Friday, February 26, 2010

Rye whiskey, rye whiskey, rye whiskey I cry

Article #7

Rye whiskey, rye whiskey, rye whiskey I cry

Rye whiskey, once the red-headed step child of the whiskey world has had a rebirth as of late and is enjoying a new found followership among whiskey fans. There used to be one or maybe if you were lucky two selections of rye whiskey at our local liquor stores. You could choose Jim Beam Rye or if you were fortunate the alternative selection was Old Overholt. Not that I like either one better than the other, but I do like choice and two selections are better than one. Every once in a while I would be in the mood for something different and I would usually get a bottle of Jim Beam Rye distinguishable (at least back then) by its yellow label which diminished any confusion between it and its big brother Jim Beam Bourbon. To me the rye is a good sipper and leaves a pleasant aftertaste that lingers a while. Its popularity has never been that of the other whiskeys (at least not in the 20th or 21st centuries) but it is rising up the whiskey world. Today you can find other brands or rye like Hudson Manhattan, Michters, Templeton Rye, Van Winkle Family Reserve Rye, and Wild Turkey Rye along with several other good ones too numerous to mention.
I had a scotch tasting party a while ago and as something fun to do I had a “mystery whiskey” which was Jim Beam Rye. Everyone tried the secret whiskey and guesses ran from scotch to bourbon to Canadian with one whiskey fan finally guessing Rye and claiming the prize of a nice bar towel. Now most of these folks were not hard core whiskey drinkers which probably explains why only one of them actually guessed correctly.
Rye was immortalized in the old cowboy movies with John Wayne, Hop-a-long Cassidy, Roy Rogers, Gene Autry, and Gabby Hayes. As the good or bad guys came into the saloon they often said simply “whiskey!” or “Gimme a shot of Red-eye!” or “Bar keep, shot of Rye!” all of these usually followed by “and leave the bottle!” Most of us have heard the old song about rye.
“Rye whiskey, rye whiskey, rye whiskey I cry
If I don’t get rye whiskey I surely will die
If the ocean was whiskey and I was a duck
I’d swim to the bottom and never come up.”
The question is simply this; is rye whiskey worth a try? The answer is a resounding yes!
While rye is my change of pace whiskey and I probably only buy a bottle about every other year, many people are trying it today and judging from the increasing of volume of sales and the growing shelf space in liquor stores it is finally getting a foot in the door of the whiskey drinking world. Rye tastes just a little different and it might take a time or two to really be able to appreciate its unique taste (and to me its unique and quite enjoyable aftertaste). So give it a try and if you don’t want to buy a whole bottle just order it up next time you are at your favorite bar. If nothing else get a shot and pass it around the table to let your friends try it or see if you can find a miniature 50ml bottle. Who knows maybe one or more of you will like it and will become of the new rye drinkers. Be sure to let us know what you think and if rye is really for you or just something you would rather not do. Tell us what your favorite brand is as I would be particularly interested in knowing that to give me leads on what to try next!
The Whisky Warrior

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Ice, water, or just a glass?

Article #6

Ice, water, or just a glass?

When traveling in Scotland or Ireland it is no secret to the native population that I am an American. I dress, walk, talk, and act like an American. So when I go into a pub and order a dram of scotch they almost always ask me if I want water and/or ice in it as most Americans they have run across in their publican careers have desired it in that fashion. I always order it straight up and am usually rewarded by a kind supportive word from the publican. When offered water in my single malt Irish whiskey at a pub in Roundstone Ireland I declined by saying “No, no I don’t want to poison the whiskey” which did bring an appreciative laugh from the pub staff. I was once in a small hotel in Fort William Scotland and after a couple of pints of Guinness I decided to try their local scotch selection (having been told that sometimes one can find a totally unknown and locally produced bottle which is a real treat). I said “Please I would like a glass of that one there on the end” pointing to one I really could not pronounce and not wanting to make too big of a fool of myself. I then added “I will have that neat please” thinking that I would get a “well done” or “good man” from the bar tender. Instead John the bartender said in his wonderful highland accent “It’s single malt scotch of course you’ll have it neat if you try to put ice in it I’ll break your fingers!” John works as a tour guide last I heard at the Ben Nevis Distillery in Fort William, look him up he is a great guy and the Ben Nevis tour and film is a fun stop with the requisite sample and buying opportunity at the end of the tour.
Yes many people actually take offense if you put ice or water in your whisky or whiskey, especially folks in Scotland and Ireland and it is understandable that they are very proud of their heritage and I am sure they honestly feel it is better straight than any other way. You have to remember two things though. First, it is almost always cold, wet and rainy or maybe snowing in Scotland and Ireland so yeah why the hell would you want a cold drink when you have spent most of your life just trying to get warm. In that respect the no ice makes even more sense. In Florida, however, it is blasted hot 9 months out of the year and ice in the whisky is sometimes a necessity when it’s 99 degrees in the shade (50 for your Celsius folks). So yes sometimes I do actually put ice in my whisky but not always. Second, there are some producers of scotches that actually tell you to put just a bit of good still spring water in the scotch in order to “open up the bouquet.” They also advise to be careful not to drown it. This is especially true for cask strength scotch. I have tried the Macallan cask strength (116.4 proof) and yes a splash of water did prove to make the experience more enjoyable and yeah it tasted better that way. Splash not tidal wave, splash!
I have found that in some parts of America (parts of California) they don’t seem to get the concept of “neat” as a drink order. I ordered a Glenfiddich at an Irish pub in a suburb of Los Angeles and made it very clear to the waitress that I wanted it neat. She served me the whisky with a healthy dose of ice water in it saying “here hon, we cooled it down for you some!” I was not happy, but hey I just gave up at that point and drank it.
The bottom line is that it really doesn’t matter and we are back to whatever you like then by all means do it. To preserve the health of your fingers and perhaps arms, legs, and eyes, you might want to give thought to ordering your whisky “neat” in Ireland and Scotland. Yes you can drown the scotch but some water or ice to make the experience more enjoyable to you should be just fine and dandy. As always, enjoy and let us know how you like your whisky to which some would reply “I like it when you buy it!”
The Whisky Warrior

Blends or single malts?

Article #5

Blends or single malts?

There in a nutshell is the question. Do you drink a blend or are you a devotee of single malts? A short explanation for anyone who might not know the difference is in order.
Blends are just that, a blend of two or more scotch whiskies. Some have several different scotches with several different ages all blended under the expert guidance of a master blender. One might have some 4 year old this and some 6 year old that and a bit of 12 year old the other just for smoothness. Some have many different whiskies blended, so many in fact that I cannot imagine how one masters the art of that many blended into one.
Scotch is made from malted barley and that is why a scotch that is bottled just from one distillery all made from the same malting, the same age and kept in similar casks is called a single malt.
It is confusing to the non-scotch drinker. A friend of mine was flying first class one day and the British fellow setting next to him ordered a “malt” from the flight attendant. She started going on about what kinds of ice cream they had but was sorry they did not carry malted milk shakes and my friend came to the rescue explaining to her what the gentleman was really asking for was a single malt whisky. The British gentleman (who had been staring blankly at the lady) was quite grateful when his whisky arrived. Oh yes it can be confusing.
So which is it for you? I had never heard of single malt until the mid 1990’s. Until then I was drinking Ballantines which is a very good blended whisky or Chivas Regal or Dewar’s with an occasional bit of Black and White. Then someone somewhere said “single malt scotch” and I remember saying “what?” They quickly explained and said it was “better” than regular scotch. So I was then bound to try this “new” scotch. My first was Glenfiddich which means “Glen of the deer.” I was truly impressed and it did go down smooth. I wanted more and what else was out there that I had not yet discovered? It’s kind of like a kid who has never had candy and you give them their first Hershey bar, then you take them to a candy store full of goodies. Off to the liquor store I went and on the upper shelf were Glenfiddich and Glenlivet. Ok I thought, so there are at least two different ones…….(there are hundreds I was just learning). So I tried Glenlivet and loved it. At that particular moment in time most of the liquor stores where I live did not stock a lot of single malts and I believe Scotland’s distilleries were just finding out what a huge untapped market for the good stuff there was in the United States and many other countries as well. I was asking friends what they drank and trying to find out how many single malt’s existed. Were there 10 or 30 or just how many were there anyway? I started having better luck in bars than at liquor stores. At a now defunct seafood restaurant in Cape Canaveral I was introduced to Long Morn, Glen Keith, and Speyburn…. good grief how many of these were there? Angels were staring to sing and heavenly light shown across the bar as each and every new single malt crossed my lips my happiness grew and grew. I love scotch! I said out loud to no one at all.
At that point the blends were all but permanently put on the back burner as I made it my life’s work, hobby, and interest to seek out and find all the single malts that are in the world and try them out. I have found and tried many but there remains much work to do.
Yes I like single malts and yes I like blends. The latest blend I am drinking now is called Sheep Dip. It is named after an old custom in Scotland. That is, farmers made their own whisky (illegally of course) and kept it in barrels marked “sheep dip” which was the chemicals one would dip a sheep into to kill insects or fungus. This, so it is reported, was successful in keeping nosey government officials from finding and confiscating their home distilling efforts. I have a bottle of Pig Nose in the bar at home as a back up and it too is a blend. Another blend I like is Famous Grouse. The Famous Grouse is a blend containing whisky like Macallan and Highland Park; these are two of my favorites so the blend is one I really like. Some British spacecraft folks that worked with me on a launch where we were stuck in the blockhouse all night for several days informed me that The Famous Grouse is the scotch of choice for most British scotch drinkers as their regular-keep-on-hand-all-the-time-day-to-day scotch. Yes they all loved the high cost single malts but TFG is just more affordable and still tastes great. It now also comes in a single malt variety which of course is more expensive but pretty darn good.
Whether you prefer single malt or a blend or something else entirely, that is all well and good. As a person who knows what it is like to work all hard all day for $1.50 an hour when I was younger, I certainly understand buying what one can afford. In addition, as I have said before I am not a scotch snob and will drink whatever tastes good. Drink what you enjoy and enjoy what you drink! Please write and let us know what you do like and I will appreciate that a lot especially if you tell me you like something I have not tried. Of course that will mean I have to hit the liquor store at once to find it and try it.
The Whisky Warrior


Article #4


In my family drinking was something you did not something you avoided. Not that it was ever said out loud when I was a kid but it was implied by action and word that one could simply not be a real man (or woman for that matter) unless one could drink whiskey. By that they did mean Bourbon as we were from Western Kentucky. So the challenge was to learn how to drink properly and like most folks that took me way too long to get it right.
My dad died from a lightning strike when I was three and I lived with my good Scots-Irish stock grandparents until I was seven years old. In that time I remember my grandfather hunched over his console radio set listening to the St. Louis Cardinal and Chicago Cubs baseball games. He would pull a chair up close to the radio and chew apple brand tobacco (spitting in a Folgers Coffee can) and drinking Early Times on the rocks with a splash of water. No one was allowed to disturb the ball game… one.
Occasionally he would have a Falstaff beer but usually it was Early Times or ET as we all called it (way before the movie about the long fingered alien). The ET bottle lived in the pie safe snuggled deep in the pull out flour bin buried by pounds of Gold Medal flour. Sometimes I would come in from playing out in the yard to find my grandmother and 4 or 5 of her blue-haired buddies seated around the kitchen table each with a shot glass of Early Times and a Kool cigarette. The bottle standing proud in the middle of the table still had a generous dusting of flour still clinging to its shoulders. The ladies were gingerly smoking each puff as if they were kissing the cigarette I don’t know to this day why they all did that. If grandma smoked a pack a year I would have been surprised. The flour bin hiding place was of course so the minister would not see it (or any other tee totaler that might happen by), it was all about appearances in small town Kentucky. It was a dry county but every other person drank to some extent. While Granddaddy and Grandma were discrete and I never saw them smashed ever, most of the towns folk only knew one way to drink and that was…..until it’s all gone. Probably an evil created by the dry county, no one wanted to get caught so everyone just killed it off to destroy the evidence. They really did not get the concept of social drinking. I will never know for sure but I do know that those early childhood memories and that of my stepfather (who was the very best and also drank ET), cemented my future as a drinking man who could appreciate a good drink. If you were going to be a man you were going to drink and drink responsibly it was not a choice. Several of these folks were familiar with the art of making Moonshine but usually it was bourbon that folks drank. The drink was part of our culture and it was there for ball games, black and white TV shows, dances, and in the evenings sitting on the front porch swing with crickets chirping and lightning bugs flashing out in the yard. It was something to be enjoyed and appreciated. I proudly carry on that great family tradition.
The Whisky Warrior

Shelf Space

Article #3

Which shelf is your scotch on?

Top shelf, middle shelf, bottom shelf, the good stuff, what do you like and what do you buy? Most all alcoholic beverages have a variety of levels of quality that one can buy.
Scotch is no exception. As I’m sure most all of you know, the product cannot be called scotch unless it is actually distilled in Scotland. So if they all come from Scotland what is the difference? As a young and usually broke man I wasn’t very picky about what type of scotch I bought at the liquor store. I couldn’t be picky without the money to enable pickiness. So I tried quite a few of the bottom dwellers. Some that come to mind are Old Smuggler, Clan McGregor, Vat 69, Scoresby, J&B, ABC brand, and Cutty.
Now I drank a lot of J&B and Cutty with soda and its good that way. My friend Dave used to drink railroad car loads of Clan McGregor with water (lots of water) and ice and at the time he was drinking it he did seem to enjoy it. So bottom line is bottom shelf is usually drinkable if mixed with water or soda and lots of ice. Now another thought is that bottom self in my community liquor store might be different that the bottom shelf in your home town. J&B, Cutty, and Vat 69 might be middle shelf where you live and that’s ok, I’m not knocking any of them just reporting where they are located on my local store shelves. Vat 69 was featured in the Band of Brothers series as the scotch of choice for one of the officers in that series. When I was 17 I had an orange Vat 69 sweatshirt that I wore everywhere but had not tried it yet. Like most teenagers I never drank until I was 21…………….wink wink, nudge nudge. If any of these are your favorites then that is fine, it’s not about how much they cost it is all about if you like it or not. If you find joy in a 12 dollar bottle of old whatchmacallit, that is great, enjoy. I still enjoy some of the less expensive bourbons such as Early Times, Ten High, and Old Crow. Maybe because my dad and grand dad drank Early Times and my college days were heavily sprinkled with Ten High and Old Crow so they all have a ton of nostalgia for me, but with a splash of water or 7-up and some ice I enjoy them all. I just don’t have much time to drink them these days with all the single malt’s and blends waiting to be tried.
Let us move on to the middle shelf now. Middle shelf will produce Chivas Regal, Ballantines, Glenfiddich, and Glen Grant in my area. Again, these will be top shelf in some places. I have enjoyed all of these and don’t drink them much anymore for the same reason, there are just too many really great ones out there just waiting to be tried. I have bottles of all three at the house but never seem to get around to drinking them while my single malts seem to evaporate way to quickly these days. I guess I would rather have a bottle of something new I haven’t tried hoping to find a new favorite.
The top shelf will feature Macallan, Glenmorangie, Balvenie (single and double woods and a port wood), Laphroaig (very smoky for peat lovers), Talisker (some smoke), Highland Park (some sherry) Aberlour (some sherry), and Glenlivet (good oak). I love them all. I was in Portree in the Isle of Skye in June of 2009 in one of their local pubs very near the Pink Guesthouse where we were staying. There were 5 or 6 locals there and knowing they distill Talisker on Skye I ordered a Talisker. Cheers of “Good man and well done” came from the assembled Scotsmen and I totally enjoyed that moment and even better the scotch was great. It does have smokiness to it and not everyone enjoys that flavor. I’m not a big fan of too much smoke but on that day it was a truly enjoyable dram. I held a scotch tasting night in the late 1990’s and of the assembled scotches (many listed here in this article) Aberlour was chosen by the assemblage as the best of the lot. Now that is 10 peoples opinion, 3 or 4 of which were not regular scotch drinkers but it was the result on that particular date and time. We will offer more articles on most of these as time goes by but for now, please tell us which of these you like or don’t care for or where they are on your shelf space in your home town. I know there are many more outstanding scotches that have not been mentioned yet, but we will get to them all before we are done and you can feel free to tell us about your favorites. I know your liquor store probably has a whole different shelving of product arrangement (top, middle, and bottom) than what I mentioned here and that’s ok. What we did not discuss is “behind the counter.” That is the top shelf items too but usually based on price. My local liquor store keeps Absolute Vodka behind the counter, its good vodka but they keep it there (they told me) because of shoplifters not because of its price. Let us know your observations on this please.
The Whisky Warrior
Article #2

Everyone has different tastes in food and drink and it is sometimes hard for us to realize that something we love and enjoy is something our friends just can’t stand. It is the philosophy of this blog to respect other views even if we just can’t understand them.
I will be discussing my personal experiences with various whiskey and whisky over the years and I encourage you to submit your experiences as well. I do not expect you to like everything I like. That is just stupid and I may not like everything you like but I will enjoy reading what you have to say as will our other readers. Remember I do not claim to be an expert I only claim to love whiskey (y). With that in mind here is the Whisky Warrior’s first discussion.
Let’s start with the sometimes called “Rolls Royce” of Single Malt Scotch, Macallan. I really don’t remember the exact date and time I tried Macallan for the first time but it would have been in the mid 1990’s. I worked with a woman who was already most familiar with Macallan and she told me about it at work one day. Sometime later I bought a bottle of the 12 year sherry oak finish and it was certainly love at first sip.
At that time a bottle of 12 year was about $25, the 18 was $59, and the coveted 25 was around $150. My goodness how inflation and the times have changed all those prices. Today the 12 is in the $30’s, the 18 can be found in the mid $100’s and the 25, well let’s just say I cannot afford it, it’s way over $200 +. I have been privileged to taste all three age groups and they were all delightful. Back in 2005 I won a leadership award from the company I was working for and they flew the winners to another state and had an open bar the awards night with “anything you folks want you can have!” My fellow winners and I drained the establishment’s Macallan 25, 18, and were ½ way through the 12 when the time bell rang. It was a glorious evening and a most inglorious morning to follow with some paying great homage to the porcelain god. I do not recommend overdoing it that is never smart. I came through unscathed fortunately mostly due to the big dinner that went with it.
A few years back Macallan came out with a Fine Oak line with several age offerings (10,15,18, 21, and 30) to appeal (I guess) to those who are not so fond of the sherry finish of the regular Macallan. Now the Fine Oak uses some Spanish Oak sherry casks and American Bourbon casks, but does not have as strong of a sherry finish as their standard scotch does. I have a friend named Dave who just cannot cope with the sherry or Madeira finish on any scotch, but I like them both very much. I did try a bottle of the Fine Oak, it was the 15 year and it was very smooth just like its older brother but with the strong oaky flavor that many scotch drinkers love. I paid around $70 for that one but it was a 3 or 4 years ago. Around here where I live in Central Florida you don’t see the Fine Oak finish much but you can find it if you look. Remember when the only single malts you ever saw were Glenlivet and Glenfiddich? They are good but man I am very happy that today we can find dozens of brands and ages in most liquor stores, bars, and pubs. There is a new one out now the “1824” variety of Macallan and I regret to say I have not tried it. I may be wrong but I believe that the 1824 is made mainly for the duty free market. Macallan drinkers are a most loyal and vocal group and many will drink nothing else.
Of course you can always go on the web sites of any products we discuss and find out all you want. We receive no funds from any product we discuss and if that ever changes we will let you know at once. All brand names are copyrighted etc. by their owners we just talk about them and do not proclaim any ownership or business relationship whatsoever of anything but our copyrighted writings in this blog.
The Whisky Warrior

Monday, February 22, 2010

How I got started drinking scotch - By The Whisky Warrior

Let’s face it, Scotch is like Liver, Curling, or Haggis, you either love or hate it. For many of us it is an acquired taste that once acquired becomes a passion and a truly enjoyable part of life. I’m asking all of the scotch lovers out there to write and tell us your story of how you came to love scotch. Was it love at first sight or did it take a while to get to know each other? Here is my story to start things off.
It was 1972 and I was 21 years old and living in Gainesville Florida where I was working at a local plumbing company and my wife was just starting her registered nursing career at the Shands Hospital there. The plumber I worked with drank scotch and soda whenever we went out and I was still drinking Wild Turkey and Ginger ale. His name was Lee Gillette (no relation to the razor fortune, remember I said he was a plumber). We were having a drink and he was drinking J&B and soda and I was just finishing my second Wild Turkey of the evening when he said “let me buy you a scotch and soda!” I replied “hell no I ain't drinkin that cat piss no thank you!” He kept after me and mostly because I was making a cool $2.00 an hour back then I caved in and said ok. So there I was with my first scotch and soda which if memory serves was about ½ scotch and ½ soda. I drank it and as the last drops went down I nearly gagged. “God that’s awful! “ I yelled. He shocked the hell out of me by saying “ok now let me buy you another one.” “I said you have got to be kidding, what part of awful did you not understand?” “He said “trust me, just have one more.” After a bit of reluctance and pretty much total disbelief I acquiesced and allowed him to buy me my second scotch and soda. It was just about as awful as the first one. I still did not get it. Forcing the last of the second one down I said ok that’s it no more. Again Lee was insistent and well I had just finished 4 drinks so my ability to say no was much diminished at this point so yeah I caved and had yet a 3rd god awful drink ordered for me. Well somewhere in that 3rd scotch and soda my life was to take a new turn and things would never be the same again at least in my choice of booze. As I finished the last bit and said “ahhh”…I stopped in my tracks. Did I just say “ahhhhh?” What the hell, that last one was tasting really good. Lee just laughed and said “see I told you so!” I imagine somewhere over the bonnie heather covered fields of Scotland a thousand of God’s best angels started singing at that moment, another soul saved from mundane booze and another convert to uisge breatha.
I have been a scotch drinker ever since that night. After a few years I switched to scotch and water, then scotch on the rocks and finally I reached my true adulthood and began to drink my scotch with just the two ingredients; scotch and glass. I have graduated from J&B and Cutty Sark to Ballentines and Grants, to Macallan's and Glenmorangie. I don’t consider myself a scotch snob, I like several blends such as Famous Grouse, Pig Nose, Sheep Dip, and well the list is way too long, let’s just say I love scotch. Now it is your turn please tell us your story and if you have a friend that just can’t drink scotch try the three in a row method it worked for me.