Learning about the process of whisky-making is one reason to take a distillery tour, but we all know that the real name of the game is the post-tour tasting. Any day spent sampling a range of whiskies is a special one in our books. Throw in the chance to try 25-, 30- and 40-year-old expressions, and you’ve got a once in a lifetime drinking experience.
Finding 'the best whisky in the world' on the Scottish Island of Orkney
Highland Park has officially been making whisky in Kirkwall since 1798. The distillery requires no introduction for rabid fans of single malt. F. Paul Pacult, known as one of America’s foremost experts on spirits, heralded the 25 year old expression as the “Best Spirit in the World” in 2013; it’s an honor he’s also bestowed on the 18 year old twice before. For more casual imbibers, noting Highland Park’s relationship as the sister distillery to The Macallan generates a good number of nods. Our managing Editor Ben Bowers took the journey to the northern Scottish islands of Orkney to learn first hand how some of the world’s finest single malt is made.
Two Experts, Three Cellars, and a Lot of Big Beers
In our own beer cellar, we’ve got a couple bottles of Brooklyn Black Ops, a Firestone Walker Parabola and a Perennial Abraxus — all great beers, but we could use a few additions. For some new suggestions, as well as some tips on beer aging, we contacted our friends at The Cannibal NYC, who run extensive cellaring collections, both personally and professionally.
The Quest for Affordable Pappy
At night, when bourbon connoisseurs go to bed, many dream of Pappy Van Winkle, a line of three exquisite bourbons (15, 20 and 23 years old, all of them colloquially referred to as “Pappy”) distilled and bottled by the Sazerac Company at the Buffalo Trace Distillery. Much of Pappy’s legend comes from its high demand: when it’s released, liquor stores dust off month-long waiting lists to decide who gets a bottle.
At the end of last year, Bourbonr Blog made headlines in the liquor community by posting a recipe for “Poor Man’s Pappy,” a mix of two mid-range W.L. Weller whiskies that they claim, while not being able to emulate Pappy Van Winkle completely, “comes close.” But does the recipe hold up? With $50, a postal scale and a mason jar, we decided to find out for ourselves.
We Test 10 Huge Imperial IPAs
Over the past 20 years, the way to make a double IPA (otherwise known as DIPA or “imperial IPA”) hasn’t really changed: roughly double the ingredients that would go into a normal IPA and you get a double IPA. As the weather changes, more and more stores begin cellaring their heavy winter stouts and replacing them with these hop- and malt-forward beasts. For those looking to expand their palates, doubles offer the citrus hop and bready malt flavors of regular IPAs, but amplified, and with plenty more complexity to spare. We tasted ten of our favorites.
Cream of the Cropless
A fair amount of people in this country drink gluten-free by necessity, and that’s not even counting those who do it by choice. But when you tinker with malt, one of the four main ingredients in beer and the one that activates the autoimmune response in those with celiac disease, does the resulting product still taste like beer? And if so, how does it hold up against more traditional counterparts? To find out, we put ten gluten-free beers to a blind taste test.
Because their flavor profiles range from hearty to downright bacon-filled savoriness, Rauchbiers — especially smoked porters — are the perfect winter beer, sipped alone or paired with charred meats. Crack one of these five in your living room in front of a roaring fire; if you don’t have a fireplace, it won’t be hard to imagine one.
Worth another look
Wiser’s is one of the oldest brands in the Great White North, having started life in 1857. While its ownership has changed hands several times, its reputation for quality among the locals has typically remained strong. Wiser’s 18, also sold as Wiser’s Very Old, is a premium offering worth a try for any drinker interested in tasting some of the best Canada has to offer at a reasonable price.
An American Road Trip for a Great American Beer
From the Archives: On November 9th, we asked K.B. Gould and Henry Phillips to make a fall pilgrimage to the Alchemist Brewery in Waterbury, Vermont. The closing of the brewery’s retail operation loomed just days away. The two accepted their assignment: visit the home of Heady Topper, one of the highest-rated beers in the world, to pay homage to its brewmasters, enjoy a taste and a tour and scrounge a rare case. This is the chronicle of their trip.
60, 61, 75, 90, 120, Floor
Though Dogfish Head currently produces 33 beers, 65 percent of their sales come from their five “continuously hopped” IPAs — the 60, Sixty-One, 75, 90 and 120 Minute. We tasted them all, in numerical order, and learned much more about Dogfish Head, and craft beer in general, than we expected.
A Dram of Tam
Founded in 1923, Cutty Sark originally made a name for itself by offering an accessibly priced blended cocktail Scotch. By the 1960s, Cutty Sark produced the best-selling Scotch whisky in the United States; then it disappeared. In 2010, The Edrington Group bought Cutty with hopes of reviving the dying brand. The brand’s new line now consists of six whiskies, three of which are available in the United States.
Limited Release, 13-Year-Old Straight Rye Whiskey
Drinking alone gets a bad rap, but there’s having a drink alone and then there’s really drinking alone, getting after it, sitting on a creaky chair the garage with a case of Keystone and no real plans to speak of except to power through it. Be careful with that. But in the first scenario a man reaches beneath his desk around 6:00 p.m., puts The Best of Dean Martin on the phonograph, starts nodding to the music, and pours himself a measure of something good and strong. During a recent six o’clock hour we opened up a bottle of Lock Stock & Barrel ($118) straight rye whiskey — and it’s just about as smooth and rich as Dino’s voice.
A look inside New York's first ever Bourbon
On a brisk Manhattan morning, we met with Ralph Erenzo of Hudson Whiskey for a taste test. He introduced us to Hudson Baby Bourbon Whiskey ($45), the first bourbon whiskey ever made in New York, and the first legal pot-distilled whiskey made in New York since prohibition. Made from 100 percent New York corn and aged in American Oak barrels, it proves that not all good bourbon needs to come from the South.
The One Percent
Evan Yurman, Chief Design Director of his father’s jewelry empire, and Nicolas Palazzi, owner of PM Spirits, recently combined their passions to form L’Artisan. The idea behind the brand is to source pure Cognacs from French farmers, many of whom have had it in their cellars since their fathers or grandfathers distilled it decades ago. They just released their first offering, L’Artisan No. 50, and we were lucky enough to have a taste.
No Reason to be Bitter
The House of Angostura makes the best-known bitters in the world. In fact, with all the press given to Angostura’s bitters, it’s easy to overlook their line of rums, which they’ve been making for over 100 years. We had a chance to try the three rums in Angostura’s premium line — rums for sipping.
An American Road Trip for a Great American Beer
On November 9th, we asked K.B. Gould and Henry Phillips to make a fall pilgrimage to the Alchemist Brewery in Waterbury, Vermont. The closing of the brewery’s retail operation loomed just days away. Joined by driver Dave Watson, the two accepted their assignment: visit the home of Heady Topper, one of the highest-rated beers in the world, to pay homage to its brewmasters, enjoy a taste and a tour and scrounge a rare case. This is the chronicle of their trip.
The everyman's Champagne
In that casual game of preference, Would You Rather, we’re often faced with important decisions, like raising a child at 15 or never having kids, or losing a pinky toe or never eating steak again. During one of these games, when asked about giving up beer for eternity, we came to a realization: while undesirable, the parting of ways wouldn’t be the end of the world — and we could do it without becoming a hard-hitting liquor drinker. How? With a lifetime supply of sparkling wine, and specifically, a style of sparkling wine called pétillant naturel. One glass of the 2012 Lily’s Cuvée Chardonnay ($28) from California’s Donkey & Goat winery and you’ll know what we’re talking about.
Peat With A Side of Whisky
We happily endorse the lobbyists from the Friends of Laphroaig group who convinced the distillery to bring back their limited edition Laphroaig Triple Wood. In case you didn’t guess from the name, the Triple Wood matures in three different types of cask: American Oak, ex-Bourbon Barrels, 19th Century style Quarter Casks, and European Oak Butts, previously used to hold Oloroso Sherry. All three casks play different but equally important roles in the whisky’s development, and the final result is an incredible flavorful whisky with notes of oak, smoke and peat on the nose, a peaty, charred taste and well-known Islay brine after the finish.
Big beer for Bigfoot
Great beers — really great ones — have of late fallen into two categories. Big IPAs make their impression with complex hop mixes, while big stouts levy another piece of the puzzle, malt, for a savory warmth of chocolate, toffee, vanilla, smokiness and even bourbon notes. Great Divide Oatmeal Yeti Imperial Stout ($10) comes from a family of “big” beers, but the simple inclusion of rolled oats and some raisins (among a few other tweaks) in its brewing process makes this beast a different breed. This Yeti went to Yale.
Not for pancakes
Fall is upon us, and there’s no better way to usher in the cooler months than with a spirit seemingly created in autumn’s honor: Knob Creek Smoked Maple Bourbon ($31). To be clear, we’ve been completely satisfied with the standard Knob Creek 9 Year Straight Bourbon, but expanding whiskey horizons can’t be a bad thing. Still, adding flavoring to a solid whiskey can be a risky endeavor. Did Knob Creek gamble and lose by producing something tantamount to being whacked in the face by a maple syrup bottle, or did they win by creating a real bourbon that hums its own tune?
Brown Suede Shoes
Normally, we like our fruity beers fruity and our dark beers dark, period. But we managed to get our hands on a bottle of 10 Barrel/Bluejacket/Stone Suede Imperial Porter — which comes in a sexy brown and purple bomber — before the official October 7th release, and were pleasantly surprised at the result.
Oldies but Goodies
There’s something to be said for a little maturation. Age yields refinement, which more than compensates for lost youth. Poetic, eh? We think so. Anyways, one only has to look at Bowmore’s 12 Years Old Single Malt Scotch Whisky and their 15 Years Old Single Malt Darkest to see the effects of age in action. We tasted both side by side.
A new expression from Johnnie Walker
Johnnie Walker presents a good lesson in the way the world really works: the rich drink Blue, the working man drinks Red, and in between there are rungs on the ladder of purchasing power. If you can make it to Double Black, you might just be able to claw your way into a bottle of Johnnie Walker Platinum Label ($110), now available in the United States.
It's the end of the world (as we know it)
Seventeen years is a long time to experiment. That’s evident in Stone’s 17th Anniversary Götterdämmerung IPA, a beer with a name that means “the twilight of the gods” (in this case, meaning “the end of the world”) and shares its title with a Wagner opera. This nomenclature lends an impression of serious clout, and in many ways it’s warranted.
Small batch, big pleasures
Asking us to choose between whiskey (bourbon) and whisky (single malt scotch) is like posing the question, “Would you prefer to drive a C2 Corvette Split Window or a Jaguar E-Type?” The answer is always “both and yes.” But if you’re a single malt devotee, you’d do right to expand your taste horizons, and the best way to experiment with bourbon is to go small batch — the complexities are pleasing, and you’ll find yourself a worshiper in many different temples. There’s a lot to love. Here are tasting notes on our five favorite small batch bourbons worth warming your palate.
A Capitol Brew
DC has its downsides. It’s not a state. Traffic is depression inducing. The city is built on a swamp and has the clime to match. The poor folks who reside there have to deal with the assholes who run our country. But add to the list of good things (it really is a long list, despite our recent pessimism) DC Brau, the home-town brewery for our nation’s capitol, which besides this one, has surprisingly little beer to offer. We recently got a chance to try all three of their flagship brews.
There’s nothing like a bottle beach plum liqueur to conjure even totally made up memories of summering on the Atlantic coast. The only such spirit with a commercial release? Greenhook Ginsmiths Beach Plum Gin Liqueur ($50), made in Brooklyn, NY, by the young distillery whose American Dry Gin we’ve also sampled.
Same country, new port
Pike Creek Whiskey was available stateside in the 90s. Slow sales soon put the importation experiment to an end, despite a budding cult following. Now, Pernod Ricard is reintroducing the spirit back to select American markets. Unlike typical Canadian whiskies, Pike Creek is finished in Port barrels, and left at the mercy of the elements in unheated warehouses. But is it really a different? Read our full review to find out.
Full body, full wallet(?)
You know the pinnacle of wine-making remains in France. Well, so do all those newly minted Chinese millionaires, and they’ve driven the price of Old World red wines sky high. This is especially true for top-end Bordeaux, which carry the highest cache among French wines. Those of us without a state-sponsored fortune, trust fund, or impending Wall Street bonus, however, have to look elsewhere for quality wine. Here are two splurge-caliber choices, made in the same style, of the same grape — merlot — though one comes without the inflation of appellation.