The Balvenie

Review: The Balvenie Peat Week 14-Year-Old Single Malt Whisky

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The Balvenie is known for its honeycomb-led flavor profile.  One week a year, The Balvenie distills a heavily peated malt.  That week, known as Peat Week, leads us to this wonderful whisky.  Distilled back in 2002, this 14-year-old expression from the famed distillery utilizes only peated barley – no non-peated malt here.  That whisky matured in American oak casks.

In addition to being bottled at a modest 48.3% abv, Peat Week is also non-chill filtered.

Let’s dig in, shall we?

The nose is exactly what you’d expect.  Notes of honeyed malt, wood smoke, lemon peel, and sweet oak abound.  More of the same on the palate.  A quick explosion of rich, sweet honeycomb and vanilla followed by a wave of tempered smoke.  Some sautéed mushroom on the mid palate is accompanied by toffee and wood spice.  The finish is clean and lovely, with hints of burnt orange peel, toffee, and peat smoke.

I love this “heavy” side of The Balvenie.  I use the quotations for a reason.  The Balvenie’s standard profile is generally that a lighter style whisky, though it still has some richness.  The peat here is not heavy handed.  Rather, it nicely balances with that honeycomb nature generally found in The Balvenie.  Peat Week’s a great way to experience The Balvenie.  At $99 a bottle, this is an easy recommendation.  8.5/10

thebalvenie.com

Thanks to The Balvenie for the sample.  As always, all thoughts and opinions are my own.

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My Tales of the Cocktail Adventure: 2018 Edition

Taking place during another sauna-like summer in New Orleans, Tales of the Cocktail swept through the city like a cool breeze.  The spirits industry gathered here in NOLA for a week of seminars, themed parties, and cocktails.  Tales, under new ownership, seemed to put the focus on education and well-being.  I’ll say this – I didn’t get a lot of the “let’s get trashed” vibe I typically see.  Hell, even the William Grant & Sons Portfolio was alcohol-free.  It’s refreshing, actually, and I hope Tales of the Cocktail Foundation’s new mantra remains at its core in the future.

So, what kind of whiskey shenanigans did I get into this year?

My 2018 Tales experience began Tuesday night with a visit from Crown Royal National Brand Ambassador Stephen Wilson.  Like Santa on Christmas Eve, Stephen arrived at my house bearing gifts – a couple of wonderful Crown Royal expressions to taste- Blenders’ Mash and the new 13-year-old Blenders’ Mash, part of their Noble Collection series.  We documented the tasting on my Youtube channel.

Next on my schedule was a visit with Glenfiddich’s David Allardice.  While sampling Glenfiddich Project XX and David’s contribution to that expression (a tasty first-fill bourbon cask), we had a laid back conversation about the Scotch industry.  Specifically about age statements and the importance of blenders.  David poured a bit of the newly announced Glenfiddich Fire & Cane, the latest entry of the brand’s Experimental series – a lightly peated whisky (a rarity for Glenfiddich) finished in rum casks.

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Glenfiddich’s David Allardice showing off two of the whisky brand’s Experimental Series releases.

My Friday kicked off with a spirited chat with The Balvenie’s Jonathan Wingo at the famous Carousel Lounge at the Hotel Monteleone.  Over a Vieux Carré and daiquiri, we circled geeky territory as the subject of whisky highballs came up.  Jonathan mentioned the carbonation acts as a flavor delivery system, really bringing a whisky’s oils (flavor carriers) to the palate.  We both agreed a highball is a more enjoyable summer cocktail than a mint julep.  Now I want to make a whisky highball with The Balvenie 14-year-old Peat Week release.

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New Orleans Bourbon Festival founders Tracy Napolitano & Barbara Hirsch-Napolitano deep into their Maker’s Mark Private Select pick for next year’s festival.

After that I was off to briefly take part in the Maker’s Mark Private Select pick for the New Orleans Bourbon Festival.  Maker’s program is a great alternative to just picking a barrel, and it was great to see the unique process firsthand.  Next year’s festival is going to feature a wide range of single barrel and unique picks made specifically for the event.   More on that coming in a later post…

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Wild Turkey Master Distiller Eddie Russell

Next on the agenda was the Wild Turkey Vault featuring a selection of vintage expressions!  The promise of tasting special whiskey overshadowed the sweltering heat.  Eddie and Bruce Russell were pouring in the back of Sylvain’s courtyard.  I went for the new Wild Turkey Revival and Russell’s Reserve 2002.

Wild Turkey Revival is finished in sherry casks and proved to be a rich, dry-fruit laced expression of the bourbon.  Russell’s Reserve 2002 is as special as the Russell’s Reserve 1998 release a few years ago – a potent blast of classic Wild Turkey flavor.

This is where I also ran into the inimitable Fred Minnick and Beam Suntory’s Adam Harris.  It was also my face-to-face introduction to WhiskyCast’s Mark Gillespie.  I hope to see them in NOLA next March at New Orleans Bourbon Festival.

Rounding out my Friday night was a Brenne Whisky dinner with the wonderfully welcoming Allison Parc, founder of the French single malt brand.  The intimate, friendly group of seven in attendance experienced a rollicking good conversation over the maritime delicacies of Pêche Restaurant.

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Saturday saw my first and only Tales seminar this year – Irish Whiskey: What’s in Your Warehouse.  It was moderated by Tullamore D.E.W. Ambassador Tim Herlihy and featured Teeling Whiskey’s Robert Caldwell, Walsh Whiskey Distillery’s Stuart Caffrey, Kilbeggan’s Michael Egan, and Midleton’s Jessamine McLellan.  In addition to learning about the category (did you know Irish whiskey can be aged in any type of wood?), we got to taste some one-of-a-kind whiskies straight from the warehouses.  Here’s what we tried, with my original notes (non-edited)

Teeling Whiskey – Plantation Rum collaboration.Finished in rum casks for about a year.Lots of malt, green banana, pineapple, other fresh tropical fruit and a touch of spice.46% abv

Walsh Whiskey Distillery – Writer’s Tears Copper Pot Deau XO Cognac 7-month  finish. Honeyed fruit, pot still character, soft cognac character on the backend.

Tullamore D.E.W. – Single Malt.No release planned yet – still maturing.Malty.Vibrant.Rich.Warm finish.Could be very interesting once released.

Tullamore D.E.W. #2  – “when things go wrong”.  Stout finish. Funky off note on nose.Overpowers whisky character.

Kilbeggan – Single Malt. – 7-yo in bourbon barrels.Bright citrus, malty, grapefruit,57(ish)% abv.

Midleton – single pot still trifecta. Component whiskies of upcoming release (Red Spot?)

  1. First-fill Bourbon cask. Lots of vanilla and floral, banana, toffee.Some spice.57.5% abv. Went into barrel in 2002.
  2. First fill Marsala Cask – slightly burnt; sweeter and savory palate; dried fruits; bitter, dry finish (American oak seasoned for two years) 58.3% (19yo)
  3. Oloroso sherry European oak seasoned for 2 years. Went into Cask in 2001 (17 yr). Beautiful, dark fruits.Large dark, dry sherry notes

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Right after the outstanding seminar, Tim Herlihy and I talked about the explosion of the Irish whiskey category.  As long as quality standards hold up among new and planned distilleries, the continued boom will be an exciting time.  That’s especially true as it will allow more and more experiments in the category.  We know experiments are hit or miss, but when distillers and blenders strike gold, it just means more interesting whiskey for us.

Finally, my Tales adventure came to a fitting end when whisky author and host of The Whisky Topic podcast Mark Bylok swung by the house to interview me for the podcast.  I recounted my “whiskey journey” with a tasting of four delicious whiskies.

All in all, a very laid back Tales for me this year.  Don’t conflate laid back with non-eventful.  The folks I had the pleasure of talking whisk(e)y with shared lots of great stories, information, and a most welcome enthusiasm for the spirit.  I’d like to thank everyone who took the time to chat with me, as well as the folks behind-the-scenes who worked to schedule everything.  I look forward to next year.

By the way, keep an eye out in the near future for full reviews of the whiskies mentioned above.

 

My Tales of the Cocktail Adventures: 2017 Edition

July in New Orleans means only one thing: Tales of the Cocktail. This spirits industry convention celebrated its 15th anniversary in 2017, and probably its largest gathering yet. Major and craft spirits brands show up in full force to showcase their spirits and spread knowledge through tastings and seminars. This is my third year attending. It’s easy for me because I live in NOLA, so I’m in the middle of the chaos after a short 10 minute drive from home. Wow, what a week! Here are some highlights:

Photo courtesy of Bulleit Distilling Co.

 TUESDAY


My Tales adventure this year kicked off with a Copper & Kings Happy Hour event to enjoy a delicious brandy cocktail before heading off to dinner with Tom Bulleit at Compère Lapin. Tom was in town to promote a new partnership between Bulleit and Revelator Coffee. Revelator created a Bulleit barrel-aged coffee syrup. It smells and tastes heavenly, by the way.  I’m already experimenting with the syrup at home.  Let’s hope it becomes available to the public in the future.

WEDNESDAY

Irish whiskey was the star of the show at Kilbeggan’s Single Grain launch.

Wednesday started with a visit to the Kilbeggan Rambling House, where Kilbeggan Single Grain Irish Whiskey was the star of the show. Because my schedule was packed, I was only able to stop by for a few minutes as they opened. Unfortunately, there was a slight hiccup with the distributor and the new Single Grain expression hadn’t arrived yet. No problem. I enjoyed a pour of Tyrconnell 10-year-old Madeira cask finished whiskey. That’s no consolation prize. It’s a delicious malt worth seeking out.  The good news is a small sample is on its way as I type this post.  A review will soon follow.

Hennessy’s Director of Distillation Olivier Paultes walked us through a sampling of different cognacs.

Next up was the Hennessy Experience at Bevolo. National Brand Ambassador Jordan Bushell was on-hand to walk visitors through the cognac making process before introducing us to Hennessy’s Director of Distillation Olivier Paultes, who also sits on the Hennessy Tasting Committee. Olivier led us through a tasting of several cognacs, including a 52-year-old cognac from Grande Champagne. There was so much to see and taste – a quick recap won’t do it justice. Expect a separate post soon.

The Napoleonic Complex, the winning cocktail at Exotico’s cocktail competition. Photo courtesy of Hank Allen.

I managed to stop over to see the tail end of Exotico Tequila’s 2017 cocktail competition. “The Napoleonic Complex,” a margherita pizza-inspired cocktail saw its creator Megan Deschaine take top prize.  Here’s her winning recipe:

  • 1.5 oz Exotico Blanco Tequila
  • .75 oz lime juice
  • .5 oz agave syrup
  • 4 dashes Bittermens Hellfire Bitters
  • 2 dashes Scrappy’s Celery Bitters
  • 1 ripe roma tomato (quartered)
  • 8-10 basil leaves

Muddle tomato quarters and basil in a mixing tin.  Add remaining ingredients and shake vigorously with ice.  Double strain into dressed rocks glass over one large ice cube.  Garnish with a skewered mozzarella ball and basil leaf and half of a salt and pepper rim.


Redemption’s Joe Riggs met me to go over some of the whiskey brand’s offerings, including the newly released Wheated Bourbon. Delicious and priced right at about $45 a bottle. It has a whopping 45% wheat in its mashbill – much more than most, if not all, wheated bourbons out there. It was softer in character, with a nice non-cloying sweetness up front.  Those barrel proof bourbon and rye expressions Joe pulled out at the end of the tasting were no joke!  Fantastic stuff.

Balvenie Malt Master David Stewart and I at the William Grant & Sons Portfolio Party.

Wednesday night ended with the William Grant & Sons portfolio party. It was great catching up with and meeting new Balvenie and Glenfiddich brand ambassadors – and sipping on Balvenie 14-year-old Peated Cask and 21-year-old Port Cask finish. Oh, did I mention Balvenie Malt Master David Stewart was just hanging around. I walked up and introduced myself. We chatted for a good while. As our conversation drew to an end, spirits author extraordinaire Fred Minnick offered up a cigar. Who was I to turn him down? After a wonderful evening, I was off to bed. I had to rest up for what was to be a busy Thursday.

THURSDAY

A lovely dram of The Balvenie DoubleWood 17-year-old.

A quick coffee to start the day? Nonsense! I had a morning meeting with Balvenie’s Brand Ambassador Jonathan Wingo, who brought along pours of Balvenie DoubleWood 12- and 17-year-old whiskies. We talked all things Balvenie, which I’ll cover in-depth in an upcoming post.

Courvoisier Master Blender Patrice Pinet pouring me a glass of XO during a marvelous chat.

Then a quick Lyft ride to the Ritz-Carlton was the only way to not show up for my next appointment soaked in sweat. It was HOT out there! That meeting was with Courvoisier’s Master Blender Patrice Pinet. He makes it to the U.S. only once a year, so I was extremely fortunate enough to meet privately with him. We chatted about cognac cocktail trends and misconceptions, among other things, while tasting through Courvoisier VSOP, XO and L’Essence de Courvoisier. That last one… what an exquisite cognac!


Next on the agenda was a tasting of something new from Japanese spirit maker Nikka. No, it wasn’t whisky. I was there to taste their new gin and vodka. Both spirits were distilled in Nikka’s Coffey still. Emiko Kaji led an informative presentation that included tasting a 100% corn spirits distilled in a column still and one distilled in Nikka’s Coffey still. The latter was much creamier with more body. I also got to smell the different botanicals found in the gin. It was nice to get away from whiskey or cognac, even if was only for a few moments.


Now there are whiskey geeks and then there are whiskey geeks.  All showed up for “Better Drinking Through Chemistry,” a seminar that took a microscopic look at what gives whiskey and cognac their unique flavors.  Moderated by Diageo’s Ewan Morgan, this molecule and compound filled science orgy featured Wiser’s Dr. Don Livermore, Diageo’s Dr. Matthew Crow, and Hennessy’s Jordan Bushell.  We learned why rye grain gives the flavors it does and how barrels and different types of oak affect a spirit’s nature.  Those in attendance sampled Lot 40 Cask Strength, JP Wiser’s Dissertation, a 10-year-old whiskey finished in a cask whose wood staves were seasoned for four years, a 12-year-old Cardhu, an 18-year-old Glen Ord that matured in recharred casks with new American oak ends, as well as Oban Little Bay.  Bushell guided us through a tasting of three different cognacs: a 4-year-old Fin Bois aged in a grade D barrel (an old, used barrel) in a dry cellar, Hennessy Master Blender’s Selection No. 1, and Paradis Impérial to cap off the seminar.  The inner whiskey geek in me walked out with a smile.

Later that night I grabbed a cocktail and a bite to eat at High West’s Spirited Dinner.  The theme was “A Toast to Old Orleans.”  The familiar (to me, anyway) creole food, ragtime jazz band, and Highwest cocktails proved to be a pleasant way to end a hectic day.

FRIDAY


My Friday evening started with a visit to The Macallan’s “Flight for a Cause” tasting at the Ritz.  Sure, it was pretty exciting to get to taste Macallan’s 1824 Series, including Rare Cask, Reflexion, No. 6, and exquisite (and expensive) M, but what impressed me most was the charity aspect.  For every person who attended, Macallan donated $250 to support wounded veterans and their families.  Brand Ambassador Raquel Raies led small groups through a tasting of the series.  I have to say, the small amount of pre-WWII peated casks added to this expression was a masterstroke.  It was one of the most memorable pours in a week of unforgettable spirits.

Westland Whiskey Master Distiller Matt Hoffman

Deep in the French Quarter, I met up with Westland Whiskey Master Distiller Matt Hoffman.  I was pretty pumped to be able to chat with Hoffman and taste Westland for the first time.  “We’re all about balance,” Hoffman said as he poured a few of his single malts:  American Oak, Sherry Wood, Peated, and Garryana.  They were all rich, balanced, and easily drinkable.  The limited edition Garryana offered the same with an added complexity.  That last one is a great example of terrior.  Garryana is a type of American oak only found in a minuscule area in Washington state, and, to my knowledge, Westland is the only whiskey distillery utilizing it.


Capping off my Friday was Diageo’s portfolio party, featuring a performance by Snoop Dogg.  Since I’ve never seen Snoop in concert, I was able to check it off my bucket list while enjoying a Guinness and Bulleit 10 Boilermaker.  This was by far the most crowded portfolio I’ve attended since coming to Tales.  Lots of people, but a helluva lot of fun.

SATURDAY

Saturday morning started with a meet-and-greet with Cedar Ridge founder/owner Jeff Quint.  We talked about how he started the Iowa distillery and his aim to put out a quality product that doesn’t taste like anything currently on the market.  Quint brought along some expressions for me to try.  The corn whiskey was light and sweet (perfect for a highball), while his malted rye had some nice characteristics not found in standard rye whiskies.  Cedar Ridge single malt was rich but not overly complex.  The two bourbons were nice, especially the 5-year-old expression.    I hope to get the chance to try these whiskies again.

As someone who runs a whiskey blog, I wouldnt miss Noah Rothbaum’s “The Original Whisky Writer: Alfred Barnard” seminar.  He impressive panel included David Wondrich, Dr. Nick Morgan, Dave Broom, and Lew Bryson.  The group tackled the life of the enigmatic Victorian whisky writer whose book, “The Whisky Distilleries of the United Kingdom” served as a blueprint for most future whisky writers.  Though Barnard wrote other books, they didnt have the gravitas of that first one.  This may have been the most entertaining panel I’ve attended.


Capping off my Tales experience was a visit to Cafe Adelaide, where the restaurant was celebrating its newly launched Breakfast for Dinner menu.  The food was to die for, as were the cocktails, wich were made using spirits from the local Donner-Peltier distillery.  If you make it down to New Orleans, you should really stop by Cafe Adelaide.  There’s simply no friendlier hospitality in the city.

What another wonderful year!  It was probably my most hectic.  Next year’s goal is to slightly scale back, which could prove difficult if there are as many great events as this year.  Till then, cheers!