Now Shipping: 2017 L.A. Burdick Robert Burns Chocolates

We all drink whisky on Robert Burns’ birthday (January 25), but if you really want to wow folks, get your hands on a box of L.A. Burdicks’ Robert Burns Chocolate collection, which is available only during this time of the year.

Each box of about 36 bonbons (1/2 a pound) includes multiples of seven different items, each made with a different whisky. Those include Lagavulin, Macallan, Talisker, Springbank, Highland Park, and Glenfarclas. A final chocolate is a whisky honey truffle made with an unspecified whisky.

These are some amazing chocolates and, even though mine got a little freezer burned during shipping thanks to some unseasonably cold weather, they are absolutely delightful and totally worth getting. Order now in time for Burns Night!

More specific reviews and ratings of the individual chocolates can be found here.

$42 / burdickchocolate.com

A Tour of Scotland: Understanding Scotch Whiskies

Even to a whiskey drinker comfortable with bourbons and Irish whiskeys, Scotch can seem like a whole different world. Due to the varied climate of Scotland, from the wind-buffeted western islands to the famous highlands, Scotch can be incredibly different from distillery to distillery. So join us now for a whisky tour of Scotland, where we will see what makes this noble dram so unique.

Perhaps the most recognizable Scotch whiskies come from Speyside, a small but densely-packed region in northeastern Scotland named after the river Spey that runs through it. Despite being a smaller region than its neighbors, Speyside has more distilleries than the others by an order of magnitude; ask your average tippler their favorite Scotch and there’s a good chance you’ll get a Speyside distillery named, and if you’ve ever picked up a bottle of Glenlivet, Glenfiddich, Aberlour, or countless others, you’ve experienced Speyside. Speyside Scotches are generally light on smokiness, and may be aged or finished (after an initial run in old bourbon casks) in casks that once held wine or other spirits, and these traits give them a sweeter, more easygoing nature that is attractive to a Scotch neophyte. Distilleries like Glenfarclas and Macallan mostly use sherry wine casks to impart flavors or orange peel, almonds, and cloves, while others like Balvenie use casks that contained the likes of rum, port, and Madeira to give its Scotch different levels of sweetness and spiciness to stand out from the crowd.

Surrounding Speyside are the imposing Highlands, which take up nearly half the island and as a consequence contain the most varied styles of Scotch in the country. Glenmorangie drinks like a Speyside Scotch, especially its trio of casked expressions like the port-casked Quinta Ruban, or the Sauternes-casked Nectar D’Or. On the other hand, Oban is dense and heavy with peat and smoke, and would be a shock to anyone who has only experienced sweeter drams. The famed Scottish moors dominate the landscape, which provide the variance in wind and temperature that effects Highland barley so differently. There is a style for everyone within the Highlands, and even seasoned Scotch connoisseurs will come back to their favorite Highland bottle.

South of the Highlands are, of course, the Lowlands. Like Speyside, Lowland Scotch can be a great place to start with Scotch whisky, because the whiskies that come out of the region are easily approachable. Lowland Scotch would be an especially easy entry into the whiskies of Scotland for those who are ardent fans of Irish whiskey. Like Irish whiskey, Lowland drams like Auchentoshan can be triple-distilled, which gives them that characteristic citrusy fruit taste that anyone who cut their teeth on Green Spot or Redbreast would recognize. Notes of ginger, toffee, and lemon custard are all easy to recognize in a glass of Lowland Scotch, and its light sweetness on the palate makes it easy to like.

The western coast of the country is a long island chain called the Hebrides, and generally the climates of each island are the same: very cold, very windswept, and very barren. These conditions combine to make some of the roughest, brambliest whiskies in the world, of which the island of Islay is a shining example. Deep in the southwest of the Hebrides, Islay dominates the western whisky regions in Scotland, and brings us monstrous drams bathed in the taste of peat, impregnated into the barley from the burning of said peat during grain malting, and sea salt iodine from the cold maritime air around the island. Islay is a style on the rise, and even those who have not tried any Islay whiskies may recognize names like Laphroaig, Ardbeg, or Ron Swanson’s favorite Lagavulin. Like French wine, Islay Scotch can be imposing and alien to the uninitiated, but also like French wine, getting a handle on the style reveals untold complexities within each glass, as the peat and smoke and salt complement and flatter the barley. Islay Scotch lasts forever on the palate, with each minute revealing to the imbiber a new facet that was initially hidden under that ruggedness.

Islay is the most famous of the Hebrides, but many of the other islands in the chain house distilleries as well. Talisker and Arran are both easy enough to procure, and like Islay Scotch, these islands produce whiskies that are as rough and powerful as the land they are made on, with notes of the briny sea salt characteristic to all of the islands, as well as heather and ash.

And that brings us to the last region in Scotland, Campbeltown. Far to the southwest, near the coast of Ireland, Campbeltown was once known as “The Whisky Capital of the World”, but those days are long gone, and now Campbeltown has within its region only three distilleries: Glen Scotia, Glengyle, and Springbank. Like the Highlands, Campbeltown thrives on variety, and its whiskies are an interesting mingling of the salt and smoke of Islay and the sweet simplicity of the Lowlands; Springbank’s Hazelburn is triple-distilled and fruity, while Longrow from the same distillery is peated and briny.

As you can see, Scotland’s whiskies are as varied and complex as the most daunting European wine regions. This is a topic that could require research to fully grasp, and we hope that we’ve managed to make things more clear to those curious.

Understanding Different Types of Whiskey

Overwhelmed by the complex world of wines, beers, and spirits? You’re not alone. Today let’s look at one of the most common questions that we receive day in and day out: What the heck is the difference between all these different types of whiskeys? Today’s the day to find out. Join me in a brief tour of the whiskeys of the world, a primer of all things whisk(e)y.

The most noteworthy style of whiskey, or in this case spelled whisky, is Scotch. Scotch whisky comes from Scotland, and we could (and probably will) write another whole article on the complexities of the terroir of the country. Scotch is divided into two main styles: Single malt Scotch (like Macallan) is made entirely from malted barley and is produced at a single distillery, whereas blended Scotch (like Johnnie Walker) is made from a blend of malted barley and various others grains, which are distilled separately, sourced from all over the country. The taste of single malt Scotch can vary widely depending on the region in which it is made: Scotch from the briny Islay region can take on a smoky, iodine quality, akin to a campfire by the ocean, while Scotch from Speyside can be more sweet and sumptuous, with notes of vanilla, apricot, and honeysuckle.

Bourbon is American whiskey that is frequently produced in Kentucky, but which can legally be made anywhere in the U.S. The name bourbon has a strict legal definition, which dictates, among other rules, a base grain mixture of at least 51% corn and the use of unused, charred-oak barrels for aging. These requirements give bourbon a characteristic sweetness compared to Scotch, with notes of vanilla-covered cherry, woody oak, and butterscotch. Of course, just like Scotch, the taste of bourbon can vary quite a lot; compare sweet, vanilla-laden Maker’s Mark with burly, brambly Hudson Baby Bourbon. Jack Daniel’s is a bourbon as well, though it doesn’t say so on the bottle, preferring the term Tennessee Whiskey to give it a local identity.

The names of most other whiskeys aren’t as opaque as Scotch and bourbon. Canadian Whiskies like Pendleton are blends that usually contain more rye than bourbon does, giving them in general a spicier taste; think cloves, toffee, and chocolate. Irish Whiskey is, typically, distilled more times than a Scotch is, which removes more impurities and giving the whiskey its characteristic lightness and fruitiness: Green Spot is warming with a taste of honey and chocolate. Most Irish whiskeys are blends, though there are quite a few single malt Irish whiskeys out there. Japanese Whiskies can be as varied as Scotch; Toki is light and delicate, with notes of white flowers and melon, while Hakushu is bolder and smoky, like a good Islay Scotch. Some Japanese distillers also use unusual grains in their blends: Kikori uses rice to make its whisky.

At least one category of whiskey is known based not on the region in which it is made but the primary grain used to make it: Rye. This booming category of whiskey is made from 51% rye but can be wildly different from a stylistic perspective. A Kentucky-made rye like Rittenhouse will be pungent with baking spices, which a Canadian rye like Crown Royal Northern Harvest might find a more apple-heavy fruit note. Note that a whiskey, like the above Crown Royal example, can be both a Canadian Whisky and a rye, simultaneously.

Hopefully this brief overview of whiskey gives you a better idea of the various styles of spirits out there. There are plenty of other whiskey manufacturers in the world of course, in Australia, Germany, India, and elsewhere, but this should give you a solid base from which to build, and to start exploring the wonderful world of whiskey.

Any questions? Let us know in the comments!

Drinkhacker Reads – 02.19.2015 – Beam Heads To Handcrafted Court

Screen shot 2015-02-19 at 12.01.06 PMWhat’s in a name? Apparently quite a bit when it comes to lawyers looking to cash in on a claim. Jim Beam joins labelmate Maker’s Mark along with Angel’s Envy, Tito’s Vodka, and Templeton Rye as the latest class action complaint filed against spirits makers claiming products to be “handmade” or “handcrafted.” Plaintiff Scott Welk alleges that Beam Suntory “duped him into paying a premium price for a product whose production resembles “a modern day assembly line involving little to no human supervision, assistance or involvement.”

The filing (which we have here in PDF form) also states in somewhat hyperbolic fashion that Beam is “immoral, unethical, oppressive, unscrupulous and/or substantially injurious.” But it’s not all bad news over in Beam-Suntory land: a recent report over at Shanken claims the company’s sales rose 40% with last year’s acquisition. [Lexington Herald Leader]

Keeping up with its commitment to acquire, innovate, and please Pumpkin Peach ale drinkers, Budweiser is reviving a recipe that’s been dormant for decades. Faust beer is currently available only in St. Louis, but a nationwide rollout is slated for this year, presumably right after the roll out for MixxTail . [Good Beer Hunting]

Similar in spirit to Bud’s anti-craft message comes this gem from Pernod Ricard’s new CEO, Alexander Ricard, is wasting no time in taking shots at the craft industry. He’s also not shy about his goal to take Diageo down a notch or two and position Pernod as the world’s #1 non-craft spirits company. [FT]

And finally today in science news: science and health publisher BMJ is now stating that past studies may have exaggerated the benefits of alcohol, and spending long amounts of time on Facebook makes you drink more. This would be as good a time as any to remind everyone that we’re over on Twitter: @drinkhacker.  [Business Insider]

Drinkhacker Reads – 02.17.2015 – 1792 Gets Upgraded For 2015

1792-bottle-smAnother day, another makeover: this time we see Barton’s 1792 expression getting an overhaul on the packaging and marketing, resembling something heavily influenced by early 20th century/Art Deco aesthetic. While we’re assured that the ingredients inside haven’t changed, this is also the kick off to a campaign featuring new varieties of 1792 including Single Barrel, Barrel Strength, High Rye, and Sweet Wheat somewhere in the not too distant future. Barton has also updated its website to reflect the new campaign. [1792]

The Wall Street Journal‘s Lettie Teague takes on ten myths commonly told in the wine world and attempts to find the truth behind each one. Veteran vino drinkers won’t find anything new here, but folks new to wine may find this article useful to keep in mind while looking for their next bottle at a shop. Elsewhere, Business Insider tells us about the 9 types of wine we really ought to be drinking. [WSJ]

Bourbonr reports on the arrival of new 17 year old Wild Turkey. “Master’s Keep” comes in at a paltry 86.8 proof, with some cryptic notes on the label and the bold slogan “crafted with conviction.” No word on release date yet, nor price tag. [Bourbonr]

Got C$140,000 to spare? If so, Dalmore’s got your next investment ready to roll! The Spirits Business is reporting that the Signature Liquor Store in Vancouver has a set of four single malts ranging from 42 to 46 years in age for sale starting today. By comparison, it is important to keep in mind that C$140,000 was the last going price for the Toronto Maple Leafs hockey franchise. Oh, Canada! [The Spirits Business]

And finally today, our pals over Winebags.com do a heck of a job with their Vine Daily columns, and this infographic detailing how the world’s alcohol is made is simply outstanding. Worth pouring a glass of your favorite and studying over a long period of time. [The Daily Vine]

Drinkhacker Reads – 02.11.2015 – Budweiser Branches Out, Hilhaven Sues Heaven Hill

BudLightMixxtailBudweiser, that firm pillar of macrobrewing, is pleased as punch to announce a new product extension under the Bud Light umbrella. The Mixxtail series of pre-made cocktails will make its debut next week in Firewalker, Hurricane, and Long Island flavors. Not to be confused with the Straw-Ber-Rita, Mang-O-Rita and Raz-Ber-Rita macro cocktails it also makes. [STL Today]

In other Bud news, its now infamous TV ad has sparked up vigorous and frothy ire in the halls of Congress. Not really known for its rapid work output, collaborative spirit or can-do attitude, our national legislators surprisingly stood tall and valiantly defended our right to sip Pumpkin Peach Ale. [The Daily Beast]

In less “Bud”dy -like news… Hollywood director Brett Ratner is suing Heaven Hill Distilleries (which filled its 7th millionth barrel in a ceremony held yesterday) for allegedly trying to block his future plans in delivering a premium whiskey to market with Diageo. Ratner’s Hilhaven would be distilled in partnership with Diageo, and Heaven Hill is attempting to block Johnnie Walker Blue Label Year of the Ramit due to the two names being so similar. Ratner has now counter filed, alleging that consumers would simply associate the name with his house (Hilhaven Lodge) and the lavish parties he’s known for throwing at the estate. [The Spirits Business]

And finally today, Diageo is preparing its second special edition of Johnnie Walker Blue celebrating the lunar new year. Blue Label Year of The Ram will be in limited offering at a price of $260 for a 750ml. bottle. And apparently if you put four bottles side by side a Chinese scroll painting will appear. No word on what happens when you sync up your drinking with The Wizard of Oz and Pink Floyd’s “Dark Side Of The Moon.”

Drinkhacker Reads – 02.05.2015 – Short Barley, Cheap Vodka and Big Bourbon

While everyone is still foaming at the glass about the recent Budweiser brew-ha-ha, a small article published in USA Today has passed by with relatively little fanfare that has a direct impact on brewers big and small: there’s a barley shortage looming. [USA Today]

So now we’ve got too much demand for barley for beer, and we’re supposedly (but not really) in the midst of a bourbon shortage, but it seems as if there’s an abundance of vodka (both flavored and unflavored) ready for the taking. And if you’re in Russia, it’s now available at cheaper prices! [CNBC]

The Distilled Spirits Council released its 2014 annual report, with great news for the Bourbon and American whiskey industry: We’re doing great! DISCUS Chief Economist David Ozgo reported on Tuesday that Bourbon and Tennessee Whiskey sales volumes were up 7.4% over last year, bringing in an extra $2.7 billion in revenue. Irish Whiskey and Single Malts grew 9.1% and 4.6% respectively. While flavored vodka sales saw a decline, traditional vodka volumes increased 3.7%.

Get ready Baltimore: Drizly launches here on Thursday. The alcohol delivery app will be working with local stores to bring the best booze right to your doorstep. [Baltimore Magazine]

Glenrothes 1968And finally today, Glenrothes is readying an expression from 1968 which will be available in March to world travelers, specifically those in Singapore. The single cask is housed in a handmade crystal bottle made by a Portuguese craftsman and will set you back £5,500. Failing a sellout in Singapore, a worldwide release is planned for later this year.

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