Water of Life Society (WoLS) meeting
Edinburgh Whisky Blog (EWB) Prohibition Tasting
On Thursday 30th January the hugely anticipated EWB hosted tasting was held celebrating 80 years since the end of prohibition in the U.S. Hosted by Tiger and Chris from EWB we were educated and entertained with the history behind prohibition in the U.S. and introduced to our line-up of drinks for the evening.
The Manhattan Cocktail 2013, 35.3% ABV, £37.95 for 70cl
The Manhattan to start with was a reminder of the fact that the 1920’s are commonly associated as being the ‘cocktail era’. In the U.S. however the impact of prohibition meant that most of the greatest cocktail-makers were rapidly leaving the U.S. and spreading the art of mixology around the world due to their inability to use premium spirits and make or sell their concoctions legally at home. As many of them re-located to the U.K. we are indebted to prohibition for bringing us great cocktails here! Cheers.
Make your own Manhattan: Measure 50ml Whisky, 25ml Sweet Vermouth and a dash of Angostura Bitters into a mixing glass, fill glass with ice and stir until combined, strain into a martini glass, garnish with a maraschino cherry and slice of orange peel.
FEW White Whiskey (Or White Dog), 40% ABV, £32.95 for 75cl
Score 48/100 – couldn’t finish it…
“Out of darkness, comes white. The golden age of whiskey is still very much alive, but some of us prefer a little adventure. Bottled before it meets the barrel, this white whiskey retains an unadulterated flavor with a crisp, clean bite. We stand by tradition, but a little change can be good. FEW White Whiskey.”
“This is a white whiskey (or white dog) from the FEW Spirits Distillery, white whiskey is un-aged and has a particularly rich character. This white whiskey is made of a mash of 70% corn, 20% wheat and 10% two row malt. Although this can be drunk neat it works excellently as a base spirit in many cocktails. FEW Spirits hails from Evanston in the United States of America, a city that suffered Prohibition for over one hundred years thanks to many of its advocates hailing from its dry streets. Thankfully Evanston is now home to this excellent craft distillery which takes its name ironically from the initials of Frances Elizabeth Willard, a key figure in the Temperance Movement.”
Seagrams V.O. 6 Year Old Blend (1970’s Bottling)
During prohibition Canadian whiskey came into prominence as U.S. distilleries were shut down. Canadian Rye was popular with bootleggers and mobsters alike who set up a huge supply chain of the stuff into the U.S. to keep their customers happy. For example Al Capone was associated with smuggling in thousands of casks of Canadian Club during the prohibition era and making himself famously rich in the process. This bottling of Seagram’s V.O. – rumoured to stand for Very Own blend as it was born out of a post-meal conversation between members of the Seagram family – contains blended Canadian Rye whisky of a minimum of 6 years old. This historic bottling appears to have been imported into Italy (from Canada) in the 1970’s during which time the town of Evanston (home of the FEW distillery above) was likely still dry due to prohibition! So technically this is a Prohibition-era whisky! A very nice blended rye – interesting to see how the modern day equivalent tastes.
Old Pulteney 1990 Vintage, 46% ABV, £120 for 70cl
Previously scored 91/100
Previously sampled as part of the Old Pulteney twitter tasting (#PulteneyTT) to mark its launch: Old Pulteney 1990 Vintage
This is an interesting experiemental expression from Old Pulteney in which they interred OP whisky into casks that had previously held heavily peated (i.e. Islay) malt. During the twitter tasting it was pointed out that the parent company Hiram Walker owned Ardbeg (Islay, heavily peated), Old Pulteney and Balblair (who have also just released an identical 1990 ex-peated cask vintage expression) leading to the suggestion that Ardbeg barrels were used. During the WoLS tasting this rumour was quashed with a statement to the effect that Laphroaig barrels were used. Either way this is a very nice expression and was served up to us to remind us of the fact that outside of the U.S. prohibition was enforced in Wick, the hometown of Old Pulteney. This was likely due to commandeering of the herring fleet during the first world war, leaving the town’s inhabitants without employment. To curb the culture of drunkenness the local ward of Wick voted itself dry on 28th May 1922. Prohibition in Wick lasted 25 years to the day (28th May 1947), twice that in the U.S. ! The 28th May is now celebrated as Prohibition Day in Wick.
“Matured in American ex-bourbon and Spanish ex-sherry casks which previously held heavily peated whisky, each 700ml bottle is non-chill filtered at 46% ABV. Amber in colour, on the palate this full bodied expression is sweet to start with a touch of spice and a long and intense smoky finish.”
SMWS #29.150 Hand rolled Cuban cigars, 59.2% ABV £69.70/70cl
An 18 year old Laphroaig from a refill ex-bourbon barrel. Distilled on 04/04/1995, bottled at 59.2% ABV for a total outturn of 197 bottles. During the prohibition-era in the U.S. many inventive ways (both legally and illegally) were found to get around what was basically an unenforceable ban on the sale and consumption of alcohol. One of my favourite anecdotes from this period is that the super-peaty Laphroaig whisky from Islay was so full of phenols that it was considered purely medicinal as nobody would drink it for pleasure. In actual fact it was legal for medical doctors to prescribe alcohol (whisky?) for medicinal purposes. The extent to which this took place made a mockery of the law, much of the medicinal whisky (or correctly – whiskey) came from the hundreds of distillers still in the U.S. producing spirit “unexcelled for medical purposes” but in practicality was exactly the same content in the bottle as pre-prohibition. Tiger and Chris also thought it particularly fitting that this bottle was named after another highly prohibited item in the U.S.
“We all agreed that we are visiting a harbour watching the fishing boats unloading their catch which is mostly shellfish like clams, mussels, oysters and scallops. It is early in the morning and aromas of bacon rolls with brown sauce are mingling with the fresh, salty sea breeze. The taste is chewy and juicy like wine gums but at the same time there is the earthiness and smokiness of a peat hearth combined with the spiciness of cinnamon and nutmeg. With water turning fresh and fruity like an apple ginger lemon juice, sweet as a vanilla cupcake and the flavours of sweet tobacco – premium hand rolled Cuban cigars.”
Date Distilled: 4 April 1995
Colour: Peach gold
Age: 18 years
Flavour : Heavily peated
Cask Type: Refill ex-bourbon barrel
Whisky Region: Islay
Cutty Sark Prohibition Edition 50% ABV (100 US Proof)
As a special ‘under-the-table’ final dram of the evening we were treated to the Cutty Sark Prohibition Edition, not yet available in the UK. Donations were collected in aid of Marie Curie Cancer Care as part of the current fund-raising campaign run by the ‘Jolly Toper’ (Mark) from Cadenhead’s Whisky Shop in memory of his late father-in-law. Cadenhead’s have provided the EWB with numerous fantastic and hard to find bottles for use in their tasting over the years and this was part of their way of saying thanks and supporting such a worthy cause. One amongst many fund-raisers the EWB participate in with their Movember antics being the most follically and facially spectacular!
“Released 90 years after the end of the era which it celebrates, Cutty Sark Prohibition Edition has been crafted as a salute to the notorious Captain William McCoy, who smuggled Cutty Sark blended Scotch whisky into America during the Prohibition era of the 1920s. Captain McCoy’s impeccable reputation for fairness and dealing only in the finest, genuine and unadulterated liquor gave rise to Cutty Sark being referred to as “The Real McCoy”. Prohibition Edition is bottled at 50% ABV (100 Proof – USA Measure), whilst our regular Cutty Sark blend is 40% ABV. This is a “small batch” blend of the finest single malts and top-quality grain whiskies. Hand-selected American oak casks give subtle signature flavours of vanilla and citrus fruits, whilst the overall flavours and finish are extremely smooth and thrillingly complex. The black glass bottle has a cork seal – reflecting the traditions of the time.
Colour:Warm golden colour, early morning sunshine setting the heavens on fire.
Nose:Complex and powerful, layers of soft ripe citrus fruits, dipped in fresh honey and dusted with fragrant spices.
Palate:Creamy mouth-coating richness, hints of toffee with mouth-wateringly playful peppery notes which tingle the edges of the tongue.
Finish:Super smooth with soft lingering warmth and subtle hints of spice.”
Finally it leaves me to thank Chris and Tiger from EWB for being excellent hosts for the evening, and Richard and Carrie from WoLS for ensuring I made it!