the whisky lounge - a journal tracking a whisky maturation project involving a newly-acquired oak cask and a significant amount of patience

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Alexander Henry

Depending on your mastery of random esoterica, you're probably wondering one of two things:

  1. Who is Alexander Henry and what does he have to do with a post that's late by a whole week?

  2. or

  3. What does a late eighteenth-century fur-trader from New Jersey have to do with a whisky blog?
Rightly so. An explanation is in order.

When not enjoying the mysteries of good whisky, I do actually have a day job which sometimes does weird things to my schedule. This is one of those times. I had to travel to lovely Kingston, Ontario for work, and unexpectedly (and unpreparedly, I might add) found I had to stay substantially longer than the few hours I'd originally expected. I ended up staying on a retired Coast Guard Great Lakes Ice Breaker which is now a B&B. I think my cabin said I was a First Mate or something. Why the Canadian Coast Guard chose to name a ship after a fur-trader from New Jersey is one of those mysteries best left unresolved.

In any case, the extra time in K-town threw a monkeywrench into my schedule, and I'm just now getting caught up on the stuff I couldn't do while I was away. Such as blogging. At least I had a good time in Kingston, though it was a whisky-free trip. Props to Deirdre for providing entertainment.

Back to the important stuff: whisky! The Glen Parker has been doing its thing for nearly two weeks now, which is longer than I've left anything before. The changes are profound.

The nose was just hinting at crab apple blossoms last time. This has become a strong violet blossom fragrance, which combines quite nicely with the still-strong liquorice. It's actually less noticeably smokey now, which is interesting. Specifically, it reminds me of the smoke from apple-scented tobacco that I recall people smoking from a hookah from my university days. I hung out with archaeology students. We have strange hobbies. There's also a hint of a breeze through a forest in spring time: fresh foliage. It's rather nice, actually.

My god. I just used the phrase "rather nice" to describe a Glen Parker.

The sandalwood and oak I'd noticed in the taste the last time are really evident today. There is no more pine resin whatsoever. The liquorice on the nose is still here in the taste, but the black pepper I noticed last time is faint. So is the vanilla, but it is there. I recall thinking it was very pungent to begin with, but that's vanished. It's far from the smoothest dram in my collection, but it's miles better than it started.

I'll give it one more week just to see if some of the edge comes off. and since I foresee no trips to Kingston or anywhere else in the near future, when I say a week, this time I'll really mean it.

Cheers,

Ian

Monday, June 16, 2008

At Last We Meet

I can think of no better way to take a short break from a Monday's hard work than to sit back and sample a whisky in the name of science. Working at home does have its advantages. :-)

You will doubtlessly remember just how terrible the Glen Parker was when it began. It's been showing a definite improvement over the past several weeks, but at last check was still far from something I'd want to drink, let alone serve to anyone with functional tastebuds. However, I'm now very pleased to report that the impossible has indeed happened: the formerly bland and unappealing Glen Parker has a definite character! And it's not even an off-putting character at that. It's finally starting to show some uniqueness that doesn't derive from fishiness.

The nose exhibits good strong liquorice, rich tobacco smoke and a hint of the blossoms from the crab apple trees that grew on my street when I was a child. I think that's the mystery fruity smell I'd been finding. It's still not a marvellous nose, though: the tobacco-liquorice combo is still a bit unintegrated. I find them both, but they haven't blended. All in all, though, a definite improvement.

On the tongue, things are much better than they started. It's continued the trend of moving away from resinous pine and into oak, cedar and sandalwood territory. It's not got the coniferous tang any longer. There's a hint of hard toffee, the slightest tinge of vanilla (finally!) and some black pepper and liquorice. It's got a long finish with some cinnamon, but I still must report that the peculiar pungency is still faintly there, underlying everything. The very end of the finish reveals a hint of freshly-cut hardwood. At least it doesn't taste like I'm licking a sturgeon any longer.

So, we're finally getting somewhere. It's still far from my favourite, but I'm now no longer in doubt that it will be thoroughly drinkable after maybe a few more weeks.

The cask, by the way, is holding up perfectly with the new cork: the seal holds completely. Pouring is a bit adventuresome, but hey: who doesn't need a bit of adventure now and again?

Catch you later,

Ian

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

As If We Needed Another Reason to Pay Attention to Islay

Hi there,

If you are going to be on the island of Islay in the middle of August and have £25 burning a hole in your pocket, why not check out the only chance you're likely to have of seeing a whisky barrel dropped from a helicopter by parachute?

It's apparently a one-off event to raise money for local charities, and it involves whisky, so it gets my stamp of approval. The prizes range from a gigantic bundle of money to accommodations at a hotel during a whisky festival to your own personal hogshead full of sweet, smoky delicious whisky to a number of bottles of the peaty nectar from the island.

If you're interested, check it out here: http://www.spotthewhiskybarrel.com/index.htm

In other news, my new cork is holding up perfectly, so the cask is now back to usable shape with narry an escaped droplet since the repairs. Thank goodness! While I may not get any further use out of it after the Glen Parker, or at most might get one more shot, I'll at least be able to finish up the experiment.

Cheers,

Ian

Friday, June 6, 2008

Eschatology / How Do You Do, Mr Austin?

We can rebuild him...We have the technology.

This post has something very much in common with my cask. It now looks a little different than when I started.

Two samplings ago, I noticed something was up. At that point, the cask was to be set upside down (as it needs to be rotated weekly). I noticed shortly after doing so that it was dripping. "No big deal," I thought. It had happened before, and the cause was a poorly seated cork. Easily fixed.

No dice.

It was still as drippy as Toby Marks. So I tried again, and it seemed to be holding, so I left it alone and thought nothing more about it until I sampled it again Friday evening. At that point, I found a wet patch on the bare wood upon which it had been sitting, and the cork itself soaked through. Obviously, it had been leaking, albeit very slowly.

So, I looked examined everything carefully and found the culprit: the spigot had cracked. Have a gander if you please:

[feel free to embiggen the photo by clicking thereupon]

The angle is a bit off here, but the crack you see near the hole and the one further to the right are actually along the same section of grain in the wood; it's one long crack. You can see the dark staining from leaked whisky.

I don't know the cause of the crack, but that's clearly the problem; without a more-or-less airtight seal at the cork and at the spigot, too much air leaks in allowing the liquid to escape. Think, if you will, about science class when you were a kid. Remember your teacher holding up a sealed vessel filled with water and with a hole at the bottom? Nothing poured out if the hole was small enough due to the magic of surface tension. Open the top of the container, and everything spilled out of the bottom hole. The same principal applies here.

I figured the jig was up. With a cracked spigot, I would be unable to seal the cask, and no matter what, excessive leakage would occur, meaning the cask was more or less useless. It was at that point that I hung my head in sadness and started writing this post under its original title. I fully expected that I might not even be able to finish the Glen Parker experiment, which would leave me with a bottle of undrinkably awful whisky, and nothing further to write about, meaning this blog, such as it is, would come to an abrupt end. Perish the thought!

Fortunately, however, I happened to do a very stupid thing today which, in the end, turned out to be most beneficial. I decided that even though it was eight bazillion degrees outside, I wanted to go to Art in the Park by bicycle instead of by some more sensible (and air-conditioned) vehicle. The art show was quite nice, but the ride home was even better; it took me past a hardware store that happened to sell wine-making supplies. I decided to stop in because 1: they had air-conditioning, and 2: I thought there was a microscopic chance they might have a spigot small enough to fit a 1-litre cask like mine. They didn't, but they did happen to sell small bags of baby corks for what must be wee, tiny bottles. At $2 for 12, I couldn't go wrong, so bought a bag, raced home, wrenched out the spigot, thrust in a cork, and voila! No more leaks! Here's a photo, complete with the staining from excessive dribbling and a fresh, new cork:



So now, I have what: a cyborg cask? A Frankencask? I don't know. I prefer to think of it as the Steve Austin of whisky barrels. Maybe it'll even make some cool sound effects when I pour the whisky. :-)

So to all of you with your own casking projects on the go: watch out for cracked spigots! Perhaps a visit to your friendly neighbourhood purveyor of corks would be advisable before it becomes a problem. Who knows how much sweet, sweet whisky I lost while unable to stop the dripping? Thank goodness it wasn't the good stuff. :-)

Cheers,

Ian

How Do You Do, Mr. Radd?

If you read comic books (which I don't), you'll be familiar with the story of a Mr. Norrin Radd, a young astronomer from the far-off planet Zenn-La. He's a rather regular chap, with friends and a family and all the usual stuff, but he does have one characteristic which distinguishes him from all the other Zenn-Lavians. He and only he is the Herald of the Devourer of Planets.

Why am I mentioning Norrin Radd at all? Well, his story actually has some significance for this week's (slightly belated, sorry) test of the Glen Parker Speyside which has been in the Whisky Works cask for about a month now. Both were introduced in their respective realms as villains, and both ended up having characteristics rather heroic.

OK, it's fair to say that calling Glen Parker "heroic" is about the overstatement of the century, other than perhaps "your mobile phone plan will cost only $30 per month," but it's fitting. The Glen Parker started its life as abysmal. It then was merely terrible. Then only bad. Today, I'm happy to report it's merely somewhat unpleasant. It's not exactly going to rise against its boss and help the Fantastic Four save humanity, but it is going to be something I don't want to immediately pour down the drain. Not that I think it's enjoyable yet, but still: any improvement is good in my books.

On the nose, the faint tobacco smoke I noticed last week is still there. It's still quite faint, though. Weirdly enough, I'm finding a butter frosting, like you'd get on cheap store-bought cinnamon rolls. There's also that weird fruit that I still can't identify despite my best efforts. Not quite strawberry and not quite lychee, it's along those lines. There's the faintest hint of black tea as well, but it's so faint, I barely notice it. It's far from the nicest smelling whisky in my collection, but it's now not thoroughly malodorous, either.

The taste is still reminiscent of conifers, though it's rounding out with a robust oakiness as well. There's even a vein of sandalwood running through it, but not overwhelmingly. It's tarry, iodiney. The same mystical fruit in the nose is here, and it's equally impossible to identify. The fishiness I'd noticed earlier in the process is gone now, I'm happy to report. It's still a bit too pungent for me, with the tang of iodine and the fruit combining in a less than pleasant way, but it's getting better.

My mission this week is to go out and buy a bunch of different types of fruit to see if I can figure out what the heck I'm tasting and smelling in here. I promise I'll do my damndest to identify it for you guys.

At the rate the whisky is improving, but also accounting for how awful it was at the beginning, I'll have at least a few more weeks before it becomes drinkable.

Oh, yes: colour. The colour hasn't changed a bit since last week. In the past, that has meant that it's acheived the final colour it will reach, so I don't expect it to change any further. But who knows, maybe it'll surprise me...

Until then,

Ian