Upcoming Wine & Spirits Seminars

For those of you who don’t know, not only do I spend time working on my personal beverage blog, but I also have the glitzy position of Director of Marketing & Education at the Divine Wine Emporium here in the shoreline village of Niantic, CT. With fall coming up, it means we start rounding up guest speakers from different wine and spirits companies to tell good stories and of course, pour samples for us to try.

So let me be a shill and give some press to Divine Wine today. Our calendar is filling up fast, and we are getting the festivities started tomorrow night. The guest speaker programs are typically free, while our in-house educational sessions require a fee of some kind. Here’s a rundown of what we have coming up, and if you are in town give a call to Divine Wine at (860) 691-1053 to RSVP for any of the programs below.


Thursday, September 20th, 7:00pm (Cost: $0): Single Cask Nation & More. Josh Hatton, founder of Single Cask Nation and Northeast Regional Manager for ImpEx Beverage, will be talking whisk(e)y with us. He has seven whiskies in total to share, two of which come from Single Cask Nation. Other products include Kilchoman and Isle of Skye from Scotland and Ohishi from Japan. Josh is a great guy, who I got to know back in March at a trade tasting with Skurnik Wines & Spirits.


Wednesday, September 26th, 7:00pm (Cost: $0): Piazzo Winery. We welcome this outstanding producer of Piedmont wines to the classroom. We already carry the Piazzo Barolo, and we will be tasting a range of other wines from the region (expect this to be a red wine-leaning seminar). Marco, the grandson of Armando Piazzo who is heavily involved at the winery, will be our presenter for the evening.


Wednesday October 10th/17th/24th, 7:00pm (Cost: $100 for the three sessions): Wine 101. The Boss himself, Ken Turcotte, Certified Specialist of Wine and WSET Advanced Level III is running his tremendous foundation wine course that he has taught to nearly 1,000 students over the last 16 years. He covers everything from field to bottle in a fun, casual setting over three Wednesdays in October. The tuition covers all study materials and wines that will be tasted.


Thursday, October 25th, 7:00pm (Cost TBD): Gin Lane 1751. Geoff Curley, founder of Gin Lane 1751, is extremely passionate about gin and works to not only build his brand, but to promote the gin category. He will be offering a full seminar on gin, complete with sampling four products, and providing practical know-how in the form of cocktails, classic and modern.

Skip The Tie. Buy Him Booze!

This Sunday marks one of the highlights of the calendar. National Turkey Lover's Day? National Go Fishing Day? Well, if you love turkey and like or want to go fishing, then yeah...you will be on Cloud Nine. No, I am referring to Father's Day. Additionally, do you know what today is? Apparently, it is National Bourbon Day. What a great time to be a whiskey-loving father!

Yawn. Can I drink this?

Yawn. Can I drink this?

You may be looking for a gift for dear old Dad this week or anyone you know who is a father. Sure, you could go with the cliché gifts, but why?

A toolbox? Guess what...I haven't a handy bone in my body.

A tie? I don't use one in the wine and spirits biz. Things tend to be casual around here.

How about a service, like mowing the lawn or washing the car? Cute, but the grass and the car will be in worse shape that it was before.

Nah. Assuming dad likes a good adult beverage, skip all that stuff and buy him booze! You are in luck, good Father's Day gift shopper. You have more options at your disposal than ever before. I something interesting today when tasting products with Berkshire Mountain Distillers: they received the 50th distillery permit in the country back in 2007. Today, there are over 1,300 permits. Craft spirit fans rejoice!

What about wine? There's a style for everyone. White, pink, or red? Sparkling? New World or Old World? Perhaps Dad is also a cigar-lover and would enjoy some Port, Sherry, or Madeira along with a stogie. I also know if I see my father, I can walk in with a bottle of red wine and everyone will be happy. In fact...red wine is required prior to entry of my parents' house, or I get sent away.

Of course, you have beers, too. There are over 5,300 breweries in the U.S. alone. Europe has about as many, too. So many choices available to you!

This isn't a comprehensive buying guide, but here are some brews, wines, and spirits that I enjoy personally or have brought as gifts before. Any of the following would make a fine choice for the old man, with some emphasis on Bourbon for spirits. To all the dads out there, have a great day this Sunday and keep kicking ass in the parenting department! Your family will (hopefully) reward your efforts with something below.

Two Roads Brewing Rye 95 Tripel Blonde Ale ($10/4-pack): Fruity, hoppy, spicy, complex, and rich. It may not be an ideal drink for the summer, but it does taste fantastic. At 9.5% abv, it's a beast, but after a long day for Pops it can be very satisfying.

Goose Island Sofie Saison ($12/4-pack): This Belgian-Style Ale takes 20% of the beer and ages it in wine barrels with citrus peels. Golden in color, peppery, citrusy, and lively. It's a great way to treat Dad.

Ventisquero Grey Glacier Single Block Red Blend ($25): I remember how good the Single Block series is when Ventisquero's wines were presented in the classroom. This is a red blend of Garnacha (Grenache), Cariñena (Carignan), and Mataro (Mourvèdre) that is big and bold, full-bodied, and fruity. This has a surprising acidity on the finish that doesn't make this wine feel to heavy on the palate, and it is a steal at this price.

Schloss Johannisberg Riesling Grünlack (Green Seal) Spätlese ($55): If Dad is out there fishing and catching some trout, enjoying lobsters, or even sausages on Sunday, this is a killer pairing with any of those dinner options. Schloss Johannisberg is a single vineyard estate in the Rheingau region of Germany that has been making exquisite wines for 500 years. Pineapple, peach, green herbs, and a beautiful balance of acidity and sweetness make this an awesome wine to either enjoy now or let dad stick in the cellar to evolve further.

Knob Creek Single Barrel Reserve 120 Proof ($48): I really enjoy Knob Creek's flagship 100 Proof expression, but let Dad taste what their whiskey is like almost straight from the barrel. Bottled at this high proof, the Bourbon has a ton of character and fire, with toasted nuts, vanilla, caramel, and a little bit of smokiness on the finish. Get the fire pit going and grab a dram of this whiskey!

Berkshire Mountain Distillers Smoke and Peat Bourbon ($60): Out of western Massachusetts, Berkshire Mountain distills and ages all of their product on-site. This expression takes Berkshire's flagship Bourbon that was already aged four years, then ages it another six months in casks that previously held Laphroaig 10-Year Scotch Whisky. Plenty of smoke and medicinal notes from the peat, but does not overwhelm the corn-based sweetness of the Bourbon. Great for those who aren't sure if they should buy Bourbon or Scotch...this brings the best of both worlds!


Enduring The Big Game and Joe Buck: How To Drink On Super Bowl Sunday

(Warning: Contains some football and other sports content)

Long before I became interested in alcoholic beverages, I was a severe sports nerd. I still follow sports, but it doesn't consume my life as it once did. The days of watching a hockey game go into five overtimes on a Wednesday in February are over; I value sleep far more than my desire to stay up for a game. That being said, I have still been hooked on one sport and that is professional football.

Yeah, I know. The sport isn't perfect these days, and truthfully none of them are. Football game flow is choppier now and off-field transgressions are always in the spotlight. Basketball games come to a screeching halt with two minutes left in a half. Baseball can take forever since there is no clock. Major college sports is driven by the quest for the dollar. I get it, trust me. But with its ease of television viewing, ability to wager (where legal) and play fantasy games, I can't resist the call of the National Football League. 

So this little sporting event viewed by gazillions of people is being played on Sunday evening that I shouldn't really mention by name or some NFL executive's minion will beat down my door and give me a scolding, a fine, and perhaps take one of my children away as a penalty (Hint: it rhymes with "Duper Hole"). But this Sunday's championship largely isn't watched for the game itself (unless you live in Atlanta or a state north of Connecticut). Instead, we have large gatherings of friends, family, coworkers, and maybe even a few enemies. We watch the funny commercials and movie trailers. We have "square pools" and friendly wagers. We have tons of food and drink at the ready, because if you are getting started when the pregame shows are on, this is a 12-hour event for you.

This man hates your team. Image credit: Twitter @DrunkJoeBuck

This man hates your team. Image credit: Twitter @DrunkJoeBuck

Ah, drink you say? Indeed I do, because for roughly five hours, you have to hear Joe Buck, Fox Sports Lead Announcer, slight your team on Sunday (C'mon...you believe he hates your team with his commentary, no matter which team you root for). You can go in any direction you want: beer, wine or spirit. The key here is to get something you don't have to think about too much. Remember, you are likely at a casual party or focused intently on the game, eating many different things. Your party foods might be along the lines of nachos, pizza, wings, burgers, or pulled pork/barbecue just to name a few favorites.

I tend to favor low-alcohol beers, anything less than 6.0% abv and fruity and/or acidic wines low in tannin. Want a few recommendations? I have them for you below. Whether your team is in the game or you don't care about football, enjoy yourself this Sunday and as always...drink responsibly. 

If you are a beer person, rooting for New England: 

  • Berkshire Brewing Co. (Massachusetts) Steel Rail Extra Pale Ale ($6, 22 oz. bottle). This is the brewery's flagship product; it is malty and rich, but not crazy-high in alcohol at 5.2%. A good match with a simple burger.

If you are a beer person, rooting for Atlanta:

  • Pontoon Brewing Co. (Georgia) No Pants Pilsner ($9/six-pack). If you prefer a Lager style, this pine-scented Southern Pilsner is very refreshing, smooth, and easy-drinking, great with a plate of wings.

If you are a beer person who doesn't care about the game at all:

  • Ommegang (New York) Game of Thrones: Iron Throne ($10, 25.4 oz bottle). Sit back and watch the chaos and squirming from afar while you sip on this Belgian-style Pale Ale from Cooperstown, NY. That's right...I recommended a beer from the Baseball Hall of Fame location for a football game.

If you are a wine person, here's what we are tasting at the store this afternoon from 2:00-5:00pm:

  • Andrew Murray Vineyards Santa Maria Valley Viognier, (about $20). This white grape traditionally grown in the Rhone Valley of France has a second home in Santa Barbara County, California. Andrew Murray's expression is citrusy, floral, and has a honey-drizzled peach flavor. Great for Buffalo or "Hot & Honey" style wings.
  • Monti Guidi Montepulciano d'Abruzzo Riserva ($15). When the Montepulciano grape shows its best, it is a fruity, dry red wine. Flavors of sour cherries and blackberry jam with a touch of black licorice. Two years in barrel increased the wine's body and softens the tannins. Perfect for a sausage and pepper sandwich or just a slice of cheese pizza.
  • Bodegas Ateca "Atteca" Garnacha ($16). This Garnacha from Aragon, Spain is very full-bodied with soft caramelized red fruit peppery spice. I like this with a plate of loaded nachos.
  • The Federalist Mendocino County Zinfandel, Bourbon-Barrel Aged ($21). Zinfandel when made as a serious red wine is plush, soft, and very fruity/jammy. After the wine is fermented and aged as normal, it is transferred to used Bourbon barrels for six months to impart extra cherry and vanilla flavor. Even though the abv registers a whopping 15.5%, you don't even feel the fire from the alcohol. Great with pulled pork or brisket BBQ.

If your team is victorious:

  • Oban 14 Year Old Single Malt Scotch ($80): Treat yourself to what I feel is the most balanced flagship product of any distillery. It has just the right amount of fruitiness, malt, spice, and smoke. Congratulations to you! 

 If your team failed:

  • Water (Free, from the tap): Rehydrate and go to bed. No need to wake up the next morning both hung over and a loser.

Whisk(e)y: 'I' Before 'E', Except When It's 'Y' (Either Is Good And I'll Tell You Why)

I am a lucky person. I have great family and friends who love to explore adult beverages, and I have been fortunate to taste some killer stuff. I also have a job that allows me to design and lead spirits classes at my local shop, thanks to an awesome boss who has complete faith in me and my abilities. Additionally, my time spent taking classes with the WSET really helped me learn about and appreciate all kinds of distilled beverages: Gin, Rum, Tequila, Cognac, and of course...whisky.

Or is it whiskey?

So how is it spelled? Does it even matter? We see both spellings on labels, so doesn't there have to be a reason the 'e' is choosing to infiltrate our whisk(e)y?

All spirits trace their roots back to ancient times, where the first evidence of chemical distillation was started by alchemists in ancient Greece, but alcoholic distillation is believed to have started in the 13th century in Italy. These products were used to treat all sorts of diseases and general pestilence, and when the sick were being restored to good health, the term aqua vitae or "water of life" was used to describe these medicinal wonders. When these techniques spread throughout medieval Europe, other terms evolved such as the Dutch brandewijn ("burnt wine"), which later became simply "brandy," and the Slavic voda ("water"), which later became known as vodka. Within the United Kingdom, Usquebaugh (Scottish Gaelic) and Uisge Bethea (Irish Gaelic) also translated to "water of life." 

And when the two Gaelic terms were translated/anglicized, for whatever the reason the 'e' stuck in Irish Whiskey, while the 'e' never made it into Scottish Whisky. When Irish immigrants came to the United States with their knowledge of distilling from grains, the American producers started to use the 'e' in their whiskey labels. That is why your bottles of Bourbon are called "Whiskey."

"But Tony," you may be asking, "what about this?"

An excellent question! The Samuels family, who produces Maker's Mark traces their roots to Scotland, not Ireland. Therefore, they chose to roll with the Scottish spelling. Along with Scotch omitting the 'e', so does Canadian Whisky; one of Scotland's first colonies was in Canada back in the 1600s, and their influence has been felt ever since...no 'e' is getting in their whisky!

You might also notice more products are coming in from Japan lately; they also omit the 'e' on whisky labels, mainly because they pattern the majority of their styles after Scotch whisky far more than Irish Whiskey or Bourbon. 

So there you have it. Whether you like whisky or whiskey, there are so many out there to sample. Whether it is Scotch, Irish, American, or from some other part of the world, whisk(e)y has never been more popular. Two years ago, the Glenfiddich distillery surpassed one million cases shipped worldwide, a first for a single malt Scotch whisky. Glenlivet is about to do the same. Craft distilleries all over the United States are making tremendous, unique Bourbons and other American whiskey distilled from countless combinations of grains. We have a lot to taste and talk about...how is this a bad thing?

There's a ton to enjoy, so I have narrowed down six for you. Keep in mind that whisk(e)y prices are on the rise and sometimes there is fluctuation from store to store and state to state. Nothing I listed here is cheap, but they are incredibly satisfying starting points for you to begin your adventure...whether you prefer the 'e' or not.

Three without the 'e':

Glenmorangie Original ($40): I just ran out of this in my own bar, which is the best-selling single malt Scotch in Scotland. With its citrus and vanilla flavors, Glenmorangie Original (10 Year Old) is the Scotch I recommend to those who claim they don't like Scotch; it gets them every time. It should be a whisky staple in your home bar.

Forty Creek Double Barrel Reserve ($54): Whisky Maker John Hall creates three separate whiskies made from rye, barley, and corn and ages them all in their own barrels. Then, when the time is right, he blends all three and ages the blend in Bourbon barrels. The result is a full-bodied nutty, spicy whisky that is easy to enjoy at the end of the day by a fire. I have referred to this as "dessert whisky" in my Whisk(e)y 101 classes.

Nikka Coffey Grain Whisky 90 Proof ($65): While Japan's template follows the peated examples from the Scottish islands, this example resembles Bourbon in some ways, as it is mostly made from corn. While it has some sweet vanilla and caramel flavors, the main distinction from a Bourbon whisky is a noticeable meaty/smoky character. This is a welcoming, well-made Japanese whisky and is a fun one to try. 

Three with the 'e':

Knappogue Castle 12 Year Old Irish Whiskey ($44): Jameson is certainly the most popular Irish whiskey in America, however Knappogue Castle is strictly a single malt Irish whiskey that is easy to love. Tropical fruit, vanilla, and toasted marshmallow flavors show up in this whiskey that was aged all 12 years in Bourbon casks. This also went over very well with the beginner and connoisseur alike in my last class. You owe to yourself to try this as it delivered big time for the price.

Colonel E.H. Taylor Bourbon Whiskey 100 Proof ($47): I have had multiple friends tell me I needed to try this, and when I found E.H. Taylor at a fantastic wine and spirits shop in Chattanooga this summer, I had to go for it. It's rich, creamy, spicy and fulfilling on a winter evening. There is a little heat on the back of the throat, but when that subsides you are left with caramel apple pie flavor with baking spices lingering long on the palate. This is a steal. 

Balcones "1" Single Malt Texas Whiskey ($90): That's right...single malt whisky from Texas. The first time I tasted this, it was given to me without knowing it and I was blown away. This is 100% malted barley and made in the same process as a Scotch whisky, but it is very clear this does not taste 100% like Scotch. It also doesn't taste like a typical Bourbon. Caramel, pecans, vanilla, peach jam, and the entire rack of baking spices (cinnamon, cloves, allspice, nutmeg) make an appearance in this very complex whiskey. If you were good this past holiday season and saved a few bucks along the way, I highly recommend giving this a shot.