Friday, February 17, 2012

Should You Open That Bottle?

I have heard people say that whisky never ages once you open the bottle (unlike wine, which must be consumed within a couple days, though you can extend that a bit with a fancy decanting system). I was at a whisky bar a couple years ago and the owner had a really expensive bottle that he didn't want to open. He said he wanted to sell the whole bottle -- all at once.

My initial reaction was that this was silly. How much alcohol could escape the bottle for the few seconds that it's open? But as usual, I wasn't seeing the big picture, and was thinking about whisky as if the only important chemical was alcohol. That's so superficial -- besides, isn't alcohol flavorless and odorless? Clearly you drink whisky for the flavors and smells, not the alcohol. Well speaking for myself, that's what *I* do! :-)

This is a weird situation -- on the one hand I'm hearing that whisky doesn't age after it's opened (though everyone agrees that it must be stored vertically!), and on the other hand I'm hearing that whisky "deteriorates" with age. So...which is it? Maybe they aren't talking about alcohol at all!

Over the years I have paid attention as I have opened various bottles. When I brought home my first bottle of Port Charlotte 5, even just opening the can filled the room with powerful, angry smells of peat smoke. Awesome! But those smells were very ephemeral. Today, the smells are still there, but have been greatly diminished.

These most volatile chemicals, that can evaporate at room temperature, fight their way out of the bottle at the earliest opportunity.

So: Should you forgo opening a bottle? In my opinion: NO! Personally, I think that's the best part! I view the life of the product as a continuum, where the highly volatile components gradually step aside and make room for the middle and lower notes that can't be appreciated when the top notes are dominant.

Besides, if you don't open the bottle you have wasted your money, and the product is trapped in there and you can't ever take the journey of enjoying the product as it evolves. Note that I didn't say "ages." Aging only happens in barrels....

Back to the point re: alcohol being flavorless. It is and it isn't. Many of the chemical components of the best flavors around are alcohol-soluble. It's no surprise that they "ride along" with the alcohol when we drink whisky. Why do you think you can pick up everything from hazelnuts to orange peel to cinnamon oil, tobacco, caramel, "Christmas cake" and leather (and peat reek!) in Scotch? Heck, you might even smell freshly cut grass, which may not be tasty despite being evocative. Those chemicals are really there. Many of them are more volatile than alcohol, which means that they boil at a lower temperature. In short: If you open the bottle, they evaporate at room temperature and escape. Poof.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Why Blogger?

Bye-bye WordPress...
Simple: Google+ integration. Even though I have used for years, I found WordPress' lack of Google+ integration to be very frustrating.

I need a blogging platform that has a social component that is tightly integrated. If I am to succeed as a blogger, it will be because I find a way to connect with my audience which will never happen unless I make it easy for people to share what I write. When I write. :-) WordPress has a great community, but not well aligned with my interests.

Here on Blogger, I can easily use Google+ -- my preferred social network -- to build my audience (as I have time). If you like what you read here, please share it with your social circles and even give me a +1 -- if you think I deserve it.

Hello, Blogger!
As soon as I finish tweaking my DNS, this is the new home of If you already knew that URL, you might not notice any change other than a new appearance.

I'm not going to delete (it's been alive for 3+ years, after all), but all new Whisky2.0 content will be here, on Blogger.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Dreams Come True

Today I was privileged to sample the Glenfiddich Cask of Dreams. I have been so blessed and have had so many dreams come true that I feel guilty writing about them. Yet, tonight was another dream come true -- because I was one of the first people to taste the Cask of Dreams whisky from Glenfiddich, which was aged in one of the casks that people were invited to sign last year, in San Francisco.

First the facts:

The liquid was carefully hand-selected to fill the eleven casks from a variety of Glenfiddich Scotch that was already 14 to 16 years old. The eleven Casks of Dreams (made of uncharred new American oak) were filled with the liquid and sampled every 3-4 weeks for about 3 months...until Brian Kinsman (master blender for William Grant & Sons) deemed it was ready. Then it was bottled and 3500 of those bottles are already for sale in the US. The bottle strength is 48.8% ABV (just under cask strength).
Note: Uncharred oak is rarely used to age Single-Malt Scotch Whisky because the effect of the wood is so strong that it can be overwhelming in a short time. Due to the strength of the wood effect, you see that Mr. Kinsman had to be careful to not overdo the aging.
This is a US-only expression, celebrating the Glenfiddich fans that wrote their dreams on the eleven casks.  You probably want to know the answer to the obvious burning question: How much for a limited edition US-only commemorative bottling? About $100 - if you can find it, grab it. It's awesome. It's selling like hotcakes, so don't wait. You'll regret it.

Now to prove it's real:

The sample I had was unlike any other Glenfiddich I have ever had, including Snow Phoenix. The nose opens up nicely with a little water. You get ripe fruits -- like apricots and peaches -- and you'd think that this had been aged somewhat in ex-Sherry casks, but I am assured that the whisky was aged in 100% uncharred American oak. I also perceived cinnamon and pepper and the finish has hints of tobacco and leather. The nose has hints of walnuts and hazelnuts and there is a pronounced absense of strong vanillins (vanilla, caramel that you might expect in a "typical" Speyside whisky). In my opinion, the Cask of Dreams beats the 15-year-old expression that is otherwise my favorite from Glenfiddich's standard lineup. I tasted the 15 side-by-side with the Cask of Dreams to have a valid point of comparison. You know, for science. :-)

Good news: Glenfiddich is doing a 2012 Cask of Dreams and so you might find this year's casks in a town near you in the coming months. Follow @GlenfiddichMB on Twitter and he'll likely update you on the progress of the casks. New cities this year are Phoenix and Las Vegas, but I don't know the whole list.

BTW, mad props to Brian, our friendly bartender at Fifth Floor Restaurant in the Hotel Palomar off Union Square in San Francisco. Also, it was great to have a chance meeting with Rick Dobbs of the Cocktail Gogo blog who is @martinigroove on Twitter.