A “Spirited” Afternoon


Disclaimer: I’m probably going to pour on heaps of praise over the spirits I tasted yesterday and Bainbridge Organic Distillers. But I do want to say that it’s not because I got to do a free tasting or that I owe Bainbridge anything. What I tasted yesterday revealed to me the possibilities that truly hand-crafted spirits can represent. I’m no industry rep – I’m just a regular guy who loves spirits; a nobody in the whiskey world who doesn’t have an agenda with this blog. But the experience I had with these spirits yesterday was transformative. I want to share that here.


A song comes to mind… Fields of Gold by Sting. The Spaniard in Gladiator walking through a field of wheat, running his hands through the stalks of golden grain; his wife and son waiting for him in the distance. I am that man. Then whisked away to a ship upon the seas

Then whisked away to stand at the bow of a ship upon the seas; the curvature of the Earth ahead of me on the distant, far-off horizon. Breathing in the salt air, I’m refreshed by my lovely lady, the deep azure ocean…

No, that wasn’t a Matthew McConaughy commercial…

Passionate. Creative. Adventurous. Unique. Integrous. Honest. Hand-crafted. Artisinal. Just damn good!

As I explained to Ronnie Armada, Bainbridge’s head of sales, my judgment of a wine or spirit goes far beyond the senses. For me to give a positive assessment of anything I’m tasting, it has to take me to another place; triggering long lost memories or tickling something in my imagination.

For when I taste true greatness, I immediately close my eyes because I know that what I’m tasting is going to transport me to another place; put me in a waking dream. This is the experience I had with each spirit I tasted from Bainbridge yesterday. That’s never happened to me before – even when I was writing about wine – and I can’t express the gratitude I feel to Ronnie for providing me the opportunity to taste his product line.

There’s something special happening on Bainbridge Island, WA just across the Puget Sound from Seattle. I got a quick taste of it a couple of weekends ago when I was up there with the Battle Point whiskey. Made from 100% organic wheat and 100%-organic certified, it was unlike any whiskey I had ever tasted. This compelled me to ask Ronnie if we could meet sometime so I could explore the flavor profile even further. But having tasted 5 of the 6 offerings from Bainbridge, I feel as if the products together demand so much more than mere tasting notes.

But having tasted 5 of the 6 offerings from Bainbridge, I feel as if the products together demand so much more than mere tasting notes. This is because each spirit had its own story to tell; each having its own complexity and sophistication that would be diminished if I described them in a utilitarian, pedestrian manner. Shit! Here I am waxing rhetorically! But that’s the effect these spirits had on me! And mind you, this was a tasting so my senses weren’t muddled.

It’s About the Wheat

One of Bainbridge’s taglines is “grain to glass.” It’s even on their labels. All Bainbridge spirits start with 100% wheat sourced from a single, 100%-organic farm, Williams-Hudson Bay Farm in Walla Walla in Eastern Washington. As Ronnie shared with me, “Sure, we have this distillery that’s creating some incredible stuff, but we feel we have a responsibility to the farm where we get our wheat. It’s a reason why we’re also certified 100% organic.”

When the wheat arrives at the distillery, it is hand-ground into a grist. Hand-ground. I asked Ronnie about that and he said that they don’t use modern machinery so they could ensure that everything is done organically from the delivery of the grain to the finished product. Hand grinding also ensures they have complete control over the process from start to finish. This is artisanship at its best, folks.

No matter what spirit I tasted, that foundation of wheat was always there. By no means is it over-powering. But it is definitely a component that gives Bainbridge spirits their provenance.

Admittedly, and even Ronnie says this, that wheat isn’t for everyone. In fact, when I first met him in Seattle, he was saying this to the two ladies sitting next to him at the bar when I walked up to introduce myself. From my perspective, I love it. The velvety mouthfeel and smoothness from the wheat, plus that “bread” component is something I really dig.

Exploring Bainbridge Organic Distillers

I originally was going to do a transcript of my “interview” with Ronnie. But our meeting quickly became less about doing an interview, and much more about establishing a friendship. Sure, I asked questions about the spirits, but amazingly enough, I didn’t go into the real “geeky” minutiae that I’d normally get into in situations such as this.

It was so much more rewarding swapping stories and sharing about our lives and intermingled with philosophical discussions; things in which great spirits compel one to engage. I learned about the story of the distillery, but that’s something that you can read on the website (http://www.bainbridgedistillers.com). Instead, our conversations led us to discuss things like the wheat as I discussed above.

One whiskey that I didn’t taste was the “Yama.” This is the ultimate high-end whiskey produced by Bainbridge. Aged in Japanese Mizunara oak casks, this whiskey retails at $595, but regularly fetches much more. But the story behind it is SO cool. The whiskey was named after a long-gone town on Bainbridge Island called Yama, which was founded by Japanese immigrants in 1883. It was abandoned due to the closure of the Port Blakely Mill.

Recently, people and organizations have gotten together to restore the town. To help with this effort, Bainbridge donates profits from the sale of its Yama whiskey. I love stories like this! I probably could’ve teased that out with a series of questions, but the whole story – it was A LOT longer than what I provided here – was triggered by a simple comment that I made, “Wow! That Yama must be something else if it’s going at that price point.”

All in all, if I were to distill (excuse the pun) our four-hour meeting down to summarize it all I’d have to say that Bainbridge is a distiller with a conscience.

The Spirits

Heritage Organic Doug Fir Gin

Douglas Fir? Who woulda thunk? But, believe me, it totally works! The doug fir gives it a slightly green tinge depending on the lighting and angle you look at it. On the nose, is an immediate hit of Douglas Fir needles. This is immediately followed by citrus and vanilla with a little saddle soap and tanned leather. The citrus component lingers in the mouth, accentuated by the brightness and heat of its 90 proof. There’s a hint of the obligatory juniper berry and fresh fennel root.

Heritage Oaked Organic Doug Fir Gin

I loved the unoaked gin, but this is an entirely different animal. Similar aroma and flavor components as the unoaked gin, but on the nose they’re subdued, and a definite vanilla/tannin component is present, mellowing out the douglas fir and citrus. On the palate, the oak helps smooth the mouthfeel and the heat, and the finish is long, velvety smooth and oaky.

Interestingly enough, unlike other oaked gins that are barrel aged. This gin is chipped, with medium char chips added along with the botanicals to make them part of the flavoring process up front. The result is an absolutely magnificent gin.

With either gin, I don’t think I could bring myself to drink them with tonic. In addition to the flavor components I mentioned, both have a distinct herbal bitterness, which the quinine in the tonic provides, and why I usually most other gins – when I drink gin – with tonic. Since there’s already some bitterness, I think I’d drink this with a lime twist and a chip of ice – at most. These gins demand to be untainted by unnecessary additives.

Legacy Organic Vodka

It’s no surprise why this Vodka won the Worlds Best Vodka at the World Drinks Awards in London, winning against a field of over 1000 competitors. Before I even knew this, I knew this was something special the moment I first smelled it. Its wheaty provenance dominates the nose, and there’s even a slight antiseptic quality about the aroma that is not at all off-putting. In fact, my first comment to Ronnie was simply, “Clean.” There’s a sweetness to this vodka that lends to the mouth-coating feel of the liquid. That sensation of cleanliness continues in the mouth, but I also get a hint of hazelnut mid-palate, and then a kiss of sea salt. The finish, like the gins, is long and super smooth. I do like that there’s a nice warming effect in the finish, despite the vodka only being 80 proof.

There’s a sweetness to this vodka that lends to the mouth-coating feel of the liquid. That sensation of cleanliness continues in the mouth, but I also get a hint of hazelnut mid-palate, along with… uh… poundcake – again the wheat gets expressed. The finish, like the gins, is long and super smooth, with slight classic black licorice quality – yum. I do like that there’s a nice warming effect in the finish, despite the vodka only being 80 proof.

The thing about this vodka is that nothing really stands out except the wheat – I think that’s intentional. If any of the Bainbridge spirits show off the wheat as the star player, this is it, and it’s awesome!

Vanilla Organic Vodka

As Magnum P. I. would say, “I know what you’re gonna say…” Me too. Flavored vodka? Damn! Hadn’t we had enough of flavored spirits? It’s bad enough that Fireball is popular, but that apple shit is just NASTY!

As Ronnie put it, “This is the flavored spirit for those people who don’t like flavored spirits.” In my most objective opinion, I probably would’ve never even considered buying this. But I have to tell you: This vodka is all about FUN!

The vodka gets its vanilla not from vanilla extract, but from three whole vanilla beans that are placed in the bottle and left to infuse. According to Ronnie, this started out as kind of a fun experiment for a show. Before they knew it, people were asking for it – a lot. So they decided to make it a regular part of their product line.

To me, this vodka in both the nose and the mouth immediately reminds me of Christmas; specifically that Christmas taffy I’d get after sitting on Santa’s lap. While the wheat component and salt are all present, the addition of the vanilla adds a bit of – as I mentioned – fun.

One of the things I mentioned right after tasting it the first time was that it also reminded me of vanilla ice cream. Ronnie laughed and said that a restaurant in Seattle actually makes a milkshake and spikes it with the vanilla vodka. I can easily see why. I’m actually going to do the same…

Battle Point Organic Whiskey

I already reviewed the whiskey, and even though my initial tasting was quick, not much changed. But I do have to say that with the addition of a few drops of water, this whiskey absolutely blooms! That King’s Hawaiian Bread quality is there for sure, along with that banana bread I initially smelled. And as I had more time with it this time around, that cinnamon quality seems more pronounced as the whiskey gets some air, and the long, silky-smooth finish gets a bit of yeasty dough along with the notes of brown sugar. In addition, there’s a slight, roasted cashew component to the finish.

I still stand by my initial assessment: I can see myself sitting on my front porch, pulling on a Cuban cigar, and then washing it down with a healthy sip of this whiskey. It’s not about how heavy this whiskey is. It’s not. It has enough tooth to be slightly chewy, but it’s not at all syrupy in nature. This is such a pleasing whiskey. It definitely will be part of my regular rotation. I daresay that I will be fairly judicious in consuming it, though. It’s much to nice to be a regular drinker.

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Slaughter House American Whiskey

This is the second offering from the Splinter Group, which produces Straight Edge Bourbon. Like Straight Edge, the whiskey is sourced and blended from various distillers, then finished in wine barrels from the Orin Swift Winery in the Alexander Valley in California.

Unlike Straight Edge, however, the Splinter Group doesn’t say where they get the whiskey from, nor do they specify the mash bill. But does that really matter? All I know is that it’s a great whiskey.

My first exposure to Slaughter House was when my favorite bar, Willard Hicks in Campbell, CA, ran out of Straight Edge. My bartender then showed me Slaughter House whom she said was also produced by The Splinter Group. So I decided to give it a whirl.

To me, there was obviously a bit more rye present as the whiskey was bright and just a little hot. But like Straight Edge, it had that fruity component that could only come from a wine barrel.

What I Smell

Just as with Straight Edge, I first get a hint of berry. It’s very subtle, but it’s an indicator of something pleasingly unusual going on. Add to that a slight floral quality then toasted grain on the back-end.

What I Taste

This is a warm and toasty whiskey. The fruitiness from the nose persists onto the palate, but it’s accompanied by a slight cinnamon toast component, then finishing with a slight astringency and subtle bite. I would have expected a more toothy mouthfeel from those components. The flavors come on quick and in-your-face but fade quickly, but they don’t disappear entirely, bolstered by the medium to long finish.

How I Like to Drink It

I usually drink this neat with an ice chip or a few drops of water to help the whiskey bloom – especially if poured from a fresh bottle. But I also love this in an Old Fashioned or a Manhattan. With a Manhattan, the fruit really plays well with vermouth.

Overall Impression

Since I discovered this a few years ago, I’ve gotten a bottle of this every six to nine months. It’s a testament to how much I like it because it doesn’t stay on my shelf for long.

Don’t Be Intimidated By Geeks – Like Me

A few years ago, I started a blog about wine; specifically, my favorite wine, Pinot Noir. It was a way for me to document the various wines I was tasting. I also provided ratings, which proved to be fortuitous in that while my readership wasn’t wide, the winemakers read my blog. As a result, I made a bit of a name for myself – albeit, a small one – among winemakers. It was cool writing that blog, but I kind of lost steam with it, and let it go. I still get contacted about writing and reviewing wines, but I do my best to graciously decline.

When I first started reviewing wines, I subscribed to a bunch of different publications and blogs to get a sense of how to approach writing reviews. What struck me at first was this sense of snobbery that seemed to pervade the discussions. It was so much like academia with people freely bandying their credentials about and using them as mental weapons. It was a little intimidating.

I was discussing this with a close friend who is in the wine business. She rolled her eyes and shared that she knew and had encountered many of those experts, and yes, many of them came off as snobs. But in actuality they weren’t – and I came to find that out myself when I met many of these people. The difference between them and “mere mortals” was that despite the certifications and training, what they had developed was a vocabulary.

Vocabulary, with respect to tasting, is not just developing a lexicon of catchy words and phrases. It is the ability to transcribe into words the images and scents that are observed when tasting a wine or spirit that goes beyond the basic sensory perceptions such as “sweet.”

How sweet is a wine or whiskey? Well, not many have access to a refractometer to measure sugar content, so the best that can be done by a taster is to compare that sweetness to something familiar. So with a wine, that “sweetness” could be described as ripe stone fruit followed by a hint of raw honey.

To the reader, that’s sweet but described in such a way that there’s a familiar reference. Frankly, there’s no magic to it. But to develop a vocabulary requires tasting a lot. It also requires a bit of study. I didn’t just jump into reviewing wine. I had been an amateur connoisseur for decades leading up to that. I had also read many wine reviews, so the way in which I described a wine wasn’t too far off-base from how reviews were presented.

And in the end, vocabulary just doesn’t matter because the end result is binary: You either like it or you don’t. Geeks love to share their vocabulary; 99% of them just use their vocabulary as a matter of course when discussing a beverage. I’ve found very, very few are actual snobs about it.

So please, as the title of this article has suggested, don’t get intimidated by wine or whiskey geeks who have developed a vocabulary. Just remember that their ultimate reaction to a drink is the same as yours: They either like it or they don’t.

What’s Your Go To?

If there’s a whiskey that I have in the house at all times, it’s bourbon. I like all kinds of whiskey, but I’ll go to bourbon before I go to anything else.

Today, a co-worker visiting from out of state and I got into a discussion bourbon. She asked me what my go-to was, and I said, “It’s usually Bulleit.” She sheepishly replied, “Mine’s Evan Williams because I can drink it with ice and coke and not feel guilty that I’m ruining a good bourbon.”

I smiled and told her that I have a liter bottle of Evan Williams that I’ve almost polished off. I’ve been making an Old Fashioned with the stuff nearly every night for the last three weeks (I only use a little at a time), just to wind down before bed.

What can I say? It’s not a bad bourbon at all, and at $15.99 for a liter, it’s pretty easy to pour a drink and not look longingly at the bottle as the volume drops! 🙂

Yeah, I still have my fine bourbons and whiskeys on hand. But I’ve only been enjoying those on the weekend. It’s nice to see that their volumes haven’t dropped. So I think I’ll keep getting this trusty bourbon, though I think I might have to get some Wild Turkey as well to add a change of pace.

Westland American Single Malt Whiskey

As they say, the best cure for a hangover is a beer… But in reality, the best cure for a hangover is to have what you drank the night before. Mixing different booze will just make you sicker.

Such was the case this past Saturday, after a night of drinking great bourbon and whiskeys the previous night. I wasn’t hung over as much as I was just dragging from the Old Fashioneds and shots of bourbon I was drinking with my sons.

We were in Seattle for my niece’s wedding, so prior to the ceremony, my boys and I wanted to “pre-game” the wedding at the bar in our restaurant.

I started with a dram of Tatoosh Bourbon to get things going. My gracious bartender poured it for me to try out, as I had requested trying a locally distilled spirit. It was good; not very inspiring, but still pretty good.

Since the bar technically wasn’t open for another hour, I had to move to the restaurant bar a floor down. Not a big deal, just so long as there was a bartender – of course, there was!

Once I finished my first drink, I immediately flagged my bartender and asked to try the Westland. I had seen it sitting on the shelf the night before and resolved to try it out at some point during my stay. I really enjoyed this single malt – for a couple of rounds.

What I Smell

The first thing that hit me was a coffee candy aroma, that then resolved into a little peat, wet, salty seagrass. There was a certain sweetness that floated throughout the glass that was akin to fresh-cut sugar-cane. Freshly poured, the whiskey holds its aromas close to the vest. But the addition of a couple of drops of water really helped the aromas bloom.

What I Taste

The coffee candy aspect in the nose persisted on the palate, no doubt due to the moderate peat, with a little cherry pipe tobacco. In addition to the coffee, about mid-palate I got some tangerine and a hint of vanilla and caramel. This whiskey has an excellent coating effect, which makes the finish moderately long, with an ever-so-slight astringency. A little hot up-front, but not overpowering; a perfect complement to wet weather.

Overall Impression

I truly enjoyed this single malt. While it doesn’t have the complexity and sophistication of say a Caol Ila, it’s strength lies in the balance of aromas and flavors it does present. I truly believe that over time, as more older whiskey can be blended into the finished product, this whiskey has the potential to blossom into a truly great spirit.

Every Whiskey Has a Story

Within every whiskey, there’s a story waiting to be told. The stories revealed can frighten me, excite me, or tickle long-forgotten memories of times past. And the stories vary from whiskey to whiskey and even bottle to bottle of the same brand.

I want to hear all those stories. I want to immerse myself in the plotlines of flavor each whiskey I taste has to offer.

I’m writing Whiskey My Love to share my own stories of what I taste. It’s less about reviews and more about taking notes, so I don’t forget. But at the same time, I’ll be sharing my own story behind the whiskeys that I encounter.

Bainbridge Battle Point Organic Wheat Whiskey

This trip to Seattle has been incredibly fortuitous with respect to discovering new whiskey! Right before I left my hotel, I was at the hotel’s bar speaking with a man who turned out to be the western regional sales manager for Bainbridge Organic Distillers on Bainbridge Island.

When I first encountered the man, I had no idea that he was part of Bainbridge. But he had struck up a conversation with two ladies within earshot of me, and though I didn’t mean to eavesdrop, I couldn’t help but listen to him tell his elevator pitch. Once I heard it, I got up, introduced myself, and told him I write a blog about whiskey.

At that, the bartender pushed a shot glass towards me that had a sample taste of the whiskey, which they just so happened to carry. 🙂 Nice. I had to go, so I didn’t have much time to converse with him, but I did get to taste the whiskey. Wow!

What I Smell

I must have a weird nose, but one of the first smells that hit me was a subtle banana bread aroma. I looked up, puzzled over it, but didn’t say anything. I absolutely loved it! I then detected a slight, wet, sweet hay, and forest floor, along with a buttery note that seemed to indicate that a richness was awaiting me.

What I Taste

Oh wow… I’ve never had a 100% wheat whiskey. I know it’s whiskey when I drink it, but it doesn’t have the expected notes that come from mixed grain spirits. They’re certainly similar, but well… the characteristics are different enough to make this unique.

For me, there’s a sweet, buttered bread-like quality up-front, like liquified King’s Hawaiian Bread. The banana bread certainly persists on the palate, but it’s accompanied with a bit of raw cane sugar, giving way to a slight raw honey note, that then breaks into Wheat Thins. Underlying that, I also get spicy notes of clove and cinnamon to highlight the palate even further. The finish is moderate, with a slightly sweet brown sugar note. Mouthfeel throughout is silky-smooth and full-bodied.

Overall Impressions

Because I only had the one taste thus far, it wouldn’t be fair or right to include a “How I Like to Drink It” section. But should I get this whiskey – which I certainly will – I’d probably stick to drinking it neat or over a cube. But this would also go great with a medium-bodied robusto cigar. I have a couple of Cubans in my freezer that I might thaw out to drink this.

This is definitely not a whiskey I’d drink every day. It’s far too unique, complex and sophisticated to waste as a daily drinker. It is a whiskey that is meant to be savored and sipped. But that said, this whiskey has got me curious enough to explore it further since I only had a brief tasting. I really need to see how it changes in the glass and that will take a longer amount of time.

I can’t wait to finally spend some time with this whiskey. At least from my initial tasting, it shows lots of promise!