Feb 27, 2014

Glengoyne 15yo...

Glengoyne 15yo (43.0%): Glengoyne distillery is located in Southern Highlands just 14 miles north of Glasgow and pretty easy to reach even with public transportation from the city. It is the most southerly Highland distillery on the map. If everything goes like planned I am hoping to visit the distillery on my way to Campbeltown this June and I am pretty excited about this visit... I reviewed a few other Glengoyne releases on tire-bouchon before, including one of my all time favorites Oslo Whisky Festival 2008 bottling. This time I have a distillery release 15 year old expression on the table. Here we go... Color: Dark amber, clover honey. Nose: Unripe peach slices and New York diner style lemon meringue pie. Bowl of cereal with thin honey syrup, candied lemon zest and dried apricots. Water brings even sweeter aromas: red gummy bears and moist fruit cake. Palate: Ground cloves, cinnamon and oatmeal cookies. Garam masala, salted caramel, baked bananas and apricot danish. There are a lot of notes on the palate competing each other but none of them scream out loud. Everything seems to be in harmony. A few drops of water elevated the amount of the salt which I really enjoyed and also added anise and polished hard wood notes. Finish: Long with nutmeg, green pepper corns, cinnamon and lavender. Overall: I will be honest: I was a little afraid to taste a dram buried in heavy sherry notes but this liquid is way more layered and subtle. Sherry influence is there but not covering the core of the juice. I personally liked also how approachable and easy to drink it is. I have to say with every expression I taste, Glengoyne is growing in me. I like the spirit a lot but I wish they focused more in ex-bourbon barrel maturation.

Feb 23, 2014

Gibson's 16yo Olympic Limited Edition...

Gibson's 16yo Olympic Limited Edition (40.0%): Today when I woke up at 7:30AM to watch the final game between Canadian and Swedish ice hockey teams I already had the idea to taste something special for the winning team after the game. So, I decided to pull the sample bottle of Gibson's 16yo Olympic Limited Edition from #DavinTT2 Canadian Whisky prize basket in the honor of Canadian Ice Hockey Team's gold medal..! Although the company's roots go back to Pennsylvania and it is owned nowadays by the Scottish company William Grant & Sons the juice in the bottle is Canadian. Their operation is based in Windsor, Ontario today but because this particular expression is all the way back from 1960 it is distilled in Valleyfield Distillery in Quebec where the brand was located that time and bottled in 1976. Quiet a gem... Color: Amber, yellow gold. Nose: Nail polish, acetone and linseed oil. Tung oil, light and clear wood varnish. If you used to spend weekends in your grandparent's house this nose will trigger special memories: old toys, woolen sweaters, thick blankets and old disintegrating leather jackets. Adding water brings some dried cranberries and dried sour cherry aromas. Gets very dusty and chalky, almost nose tingling. Palate: Quite a rye dominated palate, very old school Canadian whisky. Sultana raisins, zante currants and sweet prunes. Cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves. A few drops of water made the texture very thin but added all sort of red fruits: raspberry jam and black currant marmalade. I also did get some very pleasant smoke, more like a fireplace smoke, candied pecans and charred wood notes. Finish: A smooth but long fade out with sweet spices: cloves and garam masala. Overall: I don't want to sound nostalgic but this is a lovely old whisky... I am always surprised how good the old whiskies handle the water addition even if they are low in abv. Great spirit and great wood influence with a bold attitude. I wish I could have a bottle at home. It was an enjoyable ride indeed...

Antwerp: City of Fashion, Diamonds, Chocolate, Beer and Jenever...

I’ve visited quite a lot of different cities in my lifetime and also had the privilege to live in a few of the most beautiful ones, but I never had a similar relationship to what I have with Antwerp with another city. I never lived there but because of my job I visited Antwerp at least two times every year for the last eight years. After some time I stopped feeling like a tourist, but also never could feel like a local. Something in between—hard to find the words for it. You start to think about it when the bartender in your favorite bar makes jokes about your favorite soccer team the moment you step into the bar, or when the owner of the local whisky shop sends you an email about a rare bottling you might be interested in. I think you start to feel accepted and it’s a good feeling… It takes time but in the end Antwerp accepts you. It is the second biggest city in Belgium and the capital of Flanders after all, but you never feel like you’re in a big city. It is a historic, picturesque, stylish, artistic and hip city. And needless to say, after so many years, I have a few suggestions you might want to note down for your next visit to Antwerp.

a typical breakfast at Witzli Poetzli
I’m going to start with WitzliPoetzli. Witzli Poetzli is a small cafĂ© on Blauwmoezelstraat situated with dozens of others around the city’s symbolic building, the “Cathedral of our Lady”.  It’s easy to miss the first time you walk by due to its simplicity.  It opens early and stays open late at night.  Tables outside have the best spot to chill and watch the sun go down behind the cathedral on late summer afternoons while sipping your beer.  It has a small but tremendously well-selected whisky collection with rare editions, single casks and independent bottlings and a decent rum line-up. Everything is fairly priced, coffee is good and pastries are yummy.  It is a place where local musicians, poets, artists and intellectuals come together to hang out everyday. The crowd thickens towards evening and the joint stays busy throughout the night.  I had a few random winter nights there when it was freezing cold out on the street but steaming hot inside, windows all covered with mist and everybody cramped around musicians singing their hearts out.  Fun times…  It is a perfect joint any time of the day.

I think Kulminator is one of the best beer bars in Belgium with De Fiere Margriet in Leuven and Chez Moeder Lambic in Brussels. It is located on Vleminckveld, a little far away from the city center. Also, because they don’t have a website it is hard to track down when they’re open and when they’re closed. Sometimes you find the place shut down with a handwritten note taped on the door just because the owners decided to go on vacation. But believe me, it’s definitely worth the trouble. The place has been operated by the same old couple for decades and I don’t think they’ve changed anything in the bar since they opened it.  If you are looking for good service, to be taken care of, or any other kind of comfort you should bring your business somewhere else. This place is for beer geeks and beer geeks only! Try not to piss off the owners by ordering mainstream corporate beers that are not on the menu and also avoid asking long and boring questions about every single beer on the blackboard. Just pick one and try it. There aren’t any choices from a local brewery or monastery you can go wrong with anyways. Oh, one more thing: don’t show up late! The owners like to close before midnight and they will kick you out.

De Vagant
The third bar I will mention is DeVagant. This place is the World Institute of Jenever. Since it’s opening in the 80’s on Reyndersstraat, De Vagant has been dedicated to promoting the local spirit of Flanders and teaching it to younger generations and foreigners. They carry more than 200 different jenevers from almost 40 different distilleries.  The collection covers varieties from single grains to cask-aged editions, from fruit-flavored ones to creamy expressions. It is served in shot glasses filled till they overflow. The staff is very knowledgeable and ready to help you find the one you like. Bring your book on a sunny afternoon, order a malty beer and start with the jenever of the day. I wouldn’t leave without tasting at least a few. I’ve been going there for almost seven years, every time I visit Antwerp, and I am not even close to finish the list. They also have a small shop across the street where you can buy a bottle if you find the one you want to bring home after tasting it at the bar.

The last place I will talk about is a whisky shop not a bar. It’s called Anverness and owned by the one and only Peter De Decker. I met Peter almost four years ago. I simply walked into his shop on Grote Steenweg, introduced myself, shook hands and in ten minutes we were geeking out about whisky, distilleries, and Scotland like two old mates. We’ve kept contact since then. Every time when I arrive at my hotel straight from the airport, I put my luggage in my room and head directly to Anverness. Because to be honest what I can spend in the city during my stay strictly depends on what I will spend in Anverness. The moment you walk in the shop you can see how passionate Peter is about whisky.  The whole place looks like some whisky geek’s home rather than a whisky shop. He also has a gorgeous back room with a huge table and a bar where he hosts tastings from time to time.  I like to refer to that room as “my favorite room in Flanders”. Peter is also interested in rum and sherry and carries a good selection. Next time when you are in Antwerp make sure that you spare a couple hours and stop by Anverness. Meet Peter and enjoy being the kid in the candy shop.

Anverness a.k.a. candy shop

[edited by Teresa Hartmann]

*Originally written for and posted at The Alcohol Professor on February 18th, 2014.

Feb 18, 2014

Powers Gold Label...

Powers Gold Label (43.2%): Everybody knows that I don't hide how much I like Powers. It's one of my all time go to whiskies since it is very affordable and quite easy to find almost in every bar, it is the irreplaceable key ingredient of Irish coffee and it is without a doubt the best companion to a pint of cold Guinness. Like its better known brother Jameson it is distilled at New Middleton Distillery in County Cork, owned by the same owners Pernod Ricard and again like Jameson it is a blended whiskey containing both pot still and grain whiskey components. But the difference in the ratio of those two type whiskeys in its vat makes Powers a much more enjoyable spirit for my palate. Or at least it used to be... I don't know if anything has changed with the new, a little bit fancier bottle and label design with a slightly elevated price tag and let's see if it can be also a good sipping whiskey in a Glencairn glass. Color: Orange blossom honey and dark gold with some legs on the glass. Nose: Baklava syrup with cinnamon, bunch of crushed cloves, lavender and nutmeg. New leather couch, quince jam and pear compote. There is also a chalky and vegetal layer underneath which is amplified with just a few drops of water: green asparagus, bitter greens and lemongrass. Palate: Grilled banana peppers and charcoal dust. Sweet with wild flower honey notes. Very young cereal grain whiskeys with black pepper and mild spices. Again water elevated the green character of the whiskey: Lemongrass and rocket leaves. Finish: Medium long with black pepper spiciness and alcohol burn. Overall: So, it is young and harsh but it has a style and attitude. I think it noses and tastes slightly younger than the previous versions or just didn't quite hold up in the tasting class like in a shot glass (I bet the latter one is a better assumption). I still like it more than Jameson but I think I will keep it as my favorite dive bar and Irish coffee whiskey and will reach another bottle next time when I want to sip an Irish whiskey at home. Powers is more like your buddy with whom you like to go out bar hopping and have an awesome wasted night but you don't want to invite him home necessarily for a family dinner. It's hard to argue further with its price tag just over $25.00 though.

Feb 9, 2014

Blend Project #14 Highland Fusilier...

Highland Fusilier (40.0%) : A blended whisky from Gordon & Macphail which is very hard to find any info about online. It almost makes you think that they are not so fond about it. It has an age statement of 8 years which actually makes it look way more fancier than any other blend in Blend Project. On G&M's site it is also mentioned that the whisky is matured in refill sherry casks. Anyway I have a great confidence in G&M and looking forward to taste it... Color: Light amber, with surprisingly distinct legs. Nose: Nice vanilla aromas, hard wood shavings, and furniture polish. Baklava syrup, cloves and cinnamon. Pretty satisfying. Adding water pulls it to the grassy side: Dandelion and rocket leaves, capers and hint of wine vinegar. Palate: Wait a minute, we have something pretty good here... Creme brulee, sticky toffee pudding and Mexican coconut flan with a whiff of sweet smoke. Cold pear compote, honeydew slices and sweet paprika. Water elevated all the sweet notes from sherry casks. Syrupy middle eastern desserts, milk chocolate with whole hazelnuts, cracked white pepper corns and maple syrup. Finish: Miles longer than you would expect from any blended whisky at 40% abv. Full force with cloves, cinnamon and sugar burn. Overall: This was such a nice surprise! We might have a winner here. It's a great blend in its price category. I cannot imagine anybody complaining about anything after sipping this whisky. Very well balanced, incredibly smooth and rounded. I would bet that the formula has a healthy portion of Benromach in the recipe. I could taste it very clearly. Too bad that we don't have it in US. It could be easily my to go blend. If you see it somewhere on the shelf definitely give a chance. You would agree with me... Thanks again to Stephen Mathis for the sample. You rock!

Feb 1, 2014

Blend Project #13 Whyte & Mackay Special...

Whyte & Mackay Special (40.0%): 14th candidate of tire-bouchon's Blend Project is Whyte & Mackay's entry level blend, "Special". Lately Whyte & Mackay's name has been on headlines on many whisky related websites and blogs because of its cloudy future. Nobody knows yet how things will move forward for them. After Dieageo's purchase of India's United Spirits it is still unknown if they are going to be able to keep Whyte & Mackay in their portfolio in spite of strict trading and fair competition laws or is Suntory going to have another chance to make another bold move. But regardless of business news anybody who is a little interested in whisk(e)y is familiar with the name of Richard Paterson. Richard Paterson a.k.a "The Nose" has been the master blender and the face of Whyte & Mackay for many decades. He proved in many occasions in the past that he can steer the brand in rough seas and he will do it again without a doubt  if necessary. Let's focus to what's inside the bottle. Color: Polished copper, medium amber. Nose: Walking into a pub on an early Saturday morning: Spilled alcohol on the wooden floor from the night before which is quickly swept with Ajax floor cleaner and the smell of the blue urinal blocks through the bathrooms doors. Weirdly sour and chemical, some cheap cream sherry and old wood. Palate: Very young grain whisky... It tastes more like wood and sherry flavored grain alcohol. Impossible to separate the layers if they are any, everything comes as one big ball of taste. There are some wood notes but more like artificially added. Very odd... Finish: Alcohol burn on the sides of the tongue and again some chemical after taste. Overall: Yeah, that happened... At least it was quick. I wasn't expecting a strong contender but it's a major letdown. Ok, let's try to imagine myself in a position where I have to choose between this and Johnnie Walker Red Label and there are no other possibilities of any kind of spirit on the table and my life or the life of my loved one is at stake: Maybe, maybe at that moment I might make a move towards it... Otherwise you should just avoid it. Thanks again to Stephen Mathis for the sample and for trying to warn me in advance. Obviously I didn't listen...