WhiskyFest San Francisco 2009

I got to experience a few new-ish Bruichladdich expressions that I have written about but never tasted. I have to say that I really loved the Resurrection 2001 dram. It was a well-balanced expression and I find the range of whiskies that Bruichladdich produces to be a continual source of amazement. This is the first (I think) product since the new owners acquired the distillery in 2001. The Port Charlotte range also dates from that time frame, and I’m not sure which came first.

I also had the 16yr “First Growth” Series – A and B. They are very different! The effect of the wood on the whiskies is very unique. I believe that all these started out as 16yrs in ex-Bourbon barrels and then were migrated to the appropriate ex-burgundy casks. These were not as fruity or sweet as Sherried whiskies, but were wonderful nonetheless. Sadly, the First Growth Series is a bit out of my price range, but I think I’ll be having a Resurrection 2001 (and a Port Charlotte PC7) before the year is out.

Finally, it was a pleasure to meet Andrew Gray, one of the principals at BDC. I’ve exchanged many emails with him in the past and it was nice to personally welcome him to my home town.

More on Whisky Fringe and PC8

Whisky Fringe’s tasting in 2009 included 200 whiskies, and the winner was based on the public’s voting, not that of whisky “experts.” Bruichladdich’s Port Charlotte 8-year-old (“Ar Dùthchas,” or “Land of Our Fathers”) won it all.

I love it that a major whisky tasting happened in a church. Only in Scotland, I guess. 🙂 Come to that, I wonder if I could open a branch of that church here in California?

I was really impressed with PC5 and PC6, and based on Jim Murray’s ratings, I can’t wait to taste PC7, which he gave a very slightly better rating than the PC6. Bruichladdich has to be congratulated for executing so well on resurrecting Port Charlotte. It should be an excellent dram for years to come. For 40 ppm phenol content, it’s very drinkable and exceptionally well balanced (speaking of PC6, the oldest I’ve tasted).

Hurricane Bill Heading for Islay

Well, Bill will be a sub-tropical depression, not a hurricane anymore, by the time it gets there around noon on Wednesday 26-Aug-2009. Still…watch out for wind and lots of rain! Depending on the storm’s track, BowmoreBruichladdich and Kilchoman could get hammered since they are on the west side of Islay.

Luckily it’s hitting Islay during the quiet Summer months when most distilleries are not in production.

It Seems Like Just Yesterday…

…that I tasted Port Charlotte “PC5” 5-year-old whisky. For a not-quite-peat-freak, that was something else! And the PC6 was (to me) amazingly evolved after only one further year in wood (I wasn’t the only one that was impressed; Jim Murray loved it!). I haven’t had PC7 yet, but I hope to have a bottle soon.

Now I hear that PC8 has won the “Spirit of Whisky Fringe” award at Whisky Fringe 2009 in Edinburgh, and sadly, I’m hearing that PC8 will be the final annual bottling of Port Charlotte. Does this mean that the 8-year-old expression will be the first Official Bottling of Port Charlotte? Perhaps….

I’ll keep an eye out for more details and let you know as they happen. The PC8 won’t appear in the US retail market for a while — probably not until 2010 if past years are any indication.

Barrel-Aged Beer at The Refuge

Tonight I had dinner at The Refuge in San Carlos, CA. I had the pleasure of drinking a fine Belgian-style beer from Maine that was matured in ex-Bourbon barrels: Allagash Curieux.

The aromas of the Bourbon came through nicely. I really liked this beer! Here is the brewer’s description:

Allagash Curieux

In October of 2004, we released the first beer in our series of Barrel Aged beers, Allagash Curieux. To make the Curieux (French for “curious”), we age our Tripel Ale in Jim Beam barrels for 8 weeks in our cellar. During the aging process in bourbon barrels, the beer is totally transformed, and many new flavors and aromas develop. Most notably, the beer picks up soft coconut and vanilla characteristics…and also a hint of bourbon flavor!

Available in: 750 ml bottle and 5.17 gal kegs

ABV: 9.5% – 10.5%
Original Gravity: 1080
Recommended Serving Temperature: 55°F
Recommended Cellaring Temperature: 55°F

This was a strong beer in terms of ABV, so I only had the one. The flavor profile is light and I’d probably seek it out again when the weather is warmer. Tonight I dined outdoors and it was in the low 50s (Fahrenheit!), so it’s not exactly Summer (or even Spring) here, yet.

The next time I’m in Durham, New Hampshire (maybe in June…), I will definitely drive the one hour North to Portland, Maine to visit the nice folks at Allagash. I am very interested in the interplay between whisk(e)y and beer, so I feel like this trip is mandatory!

Bruichladdich “DNA” – Maybe the Rarest Bruichladdich

A relatively new expression, and a very very rare one, consists of about 900 individually numbered bottles at cask strength (in this case, 41%…these are, or were, very old casks!). What makes this expression rare, besides the fact that this is some of the oldest Bruichladdich spirit in their warehouse? The DNA expression was finished in fine French oak barrels that previously contained some of the [sometimes] most expensive red wine in the world: Château Le Pin.

Very Very Rare

Very Very Rare

The finished product is approximately 40 years old. Before being finished in the Le Pin casks, 80% of the constituent whisky in this expression was aged in Bourbon casks, the remaining 20% in Sherry butts.

One reason that Bruichladdich is able to use wood in creative ways (their ACE process) is, I think, the fact that Jim McEwan has a background as a cooper, in addition to his subsequent distilling experience. He really knows what kinds of wood will bring out the best in a particular whisky. The Bruichladdich management team’s familiarity with the wine business is also strongly at play here (as it was with their Bordeaux “First Growth” series) because they knew that the Le Pin casks would be perfect for this particular, very old, Bruichladdich spirit.

Given the rarity, I was bowled over by the price: It’s under £500 — the Laddie Shop offers it for only £391.48 (at current exchange rates, that’s “only” $567.10). That’s about 3x my comfort level for a whisky, but given the rarity it sounds extremely reasonable. Bruichladdich only has 12 available for online ordering. If you do manage to try it, please taunt me with a description. Definitely don’t just buy it and keep it on the shelf, or to pass along on eBay. In my opinion, I am not in favor of people collecting whisky just to keep it — I think that does a disservice to the fine folks that made it when you don’t enjoy the fruit of their labors. Also, I never miss an opportunity to share really special whisky with my friends (and they do the same for me).

Why Mention Casks?

I’ve written about wood before. The previous article talked in detail about casks because they are important to so many different kinds of maturing alcoholic beverages that it is useful to see the big picture: Where do casks come from and how are they used? You might think that a cask is a cask is a cask, but that’s not true at all. At least in the Scotch whisky business, distillers pay very close attention to their cask supplies, and even have job titles involving “wood management.” Casks are not an afterthought.

We saw that many ex-Bourbon barrels end up in Scotland — but they aren’t all alike. In order to maintain a steady supply of barrels of the same type and with the same flavor characteristics, various Scotch distillers have long-term arrangements with Bourbon producers — to the point where a multi-national corporation that owns a Scotch distillery might acquire a Bourbon distillery just so they have more direct control over the sourcing of the wood used in the barrels that will age their Scotch. There are specialist cooperages that are tied to certain Bourbon distilleries that use particular shapes, toast levels, residual moisture levels, etc.

As with much of the Scotch production process, details matter. To deliver a consistent product, year after year, decade after decade, it’s critical to keep track of all these details. The production of the new make spirit takes only weeks, from malting to mashing to distillation (months if you include growing the barley), whereas the aging takes years or decades. You had better get this part right or your careful production of the spirit will come to naught.