Until recently, we’d never tasted Drambuie. Since we’re always down to try new flavors, we jumped at the opportunity to add it to our bar. Drambuie is a blend of scotch, honey, spices, and herbs. It’s extremely sweet, almost cloying, but it mixes well with just about any whisk(e)y without overpowering.
We mixed equal parts Maker’s Mark and Drambuie over ice. Anthony Caporale of Drambuie is calling the Maker’s mixture “Little Bit Rusty” because it’s basically a variation of the classic Rusty Nail (which mixes Drambuie with scotch). Honestly, we were a bit skeptical of Drambuie before we tasted it. We’re generally not very big on infusions or herbal blends with whiskey, but this liqueur does make a good accompaniment to any type of whiskey when you’re in the mood for something sweet.
Just in case you needed step-by-step instructions, here’s how to make a Little Bit Rusty:
1 part Drambuie
1 part bourbon
Stir in a mixing glass with ice, then pour into an old fashioned glass over ice. Garnish with a maraschino cherry if desired.
*Even though this nightcap was on Drambuie’s tab, we will always review products honestly. Contrary to popular belief, free drinks don’t automatically taste better.
Portland Cocktail Week is in full swing, and we’ll be covering as many events as possible. First up was a blind Scotch whisky tasting at the Richmond Bar with Martin Daraz of Highland Park.
To start, Daraz reminded us how to properly taste whisk(e)y: smell it first with your lips parted for several seconds, then take a sip and “chew” it for a few seconds, swallow, then “chew” again with an empty mouth to fully experience the finish. No scent or tasting note you detect is wrong. Daraz emphasized that there is no correct answer for smell and taste, only a correct process of nosing and tasting.
Daraz’s focus is on whisky as a liquid (what does it smell and taste like?), rather than on any particular brand, region, or style of whisky. To that end, we tasted 16(!) different Scotch whiskies so that each guest could make up his or her own mind about what Scotch he or she preferred.
(Yes, those are giant platters of Pok Pok wings. Bonus points granted to Daraz.)
An interesting point for us came when Daraz remarked that Scotch producers are indebted to the American bourbon industry because most Scotch whiskies are aged in used bourbon barrels. (Remember that barrels can only be used once, when they’re new, for aging bourbon.) This is the "recycle, reduce, reuse" mantra from our childhood at its best, don’t you think?
Continuing our recaps of the seminars we attended at the Boston Cocktail Summit, today we’re actually combining two events. On Friday, we went to “The Great Whiskey Debate” featuring David Mays, Emily Duffy, and Bobby Gleason, all from Beam Inc. On Saturday, we attended “The Future of Bourbon” with Noah Rothbaum of Liquor.com, Dave Pickerell (Master Distiller of Maker’s Mark for 13 years, now of Hillrock Distillery), and Mike Reppucci of Sons of Liberty Spirits.
We decided to combine these events into one post because they told two different sides of the whiskey story. The Great Whiskey Debate wasn’t so much a debate as it was a prolonged advertisement and sampling of different Jim Beam whiskeys. Not that we’re complaining; they did give us a bunch of free whiskey.
From left to right: Canadian Club Classic 12 year old, Canadian Club Sherry Cask, Kilbeggan Irish Whiskey, Connemara Peated Single Malt Irish Whiskey, Jim Beam Devil’s Cut, Knob Creek Bourbon, Knob Creek Rye, and Laphroaig Single Islay Malt Scotch at the top right. We didn’t learn a whole lot of new information regarding the specific whiskeys, since we have had most of these before. By far the most entertaining bit of information we learned is that the Devil’s Cut is made by rotating the barrels in what the presenters described as “The Claw,” basically a large contraption that picks the barrels up and rotates them. (We couldn’t hear that without thinking about Toy Story.) Another interesting nugget is that Beam recently purchased Connemarra, which they described as “The last independent distillery in Ireland,” making it independent no longer.
On the flip side, in The Future of Bourbon seminar, the general consensus among the panelists is that the American craft distillers will shape the future. Admittedly, Pickerell and Reppucci both have their own interests in mind, seeing as how they are running small craft distilleries. But their point that it’s the small distillers that have the ability to experiment in ways the bigger brands (like Beam) can’t is a valid one. And the smaller companies have no choice but to experiment in order to make their products stand out. They have to create their own market to survive. This leads to things like the Grainiac 9 Grain Bourbon and the Hillrock Solera Aged Bourbon. They used the example of the current market for white whiskey and how craft distilleries created that market as a way to generate cash flow while their whiskey ages.
As we listened, we were reminded of innovative products like Angel’s Envy and Diabolique bourbons that are cutting their own way in the whiskey market. It’s interesting to view all of these products from the producer’s perspective—even if the producer is a giant conglomerate—and if you watch closely you can see trends like white whiskey and rye coming before they arrive.
There are not that many cocktail recipes that use Scotch whisky, but the Rob Roy is a classic that deserves a mention during There Will Be Bourbon’s unofficial Scotch week. Created in New York in 1894, the cocktail is named after the Scottish folk hero Robert Roy MacGregor. The recipe is the same as a manhattan except that the whiskey used is Scotch instead of rye or bourbon.
2 oz. Scotch
1 oz. sweet vermouth
2-3 dashes Angostura bitters
Combine all ingredients with ice and stir until well mixed. Strain into a martini glass and garnish with a lemon twist.
This is the classic Rob Roy. A dry Rob Roy is made with dry vermouth instead of sweet vermouth. We made one of each to taste the difference.
The verdict is that both are tasty, but the classic Rob Roy is better balanced. Perhaps it is because we used a fairly distinctive dry vermouth, but we didn’t think the dry version mixed well with the Scotch. I actually really like dry vermouth, so I was satisfied with the dry Rob Roy, but definitely felt that the sweet vermouth made for a more unified, and obviously sweeter, drink. For each cocktail, the vermouth and bitters smoothed out the spicy smokiness of the Scotch remarkably well. We used Eades Speyside double malt, a strong Scotch that certainly lent excellent “whiskyness” to the cocktail, but wasn’t overpoweringly Scotchy in combination with the other ingredients. This is, obviously, the key to a successful cocktail.
In the photo above, the Rob Roy is on the left and the dry Rob Roy is on the right. One could also make a perfect Rob Roy, which is equal parts sweet and dry vermouth. In other words, the recipe would be two ounces of Scotch mixed with half an ounce each of sweet and dry vermouth, plus Angostura bitters. We will definitely try this version the next time we decide to make a Rob Roy, which may be soon as this is quite a delicious cocktail.
Our last Scotch of the week is Lagavulin 16-year-old Islay single malt that our friend Andrew brought to our whiskey party. (Be sure to check out Andrew’s blog, where he drops snarky knowledge on pretty much any subject and also does cartoons of historical figures being irreverent.) Like yesterday’s whisky from Ron, we were stoked to drink a Scotch chosen by someone who knows way more about it than we do. Andrew’s from Scotland, so he’s legally obligated to know about Scotch…pretty sure that’s how it works. (I’m from Hawaii, and if I didn’t know about spam musubi my brown skin would probably be revoked.) Anyway, we drank some Lagavulin.
The most noticeable aspect of Lagavulin is its level of smoky peat. Some quick crawling through the interwebs revealed that peat is a sort of signature of Islay malts. It has a really beautiful, rich gold color with excellent clarity. Its aroma is so strong it filled up multiple rooms in our house. When I poured it, Rachel immediately called from the other room that she could already smell it. Its scent is also heavy on the earthiness. I thought of wet grass, and Rachel got more specific, saying it reminded her of smoking wet hay. She then described the image of someone dropping a match or something into a stack of wet hay and the smoke rising from it. Lagavulin’s flavor has the same herbal, peaty flavor, but it also has hints of sweetness and spice, making it a very well-balanced and full-bodied whisky. Its finish is a subtle but long-lasting spice.
Also, Lagavulin is really fun to say.
Our friend Ron loves Scotch, like, a lot. (His Scotch collection easily puts our entire bar to shame.) So when he brought this Eades Speyside to us, practically hopping in his excitement, we knew we were in for something interesting. He chose this whisky to share with us because he said it should be fairly similar to a high quality bourbon. This bottle is the first edition of the Speyside Double Malt by Virginia Distilling Company. The bottle says it’s a blend of 14-year-old Longmorn and 16-year-old Glen Moray whiskies, neither of which we were familiar with. Both whiskies are finished in different wine barrels (Longmorn in Trempanillo and Glen Moray in Madeira) before being blended. The current and second addition contain a different blend. Virginia Distilling makes two other blends to cover the Islay and Highland distilling regions of Scotland as well. We would like to taste all three.
This Speyside is all kinds of spicy. It has the dark amber color of a full-bodied whisky, and its scent is very strong. Its fragrance, taste, and finish are all heavy with spice. In both the scent and flavor, it can be a bit difficult to get past the pepper, but once you do, a complex series of flavors emerge to complement each other. Vanilla, raisins, and even a small hint of citrus all play off each other. The finish remains mostly spice with a little bit of raisin as well. Speyside is best enjoyed as a slow sipping Scotch.
The bottle design on the Speyside is beautiful as well. Apparently all the Eades Double Malts have the same designs with different colors (brown for Highland and Red for Islay), but the blue of the Speyside with the weaving circular designs creates a gorgeous nautical effect on the label.
Even though this is a bourbon blog, we’re drinking Scotch all week. Why? Because we can! We have a few Scotches from our whiskey party that we’ve been saving for the blog. (We make our drinking productive.) Reviewing Scotch feels similar to how we felt when we first started There Will Be Bourbon. When we started the blog, we knew very little about bourbon but wanted to learn as much as we could (and we’re still learning, of course). At this point, we know very little about Scotch beyond the fact that it’s made in Scotland and spelled “whisky” with no “E.”
Today’s whisky is the Glenmorangie Original, the base whisky of the Glenmorangie line. It’s 96 proof and aged for 10 years in former bourbon casks. We’re not sure how common that practice is, but we’re all for it (reusing/recycling!). Glenmorangie’s color is light and gold, and its scent is equally as light, with hints of vanilla and citrus. There’s a light char in the taste, with a slight peppery spice and peaty flavor that quickly gives way to vanilla and orange. A touch of water makes this whisky incredibly smooth to drink, but a splash too much dilutes the star flavors to the point of disappearance. Overall, this was a great first Scotch for us, and we’re sure it’s going to make a few appearances on our bar in the future.
Here are some highlights from our “Whiskeys of the World” party we hosted this past weekend. We get asked pretty regularly for whiskey suggestions, which we are more than happy to offer, but tastes can be subjective. A party like this is an opportunity to branch out and taste things you otherwise wouldn’t. The idea is that guests bring whiskey from various parts of the world (it’s not complicated). Our whiskey tastings have mostly been limited to bourbon and a bit of rye, but at this party we were able to try some scotch and even an Oregon whiskey we’ve been curious about.
This party idea works for just about any type of food or drink. In fact, we borrowed the idea from my brother, who hosts what he calls Epcot Parties, where people bring different foods from around the world. Even our dog Lula (the brindle dog) got in on the fun and made doggy friends. (Don’t worry, we did not give the puppies alcohol.) For the record, Whistle Pig Rye was the clear standout of all the whiskey. We also now have a surplus of various spirits, so don’t be surprised to see some non-bourbon whiskey (and whisky) appearing on our blog.
Also, this party was our unofficial birthday celebration for There Will Be Bourbon, which turned one year old this month.