Saturday, June 15, 2019

Vive la France!

The middle weekend of June typically means it is Le Mans weekend - a very special time where prototype and grand touring sports cars spend 24 continuous hours racing through the French countryside. As in years past, my much better half and I celebrate the weekend with a special menu and a dedicated cocktail (okay, to be honest, this how we celebrate just about every weekend, but stick with me here). This year we decided to crack the fabled French 75. While the drink is almost certainly a New York creation, it was concocted to honor something very French - the Canon de 75 modèle 1897 - widely considered the very first modern military artillery piece.

The French 75 was the artillery weapon of choice for the Allied Forces during World War One. In fact, a young Harry S. Truman commanded a dozen French 75s as he led Battery D of the U.S. Army's 35th Division's 129th Field Artillery during the Meuse-Argonne Offensive on the War's Western Front. Before this turns into a history lesson, as my sauced-up relatives would say, enough history honey, more hooch, so let's get to it.

There is some dispute over the primary spirit used in the French 75 - the majority of recipes call for gin while a few call for brandy/Cognac. Being committed to the craft, we of course had to mix up both versions. Impressions below.

1.50 ounces gin or brandy/Cognac
0.75 ounces simple syrup
0.50 ounces fresh lemon juice
Brut sparkling wine/Champagne (important to use Brut here to keep the sweetness in check)
1 lemon peel for twist

  1. Chill a Champagne flute or wine glass. 
  2. Place the gin or brandy/Cognac, simple syrup, and lemon juice in a cocktail shaker with some ice.
  3. Shake and strain the shaker mixture into the glass and top with sparkling wine/Champagne (I'd say you are going to pour ~2 ounces of champagne here).
  4. Squeeze the lemon twist over the drink and drop in.

We opted for a VSOP Cognac as that is what we had on hand. We also opted for a Champagne because what else would you use on Le Mans weekend?! Fun fact - today, spraying Champagne is a tradition on a motorsport victor's podium where the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd place finishers are celebrated. However, it was the legendary Dan Gurney who first sprayed Champagne on the podium, celebrating the 1st place finish of he and A. J. Foyt's Ford GT40 Mark IV in the 1967 Le Mans

Returning to the hooch, I was once told by a wine merchant that when it comes to Champagne, forget about brands and simply buy the cheapest 'Grand Cru' Champagne you can find on the shelf. I have no idea how accurate or insightful that advice is as neither of us are Champagne enthusiasts, but to date, we have never had a disappointing example.

As for the two French 75 versions - we each slightly preferred the gin version to the Cognac version. The gin version was a bit less sweet, a bit more savory and as a result left you desiring a second one immediately after finishing. To use a breakfast metaphor, the Cognac version was like stuffed French Toast to the gin version's corned beef hash. Don't get me wrong, both versions are delicious, it just depends on what you are looking for from the cocktail - sweet or savory.


Thursday, May 9, 2019

Transitional Patience

"Oh, Andy loved geology. I imagine it appealed to his meticulous nature. An ice age here, million years of mountain building there. Geology is the study of pressure and time. That's all it takes, really. Pressure, and time." - Ellis Boyd "Red" Redding

Pressure and time, two words that kept swirling around the ole noggin as I contemplated my most recent pours of Ardbeg's Uigeadail (pronounced oog-ah-doll). Bottled at 54.2% ABV and without chill filtration, Uigeadail took me on quite the journey of self-discovery, far more than any of the other malts adorning my shelf.

Pressure. I have long loved Ardbeg's standard offering - a stoutly peated 10-year old that commonly retails in the $50 range in my neck of the woods. Sitting alongside the 10-year old in Ardbeg's year-round lineup are a handful of non-age stated Single Malts, all of which tend to retail for 25% to 60% more than their age-stated sibling. So how does a producer justify and convince the consumer to spend more cash on a whiskey that has less label provenance? The answer is two-fold - put a quality whiskey in the bottle and then carpet bomb the whiskey world with marketing fodder. Seemingly from the start, this strategy paid off for Ardbeg as the whiskey nerds of the Internet loved Uigeadail out of the gate. Cementing its reputation, Uigeadail's marketing portfolio was handed a crown jewel when in 2009, Jim Murray’s Whisky Bible named Ardbeg Uigeadail ‘World Whisky of the Year’ praising its “utter silky brilliance” and “complexity on a level only a handful of distilleries in the world can even dream of reaching.” From that point onwards, Ardbeg had no problem selling bottles of Uigeadail.

Time. I resisted the Uigeadail pressure for a number of years. Blog after blog, YouTube review after YouTube review hailed the spirit's awesomeness, yet I remained fiscally stubborn. 'Why would I spend nearly twice as much on an unknown Ardbeg than I do my beloved 10-year Ardbeg?'. As the years rolled by, my resistance remained steadfast, but so too did the increasing marketing and peer pressure vouching for Uigeadail's worthiness. The tipping-point, where the friction of my resistance was overcome by the stress of my curiosity, was when my local ABC marked bottles of Uigeadail down from $89.99 to $71.99. Succumbing, the long-denied bottle was finally brought home and thus began the adventure.

That purchase was made way back in 2017 and from that day to this, an important life-lesson, in regard to whiskey at least, was learned: the importance of patience and keeping an open mind when sampling a new whiskey. I journal my initial impressions of every whiskey I purchase and Uigeadail's initial entry tips towards that of being underwhelmed:
Peat on the nose, but less than Ardbeg 10. It could be the sherry casks used here, but the nose has a more herbal sense to it than 10 year. Taste - the peat is definitely there, but nowhere near 10 year. Also, there is a medicinal taste and dry finish that are quite different than the 10. The 10 is more sweet and less dry on the taste/finish. It is a good malt, but thus far, I enjoy Arbeg 10 a wee bit more.
After my first two pours of Uigeadail, I was so ho-hum towards the malt that I was contemplating a list of friends to whom I could gift the gently-used bottle. Lazily, I stuffed the bottle into a dusty corner of the cabinet and forgot about it for over a year.

Rediscovering the bottle and begrudgingly pouring another dram on an idle weeknight was perplexing. My pour that night was far better, far more enjoyable than I had recalled. Subsequent pours yielded more of the same; I was enjoying this malt, quite a lot in fact. One night I sat down with two pours - Ardbeg's 10-year and Uigeadail - to taste side-by-side. Doing so helped illuminate and zero-in on the genesis of my initial disappointment with Uigeadail. As I said earlier, I had spent years exclusively enjoying Ardbeg 10-year. As a result, Ardbeg 10-year became the standard, the very definition of what Ardbeg is and produces; the 10-year tastes just as Ardbeg should taste ... or so I thought. Uigeadail is however, by design and rightfully so, a very different malt than the 10-year. This difference I surmise is what led to my quick dismissal of Uigeadail in lieu of the 10-year. Which brings me back to my whiskey life-lesson - if a newly acquired malt should ever fail to impress straight out of the gate, rather than immediately dismiss it, allow it time to impress and earn a spot in your rotation. Time, oxidation, personal mood, preconceptions, environment; many external variables impact the impression a whiskey delivers which is why it's important to spread your enjoyment of any one bottle over the course of weeks, months, and yes, even years.

So what are my current tasting notes of Uigeadail? Well that first bottle as you can see by the photo above is almost half-finished now. The Malt Nerds claim Uigeadail's quality has decreased through the years, but I can offer no insight on that as my frugal resistance kept me from buying a bottle until 2017. What I can say is in regard to newer/current bottlings - if you enjoy peated malts from Islay, there is a very good chance you will enjoy Uigeadail - the lack of a peaty sledgehammer punch to the tongue is more than compensated for with a sherry/barrel complexity not commonly found in Islay malts:

Campfire, pine needles, cedar wood. Gentle vanilla and raisiny-sugar with the addition of some water.

Immense, coating, a surprising spiciness, peppery yielding to a candy sweetness. Smoke obviously, but not as smokey as Ardbeg and/or Laphroaig's 10-year offering. I feel water improves the taste, muting the alcohol punch and bringing out more fruity sweetness and vanilla. There is also a flickering impression of espresso for me. The espresso is not constant nor lasting, but like catching the occasional lyric of a familiar song from a passing car, it's certainly recognizable for me. The tail-end of the sip leading into the finish is forcefully reminiscent of walking past a cigar bar.

Long, smokey, pine forest. A drying sensation after a few moments as well, though not severe. Some humans are endowed with 'legs for days', well this malt is endowed with a finish for days. You will go to bed and possibly wake in the morning with remnants of smoke on your palate courtesy of this malt.

General Notes / Overall
Adding water to this malt reduces the peat punch (think bog fire reduced to smoldering fire) but increases the fruitiness on the nose. This phenomenon does not carry over to the taste however, the peat level remains the same and is entirely delightful to me.

I wrote a great deal about Ardbeg's 10-year offering and tasting that alongside Uigeadail really is an enjoyable and enlightening experience. The 10-year's peat level is analogous to Spinal Tap's 11 - it is big, bold, and tends to dominate the experience. Uigeadail dials down the peat to 7 or 8, but it's also of a different ilk - smoldering vs the 10-year's billowing. As for sweetness, the 10-year is significantly sweeter, from start to finish, than Uigeadail. These changes in peat and sweetness between the two allows Uigeadail to explore subtleties that would not be possible in the 10-year and I imagine therein lies precisely why Uigeadail retails for $20-$35 more than the 10-year. I have a hunch that a greater variety of barrels as well as a more dutiful attention to detail in blending those barrels is required when batching Uigeadail.

Truly, if you love Islay peated malts, both the 10-year and Uigeadail deserve to be sampled, ideally side-by-side if you can swing it. For my shelf, I see keeping a bottle of each available, but the 10-year will be reached for more often than the Uigeadail; the Uigeadail's complexity deserves some intentional contemplation whereas the 10-year can be casually enjoyed which satisfies my malt requirement for most nights. If however there can only be one for your shelf, choose the 10-year for a peat sledgehammer a la a Schwarzenegger action flick or the Uigeadail for a Fred and Ginger peat soiree.

Uigeadail (left) and 10-Year (right)

Tuesday, May 7, 2019

Guest Post! White Walker by Johnnie Walker
Contributor Michael Doheny dropped by recently with impressions of a bottle you are sure to see on your local retailer's shelves. Perhaps unsurprisingly, whisky giant Diageo decided to latch on to the fervor surrounding HBO's final season of Game of Thrones by bombarding the whiskey world with a plethora of whiskies themed after the Seven Kingdoms of Westeros. The first of these offerings is a Blended Scotch Whisky from Johnnie Walker honoring the mythical and conveniently named boogeymen of the series - the White Walkers. Enjoy!

In celebration of the final season of Game of Thrones, Johnnie Walker released a new “color” in the vein of their Red, Black, Double Black, Green, Gold, and Blue varieties - “White Walker” Johnnie Walker was a “limited” release to the public, debuting in October of 2018. I had emphasized limited due to the fact there were still several on the shelves of my local ABC in April of 2019.

The true gimmick of this offering is not the flavor or blend, rather it is that the bottle utilizes thermochromic ink to give message when frozen. Since I am a fan of not only the A Song of Ice and Fire book series, but also the television program, I thought I would give this a review to coincide with the season’s third episode, long rumored to be a viewing experience of epic proportions.

I didn’t adhere to any of the rules from our blind tastings in the past. As instructed by the bottle's label, I kept the bottle in my freezer and decided on three pours: straight, half cola and half whisky, and finally two-thirds whisky and one-third cola.

There are several nods to the show on the bottle, from the blue-white ice wrap, reminiscent of the so named White Walkers, to the bottle being “Distilled, Blended, & Bottled North of the Wall”. On the back, there is a summation of HBO's interpretation of the White Walkers, and then a description of the source of the blends as well as some tasting notes.

It is 41.7% ABV

Inital Pour (straight)
Color: Straw to clear
Smell: Nothing distinct, choked by the chill.
First sip: When sampling I always dredge air through my teeth to chew the flavors a bit. There was a lingering burn, but it was snuffed out suddenly. Not sweet, spicy, or floral, just a wild burn and gone.
Finishing the pour I eventually got hits of caramel and toffee. However, there is nothing here that would make you want to drink this straight.

Second Pour (half whisky, half cola)
Color: Rich caramel
Smell: Still nothing discernible
First sip: Oh. I’m drinking diet coke with a thick malty aftertaste. There is almost no hint of the spirit left to be found. Perhaps the slight tingle on the lips, but little else.
Finishing the pour further reinforces the initial sensations of it being lost in a sea of cola.

Third pour (two-thirds whisky, one-third cola)
Color: Charred Pine
Smell: A faint vanilla, but overwhelmed by the bubbling cola.
First sip: The sip seems...thin. As there is no one flavor overriding the other. It has the memory of those wedding receptions attended in your twenties - where the drinks are being watered down, but you are just happy to have an open bar. Heat is negligible.
Finishing the sample, sometimes i got a bit more of one than the other, all-in-all your typical poorly mixed drink from the tourist trap or hotel bar.

In the end, the Wall, should stand and let these Walkers stay beyond our reach. When your most redeemable quality is the bottle, you have reached Dan Aykroyd levels of stewardship of your brand. It is as if, you know nothing Johnny Walker.

Thursday, March 28, 2019

Redbreast 12 Year Cask Strength - Pour Three

Ahhh sweet sweet pour number three. After this pour, I can officially offer up my opinion on this whiskey but I suspect it will come as no surprise that I heartily enjoy this beverage. Right off the bat that green grass smell that at first evaded me in pour two jumps out straight away for me. Just as I could only smell vanilla for the longest time in pour two, I am only getting that green grass/barley smell now. Oddly, there is actually a bit of alcohol punch/burn on the nose this time around; I don't recall getting that strong of an alcohol impression from the nose in previous pours. Because there was a fair amount of prickle in the tasting portion of the previous pours, I am going to add about a teaspoon of water straight away and let this glass rest a spell.

Long before Anthony Bourdain published his first book, Kitchen Confidential, detailing what life was like in the kitchen of a busy Manhattan eatery, I was experiencing first-hand many of the scenes he so vividly described. Granted, I was not working in New York, but the restaurant that hired me to clean fish, peel shrimp, shuck clams and oysters, along with countless other scrub-level-one jobs was actually quite busy on a nightly basis. The dining room had a seating capacity of 48, yet on our busiest of nights, we would frequently turn the dining room over four times, preparing and serving 192 patrons worth of seafood delights. I worked at that restaurant from the age of fourteen all the way through my second year of college. In that time I progressed to line cook in the kitchen as well as the seafood/produce/beef buyer for the entire menu and associated fish market. If you have ever read Mr. Bourdain's book, I can assure you he told no tall tales - the restaurant kitchen, the restaurant business in fact, is filled with easily the greatest assortment of characters and personalities that I have ever come across.

Whoa, the water has brought out an entirely new smell for this whiskey - earth/dirt coupled with that green grass and yes, lo and behold, the vanilla is there at the end as well. I absolutely love how whiskeys can change from night to night. The taste has a rush of sweetness and no where near the alcohol punch that I remembered from a few nights ago. This is the kind of pour that brings about a smile - sweet barley sugar, some vanilla, a gentle bit of oak. Zero astringency to me and zero yeast smell/taste to boot. To me this feels like a well-aged whiskey, both in terms of length as well as attention to detail throughout its life in Ireland.

The service staff at the restaurant remained fairly consistent throughout my tenure, not many firings nor new-hires. Most were in their late-30s to early-40s and quintessential Florida beach bums. None had college educations but many had tried the office-job route previously, ultimately deciding the lifestyle-freedom and money offered by serving suited their needs better. In contrast, there was far greater personnel turnover in my area, the kitchen staff, and perhaps expectedly, that is where the most remarkable and colorful personalities of the staff resided.

Holy crap, there is that lemon Pledge again! I noticed this wack-a-doo smell during pour number one and was wondering if it was just a fluke. The lemon is fleeting, not lingering, but it was most certainly there. The taste remains satisfyingly consistent - the green grass, the malt sugar, the subtle oak, what a reliable palate this whiskey offers.

Taking inspiration from Reservoir Dogs, I will not use any real names in what follows, so let's get started with Mr. D who served primarily as the lunch-shift cook. Mr. D claimed to have served in the Army during the Vietnam War, completing two tours of duty. He was a short, trim man, standing 5'8"ish and weighing I would guess no more than 150 pounds. He had long brown hair that he almost always wore pulled back into a tied pony-tail. Upon arriving to work each day, Mr. D would pull from his various pockets several gallon zip-loc bags containing handfuls of loose marijuana as well as sandwich-size zip-loc bags containing dozens of pills whose color assortment had the physical appearance of a burst bag of Skittles. He was fairly soft-spoken, but I always felt that was due to him never being sober while at work. He would often stare the thousand yard stare as though deep in thought, yet nothing profound ever came. Once he claimed he was best friends with Neil Young's guitar technician - even going as far as to promise me he had arranged backstage passes to a Billy Joel concert at the Orlando Arena for me as his friend was helping Billy out on this tour. Mr. D told me my passes would be waiting at Will Call; shockingly there were no passes when I arrived. Good thing I had purchased tickets just in case. Billy put on a heck of a show that night, just as Mr. D had in his own way. I never saw Mr. D drink, but he professed that he loved Glenlivit Single Malt, which considering this was the early 1990s is kinda cool - Single Malts were just starting to gain major traction at that time. Mr. D was ahead of his time.

I am nearing the end of my dram tonight and can happily report that each sip has remained consistently enjoyable. For me, this whiskey needed water to help tame that alcohol punch. I don't recall the standard Redbreast 12, sold at 40% ABV, requiring any taming with water, but I also doubt I proofed my Cask Strength pours down that low from their starting point of 58.2%. It would be interesting to try the standard offering side-by-side with the Cask Strength version. I am betting I would still prefer the Cask Strength version, but those who do not want to bother adding water or adjusting the spirit in the glass would be better served by the standard offering I suspect.

Big J was in many ways the opposite of Mr. D. He was an absolute unit of a human being, standing 6'4" and easily weighing 275 pounds. He allegedly attended the Culinary Institute of America though no one could say if he graduated (or even attended for that matter). He claimed to have worked in some pretty legendary restaurants - the original Morton's in Chicago, Sparks Steakhouse in Manhattan and Olives in Boston to name a few. To listen to Big J relate his work experience, one got the impression that he essentially worked his way down the Eastern seaboard until he finally settled in our sleepy little beach town. One thing was certain however - Big J could cook and I do mean cook well. While Mr. D was a quintessential fry cook, Big J worked every aspect of the kitchen - grill, broiler, range with a masterful hand and a gracefulness that defied his physical presence. He was the first to teach me the beauty of the Maillard reaction, the end-result of proper searing. He also taught me the power of stock making - boiling down lobster and shrimp shells for days at a time, the resulting stock when strained could be used to orgasmic effect in bisques, cream sauces, or compound butters. The very first dish he prepared for our 'staff dinner' was steak au poivre. When I chimed in that I don't like pepper, he grimaced and told me to shut up. I can still remember that first bite, it was life-changing and instilled in me as pure a love as possible in regard to a proper pan sauce. While Big J did not have the zip-loc stored vices of Mr. D, it did not take long to discover why Big J had perhaps worked his way down the Eastern seaboard. On the line in the kitchen was a cold line were all refrigerated items for service were kept.  It was these refrigerators that housed Big J's muse - vodka, and lots of it. Working alongside him, I would routinely see him finish two 750 ml bottles of vodka in a six hour span. He would repeat this incredible feat night after night. More times than not, he could maintain his composure despite the vodka infusion, but it was the occasional 'not' that caused most of his troubles. It was an amazing experience for me, still on the young side of teenager at this point, to witness the destructive power of alcohol firsthand. Big J had a genuine talent, a real gift to create delicious food, but he also had a serious demon that he allowed to totally neuter that talent. I am not here to say Big J would have been the next Emeril had he put the vodka down, but I do know he would have had a far stabler life than bouncing from restaurant to restaurant staying one town ahead of his drunken reputation. Such a shame, such a waste. Doubly so when you consider that he was actually a damn nice guy - funny, generous, attentive, a blast to be around ... when he was sober.

Well my third pour is done and dusted. I have waxed poetic enough I suspect but my goodness, we have only scratched the surface of my adventures in that restaurant. Perhaps future pours will stoke the flames of nostalgia in future posts. It was fun composing these three entries in a stream of consciousness manner. As for Redbreast, it is utterly delicious. If you like Scotch, particularly Highland/Speyside malts that lean towards fruit sweetness with gentle barrel influence, then I think you will dig Redbreast. The one characteristic that Redbreast brings over say a Speyside malt is that fresh green grass characteristic thanks to the un-malted barley in the mash bill. So long as Redbreast keeps the quality of this whiskey consistent, I will always ensure there is a bottle on my shelf to enjoy and share with friends. Erin go Bragh!

Thursday, March 21, 2019

Redbreast 12 Year Cask Strength - Second Pour

A different glass for this pour, a glass that I discussed in an earlier entry and related that while it is a crowd favorite in our house, it is not the best glass for nosing a whiskey in my experience. Despite this shortcoming, the first sniff of this pour brought an immediate smile and 'ohhh sweet honeycomb' exclamation. My goodness, tonight's pour is sweet sweet sweet. Near zero alcohol burn on the nose. This almost smells like a liqueur. After some time, the vanilla comes back out to my nose.

When I was fourteen years old, I asked my father for a raise in allowance. Without flinching, he reached into the local paper sitting on the end table next to his recliner and tossed me the help wanted classified ads. My dad was, as the kids would say today, old school. He was not one to celebrate life's wins all that much nor would he lament life's losses all that much either. If I brought home a report card with a 'C', he would, in no uncertain terms, tell me that result was unacceptable. When I raised that 'C' to a 'B', he would again tell me in no uncertain terms that that result was unacceptable. When I raised that 'B' to an 'A', he would simply nod his head. Exasperated, I would prod him for a celebratory high-five to which he would in all seriousness tell me 'achieving the result you should have achieved in the first place is not a cause for celebration'.

Zero sweetness on the first taste with a wallop of alcohol. Of course that impression I know is deceiving as my tongue cannot be trusted with that initial ethanol blast. Let's add some water, I'd say about half a teaspoon into this one ounce pour.

This is not to say that my dad's parenting style is the gold standard. I've always felt that it takes two to tango in regard to parenting. If by adolescence the child does not agree with the parent's core philosophies, then I don't think it matters all that much how the parent parents (within common-sense reason of course, I'm not talking Lord of the Flies parenting is acceptable here). Two of my brothers didn't exactly see eye-to-eye with my dad in many regards, one of them did the bare minimum in terms of compliance with my father's rules and regulations, the other openly defied him most of the time. I on the other hand, seemingly from my earliest memories, totally agreed with my dad's philosophy which meant my compliance took near-zero effort.

The water has seemingly unleashed the vanilla on the nose. That or my nose is looking for and only finding the vanilla. Interestingly, I just now noticed that fresh-cut green grass smell that is so prevalent in Single Pot Still Irish Whiskey; usually that is the very first smell I detect from an Emerald Isle malt. Subsequent tastes and the alcohol burn/punch is still strong after the water. Stronger than I expected to be honest. I'll give it a few more minutes.

My father handing the me help wanted ads did in fact lead to a rather important moment in my life. Not too long after that incident, I landed my first job and started to earn a legitimate paycheck. Two folks originally from Boston came down to Florida and purchased a two-building business smack-dab on A1A directly on Florida's Atlantic Ocean shoreline. They converted the building from office space into a twelve-table restaurant in one building and a seafood market in the other. The restaurant proved quite popular and when full, those awaiting an open table put their name on a list and waited in and around the seafood market portion of the business. One such night, my mother and I were awaiting a table when I noticed a women behind the seafood case struggling to shuck oysters. I was practically raised on seafood, in fact, my family is adamant my first spoken word was 'lobster'; virtually all our recreation time as a family was spent in, on, or around Florida's waterways and ocean. We used to harvest our own oysters and clams, as well as actively fish and as such, I was shucking shellfish and cleaning fish around the time most kids learn how to tie their own shoes. I was a shy kid but for some odd reason, I spoke up and asked the woman shucking oysters if I could come around and show her how to shuck properly. She looked up, smiled and said 'if your mother is okay with it, come on back kid'. My mom nodded and back I went. A few moments later, three dozen oysters were shucked, placed on ice-laden serving platters adorned with lemon and cocktail sauce and whisked away to the dining room. The woman thanked me for my help and said 'if you ever need a job, come talk to me'. A week later, my mom was dropping me off after school to begin my shift as the seafood market clerk and prep-cook cleaning fish, peeling and deveining shrimp, picking crab, etc. Of course, this was all totally off the books, the restaurant was a cash-only business, payroll was always in cash, and I highly doubt the state of Florida had any idea that a fourteen year old boy was working there, but let's leave the rest of that story for pour three.

After adding even more water, we are up to just over a teaspoon for this pour, the alcohol punch is calmed, but still stronger than I remembered from my first pour. This is still a tasty malt, just more prickly than I remember from a few nights ago. Barley sugar, more apricot, and the vanilla returns to the palate, definitely a sweet dram, but not as sweet as the nose would have you anticipate. Tonight's pour is a perfect reminder how one's experience with any whiskey can change. I have no doubt that the difference in tonight's experience lies not so much in the whiskey itself but with my physical and mental state tonight. Perfect justification not to judge a whiskey off just one experience.

Pour three in the coming days!

Thursday, March 14, 2019

Redbreast 12 Year Cask Strength - First Pour

Some recent developments in the news cycle have been swirling around in the ole noggin this week and what better companion to contemplative thoughts than a quality whiskey. So promising a stream of consciousness set of impressions, I will just write and see if combining an unrelated rant with tasting impressions has any traction.

Let's break the ice with appearance - absolutely beautiful honeyed amber color in the glass. The Internet is conflicted as to whether Redbreast 12 Cask Strength is artificially colored. Sadly, there is no official word from Redbreast, but it is known that the standard Redbreast 12 year is artificially colored. As such, I have a nagging sense that this Cask Strength version is indeed artificially enhanced. Though it is a gorgeous color, personally, I would prefer au naturale.

Lauda Air Flight 004, a six-month old Boeing 767-300ER, crashed approximately fifteen minutes after takeoff on May 26, 1991. All 223 persons on board, 213 passengers and 10 crew, were killed on that flight departing Bangkok, Thailand bound for Vienna, Austria. The owner of the airline - three-time Formula 1 world champion Niki Lauda, himself a licensed and certified commercial airline pilot - took a decisive and first-hand, though unofficial, leadership role in the accident's investigation. Upon visiting the crash site spread throughout the mountainous terrain north of Bangkok, he noticed the reverse thruster had been deployed on one of the aircraft's two engines. Much of the aircraft's wiring as well as flight data recorder had been irreversibly destroyed in the crash, so no definitive cause for the crash could be determined, but investigators arrived at a probable cause - the reverse thruster on one of the engines had mysteriously engaged while the aircraft was under full power during its ascent to cruising altitude.

Nose - honey, green grass, apple, vanilla, orange, slight alcohol (nowhere near what one would expect from a 58.2% whiskey). The smell alone is worth the price of entry in my opinion. I remember my first experience with Irish whiskey - there was a unique smell that I had no idea how to quantify or describe. My whiskey mentors helped guide me, allowing me to smell fully malted whiskey side by side with single pot still Irish whiskey that uses some malted and some un-malted barley. That unquantifiable smell suddenly was quantifiable - a fresh grass, green grass smell that comes from the un-malted barley. After a splash of water and yet more time in the glass, lemon pledge alternating with sweet vanilla emerge. Soon, I found the vanilla dominating the smell of the dram.

Investigating and assessing blame in high profile situations is an insightful thing. There are generally two types of personalities at the table - those looking to find the truth, even if it hurts their interests and those looking to preserve and shield their interests regardless of the truth. This is where you find the true measure of a person in my opinion, at least when it comes to integrity. The official crash investigation, conducted by the Government of Thailand found the probable (not conclusive) cause of the accident to be an uncommanded deployment of the left engine's reverse thruster making stable flight impossible. Boeing partially rejected the finding however as they were not willing to rule out pilot error.

Taste - just a whisker too much alcohol punch when sipped neat. It is certainly possible to sip neat, but the dram feels a bit like when you induce distortion in speakers by cranking the source volume up a tad too high. With a splash of water and some time in the glass, oh, my, what a taste. Barley, apricot, stone fruits, some gentle perfume/floral notes all accentuated by subtle oak and vanilla as the sip slips over the tongue. This sounds bizarre, but I am reminded immediately of some creme brûlées I have enjoyed in the past, but with a lightly toasted sugar rather than a darkly toasted sugar. All of that Internet hype around this whiskey is making sense now.

Months passed with no official statement from Boeing but eventually Boeing disclosed to Lauda Air that in their internal testing, they had actually replicated an engine thruster deploying without being commanded to do so. On Boeing's test bed, an o-ring in the actuator that manages the reverse thruster failed when under high thrust which consequently caused the reverse thruster to unintentionally deploy. It turns out that the 767-300 featured a new and improved electronic and not mechanical linkage to deploy an engine's reverse thruster. In the older mechanical linkage version, there was an interlock that prevented an engine's reverse thruster from deploying in non-landing situations. No such interlock existed in the new and improved electronic fly-by-wire version featured on the 767-300. Boeing quietly modified the 767-300 reverse thruster system to include interlocks preventing their deployment in non-landing situations. Niki Lauda however was incensed that Boeing would not issue a statement of any kind regarding Boeing's findings in regard to their investigation of the Lauda Air Flight 004 crash. Lauda persisted, waging a public war challenging Boeing to prove that a 767 remains flyable when a reverse thruster was deployed under full thrust. Boeing initially balked, Lauda still persisted, even offering to personally fly on a 767 test where a thruster was deployed in flight if Boeing could prove that such a situation was survivable. Boeing admitted such a situation was not survivable and finally issued an official statement to that effect as well as exonerating the flight crew of Lauda Air Flight 004.

Finish - honey, vanilla, just a bit of astringency. Delightful finish, slow and lingering with continued vanilla sweetness that never quite departs. For me, no real fruit influence from the taste carries over to the finish, this is a pure sweet with a tinge of alcohol astringency finish. Perhaps a bit more water would help tame that astringency, but truthfully I am nit-picking here, this is a sensationally enjoyable whiskey. This finish lasts well into the double-digits in terms of minutes.

I have been thinking of Lauda Air Flight 004 quite a lot this week as the reports of Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 swirl through the news. Like Lauda Air Flight 004, Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 was a young (four-months old) example of a relatively new variant of long-pedigreed aircraft. Unlike Lauda Air however, around six months ago, a different example of the exact same aircraft crashed, killing all aboard, in very similar circumstances. The cause of the earlier accident, still under investigation, swirls around the aircraft's automation disregarding pilot input because the pilots had not disengaged a newly developed anti-stall safeguard in Boeing's software that is exclusively found in the 737 Max 8 and Max 9 aircraft. Upon closer investigation, it was learned that Boeing had not sufficiently trained or disclosed how this new anti-stall automation behaved or how to throughly interact with it.

I have little doubt that the 737 Max 8 and Max 9 are safe, airworthy aircraft, but there does appear to be genuine doubt surrounding Boeing's thoroughness in disclosing and educating pilots as to the aircraft's modified flight control software. My only hope is that the truth, whatever that might be, will emerge and be put to good use preventing similar tragedies in the future. In my previous professional life, I took an FAA-sponsored course in disaster avoidance where the instructor bluntly stated that the vast majority of today's aviation rules and regulations are written in human blood. The loss of human life is tragic, but it is unacceptably tragic if that loss is not used to help prevent future losses.

Second pour sometime this weekend, perhaps even tomorrow night, who knows, we can't put rules on these things. Also, if interested, here is Niki Lauda in 2017 reflecting on the crash of Lauda Air Flight 004:

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

'Tis the Season!

Well Kermit, it may not be easy to be green, but you are in good company this time of year. Redbreast 12 Cask Strength ... At long last, purchased over a year ago, I am finally cracking this most honorable libation. My first experience with Redbreast 12 was in last March's tasting. I was so enamored that I decided to take the fiscal plunge and check out the cask strength version. Typically, as a rule, I do not post any impressions of a whiskey until I have had three separate pours spaced out across three separate days. In this case however, I will try something different and post the notes from each of my tastings as they happen in pseudo real-time. The uncorking and first-pour are tentatively scheduled for this coming Thursday! Hashtag More To Come!