Dram and Drag

Whiskey and Airports (Dram and Drag) by Will Ringland

Couple of things up front:

  1. I swear I write cigar reviews too. I just drink a bunch more whiskey than I smoke cigars.
  2. I am writing this under the influence of delayed flights in Detroit airport.

As a Chicagoan, there are a number of things I like about DTW compared to O’Hare. It’s not gargantuan while still serving international flights. The terminals are laid out in two parallel lines joined by the single coolest audio-visual art installation I’ve ever seen. The toilets are clean (1). And I can get acceptable food in about 15 minutes while waiting for fights.

I was delayed today while flying to Boston - I’m heading to do elbow-to-elbow support for end users of my software - for 2.5 hours because of storm systems over the east coast. Personally, I’m ok with delays when the gate attendants are communicative abut the reasons so I have a concrete sense of that delay (2). Today, they were being communicative, so I went sushi and whiskey hunting.

Food in general can be touch and go in an airport, fish especially so. You don’t really know what sort of access places can get with all the security scrutiny of goods coming in and out of the terminals. It’s why, when you find a good place to eat when you have nothing but interstitial time between flights, a good restaurant can be like finding El Dorado. Just made of fish. This, oddly, seems dolly so for a restaurant that stocks good whiskey.

Today I stumbled upon Yamasaki 18 year, one of those mythologized whiskeys known for its general amazingness.

Japanese whiskies (3) hit their renaissance (4) in 2010 when Yamazaki started winning awards. Having had the 14 year before, and found it sweet and smoother than you’d expect for a 14 year, I was excited to see the 18 year. In an airport.

The neatest thing

(see what I did there?) The dram itself is probably the smoothest whisky I’ve ever had, much smoother than Johnnie Walker which is know ‘round as the smoothest of whiskies (5). And I think that’s an accomplishment given the advantage blending gives to controlling particular variables in the whisky experience.


Yamasaki is such a demure drink. It’s so soft on the nose and only aromatic of oak, maybe a little resin (like a violin resin) and kind of that pleasant alcohol nature. If I could choose one word, I’d say, “simple.” Not in a derogatory way; rather in a focused way. It’s not simplistic. Just simple. Pure.


Oak and oak and more oak and a sweetness somewhere between oranges and nectarines with some of that syrup you get at the bottom of a fruit cup in your elementary school lunch. It’s hardly overpowering in sweetness, but it certainly isn’t backing down on it. It’s just nicely balanced woodiness and sweet notes. It would make an excellent aperitif or dessert whiskey if you’re having a tame fruit tart - thing too sweet because you’d lose the best of the whisky.

It don’t think I’d call it complex. It is smart in its approach in that Yamazaki knows what the whisky can become. If you try the 14 year, you can see the start. It’s a bit more aggressive (insofar as Japanese alcohol is never aggressive) in flavors but has more acrid moments in the middle.

Those are essentially gone with 4 years longer in the cask.

The problem with airports

Buying alcohol in airports is an act of desperation. Usually, and I’m making gross generalizations here, the people drinking in an airport are delayed six ways from Sunday and are applying the best salve they can find to their over-tired wounds. Airport bar know this and charge accordingly. We are, after all, a captive and surly audience. You can expect to pay about $10 for a decent pour of Jameson which, otherwise, would cost you maybe $5 in the average bar.

Yamasaki 18 year? Holy shit. But, like I said: captive audience. I was willing to pay the price…

(And hold on a second where I realize that I am extremely lucky in that I could pay the following for a glass of whisky)

…of $32.

I know, right?

Like it was good but probably not that good.

In that, it’s a lot like the Detroit airport. If you’re going to get stuck anywhere, a linear airport terminal which feels vast and open and bright, with its i-have-been-mopped-at-least-once-this-year bathroom floors, it is pretty good.

So relative to my situation, it was a bargain to enjoy something that hugged my tongue in its unabashed oaken flavors and smooth finish while I contemplated by delayed flight to Boston which, after writing this, is still an hour from boarding.

Assuming the weather cooperates. And if it doesn’t? I think I saw a bottle of Jameson Black Barrel around here somewhere.

★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

1. I mean, as far as public restrooms trafficked by thousands of people in a day really can be.↩︎︎

2. If they’re not talking, I wonder how likely it is to shorten all-of-a-sudden and leave me stranded, mid slow and luxurious sushi meal. Because, really, Sora at DTW is mighty fine sushi for an airport.↩︎︎

3. “E” omitted here because Japan produces whisky in the Scottish style, generally. ↩︎︎

4. Which is weird to write because Japan wasn’t known for whisky until very recently. Yamasaki, owned by Suntory, was the first in the early 1920s. They mostly labored in local fame until 2010-ish when Yamasaki swooped in and started winning top prizes for 3 out of the 4 years following. ↩︎︎

5. Blended whiskies have the advantage of, well, being blended to adjust certain characteristics. It is like booze chemistry. ↩︎︎

What the hell do your ratings mean? by Will Ringland

I'm sure this will surprise no one (1) that I have a consistent meanings for my ratings for whisk(e)y and cigars. I figured it would be helpful to actually share that so we can all be on the same page.

Star Ratings

No stars: Even spite or malice towards this cigar or whiskey couldn't bring me to finish it.

★ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆: I finished, potentially out of spite, or I was too lazy to care enough about its badness. I wouldn't argue of someone gave e my money back, especially if it was a Gurkha (2).

★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆: It was fine. It had something that was vaguely interesting about it but I wouldn't recommend it unless I knew that was, like, your thing.

★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆: Entirely reasonable. It had a few good things going on for it that I appreciated. I'd probably buy it again and would be happy with it.

★ ★ ★ ★ ☆: This was marvelous. It has a memorable character, lots of good things going for it, some complexity or just does one things stupidly well. This makes me want to find other stuff by the group that made it.

★ ★ ★ ★ ★: Holy fuck balls, can I main-line this? Like, I'd probably be ok watching my life waste away into vice, only to be found in a gutter with nary a broken bottle to rest my head upon as I gaze with regret upon all the blog posts I would not make because this things was so good my life had to be given to it.

Et voila, we have our system.

  1. Except you.... Rob.

  2. (Oh snap.) Actually, one of my earliest, tastiest cigars was a Gurkha but I didn't pay for it myself. So that may have helped what with their markups.

Dram and Drag: Teeling Small Batch by Will Ringland

Friday I found myself with a few friends at the Malt House on the East Side. If you're not familiar (1) it would behoove you to visit, even on a Friday night when it gets loud. It's the only place I've been in Wisconsin that captures the Irish pub feel. Small, jovial, with warm and inviting bones with a little bit of bar hard edge. The delightful irony that I was drinking whiskey sitting in a reclaimed church pew was not lost.

I am very clearly an Irish whiskey (2) guy. Nearly all of my top whiskeys are Irish or start with an Irish whiskey character - malt and caramel, light body. I was pleased to see something very new on their menu: Teeling Small Batch whiskey. It was new in two sense: new to the menu and new to distribution. Teeling has (sorta) just started.

The family itself has been distilling whiskey around for 230 years only a few years under current naming The Teeling family sold their original distillery to Jameson around the beginning of the 20th century and this incarnation was spun off after Jim Beam bought the second incarnation in 2011.

The interweaving of old world distilling knowledge and modern sensibility is apparent in the Small Batch I drank last night. It is, at its core, a light (3) and malty Irish whiskey. Where it forks from expectation is in the intensity of the malt flavors. Each taste itself is smooth and caramel tinged so that I am left with the over all impression of a wildly malty drink is curious.

The secret, I think, is in the body. Irish whiskies evaporate more quickly on the tongue. This one, because of it, insinuates malt and caramel over your entire mouth thus allowing those flavors to build over time. Further, the spice you get on the middle and end, which is created by finishing in rum barrels (4), is draped in that same sweetness making that less intense sip to sip. But it similarly builds over the entire drink.

Teeling Small Batch is a clever whiskey and I am, for lack of a better word, intrigued to find the rest of their line.

Check out their intro video below.

★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

  1. Shame on you. You need to go if you like any of the following:
    1. Whiskey, especially American because if the size of their selection.
    2. Trappist beer.
    3. Freedom

  2. With an "e".

  3. It's that lighter body which makes Irish whiskies so drinkable. They do not weigh on the palette. It is also why Irish whiskies are mediocre mixers.
  4. I've not seen other spirits aged in rum barrels. It is interesting and encapsulates Teeling's old world sensibilities with modern affectation.