My Whiskey Journey

I’ve always been a big guy.  In high school, I was tall and chunkier than most of my classmates (looking back at pictures, though, I certainly don’t look overweight).  In college, I put on the freshman fifteen and didn’t look back.  The same continued through law school, and then I entered the real world.  Real sedentary.  My weight maintained a steady climb for years.  This type of increase is perfect for your stock portfolio, but horrible for your health.

This past December, I made the cliched decision to start a diet in the new year.  I spent all kinds of time researching, and ultimately decided that the choice for me was what is known as the Primal or Paleo diet.  Without getting into detail, the concept is to eat good whole foods.  Lots of meat, veggies and fruits.  At the same time, I cut out all grains and added sugars.  (Side note: if you are interested, I’ve lost 22 lbs in under two months.  A good site for further info is Mark’s Daily Apple.)

Why mention my new way of eating?  Because it demanded a new way of drinking as well.  My beloved beer had to go.  I had grown quite fond of relaxing with a nice IPA.  A Victory Hop Devil if at all possible.  But now my new diet overlords were telling me that drinking that beer was about the same as eating a couple of slices of bread – a serious no-no in Paleoland.

Ahhh, memories.

But I still needed a Friday night relaxation lubricant, and I had two options: wine and whiskey.  (Side note #2: the spelling of “whisk(e)y” has been explained repeatedly.  My plan will be to use “whisky” for fun brown drinks from Scotland and Canada, and “whiskey” for fun brown drinks from elsewhere.  I chose the added “e” in my blog title because I’m from a “whiskey” country.  And also because “whiskywriter” was already taken on WordPress.)  I had recently done some experimentation with wine while living in San Francisco, and it just didn’t captivate me.  But whiskey intrigued.

The reason whiskey is so intriguing is the fanatacism of its fans.  People talk about their favorite Scotches the way they talk about their children, but with slighlty greater enthusiasm.  Run a couple of Google searches – there are easily 50 outstanding whiskey blogs (some linked to in the sidebar of this blog), if not two or three times that amount.  These people are devoted.  Also, whiskey (and Scotch in particular) is just so manly.  As a man, I’m supposed to eat bloody steaks, savor a good Scotch, and smoke stinky cigars.  Well, with Paleo, my steak intake is through the roof.  It is time to up my Scotch savoring as well (I’ll never be a cigar smoker).

At the start of the year and the new diet, my interest in whiskey had already lead me to purchase (and sample) two bottles – Highland Park 12 and Buffalo Trace Bourbon.  My impressions at the time were that the Buffalo Trace was outstanding (especially considering its sub-$25 price tag) – smooth, spicy and just eminently drinkable.  My impression of the HP 12 (shield your eyes now, whisky lovers) was that it was just very difficult to get into.  I wasn’t immediately into that level of smoke (and I’m still far from a smoke lover).  Little Thunder, who generally sticks to inexpensive Shirazes, opined that the Highland Park “tastes like hot dogs.”  And I couldn’t totally disagree.

It grew on me.

Once I started focusing on these in earnest, I just needed to try more.  I needed variety.  I went on something of a buying spree (which really hasn’t stopped yet).  I made impulse buys of Glenmorangie Quinta Ruban and 1792 Ridgemont Reserve Bourbon.  After some research, I decided that I had to dip my toe into the Irish pool, so I got a bottle of Jameson 12.  With two Scotches and two bourbons but just one Irish, I decided that I couldn’t take the asymmetry, so I picked up a Red Breast 12.  My shelf looked pretty good at that point.

Soon after, at the liquor store with Little Thunder, I saw that they had Bushmill’s Black Bush on sale, so I picked up a bottle of that (but put it in the cabinet and out of view, for symmetry purposes).  I eventually finished the HP 12 and the Buffalo Trace, and replaced them with Old Pulteney 12 and Eagle Rare, respectively.

Before the HP 12 was kicked, though, I had an epiphany.  I just had a night where everything came together.  I was in the right mood, I was reading the right book, and the dram was just behaving perfectly.  The whisky’s flavors sang.  It had that beautiful mouthfeel and long finish (at least to my inexperienced taste) and I just sat there and realized that I needed more, more, more.

After some time with two each of Scotch, bourbon and Irish, I had to give Scotch its due.  Scotch is just too popular, and too varied from whisky to whisky, and there are just too many different Scotches to try.  Plus, the HP 12 had me drooling for a similar experience.  So I decided to up the ratio to four Scotches, two bourbons and two Irish whiskeys.  I studied a bit, and this time opted for a couple of drams that appeared to be a little more beginner-friendly: The Balvenie DoubleWood and a Compass Box Asyla (I wanted to include a blend in my four).

So I now stand with the following: Glenmorangie Quinta Ruban, Old Pulteney 12, Balvenie DoubleWood, Compass Box Asyla, Red Breast 12, Black Bush (I’ve finished the Jameson 12), 1792 bourbon, and Eagle Rare.  In all, a decent start to a collection.

Each of those whiskeys will be reviewed on this page in the coming weeks and months.  I’ll also touch on other topics.  My use of water in whiskey.  My future whiskey-related purchases (i.e., glassware and books).  My whiskey wish list (already a good 8 or 9 bottles long for Scotch alone).  My desire to make my whiskey hobby more social.  The seeming dearth of whiskey clubs or good whiskey bars in the Philadelphia area.  And on and on.

Finally, a word on Jameson 12.  People debate what is the best Scotch to get a whisky rookie hooked.  I’d offer up Jameson 12.  Obviously, I know this isn’t Scotch, but boy is it accessible.  So smooth with (for me) a perfect sweetness and just a little complexity.  Expensive for Irish, yes, but less than the great majority of single malts.  I may look back a year from now and cringe when reading this, but I would drink that stuff morning, noon and night, eight days a week.  Not just that, but it truly girded my belief that I need to go ahead and see what is out there in the world of great whiskey.

Maybe I'm crazy?

That’s where I stand.  I’m obviously a rookie’s rookie.  Join me as my journey as my tastes evolve and I, you know, get less stupid.  Hopefully.

Cheers,

WW

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7 comments on “My Whiskey Journey

  1. Chuck says:

    Nice write up man. I have a few of the bottles you mentioned and a couple I could suggest given your opinions on the ones you have. G-LO would probably be a good brain to pick about the philly area. Overall this is a good start, and I look forward to reading more of your, reviews! Keep it up!

    Slainte,
    Chuck

    • Thanks for the kind words, Chuck. I make sure to check out G-Lo’s blog often, not only for the great reviews and discussions, but also for info on Philly area whiskey goings on.

      Also, I’d love to hear any suggestions for next purchases.

      Cheers,
      WW

  2. G-LO says:

    Totally with you on the Philly Whisk(e)y scene. It’s nowhere near as diverse as New York City or maybe even DC. But… it looks like Bourbon is on the rise and other Whiskeys are catching on too thanks to guys like Jose Garces and his ever expanding restaurant empire. While I enjoy the occasional Whisk(e)y at the bar, I think it’s wayyyyy overpriced. Besides, Philly is the Craft Beer Capital of the East Coast, so when I’m out and about in the area, beer is king.

    As far as your first steps, I’d say you’re off to a great start. Nice post!

    Cheers!
    G-LO

  3. Thanks for the nice words, G-LO. As to the Philly scene, you are right in that Village Whiskey in particular offers a nice selection. But if I want to try some Dalmore 12 (retail price of $40), I have to drop $20. Half the price of the bottle! It’s pretty much a non-starter. I work near The Cooperage, which has a decent selection at somewhat better prices, but still, it will set you back. On top of that, none of the local liquor stores (that I know of) offer any miniature selection of note. So it makes tasting new whiskies tough.

    • G-LO says:

      I have yet to try Village Whisky, mostly because of the price. But then I read an interview with Garces in Whisky Advocate, and now I really want to go splurge a bit. I think Bourbon is the better value at the bars as far as whisky goes.

      Totally agree about The Cooperage. I had drinks there one night in November. Nice bar. Nice selection. Much better prices. How is the food? Been curious to give it a try.

      PA doesn’t do much with whisky samples. Mail order is a great way to get whiskies, but it gets expensive. Check our Master of Malt. They have a great selection, but the shipping can get pricey. Also, keep an eye out for the whisky events. Admission can be a bit steep, but getting all of those different whiskies in the same room makes it worth it.

      • I agree on all points.

        I’ll have to give master of malt a shot sometime. Maybe just pick out 10 or 12 to sample. Too bad no nearer service offers that.

        Cooperage’s food is decent. They try to be a little more fancy than they should, but in the end it is mostly tasty grub.

      • G-LO says:

        Tasty grub is a definite good thing. I just think it’s impressive that they took a mediocre deli in a spectacular building (the Curtis Center is easily one of the prettiest buildings in Center City) and managed to craft it into a very nice bar/pub. Amazing what you can do with a bit of money and creativity.

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