Inhuman Swill : Whisky

And a brine chaser, please

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While Laura and I were in New York City about a month ago, we were introduced to a drink called the "pickle back"—a shot of Irish whiskey followed by a pickle-brine chaser. Yes, I was dubious too, but it was the best new drink I'd tasted in ages. Of course, the pickle juice needs to be of high quality. You can't just use the liquid from a bottle of Vlasic dill chips.

We first experienced the pickle back at Sweet Afton in Queens ([info]ecmyers was there!), so imagine our surprise when at Whiskey Tavern in Chinatown the next evening we found two varieties of pickle back on the menu! It's apparently a growing trend in bars in the know, as detailed in this New York Post article:

Give Pickle Juice a Shot

Time to invest in cucumber futures?

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According to Whisky Connosr: "Some ideas are so brilliantly simple you wonder why no-one has thought of them before."

Now, I love me some gimmicky new ways to quaff my favorite hoity-toity single-malt scotches, but seriously? No one's ever thought of "drinks by the dram" before? Maybe I'm revealing myself for the old fart I am, but in my day they called those "minibottles." And they were perfect for sneaking into a laser show at the Hayden Planetarium.

Okay, so that was only a few short years ago. My point stands.

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Notes from under the table


I had intended to tweet live from WhiskyFest Chicago last week but was thwarted in my efforts because I couldn't get a signal in the underground ballroom at the Hyatt Regency. I did, however, faithfully take notes as I went. As I transcribe them, we'll be able to see together 1) how poor my whisky-tasting vocabulary is, and 2) how far downhill that vocabulary rolled as the evening progressed. Ready?

WhiskyFest Chicago, 4/1/09
TOMATIN 18yo sherry finish
delicious, light, a bit caramelly, bright bright finish on front of palate
ARDBEG Airigh Nam Beist
more refined than Uigeadail peaty but a bit lighter
ARDBEG Supernova
Holy peat, Batman! It's like a scouring pad made of peat! I loved it!
bursts in your mouth like a buckyball unfolding, nutty, strong flavor
SPRINGBANK 11yo madeira wood finish
very purple flavor, strong, delicious is that a winey taste?
very subtle sherry-ish flavor. Yum! Not fireworks-y. Caramel.
Peaty but tastes more watery than I like—no competition for the 27yo
Fantastic ryes interesting vodkas, peach vodka
CHARITY POUR—BALVENIE 1976 single cask
bright, in your face, caramel explosion
EADES blends—
Islay—Bowmore 60%, Caol Ila 40% Highland—Ben Nevis 85%, Clynelish 15% Speyside—Longmorn 50%, Glen Moray 50%
MICHAEL COLLINS Irish (peated)
BULLEIT bourbon
reg (10yo) cognac
By my count, that was a grand total of twenty pours. The biggest surprise of the evening to me was High West Distillery, whose booth I had to visit when I saw they were from Park City, Utah. Their Rendezvous blend was simply the best rye I've ever tasted. All in all, theirs was my most-sampled booth, with five pours. I wanted to try everything they make, even the vodkas, which were startlingly good and unvodkalike.

Another high point of the evening came early, at the Ardbeg booth. When I professed my adoration of their Uigeadail, they insisted I sneak back for a sample of their rare Supernova, of which they had only brought 500 ml. So peaty it just about knocked me flat, but fantastic.

I started off the evening on the wrong foot, confusing Tomatin and Tomintoul at the Tomatin booth. Now, come on, I know the difference, and I'm a fan of both the Tomatin 12yo and the Tomintoul 27yo. But for some reason I tried to impress the Tomatin folks by professing my love of their 27, which earned me a gentle yet still embarrassing correction.

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So, as threatened, Paul (of [info]theinferior4 fame) and Colin and I went down to the Brandy Library yesterday evening to attend a Spirit School class in rare & precious scotches at the feet of Ethan Kelley (hereinafter referred to as my hero).

I'm hoping Paul will post more about the evening's de-scotch-ery, along with the photo our estimable server Raj took of us, but for now I will simply post the evening's menu:

Before class at the bar

  • 1 Godfather (scotch and amaretto) (me)
  • 2 Old Fashioneds (rye, muddled orange, and cherry) (Colin and Paul)
  • 1 Imperial 16yo(?) single-malt (calvados cask) (me)
Class curriculum
  • Buchanan's blended scotch over ice (warmup drink)
  • Glenlivet 31yo (bottled by Glen Master)
  • Tomintoul 27yo (this one just keeps turning up)
  • Macallan 1876 replica
  • Dallas Dhu 27yo cask strength (bottled by Dun Bheagan) (rum cask?)
  • Glen Grant cask strength (notes incomplete)
  • Bunnahabhain 25yo bourbon cask
  • Highland Park 30yo (sherry cask?)
  • Springbank 1969
  • Edradour 30yo (bonus spirit)
At least, that's as best we can jointly piece together from our notes today, the taking of which deteriorated somewhat over the course of the evening. There may be corrections to post later.

Next up: rum class?

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What a long, long day! Laura went to Long Island to partake of Easter dinner with friends and their families, whilst I wrote pretty much from 5:00 am to 10:30 pm—with breaks, of course, for food, playing with the dog, a nap, coffee-brewing, and general screwing around.

Anyway, I took a break from novel-writing today to write a 2,500-word short story entitled "Care and Feeding of Your Piano." Or maybe Perry Slaughter wrote it, I haven't quite decided yet. It's a narrative cast entirely in excerpts from a fictional future product manual. Light, offbeat, and nasty in a way Perry could certainly claim responsibility for with pride.

I never mix writing and alcohol, but now that the story is done I'm enjoying a celebratory Talisker and some nicely atmospheric music. The Talisker bottle has at most two pours left, which means I'm about half a week away from clearing one more of the low bottles from the liquor cabinet in preparation for the big move. Woo-hoo!

Anyway, this story's title is one that's been hanging around in my files without a story attached for maybe a decade. In fact, it's been a title without a story for so long that it feels a little surreal now to be on the far side of the divide. That's all right, I guess. There's plenty more titles and ideas where that one came from.

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Peat rose

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I must share part of a letter I've received referring to my podcast and commenting on my many comments therein about scotch:

I'm a Scot living in London and can I first say how much your knowledge of my home country's national drink (Irn Bru excepted of course) shames me? I tend to stick to Talisker myself and very rarely stray from that and a few other tried and tested favourites. Lagavulin—which I think you were drinking with podcast 40—stops me in my tracks. Waaaay too rich for my blood, and I shudder to think that it might be some people's first taste of a malt whiskey. I mean, the way I see it is, there's peat, and then there's Dr Peat's Patented Concentrated Peat Drink, and then beyond that in a place that even peat-eating mammals only talk about in hushed tones there's Lagavulin.
Reading this, I almost sprayed Ardbeg all over the monitor. Which would have been quite the faux pas, it being my office computer.
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Along came a snifter

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We didn't originally mean it to be a substitute for our Valentine's Day jazz-and-wine date. It just worked out that way, since I was stuck in Dallas all day on the 14th trying to get home to New York. (And unable to post to LiveJournal from a Neptune Networks kiosk, because for some unfathomable reason they consider this LiveJournal page to contain adult content. Not all of LiveJournal, mind you. Just the posting page. But that adventure is another story.)

So on Monday night, Laura and I ended up doing two things we've always wanted to do, and got them both done at the same time: taking a cheese class from Artisanal, and taking a spirits class from Brandy Library. The two birds were killed with a single stone called "Scotch Whiskey & Whey" at the Artisanal Premium Cheese Center at Tenth Avenue and 37th Street.

The instructors were Jon Lundbom from Artisanal and Ethan Kelley from Brandy Library. They were both excellent, engaging teachers, and they had selected a set of six pairings of scotch and cheese for us each to sample at our little benches. For some of you, reading this list will make your eyes glaze over; for the rest of you, reading this list will make your eyes glaze over, if you know what I mean.

  1. Berkswell, Great Britain, sheep's milk
    Balblair 16 yr., Northern Highlands
  2. Livarot, France, cow's milk
    Bunnahabhain 12 yr., Islay
  3. Gouda, Netherlands, cow's milk
    Bruichladdich 15 yr., Sauterne cask, Islay
  4. Isle of Mull Cheddar, Scotland, cow's milk
    Ledaig Sherry Cask, Isle of Mull (probably 4 yr.)
  5. Valdeon, Spain, mixed milk (cow/goat)
    Cragganmore 13 yr., Distiller's Edition, Port Pipe Finish, Speyside
  6. Bayley Hazen Blue, Vermont, cow's milk
    Ardbeg Uigeadail, Cask Strength, Islay (probably 8 yr.)

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Happy birthday, Robert Burns!

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Yesterday's Times had an interesting and often amusing article about how haggis in America has mutated into something rather tastier than one can gets in Scotland, thanks in part to the fact that FDA regulations and other factors prevent the use of much of the offal that traditionally gets used as ingredients.

The article was strange to see when Laura pointed it out to me, because just Tuesday night we had met Paul and Kim for dinner and scotch—lots of it—at what purports to be the only Scottish restaurant and pub in the city, St. Andrews on 44th Street near Times Square. We had a fabulous time, and the haggis was very tasty indeed. (Not that Laura and I are afraid of traditional haggis, which we have eaten in Scotland and more or less enjoyed.) So was the other delicious food, which for me and Paul both included an entree of fresh brook trout stuffed with crab meat and oatmeal, in a whisky-maple sauce. Dessert for Laura and me was the cranachan, which is essentially whisky and whipped cream with berries and oatmeal.

Take note that it was painfully easy to get a table on a Tuesday night.

But while it was the prospect of haggis that drew us all there, it was the amazing scotch selection that had us arrive early and stay late afterward. I mean, 200 whiskies? Please. The bar at St. Andrews is our new favorite place in the world.

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A very merry Christmas

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A very merry Christmas

When a Christmas gift arrives late, even through no fault of the giver, it really should be, well, this. I have the best brother-in-law ever.

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On the rocks

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So Michael Libling and I left the Meet the Pros(e) Party last night at about a quarter to midnight, intending to hit the hotel bar for a real drink. We sat down and the young waitress came by.

"What can I get you gentlemen?"

"What do you have in the way of scotch?"

"Um, Dewar's, Grant's..."

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