is a very confusing dram... When I was nosing it I thought I found the holy grail but as soon as I tasted, the whole thing turned upside down. Like somebody swapped the glass or poured profusely perfume in it when I was typing my nosing notes. I am very baffled... I wish I never stopped nosing it. Well, needless to say it was quite an adventure. A very odd one but it was. Thank you again for sending me the samples all the way from the old world Jens..!

Sep 17, 2014

Springbank 14yo (Cask Sample) ...

Springbank "Local Barley" Cask Sample 14yo Sherry Barrel (N/A%): This is the first sample I pulled out of the envelope I received this week from Jens Fisher, creator of and my classmate from Springbank Whisky School. The bottle is filled by himself in Warehouse No.15 at the distillery last June when we were there. The whisky is drawn from one of the legendary "Local Barley" casks. In different periods Springbank used locally sourced barley which became very famous especially the ones distilled in sixties. This one is distilled in 1999 and bottled like I mentioned above in June 2014. I don't have any info about its abv but obviously it is cask strength. Maybe he will have more info and post it in the comments box below. Color: Deep amber. Orange blossom honey with visible legs. Nose: Sour heavy cream, cooked prunes and dry raisin loaf cake. I can almost nose the sweet, sour, chewy, almost gooey Pedro Ximenez. Quite sulphury: somewhere between struck matches and thousand year old eggs. Adding water opens it up quite nicely. Sulphur level is down to unstruck matches now... Queen of puddings, Metaxa and Sauternes wine. Palate: Hot... Allspice, rum raisin ice cream and grape molasses. Quite a texture: chewy and thick. A generous amount of water helps to round the edges. Orange zest jam, ground cinnamon, roasted almonds and carrot cake. Hint of peat and marron glacĂ© in thick syrup. Finish: Very long with sweet Greek baklava with cinnamon all over it, bitter almonds and creme caramel. Overall: It is a thick and bold whisky... A little too sweet for me but quite tasty. Would be a perfect dram for winter nights to sip after dinner with friends. I have to say one glass would last me the whole night though. Thanks again to my buddy Jens Fischer for sharing this sample with me. Danke vielmals Jens..!

Sep 16, 2014

Happy National Bourbon Heritage Month...

The Rum House - New York City
Growing up in Istanbul, Turkey in early 80’s, I witnessed a lot of changes in the country. We were blending into the capitalist world and for the first time in my life I was witnessing imported goods hitting the shop windows, taking over slowly but surely. As a kid, I have to say, I wasn’t aware too much about the social and economical aspects of the change but was very excited about the new toys filling the stores. That period was also hard on Tekel, the alcohol department of government, which didn’t have the necessary preparations to fight against the cheap booze from abroad that was now flooding the country. Tekel, which literally means monopoly in Turkish, weakened over the years, got sold to Mey Icki in 2004 and then eventually to Diageo. A true capitalist story… Anyway that’s the explanation for why we started to see imported alcohol brands on bar shelves in Turkey that late.

Istanbul is a big rock town and Jack Daniels didn’t miss that opportunity. It was the first big American Whiskey brand distributed widely and we all did our best to welcome this iconic brand. It was Slash’s choice after all. Who were we to judge? But then, soon enough, Jim Beam entered the competition… I don’t remember exactly why, but I started to favor Jim Beam and continued to do so for a long time.

So that’s the story of how I met bourbon for the first time in my life. Jim Beam White Label was my first bourbon that I deliberately chose to order. Every time I see that bottle it triggers beautiful memories from my hometown. Let’s count it as my first memorable bourbon.
Napoleon House, New Orleans

In 2003 I moved to New York as a whiskey enthusiast and was hungry to learn and to taste as much as I could. While I was educating myself with different expressions of old established brands like Heaven Hill, Four Roses and Wild Turkey, I was constantly making new whiskey friends and also meeting people from industry almost every day. I was on the clouds… There is one bottle in particular from those days that stands out though: Booker’s. - I first tasted it in a bar in Williamsburg, Brooklyn when Williamsburg had only a few bars on Bedford Avenue, and I instantly fell in love with it. That bourbon was nothing but glamour. Its artisan-looking label and bottle was very clever marketing. It was hard to believe that it was a Jim Beam product. It was expensive for a bottle of bourbon but certainly affordable, especially when you think that it was over 120-proof. At least that was my excuse. In years it changed from time to time but it’s never disappointed. I would put Booker’s in the number two slot of my Bourbon story.

Bukowski Tavern - Cambridge
Moving from a major city to another is not an easy thing to do. I knew that I couldn’t keep my long distance love relationship with Istanbul and I desperately was trying to be a New Yorker. I started to follow the Yankees and Giants, was on a mission to learn every street in the city by walking for hours every day, was attending every possible social gathering to meet people in my neighborhood, was trying to support local artists and also to be more conscious about using local products. So, me discovering Hudson Whiskey wasn’t a big surprise. When they launched their first line-up I was all over their products. I loved the idea, the story behind it, and most importantly their spirits tasted good. I really don’t know how and when I met Gable Erenzo from Tuthilltown Spirits exactly but his personality sure did help to reinforce my thoughts. Since then I visited the distillery twice and, if I am not mistaken, sampled every single product they’ve bottled till now. I am still a big supporter and hope to see them continue to keep up the spirit. I would put Hudson Four Grain Bourbon in the third slot on my Bourbon story list.

Dorock Bar - Istanbul
After years of tasting whiskey I started to grow a different kind of appreciation for good cheap whiskeys. I really think that it is an extremely hard job to find a recipe that will yield a good whiskey with a reasonable cost and then age, bottle and distribute it worldwide and still be able to sell it for around 20 bucks. I think it is mind-blowing and way harder than releasing a superb single cask whiskey with a four-digit price tag... My unhealthy attraction to dive bars and my quest to find good cheap whiskeys combined together and I started to hit low-key bars wherever I travelled in the States. From my experiences I started to have my favorite low shelf bourbons — I chose two brands among them I respect the most and I would like to list those as my numbers four and five: Evan Williams Black Label and W. L. Weller Special Reserve.

I think the most exciting thing about bourbon is that by law bourbon distillers are allowed to try so many different recipes. We only know that 51% has to be corn, but the rest is all left to the master distiller’s vision. The possibilities are endless. Personally if I walk in a bar the thing that makes me most excited is to see a bottle on the shelf that I never tasted before. It is Bourbon Heritage Month after all, and I think that’s the best way to celebrate it — go out and taste a bourbon you’ve never tasted before. And if you feel like you can share your thoughts below in the comments box. I would love to hear them all..!

Robert's Western World - Nashville

[edited by Teresa Hartmann]

*Originally written for and posted at The Alcohol Professor on September 12th, 2014.