Big Blends of the Highlands

GLENTURRET & THE FAMOUS GROUSE EXPERIENCE

Since we’ve already discussed just how prominent Blended Whiskies are as compared to their Single Malt counterparts, then Glenturret & Aberfeldy (coming tomorrow) are two great places to discuss further, as they make up the key building blocks to two of the world’s most loved Blended Whiskies: Famous Grouse & Dewar’s.

Glenturret Distillery is located a mere hour away from Glasgow, and as such, it’s one of the most visited distilleries in all of Scotland.  It’s also the facility that houses “The Famous Grouse Experience,” a state-of-the-art visitor center geared toward (you guessed it), their best-selling blend.

While Blended Whiskies don’t really have a rightful home, often their consumer-facing Visitor Centers are located at the home of their most prominent Single Malt blending components.  Such is the case with Glenturret, a Single Malt distilleries focused on their iconic Grouse brand.

Famous Grouse is part of the Edrington portfolio, a collection of other notable whiskies including Highland Park and Macallan.  Until 2014, Remy Cointreau had served as the Edrington importer in the U.S., but late last year, the company announced the creation of their own operation here in the U.S.

The Famous Grouse has four main expressions that make their portfolio:

THE FAMOUS GROUSE — their classic blend

THE SNOW GROUSE — designed to be served cold

THE BLACK GROUSE — with smokier hints than their signature Grouse

THE NAKED GROUSE — matured in sherry casks

The brand also offers a handful of Glenturret Single Malt expressions.

http://www.thefamousgrouse.com/

A Farewell Cocktail for a New York Legend

As Eater and the NY Times have both reported, long-time New Yorker and bartending legend Jim Meehan is packing up his bar tools and moving to Portland.  Though he’s a Midwesterner by blood, Jim has been a staple in the NYC bar community, and has created two of the world’s most iconic cocktail bars, PDT and Death & Co.  He’s written for countless publications, including Food & Wine and GQ, published his own books, and even created the most over-the-top, One Percenter bar carryall out there (if you’ve got $800 to spare, that is).

But Jim isn’t one of my favorite bartenders for those reasons, it’s because he’s a great guy.  Part Midwestern Nice, part Bar Nerd, he’s been one of my favorite people to work with here in New York.  New York will miss him, but Portland is lucky to be getting one of the country’s best.

In honor of his impending departure, I’ll be mixing a drink in his honor tonight.  It’s an Arnold Palmer riff he created for a Canadian Whisky event we worked on together last year.  The perfect drink to toast to him tonight on this balmy summer day.

Cheers to you, and happy trails!

TORONTO ICED TEA

INGREDIENTS:

  • 3 oz. Strong Brewed Iced Tea (Jim recommends Ceylon Iced Tea from In Pursuit of Tea)
  • 1.25 oz. Crown Royal Canadian Whisky (or other Canadian Whisky)
  • .5 oz. Lemon Juice
  • .5 oz. Simple Syrup
  • .25 oz. Fernet Branca

DIRECTIONS:

Stir and strain into a chilled Collins glass filled with ice.  Garnish with half an orange wheel.

The Scotch Life: The Best Cure for Jetlag? Whisky.

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What’s the best cure for jetlag?  SCOTCH.  That was the first thing we learned when stepping off the plane, when we were transported to Diageo’s newest facility in the Highlands, the Diageo Whisky Archive at Menstrie.  Simply put: when we walked into this room, with bottles stacked as high as the library’s 18-foot ceiling, it completely slipped my mind that I was running on a time change.

With our jetlag promptly cured and forgotten, we spent some time culling through hundreds of glass cases jam packed with spirits bottles, some dating back hundreds of years.  It was there that we had a small whisky primer, delivered by Nick Morgan of Diageo.

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From there, we toured Cambus, Diageo’s cooperage, to get a bit of an overview on the barrel making process.  While a cooperage is essentially a working factory (with none of the sex appeal of the Scotch distilleries, warehouses, or their glamorous visitor centers), it does help demonstrate how much care and attention goes into the entire whisky-making process; as we know with American Whiskey, the aging process is just as important at the distilling process, and a well-produced barrel is of paramount importance.

Here’s what we learned from Diageo: as mentioned previously, the overwhelming volume in the Scotch Whisky category globally comes from blended Scotch Whisky sales.  Yes, the single malts that are the building blocks for these blends are fantastic on their own (each with a distinct flavor profile and character), but they are fundamentally ingredients for blends.

Second, the industry is just as much about technological innovation as it is about upholding the traditional whisky styles that have been perfected over hundreds of years.

The most obvious takeaway, however, was the sheer magnitude of the Diageo portfolio.  At its core, Diageo is a whisky company, and owns around 30 distilleries in Scotland.

 

The Scotch Life (Pinch Me Edition)

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In addition to regular visits to some of the most iconic distilleries here in the U.S., I also have the privilege to explore the distillery landscape overseas.  While my friends and family’s work trips consist of in-office meetings to discuss synergy and other headache-inducing buzzwords, I’m lucky enough to spend my time touring, tasting, and learning about this dynamic, crazy industry I love.

In late June, I took off for an 8-day adventure in Scotland.  12 distilleries, hundreds of miles, meaty meals that would make a vegetarian cry, castles with ghost-storied histories, and one hell of an adventure.  It brought to me to the Highlands, the Lowlands, to Speyside and Islay.

It only took me 3 weeks to post, but I lived to tell about it.

Here it is, my Scotch files…

But first, a quick Scotch 101.  Here are the basics.  

According to the Scotch Whisky Association, SCOTCH WHISKY is:

  • Produced at a distillery in Scotland from water and malted barley (to which only whole grains of other cereals may be added)
  • Distilled to less than 190 proof
  • Wholly matured in Scotland in oak casks
  • Aged for at least 3 years
  • Contains no added substances, other than water and plain caramel coloring
  • Bottled at last least 80 proof

SCOTCH TYPES

  1. Single Malt: produced from only water and malted barley at a single distillery by batch distillation in pot stills
  2. Single Grain: distilled at a single distillery but which, in addition to water and malted barley, may also be produced from whole grains of other malted or unmalted cereals
  3. Blended Malt: a blend of two or more Single Malt Scotch Whiskies from different distilleries
  4. Blended Scotch Whisky: a combination of one of more Single Malt and Single Grain whiskies
  5. Blended Grain Whiskey: a blend of two or more Single Grain Scotch Whiskies from different distilleries

REGIONS

Image courtesy of SWA

Image courtesy of SWA

 

There are a handful of different Scotch Whisky regions.  Though the regions tend to be associated with specific flavor profiles (like Islay, known for its big, smoky Scotches), these are by no means hard and fast rules.  There are plenty of exceptions within each region, so use the regions as a geographical guide, not necessarily a flavor-driven guide.

Keeping Categories in Perspective.  As Nick Morgan, Head of Whisky Outreach for Diageo noted, the behemoth within the Scotch industry isn’t the much-loved, much-covered, much-buzzed about Single Malt category, it’s Blended Scotch Whisky, which accounts for well over 90% of all Scotch Whisky sales globally.  At their core, Single Malts are the key building blocks and blending components for the massive Blended Scotch Whisky category. 

 

LIKE BOURBON & IRISH WHISKEY, SCOTCH IS ALSO CONTRIBUTING TO THE GLOBAL WHISKEY BOOM.  According to the Distilled Spirits Council, 9.6 million 9-liter cases of Scotch were sold in the United States in 2013, generating nearly $2 billion in revenues for distillers.

Wonders of Summer: Blueberry Currant Whiskey Smash

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This summer, I’m participating in the West Village CSA, a local farm share, which means that once a week, I’m the lucky recipient of a hodgepodge of organic, New York-grown produce.

While every Tuesday feels like Christmas in July (as I eagerly rip open up my overstuffed bags of each week’s harvest), that moment of sheer joy quickly tranforms into that odd feeling at the end of a White Elephant Holiday Party.  I always feel like I’m leaving with an assortment of the most random things possible, and I’m never quite sure if I’m losing or winning.

Either way, it’s a great exercise that forces me to get creative in the kitchen, and most importantly, in the bar.

Here’s what I whipped up last night with a half pint full of fresh summer currants.

Happy sipping!

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BLUEBERRY & CURRANT WHISKEY SMASH

INGREDIENTS:

  • 1.5 ounces Bourbon whiskey (I used Jim Beam Signature Craft)
  • ¾ ounce fresh lemon juice
  • ¾ ounce currant-infused simple syrup (recipe below)
  • Blueberries

DIRECTIONS:

Muddle a small handful of blueberries in a cocktail shaker.  Add bourbon, lemon and simple syrup and pour into a rocks glass filled partially with crushed ice.  Stir.  Fill rest of glass with crushed ice, and garnish with blueberries or fresh mint.

CURRANT-INFUSED SIMPLE SYRUP

INGREDIENTS:

  • 2 cups sugar
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 cup fresh currants

DIRECTIONS:

Combine sugar and water and bring to a boil.  Once all sugar has dissolved (the liquid will be clear), add the currants and simmer for 20 minutes.  Remove from heat, strain and refrigerate until use.

Currant Syrup