Spirits Education – St Patty’s Day Edition: Irish Whiskey

In the 19th Century, Irish whiskey was one of the most popular whiskey style in the world.  Its lighter style – due to typically being distilled three times – and lack of heavy peat flavors often found in Scotch, made it an enjoyable and even elegant style of whiskey compared to many styles of the time.  Then three things happened to curtail availability and eventually its popularity: World War I, the Irish fight for independence, and Prohibition in the US.

With the outbreak of WWI, much of the shipping and trading of goods was curtailed for obvious reasons, and this resulted in a decline of sales for Irish Whiskey.  Up to WWI, Ireland was part of the British Empire, but then the Irish War for Independence (1919-1921), and resulting independence, cut Ireland off from access to London and the major trading that resulted by being a part of the empire.  ,Irish Whiskey was essentially replaced by Scotch as the favored whiskey of the Empire.  Then with the enactment of Prohibition of alcohol in the US (1920-1933), which was a major market for Ireland due to the vast number of Irish immigrants living in the US, Irish Whiskey was nearly knocked out of existence.  By the end of WWII, the industry was in shambles with the effects of these events lasting even to this day.

Did you know that y the 1960s, Ireland only had 3 commercial distilleries?   Two in the Irish Republic (Midleton and Cooley) and one in the North (Bushmills).  All three produce pot stilled whiskies, while Midleton and Cooley also do grain whiskey in column stills.

Irish whiskey is distilled three times, which is the feature that gives it its lightness and smoothness, especially when compared to Scotch, which is usually double distilled.  The other distinction with Irish whiskey is the use of roasted malted and unmalted barley in the grain mash.  Most whiskey is made using malted barley plus other grains, but few are made with unmalted grains.  The use of these grains contributes to the richness and smoothness of Irish whiskey and is what helps to define it as a world class style along with Scotch and Bourbon.

The other significant distinction between Irish and Scotch whiskey is that many Scotch whiskies rely on peat for flavoring to a certain degree; Irish whisk is almost never peated, thus reinforcing the lightness.

Jameson is the major player, with brands such as Bushmills, Powers, Red Breast, Tyrconnell and Tullamore Dew (to name a few), also being quite popular.  Today there are over 100 Irish whiskey brands on the market with new ones being added each year.

The new interest category for Irish whiskey is the aged category.  By law, all Irish Whiskey must be aged for a minimum of three years before release, but some are aged much longer to increase the smoothness.  Many people look for Scotch and Bourbons that have been barrel aged for many years.  Today, it is possible to find Irish styles that are aged extensively.

Jameson 18 year old and Red Breast 15 year old are just a few examples of this style.  With aging in barrel for such a long time, the whiskies have an opportunity to mellow and take on really complex, smooth qualities that are appreciated by whisky lovers around the globe. 

You can find a top tier of great Irish Whisky at Max Downtown.  We now feature the following:

Jameson 18 year
– this is a full-bodied whiskey with rich flavors of sweet oak, vanilla, but hints of citrus and spices build through the complex finish.

Redbreast 15 year
– this is a pure pot stilled whiskey, which makes it a throw-back to the great styles of the past.  Wonderful tones of caramel and nuts with spice on the finish, plus a velvety smooth over-all style that is distinctive and delicious. vanilla, but hints of citrus and spices build through the complex finish.


Bushmills Black Bush – no age statement here, but a blend of whiskies aged upwards of about 7 years.  What sets this whiskey apart is the wood used for aging – mainly used oloroso sherry casks and bourbon barrels.  The effect is an added intensity of darker flavors, all derived from the richness of oloroso sherry (the fullest and richest style of sherry) along with the toasty sweetness of bourbon.  Complex and lovely.

Recap: Stone Brewery Dinner at Max’s Oyster Bar

Last night, nearly 60 patrons had the pleasure of enjoying a fabulous meal and presentation at Max’s Oyster Bar in West Hartford.  Chef Scott Miller went all out with a round the world assortment of dishes that played off the flavors and styles of the strikingly good brews from Stone.

As our guests entered everyone was given a pretzel lei to enjoy and nibble on while the rest of the guests arrived.

First course was paired with the Stone Levitation Ale, a fabulous style that is a bit easier on the alcohol at 4.5% abv, but big on flavor with rich maltiness and fresh citrusy hops.  Chef Miller paired this with a Hiramasa Crudo (King Fish) with some foie gras powder and freeze dried strawberries.  Our guests knew they were in for a treat last night after seeing this dish.

Coming up next from Stone was the Stone IPA, really their flagship brew and one that is easily identifiable as a classic.  This beer is what IPA, especially West Coast IPA lovers, are looking for.  Full on hops with a smooth undertone of maltiness.  At 77IBUs there is nothing shy about this, but it drinks great and you are

usually not aware of the 6.9% abv.  Chef Miller paired this with a take on a classic Mexican dish called a Chilaquiles, a dish often served in the morning or for brunch as its often meant to use up left-over tortillas and other ingredients.  This was a perfect foil for the Stone IPA, though and with the addition of a soft boiled egg, its was just decadent enough to make you feel really good.  Smoked chorizo was a nice touch as well.

For the third course, the Stone Sublimely Self Righteous Ale was up, and this is one of the fan favorites.  At 8.7% abv and 90 IBUs, there is nothing really being held back with this brew.  Full on hop aromas, rich malt and nutty flavors, though surprisingly clean drinking for such a big brew.  Chef took this intensity of hops in the beer and played off that with a little twist that complimented the flavors and tingled the senses.  Pine needle smoked pork jowl with some lime and an assortment of Vietnamese styled pickles, plus just as the dish was to hit the table we flamed the fresh pine needles to boost the aromatics even more.  Fabulous aromas and taste with this dish.  The whole room smelled of smoky, woodsy pine and hops.

For the entree course guests were treated to a unique take on the “Chicken Fried Steak”, where Chef Miller took a short-rib and wrapped it in chicken skin before cooking.  Bringing the crispness of fried chicken and the richness of well braised short rib together in one satisfying bite.  With the addition of a southern waffles and white gravy, the dish was full-on delicious and flavorful.  For this dish we poured full pints of the Stone Enjoy By 4.10.13, a limited release ale that is only available for a very limited time and then it is gone for good.  Bright and hoppy, this was a smooth and crisp style and paired perfectly with the chicken fried ribs.

I think for me the favorite dish of the evening had to be the last.  This was such a  great combination and both the beer and the dessert were better for the flavors in each.  Chef Miller put together this decadent, but easy to eat combination of baked apples, Caramel and Rogue Creamery Rogue River Blue cheese that was visually and flavor-wise delicious.  The caramel tuile made this look like a million dollar dish, and the taste was right on. Paired wit the Stone Old Guardian 2013, a barley wine style ale clocking in at 11.4% abv, the combination was the perfect way to end a fabulous dinner.  The cheese was perfectly light and heavy at the same time while the beer was sweet and biting.

If you happened to miss this event, Max Restaurant Group will see Stone Brewery again at the Trumbull Kitchen Brewfest on March 16, in Hartford and then again with Wednesday Sampler night at TK in April.  Jeff from Stone always brings out limited and small production stuff when he comes in so don’t miss these great events.

Ask The Wine Guy…What Is Malolactic Fermentation?

By Brian Mitchell, Corporate Beverage Director for the Max Restaurant Group

Recently I was asked about a term that comes up quite often in wine education and on wine technical information.  It is a process of production that is used by wine makers to affect the style and feel of wine.  The term is Malolactic Fermentation.

Malolactic Fermentation, or ML for short, is a secondary “fermentation” process that happens to wine if allowed, but is often used purposely to create a certain feel or style to the wine.  Technically this is not an actual fermentation, but the process resembles a ferment due to the fact that carbon dioxide is released, thus the name has stuck since first scientifically described.  We often hear this term associated with Chardonnay wines, but many people do not realize that just about all red wines go through the process.  The reason for this is that ML is a process where malic acids, which are naturally occurring in grapes and which are tart or even harsh depending on the level, is converted to softer lactic acids.  This is done by a bacteria called Lactobacillus and is completely natural. 

Malic acid is present in a lot of fruit, it is one of the fuels fruit-plants use to grow and ripen as well as protect the young fruit from predators.  It has a tart, sharp feel; much like a Granny-Smith apple is tart and crisp.  This is one aspect that gives many crisp white wines their “bite” or edge, as many people describe.  The plant uses the malic acid as energy and converts it to sugar as the fruit ripens.  Often malic acid is present in grapes at harvest – both red and white grapes.  The process of ML ferment then converts the harsh acids to softer (think yogurt) lactic acids.

After the primary (alcohol) fermentation is complete, the winemaker will decide if the wine should go through ML, and if so should all or only a percentage of the wine.  It should be noted that just about all red wine goes through ML.  If this was not the case then the wines could be harsh and challenging to drink – think Beaujolais Nouveau.

With respect to white wine, though, it is the winemaker’s decision to allow all or some of the wine to go through ML.  A young crisp stylistic wine, such as a New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, will not see any ML.  The appeal of a wine such as this is that intense freshness that the acid brings to the wine.  Conversely, a full-bodied chardonnay from California might see a lot of ML, which will soften the style, create richness to the feel of the wine on the palate and even give some buttery flavors.  Malolactic Fermentation is a process that is often spoken about but not always understood.  By tasting wines that are using ML to varying levels it becomes much easier to understand and even detect on your own.  Here are some examples to try that have no, partial and full ML.

No Malolactic Ferment

Mohua Sauvignon Blanc, 2011 (Marlborough) – intense crispness and typical pungency of flavors found in Kiwie SBs.  Fresh acidity.  Find this wine at Max’s Oyster Bar

Partial Malolactic Ferment

Stulmuller Chardonnay, 2010 (Alexander Valley) – this wine sees 45% ML, which creates a style that is both rich and bright at the same time.  The acidity giving lift to the wonderful round flavors of the chardonnay.  Find this wine at Max Amore

Full Malolactic Ferment

Jean-Clause Thevent St Veran Clos de L’Hermitage vieille vigne, 2010 (Maconnais) – richness of this chardonnay derives from the age of the vines and from full ML.  Find this wine at Max Downtown and Max Fish

Kistler Chardonnay Sonoma Valley, 2010 (Sonoma) – rich and full, but as this comes from a cool climate region the wine is balanced and elegant.  Definitely for those that like a little bigger style wine.  Find this wine at Max’s Oyster Bar

New Rhone Red By-The-Glass at Max Downtown

We have just added this wine on by the glass at Max Downtown.  The Jeune family is one of the most highly regarded Rhone producers and we are very excited to be featuring this wine.  We will have it available through the Spring, while supplies last.

Domaine Monpertuis
Vignoble de la Ramiere Vin de Pays du Gard “Cepage Counoise”, 2010

Paul Jeune winemaker
This wine is fermented and aged in cement vats and is composed almost exclusively of the Counoise grape variety, one of the thirteen varieties permitted to be used in making Chateauneuf-du-Pape. Supplemented by just a touch of Alicante, this wine is usually bottled 18 to 20 months after harvest and offers a full-throated roar of the garrigue that so defines the wines of this region: the wild herbs and slightly animal notes that make this modest wine so full of character. A majority of this wine is destined for the US market (24,000 bottles).

Domaine Monpertuis
The Domaine de Monpertuis has been in the hands of the Jeune family for six generations. In fact, the records of the village of Chateauneuf-du-Pape show that Pierre-Paul Jeune, a local vineyard owner, was born in Chateauneuf in 1775. Each successor in the Jeune family added bits and pieces of vineyards to the expanding whole of the estate so that the current owner, Paul Jeune, now farms a total of thirty hectares, some owned as proprietaire and a portion worked under the share-cropping system of metayage and fermage. The holdings are scattered amongst 48 separate parcels throughout the boundaries of Chateauneuf du Pape and extending on the western side of the Rhone River. The wide variety of soil types and exposures amongst the parcels in Chateauneuf give Monpertuis the resources to craft a classic version of Chateauneuf-du-Pape in both red and white.

Jeune has the remarkable good fortune of having a majority of his vineyards planted to vines between 60 and 130 years of age. The remaining vineyards generally are between 25 and 60 years, except for some new plantings of white varieties like Roussanne. The multiplicity of parcels spread across Chateauneuf imparts a classic character to the wines of Monpertuis, absorbing the nuances of each soil type of the appellation. However, the heart and soul of the domaine lies within three primary parcels, all within the village confines of Chateuneuf: La Croze, Le Clos de la Cerise, and Monpertuis. Although Chateauneuf-du-Pape may be composed of 13 individual varietals, the Domaine de Monpertuis relies most heavily on the Grenache grape and the vineyards are heavily planted to this noble variety. The vineyards are worked according to the principles of organic viticulture. On the western side of the Rhone, in the Gard district, Jeune works the “Vignobles de la Ramiere” from which vineyards he produces two wines: a Vin du Pays du Gard “Counoise” and a Cotes du Rhone. This site is near Monfaucon which is not far from the Tavel and Lirac appellations. These vineyards, as well, are farmed organically. All vineyards are hand harvested. The white varieties are picked early to preserve acidity and aromatic intensity and are fermented separately according to grape variety under controlled temperatures. For the red wines destined for the US market, the grapes are either not destemmed at all or are only partially destemmed. This is an ancient practice.


Imported by Neal Rosenthal (no relation to Rich) aka: MADROSE


Max Downtown Adds Two Limited Production Whisk(e)y

This week at Max Downtown, two new Whisk(e)y were added to the library offering of specialty spirits.   I say Whisk(e)y with the (e) because one of these products comes from the USA – High West Distillery from Park City, Utah, and the other comes from Scotland – the Glenmorangie Distillery in Tain, Ross-shire, Scotland.  The practice for spelling whiskey without an “e” is common in Scotland and some of the Commonwealth regions, so we must adhere to this.  It just helps to tell them apart a bit easier.

The first product from High West is the fourth whiskey we have from this unique and quite frankly compelling producer in Utah.   This product is the American Prairie Reserve Whiskey, which is a blend of two whiskies; the first of which is aged about six years and is composed of about 75% corn, 20% rye and 5% malted barley, while the other portion is from ten year old whiskey, which is composed of 60% corn, 35% rye and 5% malted barley.  You will not see an age statement on the label of this whiskey, as it is illegal to do so when there are blended ages such as this, but you will find a truly balanced and deeply flavored whisky that hits the palate with rich flavors of sweet oak and grains, with a smoky and soft finish.  Really one of the finest that we have tasted from this distillery to date.  Available for a limited time. basically while supplies last, which is usually not very long as aged whiskies are becoming more and more of a challenge to acquire.

The second whisky that was acquired by Max Downtown this week is the Glenmorangie Ealanta.  This Scotch is a beautiful whisky that is part of a very limited production range called the Private Edition.   It isa 19 year aged whiskey that has spent its time in virginAmerican oak casks sourced primarily from Missouri.  The affect of this style with so much age is an ultra-smooth, richly flavored whisky with deep flavors of orange peel, brown sugar and roasted almonds.  The expression is almost unique in the world of Scotch, or whiskies in general.  Extremely limited production, this whisky will go quickly and be gone forever.



Winery Direct Series with 2010 Fess Parker Pinot Noir Santa Rita Hills

Max Restaurant Group is First in the Nation with New Wine from Fess Parker Winery

Winery Direct Series Brings Fess Parker Pinot Noir Sta. Rita Hills, 2010, to market

Most people will remember Fess Parker for his acting roles as Daniel Boone and Davy Crockett in the 1950s and 60s.  He passed away in 2010, but did you know that he and now his family have owned a 715 acres winery and vineyard estate in Santa Barbara for the past 30 years?  That his wines have won countless awards? And that this region grows some of the best Pinot Noir in the country?

The Max Restaurant Group is very pleased to announce that we will be offering the newest wine from the Fess Parker Winery; the Fess Parker Pinot Noir Sta. Rita Hills, 2010.  In fact Max Group will be the very first location in the country to offer this wine for sale.  We have made special arrangements to list this wine directly from the winery before it becomes available for wider distribution later next year.

As part of this promotion, the $18 glass price will be available for $13 and the customary $66 bottle price will be reduced to $48.  Supplies at these prices are limited and will only last through February.

Stop into any Max location to try this fabulous wine from a great wine region.


A little about the Sta. Rita Hills AVA…

First created in 2001, the Sta. Rita Hills viticultural appellation is uniquely situated to receive maritime influences that create the ideal climate for growing exceptional wine-grapes. Inspired by the incredible potential offered within this wine region, a diverse group of talented growers and winemakers are producing some of California’s most exciting Pinot Noirs, Chardonnays and other varietals. As with any new region, the winegrowers and winemakers have developed a camaraderie stemming from their love of this region and the excitement of the achievements made thus far.

Sta. Rita Hills is a relatively small appellation of approximately 100 square miles. Intersected by the Santa Ynez River, the cool climate appellation is located between the towns of Buellton and Lompoc in Santa Barbara County, California.

Cool weather, fog, wind and the soils limit vine vigor, crop yield and intensify the flavors of the wines. Distinct geology and geography combine to form an absolutely unique maritime corridor. Two east-west oriented valleys represent some of the most incredible dirt and unique climatic influence in the Pinot Noir world.

Other great growers and producers from this fabulous region include: Brewer-Clifton, Clos Pepe, Foley Estates, Foxen, Pali, Sea Smoke, Siduri, Sanford, and many others.