Friday, April 12, 2013

Pappy V All

When I was a kid, a few friends of mine had a running joke called, “I’ll take you both on in Madden.” The joke was that in Madden video games, it was much easier to win the game as a single player controlling the whole team rather than trying to coordinate complicated passing plays. But the concept of taking on more than your fair share is always desirable if you are a really a competitor, like trying to win a pickup basketball game 2 on 3. Pappy Van Winkle may be shorthanded, but he always wins. Okay, I’m not sure how well that analogy worked, but I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about Pappy Van Winkle 15, my favorite all time whisky. He’s too intimidating to do a review on. But I do want to share some thoughts about him, and his place relative to my whisky journey. The Van Winkle line has everything, flavor, richness, complexity, cache, uniqueness, everything except for availability. Julian Van Winkle has said, or at least implied, that the mystique of the brand is protected by making it a bit hard to get, but I do think it’s gone beyond what their business model predicted. Just a couple of years ago, you would see some Van Winkle sitting on shelves now and then, and the 15 year sold for about $60. Now, it is sold before it even reaches the sales floor (I bought my last bottle for $120 bucks, limit one per customer, and the whisky manager went into the back to get it. Mind you, the warehouse that stored the Van Winkles was damaged by Hurricane Sandy; we were lucky to get any in this area at all). I am hoping that the new ebay policy shrinks the black market markups on it a bit, and therefore increases its availability). I have a small stash of some Van Winkle bourbons which I drink on special occasions. And I do share with friends, because that’s what bourbon lovers do. All this to say, despite Pappy’s greatness, there are so many great whiskies out there, of all styles and at all price points. It’s a practically limitless world of flavors and experiences. It’s silly to get hung up on one specific bottling. I still consider it my “high water mark,” and will work hard to get a bottle every time it’s released, but I won’t lose any more sleep over it. Life’s too short and the whisky world is too grand.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Interesting Whiskies

This week I had the chance to try two interesting whiskies. I won’t be doing a full review on either, but rather brief descriptions and a few thoughts.

Bruichladdich “The Laddie 10” (pronounced “Brook-laddy”)

The New Yorker magazine recently had a really interesting article on this distillery, which was mothballed for years before being revived by some creative, independent folks. The owners and distillers did such a good job that they were ultimately bought out by a large beverage brand. Because the distillery was low on quality stock, they had to put out all sorts of interesting releases to keep the buzz going, because their new make was too young for age statements. For example, their entry level whisky is called “Rocks,” a nod to the ancient rocks the water runs through before the distillery turns it into the “water of life.” The Laddie Ten represents a benchmark in the distillery’s history, a standard 10 year bottling that won Islay whisky of the year in Whisky Advocate Magazine when it was released. Some reviewers say it was overhyped due to the distillery’s interesting story, but by all accounts it’s a fine whisky, and a good value at about $45. What’s interesting about it is that thought it’s an Islay, it’s “unpeated,” meaning the barley is not dried over peat smoke, and yet it’s fairly peaty in character due to the water source. In any case, it’s a nice pour, a bit of peat but nothing like a Laphroaig, Lagavulin, etc. Creamy and malty, but not the smoothest whisky around, with a bit of bite at 92 proof.

New Holland Beer Barrel Bourbon

Many of you will have had a bourbon barrel age beer, this bottling flips that concept on its head. New Holland is a craft brewer that added a distillery more recently. They distill all sorts of spirits, including a hopped whisky they call Hopquila. The whisky I had is a sourced whisky, it’s bourbon distilled and aged by Indiana Distillers, and New Holland ages it for several months longer in casks that held their Dragon’s Milk beer, casks which originally held bourbon. Talk about full circle. One reviewer called this a novelty whisky, but at $30 I felt it worth a try. It’s not a bad whisky. I found it a bit simpleminded, but there is definitely some sort of beer influence that enhances the flavor. A nice change-up, and I always like supporting the craft movement.