Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Springbank 10 year old 100°

Springbank 10 year old 100°
Bottled by: Distillery
ABV: 50%
Other: Non chill filtered, no color added.
Region: Campbeltown
Price: $50
Availability: Readily available

Springbank is the best-known Campbeltown distillery and essentially sets the standard for that small whisky region. In addition to their namesake line of single malts, they produce a highly peated version known as Longrow, named for a nearby distillery that closed in 1896. Springbank is one of few distilleries (if not the only one) these days in which the floor malting, distillation, maturation and bottling are all done on the premises.

This version is bottled at a fairly high 100° which allows you to add water as you see fit (I usually drink neat or with only the slightest drop of water) . Springbank also offers a standard 10 year old at 92°. As with other Springbanks, this is admirably bottled without added color or chill-filtration.

Tasting Notes
pale straw
Butterscotch and banana notes with modest peat smoke. Buttered popcorn.
Medium-bodied. Palate entry is sweet butterscotch again with a tangy mid-palate and a hot, spicy finish with some medium peat. Full flavored and nicely balanced.
Long and spicy with medium smokiness

Overall impression and notes: I've enjoyed every malt I have tasted from this distillery and this is no exception. While the proof is fairly high at 50% abv, this malt is eminently enjoyable with or without added water and has some very interesting and full flavors for a 10 year old.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Old Pulteney 12 year old

Old Pulteney 12 year old
Bottled by: Distillery
ABV: 43%
Region: Highlands
Price: $30
Availability: Readily available in specialty shops

Old Pulteney, located in the town of Wick, is the most northerly whisky distillery on the Scottish mainland. It sits on the east coast about 40 miles northeast of the Clynelish distillery. Both distilleries produce whiskies praised by connoisseurs as having a "maritime" character. Old Pulteney is known as the "Manzanilla of the North" in reference to the famous, delicate fino sherry produced in the coastal Spanish town Sanlucar de Barrameda.

According to the bottle sleeve, the stills are quite odd: the wash has no swan neck and it is thought that when the original still was delivered, it was too tall for the stillhouse and the manager insisted it was "cut off". The spirit still resembles a "smuggler's kettle" and both undoubtedly contribute to the distinctive character of the whisky. I found pictures of both stills in this informative post here and there is little question that they were jury rigged to fit within the constraints of the premises.

Tasting Notes
Medium amber with a reddish tinge
Bright and fruity (apricot), light sherry oak. Butterscotch candies
Starts out deceptively medium-bodied and round, with a sweet richness which dissolves into a light-bodied, mouthwatering, spicy finish. Some bitter orange, more apricot. Flavors are light and delicate.
Medium, spicy, warming

Overall impression and notes: This was an enjoyable new Highland malt for me. Not the most complex or flavorful dram, but a very enjoyable nose and a pleasant balance of sweetness and spice on the palate. A nice Highland counterpoint to the typical Speysider.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Wine Tasting in Paso Robles, November 2010


Linne Calodo - Were only pouring the wines which weren't sold out - Outsider, Screwball and Slacker. Good wines, but didn't excite me for the price.

Eagle Castle - kitschy castle with suits of armor and other castle-ey stuff inside. No wine to recommend here.

Booker - A new one for me - excellent Rhone varietals. Enjoyed everything I tasted there. Incredible concentration and an interesting aging program. They had a 2006 syrah which had 48 months on oak(!) but was able to carry it well owing to the tremendous structure and concentration of the wine. Also enjoyed a blend with 60% counoise - Oublie. Purchased bottles of 2008 Alchemist (85% Syrah/15% Cabernet Sauvignon) 24 months, 2006 Alchemist 48 months, 2008 Fracture (100% Syrah) 24 months and 2008 Oublie (Cunoise, Mourvedre, Grenache). Highly recommended.

Caliza - Another new one worth recommending - great Rhone varietals. Good wines all around, but the 2007 Syrah was exceptional. Great concenrated fruit. Purchased bottles of 2007 Syrah.

L'Aventure - I'm never disappointed here, even though the tasting room was unusually slammed. Tasted 2006 Optimus, 2008 Cote a Cote, 2007 Cabernet Estate, 2008 Estate Cuvee and a new one, the 2008 Le Grandt Verdot (60% Petit Verdot). All of the wines were excellent with amazing concentration (the color on most wines was an inky purple) with excellent flavors of dark fruits, graphite and minerals. My favorites are always the Estate Cuvee and the Estate Cabernet Sauvignon. Purchased bottles of 2007 Estate Cabernet, 2007 Estate Cuvee and 2008 Estate Cuvee. Kudos to the tasting room staff for pouring a decent sized glass which enables a better tasting experience.

Chateau Margene - After hearing about this winery from Paso locals for years, finally got to pay it a visit. Tasted a Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Cabernet Sauvignon and Petit Syrah. Was disappoined in all the wines except the Petit Syrah which was good but unexceptional. The Cabernet which is highly touted, was lean and bell peppery - not my style at all.

Four Vines - The only place of the day which only comped a single tasting (three of us had to pay). Did not taste any Zinfandels (probably sold out) which was disappointing. Their Petite Syrah Heretic is always a favorite of mine. Purchased a bottle of 2008 Heretic.

Castoro Cellars - Picked up a great roast beef panini sandwich at the shop in front of Four Vines and headed over to Castoro for lunch. It was raining, so we all sat inside and shared a bottle of their Zinfandel, which was simple and good for $12.

Turley - Followed a seemingly common pattern of having no new wine (presumably all sold out) and trying to hock older wines from 2005 and 2006. Tasted a bunch of Zins and even got to try the legendary Zinfandel and Petite Syrah Hayne Vineyard from 2005, but both were disapointing. The 2006 Dusi, a previous favorite of mine, was still tasting good.

Denner - Another winery building an impressive track-record of year after year quality across the board. Tasted 2008 Ditch Digger, Syrah, Dirt Worshipper. I loved the Syrah and the Dirt Worshipper (my usual favorites here). Purchased bottles of 2008 Syrah and 2008 Dirt Worshipper.

Jada - Great wines, each one paired with a fine cheese in the tasting room, a very nice touch. My favorite was the Hell's Kitchen, a rich blend of Syrah, Grenache, Mourvedre and Tannat. Don's favorite was the Strayts a blend of 60% Merlot and the remainder equal parts of Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah.

Halter Ranch - It was getting a little late in the day, but not too late to notice their 2007 Syrah and also that the guy tasting next to us was none other than Michael Gladis who plays Paul Kinsey on Mad Men. I get credit for spotting him, but Don's friend Scott gets credit for calling him out. He was gracious, shook our hands and even took some recommendations on wineries to visit. Purchased a bottle (supposedly the last one) of 2007 Syrah.

Adelaida - This was a bonus at the end of the day. The palate was too tired to recall anything noteworthy, but we had a good time mixing it up with the tasting staff.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Got Grapefruit?

I love the humble white grapefruit and the wonderful nectar it produces. The bitterness/ sweetness balance is exactly what I appreciate in a citrus fruit. It works great in simple cocktails - both gin and tequila are natural companions with their inherent citrus notes.

If you're in possession of white grapefruit juice, either fresh squeezed (preferred, obviously) or from a bottle (I prefer Ocean Spray white grapefruit juice, which is surprisingly good for a bottled product and has no added sugar) and are wondering what to do with it, here are my two favorite recent grapefruit juice-based beverages for your consideration:

The first is a mash-up of a gin (the "english") greyhound and a pink gin. The second is essentially a Paloma made with grapefruit juice instead of soda (thus the "still")

They're both super easy to make. Try mixing up the ratios a bit for your optimal drink.

Pink English Greyhound
~2 oz. Gin (Beefeater (regular or 24))
~2 oz. white grapefruit juice.
2-3 dashes Angostura bitters
Fill a double old fashioned glass with ice cubes. Fill 1/3 to 1/2 with gin. Top with grapefruit juice. Stir. Float 2-3 dashes of Angostura bitters.

Still Paloma
~2 oz. blanco Tequila (El Jimador)
~2 oz. white grapefruit juice
1/4 lime
Fill a double old fashioned glass with ice cubes. Fill 1/3 to 1/2 with Tequila. Top with grapefruit juice. Squeeze lime into glass. Stir.

Monday, May 31, 2010

Ti' Punch

Leave your preconceived notions about fruity punches at the door. Ti' punch is a delicious, simple and very strong rum-based mixed drink made with high-proof rum and very little of anything else.

Ti' punch is popular in the French Caribbean where rhum agricole rules the roost. Rhum agricole by the way, is made exclusively from sugar cane juice whereas most rum is made from molasses, a by-product of sugar production. It is made in Martinique, Haiti and Guadeloupe and even carries an official Appellation d'origine contrôlée (AOC) in Martinique. If you've never tried rhum agricole before, I suspect you'll be blown away by the intensity of estery fruit on the nose and the comparative full-body it has relative to a standard Puerto Rican white rum.

A properly made Ti' punch contains simply cane syrup or sugar, lime and rum. Ice is optional (more on that later). Proportions vary greatly. It is a tradition to serve it chacun prépare sa propre mort which means "each prepares his own death". Now you're starting to get the idea.

The punch is traditionally made with blanc (white) rum, but can be made from aged rums as well. As with tequila, I prefer the blanc in a mixed drink as it has more of the fresh cane character.

I've made Ti' punch with Neisson blanc (Martinique) and Barbancourt blanc (Haiti). La Favorite is another fairly common rhum agricole from Martinique that I'll be trying in the future. I prefer the Neisson at 50% abv to the Barbancourt at 43% when using ice. Barbancourt is much easier to find (like at your local Bevmo) and just recently began bottling rum again after repairing the extensive damage done to the facilities during the earthquake (including the loss of $4M worth of inventory).

For the cane syrup, I've been using Depaz cane syrup from Martinique. It's got a very nice bold flavor reminiscent of the rum itself. I found it at Bevmo and expect that the 750ml bottle will last a long time. You only need about a half teaspoon or less in the punch. The Barbancourt website lists a recipe for Ti' Punch Kreyol containing 1 oz of syrup to 2 oz of rum which is way too much. You could use raw sugar or raw sugar syrup as an alternative.

Application of the lime has many schools. Some cut the lime in wedges, while I've seen many authentic pictures showing a disc cut from the side about the size of a half dollar. I've started doing this and enjoy the peel/fruit ratio. It's important to squeeze it well, expelling the oils in the process. Some drop it in the drink, others eschew this as barbaric. I add the lime to the drink.

Finally there's the ice - or not. Traditionally it was drunk without ice, probably because ice was not readily available. Without ice you have a very strong drink, basically a large shot of high-proof rum with a small squeeze of lime and some syrup. Addition of the ice, while making the drink cooler also tames the rum a bit and blends all of the flavors. I like to add a few cubes of ice to my punch.

Even with the ice, this is a very strong drink. What's so nice about it is that even the small amount of lime and sugar totally transform the rum into something more balanced and well-rounded. But not at the cost of the rum's character and flavor which really comes across.

Ti' Punch
2 oz. Rhum agricole blanc (preferably 50% abv)
dash of cane syrup (substitute raw sugar or raw sugar syrup)
disc-shaped slice of lime cut from the side or lime wedge

Add a dash of cane syrup to an old-fashioned glass. Squeeze lime over the syrup making sure to expel as much of the oil as possible. Add rum. Add 3-4 cubes of ice, stir and enjoy.

Note: Photo taken from Caribbean Spirits website

Saturday, April 24, 2010

A Couple of Chinottos

Up for consideration in this post is the Italian soda Chinotto, a somewhat unusual tonic which combines the bitter chinotto fruit with some additional herbal flavors. It's kind of like an Italian amaro (envision a blend of Campari and Ramazzotti) in a refreshing soda format.

Let me take this opportunity to note that I like Italian sodas in general. They seem to master the fine balance between sweet and sour or bitter and are usually made with high quality ingredients such as cane sugar and high percentages of fruit juice. My favorite grapefruit soda, Villa Italia is from Italy and the San Pellegrino Aranciata (orange) and Limonata (lemon) sodas are both excellent.

Ok - getting back on topic, from Wikipedia:

The chinotto is a small, bitter citrus fruit that grows on the chinotto tree, which is also called the "myrtle-leaved orange tree" (Citrus aurantium var. myrtifolia). This tree grows to a height of three meters and can be found in Malta and in the Liguria, Tuscany, Sicily, and Calabria regions of Italy.

The chinotto fruit is an essential flavor component of most Italian bitters (i.e., amari) and of the popular Campari aperitif. Its name is derived from China, where the tree was thought to have originated.

I've only found Abbondio and San Pelegrino brand chinotto soda in the U.S. San Pellegrino is available at Bevmo, while I usually source the Abbondio at my local Giuliano's Italian deli (I recently found it at Hi Time as well). Both companies appear to lay claim to inventing chinotto soda. Wikipedia states that San Pelegrino claims to have invented it in 1932 while Abbondio's website states: Chinotto was born in the 1940's from an original Abbondio recipe. Blended with a secret ingredient, it has a marked, fresh and unmistakable taste. Much like the debate over who invented the Mai Tai, I'm sure we'll never know. In any case, I sat down with a 200 ml bottle of each for comparison.

My tasting notes:

San Pellegrino
Nose - fragrant bitter herbs, caramel, licorice
Taste - Bitter citrus, herbs, caramel. Fizzier, brighter and more citrusy than the Abbondio.

Nose - Herbs and caramel.
Taste - Herbs and more pronounced dark burnt sugar. Delicate bubbles.

The final verdict: Too close to call. They're different styles and appeal to the palate in different ways. The San Pellegrino is lighter and more citrusy. The Abbondio is darker with more caramel and herbal flavors. Both are fantastic and worth trying to any serious soda aficionado.

Finally, there is an interesting WSJ article on Italian sodas which contains some good discussion as well as a couple of interesting cocktails containing chinotto soda. I've tried and enjoyed the Dela Mela which is basically a chinotto and apple brandy highball (yes, yet another great opportunity for me to use the indispensable Laird's apple bond!)

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Top Ten Rums

Kaiser Penguin is running an interesting post on top ten rums everyone should have in their collection.

I'm not a rum expert by any means, but I've made it a point to get out there and try some of the better examples. Here's my list of the best ones that I've tried so far:

1. El Dorado 15 year (Guyana)
2. El Dorado 5 year (Guyana)
3. Appleton Estate V/X (Jamaica)
4. Appleton Estate Extra 12 year (Jamaica)
5. Coruba Dark (Jamaica)
6. Santa Teresa 1796 (Venezuela)
7. Ron Zacapa Centenario 23 year (Guatemala)
8. Lemon Hart 151 (Guyana)
9. Cruzan Single Barrel (St. Croix)
10. Mount Gay Sugar Cane (Barbados)

With regards to some of the other rums mentioned in Rick's post, I found it interesting that Kraken and Old New Orleans spiced rums seem to get a lot of respect from the experts. Smith and Cross (from Haus Alpenz) a Navy Strength pot-still rum from Jamaica also got a lot of votes and I will definitely pick up a bottle to try. Despite many tries, I just cannot muster any love for J. Wray and Nephew overproof rum. It's estery and exotic with a lot of fresh cut pear aromas, but I just don't care for it and I find that it overpowers everything that it's used in. Another popular one was Clement VSOP (Martinique). I have a bottle and like it, but when tasted among the other rums it has a distinct sulphurous aroma that puts it out of my top ten.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Some Czech Pilsners

I was first introduced to Czech Pilsners by way of Pilsner Urquell during my college years. Back then, Trader Joe's used to carry it in "hornets", or 22 oz. bottles. It was a standard at my roommate Rob's house and quick became one of our must-haves in our early days of connoisseurship. I got the chance post-college to visit the Pilsener Urquell brewery in Pilsen and was able to taste the beer fresh, prior to filtration - a real treat.

Over the years, I've tried a few different beers from the Czech Republic and decided it would be fun to taste a few of the more famous brews comparatively. For this tasting, I've assembled: Pilsner Urquell (Pilsen), Staropramen (Prague) and Budweiser Budvar (a.k.a. Czechvar from České Budějovice).

The beers were tasted blind in Riedel Vinum port glasses. Following are my tasting notes and scoring:

#1) Pilsner Urquell, 91 points
color - medium gold
nose - medium maltiness with some cereal grain and light hops
taste - Nice bright hoppiness with a pleasant bitter finish
finish - fairly long and bitter

#2) Czechvar, 89 points
color - the lightest of the group. Yellowish gold.
nose - appetizing with bitter hoppiness. Delicate.
taste - light on the palate and in flavors. Delicate malt and hops. Not much bitterness, but not much anything. With extended tasting, some honey and flowery notes emerge.
finish - medium-short.

#3) Staropramen, 86 points
color - darkest of the group. Golden amber.
nose - Richer and more malty than the Czechvar.
taste - Rich, with some maltiness and and bitter hops. Some off, metallic notes.
finish - medium length.

Final Notes - Pilsner Urquell remains the standard among Czech Pilsners and is the "original" Pilsner, dating back to 1842. Czechvar, one of my other regular favorites is definitely a lighter style and is perfect for a hot afternoon with its crisp, clean flavors. Staropramen is a good beer, and I enjoy it on its own, but in the comparative tasting, that ominpresent metallic note knocked it down a few points.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Orval Trappist Ale

I've been on a bit of a Belgian beer kick lately. My interest was stoked by a recent trip to Wurstküche (translation: sausage kitchen) - a great exotic sausage place in the LA arts district.

Described by Rachel's brother Zack as a "hipster German" joint, it serves up great sausages along with some sensational beers - many on tap all in a modern, slightly minimalist setting. Aside from offering a rarely seen style, Berliner Weisse, Wurstküche seems to make something of a specialty of offering a broad selection of Belgian ales, many on tap, and served from the "proper" chalice - shaped glass with the brewery's mark on it.

Some of the highlights that night were Duvel Green (a light, draft-only version of Duvel that omits the in-bottle fermentation) and La Chouffe and Houblon Chouffe (the former a fruity, hoppy, yeasty, spicy golden ale, the latter an even hoppier and fruity india pale ale). Oh, and the sausages and mustard were great too.

Since then I've been drinking a variety of Belgian ales, mostly Tripels. When I came across this bottle of Orval, I tasted something unlike any beer I've tried before.

Orval is a Trappist pale ale. Only one beer is brewed and in only one format as far as I can tell - an attractive bowling pin-shaped 11.2 oz. bottle (pictured above).

The beer I tasted was bottled in January 2009, so it's just over a year old. Incidentally, it has a "best before" date of 5 years from the bottled date. The beer pours a deep amber with some haziness typical of yeasty Belgian ales. On the nose, it smells of cut flowers with some raspberry and citrus. On the palate, there is a fairly strong flavor of elderflower with some berry notes that follow through from the nose. The finish is clean with some nice bitter hoppiness and with the elderflower continuing to linger.

It's fairly readily available - I bought this bottle at the local Bevmo. If you're looking for something different from Belgium, this is certainly a beer worth trying with its exotic flavors.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Highland Park 18 year old

Highland Park 18 year old
Bottled by: Distillery
ABV: 43%
Region: Islands (Orkney)
Price: $100
Availability: Readily available in specialty shops

I first tried Highland Park 18 year old several years back when my scotch-drinking Uncle was in town for vacation. We picked up a bottle at Hi-Time and drank it next to the 12 year old. The differences are quite pronounced. The additional barrel age provides extra richness and brings forth more of the complexities from the sherry wood such as leather and nutty elements.

Today the bottles have changed to the "flask" shape shown in the Highland Park 12 year old post. I still have the bottle like the one shown above which has a nice impression of the Orkney islands molded on the bottom.

See the Highland Park 12 year old post for details of the distillery.

Tasting Notes
Medium-dark amber
Delicate peat, dried fruits, a floral element. More sherry and oak than the 12y. Even more complexity.
Medium-to full-bodied. As with the 12y, an incredible roundness and balance of flavors but richer and more elegant still. Retains the sweet honey, complex dried-fruit character of the 12y, with additional sherry and oak intensity. Some nuttiness. Leather. Vanilla. An endless cascade of incredibly well-balanced and integrated flavors.
Long, rich, round, oaky

Overall impression and notes: I've had this malt on many occasions now and I'm very comfortable saying that Highland Park 18 year old is the single best spirit of any kind ever to have passed my lips to-date. Period. Reserving the extra 3 points for a perfect score is really only wishful thinking on my part - some motivation to continue the search for something better, however unlikely.

Worth every penny at around $100, but an absolute steal at the $50-60 it was a few years ago...

Highland Park 12 year old

Highland Park 12 year old
Bottled by: Distillery
ABV: 43%
Region: Islands (Orkney)
Price: $35
Availability: Readily available in specialty shops

Highland Park has long been a favorite whisky. Ever since reading about it in the late Michael Jackson's definitive Complete Guide to Single Malt Scotch, I've had somewhat of a fascination with the malt. Its place on top of the pillar was firmly established in my first real blind scotch tasting (many, many moons ago) when both my friend Rob and I picked HP 12 as the undisputed victor among many other respectable malts. Since that time, I've regularly purchased bottles of the 12 and 18 year old versions and never cease to be amazed by the richness and bottomless depth of flavors they possess.

Highland Park distillery is located on the island of Orkney and is the most northerly in Scotland. Aside from their selection of dry Oloroso sherry casks for aging the whisky, the distillery makes much about the malting of the barley and the peat used. According to their website:

Highland Park is one of only a handful of distilleries where the expensive and physically demanding custom of turning malt by hand still takes place. Highland Park malt costs two and a half times as much as industrially processed malt. Some 20% of the malt used to make Highland Park comes from Orkney.

The remainder is either malted at one of its sister distilleries, Tamdhu (to Highland Park specifications), or comes from Simpsons, a high quality malt producer located in the Scottish Borders. The Orcadian malt is 40 phenol parts per million whereas that from Tamdhu and Simpsons is only 1-2ppm. Together they create the balance for which Highland Park is renowned.

Highland Park is one of only five distilleries that continue the tradition of hand-tuning malt on site. This process is very expensive and labour intensive – which is why most distillers have long since abandoned the practice.

Regarding the peat:

Samples of Orkney peat have relatively more carbohydrate derivatives whereas those from Islay have lignin derivatives more prevalent. Overall the conclusion is that there is a different chemical fingerprint in the peat which will probably make a difference to the overall flavour of the whisky.

It is no exaggeration to say that peat is the terroir of (island) whiskies. The smokey notes of Highland Park come from this degenerating plant material that is prevalent on the islands of Scotland. The peats of Orkney are some 9,000 years old (younger than those of Islay) and the deepest bogs are at most four metres deep. Highland Park takes its peat from selected banks on Hobbister Moor, combining cuttings taken from three distinct levels to create the required character. Fogg; the top layer, approximately 1,800 years old is taken from just below the surface is rich in heather and rootlets. Yarphie; the darker, more compacted second layer generates less smoke and more heat. Moss; the deepest and, therefore, oldest layer (approx 9,000 years) is lumpen and almost coal-like.

Following are my tasting notes taken during from a recently purchased bottle of the newer "flask" shaped variety pictured above. I can't speak to specific variations in flavors/quality over time other than to say that every bottle of HP that I've had at any age has the unmistakable richness and complexity that I've come to treasure from this distillery.

Tasting Notes
Medium amber
Delicate peat, apricot, oak, sherry. Staggering depth and complexity.
Medium-to full-bodied. Incredible roundness and balance of flavors. Begins sweet and honey-accented, then waves of rich smoke, flamed bitter orange peel and sherry follow.
Long, rich, round.

Overall impression and notes: Michael Jackson famously described Highland Park as being the "greatest all-rounder" in the world of malt whisky. There is no question about that. This malt fires on all cylinders - it is all at once characterful, balanced, sweet, smoky, and sherry-accented with some delicious fruit flavors. None of these elements dominate, but rather they're all there in equal measure as part of the overall symphony of flavors.

It's a masterpiece - deep in complexity and worthy of being a permanent fixture in any respectable Scotch collection. This is absolutely the single best under-$40 spirit in the world.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Longrow CV

Longrow CV
Bottled by: Distillery (Springbank)
ABV: 46%
Other: Vatting of 6, 10, 14 year old malts in rum, sherry, port, bourbon casks. Non chill filtered, no color added.
Region: Campbeltown
Price: $50
Availability: Readily available in specialty shops

Springbank is the best-known Campbeltown distillery and essentially sets the standard for that small whisky region. In addition to their namesake line of single malts, they produce a highly peated version known as Longrow, named for a nearby distillery that closed in 1896. Longrow whisky is double-distilled, as opposed to two and a half times for the standard Springbanks. Springbank is one of few distilleries (if not the only one) these days in which the floor malting, distillation, maturation and bottling are all done on the premises.

As with other Springbanks, this is bottled at a respectable 46% abv and without added color or chill-filtration.

I've long wanted to try Longrow, but their 10 and 14 year old bottlings are typically on the expensive side ($100+). This vatting was designed to be easier on the wallet, while still offering some of the complexities of the older age whisky. After reading through several online articles, it appears to be a consensus that the malt is a vatting of 6, 10 and 14 year old malts from port, sherry, rum and bourbon woods.

CV stands for "Curriculum Vitae" which is a common term for a "resume" in the UK. I suppose the idea is that the CV bottling represents a "first look" at the varied attributes of this malt.

Tasting Notes
Firm, but not overpowering peat. Some sweet, crisp malty notes. Appetizing. A faint hint of rum
Medium-bodied. Nice malty, sweet opening followed by a wave of
complex peat and spice
Peaty, spicy, long

Overall impression and notes: I really like the sweet malty undertones of this malt - it is reminiscent of the character of Glen Scotia 14 year old - a Campbeltown trademark perhaps? The youth of this malt is apparent but, at the same time, so is its age - there is a lot of complexity for a malt at this price point.

For those looking for a peaty malt off the well-trodden Islay path, this is highly recommended.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

My New Chemex

After reading about the advantages of Chemex-brewed coffee for years, I finally put one on my X-mas list and received one from my parents this year. I love the simple, modern design of the carafe with its wood and leather girdle.

Some history according to the Chemex website:

The Chemex® coffeemaker was invented by Peter J. Schlumbohm, Ph.D., in 1941. Schlumbohm was born in Kiel, Germany in 1896. He received his doctorate in Chemistry from the University of Berlin. After several trips to the United States, he settled in New York City in 1936. Over the years, he invented over 3,000 items for which he was granted patents. However, his coffeemaker and carafe kettles were his most long enduring inventions.

Being a doctor of Chemistry, he was very familiar with laboratory apparatus and the methods of filtration and extraction. He applied this knowledge when designing his coffeemaker. He examined his laboratory glass funnel and his Erlenmeyer flask and made modifications to each. He modified the laboratory funnel by adding an "air channel" and a pouring spout. He added the "air channel" so the air displaced by the liquid dripping into the vessel could easily escape past the laboratory filter paper, which was to be used in the funnel as the filter media.

To the well of the Erlenmeyer flask he added a protrusion, which looks like a bubble. Consumers have often called it a "belly button." This is a measuring mark, which indicates one half the volume that is below the bottom edge of the handle.

He then combined the modified glass funnel with the modified Erlenmeyer flask to create a one-piece drip coffee maker to be made of heat proof, laboratory grade, borosilicate glass. Last, he added a wood handle and called the item a "Chemex®," which was a fabricated name. All that was needed then to brew the coffee was the coffee, hot water, and filter paper.

Incidentally, I previously owned the Chemex water kettle which is a striking design (pictured right) with a cool molded pouring spout and a stopper with a glass tube which allows steam to escape and keeps the vertical section (the handle) cool. Unfortunately this item met an untimely demise during its service on our cooktop.

For its inaugural run, I loaded my coffee maker with Blue Bottle Coffee's Chiapas blend. For comparison purposes, I brewed the same coffee, using the same proportions in my traditional drip coffeemaker with a gold filter.

As far as brewing technique, I used the preparation instructions on the Blue Bottle website, which dictate A) pouring a few tablespoons of hot water over the grounds to let them "bloom" for a few seconds and B) to stir the grounds while adding the remaining water for maximum extraction. I used the Chemex brand unbleached filter papers which are basically folded sheets of heavy high quality lab-grade paper. I used approx 16 oz. of water and 6 Tablespoons of (relatively unevenly) ground coffee from my blade grinder.

Following are my notes regarding the two coffees:

A) Drip Machine
Appearance - Dark, rich looking coffee, with slight murkiness and some non-offensive fine grounds in the bottom
Nose - Fruity notes are accentuated
Flavor - More of the fruity notes. A slightly more "level" flavor profile, which does not quite develop the complexity of the Chemex.
Finish - Fruitier and shorter than the Chemex.

B) Chemex
Appearance - Dark rich looking coffee with no murkiness and zero grounds.
Nose - Darker rich chocolatey notes are accentuated
Flavor - Complex flavor profile with acidity and rich chocolaty taste and texture. Nice balance of acidity and flavors.
Finish - Long, rich, chocolaty, mouth coating.

Final Observations - I'm impressed with the Chemex. It was not quite as much labor as I was expecting, having to stand there and stir the coffee while pouring water over the grounds; actually it was kind of fun watching the coffee grounds bloom and stirring the muddy, sandy-textured mass.

I can see the benefits of the stirring process and the dense paper which clearly permit additional extraction and an overall better balanced and rich tasting cup. I look forward to disovering some of the complexities of my other coffees using this method.

Oh, and by the way, the Chiapas coffee from Blue Bottle is excellent.