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Master Blenders

5 Oct

A very nice profile of a master blender is out there on the Wired website. A master blender is a title that is given to someone who has been deemed by a distillery as someone who is worthy of designing their whiskies.

Wired profiles Richard Paterson
http://www.wired.com/underwire/2010/10/whisky-master-blender/

Richard Paterson. This nose KNOWS.

Richard Paterson–from what I can find online–is known as “The Nose.” Scotch runs in the man’s family. His father was a scotch whisky freak.

Back to what a master blender actually does.

Whisky, by nature, is very unpredictable. You are extracting alcohol from a beer-like substance, putting into some kind of wood barrel, leaving it somewhere to age, aging it a certain number of years, etc. So as you can imagine, even though you may have technically created barrels of whisky from the same source, the end product in each barrel is probably going to taste a little different than another barrel from the same batch of whisky.

So this is where the master blender comes in. He (or she, but I am not privy to master blender women out there) chooses the barrels. He chooses the age. He chooses which barrels are worthy and which are not. He designs a certain flavor using different-tasting barrels of different ages into a unique flavor. The master blender chose exactly what you are tasting in that dram you are holding right now.

If you are drinking a single-malt, it is most likely not a whisky that came from one barrel of one batch of whisky production. Single malts from single barrels will be labeled as such–Single Cask. Since single malts are usually blends of other whiskies from the same distillery, someone has to be able to design and reproduce large batches for bottlings so that people may purchase something consistent. Can you imagine how pissed off someone would be if they bought a bottle of The Macallan 12-year and it tasted like Edradour? It would be quite noticeable, indeed!

So the master blender puts his nose, mouth, and whatever he uses to decide and design the flavor of each style of whisky bottling. He chooses the right casks to put together to make the flavor that you may already be used to. Someone actually has to put together that Macallan 12-year each year so that if you buy a replacement bottle down the road, it is going to taste so similar to your last bottle that you may be familiar with. Chances are, a master blender would be able to tell the difference. Hence the word “master” in there.

Jim McEwan putting his schnoz in a seemingly young dram.

Another amazing blender that I know of, and hope to meet some day, is Jim McEwan.

This guy is my personal hero from his design of the PC series (see my post about the PC7 here). I have a bottle of PC7 and PC6 and I cherish them so much that barely ever break them out. He is not only made two of my most beloved bottles, he also is credited for bringing new life to the once scuttled Bruichladdich distillery.

Bruichladdich was shut down in 1995 and then reopened in 2001 with Mr. McEwan at the helm. From the articles I have read from him, he does not have any qualms about speaking his mind no matter what the cost. Politics may not be his thing, but creating amazing whiskies most definitely is. I do not think that master blenders go on tour, but I would love to go to a tasting if he were to present somewhere.

The War Chest Article

8 Sep
It saddens me to see that the last time I posted was during my work peek time of year, so I am going to vow to make up for it with a few rapid fire postings…
Since I am currently at work, however, I am going to direct you to one of the best articles I have seen on What Does John Know? The article is called “What’s in Your War Chest?” The premise is that you should have varying types of whiskies on hand for varying levels of drinking.
  1. Special occasions
  2. Every day whisky
  3. Unwanted guest whisky
  4. Etc.
This is a very awesome read! Check it out.
Posts to come soon, I promise!
Special thanks to Brian for sending the me article link!
Coming soon! My 2nd trip to New York City (I actually made it to Park Avenue Liquor Store!) and my advice to a confused local bar that wanted to charge me a bit much for a bit too little.

Curious Amateur vs. Connoisseur OR Off the High-Horse

25 Jan

Here we go again, folks. I have gotten over the fact that some greedy so-and-so took my coveted precious domain scotchfinder.com.
The more I engross myself into the enjoyment of scotch whisky, the more I find that people assume that I have become snotty about my drams. They perceive that my particular behavior with how I prefer my drink served in an aromatic-friendly glass means that I obviously would not like anything under the age of 20-years. The fact that I enjoy my scotch at room temperature, no ice, and generally (though not always) skip splashing a bit of water into my glass means that if it does not cost more than $200, I will not even TOUCH it. “Yuck! Is that a BLENDED??! Get that out of my face, scrub!”
I have also been called a “connoisseur.”

This is where I become conflicted. I really enjoying intriguing people into walking the plank head-first into the scotch whisky ocean, but I also do not like to be labeled that way. My enjoyment of drinking scotch only kicked into full-force in April of 2009! That is hardly enough experience (no matter how much people think I drink) to become the next Michael Jackson (no, not the recently deceased pop star… see here).
Hell, when do you even become a connoisseur?
In my opinion, that is the day that I put down the glass because I have learned everything there is to know about this wonderfully new alcohol buddy of mine. Just ask me about him/it sometime and I will be happy to tell you what I think I know.

Missing in Action

4 Oct

As one may have noticed, I have been totally missing in action for the past month. Not that someone who reads about scotch whisky would care, but I just bought a new home and have been dealing with the utter disappointment in my attempt to buy the domain “scotchfinder.com”.

“Who would want that domain? Why would anyone be rushing to snap that domain up other than the idiot who refers to his scotch conquests as ‘the Scotch Finder?'” are questions I had asked myself for a good month and a half as I let the previous owner lapse in his ownership of the obscure domain.

Who would want that domain? A fart face, that’s who. Someone who snaps up domains to resell them like a house-flipper.

Not even this guy would steal my random domain for a buck

I attempted to buy the domain from this idiot (not the harmless guy in the picture above from the Bravo show “Flipping Out”) for a small profit for him. This jerk, however, wants $750 or I can take a hike.

I took the hike. I am definitely not forking up a bundle of cash that I could be spending on super delicious rare scotches for a convenient domain name to go along with my moniker.

So now I wander through my scotch finding alone on an obscure blog name attached to blog spot. Oh yeah. We held our 2nd tasting last Sunday that I still need to recap. This will be coming really soon, I promise!

Such is life.

The Ardbeg Committee’s Newest Member

23 Aug
I received my first packet from the Ardbeg Committee in the mail today. You are reading the blog of the Ardbeg Committee’s newest member, #392084! I am not entirely sure how serious the Committee is, but I am looking forward to being notified about all of the interesting drinks that come out of this wonderous distillery.

The pamphlet the Committee sent me with the Rules and Regulations was quite humorous, especially the part about hiding my special bottles I am unwilling to share under preganant ladies’ skirts and under the covers in a newborn baby’s crib. Awesome.
Not to mention I got an aweseome sticker!

Where I’m going to put it, I have no idea.

In case you live in a hole, Ardbeg is a very popular Islay single-malt scotch that you can find in almost any liquor store. Their flagship, Ardbeg 10-year, runs around $50-60 a bottle in Virginia ABCs. It is generally very smokey with a slight iodine nose to it. Definitely not for the faint of heart. I highly recommend placing one of these bottles in your collection.

Scotch Whisky Reading and Reference Materials

10 Aug

So you need to learn more. You found yourself at the liquor store and staring at the wall of single-malts–drooling–but having no idea what you were looking at. Did you feel overwhelmed? A fish out of water? Did you nearly pass out?

Well fret no longer, new pal o’ mine! You just need a little guidance from the master. No, not Scotch Finder!

Michael Jackson.

NO, not the recently deceased pop-singer, Michael Jackson:

THIS Micheal Jackson. The no-so-recently deceased Beer/Wine/Whisk(e)y connoisseur!

This guy obsessed over whisky for all our sakes, so you should perk up those ears of yours and listen! Here are a few of his publications and why you may want to pick them up:

  1. Michael Jackson’s Complete Guide To Single Malt Scotch (5th edition) and (4th edition) – This handy guide gives you an overview of basically everything you would probably want to know as a scotch lover. He also lists most scotches that you will find on the shelf and rates each one individually. The latest publication is the 5th edition, but I find that many of the bottles I find on the shelf are found in the 4th edition. This book is great for having around when you are staring at a huge selection of single malts and you have determination to bring a sweet bottle home with you.
  2. Whiskey: The Definitive World Guide – This book is covers all types of whisk(e)y and the distillation processes of all major whisk(e)y producing regions: Scotland, America, Japan, etc. He does not get as specific with listing as many bottlings as #1 above.
  3. Scotland and its Whiskies: The Great Whiskies, the Distilleries and Their Landscapes – As you can imagine, this book covers the distilleries more specifically. The book is full of vivid pictures and details that the other books (#1 and #2) tend to leave out..

If you are only going to pick one book, pick up the Complete Guide to Single Malt Scotch.

Thanks, Michaels. For different reasons, of course.

How to Get into Scotch Whisky

7 Aug

One of my best friends has been slowly getting into drinking scotch whisky and it made me think to myself, “Self, how do you get into single-malts for the first time? It is such a large, confusing sea of bottles and labels with totally uncommon words all over them. Where do you start?”

If I had a choice between a silver bullet or a single-malt, I wouldn't want to make the wrong choice and make women think I'm a schmuck!

After much thought and several conversations with new scotch drinkers, it stuck me. The first thing you need is the desire to know more.

The next move is to dive right in! You will learn right away what turns you on and what makes you sick to your stomach just reading a bottle’s label. I highly recommend drinking responsibly and not getting absolutely smashed on whisky. It would personally break my heart if I suddenly developed an aversion to my favorite drink because I sickened myself to the dark side of hangover hell with Scotland’s wondrous elixir!

Go to a local bar or pub that has a small selection. Have a Macallan of some sort. Try that Glenlivet that you’ve always seen behind the bar! Try it straight, add some water, try it with a little ice. Just try it!

Once you get the idea, start branching out to see if you can pick out some single-malts from different regions. Try an Islay malt and experience the smokiness so potent in the foreground. If you find you don’t care for it, go for a different single-malt. Chances are, there is going to be one that you will attach to.

Here are a few that are not scary malts, not too terribly expensive, and worth your time as a beginner:

  1. Glenlivet 12-year – This is a very simple highland malt that is very nice. I’m not going to tell you that it is going to blow your mind, because more than likely, that is not going to happen. This is a highland speyside whisky that captures the easy going polite freshness of a basic highland. It is slightly sweet and slightly fruity with a touch of light peatiness. A touch of water will ease this across your palate. Ah, come on, you’ve seen it sitting there on the bar!
    Glenlivet 12-year.  The most common bar scotch whisky ever?
  2. Bowmore 12-year – Much like my previous posting about Bowmore, I really enjoy the accessibility of this low-priced delight. Slightly smokey, slightly sweet, and an aftertaste that is hard to place… Ahhhhhh.
    Smokey and sweet Bowmore
  3. Glenmorangie “Lasanta” or “Quinta Ruban” – If you are really into wine, you are probably going to take to these due to the way the sherry/port accents the whisky. “Lasanta” is finished in sherry casks and the “Quinta Ruban” is finished in port pipes. These two are a win-win. Right now, they are going for $49.99 at local Virginia ABC stores, too. These go for $70+ a bottle everywhere else I have seen it stocked, so do not be shy! Go get one or both of them if you are feeling frisky. Plus, look how attractive the bottles are…

So what are you waiting for? Let me know if you have any questions! I love brainstorming with someone looking for a new flavor! Do you have any you think I should add?