Whisky and Words: Island Malts

The blog has covered a number of blends, and also eleven unpeated, mostly sherry-finished single-malts (see sidebar for the list and links). They all share similar influences in their flavoring.

It’s the water, and a lot more

Jameson still, Cork (Photo: Stephan Schulz)

Some of those malts, Bunnahabhain* and Glenfarclas, for example, are notable for the taste of what the French would call terroir. Peat bogs, soil and rocks through which their water sources run flavor that water. In addition to the water, the spirit’s flavor is heavily influenced by the ingredients (mostly barley malt) and how they are treated at each step. In the preparation of what will become new make spirit, there is much attention to manipulating temperatures at each stage. The temperature of the wort is chosen to enhance the activities of enzymes converting sugars and later, to encourage fermentation. Variation in stages and their temperatures can affect flavor. One also reads of claims that the shape and composition of tuns, stills and washbacks will influence the flavor of the new-make spirit. Once distilled, the spirit meets the cask, where interaction with the oak (and its preparation, be it lightly toasted or charred) will have the second largest effect on flavor.

Continue reading “Whisky and Words: Island Malts”

Book review: Weakest Lynx

Fiona Quinn mixes authentic, nuts & bolts thriller with paranormal and romance.
Fiona Quinn mixes authentic, nuts & bolts thriller with paranormal and romance.

I need to preface this review with a level set on the target demographic, which in this case, is the female reader who is comfortable with her feminine character being a hard-charging hero who still capable of nurturing and love. Because that’s Lexi.

This is definitely a genre-crosser: dominantly thriller (cloak and dagger escapade and tension) with a strong female lead, with a generous dollop of paranormal and a healthy thread of romance. I was getting the latter part as soon as the romantic entanglement was introduced and the MC (first-person) started describing that guy. Definitely ‘female gaze’ oriented. Which is fine — I have read a few full-strength romance novels to get an idea what the Romance genre is about (those *sell*, so are worth studying!) and in this case, the romantic angle is worked in very delicately. But not my first pick in a theme for my books. Ah well, reading about all those ripped abs and powerful arms might inspire me to get more strength training done… 🙂

Characters are delivered with enough detail to stand up and are humanized well. It is a bit weird that a dominant character in the beginning (Dave) does not show up again after the middle of the book, as he seemed quite instrumental to get the story going. Other than that, no anomalies; just the right amount of people to give the story texture without requiring a scorecard.

Continue reading “Book review: Weakest Lynx”

Book review: In Midnight’s Silence

In Midnight's Silence -- Frohock delivers her characteristic moody vision
In Midnight’s Silence — Frohock delivers her characteristic moody vision

This first-of-three novella dives straight into the deep end, immersing the reader in a different time for Earth (pre-WWII Spain) and a different (paranormal) social structure, with politics, power grabs, and factions which use heavy-handed, even brutal tactics against even their own allies. Frohock gets the majority of this scene-setting done in the first two chapters, which is remarkable, as by this time the plot is in full swing, the MC is under pressure to rescue his lover and at the same time, frustrated by his own history tripping him up both directly (in the form of a secret which now must be revealed) and and indirectly (via another person who will be dear to him and presumably traded off the other).

To achieve this rapid immersion, the author uses third-person in classic epic fantasy style, with a lot of narration and direct description. This is a fell tale being told in the darkened greatroom of an ancient mansion, not a light story being recounted over coffee at a sunny coffee shop. The description is heavy in the beginning, where the mood is set. It’s a lot of mood and I can see the rationale – to pull off the plot and supernatural element, you need to have a setting suitably dark, misty, and full of portent. Upside — the descriptions are woven into the action, the story always moves forward. Along with a tensely-constructed challenge for the MC, we get some strange characters with otherworldly abilities and some nicely contained magic. No arbitrary Harry Potter stuff, nothing indiscriminate. Everything counts.

By the end of chapter 3, the heavy lifting is done, the train is out of the station* and gaining speed. Frohock gently presses the accelerator through the next section, and things get seriously weird as the caper is pulled off, to great cost to the main character…no Mary Sues here, there is a cost to every gambit and these characters do pay. The story closes with a denounment which is the setup for the next installment of Los Nefilim, and the author foreshadows challenges to come. I’m looking forward to the next story as we’ve got a ton of worldbuilding out of the way in this story.

Whisky suggestion: Lagavulin 16.


Whisky and Words Number 16: The Balvenie Doublewood 12

A tale of two Grants

Balvenie's DoubleWood 12-year-old is tastefully presented.
Balvenie’s DoubleWood 12-year-old is tastefully presented.

The distance from J&G Grant’s Glenfarclas distillery to William Grant & Sons’ Balvenie location is but 13 miles by road; it’s a much shorter distance by helicopter. Both are Speyside distillers, and both offer whiskies finished in sherry casks. Like J&G Grant, William Grant & Sons is an independent company. Both started in the 19th century: William laid down his distillery in 1889 (finished in 1892); John Grant of J&G Grant bought Glenfarclas distillery (built in 1836) in 1865.

However, the William Grant company has since grown into the largest independent distiller in Scotland. In fact, with over 10% market share, William Grant and Sons represents the third largest producer of Scotch, behind Diageo and Pernod Ricard. Not bad for a family company.

The Balvenie distillery is a bigger operation than J&G’s Glenfarclas by about double (5.6 M litres vs 3 M litres per year)  and William Grant have a more varied range. Furthermore, they achieve their market share by operating a constellation of associated distilleries. This was pointed out in the Monkey Shoulder review, as that blend from this same distiller boasts of 25 composite single malts. Similarly, Grants Family Reserve blends a similarly numerous number of malts. This Grant is a giant. We know from these reviews they make respectable blends, so let’s investigate a single-malt whisky.

Continue reading “Whisky and Words Number 16: The Balvenie Doublewood 12”

Book Review: Clean Burn

Clean BurnClean Burn by Karen Sandler
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Well, for you VI Warshawsky fans, there is another woman walking in the noir aisle of your local bookstore. Sandler’s Janelle Watkins is darker, more flawed (physically as well as emotionally) than VI, and Sandler milks the genre for all the grittiness and darkness such a character allows. The presentation of the story is interesting as Sandler mixes in first-person with third-person peeks at the antagonist, which she does with a flair that reminds me of early Stephen King (think Dead Zone). For most of the book, Sandler throws enough dust in the readers eyes to keep us guessing, and I enjoyed the tension both in the buildup to climax as well as the romantic tension between a couple of characters (which she handles well, no cringing here). In the end the plot ties itself together a bit more niftily than I expected but there are twists enough to satisfy anyone (such as this reviewer) who has enjoyed Spade, Marlowe, and yes, even Poirot 🙂

View all my reviews on Goodreads