Category Archives: Whisky

Akashi White Oak Whisky

Asian whisky has gained a lot of notoriety over the last few years ever since Lost in Translation came out and Bill Murray uttered those famous words, “For relaxing times, make it Suntory time.” But Japanese whisky had been a serious product since Shinjro Torii built the Yamazaki distillery in 1923. Then in 1934 the Nikka brand was created. But aside of Suntory, Nikka and Taiwan’s Kavalan the choices for Asian whisky are sparse and pricey so I was excited when about 2 months ago I was presented with Akashi “White Oak Whisky.” Akashi is produced by Eigashima Shuzo distillery and although the distillery was granted a licence to make whisky in 1919 they mostly made Sake and Shochu.


The bottle that I tasted was their white label whisky. I was immediately enthralled by the product. The nose has a lovely focus of roasted almonds and coco powder with a hint of orange oils. Hints of dried fruits and spiced honey linger on the palate. The finish is quite lengthy with some heat in the chest which is surprising for a whisky that is only 40% ABV. There is not a lot of information about the distillery and information scattered but for the price at roughly $35 retail it is a great dram. Rumor has it that this release of the white label is  a single malt whisky rather than a blend which you can tell by the viscosity but future bottlings will be blended which I am excited to try as the famous Hibiki 12 yr will be discontinued this October.

Applied Alchemy

One key to mixing with any spirit, especially with spirits of a more delicate and nuanced nature is to keep the integrity and flavor profile intact within the drink. With the Akashi I wanted to play off of the citric aromas with out being too tart and finish off the drink with a rounder, sweeter mouth feel that avocado can offer to accentuate the sherry cask. This gives an almost chocolaty quality.

White Oak Sour

  • 1 1/2 oz (44 ml) Akashi White Oak Whisky White Label
  • 3/4 oz (22 ml) Bonal Aperitif des Montagnes
  • 3/4 oz (22 ml) Cara Cara orange juice
  • 1/4 oz (7.4 ml) lemon juice
  • 1 tea spoon (5 ml) of honey
  • 2 dashes of Spanish Bitters
  • 1 dash if sea salt
  • 1/8 of muddled Avocado
  • 1 egg white
  • Combine ingredients into a shaker and dry shake without ice for 1 minute
  • add ice and shake vigorously and double strain into a cocktail glass
  • garish with an orange peel


Wicked Spirited

Looking Inward
When we think of distilled spirits in the USA we typically draw our 1st glance to the blue grasses of Kentucky. Images of pot bellied men with long, straggly beards and tightly rolled cigars running a make-shift still in the backwaters pop into my mind at least. We seldom think of California where in 1982 the craft distillers movement started, or Ohio where the local water has almost as much viscosity as in Kentucky. Even though I have had the pleasure and good fortune to have a myriad of distilleries to catalog through I am still shocked when I find something right out my own backdoor. New England has a tradition of great beers and beer is the reason the Pilgrims chose Plymouth rock. The long voyage left them with short supply and drinking water was really nowhere to be found so Miles Standish and his posse weighed anchor at the very unimpressive rock and started brewing. Beer is in our collective blood so to speak. Boston and the surrounding towns and cities play host to countless beer bars like Foundry on Elm, Bukowski’s, The Public House and the like, it is our gastronomic narrative. It is also the base of the embryonic collection of cells that will transform when heated and mature into whiskey. Distillation has had a long legacy in the north east. From Apple brandy to Medford Rum, if we could ferment it; we’d distill it.PilgrimAleAd2
Apples to Apples
In 1774 in the Central Massachusetts town of Leominster, Johnny Chapman was born. He grew up with a fondness of apples. In fact I grew up hearing about his love for them as a child in California but I knew him as Johnny Appleseed. Yes, he was real. He spent his life traveling from state to state planting apples.
At the time drinking water was in short supply and most apples were not very palatable. The ingenuity of gene splicing has given us the Red Delicious, Honey Crisp and Granny Smith but unfortunately if you take a Honey Crisp apple and plant its seed you get a tart, tannic and hard crab apple. When life gives you crab apples you make cider. From here it easily ferments with a little bit of time and yeast. Making a distilled spirit out of cider is naturally the next incarnation of inebriated delight. Apple Jack, the American apple brandy was not made however through traditional distillation. It was made through a process called Freeze Distillation. The freezing point of alcohol is -173.2 degrees Fahrenheit so during the fall months when apples were harvested and hard cider was made, vats of cider were often left out in the frigged cold. Keeping in mind that cider are about 7% alcohol and the rest of the liquid is water, once the winter came the water in the vats would freeze. That frozen water was removed and over the winter the liquid you had left had grown significantly in alcohol. Now that 7% cider is roughly a 35% liquor. This became known as Apple Jack because “jacking” was the term used for this type of distillation.
images (6)This was much easier than distilling trough evaporation. As a farmer you could just let your vats sit out all winter and when you had a free moment just remove the frozen water. By spring your brandy was ready to be enjoyed. This was something you could not do in Kentucky. For the purest, yes I am drawing a wide comparison as Apple Jack was most likely 1st made in New Jersey from a Scotsman by the name of Laird but ciders were very common in New England and the process of freeze distillation easy to recreate. In Old Sturbridge Village there are references to this type of distillation dating back to the early 1800’s. Plus any chance I get to reference Johnny Appleseed I take
Over the River and Through the Woods
 Around 1715 a gentleman named John Hall built a small distillery with some friends on Riverside Ave, in Medford Massachusetts. 300x205xdistilleries_rum-300x205.jpg.pagespeed.ic.7CPkME7cmU
At the time a sugar byproduct called molasses arrived on boats from the Caribbean. Because Molasses is incredibly sweet, fermentation was quick and easy. Once run through a still the concentrated concoction would be known as rum. Medford rum was traditionally made with the last run of sugar processing known as “blackstrap,” this was rich, viscous and rough. It was intense to say the least and it was also very cheap. Today it is used for cattle feed as it is high in vitamins and is nutrient rich but also make a round and robust spirit.images (7)
By the turn of the 19th century there were a handful of distillers in Medford but by 1830 there was only one rum distiller left: Daniel Lawrence and sons. Daniel Lawrence moved to Medford in 1823 and began working at the Hall distillery. By 1830 he purchased and renamed the distillery and held the market for rum in the north east.215x300xlabels_rum-215x300.jpg.pagespeed.ic.bPH6XI4SXc
Because of his high standards and high quality blackstrap, his rum became world famous. This was not a light, thin rum that needed mint and limes to be consumed. It was a rum for a whiskey drinker.  In 1905 the doors sadly closed due to pressures of the local temperance movement and we would have to wait 107 years to until someone finally decided to reintroduce us to our history.demon-rum-5
Going Against the Grain
In 1777 Rhode Island passed a law banning the distillation of grain based alcohol. Fortunately this did not last too long and by the mid 19th century whiskey production became a staple of harbor towns through out the state. By 1814 spirits distilled with oats, Indian corn, molasses, apples, potatoes, rye and peaches were common place throughout New England. In 1810 it is estimated that 1.4 million gallons of alcohol had been distilled in Connecticut alone, about 3/4 was apple brandy. By the end of the 18th century molasses and sugar were harder to come by so fruits and grains began to take center stage in producing hard liquor. Because whiskey took time to rest in oak and come of age (although not as long as today) and gin was grain based the common country gin became a prominent distillate and soon 3 million gallons were being produced by small local distilleries. This “country gin” was juniper rich and had more of a genever quality than the London dry style we are familiar with todayDrink_BarrHillGin
but for roughly $500 ($10,000 in today’s market) one could set up a crude distillery. This was just efficient enough to make a pretty hardy if not rough around the edges spirit but it was at least a stepping stone. Larger commercial farms built proper still houses and were making refined spirits from New England’s finest produce.
Each state had developed their own specialty and fame in distillation. Maine and Massachusetts as we have read were known for great rums. Vermont and Rhode Island became known for gins, New Hampshire for potatoes based spirits. Connecticut had the largest amount of distilleries with 560 registered in 1810. They were pretty diverse and made well known and respected apple brandies, whiskies, rums and gins.
images (5)
Applied Alchemy
In trying to create a cocktail that to me exemplifies New England I wanted to be a little “tongue and check” so I opted for a twist on the classic Long Island Iced Tea but like Boston to NY wayyy bettah kid. the Nor’easter (It sneaks up on ya) takes several of New England’s alcoholic delights and blends them into one tasty and potent concoction.
Nor’easter (It sneaks up on ya!)
3/4 oz each of New England Distillery “Gunpowder” Rye, GTD “Medford” rum, GTD Cranberry Liqueur, Berkshire Distillers “Ethereal” gin, Downeast cider, cranberry shrub, maple syrup, lemon
These are shaken in a tin and poured into a double rock glass. It is garnished with a lemon peel and star anise.
 Looking back at our history and the omnipresent story of alcohol and distillation I have found that great new distillers like Bully Boy, GTD, Berkshire, New England Distilling or Sons of Liberty and Damnation Ally (about 5 blocks from my home) are not just novelties in an ever growing industry. They are as much a part of our regional narrative as John Hall, Daniel Lawrence and all of those who came before. These are the people who paved the path and helped us harvest our nations artisinal freedom all inside simple bottles of inebriated joy.

Yatte Minahare!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Anatomically correct

To start understanding Japanese whisky, it’s complexity, it’s layered palate and aromatics we will look in reverse. Instead of starting with history, regions and physiological makeup lets start with the glass. As we all love a great single malt whisky, we’ll talk specifically about Nikka Whisky 12 yr single malt “Miyagikyo”.
This reminds me of a delicate Speyside Scotch like the GlenRothes 1998 Select. The heather and honeyed tone and subtle Bourbon notes finish with lightly spiced cake. It feels light to medium in the mouth with a lingering finish that leave flavors of lavender and leather with the slight saltiness of sunflower seeds and smoked almond.
There should be no surprise that the comparison to Speyside is an easy one, the humidity and general climate are kindred. The fatter based pot stills with the longer necks and smaller condenser help to produces a soft and delicate dram. When Masataka Taketsuru set up the Miyagikyo distillery  he had all of this in mind. The water source of the Nikkawa river, the grassy hills where the distillery now sits and the trail of oaks that lead to its doorsteps could easily be mistaken for a Scotch distillery.  To be fair in drawing the coincidence, Masataka studied the art of distillation at the Longmorn distillery in the Speyside region of Scotland. This is in no way to take away from the distinct elegance of Japanese whisky, it is only to understand and quantify its birth. This is indeed where Masataka began his journey of bringing fine malt whisky to Japan, by learning the traditions of Scottish distillation while understanding his Japanese roots. There is an almost soft, sweet pear and apple aroma to most Asian malt whiskies that remind me of fine Cognac. I suppose there is a reason the French and Japanese always seem to be ahead of the curve when it comes to gastronomy as they have a symbiotic identity.880_TR_Miyagikyo-Nikka
There is true art in a pour of Nikka or Suntory or even Taiwan’s great Kavalan whisky. There is something that I identify as Asian complexity. With Japanese whiskies I find a soft and subtle power. Think of great sushi. It is not just in the delicate cut of the fish but in how the fragrant soft rice is packed. This subtly can be a foundation of strength where as the Taiwanese are making a spirit that is bolder and heartier to match some of the spicier, saltier cuisine.
More Intensity
In 1918 the young Masataka Taketsuru traveled to Scotland where he attended Glasgow University to study chemistry. There, coming from a family with centuries of sake brewing under their belt he decided to study the art of Scotch whisky. At that time in Japan there had been great commerce and friendship between Japan, the United States and Europe. There was trade of clothing, foods, spices and alcohol. The Japanese have long been making sake and a spirit called Shochu, a sake distillate. Right around the 1850’s give or take, drinks made of malted barley started to infiltrate Japanese bars and liquor cabinets. It was at this time that American brewers came to set up shop, this endeavor later became the Kirin Brewery. Even Scotland’s famous author, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle became an obsession with the Japanese. It naturally followed that the dram of his homeland became as well loved as golf on the Island nation of Japan. port wine The missing component of producing fine whisky was the know-how. No matter what spice or herb they used they could not make a comparable whisky. It is even said that many Japanese whisky labels read “made with Scottish grapes.” At that time they had a long road ahead of them.
When Masataka was in Scotland he began to learn the art of blending whisky at the Hazelburn distillery in Campbelton. Later in Longmorn he learned the subtly of distillation and was the 1st person from Japan to do so in the UK. There he met his match. A young Scottish woman, the daughter of his host family who’s fiance had died in Damascus during WWI.Rita Taketsuru - the Scottish mother of Japanese whisky
Masataka had given her a gift of perfume and she in return gave him a collection of Robert Burns’ poems. Coming from a traditional Japanese and Scottish family they had decided to elope as their marriage was not condoned by the family nor was their love even understood. Back in Japan Rita became an English teacher and Masataka went to work for with Shinjiro Torii.OLD BT
In 1923 Masataka helped Shinjiro build the famous Yamazaki distillery which is still today Japan’s most famous and important whisky house.
By 1934 the need to build his own distillery became too much and on Japan’s northern island the Yoishi distillery was built and the Nikka brand was born. His Miyagikyo distillery which we have now tasted was not built until 1969 where he produces a grain spirit made in the famous Coffey still but his single malt shows his true mastery and interpretation that had begun on his Island almost a century before. It is no wonder he is considered the Father of Japanese whisky. Masataka passed unto the next world on August 29th, 1979 where he has undoubtedly  been collecting and bottling all of his angels share ever since.
king car
In 2005 the Taiwanese company, King Car, producer of foods, beverages and a leader in the biotech industry began building the Kavalan Distillery which means “People of the Plain”. The Kavalan people were the 1st inhabitants of the region just south east of T’aipei.
There, King Car found the perfect water source from a spring that fed snow melt from mount Yilan out to the Pacific ocean where the sea mist meets mountain air creating a perfect micro climate for aging a world class whisky.Yilan
In fact in several blind tasting panels with some of the best malt men and women in the industry, Kavalan consistently out shines many of its Old World Scottish forebears. Not that their whisky is a superior product. They are only taking the tradition of fine Scotch whisky by using the same stills, techniques and malts (most malted barley the Japanese and Taiwanese use are imported from Scotland) but have incorporated their individual water source which can dramatically change the flavor profile. They distill to their own abilities and taste. It is new and different. The Kavalan line showcases the elegant terrior and complexity of a fine Scottish malt whisky while holding a sweeter, creamier mouth feel that lovers of  Bourbon can understand. It’s aromatics offers the sweet, custardy aromas of the deeper Highland with the subdued heathered tones. The buttery, vanilla quality of well seasoned Bourbon barrels with the broad spiced structure of old Sherry butts helps to bridge a gap between the subtle smoked and salty notes of Scotch and the wide brush stroke of a powerful Bourbon. This is always a great go to for the Pappy fan who does not quiet get the delicate dryness of Scotch yet. They are a very young distillery who are moving the malt industry forward with the use of old world machinery and new world ideology. This has become one of my favorite whiskies and one of the most exciting twists to a road often traveled but rarely deviated from.
kavalan people
Applied Alchemy
In creating a cocktail with a complex spirit you have to keep the integrity of the spirit in mind. You don’t want to over shadow or over power the liquor whether it be whisky, rum or vodka for that matter. In working with Japanese whisky I want to showcase the delicate fruit notes and play off the spiced aromas from the sherry wood. I am using Hibiki 12 yr today, the blended whisky from Suntory which utilizes a corn based grain spirit and single malts from their Yamazaki and Hakushu distilleries.
Wabi Sabi (aka balance in art and nature)
1 1/2 oz Hibiki
1/2 oz Lustau PX Sherry (This is to play off of the intrinsic  sherry aromas from the whisky)
1/2 Dolin Vermouth Blanc (The vermouth blanc gives a hint of sweetness)
1/2 Dolin Dry Vermouth (This gives a subtle herbaceous buttery texture)
2 dashes Fee Brothers oak aged gin orange bitters (This particular bitter adds an herbal note that is usually offered by a sweet vermouth rouge)
stir and strain into a cocktail glass
spritz with orange oil and garnish with a cinnamon stick
My 1st experience with Asian whisky some 3 years ago changed my out look on whisky in general. It is not just the history of a region that gives rise and rights to produce something profound and beautiful. It is the acknowledgment of a collective history, our place in it and how we are as much a shaping force as those who have come before us. We learn from them and have something to teach them as well. The joy and intensity of enthusiasm with dedication and  understanding your place in the world allows us to not be held by the preconceived idea of who we are but what we can give. Thank you Masataka for understanding this human gift.
Yatte Minahare!!!!
sammy davis jr

It’s Kind of a Big Deal


Follow you nose

Over the years I have gained fondness for many types of spirits, beers, wines etc. Often times I have also held prejudice against a given libation due to general persona and well frankly a lack of information or experience with it. I had it with Vodka and California wines until I was forced to stretch beyond my comfort zone and well, palates change. I used to hate spinach when I was growing up. Mostly because it was the mushy, make you gag, canned sort but there is nothing like fresh spinach. Much of my experiences with Vodka have been in simple, boring cocktails and new world wines were the cheap, cloyingly sweet and flabby reds or overly oaked whites. But over the years I have come to realize that one simple experience should not type cast an entire category. This brings me to Scotch whisky, the point of this blog and my next tasting event.



My 1st experience with Scotch was not a pleasant one. When my friends said they were going to drink some fine single malts on a cool and crisp early fall evening I jumped at the offer as it seemed like a perfect night for alfresco drinking. I also had no idea what to expect. Somewhere in my head I was thinking “Scotch and butterscotch must be similar.” Well, needless to say I did not enjoy it.

Then over the years due to the fact that I work in the restaurant industry I was constantly exposed to new spirits and flavors. One night when I was a bartender I must have served 100 Johnny Walker Black and cokes for a young group of College internationals. It seemed like a waist to me as it was a top shelf brand but if they liked it I guess that’s all that mattered. At the end of the shift I just needed to have some Johnny Black. I had it on the rocks and I didn’t mind it, in fact I was mildly enjoying it. Over the years my love for Scotch whisky has grown and for me it is the standard that I sometimes foolishly judge all whisky. But as my love and understanding for fine single malts grew there was one category that I ignored. Oddly enough it was the 1st whisky I enjoyed. That was the complex, subtle elegance of a great blended Scotch whisky.

high queen

So lets do a bit of defining her. A Single Malt Scotch is a whisky that has been distilled in a pot still which gives a rich, heady aroma that is comprised of 100% malted barley coming from a single distillery hence The Macallan 12 yr Highland Single Malt Scotch Whisky. This is 100% malted barley from the Macallan distillery. A Blended Malt Whisky or “Vatted” Scotch is a blend of 100% malted barley whiskys coming from two or more distilleries. In short if I took some Macallan and blended that with, oh lets say Glenlivet I would have a “Vatted” Scotch. The next category is Blended Scotch Whisky (no Malt on the label). This is a blend of a grain spirit (corn or wheat) that has been distilled through a continuous still making a softer and purer spirit much in the same way vodka is distilled. Then that whisky ,whether it be Cutty-Sark, Dwars or Johnny Black is blended with a selection of single malt whiskys to create a softer, easier and more subdued spirit.
There is a silly notion that only great Scotch whiskys come from a single distillery. Hog Wash. The Macallan would not exist if it were not for blended whiskys. Look at it this way. 95% of all Scotches sold are blends. That means that as a distiller, once 95% of your production is of age it is sold immediately. This also means the ONLY product you have left is 5% of your production. This is gravy folks, pure profit. In fact Scotch whisky and the great The Macallan would never be savored if it were not for brands like Cutty Sark, Famous Grouse and Johnny Walker. Why you ask? Well lets take a trip back to the 1850’s:

Golden Promise

During the 19th and early 20th century the British government controlled the market for Bordeaux, Oporto,  Jerez (Sherry), Armagnac and Cognac. What up’d the ante was when British parliament passed a law allowing what many grocery store owners like John Dewar or Johnny Walker already knew. That there is no perfect whisky and so blending a touch of Macallan’s rich headiness and Auchentoshan’s subtle elegance with a note of Glenrothes’s honeyed aroma and drop or two of Ledaig’s salty edge can make a fantastic dram and in 1853 it became legal to sell these blended malt whiskys. dewars

Right around this time several distillers started playing with Aeneas Coffey’s continuous still which was making that subtle and light spirit. They soon realized that adding this light grain whisky to the richer, robust malted whisky made for a pleasant expression of flavors. But in the end mans foolish idea that he can outsmart nature changed everything in Scotland for the better. In the 1870’s some ridiculous French botanist though it would be a great idea to bring from the new world (actually around Colorado) some grape vines to plant next to Frances greatest vineyards. What the French didn’t know was that there was a louse which we now call Phylloxera making their living on the root stocks of these vines. What happened next changed everything. The European native vine vinifera could not withstand this louse and soon they almost all began to die. Now, what does this have to do with whisky and blended Scotch,? Well, the British had really taken a shine to these lighter blended whiskys because they were forced to. Once the Cognac region of France or Jerez region of Spain could no longer supply an expanding empire its vises they had to look elsewhere. This would become a boom time for Scottish distillers. In fact our beloved Macallan did not bottle their own whisky until the 1970s’. Up until that time it was only for blends. The Gorgeous and delicate Glenlivet can not survive with out blended Scotches. In fact just about every single malt you enjoy is a blend. It is rare to find a single cask or barrel Scotch. A master blended working for a distillery will blend several barrels trying to reach a common style form year to year. Take the Dalmore 12 year for example. Richard Patterson (not to be confused with Roger Patterson of the old Bigfoot fame) needs to make sure that the Dalmore 12 year is always the same. He will take nuances of different proprietary barrels and blend them together. The youngest of these barrels that he uses can be no less than 12 years old. 64-Year-Old-Trinitas-002

Johnny Walker Black is one of the best selling whiskys in the world and it is a blend of whiskys. Each one being unique. Each one is terroir based and speaks of its water source, climate, specific barley selection, malting process, distillation technique, barrel cooperage and storage location. The grain whisky (corn and wheat in the continuous still) comprises about 50% of that bottle but there are roughly 40 to 50 other whiskys blended into the mix. Some of those distilleries are long gone and the last of the barrels have run dry. What to do? Follow your nose, it always knows. They figure out the nuances and subtleties of other whiskys and blend until they strike gold.


What these Grocers back in the 1850’s realized was that the intense, heady richness of a Dalmore was not what the general population wanted or understood. This also made it possible for the every-man to enjoy a delicious and complex dram. You just take all the nuances of what you like and add in a bulk of good but less expensive ingredients and you’ve got butter… butterscotch

Applied Alchamy

I began playing around with my own “grocers blend” like Johnny Walker and John Dewar did back 100 years ago. It is a fun way to think of Scotch Whisky and shed off some of the silly stereo types I have given Blended Scotches. When I started making a blend of malt whiskys I thought that this could be a fun experience for other to partake in. On Tuesday the 17th of June I will be holding a blending class and challenge in Saloon. Each guest will get a pour of my house blend as well as samples of each of the five whiskys I used to create it.Awesome_1379965377179

As a group we will taste each, come up with a conclusion as to what each scotch is and then blend them until they come up to the closest pour of our “grocers blend.” Of course you can also just enjoy the whiskys and make your own creation but the dram that I feel is closest to mine will also get a prize and who after all doesn’t like prizes?