Brews Brothers 2000 – Cooper’s Cask Coffee

Disclaimer: This is a review at the request of Cooper’s Cask Coffee (CCC), for which I was provided a free sample. While grateful for the sample, I made it clear to Cooper’s before agreeing to the review that my review would be entirely impartial, and they agreed, with thanks.

Despite never soliciting whiskies for review, recently a reader of the blog (or passer-by, I can never be sure) asked if I would review their new product: coffee beans aged in whiskey casks. A neat idea, though I wasn’t entirely sure how beans sitting in an ex-whiskey barrel would impart anything more than scent. But a week later, here we are, and as a spoiler: there’s much more than whisky perfume going on here. For the record, I don’t know which sample this is, and which barrels these beans were aged in—just how I like it. Guessing the whiskey (even if I’m wrong) is part of the fun!

The sample comes with preparation notes, encouraging me to use a French press, something that I do not have. The rationale is that a paper filter may compromise the flavour. In agreement, I opted to brew a pot using my metal basket filter.

Opening the bag: Wow. They’ve got the whiskey nose hands-down. It’s a mix of the richness of Tennessee whiskey, and the brightness of Rye. Butterscotch all day on this one.

Munching on a bean: The roast is said to be medium, but I’m getting more light-medium. That said, my palate is biased towards dark roasts, so I may be under-estimating. Plenty of almonds and other nuts on the palate here, accompanied by that butterscotch taste. Delightful.

Post-Brew: The whiskey aroma fills the room, and the beans deliver on that promise, though the scent is distinctly Rye now. Not low-end Canadian Club, mind you, more like the 20yo Ninety DoR.

Coffee, Black: The nose is a little more subdued in the cup, but again, delivering a really clear Rye nose. Upon first sip, it’s a little… weaker than expected. Not much going on with the palate than the taste of a mild coffee… ok, there are some faint tobacco and oak notes here but… oh… wait… there we are. After a couple seconds, boom, the flavours of the whiskey are huge. Vanilla, toffee, nuttiness, and rye cereals. They’ve hit the nail on the head, delivering all the beauty of good Rye, without the jagged edges.

Coffee, milk (2%): Much of the same, though the transition between mild coffee and the whisky finish is much starker. In that way, a bit more unbalanced.

I also asked my partner for her thoughts. She is also a whiskey fan (more American whiskey than Scotch), and prefers more mild coffee than I. She is also a connoisseur of coffees, and, like myself, wants a flavoured coffee to blend well, and be balanced, so as not to merely taste like someone dumped Starbucks flavour syrup in a cup of coffee. She agrees that the whisky flavour is excellent, and that its presence is very natural, but similar to my assessment, the coffee vs. whisky battle is a bit unbalanced.
“I want more coffee” she says. That’s many points for quality, fewer points for balance.

I was told by CCC that their experiments find medium roast to optimize the whiskey-coffee balance. From an academic standpoint, if the quality of whisky flavour in the beans is strictly decreasing in the roast of the coffee, but the richness of the coffee is strictly increasing in the roast of the beans, that means the solution is unique … but different people have different palates, so the solution only matches one set of palates… but no company can reasonably roast beans for all palates… hmmm….

*puts on tweed jacket, grabs pipe*

What if we create our own blend, mixing CCC with darker-roasted beans? The whiskey flavour in this sample is so clear that surely it wouldn’t be compromised if we say, did half espresso, half CCC in an espresso shot? Let’s do this! (I own a lower-end Gran Gaggia barista machine).

50% CCC + 50% run-of-the-mill espresso in a shot: Oh my. This is the sweet spot (for me). CCC has this undeniably beautiful whisky finish, and when mixed with the richness of espresso, you get the nice dark, rich coffee flavour upfront, and the transition of tobacco and oak is much more present. There is even a bit of chocolate and some (indiscernible) fruit here. Moreover, the oily nature of the espresso brings out more richness in the whiskey mid-palate, so as to impart more of a richer, Tennessee whiskey flavour, before the coffee fades, and you’re left with that very pleasant butterscotch and almond-y Rye flavour. This is balance, baby. I swear there was even a point there where the mid-palate was like drinking an old-fashioned.

Replication with a pot, 50% CCC and 50% medium-dark Arabica beans: The above results are robust to brewing in a pot with non-espresso beans.

They’ve really done something special here. Because their coffee “plays well with others”, this property mitigates the roasting optimization problem above. Because there are an infinite set of possibilities between 100% CCC and 100% espresso/insert-favourite-roast-here, you should be able to find exactly the roasting/whisky combination you’re looking for, if you find the coffee to be unbalanced initially.

Now this might look like an unfavourable review because I’m not screaming that I’ve struck gold, but for an academic, the “play well with others” result is something to cheer about. This coffee lets you find your own balance between the whisky and coffee profiles, and I really enjoyed finding mine.

While I cannot grade this on the usual sliding scale (there are no meaningful comparisons, after all), for the sake of a short-and-sweet recommendation: Must Try!

Because it requires a bit of tinkering, I can’t say this recommendation is, in the words of Ron Swanson, “Give me all the whisky-aged beans you have”, but much it’s so much more than a “if you like whisky, you might like it”. Of course, too, if the tasting notes speak to you, that’s what matters most. I can tell you, too, that I’m excited about the Bourbon Barrel version, and may put my money where my mouth is, if the cross-border customs fees don’t prevent it!

Endnote: This has been fun, and above all, delicious; thanks John and Jason!

You can check out their coffee, and what they’re up to at www.cooperscaskcoffee.com

Upcoming Reviews

October wasn’t a slow month, but it was a silent one. Work has taken much of my time lately, and while I’ve been partaking of some good malts, I haven’t had that right time or space to sit down and spend 30 minutes carfeully tasting a new whisky and writing up a review. Rest assured, though, that reviews of some rather stellar malts are on the horizon. My groomsman and I spent a night in August going through a Bunnahabhain double-barrel tasting, comparing the 12yo and 18yo OBs, so the review of the 18yo is forthcoming. I also picked up Chivas’s “1993 Longmorn 18yo cask strength” while across the pond, and I’ve been working my way towards a review of that. We also have a “Tempest Tasting” coming up in the new year (likely) when we can get the Scotch Lads back together. We’ve got a flight of Tempest II-IV for that day.

Lastly, I did pick up a Cadenhead’s Sherry Cask 25yo Mortlach while in Edinburgh, and while I don’t know when that bottle will be opened, I had tasted the whisky @ Cadenhead’s prior to purchase, and I guarentee you that the review of that whisky promises to be epic.

Classic Coal: Caol Ila 12

Bought a full litre of this wonderful stuff at the Denver Airport Duty free for $54. That’s about half of what you’d pay at the LCBO. Most of the offerings they had were slim in the scotch category, so I decided that I should give this old classic a try. I usually like to travel off the beaten path with my whisky purchases, but as an Islay fan, and a Caol Ila fan, it was about time to give this classic dram it’s due.

Nose: Coal, tar, dill pickles and orange candy. Smoked fish and ham. Cookies. Barley notes.

Palate: Smooth, somewhat oily arrival. Peat and smoke. Sweet citrus. Ashy (in a good way).

Finish: Long and pleasant, dominated by notes of chili pepper, lemon, smoke.

Grade: B+

Very rarely do I give a “standard dram” more than a B. Caol Ila 12 deserves such a grade, however, because it manages to do with 43% what so many others cannot. It’s complex and medium oily, with a long finish. It’s bizarrely refreshing for an Islay, something that can be enjoyed on a cold winter night, or a not-too-hot summer’s day. I look forward to doing a flight with the Natural Cask Strength, 1998 Distillers Edition and the 19yo TWE CS sometime in the near future.

Hot Young Thing: Bruichladdich Islay Barley 2006 (Dunlossit)

I concur with the sentiment that Jim McEwan is the Willy Wonka of Scotch. Whenever I venture off the standard bottlings, I find that Bruichladdich is always walking the line between innovative and gimmicky, and this one is no exception. This one is more gimmicky than innovative, though.

Nose: This is where it wins. Creamy, banana, and at times, almost a pina colada. Sweet, vanilla and custard, cinnamon and nutmeg. A real dessert dram. The nose is surprisingly clear and not at all prickly for something so young in the 50% ABV range. It has a scent that I can only say reminds me of “London”. Not in a bad way, either.

Palate: It’s a bit hot, but much less so with a good helping of water. It swims well. The hot nature of it is something you’d expect from a whisky about 6 years old, so it doesn’t surprise me. Barley, sweet vanilla, medium-oily with the cinnamon. Some lemon curd on toast.  Oak notes, too.

Finish: Initially, some raw alcohol, but then it returns to the vanilla, lemon custard, and barley.

Grade: B-

This one is rather straightforward. Tasty, but straightforward. The nose promises a lot more flavour and smoothness than the palate delivers. This one can surely deal with a lot of water, though, and that really tames the hot palate. Serving suggestion for this one: a tablespoon of water. It goes a long way.

Review Stub: BenRiach 12

This is review #2 from my BenRiach distillery collection taster pack (HoS, 12, 16, 20). I’m fortunate to have a sample of the 12yo and 16yo that are at 43%, instead of the 40% I’ve seen other reviews based on. Maybe that’s what makes the difference.

Nose: Similar Jolly Rancher nose to the HoS, but green apple this time. The nose isn’t as open, but what comes at you, comes across as thick, almost buttery. In that way, it’s much like a Mortlach. It’s quite sweet, though, and in that way, it isn’t so much like a Mortlach. Barley and bread baking. A number of fruits I can’t figure out.

Palate: Medium oily, savoury and bitter with an indiscernable spice mix. Heavy on the olive oil on some type of french or italian bread. Very malty. Slightly fruity.

Finish: Short to Medium, mostly floral and fruity, and also nice and warming, a plus for a 43% ABV whisky. That said, BenRiach needs to work on this part.

Grade: B-

Compared to the Heart of Speyside, I found this one a little thicker, more mature (as it should be) but the HoS had a liveliness to it that this malt doesn’t have. It’s also a tad sharp on the palate. I hope this is not the case with the 16yo.

Marks Shifting

In recent weeks, I’ve found that I may have spread my marks out too wide over time, when, in reality, the differences between those whiskies weren’t as wide as the grade levels suggested. As such, (perhaps in baseless anticipation for the Mortlach 20yo I’ll open in not too long,) I’ve downgraded a number of my B to A+ whiskies, and freed up the A+ level to be somewhat more difficult to attain (for a whisky that truly leaves me speechless). The relative rankings of these whiskies doesn’t change, though.

A Year In Review

Updated January 7th, more in-depth.

It feels about that time of year, where whisky fans/bloggers/maniacs alike are likely posting their favourites from their 2012 journeys, and being my first real serious year as a whisky blogger, I’d like to do the same. The whiskies that I’ve tried this year for the first time, and thus, all those eligible for consideration, were:

Bowmore “Tempest” 10yr (Batch 3)
’93 Ben Nevis 17yr (Signatory, UCC)
Caol Ila Natural Cask Strength
Aberlour a’Bunadh (Batch 36)
Springbank 12 Claret Wood
The Glenlivet 16 “Nadurra” (0911P)
Bruichladdich ‘The Laddie Ten’
Auchentoshan Valinch
’91 Mortlach 19yr (Signatory, UCC)
92 Clynelish 18yr (Signatory, UCC)
Port Charlotte (Bruichladdich) An Turas Mor
Highland Park 12
Glenmorangie 12 ‘Lasanta’
Cragganmore 12
Aberlour 10
The Glenlivet 12
Dun Bheagan 8 (Islay)

*Eligible whiskies must have been tasted for the first time in 2012, and I must have owned at least a 20cl bottle, and had at minimum, 4 drams of it.

I’ve been fortunate enough to try a number of great whiskies this year, and when I look back on the one’s I’ve tried, the ones with the highest price-to-quality ratio, in a few different categories, were:

Best Nose
Runner-Up: Caol Ila Natural Cask-Strength
Winner: Bowmore Tempest III

Best Palate
Runner-Up: ’93 Ben Nevis 17yo Signatory UCC
Winner: Bowmore Tempest III

Best Finish
Runner-Up: Bruichladdich ‘Laddie Ten’
Winner: Springbank 12 Claret Wood

Favourite Peated
Runner-Up: Caol Ila Natural Cask-Strength
Winner: 
Bowmore Tempest III

Favourite Unpeated
Runner-Up: Springbank 12 Claret Wood
Winner: ‘93 Ben Nevis 17yo Signatory UCC

Favourite No Age Statement
Runner-Up: Auchentoshan Valinch
Winner: Caol Ila Natural Cask-Strength

Favourite Overall
Runner-Up: Caol Ila Natural Cask-Strength
Runner-Up: ’93 Ben Nevis 17yo Signatory UCC
Winner: Bowmore Tempest III

Bowmore really took me by surprise this year. If you would have asked me last January what distillery I would expect to try something truly great from this year, I probably would have said Ardbeg, maybe Auchentoshan or Laphroaig, but never Bowmore. My initial taste of the 12yo had really ruined Bowmore for me, and I’m lucky to have been not-so-stubborn so as to give the tempest a chance. I eagerly await Batch 4.

The Springbank 12yo Claret Wood was also an excellent pick from earlier in 2012, as was the “carnival-in-a-glass” pick from Ben Nevis. My hopes are still to get a hold of the 17yo Cask strength version from ’93 (or ’92) before supply vanishes. Lastly, the Auchentoshan Valinch was a huge surprise in the NAS category, especially for the price it came in at. It was also the best whisky under $65 this year. I would love to say under $70, but then it would have to contend with Laphroiag’s QC, and I don’t think it was that good. Caol Ila’s win in the NAS category wasn’t as much of a surprise, as serving their younger stuff at cask-strength seems like it would be naturally good, given the rave reviews that the 12yo gets. The Auchentoshan, though it wasn’t the best NAS whisky of the year, sure took me by surprise. The Auchentoshan Classic/Select gets mediocre reviews—average at best—for an entry-level NAS malt at standard ABV. I was initially skeptical as to the merits of amping up something so banal to cask-strength, but was easily swayed when I opened the bottle. You go, Auchentoshan.

Here’s to another great year at “Whisky, Empirically”, where we will get to review #50, (at least!) a special Signatory bottle from the Whisky Exchange that I picked up for Christmas. Expect that review around Valentine’s Day.

Now For Some Empirics

Finally, we have enough data to run a basic empirical analysis. While the data set is very small (47 observations) we can nonetheless run some rather back-of-the-envelope regressions.

I built a data set using the rankings chart, mapping the A-F scale to a 12pt scale (e.g. A–>11.0-11.9). I assigned each observation within each coarse grade bin a grade that accounted for the fact that some whiskies ranked higher within the bin than others (that is, not all As are exactly equal).

I then generated a set of whisky characteristics whose explanatory power I was interested in (with regards to marks). These were my selections:

1. Age (my interest is to test the Jim Murray hypothesis, “Age does not a good whisky make”. Set of dummy variables, control group is ‘NAS’)
2. ABV (Do I inherently prefer cask-strength whiskies? Set of dummy variables, control group is ‘ABV<43%’)
3. Research (Does my research of the online consensus help?)

I also generated some control variables:

1. Region (to control for any possible region/single malt bias. control group is ‘blend’)
2. Peat (to control for what I think is a personal favouritism for peated whisky)
3. Minsample (This indicator marks whether the whisky was tried fewer times than my minimum sample threshold [a 20cl bottle]).
4. lnpriceml (controls for the percentage effect of price per ml — a proxy for raw quality, but admittedly, also for marketing gimmicks)

Running a kitchen-sink regression, I find the following: minsample and peat are insignificant at 10%. Region is also jointly-insignificant at 10%, and if we re-cast the region variable as a single malt variable (vs. blends) we get the same result. Adding controls individually produces the same results. The price control is significant at the 1% level.

So, after all is said and done, what do I find?

1. Jim Murray’s hypothesis is rejected using my sample (0.006<p-value<0.05). Why is there an interval for the p-value? Well, the problem lies in the price control. The price control is necessary to be a proxy for quality, but unfortunately, my regressors for age and ABV are positively correlated with price. Because price is such a good proxy for unmeasurable quality (and I have no others), I would commit the sin of omitted variable bias if I failed to include price as a control, but if I include it, the coefficient estimators for age and ABV end up underestimated (but standard deviation does not meaningfully change). Thus, I provide an interval of the p-value here and say that this test is significant at a level between 0.6-5%.

I find that whiskies younger than 10 years are roughly 2 grade levels lower (on average) over no-age-statement whiskies, and that 10-16yo whiskies tend to get about a 0.75 to 1 grade bump. 17yo+ whiskies get 2 levels. This is as I suspected. Out of curiosity, I tested my suspicion that Jim Murray’s hypothesis may hold up unconditionally, and sure enough it does (p-value >0.26), but when you condition on ABV and price, age does matter. One can see this by comparing my marks for the Auchentoshan Valinch and the Lagavulin 16. The reason they are so close, then, is not because age doesn’t matter, but rather that the Valinch is cask-strength and the Lagavulin is not (Many will argue it’s because they’re is something wrong with me, and that might be true). Bottle the Valinch at 43% (something like the Auchentonshan Classic) and you’d probably see that Auchentoshan around a C+, according to these results (hey, that sounds eerily close to what a standard entry-level OB would get…).

2. ABV matters (H0: ABV doesn’t matter | p-value<0.001), with cask-strength whiskies earning a 4 grade level bump over their sub-43% brethren. Whiskies of the non-chillfiltered 46% variety earn ~2 grade levels, and those around 43-46% earn approximately one grade level. Even after controlling for the ‘single-malt’ bonus (blends are usually low ABV), it seems like my palate prefers CS whiskies. Doesn’t surprise me, as these are often smaller-batch and better crafted. There is also something to be said for the ability to add your own water, to bring the whisky down to the level where you enjoy it best.

3. Research helps. I reject the hypothesis that research is useless to my whisky journey, with researched whiskies getting (on average) a ~1.5 grade level bump over whiskies I try in a bar, or am given as gifts. This is probably not a surprise to anyone.

Some further points of note: I don’t seem to be biasing peated whiskies (whether they be Islay peat or otherwise). Also, Islay whiskies, and single malts in general, (all other things considered,) are not being favoured.

Note: The Breusch-Pagan / Cook-Weisberg test for heteroskedasticity cannot reject the hypothesis of a constant variance (Prob > chi2 = 0.525), so we run our regressions using standard OLS with non-robust standard errors.

Some Caveats: There are (quite a few) caveats worth noting about this “quick and dirty” study that anyone reading this should know before they pass it on to others.

1. Omitted Variable Bias.  This is perhaps the biggest one. What could I be forgetting?

2. Small Sample Bias. Goes without saying that 47 observations is very small. It will be interesting to see how these numbers change (or if they change!) as the data set grows.

3. Multicollinearity. This affects the magnitude of the age and ABV regressors. Because price is positively correlated with both of these sets of variables, it’s likely that their coefficients are underestimated.

4. Personal Preference. As a final caveat, note that this study measures how certain whisky characteristics affect my personal grades. There will always be some sort of unmeasurable personal component to these results (I am not a robot, after all). That means that the old saying “Your Mileage May Vary” is worth keeping in the back of your mind as you read this. If I had a panel data set that included marks from All Things Whisky, Ralfy, WhiskyBitch and LAWS, (with an appropriate way to convert all the different marking schemes) I might be able to do some analysis that removes the individual fixed effect.

5. Analyzing a Time-Series, Cross-sectionally. It’s clear that all these whiskies were not tasted on the same day. This leaves the study open for a possible bias due to the omitted time-trend. Controlling for the time trend may account for my getting used to the power of cask-strength whiskies (and thus enjoying them more as time went on). It might also capture the effect that broadening my whisky experience has on marks: the more I find whiskies that push the upper (and lower,) limit of my marks, the more my older marks become biased if I don’t go back and re-taste them (Laphroaig QC has continued to hold up, though).

Lastly, I’ll say that I’m not a professional empiricist. In fact, quite the opposite, I am chiefly a theorist. But it’s healthy to be able to do both, and so I am using this project to rehabilitate my once-adequate empirical muscle. These “results” are a first-blush attempt to analyse this data set, which will no doubt improve over time as more data, and better variables and techniques present themselves. If you have any comments as to how I might improve this analysis (techniques, variables, or otherwise) do let me know. Also, if anyone has a suggestion for a proxy for quality that may not be correlated with age or ABV, have at it.

Marks Update (among other things)

I have updated the mark on the “Glenlivet 16 Nadurra” to an A-. Ralfy was right in saying that when he left the bottle open overnight, it bettered the whisky. I’ve had a half-full bottle sitting here for over a month, and that air really opens up the whisky. This 53% cask-strengther is one of the few that goes well without water when the bottle sits (probably because you lose some of the alcohol). The bonus there is that instead of watering down the flavour, all you’ve lost is the heat.

In other news, I will attempt to keep this blog running with a minimum of one new whisky review each month. I’d like to do more, but of course, whisky is expensive, and we don’t get many 20cl bottles around here.

A Short Vacation

Whisky, Empirically will be taking a short break over the next week while I travel to Calgary for a conference. The good thing about the short hiatus is that I hope to return with a bottle (or two!) of Bruichladdich’s Laddie Ten. I’ve been excited about possibly picking up this bottle for months now.

Also, I will eventually review the Aberlour 10, but I have yet to crack the bottle open–too many speysiders open at the moment.

Slainté!