What Scotch should I buy?

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Of course, this is a photo of what I already bought (or was given to me) not counting what I already drank! On the eve of the ever popular “Dollar Sale” at Twin Liquors, plus my upcoming 48th birthday, I have been pondering what is the next Scotch I want to buy (or receive). There is so much help out there, if you want it, to figure out what to buy. I really don’t like to buy Scotch I haven’t tried.  I won’t name names, but there are some here that I bought having never tried them first and they are not among my favorites.  My friend Jason likes reddit. He says if you find reviewers who like the same whiskies you like and describe them the same way you would describe them, then you can probably take their recommendations. I am easily influenced by marketing and good gimmicks. If you give me a good show, I will want to like your Scotch. I am always disappointed when the whisky doesn’t live up to the advertising. Honestly, that happens to me in many areas of my life. As a person with a Scotch Meet Up group and a Scotch themed website and blog, I do feel a responsibility to have certain brands of Scotch in my possession. As a person who attends many tastings and meets many ambassadors, I want to love all the Scotch they give me. One of the things that has fascinated me about Scotch since almost my first taste of it in Scotland was how different every Scotch tastes. There are basic tastes and smells you get with every distillery, yet everyone manages to make their own Scotch. Once you start learning how they make Scotch, you can begin to understand all the variables that can affect the outcome. I love Scotch; I don’t like every one I have ever tried. And God bless the distillers, so much competition, they have to try to stand out. So we have so many wood finishes and different combinations. To state the age or not state the age – that is the question these days. Or is it to chill filter or not to chill filter? Or to add caramel coloring or not? I don’t really know what my favorite Scotch is these days.  I usually say that Talisker is my favorite because it was the first one I tried when I was in Scotland. The sentimentality that many people experience around Scotch is a big factor in what they like, myself included. Plus, how many bottles of Scotch can you own? I, despite what you may think, don’t actually drink that much. Much of what I do drink is out away from my Scotch collection. Maybe I don’t need any more Scotch. What? Did I just type that? There is so much good Scotch out there, it can make you cry. Why? Well, I don’t know if I can try it all in my lifetime, that’s why!

Scotch whisky is time in a bottle. Time and Scotland in a bottle. Time, Scotland, barley, yeast, water and oak in a bottle. Oh, and sherry finishes. I have to laugh when I find myself looking at a 10 year old whisky and thinking of it dismissively. 10 YEARS!?! We get so jaded because there is always something older, more expensive and more unique. 10 years is a terrific amount of time to have to wait for something to be ready. The time, love and care that these wonderful whisky makers put into tasting and blending and bottling this liquid gold and sending it to Texas just so I can buy it and enjoy it is tremendous. There are so many great whiskies that are $35-$60, that have familiar names and that are not that old. I notice that sometimes there are so many to choose from, one almost has to get dismissive just to feel like you can figure out what you should buy. For me, I like a variety of styles and I like to have a variety of distilleries from which to choose. I like to drink 2 or 3 small drams side by side to compare the differences and savor how a peaty Islay can be so different from a sweet Speyside. I like my Scotch neat almost always, unless I am drinking Scotch cocktails. That will be a different post, another time. I hardly ever think it tastes as good when I am alone as when I drink it with a friend, and of course discuss it. I am not sure what I will buy, but I will love to drink it and share it, as this is the best part of Scotch – drinking it with your friends. I look forward to sharing a wee dram with you soon!

(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.)

Our First Month

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Michael Parker took this photo when he was in Scotland in 2003 and sent it to me this week! He had the fun privilege of living in Bowmore and working at Bruichladdich for a few weeks that year!

This month has been full of terrific events for me related to Scotch and the Austin Scotch lovers. The website is coming along slowly but surely, and many events have been scheduled, with more almost ready to be announced any day.  Our group increased in numbers and Scotch was enjoyed at different locales around Austin. I do not plan to speak of this often, but I will comment here that less than good things happen related to The Austin Scotch Lovers every month, too.  I do not like to focus on those things, but I mention it because I do not want to seem disingenuous and sappy. Some of the unhappy things I deal with every month are:  people do not respond to my emails and phone calls; I meet people who seem happy to join the group and then I never hear from them again; members complain about things; events that I am hoping for do not manifest; people do not sign up for events and they have to be cancelled, and I do not meet my goals for improving the website. Every month I am planning to take stock of the group and website and comment on the progress and maybe allow myself a few complaints or low opinions. I am generally a positive and happy person, but that is only genuinely acquired through honest assessment of myself and the events of my everyday encounters. For my first monthly review, I wanted to speak about this in some detail, but in the future plan just  to tell you about things each month as they come.

One of the highlights of the month for me (that I have not mentioned in the blog yet) was attending a Bruichladdich class at Spec’s at Brodie Lane given by Simon Coughlin, the CEO of Bruichladdich and Douglas Taylor, the Global Brand Director. The presentation was very professional and the stories and banter were very humorous. The room we were in was not the greatest room, in that it was like a prison or other institution with mostly bare walls and the seating was very close to fit in the very large crowd of people who were there. But we were fed delicious food and the men who spoke are so passionate about Bruichladdich Scotch, they sweep you away with them, convincing you that this Scotch is the greatest Scotch ever made. Of course each person who loves Scotch has their opinion of the greatest Scotch ever, and it isn’t really a thing I can definitively answer for me right now. But attending this class made me think about Scotch in the way that I thought about Art History when I was studying it in college – an opinion about art can change when you know the history and context of the art. People frequently comment that modern art is not beautiful or worthy of being called art, and then that opinion can change when they study the life of the artist and the context of the art world they were in at the time – if the artist was innovating, rebelling, embracing, ignoring or creating the standard view of art of their medium and time. Plus, it has been my observation that art is art, often, because the artist says so, and convinces others to say so, too! Bruichladdich is dedicated to a vision of Scotch whisky made as purely Scottish as possible, using the best ingredients, the most craftsman like ways, and with the highest quality of everything that touches it. Really, they don’t just want to be Scottish, they want to be Islay-ish. They are so proud of using only Scottish, and in some cases, only Islay barley.  They use spring water from Islay. They malt the barley in Islay, they mash it on Islay, they distill it on Islay, they age the new make in casks in Islay, they blend it on Islay and they bottle the final Scotch Whisky on Islay! The 65 people who work there are probably mostly native Islay-ers! I don’t know that for sure, but it comes across in the presentation that way. When you interact with Bruichladdich, whether it be at classes like this, or on the website, or in person, it is hard to stay neutral about the whisky! To me, anyways, it seems like this is the only way you should make whisky, at least while I am in the thrall of the Bruichladdich distillery media.

I really love a Scottish musician named Robin Laing. You can check him out at robinlaing.com. He has written more songs about Bruichladdich than any other whisky.  He has an EP of these songs, and he sells an expression of Bruichladdich that is only his! So I fully admit that maybe I am more susceptible to the Bruichladich promotions than the average person. That I can only find out if you tell me how you find the Bruichladdich material. But at any rate, Robin’s song “Black Art” is one of my favorite songs. I am not in the habit of buying expensive Scotch, so the price tag of $260 or so for a bottle of Bruichladdich Black Art makes it unlikely that I would buy it.  But I wanted to taste it, of course. I was intrigued to find out the history of it. This had the effect of which I was just writing, which is that it made it even more desirable to me because the story is interesting, and speaks to me! Jim McEwan, the Distiller at Bruichladdich, is very transparent about the whiskies that Bruichladdich makes. He decided one day that he wanted to go into the vast warehouse of Bruichladdich, this treasure trove of casks full of maturing whisky, and create a whisky that is all his own, that is his secret and can be a creation of Jim McEwan alone. Thus was born The Black Art.  It is an non age statement whisky, like all Bruichladdich, but they will tell you that the youngest whisky in the Black Art is 23 years old. It is a work of art by a master: Jim McEwan is regarded as one of the kings of the Scotch Whisky industry. How he makes The Black Art is known only to him, and even if he told someone how he does it, and they repeated it, it most likely would not be exactly like his creation, as his persona is part of the whole package of The Black Art. All of these things just solidify my opinion that Scotch Whisky is an art form, and can be studied and thought of in the same terms as art. I am sure I will have more to say about this topic in the months to come.

Before I end this post, I want to say a few things about the work on this website. I love the vast amount of information that is available to us on the internet about Scotch, and really don’t want to create another website that is like every other Scotch website.  My main focus is drinking Scotch in Austin, but it is also coming through the lens of my life and personality, because I wanted to make it personal. I do want the website to have some basic information for Austin Scotch Lovers, like basic definitions related to Scotch, and a list of distilleries.  It occurred to me that one way to make the distillery list relevant to my goal was to not only tell people all the distilleries in Scotland, but to let you know where you can try the Scotch made by these distilleries in Austin. I am very excited about creating this, but also a bit daunted.  It is going to take me some time to get this up in a complete form, and I feel that in some ways it may not ever be “complete”, as bars and restaurants come and go all the time.  But I am going to  create it to the best of my ability and work on it steadily. I have more ideas, but these will be shared in future posts as they start to manifest and come to fruition. In all, January 2015 is off to a great start for me, and for the Austin Scotch Lovers, and for that I am grateful!

(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.)

Robert Burns but first, Gratitude

MY Whisky Barrel

Today is Robert Burns’ 256th birthday and I want to talk about that, but first, a singular honor was bestowed upon me this week and I want to celebrate that with you. Nick and Amanda Swift make single malt whisky in the Scotch style in Dripping Springs Texas.  They just released their first batch in October and I met them and got to taste it for the first time on November 13th, 2014, at Travis Heights Beverage World. It is tasty and holds the promise of great things to come for this distillery. I have been happy to promote Swift Whisky when I get a chance! They recently launched a lovely website, http://swiftdistillery.com/ and our meet up group has a “sold out” tour scheduled for February 7th, 2015.  We will cap off the tour with an event at Péché where we can try some cocktails they have made with Swift Whisky! http://www.meetup.com/AustinScotchLovers/events/219812954/ On Friday, Amanda emailed me the above photo and told me that Nick and she had named one of their newly filled barrels after me to thank me for helping them promote their business!  I nearly bust into tears and definitely had to take long slow breaths to calm down! I mean, a whole barrel of single malt named after me?! I am so humbled and grateful! Thanks Amanda and Nick so much! And if that wasn’t enough, I am also promised a bottle from the cask when it is ready! I am just over the moon about all of this and I thank-you all so very, very much!

I am no expert on Robert Burns, but, like most people, love his greatest hits, “Auld Lang Syne”, “My Love is Like Red, Red Rose” and “Comin’ thro’ the Rye”! In fact I grew up with a childhood album of my father’s called Chipmunks Around the World which featured “Comin’ Thro’ the Rye” as the entry for the Chipmunks’ trip to Scotland. Alvin directs his brothers to different instruments while Alvin borrows the “octopus” from the bagpiper and they proceed to rock and roll the tune to the ever present disgrace of Dave who yells, “You just can’t ruin a great song like that…bring back that octopu..bring back that bagpipe…ALVIN!!!” After traveling to Scotland in 2009, I fell deeply in love with the country and started my love affair with Scotch whisky which has led me here. I really liked Scotland before, but now I am very committed to this relationship. Another aspect of Scotland I love is Scottish Folk Music. Really, all of this is very new to me and I do not claim any expertise – just a great enjoyment of the pleasures the Scottish music, the people, the scenery, the food, and the whisky all bring to me. So out of all this one naturally encounters Robert Burns.  He was a great lover of Scotland, Scotch whisky (which he would just call whisky as there was no other, hee hee), Scottish people, food and Scottish Folk Music.  He collected songs and helped publish them.  He used old tunes to create some of his famous songs, like “Auld Lang Syne”, and helped preserve these treasures for all time through his poetry and song. So, if you pay any attention to any of these things, you will invariably hear about Burns Dinners or Burns Suppers being held to celebrate Robert Burns’ birthday all over the globe. Last year one of the first whisky events I ever attended was Twin Liquors “Burns Dinner” at the Hancock location. It was basically a Diageo Classic Malt tasting given by the Whisky Master, Theresa Menendez. The whisky tasting as terrific, but a Burns Dinner it was not. This year our new Twin Liquors in Round Rock offered a Burns Dinner with some fine presenters, Evan and Rebecca, giving us Glenfiddich and Balvenie to sample, with some great food from Foodapalooza food truck catering. But reading an excerpt from “Scotch Drink” doesn’t really make a Burns dinner, even if it is great excuse to drink Scotch!

But I am digressing, being distracted by Scotch as is my tendency. In starting to seek out Scottish music, I found “Across the Water” a now defunct wonderful radio show by Ed Miller on KUT, then at KUTX. But don’t despair – Ed Miller has a new show on Sun Radio called “Across the Pond” and can be heard every Sunday from 6-8pm. http://sunradio.com/across-the-pond-with-ed-miller/ Ed has introduced me to the delights of Robin Laing and Jim Malcolm, among others. I will write more about them in another post, but they have recorded Robert Burns songs which expanded my knowledge of Rabbie and increased my interest.  Today, in honor of the Bard of Scotland, let me share a few tidbits. One of my favorite facts about Robert Burns is that from his 12 surviving children there are more than 600 people who claim descendancy from him! He was quite a lover of women and broke many hearts. “A Fond Kiss” was written as a farewell to woman and is sad and beautiful. “My Love is Like a Red, Red Rose” is also a farewell song, but many people don’t see this and use it in their wedding!  Don’t do that! Michael Jackon, JD Salinger, Abraham Lincoln and John Steinbeck are all influenced by him! He died much too young at 37 from a rheumatic heart. So much accomplished in such a short time! Check out this terrific version of “Auld Lang Syne” from Jim Malcolm : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ri1-2HDHNwU. “Auld Lang Syne” can be translated to “for old time’s sake” and Jim is using Robert’s tune he intended for this song, kind of different from what most people sing with this song. I just LOVE it!

Well, that is all for my little tribute to Robert Burns! I will share the first stanza from his poem “Scotch Drink” below.  If you want to read the whole thing, check it out here: http://www.robertburns.org/works/84.shtml

Let other poets raise a fracas
“Bout vines, an’ wines, an’ drucken Bacchus,
An’ crabbit names an’stories wrack us,
An’ grate our lug:
I sing the juice Scotch bear can mak us,
In glass or jug.

(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.)

Thank-you Glenmorangie and Ardbeg

Today I want to acknowledge a wonderful gift the Austin Scotch Lovers received. Dan Crowell, a brand ambassador for Glenmorangie and Ardbeg, arranged for Glenmorangie and Ardbeg to pay our Meet Up fees for one year! I am so grateful to him and them, and I am writing today in celebration of that! Though I now consider them a sponsor of our group, in no way are we required to skew our opinions toward love of them, though I must admit they are two great distilleries in my opinion! I am looking forward to expanding our group in so many ways in 2015 and this is a great help toward that goal! Anyone may contribute to the Austin Scotch Lovers through a button on our meet up page.  Meet up does take a percentage of this to cover costs of administering it, but the convenience is nice. Since I pay for the dues and fees myself, you are also free to just donate money to the group directly to me.  Often I have a Glenfiddich tin with me for this purpose.  I don’t want to mention this subject too much as I want the Austin Scotch Lovers be a free group, but I do want people to know that there are some fees involved in being able to have these websites, so if you feel moved to help, I welcome it! If you want to become a sponsor of the group, let me know about that as well! Soon I will be writing about the upcoming activities the group has planned. I am waiting to hear back from some places and people to get a few more events confirmed! I look forward to meeting up with you and sharing a dram!

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(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.)

January 1, 2015

 

 

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Welcome to  our new website including a blog for The Austin Scotch Lovers. I am Catherine Sikora, the owner of the meet up group and this webpage. This is a photo of me taken by my best friend, Lisa Abbott, on December 25th, 2014. I decided to start  this webpage to support the Austin Scotch Lovers group. If you are finding this website in January of 2015, please be patient as I have plans for many things that will enhance our group in 2015, and some will take some time and money to implement. It is my hope to create videos on youtube connected to Scotch drinking in the Austin Area. I am also going to post some blog entries every month to promote the group and the events. I am new to most of this and will be on a learning curve for a while. I am not a great fan of Scotch reviews, but do know they are needed sometimes and have some included here on the website. I am hoping that members of the Scotch Lovers Group will want to write some reviews of their favorite Scotches and then post them here and on the meet up site. I find some Scotch reviews humorous, but generally speaking I start to glaze over after reading 3 or 4 in a row. I find that Scotch is such a personal thing and it is difficult to know if you will like a Scotch from someone’s description of it. I think Laphroaig has used this to great humorous ends by asking for people’s opinions of their Scotch and posting all of them and making  them into Carols! Some people love it and some hate it and it is really varied for the same Scotch whisky! Also, there are so many blogs reviewing Scotch out there, so if that is what you are looking for, I know you will find as many reviews as you would like to read about a particular expression! My focus here is to create a gathering place for everything and everyone to do with Scotch in Central Texas. If you know about anything happening that is Scotch related, contact me and I will post it on the meet up site!  Be sure to join the meet up group and come out and share a dram with us!

(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.)