Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Pacari's Day Of Triumph

Francisco X. Vivar pairing Pacari chocolate & whisky
This is a post about pairing chocolate with whisky. Chocolate, at the high end, offers a range of different flavors via different cacao varieties, growing regions and plantations with clear terroir and a powerful set of flavors with fermented winey notes, a whole series of complex alkaloids, creamy luscious fats, vegetal compounds and tannins, the flavors of roasting or baking (unless raw) wrapped up in a rich seductive mouth feel. The flavors can persist on the palate in a long finish and pair well with a variety of beverages:  classically wine, and coffee. More recently the craze for fine whisky has led to an explosion of interest in chocolate-whisky pairing. Whisky and chocolate are both extremely flavor dense foods and their pairings can be uneasy, discordant or deliciously complimentary. Sometimes, mysteriously and excitingly, certain whisky chocolate pairs combine to form dramatically new "emergent" flavors. This startling effect takes on an aspect of "flavor tripping" - joyriding the palate through gastronomic stunts.

Piura 70% (front), Nube 70% (rear)
Recently I met with Francisco X. Vivar, the voluble and incredibly sweet and elfin North American importer, evangelist, and human face of Pacai chocolate in the USA. Vivar and I were planning a tour of The Morgan Library & Museum, some lunch, and a bit of chocolate-whisky pairing. As it turned out, Francisco had just received the news that Pacari had been crowned the champion of the world finals of the first International Chocolate Awards - winning 5 Gold (including the overall) and a Silver (see addendum and link at bottom). Feeling expansive, we dined exclusively on Pacari chocolate that day, taking in most of the upcoming Fall line-up including the rare lauded Piura white cacao bar, the extremely rare Nube varietal bar (limited to 2000 bars worldwide), and pre-release prototypes of a Pacari Fig bar, a bar made with a traditional pulled sugar cane toffee-caramel called "Melcocha", and much of the core line up to boot. We paired these extraordinary chocolates with a selection of whiskies representing a broad flavor gamut: Glenmorangie Nectar D'Or, Oban DE 1995, Elijah Craig 12, Douglas McGibbon Provinance Port Ellen 23 1982/2005, and Balcones Brimstone. Some of these pairings were extraordinary, and will be described fully further on. But first, a bit of background.

I'm preparing a chocolate-whisky pairing event which will be held in January at The Morgan Library's beautiful Morgan House Dining Room and I figured Pacari chocolates would be ideal pairing partners for whisky. I already knew they were, actually. I was introduced to the topic by Mr. Vivar and Compass Box's Brand Ambassador, Robin Robinson back in April at a pair of tastings. Over the ensuing months I have studied the topic. Of particular value was Stuart Robson's article on whisky chocolate pairings. He discusses the concept, methodology, and lists a number of very very specific pairings that cover a wide flavor range. Here's the paragraph on the methodology of pairing whisky and chocolate, to give you an idea of how it's done, and how Robson writes:
  • Take the whisky on the palette, moving it around the mouth for awhile to let the flavours build.
  • Once swallowed, wait a few seconds before placing a very small piece of chocolate on the tongue. Allow the chocolate to melt slowly and experience the profiles of the Chocolate and Whisky as they come together.
  • Towards the end of the melt, take a little of the whisky back over the chocolate. This leads to greater intensity and often the development of some interesting and unexpected flavours.
  • Enjoy the finish as you normally would, only this time you will see some interesting variations in the profile of the whisky.
Robson is unusually situated to write about whisky chocolate pairings. He is the whisky reviewer at Connosr's Whisky Marketplace Blog:
There, he writes beautiful tasting notes - among the most poetic and metaphorically illustrative detailed and communicative tasting notes I've ever read. He also has worked in the sweets biz and is an active chocolate enthusiast and reviewer on chocolate sites including
This confluence of whisky and chocolate expertise makes Stuart Robson a pretty special person at the intersection of these two fascinating passions.

Judging at the International Chocolate Awards Semi-Finals

A few weeks ago George Gensler, one of the founders of the Manhattan Chocolate Society and a frequent reviewer on, who I had met at the Compass Box-Pacari pairing event, incredibly generously nominated me to be a judge at the International Chocolate Awards Western Hemisphere Semi Finals. I got to taste an amazing array of chocolates, meet an amazing group of chocolate epicures and play some small role in an important industry review of the stars of high end chocolate. At the conclusion of each judging session I pulled out a mess of sample bottles and did impromptu whisky-chocolate pairing sessions with the three Valharonha chocolate "palate calibration" selections: Guanaja, Manjari and Abinao. Importantly i got to do a one on one whisky chocolate pairing with Clay Gordon, the amazing impresario behind the Chocolate Life online community, the book "Discover Chocolate", and a host of other chocolate projects ranging from chocolate factory start ups to radio presentations on the Heritage Radio Network and the creation of a chocolate factory in Bushwick. These impromptu jam sessions were a total blast and taught me a lot. These experiences gave me the audacious ambition to make my first public whisky event a whisky chocolate pairing event.

Back to the tasting at hand. Francisco & I toured The Morgan and then began the pairings in a private space. The Morgan is a very special place: JP Morgan's private library is one of grandest beaux arts residence spaces ever envisioned. It is alive with culture, beauty, history, and power. Surrounding it is an array of exhibition halls and scholarly resources jammed with the literary and graphic roots and fruits of human civilization. After the tour we were in a fit mental state for appreciation of a different sort.

A dozen chocolate varieties and five whiskies...
A word on methodology: we inverted the order described by Stuart Robson, above on many of the pairings.  We took the chocolate first, let it melt on the palate and then took the whisky.   The order makes a big difference.  When you have the chocolate first, the chocolate initially dominates the palate and the whisky's entry modifies the chocolate's finish.  When you take the whisky first and then let the chocolate melt over the whisky's finish you are putting the whisky's flavors first.  You generally end up in the same place, as you add another sip and another square - but how you get there affects the view.

Pacari Nube 70%
The following tasting notes represent some highlights from our rather extensive session:

Pacari Nube 70% varietal bar (limited to 2000 bars world-wide). Dark acidic blueberry, rich ivy & cilantro herbal notes, and aromatic smoky espresso flavors with a rich velvety mouth feel. This selection paired synergistically with Glenmorangie Nectar D'Or. Nectar D'Or is sweet, light, and intensely floral. I was anticipating an accentuation of the herbal qualities. Paradoxically, the combination was suddenly warm and vividly toffeed - brimming with butter and sugar browning in a pan Maillard reaction flavors.

Piura White Cacao varietal, 70%.  This chocolate is a lovely amber reddish-brown hue because of the white cacao from the Piura region (Pacari's first from beyond Ecuador).  Rich and heady with a potent raw cacao flavor punch: earthy, fermented, with vivid acids, honeyed toffee notes, and plenty of dark cocoa flavors.  This one did the toffee Maillard thing with Nectar D'Or too - even more than the Nube.  A stunning pairing.

Elijah Craig 12 with the Pacari Chili bar: peppery heat squared.  The big oak tannin hit from the EC meshed with the capsicum heat to form a potent mouth burn.  Maybe a bit too potent.  This was somewhere between a mesh and a clash.

We also paired the Elijah Craig 12 with the phenomenal Pacari Salt & Nibs bar (one of my favorite chocolate bars on the planet).  This one was a decent pairing with emergent big caramel flavors

We paired the sherried Port Ellen 23 with a number of bars but the stand outs were The Pacari Manabi 65% bar which meshed with the Port Ellen's lemon and chamois to produce a paradoxical huge caramel note with complex peat and citrus overtones.  Stunning.

When paired with Pacari's landmark 70% Raw bar, however, the same Port Ellen 23 popped out a huge oak wood flavor note that was as surprising as it was delicious.  Where in the world did that come from?

We finished the session with Balcones Brimstone (always put Brimstone last.  Experience has taught me that the titanic finish on Brimstone finishes you palate for anything else).  The killer combinations here were many:

From Pacari's tasty chewing "Fruit Harvest" line - the prototype of the upcoming Fig 60% bar produced an amazing smoky sweet flavor, reminiscent of sizzling bacon wrapped figs.

Brimstone also kills with the Piura bar - coiling sweet and smoke turned hauntingly toffeed.  I have been repeatedly impressed with how well Brimstone pairs with big chocolates.  It also makes an intensely memorable Old Fashioned.  I still prefer it neat, however.  I originally gave Brimstone 3 stars, but as my bottle opened up and I became accustomed to its dramatically novel flavor profile I fell in love and updated it to 4 stars and then to 5.  Now I view it as an indispensable bottle to have on hand at all times.

New in the "Flavors of the Andes" line (the line that includes Pacari's award winning Lemongrass, Chili, and the luscious Salt & Nibs bars) is Melcocha.  Melcocha is a traditional hand pulled caramel taffy made from raw sugar cane, cooked and pulled into ropes of densely chewy goodness.  Embedded in rich Pacari 60% dark chocolate it makes a rich flavor pairing all by itself in the caramel toffee flavor quadrant.  You must chew this bar and the textures are reminiscent of a Toblerone bar - although the flavors are far denser and richer.  This bar paired well with any sweet whisky.  It did particularly well with the Nectar D'Or.


Pacari's medals at the International Chocolate Competition World Finals 2012 are:


GOLD: Pacari Chocolate (Ecuador) – 70% Raw – Organic and Biodynamic

SILVER: Pacari Chocolate (Ecuador) – 70% Piura-Quemazon

Special awards

GOLD – Chocolate Maker: Pacari Chocolate (Ecuador) – 70% Raw – Organic and Biodynamic

GOLD – Growing Country Chocolate: Pacari Chocolate (Ecuador) – 70% Raw – Organic and Biodynamic

GOLD – Directly Traded Cacao: Pacari Chocolate (Ecuador) – 70% Raw – Organic and Biodynamic

GOLD – Organic: Pacari Chocolate (Ecuador) – 70% Raw – Organic and Biodynamic

GOLD – Best cacao source: Piura-Quemazon

Thursday, October 18, 2012

An Evening Of Scotch at The Morgan Library With Gordon & MacPhail: 6 Malts Exploring 4 Regions. December 7th, 2012

Update:  This event was rescheduled to December 7th, 2012 because of Hurricane Sandy.

FYI - This Event happened and was reviewed here:

As a lover of single malt Scotch whisky and a lover of The Morgan Library & Museum, I'm going to take the unusual step (for me) to post about a coming whisky event and urge everyone to come, if they can.  I'll be at this event (and some other interesting whisky people too, if I have my way).   I have a particular vested interest in this event because it will be the very first whisky event at The Morgan and the second one at this venue will be the first public whisky event I'll be leading.  I'm thinking it will be a whisky-chocolate pairing event.  If these events succeed The Morgan might become a regular venue for whisky events - which would be grand.  It's a great room in a fabulous Beaux Arts masterpiece of a site.

A few words about Gordon & MacPhail and the selections that will be offered.  Gordon & MacPhail (G&M) is the oldest independent bottler in Scotland and has legendary warehouses in Elgin where a century's worth of incredible casks from all over Scotland rest.  G&M has bottled the oldest and rarest whiskies.  There are a number of distilleries (such as Miltonduff and Mortlach) that are impossible to obtain except by G&M issues.  G&M also owns its own excellent distillery, Benromach, to boot.  Recently US sales got to the point that G&M's US distributer hired a North American Brand Ambassador to evangelize G&M's products: Chris Riesbeck.  Chris will be at The Morgan to pour some extremely rare and fascinating drams.  Among them, Bladnoch is a rare Lowland distillery that closed and was recently reopened.  This selection is of the dwindling stocks of the old stuff.  Imperial is a Speyside distillery that closed in the 1990s and has been the topic of intense discussion in the whisky community lately because of rumors that Chivas might rebuild it.  Even if they do, however, it will be a new distillery inside the shell walls of an old ruined one and the Imperial whisky that Chris will be pouring comes from the dwindling stocks of a vanished beloved departed.  All of these selections are special and worthy of note.  It should be a terrific evening in a special venue.

Here is the official info:

An Evening Of Scotch at The Morgan Library With Gordon & MacPhail: 6 Single Malt Scotch Whiskies Exploring 4 Regions

Join The Morgan Dining Room for a tasting of six fabulous single malt Scotches from four different regions with Chris Riesbeck, Brand Ambassador for award-winning Gordon & MacPhail. The event will be held in the historic Morgan Dining Room located in the 19th century Morgan House mansion - former home of JP Morgan Jr. at The Morgan Library & Museum. This will be the first whisky event at this storied venue.

Friday, December 7th from 6pm-8pm

Whiskies to be served:
  • Connoisseurs Choice Bladnoch 17, Lowland
  • Connoisseurs Choice Jura 1997 12, Jura
  • Benromach 10, Speyside
  • Cask Strength Caol Ila 1999, Islay
  • Old Pulteney 21, Highland
  • Imperial Port Finished 15, Speyside

Charcuterie, nuts & cheese to be served

$80 if reserved by October 26th / $90 beginning October 27th
Pricing is inclusive of sales tax and staffing fee

For Reservations or Inquiries call 212-685-0008 x589

The Morgan Dining Room is located inside The Morgan Library & Museum
225 Madison Avenue, New York City,

The Morgan Dining Room

On (New York's premier whisky event listing site):

This event happened and was reviewed:

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Smooth Ambler Old Scout & Very Old Scout - Brokered Bourbon As TheRight Thing To Do.

Smooth Ambler is an exciting new craft distillery in Lewisburg West Virginia started in 2009 by John Little (and his father-in-law Tag Galyean) . They make a range of white spirits (a vodka, a gin, and a white dog whisky) but what John really wants to do is make Bourbon. Their young juice, called "Yearling" shows great promise. It's not straight bourbon yet, by law. It just needs more time in the wood to be that, and while their own juice ages they are independently bottling some nice barrels of LDI bourbon. This business of selling brokered Bourbon is a topic that engenders some hand wringing in some quadrants - but shouldn't in this particular case. Why? We want our brands to be "real". Yet many of us enjoy brokered Bourbon, Rye (and Scotch) on a regular basis that is labelled with the names of distilleries that don't exist (or no longer exist). Have you ever tried Black Maple Hill, Noah's Mill, Rowan Creek, Widow Jane, Johhnie Drum, Bulleit, Hirsch, Corner Creek, Jefferson's, Michter's or Whistlepig? These, and many more, are independent bottlings (and or vattings) of other people's juice and are labelled with brands that aren't actual distilleries (or aren't any more). This isn't fraud - it's whiskey brokerage and it was how most of the Bourbon business operated in days of yore.

However, there is a measure of dishonesty in the branding of some of those listed products. I confess I was a disappointed when I learned that Michter's was a brokerage product, and not a product of the historic Pennsylvania distillery of the same name (which is gone gone gone - razed to the ground gone). Read Chuck Cowdery's excellent piece of investigative journalism "The Best Whisky You'll Never Taste" for a detailed account of that distillery and what happened to it (and it's brand name). I wish that American regulations compelled bottlers to make plain the distillery of origin - as Scotland does. I encountered similar feelings with Black Maple Hill.

Well, Smooth Ambler is a different story. It is a genuine Anerican Small Craft Distiller who has chosen the arduous and narrow path of making real West Virginia Bourbon (and soon to be Straight Bourbon Whisky). They are brokering older whisky to pay the bills. They are not alone on this path. Active distillers selling independent bottlings while their own juice matures include Willett's, Breckenridge. There are plenty of other variations too, such as Pendleton's who distill their own white, but bottle someone else's brown. Folks like Willett's, Breckenridge, and Smooth Ambler are real distilleries actually making new real American Bourbon. That, to me, gives them a higher standing for selling brokered Bourbon than companies that are just brokerage houses without stills. The money isn't just profit for a dealer - it's operating capital that acts an investment in whiskey's expansion in America.

Smooth Ambler is fairly unusual, though, in selling both their own young Bourbon, and bottling someone else's older stuff at the same time - often side by side on the same shelf. They are keeping the branding straight by having created a distinct label for their independent bottlings: "Old Scout". They currently have two lines: "Old Scout" at 5-7 years old, and "Very Old Scout" at 11-20 or so years old. The stuff is sourced from Lawrenceburg Distillers Indiana (LDI). It's from a mash bill that features a very high amount of rye: 36% according to the Smooth Ambler web site. That amount of rye should isn't typical of Bourbon. Smooth Ambler is in pretty good company in getting juice from that big anonymous contract operation LDI. According to a very informative post last year on Sku's Recent Eats called "How do you know it's LDI?" the list of brands that use LDI juice includes: [High West & Templeton Rye] "Redemption Bourbon, Redemption Rye, Bulleit Rye, Temptation Bourbon, the new series of Willett three year old ryes, W.H. Harrison Bourbon, Big Bottom Bourbon, High Whiskey, Riverboat Rye and Smooth Ambler's Old Scout Bourbon."

FYI - Sku also recently reviewed Smooth Amber's Very Old Scout, Old Scout, and Old Scout rye:

So, be clear in your mind, when you buy Smooth Ambler Yearling or white spirits they are local products of West Virginia. When you buy Old Scout labelled whiskies they are from Indiana, but bottled in West Virginia. If this may makes you feel skeptical remember that purchases are political acts. When you buy a product you are supporting that business and that community. To that end, I personally feel good about supporting John Little and Smooth Ambler. I like the idea of someone making Bourbon in West Virginia. Real Straight Bourbon takes years to properly mature. We should nurture this project for the years required for Smooth Ambler's Yearling stock to become fully mature Straight Bourbon. It may turn out to be a significant gift to the world. Furthermore, West Virginia's economy is dominated by coal production - which isn't healthy for the inhabitants of WVa (or the World) from an environmental standpoint - or a long term economic one either. New business ventures succeeding in WVa are good for America. Given that you're going to drink Bourbon anyway - if all else is equal, supporting John Little's nascent project and WVa feels almost like a patriotic act to me. If the Bourbon is good that is...

Old Scout Batch 1 49.5% abv 5 years old

(bottle purchased at Park Avenue Liquors)

Color: Medium-light amber with copper glints.

Nose: Stewed apricot-peach compote, acetone, mint, corn pones with treacle syrup and distant lavender. A lovely nose. With extended time a musky sour & rich aroma like sourdough bread and marmalade and sweat come up. It all reads "Bourbon" to me and I like it.

Sweet & solventy on the open with an immediate salty earthy quality on the expansion. "Peanuts & violets" is how I put it to myself as sort of a metaphoric shorthand. There is floral sweet in sharp and solventy entry. Mint, and lavender play in the strong acetone of youth. The mouthfeel is light, but not thin. The mid palate is black pepper heat and earthy tang followed by a clear flavor of the aftermath of eating salt on the mid and sides of the tongue. I've noticed salty notes like this before in Wild Turkey 101 and Rittenhouse Rye. It meshes with the earthy dusky corn to come at a clear salted peanut effect. In fact, tasted blind I might mistake this for Wild Turkey 101 - buy there is more going on here, with the florals of the opening reflecting the high rye content of the mash bill. The finish is rather gentle compared to the fierce opening and mid. The spicy heat of pepper and drying salt fade without much wood tannins filling in. You are left drying, faintly oaked, basking in warm musky loam.

All in all, a wonderful bourbon experience. It's not state of the art value (Four Roses Single Barrel lives at this price point) but it's solid. Interesting. On the whole worth drinking. Be aware that current batches are older: 6 and 7 years old - but still LDI.


Very Old Scout 50% 14 year old

(sample generously provided by Smooth Ambler)

Color dark coppery amber

Nose: Nice bourbon nose of acetone, toffee citrus, phenol polish, faint glove leather and young pale tobacco. A bit more rounded and plummy and less solventy than the younger Old Scout.

The palate entry is sweet with caramel corn and oak filigree (yes, oak perfume up front), daisies and mums florals, and char. The midpalate thins and dries slightly at first, with a surprising lack of density in the mouth feel, but then the expansion hits, focused on a big 100 proof spirit prickle glow that brings radiant stewed stone fruit and citrus flavor slamming the back of the palate, with whiffs of mint. Dark salty olives emerge at the turn to the finish and oak and char join the dark and salt in the embers of the finish which is ultimately tannic, drying, and lighter than you'd think. This is big old bourbon. It's got the lean-ness in the mouth feel and the dryness in the mid palate I associate with age, but sweetness on the tongue up front and isn't overly wooded. I suspect that the vatting is giving additional amplitude fore and aft. There's a lot going on in the palate.

It's interesting to me to see the interplay of sweet and salt read as peanuts and violets in the younger Old Scout ends up like oily Kalamata olives in the Very Old Scout. I like both flavors and they aren't ones you get every day in Bourbon.


Update: If you put a nice dollop of water in your dram of VOS and let it air for a half and hour or so thinks open up dramatically with lots of sweet soft apricot peach citrus, leather, jujubes, cinnamon apple candy and red hots on the opening & mid. The back end Kalamata olives tease apart into a dose of complex oak incense trending into bitterness. VOS flirts with glory in this fashion. The dense cinnamon red hots are very very nice. A tad less oak bitters in the balance and this would be a solid five star selection.

Bottom line - these Old Scouts from Smooth Ambler are fine sipping Bourbon and are part of an interesting project well worth keeping an eye on.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Charbay S & R5: Younger Affordable Hops Freak

Charbay "S" gleams.
Whisky distilled from fully hopped finished beer. It's an oddly compelling idea. The luxury polish of a finely crafted beer as the starting point of a distillate is incredibly indulgent - well nigh hedonistic. But does the hops play nice? It does, according to such rave reviews as Stffen Bräuner (@Macdeffe)'s review of the hyper-rare 40 bottle issue of Charbay LAWS Edition 1 69.1% abv:

"A fantastic whisky. It's spectacular complex with unusual flavours, layered on a background of a solid whiskey in itself.
Rating 91
I really like this dram. IPA is also my favourite beer style. Who thought this could be part of a whiskey in a succesful way ?"

Charbay is primarily known as a winery and a distillery of flavored vodkas, fruit spirits, and a bevy of other boozy contrivances of effusive creativity. The whisky making operation where Marko Karakasevic produces whiskey from finished beer is up in Ukiah - hours to the North of the St. Helena Napa Valley location of the rest of Charbay. It's like a distant satellite - way out in left field. The early editions of Charbay's beer whisky were all rare, quite mature, and notoriously expensive (they all seemed to be in the $350 range). Recently, however, there have been a couple of editions that are much younger and much lower priced. These are the "R5" and "S" editions. "R5" stands for "Racer 5 IPA" from Bear Republic and "S" stands for Big Black Bear Stout from Bear Republic Brewing Co. They are each aged for less than two years and run in the $65-$80 price range for 750 ml. and are each bottled at 49.5% abv. (99 proof).

There has been some controversy to go with the love. For example on Sku' Recent Eats post titled: "The Three Most Underrated Distilleries" Steve Urey (Sku) raved about Charbay:

"Charbay. Despite the booming craft distillery movement in the US (my complete distillery list is still regularly updated), the American microdistillery movement has yet to produce a recognized stand-out. Charbay is sort of an oddball even among the innovative craft distillers. Marko Karakasevic produces whiskey from finished beer, which includes hops, and releases it in small quantities. Many whiskey fans may get turned off by the high prices that Charbay whiskeys go for, but there is simply nothing else like those hoppy whiskeys, and while I might grumble about the $350 price tag, Charbay makes truly unique American whiskey."

Tim Read presented a dissenting opinion in the comments sections - particularly in reference to these current lower priced releases (R5 & S):

"Charbay: While I certainly love the original batch of the hop flavored whiskey in its three different releases, the "S" release is not good (and based on what I've seen, there's little hope that R5 is much different - very young with minimal wood influence)... and then you've got Doubled & Twisted white whiskeys. I think the original $300 releases have set a tone that the rest of the output has not necessarily been on par with.

I'd say they're more unknown than underrated. S will be in the range of a lot of people who will try it and shake their heads at the people (like me) who raved about the other releases."

I hadn't tried the monster Charbay I & II releases (the $350 ones that were blowing people away) let alone the monster LAWS limited release. R5 and S were to my first experience with Charbay. They were not, however, my first experience with whisky made from fully finished hopped beer aged for less than 2 years, however. In Europe where whisky must be made from 100% grain and aged for 3 years in order to legally be called whisky, spirits made from finished beer cannot be whisky at all because of the hops content. Instead they are "Bierbrand" or "Eau de vie de bièr". These tend to be sold as white dog, but some are barrel aged for a year or two. I had been given a sample of a notable example: Adnam's Spirit of Broadside by Billy Abbott of London's remarkable The Whisky Exchange. Adnam's Spirit of Broadside is an amber colored richly flavored whisky (yes, I know it's not legally so in its host country - but whisky it truly is). Nutty, richly hopped, full of rich malt flavors. I was ready to go with Charbay.

Cole Emde of Drink IPA

However, I'm not very up on my beer. I used to be a major Stout and Porter enthusiast decades ago. But this India Pale Ale (IPA) thing is relatively new and I don't know my way around it particularly well, so I enlisted the help of an IPA specialist: IPA blogger Cole Emde (@idrinkipa) creator of the "Drink IPA" blog. If you drink IPA you should check it out. Cole has reviewed, oh about 85 or 90 IPAs. His reviews are concise but dense and to the point. I had attended an event where Cole had presented a lecture and a master tasting culminating in his own home brews. I could tell he would be able to orient me on the flavor signature of Racer5 IPA for a head to head tasting of Charbay R5 and Racer5 IPA. I wanted an IPA specialist for more than just expertise about beer, however. IPA freaks are hop heads. Hops, with its skunky pine aromatic fruity bitter power motivates people like the aromas and flavors of peat do for peat heads in the whisky world. Recognition of what drives hops mania is the key to understanding Charbay whisky.

Charbay R5 and Bear Republic Racer 5 IPA

Racer 5 IPA

The whisky from a pour generously provided by a bartender at Ward III in Tribeca. Tasted with Bear Republic Racer 5 sourced from World of Beer NYC @38 &1st

Racer 5 west coast IPA was freshness dated 6/20/12 and tasted on 9/26/12 - a week under 3 months. That's not peak freshness, but the IPA certainly didn't taste stale.

The IPA is gold (pale) with orange amber tints. The whisky is rich gold with amber glints.

Nose: The IPA is richly redolent of stone fruits (nectarine, peach, and apricot) with a malty sweetness. The whisky is missing the lighter fruitier volatiles and comes of as a polished rounded, less exciting, version of the same aromas.

On the palate the IPA displays an almost gewertzramer lychee fruit wineyness. Rich herbal hops bitterness blooms at the mid and builds in bite at the finish. On the whole, however, the IPA's palate is not as richly flavored as the nose. The whisky is just the opposite.

Charbay R5 49.5% abv

Nose: Hops, warm malty sugars, stone fruit apricot peach, and chamois musk. It's a lovely nose, although outclassed in fruity freshness and effusion by the beer.

Charbay R5 explodes on the palate. Sweet and richly hopped there is a titanic burst of IPA style hops flavor on entry. Effervescent texture, thickness in the mouth feel. Sweetness of malt sugars. Complex with the interplay of bright fruit, skunky pine, and dense malt. Malt and the turn to bitterness dominate the mid-palate and the hops bitterness builds up over sips. R5 is utterly delicious and delivers a massive hops hit that should delight hops heads. There isn't much oak and the finish is a bit one note, but this skirts very close to 5 star territory for me.


For the record, Cole didn't like the whisky. His palate is accustomed to beer and the Charbay R5's intensity of flavor was too much for him. Let that be a lesson to you. This isn't a casual dram.

Does the "S" deliver the same level of satisfaction?

Charbay S 49.5% Lot S211A

Sourced from Caskers.
Color: light amber old gold with tan glints

Nose: Skunky notes of hops lead the way, muted and caramelized with Mailard toffee aromas, cantaloup melon, candied orange and musk. Big, broad, heavy, sweet & pungent.

Entry is surprisingly thin and lithe after the blunt sweet sap of the nose. It sings with a sweet honeydew melon flavor up front which morphs rapidly into a intense pure essence of honeyed herbal pungent hops. My palate can practically see the sap laden hairs on the guard leaves. Then darker malts take over and the hops turns to bitter wallop. Over repeated sips the dark heavy malt and bitterness come to dominate. It's a sweet powerful flavor - one that is very original and new. However, the darker balance here doesn't suit me. The R5 sings with brighter more fruity acid aromatic pine notes to counterbalance the heavier malt and dense bitters. The S's fruit is a heavy sweet overripe melon that melds to a heavy sweet malt and dark bitter bloom. Like the R5 it's too young to have tannins or oak perfume so there's nothing to lighten or divert. I find the S to have extraordinary flavors for a few sips. I don't find myself relishing the whole glass. Recommended for hops heads. But R5 is preferred here.


I'm well aware that S and R5 are under two years old and are "Eau de vie de bièr" and not true whiskies in the European sense, but both succeed, as does Adnams, by delivering the rich hops and malt flavors of top notch beer with the flavor intensity of a distilled beverage. I haven't tried the mature Charbays that move the experts to flights of rapture, but I suspect that they have the complexity of wood and some additional concentration of flavors going on. That shouldn't be considered a knock on these young Charbays but consumers need to understand that Charbay has mature expensive beer whisky and finely crafted younger "Eau de vie de bièr" and they are not necessarily the same thing. Don't let that stop you from enjoying these finely crafted Eau de vie de bièrs. If you are a hops head this might be all the way up your alley.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Ardbeg Supernova 2010 vs Octomore 2.1

Ardbeg Supernova - the extreme model from the maker of serious peat monsters. I miss a lot of Ardbeg special releases, sadly. They are all good and many are excellent. I've been reviewing Octomores and Gal Granov, the incredibly gregarious, intelligent, questing and amazingly active master of the Israeli food and booze blogging scene via Whisky Israel among others, asked me how the Octomores compared with Supernova. When I said I had never tried any of them we got busy setting up a trade and I recently received a sample of the 2010 edition from Gal.

Ardbeg Supernova barely there in the glass; huge on the palate

Ardbeg makes peat monsters and when Bruichladdich concocted Octomore, the most heavily peated whisky in the world, Ardbeg quite reasonably derived a competing version. Ardbeg has released fewer versions and less total volume of this intense fire water than Laddie - and they never quite got the peat phenol levels as obscenely far into the stratosphere as Laddie did (and continues to do) with Octomore. However, as anyone who has marveled at the heavy peat flavors of Lagavulin and Laphroaig (which taste mighty peaty at comparatively tiny phenol levels) the ppm number doesn't tell the whole story. I had to see which peat monster tweaked my peat freak tail the hardest.

Ardbeg SuperNova 2010 60.1%

Color: Pale straw

Nose: light and youthful spring meadow with floral vanilla and a kiss of lemon over a darker foreboding with spirit heat, clay, putty, and some distant petrol and auto garage.

Palate The entry is pointed and sweet with malt sugars, grassy and clean. There are gentle intonations of vigorous juicyfruit and jujubee berries on a thin light mouth feel. And then hits a roaring big expansion of spirit heat with vigorous big and classically maritime Ardbeg peat. The peat blooms into massive intensity, well melded with sweet. It is a huge, visceral, pulsating burn. At the turn to the finish it becomes massively bitter and ashen - like the gray end of a fine cigar. The intense ash fades over an extensive period of time progressing though herbal bitters and eventually into a gentle cherry and malty residual sweet glow on your blasted palate.

A dash of water ups the citrus lemon note in the nose and increases the angularity of the sugars. However the mouthfeel is noticeably richer and the pointy sweetness of entry rendered more honeyed. There more pepper and spice in the huge peat expansion.

Bottom line here, Ardbeg Supernova 2010 is a huge peat monster and a delicious dram with a lot going on flavor-wise.


Read Gal's review of it:

The general consensus in the blogosphere seems to be that Supernova 2010 is more citrus and fruit and less phenol and slam than the 2009 edition.  That sounded a lot like the general consensus about the difference between Octomore 01.1 (phenol and slam) and Octomore 2.1 (more sweet and heather - despite higher phenol levels).

Given the sweetness of Supernova and the legacy of the turn to the light between the 2009 and 2010 expressions I decided to skip the heavy petrol of Octomore 01.1 for the head to head comparison.. It was a toss up, for me, between the razor sharp 4.1 or the slightly more rounded 2.1. It seemed like splitting hairs and I have a fresh full bottle of 02.1 and only a couple of ounces of 4.1 so I queued up a dram of Octomore 02.1 straight away.

Octomore 2.1 62.5% 140ppm 5 yo

Color: pale yellow - a tiny touch darker than the pale pale Supernova

Nose: grassy sweet over industrial putty, clay. But where Ardbeg Supernova features floral and lemon notes, Octomore features a darker nasal palate with grass and grain sugars rather than flowers and more peat (clay) notes in evidence.

Palate: Ardbeg opens with pointed malt sugars and young grassy grain too, but more a tiny bit more heft, a thicker mouthfeel, and a slightly bigger mid palate expansion of ash, and tar. Octomore 2.1 has lemon citrus in the turn to the finish. There are maritime notes, iodine, sea air, kalamata olives. With repeated
sips the peat burn builds, but so does a creamy vanilla quality.  This is classic Octomore: grassy malty heather sweet entry followed by a titanic mid palate expansion of explosive peat and rich maritime flavor elements.  The palate experience divides cleanly into two divergent and opposite halves like the twin nature of Man: light and dark; good and evil.  Sweet angelic honey sugar sunlight and monstrous burning ashy tar laden hellfire.


Dramming them side by side I'm struck by how distinct the flavor profiles are: Ardbeg with more floral, citrus, and black pepper; Octomore with more honeyed malt, meadow, tar and cream.  The Ardbeg tastes so distinctly of Ardbeg and the Octomore is clearly in the peated Bruichladdich house style.  Yet I'm also struck by how similar they are to each other. Sweet and young up front with titanic peat wallops and huge tarry finishes. They are both true to what they are and clear Islay kin. Two different routes to the top of peat monster mountain. So, which is king? Octomore is darker and more convincing peat monster from the perspective of the density of burn. However Ardbeg Supernova is just ever so slightly more delicious from my perspective.  They are both monsters and both superb.  It's an academic question anyway.  Both are limited editions and both are long sold out in most places.