By Richard Thomas
If films, songs, and books are anything to go by, the 1940s was very much a whiskey decade. Despite the damage wrought by Prohibition and the disruptions caused by the Second World War, whiskey was in the tumblers of everyone from Humphrey Bogart to Jack Kerouac.
So, it should come as no surprise that whiskey has found a special place among 1940s enthusiasts, including the multi-talented Jennelle Gilreath. On top of being an actress and singer, Gilreath is also a 1940s-style pin-up model and impersonator of Lana Turner and Judy Garland, as well as being fond of her native state’s chief spirit, Jack Daniels.
RT: You grew up not too far from Lynchburg, and you’re a big Jack and Coke girl. What kind of mood do you have to be in to say “I’ll take that Jack straight” instead of “Jack and Coke please”?
JG: I normally never drink Jack Straight – but sometimes if I feel a tickle in my throat, I’ll do a shot. Seriously, when I’m sick with a cold, some hot tea, honey, and a swig of Jack helps SO much. As weird as it sounds, I would have to be feeling pretty low to drink whiskey straight. My other preference is a Whiskey Sour – lighter on the sour mix as that stuff is like a huge sugar rush and too much can ruin the flavor.
RT: The JD line is expansive these days. Have you tried any of their more rarefied offerings (Gentleman Jack, Single Barrel), their new flavored stuff (Honeyed, Winter Jack), or their older variations (Green Label)?
JG: I have had some of the other Jack Daniels offerings. Gentleman Jack is a nice special occasion whiskey. It’s been awhile since I sampled it but I recall the smoothness of it. I have had the honey kind also – I’m not such a fan of this one. My mother and fiance both seem to like it, but I guess as with my hot tea for a cold I’d rather have fresh honey poured in with it than it already flavored in the bottle.
RT: You’ve also confessed an old interest in moonshine, and a new interest in single malt scotch. So when do you say “give me some ‘shine” or “scotch please” for your sipping instead of going for the Tennessee whiskey?
JG: I couldn’t be from TN ( or the South) and not admit to having moonshine. I have been around enough individuals who have made their own shine (shh!) or actually buy moonshine and then add flavors to it. I once sampled some in GA that was flavored with juices boiled down from the fruit. Out of these cinnamon apple and peach were tasty, but my most favorite was Blackberry.
JG: Sadly No Jack. I’m a traitor I know. I need to go get some. This interview is making me crave a jack and coke. We have a bottle of Evan Williams with Honey, and obviously that one is not mine. My stock at the moment is mostly wine and vodka (my other liquor of choice). Needing to make a run to the store pronto it appears as I’m embarrassing myself in this interview.
RT: You used to live in Chattanooga, which now has its own distillery, one that had quite a bit of legal trouble in staying open. Have you been down there for a visit yet, or tried out the new Chattanooga Whiskey?
JG: Chattanooga of course holds a special place in my heart. I am aware of all the legal trouble that Chattanooga Whiskey has dealt with in trying to operate. I’m glad they sorted out their troubles, as Southerners do like their alcohol. I have yet to taste this one, but Christmas is coming, and I see a potential bottle of Chattanooga’s finest in my near future.
[On that note] If you should find yourself in Chattanooga any time soon, stop by Urban Stack- an excellent Burger restaurant that has a fully stocked bar of Bourbon and Whiskey. Seriously, these folks are crazy about their liquor. I’ve attached the bar menu so you can see just how many they have to choose from.
RT: One of the things you do is 1940′s themed modeling, and getting back to the fixtures of that era has been something of a trend in whiskey these days. Rye whiskey is popular again, as are higher proof and unfiltered offerings. What do you think of that mix: old timey whiskey and Noir or WWII pin-up imagery?
JG: I love this question! It really is true that we tend to group liquors based on decades. Whenever I go to WWII events, I find the offerings to be period correct mostly. Beer of course, whiskey, vodka, and anything schnapps-wise (for those that portray Germans).
I think Whiskey and Bourbons are very much in tune with Noir films and old Hollywood. Watching an old film, and having a detective or gentleman in it drinking, half the time he will be sipping on scotch or a darker color liquor. I think it goes hand in hand with the types of characters and what their drink represents about them. Somewhere along the way, Hollywood decided having men drink their scotch became more manly than having him sip on wine. We wouldn’t see a cosmopolitan in a 40s setting, just as we wouldn’t see the gals of Sex and the City sipping scotches. It’s just not true to their character and the time period.
I’m glad to see a return to how things where made back then. I’m very much believer if something is good how it is, why change it and I feel that way about my whiskey.
By Richard Thomas
Wemyss Malts’ Toffee Glaze Single Cask is a find from Clynelish, a Highlands distillery in Brora, and one with one of the more twisty stories in Scotland. The original Clynelish opened its doors back in 1819 and closed them in 1968, when Clynelish opened a new facility literally across the road. The original and historic distillery then reopened a year later as Brora. Operations at Brora continued to 1983, when that old girl of a building was finally shuttered (presumably) for good, but Brora’s spirits continue to appear in very aged expressions.
Whiskey fans have good reasons to pay attention to that story, as the current whiskey boom has led many outfits to invest in new distilleries. The Macallan, for instance, recently announced plans to build a new £100 million facility, and to eventually mothball the old one. Following the example of Brora, how long will the old Macallan facility remain idle?
Back to Clynelish and the Toffee Glaze Single Cask. This expression was distilled in 1997, making it a 16 year old, and the hogshead yielded 258 bottles at the customary 46% abv.
Wemyss Toffee Glaze comes into the glass with a full-bodied, gold color. The nose carries a predominately floral, apple and lemon scent, with dashes of salt, nutmeg, and ash. The aroma cuts towards the dry side, but that is the only facet of this whiskey that runs that way.
The fruity aspect from the nose falls off the boat when the scotch hits the tongue. The toffee comes up here, but shares center stage with measures of woodiness, pepper, vanilla, and smoke. Toffee is what carries over into the finish too, the keynote that winds down pleasantly into lingering, moderate warmth.
I’ve found the Wemyss Toffee Glaze priced in the United States for about $90, which roughly corresponds to it’s British listing of about £60. Some vendors listed this scotch for much higher, so watch out.
By Kurt Maitland
Nikka is one of Japan’s premier whiskey distillers with a rich and varied range of whiskeys on sale in international markets. Unfortunately much of their range has not been available Stateside. That is why my opportunity to sample and review the Nikka 5 and 10 year single cask expressions earlier this year came only because I was in a well-stocked Hong Kong bar.
While those particular expressions were only available in Asian markets, Nikka has dramatically expanded their American offerings with the addition of four new expressions to the American market. I was able to procure all four, and I’m starting my perusal of the new Nikkas with the Coffey Grain Whisky.
The Coffey Grain (the Coffey is the name of the continuous stills patented by Aneas Coffey still so this release has nothing to do any misspelled flavoring) is a grain whiskey. Nikka has been operating two sets of Coffey stills since the 1960s. In Scotch terms, and Japanese whisky is derived from Scotch, grain whiskey is usually perceived as the cheap stuff used to fill out blends. However, high quality grain whiskey has been making a resurgence in recent years. Compass Box has a well-received vatted grain, Hedonism, and Teeling released a single grain whiskey over in Ireland.
So, some of the particulars of the unique flavor of the Nikka Coffey Grain comes from the aforementioned Coffey stills, while other particulars come from its unorthodox status as a Japanese single grain.
Nikka Coffey Grain is bottled at 45% abv.
Color – Tawny gold
Nose – Honey vanilla with a hint of toasted coconut
Taste – The mouthfeel is soft, a little dry. Great blend of vanilla, tropical fruits and coconut – the grain toughens up the taste in a good way but keeping it from being too sweet. With water, the coconut comes more to the fore and cuts a little of the bite from the grain
Finish – A little grit in the finish, long mellow lingering burn.
A striking, tasty change of pace from a great distiller, and quite different from what I’ve come to expect from the Japanese.
The Nikka Coffey Grain is priced around $70 dollars US and can be found in many of your better liquor stores and online.
Gold Award at the 2013 International Spirits Challenge
By Richard Thomas
As the Managing Editor here at The Whiskey Reviewer, part of my job is to stay well-informed about what is going on in the whiskey trade. That means following whiskey in the news, and one result of that is being aware of just how much bad whiskey writing makes its way into major media websites.
Examples range from writers who try to sound like whiskey experts, but merely reveal how ignorant they are; articles about silly and banal subjects; full-blown examples of yellow journalism, in all its scandal-promoting glory; and out-and-out gross factual errors. Whatever the source, the internet is chock full of mediocre and misleading whiskey writing, and it seems few in the mainstream media have learned the lesson that if you want good work done on a subject, you should go to someone who knows it and not a clueless staff writer.
Gross Factual Errors
The most easily condemned examples of bad whiskey writing are the ones that are just plain get their facts wrong. Everyone makes mistakes, of course, and those mistakes sometimes slip through fact-checkers (assuming there is a fact-checker).
On that note, FOX News saying W.L. Weller Reserve and George T. Stagg come from Willett and not Buffalo Trace would be forgivable, were it not that the selection of George T. Stagg shows how utterly clueless the author of the piece is about bourbon. The subject of the article is bourbons that are affordable and available substitutes for the elusive Pappy Van Winkle. As every bourbon fan knows, George T. Stagg is almost as unattainable as Pappy, so suggesting it as an available alternative is ridiculous.
Worse is this article from BoldSky, describing 10 of the most expensive bourbons. One of their ten is a scotch, and another is an Irish whiskey. Even people who aren’t whiskey lovers often know that scotch isn’t bourbon (and within whiskey circles, some are militant about that division), making this error a ghastly one.
Just Plain Silly
Other examples of bad whiskey writing feature the kind of silliness that can only come from someone who knows next to nothing about whiskey applying their fingers to a keyboard, producing observations that are irrelevant to the point of doltishness. Take The Motley Fool, which ought to stick to making stock market observations instead of trying to connect the current trend in white whiskey to the past trend in clear colas. If the author of that terrible piece knew anything about the whiskey industry, he would know that two of the forces driving white whiskey — start-ups in need of an immediate product to sell; and the larger moonshine fad — have absolutely no parallel in the soft drink business.
In a similar vein is this article about “the end of peat” from Slate. I have yet to see Slate produce a piece on whiskey that was any good, and their generally poor reporting on the topic is actually the subject of a small amount of buzz from within the industry. This article, however, is a silly example of yellow journalism, since the article itself clearly states that land development is a greater threat to peat supplies than the scotch industry, and even concludes that global peat resources seem safe for the foreseeable future.
On this subject is another stinker from Business Insider, which seems to get it at least partially wrong about every non-business subject they venture into, from boxing to golf to booze. We’ve gotten them on bad whiskey writing before, but this piece about Jameson myths just seems so pointless as to straddle a line between silly and dull.
Stick With Us Kiddo
The bottom line is simple, and it’s one we at The Whiskey Reviewer have repeated many times: if you want to know about whiskey, go to people who know it. As you can see in the examples above, the mainstream media just ain’t in that crowd.
On Saturday, December 14th, just in time for the holidays, Catoctin Creek will release this year’s limited production of the ever popular “Cask Proof” Roundstone Rye. Bottled at a whopping 116 proof, this is serious whisky! Great for that whisky connoisseur in your life, or indulge in something special for yourself!
Only 120 bottles were produced this year, so a very limited number of bottles will be released. Limit two bottles per customer, while supplies last.
Catoctin Creek “Cask Proof” Roundstone Rye, Whisky Distilled from 100% Rye, Organic, Kosher, 750 ml, 116 proof. Virginia ABC priced at $64.75.
What: Cask Proof Roundstone Rye Release
Where: 120 W. Main St., Purcellville, Virginia
When: Saturday, December 14, 2013, 12pm
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The Whiskey Reviewer’s Rating System
The Whiskey Reviewer uses a letter-based rating system, instead of the numerical 100-grade rating system. Click here to learn why.
The following indicators should be taken as only a guide and not a set of hard and fast rules. Some "premium" whiskeys really are quite terrible, while some mass market products are good enough to pour into a decanter and serve to the Duke of Edinburgh.
A+: A masterpiece and one of the ten best whiskeys of its type.
A: An outstanding bottle of whiskey, but lacking that special something which makes for a true masterpiece.
A-: A fine bottle of whiskey, representing the top end of the conventional, premium range.
B+: Very good stuff.
B and B-: Good and above average. The best of the mass market whiskeys fit in this category, as do the bulk of the premium brands.
C+ to C-: Average whiskey.
D+ to D-: Below average whiskey.
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