Thursday, February 21, 2013

Florida, Day 3

I took advantage of the opportunity to avoid the alarm clock on Day 3, and was finally able to catch up on some much needed sleep. My only responsibility for the day would be to conduct a staff training session late in the afternoon. I had to take care of some last minute photo editing for a slide show that would be part of my presentation; after that I had just enough time for a brief outing to the Tequesta Brewing Company, a local brewpub a few towns north of where I was staying.

I went with a Kölsch, which was a nice, enjoyable beer, but not really true to the authentic style of its namesake. Even though I only had time for one drink, I did manage to sneak in a small sample of a Russian Imperial Stout. It started off quite promising, with good flavor development and complexity, but unfortunately turned astringent as it moved into the finish. I liked the layout and feel of the place; the beer was okay but definitely not in the same league as what’s being made at Cigar City Brewing over in Tampa.

After a quick change of clothes, I was off to make myy presentation. The thought of sharing my knowledge of and passion for whisky with the club’s food & beverage staff was quite appealing to me. The reality of the scenario was a bit different than my idealistic vision though. I was going to be working with a group of nearly 50 people, who had greatly varying levels of whisky knowledge. On top of that, I was asked to keep the session down to 30 minutes, 40 at the most. I would have preferred to have some interaction from the group, but the circumstances would limit this to being more of a lecture.

I decided to focus on Scotch Whisky and try to avoid the esoteric tangents that I love so much. We started off with some basic definitions to make sure everyone was on the same page before moving on to the proper pronunciation of distillery names. Following that was a basic talk about Scotland’s whisky producing regions. We then went through an overview of the whisky making process, which was accompanied by pictures I took while enrolled in the Springbank Whisky School. Stretching my time limit to the max, I managed to briefly touch on a few advanced topics during the last couple of minutes.

All things considered, I think the session was a success, with everyone gaining at least some knowledge. If the trip is repeated next year, perhaps it would be better to give a brief pre-test and split the group into two, based on the results. A basic course could be given to those without a strong base of knowledge, and for the more advanced group we could spend time discussing details about the individual whiskies that the club has on offer.

By a stroke of good luck (actually, it was probably down to good planning on my host’s part), there was a bourbon tasting at the club just a few hours after my training session ended. Of course there too much conversation for any sort of tasting notes, but I still managed to pick up some good information.

The Jim Beam Small Batch Bourbons, Makers Mark, and several Wild Turkey products were being showcased. I started off with a head-to-head of the standard Maker’s Mark and the Maker’s 46, with the sales rep explaining that the 46 starts off the same as the regular Maker’s, but after the normal period of aging time, charred French oak staves are put inside the barrels and it is left to age a bit longer (I think she said around 6 more months). It is then bottled at 94 proof, as opposed to the 90 proof of regular Maker’s Mark.

When I wandered around to the other side of the display setup, the first thing that caught my eye was a small bottle of clear liquid. I had to ask if it was available to taste! To my surprise, the answer was an enthusiastic yes, and the next thing I knew there was a glass of Wild Turkey “white dog” in my hand. A few bourbon distillers have made their “white dog” (the whiskey as it comes off the still, prior to dilution and aging) commercially available, but Wild Turkey is not one of them, so this sample was a nice treat. It was shockingly smooth for 130 proof.

A bottle of Wild Turkey American Honey sparked a conversation about my lack of interest in the flavored whiskey category, although I was willing to admit that I had sampled a few and felt that some were certainly better made than others. With all the skill of a good salesman, the WT rep convinced me to taste their American Honey offering (I’d tried it before, but that was at least a few years ago). As I suspected, it was good for what it was supposed to be, but not really my cup of tea. Next he convinced me to try it mixed 50/50 with lemonade on ice, in spite of my warnings that I really wasn’t a cocktail drinker. God damn, that was mighty tasty! Okay, maybe I could see myself sipping on one of those on a hot summer day.

To round things out I sampled the new Wild Turkey 81 proof (a replacement for the old 80 proof), which has a label that matches the revamped design on the 101 proof bottles. While it’s a “no age statement” bourbon, the 81 is supposedly averaging a good bit more time in the barrel the 80 used to. Also, a few other changes were made to ensure a more consistent product. Overall, I still prefer Wild Turkey 101, but the 81 proof seems to be a significant improvement over the 80 proof, rather than a mere bump in alcohol level to make the new label stand out as I had assumed.

Of course, I did manage to wrap the night up with a glass of single malt, a bit of solitude, and some proper tasting notes. Caol Ila 12 yr, 43% abv:

The nose is full and peaty, but in a manner that is elevated and fresh, rather than being outright dense. Rich of body and oily in texture, in spite of its lighter color. Peat smoke is the dominant flavor, but not to the point of being out of balance. The alcohol adds weight without going too far. Evolves nicely through the long finish, with heat, peat and spice all taking their turns at the fore. Well made and quite enjoyable, but lacking the level of depth and complexity of some of its competitors.

It was certainly nice to have a brief change of scenery and weather. Many thanks go out to the management, staff and members of Frenchman’s Creek Beach & Country Club for their generous hospitality, and for making my working whisky vacation possible.

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