Back to the Grind

Woodford Reserve master distiller Chris Morris

While I was away from work on vacation last month, several co-workers – knowing my love of whisky and of all things drinking – dropped a few news clippings on my desk for me to peruse when I returned.  The information included two newspaper articles, one from The New York Times and another from The Wall Street Journal, as well as a brochure for a new distillery in central Virginia.  Together, this stack provided a much-need (and appreciated) diversion from cleaning out my email inbox.

Here’s a rundown of the info, none of which made sitting at my desk after a wonderful vacation filled with booze and sunshine any easier.  But I appreciated the thought; thanks guys.

“Canadian whisky has an image problem,” writes Robert Simonson; it is “the unglamorous workhorse of the whisky world, producing dependable, light-bodied, mixing whiskies derided by booze connoisseurs as ‘brown vodka.’”  But Canadian distillers are looking to change that image by returning to their roots.  New, independent distilleries – some of which are aging their whisky in Canadian oak barrels, not American ones – are employing “sleek packaging and nods to small-scale production [that] suggest what they’re meant to deliver.”  Namely, a smooth, rich, full-flavored whisky that is classically Canadian.  The article also provides a Scouting Report of “new-style Canadian whiskies available in some cities in the United States.”

Read Simonson’s article, Distillers Take a New Approach to Canadian Whiskies

Farther south, in Versailles, Kentucky, Chris Morris is a busy man.  Working as the master distiller in a distillery dating back to the 1830s, Morris “oversees the process for Woodford Reserve, a premium bourbon.”  Although drinking for a living sounds like the dream job, it hasn’t always been so choice: he’s “done everything from sweep the floors to work in the company’s sophisticated laboratory, breaking down the chemicals in alcohol.”  Morris prides himself on “modernizing old practices” and documents his experiments and tastings with extensive notes, “a surprisingly complex task because of the many things that can affect a whiskey’s flavor.”

Read the Journal’s review, Distilling a Lifetime of Whisky Knowledge

Just east, over the Appalachians, a new distillery began production late last year.  The Virginia Distillery Company has (thus far) produced three expressions of their Eades Small Batch Double Malt Whisky – a Speyside, a Highland, and an Islay – whose component malts are between 10 and 18 years old.

The company will also produce a single malt that will be “the first and only in America to produce double-distilled single malt whisky using authentic, Scottish-made copper pot stills.”  Virginia’s unique climate will also create a special whisky: “As our whisky ages inside the cask, the dramatic fluctuations in temperature and humidity as the seasons change will cause the wood to expand and contract. These dynamic forces will draw the whisky into and out of the wood of the cask much faster than it would in a typical Scottish warehouse.”

Read more about the Virginia Distillery Company, located in Lovingston, Virginia


A New Virginian Rye

I am always looking for new and interesting whiskies, be it bourbon, blends, or single malts, from here in the states or from around the world.  Yet instead of looking to Scotland (or Japan, as I recently discovered), I should have been looking right in my own backyard, to a small town just over an hour from my home in Washington, DC.

For it is here – in the tiny Piedmont hamlet of Sperryville, Virginia, sitting just east of Shenandoah National Park – that lies a distillery on the cutting edge of whisky production: Copper Fox Distillery.  The distillery is the product of Rick Wasmund’s ideas on “using special fruitwood peat, and fruitwood barrels in the traditional whisky making process.

With this original idea in hand, coupled with a period of time spent in Scotland learning the distillation process, Wasmund’s Copper Fox ultimately produced a different whisky, based on two principles: first, “the flavoring of the malt using the smoke of selected, smoldering fruitwoods (instead of peat);” and second, “using hand chipped and toasted fruitwood chips in the aging process to add a range of natural flavors that was not only new, but fantastic to the taste.”

Fantastic to the taste indeed.  Wasmund’s principles produced a smoky and richly yet lightly fruity rye whisky with a hint of leather, which according to the label was bottled in late December 2010.  Never before has such a young whisky – Wasmund still began production in January 2006 – tasted so smooth, full, and even.  Copper Fox’s rye was absolutely delicious, through and through.

So I’ll continue my search for delicious whiskies, wherever they can be found: Scotland, Japan, Kentucky, and now, just outside DC.  Not that the relationship between whisky and the capital should come as a surprise.  A few hundred years ago, another Virginian was distilling whisky on his estate, located just down the river from what would become the nation’s capital: George Washington.

Published in: on April 4, 2011 at 9:40 pm  Comments Off on A New Virginian Rye  
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Whisky from the East

March has arrived and with it, thoughts of longer days, warmer temperatures, and of course, St. Paddy’s Day.  This holy day of drinking brings Irish traditions and drinks to mind, whether it be a pint of Guinness or a glass of Bushmills.  Whisky and whiskey are the native sons of Ireland and Scotland alike, and proudly so.  But it’s not only the British Isles that produces fine whiskies.

On the contrary, I learned last week that another chain of islands – one located thousands of miles from peaty Islay and robust Speyside – holds a fine number of whiskies in places named Honshū and Hokkaidō.  This is understandably confusing: when you think of drinking in Asia, you think of rice wine and saké, not whisky.  And I’m sure our kilt-wearing friends would consider it heresy to use the words Japanese and whisky in the same sentence.  Yet to my surprise, Japanese whisky, both single malt and blended, is unexpectedly complex and pleasantly smooth.

Although I had tasted one or two Japanese whiskies before, I never considered it more than a passing fad or clever sales gimmick.  Certainly whisky produced in Asia would be simple and lacking variety, much like Japanese beer; Sapporo and Kirin are tasty with a sushi roll to be sure, but that’s about it.

Thankfully, my misperception was recently corrected by a generous gift: a bottle of Hibiki 12 year blend and a bottle of Suntory Yamazaki 18 year single malt.  I immediately opened both bottles: each was full-bodied, with dark and fruity notes.  Most notably, absent was the smoke and peat of their Scottish counterparts, a significant difference from my usual pours of Talisker and Laphroaig.  And though smoky, peaty flavors are two favorite characteristics, the two Japanese bottles proved an enjoyable alternative.

These two bottles opened my eyes to a whole new range of whisky flavors, to new possibilities when choosing a bottle.  Although I still prefer the taste and aroma of Scottish single malts, Japanese whisky now holds a special place in my bar, perhaps because of its unlikely and surprising tastiness.  Or perhaps because the bottles were a gift from a beautiful woman – my wife – and recommended by a new friend with wit and wisdom.

Published in: on March 3, 2011 at 11:14 pm  Comments (3)  
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A Drink With… Alex Trebek

Double Canadian Club, neat. 

Trebek is the working man of American game shows, the omniscient arbiter of trivial knowledge and more importantly, pronunciation.  Beware of errant singularities and pluralities, for they shall doom thee.  And don’t toy with foreign accents, not with Trebek.

He enjoys his drink tall and strong; no watering down his native land’s whisky.  He’s proud of his homeland, the Great White North, but he’s a California boy now.  Trebek’s understatedly cool; he’s no braggadocio, requires no self-trumpeting.  And no mustache.

He’ll slap you around intellectually but only in good natured fun.  He knows he’s more intelligent than you, even without the answer cards, but he doesn’t need to prove it.  He’s got a sarcastic side, you bet.  And he can take a joke, especially parody.  Just ask those guys from SNL.


A Drink With… is a lighter take on tossing one back with a noted individual, be it statesman, scholar, athlete, or celebrity.  It is a series of fiction and perhaps, humor.

Published in: on February 22, 2011 at 10:39 pm  Comments Off on A Drink With… Alex Trebek  
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Merry Christmas

A variety of Glenmorangie, The Peat Monster, and a dusting of snow.  Truly a Merry Christmas.  To you and yours, the very best season’s greetings and happy holidays.

Published in: on December 25, 2010 at 1:31 pm  Comments Off on Merry Christmas  
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