Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Florida, Day 1

When I started writing this blog, close to two years ago, it was really just an outlet; something to do while I drank whisk(e)y late at night in the comfortable solitude of my modest living room. I looked at it as a journal, a way to ensure that my thoughts / opinions were not lost with the passage of time, and perhaps as an introverted way of sharing my enthusiasm for the brown spirits with anyone who was willing to listen / read.

However, over time, it has grown into much more than that. It has driven me to delve far deeper into researching related subjects, both historical and technical, than I ever thought I would care to. It has also likely been the impetus for much of my whisky related travel. Attention to my prose has grown as well, with the level of readership increasing ten-fold over the last year. 

I never expected anything in return from my writing, but now doors are beginning to open and potential opportunities are arising, connections are being made and my network is expanding; where this will ultimately lead, only time will tell.

I recent months, I’ve been in contact with a former “food & beverage” colleague, in regards to a potential collaboration. Then, the call came through, an invitation to host a Scotch dinner and conduct a staff training session at an exclusive private golf community in Florida.

The night before my departure had me up quite late struggling to put the finishing touches on a lesson plan for the training session. That, coupled with a very early flight, left me starting the first day of the trip with just two hours of sleep; but the 70 degree increase in temperature during my short journey was a refreshing change.

My first stop was the clubhouse for a light lunch, and an introduction to the GM and a few of the members. After picking up my rental car and checking in to my lodgings, I took some time to relax, unpack and settle in. Next, I was off to my hosts’ private beach club for a fairly spectacular dinner. I won’t go off topic with all of the details of the wine pairings, but I really enjoyed tasting a Barolo Chinato for the first time. It’s always entertaining to taste something blind and try to figure out what it is when you’ve never even heard of said beverage before.

But after dinner it was back to the serious business of whisky. My old friend took me out to what I can only assume is the area’s most serious whisky bar (and purveyor of fine cigars as well), to meet to meet the local wholesale rep for Glenmorangie/Ardbeg and Diageo.

Angry Moon Cigars – Zino Platinum Lounge is somewhat of a cumbersome name, but it seemed like most people simply refer to it as the Angry Moon. I like the layout of this place, the free-standing bar is backed up by a properly light wall of whisky, creating a nice focal point. Everything was very comfortable: the seating ranged from tall chairs and high tables to large leather chairs surrounding tables of an appropriate height. The lounge atmosphere is emphasized by a lack of seating at the bar, which simply serves the purpose of proving a place to walk up to, peruse the collection and order a drink. Two separate outdoor seating areas are also provided for the cigar smoking crowd.

While I’ve seen bars with larger whisky collections, this one still had plenty to offer and was quite impressive for its size. Notable selections included Ardbeg Day, Ardbeg Galileo, Ardbeg Alligator, and three different 14 year single cask Springbanks, each aged entirely in a different type of sherry cask. George T. Stagg and 23 yr Pappy Van Winkle stood out among the American whiskey grouping. I was told that the owner is obsessed with obtaining anything rare, unusual or hard to get – a man after my own heart!

Many of the bottles they have are from the high end of the price scale, but considering the number of Bentleys I saw driving around the area, this is probably appropriate for the local clientele. If you’re into whisky and in the Palm Beach Gardens area, it’s worth checking out.

I looked over the menu for a while before deciding to try out one of the more obscure Glenmorangie offerings; the Sonnalta PX (aged 10 years in bourbon barrels before being transferred to Pedro Ximenez sherry casks for another two years). My host opted for the Glenmorangie Artein (comprised of 2 parts 15 year old whisky and 1 part 21 year old whisky, both of which were aged primarily in bourbon barrels and finished in casks that formerly held Sassicaia, a Bordeaux-style red wine from Tuscany).

I was offered a sip of the Artein, which I gladly accepted. Both whiskies were quite impressive, but there was far too much conversation and social interaction for me to focus on tasting notes.

My compatriots only had time for a single drink, but I decided to linger for one more; surely I could find something interesting here to sip on and compose proper tasting notes. As my eyes scanned the bottles, there it was – an unfamiliar label with Japanese characters. I asked for a closer look, and sure enough it was the Hakushu 12 yr that I’d been hunting for.

Hakushu, established in 1973, is the second Suntory distillery, essentially the sister to the more well known Yamazaki distillery. It has only recently become available in the U.S. and has certainly not made it to the little, tiny liquor-control state I live in. Looking online a few months ago, I saw prices mostly ranging from $60 to $70 a bottle. I spotted one for $55 and tried to order it, but they wouldn’t ship to Vermont. I managed to track down a bottle that was out of state, but within driving distance. Unfortunately it was way overpriced at $105. Needless to say, the Hakushu 12 yr was high up on my hit list and I was happy to find it by the glass. Notes from my phone: 

Hakushu 12yr, 43% abv
The nose is dense but gentle, with malt, sherry and very mild floral notes. Kind of a dichotomy with many subtle notes coming together to produce a richer whole. Medium bodied. Nice flavor development with depth, complexity and good balance. Flavors on the palate are well represented by the nose. Long, hearty finish. Far superior to Yamazaki 12 yr, but I would still give a slight edge to the Yamazaki 18 yr. 

At the time of the tasting, I had forgotten that this whisky is made from lightly peated malt. I really didn’t notice any peat / smoke notes, and now I’m left wondering if they were really that subtle, or if my palate / nose was thrown off by the minimal amount of cigar smoke wafting in from the outdoor seating area. At least now I know I like Hakushu enough to warrant a follow-up tasting should I come across it again.


charleskalb@aol.com said...

I have a bottle marked Old Grand-Dad, Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey distilled and botteleld by THE OLD GRAND DAD DISTILLERY COMPANY. Frankfort, Kentucky had a michigan tax stamp on it and a cork, no cap. Picture of smiling older man facing front, holding a shot glass.It is also 100 proof, and there is still 90% of the whiskey in the bottle, I believe this must be original picture of Basil Hayden, I can find no dates on it. Is this of value or just the bottle, any info would be helpful or direction to find out more about this. I have had this bottle in family that I know of for at least 50+ years, may be much older than that. Any body can reach me at charleskalb@aol.com

VT Mike said...

Charles, you should sign up for an account on straightbourbon.com and take a look at their forums. They have one just for collectables - http://www.straightbourbon.com/forums/forumdisplay.php?9-Collectibles
There are many people there who are very knowledgeable and helpful. Posting pictures of the bottle with your questions will get you answers more quickly. good luck.