Monday, August 3, 2015

Bleeding Out with Blood Oath Bourbon

Luxco is a St. Louis based spirits company that markets a number of spirits, including budget, sourced whiskey, much of it from Heaven Hill.  Their bourbon brands include Ezra Brooks (including standard and 12 year old expressions) and the wheated Rebel Yell and Rebel Reserve.

Blood Oath Bourbon is Luxco's attempt to bring a "high end, luxury type bourbon to the market." According to this excellent interview of Luxco's John Rempe by Bourbon & Banter, the company's goal in producing this product was "to bring an innovative and unique tasting experience and bourbon experience to the bourbon connoisseur geared toward the person who really knows what he wants in a bourbon." Er, okay.

The company has said that Blood Oath is a blend of two rye recipe bourbons and one wheat recipe bourbon, presumably a mixture of the bourbons that populate their other offerings. The bourbons in the blend range from 6 to 12 years old.

There's a lot of cheesy atmospherics here including the batches being labeled as "pacts" and a proof of 98.6 (i.e. body temperature) which, according to Rempe, "mixes right in with the blood."  Alright, let's do some blood mixing.

Blood Oath Bourbon, Pact 1, 49.3% abv ($90)

The nose is very light with light caramel and grain notes. The palate is also very light with cane sugar and light caramel notes. The finish is candy sweet (sort of like the red candy on candied apples).

This is perfectly decent stuff; it's light and drinkable, but not very complex and hardly a "unique tasting experience." I could recommend it as a pleasing sipper if it were in the $30 range, but I certainly wouldn't pay anywhere near $90 for it. Blood Oath? I'd say it's more of a pinky promise.

Thanks to John Burlowski for the sample.


Friday, July 31, 2015

New Whiskey Labels:

This week's most interesting new labels from the federal TTB database:

Brown-Forman cleared a label for Woodford Reserve Frost Four Wood which appears to be a blend of standard Woodfojjkldf bourbons finished in port, sherry and maple wood casks that was "flocked during 2013 polar vortex." I was pretty excited to see this as we haven't had a new disaster whiskey in a while.

A label cleared for Teerenpeli Single Malt, the first whiskey I've seen from Finland.

Joseph Magnus, a brand out of Washington DC, cleared a label for an Indiana bourbon (presumably MGP) composed of whiskeys finished in various sherry and Cognac casks.

Note:  The fact that a label appears on the TTB database does not necessarily mean it will be produced.  In addition, some details on the label, such as proof, can change in the final product.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Whiskey Revival: IW Harper 15 year old

Diageo recently revived the old IW Harper label which had disappeared from domestic shelves early this century. The new Harper comes in no age statement and 15 year old expressions, the latter of which was distilled at the new Bernheim distillery which sits on the site of the old Bernheim Distillery where Harper was previously made.

I happen to have an unopened mini bottle of the previous iteration of IW Harper that was bottled for the Bourbon Heritage Collection, so I thought I would take this opportunity to compare the two head to head.

IW Harper 15 year old (New), 43% abv ($75)

The nose has a very nice balance of caramel and rye spice. The palate starts sweet but very quickly turns spicy with rye notes which trail off into the finish.  This is surprisingly spicy given that it is apparently only 6% rye. It may be that some of those spicy notes come from the oak. In any case, it's quite pleasant and sippable.

IW Harper Gold Medal 15 year old (Old), 40% abv.

The nose is medicinal with some raw grain notes. The palate is also quite grainy and that note, almost a new make sort of pure alcohol note, dominates the finish.  I remembered this as being pretty bad, and it still is.

Well, Diageo has managed to do something that's pretty rare these days; they have managed to make a whiskey that is better than it used to be. The new Harper 15 year old is far better than the previous iteration. Is it worth buying at $75? That seems expensive to me for what it is, but to be honest, pretty much everything on the market today seems expensive to me for what it is.

Thanks to John Burlowski for the sample of the new 15 year old.


Monday, July 27, 2015

Book Review: Bourbon Curious by Fred Minnick

While we're no longer enjoying a Golden Age of Whiskey, the era we are in now may well be the Golden Age of Whiskey Books. The number and quality of whiskey books has improved by leaps and bounds over the past couple of years, and you don't even have to pay secondary prices to get them.

The latest entry is a fantastic new book by whiskey writer/blogger Fred Minnick: Bourbon Curious: A Simple Tasting Guide for the Savvy Drinker. I have to admit that when I first heard about Minnick's book, I was wary. Minnick is a great writer (this is his third book and his second that is whiskey related), but there are so many whiskey books out there that coming up with something original is a bit of a challenge. Well, I'm happy to report that Minnick has more then met the challenge with a refreshing guide to bourbon that will certainly be valuable to novices but has a serious geek streak running through it.

Bourbon Curious is divided into three major sections. The first fifty pages are basic facts and history of bourbon, the second fifty pages describe bourbon production and the last section, the bulk of the book, includes descriptions and reviews of various bourbons. Again, this all sounds fairly standard, but Minnick takes a rather different approach than most books.

His general description section includes many things most geeks will be familiar with; he takes a myth-buster type approach and has little patience with marketing fluff and back stories.  His history doesn't shy away from scandal, discussing the role of whiskey in the plunder of Native lands, cockfighting and prostitution (something covered in more detail in his previous book Whiskey Women).

His chapter on production goes into greater detail than many such books, starting with the grain. He discusses the various strains of corn, wheat, barley and rye, how and where they are produced, and the issues and controversies surrounding GMO and non-GMO corn. He has a similarly detailed review of water and wood, including the best tree types for barrels (clean below the limbs with four to six feet between knots and 10 to 12 rings per inch).

In his tasting notes section, Minnick divides bourbons into four categories based on flavor: grain (mostly young and craft bourbons); nutmeg (mostly traditional rye recipe); caramel (mostly wheated) and cinnamon (mostly high rye).  I don't necessarily agree with those categorizations, but it's an interesting way to think about it.

In most whiskey books, I don't have much use for the reviews. I've had a lot of whiskey and don't really need someone to tell me what Evan Williams Single Barrel tastes like, but Minnick's reviews are different.  Each one includes detailed information about the whiskey that goes beyond the typical age and proof.  For each whiskey, he describes the type of grain used, where the grains are grown, the type of still used and the type of barrel used for aging.  You don't just learn that Eagle Rare is ten years old and 90 proof but also that it's made from non-GMO corn from Kentucky and Indiana and rye from the Dakotas, that it's double distilled on an 84 inch wide copper still and a doubler, and that it's aged in Missouri Ozark American white oak with a number 4 char. He also includes mashbills, even for many whiskeys that don't publicly disclose them. It's a true geek-fest.

And Minnick has come up with a few sourcing revelations as well.  He reports that Angel's Envy is sourced from three different distilleries, that Cyrus Noble Bourbon was distilled at the old Medley Distillery, and that Michter's is largely sourced from Brown Forman (perhaps explaining why I've never cared for it).

The book closes with a set of brief histories of some major brands which is something I've always wished someone would do.  Some of these brands have been through numerous companies, and it's great to see those histories laid out.

As I noted above, this is a great book for both the novice and the bourbon geek, and make no mistake, it is exclusively about bourbon. There is no rye, no Tennessee Whiskey (save for a brief description of what it is), and definitely no flavored whiskey...just bourbon.

For bourbon fans, this one is a must have. The book publishes next week but is available for pre-order.

Bourbon Curious: A Simple Tasting Guide for the Savvy Drinker by Fred Minnick
Zenith Press ($14)

Thanks to Fred Minnick for providing a copy of his book for review.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

The New Rittenhouse 100

Since I reviewed the new Pikesville Rye from Heaven Hill earlier this week, I thought I would check up on Heaven Hill's standard rye offering: Rittenhouse 100.

For many years after a fire demolished the old Bardstown, Kentucky Heaven Hill distillery in 1996, Rittenhouse Rye was made for Heaven Hill by Brown Forman.  Within the last year or two, Heaven Hill's own distillate, from the Bernheim Distillery in Louisville which it purchased after the fire, has started to appear in Rittenhouse bottles. I haven't done a formal review since the Brown Forman days so I thought it would be interesting to have a taste.

Rittenhouse 100, Bottled in Bond, 50% abv ($25)

The nose has honey and spice; it smells like the baking aisle in a market. On the palate, the spice is in the forefront followed by the honey and some more perfume type notes. The finish is slightly bitter with a touch of honey sweetness.

This is quite different than my memories of the Rittenhouse distilled at Brown Forman and not in a good way. The sweet honey notes are a bit too prominent for my tastes. The honey gives it a floral/perfume note that hides some of the spice, and I don't generally like a lot of perfume in my whiskey. It's a very disappointing result for a whiskey that used to be an old standby at a great price.

Monday, July 20, 2015

Pikesville Rye 6 year 110 proof

Heaven Hill recently introduced a new 110 proof, 6 year old version of its Pikesville Rye.  Pikesville is an old Maryland brand long owned by Heaven Hill and made in Kentucky.  For years, it was a very good budget brand. I've always been a fan of Heaven Hill ryes so I'm excited to see how this one measures up.

Pikesville Rye 100 Proof, 6 yo ($50)

This has got a nice, spicy nose with just a touch of honey in the background. The palate starts with bold rye spice and then develops some sweetness. It's a spice bomb with mint, clove and ginger. The finish is sweet and spicy with lots of ginger, but then it turns medicinal and bitter. Oh, and don't add water, it brings out bananas and other, weird fruity notes.

I was hoping to be blown away by this, but it was not to be. It's not at all bad (though the finish is a bit out of balance), but I found it underwhelming. That beings aid, it will make a fine addition to the ryes on the shelf today, and it's good to see a higher proof rye offering.

Friday, July 17, 2015

New Whiskey (and Brandy) Labels

This week's most interesting new labels from the federal TTB database:

MGP of Indiana, the only major distillery that doesn't have any of its own brands, has a new label for a limited release, which would be the second they have done. Metze's Select, named for MGP Master Distiller Greg Metze is a blend of three MGP bourbons: 59% is 2008 low rye (21%) bourbon, 38% 2006 low rye bourbon and 3% 2006 high rye (36%) bourbon. MGP doesn't have its own bottling facility so it is being bottled by an Ohio bottler.

Remy Cointreau cleared a label for Octomore Edition 07.3. It's five years old and 169 ppm.

Edrington cleared a label for The Famous Grouse Smoky Black featuring "rare peated Glenturret."

Pernod Ricard cleared a label for Longmorn Distiller's Choice, a no age statement Longmorn.

Kilchoman cleared a label for a 10th Anniversary release, and while there are a lot of 10s and years on the label, it appears to be NAS.

Duncan Taylor cleared labels for a number of old grain whiskeys including a 42 year old Port Dundas, a 40 year old Girvan, a 27 year old Invergordon and a 23 year old North British.

For all you brandy fans, there have been a lot of interesting new labels lately from Charles Neal, the dean of brandy importers. Neal cleared a range of labels for two Armagnacs I've never seen in the US: Domaine de Jean Bon (five vintages ranging from 1979 to 1999) and Domaine de Maouhum (an XO, 1983 and 1987).  He also cleared a label for a 1964 Leon Beyries Armagnac. UPDATE: According to David Driscoll from K&L, the Jean Bon and Maouhum are K&L exclusives.

Also in the world of brandy, a label cleared for a new Navazos Palazzi expression, a Spanish brandy aged in Amontillado sherry casks. Palazzi's import company also cleared a label for an 18 year old, cask strength Calvados selected by cider baron Eric Bordelet.

Note:  The fact that a label appears on the TTB database does not necessarily mean it will be produced.  In addition, some details on the label, such as proof, can change in the final product.