Rick’s Mystery Dram series – Week 7 of 10 – Sample #8

Wow, we’re really coming toward the end of this series.  Only 3 more “Rick’s Mystery Dram” posts after this…  My eyes are really being opened to the word of American Whiskeys and I’m starting to make a list of bottles to buy.  Thank you Rick.  I hope this series is helping you as much as it’s helping me.

As I mentioned in the 3rd post for this “Rick’s Mystery Dram” Series, I’ve decided to make this a wee bit more interesting by sending out a mystery dram to the correct guesser of the week’s mystery dram or, if there has been no correct guess, the sample goes to a commenter (randomly chosen).  Last week, “Tony” won the mystery dram and I look forward to hearing from him as to find out what type of whisk(e)y sample he wants – Scotch or American.

Details on how to win a mystery dram sample (which will be Scotch or American whisk(e)y, your choice) are listed below, after the review.

Review time!  And, by the way, this is an American whiskey again.

On the nose Spicy nose and very “woody”.

Pencil shavings right up front followed by cinnamon buns and something grainy (corn, perhaps some rye influence here).

Vanilla bean creeps up to soothe the spiced top notes.

On the mouth Less intense and woody as the nose had suggested.

Reminded me a bit of the last mystery dram (getting a similar chlorine note as I got on the last one though not as upfront).

Smooth as a baby’s tuckas (has to be some wheat influence here or some cask-magic going on) but very tannic.

My mouth has been stripped of all my moisture (thankfully this stuff is mouth-watering and it’s all getting replaced good and quick).

Finish A medium length with notes of sugar daddy and sugar babies.

In sumThis is the first time I am willing to stick my neck out and try to name what the mystery dram is.  I’m a tad bit nervous but hey, Frig it.  I’m going to guess at it because A) it reminds me a bit of last weeks’ mystery dram with a bit less “oomph” (which was Jefferson’s Presidential Select 17yr) and B) I think I’ve had this one before.

Rick, is it Jefferson’s Very Small Batch Bourbon? Whether it is or isn’t, let’s give the good readers time to chime in and hold off on answering until your normal time (this coming Saturday).

In case I am dead wrong, here are the clues

  • Very woody nose with hints of pencil shavings, grainy grains and sweet, buttery cinnamon.
  • The flavor is much smoother but drying.  Hint of chlorine and what seems to me, obvious wheat influence.  My guess is it’s about 45%-47%ABV
  • Sweet finish, toffee-flavored-taffy goodness

JMSWS antes up!

For those who attempt to guess – each week I will be sending out one mystery dram (a small 5cl bottle) and the first person guesses correctly wins the dram.  Actually, if there are no correct guesses for the week then a winner will be chosen at random.  You win whether your right or not (like a weatherperson – right or not, s/he still has a job)!

So again, I will be awarding a free whisk(e)y sample every week to one lucky winner (whether you guess correctly or not).

How do I enter to win you ask?

Easy, comment on this post with what you think the mystery dram of the week may be.  It’s that simple.

I will let you choose the type of mystery dram — Scotch or American Whiskey (though that’s all you’ll know about it).  And if you’d like, you can send me your tasting notes and I’ll post them for my readers to guess at.  If you’d prefer the blind tasting to be between just you and me… that’s cool too.

For previous “Rick’s Mystery Dram” entries :

Here’s Mystery Dram #1 (which ended up being Parker’s Heritage First Edition)

Here’s Mystery Dram #2 (which ended up being Parker’s Heritage Golden Anniversary)

Here’s Mystery Dram #3 (which ended up being Evan Williams Single Barrel, 2000 vintage, barrel # 234)

Here’s Mystery Dram #4 (which ended up being Tonala 4 year Anejo tequila)

Here’s Mystery Dram #5 (which ended up being Wild Turkey Russell’s Reserve, 10 year)

Here’s Mystery Dram #7 (remember, there was no #6 dram.  #7 ended up being Jefferson’s Presidential Select, 17 year, batch #3)

A reader reviews the mystery dram he won…

As you know, dear readers, I recently began giving out free whisky samples to those who try to figure out the “Mystery Dram” of the week.  If you’re not familiar, an example of the mystery dram series (and how to win your own mystery dram by participating) can be found here in this post as well as many more mystery dram posts.

Well, our first winner has received his mystery whisky and was kind enough to send me his notes.  Reading his notes, I was surprised and pleased to find that A) dude can write, but well!, and B) his notes were dead on.  So, I asked if he wouldn’t mind me posting his notes so you, the reader, can try to guess what mystery whisky I sent him.  Quick hint: It’s Scotch whisky!

Take it away Matthew and, thanks for your readership, participation and great notes:

Ok, maybe it’s a little late, I’m a little sleepy, but I can’t resist doing this tonight. My mystery dram arrived today and a little while ago I popped the top, just to take a little whiff. Oh, and what a whiff I whiffed. Oily smoke from a beachfront campfire, brined Spanish olives, fig cake…

So, into the glass. I’m afraid I don’t own a Glencairn (what an amateur!), so I will be tasting in a Riedel Sommelier Series Single Malt glass.

First, the visualslovely straw color, legs like a good Sauternes. Reminds me a lot of 1989 Caol Ila, an impression perhaps influenced by that first whiff.

The new whiff the smoke is still there, but the first impression is medicinal, more briny, like sea-salt flavored Korean roasted kim (seeweed). A few more minutes, and a touch of manzanilla sherry enters in, along with a little oaky vanilla. I’ll risk sounding cliched here and say this is getting interesting.

On the mouth good lord, Joshua, what have you sent me? This is everything I like in a whisky! Firm peat, not overwhelming. A hint of Fisherman’s Friend. Blackstrap molasses (or should I say treacle), minerally edges. Just enough alcohol to really carry the flavors to the palate. Nice, coating mouthfeel without being too cloying.

The finish the minerals (Himalayan sea salt, a touch of CaCl) linger, slowly being replaced by a warm, oily smoke flavor that seems to have crawled up into my sinuses and taken up residence. This is lasting several minutes….

I am going to ante up here and give a free mystery dram whisky sample but, for this post, I’m going to change the rules a bit.  In the past, you were in the running for posting a guess (you didn’t have to be right, you just had to participate).  To win a mystery dram (a small 5cl sized sample of whisky) you need to guess the whisky expression.  Or, at the very least, guess the distillery right.

Have fun and may the best guesser win! (guesses can be posted as comments on this post).  The answer will be posted one week from today on Friday, July 23rd 2010.

A day in the life of… Stuart Nickerson, Managing Director of the Glenglassaugh Distillery – Part 2 of 2

When we last left Joshua and Stuart, they were knee deep the history of Glenglassaugh, obstacles in progressing sales and awareness of the brand, the many awards won for their 21, 30 & 40 year old whiskies and who was on the Glenglassaugh team and why.  We now move onto other subjects such as “New Make Spirit”, “Full Cask Sales”, “Vegetarianism”, “Desert Island Drams”, “Stuarts creation of the current Highland Park 25yr expression” and “Sleeping Customs Officers, hard at work!”

If you’ve not yet read it and wish to get caught up on part 1 to this interview, click here.

Please join me in the conclusion to last weeks interview with Stuart Nickerson, Managing Director of the newly re-opened Glenglassaugh Distillery:

Joshua: Recently, there’s been a lot of buzz around new make spirit, white dog, moonshine… call it what you will.  Without going into the arguments for or against it, what are your reasons for making your “Spirit Drink That Dare Not Speak It’s Name” new make spirit available for mass consumption?

Stuart: We decided to make our new-make spirit available for two reasons, firstly because our distillery manager, Graham Eunson, and myself, who between us have many years experience of managing malt distilleries, thought that the new-make was outstanding and fruitier than any others that we had come across.

The second reason was that we had a number of enquiries, particularly from European consumers who were interested in trying the spirit and in some cases comparing it with mature Glenglassaugh.

We followed that product up with “The Spirit Drink that blushes to speak its name”, the result of maturing for 6 months in Californian red wine casks and this product really is different. It is red/pink in colour with lots of pear in the nose but a strawberry flavor on the palate. It has been particularly well received by mixologists with several cocktails created using it as a base.

It is the success of these products that has led to extend the range with the forthcoming release of  “Peated”, new-make from peated barley and “Fledgling XB” which is normal new-make allowed to mature for 12 months in a first after bourbon cask.

We have taken on board consumer feedback and reduced bottle size to 200ml and we have also changed the names to make it easier to ask for.

Joshua: There are a few distilleries out there that offer (at least publicly), consumers the ability to buy full casks.  You offer two sizes of cask and two different spirit types (peated, at 30ppm, and non-peated, or, peated to 1ppm of peat).  Can you go into the details of this program?  As a slight aside, and in addition to the previous question, your pricing for this program is remarkable low.  Is there a reason for this?  Was it purposeful? (Dear reader, please note the Glenglassaugh Octave Cask to the right!  This cask belongs to members of my society, Jason of Guid Scotch Drink‘s whisky society… even Gal of Whisky Israel has a share in this baby!)

Stuart: We have two programmes which are different in a number of ways,

(a) The Octave programme is for individuals, whisky clubs, groups and small businesses that want to purchase a cask of whisky which is affordable, will be ready in a relatively short time period (probably around 5 years) and will produce a reasonable number of bottles but not several hundred.

For this programme we fill octave casks, which are around 50 litres with unpeated new-make spirit and the cost is £500.00 which covers all warehousing and insurance costs for up to 7 years maturation. The cost excludes bottling, shipping and duty and more details can be found on our website including an order form and fact sheet. We do have a specific fact sheet for USA customers and will happily email it to anyone who is interested in this programme.

We also fill octaves with peated new make spirit with everything being the same as above except that the cost is £600.00 per octave to reflect the higher malt price.

(b) The second programme is the 250 club membership and this is for people, groups, clubs and businesses that are wishing to buy a larger cask, similar to the ones that are now commonly used throughout the industry. This would be anything from an ex-bourbon barrel at 190 litres to an ex-sherry butt at 500 litres or ex-port pipe at around 600 litres.

Included this time is maturation and insurance for up to 10 years and also the eventual cost of bottling, consequently the cost is much higher starting at £2,500.

I don’t think that our price is any lower than others although the octave price is low at first sight but as I said theses casks are much smaller than other casks. This programme in particular is very successful and we sell much more than we originally anticipated.

Joshua: One thing I try to focus on with my blog is what dram to drink for a particular mood or season.  Will Glenglassaugh approach the release of new whisky expressions in a similar manner?  Do you approach personal consumption in this manner?

Stuart: Regarding Glenglassaugh we already have a range of products for consuming at different times, be that different season, time of the day or mood.

The “Clearac” spirit drink is remarkably fruity and easy drinking and can be consumed at any time while “Blushes” is great with lots of ice, cranberry juice and cream soda (tastes like strawberry ice-cream)

Our “younger” whiskies – those that are only 26 and 37 years old are very complex yet light and fruity with spices and hints of chocolate and are great before a meal or when sitting in company and chatting. I would probably describe them as spring or autumnal whiskies.

The over 40 year olds generally have a bit more sherry and are complex but with much more rich dried fruits, dark chocolate and marzipan and I would describe them as rich fruit cake. Great at the end of an evening or a winter dram.

Joshua: Stuart, you have a long history within the whisky industry.  Can you go into this?  From your start and up until today?

Stuart: The story really starts when I left University back in 1979 (BSc in Chemical Engineering from Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh – seems like a lifetime ago (and is)) and started working with a company in Fife who, amongst other things manufactured by-products plants for the whisky industry. This led me to visit Convalmore distillery, Bunnahabhain Distillery, Aultmore Distillery and the Combination of Rothes Distillers (which is a large by-products plant owned by the Rothes distilleries.) So when I saw a job advertised in Dufftown with Arthur Bell & Sons then I jumped at it.

I joined Bells in 1981 as a project engineer and spent the next 3 years with them working at all of their distilleries (Dufftown, Pittyvaich, Blair Atholl, and Inchgower and Bladnoch).

In 1984 I joined Highland Distilleries as distillery manager at Highland Park Distillery and then in 1987 moved to take up the Glenrothes Distillery manager role, still with Highland, and at the same time managed Glenglassaugh which had recently closed but still had an on-site warehousing squad.

I moved to United Distillers ( a forerunner to Diageo) in 1989 and spent 15 months with them as a project manager with responsibility for malt distilleries capital investment. The time spent with them probably says something about how much I enjoyed the role there.

In 1990 the general managers role for Wm Grants at Dufftown became available which included managing Glenfiddich, Balvenie and Kininvie and that was my next move. I then spent the next 14 years with Grants, moving to Girvan in 1985 to become general manager of Girvan grain distillery and in 1986 I became Distilleries Director for the group with overall responsibility for all of their distilleries.

I left them at the end of 2004 to start my own consultancy as I had always wanted to run my own business and with my children having left home it seemed the perfect opportunity. In 2006 a new client asked me to carry out on a potential distillery purchase and this chance encounter eventually led to the purchase of Glenglassaugh and my moving into this role.

Joshua: How did you get into whiskies?  Did you have a gateway whisky?  Do you have a story that goes with it?

Stuart: My first experience of whisky was as a young teenager when one of my parents friends stuck a glass in my hand, just before “the bells” on hogmanay and explained that I need a whisky to “see-in the new year” correctly. To be honest it tasted awful and I thought that I would not want to repeat the exercise – ever.

I think that my real introduction was probably through my father who was a lover of Glenfiddich and so I got into malts pretty quickly and even though I appreciate a good blend, and there are plenty around, I have always been more of a single malt man.

Joshua: Stuart, you and I share something, which, I think, is somewhat unique to those involved (in any way) to the whisky industry.  You are a vegetarian.  So am I.  What are your reasons for this and how do you find people react to this news when they first here about it?

Stuart: My reasons were mixed, partly because I didn’t like red meat and found it easier at functions to ask for the vegetarian option, partly because I am against intensive farming of animals, and partly because of health benefits in that I feel much healthier that I did when I ate meat.

The reaction is mixed in that some people readily accept it, others are very surprised and want know why I became one and how I can possibly survive as a vegetarian.  A few treat it almost as a disease and go to extraordinary lengths to explain to a waiter that their friend is this strange creature called a vegetarian who will need careful treatment and should probably be examined in case he turns into a mad ax-man (OK slightly joking there). Finally there are those that want to know a lot more as they are genuinely interested and eat less meat anyway but have not taken the step to try being totally vegetarian.

Generally there has been much more acceptance of vegetarians over the last few years and I  normally don’t have too much of a problem finding something to eat when I am out.

Joshua: What passions, other than whisk(e)y, do you have?

Stuart: I enjoy trying to keep fit, although I don’t seem to have the time that I had before for exercise, but I do enjoy running and more recently walking.

I have always enjoyed sport, only as a spectator these days, and the one that I enjoy most is ice-hockey so I have a subscription to ESPN America just so that I can watch it. I also enjoy football and rugby.

Reading any sort of fiction, especially if it relates to Scotland and lots of different types of music completes the list

Finally the most enjoyable thing is just living and making the most of each day.

Joshua: Do you have a list of Top Drams or perhaps some Desert Island Drams you’d like to share?

Stuart: Having worked in a number of distilleries then I do have a soft spot for all of them, particularly Highland Park which was the first distillery that I managed and also Glenfiddich where I had a lot of input over the years in the changes that occurred and I believe which improved the bottled product.

I do like a whisky which is full of flavour and which is complex and I also like some peat so for me I would want to wait for around 10 years until some of the peated Glenglassaugh is available and from possibly a Sherry cask.

Of the offerings which around today, then I would chose a 10 year old Black Bottle Blend, the 25 year old Highland Park (probably because I made it), Laphroaig Quarter Cask (which I tasted for the first time about a fortnight ago), an old Banff which I also tasted recently and of course top of the list a Glenglassaugh.

We have just chosen the next 40 year old cask which will probably be released just before Christmas and it is absolutely stunning, a real rich fruit cake nose and taste.

Joshua: Without giving out names & places (basically, without getting yourself into any trouble), do you have any funny, interesting or bizarre stories from any of your events/travels that you wish to share?

Stuart: Well it was always interesting in the early 1980’s to watch the brewer and the excise officer going into the warehouses at Dufftown on a Sunday morning. No reason given but we all reckoned that there was some illicit sampling going on there.

Just before I started at Highland Park there was an incident when the two operators who were on night shift decided to visit the local farmers fields and help themselves to some cabbages. Unfortunately they were caught by the local police and ended up staying in jail overnight and the stills were still running. No damage to the spirit or plant and no arrests but plenty of red faces.

There was the time in 1980 when I hadn’t joined the industry but was helping to commission a by-products plant in Rothes and I was on the night shift. A new operator came on and offered me some  lemonade from his bottle. As I was working in a hot environment and so was extremely thirsty I gulped down as much as I could – it proved to be an interesting introduction to full strength new make spirit illicitly obtained from Glen Grant!

In Barbados when I was visiting a rum distillery I managed to take a photograph of a customs officer who had fallen asleep in the filling store.

There was an incident in Islay in the 1980’s when a distillery manager thought that something suspicious was taking place overnight and so locked his brewer into a cupboard in the operators rest room so that he could spy on the men.

Joshua: Lastly, if you had a message or lesson to give people who are just getting into whiskies, what would that be?

Stuart: Well I suppose there are a number of messages that I would suggest;

  • Try a number of whiskies before you decide what you prefer as there is so much diversity
  • listen to what whisky writers/tasters say but make up your own mind as each person’s taste is different
  • Drink whisky the way that you like it and not as others tell you that it should be drunk
  • Keep trying different whiskies, talking to different people, reading about the subject and visiting events – it is a great industry with lots of helpful people who are only too happy to pass on their thoughts
  • Finally, keep an open mind and try to enjoy every dram but don’t criticise the ones that you don’t like, because someone else probably does like them!



If you’ve not yet read it and wish to get caught up on part 1 to this interview, click here.

The Great Space [Ardbeg Roller] Coaster

Islay region – 57.3%ABV – 750ml bottle (70cl outside of the US) – £100 | $80-$115 | €120

G-d bless Federal Wine & Spirits out of Boston, MA!  If it were not for them, I’m not sure I would have had my bottle of Ardbeg’s Committee Release of their Rollercoaster.

Those poor folks.

They announced that they were going to be getting some bottles early and was taking some pre-orders for it but did not know how many people may be calling them.  Harassing them for a bottle of this fine whisky.  I, good readers, was one of these people but I did my very best to be as *unharassy* as possible.  They told me they had “X” amount of bottles and “XXX” amount of people looking for one.  To make matters worse, their number of bottles went from a couple of cases down to 18 so now they had the hard job of telling even more people that they could not help them.

Those poor folks.  I hate saying no to anybody.  I feel sorry for them having to say no, to, my guess, a couple hundred people.

Luckily for me I was one of the first 18 people to call so, I got a bottle.  It took them a while to get through it all (my guess, about 3-4 weeks) but they eventually did get their bottles out and made 18 people (including myself) extremely happy.

While I was waiting for my bottle I made an agreement with Gal of Whisky Israel that I would hold off on opening the bottle so’s we could do a live Twitter tasting.

Well, Gal had issues of his own that I’m sure he’ll post about but let’s just say that waiting another 3-4 weeks to open my bottle just sort of… happened.

People who know me know that I am a patient guy.  So, no worries here.  But shit, I wanted to taste this nectar more than the folks who waited in line to taste New Coke way back when.  Thankfully Ardbeg’s Rollerocaster is FAR better that that short-lived shite!

While I did get around to tasting seven Ardbeg whiskies back in May, I only recently had a chance to taste the stuff as a stand alone whisky.

Let’s ride the coaster, shall we?

On the nose Part of me wishes that this is what oxygen smelled like all of the time.  However, if it did, then nosing this whisky would not be as special as it is.

A very, very sexy nose filled with mature-for-its-age-peat-smoke, a salt lick and olive oil.

Peel the smokiness away and I am now confronted with some strawberry jam and those delicious Ardbegian lemons – the salt carries through the entire nose-capade.

On the mouth A great entry here filled with savory bacon bits, tarred ropes and chicory.

Oily, like real olive oil in my mouth here, salted pie crust, onslaught of smokey peat, strawberries return and the citrus fruits evolve into something a bit bigger – pomelo!

Charred wood, cherries and tobacco.

Finish Medium long.  Lovely burny bubbles stay in my mouth for some time and then out of the blue some nice green tea notes.

In sumWell worth the wait.

A fantastic dram that, although amazingly smokey, is so very fruity for me (Lemons, Pomelo, Strawberries, Cherries).

Also, the peat seemed less of a direct attack on my tongue that I could enjoy this one in the late spring (winter for sure) and the autumn time.

A cracker of a dram that I hope Ardbeg will bring in as a standard expression.

One of the things I love about whisky is that everyone can take something different from them.  Chicory to me may be chipotle to another.  This being said, check out Jason from Guid Scotch Drink’s notes on this beauty – a world a difference but I would still drink the stuff if I got what he wrote in his notes.