Friday, September 4, 2015

New Whiskey Labels: Classy & Historic Whiskeys

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

Label BS Award: This label for Stray Rye Whiskey claims that it was "made from a 17th century recipe out of Pittsburgh," but elsewhere on the label it says that it's 95% rye and 5% malted barley, the same mashbill as the standard MGP rye. I'm sure that's just a coincidence though. Oh, and as one of my astute colleagues on Twitter pointed out, Pittsburgh didn't exist in the 17th century, it was founded in 1758, the middle of the 18th century.

Stay Classy Award: I now give you Wild Cock Whiskey, made by Toddy Blends, a company that specializes in "liquor flavored wines."  Yum!

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.

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Dusty Thursday: Mount Vernon Rye

You never know what will pop up at an LA Whiskey Society blind tasting, and at the most recent meeting, featuring both Scotch and American whiskey, we were lucky enough to try an old Maryland rye.  Mount Vernon was a National Distillers brand, and this one was distilled at the Hannis Distillery in Baltimore in 1934, just after prohibition ended. It was bottled in 1939.

Mount Vernon Rye, Bottled in Bond, 1934/1939 50% abv

On the nose it has those great sandalwood notes that old ryes have. The palate is syrupy sweet with grape juice notes and then more of than sandalwood from the nose along with spicy rye that's more familiar from current rye whiskeys.  The finish is full of spearmint and spice.

Maryland ryes had the reputation for being sweet and fruity (and some say fruit juice was a common additive in the pre-regulated days), but this one was a bit too sweet for me, and that sweetness got in the way of those wonderful sandalwood and spice notes that I love in old rye.  That being said, it was certainly decent and a lot of fun to try.

Monday, August 31, 2015

Redemption Barrel Proof Rye

Redemption Rye is an MGP rye sold by Dynamic Spirits. Besides being barrel proof, this expression has an age statement, is labeled "straight" and discloses on the label that it's distilled in Indiana so it meets all the whiskey geek criteria.  Now how does it taste?

Redemption Barrel Proof Rye, 7 years old, Batch 6, 61.3% ($100)

On the nose you get a big hit of MGP rye right away with huge bold spicy notes. The palate is similarly bold and spicy as you would expect but it's nicely balanced with some sweetness.  Toward the late palate, though, it gets bitter and the bitterness hangs on until the finish; it's an almost Campari type of bitter note.  Eventually, the bitterness fades and you're left with a lot of pine type notes. Water brings out sweet mint tea (another traditional MGP note) on the palate but doesn't do anything to cut the bitter notes in the late palate and finish.

While the ending notes were too heavy on the bitterness, this rye has great, bold rye notes. It's definitely one of the stronger MGP ryes I've tasted, and I wouldn't hesitate to pour a glass or use it in a cocktail.  If they could cut the bitter notes, it would be fantastic.

Friday, August 28, 2015

New Whiskey Labels: Ghosts and Earthquakes

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

Weird of the Week:  Boone County Distilling's Eighteen 33 Bourbon was made to celebrate the heritage of early distillers in Boone County, Kentucky.  And what better way to honor early Kentucky distillers then to bottle an Indiana bourbon?  Oh, and apparently, it's made by ghosts.

Disaster of the Week: In the disaster whiskey category, we've seen snow storms, fires and tornadoes.  I suppose it was only a matter of time before the first earthquake whiskey appeared on the shelf, and here it is: Hooker's House Epicenter, whiskeys that "hung precariously" and "mico vibrated" during last year's 6.0 earthquake in Northern California. I'm taking bids on the next disaster whiskey - maybe an El Niño surviving whiskey?

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, August 26, 2015

Sukkah Hill Spirits Liqueurs: Etrog & Besamim

I don't drink a lot of liqueurs, but every once in a while I find one that's interesting. Sukkah Hill Spirits, named for the outdoor shelters from the Jewish holiday of Sukkot, is a small, Los Angeles area company. Like many liqueur start ups, it was started by a culinarily inclined couple who used to blend alcoholic infusions for holidays (hence name). They went into business and are now making two liqueurs:  Etrog, based on a rare citron-like fruit, and Besamim, a sweet and spicy liqueur.

As a base, both spirits use a neutral spirit distilled from cane sugar in South Africa. They use all natural ingredients with no artificial flavors or coloring, and both of their spirits are certified Kosher. They sell for $33 for a 375 ml bottle.

Etrog (38% abv) has a great nose with bright citrus notes. On the palate, it has a light citrus flavor with none of the Lemon Pledge notes that are so typical in citrus liqueurs. As with most liqueurs, it's too sweet for me to drink straight, but it does well in cocktails.  In terms of whiskeys, they suggest adding it to rye, which is good, but I prefer it with heavily peated Scotch since I love the combination of sweet and smoke. It's like a citrusy, smoky Rusty Nail.

Besamim (37% abv) is a delicious, spice mix with tons of cinnamon (real cinnamon, not that Red Hot style flavor you get in flavored whiskeys), clove and ginger; they hand grind the spices for it. It's pretty much pumpkin pie in a bottle, and puts you right at the Thanksgiving table.  There are tons of cocktail possibilities, but honestly, I just like to sip it neat, even as sweet as it is. That warm holiday feeling that it gives me will be perfect when it starts to cool down around here.

Occasionally I'm surprised by something I wouldn't normally like, and these liqueurs are really good. If you have a sweet tooth, I would definitely recommend them. They may have a holiday theme, but you don't have to wait until the high holidays or Thanksgiving to give them a try.

Thanks to Sukkah Hill Spirits for providing samples of their spirits.

Monday, August 24, 2015

Whiskey Law: The Age Statement

Recently, the TTB seems to be cracking down on improper age statements on whiskey labels, so I thought I would provide this brief primer on age statements on American labels.

  • There are no minimum ages for American whiskeys.  However, to be labeled "straight," a whiskey must be at least two years old. 27 CFR §5.22(b)(1)(iii).
  • The age of a whiskey means the period for which it was stored in oak or, where new charred oak is required (as in bourbon, rye, etc.), the period for which it was stored in new charred oak.  So if a bourbon is finished in a wine cask, the finishing period cannot be part of the listed age (though the label can state separately how long it was aged in the finishing cask). Similarly, if a whiskey is transferred to steel tanks, the period in those tanks cannot be included in the listed age. 27 CFR §5.11
  • An age statement is required to be listed on the label if the whiskey is younger than four years old. 27 CFR §5.40(a).
  • The age statement on the label must be the age of the youngest whiskey included in the bottle and the age may be understated but not overstated. 27 CFR §5.40(a)(1), 5.40(e)(1).
  • A minimum age statement ("at least 2 years old") is acceptable but maximum age statements ("aged less than 2 years old") are prohibited. Distilled Spirits FAQ, S11. This is one the TTB seems to be cracking down on.
  • If a label lists the age of more than one whiskey contained in a bottle, it must list the percentage of each such whiskey in the bottle. (TTB Beverage Alcohol Manual, Chapter 8). This is to prevent a label from saying the whiskey is a blend of 2 year old and 17 year old bourbon when there is only a drop of 17 year old whiskey in it.  This has not been enforced in the past, but there are some signs that the TTB has become more strict about it.

Friday, August 21, 2015

New Whiskey Labels: New Orphan Barrels, Maker's Mark and More

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

Diageo cleared two new labels in their Orphan Barrel series. The Gifted Horse 4 year old is another "mistake" whiskey in which they somehow accidentally blended whiskey.  The label describes it as containing "roughly 39% 17-year-old Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey and 61% younger corn whiskey and Indiana Bourbon Whiskey." They second label they cleared was for Whoop & Holler, a 28 year old whiskey distilled at George Dickel.

Maker's Mark cleared a label for a cask strength version of Maker's 46.

American whiskey bottler Frank-Lin cleared a label for Medley's Private Stock, a ten year old Kentucky bourbon.

Last week I wrote about new labels for the Diageo 2015 special releases.  Add to that another for Dailuaine 34 year old.

Gordon & MacPhail cleared labels for Glenlivets from 1961, 1966 and 1977.

Balblair cleared labels for a number of their vintage malts ranging from 1969 to 2003.

Brandy fans will be happy to see a label for a new version of Gourry de Chadeville Cognac.  Last year's Gourry de Chadeville was one of my favorite spirits of the year.

What kind of whiskey are you department: Here's a new label from the Panther Distillery in Minnesota for a...well, I'm not sure. It's labeled Saint Paul Rye Whiskey but the description says it's "Three-year-old cold weather aged rye corn whiskey bourbon."  What is "rye corn whiskey bourbon"?  I don't know, and the back label just furthers the confusion referring to it as a rye whiskey and then stating "Distilled from a Bourbon Mash."  What is this stuff?  How did it get approved by the TTB? Does anyone out there know what they're doing?

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.