Friday, May 18, 2018

Eighth Anniversary - Four More Years of Booze Blogging

I've been out of habit of marking the anniversary of this blog's creation, but it seems like a good time for another retrospective.



Things have been quieter over the last few years, not necessarily because I don't have anything to write about, but because I just haven't been drinking as much. Sometime after I finished my PhD in 2016 I more or less stopped entirely. Given that it was something of a rough time mental health-wise, that was probably for the best considering the alternatives, but it's taken quite a while to get back up to speed.

Lately that's been making me ask why I still write this. I'm not getting paid. The heyday of cocktail blogs that I was in the thick of when I started has mostly faded as people either turned pro or simply found that there was too much competition for their time. While I found a second wind in the rise of whisky blogging, even that seems to be losing steam for many of the same reasons.

What it really comes down to is that I feel like I have gotten a lot out of reading other folk's blogs and I still want to contribute. While not perfect, independent voices are still deeply needed right now. Sure, that gives me mixed feelings when I review spirits that haven't been available for years or are now wildly expensive when they can be found, but there is still value in chronicling where we were to understand where we are now.

Part of this is also wanting to get back to writing about the science of spirits. If you follow me on Twitter you can probably guess what my next post will be about. It's one of the ways that I feel like I can really add to the community by translating complex concepts into something more understandable. So there will definitely be more of that in future.

You can also expect to see more non-whisky posts. I have managed to whittle down my open bottles of malt whisky to three right now and I'm hoping to get it down to zero just for a change of pace. There should be more cognac, armagnac, rhum agricole, and other spirits on the horizon as I try to expand my palate. With that said, I also ordered a giant pile of whisky samples recently, so there should still be plenty of those sprinkled throughout as well.

Overall my goal is to keep from feeling like I'm in a rut. Grinding out whisky reviews has been useful in a lot of ways, but I was starting to feel like I was drinking too many for academic purposes instead of because they were enjoyable in and of themselves.

Here's to enjoying what we drink.

Friday, May 11, 2018

Drinking in Barcelona: Dux Cocktail & Gin Borne

I was recently in Barcelona for a project meeting, but I made sure to give myself a few days to
explore the city before and after. Unsurprisingly, one of my first plans after checking into my hotel and getting some food in my stomach was finding somewhere for a drink.

After a slightly confusing walk through the Gothic Quarter to find that the places I had been looking for were closed, I stumbled upon Dux while trying to get back to a main street. While very quiet on a Tuesday night, it looked inviting.

Dux is set up in the now-classic craft cocktail bar mold, with a vague speakeasy style. The decor harkens back to the early-20th century and there is live jazz on more happening evenings. While the bartenders have more of a Portland hipster vibe in checked shirts and aprons instead of the previously regulation arm garters and handlebar mustaches, they know their trade and make extremely good drinks, many from an array of infused gins.

In keeping with the craft cocktail vibe, many of the signature drinks from their menu have a somewhat over-the top presentation (I saw at least one being served in a tiny bathtub), but their construction is always impeccable. Despite the crowded weekend night conditions, I got an absolutely stellar Last Word that was perfectly balanced between bitter, sour, and sweet.

Overall, I would highly recommend dropping by if you're in Barcelona and looking for a fancy but not overly pretentious drink. They will treat you well, whether it's a quiet Tuesday or a slammed Saturday.

Thursday, April 26, 2018

Whisky Review: Longrow Red 12 Year Pinot Noir Cask Finish

Continuing the Longrow Red series, this was released in 2015 and returned to the red wine finishes after the atypical port cask release of 2014.

This whisky was aged in bourbon barrels for 11 years then finished in fresh Pinot Noir casks for an additional year, then bottled at 52.9% without coloring or chill filtration in an outturn of 9000 bottles.

Longrow Red 12 Year Pinot Noir Cask Finish

Nose: balanced savory peat smoke and wine, floral, bubblegum, vanilla, banana? After adding a few drops of water it becomes more savory with a hint of cured meat, the peat and wine are softer and more integrated, and the malt is creamier.

Taste: wine and malt sweetness up front, gentle oak and off-dry wine in the middle, a little heat and a bump of dry malt with background peat smoke before the finish, plus more wine at the back. After dilution it becomes softer and sweeter up front, the wine is more integrated, and the peat folds into the stronger oak at the back with creamy malt undertones.

Finish: wine residue, light oak, and a touch of peat smoke

The wine in this release reads more like a fortified wine than a red wine. While some of it may be because the bottle has been open for quite a while, it comes off as simpler and far softer than the Cabernet Sauvignon with some compensation in stronger and more savory peat at full strength. Overall I liked this, especially as I think I would have gone through the bottle more easily than the Cab. With that said I don't think I'd be willing to pay the $110+ that the remaining bottles in the States appear to be going for.

Monday, April 23, 2018

Whisky Review: Longrow Red 11 Year Cabernet Sauvignon Cask

Longrow Red is a series of heavily peated, full strength, wine cask finished whiskies that has been coming out since 2012. While most have been red wines, there have been exceptions such as a port cask finish. Importantly, unlike many finished whiskies, these are closer to double maturations in that the finishing periods range from 1-5 years.

This whisky was aged in refill ex-bourbon hogsheads for 7 years, transferred to fresh Cabernet Sauvignon hogsheads for 4 years, then blended to give an outturn of 9000 bottles at 52.1% ABV without coloring or chill filtration.

Longrow Red 11 Year Cabernet Sauvignon Cask

Nose: gobs of fresh malt, slightly sour wine, dry peat smoke, fresh vegetation, dried lavender, cinnamon bark, mild oak, savory/yeast undertones. After adding a few drops of water it becomes softer with more savory malt, the wine fades significantly behind dry oak and peat, and the lavender remains a solid thread behind everything.

Taste: fairly hot up front with sour & sour wine on top, creamy malt underneath, fade out through oak/wine tannins and dry peat, gently floral at the back. After dilution the heat fades significantly, but the structure remains overall the same except for a bump of extra sourness at the back.

Finish: oak tannins, red wine, a thread of peat smoke and dried lavender

While a little on the hot side, this is a very solid whisky. I wish the wine influence was more integrated, but the finishing period seems to have been long enough to keep it from feeling like something slapped on top of the spirit. The nose is by far the best part, with a good balance between intensity and complexity, especially after it's had some time to breathe in the glass. In contrast the flavors are a little less exciting, without any particular complexity.

Diluted to 50%

Nose: light dry peat with a sour edge like hard apple cider, lots of berries, red wine, oak with a little wood smoke

Taste: sweet malt and red wine up front, a citric tang right behind transitioning into moderate oak tannins, vanilla, and hard apple cider in the middle, with a bump of peat near the back

Finish: peat, oak tannins, red wine residue, berries

While there's nothing wrong with this strength, it's a sort of unsatisfying middle. It doesn't have the intensity of full strength, but also doesn't have the extra peat that emerges with even more dilution. Additionally, the sourness in the aromas somehow seems even more assertive than at full strength, which makes it less pleasant than it would otherwise be. With that said, the hard apple cider character that emerged after the whisky had been in the glass for a while was really interesting.

Diluted to 45%

Nose: lots of classic Longrow peat, woodsy/pine, rather dry - more savory than sweet, red wine underneath with some ripe tomato notes, clean malt and oak in the background, a little bit of vanilla

Taste: balanced malt and red wine sweetness up front, becomes more savory with tomato notes in the middle, peat and syrupy oak at the back, and vanilla and berries on top throughout

Finish: dry peat, mild oak, a little red wine residue

While dilution takes away most of the heat, it doesn't diminish the intensity of this whisky. It was a pleasant surprise to find out how much stronger the peat is at this strength, even if it loses a little bit of complexity. I think I prefer it at full strength, but it would be quite welcome at 46% when I'm looking for something more easy-going.

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

New Tiki Cocktails: the Mai Tai Vallet

While the Mai Tai has always been one of the classic tiki drinks for highlighting what rum can do, more recent years have seen the development of cocktails that take its basic mold and twist it in a bitter direction. Most well-known include the Campari-based Bitter Mai Tai and the Angostura bitters-based Stormy Mai Tai.

I based this on the structure of the Bitter Mai Tai and was inspired by the Angostura bitters of the Stormy Mai Tai to remake it with Amargo Vallet, a Mexican bitter liqueur that, unlike Angostura bitters, actually includes angostura bark in its ingredients. It has a very strong and somewhat peculiar flavor that is unlike any other amaro I've tried before, so I wasn't sure how well it would play with the more tropical flavors of the Mai Tai, but I'm pleased with how this turned out.

The Mai Tai Vallet
1.25 oz Amargo Vallet
0.75 oz Jamaican rum
0.75 oz lime juice
0.5 oz orange liqueur
0.5 oz orgeat

Combine all ingredients, shake with ice, then pour unstrained into a chilled rocks glass. Garnish with a sprig of mint.

The nose is dominated by the rum's esters, with the amaro peeking around the edges. The sip begins with sweet rum esters, turns bittersweet with a balance between the rum, orange liqueur, and orgeat, there's a bump of cherry cough syrup in the middle, with the more bitter/herbal notes of the Amargo building towards the back, and a cola/orange note going into the long, bittersweet finish. All through the lime keeps it from getting too sweet and adds a little extra bitterness from the oils in the peel.

Despite the strong old time-y cough syrup vibe, this actually works. While less approachable than the Bitter or Stormy Mai Tais, Amargo Vallet isn't totally out of place amidst the tropical ingredients. The critical part is that the segues happen in an appropriate sequence, shifting the balance of the cocktail from front to back in a relatively smooth fashion as opposed to the jarring transitions that happen when ingredients don't mesh with each other. Speaking of ingredients, Denizen 8 was a good pick here because it gives a solid layer of ester funk without overwhelming the flavors like Smith & Cross would.

While I can't see this ever catching on, it is something that I would happily make again.

Friday, April 13, 2018

Whisky Review: Glenmorangie 15 Year

If you asked whisky drinkers what their primary association is with Glenmorangie these days, my guess is that they would say 'cask finishes'. They have become far more prolific in recent years, but Bill Lumsden has been churning them out for decades now.

This whisky used to be a part of the distiller's core lineup in the early-2000s, but was later replaced with the 18 Year. It's made from ex-bourbon cask whisky that was finished in new oak for an indeterminate amount of time, then bottled at 43% with chill filtration and possibly coloring.

Thanks to Michael Kravitz for splitting this bottle with me.

Glenmorangie 15 Year

Nose: mostly oak - but not too sharp, gentle floral malt, caramel, honey, lots of vanilla, a little chipotle pepper, cacao, fresh vegetation in the background. After adding a few drops of water more caramel comes out but it is flatter overall.

Taste: rather sweet, balanced malt/oak, caramel, not very tannic, vaguely fruity throughout. After dilution it is similar but flatter.

Finish: sweet, oak, malt, grapefruit

I'll admit to being a bit disappointed by this whisky. I was hoping for something like the Original, but with more refinement and complexity from the extra age. While I wouldn't say that the virgin oak finish ruined the whisky, it did overwrite a lot of the more subtle character that I like in a Glenmorangie. So all in all, I can't say that I'm sad to see the end of this (small) bottle.

Check out Michael's review from the same bottle for a slightly more positive take.

Monday, April 9, 2018

Irish Whiskey Review: Redbreast 12 Year

While Ireland produces single malts and blends much like Scotland, its unique whiskey is pure pot still. It is made from a mixture of malted and unmalted barley that, as the name suggests, is distilled in a pot still, usually three times like most Irish whiskeys. With one exception, all of these are currently being produced by the Middleton distillery in Cork. It is claimed that the unmalted barley gives the final product a spicier and more full-bodied character, but I never found out until I decided to take the plunge right before the price of this whiskey went up locally.

This whiskey was aged in a mix of ex-bourbon and ex-sherry casks, then bottled at 40%, with coloring and chill filtration.

Redbreast 12 Year

Nose: toasted grain, caramel, muddled fruit/sherry overtones, vanilla, light oak, a touch of something floral. After adding a few drops of water a lot of the complexity disappears, replaced by smooth grain with a savory edge.

Taste: grain and oak sweetness up front, light tannins with vague fruit/sherry/orange peel in the background come in around the middle, with a slight bump of oak, creamy vanilla malt, and baking spices near the back. After dilution it becomes a bit softer and the fruit is largely pushed towards the back.

Finish: caramel, light oak tannins, sherry residue, creamy malt

This is... fine. The grainier notes from the unmalted barley in the mix take a little while to get used to, but after that it's just OK. I kept waiting for some epiphany, since so many people, including many with palates that I know and respect, rave about this whiskey. But it never clicked with me. There are any number of scotch blends that would be as good or better for far less money, so I can't imagine this finding space in my liquor cabinet again.