Worldcon #77 – Day 4

Today was mostly a do nothing day. I didn’t have any panels, and I knew I needed to save my energy for a long evening covering the Hugo Award Ceremony.

I did spend some time in the morning shopping for whiskey, which was very successful. I then spent quite a bit of time just being off my feet. That allowed me to have a chat with Roz & Jo about Airship 2, which is progressing nicely.

To the great relief of all concerned, the Tech team in Dublin had managed to acquire a dedicated wifi connection for Kevin, Susan and I to use for the live coverage of the ceremony. Special thanks are due to Rick Kovalcik for doing all of the leg work on this.

Aside from some rather dodgy speech-to-text conversion software, the ceremony went off very well. The winners seemed very popular except in the Puppyverse. A few of them were even things I had voted first. The full results, with a link to The Numbers, are available here. Kevin and I have been busy getting the official Hugos website updated, so we are not at any of this evening’s parties.

And now, if you’ll excuse me, I am going to read those voting breakdowns.

Tourism in Dublin

Some of you are in Ireland already, and many more are on the way. Obviously there is Worldcon to look forward to, and a fair amount of Irish history (particularly if you count yourself as part of the diaspora), but many of you will be interested in that thing that Ireland is justifiably famous for: alcohol.

I don’t know what the convention centre bars are like, but if they are rubbish I suspect that a lot of us will end up in the Porterhouse on Temple Bar. It happens to be just a short walk from my apartment, and as I recall it is the traditional Dead Dog location for Octocon. Anyway, they will have a good selection of microbrews.

Then there is the matter of whiskey. Are there distilleries? Yes, there are. Can you visit them? Of course. Here’s a quick guide.

First up, don’t bother with Jamesons. I understand that they don’t actualy make whiskey in Dublin any more, and in any case what’s the point in looking for whiskey that you can buy at home. Also Bushmills is in Ulster. Wait until you get to Belfast before asking for that. Thankfully Dublin has seen an explosion of craft distilleries in recent years.

The Tourist Information lady I talked to in Dublin back in February recommended Pearse Lyons and Teeling. My local whiskey shop in Bath added Liberties and Dingle. And there’s also Roe & Co, which I know nothing about. All of these places are right in the centre of Dublin in and around the Liberties district, so south of the river and west of the castle.

If visiting all of those places seems like a bit much, you should be able to get an overview of the field at the Irish Whiskey Museum. You can sample what’s available at the Dingle Whiskey Bar (at least I hope you can, they do have a connection to the Dingle distillery so they may be a teeny bit biased). And you can buy bottles to take home from the Celtic Whiskey Shop.

Most of these distilleries are quite young. I think they all have product available now, but it won’t have had much ageing.

That should keep you all busy during your trip. However, there’s one more place that I’d like to visit if I have the time. That is the Irish Rock ‘n’ Roll Museum. I don’t suppose it is entirely devoted to Horslips, and Thin Lizzy do deserve a place. I gather that there’s another Irish rock band that is quite famous too. Anyway, it seems like fun.

Whisky Tasting Redux

As Twitter followers will know, last night I attended a whisky tasting given by the fabulous folks at Independent Spirit in Bath. Chris Scullion is enormously knowledgeable about whisky and always worth listening to. Last night’s tasting focused on things that were new in stock, so it was a bit of a mixed bag.

There are a couple of things I want to mention from last night. The first is the question of non-proprietary bottlings. Normally whisky distilleries are incredibly protective of their brands. Nevertheless, casks of malt whisky do sometimes find their way onto the market. Mostly these are sold with made-up names, though the disguise is often tissue-thin. Once in a while, however, the independent bottler will do a really good job and the distillery will allow the use of their name. The final whisky in last night’s tasting was a 7-year-old Talisker from Douglas Laing which does bear the distillery name. Very nice it was too.

One of the malts in the tasting was a Tullibardine. That’s not a well-known distillery, but it is notable for two reasons. Firstly the bottles carry a date of 1488. That’s the year in which King James IV of Scotland stopped by to purchase beer for his coronation. Making whisky is a much more recent activity at the site, but the distillery still proudly trumpets its royal connection.

Tullibardine, however, is no longer Scottish owned. The current owners are a French family who are primarily in the wine business. Their name is Picard, and we all know what that will mean some time in the far future. For now, however, it just means that they have access to some very interesting barrels in which to mature the whisky. The malt that we had last night was the Tullibardine 225, which is matured in Sauternes casks. That gives it a very different, and very fruity, flavor. They also do the Tullibardine 228 which is matured in Burgundy casks. Personally I prefer the 225, but they are both very interesting.

My thanks again to Chris for a fabulous evening. If you do happen to be in Bath, do pop into the shop and say hello.

A Whisky is Born

Whisky label - art by Jennie Gyllblad
Last night I took myself into Bath for a very special event – the launch of a new whisky. My pals at Independent Spirit have been wanting to have their own bottling for some time, and finally it has happened, complete with fabulous artwork from the amazing Jennie Gyllblad.

Now the boys aren’t actually distilling this stuff. They are just bottling it. That might seem a bit of a cheat, but it isn’t. Explaining why requires delving into whisky arcana.

All distilleries tend to have a certain amount of excess production. They know roughly how much of the single malt they can sell, and they will get orders from blenders for more. But you don’t want to be short, so you always make more than you need and have some left over.

This excess whisky is sold to people called “independent bottlers”, and my pals have just joined those ranks. Now you may wonder what the point is. Isn’t the single malt just the single malt? Won’t an independent bottler’s product be just the same as the malt? Well no. To start, it may be that not all of the whisky is matured in the same type of barrels. The distillery may chose only to sell certain casks as their own single malt, and sell on the output of other casks. There is the question of how long the cask has been left to mature before being bottled. Also, the independent bottler has the choice of what strength to bottle at.

Commercial malt whisky is generally sold at around 40%-43% alcohol by volume. That will have been watered down. You will see some whiskies sold at higher strengths. The highest levels you will find are so-called “cask strength”, which means it is not watered down at all before bottling.

The Independent Spirit whisky is 56.2%. That’s a bit eye-popping. It also has a lovely, peppery flavor which makes it seem ever more fiery. Chris Scullion, the whisky expert in the shop team, explained the decision to bottle at cask strength as follows: you can always add water, but you can’t take it away. The taste of a whisky can vary dramatically as water is added. By bottling at cask strength, Chris gives you the option to add as much or as little water as you want before drinking it.

Jennie Gyllblad & Matt Hoskins
Jennie with Matt Hoskins, who did the graphic design on the label

The whisky in the bottle is from Fettercairn, a small distillery in Aberdeenshire. It is fairly light and fruity. Chris said it reminds him of Dalwhinnie, a judgement I very much agree with. At cask strength is is most definitely the stuff of fire breathing, hence Jennie’s art. It is a limited edition with only 50 bottles available. I have one on order. I might be persuaded to bring it to Finncon with me.

The event took place in the Igloo bar which is in the basement of the Abbey Hotel (hence no live tweeting as we were underground). It is a lovely venue. Tim the barman treated us to a couple of whisky-based cocktails. The first was a whiskey sour, which proves that there is a purpose in the world for bourbon after all. It should have egg white in it, though I suspect that most bars will omit that just in case. The other was a Godfather, which is just whisky and amaretto. You can make this with a blend. Jennie and I, being amaretto addicts, loved it.

The Igloo bar
The Igloo bar, with Chris standing to the left

Travel Day

If it is Tuesday evening I must be in Helsinki. Goodness only knows where my brain is. I had to get up at 5:30 this morning in order to get to Heathrow on time. This is not good for me. Still, it was lovely to see Karo & Tommi in London, and good to see them breeding more Finnish con-runners.

Fortunately the travel all went fairly smoothly. Also World Of Whisky had Jura on sale. The Prophecy was still stupidly expensive, so I picked up a bottle of Superstition instead. I am giving a paper about Sandman, so it seems rather appropriate.

Otto tells me that the train from Helsinki airport into the city center is almost ready to open. I hope to get some photos of it next week.

I appear to have brought English weather with me. It is a good job I’m leaving tomorrow as I want it to be nice here for Helsinki Pride.

Beer Tasting (and Croatian Art)

Bevog Baja - Filip Burburan

I have been saying for some time that Bath has two superb independent bookstores, but it also now has a really good whisky shop: Independent Spirit. Indeed, I will be there tonight for a tasting of Japanese whiskies (so make sure you are following me on Twitter then). Chris and Christian, who run the shop, are super friendly, incredibly knowledgeable, and always happy to chat to customers. If you are in Bath, do pay them a visit.

They don’t only sell whisky, of course. I’ve been trying to learn a bit about rum from then in advance of meeting Karen Lord at Åcon. I can heartily recommend this stuff. But I can’t really afford to stock up on whiskies and rums, so mostly what I buy when I go into the store is beer. Which brings me to the picture at the top of this post.

Recently the store has started stocking beers from Bevog, a new microbrewery from Austria (specifically a town with the lovely name of Bad Radkersburg) which is making huge waves in the beer community (#3 in this list). They do have a pale ale and an IPA for those of you who like English beers, but much more interesting from my point of view are the oatmeal stout and the smoked porter. They are both delicious (though I do admit that I’m a sucker for anything smoked and your mileage may differ).

What’s more, all of the beers have superb artwork on the bottles. The picture above is from the oatmeal stout. The artist is Filip Burburan who is from Rijeka in Croatia (a city I visited last year). Croatian friends, you need to make more noise about this guy. He’s amazing. The signature character for the smoked porter is below.

Bevog Ond - Filip Burburan

While I’m talking about beer, I can also recommend Floris Mango. It is a Belgian wheat beer stuffed full of fabulous mango goodness. Of course the dudebro real ale fans are going to hate it. It is a wheat beer for a start. But I reckon it is absolutely perfect for a warm summer’s day. Delicious.

OK Australia, This Means War

Forget the cricket. That’s just sport, after all. And us Poms seem to rather enjoy losing (though we much prefer losing to West Indies). No, this is something much more serious: whisky.

Last week an Australian whisky was named the best single malt whisky in the world.

Huge congratulations to the Sullivan’s Cove company. I’d say I was looking forward to trying it, but since the Sydney Morning Herald trumpeted the news my friends in Australia tell me that bottles have vanished from the shelves (mostly to re-appear soon after on eBay).

By the way, SMH, I’m afraid I can no longer read the phrase, “puts Tasmania on the map”, without collapsing into giggles.

Scotland: I hope you will step up to the plate here. I entirely understand that jettisoning the embarrassing English people that you so foolishly annexed in 1603 is taking up a lot of your time, but surely this stain on your national honor cannot go unavenged? Being beaten by the Japanese is one thing, but by Australians, really?

A Tour of the Smoke, Islay Style

Last night I attended a whisky tasting run by my new pals at Independent Spirit Bath. It wasn’t just any whisky either, we were concentrating on Islay malts, and given that I am very partial to strongly peaty flavors this was ideal for me.

First up was a whisky I had never heard of: Kilchoman. My excuse is that it is very new. They opened in 2005, so their product is barely old enough to come to market. It is very much a craft project — a small distillery doing as much as they can themselves: the whisky equivalent of a microbrewery. Our host for the evening, Chris Scullion, who has been in the whisky business for many years, described the taste as “stale ashtrays”, and by Goddess he’s right. Islays can be like that. Heck, I often describe Lagavulin as tasting of creosote. But Kilchoman doesn’t taste awful (I only once kissed someone who smoked — won’t ever do it again). Somehow it manages a fascinating flavor. If it is this good now, it is probably going to be spectacular when it has aged longer.

Offering two was actually a blend, but Smokey Joe is a blend made solely from Islay malts. It was launched in 2009 to the accompaniment of an expensive marketing campaign. One of my fellow tasters (by the way, I was the only girl there) described it as tasting of bacon, but it was sweeter than that, unless you’ve been smoking the bacon in honey or something. Chris said it had a burnt caramel taste, which I think described it better. It was pleasant enough, and being a blend will be cheaper than the single malts, but I don’t think it is anything to write home about.

Next up was Port Charlotte Peat Project, a malt produced by the Bruichladdich distillery. I found it very smooth and creamy. Definitely worth checking out. Mark Charan Newton, who knows far more about whisky than I do, recently spent his honeymoon on Islay, and today he posted this report of his visit to Bruichladdich.

Caol Ila is a whisky that many of you will have experience of, though not in its raw state. It is a major component of Johnny Walker. One of the reasons it has that honor is that the distillery produces a large volume of reliably consistent whisky, year-after-year. Also Caol Ila plays well with other flavors. Chris talked about using it in cocktails. I wasn’t hugely impressed with it, but I’d be interested to try some of the higher-priced variants on offer, and also Port Askaig, an independently bottled whisky from an “unidentified” distillery which just happens to take its name from the town in which the Caol Ila distillery is located.

Finally we were offered something rather different, a peated Speyside. Many of you will be familiar with Tomintoul, a multi-award-winning small Speyside distillery. Well, every so often a whisky distillery needs to shut down and clean out the stills. Before they do that, Tomintoul does a short run making a peated whisky. Given that the whole system is going to get blasted clean before the next batch of Tomintoul is made, it doesn’t matter that they add the additional flavor briefly. The result is Old Ballantruan, which they also choose to bottle at 50% abv.


Oh my goodness that was impressive. Obviously if lots of smoke and lots of alcohol are not your thing then this won’t tickle your taste buds. But I figure that if you have read this far you are probably an Islay malt fan too, in which case, try this. Honestly, Speyside can do peat, and it is amazing.

My thanks to Chris for a lovely evening. I suspect I may do other tastings at that venue. There is talk of a rum one in the near future. And maybe tequila. 🙂

Robinson in Bath

Last night I attending a reading by Kim Stanley Robinson at Toppings in Bath. It was a great evening, but sadly very poorly attended. I do hope that Stan got a better crowd at the British Library today. I appreciate that the weather was dreadful, and that a lot of people had taken the entire Jubilee week as vacation, but if we want bookstores to put on good SF&F events we have to support them. It’s as simple as that.

Anyway, Stan was excellent, and my review of 2312 will be far better for having had a chance to talk to him about the book. I wouldn’t have got that opportunity if there hadn’t been so few people there. We also went whisky tasting at The Tasting Room afterwards. I finally got a chance to try Penderyn, the Welsh whisky, and I’m pleased to say that it was quite good. Now I need to persuade Iain Banks and Mark Charan Newton to try it.

Thanks once again to Toppings for staging the event, for looking after Stan well, and for inviting me along for drinks afterwards. Here’s hoping we get a better crowd for the Iain Banks, Joe Abercrombie, Peter Hamilton and Paul Cornell events later in the year. (And personally I’m rather tempted by Levi Roots in July.)

SF & Malt Whisky: A Perfect Blend

As many of you will know, one of my current favorite whiskies is Jura Prophecy. I had no idea that the Jura distillery also owns a writer’s retreat. I should be paying more attention to what Ken MacLeod writes about. Still, thanks to SFX, I know now. And I also know that you (if you are a UK resident) can enter one of those ridiculously simple competitions that is really a prize draw, the prize for which is a free stay at that very place.

It occurs to me that if I win it I won’t be able to afford to get to Jura, but maybe they’d send me some free whisky instead.