Monday, December 21, 2009

Christmas Picks 2009

Christmas Whisky Single Malt
When neighbours' stoops, yards, and windows become aglow in white, red and green, when mangers appear in churches, local parks, and Catholic school playgrounds, when you can hear 15 versions of Silent Night in a single visit to Macy's, you know it's that time again.

Perhaps I will do 8 Drams of Hannukah next year but for now, welcome to the third installment of Dr. Whisky's Christmas Picks (2007, 2008).

In the past, this annual prescription had a consistent UK slant (as that was where I called home
), focusing on supermarket discounts, UK specialist retailers, etc. This year my recommendations will still use my most trusted UK retailers but that UK bias will be slightly diminished as I live in the USA now and spend less time in Sainsbury and Tesco. This year I have been joined in this tradition of whiskevangelism by new arrivals in the whikyverse who can flush out my Christmas casebook:

Jeff at The Scotch Hobbyist recommends stuff HERE.
Matt and Karen at Whisky For Everyone d
o a great job of recommending by flavour HERE.
Lucas and Chris at Edinburgh Whisky blog provide an "ultimate" guide HERE.
John Hansell solicited recommendations from What Does John Know?'s cadre of prolific communicators HERE.

Or if you happen to be reading this from your gold encrusted, diamond studded iPhone from a Virgin Galactic flight, THESE Christmas whiskies might be more up your alley.

My Christmas whisky recommendations have always included best offers and sales, so I will try to do that again.

These guys ship nearly everywhere in the world:

The Whisky Exchange
Ardmore Traditional £20 (from £27)
Benromach 10 £24.50 (from £28.50)
Balvenie 12 DoubleWood £25 (from £29.50)
Dalmore 15 £39.50(from £44)
Glenfarclas 25 £82 (from £87)

Royal Mile Whiskies
Ardmore Traditional £20 (from £26)
Glenfiddich 12 Caoran £25 (from £30)
Glenrothes Select Reserve £27 (from £31)
Tamdhu 18 £35 (from £40)
Glenmorangie Signet £100 (from £110)

Binny's (Chicago but ship nationwide)
Balvenie 17 Madeira Cask $110 (from $130)
Glenfiddich 15 Distillery Edition $45 (from $50)
Glenmorangie Astar $75 (from $80)
Imperial 1994, Gordon & Macphail $64 (from $70)
Sheep Dip 1990 $70 (not money-off deals, but you want this stuff)

and if you can, try to grab Compass Box's Orangerie. It is beautifully packaged and will appeal to those who love OR loathe whisky. Think Drambuie without the sticky.

Whisky Gift Packs

Glenfiddich 15yo ($40/$45USD) - You really can't beat the value on this one. Comes with a 50ml of 18yo and a Glencairn glass (value $12 minimum)

Glenfarclas 15yo (£44) - comes with minis of 'Farclas 21 and 25! Win win!


Scotch Malt Whisky Society Membership
Joining the Scotch Malt Whisky Society is worthwhile for any malt drinker and would make a wonderful gift that keeps on giving as newletters, bottling lists, and tasting event listings arrive by mail year round. In the UK, there are members rooms in Edinburgh [Leith Vaults (mentioned in a past Dr. Whisky post HERE) and Queen St.] and London (Greville St.) and they are absolutely stunning venues and great spots to entertain guests... or just yourself.

In the USA, the SMWSA is equally wonderful but operates slightly differently. You still reveive mail and have access to an exclusive list of soctiety bottlings, but it is much more a network of friends, bottles, and events that come to you! Twice a year, the SMWSA tours the country hitting larger cities with the best consumer whisky fairs in the country. They never oversell tickets so there is always room to move, good food to eat, and the Shayne family and friends do such a great job (and are such wonderful people), paying membership to be invited to their tasting events is worth every single penny


The Malt Whisky Yearbook 2010
The most recent edition of the annual must-have from Ingvar Ronde, a book full of enough basics to educate the new whisky enthusiast, enough info entertain the casual whisky drinker, and enough detail to satisfy the real whisky nerds among us. Adn once again, it is so up to date it is baffling. Perhaps in Sweden you can publish from the future? As usual, the book includes detailed bios on all operating (and many closed) distilleries, stats and commentary on the year that was, info on websites (including this one), and an absolutely brilliant section of articles with contributions from the usual suspects. Add to that increasingly in-depth coverage of new Scottish distilleries and single malt distilleries from all corners of this whisky-soaked earth.

This easy to transport and easy to read softcover is part magazine, part book, part distillery gui
de, part industry report and ALL amazing reading with brilliant new additions every year. In an time when we all believe the internet exists to answer our every inquiry, when a quick search on our phones can help us instantly settle arguments and win pub quizzes (cheaters!), one book renews our faith in the value of the printed page in the digital age. If I could carry Charlie Maclean around in my pocket then I probably would, but until then, The Malt Whisky Yearbook is the only crib a whisky enthusiast needs.

Whisky and Philosophy: A Small Batch of Spirited Ideas
Not for the casual whisky lover, this collection of essays engages those most deeply engaged with the water of life in all its forms. While that is not to say there might not be a little something for everyone, Whiskey for Everyone is about as geeky as a collection of essays about the epistemology of unicorns or the aesthetics of Klingon language, arts and culture. All that being said, this collection was right up my alley and almost every essay managed to be simultaneously fun, interesting, and academic without taking itself too seriously. In fact, the most obnoxiously earnest pieces in the whole collection were the historical or "what is whisk(e)y" sections rather than the articles entitled "The Phenomenology of Spirits: How Do Whiskeys win Prizes" or, "Women, Whiskey, and Libationa
ry Liberation." As if sticking our noses in glasses with friends and discussing the intricacies of recipe, flavour and history of each dram wasn't nerdy enough, here is a book that takes our boozing habits to the most white collar ivory tower of levels. And what fun it is.

99 Drams of Whiskey: The Accidental Hedonist's Quest for the Perfect Shot and The History of the Drink
A very different read than the above, but by no means less entertaining. Written by a celebrated food columnist and blogger (Accidental Hedonist) Kate Hopkins, 99 Drams is a whirlwind trip through the varied world of whisk(e)y (Irish, Canadian, American, and Scottish). The narrative follows a literal trip to varied countries and distilleries and Hopkins somehow manages to fill every vignette with background facts that never bog down the flow or sacrifice her voice from being anything but one of the excited explorer. Perhaps a bit long-winded at times (just look at the title), 99 Drams does manage to keep your attention as an often laugh out loud travelogue love story between a truly relatable narrator and a spirit that intoxicates protagonist, companion, and reader.

Hope this has been of use.
If you have any whisky questions, do not hesitate to contact Dr. Whisky for a prescription.

And hey, have a safe happy merry.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Malt Mission 2009 #373

Benromach 10 Tasting Notes Whisky Scotch Blog
Benromach 10yo
Speyside Single Malt Whisky

43% abv


When I was in Scotland in July I was in touch with Ian Chapman at Benromach and after a short volley of emails he very kindly invited me to see their distillery. Upon arrival, I was greeted by Ian, David Urquhart and distillery manager Keith Cruickshank.

It is a very unassuming place, and my hosts suited it perfectly. With just two distillers and only 200,000 litres produced per year, Benromach is the smallest Speyside distillery. After a walk around the distillery and warehouses at a relaxed-pace the lads sat me down for a dram, a coffee, and to willingly subject themselves to my interrogations.

They then presented me with the TOP SECRET box that a few whisky writers and bloggers have mentioned and explained elsewhere online. They were launching their first Benromach 10 year old, that is, the first ten year old whisky made entirely of whisky produced under their ownership and were investing in marketing the spirit in a clever and fun way. The whisky was matured for 9 years in a mixture of ex-bourbon (80%) and ex-sherry (20%) and then spent an additional year in sherry butts.

Gordon & Macphail (the Urquhart family) bought Benromach in 1998, a distillery that had been mothballed in 1993. It was reported recently that G&M's profits were halved last year over the previous. Nonethless, the company has increased investment at Benromach and now it is our responisbility to go out and support them. So do it.

To find out which bottle you want to go buy, see all past Benromach posts HERE.


Rich, weighty, and warming with peat. Wet, water-logged soil sweetened with toffee, vanilla, and honey.

Luscious body, wood, malt, grapes, tobacco, apricots, dried apples, smoke, butterscotch... A mouthful of flavours. Stewed carrots, oatmeal, figs, a tannic grip, pine, carob, asparagus... a very complex array of flavours beautifully balanced.


A complex mixture of the whisky flavour wheel: sweet, earthy ,oily, woody, with the estery notes you'd expect from Speyside and the phenolic ones you might not. The Urquharts will proudly remind you that you can find nothing like the Benromach distillery in Speyside and, if true, this dram provides the most appropriate representation of that fact. A truly peerless dram.

I have to say that as a 10 year old Speysider, I don't think this has any parallels and would destroy its category at international spirits awards events (if the judges can fight the urge to continually define Speysiders as sweet, light, and floral whiskies). They can be so much more, they have been so much more, and they ARE so much more.

One of the best new releases, hell, one of the best whiskies, I have had the pleasure of drinking this year. Other opinions HERE and HERE.

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Monday, December 07, 2009

Malt Mission 2009 #372

Bladnoch 8yo Tasting Notes
Bladnoch 8yo
Lowland Single Malt Whisky

46% abv


A first! Dr. Whisky has not yet featured a dram from Bladnoch disti
llery. Well after 370 Malt Missions, it's about fricking time. And appropriate premiere for the distillery as this release is the oldest edition made wholly of spirit produced by the current owners.

Bladnoch had a rocky century since being founded in 1817 by Thomas and John McLelland. Production ceased in 1905, operated intermittently between 1911 and 1937, dismantled in 1941, reopened in the 1950s, came under the ownership of InverHouse distillers in teh 1970s, sold to Arthur Bell & Sons in 1983 and eventually Guiness and United Distillers (the artist eventually known as Diageo) and was mothballed in 1993.

In 1994, Irish developer Raymond Armstrong purchased the distillery buildings (initally as holiday homes for his brother and their wives). Realising the importance of the distillery to the local economy and heritage, Armstrong became determined to get Bladnoch up and running as a distillery again. By December 2000, spirit once again flowed from Scotland's southernmost stills.

Bladnoch is one of the few distilleries that sells casks outside of the industry, ie. to you and your buddies. They are currently filling in to fresh ex-bourbon barrels using their highly peated make (18-22ppm). Click HERE for more info.

On his Bladnoch 8yo post, HERE, Ralfy seems to suggest that the "intrinsic quality" of the spirit is affected by marketing budgets of large companies. Because of this, he says, he favours smaller independent distillers. While I probably agree with his conclusion, I don't follow this logic. Nonethless, I do enjoy following his reviews wherever his rationale rollercoaster takes me. But to suggest that the guys making the liquid at Bladnoch are easier to connect with ("they view you as CUSTOMERS rather than CONSUMERS" paraphrase) than the staff at Glenmorangie or Glenfiddich or Glendullan is a sweeping generalisation and doesn't take into consideration that Bladnoch was operating as a tourist site/museum for years before it went back into production in 2000. That being said, his statement is based in a romantic idealism that is seemingly getting chipped away at more and more every day. The whisky world needs more of Ralfy's rants, Richard Paterson's shameless enthusiasm, and generally more respect rather than the laptop pundits' platitudes about the how the whisky industry is failing us this time, that time, and next time. But I suppose like a new girlfriend, the more we learn about her the more we take her for granted.

Don't know where that came from but there it is. Let's taste!


Fresh, new makey punch. Lemons, grapefruit, balanced with honey, vanilla, and orchard fruits.

Citric bitterness at first, new make barley sweetness, honey, slight oakiness, pear and apples.


Simple, clean, youthful and a good representation of a lowland style.

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Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Malt Mission 2009 #371

Mackmyra Special 03 Tasting Notes
Mackmyra Special : 03
"Small Casks, Big Flavour"

Swedish Single Malt Whisky
48.2% abv

Hi. Haven't seen you since mid-November. How are you? Where are you? I am good, thanks. I am working in south Florida and I am determined to get a few posts our about new/recent releases up starting with this little stunner from Sweden.

Matured in small, specially-made 30-liter casks of ex-bourbon, ex-sherry, and new Swedish oak, the Mackmyra Special:03 promises to be, as the press literature assures me, "what you have been looking for."

Oh, you flirty Swedes...

Speaking of, Swedish whisky lovers have a real love affair with their native single malt with only 10% of Mackmyra's production being exported. But there are plans to increase that number to 50%... perhaps as the Swedish honeymoon period ends?

So yes, they are getting closer to being available in the USA, American readers. Lars tells me "the plan is to have bottles in Manhattan stores before March 2010." First we take Manhattan, then we take... Boston?

For more Mackmyra info and to see all Mackmyra had on the mission, click HERE.


Enticing mix of tar, vanilla, caramel and a fine fudge shop on the nose. Freshly baked bread, butterscotch, and juicy raisins. Increasingly complex with each nosing. Wood chips, pine, cinnamon, a chalky element, and a minty aroma in there as well. More, I am sure of it.

White grapes, sultanas, soy beans, and blueberries, all before a dollop of cream and jam. Full body with a luscious mouth feel and a nice bitter grip. Icing sugar, pear, and a driving oak that is simultaneously sweet and spicy. Balanced sweetness and great development sip after sip.


Great texture, very pleasant array of balanced flavours, all entirely quaffable even at 48.2% abv. There is certainly a gristy new make element to it, but that by no means works to this whisky's detriment. As much as the whisky geeks of the world stick to the attitude of "oh, the earlier editions were the best," I think I can say with confidence that this is my favourite Mackmyra yet. Truly individual, never jeopardizing the values of traditional whisky making but successfully displaying innovation and a realised vision of a new frontier for single malt whiskies. Excellent stuff.

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