Thursday, February 28, 2013

Dusty Thursday: Pre-Fire Heaven Hill

November 7, 1996 was a sad day in bourbon history.  It was the day when fire ravaged the old Heaven Hill distillery in Bardstown, Kentucky. The distillery was destroyed.  Over the next few years, the other Kentucky distilleries pitched in to help it distill, notably Brown Forman which made all of Heaven Hill's Rittenhouse rye through last year.  In 1999, Heaven Hill bought the Bernheim Distillery, a state of the art distillery owned by Diageo which it had used to make wheated bourbon after it closed Stitzel-Weller but was now trying to unload.

Pre-fire Heaven Hill whiskeys are getting dustier and dustier.  There are a number of bottles still around, and certainly, all of the whiskeys aged over around 16 years are, of course, pre-fire, but it's pretty tough to find younger pre-fire whiskeys.  Today's is an Old Heaven Hill Bottled in Bond.  It has no age statement, but we know it's pre-fire because Bonded whiskeys are required to list the distillery number and this one clearly states DSP-KY-31 on the back label (The new Heaven Hill/Bernheim distillery would be DSP-KY-1).  This one was bottled around 2001.

Old Heaven Hill BIB, 50% abv.

The nose on this super sweet with maple syrup, cotton candy and corn syrup.  It's like a trip to the fair.  The palate is light, sweet and buttery, then it turns to a medicinal cough syrupy note which lasts into the finish.

This is not my favorite flavor profile.  It's too sweet on the nose and too medicinal on the palate.  I've had some great pre-fire Heaven Hill, but I'd likely choose a later Bernheim era Heavean Hill BIB over this one.

That's the thing with dusties; you never know what you're going to get.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Camut 15 year Calvados

While I've reviewed a California apple brandy, I've never reviewed a proper Calvados, the renowned French apple brandy. Camut is one of the most esteemed producers of Calvados and this one is a 15 year old Pays d'Auge from K&L's exclusive series (K&L is currently out of it but is expecting a new batch later this year). Pays d'Auge is a region of Calvados that requires more restrictions on the brandy (e.g. it must be double distilled in an alembic still).

Adrien Camut Calvados, 15 year old, K&L Exclusive, 40% abv. ($116)

The nose on this is really beautiful with apples and a slight touch of wood. The palate is spicy, like a spiced apple cider. It's got cinnamon, cloves, and even some pepper. It trails off into a peppery apple goodness with some clove notes at the very end.

This is a fun, spicy brandy. If you're a fan of apple brandy, you should definitely give it a try. It also makes me want to try some of the other Camut expressions.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Whiskey Lists: Bottled in Bond Whiskeys

Our last whiskey list looks at Bottled in Bond whiskeys. The Bottled in Bond act was passed in 1897 to restore some consumer confidence to the whiskey industry. It guaranteed to consumers that whiskey labeled "bottled in bond" would conform to certain standards of quality. Even through mid-century, the bottled in bond ("BIB") label was a sign of quality. In an early 1960s catalog I have from an old Los Angeles liquor store, the bourbons are divided into regular and bonded.

A bonded whiskey has to conform to the following standards. It must be (1) made of one type of whiskey (i.e. bourbon or rye); (2) produced by one distillery in one distilling season; (3) aged at least four years; (4) 100 proof/50% abv. (Any spirit can be bonded, but whiskeys are the most common).

Today, bonded whiskey has faded from the shelf, and few people beyond major whiskey nerds know what the term means. I've tried to put together a list of all of the bonded whiskeys that are currently available, though many of them are available only in the Kentucky area. Heaven Hill seems to make the widest variety of bonded whiskeys; indeed, more than half of the labels listed below are from Heaven Hill.

Current Bottled in Bond Whiskeys

David Nicholson 1843 (Luxco, distilled by Heaven Hill)
EH Taylor (except the Barrel Proof) (Buffalo Trace)
Evan Williams BIB (Heaven Hill)
Heaven Hill BIB (several expressions)(Heaven Hill)
Henry McKenna (Heaven Hill)
JTS Brown BIB (Heaven Hill)
JW Dant (Heaven Hill)
Mellow Corn (corn whiskey) (Heaven Hill)
Old Bourbon Hollow (Beam)
Old Fitzgerald BIB (Heaven Hill)
Old Grand-Dad BIB (Beam)
Old Heaven Hill BIB (Heaven Hill)
Old Potrero Hotalings (Anchor)
Old Tub (Beam - distillery only)
Rittenhouse 100 (Heaven Hill)
TW Samuels (Heaven Hill)
Tom Moore BIB (Barton)
Very Old Barton BIB (Barton)

If I left any out, please let me know (and thanks to everyone who helped add to my high proof and extra aged whiskey lists).

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Whiskey Lists: Oldest of the Old

Yesterday's list of high proof bourbons surprised some readers with how few there were. Today, in this age of disappearing age statements, I thought we would look at super aged whiskeys, those over 15 years old, in current or recent release, as well as the oldest expression made by each major producer:

Beam, Inc: Beam's only foray into super-aged whiskey was the Distiller's Masterpiece series of a decade ago which included an 18 year old and a 20 year old bourbon. Currently, their oldest offering is the Knob Creek line at 9 years though apparently they are going to be releasing a Jim Beam 12 year old bourbon.

Brown Forman: Old Forester Birthday Bourbon is their oldest; it is usually 12-14 years old.

Diageo: Bulleit 10 year old is their oldest age statement.

Four Roses: Four Roses has done 16 and 17 year old Single Barrel bottlings available only at the distillery. In 2010, they released a 17 year old single barrel to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the distillery.

Heaven Hill: If Buffalo Trace was the king of high proof whiskey, Heaven Hill is the king of old whiskey. They had Elijah Craig 18 year old back when distilleries would shy at breaking the ten year barrier. They have since added an Elijah Craig 20 year old and Rittenhouse 21, 23 and 25 year old rye whiskeys. For a time, they had an Evan Williams 23 available at the distillery. In 2008, they released their oldest bourbon in recent memory, the Parker's Heritage Collection 27 year old.

Old Rip Van Winkle: The famous Pappy Van Winkle 20 and 23 year olds.

Sazerac/Buffalo Trace: The oldest whiskeys they make are in the Antique Collection: George T. Stagg, usually 16-18 years old, Sazerac 18 year old and Eagle Rare 17 year old. The Bowman distillery in Virginia has also done an 18 year old bourbon. The Buffalo Trace Experimental Collection has also occasionally included older bourbons, such as last year's 19 and 23 year old "Giant French Oak Barrel" bourbons.

Wild Turkey: Wild Turkey Tradition, at 14 years old, is their oldest; they had previously released Wild Turkey American Spirit and Wild Turkey Tribute, both at 15 years old.

Independent Bottlers: Independent Bottlers, particularly KBD and Black Maple Hill, were some of the first to bottle super aged whiskeys in recent times. Black Maple Hill hasn't done one in quite a while, but KBD still puts out some old whiskey under both the Willett and Vintage labels and previously had under the Classic Cask label. Michter's recently bottled a 20 year old American whiskey, and the Hirsch label has released whiskeys from undisclosed distilleries at 20, 21, 22, 25 and even 28 years old, which is probably the oldest bourbon released in modern times. McLain & Kyne makes the Jefferson Presidential Select 17 and 18 year old bourbons from Stitzel-Weller, and there are still a few bottles of AH Hirsch 16 floating around from the original Michter's Distillery. High West bottled a 16 year old and a 21 year old rye distilled at the Barton Distillery. A few bottlers have put out older versions of LDI bourbon: Smooth Ambler has a 19 year old version of its Very Old Scout, and Hooker's House has a 21 year old LDI bourbon.

Did I miss any super old whiskeys? Let me know.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Whiskey Lists: High Proof American Whiskey

This week, I've got a host of whiskey lists to share, starting with a list of high proof American whiskeys.

If nothing else, the Maker's Mark fiasco has shown us that people take their whiskey proof seriously. I've seen a number of people asking recently about high proof American whiskey, so I thought I'd try to make a list of all the recent, regular release American whiskeys over 55% abv (110 proof). Let me know if I'm missing anything.

Beam Inc.

Beam has three high strength offerings: (1) Booker's; (2) Knob Creek Single Barrel; and (3) Old Grand-Dad 114.

Brown Forman

Zip. Zilch. Zero. Three distilleries and no high strength whiskeys. Shame.

Buffalo Trace/Sazerac

Buffalo Trace may be the king of barrel strength, both in terms of numbers and strength. The Buffalo Trace Antique Collection includes George T. Stagg, the wheated William Larue Weller and Thomas Handy Rye. In addition, last year they released the EH Taylor Barrel Strength bourbon, and they make a barrel strength Blanton's, Blanton's Straight from the Barrel, but only for export. They have also released some barrel strength whiskeys from the A. Smith Bowman distillery in Virginia, though they may only have been for retailers. Even their White Dog is bottled at full strength.



Four Roses

Four Roses annually releases a high proof limited edition version of their Small Batch and Single Barrel. In addition, the single barrel releases they do for retailers are high strength. All of these tend to be in the 55% range.

Heaven Hill

Heaven Hill doesn't have any high proof whiskeys in regular release, but they do have the following: (1) Parker's Heritage Collection, the annual release has sometimes been at higher proof, including the most recent Blend of Mashbills edition; (2) Elijah Craig 12 cask strength is a gift shop exclusive but it's rumored to be slated for wider release; (3) the Trybox series of new make.

Wild Turkey

Wild Turkey Rare Breed usually hovers right around 55%. The new Russell's Reserve single barrel will also be 55% abv.

Independent Bottlers

Angels' Envy Cask Strength
Chattanooga Whiskey Co. 1816 Cask, 113.6 proof (56.8% abv) (LDI)
Noah's Mill (KBD)
Old Rip Van Winkle 23 (Stitzel-Weller - 2010)
Temperance Trader Cask Strength (LDI, bottled by Bull Run Distilling)
WH Harrison Governor's Reserve (LDI)
Willett Single Barrels (Bourbon & Rye from KBD)

Craft Distilleries

Surprisingly few craft distilleries seem to release their whiskeys at high proof, but there are a few. Given the number of craft distilleries out there, this is a non-exhaustive list (let me know if there are more):

Balcones True Blue Corn Whiskey
Charbay's Hopped Whiskeys
Glacier Distilling did a cask strength expression of their Bad Rock Rye
House Spirits has a barrel strength white whiskey
Old Potrero Single Malt Rye (except for the Hotaling's, they are mostly barrel proof)
Oola Distillery has a cask strength version of their Waitsburg Bourbon
Roughstock Montana Whiskey
St. George did a cask strength single malt for K&L

If I missed anything, please leave a comment or drop me an email.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Faker's Mark Changes Course

Here's another press release from the people at Faker's Mark:

You kicked our ass, we listened.

Dear Friends,

Since we announced our decision last week to reduce the alcohol content (ABV) of Faker’s Mark in response to supply constraints and greed, we have heard many concerns and questions from our ambassadors and brand fans. We’re humbled by your overwhelming response and passion for Faker’s Mark. While we thought what we were doing was an easy way to screw our own consumers – you told us in large numbers to go screw ourselves instead.

You called us assholes. We listened. And we’re sincerely sorry we caused a public relations nightmare for both ourselves and our corporate overloads at Mr. Bean Inc.

So effective immediately, we are reversing our decision to lower the ABV of Faker’s Mark, and resuming production at 45% alcohol by volume (90 proof). Just like we’ve made it since the very beginning (except for the export and higher proof versions we've done).

Your trust, loyalty and money are what’s most important. We realize we can’t lose sight of that. We understand that there are probably other ways to make you pay more that will have fewer consequences for us, and we will begin investigating those immediately. We have also fired our PR firm, even though they came to us with stunning successes as the brains behind both New Coke and Netflix's Qwikster.


Samuel Roberts
GWWSSTU (Guy Who Wasn't Supposed to Screw Thinks Up),
Faker's Mark

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Little Bourbon on the Prairie: High West American Prairie Reserve

David Perkins' High West Distillery has cooked up all kinds of interesting whiskies: numerous ryes, blends of bourbon and rye, and even a blend of bourbon, rye and peated scotch. While they had used bourbon in some of their blends, they had not released a bourbon, until now.

American Prairie Reserve is labeled a "blend of straight bourbons" which indicates that it includes straight bourbons distilled in more than one state. In this case, it's a combination of a six year old bourbon from LDI in Indiana with a mashbill of 75% Corn, 20% rye, 5% barley malt and a ten year old Four Roses bourbon from Kentucky with a 60% Corn, 35% rye, and 5% barley malt mashbill (i.e. Four Roses mashbill B).

High West American Prairie Reserve, Batch 3, 46% abv. ($43)

The nose has lots of wood along with some strong, spicy rye characteristics. There is plenty of rye spice on the palate, then some sweetness with some wood on the background that leads into a sweet and spicy finish.

This is a very drinkable whiskey with a good balance between sweet and spicy. It tastes like a high rye bourbon, which is interesting given that it uses the high rye mashbill from Four Roses but a lower rye recipe from LDI. Of course, we don't know what the proportions are of each whiskey. In any case, it's good stuff.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Faker's Mark: Helping You Pay More for Less

I don't usually reprint press releases, but I thought this one was worth passing on. It comes from the beloved Faker's Mark Distillery, a subsidiary of Mr. Bean Global:

We at Faker's Mark deeply value our customers and want all of them to have access to our bourbon. At Faker's Mark, we have a tradition of only making one thing and doing it well. Despite the apparent ubiquitousness of our bourbon, however, our production has not kept up with demand. For instance, several people complained on our Facebook page that they were not able to secure bottles of our collectible Little League World Series commemorative bottle (it's collectible because it's a different color than the regular bottle); another person complained that they had to have a Jack Daniel's Choco-bourbon-tini when a TGI Fridays in Kenosha, Wisconsin ran out of Faker's. In our view, this is totally unacceptable. In order to address this serious shortage of product, we have made the following changes:

  • Effective immediately, we will be reducing our Faker's Mark bourbon from 45% abv to 42% abv. If that goes well, we will reduce it to 40% in another six months;
  • Effective immediately, Faker's Mark will only be available in 375 ml bottles (Our taste tests confirmed that using the 375 ml bottle did not substantially change the flavor profile.);
  • In order to prevent consumer confusion, 375 ml bottles of the 42% Faker's Mark will be available at the same convenient price as the current 750 ml bottles.

We at Faker's are shocked at some of the early responses we've received to these changes. People don't seem to realize that we are only making these changes to help our loyal customers, particularly those who will buy our lovely, commemorative, wax dipped bottles no matter what we put in them. Keep in mind, it is important for us to have more Faker's on the shelf so we make more money so we can give back to the community by suing anyone else who uses a red wax seal.

Please direct all inquiries to Mr. Bean Global.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

The Best Coffee on Larchmont: Bricks & Stones

If you're hankering for coffee near the small commercial strip of Larchmont Village, you've got a lot of options. Aside from the big chains (both a Starbucks and a Peet's inhabit the block), there are a number of smaller places, like Larchmont Bungalow, which roasts its own beans. The best coffee in the area, though, lies slightly north of the strip, at Bricks & Scones on the west side of the street, north of Beverly.

For their drinks, Bricks & Scones uses LA Mill coffee. It's nicely made and, while it may not be the best in town, it's easily the best on the Larchmont strip.

The seating area is comfortable (though it can get a bit crowded) with an outdoor patio, board games and the obligatory free wi-fi. They have pretty decent scones as well as an assortment of sandwiches and food, none of which I've sampled. I mostly just go for the coffee.

Bricks & Scones
403 N. Larchmont Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90004
(323) 463-0811

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Culinary Atrocities

German Whiskey blogger Oliver Klimek writes the excellent Dramming blog, which is one of the best whisky blogs around, but with his latest blogging endeavor, he also has one of my favorite food blogs. Culinary Atrocities catalogs the most atrocious food stuffs from our dark culinary past with a concentration on, nay obsession with, Jell-o salads. Klimek even tried to make his own version which appears suitably atrocious. The atrocities don't end with Jell-o though, there's spam, souffle and other dishes to make you cringe.

This is good stuff, but I have to wonder if there is some anti-American bias in Oliver's posts. Sure, America has a shady and embarrassing culinary past, but as someone whose grandparents were from Germany, I was definitely subjected to some culinary atrocities that were strictly continental. The U.S. may be an easy target, but I hereby challenge Oliver to not ignore his own atrocious culinary heritage.

UPDATE: Oliver took me up on my challenge and has dedicated a whole post to German culinary atrocities. Check it out!

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Chateau du Tariquet Armagnac

Word is apparently out that some crazy whiskey blogger is reviewing Armagnacs as I've started to receive unsolicited samples. As I always say, it's never too late to sell out. Today I'll be reviewing two samples I received from Chateau du Tariquet. Tariquet is a large grower/producer located in the Bas-Armagnac region. They use new, lightly toasted, fine grain barrels for the first few years of aging, presumably then transferring the spirit into used barrels. The label implies, but does not state outright, that coloring is not used (noting that the light color of the brandy is due to the lightly toasted oak barrels...and not caramel?).

Chateau du Tariquet XO, 40% abv. ($60)

The Tariquet XO is made from 60% ugni blanc and 40% baco grapes. The "100 years" statement on the bottle refers to the age of the chateau, not the age of the Armagnac in the bottle; the youngest brandy in the bottle is 15 years old.

The nose has a very light spice to it. The palate has more fruit than I've tasted in other Armagnacs along with some chocolate, then the spice comes in, but it's still very subtle. The finish is fruity with a tinge of bitterness (not in a bad way). This is more similar to a Cognac than the Armagnacs I've tasted recently, having more fruit and less spice than some of the bolder Armagnacs. While it's not overly complex, it's very sippable and pleasant. At cask strength, I bet this one would be really stunning. (Tariquet does make some cask strength expressions).

Chateau du Tariquet Blanche Armagnac, 46%

Blanche Armagnac, much like white whiskey, is a recent development. The category was created in 2005 for unaged spirits (all other Armagnac is required to be aged in oak barrels for at least one year). Blanche Armagnac, literally "white Armagnac," may not be aged in oak but is required to be stored in inert containers (glass or steel, for example) for three months. The Tariquet Blanche is made from 100% folle blanche grapes (though the concept of "Blanche Armagnac" shouldn't be confused with the "folle blanche" grape). I haven't seen this on the shelves yet, so I don't know what the retail price is.

If you read this blog with any regularity, you know that I'm not a fan of white whiskey, and I'm not sure that I feel any differently about unaged brandy. Smelling this, it's indistinguishable from white whiskey. Nosing blind, I would definitely have guessed that it was a white whiskey of some sort. The palate, though, gives it away as a brandy; it's sweeter than whiskey with some fruit notes beginning to develop late in the palate. The finish is my favorite part, with some very distinct raisin notes and some mulled wine on the nose. It's not at all bad for what it is; I actually like it better than most white whiskeys, but, well, that isn't saying much. It's always educational to try unaged versions of spirits, but I've never understood the urge to buy them. If you're into unaged spirits or mixology, though, this would be a good choice.

From these two samples, Chateau du Tariquet has definitely piqued my interest. I may track down some of their cask strength brandies to see how they measure up at full strength.

Monday, February 4, 2013

Bread & Jam for Hipsters: Sqirl

No one has ever accused me of being a hipster, but I'm not anti-hipster. I frequently rub shoulders with the hipster crowd at Intelligentsia or at my daughter's school, where I'm one of the only parents without visible tattoos, but sometimes I wonder about the hipster culture. The new breakfast and lunch spot, hiply spelled Sqirl is a prime example. Do we really need a restaurant that sells bread and jam for $8-$13? That's the concept of the Virgil Avenue storefront that is Sqirl. Sure, it's good bread and jam, and some of it has greens or cheese on it, but it's still bread and jam.

How hipster is this place? Well, they don't serve decaf, they have a tumblr with random photos, the only places to sit are plastic chairs and wooden cubes that look like they were pulled out of a particularly sad neighborhood yard sale, and you pay by ipad.

Praise has been heaped on this place from all directions, including from Jonathan Gold, but I keep getting the feeling that it's some kind of joke. It's as if the preserve making proprietors were sitting around their hipster pad and said, "hey, this foodie stuff has run amok; I bet we could charge people $10 for toast and jam." Hell, it almost sounds like some wannabe screenwriter's wacky comedy manuscript, soon to be a major studio picture starring Zooey Deschanel as a Manic Pixie Jam Maker who helps some poor dude get his groove back with toast and jam.

720 North Virgil Ave #4
Los Angeles, CA 90029