My Fabulous Whisky Life

img_5461I live by the motto that what you put out in the world comes back to you, usually in greater measure than what you give. When I first learned of this “secret” to living a happy life, I wasn’t sure I believed it, but figured I could try it and see what happens. At this point in my life, I have had so much come back to me in so many ways, I cannot deny that it is so. Now you may be thinking, “Hey, I logged on to read Catherine’s whisky blog, not her metaphysical philosophy blog!” I am just so full of gratitude for the many blessings that I have received since I began my fabulous whisky life that I had to start there to lead into one of the most amazing and wonderful experiences I have had so far related to whisky! It was one where I gave a lot, but what I got in return was so overwhelming that I still cannot take it all in!img_5475

Regular readers will recall that last year I had the incredible blessing of hosting a whisky dinner at my house the night before Whiskies of the World in Austin. I have become friends with Dan Crowell, a global ambassador for Glenmorangie and Ardbeg. He came to my house and I invited some friends and we had such a lovely time! For more details, please read that post! I asked Dan if he wanted to come back this year and do it again on the Wednesday before WOW, September 28th. Not only did he want to, but he wanted to bring some friends, too! In addition to Dan, Brendan McCarron, assistant to Dr. Bill Lumsden and Head of Maturing Stocks for Glenmorangie and Ardbeg, and Marc Young, local Regional ambassador for Glenmorangie and Ardbeg, all came to my house to be part of this whisky dinner! Dan wanted to bring some rarer whiskies in addition to the core range and some of the friends whom I invited also wanted to bring some whiskies from their collections, so when it was all said and done, we were looking at 18 whiskies for the evening!

I decided this called for a pairing dinner. Now let me back up here and spread some gratitude because there was no way I could do this all by myself. First, and always foremost, I must thank my husband, Steve Alexander. He is an endless supporter of me and it is through his continued patience, love, ideas, time, work and money that I get to live the life I live! Thank-you my dearest, darling!  I also am blessed with the help and support of so many good friends. I will shout out to them at different points in this story, but want to start by mentioning Joanne Pall, Robin Heart Sheppard and my best friend in the world, Lisa Abbott. These women, along with Steve, helped me shape the dinner into what it became with ideas, suggestions, advice and opinions. Dan Crowell also helped me here as well. The final plan was to have an hour of mingling as people arrived, creating 5 stations for sampling the core range Glenmorangies and Ardbeg 10. We came up with appetizers to pair and the idea that people would float around as everyone arrived, trying a little whisky with some food designed to accentuate it. We officially kicked off at 6:30! I made a salmon recipe, cuting up the fish into bite size pieces and paired this with the Glenmorangie Original. For the Lasanta, Steve made bacon wrapped, feta cheese stuffed dates, and Joanne made delicious mushroom tartlets in filo dough to pair with the Nectar d’Or. For the Quinta Ruban we had a selection of olives, nuts and dried fruits. The Ardbeg 10 was paired with blue cheese, green apples and Baba Ganoush on crackers. Lisa brought the dip! The last guests, braving the awful Austin traffic, made it by 7:30 when we were transitioning to the sit down portion of the dinner.

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Before I tell you about that, I want to tell you a little bit more about the set up. I invited quite a few people. I have made so many friends over the last few years in the Scotch community in Austin and I really wanted to squeeze in as many people as possible. In the end, we had a total of 24 of us at the dinner, though it was going to be 28 when I stated setting the tables and slowly trickled down by the start of the dinner. Steve and I moved a bunch of furniture around and set up two long tables, basically 2, 8 foot tables end to end and then 2 more to make to very long tables. I had hoped to have one big table but in the end two tables proved a better choice, though some folks had to sit with their backs to each other. Joanne came early with her friend Anthony to help with cooking and set up, and I also received the help of my friend Donna with some food preparations and my friend Melissa volunteered to come and be the kitchen help for the night! Steve came home from work early and then Dan, Marc and Brendan all arrived around 5ish. Some of the guests came early, to help and to get ahead of the traffic. So I had a house full of helpers making this all possible.

img_5501At about 7:30 we all sat down and the whisky pairing and education began in earnest! Brendan stood up before each course and gave us some information about each whisky. I made the executive decision to alternate between Glenmorangies and Ardbegs because I felt it would be better to have the variety and I also think if you have too many peated whiskies together you get a little burned out on peat. This was definitely commented on beforehand as the classic wisdom is that you cannot taste other whisky once you have peat, but I have not found this to be the case.  Lisa was very helpful in working all of this out, and came over the Sunday before the dinner to help me work it all out! Different people contributed different things to the dinner. My friend Aidan gave me $100 to spend and I bought raw oysters with that! Pete and Ato also each gave me $100 and that covered the sushi bill! Other folks brought BBQ Brisket, cheesecakes, chocolates, strawberries, cheese and jam, and Baba Ganoush. Still others contributed money after the dinner, too!

We started off with Glenmorangie 18 and mushroom soup. We served small pours, maybe 1/4 oz., and small amounts of food as much as possible. Next up was Ardbeg Uigeadail paired with Raw Oysters and also California rolls. Everyone could have three oysters, but many didn’t want the raw oysters so we served sushi with this course as well. (Because some didn’t want oysters, there were enough for everyone to have as many as they wanted!) Dan brought droppers for us to drop the Scotch into our oysters and I am now in love with this! I had never tried it before this night and if you like oysters and peaty Scotch, please give it a try! It is phenomenal! Many people were up and helping clear and serve all the different dishes all night. As you can imagine, it was a busy, but glorious! Melissa plated up some things in the kitchen and some things, like the oysters and sushi, got passed around and eaten on plates we had in front of us. We each had four whisky glasses, two for Glenmorangie (which everyone got to take home) and two for Ardbeg, so we could have a constant flow of whisky without having to “slam” any. There were pour bowls, too. (A sad reality of this kind of event!) The next course was brisket from la Barbecue which Julian brought, accompanied by mashed potatoes made by Robin. Just a wee bit of both and we paired it with Glenmorangie Finealta, brought by Donovan. Finealta is a lightly peated malt from Glenmorangie and was well met with a BBQ brisket! We were blessed to have two versions of Dark Cove provided for us by Dan and Marc, the regular release and the distillers edition. This was paired with Tuna Rolls. There was a Glenmorangie which was going to come next, but it didn’t make it (no worries we had plenty), so next we had another Ardbeg (my favorite Ardbeg), Corryvreckan. This I paired with a curried shrimp dish I made called Ajwan shrimp. Ajwan is a type of seed from India that is roasted in a pan and ground up, and then gives its distinctive flavor to this dish, a popular meal at my house. It was so good with that Scotch! I had the cool idea of plating this in martini glasses, so the presentation was pretty neat, too, if I may say so myself! Robin made some French style meatballs, making a delicious Gorgonzola sauce that was poured over two or three small meatballs and three small spears of asparagus. If you think this was the best dish of the evening you might be right! We paired it with probably one of the best Scotches of the evening, the incomparable Companta! This was utterly divine! Donovan also brought us an Ardbeg Alligator which we enjoyed with some yellow tail rolls, and also cheddar cheese with fig jam brought by John. My Duthac was up next, paired with a simply amazing salad my friend Donna made. I stole the idea for the salad from a whisky dinner I had attended at Freedmen’s. It was arugula, feta cheese, watermelon, and pecans. Donna concocted a dressing made of olive and hazelnut oils, lime juice, basil, salt, pepper and stevia. All of these flavors were just prefect together, and the Duthac was a delight. The final dish of the main dinner was a recipe that Dan had sent me from Glenmorangie, smoked salmon deviled eggs paired with an Ardbog brought by John, and also Tierney. Donna and Joanne made the eggs earlier in the day. (Here is Melissa hard at work!)

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Your stomach may be aching at this point, but it was not really too bad as long as you stuck to the very small portions we made for everyone!img_5495 Brendan had been regaling us with information all night and the flow of food and dishes was just superb! Austin had brought some cheesecake, Tierney had brought strawberries and chocolates and Jason’s wife had baked us a puff pastry with caramelized pears! We dished up the desserts and passed around the final three Scotches: The Signet, Milsean and Astar, all from Glenmorangie. People started leaving as it was getting on to about 11 or so. Two guests, Bentley and Kyle, had brought some special Glenmorangie and Ardbeg’s from their collections as a surprise and we all got to try a little of these. One was a 15 year old Glenmorangie and the other was a 2008 special release Arbdbeg called Airigh Nam Beist. This evening was just beyond my wildest dreams in terms of how good it would be and how perfectly wonderful all the food went with everything! Lisa and I had not tried many of the whiskies, or the food for that matter, and we had to just give it our best guess as to what would go well together. I did read as much as I could ahead of time online and from my library of whisky magazines to see what foods people had paired with these whiskies in the past. That is where I found out about Baba Ganoush with Ardbeg (stunningly delicious) and sushi with Scotch. Brendan is funny, knowledgeable, personable, accessible and has a killer Glaswegian accent! He generously shared so much with all of us, and really brought to life each whisky with anecdotes and history. My only complaint, and it is really just an observation, is that we didn’t get enough Dan Crowell! He is a beloved speaker, here. He is full of life and in constant motion. He is irreverent and funny, but knows so much about whisky it is astonishing! He really let Brendan be the main attraction and I would have loved to hear more from Dan, too!

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img_5492The next few days were filled with Whiskies of the World for me, and I will tell you about that in my next blog post. As you can imagine, this dinner generated a huge amount of dirty glasses and dishes. My God of a husband ran many loads of dishes over the next few days, and Lisa came over to help with some of the clean up as well. When I got home from Houston on Sunday, there were still more glasses to wash and stacks of dishes to put away! But it was all worth it! This is just a small glimpse into my fabulous whisky life!

 

 

 

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My Soundtrack for Drinking Scotch

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I truly love Celtic music, though I don’t know much about it. We have a wonderful radio show here in Austin called “Across the Pond with Ed Miller” every Sunday night from 6-8pm. It is on Sunradio and can be heard on the radio at various stations including 100.1FM in some parts of Austin, but I have to listen online at sunradio.com to be able to pick it up here in Georgetown. My husband bought me a bluetooth speaker for my birthday so I can hear it all over the house! Bliss! Through Ed, I have learned about some fantastically great musicians and have really grown to love them. I am sure there are many great radio shows to hear via the internet, and I would love to learn about more! One other I really like, and try to listen to via the archives, is called “The Thistle and Shamrock” and is hosted by Fiona Ritchie. Check out the website: thistleradio.com.

I already loved Scotland long before I visited there, and was often inclined to listen to Celtic music, including Bagpipes. If you didn’t know, we have a Bagpipe band in Austin called The Silver Thistle. You can check out their website: silverthistle.org. Georgetown even has a pipe and drum band made up of some of the fire department! They have a poor online presence, but can be found at gfdpipesanddrums.com. We have a Celtic Fest here in Austin, often the first weekend in November, at which there are many opportunities to hear Celtic music and to participate in other Celtic themed activities. I went in 2015 with my friends Lisa, Donovan and Ofelia and we had a great time. A festival I have not attended is the Salado Scottish Festival! This happens in November as well, and since it’s just up the road from me, I’m looking forward to attending some day! In May, there is Texas Scottish Festival in Arlington and I hope to go there one of these years! There are probably many more annual events, but these are the ones with which I am familiar. In the Spring, Ed Miller, The Silver Thistle, and other bands play at Opal Divine’s on March 17th most years and that gives us a mini Celtic Music fest on St. Patrick’s Day!

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When I was in Scotland and I tried Single Malt for the first time, I was inclined to like it because I loved Scotland and so many things about it. I just didn’t know I would love it so much! As mentioned in other blog posts, part of my love of Scotch is connected to my love of Scotland and that love is woven in and around the music I love from there as well! Two Scottish musicians I especially love are Robin Laing and Jim Malcolm. Both I first heard on Ed Miller’s radio show “Across the Water” as it was called when it used to be on KUT and then KUTX before they decided Celtic music wasn’t part of the Austin Music experience. Jim Malcom travels to the US frequently and I have had the pleasure of attending a house concert in Austin the last 2 years to see him live! He is funny and talented and I just loved both shows! I held my first Burns Dinner in January 2015 and Jim was a big help in the form of a video I bought at the first house concert (in 2014) called “Bard Hair Day” and a CD called “Acquaintance”. I have been slowly adding to my Robert Burns Library, including Ed Miller’s “Lyrics of Gold” and more Jim Malcolm CD’s purchased at the 2015 house concert. He wrote a song about Robert Burns called “An Hour in the Gloaming”. I have listened to that song just about every week since I bought the CD on November 5th, 2015! Just beautiful! Jim doesn’t have too many songs about Whisky recorded, but he does have one really good one called “Scotch Whisky and German Beer.” Very humorous. That one can be found on his CD of satirical songs called “Disaster for Scotland”.

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The interesting thing about Jim not having too many whisky songs is that he and Robin Laing worked together early in their careers on a show called “Whisky, Women and Song”. Robin is known as the Whisky Bard of Scotland and has recorded 4 CD’s devoted to whisky, with a 5th out any day now! He is also a writer and has three books about whisky, The Whisky Muse, The Whisky River and The Whisky Legends of Islay. He writes articles for Whisky Magazine and has served on the tasting panel for the Scotch Malt Whisky Society. He has many songs just about Bruichladdich and in fact has his own special bottling of Bruichladdich that you can only buy from him! When Simon Coughlin, the CEO of Bruichladdich, was at Spec’s on Brodie Lane in Oct of 2014 I asked him about Robin. He was happy to tell me that he was his friend and often stayed with him when he came to town! I just wish Robin would come to the US, and he has mentioned he might with this new CD! I have posted reviews of all of Robins 8 CD’s on Amazon if you are interested in more detailed information about them. I like Robin Laing for more than just because he is writes songs about Whisky. He is truly one of my favorite artists of all time. He writes such amazing songs that are interesting and detailed and varied. He sings many traditional Scottish songs, as well. He has a gorgeous voice and just really brings out so much emotion in his music. I am just blown away at how talented he is.

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I once asked Robin if he would consider posting something on youtube. We were all rewarded when he posted a new song, Magic Ship of Dreams, from his new CD, Whisky and Death, on World Whisky Day this year! He also joined Twitter that day, though doesn’t tweet too much, yet! @TheWhiskyBard 

When I first started tweeting, I didn’t always know what to tweet out, so I used whisky quotes for the longest time, and I relied on Robin Laing heavily! (I copied all the quotes on a separate page here on the website.) Having to squeeze these into 140 characters was daunting and I had to do a double tweet sometimes. I eventually had much more to tweet about as I made friends with the #whiskyfabric on Twitter and the Austin Scotch Lovers got busier and had many more events to promote. So I stopped mentioning Robin on Twitter so much, but I feel like not nearly enough people know about Robin Laing and I decided to write this post to get him, and Jim Malcolm and Ed Miller’s radio show, out to more people in the world! If you like what you hear, please help me spread the word!

I want to finish this post with some commentary and quotes from some of the very best whisky songs from Robin. You can hear samples of these songs on Amazon, and I am concluding the post with the entire song and lyrics to “World of Whisky”, definitely one of his masterpieces. I linked his website above, and here again, where you can get the lyrics to all the songs on the two newest CDs. His book, The Whisky Muse, has the lyrics and some music to most of the traditional songs he sings, especially from The Angels’ Share and Water of Life. I love all of his music, not just the whisky songs, but as this is a Scotch Lovers blog, I am sticking to talking about the whisky songs here!

One thing that Robin has helped me with is how to pronounce the difficult Scots Gaelic names of many of the distilleries. One name people rarely get right is Glenmorangie. I often mention the following lines from “Our Glens” which was not written by Robin, but by W.D. Hardie. He sings it on The Angels’ Share. Just remember it rhymes with orangie and you get it right every time.

“Glenturret, Glen Scotia and last week Glen Fyne
Was rare at communion when we ran out of wine
Glenglassoch, Glen Lossie, Glendullan Glenmorangie
I prefer them to Cointreau which I find too orangie.”
-W.D.Hardie “Our Glens”

And of course I can’t skip mentioning “The Speyside Whisky Song”, from One for the Road, which lists all sorts of distilleries in Speyside, but has the best lyric at the last line (try to sing it after a few drams):

“From Glenrothes to Gentauchers, from Glenfarclas to Glenspey
From Glen Moray to Glen Elgin and Glen Grant
From Glenfiddich to Glenlossie, Glenlivet to Glen Keith
I’m a whisky-sippin’ Speyside sycophant!”
-R.Laing “Speyside Whisky Song”

Humor plays a large part in many of the songs. The title track of Whisky for Breakfast is just one great verse after another. Here is a sample:

“Some folks love their cornflakes
Others porridge oats
Shredded wheat or sugar puffs
Whatever floats your boat
If I have to eat grass for breakfast
This is the kind I choose
A little bit of barley
Converted into booze”
-R. Laing “Whisky for Breakfast”

And from Whisky for Breakfast, “Special Sippin’ Whisky”:

“Keep all the cheap stuff for the rest of the pack
They might be happy with Johnnie or Jack
They’re gluggin’ it, sluggin’ it, knocking it back
We’ll stick to special sippin’ whisky

Keep all the cheap stuff for the unwanted guests
Or rub it on your chest if you’ve got pests in your vest
For cooking or cocktails it might just pass the test
Or give it to the school tombola”
-R. Laing

Though I could go on and on with this joyous fun, I will end with a little bit of his love of Bruichladdich. He has a whole mini CD of all his Bruichladdich songs, including a wonderful song called, “The Black Art”. But it is his song “The Bruichladdich Dram”, (both on Whisky for Breakfast) that I want to quote here, referencing Jim McEwan and his Black Art Scotch:

“Now Jim has made a whisky he calls it his Black Art
It’s mystical, it’s magical – bewitches the heart
Soon every lass on Islay will have to buy a pram
But don’t blame Islay cheese – blame the Bruichladdich dram”
-R. Laing “Bruichladdich Dram”

There is a true story that Robin tells in Whisky Legends of Islay, but I have also heard at a Bruichladdich tasting, that after 9/11 the US Defense Threat Destruction Agency spied on Bruichladdich making whisky! You will have to hear the whole story another time. Because of this event, Robin wrote a song called, “We Can’t Let Al Qaeda Get Their Hands On This”. Here is a great verse from that:

“The scary thing is it’s made from a kind of grass
With biological action to give it critical mass
And if they get it up to 90 ABV
It’s going to be an awesome WMD”
-R. Laing “We Can’t Let Al Qaeda Get Their Hands On This”

Thanks for sticking with me through this whole fun blog post, much more about music than Whisky, but at least about music that is about whisky! (None of these images are mine, I grabbed all of them from the internet.)

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World of Whisky (Robin Laing)

From the Lowlands to the Highlands
From Japan to the Hebrides
From Orkney to Kentucky
And the far Antipodes
From Tennessee to Canada
And Ireland’s emerald land
There’s a world of whisky out there
So let’s have another dram
There’s a world of whisky out there
So let’s have another dram

Here’s to the corn and the maize
The barley and the rye
Here’s to the good old angels
Floating up on high
Here’s to the worms and the washbacks
The still house and the vats
And the wood so tight – a lovely sight
Hoggies and big butts

It’s better for you than red wine
Less calories than beer
You can drink it any time of day
And any time of year
You can pour it on your porridge
Dab it behind your ears
In the hallowed halls of alcohol
Whisky has no peer

From the Lowlands to the Highlands
From Japan to the Hebrides
From Orkney to Kentucky
And the far Antipodes
From Tennessee to Canada
And Ireland’s emerald land
There’s a world of whisky out there
So let’s have another dram
There’s a world of whisky out there
So let’s have another dram

Here’s to the guys who drink the stuff
A little or a lot
And here’s to the guys who sell it to ’em
What a difficult job they’ve got
Here’s to the whisky blenders
May their noses be insured
But the guys who make it – you can take it
The keys to heaven are yours

Whisky for the heart
Whisky for the soul
Whisky stands for friendship
And stories to be told
And all around the world
Whenever whisky’s poured
The hatred of the past will end at last
And peace can be restored

From the Lowlands to the Highlands
From Japan to the Hebrides
From Orkney to Kentucky
And the far Antipodes
From Tennessee to Canada
And Ireland’s emerald land
There’s a world of whisky out there
So let’s have another dram
There’s a world of whisky out there
So let’s have another dram
There’s a world of whisky out there
So let’s have another dram
There’s a world of whisky out there
So let’s have another dram

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Whisky, Time and the Internet

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I LOVE getting to spend so much of my time immersed in the whisky world. There is a term I was introduced to on Twitter and absolutely love, which is #whiskyfabric. It embodies in its simplest form the group of people who interact with each other on Twitter, Instagram and the rest of the internet around the topic of love of whisky. It becomes more meaningful upon further reflection. A piece of fabric is either woven or knitted with threads. Each thread is small and may be easy to miss on its own. But each thread together makes something beautiful and useful and so as the metaphor for our community, it is really brilliant. The #whiskyfabric is not only the writers of tweets and other internet content, but also the receivers of that content, the distillers, the ambassadors, the photographers and all the lovers of whisky who participate together on the internet around our love of whisky. We are truly unlimited beings and every day someone expresses their love of whisky in their own unique way. Many of us express this love of whisky by posting tweets, blogs, and photographs, and then interacting with our fellow #whiskyfabric mates around these posts. Our fabric grows rich and varied and intricate.

As an observer of life and deep thinker, I have noticed that there is an almost unlimited amount of material to read, understand, and interact with in the #whiskyfabric. Some days I resolve that I will read everyone’s blog posts and comment on them all! Ok, well that is too much to commit to, but I will certainly read all the tweets. No wait, that is still too much. I mean, with two whisky magazines coming at me in regular succession, blogs arriving in my email everyday and tweets and instagrams to the tune of 100’s a day, how can I possibly keep up. “Wait a minute, aren’t you supposed to be contributing, as well? Where is your blog post, Catherine? Well, where is it? What do you mean you went on a family vacation for 18 days that set your life back a bit when you came home? What do you mean you have a Scotch Lovers group to run, plus a life outside of Whisky? Wait, you started posting on Instagram, are you nuts? You want to start teaching people about whisky? Don’t you have enough to do already? Why do you want to write a blog connected to your whisky experience anyways? Aren’t there enough whisky blogs already?” These are all valid comments and observations, inner self.

I have thought deeply about this and have remembered that I started this blog because I enjoyed doing it and that has to be what I come back to. I want to break out of my procrastination of posting on my blog and break a sort of thrall not posting had put me in. I often get frozen by not wanting to do something unless I can do it perfectly. Then that combines with judgement about all the ways I have been doing it wrong and how can I possibly go back and fix all those wrong things. The antidote to all of this is to write a blog entry, post a tweet or instagram because it brings me joy. Though I hope it will also bring joy to you, dear readers, I will succeed only if I am true to my own joy first!

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Here is a brief summary of the last 8 months of my whisky life since I went to Whiskies of the World and wrote my last blog post.

The end of 2015 saw some whisky related events with the Austin Scotch lovers, but as is usual for this time of year, people focus on family and the Holidays. As I was able to take an amazing cruise through the Panama Canal for my Christmas vacation in 2015, I was definitely thinking of other things besides whisky. But in October we did have an outstanding Dalmore and Jura event with ambassador Joshua Scott. October also saw our second Whiskey Round Up at 10 Oak Bourbon House and December brought the annual Scotch Whisky Fest at Opal Divine’s.

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I was hoping to find some treasures of travel retail at the ports of call on my cruise, but it turned out that the Cayman Islands were really the only option for that. I was able to find some lovely Christmas gifts both for others and for me, though!

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January not only has whisky tastings under the guise of Robert Burns “suppers” but I had my own Burns Supper at my house. I will write about that in a separate post. When I got back home after my trip, I really wanted to rev up the group by creating and finding as many events as possible. We have existed as a group long enough now to start to have Scotch socials at some of the homes of members, which was actually kicked off in November when Julian offered to host a social at his home. This broke the ice and we have had at least one Scotch social a month in 2016, often at folks homes and sometimes at public places. The main idea is for people to bring Scotch to share and get together to drink each other’s Scotch and have a chance to socialize in a very informal setting. A new member of the group, Robin, generously offered to host a social in February and another member, Ato, offered the store he manages, League of Rebels, as a place to meet up for a social, as well as hosting 4 Scotch Lounges during South by Southwest! We continue to meet up for casual happy hours at Freedmen’s, Opal Divine’s, Parkside, and Olive & June. The end of April brought the semi-anuual 10 Oak Whiskey Round Up and then Derby Day brought the annual North American Whisky Fest at Opal Divine’s complete with a hat contest for which I won one of the prizes! The third Thursday in May is World Whisky Day. We celebrated as a group for the first time this year and I hosted the party at my house! That will also be another blog post.

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So, it brings me great joy to be back writing this blog and continuing to be part of the #whiskyfabric. Though it is not the only fabric I contribute some thread and pattern to, it is one I cherish deeply and feel so grateful to be a part of. Thank-you for joining me here and please continue to be an active part of the #whiskyfabric in the ways it brings you the most joy.

Follow me on Twitter and Instagram @AustinTXScotch.

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Whiskies of the World 2015

 

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Lately I have been loving the richness of my life when it comes to Scotch. This is thanks in large  part to Whiskies of the World coming to Austin September 17, 2015. Douglas Smith, the event director of WOW, has blessed me with some opportunities and subsequently, blessed me with more Scotch as well! So today I am going to share with you all the goodness that has come my way thanks to Whiskies of the World and Douglas, and really express my gratitude!

Douglas invited me to help support the Judges who worked hard all day to appraise the whiskies that were submitted for the judging panel for Whiskies of the World 2015. This happened August 31 at Ironwood Hall. I got to help pour, serve and take away whiskies, clean up broken glass, and transcribe judges notes into the computer so they could be shared with the distilleries who entered the contest. After it was over, Douglas blessed me with 2 bottles of Scotch, a Laphraoig 15 and a Tomatin 18. Both amazing! Thanks so much Douglas!

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The great friend of the Austin Scotch Lovers, Dan Crowell, came to Austin to work at Whiskies of the World. I invited him to dinner with some of my friends and he accepted! We had a marvelous evening of food and Scotch the night before WOW, Wednesday September 16th. Thanks Dan – you are truly a gift to the World of Whisky!

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I mentioned to Douglas that there were not enough tweets to promote WOW and he asked if I wanted to help him tweet for the festival! Would I? Of course! So I had the privilege of crafting and sending out tweets for Whiskies of the World Austin and Douglas was so happy with my work I get to keep going, tweeting for Houston and Atlanta! I am so proud! For my efforts, I got a free ticket to the Bon Vivant Hour. The Bon Vivant Hour was a special extra hour Douglas dreamed up for Austin. It included 13 high end whiskies paired with delicious morsels of food prepared by the chefs at the Four seasons Austin. Here are some of the photos I took and the whiskies and food I tried:

Ladyburn 41 and Smoked Trout Rolls:                                                                Girvan Single Grain 30 and Fois Gras Doughnuts:

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Johnnie Walker Blue with Quail Eggs:                                                                                       Royal Crown XR LaSalle with Creme Brulee:

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Glenmorangie Signet with Handmade Chocolates:                                                                 Glenfiddich 26 with Cheeses:

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Tomatin 1988 with Shrimp Tomato Bisque:                                                                     Mortlach Rare Old with Shitake mushrooms on Pecan crackers:

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I decided that something that would be great for my Austin Scotch Lovers members who attended Whiskies of the World would be to see if I could get some extra swag donated form the brand ambassadors I have met over the last year. So many came through so incredibly! Dan Crowell from Glenmorangie had a huge box of Glenmorangie glasses shipped to my house! Heather Ann Jensen from Beam Suntory met me and gave me boxes of Glen Garioch glasses and Laphraoig Pens! Blake Lindlow from Edrington group also met up with me and have me a huge box filled with The Macallan Glasses and Cutty Sark Shot glasses and pens, plus booklets! Michelle Fedor from Bruichlaaddich gave us each a Bruichladdich Glencairn Glass! Mayra Isais from Diageo gave me a whole bag full of goodies to distribute when I met up with her at the festival. She had Johnnie Walkers Pens, Talisker bracelets, Buchanan cuff links and more little treasures like that! So I gathered all the goodies and made a decorated bag for each member and sorted everything out! Thanks so much to all the wonderful Brand Ambassadors who came through for us! My husband was a great help to me in the process! Thanks Steve! The bags were a big hit with everyone who came to Whiskies of the World! The only problem is I don’t know if I can top this for next year!

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So when it was finally time for the big night, I loaded up my bags and left Georgetown with my best friend, Lisa. My terrific husband, Steve, drove us. We left at 4:30 and arrived at the Four Seasons at 5:30! I had just enough time to unload the bags, meet Mayra, distribute the last treasures, stash the  bags under a table, greet Douglas, check in, go to the bathroom, and be ready for Bon Vivant Hour at 6pm. I handed out some bags to members who were there and then spent the rest of the night giving them out as people found me! The night was a whirlwind! I could not believe how fast it was over. I tried many new whiskies, including Kavalan Soloist, Old Pulteney 17 and 21, and Kininvie 23. One of the treats of the evening was the Ardbeg Haar. Dan loaded it up with Ardbeg 10 and it was vaporizing all night, scenting the area around the Glenmorangie and Ardbeg tables. The best part was when Dan handed me a glass straw and I sucked in the vapor! OMG! What a sensory experience like no other! The Scotch hit all of my mouth everywhere all at once and evaporated before I could even register it was there! So fun! I tried far less whisky then the year before, but saw so many old and new friends and laughed and compared notes and just really had a  great time. Lisa and I had the most fun bringing samples of whisky to Dan to try. He would breathe in the aromas first through one nostril and then the other, like he had told us about at the dinner the night before, and then talk about what he smelled and tasted, amazing us with his incredible appreciation for whisky in all its forms. We met David Perkins from High West Whiskey and maybe we got to try something that is not ready to be sold yet, or maybe it was only a wish that we did. My only real complaint was that the food was not plentiful and we were definitely ready for a meal when we left. I hate to admit this, because I feel very naughty about this, but I skipped the masterclass I signed up for because I just couldn’t leave the festival to go sit in a class away from all the fun! Sorry David! I am sure it was terrific!

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Steve stayed at an Ihop nearby grading papers and came to pick us up about 10:15 or so. We didn’t want to leave and I think next year an after party is in order!

Douglas said there were about 500 people at the festival! There was whisky, food, cigars, classes and more whisky to be had! We are already planning next year’s event. I recommend you start blocking the time off now, and don’t be out of town or attending a wedding or anything like that! Keep your priorities in order and come to Whiskies of the World Austin in 2016!

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Dan Crowell Star of Whisky Dinner

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Some of the Austin Scotch Lovers recently were blessed with a private dinner starring Dan Crowell, national ambassador from Ardbeg and Glenmorangie. I wish I had more pictures to share, but we were all so enthralled with Dan that most of us did not remember to snap some photos. Thanks to Joanne for the two I have here! I hosted the dinner at my house and between Dan and me, we had 9 Scotches to try on their own and paired with food. From Ardbeg we had Ardbeg 10, Corryvreckan, Uigeadail, and Perpetuum. From Glenmorangie we had Lasanta, 18, Astar, Signet and 25. I prepared salmon with asparagus and new potatoes, as well as salad and gluten free sticky toffee pudding. We also had some cheeses, olives, chocolates, crystallized ginger, and honey to try with the expressions. The dinner was the evening before Whiskies of the World, Wednesday September 16, 2015. We started around 6:30pm and the last guest left after midnight. I was helped by my husband Steve and my friend Joanne, who came early to help me cook and be ready for the festivities on time!

To say Dan is knowledgeable about whisky is like saying Niagara Falls has some water in it. But having knowledge is nothing if you have no means to convey it to your audience. If I were to type out things that Dan shared with us, besides it becoming a book, you might fall asleep with the nerdy details of it all. But here is the thing – Dan is so engaging, so funny, so irreverent and so animated that you never get bored. I would find myself repeating some of the facts to others and could hear the drone of my voice putting them to sleep. Dan has this magical ability to change the tone of his voice, use his hands and facial expressions and say just the right amount of asides to create a tapestry of humor, Scotch facts and whisky opinions. He is this living search engine where you could ask him about something in the whisky world and he has something to share, to educate you about, and to give his opinion on. Tasting notes; what’s in a this expression; how are blends being changed for better or worse; why do American single malts taste so fruity? (The type of pot stills Americans favor plus the yeast they tend to use). He clearly loves his brands and is a vast repository of the history and future of Glenmorangie and Ardbeg. That would be enough to impress anyone, but then he can talk intelligently and thoroughly about so many other distilleries. He can tell you about chemistry and physics, at least when it comes to making whisky, and then geography, meteorology, marine biology, and agriculture, all components of the gorgeous process of getting malted barley, water, yeast, oak and time to give us this liquid ambrosia. Oh, I forgot forestry, coopering, affects of other spirits on the barrels and what you do to the barrels. Dan Crowell delighted and mesmerized us with his humorous commentary on all of this and more!

I wish I could give you some direct quotes. I was in constant motion serving food, eating, drinking Scotch, clearing plates, and listening while Dan just gave us one of the best classes I have ever attended. So I cannot easily pull out something verbatim. He told us about each expression, what tastes people typically found in each Scotch and suggestions of what foods to try with each one. The Lasanta was our first pour, a nice easy dram to get the night rolling. We savored the sweet sherried notes, warming our palates for the feast to come. We marveled at the 18, how 6 more years and no chill filtering creates a spirit so different from the original, yet can retain the signature Glenmorangie taste. Of course there was then a discussion of caramel coloring and age statements. We then tried some Ardbeg 10 and the Uigeadail with cheese and olives, including blue cheese and sharp cheddars, brought by my friends Lisa and Aidan. The smoke and peat was a perfect compliment to the flavors of those cheeses. My beloved Astar was next up, the cask strength pleasing some and begging for water from others. We were eating our salads and main courses during all of this, asking questions and enjoying the feast of flavors from the whisky and the food. I never stop marvelling at how good Scotch is with dinner, and how many different flavors you can coax out of the same dram! Perpetuum was next tried, going with different foods for different people. As you can tell, we had a very casual and light atmosphere, allowing food and whisky to flow freely in whatever combination the guest chose. I enjoyed some crystallized ginger with the Perpetuum; the contrast of flavors was intriguing. Sweet, sting of spice and then an envelope of smoke and charcoal surrounds it and causes your mouth to question its existence. There were many affectionate recollections of other Ardbeg special releases and talk of Astar maybe coming back if Dr. Bill Lumsden could have his way. Dan told us about Dr. Lumsden’s eternally inquiring mind, and his curiosity and dedication to research when it comes to Scotch. When dessert and chocolate were served, then Glenmorangie Signet and 25 were the stars. Signet is renown for its chocolate roasted barley that gives it a natural place at the end of a meal. The combination of actual chocolate with this Scotch explodes in a cascade of flavors that almost knocks you out it is so sensuous. It puts me in mind of what eating in heaven might be like. But then I tried the 25 and I was just speechless. I thought, I must get some of this – it is unreal! Then I heard it sells for about $700 a bottle, so I just poured another dram or two and savored it to the best of my ability. It is smooth, sweet, vanilla-y, and full of Scotch deliciousness. It caresses your mouth, and I tried to stay in the moment with each sip, but found myself longing for the next second when another fresh dose would be sipped. It is the risk I take in trying expensive Scotch – it is hard not to start imagining what I could sell and give up just to be able to buy a bottle! It was, of course, complete perfection with the sticky toffee pudding. Dan could tell you what is happening on your tongue when the sugar and cream of the toffee sauce mingle with the magnificence of the Glenmorangie 25 year old Scotch, that elixir that was made and bottled half of my lifetime ago, sitting in Scotland dreaming of making its way to Texas in September of 2015 just to seduce me and make me forget about any other Scotch I know. At least for an evening! Thanks Dan, for contributing to my potential debauchery.

Even as some guests departed, the conversation continued. As is manna from heaven for Scotch Lovers, there were debates and gentle disagreements about best Scotches, distillery practices and what Diageo is doing to Johnnie Walker Blue these days. I think if we had no obligations the next day, we could have talked all night! As it was, my darling husband managed to help me get much of the table cleared and the kitchen ready for its massive cleaning the next day (including washing over 100 glasses by hand) before it was all over that night! Speaking of my husband, Steve is not a big fan of Scotch, but stayed as engaged as all of us the whole night. I really could not have pulled off the evening without him, and I salute him with all of my heart!

Dan, you are the hands down favorite of the Austin Scotch Lovers after this night. Your kind and generous heart shines through in your very presence, and we can’t wait until we are blessed by a visit from you again! We are filled with gratitude for you. You shared your true passion with us, validating your argument that an American Brand Ambassador is not meant to be a Scotsman in a kilt, but a whisky geek in a three piece suit! Thank-you and Slainte!!

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Cocktails Anyone?

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Traditionally, Scotch is not a favorite cocktail spirit. Most Scotches have so much flavor and personality that they don’t like to play well with others. However, as people grow to love boldly flavored whiskies from all over the world, the idea of having a whisky cocktail seems more appealing. Another traditional thought about Scotch and other whiskies is that that they are better suited for cold weather drinking as they are warming to the body. Your iconic idea of drinking Scotch may include a fireplace, a man in a tweed jacket and after dinner gathering of only men. Of course as it becomes a drink that women and men enjoy in all kinds of scenarios all year round, these ideas seem outdated and quaint. I do admit that a dram of Scotch can make me warm, not always a welcome feeling in Texas (it is 105ºF right now), so cool summer drinks like Gin and Tonics and fruity concoctions like Sex and the Beach have greater appeal, even to me! But being the Scotch Lover that I am, I am always looking for Scotch Cocktail recipes and I have collected some on this website (menu above) and also on the meet up site. It is basically the same post in both places. I am adding to it as I try new drinks and welcome any suggestions from other Scotch Lovers!

Probably the most popular and best known Scotch cocktail is Scotch and water, or Scotch and Soda, or Scotch on the Rocks. These are all variations of adding some water to your Scotch and you may not event consider this a cocktail. I do, as I think anytime you mix something into alcohol, you create a cocktail. In my last blog post I talked a bit about adding water or ice to Scotch, so I won’t repeat that here. What I will say is that you should try different types of Scotch you like with ice, or water or soda and see what you think. I recommend using tablespoons and teaspoons and create tiny tastes. If you create a combination you like, you can make a bigger one to see what you think. If you don’t like it, you can either throw it out without much guilt over waste, or just drink it anyways! It is so small! There are three teaspoons in a tablespoon, in case you need to do some math for proportions. Another variation is to add lemon, lime, cherries, or other garnishes that add a bit of flavor. Then, you can get even more variation by using a flavored water like La Croix flavored soda water. Please don’t ever use or eat traditional maraschino cherries. The way these are made and what is in them is awful and it is way worth the expense to buy natural cherries for garnishing your drinks.

Blended whisky is often better in a cocktail than a single malt, mainly because it is smoother and the flavors are balanced and not as pronounced. But in a cocktail that is mainly Scotch, you really want to make sure you use a Scotch that you like the taste of by itself, because it still will dominate the flavor of the drink. The variation in flavors of blended Scotches is quite wide. Single malts are at the base of each blend, and since each distillery makes a different tasting single malt, how could the blends not be all so different! Blended Scotch contains other grain alcohol besides barley, and this adds to the variations in flavor as well. There is another kind of Scotch called Blended Malt. This is solely a mix of single malts, albeit malts from different distilleries. This can also be a good base Scotch for cocktails, and in fact, Monkey Shoulder was created just for that reason. This is a blended malt from William Grant and is a mix of the single malts, Glenfiddich, Balvenie, and Kininvie, three distilleries of William Grant. They developed Monkey Shoulder with mixologists in mind, hoping to bring Scotch more into the world of cocktails.

There seems to be some mixers that work well with the flavors of Scotch, and you see them somewhat regularly in the recipes. Ginger, whether it is a sweet soda, a strong ginger beer or an alcoholic ginger beer like Crabbies is great with Scotch. Ginger syrup, ginger liqueur and fresh ginger find their way into Scotch based cocktails, with delicious effect. Cranberry juice is good, and of course citrus juices like lemon, lime and orange. Sugar is used to good effect, sometimes in the form of honey or flavored syrups like from Torani.

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Other alcohol is a great partner for Scotch. Drambuie is a liqueur made from Scotch and is a natural mixer for Scotch cocktails. The Rusty Nail is the classic cocktail made from Scotch and Drambuie. Vermouth, both dry and sweet, is also combined with Scotch. The Rob Roy, another classic Scotch cocktail, combines Scotch, sweet vermouth and bitters. Scotch has so many flavors, but often the casks impart vanilla and other sweetness that mixes well with most liqueurs. There is a drink called the Godfather that mixes Amaretto and Scotch to good effect, and I suspect that most any liqueur you like will combine well with your favorite Scotch.

If you have never tried chocolate with Scotch, you have missed out on a great flavor combination. Like liqueur, I think the natural sweetness of Scotch lends itself well to chocolate, and also coffee and tea. These hot drinks put us more in mind of cold weather and so we may not drink them like other cocktails, but I can’t leave them out as they are great partners with Scotch, sweeteners and cream.

Scotch can be enjoyed year round and at any temperature. I encourage you to also try it in a cocktail! Here are some great websites for Scotch Cocktails:

drambuie.com
monkeyshoulder.com
liquor.com
scotch-whisky.org

Please send me any recipes and Scotch Cocktail websites you like!

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Scotch by the Numbers

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Americans seem to be obsessed with lists, countdowns and statistics. Whisky lovers are no different in that there is much to know, and it feels like we actually learned something and can share that something with others if it is connected to numbers. I thought it would be fun to explore this topic in the blog today. In order to write this blog, I needed some help. At the end are links to articles I used to make sure I got all my facts straight. Also, this is by no means whatsoever a comprehensive look at all the numbers associated with Scotch. That is a BOOK, not a blog post. This is just me having some fun with some of the numbers associated with Scotch.

Scotland exports the most Scotch to the USA, according to the Scotch Whisky Association’s info for 2014. France is second and Singapore is third. But something interesting – because of the vastness of the US population compared to the rest of the world, that is actually less per capita than 13 other countries! This could be slightly out of date as I couldn’t find a discussion about this using more current numbers, but the article I found on qz.com talking about this used the info from 2013 and ranked Singapore as the most with 12.76 bottles of Scotch per capita imported! France had 2.52 and the US .39! To me, the second way of looking at this has more meaning when thinking about which country drinks the most Scotch outside of Scotland. And where does Scotland fit in here? This information does not seem to readily available via a quick internet search, but what is available is that the UK bought 87.5 million 70cl bottles in 2013. This has more meaning if I tell you that the US bought 118.6 million 70cl bottles and France bought 183 million and Singapore 39.7 million. But wait, you say! This makes no sense. You just told me that the US was the top market but clearly France bought more. I can’t find an explanation and so relying on logic alone, I would guess that the bottles are cheaper in France? This may be the answer because I saw that most of what France buys is blended and the US and Singapore buy more Single Malts. Furthermore, most discussions about sales of Scotch in the UK center around the huge tax that has to be paid on Scotch and how this hurts sales. I have been told, but have nothing to back this up, that people in Scotland don’t drink Scotch as much as you would think because it is too expensive! That has to hurt, if it is true. I know some of you reading this probably know the answer and way more about this than I do, so feel free to help me out by telling us more about this in a comment below.

Let’s look at a different sort of number – proof. In the US, proof is twice the percentage of alcohol by volume, so if a bottle is 50% alcohol then it is 100 proof. Now if this is confusing, you might want to skip this paragraph because it just gets worse form here. I first read about what proof meant to whisky in a small but delightful book I own called Scotch Whisky by J. Marshall Robb. My head was spinning by the time I got done and I don’t want to do that to you, so I am going to use Wikipedia’s explanation instead. In the UK and EU, they use Alcohol by Volume (ABV) instead of proof, but if you were to see an EU or UK bottle labeled with proof, it is not the same as the US. They use 1.75 instead of 2 to multiply and so something that is 50% ABV is 87.5 proof in the UK. In case you were wondering, ABV is a measure of the number of milliliters of ethanol present in 100 milliliters of solution at 20 °C. As complicated as this seems, there is a perfectly reasonable explanation. In the UK, proof was 7/4 times the ABV. This came from, believe it or not, people wanting to prove that alcohol had not been watered down and so would add gunpowder to it and light it. If it was below 57.15% ABV, then it would not ignite. If it did, it was “proof” that it was not watered down. The math geniuses, who may or may not have been drinking, then figured out that “The value 57.15% is very close to the fraction 4/7 = 0.5714. Thus, the definition amounts to declaring that 100° proof spirit has an ABV of 4/7. From this, it follows that to convert the ABV (expressed as a percentage, as is standard, rather than as a fraction) to degrees proof, it is only necessary to multiply by 7/4 = 1.75. Thus pure, 100% alcohol will have 100×(7/4) = 175° proof, and a spirit containing 40% ABV will have 40×(7/4) = 70° proof.”(wikipedia) Wow, that seems so logical now!

But what I really wanted to discuss relative to proof is something Scotch lovers think and talk about more – cask strength or not to cask strength. This is also tangentially related to the question, to add water or not to add water, because, as you may know, if it isn’t sold at cask strength, then water has been added! Yes, you read that right – they are adding water to that bottle of Scotch before they sell it to you! Most whisky comes out of the cask at 60-65%ABV (or 120 proof US if you have followed along with me). But most Scotch is sold in the bottle at 43%ABV. If you don’t believe me, go look at your bottles. I’ll wait. Yes, some are lower or even a little higher, but most are at 43%. I have posted a link to a quora.com article below that talks about his very nicely. Basically it can’t be called whisky if it is less than 40%ABV and can’t be sold higher than 62.5%ABV. Some people love cask strength whisky, but most people find whisky, even at 40%ABV, to have that “burn”, at least in the first few sips until your mouth becomes conditioned to it. Plus, if you are like me and love the taste of Scotch, it is helpful to have less ABV so that you don’t get drunk just trying some different drams and comparing and contrasting them. So getting back to adding water, this should help you feel completely comfortable doing so. In fact, adding water will loosen the chemical bonds of some of the components in the whisky, which will change the aroma and the taste, allowing different tastes to emerge. This will alter your experience of the whisky because the smell is part of the experience, a big part. In the end, I recommend that you take a favorite whisky and try it side by side at different dilutions. This is probably the best way for you to answer the question if you should add water or not. Your taste will be your guide.

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My final musing on numbers today is the cost of Scotch. The information I am about to reveal here may be shocking, so be prepared. Scotch is usually sold in 750ml bottles in the US, so I am using that as a standard here. When we get a pour in a bar, though, we usually get a 2oz. portion. So, thanks to google, I can help you out with the first step in our math problem, which is that 1oz. roughly equals 30ml. So a 750ml bottle is also (roughly) a 25oz. bottle. That is, let’s say, 12 pours. If a bottle of Glenmorangie Original costs $40, then you are enjoying a delightful pour coming in around $3.34 each, by my rough estimates above. If you want to look at it more closely, divide the cost by 750 to get the cost per ml and then multiply that by 60 (2oz = 60ml). This brings the actual cost of a 2oz. pour to the delightfully economical price of $3.18. You may or may not want to start looking at the cost of Scotch this way, especially considering what we pay at a bar for a pour, but I find it makes Scotch feel way more economical as a treat than many things in which we indulge. In case you are interested, if you paid $50 for that bottle of Scotch, your 2oz. pour costs you$3.96; $60 makes a two ounce pour $4.80; $70 brings it to $5.58; $80 to $6.36; $90 to $7.20 and if you paid $100 for that bottle of Scotch, your 2oz. pour comes in at $7.98.

This just scratches the surface when it comes to Scotch by the numbers. We haven’t touched the top 10 Scotches in the UK, and the US. Or how about the smallest distillery, the largest, the most remote, the most profitable visitor center, the cheapest to tour, the most expensive, the most expressions, the most expensive overall, the least, the oldest, the newest and how much water barley and yeast is used annually. You get the picture. I will leave you with a few final numbers:

How many active distilleries in Scotland: 115
How many casks of spirit are maturing in Scotland right now: around 20 million
How long must spirit rest in casks before it can be called whisky: 3 years
How many people visit distilleries each year in Scotland: over 1 million
How many people are employed in the Scotch Whisky business: over 10,000
How many drams enjoyed by Austin Scotch Lovers in 2015: still being counted

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http://www.bbc.com/news/uk-scotland-20946411
http://www.scotch-whisky.org.uk/what-we-do/facts-figures/
http://www.thedrinksbusiness.com/2015/06/top-10-scotch-whisky-brands/
http://qz.com/165628/whos-drinking-the-worlds-scotch-whisky/
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alcohol_proof
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alcohol_by_volume
http://www.quora.com/Why-are-some-whiskeys-bottled-and-sold-at-43-alcohol-by-volume
http://www.joomag.com/magazine/craft-by-under-my-host-no-4-water/0541216001425275776/p40?short

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I love my Glenmorangie Astar

Astar

I wrote my last blog post 2 months ago! It is hard to believe it has been that long! I have had some themes rattling around in my head, and then I went to Florida to visit Harry Potter and my family and how I am back in Texas and writing today. I found a somewhat rare Scotch in a small liquor store on Anna Maria Island, Hurricane Liquors. The Scotch is called Astar from Glenmorangie. It was a limited release from 2008, according to what I can find online. I wonder if it has been sitting on the shelf all this time waiting for me to buy it? We cracked it open last night and I am pleased to say that I LOVE it! If you have read any of my other blogs posts, you know that I am not fond of buying Scotch I haven’t tried and I also am not big on Scotch reviews – either to read or write them. It is just that I find Scotch so personal it is hard to really glean what it will taste like from a review and I would definitely say this was true here. To be honest with you, I really debated buying this as it cost around $100 and I had no idea if I would like it. I am not in the habit of buying $100 bottles of Scotch as a rule. More on that below. I saw it one day and went home to read about it online. The descriptions I found talked about the name meaning ‘journey’ and that that referred to the fact that the casks used to age it are made from a porous oak from Missouri, toasted and charred in a secret fashion, used to age Jim Beam for three years, and then sent whole to Scotland to receive this Scotch which is then aged about 10 years or so. Glenmorangie is often interested in experimenting with casks and finishes, but this is unusual in that it is just ex-bourbon and that the casks are shipped whole and not disassembled and reassembled in Scotland. I was uncertain about this as I am not a bourbon fan and often like a sherry or port finish. But I saw many references to this being very “sweet”, a good “dessert” Scotch and “tropical”. And to be honest I had really hoped that since I was getting to explore different liquors stores than my usual haunts, my love of treasure hunting would be fulfilled and I would find something in Florida that was rare, or at least a little hard to find. I looked at some other stores and found nothing at all that fit this description so I decided to take a risk and went back the next day and bought it. It made it safely home with me (in a car) and was the star of last night’s festivities where it was cracked open and shared with some friends. It is cask strength and non-chill filtered, so my mouth had to get conditioned to it, but it really grew on me quickly and I found it to be a great “dessert” Scotch and really tasty and delicious! Ah, what a relief!

You may be wondering why I would balk at paying $100 for a bottle of Scotch. This is, after all, not that much to pay in the world of nice Scotch. Johnnie Walker Blue, Glenfiddich 21, Balvenie Portwood, Bruichladdich Black Art, and Glenmorangie Signet all cost more than $100 a bottle, and some of those cost more than $200 a bottle. All are Scotch I have tasted and enjoyed, and would like to own someday. I worry about getting a taste for Scotch at this level, though, and know that my love of Scotch could start to infringe on my love of many other things in life if I start buying $100 bottles of Scotch regularly! Plus, there are so many delicious and wonderful Scotches at the $50 (or less) level, and I think it is important always to keep in mind the wonder of a 10 or 12 year old Scotch we can enjoy for $40-$60! I guard against getting jaded in my Scotch adventures, because waiting 10 or 12 years for something to be ready is actually amazing and the deliciousness of Glenfiddich 12, Macallan 12, and Talisker 10, just to name a few, cannot be overstated. It is very easy once you immerse yourself in the world of Scotch whisky to get very carried away by seeking out the rarest, the oldest, and the most expensive, and trick yourself into thinking that is all that you should pursue to prove you are a seasoned Scotch lover, and that your opinions are worthwhile. Will people take me seriously as a Scotch lover if I tell them I love Glenfiddich 12? Will I be sought out for my expertise if I say my favorite Single Malt is Talisker 10? God forbid I mention a blend among my regular drams! Dewars 12? No I don’t own that, plus a back up bottle. Who told you that? I am a great SCOTCH lover. How dare you!?! So why, you may be asking yourself, did I spend $100 on this bottle of Astar? Well, I can’t explain it, really, except to say that I liked the description, I liked that it was discontinued and hard to find, and that I really hoped I could bring home a souvenir Scotch from my trip to Florida. I think we all spend more money on a trip for things than we might in every day life. Of course it is not every day we can buy a magic wand that actually cast spells, but that is another story. So, for better or worse, I bought the Scotch, brought it home and am really, really glad I did, because I think it is awesome!

Of course, once it is gone, I probably won’t get to have it anymore. This is definitely the other big reason why I don’t usually want to buy rare & expensive bottles of Scotch, or any food or drink for that matter, because once they are gone, they are gone. It is the ephemeral nature of loving things like Scotch and other handcrafted, handmade gourmet type items. But drink is for drinking, not for hoarding, and I do not believe in owning Scotch and not drinking it. I am very firm in this opinion. For me, having something delicious that I do not drink or eat, but just hold onto, is like owning a pet I never touch or having clothes I don’t wear. It separates me from living life and that is something I never want to do. Life is to be lived, pets to be loved, clothes to be worn and Scotch to be drunk.

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What the (bleep) do we know about Scotch?

April 4 2015

Sometimes at Scotch Lovers events I feel stupid. Generally speaking, I am not stupid, in fact, I am usually thought of as intelligent. But you can always find someone smarter than you with very little effort. I love getting people together for fun events. Once the event is underway, I like to listen to the different conversations, floating from group to group, sometimes participating, and sometimes starting my own conversations. People who love Scotch can really have strong opinions about the topic, and topics related to Scotch. Of course Scotch is not the only topic that is discussed at events, but it is usually a good place to start. “How did you get into Scotch?” “Have you been to Scotland?” “What is your favorite?” “This is a rare bottle that I own”. Then we morph to “What do you do?” “Are you married?” “Do you have kids?” These are all legitimate questions and normal ways we start conversations in our society. Why do I feel stupid, then? I am a deep thinker and hold strong opinions about how the world works, how to improve ourselves, and the nature of the unseen part of lives, what you might call the divine or metaphysics. These are all topics I can discuss for hours, but don’t generally come up in conversation at Scotch events. That is ok as these topics can lead to disagreements and I would rather have the conversation be small than controversial. Of course, sometimes having a heated discussion about a topic can help you feel smart. After all, if you can argue with someone about a topic, then doesn’t that mean you know enough about it to know what is right and wrong? And if you have an opinion that is different from another, than doesn’t that show you are an independent thinker and aren’t independent thinkers smart?

I read Whisky Advocate magazine and Whisky magazine. I have a growing library of whisky books including Michael Jackson’s Guide to Single Malt Scotch, Robin Laing’s The Whisky Muse and Whiskypedia by Charles MacLean. I follow many whisky related twitter accounts, read blogs like All Things Whisky, and subscribe to Singlemalt TV on youtube. There are days that, apart from taking care of my cats and washing dishes, everything I did that day revolved around whisky in some fashion. My head is full of facts and information gathered from numerous presentations about whisky, or gleaned through my reading. So you would think that at any given time I could speak intelligently about the topic, and you would be correct, except when I can’t. That is the thing I have noticed about this day and age of infinite access to information and knowledge – with no easily defined boundaries, you are either on the cutting edge of your topic or woefully behind as yesterday’s news (or today’s print news) with the same information! The title of this blog is a nod to a movie of a similar name which I adore, “What The (Bleep) Do We Know?”. In that movie they talk about “going down the rabbit hole” like Alice does in Alice in Wonderland. It is a reference to taking a topic and going into it as much as you can and as far as you can. Boy can Scotch Lovers go down a rabbit hole on every conceivable topic related to Scotch. What is the proof? Is it cask strength? Was it vatted? Was it Solera process?  How old is the oldest whisky in the vat? Does it carry an age statement? What kind of barrel? How long in each type of barrel? How were the barrels stored, racked or dunnage? Where were they stored? Were they filled to the top? How do you repair your barrels? Who makes your barrels? Where do they come from? What was in them before the new make was put in in Scotland? Do you own the trees they come from? How long is the lease on the forest where you harvest the trees to make your barrels? Was it a Hogshead, a Barrel or a Butt? Did you rebuild the barrels from staves or was the barrel the original container? What kind of wax do you use? How much do you lose to the angels’s share? What is the proof of the whisky when you take it out? What proof are you bottling it at? How long did it stay in each barrel? Do you think quarter casks impart more vanilla notes? If you think I am writing satire, think again. These are all legitimate questions that can be asked about Scotch, and most I have heard asked or asked myself. It does sometimes help me feel smarter to be able to ask these questions. See, I have read the right books and learned from many other presentations so now I am going to ask an intelligent question and also I am going to ask a very detailed question that will show I know what I am about. But does this help me enjoy Scotch more? Yes and no. It really doesn’t change the taste of the Scotch in the glass to me, but I am susceptible to a good story, as I mentioned in a previous post. I have a minor in art history and what I learned from the art world is that you can appreciate the art a whole lot more if you know the context and back story and I think that knowing the context and back story on the Scotch helps you to love it more. But does it make me smarter?

Inevitably in a large group of people, there will be all sorts of levels of knowledge, expertise, snobbishness, and righteousness. Navigating groups is a skill that once learned can help you have much success in life as life is mostly moving from one group to the next and then navigating those groups to the best of our abilities. Having knowledge about Scotch in a Scotch lovers group would seem to be helpful to successfully navigating it, but I have noticed that like in any group, this is very subjective and not always valuable at all. People join a group for all sorts of reasons, and come out to drink Scotch with others for various reasons as well. Rarely does knowing the most about Scotch matter, and sometimes it can make you the outcast. If we are gathered to enjoy Scotch and each other’s company, what is the most valuable knowledge then? Where to buy the cheapest Scotch? How to get the rarest? Who has the most? Of course it isn’t any one answer because each person wants something different out of the experience, and may want something different each time. The romantic and sentimental answer is that we all want to be accepted and loved, and if we all like Scotch then this is enough of a common ground to get together and socialize and then we will be able to tolerate our differences because we all like Scotch, right? Maybe that is all we need to know about Scotch. I like it, you like it, let’s be friends. Now I feel smarter.

Jim OpalStPatrick.02

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What Makes a Scotch Lover

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I once had a wife of a member of the Austin Scotch Lovers tell me that she couldn’t understand why when we drank Scotch we had to talk about it the whole time! Of course wine lovers talk about their favorite beverage as much as we do, but I wonder if any other Spirit inspires as much conversation, philosophy and pedantic pedagogy as Scotch Whisky? Can you even claim to be a Scotch Lover if you don’t also spend at least some time reading about it, writing about it, and of course, talking about it? Well, of course you can, as there are no rules that can ever define someone as a lover of anything other than their self proclamation of it, as each person is their own authority on what they love! It is just that it seems that part of what makes Scotch so great is that it is so interesting and offers so much material for discourse that in addition to just loving how delicious it is, one can derive great joy from sharing stories, facts and, of course, where to find the best deals or even a rare bottle!

My love of Scotch is intimately connected to my love of Scotland. This is another topic of infinite conversation. This country (yes, I call it a country) is many things to many people. It is gorgeous, contains great history and stories, and conveniently is one of the best places to make whisky! The temperature that allows a slow evaporation of the Spirit as it ages in the casks allows for a long aging which really gives it time to become what it is meant to be. Of course it is debatable whether one can determine that a single malt whisky came from Scotland or elsewhere just by taste, but most people who love Scotch say the taste of it is like no other whisky from any place else, and attribute it to the water, the peat, the air, essentially the terroir of Scotland itself. This is so romantic, when you have been to this great land and experience all the loveliness of it, that when you are home in Texas you can go back to Scotland a little every time you drink some Scotch! So can you be a Scotch Lover and not love Scotland? Of course, but I think loving Scotland can lead you to love Scotch and loving Scotch can lead yo to love Scotland!

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Getting to share your opinion about a topic is a great joy of life. If there are quite diverse opinions about a topic, oh the juice we get out of hours of discussion about why we believe what we believe. On the surface, whisky seems so simple. You take barley, sprout it, dry it, grind it up, mix it with water, add yeast to ferment it, distill it, age it in oak casks and then bottle it. Yet each distiller, from over 100 distilleries in all of Scotland, makes a unique product that is distinguishable from all of the others! You can see how this in and of itself adds to the richness of the topic, but add in the strain or barley, the type of yeast, the type of cask, how big it is, how long you let it age, where is aging, what position the cask is in and you are just scratching the surface of topics to pursue. Then, if you are drinking Scotch while discussing these topics, you can’t discount the effect of alcohol on the process! Can you be a Scotch lover if you don’t know about how Scotch is made, and can’t pass a quiz about the rules of Scotch? Of course you can! But I hardly ever meet anyone who isn’t interested in these things as part of their love of Scotch!

Scotch is loved by a small percentage of people in the world overall, so being a Scotch Lover allows you to belong to an exclusive club that you initiate yourself into and no one can throw you out of. Most of my friends find the flavors too strong, the burning sensations too unpleasant and the cost too high if you just want a buzz. I suspect they are representing the opinions of a great portion of society. Are Scotch Lovers wired differently in the taste department? I don’t know, but I know that for me, I strictly like the Scotch that I like because of how it tastes, and I am loathe to buy a Scotch I haven’t tasted. So I respect that it isn’t for everyone, and really, this is a good thing because it makes the world more interesting.

We complain about how expensive Scotch is, but I suspect that that is also part of the allure. It is just a bit more expensive than most spirits, but not so outrageous that it is out of reach. This allows us to feel like we are part of a luxury experience, which can help us feel important, loved, taken care of and just over all pampered. We also can feel better about drinking if we are drinking something nicer. You don’t believe me? Think about how we drank in college, buying the cheapest beer or wine coolers to get drunk! Most of us would not have considered buying a bottle of Scotch to get drunk on! Think of how you view people who buy wine in boxes. Think of how you feel about hearing someone order a rum and coke versus a Macallan neat? What about someone who orders a house white wine versus a Sterling Cabernet? There is certain cache that goes with Scotch, and I think this is part of the allure, too!

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Would you love Scotch if it didn’t get you drunk? I think I would, believe it or not. I get frustrated sometimes that in trying to taste and enjoy all the Scotch available to me, I have to be limited because of the physical effects. I, like most people, have to navigate everyday things like shopping, cooking, laundry and a myriad of other every day activities that can’t be done well if you are drinking alcohol! So we have to wait to enjoy a dram once our chores are done or it is a celebration time! Yet it is so tasty and such a delight, I often want to have some because I was reading about it in a magazine or an online article someone tweeted out. Of course it is lovely to feel the effects of the alcohol when you do enjoy it, and that is part of what most Scotch Lovers are after in loving Scotch.

Do you love studying about, talking about and learning about Scotch Whisky while you drink it? Do you like to compare different expressions by drinking small drams side by side? Do you love collecting bottles, growing a collection that you secretly hope can one day contain a bottle from every active distillery in Scotland? Do you love that most people you know don’t like Scotch and that you belong to a group that is almost like a secret society? Do you love Scotland, and hear a bagpipe band playing “Scotland The Brave” every time you drink a gill? Do you love reading controversial blog posts about Age Statements, pro and con? Do you know the difference between a heather nose, a leathery start and a long weathered wood finish? Even if you answered no to all of my questions, you are a Scotch Lover if you can answer yes to just one question: Are you a Scotch lover? I am.

LeafyDalwhinnie

(Due to spamming problems, I have had to shut off my comments. Please connect with me on Twitter, Meet Up and through the contact page if you would like to speak with me.)