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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, December 26, 2011

Cragganmore 15-yr Bordeaux Finish - Murray McDavid

A couple of posts ago, I committed a great deal of text trying to convince the reader that independent scotch bottlers are the key to purchasing great scotch. Unfortunately, the scotch I chose as my example was not too great, so the argument fell flat on its face. However, I have found a superb example to share with you - The Cragganmore 15-yr Bourdeaux Finish from Murray McDavid.

Cragganmore is a part of Diageo's portfolio of scotch distilleries. Diageo owns pretty much all of the biggest names in alcohol (e.g. Tanqueray, Smirnoff, Guiness) so it's no surprise that some of the most well-known distilleries (i.e. Talikser) are under their control. Furthermore they own Johnny Walker, who blends their whisky using some of these big names. Cragganmore is their Speyside malt. Sure they may own others, but their "high-end" single malt is Cragganmore.

Single malt scotch is not just "single-malt scotch" - single malts not interchangeable. Each region of Scotland developed its own unique style of scotch due to their micro-environment. So, for example, Islay (pronounced "eye-lah") single malts have very rich smokey flavors due to the iodine-rich peat in their bogs and a briny aroma since they are so close to the sea. Lowland single malts tend to be triple-distilled (unlike the double-distillation of other scotches) and not as "peaty." If you had someone who preferred Islays then buying them a Lowland single malt would be slightly disappointing for them (although no scotch drinker would ever refuse a free bottle).

Speyside single malts tend to be on the sweeter side since a lot of distilleres use a sherry butt to finish the aging process; however, this is a generalization and not a guarantee. Speyside is in the coastal Highlands and has the most distilleries of any region - Glevlivet and Glenfiddich (you may have heard of them) are Speysides. Yet when I think Speyside, I think of the sherry aged Macallan, or the sherry-finish of Cragganmore or Tomintoul. These are generally considered dessert scotches to be enjoyed after dinner.

I had been considering my Christmas gift for sometime and thought I could use a new fancy scotch for myself. I no longer get Christmas gifts since I no longer have a local family presence. There is no gift exchange or holiday meal but a series of cards mailed to me with checks inside that I put into my bank account and eventually turn into gifts for myself - usually fancy bottles of whisk(e)y. Although one may think that I wouldn't want a new independently bottled scotch after the last one, I felt I had to redeem the previous purchase with something fantastic.

On my trip to the liquor store, I analyzed each bottle carefully but kept coming back to this one. I had a price range in mind, that I did not want to exceed, and this one remained within that range. I learned from my previous experience to avoid the port-finish bottles but this was a Bordeaux finish and I decided to take a chance. I had no idea how to determine what this "Bordeaux-finish" would taste, since I had never had one before, but it seemed interesting enough to try.

The term Bordeaux, much like single-malt, cannot just be thrown around and you can't interchange one Bordeaux for another. Par example, each bank of the Bordeaux (Left vs. Right) uses different proportions of grapes in the final product (mostly Cabernet Sauvignon on the Left and Merlot on the Right). This, however, is not a wine blog so I will not go further into the differences but keep in mind one Bordeaux is not like the other.

This Cragganmore was finished in Chateau Haut-Brion casks (a first growth in Graves). I don't think the quality of the wine really affects the barrel, which perhaps has even less of an influence on the whisky, but it is an interesting experiment nonetheless. Unlike the port-finish of the previous scotch I reviewed, the Bordeaux-finish imparts very subtle aromas of dried fruit and Herbes de Provence to the scotch - these enhance the other scotch flavors rather than compete with them (like the grape-candy-and-chocolate flavor of the other). It has a very oily quality and it coats the tongue so it is no surprise that it is exceptionally smooth. It is also bottled by Bruichladdich so there was no chill-filtering and no coloring added - plus there were only 500 bottles released. A great example of independent scotch bottling.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Bourbon and Rye in the NYTimes

Merry Christmas!

You don't have to believe in any of the religious crap to still revel in the Holiday Spirit with some spirits of your own today!

Side note - two good articles in the NY Times today about American Whiskies:

Booming Bourbon Industry

Rye Distillery Tours

Thursday, December 22, 2011

North Coast Old Rasputin Imperial Stout


This is my favorite beer. Can't say why it is my favorite - it just is.

A lot of people like to think of the stout as a heavy beer. However, most stouts aren't heavy. Guiness is the beer that comes to most people's minds whenever the word "stout" is mentioned. Normally, people think of it is a heavy beer because of the color but even though the malt used has a dark roast (which gives it a full flavor) it is actually a dry stout - light-bodied, dry-finish ale with a low ABV (around 4%) and relatively fewer calories (about 160 for 16 oz. serving).

But the Imperial Stout is a heavy stout.

Supposedly, members of the Russian Imperial Court were fans of this beer style so that's why it carries the title "Russian Imperial." Some brewers drop the "Russian" and just call it an Imperial Stout but an Imperial Stout by any other name is just as heavy. This beer style has a very heavy "mouthfeel" (i.e. high gravity) and a high ABV (normally over 9%).

Old Rasputin, not surprisingly, also happens to be my favorite (Russian) Imperial Stout. It pours out black and has a thick, creamy espresso-colored head. My favorite local bar has had it on tap recently and the head is even creamier fresh out of "the nitro;" it's a beautiful thing to look at. It has a very rich dark-malty flavor with notes of chocolate and coffee and it's smooth - like drinking a glass of velvet bunnies. It's so delicious and rich that I once described it to a friend of mine as a "meal in a glass."

This is my favorite beer - it should be yours too.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Macallan 15-Year Port Finish - Murray McDavid


We all know the big names in single malt scotch: Macallan, Laphroaig, Talisker (just to name a few). Since we all know the name, we have to pay for that too. Granted, when you want the quality associated with these names then you should pay a "brand premium" for it; but as I've said before, this is only their standard you pay for and nothing more. However, there is a good way to get around this by making sure you end up paying more for the quality than the name and, in a sense, exceeding this standard: buying independently bottled scotch.

The independent scotch bottler will buy casks of scotch from a distillery and since these casks are now theirs, they can do whatever they want with them; they are no longer under the control of the distillery. Fortunately, these independent bottlers love scotch - or know to market their product to people who love scotch. Therefore, some won't add caramel coloring, some won't "chill filter" (which removes "impurities" that make the scotch cloudy when water or ice is added), some will experiment with the aging process - whatever they decide to do they can at least still claim that the heart of the final product comes from a particular distillery. The one I currently own is from Murray McDavid and is a 15-year Macallan aged in used bourbon barrels and finished in Port barrels/pipes.

Most scotches are aged in old bourbon barrels. Bourbon has to be aged in "new oak" barrels, so once a barrel is made and used to age bourbon, that barrel can never be used to age bourbon again... however there are plenty of other spirits that can be aged in it. However Macallan is known, as are most Speyside scotches, to be aged in old sherry barrels/butts. This sherry influence gives a sweeter quality to these particular single malts. So the Port-finish intrigued me and I decided to pick this up. It was a 15-year Macallan too, bottled at Bruichladdich, that had no "colouring" added and was not chill-filtered. These factors inflated the price beyond the "normal" 15-year Macallan price but I knew I was paying mostly for quality.

Unfortunately, I don't like the Port finish on this scotch too much. Not that this is a bad scotch but the finish has a strange grape-candy, chocolate quality that does not mix very well with the smokey flavor inherent to scotch. This one was kind of a bust.

I wish I could've been more convincing here that independent scotch bottlers are a great choice when it comes to buying scotch. Yet as disappointing as this one was, I have had fantastic success otherwise from independently bottle scotch. The 15-Year Sherry-Aged, Barrel-Proof Highland Park from Mackillops still stands to this day as one of the best scotches I've ever had. It is important to keep in mind you need to be very knowledgeable of scotch if you choose to go the independent route because you'll need to be able to find these big names at discounted prices - or know what distinguishes this independent bottling from what normally comes from the distillery. But you may just want to try going into this whole experience "blind" just to experiment. Whatever route you choose just know that while these independent bottlers may try a few different things, they will at least try to give you the scotch in it's "purest" form - straight out of the barrel (with only a splash of water added).

Sunday, December 11, 2011

(Smoking) Bishop

Clove-studded oranges - ready to roast...

Last year, The New York Times posted these holiday drinks. My girlfriend, another friend, and myself all agreed to try and make a few different drinks from this list. We only made the Milk Punch and Auld Lang but decided that we should try to make more holiday drinks the following year - which is this year. Since I had been mulling cider in the fall, I wanted to try a mulled wine. However, in my search I came across the Bishop - which is basically a mulled port. It also known as the Smoking Bishop since when it's ready there is a light fog that appears over the heated port (similar to most other lightly-heated mulled drinks). The name "Bishop" is apparently due to similarity between the purple color of the drink and a bishop's purple vestments.

Port is a fortified wine - they add brandy to the wine which, consequently, makes it stronger. The story I've seen most often about Port wine is that the English had to find a new supplier to whet their wine appetite since they were pretty much always at war with France so they looked to Portugal. Portuguese wine would "turn" during the voyage so they began adding brandy to the wine barrels in order to preserve it. However, this "preservation" would kill the remaining living yeast cells so any excess sugars would not be turned into alcohol - that's why it is so sweet. This started a trend and now you have an industry. Port has a lot of different variations: Vintage, Aged Tawny, Late Bottle Vintage, Tawny, and Ruby (to name a few). All will be sweet but the real difference between each type is how long it is held/aged in the barrel.

This recipe called for a Ruby Port but Ruby ports, in my opinion, tend to be just sweet and not all that interesting otherwise. Therefore, I chose to make this Bishop with a Late Bottle Vintage (LBV) port. These are Vintage ports that are in the barrel too long so they will filter them (although, not always) and bottle. Because Vintage ports tend to be made from the highest quality grapes, these make a great "poor man's" Vintage port (since a vintage port can cost $80-$200 while these normally retail for $20+).

The first step was to stud the navel oranges with cloves and roast them in the oven (for about an hour) at 400 degrees Fahrenheit. The recipe was not specific about peeling the orange but I left it on because I figured the bitterness of the orange peel would add a bit more complexity to the flavor - this ended up being true (although I didn't have a non-peeled version for comparison). After the oranges roasted, we cut the oranges into quarters (with cloves still embedded in them) and threw the quarters in a sauce pan with the entire bottle of port. We used two oranges because we figured it would be better - it's a good thing we did too because a couple other friends came over as well so we had to use an additional bottle of port (Fonseca Bin 27 this time).

It wasn't a very complex drink to make but it's great for a very cold winter evening - like last night. I highly recommend this and make sure you make enough port available because you'll be surprised how quickly you will drink two bottles of port - especially with the right company.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Van Winkle Family Reserve Rye

Rye is the best way to warm up in the winter...

A friend of mine once described drinking rye was like having a "mouthful of pennies." Unfortunately, when I heard this I thought of the "rusty coin." This "rusty coin" is also a less-than-flattering way of describing oral sex with a woman - having her period. Obviously, I find my friend's description of rye whiskey's taste disturbing. Although I have not experienced the "rusty coin," I can say that the taste of rye whiskey is nothing like having a "mouthful of pennies" and does not bring to mind such repulsive things. I admit that this was the wrong way to start this post, however, I always have that statement in the back of my mind whenever I drink rye. With each sip I search for the answer to the question: "where did he get that taste?"

I've mentioned in previous posts my love of rye - as both a beer and whiskey grain. Rye Whiskey, as previously mentioned, was actually the preferred whiskey in the U.S. prior to Prohibition. Even George Washington, our nation's first President, distilled his own rye. There's a bit more to the history than that but it's easiest to describe it like this: the largest population densities in the U.S. were in the Northeast, with a lot of Central and Eastern European immigrants, and they preferred rye (both the grain and whiskey). Washington's rye precedes the influx of Central and Eastern European immigrants so those two aren't connected, but rye does have a long history in the U.S.

Canadian Rye probably gets its name due to rye's popularity. Prohibition in the U.S. meant the only whiskey providers left were no longer legally bound to properly label their product. They could call it "rye" but it didn't actually have to fit the standards of rye - especially if corn (or other grains) were cheaper. Rye, in the end, just became another name for whiskey. Like Chapstick for "lip balm" or Band-Aid for "self-adhesive sterilized bandage."

Rye whiskey, like bourbon and Tennessee Whiskey, has to follow certain guidelines in order to be called "rye". While bourbon and Tennessee Whiskey have to be distilled from a mash comprised of 51-79% corn, rye whiskey's mash has to have a mash bill of at least 51% rye grain (there is no ceiling - except the mathematical limit of 100%). Consequently, the end product has a lot of spice and fruit in the aroma/taste.

This particular rye, Van Winkle Family Reserve, happens to be my favorite. Having recently cleared some space on the drink cart, I wanted to buy myself another whisk(e)y. I stopped in to the store I used to work at to purchase some other items and asked whether they had this rye back in stock - they did. Unfortunately, the price had doubled (since my last purchase). I hesitated but bought it because I knew this whiskey was worth it. The label says 13 years, so this rye is blended from barrels that are at least 13 years old. The great thing about American rye is that it has to age like bourbon - in new charred oak barrels. However, most rye whiskeys on the market do not exceed 6-8 years, so an extra 5-7+ years soaking in the barrel really make the difference with this rye. There are dried fruits, clove, cinnamon, and a touch of honey on the nose but has a smokey oak and peppery piquant sip. This is great neat or on the rocks. Worth every penny.

I have to apologize for how I opened this post again - the whole "rusty coin" comparison. Yet I want you to keep this in mind like I do, because when you have a great rye like this, it will be the furthest thing from your mind. You'll keep on sipping and thinking "where did he get that taste?"

Friday, December 2, 2011

Drambuie

Winston Churchill - old man and Drambuie drinker


Occasionally, I feel like an old man (even though I'm only 29). Friday nights are a good reason why. When most people head off to "Happy Hours" after they leave work and plan on enjoying the first night of the weekend "out on the town," I look forward to going home... and staying there.

To further illustrate my "old-man-ness," I chose to enjoy a snifter of Drambuie on this particular Friday while I watched some hockey. A couple of years ago, I swore to drink only Drambuie between Thanksgiving and the beginning of the New Year (not to be taken literally - I drank a lot of water too). I don't believe I had ever had Drambuie before that so I have no reason why I chose it, I'm guessing I just felt the need to make some sort of absurd "holiday" goal. Therefore I bought a liter of Drambuie and, for the most part, stuck to my plan - not every bar decides to stock Drambuie so I didn't always have the option to drink it. Nevertheless, I have to admit I learned to really like it. However, I also realized that most Drambuie drinkers have a lot more grey hair than I do.

For those who are unfamiliar with Drambuie, it is a malt whisky-based liqueur/cordial flavored with honey, herbs, and spices. It is very sweet, but also very strong (92 proof). Liqueurs/cordials are alcoholic drinks that are sweetened and flavored - however, they are not like flavored vodkas/gins/brandies or "schnapps." These other flavored items are not sweetened but their flavoring makes them seem "sweet." In addition, I put schnapps in quotation marks because what most think of as schnapps (an overly sweet, low-proof mixer) is not a true schnapps, which are really non-grape based brandies (i.e. Kirschwasser). Regardless, Drambuie is best as an after-dinner drink or with dessert (since it is so sweet).

Anise, mint, and clove along with the smokiness from the malt are the strongest aromas but you'll get a lot of honey too when you taste it. I'm not sure if Drambuie is made from whisky and these various flavoring agents anymore - it may just be a neutral spirit with chemical flavors and coloring agents added (it would not surprise me if this was confirmed) but it still stands, in my mind, as a great drink.

When Friday night comes and you just want to go home, don't feel guilty - but on your way there, pick up a bottle of Drambuie, some cigars and come hang out with Winston and I. Of course, I really mean hang out "in spirit" because not only is Sir Churchill dead but I will be at my own home... and if it's after 11 P.M. I may already be asleep.