The Miracle of the Scotch Filled Menorah



A review of the O’Dwyers Creek Sauvignon Blanc 2010 and the Tullibardine Aged Scotch Whisky.


By Joshua E. London and Louis Marmon

Washington Jewish Week  December 14, 2011


Tullibardine WhiskyThe rituals associated with wine are nearly as numerous as any religious service. Opening, decanting, swirling, sniffing, tasting, and even spitting follow established patterns and recognized norms. Developed to enhance once sensory appreciation of wine, they have achieved a level of dogma that instills near-paralyzing fear into the uninitiated. And yet nearly everyone with any wine experience will tell the neophyte that all that really matters is whether or not you enjoy what is inside the bottle.


Recently, few issues have stimulated more discussion than cork. For centuries considered the ideal bottle stopper, it has fallen into disfavor because too many wines under cork were found to be spoiled upon opening. Much to the consternation of traditionalists, alternatives to cork have been developed that preserve flavor and also allow the wines to develop within the bottle as if they were closed in the usual fashion. To be fair, the offending agent within cork has apparently been identified and cork manufacturers have been taking steps to reduce the incidence of bad bottles. However the problem continues and many winemakers have switched to alternative closures.


Despite the evidence that screw-tops are a perfectly acceptable wine closure, the prejudice against them persists, in part because the associated wine-opening ritual is, well, rather unimpressive. Popping a cork is much more sophisticated than twisting a metallic cover. But if all you really care about is taste, then do not turn away from alternative closures. Especially for wines that are meant to be consumed with a few years of release.


A kosher example is the enticingly aromatic O’Dwyers Creek Sauvignon Blanc 2010 ($15), a classic New Zealand cool climate white with tropical fruit scents along with lime, lemon, green apple and passion fruit flavors, good balance and a lingering finish. Imported by Victor Wines and available at The Bottle Shop (in the Potomac Woods Plaza at 350 Fortune Terrace, Rockville), it is one of many delightful kosher wines that adhere to commandments but eschew tradition.


Spirits-wise, with Chanukah around the corner, our thoughts veered towards tradition (single-malt Scotch whisky) – but toward the decidedly unfussy variety. Instead of age statements and multiple wood finishes, we thought we’d instead have some young, straightforward single-malt Scotch whisky. The Tullibardine Aged Oak Whisky($45) is a new release from a relatively new, and newly revived, independent distillery.


The Tullibardine Distillery is situated in the village of Blackford at the foot of the Ochil Hills in Perthshire, where the Scottish Highlands begin. Although the distillery was founded only in 1949, it rests on the site of Scotland’s first public brewery which dates back to the 12th century, where in 1488 King James IV procured beer to celebrate his coronation.


The distillery remained active through several changes of ownership before being mothballed in 1994. It sat collecting dust until 2003 when a small group of private investors revived the distillery, and relaunched production. Just last month this group sold the distillery to Picard Vins & Spiritueux, a leading French wine and spirits company.


Since its 2003 re-launch, Tullibardine’s whisky creation has been overseen by distillery manager John Black. The son and grandson of whisky industry workers, John Black was born at the Cardhu Distillery and has been working in the industry for more than 50 years. This is a man who really knows how to make whisky!


Tullibardine has also distinguished itself by being part of a cool, and fairly unusual Jewish fundraiser. For Chanukah 2009, Tullibardine donated 65 liters of its premium 17-year-old single-malt Scotch whisky to the Chabad of Buckhurst Hill, in West Essex (England) to fill a seven-foot-high Chanukah menorah, made of clear pipes.


This first ever “whisky menorah” had a tap built into the base from which 60 full-sized bottles were filled and auctioned off to raise funds for the local Jewish community center; the rest was tapped into souvenir miniature bottles for event attendees. Each regular bottle was a numbered “Special Edition” with an occasion-appropriate Tullibardine Distillery label stating “Whisky Menorah Edition”, “Chabad Menorah Strength” and “Bottled at Chabad of Buckhurst Hill.” Sadly, we were stateside at the time and had to hear about this Tullibardine-fueled Chanukah celebration through friends who were there, and then read about it online.


Outside of the U.S., Tullibardine has released a dizzying array of whisky expressions, presumably in an effort to generate a quick return on investment with old stock. Here in the U.S., there are just three expressions of Tullibardine currently available: Tullibardine Vintage 1992 ($50), Tullibardine Vintage 1993 ($65), and the Tullibardine Aged Oak Whisky($45).


The Tullibardine Vintage 1992 is a 16-year-old marriage of ex-bourbon and ex-sherry cask-matured whisky resulting in a very drinkable, crisp, light-bodied spirit with notes of subtle lemon zest, cereal grains, pears, vanilla, honey, and marzipan. Light and fresh yet mouthwatering and elegant, with a bone-dry aperitif-style finish.


The Tullibardine Vintage 1993 is a 15-year-old whisky matured in ex-bourbon casks, and is delicious and charming. The whisky offers a nose full of citrus – in turns tart and sweet, with a slightly sharp, refreshing piquancy. This follows through on the palate, with additional notes of cereal grains, vanilla, honeysuckle and something vaguely floral. Light and airy, but oh so engrossing.


The Tullibardine Aged Oak is both the newest release, and in some respects the most interesting. The two vintage releases represent the old regime, the one that mothballed the distillery in 1994. The new Aged Oak expression, by contrast, utilizes whisky matured in used bourbon barrels that was made after the distillery re-opened in 2003. There remains a consistent style of sorts, but this release hints at greater things to come. This light, bright, youthful and enticing whisky offers aromas and flavors of robust citrus fruits, vanilla, oatmeal, malt, and honey, with a soft, elegant finish. Uncomplicated, but pretty and dangerously quaffable. L’chaim!

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