Tag Archives: Maker’s Mark

Bang for your buck

An antidote to perverse pricing.  PATRICK LECLEZIO identifies five whiskies vying hardest for value.

First published in Whisky Magazine South Africa (June 2018)

It’s easy to get carried away by whisky fever.  I know because I’m particularly susceptible; I’ll wax lyrical at any given opportunity, and I’ll clamour for the fancy stuff.   There is a plethora of great candidates with much to be recommended.  In fact whisky as a whole just lends itself to this enthusiasm.  The flavours are varied and interesting, and have struck a chord with a multitude of drinkers.  The stories equally are compelling: rich histories, beautiful settings, and colourful characters weave an engaging narrative.  And the industry is highly capable, having carefully cultivated and exploited these attributes.  It’s no surprise then that people tend to get passionate about this drink.  In my circles I’m often talking up all sorts of fine whiskies – usually the type that comes with an increasingly hefty price tag.  Do they warrant their cost overall, or has the market been hypnotised by the hype?   I could make the case that whisky is just a beverage.  You drink it and then it’s gone.  Are we paying the appropriate premium for perceived increments in quality?  It’s a difficult, objectively almost unresolvable, question – but I made a broader associated realisation recently.   Over the years I’ve gradually passed over the cheaper-end whiskies in my bar, subconsciously assuming that I’ll get better satisfaction from the more expensive stuff.   I needed a reality check, so I challenged myself to seek out five whiskies each costing under R500 that I could casually drink with equivalent fulfilment as my top-shelf selection (or even more fulfilment – because who doesn’t appreciate getting the same for less).  Here they are in no particular order.

Bourbon: Maker’s 46

Straight bourbon is probably the most tightly regulated of all spirits.  This situation has its positives and negatives.  Amongst the latter is the narrow band of flavour to which it is inevitably consigned, although lately, encouragingly, this has been levered wider by some innovative product initiatives.  But these can only go so far.  More exciting still is the introduction of a spate of drinks that are straight bourbon (in spirit, no pun intended), but not straight bourbon (according to the letter of the law) i.e. they usually start off as a straight bourbon, but then diverge in one way or another.   You’ll be able to identify these by their labelling, which typically reads “Kentucky Straight Bourbon…” addended with a qualifier of some sort.  Maker’s 46 is one of these.   It is effectively the same  liquid from the standard-bearing Maker’s Mark, but aged for a bit longer, during which time seared French oak staves (the divergence / qualifier) have been introduced into the barrel.   The result is a full-flavoured, hot-cross-bun of a bourbon.   There’s vanilla, toffee and biscuits here, all expected in a wheated bourbon, but I was surprised by the prominent spice, from the staves I’m guessing , and by the thick depth of the flavour:  this is one heck of rich whisky.  Maker’s 46 just squeaks into the budget, but it nails my approval by a wide margin.

Blended Scotch: Dewar’s 12YO and Dewar’s 15YO

Whilst I’ve sort of lost track of it over the years the 12YO Dewar’s had always been a personal favourite.   Nothing seems to have changed.  Dewar’s was a pioneer of “marrying” – the process during which whisky stands and settles for a few months after blending or vatting.  There are other influences of course, but this is likely a contributing factor to its extraordinary balance.  These components have clearly all got to know and like each other.  There isn’t a single argument, and there are no underlying tensions.  All the flavours work together in perfect, contented harmony within and across the nose, palate and finish.  The glorious, integrated array of fruit, cereal, spice, honey and oak in the 12YO will not disappoint, and the 15YO does it again with some added complexity.  You’ll be hard pressed to find better blended Scotch all-rounders at these price points.  Sadly they’re a bit sparse in South Africa compared to some of their peers, but it’s worth hunting around until you find them.

Blended Irish: Black Bush

If I played golf this would be my hole-in-one drink.  I’d want the celebration to be unreservedly enjoyable, I’m picturing a chorus of clicking glasses and vibrant camaraderie, but without excessively punishing my pocket.  Black Bush is the ideal catalyst for this outcome, and indeed many other wonderful occasions.  What it promises on paper: high malt content, predominant Oloroso cask ageing, significant maturation, it delivers emphatically in its full-bodied person: an intense out-of-the-park flavour that is husky, fruity, and spicy, with a masculine background of leather and perhaps tobacco.   If I had to plot the broader continuum of whisky pricing versus performance, definitely featuring a quadrant I’d label “perverse”, Black Bush would dominate the opposite position, at the head of the “charity” quadrant; for what it is they’re almost giving this stuff away.  An enduring classic.  I’ve never had a glass of Black Bush in which I didn’t delight.

Malt: Monkey Shoulder

I’ll allow myself to stand corrected but I think Monkey Shoulder is the only whisky named after an injury – one sustained by distillery workers whilst shifting barley with shiels on a malting floor.  It’s the type of quirkiness that defines this young, fun, monkey-mischievous whisky.   In days past it might have been called a triple malt, with its parts originating from three malt distilleries: Kininvie, Glenfiddich, and The Balvenie, but today it is known as a blended malt – a sadly underrepresented style, those with such clearly identifiable provenance even more so.  For this reason alone, that it’s one of few representatives, it’s a whisky worth noting.  That it’s also smooth, approachable, uncomplicated, and reasonably priced – an ideal introduction to malt whisky drinking, but with enough range of flavour, especially for what is ostensibly a young whisky, to keep the more seasoned interested – puts it over the top and into my group of hard-hitting stars.

As it appeared: http://whiskymag.co.za/bang-for-your-buck/

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Asoka bar, restaurant and lounge

This is the first in what will be a series of restaurant and bar reviews.  I like chowing down as much as if not more than the next guy, I like whisky, and I like writing, so connect the dots and it seems like my career as a critic was written in the stars…or maybe just in the script of delusions that play inside my head.  Less grandiose but probably closer to the truth.  Whichever way it matters not.   The cuisine of course will feature along with ambience, décor, clientele and all those other factors that attract people to such venues, but for the purposes of my reviews they’ll be satellites revolving around the whisky sun.

Asoka is the old Dharma Lounge – I think it was somewhat pretentiously called Asoka Son of Dharma for a time – and not much seems to have changed.  The architecture is the same, the décor similar, and the trademark tree still stands in the middle of the lounge; all that was missing was the former kepi-wearing owner, and with it my chance to enquire about the source of the hat.  Damn, I really want one.

Too cool for school

I was there for a function so can’t comment much about the food.  We had platters of chilli-poppers, prawns, calamari, tandoori chicken in pitas, deep fried goat’s cheese, and miniature burgers.  Solid fare, no-one was complaining.  I was quite enchanted however with the delightful drinks menu which includes a long list of cocktails, several with a whiskey base (Mint Julep, Manhattan, Old Fashioned, Sour), a very decent selection of single malts, and unusually for South Africa, a relatively extensive choice of American whiskey: the ubiquitous Jacks of course, but also virtually the entire Buffalo Trace stable, Maker’s Mark, and Woodford Reserve.

I decided to encourage this initiative by opting for a double Maker’s Mark (which had to be repoured after the barman loaded my glass with ice).  This is one of my favourite bourbons, a bourbon for all seasons, and it was delicious as always with its soft, gentle sweet honey palate.  Later, ready for some more pronounced flavours, I switched to Jameson’s Gold Reserve, enjoying the lingering spice and the complex interplay of bourbon, sherry and virgin woods in the whisky.

The impressive bar selection aside, Asoka provides a great ambience in which to comfortably relax and enjoy the golden nectar.  The music is set at just the right volume to promote a vibey atmosphere, but at the same time not inhibit conversation.  Clearly the whole mix must be working, because amongst our fellow patrons were some government power-brokers including Minister of Sport Fikile Mbalula.  Back when he was ANC Youth League President I thought this guy was a prize twat, however my criteria for conferring twatitude have had to be re-evaluated with the emergence of his successor (amandla, Julius, please don’t point the M14’s this way).  I was handing out the mantle far too easily.  By comparison Fikile now seems like a righteous dude.

The new benchmark

I can wholeheartedly recommend Asoka to fellow whisky lovers – just be specific about how you want your whisky served.

Asokas scene-setting tree

Well, the weekend is upon us.  It’ll probably fly by as usual, but let’s remain optimistic.  Until the next time may the dram be with you.