Monday, March 30, 2015

Blog of the Month: Breaking Bourbon

The March Blog of the Month, Breaking Bourbon, started about a year ago and is written by the trio of Eric, Nick and Jordan. The blog includes reviews (rated on a scale of zero to five barrels), a calendar of new releases and various articles.  One of the most exciting things they are working on is a bourbon storage experiment.  Regular readers might remember that I did my own very small scale experiment on how oxygen impacts open bottles of whiskey.  Breaking Bourbon is taking it to a whole new level with experiments on how bourbon at different fill levels is impacted in different environments, including direct sunlight, a dark closet and a refrigerator.  They plan on testing the samples at six, twelve and twenty-four months.  I'll be excited to see how it turns out.  Meanwhile, I'll be reading their regular reviews and articles.

Check it out!

Friday, March 27, 2015

New Whiskey Labels: High Proof Ryes, Ardbeg Supernova and More

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

Wild Turkey cleared a label for a single barrel version of their Russell's Reserve Rye.  It's a no age statement, non-chill filtered straight rye listed at 104 proof on the COLA label.

Heaven Hill cleared a label for a six year old, 110 proof version of Pikesville Rye. Proof can be changed after label approval, but hopefully this one isn't a placeholder (usually placeholders are listed as 80 or 100 proof).

Ardbeg cleared a label for Supernova 5, a 2015 committee release which they say is the "final" committee bottling and, as per Ardbeg, there's some mumbo jumbo about space exploration and zero gravity.

Compass Box cleared a label for Hedonism Quindecimus, a new version of its Hedonism blended grain whiskey to celebrate the company's fifteenth anniversary. It's a blend of grain whiskeys that are at least 20 years old.

Balcones cleared a label for a Single Barrel Texas Whisky.  I'm told that this label is for a very small, distillery only bottling of a blend of their corn whiskey and single malt that was then rebarreled.  There will apparently be more Balcones single barrels to come.  

In the past, we haven't gotten much in the way of Ben Nevis original bottlings in the US, but a number of them cleared this week including Ben Nevis 10 year old, a 15 year old single cask sherry wood, the McDonald's Ben Nevis, a replica of an 1882 malt, and MacDonald's Glencoe, a cask strength, 8 year old (and yes, two spellings of M(a)cDonald's are used on the different labels). Glencoe in the UK is labeled a blended malt, but the US label doesn't say blended, only that it is "Finest Malt Scotch Whisky." I assume this is the same blended malt they have in the UK, but I'm curious as to why they don't use the designation on the US label.

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, March 26, 2015

Dusty Thursday: Bonded Beam from the Swingin' '60s

This is a lovely decanter of eight year old bonded Jim Beam bourbon that would fit in well on the Mad Men set or even a tiki party.  Since it is bottled in bond we know that it was distilled in 1960 and bottled in 1968. I haven't had any Beam this old, so this should be fun.

Bonded Beam Decanter, 8 yo, 50% abv

This has a great old dusty nose with tons of caramel and some oak but then a few soapy notes come out. The palate is much drier than I would have expected with medicinal notes and some spice but not much beyond that.  It's dense in a way that it seems like there should be more to it, but if there are more layers of flavor, they aren't showing themselves. The finish is dry with some spice and then medicinal.

This had some good notes, and it's much more complex than most current Beam, but it felt like it was missing something. These decanters sometimes have looser seals than regular bottles, and this one had seen some evaporation as you can see from the photo, so I wouldn't use this to pass judgment generally on older Beam bourbon.  If anything, it makes me interested to try more.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Four Roses Single Barrel Limited Edition 2014

Earlier this year, Four Roses announced that it was discontinuing its annual limited edition single barrel release.  That means the 2014 will be the last regular release of the limited single barrel (they noted that they might still do special releases - I guess those would be limited limited editions).  For now, they will still be doing single barrel releases for retailers, so don't panic too much.  Still, I thought it would be fun to try the last release and was lucky enough to have a friend who could send me a sample.  The 2014 Four Roses Single Barrel Limited Edition is 11 years old and from their OESF recipe (lower rye and F yeast).

Four Roses Single Barrel Ltd Edition 2014, OESF, 11 yo, 54.5% ($100)

The nose is floral and perfumy. The palate comes on very sweet the shows some wood spice.  Water rounds it out nicely. There's a nice sweet finish on the nose but not too much on the palate.

This is good bourbon as nearly all Four Roses is, but it doesn't jump out at me as particularly special.  There's plenty of equally good or better Four Roses I've had from retailer barrels.

Thanks to Dan Zimmerman for the sample. 

Friday, March 20, 2015

New Whiskey Labels: Old Forester, Island Scotch, Guns and Flies

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

Brown Forman cleared a label for Old Forester 1910. The label says it is "barrel finished" but doesn't say in what type of barrel it is finished.  Presumably, this expression will taste 40 years younger than their Old Forester 1870.

Beam Suntory cleared a label for Hibiki Japanese Harmony, which debuted in Japan earlier this month, as a new addition to the standard line of Hibiki blended whiskies.

Douglas Laing cleared a label for its new blended malt Rock Oyster which includes whiskeys from the Scottish islands of Islay, Orkney, Jura and Arran. The whiskey has been out in Europe for a few months now.

Speaking of Scottish islands, when I first saw this new label for Islay Rye from the Grand Traverse distillery in Michigan, I thought maybe it was a rye/Scotch blend along the lines of High West's Campfire. Instead, it's blend of 80% rye to 20% peated malted barley which appears to be distilled in house.  The label calls it a "nod to Islay Single Malt Scotches."  It sounds delicious, but the label is problematic.  The TTB regulations state that "words connoting, indicating, or commonly associated with Scotland, shall not be used to designate any product not wholly produced in Scotland." 27 CFR § 5.22 (k)(4). Well, if Islay doesn't connote Scotland, I don't know what does. This label should have been rejected.

Attention Jeff Goldblum fans:  Have you always wanted a bourbon with a giant fly on the label?  Your dreams have come true thanks to New York's Gristmill Distillers who cleared a label for Black Fly Bourbon.

Lastly, for those of you who like to mix some politics with your whiskey, Scissortail Distillery in Oklahoma cleared a label for Leadslingers Bourbon, a bourbon for those who are "tired of people afraid to support the second amendment."  I'm not sure why people with certain political views need their own bourbon, but as the slogan says, "Stay frosty and freedom on!"  I'm hoping next will be a whiskey for those who support the third amendment: No Quartering Rye?

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, March 18, 2015

Elmer T. Lee Regular and Commemorative

If you were going to pick the one person most responsible for the bourbon boom, Elmer T. Lee would be a good candidate.  Lee started working for Buffalo Trace (then the George T. Stagg distillery) in 1949 as a maintenance man.  He moved his way up to distillery manager and in 1984, he was responsible for releasing Blanton's, the first widely released single barrel bourbon.  Lee retired as Master Distiller soon after but stayed active with the distillery for decades.  He died in 2013 at the age of 93.

Elmer T. Lee Single Barrel bourbon has been around for years. It's one of the higher rye bourbons from Buffalo Trace.  To commemorate the life of Mr. Lee, Buffalo Trace released a commemorative version of the bourbon at a slightly higher proof.  Since I haven't tasted the regular Elmer in a while, I thought I'd compare it with the Commemorative bottling.  The Commemorative came out last year and has been pretty hard to find, though these days, even the regular Elmer seems pretty scarce.

Elmer T. Lee, 45% ($30)

This has a nice, typical BT style nose with caramel, some spice and a touch of oak. The palate has a balance of sweet, rum like notes and more acidic notes. It's more acidic than I remember from previous bottles (of course, single barrels can always vary).  The finish is acidic, with lemon rind and a bit spicy.  It's a decent and well composed bourbon, though not one that I find particularly exciting. 

Elmer T. Lee Commemorative, 46.5% ($35)

The nose on this one is much more subtle with vanilla notes. The palate begins sweet with some grainy notes and moves into a finish that is pure vanilla.  This one lacks any of the acid of the other bottle and has big vanilla notes throughout so much so that it's a bit of a one noter, though it's certainly not unpleasant.

While these two have a different flavor profile, all in all, I'd say these are of similar quality.  Both are fine but not exceptional.

Thanks to Dan Zimmerman for the samples.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Spanish Whisky from Navazos Palazzi

Navazos Palazzi, the joint venture between spirits bottler Nicolas Palazzi and sherry bottler Equipo Navazos has previously released sherry aged brandy and rum. Recently, they introduced their first sherry aged whiskeys.

There are two single cask Navazos Palazzi whiskeys, a malt and a grain whiskey. Both were distilled in Spain at the Beam Suntory owned DYC distillery in Segovia. They are around five years old, and the grain whiskey is made from 100% corn.

The whiskeys were aged in Palo Cortado sherry casks and released at cask strength.  Palo Cortado is apparently a very rare sherry, but I couldn't tell you much more than what I've read on a particularly unhelpful Wikipedia post about it, so feel free to add info in the comments if you're a sherry buff.

Navazos Palazzi Malt Whisky, 52.5% ($100)

This has a sweet, fruity nose with apples and cherries. The palate is a light, sweet sherry with just a touch of malt underneath, leading to a fruity finish.  This is a nicely done, sweet sherry cask whisky that's easy to drink.

Navazos Palazzi Grain Whisky, 53.5% ($100)

The nose has very sweet sherry notes, like a Spanish brandy.  The palate is a massive hit of dry sherry with lemon rind and vanilla which ends in a deep sherry finish.  Given that this is a grain whiskey, I wasn't expecting a lot from it, but I really like it, maybe even more than the malt.  It might taste more akin to a brandy de Jerez (or just sherry) than a whiskey, but it's very tasty and I like those drier sherry notes.  It's also fun to drink in tandem with the Malt, just to note the differences.

The thing I love about these Navazos Palazzi spirits is that they really push the boundaries of sherry cask aging, infusing more sherry into the spirit than you might think was possible and just barely retaining the character of the original spirit, though it is retained.  It's fun and interesting stuff.


Friday, March 13, 2015

New Whiskey Labels: Stitzels, Wellers, Woodfords and More

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

It appears that spirits companies will never cease in trying to make money off of the Stitzel-Weller name.  This week saw not one but two such labels.  Frank-Lin, a California bottler, went back even before Stitzel-Weller, clearing a label for Historic Stitzel Bourbon, which they call a "straight pot Stilled" bourbon.

Meanwhile, Diageo cleared a label for Blade and Bow bourbon.  The front label prominently proclaims "Stitzel-Weller Distillery," but it also includes several neck or side labels with varying statements:  one claims the bourbon is a combination of straight bourbons which includes some Stitzel-Weller bourbon, another claims it uses a solera method which preserves "the spirit of Stitzel-Weller," another claims it is "inspired by" Stitzel-Weller and a fourth doesn't mention Stitzel-Weller at all. It looks like these different tags may be for different bottles; either they will have a series of four or they haven't made up their minds about which one they will use and are clearing them all just in case.

Woodford Reserve cleared two labels that, from the labels, may be for the distillery gift shop. Double Double Oaked, like the regular double oak, is finished in a toasted oak barrel but is kept in the finishing barrel for an extended period of at least a year.  Sweet Mash Redux appears to be a reincarnation of the Woodford Reserve Master's Collection Sweet Mash that was released back in 2008.

Lastly, here's a lesson on close reading of age statements.  Check out the age listed on this label for Krofters Bourbon.  Did you catch the decimal point?

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, March 11, 2015

More Orphan Barrels: Rhetoric and Forged Oak

It's time to try two more of Diageo's Orphan Barrel bourbons.  Rhetoric was the third release in the series and Forged Oak is the most recent.  Both were distilled at the Bernheim Distillery.  The Bernheim Distillery, of course, was entirely rebuilt in 1992.  Presumably these come mostly from the new Bernheim distillery, which is currently owned by Heaven Hill, but there could be older barrels mixed in as well.

Rhetoric, 20 yo, 45% abv ($85)

The nose has a nice, dry, oaky note with a touch of lemon rind. The palate has caramel and oak then moving into red wine notes; it's a  bit diluted tasting. It has a nice milk chocolate finish.  Overall, this one was less interesting than the first two releases, though still decent.  That being said, I'd never pay $85 for a bottle.  

Forged Oak, 15 yo, 45.25% abv ($65)

The nose is a bit astringent on the opening. With a little air, it gets honey and black pepper.  The palate is pancake syrup (not real maple syrup, the fake stuff).  It's thin without much substance.  On the finish it turns a bit spicy. While Rhetoric was was a bit less interesting than Old Blowhard and Barterhouse, Forged Oak is a solid step down from those earlier releases.  It's sweet and flat and that's about it.

The first two bottles from this series made me think critics had been a bit too harsh, but these two were unremarkable.

Thanks to John Burlowski for the samples.  

Monday, March 9, 2015

Woodford Rye

Brown Forman has a mixed legacy when it comes to rye whiskey.  On the one hand, for years after the 1996 fire that destroyed the Heaven Hill Distillery, Brown Forman made Rittenhouse Rye. Rittenhouse is great rye, and it really became a popular mainstream brand during the period that it was being produced using Brown Forman whiskey.

On the other hand, the only rye under the Woodford label was a pair of ryes released as part of the 2011 Woodford Reserve Master's Collection, one aged in new, charred oak and another aged in used barrels.  Most of the Master's Collection releases range from mediocre to terrible.  The ryes may have been more on the mediocre side, but that's not saying much.

So I was a bit apprehensive when I heard that Brown Forman would release a straight rye whiskey under the Woodford Reserve label.  Would this be similar to the old BF Rittenhouse or would this be like the earlier Woodford ryes?

The new Woodford rye is a non-age statement straight rye made from a mashbill of 53% rye, 33% corn and 14% malted barley.

Woodford Reserve Rye, 45.2% abv ($40)

The nose has a nice rye spice on it, a promising beginning. The palate comes on with nice, sweet rye spice, then the spice starts to fade a bit and it gets very sweet and settles into a candy finish with a touch of spice.

All in all, this is pretty decent.  The nose and early palate are great, but it gets a little too sweet for me by midpalate.  Still, a good rye that offers a slightly different profile from the other standard ryes that are out there. It's certainly worth trying. 

Thanks to John Burlowski for the sample.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

K&L Rums

Photo Courtesy of K&L Spirits Journal
Today I take a look at K&L's exclusive barrel rums. These are single barrel rums that were bottled in Scotland by Hunter Laing. Both of the Guayanan rums are from closed distilleries.  I'm not usually one to care about bottle design, but I have to say that there is some pretty cool label art on these rums.

Faultline Jamaican Rum 14 yo, Hampden Distillery, 50% abv ($75)

The nose on this is fantastically fruity with cherries but also a vegetal note; it noses more like a rhum agricole. The palate opens with pineapple then gets spicy with mint.  The finish has overripe mangoes and herbs and even some kalamata olives.  I really dig this stuff; it's funky with a ton of flavor packed into it. Just great.

Faultline Single Barrel Guyana Rum 20 yo, Uitvlugt Distillery, distilled 1994, 52.8% abv ($150)

The nose is light and crisp with apples.  It almost smells like an apple brandy.  The palate starts fruity but quickly turns spicy and trails off with black licorice.  This is another great rum with a lot of flavors mixed in.  The licorice notes on the finish are a bit strong for me, but other than that, it's both complex and enjoyable.   

Faultline Demarra Rum 25 yo, Enmore Distillery (Guyana), distilled 1989, 51.3% ($200)

This is another very fruity nose with fruit cocktail.  The palate, though, comes on very spicy with anise and clove and less fruit than the other two. Then it moves to a caramel note.  It's got a spicy finish with peppercorns and anise. Sweet, densely flavored and spicy, this is another winner.

This was a great end to this series of K&L tastings.  These were really exceptional rums.  My favorite was definitely the 14 year old (luckily, it's also the cheapest), but I keep flipping over whether I like the 20 or 25 year old better. The 20 year old is lighter while the 25 is more dense. It just depends on the style you like or the mood you're in, but all of these were great.

Thanks to David Othenin-Girard for the samples.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

New K&L Scotch: The Single Grains

Next up on my week long K&L tasting are some very old Scotch single grain whiskeys bottled under Hunter Laing's Sovereign label.  Scotch grain whiskeys, of course, make up the bulk of most blended whiskeys. They can be made from pretty much anything but corn, rye and barley are common ingredients, and they are distilled on column stills.  Very few Scotch distilleries market their own grain whiskeys, but occasionally, independent bottlers get hold of a cask or two.

Girvan 24 yo, distilled 1990, 50.3% abv ($100)

The nose is mostly bananas with some alcohol notes.  It seems odd to find this in a 24 year old whiskey, but the palate opens with new make notes, then some banana, though it's a more subtle banana note than on the nose. It's very sweet and has a very short finish.  There's just not that much to this one.  Unless you're a big fan of bananas, I'd avoid it.

Port Dundas 36 yo, distilled 1978, 60.1% abv ($150)

The nose on this is very subtle with light grain notes.  The palate is sweet and spicy with vanilla first and then a smoky bacon note.  The finish is soft with grainy notes and a touch of alcohol.  This one is decent and a bit odd with the smokiness in the mid-palate.

North British 50 yo, distilled 1964, 44.7% abv ($250)

The nose has caramel, vanilla and some savory notes which I got as chicken fat.  The palate is a huge dessert bomb with sweet caramel and vanilla.  It's a damn candy bar.  The finish, as with all of these grain whiskeys, is short, light and slightly sweet.  This was pretty tasty if not overly complex.

I'm not generally a big single grain fan, so I wasn't particularly enthusiastic about these.  While the North British was good and the Port Dundas was decent, for the price, I'd much rather buy some of the K&L malts I tasted over the last two days.

Tomorrow: The K&L Rums

Thanks to David Othenin-Girard for the samples.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

New K&L Scotch: Old Particular

Next in my series of K&L exclusive barrels are whiskies from Douglas Laing, including one blend under K&L's Faultline label and four single malts bottled in 2014 under the Old Particular label.  Unlike yesterday's Hepburn's Choice malts, these are not cask strength.

Faultline Blended Scotch, 50% ($25)

The nose is malty in a sort of Clynelish style.  It's got some coastal notes but also some floral.  The palate opens with sweet peat.  The peat is present but not overwhelming, and the sweetness gives it a sort of candy coating.  The mouthfeel is light.  The finish is peaty and, for the first time, shows some grain whiskey notes. A minute later the sweetness is back adding a chocolate note to the grain, like Ovaltine.

This is a very solid blend with some good peat action, and at $25, it's a no-brainer.  The price to quality ratio is insanely good.

Laphroaig 16 yo, Old Particular, distilled 1997, 48.4% abv ($140)

The nose is pure Laphroaig with big, funky, peaty notes. The palate starts with big peat but gradually develops a sweet wine note, but the peat comes back for the finish along with some BBQ smoke.  This is very tasty. It's everything you would want from a 16 year old Laphroaig.

Tamdhu 16 yo, Old Particular, distilled 1998, 48.4% abv ($100)

This has a very fruity nose with pears.  The palate is malty/spicy with some sweetness. There's a nice balance between the sweet and spicy notes.  The finish is a peppery white wine, like a Gerwurztraminer.  I really like this one. It's sugar and spice and everything nice.  

Tobermory 18 yo, Old Particular, distilled 1996, 48.4% abv ($110)

The nose is malty/fruity with mild peat.  The palate is rich with light peat, growing stronger as it goes down and trailing off into the finish with a touch of mint.  This is a really nice one as well.   

Macallan 21 yo, Old Particular, distilled 1993, 51.5% abv ($250)

The nose is sweet and fruity.  The palate starts sweet but gets drier.  It then develops a peppery note that adds complexity and moves it into the finish.  This is from a refill bourbon cask, and while I haven't been a huge fan of bourbon cask Macallans in the past, this one is really good.  I'd always associated the Macallan profile with sherry, but something about this feels very Macallan even without the sherry influence.  Would I pay $250 for it?  Well, I haven't yet, but I wouldn't rule it out.

This was a very good set of malts.  As a whole, I liked them better than yesterday's selection, though they are also more expensive.  My favorites were the Macallan and the Tobermory followed by the Laphroaig, but they were all quite good.

Tomorrow: Scotch Single Grain Whiskies

Thanks to David Othenin-Girard for the samples.

Monday, March 2, 2015

New K&L Scotch: Hepburn's Choice

Last week, K&L got in 14 new private barrel Scotches from the Hunter and Douglas Laing bottlers.   This week, I'll be reviewing the whole lineup, along with some bonus reviews of their new rums.

First up is a series of  cask strength single malts bottled in 2014 under the Hunter Laing Hepburn's Choice label.

Caol Ila 5 yo, Hepburn's Choice, distilled 2008, 61.1% abv ($50)

The nose, not surprisingly, is young, peated malt.  The palate is very sweet with lots of peat.  There's a slight bitterness late in the palate and into the finish which counteracts the sweetness, and it finishes with lots of nice peat on the nose.  It's five year old Caol Ila, and that's exactly what it tastes like.

Mortlach 7 yo, Hepburn's Choice, distilled 2007, 58% abv ($50)

The nose is perfumy and floral.  The palate opens with a bit of those floral notes but they are quickly replaced by a nice, sweet maltiness.  The finish is dry with just a trace of sweet malt and some floral notes on the nose.  This one is nicely composed though the nose was a bit too floral for me.

Tobermory Smoky & Peaty 8 yo, Hepburn's Choice, distilled 2004, 60.7% abv ($60)

The Tobermory Smoky & Peaty is peated whisky that would have gone into Tobermory's Ledaig label. On the nose there are the tequila like notes you get with young peat.  The palate is similarly brash with young peat and some acidic notes that last into the peaty finish.  This one tastes quite young (tasting blind I probably would have guessed it was younger than eight years), but it's fun and bold.

Bowmore 12 yo, Hepburn's Choice, distilled 2001, 58.4% abv ($80)

I'm liking this nose with peat and motor oil, like an old garage.  The palate follows suit with thick, fuely peat; then there's a sweet note, maybe some chocolate, maybe some dessert wine, that sticks to the roof of your mouth while the rest of your mouth is still finished in peat.  This one's a winner, bold but balanced.

Craigellachie 18 yo, Hepburn's Choice, distilled 1995, 54.3% abv ($100)

The nose has sherry and a very light sulfur note along with some coastal breeze.  On the palate there is sweet sherry and a small dose of sulfur which grows into the finish; after a few seconds the finish turns metallic, though not in a bad way, and then a bit salty.  I like how this one transitions from quite sweet to more funky.  

Miltonduff 19 yo, Hepburn's Choice, distilled 1995, 50.4% abv ($100)

This has a nice malty nose, crisp and clean with some grape juice. The palate follows suit with sweet malt notes and a light fruitiness.  It's a straight forward malt; the kind you can drink anytime.

All of these are solid malts.  My favorite was definitely the Bowmore followed by the Craigellachie.  My least favorite was probably the Mortlach which was just a bit too floral for my tastes, though it was still perfectly decent.

Josh at The Whiskey Jug, my February Blog of the Month, is also reviewing the new K&Ls with somewhat different results, so you should check out his opinions on these bottles as well.

Tomorrow: K&L's Douglas Laing Scotch Bottlings

Thanks to David Othenin-Girard for the samples.