Tuesday, June 18, 2013

After-Dark Whiskey, Gluten-Free


A few weeks ago, a friend and colleague who manages one of the best private liquor stores in the Lower Mainland of BC sent me a quick email. It read:

"Kristof, I have a sample of whiskey for you."

I responded to Crystal (the person in question) "Crystal, many thanks, but I'm allergic to whiskey (being a celiac). That's besides the fact that I live a 90-minute drive from your store."

This was followed by a subsequent email of

"It's gluten-free."


"I'm on my way."

Ok - I must admit to be more then a little dubious. In my heyday - long before I knew that drinking it was creating an allergic reaction, I was a loyal whisk(e)y drinker. Scotch, Irish-Whiskey, Bourbon... ah the joys of pot-distilled grain alcohol~! I had my preferences; from Tullamore Dew with my pint of Harp, to an Oban or Glenmorangie to pair with a cigar, to Booker's "Old Rare" just for sippin'

So, then, gluten-free?? I couldn't imagine how it could be done, much less done well - but I was keen to try. I almost stayed within the speed-limits as I chased this idea up to Edgemont Village and the oh-so-special den of iniquity there-in. I wandered into the store ( http://edgemontliquor.com/ ) and was confronted by walls of world-class wines and spirits reaching to the heavens (or at least 12'...) "Help.." I pleaded

Thank goodness Crystal has procured not only great products, but great people to share their knowledge as well. A kind man pulled out the last few drops from the sample bottle, poured it into a proper spirit glass (many thanks - it does make a difference), and left me in peace to analyze....

I was flummoxed! My poor palate, which hadn't had a sip of whiskey in about 5 years, was now being inundated with nuanced flavors and aromas unlike any other. It was soft on the nose, needing some coaxing, but opened on the palate... well... you can read the review later!

So I called the importer that very day, told him that I had to write about this, and arranged to receive a sample bottle (a perk of the trade). And then - then I went to work!

On ice, straight up, chilled bottle, room temp, with water, with soda, etc etc etc. Oh it's a hard life being a writer! But it occurred to me, doing all of my little experiments, that for all that I knew many flavors of whiskey - I don't actually know much about whiskey itself. And so I did some research:

I knew the basics: that in Western Europe it's considered to have been created by the Celts long before the first recorded distillations in the 14th century.... no, by that time the water of life as it was known had been around for centuries. But what of it? And what's really changed since then?

Well several components are known to truly create flavor in Whisk(e)y: the still, the water, the malt and the maturation. Let's examine them more closely.

I know a fellow, great guy, who is madly passionate about single-malts. He and I have bantered over the years and I'm proud to be able to call him a friend. For his day-job he's currently head barman at a prosperous piece of plank on Granville Street, slinging pints to some of the cities finest. By night he's building his own cider-house and is set to change the world of cider/cyder one apple at a time :)

Well he and I have talked about stills and he helped me to understand that column-stills deliver fast results and continuous production. The downside? Lack of flavor... purists (pardon the play on words) much prefer the older style of pot-still which has been used for centuries. These stills leave a little bit of flavor behind; a little impurity. This is what most whiskey lovers would say produces the best quality, the best flavored spirits.

Most world-class businesses understand that it takes great components to create a terrific end product. In Scotland, distilleries guard fiercely the wells, springs, creeks and glens from whence their magical water flows. There's even a vodka company that brags about melting icebergs for their spirit! This is a common theme in the finest producers of beverages.

Just as every distillery has it's own vista, so too it looks onto a different land. It's from this land that distilleries find their grain to toast and the where-withal to toast it. For example, Highland distilleries still burn peat to toast the malt. The result? Very smokey malt, hence smokey flavors in the distillate.

And then there's the last piece of the puzzle. A spirit, you see, doesn't evolve (arguably) as it ages in bottle. Most experts agree whole-heartedly that spirits only develop as they age in cask. The biggest revolution in the world of Whisk(e)y may be in this last crucial step!

In days of yore, maturation was only in French or American oak barrels (to the best of my knowledge). These days? Sherry casks, wine casks, port casks, rum casks... you name it and there's probably a distiller somewhere who it toying with how to extract flavors from another type of barrel. All of these previous residents (of the barrel) have left behind something of themselves - and they add that bit of themselves to the Whisk(e)y.

I for one was especially fond of the Glenmorangie when they developed their Sherry cask finish; slightly floral, almondy, toasty notes added great dimension to one of my all-time favorite spirits.

And so that brings us to the fellow in question, the star of today's article: After Dark gluten-free whisky from Radico Khaitan Ltd of Rampur, India ( http://www.radicokhaitan.com/after_dark_premium.html ). Their importer into Canada is Distiller's Pride ( http://www.distillerspride.com/ ) and you can read more about their products on the website.

After Dark
$40 (BC)
91+ points
Silver Medal at the Monde Selection Quality Award 2011

*adding a few drops of water opens the palate and aromas immensely, and was done for the purpose of the following notes

  • visual:   clear; medium golden-amber core, copper highlights
  • nose:   clean; medium+ spicy chili, honey, ripe stonefruit, white flowers, musky background, cedar tones
  • palate:   clean; fully intense flavors that are perfectly in-sync with the aromas; a heady concentration of honeyed floral tones, soft stonefruit glazed with Thai chili honey and a truly rich woodsy/musky backdrop. Excellently crafted, this is superb at room temperature!
  • conclusion:   a world-class spirit; to me, one of the great markers of any spirit is: Can I enjoy it straight, and at room temperature. This spirit can do both. I found that a few drops of water really does open the nose and palate immensely, and would recommend this to anyone purchasing a bottle.
  • pairing:   tonight I'm going with the Don Lino cigar of Dominican Republic... rich mocha-tones will enjoy and balance the spice in the Whisky!

And so, a delightful end to many trials and experiments with several guest judges in my home... all agreed that the spirit was immaculately crafted - more Speyside in it's approach then Highland, it must be judged on it's own merits. I am glad to be shown that the world is changing, and a door that was once closed to me - and to millions of others - is now re-opened. But one last word~!

This is not just a Whisky for celiacs! When I think of the blended Scotch that we here in BC can purchase for the low $40's, I am reminded that the market is rather sparse. The quality of most is decent, if not great, and the flavors are good, if not fully developed... those are the Scotches we drink with an ice-cube, and on a Tuesday night, not a Friday with a good friend.

Do yourself a favor. Give this a try and if you really, sincerely, believe your blended Scotch of similar price is better - I'll buy the rest of the bottle from you and drink it myself. You doubt my word??? The proof - my friend - is in the glass!

As always, I welcome your thoughts and comments here or on Twitter @AStudentOfWine

CINCIN~!!!     SLAINTE~!!!     CHEERS~!!!

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