Sunday, July 28, 2013


When I first started complaining about there being no whiskey anywhere in or around Phoenix, a chorus of objections arose, insisting on one exception -- an oasis in my whiskey desert.

"Yeah...there's no whiskey out here.  Except for Magnum's, I mean."
"Right, except for Magnum's."
"There's always Magnum's."
"You've been to Magnum's, right? Dude...Magnum's! You haven't been to Magnum's?!"

I hadn't.  But now I have.  And here's what I found.

First of all, to get to Magnum's, just find your way to the southeast corner of 7th St. and Union Hills in north Phoenix.  Once there, bypass the Dairy Queen, Ladies' Fitness Express, and the Bashas' grocery store -- locate the Scuba store and head west.  If you hit the Firestone tire shop you've gone too far.  It just seems odd to me that a place as revered among whiskey lovers for it's extensive (and often expensive) collection of whiskies is in such a nondescript strip mall.

Once inside, Magnum's is split into a retail area and a cigar lounge area.  In the retail area a large selection of beer resides in a refrigerated area in front of you as you walk in.  These are all easily accessible to patrons.  The spirits however, unlike any other store I've been to, are stashed safely away behind a counter -- safely out of the reach of the grubby hands of the masses.  You'll have to lean and squint at times to see what they have.  Ultimately though, I found all of the rumors to be true; on this trip they had not-a-few very hard-to-find whiskies that I had to decide between.  They were selling a Colonel EH Taylor Barrel Proof for $93.  They also had a Blanton's Special Reserve Single Barrel, selling for $200.  (I was repeatedly reminded that one cannot typically buy this product in the states, thereby justifying its high price).  There was also a bottle of Four Roses Limited Edition Single Barrel for just over $100.

Ultimately, I couldn't pass up the 2012 Four Roses Limited Edition Small Batch.  I've heard too many good things about this one to let it go, even at $116.

Walking through the door from the retail side to the lounge side, one enters a world of wood, leather, and tobacco.  Magnum's is one of two indoor-smoking cigar and spirits lounges in the Phoenix area (the other being Fox Cigar Bar). When I looked at the menu I was shocked to see a pour of Buffalo Trace costs $10.  I voiced my dismay at this and was informed that the price per pour is determined by how many pours a bottle will produce and how expensive the bottle is.  When I pointed out that I could buy a bottle of BT for $24, I was told that $10 is the (seemingly arbitrary) minimum price for any pour at Magnum's.  After I explained that this policy will likely alienate many potential patrons, I was told that the BT is one of their best sellers in the lounge. It is apparently worth it to Magnum's to marginalize a key segment of its client base (the whiskey enthusiast segment) because there are enough people in the Valley who are so excited to drink and smoke inside that they'll pay $10 for a pour of mediocre whiskey.  Fair enough.

In summary: Magnums is a great place to buy rare and hard-to-find whiskies (albeit at inflated prices), but not to try -- unless you really want to drink and smoke inside and can't do so in your home.

Friday, July 26, 2013


By now I'm guessing you've heard that Sportsman's (32nd St. and Camelback) is going out of business.  There is a strong temptation to wax poetic given its imminent closing.  Words like "venerable" and "vestiges" keep coming to mind.  I'll try to refrain from going overboard, but it is always sad when a local place like Sportsman's, having been around since the 50s (in various iterations), goes out of business.

I talked to one of the staff, trying to figure out what happened.  Initially he was a bit short with me (understandably, as he's presumably losing his job), saying, "Bashas’ decided to shut us down.  I don’t know why, I just work here.”  Though, when I added that it makes me sad to see Sportsman's going away he softened a bit and said, "Yeah...makes me sad too."

I've been taught all my life that I shouldn't assume (lest I make an ass out of u and me), but I can at least guess that the big-box wholesalers may have had something to do with it.

While it's still here (for another few weeks), almost everything is 25% off.  If you're just hearing about the closing now, you may be too late.  You can see in the picture, the shelves are already looking pretty depleted.

I talked to another customer who said his brother sent him a picture yesterday of the over $1000 worth of scotch he'd bought.

I witnessed another patron with what appeared to be the last four bottles of Glenlivet 12 heading to the register.
As for me? With little interesting left I picked up a couple of oldies, but certainly goodies: a bottle of Elijah Craig 12, and a bottle of Wild Turkey 101 -- for a total of just over $40.  Hard to beat.

Even with my goodies, it's a sad day for WhiskeyPhoenix.  Sportsman's will be missed.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Whiskey & Coffee


It all began with coffee.
Seems like a strange place to start a whiskey blog, right?  Let me explain.  I grew up loving the smell of coffee.  If you recall the stereotypical Folgers commercials from the 80s and 90s, that was me; I’d often wake up to the smell of my parents brewing coffee (often Folgers, incidentally). The aroma was so appealing — sweet and earthy — but I was never allowed to actually taste this sweet nectar, lest I “stunt my growth.”  Then finally, one day my dad decided (having apparently determined I’d grown tall enough) that I was old enough for my first sip…..putrid…..How can something which smells so wonderful taste so horrible?  It’s as if the coffee had, somewhere between my nose and my tongue, been transformed into something else entirely.  It was like some sort of sick transubstantial joke was being played on me: expecting the divine in that sip, I instead got a mouthful of dirty, bitter, liquid ash.
Chemex coffeeFor years after this first encounter with coffee I would tell people how much I hated coffee.  When I was desperate for some caffeine I’d have to drown the bitter sludge in sugar and cream in order to make it at least remotely palatable — much as a child (or my wife) does with medicine.  I’d drink the milkshakes purporting to be coffee in coffee shops, but never anything approaching black coffee.  That is until one day…my wife was drinking coffee from an independent roaster in Los Angeles (Handsome Coffee Roasters).  She encouraged me to try it, and after feeling that I’d sufficiently protested, I sneaked a sip.  To my disbelief and amazement, the coffee tasted the same way it smelled — which was fantastic.  Not only did it taste like the sweet aroma, but so much else was going on in the cup — I could taste spices and fruit.  I could, for the first time, understand what people meant when they referred to “body,” or “mouthfeel.”
Through my experience with coffee I learned how to take the time to actually experience what I’m eating or drinking.  What do I taste?  Where do I taste it?  What does it feel like?  What does it smell like?  Does it taste different at different times?
Fast forward to a few years ago — some good friends were exposed to scotch for the first time.  Falling in love with it, and being the young, untethered guys they are, they’d amassed over a thousand dollars’ worth of scotch within the span of about three months.  When they were kind enough to invite me to one of their “scotch nights,” it wasn’t a stretch to apply what I’d learned through my experience with coffee to whisky.  Again, I was amazed at the experience.  I went in expecting something perhaps marginally better than the Jim/Jack/or Jameson experiences I’d had — the only other whiskies I’d had up to that point.  But, instead of just vague whiskey-ish liquor, I tasted toffee, vanilla, tobacco, mint, and dozens of other flavors.
Needless to say, I was hooked.  It naturally followed that I would start to seek out more whiskies to try (and to own).  From my whiskey-loving friends living in Chicago, LA, and Portland I was led to believe that there would be an abundance of whiskey bars (or at least bars serving a good smattering of whiskies) where I could try different whiskies before buying.  Sad to say I found no bars in the Phoenix area (so far) selling more than a handful of good bourbons and ryes, and only a few serving a large selection of scotch.
But I’m not one to give up easily, so the hunt continues.  I’m planning to check out at least a few bars and/or liquor stores each month; I’ll double-up and review the whisk{e}y I have at said bar/store.
I hope you’ll join with me in the hunt for whiskey in the desert.