Why you shouldn’t put ice in your whisky

In them barrels, there be gold! Source: Wikimedia

In them barrels, there be gold! Source: Wikimedia

The BBC site has a pleasant piece by Brad Cohen, about discovering and enjoying whisky. (Although it’s from June of this year, I only discovered it now.)

Why you should never drink whisky on the rocks

The Thirsty Explorer heads to the Scottish island of Islay where he learns the important differences between malt and whisky – and how to order it in a bar.

I won’t give away his advice, because you should go and read it all yourself. But I will say I found the article well written and quite atmospheric. I felt a minor urge for a wee dram, as they say. Well worth reading. And it has this memorable quote:

In Scotland, summer is the second most famous myth after the Loch Ness Monster.

I’ll drink to that. L’chaim!

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Raw Craft – Anthony Bourdain on Balvenie

Here’s a nice, gentle video from the Raw Craft series, featuring Anthony Bourdain trying to make sense of and appreciate  Balvenie whisky. You can almost smell the stuff as you watch!

The Youtube description:

In this episode of Raw Craft, Anthony Bourdain heads to The Balvenie distillery in Dufftown, Scotland to explore the magic and tradition of whisky making practiced there since 1892. Meet the special group of Scots who have kept the age-old process of single malt whisky making alive over the generations.

Did you note the subtitles? Of course you did; these accents are pretty strong.

Best line:

“…a typical gang of Scots who are quick to laugh and difficult to understand.”

L’chaim!

[A big thanks to Michael for the tip.]

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Whisky taking off

This, from AFP via Yahoo, brought a smile to my face, and a longing to my lips:

Japanese whisky will be sent into space next month to test how time in a zero-gravity environment affects its flavour, one of the country’s biggest drinks makers said Friday.

Samples of whisky produced by Suntory will be stored in the Japanese laboratory facility of the International Space Station for at least a year, with some flasks staying longer.

Researchers for the company believe that storing the beverage in an environment with only slight temperature changes and limited liquid movement could lead to a mellower flavour.

I hope they are confident the astronauts won’t be tempted!

More seriously, I would be interested in the science behind the claim that the whisky may have a mellower flavour.

Meantime:

Suntory will send whisky aged for 10, 18 and 21 years as well as a number of other alcoholic substances.

Once they are returned to Earth, blenders will assess their flavours while researchers subject the liquids to scientific analysis, the company said.

“For the moment, we’re not thinking about applying the study results to commercial products,” a Suntory spokeswoman told AFP.

But I presume the returned samples will be worth quite a bit.

Finally, this closing piece adds some context to the whole issue of Japanese whisky:

Whisky demand rocketed in Japan last year after national broadcaster NHK aired a period drama called “Massan,” the true story of a Japanese entrepreneur and his Scottish wife who are credited with establishing Japan’s first whisky distillery.

Sales also soared when Suntory’s Yamazaki Single Malt Sherry Cask 2013 was named the best in the world by the prestigious Jim Murray’s Whisky Bible 2015.

Beware the marketing moves. The important thing about whisky is to drink what you like, not what people tell you to like. One man’s pleasure is another man’s poison, and so on. That’s why I am always sensitive to questions about whether a particular whisky is good or not.

All of that having been said, I am intrigued by the apparent quality of that Suntory product. The last time I tasted Japanese whisky – admittedly a long time ago – it was not to my liking. So, I wonder how I can get a hold of some Yamazaki Single Malt Sherry Cask 2013…

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Ben who?

Way back in the mists of time, after my mum had died, and in the early days of the alternative minyan at Giffnock and Newlands Hebrew Congregation shul, there was a shabbat kiddush that – looking back now – stands out. Someone, possibly Michael Levy, produced a bottle of BenRiach whisky. Up till that point, I had tried whisky, and could take it or leave it. It was not a main interest of mine. But after sipping that BenRiach, my life changed forever. From that point on, my interest in whisky grew.

Over the years, I tasted a wide range of whisky – mostly Scotch, with the occasional foray into Canadian grain, bourbon, and Irish – and accumulated a decent collection. I fairly quickly understood how personal the connection was; while there was a lot of whisky snobbery, and marketing noise, what was important to me was the whisky I liked, instead of what people told me to like. Or told me was a so-called better whisky. And when people ask me, I make the point of explaining that they should develop their own likes and dislikes, and to be very cynical when it comes to ‘expert’ opinion.

So BenRiach has a special place in my whisky world. And it is therefore very pleasing to see that the reborn brand and its company are doing well. This shabbat, all being well, I’ll drink a wee dram in memory and in honor of BenRiach.

L’chaim!

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Shabbat gaming

"A gun free environment. Sorry Tomer."

“A gun free environment. Sorry Tomer.”

We had a good selection of games and gamers on Shabbat afternoon, running through Star RealmsAlhambra, Suburbia, and several games of R-Eco. 

No takers for Dominion, which was  a bit of a surprise.

A few takers for the Dalmore 15, Dalwhinnie 15, and Auchentoshan Cooper’s Reserve 14, which was not a surprise.

whisky_dalmore

whisky-dalw

whisky_auch

Shavuah Tov, everyone!

PS: I had the Talisker. It was good, too.

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Scotch on the rocks

An interesting piece at the Guardian, suggests the Scottish whisky world is in something of a bind:

Twentysomethings and thirtysomethings – whom the marketing types refer to as the “millennials” – are shunning formerly trendy brands of vodka in favour of old-school brown spirits. And American whiskies are driving it. “It’s about popular culture,” says John Hayes, managing director of Jack Daniel’s.

“What you’re seeing in the UK is a renaissance in classic American cocktails such as the Manhattan and the Old Fashioned,” he says.

This bourbon boom is not just bad news for vodka, though. Scotch whisky is getting squeezed too. Scotch does not lend itself to cocktails in the same way as some of the new, sweet-tasting bourbons, such as Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Honey, which now sells some million cases a year worldwide.

Four years ago it didn’t even exist. And now scotch’s biggest brands, such as Famous Grouse, Bell’s and Teacher’s, are starting to look staid by comparison. “Scotch has been on the market for so long that it sometimes has an old, stodgy perception. They [the scotch brands] have to be worried,” says Hayes.

Following a decade of fast growth, scotch exports were down 11% in the first half of this year, according to the Scotch Whisky Association.

You will have spotted that the promotion of bourbon at the expense of scotch is at the behest of Jack Daniel’s. So, perhaps it is not quite as straightforward as he presents. For example, the decline in scotch exports could be due to other factors, such as an economic pause for breath in certain countries. I imagine that quality scotch will always sell. However, I do tend to agree with this comment:

There is an argument, though, that the Scotch industry needs to come up with more original marketing ideas and connect better with consumers who often feel intimidated or, worse still, bored by scotch.

Read the whole piece here, and note the involvement of one David Beckham. It would be somewhat ironical if one of England’s greatest ever footballers could give scotch a bit of a boost.

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Whisky future

The good, the bad, and the ugly

The good, the bad, and the ugly. Source: Wikimedia

From the Scotsman comes this interesting news:

LOVERS of a wee dram may soon be raising a glass to cutting-edge DNA fingerprinting techniques being used create a Scottish “superbarley”.

Scientists at the forefront of barley crop genetics are using the sort of profiling methods associated with criminal investigations in a bid to ensure the long-term sustainability of whisky’s raw material and increase production of the national drink.

What’s it about?

There are two crops of malting barley sown each year in Scotland: spring and winter. Currently, all whisky uses the spring crop; it’s supposed to be the better quality. However, the winter crop has a higher yield and is sturdier. Given fluctuating weather patterns and increased demand, the scientists want to identify the genes that give the spring crop its good quality, and breed these genes into the hardy winter crop. As the article says: “This will help guarantee barley supplies for malting and boost production of Scotland’s liquid gold.”

Fascinating.

But what I found even more fascinating was this detail from the article:

The latest figures from the Scotch Whisky Association show annual exports of the water of life were worth £4.3 billion last year. In volume terms, overseas sales rose by 2.5 per cent to the equivalent of 1.23 billion bottles. Overall, the spirit accounts for about 85 per cent of Scottish food and drink exports and nearly a quarter of the UK total.

No wonder they are looking at the future of whisky. It is as important as ever in the economy of both Scotland and the UK. Every time I have a dram, I’m doing some good by supporting those economies!

I’ll drink to that, but now it’s going to have to wait till after Pesach…

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Tasmanian water of life

From CNN:

The Scottish Highlands and Speyside region. The back roads of Kentucky and Tennessee. Suntory’s Yamazaki Distillery and Hakushu “forest distillery.”

For seekers of premium malts, these are some of the touchstones of whiskey travel.

Now a new whiskey region is laying claim to world-class status. And at some distilleries, the youth movement is right out front and center.

At age 26, Jane Overeem has been tasting whiskey since she was 18, primarily as a producer. She and her father, Casey Overeem, distill some of the world’s finest single malt whiskey in the garage of their suburban home in Hobart, capital of the Australian island state of Tasmania.

In the terms of whiskey bragging rights, the Overeems have already hit the distiller’s sweet spot above 94 out of 100 — the score needed to reach “liquid gold” status in the ranking system used by international critic Jim Murray in his annual Whisky Bible.

Some of the world’s finest single malt is distilled in the garage of the Overeem family’s Hobart home.

Tasmania has a solid share of the world’s single malt whiskeys that carry the “liquid gold” tag — a testament to the island’s pristine water, richly flavored brewing barley, highland peat and a favorable climate.

Success on the global stage for names such as Overeem, Lark, Nant, Sullivans Cove and Hellyers Road has prompted a trickle of whiskey aficionados to drop into Tasmanian distilleries to taste the product and discuss firsthand with the makers their distinctive characteristics.

It’s a bit of an advert for these distilleries, but it was new to me, and interesting. I’m going to keep an eye out for them. However, since New Zealand has been described – by Ivor Tiefenbrun, I believe – as “Scotland done right”, does that mean that as well as the fine Australian malts there will be an Auckland Ardbeg, or a Christchurch Caol Ila out there?

Read it all (and see the pictorial coverage) here.

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Where did Japanese “whisky” come from?

From the Scotsman:

IN JAPAN she is considered by many as the mother of the ­domestic whisky industry. But despite being the woman who helped create the country’s own dram, she remains ­little-known in the nation of her birth.

Now Scot Rita Cowan is to make history more than 50 years after her death, after it was announced that she is to become the first non-Japanese character to be portrayed in one of the national broadcaster’s hugely popular daytime dramas.

More than 20 million people are expected to tune in later this year to watch NHK’s Massan, a 15-minute story based on the tale of Masataka Taketsuru, founder of the renowned Nikka Whisky Distilling Co, and his wife Jessie Roberta, also known as Rita.

Massan, taken from the name Rita called her husband, will focus on the Japanese man who dreamed of producing a bottle of Japanese whisky and his Scottish wife.

The story of how the couple met and married in 1920 while Masataka was studying organic chemistry at Glasgow University, learning the secrets of making Scotch, is famous in Japan.

Although I am slightly surprised at the Scotsman using “whisky” instead of “whiskey”, it doesn’t spoil the story. Some will see it as being about love and devotion conquering all. Some will see it as being about whisky and whiskey!

Read it all, here.

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