Monday, April 16, 2012

Whisky Review: Aberlour A'bunadh

One of the liquor stores I frequent has a whisky specialist on staff.  He's been to Scotland several times, and loves to tell stories about it.  For example, he peed in the Glenlivet river, and told me "the '99 vintage may be a little saltier than usual."  He sort of ribs me about being a bourbon guy, as he feels that with his age and palate, he needs the complexities of scotch.  He stocks some good American whisky though, featuring most of the High West products, Anchor Distilling ryes, and the occasional Van Winkle bourbon.  When I asked him to recommend a scotch or two, he pointed immediately to Aberlour A'bunadh. 

A'bunadh (meaning "of the origin") has no age statement in order to give distiller the freedom to use any casks to achieve the flavor profile they are going for in any given batch.  My bottle is from batch #38, 60.3 alcohol by volume.  That will punch you in the mouth, for sure.  It's aged exclusively in Oloroso Sherry butts, again, not for a specific time frame, though estimates put the average age of the final product between 9-12 years.  This is the first whisky I've tasted in my new Glencarin tasting glass, which was pretty great by the way.  Look for a glassware post down the line.  Let's give A'bunadh a run.

Color-Rich, mahogany color, due to the high proof.

Nose-Definitely get the sherry.  And honey and vanilla.  This is a non-peated malt, so no smoke here.

Taste-The first thing I noticed was tons of spice, like an atomic fireball.  The whole taste was a whirlwind, rushing over the tongue and down into the throat.  It was very syrupy, coating the mouth.  Oaky, sherry, sweet, fruity, juicy.  Jim Murray says that if he nosed it blind, he would have thought it was pot distilled demerarra rum.  I didn't get that so much on the nose, but there is a rumminess, if you will, in the taste, like a freshness and a sweetness.  Murray also mentioned some milk chocolote notes.  I got more vanilla than chocolote.  Michael Jackson says Aberlour's house style is nutty, spicy, and describes some of the Aberlour lineup as cedary, cigar box-like.  This whisky was more juicy than dry like cedar, perhaps it's the high proof.

Finish-Lingering, coats the throat as it did the mouth.  Rich. 

Value-For me, this is a great value.  Plenty of bang for your buck with the high proof.  Between 50-60 bucks, similarly priced to a lot of entry level single malts, and it performs very well. 

Intangible-This is a bourbon lover's malt.  Very sweet and aggressive, but textured and nuanced nonetheless, despite being non-peated.  You may need water with this one, I probably should have added a few drops to open it up, but I like to try things as they are the first go round.  I'm not sure why cask strength scotches tend to use a variety of age ranges, would a cask strength 15 year old be too oaky?  In any case, this is wonderful stuff, I'd recommend you get your hands on a bottle of it.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

1, 2, 345, 6ers!

This post is not alcohol related, save for the fact that the Philadelphia 76ers will drive one to drink on any given night. 

Opening day in baseball was today, and the fightin Phils eeked out a 1-0 win.  I have a feeling a lot of their games will be decided with a single run this year as their lineup is depleted.  But as the Phils start up the Sixers are winding down.  Now, everyone in the city claims to be a Phillies fan first, including me, but there was a time when I followed the Sixers more than any team in sports. They had such a promising start that folks started proclaiming that a trade was too risky bc/ it would ruin the chemistry of the team.  Now they just look lost.  They were supposed to use their young legs to outlast the veteran teams in this short season, but that hasn't been the case of late.  Why are they frustrating?  It's not bc/ they are bad.  Bad teams are not frustrating, just bad.  The Sixers play good basketball, almost like watching a college team.  But they are overmatched most nights.  Their veteran big, Elton Brand, has always been undersized, and while he has heart, he now lacks a key element in any great player: knees.  Louis Williams is a pure scorer, but gets thrown around like a rag doll and is not exactly Kobe Bryant on the defensive end.  Evan Turner has showed some of his promise of late, but his increased role has confused Jrue Holliday, and also Doug Collins, who is like the Wizard of Oz, pushing buttons behind the curtain in an effort to find the right mix.  The problem is, the right mix is not there, because the Sixers lack a true star.  Please don't give me Iguodala.  I am an Iggy hater.  I understand that he "fills the stat sheet" and "shuts down the other team's best player," and maybe if he was getting paid half of what he makes and wasn't an albatross in terms of the salary cap, I might actually appriciate him.  But he is not an All Star, I don't care what anyone says.  I went to a game this year when the Sixers played the Clippers, and basically shut down their high octane, high flying offense, including Blake Griffin.  Until Chris Paul hit a circus shot to beat us.  In the NBA, you need a guy like that, who can score when you need it most, no matter what else he's done that night. 

They better hold on to the Atlantic Division, because if they get the 7th seed and face the Heat in the first round, the season will seem like a bust.  And then they better get a stud player.  Not a has been or never was the likes of Toni Kukoc, Derrick Coleman, the other Shack, Glenn "Big Dog" Robinson, and the list goes on and on.  And while I like some of the youth on this team, please don't pull a Billy King and give Thad Young a max contract.  No one on this squad is irreplaceable in my view.  At least they got rid of Hip Hop.

Okay, I feel better getting that off my chest. 

Thursday, April 5, 2012

New Whisky: Woodford Reserve Double Oaked

You may notice I don't do too many reviews of a single whisky or beer.  I guess I lack the confidence in my sensory vocabulary.  Whisky reviews can get very flowery and specific, like the SNL sketch where they name all of the notes in the wine, "cloves....peppery....burnt rubber....a garbage man..."  But I thought I'd give one a try anyway.  Woodford Reserve is made by Brown Forman, the folks behind the #1 whisky on the planet, good old Jack Daniels.  Woodford is one of the original "boutique" bourbons.  Like Jim Beam's small batch collection, it was aimed at a growing number of drinkers who care a bit more about what is in their glass, and the image that goes with it.  Original Woodford Reserve is generally priced just over 30 bucks, still affordable but expensive enough to feel that it's a luxury.  They have only had one regularly available product since their inception in 1996.  Now, like with Maker's Mark before it with their introduction of Maker's 46, you will find a new Woodford product on the shelves, Woodford Reserve Double Oaked.  Still exactly 90.4 proof, this bottle will run you $50.  So what's in the name?  The whisky spends time in two barrels, the first the same that original Woodford rests in, then a second which was "deeply toasted before its light charring."  Without pretending to be Mr. Wizard, charring is one of the ways distilleries can play with the flavor of a bourbon; the different levels of char can affect the sugars in the wood and resulting flavors in the bourbon.  Woodford's website does not give a ton of details about this process, there is simply a cheesy 1 minute video with some nonsense about "doubling the maturation and exposure to the oak."  I'm sure as this product is tasted and reviewed more intense bourbon geeks than I will find out more details about the process, aging time, etc.  Either way, it seems like a cool concept, especially considering that Woodford is the only U.S. distillery that operates its own cooperage.  I know one of Woodford's Master's Collection releases involved other experimentation with the wood, like extra seasoning (leaving it out in the sun).  So they know a thing or two about wood's role in the flavoring process.

 Disclaimer: some of my vocabulary may be pilfered from some of my favorite whisky writers, like Jason Pyle and Jim Murray, but I think reading about whisky is second only to tasting it when it comes to building a vocabulary and understanding, and that it can and should be a shared experience.  So, I credit those I have learned from, but now I will venture out on my own.  Okay, on with the whisky.

Rich, almost syrupy looking.  Reddish brown.

The distinctive Woodford nose.  Like apple cider.  Maybe some butterscotsch pudding.

Round and full bodied even at a fairly mild 90 proof.  Maybe just the packaging, but I do think you get more oak in this one, like a dryness that cuts through the sweetness of the vanilla-corn character of the bourbon.  The apples are there on the taste, too, this would be great to have in autumn.  There's some maple syrup or some kind of baking spices, can't quite put my finger on that aspect.

Pretty substantial, again, considering the proof.  Lingered on the palate even after only my first taste.  If you enjoy a good strong burn, you won't find it with this one, though.  It's mellow through and through.

I haven't had them side by side, but I can't say for sure that this is better or even all that much different than the original Woodford.  Even if it is, is it $20 dollars better?  Don't get me wrong it's great stuff, and I think it could hold it's own with other bourbons in that range (Bookers, Blanton's, Angel's Envy, etc.).  I guess it goes to show what a great bourbon and value the original is.

I always have mixed emotions about Woodford.  I loved their distillery tour and love their product.  But I don't love how they like to position themselves as "craft" (it says so on the website) when really they are backed up by Jack Daniels.  Also they push the concept of copper pot distillation but I don't believe that all of the whisky in their bottles went through that still, as they produce so much product and use some "filler" whisky not distilled on site (like Old Forrester) to keep the taste consistent from batch to batch.  I don't even care what they do because the product is great, but I don't really love when companies try to overhype a mystique that is more myth than fact. 

Final Analysis
At the end of the day it was fun to try a new product from an old standby.  Woodford Reserve Distiller's Select is behind the bar at almost any place worth its salt that pours whisky, and their reputation is a good one for a good reason, namely, the bourbon is damn good.  I'd probably score Woodford Reserve Double Oak an 8 out of 10.  Maybe not spectacular, but great stuff nonetheless.