A sinner’s governor

I don’t know much about Virginia Governor-elect Robert McDonnell, but I already like him far more than his paternalist predecessor Tim Kaine. One of the first items on his agenda is privatizing the state’s horrendous liquor stores:

[…] the commonwealth currently only has about 300 ABC stores to serve nearly 8 million people, or about one per 27,000 people. The District, in contrast, has more than 500 stores. D.C. consumers are much better served with broader selection, greater convenience and lower prices. Many Virginians, particularly the half-million or so who live inside the Beltway, travel into the District to buy spirits, costing Virginia revenue.

Virginia’s ABC stores are a tower of mediocrity. They are centrally managed retail outlets that would have been palaces in the Soviet Union, but today they are anachronistic. They offer highly limited choices, often lacking exciting new brands or those with a cult following. Staff members generally aren’t knowledgeable about how to mix drinks or make cocktails. And the prices are artificially high because there is no competition: The state decides what to charge.

That’s from Garrett Peck, whose book The Prohibition Hangover arrived at my apartment last week. It’s now at the top of my to-read pile.

McDonnell was also an opponent of the Virginia smoking ban, believing that smoking policies were another issue best left to the free market. If he can weaken the ban and eliminate the ABC liquor monopoly I’ll gladly light a stogie and sip a rare bourbon in his honor next time I’m in the Old Dominion.

Update 11/9/09: It’s been pointed out that McDonnell has a paternalist streak too, at least when it comes to the bedroom. See this Washing Post editorial about his early conservative views, which though they may have cooled still have him opposing same-sex marriage.

[Via Ivan Osorio and @StogieGuys.]


Overcoming blend bias

What, no election day post? Yeah, sorry. I was in the middle of writing something when I got an invitation from my friend Lance to join him at a Scotch tasting. Drinking Scotch at 2:30 in the afternoon pretty much killed my productivity, but sometimes you’ve got to make sacrifices. Maybe I’ll get it up tomorrow or maybe this blog will just go straight into some food and drink posts. We’re due for some after all the politics of the past few weeks. Don’t like it? Blame Lance.

The tasting was hosted by Dewar’s. I’m your stereotypical elitist single malt guy, so I was a little wary of the blends. Dewar’s wanted to fight that prejudice and educate us about how blending works and why we should appreciate a good blended whisky. So after warming us up with glasses of their 12-year-old offering, they lined up samples of six different components that go into a blend: single malts from the 4 recognized regions, an Island malt, and the simple grain Scotch that forms the base. We sampled their aromas and went over a quick course about what sets them apart from each other. Our challenge? To create our own individual blend, with each team choosing their favorite for the final judging.

My McDivot blend (named after the cute terrier you sometimes see at the top of the page) took home first place. This was due to luck more than skill, but the Scotch did turn out the way I hoped it would, with a healthy dose of peat and smoke. I’m sipping the remnants now, and it really is the kind of Scotch I like to drink. It’s striking how large an effect a tiny bit of Islay and Island has on the blend; just a few milliliters from a pipette into a 100 mL sample are all it takes to radically change the flavor profile.

The prize was a bottle of the Dewar’s 12. It packs a little bit of heat and is well-balanced with just the right amount of smoky depth. It’s something I probably never would have picked up on my own, but it’s actually a nice Scotch and much easier on the wallet than a high-end single malt. I’d love to enjoy it with a strong maduro cigar. Now that I’ve given it a fair shake I could easily see keeping a bottle on hand.

The finale to the tasting was a glass of the Dewar’s Signature blend. Twenty-seven-year-old whisky from the company’s Aberfeldy distillery makes up the heart of this one and the extra aging does seem to come through in a stronger vanilla flavor. It’s definitely a good drink, but at $160-200 a bottle it’s well past the point where I’d consider the expense worthwhile. For that kind of money I’d rather get two excellent single malts.

Today’s tasting didn’t convert me away from my love of big, peaty single malts, but it did leave me with a deeper education about Scotch and a much greater appreciation for blends. If you’re looking for an affordable whisky with depth and character, the Dewar’s 12 is certainly worth checking out.


The case for Portland

I already knew Portland boasts the most breweries per capita in the United States, but this is even more appealing:

The small craft distillery scene has hit Portland, reminiscent of the microbrewery boom two decades ago. Young microbrewers and winemakers are now distilling whiskey, brandy, grappa and even absinthe. And taking a page from Kentucky’s iconic whiskey distillers, they are beginning to host tours and tastings. With 17 microdistilleries in Oregon, and eight more startups expected across the state by year’s end, spirits aficionados haven’t seen anything like this in recent memory.

Sure, boutique distilleries also dot the landscapes in Michigan and Northern California, but only in Oregon do most artisan distilleries concentrate around a city. Collectively, the distillers help shape the bar and culinary scene in Portland. The Rose City is now seeing a renaissance of classic cocktails, and some high-end restaurants are trying experimental pairings of food with spirits.

“The distillery scene here is where the wine industry in California was in the 1960s,” said Steve McCarthy, owner of Clear Creek Distillery, one of the nation’s first microdistilleries. “We are rewriting all the rules. The artisan distilleries are making up a whole new industry.”

Congrats also to Lance Mayhew, whom the article calls one of the “city’s best bartenders.”

One of the next steps I’d like to take in my drinks education is getting to know more about the production process for spirits, beer, and coffee. By that measure, Portland is hard to beat.

[Via Slashfood.]

One year