Whisk(e)y musings read by tens of people worldwide.

Monday, May 29, 2023

For Medicinal Purposes Only

Alcohol is a tricky subject to write about.  There’s always that elephant in the room, alcohol’s dark past and soon-to-be dark future.  To say alcohol has caused more harm than good is irrefutable.  If you’ll indulge me, let’s take a quick look at the life of an average American female in the 19th century.  She couldn’t own property or vote.  Career prospects were limited and paid next to nothing.  Her life most likely revolved around cooking, cleaning, and taking care of her often many children.  Now let’s add alcohol into the mix.  A husband spending too much time and money at the saloon, coming home in a drunken stupor, and acting less-than-reputably.  It doesn’t take a genius to figure out why temperance groups grew in popularity over the course of the century.  The 18th Amendment was ratified on January 16th, 1919.  In exactly one year’s time, the production, movement, and sale of intoxicating liquors would no longer be legal.

The Volstead Act (Prohibition) was filled with exemptions.  For starters, all liquor purchased before January 16, 1920 could legally be consumed.  The Yale Club in New York stockpiled enough liquor to last them a mind-boggling 14 years.  It’s important to remember, drinking was legal during Prohibition, you just couldn’t buy, sell, transport, or make what you drank.  When it came to whiskey, it had to be prescribed, and used for medicinal purposes only.  I own a Prohibition-era liquor prescription stub.  It was issued on December 31st, 1932.  Poor guy.  New Year’s Eve colds are the worst!  Medicinal whiskies had to be dispensed in government-approved, pint-sized bottles.  “Sick” individuals were allowed one pint every 10 days.  6 American companies were given the green light to sell medicinal whiskey.  The rest, numbering in the hundreds, were left with few options.  They could sell their stock to one of the 6 (assuming they wanted it), have one of the 6 sell their stuff (for a fee of course), or sit tight and hope for repeal (Prohibition lasted 13 years).  The vast majority went out of business.

Scotch did surprisingly well during Prohibition.  Overall numbers went down, but only slightly.  How’s that possible you may ask?  Well, the industry sent an avalanche of whisky to pretty much every country surrounding the US, and let their “agents” take care of the rest.  In the Bahamas, scotch imports rose by 40,000 percent.  Some of you may be familiar with the term “the real McCoy.”  Bill McCoy was a highly respected purveyor or “agent” of illicit spirits.  Scotch whisky outfits (like Berry Bros.) liked McCoy because they knew their product (Cutty Sark) wouldn’t be altered before reaching its final destination.  Ships filled with scotch (and other intoxicants) would park just outside US territorial waters.  Like a farmers’ market, bootleggers would go from ship to ship comparing prices.  Getting back to shore was easier than you might think.  Most of the boats were equipped with airplane engines left over from World War One.  The Coast Guard didn’t stand a chance.  Laphroaig didn’t have to resort to bootlegging.  Their product was deemed “medicinal” due to its heavy iodine (coastal) character.  Many were shocked to hear people actually drank Laphroaig for non-medicinal reasons.

Laphroaig Lore is a NAS or non-age statement whisky.  If you want to go the age statement route in Scotland, you must put the age of the youngest whisky used on the label.  Lore is a blend of malts that range in age from 7 to 21.  Making Lore an age statement product would’ve been a “less-than-smart” idea.  There’s no way John Q. Newtowhiskey is going to buy a $200 7-year-old Lore when there’s an $85 Laphroaig 10 right beside it.  A long time ago, people would watch shows on very large smartphones.  They called these devices televisions or TVs for short.  Programming on these “televisions” was scheduled and not on-demand.  Occasionally, a movie would be shown that wasn’t suitable for all ages.  It’d be edited so young eyes and ears wouldn’t be exposed to material that’d drive them into a life of crime.  Lore is an edited for TV version of Laphroaig.  Allow me to elaborate.  Before the Lore, there was the 18.  I loved the 18.  It was edgy yet elegant.  Nice mouthfeel, beautifully balanced, non-chill filtered, 48%.  The Lore, on the other hand, is safe, rounded, and drinks as though it was made not to offend.  It’s good, but I wish they would’ve kept the naughty parts.

Happy dramming,


Monday, May 22, 2023

You Say You Want a(nother) Revolution

In an 1818 letter to the French Ambassador to the United States, Thomas Jefferson, the 3rd President of the United States, described whiskey as a “poison” responsible for “desolating” middle-class households.  If Jefferson hated whiskey so much, why would a company name their bourbon after him?  In order to answer that question, we need to go back to the year 1791.

The Revolutionary War left the United States in financial ruin.  Alexander Hamilton (the musical guy) was the nation’s first Secretary of the Treasury.  It was his job to lower the debt and ease the nerves of anxious overseas creditors.  Throughout history, whenever politicians needed money, they usually turned to alcohol for help.  Sin taxes (alcohol, cigarettes, those things that make people look like a steam train when they exhale) are rarely met with heavy resistance.  Instead of showing restraint (this was the first tax thrust upon citizens in US history), Hamilton’s whiskey tax was, in a word, ridiculous.  Small-scale distillers were required to pay between 9 and 25 cents per gallon.  To put that into perspective, the average person back then made 25 cents a day.  Every distiller, no matter the output, also needed to keep records of everything they made, sold, and had on hand.  Lastly, tax inspectors could enter any premises, day or night, if they suspected foul play, much like the British did prior to the Revolutionary War when they entered homes unannounced looking for things to tax.

In the late 1700s, whiskey was an important part of everyday life in rural America, something Hamilton grossly underestimated.  Whiskey was also used as currency to buy much-needed supplies.  Money, on the other hand, was rarely used or found on the frontier.  Some farmers went decades without seeing a single cent of hard currency.  For Hamilton to expect these people to pay in dollars was absurd.  Equally ridiculous was Hamilton’s insistence upon accurate record keeping.  Most westerners at the time were illiterate.  What a bitter pill this tax must’ve been.  Many of these men fought to free themselves from the chains of colonialism and unfair taxation just a few years prior.  The tax was ignored by many in protest.  Things got heated.  Fearing another revolution, 13,000 militiamen were dispatched to western Pennsylvania.  In the end, the Whiskey Rebellion went out like a lamb.  Only a few people died in the conflict.

Jefferson hated Hamilton’s whiskey tax, and saw little difference between it and the taxes placed on colonists before the Revolution.  Once he became president, he scrapped every tax aimed at citizens.  He also took a meat cleaver to the federal budget, and decimated the military.  This “very small” (you’ll get why I used quotes in a bit) government approach managed to reduce the deficit by a third.  The whiskey tax was brought back to pay for the War of 1812, but Jefferson was long gone by then.  I guess this explains why Jefferson’s is called Jefferson’s, but that still doesn’t make it a good fit.  Jefferson was a wine drinker.  He dreamed of a day when wine would become America’s drink of choice, believing it would, “Carry health and comfort to a much enlarged circle.”  Jefferson also wasn’t a fan of overseas involvement in American affairs.  Jefferson’s bourbon is owned by McLain & Kyne, which is owned by Castle Brands, which is owned by Pernod Ricard, a French multinational.

Jefferson’s Reserve has an interesting label.  It isn’t old, it’s very old:

“How old are the bourbons in this blend?”

“Very old.”

“Could you be more specific?

They’re older than 4 but younger than 100.”

Jefferson’s Reserve isn’t a small batch, it’s a very small batch:

“What does very small batch mean?”

“We took a batch of whiskies that were small and made them even smaller.”

The Jefferson’s website is quite the experience.  Every link takes you to a magical world of nothingness, where fields of flowery rhetoric grow freely.  I swear the person who wrote the Jefferson’s Reserve description got paid by the adjective:

“This small batch blend of mature bourbons exhibits incredible nuance and complexity of flavors that only a masterful blender can unlock.  The end result is a big, sophisticated bourbon whiskey with a bold, substantial palate and a long, delicious finish.”

Happy dramming,


Wait.  No tasting notes?  This is supposed to be a whiskey blog, remember?

You’re right, sorry.  Jefferson’s Reserve is masterful, big, sophisticated, bold, and substantial.

Happy dramming,


Monday, May 15, 2023

Blurred Lines

Once upon a time, I taught high school.  I liked teaching.  What I didn’t like were the parent-teacher interviews.  I think it’s fair to say being polite is expected in civilized society.  Even the most obnoxious internet troll would probably give you a tip of the hat if prompted in public.  Being brutally honest feels uncomfortable, or at least it does for me.  Whenever I had to deliver hard truths as a teacher, I always sprinkled them with sugar:

“If Johnny expects to pass this semester, he’ll need to put more time and effort into his work.  What he doesn’t need to put more time and effort into is that beautiful smile of his.”

Native advertising has been around, in one form or another, for decades.  It’s when an ad takes the shape of its host, like a gecko blending in with its surroundings.  You see it online all the time.  The idea is to dupe people into thinking they’re reading an article and not an ad.  People, for the most part, trust articles because they think the writer is adhering to a set of journalistic standards.  According to a 2017 study, 8 out of 10 people can’t tell the difference between a native ad and an article.  When it comes to whisky, identifying the not-so-independent independent reviewers can be tricky.  Stores have bought my work in the past, but I never allowed them to dictate content.  I wrote what I wrote.  They could either buy it or not buy it.  A short time ago, I received some samples.  No obligation.  Yeah right.  Just like there’s no obligation when your wife comes home sporting a brand new outfit, does a happy twirl in front of you, and says, “Do you like it?”

A neighbour knocks on your front door.  She’s holding a tray of what appears to be delicious-looking cookies.  After exchanging pleasantries, she says, “I made way too much, no allergies right?”  Not only is she sharing her food with you, but she’s willing to disclose the ingredients used in the event they may pose a potential health risk.  The cookies are horrible.  It’s as though she made them while blindfolded.  A few days later, you see her at a nearby park:

“Thanks so much for the cookies, they were great.”

“Super.  I’ll make sure to bring some over the next time I make a batch.

Things, however, start to get blurry when a distillery knocks on your front door bearing gifts.  They’re not there to be neighbourly.  They’re trying to sell something and would like your help.  What to do?  You could accept the samples and make it known to your readers?  Sure, but as soon as you do that, you become sponsored content.  A native ad.  Knowing me, I’d feel compelled to say something nice (even if they tasted like my neighbour’s cookies).  Distilleries see me and people like me as just another way to get the word out.  Talking about their whisky means I won’t be talking about someone else’s.

I bet you’re thinking this is where I’m going to get all righteous and castigate everyone who accepts samples.  Nope.  In a way, I feel honoured a distillery thought I was worthy enough to exploit.  There are literally hundreds, perhaps even thousands of whisky sites out there.  Do you really think they’re gonna take the time to ladle out a healthy portion of whisky to someone whose stuff only gets read by friends and family?

“Nice job son.  Proud of ya!  xxoo


“Can you make it over for dinner this Sunday?  Haven’t seen you in ages.

“You’re embarrassing me ma, just call.”

“You never pick up.  The only time I get an answer from you is when I write a comment on your whisky page.”

If, for whatever reason, I someday decide to write a review for a sample, it’ll probably look like this:

I’d like to thank the good people at GlenScotch for sending me this sample.  I can assure you their generosity will in no way impact my review of what’ll probably be an amazing whisky.

GlenScotch 25 Grand Select Masters Reserve Select


The nose reminds me of the GlenScotch dunnage warehouse.  Earthy and fragrant.  It’s one of the many things you’ll get to explore if you go on their distillery tour.  Some vanilla.  Tours run Monday through Friday from 10 AM - 4 PM.  A touch of honey.  For more information, please contact Sandy at the distillery.


The mouthfeel is nicer than GlenScotch’s new and improved web store.  They’ve now made ordering your favourite GlenScotch a breeze!  Not sure what GlenScotch to get that special someone?  Just answer a few simple questions, and their “Whisky Finder” will take care of the rest!


Long-lasting.  GlenScotch polo shirts use nothing but the finest, most long-lasting fabrics.  They come in a variety of sizes, and are perfect for every occasion:  sailing, strolling on the beach, or just enjoying a dram of delicious GlenScotch 25 with friends.

Happy dramming,


Monday, May 8, 2023

Distill My Beating Heart: Taketsuru, A Love Story

Going to the movies these days isn’t as simple as it once was.  How do they expect me to enjoy The Fast and the Furious 17 if I haven’t seen the previous 16?  Don't get me wrong, I totally understand why Hollywood gives us a steady diet of the familiar.  The greater the risk, the less likely they’ll make a return on their investment.  Maybe that’s why there are so few films about whisky?  What would they make one about anyway?  E150a caramel colourant?


A MASTER DISTILLER carefully examines a whisky sample in a room filled with bottles and blending equipment.  An EMPLOYEE bursts into the room.

(out of breath)
Sir, the nuclear power plant next door just blew up.  Radioactive waste seeped into our E150a caramel colouring vat.

Is everyone OK?

Yes, but (pause) something happened.

(bracing himself)

(speaking frantically)
When the radioactive waste mixed with the E150a, it somehow (pause) came to life.  Now it’s adding artificial colour to all our whiskies, even the ones not destined for travel retail.

There is, however, one whisky story out there that begs to be made into a Hollywood film:

The year’s 1918.  A young man named Masataka Taketsuru is about to board a ship bound for California.  A Japanese person travelling abroad at the time would be like you or I going to the North Pole.  Japan was only a few decades removed from sakoku.  During sakoku, people and goods weren’t allowed to enter or leave the country.  Those who left without permission were killed if found.  Leadership feared outsiders, specifically Christians, would unsettle the population, and potentially threaten their authority.  Sakoku lasted for an astounding 265 years.

Seeing Taketsuru off that day was the President of Settsu Shuzo, Kihei Abe.  Once Japan relaxed its isolationist ways in the mid-1800s, “western” practices were widely adopted.  Settsu Shuzo made a whisky-like product that, although popular, was a far cry from “the genuine article.”  After graduating from Osaka Technical High School for Fermented Food Production (that’s a mouthful), Taketsuru became head “whisky” mixer at Settsu Shuzo.  Abe knew it was just a matter of time before real whisky started to circulate throughout Japan.  This is why Taketsuru was going overseas.  After a quick stop in California to observe winemaking practices, Taketsuru would make his way over to Scotland to study chemistry.  Who knows?  Maybe he could find a distillery willing to share a secret or two?

Taketsuru was the perfect fit.  He was bright, keen, and had a real talent for blending.  He also spoke fluent English, which wasn’t exactly common at the time in Japan.  Shortly after arriving in Scotland, Taketsuru enrolled at the University of Glasgow.  One day, a student asked him to teach her brother judo.  A dinner invitation soon followed.  In my movie, it’d go down like this:


RITA sits on the edge of her bed.  She picks up a book, but is too excited to concentrate.  A pair of footsteps make their way up a creaky flight of stairs.  Rita’s younger sister, ELLA, knocks on her bedroom door.

Rita, I’d like you to meet Masataka Taketsuru from Japan.  He’s studying chemistry at the University of Glasgow.

Rita shakes Masataka's hand.  Time stands still.  Cupid’s double-barreled shotgun of love strikes again.

Taketsuru proposed soon after that first meeting.  As you might’ve guessed, it didn’t go over well.  Interracial marriages weren’t as accepted back then as they are today.  Masataka and Rita, without the blessing of their families, exchanged vows at a registry office in Glasgow in 1920.  When it came time for Masataka to return to Japan, life continued to be “less-than-perfect” for Rita.  Despite going above and beyond to fit in, she was shunned by neighbours and spied upon by authorities.  Over time, her devotion to the people of Japan and their cultural practices (some quipped she was more Japanese than Japanese”) won the approval of all, even her most ardent skeptics.  After she died, National Highway No. 229 in Yoichi was renamed “Rita Road” in her honour.

Taketsuru eventually found a distillery willing to answer his questions.  For 5 days, the good people at Longmorn in Speyside taught him all about pot stills, casks, and how to add colour for consistency (good thing there wasn’t a nuclear power plant nearby).  Before returning home, he also spent time at Hazelburn in Campbeltown.  The notes he took while there became the template for early Japanese whisky making.  In 1920, he returned home only to discover Settsu Shuzo was no longer interested in making whisky.  Kotobukiya (now Suntory) eagerly snapped him up, and signed him to a 10-year contract.  There were problems from the start.  Kotobukiya founder, Shinjiro Torii, thought Japan’s first whisky should be safe, approachable, and familiar.  Taketsuru wanted it to be as “scotch-like” as possible.  Their first collaboration, Suntory White Label, was a complete disaster.  It wasnt long before Taketsuru found himself making beer in Yokohama.  Once his contract expired, Taketsuru packed his bags and headed north.  From now on, he was only interested in making whisky for one distillery, his own.

Yoichi, a town on Hokkaido’s west coast, is an ideal spot for making “scotch-like” whisky.  Like Scotland, Hokkaido has a cool, crisp climate, and is flanked by water.  Single malts love countries on the cooler side with moderate summer temperatures.  This is where Taketsuru built his distillery.  Rita also liked Yoichi because it reminded her of home.  In 1940, Taketsuru’s first whisky was ready to be bottled.  He called it Nikka.  Today, Nikka makes two types of single malts:  Miyagikyo and Yoichi.  Yoichi is very much a “Japanese scotch.”  Lightly peated and coastal.  It may drink a bit young, but I still think it’s worth the price of admission.

Happy dramming,


Monday, May 1, 2023

What’s in a Name?

Who invented bourbon?  Who knows?  Wait, that’s not true, the Elijah Craig website knows.  Their use of convincing language like, “Others say,” “Some claim,” and “However it happened,” has finally put this age-old question to rest once and for all.  There’s one thing, however, we do know for certain:  bourbon is called bourbon.  In order for bourbon to be called bourbon, an interesting series of events had to take place.

Bourbonnais was, at one time, a province in the middle of France.  This is where the word “bourbon” originated.  The name’s connection to royalty began in 913, when the first Lord of Bourbonnais was asked by Charles the Simple to oversee the region.  The House of Bourbon ruled France (minus that little blip known as the French Revolution) for over 200 years, from 1589 to 1848.  During that period of time, the French were both friend and foe to the British.  The Seven Years’ War (1756-63), a massive global conflict, saw them pitted against one another.  In North America, the French took a real beating.  They lost all their holdings east of the Mississippi River to the British.  The British may have won the war, but it came at a huge financial cost.  Taxes were raised at home and abroad to pay off the debts incurred.

The Scotch-Irish immigrated to what’s now America in the 17th and 18th centuries.  They were Presbyterians.  When the Crown insisted they become Protestant (Church of England), many crossed the Atlantic hoping a find a more “tolerable” life.  The New World brought with it a new set of challenges.  All the good land was either spoken for or too expensive, giving them little choice but to move westward into uncharted territory.  Many had a background in distilling.  They adjusted their methods to best suit the grains available to them:  rye in the north, corn in the south.  It’s important to note, whisky was more than just an inebriant at the time, it was a cure-all, and (for the most part) safer to drink than water.  Many drank it as though it was water.  The average colonist knocked back 22 litres of alcohol each year.

Two years after the Seven Years’ War, the cash-strapped British passed the Stamp Act.  The colonists now had to pay a tax on virtually every printed item, even playing cards.  This was followed by the Townshend Acts which placed duties on essential goods like glass, paint, and tea.  “No taxation without representation” became the rallying cry throughout the land.  The Revolutionary War began in 1775.  Knowing they couldn’t fight the British alone, the Americans asked the French for help.   Thanks to some savvy diplomacy by Ben Franklin, the French supplied the Americans with money, arms, and troops.  Almost half the soldiers who fought for Washington’s Continental Army were of Scotch-Irish descent.  They, like the French, loved the idea of sticking it to the British.  Once the war was over and the Americans were victorious, parcels of land were given to the Scotch-Irish soldiers as a thank you for their service.  The French were honoured with place names throughout the country like Louisville, Lafayette, and Bourbon County.

One day, you might hear someone at a party say, “I wonder why bourbon is called bourbon?”  If/when that day comes, simply tell them:

“When the Revolutionary War broke out, the French, ruled by the House of Bourbon, sided with the Americans as a way to get back at the British for taking their North American territory during the Seven Years’ War.  A fair amount of soldiers in the American army were of Scotch-Irish descent.  They left Britain for America to flee religious persecution at the hands of the British.  Once the war was over and the Americans won, the Scotch-Irish were given parcels of land on the frontier (now Kentucky) as a thank you for their service.  They farmed the land.  Corn was the dominant crop at the time.  Surplus corn was commonly distilled and used as currency.  Somewhere down the line, they started calling it bourbon.  If the French didn’t help the Americans gain their independence, it probably would’ve been called something else.”

In 1792, those parcels of land on the frontier became the State of Kentucky.  Sazerac-owned Barton distillery started the 1792 range in 2002.  If you go to the 1792 website and click on the Small Batch link, you’ll find a masterclass in marketing buzzwords:

“Unmistakable spice mingles with sweet caramel and vanilla to create a bourbon that is incomparably brash and bold, yet smooth and balanced.”


They’re not lying when they say it’s big on spice, vanilla, and caramel.  1792 Small Batch drinks a tad on the underwhelming side, but I don’t think they intended this to be a standout sipper.  It’s not going to blow you away, but you’ll find yourself reaching for it again and again.

Happy dramming,


Instead of dying she shall merely fall into a profound slumber that will last a hundred years. -  Charles Perrault,  The Sleeping Beauty in ...