August 5, 2014

The Beast Masters Club

Eleven men with a mission: To drink our way through the world's best whiskey.  I could tell you where and when, but then I'd have to kill you.  But I can let slip a few of the gory details.  (And don't worry, Mrs. Beast has her own secret club going on for the ladies, more about that later...)

The Beast Masters

Professor Rickhouse
Hometown: Greenwich, CT
Poison of Choice: Bourbon
Favorite open bottle: Michter's 10yr

Haggis MacTavish
Hometown: New York, NY
Poison of Choice: Malt Whisky
Favorite open bottle: Lagavulin 16

Seamus O'Schwartz
Hometown: Lawrence, NY
Poison of Choice: Bourbon
Favorite open bottle: Black Maple Hill 16 Year

El Diablo
Hometown: Thorpe Bay, UK
Poison of Choice: Malt Whisky
Favorite open bottle: Lagavulin 21 Year

Hometown: New Orleans, LA
Poison of Choice: Rye
Favorite open bottle: Bulleit

The Matador
Hometown: Washington, D.C.
Poison of Choice: Malt Whisky
Favorite open bottle: Macallan 12 Year

The Highway Man
Hometown: Middlebury, VT
Poison of Choice: Bourbon
Favorite open bottle: Woodford Reserve

Captain Sour Mash
Hometown: Atlantic Beach, NY
Poison of Choice: Bourbon
Favorite open bottle: William Larue Weller

Neaty Peaty
Hometown: New York, NY
Poison of Choice: Malt Whisky
Favorite open bottle: Ardbeg

Jew Done Drank Ma Whiskey
Hometown: New York, NY
Poison of Choice: Bourbon
Favorite open bottle: Pappy Van Winkle 15 Year

Mr. S. Beast
Hometown: New York, NY
Poison of Choice: Rye
Favorite open bottle: Willett 24 Year

Some Background

We've gotten a lot of requests to break down some fundamentals, so before we get started on the insanity, here is some background.

Rule 1: It's all whiskey. 
Bourbon is whiskey.  Scotch is whisky (minus the "e").  Rye is whiskey.  It's all whiskey.   

Rule 2: Scotch is scotch.  
Scotch is whiskey from Scotland.  Single malt scotch is the product of one specific distillery.  Scotch is 100% malted barley (aka malt whisky). "Peated" scotch uses the traditional method of drying malted barley with peat fires which gives the liquor its smoky flavor.  Islay (pronounced "EYE-luh")is an Island west of mainland Scotland that is famous for using original production methods and producing delicious smoky whisky.

For our inaugural episode, we thought we'd go straight to the essence of whiskey: Islay.  Not taking anything away from American whiskey, but Islay is the motherland.  Barley dried with peat - the literal rot of thousands of years of Scotland flavoring the same hooch that's been made for centuries.  Old smoke, brown water, the real stuff.  We'll get to bourbon and rye (perhaps our current favorites on the shelf) but lets start at the beginning.  

Independent Bottlers

There are two ways to buy whiskey: Official Bottlings (OB's) are distilled and bottled directly by the distillery.  Independent bottlers are third-party companies that buy whiskey in bulk from the distilleries, and then age and bottle it themselves.  We decided to start with independent bottlers, because you can often find older vintages at a better price.  We ended up with three legendary brands: Gordon MacPhail, Sestante, and Signatory Vintage.

The Line Up

1982 Port Ellen 25 Year
Gordon & MacPhail

We've reviewed Port Ellen on SmokyBeast before, and sufficed to say it's Islay's most sought-after and impossible distillery.  Mothballed in 1982, never to be produced again, you can't be a fan of Islay malts and not make it your life's ambition to taste some Port Ellen.  

At the very low proof of 40% ABV, this was a delicate dram.  It was a great way to start the night, just the utterly smooth, smoldering smoky warmth of a drink that's pretty hard to hate.  Sweet notes of perfume and cashew nuts mixing with mellow campfire smoke, some light citrus and salty sea air.  

1981 Bunnahabhain 31 Year
Signatory Cask Strength

We wanted to try a sherry cask Islay, and none are more famous than the old Bunnas.  Unfortunately in this case the common perception was that the sherry had gone too far.  There was a rancid quality of good grapes gone wrong.  This got better as the dram opened up over the course of the night, but it was still by far the least favorite of the lineup.  Very heavy sour grapes, lots of wood, an almost sickly sweet sherry aftertaste.  

1981 Caol Ila 31 Year
Silver Seal / Sestante

This one knocked it out of the park.  Cask strength (54.2%), thirty-one year Caol Ila.  Absolutely dynamite bottle!  It was so nutty, so rich, immensely smoky, it all came together with sweetness and balance.  Incredible luck with this bottle.  Deep smoke on the nose, but a very drinkable palate with leather, oak, hefty sea brine / salt water, rich spices (peppers and curries and herbs), white chocolate.  All rich lovely smoke and sweet on the finish.  

1975 Ardbeg 27 Year
Gordon & MacPhail 

1975 is Mr. Beast's year of birth, as well as several others in the club.  It was also a legendary year for Ardbeg, producing some of the most famous official releases ever.  This Gordon & MacPhail "Connoisseurs Choice" - though somewhat unfortunately down-proofed to 43% - was a taste of that amazing year for one of our favorite distilleries.  This was the favorite of probably half the club, amazingly smooth yet smoky with lots of wood, a little grassy / farmy quality going on, very warm with smoke floating in the background.  It started a bit flat and opened up incredibly well over the course of an hour or two.

Favorite Beasties

For those of us who prefer cask strength malts and love big peat, nothing beat the Caol Ila.  Overall the Ardbeg was the favorite of the night, with the Port Ellen coming in a very close second.   Both those bottles were gone in a flash.  Mission accomplished.  

Stay tuned for Beast Masters Club Episode 2: Best of American Rye Whiskey...


  1. Um... HOLY SHIT! What kind of insane Skull & Bones shit do I have to do to get in this club??