Wednesday, December 4, 2013
It was frustrating putting together my Whiskey Gifts post this year because of the unavailability of so many of the good whiskeys. Brandy, though, is a different story. As I've been fond of saying, we are living in a Golden Age of Brandy; the quality has never been better (at least not in my lifetime), the price is insanely reasonable for what you get, and most of it is still on the shelf. Most of the best new spirits I had this year were brandies. If you're shopping for spirit gifts, you might want to skip the whiskey aisle altogether. Here are a few of my favorites.
Cognac Navarre Vieille Reserve ($200). This Cognac from Jacky Navarre includes brandies that are 50 years old. It's a beautiful, oaky, earthy brandy. Yes, it's pricey, but it's one of the best things I tasted all year. It's still available at Astor Wines.
Domaine de Baraillon 1985 ($116). This K&L exclusive shows the best qualities of Armagnac; it's at once fruity, earthy and spicy. It was one of my two favorite Armagnacs this year.
1996 Chateau de Pelleahut ($60) This was my other favorite Armagnac this year and also a K&L exclusive (kudos to K&L for jumping on the brandy brandy-wagon with both feet in their excellent exclusive barrels program). Deeply earthy, it tastes much older than its 17 years. At $60 per bottle, this is the best spirit deal of the year.
Osocalis Brandy The Heritage ($130) is the masterpiece of this California distiller, but their whole range is great. For a budget pick, it's hard to beat their Rare Alembic Brandy ($43).
Navazos Palazzi Brandy de Jerez ($80 for a half bottle). Nicolas Palazzi's sherry aged brandy is rich and dry, a perfect brandy for lovers of sherried Scotch.
Domaine D'Ognoas 2000 ($56). Another K&L exclusive, this is a bold, assertive Armagnac that's a great deal at the price point.
So don't despair of the state of whiskey. Drink brandy!
Monday, December 2, 2013
'Tis the season for holiday gifts (well mostly Christmas because someone made Chanukah start in November this year, but hey, there are still a few days left). Here, then, are my whiskey gift suggestions.
It was hard to come up with American Whiskey gift suggestions this year, not because there weren't a number of great new whiskeys released but because they are so hard to find. I would love to recommend the new Elijah Craig Barrel Proof or either of the Four Roses Small Batch or Four Roses Single Barrel Limited Editions, but good luck finding those. (And if you came here looking for Pappy Van Winkle, be sure to check out my post on Pappy Van Winkle alternatives).
There were, however, a number of new American whiskeys that are quite good but easier to find. K&L's Faultline Bourbon, an MGP bourbon blended by Smooth Ambler, is a nice one at $40. Similarly priced is High West's American Prairie Reserve, which blends MGP and Four Roses bourbons. For something higher proof, Wild Turkey's Russell's Reserve Single Barrel is a spicy whiskey at 110 proof and around $55.
One of my favorite new whiskeys this year was the George Dickel 14 year old from Park Avenue Liquors. The new Dickel retailer exclusives are a series of 9 and 14 year old bourbons selected by specific retailers. The first Park Avenue release that I reviewed is sold out but they have a new one in stock ($90), and The Party Source also has good versions ($46 for the 9yo and $66 for the 14 yo, though they no longer ship out of Kentucky). I love the dry, minerally profile of Dickel, and these more aged expressions have all of that along with a bit more oak that you'd expect from an older Dickel.
On the rye front, there wasn't as much action this year, but the new Angel's Envy Rye, finished in rum casks, is a sweeter take on MGP distilled rye, though it's a bit pricey at around $70.
After a few years where sherry seemed to reign supreme, most of the best Scotch I had this year was peated. Among those I'd recommend would be the Laphroaig Cask Strength Batch 004 ($60) and the New Laphroaig Cairdeas Port Wood Edition ($60). On the higher end were Bruichladdich's Port Charlotte PC 10 ($150), the Springbank Calvados Finish ($110) and a new Kilchoman from Binny's ($80). And for the budget recommendation, you'd be hard pressed to do better than the Smokey Joe Islay Malt ($35) available at Total Wines.
If you're looking to avoid all the smoke, I really enjoyed the Mortlach 1990 bottled for Binny's ($100), a sherry cask aged malt that tastes more like a bourbon cask malt.
I seldom recommend Canadian Whiskies during my gift posts, but I'm very fond of the new Lot 40 Canadian Rye ($60) that's just showing up on American shelves. It's got some nice rye spice but it's not as aggressive as the WhistlePig/Masterson's/Jefferson's Canadian Ryes. It's one of the best Canadian Whiskies I've had.
This was a great year for whiskey books. For anyone interested in bourbon, rye or American craft whiskey, Clay Risen's American Whiskey Bourbon & Rye is a must have. For those with a historical interest, Michael Veach's Kentucky Bourbon Whiskey: An American History is a great survey course on bourbon history. I haven't read it yet, but I have heard very good things about Fred Minnick's Whiskey Women: The Untold Story of How Women Saved Bourbon, Scotch and Irish Whiskey. And for those looking for more of a story, there's Rob Gard's engaging memoir Distilling Rob: Manly Lies and Whisky Truths. So drink, but read too.
Later this week: Brandy Gifts
Wednesday, November 27, 2013
November's Blog of the Month is Cheap Bourbon Whiskey & Pearlsnap Shirts. I can't really do it justice; just check it out (you've got to love a blog where most of the photos are empty bottles - and be sure to go to the second page to see the shirts).
Monday, November 25, 2013
I always like to do a Wild Turkey review for Thanksgiving because I'm corny like that. This year, we'll do the new and redundantly titled Russell's Reserve Small Batch Single Barrel (I guess a single barrel is about the smallest batch you can get). The bourbon is aged in alligator char barrels. It weighs in at 110 proof and is not chill filtered. There is no age statement.
Russell's Reserve Small Batch Single Barrel, 55% abv ($55)
The nose is light with candy corn. The palate is richer than the nose lets on and has spice, pine, polished wood, anise and caraway. On the finish there's pepper and tobacco.
This is a nice, spicy bourbon with some richness and complexity. It certainly would do well on the Thanksgiving table, and maybe even better with the pumpkin pie.
Thursday, November 21, 2013
No, this is not the newest flavored whiskey concoction. It is, however, the newest release from the Abraham Bowman special release series. A. Smith Bowman, in Virginia, is owned by Sazerac Company, which also owns the Buffalo Trace and Barton Distilleries in Kentucky. Their bourbons are distilled once at Buffalo Trace, then shipped to Bowman for second distillation and aging there. They use both of the Buffalo Trace rye recipe bourbon mashbills but never say which mashbill is used for which bourbon.
This particular bourbon was finished for two months in Bowman bourbon barrels that had been previously been used to age Hardywood Brewery's Gingerbread Stout (touted as aged in bourbon barrels - ah, the barrels that keep on giving). It was further aged in bourbon barrels after the beer barrel aging. I don't know that I've ever had a whiskey aged in beer barrels before, so let's give it a shot.
Abraham Bowman Gingerbread Beer Finished Bourbon, 7yo, 45% ($70)
The nose has a very strong rye component with pine notes. The palate has some bourbon sweetness up front but then a definite beer influence. There's a malty, cereal grain profile that tastes like, well, beer - malty and a bit bitter. That malty note dominates the finish as well. For two months of finishing, there is a surprising amount of beer influence on this. It's almost like a boiler maker in a bottle.
Does it work? There's a bitterness to those beer notes that's a bit strong late in the palate which puts it a bit out of balance. Overall, I'd say it's worth tasting, but I'm not sure I would want an entire bottle of the stuff.
Wednesday, November 20, 2013
With the rush to to buy new releases before they're sold out, it's easy to forget that there are lots of bourbons that are readily available. I always enjoy a chance to go back and try one of these, especially if I haven't had it for a long while. Baker's Bourbon, of course, is part of the Jim Beam small batch collection which includes Knob Creek, Booker's and Basil Haden. Unlike some products, Baker's age and proof haven't changed; it remains seven years old and 107 proof and is made using the standard (lower rye) Jim Beam mashbill.
Baker's Bourbon, 7 yo, 53.5% abv ($40-$45)
The nose has really nice rich oak notes with bubblegum and peanuts (like a day at the circus). The palate has savory oak notes and wood spice; it's slightly minty and quite complex. The finish has dry oak on the nose and sweet toffee on the palate.
To say I haven't been a huge fan of Beam products would be an understatement. Lately, even old favorites that I've revisited, like Booker's or Old Grand-Dad 114, have seemed to be in decline. Baker's, however, was actually much nicer than I remembered, with more oak and more complexity. It's definitely worth a second look.
Monday, November 18, 2013
It feels like almost every day brings with it a new rye from Midwest Grain Products (formerly LDI, formerly Seagram's) in Indiana. Today I try Angel's Envy Rye from the Louisville Distilling Company, the bottler of finished bourbon founded by the late Lincoln Henderson, formerly of Brown Forman. Angel's Envy is an MGP rye finished in Caribbean rum casks.
Angel's Envy Rye, Batch 1F, 50% abv ($72)
The nose is pure LDI, mostly mint with that slight whiff of pickel juice and some juniper notes, like a dirty martini made with pickle juice instead of olive juice. On the palate, I expected the typical burst of rye similar to the nose and readily found in other LDI ryes, but no, something different. It starts with vanilla, then a touch of mint, and then the rum sets in with fresh cane sugar juice. The finish is a perfect balance of sweet rum and the briny rye.
This was a really surprising and fun one. It had all of that LDI brininess but the rum cask influence tempered it and added a sweet counterbalance. If anything, the rum is maybe a bit too influential, making it a tad too sweet, but all in all, it's a successful and interesting whiskey.