Caorunn Gin

caorunn martiniBecause every now and then a man needs a martini…

Tried out Cao Runn (pr. kow-roon) gin today. This is a “scottish” gin, meaning like many boutique distillers they’ve changed up the botanicals for some locals and kept some imports of the London Dry. In this case the Juniper is dialled well back as is the citrus. For me this is a martini that needs a twist rather than an olive, although the saltiness of an olive certainly brings out some great stuff in the CaoRunn.

My bottom line is I’d rather have this than Hendricks – another “scottish” gin designed and marketed for women – even though it costs more. On the other hand I’d also rather save $20 and have a Citadelle or a Tanqueray.

Nice gin, but not a home run.

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Rhubarb Vodka

Blushed LBLB (or Lucky Bastard) Distillery of Saskatoon has developed something of a niche in flavoured vodkas. Here’s a new fruit flavour that should warm the heart of every good prairie dweller – Rhubarb.

Rhubarb makes great cocktails. It has a flavour that is tart, slightly bitter and goes well with strawberries and citrus. I made a Gimlet last night (LB Black Label Gin and Rhubarb Vodka 50/50 with a half a squeezed lime) and it was great. Not sure I’d want just the Rhubarb and lime but I’ll probably try that tonight.

If you know what a great drink rhubarb is you’ll want to try outBlushed. And if you never have had rhubarb you have a treat coming.

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Tanqueray Bloomsbury Gin – First Look

If you aren’t a gin drinker (for shame!) you will only think of Tanqueray as the green bottle premium gin that has graced bars for the last half century plus. In the last two decades it has been eclipsed by Bombay Sapphire in popularity, mostly due to a bigger advertising budget. I drink both but I prefer the juniper in Tanqueray.

What neophytes need to know is that Tanqueray produces several gins. There is of course their No. 10, which aside from referencing the residence of the British Prime Minister (doubtless remembering the hogsheads of gin Sir Winston swallowed in and out of office) is an up market version, very intense, floral. Every time I drink it I think “Wow. this stuff is fabulous.” Then about a third of the way through the bottle, sometime in the course of a month or so, I think it is too cloying.

blog bloomsburyHowever Tanqueray also produces some limited releases like Malacca (Fruitier,a touch more bitter, and sweeter. Fabulous.), Rangpur(More citrus and aromatic. Equally fabulous.) and now Bloomsbury. All of these are worth seeking out and buying whenever you see them. If you don’t buy then, they’ll disappear from grasp for years at a time.

If ever there was a martini gin this one is it. The alcohol level is 47.5%, right up there with No. 10 and Special Dry (I haven’t seen this last one in years. May have been discontinued.) The palate is deep into juniper berry territory. (Think piney woods.)

While I buy basic Tanq over No. 10, I’d rather buy this any time. What’s more, local loyalties aside I’d buy it in a heartbeat over any number of similarly prices “artisanal” gins from boutique distilleries.

One last note. It’s only being released in a limited market, primarily up-scale bars and hotels in trendy places. You’ll have to hunt to get a bottle. Assuming you have good relationship with your local wine store, I’d beg and plead with them. And of course there is always the internet…

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When you meet a vintner or a salesperson these days they will immediately start to effuse about their “terroir.” If you have yet to figure this out, the French came to the conclusion around 1800 that the best wines were made in very particular vineyards for reasons they did not quite understand. They therefore awarded various vineyards classifications like “grand cru classe”. Anyone who has been drinking for more than a decade will be aware that any number of designated “great” vineyards are capable of decades of mistakes, sloth and crappy wine. Yet the story of terroir lives on.

The story becomes even sillier when you consider what are the non-human inputs to wine. They are the the soil, the weather, vine clones, the grapes, and the yeast. In many AOC areas both the clones and the yeast (usually wild, having evolved with the vinyards over the centuries) are specified.

So far so good. Anyone who has spent time around farmers will have heard about the storied quarter section down the road that produces #1 grain when everyone else is lucky to pull animal feed off. There are micro-climates, and particularly well drained or watered pieces of land full of the nutrients for specific crops. However…

Before you swallow the fine fairy tale spun by the salesperson in front of you, remember to ask a few questions. In particular ask:

– Do you notice a particular mineral profile in your wine?
– if so do you irrigate? And what is the water source?
– Do you innoculate the yeast?
– if so how often do adjust the yeast strains? Do you EVER only use one strain on one block of land?
– How often do you change clones?
– Is this the same clone grown in 1970? 1990?

The attentive reader will know why I’m a cynic. If you irrigate, your mineral profile is from the river or the well from which you pump. If you innoculate you can change the flavour profile of your wine from year to year. And when you change clones you are effectively changing your terroior.

The number of vineyards I come across that can make the terroir claim with a straight face are less than 10 per cent and probably less than 1 per cent. Call me about your terroir when you can answer the above questions without turning red.

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Whisky Age

bridges laphroaigI recently tried a bottle of Laphroaig Quarter Cask. It struck me as strange in that it had no date statement, as is usual in single malts. I guessed that the use of a smaller volume cask resulted in faster aging. Here’s what the brand manager responded.

If you’re a scotch drinker, and somebody who chases the big number (18+) scotches you need to read this as it may change your viewpoint.

Here’s the unedited correspondence:

Good afternoon James,

I hope you are well.

I was able to get in touch with Laphroaig North American Brand Ambassador Simon Brooking to have your Laphroaig Quarter Cask questions answered.

Please see below and confirm whether or not you have any further questions. Thank you!


Here is your original question:
“What is going on with the lack of aging for the Quarter Cask? Given that Laphroaig gives the age of their other whiskies; and given that this is normal even in blended scotch; why aren’t they disclosing that info for the Quarter Cask (as using smaller barrels exposes the spirit to more oaking and therefore will accelerate the “aging” process?”).”

Here is Simon’s reply:

Dear James,

Thanks for your interest in the aging process of Laphroaig .
As you point out Laphroaig Quarter Cask does not include an age statement (NAS). The NAS bottling is an industry wide trend to deal with the popularity and growing demand for single malt Scotches. In order to explain NAS whiskies, it is important to understand bottling whiskies with age statements.

According to the law, the age on a bottle of single malt Scotch is the age of the youngest whiskies that have gone into the bottling. For example, Laphroaig 10 Year as well as it being the No. 1 selling Islay single malt, Laphroaig 10 Year is a marriage of 10 yr, 11 yr, 12 yr and perhaps 13 yr old Laphroaig whisky. The century old tradition of marrying different barrels from different years is done to maintain the consistency of flavour.

As you know, aging in wood is not an exact science. It is very difficult to maintain consistency bottling from single barrel to single barrel . That ephemeral element is the beauty and challenge with single malt Scotches. Unless the label states the bottling is a “Single Cask” or “Single Barrel” , all single malts are a marriage (dare I say – a blend?) of those different years. They are technically not Blended Scotches because Blended Scotches are a blend of different single malt barley whiskies from different distilleries plus a neutral grain spirit.

Laphroaig Quarter Casks are a marriage of 5-11 year old Laphroaig in 200 ltr Maker’s Mark bourbon barrels . All the different aged whiskies are then married and then the liquid is put into 125 ltr “quarter casks” for up to an additional 8 months. The smaller quarter casks create more contact with wood to whisky so you get an oakier quality to the Laphraoig and not as smoky. If we put the age statement on the Laphroaig Quarter Cask we would have to call it a 5 Year Old! The difference is this – we are not bottling to a year we are bottling to a flavour profile which is exactly how aged single malt Scotches are bottled today as well.

Also, Laphroaig Quarter Cask is not new. It has been in the market almost 10 years now and is our second biggest selling expression. One of our newer expressions is Laphroaig Triple Wood. It is an extension of Quarter Cask. After the whisky has spent those months in the quarter casks all the whisky is married and the put into an oloroso sherry cask for an additional 2 years. Laphroaig Triple Wood adds elements of sherry sweetness, dried fruits, apricots and plums etc..

My recommendation is to try the whiskies…(all of them) to better understand the unique flavours of each bottling and find the one that’s right for you.

All the best,

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