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About this Blog

Welcome to Po'Nutrition Fax! This blog is about alcohol - it has nothing to do with health or wellness, and the only relationship between this and Edgar Allen Poe is that he was an alcoholic.

I used to work in a liquor store and developed a taste for all different types of booze. As my collection grew, I felt the need to share my knowledge of, interest in, and experiences with my purchases - from the standards (e.g. whisk(e)y, gin) to the less-than-standard (e.g. kirschwasser, raki). You'll also find a lot on beer (another love of mine).

This is not about how much I can drink nor do I promote over-excess of alcohol. As with most blogs, there is some self-reflection included with most of the reviews. The point is to encourage everyone to reflect on what they drink.

Leave comments or ask questions! Also, "follow" me if you like what you read - I am not making money from this blog but if I see more interest in this and hear some feedback, it will encourage me to write more.

Cheers!
Mike

Monday, January 5, 2015

Henry McKenna Single Barrel Bourbon

Miso (the cat) is judging my drinking
I'm going to keep this simple because I feel as though no one actually cares about what they drink anymore.

Who gives a shit if it's got caramel coloring? Will I get drunk?

Is this altered in some other way? Who cares?! I just want to get drunk!

Can't you just let the marketing fool me? I just want to wake up tomorrow and feel as though my life is now better because I acted like an idiot for a few hours and can blame it on something else! However, I also want to feel good about myself because it said "small batch" or "single barrel" on the label because the marketing of that product made me think as though I'm special because the thing I just drank said one of those two magic statements!

So here's my review of Barrel # 1234 of Henry McKenna 10-yr:

Nose: Caramel corn, vanillin, pepper, citronella
Flavor: Pepper, Tobacco, "smoke and oak," alcohol (suggest watering down a bit), dry-finish. Insipid.
Overall: Not bad on its own - makes a great Old Fashioned. Use as a higher-end mixer since the spicy/earthy notes compliment "sweeter" whiskey-based drinks (e.g. Old Fashioned, Manhattan)

There. Now drink yourself stupid but feel better about yourself because it says "single barrel" on the label.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Thoughts on Vodka

I have one post about vodka.

In that post I say:

"I'm not a big vodka drinker. It's not because I have anything against vodka per se but I do not like what vodka has become to most people in this country. Vodka is not supposed to be the clean and flavorless spirit it is marketed as in the U.S.  It's not a blank palette on which one can throw any number of flavoring agents... [i]t can be distilled from anything that can ferment... [e]ach base product creates a different tasting vodka. Some are distilled many times, others are filtered but the idea that the true essence of that base product can be captured in a final distillate."

I still stand by most of this statement but I have to revisit one item, namely the "distilled many times" point.

According to the U.S Code of Federal Regulations, vodka is a neutral spirit distilled to 190 proof (95% ethanol) that is "treated after distillation with charcoal or other materials, as to be without distinctive character, aroma, taste, or color." You'll also notice that most items follow that "190 proof" guideline. Here, the alcohol distillers have won a battle to create their economies of scope - one grain neutral spirit is the base for all sorts of different spirits. So for all of you caught in the "moonshine" craze that is hitting this country, I'm sorry to inform you that it's just unfiltered vodka.

Anyway, here's the funny thing about that proof: subsequent distillations will not purify the ethanol much more (only to 191.2 proof - 95.6% ethanol). So whenever you see a label claiming a vodka has been distilled "x" number of times, it doesn't matter. It was distilled to the minimum 190 proof, and you can't get much purer than that.

Furthermore most vodkas are column distilled, which is a continuous process, so there is no such thing as "x" times distilled.

So is filtration the key to making vodkas so different from one another? Probably.

Charcoal filtering removes certain volatile organic compounds, leaving other molecules behind. Further "filtration" through precious metals adds new molecules to create different "mouth-feels."

Further thinking: when people complain about hangovers on "cheap" vodka, they are probably more likely to mix "cheap" vodka with sugary sweet mixers and drink to excess. These things are more likely the causes of your hangover rather than the quality of the vodka.

Also, vodka is naturally gluten-free even if it's distilled from grains like wheat or barley. Gluten is a protein, which is too "heavy" to be distilled. Unless you drink a sweetened/flavored vodka, there is no gluten.

So when you buy vodka, stay away from flavored vodka and find ones filtered an acceptable number of times (for your own sake) if you're looking for a "clean" vodka.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Pure Kentucky XO

How can you spell the name of your own state wrong?

You may remember my previous post about KBD bourbons and my interest in trying a few. Pure Kentucky XO was on that short list so I opted for this one this time around.

In the small print on the back label, you can see it's aged for at least 12 years before it is blended and bottled. Since it's called "XO" then it's probably aged for at least ten years, because XO brandies are aged at least ten years. You may also notice the spelling error just above it. If you didn't, I graciously underlined it in the picture above.

However, make sure to read the back label of this bourbon if you decide to buy it! Some of the other bottles had a different label, missing both the spelling error and "age statement."

First thing to note about this bourbon is its proof: 107. Water this one down before drinking otherwise it's too hot and the alcohol is overwhelming on both the nose and palate. This must be a high-rye bourbon because it's very peppery, with a hint of citrus. It also has aromas of sugar-sweetened nuts, reminiscent of a pecan praline.

Initially, I wasn't very impressed, but that's before I watered it down (probably around 90 proof). With my second tasting tonight, I'm getting to know this bourbon a bit more. Is it the best one I've had? No, but it's still pretty good.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Quadruple Scotch Tasting

So many scotches, so little time
In September, my friend's mother traveled to Scotland and promised to bring back a bottle of scotch for me. She couldn't decide what to bring back, so she brought back four different bottles for me.

This was one of the greatest gifts I ever received.

As one can see in the picture, the four are Auchentoshan 12YR, Tomintoul 14YR, Edradour 10YR, and Bowmore 18YR. Here are my reviews of these four whiskies:

Auchentoshan 12YR - A very light-bodied, dry, lightly-peated scotch. Not a lot of character but easily drinkable.

Tomintoul 14YR - honey, biscuits, and floral notes on the nose. Same on the palate entry, with a slightly herbal and smoky end. Those years of aging over their 10YR really make a difference.

Edradour 10YR - the most impressive of the bunch. Toffee and pepper on the nose and slightly herbal/vegetal. Has a wonderful nutty, salty caramel flavor with medicinal notes and a long, herbal finish. An excellent scotch!

Bowmore 18YR - pretty dark, and "sticky" sweet - caramel coloring? Pepper, brine, iodine, leather, and honey on the nose. Opening is sweet, "nose" in the center, wood smoke on the end.

It was a nice range of scotches to try. All from different regions and each one pretty representative of its regional style, too.

Also, if you find the Edradour 10YR, get it.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Johnny Drum Private Stock

Find this. Drink this.
I've been wanting to try a whiskey from Kentucky Bourbon Distillers (KBD) for awhile now. I had the Michter's "US*1 Sour Mash" Whiskey awhile back, but I already had a few other whiskies in me by the time I tried it so I don't remember much about it. KBD makes a bunch of different whiskies (mostly bourbons) but sell them under various names: Michter's, Willet, Rowan's Creek (to name a few). If you find a bourbon and you are unsure about who produces it, read the label and if it was distilled in Bardstown, KY and has this image somewhere on the bottle (usually just the pencil drawing of the still without mention of the company name):
You've got a KBD whiskey.

Of the handful of bourbon distilleries left in Kentucky, I've had something from all of them - except KBD. No real reason, except they have so many different bottlings I wasn't too sure where to start. Especially if you read the copy on the bottles they all basically say the same thing:

1. Distilled using traditional methods or passed down through four (sometimes five) generations
2. Something about "Sour Mash"
3. Produced in small quantities
4. Aged for a long period of time to ensure quality

If you know anything about bourbon already, none of this information is useful. These are either too vague to be helpful (3 & 4), standard practice within the industry (2), or inconsequential (1).

So why did I finally decide on Johnny Drum Private Stock?

The internet told me to do so.

Of the reviews I read for the four I narrowed down my KBD choice to (Old Bardstown, Kentucky XO, Kentucky Vintage, and Johnny Drum Private Stock) this one had the most convincing ones. The others sound good (I'll try some of those next) but at the proof (101) and the price (< $30) Johnny Drum Private Stock seemed like the best decision.

And it was.

The nose is like some sort of nutty, chocolate-covered caramel. There are hints of spice, smoke, and oak, too. The earthier notes are stronger than the candied aromas on the palate, but it has a long, dark-chocolate finish. Furthermore, I barely noticed that it is 101 proof. It is one of the best whiskies I've ever had for under $30. Hands down. Highly recommended.

The quality of this bourbon has convinced me to try other things from KBD - although Johnny Drum Private Stock might be hard to follow up.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Scotch Quandry: Peaty vs. Smoky

This is Peat. Say "Hi, Peat."
Scotch isn't for everyone. There generally isn't a middle ground either: you either love scotch, or you hate it.

For those that love it, there are a few categories that one may fall into. Some love the sherried-sweetness of Speysides. Others may love the brinier island styles (Orkney, Arran, Skye etc.). Then there are the "Peat Heads" - the lovers of Islay (excluding Bunnahabhain).

Lagavulin is the "nectar of the gods" to some. Others swear by Laphroaig's juice of the barley. Whether it be from Ardbeg or Bruichladdich, Islays are known for their heavily-peated whiskies. I've had at least one release from all of the above: all fine scotches.

But what makes a scotch "peaty"?

Personally, my favorite Islay malt is Caol Ila. It has a very iodine-rich flavor, but somewhat lacking in smoke. I was surprised, however, to hear that it's not as heavily peated as the others mentioned above: I associate that iodine flavor with peat. Furthermore I was speaking with a customer recently about his favorite Islays and he claimed Caol Ila was the worst because it wasn't peaty enough for him, same with Ardbeg and Bruichladdich, but Lagavulin's 12YR "Cask Strength" was his favorite (more so than the "normal" Lagavulin 16YR) because it was "smokier." I got a little lost in his use of "peaty" and "smokey." I couldn't tell if it was just semantics or if he meant different flavors. This got me thinking about how "Islays" are classfied as the peatiest of the single-malts and what "peaty" meant.

Before I go any further, I have to warn you that things are about to get kind of nerdy. There will be some chemistry. However, as a nerd, I also feel it is my duty to say my education of chemistry is limited to whatever was taught to me at the NYS Regents level back in 1997-98. While I try to be as diligent as I can in finding the correct information online (mostly through Wikipedia), I admit I am not adequately educated in chemistry to fully understand or explain the molecules and their properties mentioned below.

Yet, this is what makes alcohol so interesting to a nerd like me: there is always something to learn and to share with you.

Back to peat.

My initial online research brought me to this PDF I found from The Whisky News: it's very informative. It begins with an explanation of what peat is (i.e. wet, rotting vegetative matter) and its historical connection to the scotch whisky industry. The most interesting part (to me) is the penultimate section entitled "Phenols and ppm." Phenols are, in a sense, aromatic molecules. In the scotch whisky industry, the amount of phenols are measured in PPM (Parts Per Million). So when Bruichladdich's Octomore claims to have 167 ppm of phenols, one can assume that this is a heavily-peated whisky. However, as this Whisky News article points out, that is the concentration before milling and mashing and these may cut that ppm in half in the final distillate. Furthermore, aging actually decreases phenol concentrations over time, too. This makes some sense why that customer mentioned above preferred Lagavulin's 12YR to their 16YR. Yet phenols are a large group of aromatic molecules, each molecule having different aromatic qualities.

More research required.

If the research methods classes I had as an undergrad and graduate student taught me anything, it was to check the citations - so I did. This article from Vol 107, No. 5, 2001 in The Journal of the Institute of Brewing & Distilling entitled "Origins of Flavour in Whiskies and a Revised Flavour Wheel: a Review" (pp 287-313) does a good job of classifying the peated characteristics into "[q]uantitatively important" phenols: phenol, cresols, guaiacol (295). Each represents a different attribute of "peatiness." Phenol, normally extracted from coal tar, imparts that almost "asphalt-like" flavor. Cresol is similar to phenol. Guaiacol is smoky too, but more like a campfire, or wood-based smokiness. Plus there eugenol, a guaiacol associated with the more medicinal qualities of peat (usually extracted from essential oils). Temperature affects the level of all molecules during the kilning process: increasing the temperature from 400 to 750 degrees Celsius during kilning increased phenol and cresol levels, but reduces guaiacol levels. Yet cresols are more abundant than phenols in the final spirit than in the barley malt (prior to milling and mashing). Furthermore phenols can be introduced through un-peated kilning, too.

It would seem that describing something as "peaty" is just not enough.

Another citation brought me to this other article from The Journal of the Institute of Brewing & Distilling entitled "Measurement of Thresholds for Reference Compounds for Sensory Profiling of Scotch Whisky" (Vol. 106, No. 5, 2000, pp 287-294). While phenol, cresol, and eugenol are not mentioned, this research looks at the detection and recognition levels in ppm of certain aromatic molecules - guaiacol being one in particular. The detection threshold for guaiacol was between .03 and .09 ppm, while the recognition threshold is between .7 and 3 ppm. While this research doesn't look at the point at which ppm hits an apex, (as in beyond a certain ppm, there is no distinguishable difference), I find it a little absurd that we have such heavily peated whiskies (i.e. Octomore) if one phenolic compound (i.e. guaiacol) is recognizable at a much lower level?

So what do we have in the end here? In my opinion, we have to be a bit more specific when we talk about our "peaty" scotches. Do we want something smoky, that has been aged longer or been in a barrel with a deep char? Or something that was kilned at a very high temperature and reeks of tar? Or do we want a medicinal or "vegetal" whisky? All very important things to consider when you are looking for your next scotch - especially an Islay.

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Rhum J.M. Agricole Blanc

OK, I bought another rum despite my claims that I would not do it for awhile.

But summer is approaching and rum seemed like the thing to buy.

Since I don't like molasses-based rums (as a general rule) I noticed this particular sugarcane-based rum and thought "What the hell? It will be less than $30 for a one liter bottle, why not give it a shot?"

The nose has scents of Mr. Sketch Lime-scented markers, basil, and hints of thyme and rosemary. Furthermore, there is plenty of ash and smoke too.

The terroir of the sugarcane used to make this rhum (the French spelling) has volcanic influences: the soil is "volcanic" and "volcanic mineral water" is used to dilute the distillate (as claimed by the producer's website). The strong "ash and smoke" scents make sense with this information.

The flavors match the scents pretty closely. However there is also a buttery quality to it, and has a long, dry finish too.

Initially, the smokiness of this rum threw me off. Not in a bad way but in a very unexpected way. I thought the smokiness was imparted during the harvest (since the sugarcane fields are burned before harvest - to remove the sharp leaves). This prompted some research on my part, where I found this volcanic terroir information, and it provided a satisfactory answer. As a result, I've come to appreciate the unique influence of the terroir on the final product.

Would this rum be a proper choice for everyone? No. Maybe scotch or mezcal drinkers would like to give this rum a try. Or it might go well in a Cubanita (a Bloody Mary made with rum). Or use it to make a Basil Mojito.

Or drink it straight - that's what I'll keep doing.