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The New Pope
Further follow-up to a question I asked several weeks ago: "Have you ever wondered how your internet search queries would sound if you had to say them out loud to a real person?"  For your viewing enjoyment, I give you CollegeHumor's "If Google was a Guy - Part 3":
Whisky

While I’m still working on the third, and therefore final, part of my three-part series discussing the issues and controversies(?) surrounding No Age Statement (NAS) whiskies, it appears that I write better – and faster – when something has irked me…and something has indeed irked me.

A couple of days ago, a Brand Ambassador for an international whisky conglomerate (which shall remain nameless) sent out a tweet containing a link to an [old] Huffington Post article entitled “Bourbon vs. Whiskey: How to Know What’s What”. Calling it an article, however, is overly generous, because what it really was - despite purporting to answer the ‘age-old’ question of “…when it comes to bourbon vs. whiskey vs. whisky, what's the difference?” - was just a short paragraph followed by an infographic prepared by Maker’s Mark.

When I replied to the tweet, and pointed out that there were some serious flaws and misleading statements in the infographic, I was told that perhaps I’d been too literal in my interpretation of the infographic, and that the infographic accurately depicts the difference between bourbon whiskey and other whiskies, although this claim was later abrogated to a statement to the effect that “…it was just a promotional infographic defining Maker’s Mark and how it fits into bourbon as a category. #iswhatitis”.

But the reality is that neither of these statements are true, as that is not how the infographic was being used in the story it had been attached to. To me, this article, and its use of the infographic as its only source material (the author doesn’t seem to have done any research, fact checking, or analysis), is a perfect example of ‘Yellow Journalism’. And what, you ask, is Yellow Journalism? It’s “…when the truth isn't there [and/or] the facts are missing or twisted…[and] the internet makes yellow journalism even easier. You can post anything you want without checking facts.”

For another example, please see Jason Debly’s skewering of another biased and poorly researched article, here; however, I think it is accurate to say that most whisky bloggers are intimately familiar with the poor quality of many whisky-related articles that find their way into the mainstream media, so the lack of accurate information in the Huffington Post isn't really that surprising. What was surprising to me was that the article was being retweeted by a Brand Ambassador, someone who you would have thought would know better than to disseminate misinformation and/or misleading statements just to promote a brand: 'The Truth' shouldn't hurt a brand, so why conceal it behind technically correct, but misleading, statements...or am I being naive in thinking this?

So, seeing as how my day job is to un-pack and analyze things, let’s take a closer look at this infographic, shall we… (if you follow the link to the original article, you can view the infographic at its full size)

Bourbon-vs-Whisky Infographic (c) 2013 Maker's Mark Distillery Inc.“All bourbon is whisky. Not all whisky is bourbon” – True. No issue with this statement.

Legal Definitions:
“Must be made in America” (Bourbon) vs.
“Seriously. This is the actual law: ‘[t]he distillate must possess the taste, aroma and characteristics generally attributed to whisky.” (Whisky)

True, but Bourbon can only claim its ‘Made in America’ status, as defined by s. 5.22(b)(2), because international trade agreements and legislation introduced in other countries have defined ‘Bourbon’ as a product of the United States (U.S.), made in accordance with the U.S. standards of identity (and the U.S. has reciprocated by including in its own standards of identity clauses to the effect that Scotch, Irish, and Canadian whiskies sold in the U.S. are distinctive products of their respective nations, manufactured in compliance with their own legal frameworks). Further, making the claim that Bourbon is 'Made in America' automatically implies that 'Whiskey' and 'Whisky' are not necessarily 'Made in America', but can be made elsewhere.

As for the second part of the comparison, the line that has been quoted in the infographic is actually part of s. 5.22(b) of the U.S. standards, which defines whisky, and this definition also applies to Bourbon [which is further defined at 5.22(b)(1)(i)]. Conveniently, the infographic does not address the fact that ‘Tennessee Whiskey’, which by error(?) of omission gets lumped in with ‘whiskey’ and ‘whisky’, is in fact a Bourbon that has simply gone through an additional filtering process (although there is a move in Tennessee to codify what constitutes ‘Tennessee Whiskey’).

If we go further afield and take a look at the regulations governing whisky distillation in other jurisdictions, such as Canada, Ireland, and Scotland, on the grounds that the infographic is being used to compare bourbon vs. whiskey vs. whisky,
and later makes a direct reference to country of origin with respect to whether it is ‘whiskey’ or ‘whisky’, we’d note that all of those countries have pretty clear legal definitions of what constitutes whisky [and s. 5.22(b)(7) through (b)(9) - which are subordinate to s. 5.22(b), above, which is used in the infographic itself to define non-Bourbon 'whisky' - provide definitions for Scotch, Irish, and Canadian whiskies]; although, admittedly, Canada’s definition is rather weak, as it simply states that Canadian whisky shall “…possess the aroma, taste and character generally attributed to Canadian whisky.”

Mashbill:
“Must be at least 51% corn” (Bourbon) vs.
“…a spirit distilled from grain” (Whisky)

True, but this conveniently omits the fact that in the U.S., rye, wheat, malt, and rye malt whiskies must also contain a minimum of 51% of the specified grain (rye, wheat, etc.), and that the remainder of the mash can be made up of other grains. Looking internationally, we see that Canadian, Irish, and Blended Scotch whisky do pretty much fall under the “…spirit distilled from grain” requirement, as their respective legislative regimes are non-specific, with the exception of Scotland, of course, where all Scotch whisky must contain some malted barley, and single malt Scotch whisky must be manufactured using 100% malted barley.

Distillation:
"Distilled to 80% ABV max, barrelled at no more than 62.5% ABV" (Bourbon) vs.
"Distilled to 90% ABV max, ‘bottled’ at no less than 40% ABV" (Whisky)

True, if we’re talking legal definitions, but it’s important to note that the final part of this comparison is actually between ‘barrelled at’ and ‘bottled at’, which are completely different things and can’t be compared at all, as the provision for bottling at no less than 40% ABV, as contained in the U.S. standards,  also applies to Bourbon. Moreover, this omits, again, that the standards for Bourbon also apply to rye, wheat, malt, and rye malt whiskies, and that there is, in fact, no minimum requirement for barrelling, only a maximum.

In Scotland and Ireland, the only distillation restriction is that the spirit cannot be distilled to more than 94.8% ABV, while in Canada there is no limitation (it is generally accepted that the base whisky spirits used by Canadian distillers are distilled to no more than 94.5% ABV, and the flavouring whiskies to around 80% ABV). With Scottish single malts, the distillation strengths differ by distillery, but new make spirit usually comes off the stills at around 70% ABV, and is then diluted to around 63% prior to barrelling.

Aging Requirements:
“Must be stored in new, charred oak containers” (Bourbon) vs.
“Must be stored in oak containers” (Whisky)

True, Bourbon must be aged in new, charred oak containers, but so must rye whisky, wheat whisky, malt whisky, and rye malt whisky. In the U.S., only ‘Light’ whisky and 'Corn' whisky, which are separate classifications under the standards, are treated differently. Interestingly enough, both 'Corn' and 'Light' whiskies can be stored in new, uncharred oak. The Irish, Canadian, and Scottish regulations only refer to ‘oak’, and place no restriction on whether the oak containers employed are new, used, charred, or uncharred, and many distillers employ both used and virgin oak.

Further, while the infographic is correct in that there are no minimum aging requirements for Bourbon, or other types of whisky produced in the U.S., most other jurisdictions do have a minimum age requirement: in Canada, Ireland, and Scotland (and the U.K. in general), it is three years. The U.S. does requires a whisky whose mashbill contains at least 51% of a single grain (corn, rye, wheat, malted barley, etc.) to be aged at least two years in order to be designated a “Straight” whisky, but otherwise the only age requirement the U.S. seems to have is that if a whisky has been aged less than four years, the distiller is required to tell you how long it has been aged; if it has been aged for more than four years, there is no requirement for an age statement on the label.

Additives:
“No added flavors, coloring or blends of different whisky types.” (Bourbon) vs.
No Claim (Whisky) [although by making no claim, there is the inherent implication that other whiskies do contain flavouring and/or colouring agents, and may be blended with other types of whisky.]

True, the U.S. standards are clear that no flavouring or colouring agents may be added to 'Straight' Bourbon (or 'Straight' Rye, Wheat, Malt, etc., etc.), although the recent dust-up surrounding Templeton Rye and the use of flavouring agents in that particular whisky has revealed that flavouring and colouring agents are allowed in whisky that hasn’t been designated as ‘Straight’ whisky. But here’s the rub, just because the regulations allow for something to be done, doesn’t mean that it has been done. For example, the Irish whiskey regulations are silent on additives (although the Canadian regulations on what constitutes ‘Irish Whiskey’ specifically allow for the addition of caramel to Irish whiskey imported to Canada), and while the Scotch Whisky Regulations allow for the addition of colouring agents (e150a), not all distillers add it to their whiskies. Similarly, in Canada, even though the regulations specifically state that caramel and flavouring are allowed, the famed “9.09%” rule is generally only exploited for Canadian whisky that is destined for export to the United States.

“To ‘E’ or not to ‘E,’ that is the question”:
As is clearly stated in the infographic, the decision on which spelling to use is “[s]imply a…preference typically from country of origin.” In general, whiskeys – including bourbon – produced in the U.S. and Ireland use ‘Whiskey’, while whiskies from Scotland, Canada, and Japan use ‘Whisky’. Of interest here is that Maker’s Mark actually uses ‘whisky’, and not ‘whiskey’, in honour of their founders’ Scottish heritage. By including this definitional issue, the infographic further implies that the comparison it makes isn’t just about Bourbon vs. other types of American whisky, but rather it is comparing / contrasting Bourbon with other whiskeys and whiskies, which includes, by definition, Scotch, Irish, Japanese, and Canadian (and any other whiskey/whisky that may be produced elsewhere, such as India, South Africa, Sweden, Belgium, France, etc., etc., etc.). To argue otherwise, especially when the article that uses it as reference material specifically states that it is examining the differences between bourbon, whiskey, and whisky, is disingenuous at best.

Summary:
I like Maker's Mark, I really do. It's possibly one of the only bourbon's I've tried that I've actually been able to enjoy (my love/hate relationship with bourbon will be the subject of another entry at another time), but I'm really disappointed with the fact that:

  1. the infographic itself is filled with misinformation and/or misleading statements;
  2. a journalist would rely solely on an infographic produced by a single distillery as the basis for such a comparison; and
  3. a Brand Ambassador would circulate the article without questioning the content and/or accuracy.

A more accurate infographic, that could lead to a more informed discussion would be something like this:

Scotch vs. Whiskey vs. Bourbon (c) College Humour
(For those who are wondering, this is, indeed, sarcasm)

Thoughts? Disagreements? Comments?



Maker's Mark Review:
Maker's Mark

Colour: deep copper

Nose: oak, maraschino cherries, some vanilla, burnt / caramelized marshmallows, and cinnamon.

Taste: oily, quite thick and mouth coating, with brown sugar, some baking spices (nutmeg), vanilla, oak, a hint of dark cherry changing to sweet corn with butter, and then fading to salted caramel at the end.

Finish: hot and lingering, with very pleasent, but spicy oak flavours.

Balance: nicely balanced - not too oaky, not too powerful - a nice middle ground...in other words, bourbon that I'll actually drink, instead of using it solely for baking and bbq sauce after having one glass.

For other thoughts on Maker's Mark, please see the following:

The New Pope
Again, this isn't really comedy, unless you enjoy watching me fall in the mud, but it was a sh$t-load of fun... On August 23rd we drove to Hamilton, Ontario, for a wedding, but we were also looking for any opportunity to do another Obstacle Course Race (OCR) before we hit The Zombie Run near Philadelphia on August 30th, and as luck would have it, Mud Hero's Toronto event was being held that same weekend at the Albion Hills Conservation Area (a bit north of Toronto), a location that was very conveniently not too far away from one of the routes that we could take to get home...so we registered, in different waves though, in order to make sure that one of us was with our daughter the entire time, and then we packed for the weekend: formal clothes for Saturday night, and running clothes for Sunday morning. And while it was 10km shorter than the Tough Mudder Montreal course, and the obstacles were easier, it was hillier and far muddier, and this was the result:
Whisky
About three weeks ago I absently remarked on Twitter that a head-to-head-to-head tasting of the three 21 year-old Canadian whiskies that I had in my cabinet (Danfield’s Limited Edition 21 year-old; opened), and on my storage shelf (Collingwood 21 year-old and Century Reserve 21 year-old; unopened), would be an interesting endeavour…and things sort of snowballed from there, with Johanne McInnis (@Whiskylassie) suggesting that we do independent tastings of the three whiskies with the end goal of do near-simultaneous blog posts about the results (a “three-way” as Johanne so ineloquently termed it…her write-up is here)...and then she roped Maryse Pothier (@bergamote63) and Val Bradshaw (@ValBradshaw) into the mix...

There were some logistical issues to sort out, of course, like who already had which whiskies and who might still need to track down a bottle or two, when we’d have the time to do it, when the write-ups would be due, and the fact that Maryse doesn’t actually have a blog of her own (she’s guest writing a post on Johanne’s blog).


Danfields_21_KaijuCollingwood-Century_Reserve
Danfield's Limited Edition 21 year-old     Collingwood Limited Release 21 year-old & Century Reserve 21 year-old

So, with a date set – aim to have the tasting done by September 8th, with write-ups to be completed and posted by September 10th – we all took our best stab at it, and it wasn’t disappointing. However, that’s not to say that I liked all three whiskies. From an objective stand point they are all very, very different: different distillers, different maturation climate, different grain mixes, different wood influences, etc., etc., etc. From a subjective standpoint, however, these differences are extremely striking, and perhaps I tasted them in the wrong order, or perhaps some of the bottles needed more time to open-up and oxidize, as two of the three bottles were opened the day of the tasting (maybe I should have opened them three weeks ago), while the third has been open since July 2012 (and had been recently decanted to a 375ml bottle).

The reviews were conducted in the following manner: I poured a 25ml sample (+/- 2ml) into a standard Glencairn glass (see the photo below); each glass was then covered and let to stand for around 10 minutes while I found pen and paper; I then spent approximately 15 to 20 minutes nosing and tasting each glass, first neat and then adding some water; I covered each glass when tasting was finished to preserve the aroma for nosing again at the end; and finally, between whiskies I cleansed my palate with water and plain crackers (no chocolate or shortbreads this time around).


Danfield’s Limited Edition 21 year-old Canadian Whisky

Collingwood Limited Release 21 year-old Rye Candian Whisky (Toasted Maplewood Mellowed)

Century Reserve 21 year-old Canadian Rye Whisky

Black Velvet (Lethbridge, AB)

Produced for Williams & Churchill, a division of Schenley Distillers Inc.; W&C seems to be very much like what Labrot & Graham (Woodford Reserve) is to Brown-Forman.

Canadian Mist (Collingwood, ON)

Highwood Distillers (High River, AB)

Grain mix is unknown

100% malted rye

100% corn

40% ABV

40% ABV

40% ABV

WhichWhiskyIsWhich?

Amber/Reddy Bronze (“Tawny”)*

Dark Amber/Red Gold (“Old Oak”)*

Light Gold (“Gold”)*

Purchased in July 2012 (Opened in July 2012)

Purchased in May 2014 (Opened Sept 7, 2014)

Father’s Day Gift in 2013 (Opened Sept 7, 2014)

Nose: butter tarts, almost rum-like, brown sugar and pastry, nutmeg, golden raisins, ginger, cedar shavings

Nose: vegetal: a sort of damp rotting vegetation smell - like a forest after a rain storm; dark rye bread - almost pumpernickel; toasted dark rye with marmalade; and mint...lots of mint

Nose: very mellow, traces of vanilla cream icing, very mild butterscotch, some mild spices, and pecan pie (but only after letting it sit for some time)

Palate: thick, oily and mouth coating, light rye bread with tart marmalade, steel cut oats with brown sugar, ginger snaps and old fashioned ginger cookies

Palate: not as thick as the Danfield’s, but spicier!! Dark chocolate with pepper (cayenne?), mild ginger, somewhat fizzy and effervescent

Palate: very thick, but not as oily feeling as the Danfield’s, buttered popcorn, milk chocolate covered caramel corn, some ginger and nutmeg, but very gentle overall

Finish: very sweet, a tiny bit drying, with some peppery / spicy notes

Finish: minty (again with the mint!), shortish, very little oak influence (that I could sense, at least)

Finish: quick – very short and sweet, more chocolate covered popcorn

With Water: makes the finish a bit drier and the palate not quite as sweet

With Water: becomes sweeter on the palate, and softer, almost like drinking a mint-flavoured mouthwash…

With Water: makes it a bit butterier (is that even a word?), but extends the finish and adds a bit of an oaky dryness

Balance: fairly well balanced, with no one note overpowering the others, although I particularly like the nose

Balance: oddly balanced, as the nose is a bit off-putting…the mint thing is a bit weird, and then it sort of falls flat on the finish

Balance: the nose is the weakest part here, as it is just not really there. It’s not that it's unpleasant, it’s just too mellow, and the palate dominates too much

Empty Glass: cedar shavings

Empty Glass: buttered dark rye bread

Empty Glass: faint traces of brown sugar

Final Thoughts:
I’ve really, really enjoyed the Danfield’s over the past two years, probably because it is so much like a good quality rum…but, given that the bottle has been open for two years, it’s likely had time to interact with the environment and possibly improve, which may have given it an unfair advantage here.

Meg’s one word description of the nose: “sweet”

Final Thoughts:
I’m pretty sure that I don’t really like this (I prefer the standard Collingwood), although I like the idea of it, as it really is quite different from any other Canadian whisky currently on the market. The nose and the minty taste are what bugs me: while the palate reminds me of a mint julep, the nose just isn’t at all attractive, although perhaps it will even out and become more pleasant with time.

Meg’s description of the nose: “dry and woody”

Final Thoughts:
It’s nice, but of the three, it’s the middle of the road. I’d reach for something with more character and a bit more flavour first, but as with the Collingwood, it may develop a bit more now that the bottle has been opened.

Meg’s one word description of the nose: “mellow”

Other Reviews:

Other Reviews:

Other Reviews:


All in all, a fun exercise, and maybe one that needs to be repeated again in a few months time to see if there are any changes in opinion...

* I'm using the colour identification coding from A Wardrobe of Whisky's Tasting Sheet
Whisky
About a month ago I added to the myriad of articles and blog entries about the "evils" no 'No Age Statement' (or NAS) whiskies (see Part One, here), and promised that I'd write Part Two, on 'age statement' or 'vintage redaction' the next week...well, I got distracted, and things have died down a bit, although there continues to be sporadic discussion on Curt's article over at All Things Whisky.

The introduction of NAS expressions that are: a) being added to product lines, or b) replacing existing products (as the Macallan 1824 Colour Series has replaced the Fine Oak and Sherried line-ups, for example), or c) being offered to consumers for prices that far exceed existing age-stated expressions (Talisker Storm vs. Talisker 10 year-old), aside, it is the concept of "age statement" and/or "vintage" "redaction" - which I define as when a distillery drops the age statement from an existing expression entirely and then expects you to pay the same amount for a bottle of unknown quality / provenance - that really, really bothers me.

I'd been struggling with how to put this idea to "paper", so to speak, when Sku announced that Jim Beam was replacing the existing Jim Beam Black, which carried an eight year-old statement, with a NAS version. It'll still be called Jim Beam Black, but they're no longer going to tell the consumer how old the whisky in the bottle is, which is actually kind of funny, since until now, Jim Beam Black produced for sale in the U.S. has been marketed as "double aged" - if a straight bourbon is aged less than four years, the distiller is required to tell you how old it is, more than four years and they don't have to tell you anything - so with an eight year-old age statement, "Double Aged" simply means that it's been aged twice as long as was required for them to not have to put an age statement on it. Confused yet? Just wait, because Jim Beam Black produced for export (to Canada, Europe, and placed beyond) currently carries a six year-old age statement, and is marketed as "Triple Aged", which in marketing-speak means that it's been aged three times longer than would be required for the distiller to market it as "straight bourbon". So let me get this straight, "Double Aged" means eight years old, and "Triple Aged" means six years old? Now I'm a bit confused... At least we can take solace in the fact that a NAS Jim Beam Black has to be at least four years old, otherwise they'd be legally obligated to put an age statement on it...and Jim Beam isn't the only bourbon distiller to be playing games with their age statements, as Sku has so kindly reported here, and here.

So, where am I going with this? Well, Jim Beam, Macallan, and the other companies that Sku identifies aren't the only distillers that have been dropping or otherwise fiddling with age statements: Diageo did it with the Johnnie Walker line-up, dropping the 15 year-old Green Label entirely, then removing the 18 year-old age statement from the Gold Label - which became the 'Gold Label Reserve' - and then introducing a new 18 year-old Platinum Label; and The Glenlivet recently introduced a new line-up of NAS cask strength whiskies as part of its Nadurra line-up, while at the same time reducing the original Nadurra 16 year-old from cask strength to 48% ABV.

Which brings me to my final example: a few years ago I picked up a Dun Bheagan Islay 2002bottle of Dun Bheagan Islay (Vintage 2002/2010), which you can see in the photo on the right. A quick Google search nets you an Auto-Complete entry for 'Dun Bheagan Islay 8 years old', which returns reviews of the whisky in question from Whisky Magazine (by both the late Michael Jackson, and Dave Broom, no less), as well as a number of other hits which clearly identify the Dun Bheagan Islay as an eight year-old whisky...and incidentally, the Ian Macleod website continues to market the Dun Bheagan Islay as an eight year-old whisky; and it was an eight year-old whisky for a long time - a 2003/2011 vintage replaced the 2002/2010 bottling, which was in turn replaced by a 2005/2013 bottling...and then suddenly the LCBO was carrying a 2008 vintage. Was I reading that correctly? How, in 2014, could a whisky distilled in 2008 be eight years old? The simple answer is that it can't possibly be an eight year-old whisky, and a close inspection on the label showed that it isn't...it is, in fact, a 2008/2013 vintage (see photo below), which makes it five years-old, not eight years-old, yet being sold for the exact same price as the earlier, older vintages that the LCBO had carried previously.

Dun Bheagan Islay 2008So, what's going on here? I understand that, as an independent bottler, Ian Macleod may not be able source the exact same whiskies for each vintage, hence the fact that the Dun Bheagan Islay doesn't actually state what distillery it is from (a 'Bastard' malt, if you will), so while scuttlebut says that the Islay bottling is a young Lagavulin, it's possible that Diageo has turned off the taps on selling barrels to independents, something that Oliver Klimek speculated about back in 2012. And if this is the case, then in a way, it's out of their control, but this isn't the case with Jim Beam, or Macallan, or any of the other distilleries that had decided to drop age statements (or reduce the alcohol by volume of certain expressions in order to stretch stocks).

Of course, one can't complain too much about transparency with the Dun Bheagan Islay, unlike in the case of Jim Beam Black or the Macallan 1824 series, as the distillation date and bottling dates are printed on the bottle and bottle sleeve, even though all the information available online still reports the whisky as being an eight year-old (and the LCBO website is using a photo of the 2005/2013 bottling as part of the product description, which leads you to believe you're buying an eight year-old whisky, not a five year-old whisky), but in a way, it is about transparency: can Jim Beam ensure that a new NAS Black has the same flavour profile as the existing eight year-old (or six year-old), or is this all about consistency and standardization of product? If they're going to eliminate the age statement to make the "Double Aged" and "Triple Aged" expressions the same thing and get rid of this marketing BS, then maybe it's a change for the better, but if it's just a way to make what were eight year-old and six year-old whiskies into something that could be as young as four-years old (which is what Jim Beam White is), then why bother having a 'Black' and a 'White' expression at all?

OK, with all that said and done, here's my review of the Dun Bheagan Islay, 2002/2010 (eight years old), Non-Chill Filtered, Cask Numbers 701912 / 701926 (5400 bottles). In truth, I'm not entirely sure why I picked this bottle up, but I did...and then it spent a year or so in storage until I opened it - to replace the bottle of Talisker 10 year-old that I'd finished.

Nose: peat...lots of it, and smoke. Then some alcohol (a bit biting), but it mellows a bit and gives way to campfire smoke and smoked bacon.

Taste: thick, oily, mouth-coating, and then bacon, bacon, more bacon, and sourdough soaked in bacon grease.

Finish: quite hot, and a bit harsh...lingering, then more bacon...

Balance: not as balanced as I'd like, as the nose and palate are a bit one dimensional (as much as I like bacon, it can be a bit overpowering). This is a budget Lagavulin, and it shows, but if you want Lagavulin for less than $60 (CAD) then this will do the trick quite nicely (even if you're now buying a five year-old whisky instead of an eight year-old).

For other thoughts on the 2002/2010 bottling, see the following:

The New Pope
A bit unorthodox, since it isn't really comedy, but it is still amusing. Back in early/mid July, our informal running team (the United Nations Zombie Emergency Response Task Force [UNZERTF] - 'Run Fast or Die') took on Tough Mudder Montreal for the second year in a row (I couldn't participate last year as a result of the concussion), but this time I was good to go and actually in fairly decent shape. So, with our GoPro camera on a chest mount (which gives everyone else a sort of head-height view), we set out to record our race experience...and then Meg edited three-hours of footage down to the length of 'Everything is AWESOME!!!' from 'The LEGO Movie':


And then I got challenged to do the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge...to which I pointed out that I'd already jumped into a dumpster filled with ice water as part of the Tough Mudder...the 'Artic Enema', a bone-chilling experience that lasts far longer than, say, dumping a bucket of ice water over your head...and I'd done it in support of a good cause, namely the Wounded Warrior Project (Tough Mudder supports the Wounded Warrior Project and encourages participants to fundraise, which I had). So, for your viewing enjoyment, I also give you my "Ice Dumpster Challenge":

No Age Statement (NAS) Issues - Part One

Whisky
I know that I'm several months - and some very comprehensive and nuanced discussions - late to the party, and that other people with far more knowledge of the industry have already covered this issue in depth (see Curt, Oliver, Lucasz, and Gal, among others), but it bears further examination, which why I've divided this subject into three parts.

Part One (today) is just a brief summary of the issues as I see them. In Part Two (later this week, or perhaps next week) I'll be looking at a specific example of what I'll call 'age statement' or 'vintage' redaction (complete with a whisky review!), and in Part Three, I plan on taking a very close look at "The" Macallan's absurd notion that colour is an indicator of quality.

So, as everyone who's been following the whisky blogosphere in the last few months knows, the number of "No Age Statement" - aka NAS - whiskies on the market has exploded (OK, maybe not "exploded", but there certainly are a lot more of them than there were just a couple of years ago...Talisker's range has expanded with the addition of no less than three new NAS expressions in the last year alone), and the larger spirits conglomerates have been tirelessly spinning an "age statements no longer matter" / "age statements don't matter" / "age statements never mattered" narrative, which runs counter to the marketing message that has been pushed down the whisky consumer's throat for the past decade (or perhaps longer).

Is NAS whisky something new?  Absolutely not. There have always been NAS whiskies on the market, in both the blended and single malt markets, and some of them are quite good: Aberlour A'Bunadh, Talisker 57'N, Compass Box Spice Tree, Brenne Estate Cask, Laphroaig Quarter Cask*, and Te Bheag, to name just a few.  In fact, I can't say that I've ever had a bad NAS whisky (excepting perhaps the bottom shelf blends such as Dewar's White Label, Ballantine's Finest, and J&B Rare, etc., etc.).  So what then, is the issue?  Are the distilleries, given the boom in the global whisky market, running out of aged stock, as many have speculated?  Perhaps, but a lack of aged stock isn't what irks me.  For me the issue with NAS whiskies is one of disclosure.  If I'm being asked to pay for something, I'd like to know that I'm getting quality in return for my money, and while the industry is telling us that age doesn't matter - although it apparently did a few years ago, and still seems to matter a great deal when it comes to how older, "luxury" expressions are priced (see my earlier rant on cask strength whiskies here) - it isn't giving us any reason to believe that these new NAS whiskies represent value for money, other than a "Trust us. They're good. And you'll want to pay us more money for them."-type attitude.

For example, here in Ontario, Talisker 10 year-old just broke $80 a bottle, while Talisker Storm (NAS) is priced at just under $100, and across the river in Quebec, Taliser 34 year old single cask is just over $2,500.  Is Storm better than the standard 10 year-old expression?  Not necessarily (see also this review).  It may be different, but what justifies the extra cost?  Is it because there is older whisky in it?  Maybe, maybe not.  We don't know, and that is the point.  I have no objection to paying for quality whisky, but I want to be able to make an informed choice (not to say that age is actually an indicator of quality, as I've tried some older whiskies that were terrible).  It has been suggested by some that the producers should make an attempt to explain exactly what goes into each NAS expression, a step that Arran took with the Devil's Punchbowl, which Compass Box does with almost every one of its whiskies, and which Highland Park has done with Thor, Loki, and Freya.  While this information isn't necessarily on the label, it is readily available on the distiller's websites.

Perhaps another question we should be asking is what, exactly, is the problem with putting age statements, even young age statements, on whisky labels?  How does this restrict the industry?  MacDuff International doesn't hesitate to state that the younger end of its Islay Mist expressions is eight years old, and Te Bheag's older sibling, the Poit Dhubh unabashedy carries an eight year old age statement.  Similarly, Distell from South Africa is quite open about the fact that it's Three Ships Blended Whisky is a minimum of five years old (and it's reportedly quite good), and neither the English Whisky Co, nor the Belgian Owl are ashamed to admit that their entry level malts are only three years old.

So, what's the problem with the Scotch industry?  Why the push toward NAS and away from age statements, especially when Gibson's (you know, that Canadian whisky brand that's owned by William Grant & Sons, who also happen to own Glenfiddich and The Balvenie) newest ads are pushing age as an indicator of quality?


*NOTE: the Laphroaig Quarter Cask is actually cheaper than the Laphroaig 10 year-old...could it possibly be because the Quarter-Cask contains younger whisky?
The New Pope
It's been a while, and while normally I'd apologize for my unannounced hiatus, this time around we were on vacation (more on that later...). Now that we're back, I can get back on schedule...so, without further ado, I give you Barely Political's "X-Men Back to the Future Past":



I watched 'The Wolverine' during our vacation. It was terrible, or at least the last twenty minutes or so, when there were inexplicable plot twists that made absolutely no sense...it was far better than 'X-Men Origins: Wolverine', and 'X-Men: The Last Stand', but not by much...
The New Pope
Follow-up to my question from last week: "Have you ever wondered how your internet search queries would sound if you had to say them out loud to a real person?"  For your viewing enjoyment, I give you CollegeHumor's "If Google was a Guy - Part 2":
Whisky
In December 2012 - at Christmas, to be precise - my younger brother gave me a copy of Ian Buxton's (@101Whiskies on Twitter) 101 World Whiskies to Try Before You Die, which I quite dutifully thumbed through, made some notes about which of the whiskies listed I'd tried, which I currently had in inventory in the basement waiting to be opened, and what might be available at the LCBO...many of them are not, which may necessitate travel at some point.  I noted, however, that this was the second book in "series" (soon to be followed by a third book, "Legendary Whiskies", if I understand correctly), and I made up my mind to try and track down a copy of the original 101 Whiskies to Try Before You Die; it wasn't that difficult, actually, as it was readily available on Amazon (and apparently in Chapters, too), but I don't have the "Revised and Updated" version.  Note, these books should not be confused with the similarly titled 1001 Whiskies You Must Try Before You Die, by Dominic Roskrow (which I do not own, yet...).

As this is ostensibly a book review, I guess I have to tell you what I think of the books...so, here goes:

Pros:
  • the books themselves are quite durable and very portable (with removable sleeves);
  • Mr. Buxton doesn't pretend that he is providing a list of "the best whiskies", simply whiskies that he thinks people should try as part of their exploration of whisk(e)y, whether they happen to be "good", "bad", or somewhere in-between;
  • not limited to Scotch Single Malts (the second World Whiskies volume moreso than the first);
  • includes whiskies from taste profiles that Mr. Buxton doesn't personally prefer (he doesn't hide behind his biases);
  • limits recommendations to whiskies that are, in general, readily available (he can't accomodate for all markets, so I can't fault him if certain whiskies are not available at the LCBO);
  • doesn't provide numerical scores, only his impressions of the whiskies (for several reasons, which he explains in the Introduction of both books); and
  • provides space for your own notes at the bottom of each page;
  • the books can be quite humourous (at least I found it humourous, but, like whisky, whether you enjoy something or not is completely subjective), with Mr. Buxton taking aim at a number of issues within the industry (such as the SWA vs. Glen Breton).

Cons:
  • some of the references, comments, and humourous asides are very specific to the U.K. and may therefore be lost on North American readers (but given that the book was initially written with a U.K. / European focus, this is to be expected);
  • being Canadian, it would have been nice to see a few more Canadian whiskies mentioned (although, in fairness, some of the best Canadian whisky has been released subsequent to the publication of both books...);
  • a little heavy on the Diageo-owned malts in the first book (again, in fairness, when Diageo owns nearly half the distilleries in Scotland, this is hard to avoid, especailly when trying to recommend readily available whiskies...); and
  • I found the way the whiskies were arranged and organized a little confusing at first - alphabetically by whisky in the first book, regardless of country of origin, except for those distilleries that have 'The' in their title, and then alphabetically by country of origin, then whisky in the second book.  This took some getting used to especially with the change in format between the two books.

Would I recommend these books?  Absolutely.  Mr. Buxton has crafted some amusing anecdotes, provided some genuinely interesting information about the whiskies listed and the distilleries that produce them (but not too much, leaving the reader to do their own leg-work), and has left it to the reader / drinker to come to their own conclusions about the whiskies that he "recommends" (and I've quotation marks here because his recommendations aren't "go out and try this because it is good", they are "go out and try this because it is whisky and you'll learn something from it".  The descriptions provided are not gospel; rather, the book provides gentle guidance, allowing the reader to "choose their own adventure", but without having to shell out huge sums of money for highly limited expressions.  If there was a "gateway" book / series for whisky, then I've fallen down the rabbit hole...and while I'm not limiting my purchasing / sampling to the whiskies listed in either book, it is interesting to come home after an evening out and check whether what I consumed during the evening is in fact one of the whiskies "recommended".

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