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Review: SIA Scotch Whisky

SIA

Photo: SIA Scotch

New kid on the block and recent Kickstarter success SIA Scotch Whiskey is creator Carin Luna-Ostaseksi’s attempt to create a blend (50% Speyside, 40% Highland, 10% Islay) to appeal to a “modern palate,” or as I take it, people who think they don’t like Scotch because it smells like their grandfather.

It is an interesting market to target, one that’s already being aggressively lured away from flavored vodkas with flavored whiskeys–think Fireball, and those flavored Jim Beam and Bushmills things. A lot of writers whose opinions I take as gospel are on opposite sides of the fence, ranging from “who cares, it’s not even whiskey” to “this will ruin us all,” (outlined really well here by Drew Lazor for Punch) but the general consensus among whiskey drinkers is that the stuff is gross if you have to put it in your mouth.

Personally, I’m ambivalent. I cringe a little when I hear people say “yeah, I love whiskey! Fireball is my favorite,” but for every one guy content with his Fireball, there’s one less buying an increasingly-tough-to-find bottle of something I love, bringing it home, and drowning it in Coke.

But I’m getting off track.

SIA seems to be taking a much more reasonable approach by blending a Scotch specifically tailored to these novice palates without adding other flavors to mask the natural flavor of the drink. Starting with the packaging, SIA has more in common with perennial liqueur favorites like St. Germain and Domaine de Canton than most Scotches I’ve seen, and even the name is a far cry from the Bruichladdichs and Laphroaigs of the world that the Scotch-shy might have a lifelong (albeit unfounded) aversion to. So far, I see what SIA is going for, and they seem to be doing an admirable job. But all this is just surface; how does it actually taste?

We were sent a little taster bottle to figure that out, and Sarah from Whiskey Club came over to try it with me. We didn’t get enough to do any cocktail experimenting, so we just did a straight tasting review.

NOSE: Pleasant, surprising lack of astringent burn. That band-aid smell most new drinkers complain about was entirely absent. Light and fruity was the consensus, with a little woodiness. Sarah got raisins and apple, I smelled more stonefruit.

TASTE: More wood and less fruit than the nose. I got a little pineapple. Overall, we agreed it was eminently drinkable, like the Scotch version of a session beer.  Almost no burn at all, with a lot of interesting flavors all mixed together. Once swallowed, the flavor doesn’t linger particularly long, as you normally might expect from something this light in body. We both agreed it would make for a great warm-weather drink.

VERDICT: Honestly, it was better than expected. We both agreed we’d drink it again (which is a rarity among blended Scotches for us), and we wouldn’t mind keeping a bottle around. We might not seek it out at a bar where a lot of other options are available, but really, SIA isn’t (in my opinion) for us. I like my bourbons north of 100 proof and so full bodied that you practically have to chew them, and Sarah is on an endless quest to find the most absurdly peated, smokey Scotch on earth. What SIA seems to do well is bridge that gap between people who like to say they drink whiskey and people who actually like whiskey. It’s bright, balanced, and pleasant, and a damn sight better attempt at catering to less experienced palates than I’ve seen among the flavored spirit offerings.

So if you’re one of the many that don’t LOVE Scotch, but you’d like to learn how, SIA could be a great first step down that path, in my opinion.

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If I had to sum up last night’s Philadelphia Magazine Whiskey Festival at Lincoln Financial Field, it was a well-attended trade show for assorted alcohol. There was a smattering of solid whiskeys, and a few people there genuinely interested in talking about what they made, but for the most part, there was one trade show model on roller skates trying to pull you into some kind of Smirnoff-powered 40-year-old’s concept of a rave for every bottle of something rare that you could taste if you asked nicely.

That’s not to say that it was all bad, or that I think Philadelphia Magazine did a bad job. All the best whiskeys available at PA Liquor Control Board (PLCB) were represented, but for those familiar with the PLCB, that alone wouldn’t have filled a much smaller room. There was even a pop-up PLCB store right in the middle of the room, noteworthy only because they actually had Elmer T. Lee in stock. Everything else offered is generally available in any of their larger stores.

If the hobbling of the vendor variety weren’t enough, one of the most disappointing things to me was the majority of the booth staff, who were clearly PR reps, most of which didn’t seem to actually work for anyone in particular. They’d do the stock patter while pouring the sample, but once you showed interest in something they said, they would often simply turn away and start talking to someone else interested in hearing “aged in new white oak barrels” as though that were something special for a bourbon. Not all, mind you. There were a few stand-outs that were great to talk to: Four Roses, Tullamore Dew, Clyde May and Jefferson spring to mind. I’m sure there were other capable vendors as well, but I can’t help but be disappointed when the person hocking the stuff couldn’t give less of a shit about the product. And NONE of them had any water, which was pretty weird if you’ve ever been to a tasting.

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During the VIP tasting portion

During general admission

During general admission

The first hour of the VIP ticketing ($150), which included 1.5 hours of tastings before the General Admission ($95) masses arrived, was actually pretty pleasant. There was room to move around, people that seemed genuinely interested in what they were tasting, and some decent notable tastes to be had. The Ardbeg Supernova, as listed in the press release, but also a bottle at the end of a long line of Pappy 20, a bottle of Jefferson Ocean, a Tullamore sherry-finished 12 year called Phoenix, and most exciting for me, a bottle of 2013’s bottling of the George T. Stagg Buffalo Trace Antique Collection, clocking in at a healthy 137-ish proof. These few were what saved the night for me from the weird sales pitches listing qualities that applied to basically anything in the building.

However, once 6:30 hit and the front doors swung open, the room was awash in packs of 5+ guys in ill-fitting suits high-fiving over glasses of Makers Mark and Jim Beam. The booth models changed gears from “milling around being friendly” to “sexy carnival barker,” and everything just got louder.

My crowd-based crankiness aside, the whole night served to reinforce how disappointing the PA state liquor system truly is. In order to get half the things I tasted (nearly everything I liked), I would need to illegally purchase it out-of-state. If I’m VERY lucky, I can get it special ordered, which means I have to navigate the horrible PLCB website to purchase it, pay upwards of $14 shipping to have them send it to one of their own stores, and still have to pick it up in person from people that have no interest at all in the product they’re selling. The whole system is such a giant goddamn bummer. That the only reasonable solution for anyone working with them to host a Whiskey Festival is to pack the room with Smirnoff, Orchata, and some neon orange something called OR-G kind of defeats the purpose, doesn’t it? I don’t know that I’d count Bailey’s Chocolate Cream as a “fine spirit” as promised by the sub-title.

But at least on the card at the Buffalo Trace booth, they listed the SLO number for Pappy 20, so that should be pretty easy to get now, right?

Even with the Staggs and the Supernovas and the Oceans, I’m not sure I’d come back. Again, not due to anything Philadelphia Magazine did wrong, I just can’t see the up-side to spending money on a whiskey festival in Pennsylvania while the PLCB is still sucking all the air out of the room and replacing it with OR-G liqueur. I’ll just look for one in another state, and maybe get the chance to take home a bottle of something I like.

In closing: Fuck the PLCB.

 

Our Man in Havana

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Our Man in Havana
1 oz Spiced Rum
1 oz White Rum
2 oz Pineapple Juice
1 oz Spodee
1 tbsp Coconut Cream

Pour over crushed ice
Shave nutmeg on top, garnish with mint

NOTES: The folks over at Spodee sent us a bottle of their new white version to try out, so we thought we’d work it into a drink. We tried it out on its own, and the label wasn’t lying when it said “notes of pineapple.” Solo, it’s a touch sweet for my taste, but I found that the sugar and fruity flavor makes it a really nice ingredient in a cocktail, fitting snugly into a spot between a heavier, sweeter syrup and a boozier liqueur. In this case, it played a nice part in a spin on the Pina Colada. It played well with the spiced rum to make the drink a little more interesting than the old coconut cream and mildest-rum-available standby. All in all, I’d say the Spodee White makes a good addition to a tiki-style arsenal. It’s different, but familiar. We tested this one out at a cocktail party, and it was a favorite of the night. Overall, I’d say the recipe was a solid one.

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The final distillery we visited was Four Roses. I’ve been a fan of the Single Barrel for a while (and unsuccessfully tried to get my hands on the 2014 special release all year long), so this was another I was looking forward to. Somewhat disappointingly, Four Roses doesn’t age on-site, so we got to see the factory end with none of the sweet-smelling art portion of production.

Four Roses takes a somewhat different approach to aging than others. Unlike Buffalo Trace, who put the majority of their stock in where and how long the whiskey is aged, Four Roses produces 10 distinct distillates that are mixed after maturation. You can see the mix (which taste surprisingly different from one another in some cases) on the labels of the Single Barrel in the form of a 4-letter code (OESF, one of my favorites, for example).

They produce 2 different mashbills: E (75% corn, 20% rye, 5% barley) and B (60% corn, 35% rye, 5% barley). The “S” indicates the blend is a straight whiskey, and the final letter stands for one of 5 yeast strains Four Roses uses. Using the codes is a nice way to ensure the bottle you buy will taste just like the one you enjoyed last time.

This was the first distillery we visited that was actively working while we toured through, which was interesting. While it is fun to see in action, I have to say that seeing people eat a sandwich from a control booth while monitoring levels on screens takes a little of the magic out of the whole process.

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As the distillate is produced, it is shipped off in tanker trucks to the aging location to be barreled and aged in single-story rickhouses for consistency.

While it may not have been the most thrilling tour we went on, we did pick up a few fun facts along the way. The first of which being that the distillation process produces a chemical that turns the surrounding trees black. It’s harmless, but unmistakable, and was used during prohibition by agents looking for hidden stills. The other interesting fact that I didn’t know beforehand is that Bulleit, everyone’s favorite standby, doesn’t actually exist. For all the marketing and back-story, all their bourbon is Four Roses bourbon, and the rye comes from KDI in Indiana. purchased in bulk and bottled as their own. With the looming bourbon shortage, it is likely that Four Roses will cease bulk sales in order to keep their limited supply to themselves. With the mountains of money they must generate, I’m sure Bulleit will find a new source, but there are scenarios where the brand could simply vanish, or at the very least, taste completely different.

So, that was our trip. I have to say, it’s great to see where the stuff we love comes from. I’d even like to take a quick trip back down in the near future. Or perhaps the next trip should be to Scotland?

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The third stop on the trip was to Buffalo Trace, producer of several of my favorite bourbons. We called in advance and were set up with a pretty great private tour of the inner workings of the distillery. It happened to be a Sunday and no one was actually working, which turned out to be fortunate for us in terms of what we could see.

Buffalo Trace has been operating continuously since 1786, Originally opened by Colonel E. H. Taylor as O.F.C. Distillery (Old Fire Copper) and the Carlysle Distillery. George T. Stagg lent Taylor money, and eventually foreclosed on the distillery for non-payment. Taylor opened a second distillery down the road, which was eventually bought out by Beam, Inc., the name of E. H. Taylor along with it. Later, Buffalo Trace was bought out by Sazerac, and in 1992 they traded a vodka brand to Beam to recover the license to use the name E. H. Taylor, the original founder of their distillery.

Through the whole story, I was most surprised to find that George T. Stagg, a big name in whiskey, was never a distiller himself, but a money lender that ended up with a distillery of his own through foreclosure.

Buffalo Trace weathered prohibition by producing medicinal alcohol. 6 million prescriptions for 100-proof whiskey were filled at the distillery in a state with a population of 1.4 million at the time. The prescription allowed for 1 pint of whiskey every 10 days, but were often written for every member of the family, so a fan of the drink could bring his 6 children and wife, and leave with 8 pints to carry him through the next week and a half. The prescriptions were handed out for just about anything that was difficult to define concretely, like the weed card of its day. During this time, George Dickel also ducked shutdown during prohibition by relocating its distillery to the Buffalo Trace property.

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Former site of the Dickel distillery during prohibition

First stop along the path to whiskey is the weigh station for the grain deliveries, which arrive 5-7 times every day. The corn is checked regularly to ensure quality and lack of GMO product, then the grain is sent up to the grinding mill, dumped into the hoppers, and finally dumped into the cookers. The grains are cooked individually, and then mixed together for the mash. Following the first stage of the distilling process, the spent grain is then piped into large roasters to remove the moisture and condense it into a feed that tastes surprisingly like Grape Nuts. To prevent wasted trips, the trucks delivering the grain are then filled with the roasted spent grain, and sent back to the farm to be used as feed.

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Roasted spent corn on the left, Rye on the right. It actually tasted pretty good.

Buffalo Trace only produces 3 mashbills for all its products: 2 corn and one rye. The mash is then combined with the yeast, a single strain that has been propagated for 129 years, and is maintained on 6 continents to ensure its safety in the event of disaster. Just like everyone else, they ferment the mash and pipe it to the still with some of the last batch to be distilled into whiskey. The process of adding the previous batch to the current is called “Sour Mash,” and is used to ensure continuity of flavor.

The most interesting part of the Buffalo Trace distillery (for me, at least) is that there is a microdistillery right in the middle of everything. One self-contained room with cookers, fermenters, and a little 250 gallon pot still that Buffalo Trace’s master distiller uses to experiment on his quest to find the “perfect” whiskey. It’s here that the Buffalo Trace Experimental Collection and Single Oak Projects are made, and any future bottlings that haven’t yet come to be.

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Finally, the ricks. Interestingly, Buffalo Trace’s 13 rickhouses are brick buildings, unlike the wood-and-tin structures at Heaven Hill and Willett. They currently have 400,000 barrels on the property, and like Willett, they do not rotate. All the Blanton’s Bourbon comes from the Blanton rickhouse and the high-rye mashbill #2, etc. The incredibly specific tradition of it all is endlessly interesting to me.

At the end of the tour, our guide clarified the one hazy portion of the definition of “bourbon” for us. We’d been hearing it had to be matured for 2 years, 4 years, and “as long as it passes through a charred barrel.” It turns out, it’s all 3. Bourbon whiskey only needs to pass through a charred white american oak barrel. “Straight” bourbon whiskey must spend a minimum of 2 years maturing in the barrel, but must list the number of months it spent there right up until 4 years. So basically: “Bourbon Whiskey” could be any age at all. If the label reads “Straight Bourbon Whiskey,” and has no age listed, you know it is at least 4 years old.

I can’t recommend the “hard hat” tour enough, we got to see a great deal of the distillery that we might not have known about otherwise. And if you happen to get David for a tour guide, you’re in for a treat. The guy knows his stuff.

Next up: Four Roses

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Next up, and just down the road from Heaven Hill was one I’d been really looking forward to: Willett Distillery. Occupying a strange middle ground between craft microdistillery and large producer, Willett places their emphasis on very specific small-scale methods that can only really be this closely controlled when making a more manageable amount of product.

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The first step in the distillation process is to essentially make some beer. The large fermenter tanks combine yeast and water with the grain mashbill, and spend several days fermenting into a mash, which is then fed into the still. Once it is cooked down, only 10% of the original liquid will remain, which is how something starting as a beer can be concentrated into a much higher-proof distillate.

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Willett runs a large copper pot still, similar to the ones used to make Irish whiskey and Scotch, rather than the large column stills used by the vast majority of american whiskey producers. They cook 5 unique bourbon mashbills and 2 rye mashbills that are then blended together in specific recipes depending on the whiskey they are making, always barreled with a #4 char. Rowan’s Creek and Noah’s Mill are both blends of the same 3 mashbills, but one is aged at the cooler lower floor of the rickhouse, while the other is aged in the heat, just below the roof.

Speaking of the ricks, they have 8 of them, each capable of holding 6,000 barrels. By comparison, Heaven hill has about 50 rickhouses, each containing somewhere around 30,000, so you could just about fit every barrel Willett has into just one of Heaven Hill’s buildings.

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Another interesting part of Willett’s production is the handling of the raw distillate. The best raw whiskey is right in the middle at a very specific temperature, so the first white dog to come off the still (the head) at a lower temperature is downright bad. Same can be said for the last (or the tail) when the still becomes too hot. The really large-volume producers never really turn off the stills, so they just dump the heads and tails back in for a second try. Since Willett is cooking one batch at a time, they discard the heads and tails and only keep the good center distillate (or the heart). The distiller pumps the whiskey through the tanks above and tastes until he’s happy with it, then switches it over to the second, or the Heart Tank. He’ll continue to taste, and when it drops below his standards, he switches it back to the first.

The heart tank is then pumped over to an adjacent room for barreling. Once full, a poplar bung is hammered into the hole (the soft wood will swell and keep a tighter seal in the white oak), and the barrel is rolled down a ramp to the rickhouse, or a waiting truck, should that rick be full. There, it will sit for however many years, undisturbed, until it’s time to be bottled.

Finally, it’s ready to drink, which we most certainly did. The nice thing (for me, at least) about Willett is that they don’t make any low-quality, bargain whiskey, just Willett Pot Still, Rowan’s Creek, Noah’s Mill, and the Family Estate Rye & Bourbon (bottled unblended, unfiltered, and at barrel proof). I’m a little partial already, but the spectrum of taste of the Family Estates are pretty amazing. They can range from a 4 year all the way up to a 23, all bottled with the same label. One of the highlights of the trip was getting to sample the 23 year Family Estate Rye. Lots of great burn, but not nearly as much as you’d expect on something north of 130 proof.

Overall, Willett is a great distillery to check out if you’re in the area because you can see the whole self-contained process and really get a feel for how your whiskey is made. A lot of the other distilleries produce off-site, or purchase the white dog from another distiller. It’s rare to be able to actually follow the pipes and see the exact path from grain to bottle. Not to mention that you can get a tour from the actual distiller and not a tour guide.

Next up: Buffalo Trace

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Our first stop was the Heaven Hill Distillery. The largest family-owned, and second-largest holder of barreled bourbon in the world, clocking in at 1.5 Million 53-gallon barrels. According to Heaven Hill, bourbon came about when Elijah Craig had a barn fire that charred the inside of his barrels. After deciding to use the barrels anyway for his corn whiskey, the long trail south to where the whiskey was being delivered had mellowed the whiskey and turned it a nice caramel color. Drinkers began asking for the whiskey from Bourbon County, eventually shortened to Bourbon.*

After a massive fire in 1996 that consumed 90,000 barrels of bourbon, Heaven Hill built a new distillery at a different site, but the aging still happens at the rickhouses on the original site. They lost so much product in the fire that all the major area distilleries donated one full day of production to Heaven Hill to help them get back on their feet.

Heaven Hill uses a 70% corn mashbill and a #2 char on their barrels. The number designates the amount of time the barrel is charred, and thus the amount of char it receives. We were fairly surprised to learn on the trip that most of the distilleries make a surprisingly small range of raw distillate. Very little of the character of the bourbon (20%-40%, depending on who you ask) comes from the whiskey itself, the vast majority of the flavor coming from the barrel, location, heat and time.

Inside the rickhouses, an interesting feature is the X-beam running through the center of the building. Because of the sheer weight of all those barrels, the buildings need to be able to shift slightly, and the barrels need to be removed evenly to prevent a large shift in weight that could damage the building itself.

Beams to deal with the shifting of all that weight

But the one thing that really sticks when you walk away from the rickhouses is how amazing they smell. You might think all those decades of aging whiskey would fill the building with an astringent alcohol smell, but that isn’t it at all. They smell like sweet wood and vanilla, and if they had a way to make my house smell like that, I’d pay an awful lot of money for it.

Following the tour of the ricks, we had a tasting of a few of their bourbons. Their standards are solid, if a little sweet and mellow for my tastes. I also picked up a bottle of their newest limited release, William Heavenhill, an 11 year old bourbon that was one of my personal favorites of the trip. Big and flavorful and delicious. If you somehow manage to come across it, I’d definitely recommend shelling out for a bottle.

Next up: Willett Distillery

 

* A lot of the history and majesty surrounding the bourbon industry is a little magical and hazy, so you learn pretty quickly to take what you hear about the origin stories with a grain of salt. Everything has a charming and fortuitous story tracing everything back to one man whose name you’ll see on bottles today. With a little research, I’m sure you’d find all the claims to be exaggerated at best, but for our purposes, I’m just repeating what the distiller told me. The same goes for the “largest,” “biggest” and “most” statistics. They’re not incorrect, just bent to sound a little more triumphant. Just about every distillery you go to has a (rightful) claim on being the biggest producer of X or first producer of Y.  

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A couple of weeks ago, Whiskey Club took a trip to Kentucky with the singular purpose of enjoying some great bourbon and rye. While we achieved that, we also managed to learn a ton of stuff about where my favorite spirit is made. There’s a veritable mountain of history and tradition that differs from distillery to distillery, and each little difference at the outset becomes a BIG difference 4, 10 or 20 years down the road.

Bourbon trail tours are big business down there, so we tried to choose where we went carefully. In the end, we settled on four: Heaven Hill, Willett, Buffalo Trace and Four Roses. Jen took a ton of great photos, so I’ll be giving each of them their own post. The overall gist: I’d recommend doing this for anyone really into the stuff. Just head down, rent a house, and taste all the bourbon. There are a lot of great bars and restaurants, too.

First up: Heaven Hill.

A Preview of Bank & Bourbon

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Yesterday, I had a chance to check out the newest in the recent string of whiskey-centric bars opening in Philadelphia. Bank & Bourbon (infuriatingly similar in name to the also-new Bourbon & Branch in Northern Liberties, sure to confuse me more than it should for the foreseeable future) is located at 1200 Market Street, attached to the lobby of the Lowes Hotel in the PSFS building, and is a lot more centrally located than most of its whiskey bar peers. Whether that will work for or against them is yet to be seen.

What they hope will help them to stand apart from those peers is their aging program. In a small room off the main dining room, accessible through an (admittedly cool) false-bookcase door, is a tasting room built for 10-12 people and a wall full of 10-gallon American white oak barrels. These barrels will be used to experiment with aging their own white dog, as well as cocktails, and anything else that might grab the interest of bourbon master Brian Bevilacqua. In addition, there are several 5-liter barrels for smaller-batch aged cocktails behind the bar.

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A third set – 3-liter barrels – sit in lockers on either side of the bar and are available for 12-month customer lease as part of Bank & Bourbon’s  barrel aging program. Under the guidance of the bourbon master, you’ll fill the barrel and have access to it as it matures. If you’re so inclined, you can have the bartenders make you a cocktail out of your own aged whiskey. All-in-all, it seems like an interesting program. The biggest drawback is that we are still in Pennsylvania, and all the draconic liquor laws that entails. Anything added to the barrels must come from a bottle of alcohol purchased in PA. Sadly, this rules out high-proof distillate sourced from your favorite smaller craft distiller. On the bright side, most whiskey producers have jumped on the white dog band-wagon, and for the first time I can fathom purchasing a bottle of un-aged whiskey. I’m still a bit unclear as to the difference between the Silver, Gold and Platinum levels, but Brian stressed repeatedly the flexibility of the program, and its experimental nature. After all, that’s how the distillers you all know and love had to approach their product in the beginning, too. You’re never going to create the next great American whiskey in a 3 liter barrel with 80-proof distillate, but you do get to taste it as it progresses until you’re happy, then sit down and drink something wholly unique to you.

Overall, it’s an interesting project. I’m curious to see how it turns out. Judging by the attendees of the preview, the vast majority of the patrons will think of all the barrels  as part of the decor, but if they can keep the place afloat while the few that are interested have a chance to play around, it could turn out to be pretty neat.

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Bank & Bourbon is located at 1200 Market Street, Philadelphia. It opens to the public tonight, Wednesday, April 9th. 

 

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On our honeymoon, we stumbled across what is apparently the only whisky distillery in New Zealand by sheer dumb luck. The distillery itself hasn’t been up and running for quite a few years, but all the stock was bought by another company and is still being packaged and sold. This means everything they have is very old, and very limited. I brought back a bottle of the 21 year old single malt for Whiskey Club, and decided to run with the theme by getting one single malt from 4 different places around the globe.

After finally finding SOMETHING made in the US (PA has a sad lack of American malted whisky available in stores), the four we settled on were:

1) South Island Single Malt 21 Year – New Zealand
2) Yamazaki 12 – Japan
3) The Dalmore 12 – Scotland
4) Hudson Single Malt – USA

We were a bit surprised by the results. The South Island Single Malt was good, but very mild with very little memorable character. Everyone agreed that they enjoyed it, but it was forgettable. The term “Sessionable Single Malt” was thrown around only half-jokingly.

The Dalmore wasn’t very well received. I’d never had it before, but more than one person opted to not finish their glass. It was astringent, and stronger than it should have been at such a low proof. Not one person stepped up to defend it. Universally panned. Granted, this is in the context of single malts. I wouldn’t hesitate to drink it over something like Johnny Walker.

The Yamazaki was the crowd favorite. More “Scotch” than the Scotch, It had a great flavor, nice burn and was just pleasant to drink. Everyone making a stink about Suntory buying Beam would really do well to try a glass of this. I’m willing to bet it would change their mind. It may not be a 1:1 comparison, but you can tell these are people that care about making a good whisky.

Surprisingly, I found the Hudson the most interesting of the lot. I didn’t like the first sip, but warmed to it quickly. It smelled and tasted briny, almost like oysters, and of cinnamon. It wasn’t as harsh as I expected it to be after just 4 years in the barrel, but admittedly it didn’t taste exactly like a single malt. For all it’s odd flavors, it was almost a bridge between malted whisky and rye, with a boldness and sweetness not really common in the Scotch family. I may not always love what Hudson is making, but for a young producer, I really do like that they are erring on the side of interesting and bold and not trying to play the “micro-batch aging because we have science” card at every turn, opting for innovation over actual substance. I’m looking forward to seeing how the whiskeys evolve over time.

All in all, another successful meeting. I never cease to be amazed at what surprises me in the side-by-side tests. My favorite is almost never what I thought it would be.

In other news, Jen has a surplus of frozen smoothie fruit, which means it’s time for me to make some syrup. Hopefully I’ll have a cocktail experiment to post soon, especially if we’re going to get snowed in again. No better time to drink than when you’re trapped in your house.

SHORT VERSION: South Island Single Malt: smooth, drinkable, forgettable; The Dalmore: not fantastic; Yamazaki: predictably great; Hudson Single Malt: surprisingly interesting.

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