Monday, May 15, 2017

All Good Things...

All good things must come to an end. Well, mediocre things must come to an end too, and bad things for that matter. And whatever category you put this blog into, this is the end.

It's been a blast of a decade, but after ten years, I've said pretty much all I have to say about food and drink. I'll continue to Tweet my spirituous thoughts, talk brandy on the Serious Brandy Facebook page, score whiskeys at the LA Whisk(e)y Society and post my silly food pictures on Instagram, but this will be my last blog post.

I had fun. I hope you did too. Thank you for reading!

Friday, May 12, 2017

A Decade of Sku: Acknowledgments

Lots of people have made the last decade of this blog possible by sharing spirits, information, friendship and conversation, giving me ideas, reading drafts or just plain inspiring me. I thought I would take a moment to thank all of the following:

Adam Herz, Andrew Goodloe, Andy Smith, Anna Olson, Arnab, Blake Riber, Brendan Prouty, Brian Haara, C. Thi Nguyen, Chris Bunting, Chris Hall, Chris Stevenson, Chris Uhde, Chuck Cowdery, Clay Risen, Dan Walbrun, Dan Zimmerman, Daniel Laurence, David Driscoll, David Othenin-Girard, David Perkins, David Wankel, Davin DeKergommeaux, Dean Chiang, Doug Philips, Eric Felten, Florin, Frank & Debra, Fred Minnick, Funky Tape, Greg Gilbert, Heather Greene, Howard Levinson, Janet Patton, Jason Beatty, Jason Pyle, Jeffrey Morgenthaler, Jim Leff, Johanne McInnis, John Hansell, John & Linda Lipman, Jordan Devereaux, Josh Chinn, Josh Peters, Josh Wright, Joshua Feldman, Karen & Carl, Keith Boyea, Ken Tanaka, Kevin Erskine, Leah, Lew Bryson, Linh Do, Mark Gillespie, Marko Karakasevic, Martin Daraz, Max Wallhausser, Michael Kravitz, Michael Ries, Michael Veach, Naomi, Nicolas Palazzi, Nina Wanat, Oliver Klimek, Paul Schurman, Ralfy, Randy Blank, Reid Bechtle, Reid Mitenbuler, Richard Anderson, Rob Gard, Ronde Ingvar, Russell Hogg, Ryan Oberleitner, Sam Komlenic, Sam Simmons, Serge Valentin, Steffen Brauner, Steve Leukanech, Steve Neese, Tim Puett, Tim Read, Tony Chen, Wade Woodard, and Winston Churchill Edwards

I'm sure I forgot some folks and for that, I am truly sorry.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Ask Me Anything!

I got tons of great questions in response to my Ask Me Anything post.  Here are answers to a number of them.

Years ago, you wrote an article for one of the whiskey magazines titled "Craft Whiskey Sucks." Now, many years later, would you write the same thing? Do you still think it mostly sucks? 
It was back in 2010 that I wrote on the Malt Advocate blog that "Most Craft Whiskeys Suck" (Whisky Advocate seems to have taken down the old blog archive but I cross posted the piece on my blog). For the most  part, I think that's still true. There are over 800 craft distilleries making whiskey in the US, but I can count the ones I've had anything good from on two hands: Charbay, Balcones, Cut Spike, Old Potrero, Seven Stills Tom's Foolery...maybe a few more, but not many. It's surprising because seven years ago, I assumed that the reason most craft whiskeys sucked was that they were too young, but now there are a number of four and five year old craft whiskeys, even BIBs, and they still mostly suck. If it isn't age, what's the issue?  I've heard lots of theories, from the stills to the yeast to the length of fermentation, but I can't claim to know.

Sku - at what point does a whisky that you own become too expensive that you don't open the bottle? For instance, I have a 2012 FR Small Batch that I'm told now sells for over $700 - that seems a ludicrous amount to spend on a bottle, and I wouldn't spend that amount on it and I'm happy I got it at retail back then. But now I find that decision to open is harder and harder, and I might not ever.

I do my best to ignore the secondary market. Every bottle in my closet is there to drink. I don't think of it as an investment except in my own happiness, so I don't hesitate to open anything.

Do Armagnac houses/domaines have recognizable profiles? For example are there specific differences in notes between Chateau de Gaube and Domaine de Busquet that you could expect to find despite the vintage?
I can't speak to your two examples as I've don't think I've had them, but Armagnacs absolutely have house styles. There are a number of variables which contribute to house style including grape varietals, types of barrels used and use of additives. Even within houses, there are recognizable differences, such as a Domaine de Baraillon Armagnacs made from Folle Blanche, which tend to be dry and earthy, vs. those made from Baco/Ugni Blanc. which tend to be fruitier.

How many spirits bottles do you tend to have in your personal collection at any given time (more or less)? of that group, what percentage consists of whiskey v. brandy v. other spirits at this point? do you have any favorite spirits categories other than whiskey or brandy (e.g. mezcal or Jamaican rum)?
I keep a list, so I can tell you exactly. I currently have 269 bottles of whiskey (115 of which are open), 55 bottles of brandy (25 open), and 14 bottles of rum (9 open). Beyond that I have a handful of Mezcals and  Absinthes and a dozen or so spirits I mostly use as cocktail ingredients. Other than whiskey and brandy, I love super-funky rums, and in the summer, I drink a lot of amaro (Aperol, Campari, Cynar, etc.).

1. in your opinion are micro-distillers pricing their bourbons too high?
2. is the bourbon renaissance a bubble?
2a. if it is a bubble how bad will the pop be?
3. are "tech" whiskies like cleveland viable? that is, in the long run, can a "whisky" that's aged for an hour really compete on price/quality with a bourbon that's aged for 10 years? in fact, i have seen cleveland priced higher than eagle rare and laughed all the way home.


1.  Yes.
2.  Not entirely, but there is a bubble.
2a.  Somewhere between Bordeaux and Beanie Babies.
3.  I doubt we will see amazing tech whiskey that connoisseurs will seek out, but eventually, technology will likely allow for the production of whiskey that is close enough to standard aged whiskey that it will sell successfully. I'm guessing one day there will be hour-old tech whiskeys competing with standard Beam and Jack Daniel's. Even if they aren't quite as good, if the price is significantly lower, they will be fierce competitors.

Simple: 100 duck sized horses or one horse sized duck?
The duck, assuming I get to eat it if I win.

How does it feel to be the dean of American whiskey bloggers? How much longer do you think you'll keep going? Do you think blogging about whiskey is still relevant?

1.  I appreciate the accolade, but if there is a dean of American whiskey bloggers, it's Chuck Cowdery. He had already been at it for years when I showed up on the scene.
2. At least through the end of the week.
3. Blogging, in general, is much less relevant than when I started ten years ago.  These days, people spend a lot more time on social media than on blogs, but I still find blogs relevant and read them, both for reviews and information. That being said, it does seems like a dying books.

1. What is the next big thing in spirits and why is it Armagnac?
2. Do you believe that dusty bourbon/rye has a familiar profile that you don't find in today's products, i.e. "dusty notes"? If so, do you believe that's due to bottle conditioning or some other factor(s)?
3. Given the current boom and scarcity of anything allocated or limited edition, are there bottles you regret passing on years ago that you wish you would have bought more of?

1.  I love Armagnac, but I actually think full proof, additive-free rum is more likely to be the next craze. Serge at Whiskyfun recently compared Hampden Jamaican rum to 1970s Ardbeg which pretty much guarantees that thousands of malt-heads will be seeking it out, and they should. In terms of Armagnac, there's a new new generation of Armagnacs aged in new oak (e.g. Charron, L'Encantada) which may well catch on with the bourbon lovers.
2.  That's a great question. My experience, and I think most folks who drink a lot of dusties would agree, is that those bourbons definitely have a different profile and one that's changed through the years.  For instance, prohibition era bourbon tastes much spicier than today's stuff whereas '70s bourbon is like liquid candy.  I have no idea why the differences exist and how much of it is related to so-called old bottle effect. I don't think we will ever know for sure, since there were many differences between how they made bourbon and rye decades ago and how they make it now - lower entry proofs, differences in fermentation and distillation, etc.
3. There aren't really bottles I regret passing on because I didn't pass on much. I was lucky to get into this whiskey in the early 2000s when things were cheap and plentiful, so I had some great stuff at ridiculously low prices (some of which seemed ridiculously high at the time). In terms of bottles I wish I had bought more of, one of the first bottles of bourbon I purchased was the old Wild Turkey Russell's Reserve 10 year, 101 proof - that's one that I really miss, though not enough to pay secondary prices for it.

Why "Sku"?  
It's my initials.

We often talk about the downsides of the bourbon boom? From your perspective, what are some of the positive aspects?

Great question! With all the complaining about prices, loss of age statements and the secondary market, it's easy to forget that thirty years ago, almost no one was drinking bourbon, and there were only one or two ryes on the shelf, if that. No one bothered to do special releases, experiment or put out well aged whiskey because no one cared about American whiskey. Fast forward thirty years and there's bourbon everywhere. I just did a tasting of 20 currently available, affordable rye whiskeys, and we could have probably done 40. We have a diversity of mashbills, yeast, proof and nearly everything else. It's true that compared to ten years ago, prices are higher and well-aged whiskey is harder to come by, but there are more choices in the American whiskey aisle than there have ever been, and more is coming. Everyone talks about the craft distillers, but the growth of mid-sized Kentucky distilleries is what I find most promising. These larger distilleries like Willett, Michter's and New Riff are going to have the means and capacity to produce great bourbon and rye, and I'm betting they will.

Does MAO still make you swoon? 
-Jealous in Jersey
 Nah, that guy's annoying.

Do you ever have any regrets about spending so much of your life on this whisky hobby?
Not at all. On the contrary, I've met amazing friends, had a lot of great times, and I have been endlessly impressed by the kindness and generosity of the other folks in the hobby.

That was fun! Thanks to everyone who sent in questions.

Monday, May 8, 2017

A Decade of Sku: Favorite Posts

This week marks ten years of Sku's Recent Eats, and to celebrate, I'll be indulging myself with frivolous posts all week long. 

At the blog's five year mark, I listed some of my favorite posts from the first five years, so I thought I would do the same for the last five years. These may not be the best posts, and they weren't necessarily the most popular, but they are the ones I had the most fun with.

My all time most viewed post, other than my big lists of whiskey distilleries and whiskey blogs, was a 2011 post on deciphering Van Winkle bottle codes.

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Ask Me Anything

One reader suggested I do a Reddit-style Ask Me Anything session. I wasn't sure I would have anything interesting enough to say, but I figured I'd give it a shot. If you have a burning question, serious or not, ask in the comments, by email or social media and if there are enough questions, I'll cover some of them in a blog post next week.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Big Plastic: Fleischmann's Rye

Fleischmann's Rye is sort of an odd bird. It's the only rye made by the Barton distillery, and it's mostly for sale in Wisconsin, where it's a budget offering. It used to be a straight rye, but a few years ago they dropped the "straight," so now it's just cheap rye in a big plastic bottle.

Fleischmann's Rye, 40% abv ($15 for 1.75 liters)

The nose is herbal, slightly minty and botanical with some perfume notes.  On the palate there's pine and some spice but it also gets a bit bitter. The bitterness increases into the finish has some spice as well.

This had some nice notes on the nose but the bitterness was overwhelming.

Thanks to Reid Bechtle for the sample and photo.

Monday, April 24, 2017

Beam Pre-Pro Rye

I've been doing a big rye tasting that includes a lot of current off-the-shelf budget ryes, so I thought I would run down some of the ones I've never reviewed before. The Jim Beam Pre-Prohibition Rye first came out a few years ago. It's not really pre-prohibition of course. In fact, the Jim Beam company was founded after prohibition (though parent company Suntory existed well before American prohibition).

Jim Beam Pre-Prohibition Rye, 45% abv ($20)

It starts with a nice spicy rye aroma. The palate comes on sweet, followed by spice and some acidic notes which lead to a finish that is drier than the palate with some nice spice.

I'm not generally a fan of Beam ryes, but this one is pretty decent with more rye character than Beam ryes typically have. It was a bit too sweet on the palate, but otherwise came together well.

Thanks to Reid Bechtle for the sample.