Of Mangoes and Bullshit

Ataulfos
Perhaps the lesson is that when it comes to mangoes you can’t trust a magazine named for a peach.

Yesterday I came across this piece on mangoes on the Lucky Peach website by one Rupa Bhattacharya. It is described as follows: “An unprompted email from a father with a lot of good information”. Now, while I’m not generally well-versed in the genre of unprompted emails from fathers, this one actually contains quite a bit of bad information and so here I am. My apologies to Rupa Bhattacharya for callously critiquing her Father’s Day post and to her father, who seems like my kind of bullshitter, ranging in one brief email from exact mathematical analyses of the correct firmness at which Central and South American mangoes seem designed to be eaten (75% apparently) to description of soil types to origin stories for the names of mango varietals. As to whether any of this is actually correct is, as any good bullshitter will tell you, besides the point. The better question is why a serious (?) food magazine would publish such an anecdotal piece and slap a “Guides” tag on it. I’ll ask this question again at the bottom but first let’s get the good/bad information out of the way.  Continue reading

Coming Soon?

The first day of the month is usually the day I look ahead to the coming month, present a long list of potential whisky reviews and ask for help shortening that list down. I can’t do that this month. This is not because I am joining the group of whisky bloggers who are reconsidering blogging about whisky (more on this below), but because I am not able to confidently predict when my nose will be back in action. If you’ve been following the blog in the last few weeks you know that my nose has been stuffed up—at first I thought it was a by-product of viral bronchitis, then I thought it was a sinus infection, now I think it might have to do with tree pollen, which there is a lot more of (by several orders of magnitude) at our new house than there was around the old. I have normal days (on one of which recent ones I wrote up the Glenfarclas 30) but they’re not followed reliably by other normal days (yesterday was off again, today seems on so far). For someone whose life revolves as much around food and drink as mine does this is a rather unnerving state of affairs and I’m in a state of ongoing low-grade panic about it.  Continue reading

What Should Sku Blog About Next?

Sku, yesterday

Beam is bringing out a 13 yo rye that is to cost $300 and naturally Sku is planning to quit blogging about whiskey as a result. It’s the right thing to do. After all these years of blogging about easily accessible bourbons that anyone can buy and drink and reasonably priced 10 yo single malts, you can see why the prospect of an expensive 13 yo rye just doesn’t sit with him. Naturally, his announcement has set off a great deal of ferment in the whiskey world, nowhere more so than at the TTB, who are now facing the prospect of actually having to pay someone to remind the world of their existence on a regular basis. And K&L are doubtless wondering if doubling down on armagnac right now was a good idea—what if Sku’s malaise spreads and he stops blogging about brandies as well??! And, of course, the rest of us are wondering where we will now get the kind of loquacious, ebullient flights of fancy Sku was known for. Well, I can’t solve all the dilemmas posed by Sku’s threatened retirement but with your help I can at least try to ensure that he doesn’t stop blogging altogether. Please respond to this poll that asks: “What Should Sku Blog About Next?” Continue reading

Col. E.H. Taylor, Bourbon and the Problem of Tradition

E.H. Taylor: Buffalo Trace Sell Sheet

Indeed.

Here is my threatened follow-up post on some of the issues that came up when I was idly looking up the history of Colonel E.H. Taylor for my review of his namesake Small Batch bourbon released by Buffalo Trace. Before I get into it, let me first say what this is not and what it is.

It is not scholarship or even journalism: if I were doing either of those things I would spend months or weeks researching the subject. I would read every book on bourbon history to see to what extent and how this material has already been written about; I would investigate the archives of the distilleries and of the relevant locations (Frankfort, KY, for example); I would read historical studies of the Civil War and Reconstruction; I would interview experts like Chuck Cowdery, Mike Veach and Reid Mitenbuler. I have done none of these things because this is not scholarship or even journalism (and should not be confused with or held to the standards of those enterprises).

What this is is a blog post: it’s exploratory, it’s speculative, it’s a clearing of space in my own head which might possibly lead to more detailed exploration down the road or it might not; hopefully it will invite responses from people who can fill in all the things I would know if I’d done the research and point me to other places to look; and, even if it’s all redundant, hopefully it will spur some discussion: there are subjects which even if already known benefit from regular discussion and I think this might be one of them.

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Shining Moments in Spirits Journalism: The Daily Beast Edition

Bullshit

This is not a lump of peat…

I went on about this a little bit on Twitter earlier this evening but I can’t resist putting it all together in a blog post as well with a little more detail (this is why I am so beloved). I don’t know if you’ve seen it but the Daily Beast today published a piece by someone named Aaron Goldfarb on Single Cask Nation’s single cask releases that is quite laughable in many respects.Single Cask Nation, if you don’t know, is the independent bottling concern/club started by ex (?) whisky bloggers Joshua Hatton and Jason-Johnstone Yellin of Jewish Whisky Company (they also operate the Whisky Jewbilee events). Goldfarb appears to be someone who writes about spirits on a regular basis but it’s hard to tell from this if he actually knows very much about the ins and outs of the Scotch world. But I do expect a little better from The Daily Beast (is that an error?). Okay, what are my problems with the piece? Read on.

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Does Distillery Character Exist?

Casks
Prominent in the shared language of whisky geeks is the idea of “distillery character”. It comes up often in reviews, including mine. See, for example, my review of a very old Teaninich where I say that some old whiskies seem “more like examples of “fruity distillates put into refill bourbon wood for a very long time” rather than exemplars of distillery character”; or my review of a port-matured Benromach where I note that not having tried very many Benromachs “I can’t really speak to distillery character”; elsewhere in a review of a port-matured Springbank I put the term in scare quotes that clarify nothing, suggesting that due to Springbank’s approach to double maturation their “distillery character” always comes through in their whiskies of the type. And these are only some of my recent reviews in which I use the term. All of this would suggest that I believe in distillery character. But in fact I don’t. Or rather I don’t really know what it is I, or other people, mean when I/they refer to “distillery character” or if there’s any consistency in how we do it. Continue reading

Chairman’s Butt, 3rd Edition

Humbug
The storied Islay distillery, Spewmoor today announced the 3rd and final edition in its successful Chairman’s Butt series. The first two limited editions of 300,000 bottles each sold out within hours of their release in 2012 and 2014, with customers falling over themselves to purchase bottles at £100 each and then to turn around and sell them to each other at £250 each. The first two releases, noted Hamish McGammon, Director of Cynicism at Spewmoor’s parent company Chundery, comprised 10 year old whisky matured in sherry casks specially chosen and blowtorched to impart a colour that would match the darkness of the board of directors’ souls and to distract drinkers from the strong aromas and flavours of sulphur in the whisky itself. Given the excitement with which these releases were consumed (and the breathless reviews and scores they received), the company was persuaded to release one final limited edition of 500,000 bottles in Europe, North America, South America, Oceania, Asia, Africa and Antarctica only.

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A Guide to the Names of Scottish Distilleries

Cod
We all drink Scotch whisky only to appear sophisticated. If you have a bourbon in your hand and someone asks you what you’re drinking you invariably have to say a name that sounds like it belonged to a minor Civil War general and then you worry that they might think you’re wearing confederate flag underwear. And if it is a Canadian whisky then you will likely become the butt of cruel jokes. But if you’ve got a glass of Scotch in your hand you get to hit your interlocutor with an unlikely combination of consonants and guttural sounds that make you sound like Sean Connery, or at least Mike Myers’ impression of Sean Connery. It doesn’t matter how you pronounce names like Laphroaig or Auchentoshan because nobody else knows how to pronounce them either. The problem comes when you’re asked what the name means (and anyone who’s been around drunks knows that we, I mean they are very interested in etymology).

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#GrapeGate 2014: Some Annoying Opinions

https://twitter.com/hashtag/GrapeGate?src=hash

What is grape salad, pa?

In as bad a case of pandering as you’re likely to see all week I will have on the blog tomorrow a recipe for a turkey kofta “curry”. If you serve it at your Thanksgiving meal you’re likely to provoke great outrage from your family and friends, and that’s before you try to sell it as an Indian recipe—then again, family conflict is one of the great Thanksgiving traditions and so perhaps this is indeed a proper Thanksgiving recipe. Before I get to the recipe, however, I want to say a few quick things about an actual recent, local Thanksgiving-related outrage. I am referring to #GrapeGate.

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In Praise of Jim Murray

cthulhuSo, the 2015 Whisky Bible awards list is out (ahead of the Bible itself). And as always many whisky geeks are falling over each other to see who can get their underwear in the most self-righteous and virtuous knot possible over Jim Murray’s latest excesses. And some of the luminaries of the whisky blogverse have also chimed in. The Whisky Sponge had a characteristically biting takedown right before the announcement; Serge Valentin of Whiskyfun has run a little graphic announcing that “the best whisky in the world simply does not exist“; and even Sam Simmons (aka Dr. Whisky) has roused his blog from suspended animation to note that Murray’s “controversial choices…are no promotional accident“. And here I am, just as predictably, with a contrarian response.

Let me note first of all that the Sponge at least is consistent—he mocked the Bible last year as well; and he also mocks everything else to do with the whisky industry and those who peddle, promote and obscure its twaddle. It’s less clear why Serge is so exercised about the idea of “the best whisky in the world”—after all, one might say that the Malt Maniacs Awards do much the same as Murray’s lists albeit in different language; and, of course, it’s not clear why the notion of someone proposing a “best whisky” should be so outrageous per se in a world where there’s a best everything, from movies (Crash!) to polka albums to butter sculptures. As for the good Dr. Whisky, one wonders if he and the rest of the Scotch whisky industry—Simmons is a brand ambassador for Balvenie—are as quick to note the promotional aspect of Murray’s announcements in years when Scotch whiskies are at the top of his lists and/or he’s not taking shots at the Scotch industry’s practices (as he did this year). Continue reading

Your Guide to the Diageo Special Releases for 2014

Dung SisyphusEvery year right around this time Diageo provide some public services by testing the state of the whisky bubble and the emotional state of whisky geeks everywhere, while simultaneously providing some high concept comedy to ease our strain in these troubled times. Herewith an annotated guide to the Diageo Special Releases for 2014.

Let us begin with the two categories that make the most sense. The prices listed are the recommended retail prices that are posted in the UK now—they’re usually lower in the US, and the sales situation is also usually different in the US (things hang around longer than they do in the UK or EU). Continue reading

Reviewing, Revisiting and Revising (And Other Thoughts on Blogging Practice)

This is a post in everyone’s favourite genre: blogger blogging about blogging. It’s your lucky day.

As the two or three people who read this blog regularly and read both the new posts and the recent comments know, I sometimes (but not as often as I should) go back to bottles I have previously reviewed and add fresh comments (not to the original review itself but in the comments section); and in some cases suggest a new score based on the later tasting. Sometimes I find the whisky to be unchanged or not significantly changed, but usually I find a shift in emphases in notes (most commonly) or a complete disappearance of some notes (not unusually) or the appearance of completely new notes (rarely). None of this is surprising news to anyone who drinks bottles down slowly over time—whiskies change in the bottle with time and air and their mutability is part of what makes them interesting. But it does raise some (unoriginal) questions about reviewing and scoring (not just on blogs). Continue reading

Age and Price Ceilings: What are Yours?

This is not a very original line of inquiry. I’m guessing lots of other bloggers have visited it over the years. Indeed, I have a dim memory of having proposed something along similar lines some years ago in a discussion on What Does John Know?–back when it was a daily stop for me. But instead of being all negative and accusing me of beating a long dead and highly boring horse, why not laud me instead for my daring retro post on Throwback Thursday? That’s the spirit!

At any rate, this question occurred to me again after the brief exchange yesterday in the comments on my review of the utterly ordinary Kavalan King Conductor that is to retail in the US for $109.99: what should the price threshold be for whiskies in particular age ranges? Continue reading

Jumping the Driscoll

David Driscoll has been on a strange tear on Spirits Journal in the last few months. Bloggers have been the target of his ire but it’s really logic and coherence that have been the victims. One day it’s important to have knowledge and “critical context”, other days all that matters is to have fun and not worry about knowing things and people who know things are a drag, and so on. There’s about as much consistency in his narratives as in those in the professional wrestling world he keeps referencing. I’ve stopped calling this stuff out on the blog as I don’t really have anything personal against Driscoll or K&L–I purchase from them and generally have enjoyed K&L’s selections. Also, even for a blowhard like me it gets tiring saying the same thing over and over again. And at this point I think most whisky geeks are wise to his schtick anyway. But his most recent post is quite something. Continue reading