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Booze Review: Old Pulteney

A while ago, my favorite scotch was discontinued. I called it my writing scotch because it got me through more than a few nights of struggling with writing while in grad school. But when I discovered that I would no longer be able to buy another bottle, I set out on mission to find a new scotch.

With some time at the Manhattan Cocktail Classic, I was able to sample quite a few single malts that I hoped would make suitable replacements for my bottle of Scapa 12 year old. Unfortunately, many of the single malts that I tasted were out of my price range–I was spoiled by having a scotch that only cost $40 a bottle. I figured I’d have to suck it up and spend a little more–I knew Glenlivet Nadurra fit my palate, but it was a bit more than $60. I really was holding out for something more affordable.

As you can see, I've enjoyed this bottle for the last year

As you can see, I’ve enjoyed this bottle for the last year

I finally found Old Pulteney 12 year old, which is the distillery’s entry-level scotch. When I was told that it retailed for about $44, I was sold on it. It wasn’t quite as smooth as Scapa or Glenlivet Nadurra, but I enjoyed the difference in it.

I’ve never been a fan of scotch with a heavy peat flavor, and this one has very little. I like mild peat and even a mild smokiness. This Old Pulteney has a hint of flavor from the sherry casks that helps mellow the saltiness from the coastal sea air, which you get more of on the nose.

While I have enjoyed this bottle of scotch I bought quite some time ago, I’m not entirely convinced it’s my replacement writing scotch. If I wasn’t moving to another continent for a while, I would probably buy another bottle of it, but we’ll see how I feel when I return–perhaps my palate will be altered by the food on my journey. No matter what, this scotch is a great bargain–I’ve had plenty of more expensive ones that I didn’t enjoy as much. I may even be tempted to upgrade to one of Old Pulteney’s other varieties.

Industry Invitational Highlights 2013

First cocktail of the event: Angostura Bitters' The Broadside

First cocktail of the event: Angostura Bitters’ The Broadside

On Saturday and Monday I headed over to the Andaz Hotel across from the New York City Public Library for the Industry Invitation as part of the Manhattan Cocktail Classic. I spent a lot more time there last year, but didn’t have the time/energy to do as much this year. I was so tired that I skipped Sunday entirely (and because of work, I couldn’t make it to the Indie Spirits Expo on Tuesday).

I spoke to a few people who were at the event last year, and they seemed to think this year’s was missing something. I must admit, it felt like there were fewer spirits and cocktails to taste. But that didn’t limit my overall enjoyment of what was available.

There were some very interesting new spirits to try this year. The most interesting was Pavan, a French liqueur made from muscat grapes. It’s a very sweet drink that needs to be mixed, and they had a few cocktails to try with it. I thought the sangria was still a bit sweet for my taste, but the equal parts iced black tea with Pavan and a little lemon was very good–great idea for a summer barbecue.

Allison from Brenne Whiskey

Allison from Brenne Whiskey

Another sweeter spirit was Cabin Fever maple whiskey. After talking with the owner of the company, I realized this whiskey is made for mixing (and apparently cooking). It has a distinct, strong maple flavor and aroma that can go well with a lot of cocktails–I think it might work in a mint julep and help cut out a lot of simple syrup.

The presentation of this cocktail is so impressive it's almost a shame to drink it

The presentation of this cocktail is so impressive it’s almost a shame to drink it

On the non-sweet side, there was a single malt whiskey from France, Brenne, which is finished in cognac casks. It was more floral and less peaty than Scotch, but very smooth. There was also Mizu shochu, a new Japanese liquor to the US market, which was surprisingly versatile in cocktails (and quite good with just a little ice).

A pair of tasty shochu cocktails

A pair of tasty shochu cocktails

The best cocktail presentation went to Chase spirits for the William Fennel Flower cocktail with elderflower liqueur, gin, apple, fennel, raspberry, and lemon. My cocktail didn’t look as impressive as these two, but tasted just as good.

$600 cognac that I'll probably never have again

$600 cognac that I’ll probably never have again

The most expensive spirits I tasted were Frapin Extra Cognac, which retails for about $600 a bottle, and Nikka Whiskey 21 year old pure malt, which retails for about $200. I definitely enjoyed the Japanese whiskey more than the cognac.

Collection of Nikka Japanese whiskey

Collection of Nikka Japanese whiskey

The best non-alcohol highlight of my days at the Manhattan Cocktail Classic was a shave courtesy of High West Whiskey and Truman’s. I didn’t really need a shave, but how could I pass up having someone else shave me me? It was a relaxing experience that ended in a whiskey cocktail. You can find Alberto at Truman’s on Madison Ave. between 30th and 31st Sts.alberto

From Farm to Halifax

There was quite a bit for me to see in two days in Halifax, but most of my attention was focused on food and drinks in between sights. Unfortunately, Halifax is not known for cheap eats–most restaurants I came across were over my budget.

Welcome to the Halifax farmer's market

Welcome to the Halifax farmer’s market

On my first morning, my Airbnb hosts showed me the way to the farmer’s market–showing me the way to some wonderful coffee and a beautiful rooftop view. I didn’t realize that the market had a green rooftop with solar panels and wind turbines.

The colorful rooftop garden on a misty morning

The colorful rooftop garden on a misty morning

I was impressed by the size of the farmer’s market, but I wasn’t surprised–I read up on it the day before arriving. I was told that it was less crowded than usual because of Canada Day. I was, however, expecting a little more variety of produce–there wasn’t much in the way of fruit. There were plenty of prepared-food vendors to keep me happy for breakfast though. Best of all, the vendors offered tastes of their culinary delights. My first taste was from a Turkish vendor who sold some spicy vegetarian snacks (I was too tired and hungry to remember to snap a photo or even write down what I ate).

mmm...Scotch

mmm…Scotch

After parting ways with my hosts, I sampled some food and drinks in the market. It was an unusual feeling being offered liquor and wine at 9:30 in the morning, but I couldn’t pass up the chance to try the only single malt Scotch distilled outside of Scotland. I had heard of this Scotch because my parents stayed at the distillery in Cape Breton when they visited. Unfortunately, I couldn’t bring a bottle back with me as I wasn’t checking luggage (it also was a bit out of my budget for the trip). But, it was a wonderfully smooth Scotch with a great balance of smokiness.

I also found some wonderful spirits from Ironworks Distillery, which unfortunately were not sold at the airport’s duty free shop (it was closed anyway). They make some great fruit-flavored¬†liqueurs, including cranberry and arctic kiwi.¬†These spirits aren’t as thick as cordials, but can still be mixed with desserts–they’d taste great over ice cream or even in a fruit smoothie.

There were plenty of other foods and drinks to sample around the market, including plenty of cheese to keep me happy. It also helped that there were multiple coffee vendors to keep me going.

Nice variety from Ironworks

Nice variety from Ironworks

If it hadn’t been morning, or if I had more time to spend in Halifax, I probably would have spent more time in the farmer’s market sampling food and drinks. I definitely would’ve liked to taste the rest of the Ironworks’ spirits. There were also a few ice wines I would’ve like to sample.

Manhattan Cocktail Classic Highlights

It’s not easy deciding where to begin when talking about the events around the Industry Invitational as part of the Manhattan Cocktail Classic, so I decided to start with some highlights. I want to begin by saying the venues at the Andaz Hotel (for most of the events) and Crimson for the Indie Spirits Expo were great choices and provided terrific service.

New & Small-Batch Spirits

I tasted far too many spirits that are out of my price range during my three days. I had Scotch that was limited to fewer than 600 bottles and cognac that was limited to 900 bottles (but just for this year). I discovered new brands, or at least new to the area, that I will definitely need to seek out. Three of the best new brands I found were from Colorado (is there anything I don’t like about the state?)–Dancing Pines black walnut bourbon was probably my favorite.

Kristian & Kimberly of Dancing Pines

Kristian & Kimberly of Dancing Pines

Bartenders

The bartenders from around the world were great. I was able to talk with a few during the Gran Sierpe pisco sour competition. That’s where I met Christopher James from Point Pleasant, NJ (I had to cheer on the home state, but I didn’t stay long enough to hear who won). I also talked with Ryan Maybee from Manifesto in Kansas City, MO, who started my first day off with a great spicy bloody mary. Maybee also served his Angostura Bitters competition concoction: The Exploration Cocktail, which was inspired by Caribbean ingredients from early European expeditions.

Christopher James mixing his pisco sour

Christopher James mixing his pisco sour

Re-acquaintances

There were quite a few great people and brands I’ve met at previous events. I’m still amazed that Karen Hoskin from Montanya Rum remembers me. Her Colorado-distilled rum is excellent, but I’m partial to the oro. She also made a refreshing mojito that helped slow the pace of drinking at the Indie Spirits Expo. She invited me out to Colorado to visit the distillery, but I know I’d never leave if I went back the Rockies.

Karen (left) from Montanya Rum

Karen (left) from Montanya Rum

Food!

Every event I attended had wonderful food. I liked that Angostura had cooking demonstrations, but Sorel topped them in the food department on Monday. There was a great variety of food at the Sorel bar that included lobster rolls from the Red Hook Lobster Pound and some amazing artisan cheeses from a shop in Brooklyn. Even Gran Sierpe provided a great breakfast prior to its competition (it’s wonderful to have yogurt with fresh fruit to coat the stomach before drinking).Breakfast

Ode to My Scotch

Alright, I won’t actually write an ode. I never was one for odes. Perhaps someday I’ll write a poem about this Scotch, but not tonight.Scapa

I call this my writing Scotch. Whenever I had difficulty getting through a story or my dissertation in grad school, I pulled out my bottle and poured a glass. I sipped it, savoring every flavor. The work would come slowly as I nursed my glass for a half hour or so, but I always finished what I was writing. That small glass kept me writing for a few more hours.

Sadly, I will never have my Scotch again. It’s not that I’m giving up drinking, or even Scotch. It’s that the company no longer distills my brand.

I was homeless for about two weeks when I was 21. I had just finished my semester in London and was waiting for my parents to visit, but I couldn’t stay in my flat. So, I took a trip around Scotland. For the last few days, I stayed in Edinburgh. After my tour of the highlands, I decided to visit Edinburgh Castle, which, coincidentally, was very close to the Scotch Whiskey Heritage Centre.

After the educational tour, I walked into the Whiskey Heritage Centre bar to taste some Scotch. I had already tasted a few on my tour through the highlands, but didn’t quite enjoy any. I had nothing else planned for the day besides wandering the streets (I had no idea what to see or do in Edinburgh in the days before blogs and social media), so I sat in the empty bar tasting reasonably priced single malts. I perused the list and descriptions, and asked the French bartender for suggestions.

The bartender was quite helpful and made the five hours of sipping Scotch in an empty bar enjoyable. We talked about our travels, and she tried to convince me that I shouldn’t visit France because it’s full of French people (that’s why she was working in Scotland).

I don’t know how many single malts I tried in those five hours, but I felt good enough for a night out afterward. Most importantly, I discovered Scapa, a single malt from Orkney that would become my writing Scotch.

A bottle of Scapa 12 year old was about $40. And that first bottle lasted me almost six months. I was surprised to find that it was sold in the US for about the same price.

I’ve only had four bottles of Scapa, and this last bottle has lasted nearly two years. Shortly after obtaining this bottle, I discovered that they no longer produce the 12 year old single malt. Now, they distill Scapa 16 year old, which is almost twice the price. It wasn’t difficult to justify spending $40 for a Scotch that would last for so long, but I find it difficult to spend nearly $80 (at least on my current budget).

This may be the end of my writing Scotch, but it won’t be end of my Scotch enthusiasm. I will go in search of a new writing Scotch. It’s been more than a decade since I set foot in Scotland; my return is long overdue.