Wednesday, October 31, 2012
ten recipes (made up of five yeasts and two different mashbills). While it's fun to sample the different recipes, Four Roses also blends them for their other bottlings. The Four Roses Small Batch is a blend of four different bourbons. Each year, Four Roses also releases a Limited Edition Small Batch, a marriage of four bourbons bottled at barrel strength.
This year's Limited Edition Small Batch is a blend of the following four bourbons:
17 year old OBSV, 11 year old OBSV, 12 year old OBSK and 12 year old OESK. This vatting combines three different ages, two different yeasts (V and K) and both of the mashbills: the B mashbill is 60% corn, 35% rye and 5% malted barley. and the E mashbill is 75% corn, 20% rye and 5% malted barley.
Four Roses Small Batch Limited Edition 2012, 55.7% abv ($87)
The nose on this is really wonderful with all kinds of things going on. A first whiff reveals fresh cherries, followed by a nice dose of briny rye spice, tobacco and wood notes. The palate carries the same complexity. The briny rye spice is there but also a sort of light perfume note that intensifies the tobacco from the nose. The tobacco and rye spice really stand out on the finish which is quite lengthy and delicious. Water brings out some anise notes and some acid that add to the picture.
This is really fantastic stuff. It's packed with flavor and has a complexity that shows new dimensions with every sip. This may be the best new bourbon I've had all year. It's certainly competitive with the annual offerings from the Buffalo Trace Antique Collection and Pappy Van Winkle, but unlike those, there appears to be some Four Roses Small Batch Limited still on the shelves. If you see it, grab it.
Monday, October 29, 2012
McLain & Kyne's Jefferson's Rye is the third of the trifecta of Canadian ten year old ryes that came out last year, the others being WhistlePig and Masterson's. Like the other two, Jefferson's is ten years old and made from 100% rye mash, but it's about $25 cheaper than its competitors.
Jefferson's Rye, 10 years old, 47% abv ($40)
The nose is sweet and piney, like a sugar coated pine needle. The palate is very similar to the aforementioned Canadian ryes with strong, earthy, piney notes and a bit of brine but some sweetness as well. The finish is decidedly spicy and briny.
These Canadian ryes came around at just the right time, during a shortage of aged American straight rye. In comparing Jefferson's to the other two Canadian ryes, WhistlePig is stronger, and Masterson's is slightly more nuanced. When it comes right down to it, though, they are strikingly similar. Given that similarity, you might as well buy the cheaper one, and that is clearly Jefferson's.
Friday, October 26, 2012
As I've written before the Federal Alcohol & Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) approves all spirits labels and publishes the certificates of approval on-line. This is a huge service to spirits fans as we get to see labels for new products long before they are on the shelf. Whiskey geek that I am, I spend some of my free time trolling the TTB database to see what's new and noteworthy. If I find something good, I usually tweet a link to using the hashtag #ttbtrolling, so if you want to see what's new that I've found interesting, search that hashtag.
Now keep in mind that label approvals don't guarantee that the product will hit the market. Sometimes, a company submits a label to have a product ready but then decides not to go forward or changes it for one reason or another. They also approve labels that are for private distribution for a particular event or store but which may not be widely available, so if you see me tweet an interesting label, understand that it's likely but not guaranteed to end up on the shelf.
Here are some of my recent finds:
- Jim Beam brings back its Distiller's Masterpiece series of a decade ago with a sherry finished bourbon
- Glenmorangie adds Ealanta to its Private Edition, vintage 1993 and aged in new, charred oak like a bourbon
- Old Forester brings out a single barrel BIB
- Bunnahabhain 40
- Bulleit 10 year old
- And for all you whiskey purists: Chicken Cock Root Beer Flavored Whiskey
I bet you never thought government documents could be so much fun!
Thursday, October 25, 2012
Lately, I've had a few comments suggesting that maybe I'm too negative about whiskey, that there's nothing out there I like. Heck, maybe I don't even like whiskey at all. While I make light of it, it's a legitimate question: am I being too hard on whiskey?
I certainly admit to being a hard judge. I started this blog as recommendations for a small group of readers who were mostly my friends. My feeling was that if I recommended something for them to spend their hard earned money on, it was going to be something I felt strongly about.
Even though the audience for the blog has grown by leaps and bounds since then, I still take that same attitude. I will always honestly say what I feel about a whiskey. That doesn't mean any given reader will agree with me, but it's all I can do. For that matter, there are a number of blogs out there that give mostly very positive reviews. That's not a criticism of those blogs, and I have no reason to believe they are not being every bit as honest as I am, but if you mostly want to hear about how good most whiskey is, there are a lot of people who have palates that will accommodate you.
That being said, I don't think it's all my fault. As I recently wrote, the Golden Age of Whiskey is over, and I honestly feel that the new releases we are seeing these days (and new releases are what most bloggers write about) are simply not as good as they used to be. It used to be that new releases meant a company had something different to offer, perhaps something older, higher proof or a unique mashbill. Over the last few years though, spirits companies have figured out that people like new releases and will buy them, so you get high priced line extensions that aren't really much different from current offerings, though there is usually some story to go along with them (survived a tornado, aged on a boat, named for a felony, etc.).
The truth is that I do like lots of whiskey. In another few months, I'll release my holiday gift suggestions, and I've had no problem compiling them from this year's new releases. While I won't swoon over every new bottling, there's plenty out there that I like and even love, though it's not usually the most hyped new release.
Tuesday, October 23, 2012
I've always been a fan of the K&L Spirits Journal blog which gives a unique insight into the retail market as well as some general philosophizing on the booze industry.
Lately though, K&L Northern California spirits buyer David Driscoll has taken it to a new level. When presented with price hikes for some whiskey brands, he dramatically lowered prices on others brands from the same company to the consternation of the distributor and other retailers. Check out these great posts and then peruse the rest of the blog.
- David Driscoll says he will fight the price hikes by lowering prices on other prominent whiskeys;
- How the spirits companies react; and
- The Market Reacts.
For extra bonus fun, read about how I totally punked K&L when David was visiting the Los Angeles store.
Monday, October 22, 2012
A few years ago, Jim Beam made a play for the high-end rye market with something called (rī)¹ (pronounced "Rye One"). They claimed it would be followed by Rye Two and Three, but that never happened, presumably because sales were not what they imagined. Now, Beam is making another attempt at the premium rye market, this time using its popular and expanding Knob Creek label. Knob Creek Rye carries no age statement and is bottled at 100 proof. We can only assume it includes some of the rye that was previously intended for Rye One...or Two.
I should note that I'm generally not a fan of Beam ryes (or Beam anything really). They tend to be sweet and lacking in spice, which is the note I like most in my rye.
Knob Creek Rye, 50% abv ($37)
The nose on this is typical of Beam ryes, very light with some banana and some soapy notes. The palate is slightly sweet with little rye character. The initial sweetness fades to that slightly banana flavor, which is really more like an artificial banana candy. There's a sort of sweet candy finish.
Well, what can I say? It's a Beam rye. Those banana notes are similar to what I get in Old Overholt, another Beam rye. This does nothing for me. I've always seen Beam ryes as rye for people who don't really like rye, and this one is no different. If you like Overholt or you liked Rye One, give it a try. Otherwise, stay away.
Friday, October 19, 2012
Last weekend I hosted a bourbon tasting at a cute little cooking school called Cashmere Bites. Located in the West Adams neighborhood, Cashmere Bites is a one-woman project run by clasically trained chef Tracey Augustine. She holds classes for up to 13 people on a variety of subjects from "urban tapas" to New Orleans cuisine, and her kitchen is in a great little industrial space. The classes usually cost in the $65-$75 range.
For our bourbon tasting, I led folks through the bourbons while Tracey accompanied with a four courses, each of which used bourbon as an ingredient. In this novice tasting, we tasted Eagle Rare 10, Elijah Craig 12, WL Weller 12, George Dickel 12, Bulleit Rye, and as a bonus I brought some Rittenhouse 23 year old and George T. Stagg from my personal stash.
Tracey made bourbon glazed chicken wings, brisket sliders with caramelized onions, bourbon/bacon pecan tarts and banana-bourbon pudding. All of these were great but I especially loved the sliders and the tarts, which were mini-pecan pies with bourbon...and bacon. It's hard to describe how immediately addictive these little things were, so sweet, chewy, nutty, bourbony and, as if that wasn't enough, bacony. I had to restrain myself from eating the whole plate.
I've hosted a lot of bourbon tastings, but this one was particularly fun. I've never had a (mostly) novice class where people were so engaged in the subject, and I've never had a tasting where a majority of the participants were women. Kudos to Tracey for putting together such a great group.
If you're interested in a fun cooking class, check out Tracey's operation at Cashmere Bites.
2609B Brighton Ave.
Los Angeles, CA 90018
Disclaimer: While I didn't charge for my services, Tracey offered me a free cooking class in exchange for the tasting.
Wednesday, October 17, 2012
With all of the fall whiskey shows coming up, I thought I would give some helpful advice about how to be a whiskey expert. When surrounded by ignorant novices, it's very important to let people know that you are an advanced whiskey specialist, and there are a number of excellent ways to do that. If you follow the guidelines below, no one will doubt your whiskey knowledge.
- Make sure to correct people who use the wrong spelling of whisk(e)y. Remember, everyone loves to be corrected, especially about spelling.
- If you're looking for a good way to demonstrate your expertise, you can almost always do it with Jack Daniel's. If you hear someone refer to Jack Daniel's as a bourbon, you can say, "actually, it's a Tennessee Whiskey," but if you hear someone saying that Jack Daniel's is not a bourbon, you can say, "actually, it really is just a bourbon that has been run through a filtering process." Either way, you get to show how much you know and how little they do.
- Try to remember that when people drink whiskey the wrong way it's not always because they are stupid; sometimes they just don't know any better. They may not always know how to express it, but these philistines will be grateful that you informed them that they were using the wrong glass or adding the wrong amount of water in their whiskey. Of course, if they are adding ice, you are free to demean them; sometimes you have to be strict if you are dealing with people who simply make no effort to do things correctly.
- Whenever possible, refer to master distillers by their first names. Whether writing or talking about whiskey, it's always effective to say something like, "well, I know Harlen makes a great single oak whiskey." It's also good to stress your familiarity with these whiskey celebrities. Try saying things like "I was talking to Jimmy Russell the other day" [i.e. I attended a 50 person masterclass] or "I've been close to Richard Paterson for years" [i.e. I follow him on Twitter]. Warning: Make sure that the distiller you're referring to is actually alive. You don't want to be caught unawares when you say you enjoyed a nice chat with Pappy Van Winkle or Elijah Craig the other day (unless you are very old).
- When drinking whiskey, always let people know that you have tasted very rare and expensive whiskeys. Just the other day, I was drinking a Canadian Club on a plane and I said to my seat mate, "Well, this just isn't as good as the Black Bowmore I had the other day." He sat there in stunned silence, so taken aback by my expertise that he didn't say a word to me for the rest of the flight!
Once you follow these simple steps, everyone will understand that you are a certified whiskey expert. I've been doing this for years, and one positive side effect is that may people are intimidated by my level of expertise. In fact, I've found that people are so afraid of seeming stupid around me that they won't even dare to come over for drinks, which is great because it means I don't have to share any of my rare and valuable whiskey with such people. Indeed, I've found that even some well known brand ambassadors, critics and distillers are too intimidated to spend time with me.
If you follow these steps, you too may be able to attain this level of whiskey expertise. Good luck!
Monday, October 15, 2012
It bugs me as much as the next guy when people review impossible to get whiskeys that I will never have a chance to try. That being said, when I get my hands on something really unique, I feel an obligation to share my thoughts, if not the liquid (though I try to do plenty of that as well).
Four Roses is a fabulous distillery, and their single-recipe, single barrels are well known. Almost all of these are nine to ten years old, and up until recently, there hasn't been any older Four Roses available. Within the last year, they have released extra aged single barrel bottlings which are only available at the distillery gift shop. I managed to get my hands on samples of the 16 and 17 year old gift shop bottlings, both of which use the OBSV recipe, which is the higher rye mashbill of 60% corn, 35% rye, and 5% malted barley. I believe they sell for around $60 or $70 at the gift shop.
Four Roses Single Barrel 16 year old OBSV, Barrel 78-3A, Warehouse QS, 54.7% abv
There's a huge rye kick on the nose which melts into a vanilla extract. The palate is surprisingly fruity. I get pineapple and then a hint of rye which fades into the finish, but the more I drink, the more those rye notes emerge, like when you eat a chili mango paleta and it mostly tastes like mango but then the chili creeps up on you. There are even some of the vague sandalwood notes that I detect in those old Pennsylvania ryes. The finish has a light chocolate note. The more I drink this one, the more I like it. Even though this is six years older than the usual Four Roses Single Barrel, it doesn't have much in the way of wood.
Four Roses Single Barrel 17 year old OBSV, Barrel 78-30, Warehouse QS, 55.3% abv
The nose has a much more subtle rye influence than the 16 year old, but it's still there and grows as you continue to nose it. The first thing I get on the palate is a nice rye spice followed by more distinctive baking spices with clove and allspice, along with some chocolate; these spices fade nicely into the finish. This is a strong, spicy number.
Despite their similar recipe and age, these two bourbons are actually very different. The 16 has more diversity on the palate with those fruity notes, while the 17 has a much stronger rye flavor. Overall, these are both very good, but I'd give the edge to the 17; of course, I'm a sucker for a strong rye character.
Sunday, October 14, 2012
I'm usually fairly skeptical of celebrity chef chains. After all, how good can a restaurant be when the chef has ten locales in five countries. For this reason, I mostly avoided Scott Conant's Scarpetta for a long time. Conant's not a huge celebrity but his high-end Italian chain, Scarpetta, originated in New York and now has branches in Miami, Las Vegas (natch), Miami and Toronto. Here in LA, Scarpetta is located at the Montage Hotel in Beverly Hills which also houses another celebrity chef spot, Thomas Keller's Bouchon.
Despite my skepticism, I had an amazing dinner at Scarpetta a week ago and am a complete convert. The menu is fairly simple but the food is spot on. Things started on a positive note with a broiled octopus appetizer that was one of the finest octopus dishes I've ever had. The octopus was not at all chewy, with more of a texture of pork than anything else, and a fresh from the grill, slightly charred exterior that was just fantastic.
Pastas were also exceptional, the highlight being a short rib agnolotti in brown butter sauce. You would think the richness of short rib in butter sauce would be a bit much, but it wasn't. The short rib really shined through. Each of these was a perfect mouthful.
Entrees were equally wonderful. The veal chop, topped with marrow, was as moist and juicy as any I've had, cooked to a perfect medium rare. The spiced duck breast had a great flavor (I'm guessing some tea spicing). The only entree that was less than fantastic was the black cod, which was fine but unexciting.
For dessert, the chocolate dishes really shined, particularly a chocolate budino, a sizable serving of rich, silky pudding.
The only downside of Scarpetta, other than the high prices, was the service, which was a bit lackluster, not matching general feel of the place. It could have just been an off night, but the service was quite sporadic. The waiter would take a partial order, then leave and come back later for the rest, water was luke-warm and water service was a bit sporadic. It wasn't horrible, but not up to the level of the food and prices.
My go-to Italian spot is another celebrity chef owned restaurant, albeit one with shared local ownership that originated here, Osteria Mozza. I'd say Scarpetta is every bit its equal.
Montage Beverly Hills Hotel
225 N. Canon Dr
Beverly Hills, CA 90210
Friday, October 12, 2012
As everyone knows, the early years of the decade were heady times for whisky collectors. Despite some curmudgeons who were never on board, distillers regularly auctioned whiskies for four, five and even six figures. People crowded into auction houses for the latest 50 or 70 year old whisky in a jewel encrusted bottle. Aged whiskies from Dalmore, Bowmore, Macallan and Glenlivet became the liquid equivalent of Rolls Royce and Bentley.
The high water mark was in 2013 when an anonymous collector paid $1.8 million for a 180 year old Macallan. As everyone now knows, it was later discovered that, through a clerical error, an extra zero had been added to the age and it was actually an 18 year old. When the anonymous purchaser asked for his money back, the auction house responded with a three word tweet: "Caveat emptor sucker!"
Many people credit the Macallan 18 incident with causing the Great Whisky Crash of 2014 when the bottom dropped out of the market. People simply weren't willing to pay that level of money anymore, and an entire industry of collectors and speculators was left high and dry. Many remember the low point of that bust cycle, when bottles of Port Ellen and Brora littered liquor store discount racks and clearance bins, and the Old Rip Van Winkle Distillery began their three-for-the-price-of-one Pappy Van Winkle giveaway. Bonham's Auction House, which was one of the major centers of whisky auctions during the boom, disbanded its spirits division in early 2016 and transferred its spirits staff to the rare Beanie Babies division.
I recently visited one of the major collectors from that time, Jose Bolsa de Dinero, who lived through the boom and bust.
"None of us saw it coming," Dinero says of the crash, "I mean, here I had invested most of my life savings into these whiskies, assuming I would be the first whisky billionaire once I flipped them all, but then it just all went to hell. Now I can't give the stuff away. I mean, I try to tell people, hey, this is a 50 year old Bowmore, and they're like 'dude, it's just booze.' The bottles are quite lovely though, I managed to sell a bunch of the empty ones on ebay. Apparently, they make a perfect vase for Dutch tulips."
As many whisky lovers said at the time, the bright side about having a whisky collection, however worthless, is you can always drink it, but on that point, Dinero demurs, "Sure I drank some of it, but all those Dalmores? Who would want to drink all that stuff?"
Thursday, October 11, 2012
To commemorate the beginning of the fall whiskey season and the impending release of this year's Buffalo Trace Antique Collection, I thought I'd reach back to the first BTAC. The Antique Collection debuted in 2000. Back then it was a three bottle release featuring Eagle Rare 17, William Larue Weller and Sazerac 18. George T. Stagg would join the party in 2002 and his pal Tom Handy would be the last addition in 2006.
I first picked up a bottle of Sazerac 18 back in 2005 and formally reviewed it way back in ought seven. I've been lucky enough to get my hands on some of the original 2000 release of Sazerac 18 year old rye.
The thing about Sazerac 18 is that since 2003, Buffalo Trace has been using the same distillate for all its Sazerac ryes. Apparently, there was enough rye distilled in 1985 for them to transfer it to steel tanks after 18 years, and since 2003, they have been drawing the Sazerac 18 from those same steel tanks. That makes the pre-2003 ryes even more unique since, unlike everything since '03, they were made from different distillate (though it remains to be seen if this year's Saz 18 will be from the '85 run).
Sazerac 18 (circa 2000), 45% abv.
The nose is beautiful with plenty of spice and even some of those sandalwood notes that I've found on old Pennsylvania ryes, followed by some botanical/herbal notes. The palate takes all of those notes and combines them with some sweet, overripe fruit, but that sandalwood notes really dominates toward the end and into the finish.
This is more like an old Pennsylvania rye than any Kentucky rye I've had. It's totally unique and has a different character from the more recent bottlings of the 1985 vintage rye.
Wednesday, October 10, 2012
Alchemist is a Scottish bottler known for its independent bottlings of such well known single malts as Highland Park, Macallan and Springbank. It's one of the smaller indies and occasionally bottles other spirits such as brandy and rum, and on at least one occasion, they bottled a bourbon.
As someone used to the American indie game, it's refreshing to see an independent bourbon bottling with the name of the distillery right on it. Alchemist's Heaven Hill is a 12 year old, distilled in 1999 and bottled in 2011. It weighs in at 46% abv. It goes for $90 which is a pretty hefty price tag for a 12 year old 92 proof bourbon, but then again, it's that rarest of things, an imported bourbon.
Heaven Hill 12 (Alchemist), 46% abv ($90).
The nose on this is pure Heaven Hill, sweet with honey and somewhat floral with a light woodiness at the end. The palate also has a classic taste of burnt caramel and brown sugar mingled with a small amount of wood which gives it just the right amount of character; it ends with a candy-sweet finish.
This is a great, easy to drink, no muss-no fuss bourbon. It's not overly complicated, but it's light and sweet and very enjoyable. If I'd tasted this blind, I might have guessed it came from an old dusty bottle. Maybe more than any other contemporary bourbon, the Alchemist Heaven Hill harkens back to the old dusty days when bourbon was sweet with a touch of wood and oh, so easy to drink. It's surely expensive for what it is, but it's thoroughly enjoyable. Hmm, maybe those Scots do know a thing or two about whiskey.
Monday, October 8, 2012
This year, Heaven Hill brings us a "Master Distillers' Blend of Mashbills." It's a vatting of rye recipe bourbon and wheated bourbon distilled in 2001, and bottled at cask strength.
There were three different barrel minglings (aka "dumps") that will be released, each with a slightly different abv. The one I review here is the first dump.
Parker's Heritage Collection 2012 "Master Distiller's Blend of Mashbills", 11 yo, 65.8% abv ($80)
The nose starts with lots of spicy rye and winds through yeasty bread notes, ending with a good dose of oak, a pleasant journey. The palate starts with the acidic kick I'd usually identify with a wheated bourbon though even more acidic, like a sour lemon candy, then some chocolate notes (you want specifics? I'd say high cacao Costa Rican chocolate). Water brings clarity, that initial sour kick is more lemony and is followed by caramel and wood (more an oak tree than cut wood), though the sourness lingers. The finish is a muted oak, the sour notes reduced to a tangy tongue.
It's interesting how the wheat and rye work together here. It smells like a rye bourbon put tastes more like a wheater. As I said, Parker's bourbons range from good to amazing. I'd put this further toward the good range. It's a solid bourbon with a great nose and some interesting flavors, but I found the sourness a bit overpowering, and I didn't think the whole thing came together as well as some of the past releases.
Thursday, October 4, 2012
Back in January, the K&L Dynamic Duo of Davids, spirits buyers David Driscoll and David Othenin-Girard, traveled to France to hunt down brandies to use for exclusive K&L bottlings. They ended up with more than a dozen from the small distillers of Cognac and Armagnac. The first one I tried from this selection was the Famille Esteve Selection Coup de Coeur, a Cognac which is a vatting of vintages from 1979 and 1981. You can find a description of the Daves' visit to the basement distillery at the K&L Spirits Journal.
Famille Esteve Selection Coup de Coeur, K&L Exclusive Bottling, 40% abv ($90)
The nose has that deep, Cognac fruit with white grape juice and raisins, but also some nice wood notes. The palate is fruity but not too sweet with a lot of spice notes. It starts with sweet wine but develops with some pepper and maybe a hint of clove. The finish has light fruit on the nose and pepper on the palate.
This is a really nice Cognac with a good amount of complexity and a nice balance of sweetness and spice. At $90, this is a huge deal.
Wednesday, October 3, 2012
The whiskey tasting season is rapidly approaching with LA's two big whiskey tasting events coming this fall.
WhiskyLive - October 17. Whisky Magazine's WhiskyLive tasting will be on Wednesday, October 17 at the Hyatt Regency Century Plaza. Regular tickets are $109 and gain you entrance from 6:30pm to 10:00pm. VIP tickets cost $139 and get you in an hour earlier at 5:30.
SMWS Extravaganza - November 9. The Scotch Malt Whisky Society's Extravaganza will be Friday, November 9 at Loews Santa Monica Beach Hotel from 7:00pm to 9:00pm. Tickets are $135 for members of the SMWS and $150 for non-members. Readers of Sku's Recent Eats can get the lower, membership price by entering promotional code SRE2012. (This code will actually work for any of this fall's Extravaganzas, which will be in Boston, Chicago, DC, Philly, San Francisco, Seattle or Fort Lauderdale, see the SMWS calendar.) [Note: Sku is admitted to this event free of charge]
Tuesday, October 2, 2012
In all my informal cocktail experiments, I've come to the conclusion that adding peated whiskey to a cocktail is usually a good thing. Now, in the past, I'd reserved such experimentation for traditional peated cocktails, like the Sazerac, but finding myself in the dog days of late summer LA with a still mostly full bottle of orgeat, I figured, why not a peated mai tai?
I used the same recipe I used in my mai tai post, except I substituted an ounce of Finlaggan for one of the ounces of rum (I used Depaz Rhum Agricole for the other ounce).
Sure enough, this was great stuff. The peat created a nice, smoky nose but the lime and orgeat still ruled the palate making this a feast for all senses. It's an unlikely combination for sure, but it works. Give it a shot!