Monday, December 17, 2018

In a large hall of Congregation Ahavath Torah, hundreds experienced the Wine Country Evening of Wine and Whiskey on February 3. Tables abounded with wine and spirits. Dozens of tables lined the walls, each showcasing a company’s finest products for sampling.

William Grant owns eight core brands in addition to a large array of other scotches and non-brown spirits. They are at the forefront of producing spirits in an energy-efficient manner through the use of special equipment designed to reduce environmental footprint. A global giant, William Grant has offices on six continents, with one even located in Edison, New Jersey.

With an impressive legacy, Glenfiddich is a seventh generation enterprise with its origins dating back to 1887. The Grant family built the distillery in one year, by the work of their own hands.

Balvenie, nearly as old, opened in 1893 near the Glenfiddich distillery. Their 12-year and 14-year single malts are aged in American bourbon barrels. Next was a blend with a name and tribute to the floor-malters responsible for the barley: Monkey Shoulder, a condition that befalls malters after long hours flipping malt.

Newer to the spirit scene and William Grant’s portfolio, Tuthilltown Spirits Hudson Baby Bourbon and Manhattan Rye sat proudly in their new 750mL format. Tuthilltown is the first distillery in New York since prohibition.

While all the history and minutiae proved impressive and enriched my appreciation for the brands, nothing trumps first-hand knowledge.

For fans of well-tasting blends that lend not just flavor but versatility, Monkey Shoulder is a great choice. Aromas of orange peel, peaches, nectarines and barley sugar wafted into my nostrils. The honey-gold liquid held up well on the tongue with vanilla, spice, ripe green pear and golden apple all working together in harmony. It held on to my senses for a reasonable amount of time, a medium finish. A smart choice for an always-in-the-cabinet blended scotch to consume neat, with a drop or two of cold water (my favorite) or, perhaps, in a scotch and soda.

While the Balvenie 12-year was pleasant with nearly 48 percent abv, a melange of yellow pear, spice, subtle citrus, green apple and long finish, I felt the older brother was a bit more interesting. Balvenie 14-year is a scotch in rum’s clothing. Before being bottled, this scotch with an amber-orange hue undergoes aging. After the scotch spends time in its bourbon barrel, white rum from the Caribbean spends time in the barrel next, seasoning it. The rum is then racked off (removed from the barrel). Finally, the scotch spends time in the barrel once more, pulling out the nuances imparted by the rum. Like your scotch by way of Barbados? Balvenie 14-year reveals tropical tree-fruit aromas, cane-sweetness and a hint of spice. The flavor whispers banana and mango, spice cake, butterscotch and a ghost of mint. Like your finish long? This one goes on for miles.

The Glenfiddich (pronounced as a “k” not a “ch”) line was enchanting. The 14-year was quite approachable in an American bourbon sense, all thanks to being finished in Kelvin Cooperage barrels out of Kentucky. This single-malt product is popular in the US, not to mention an exclusive to our country. The 21-year was a charming honey-gold and leggy. With scents of candied orange and a complex grain and spice flavor, it became almost too sweet, until the firm, even bitterness announced itself on the finish, courtesy of being finished in a sherry cask. The notoriety, however, belonged to the Glenfiddich finished in India Pale Ale barrels. A side note—beer being finished in all sorts of spirit barrels in a now-common occurrence in the world of beer. It is a new and intriguing phenomenon to see the reverse. The Glenfiddich distillery Master Malter Brian Kinsman tapped (see what I did?) master brewer Seb Jones to create an IPA that would eventually spend time in scotch barrels, in much the same way Balvenie 14-year spends time in barrels recently containing rum.

The left-field liquid sported flecks of gold among a straw-yellow body. Its aroma was one of bright grapefruit pith, dankness and some pear and apple for good measure. For the beer geeks out there, Cluster, Centennial, and Challenger make up the hop bill of three individual IPAs, blended together before spending six to nine months in the barrels. The flavor was similar to the nose, with the hops evident but in no way overpowering the spirit side with a spicy finish.

I flew back across the metaphorical pond and moved on to the Tuthilltown offerings. The spirits, done in two-gallon barrels (truly tiny compared to most other operations) conjured up images of what is quintessential and comforting about American spirits. The bourbon, beautiful sepia, and leggy, offered dusky wood and spice on the nose, with a hint of brown sugar. It tasted round and straightforward and finished cleanly, making you want another sip. The rye sat in the tasting glass comfortably with a chestnut body with ruddy highlights. The aroma was one of spice, earth and brown bread. A small sip releases a wave of dark grain, spice and mint across the tongue.

By John Shoemaker