Sunday, November 27, 2011

Felonious Bourbon: Breaking & Entering

I've often written about the phenomenon of American whiskey bottlers who don't distill, of which there are many, but lately, there is a growing trend in the opposite direction: distillers who are bottling sourced whiskey. High West and Prichard's started with sourced whiskey prior to distilling their own, but now even some craft distilleries that have their own distillate are looking to buy aged whiskey. Recently, we've seen a new group of sourced whiskeys from craft distillers including a bourbon from Breckenridge Distillery in Colorado, Temperance Trader Bourbon from the Bull Run Distillery in Oregon and Old Scout Bourbon from the Smooth Ambler Distillery in West Virginia. Add to that growing group Breaking & Entering Bourbon, a sourced bourbon from the St. George Distillery in Alameda, California.

The St. George distillery is one of the older craft distilleries. They started with brandies and then spread to vodka, malt whiskey, absinthe and many other spirits. But Breaking & Entering is the first whiskey they have released that was made elsewhere.

According to the St. George website, Breaking & Entering was made from 80 different Kentucky bourbon barrels ranging from five to seven years old. We don't know if those 80 barrels all came from one distillery or were from multiple distilleries.

Interestingly, Breaking & Entering is not designated as "straight" on the label. That could mean that some of the whiskey is less than two years old or that it doesn't meet the definition of "straight bourbon" for some other reason (or they could have simply chosen not to use the term, which is not required).

Breaking & Entering Bourbon, 43% abv ($34)

The nose on this has light rye, peanuts and some savory notes. The palate comes on with dry white wine notes, maybe even some apple in the background. Late palate I get some rye spice which continues into the finish with a bit of bitterness.

With 80 barrels in the mix, this could be a little bit of everything, but the nose resembles some Brown-Forman whiskeys I've had. I would guess there is some Heaven Hill in there as the palate reminds me most of some of the Evan Williams Single Barrels with maybe even some Four Roses in the mix.

This is a pretty unique flavor profile, though overall, it's a bit light to my taste.


Regular Chumpington said...

You mentioned Brown Forman - given the discussions we've had about them, does this exhibit any of that Woodfordy copper or oiliness? I recognize the peanut note for sure.

Interesting. I'm trying this one later this week...

sku said...

RC, no I didn't get any of the Woodford notes on this.

Florin said...

Sku, thanks for the blog and the review. I did a tasting last week at St George. Their line-up is impressive, and I *love* their single malt. I was underwhelmed by Breaking & Entering. I found it somewhat dry, woody, and flat -- it reminded me of Old Fitzgerald BiB. Their guy told me that it includes whisky from 6 distilleries. After tasting my first guess was Heaven Hill, but the man said, as a matter of fact, Heaven Hill is not one of the 6. He was sworn to secrecy, so he could not give me any more details.

On an unrelated note, the new Lot 11 of their single malt will come in a new stubby bottle (same as their K&L 11yo single barrel), redesigned label, and higher price ($65 is what I've heard), possibly as early as December. I am sorry to see the old bottle go and I've bought a poster with the funky black dragon on the label.

Regular Chumpington said...

Florin -

Have you had any of the prior lots of St. George? Lot 5 was my only previous experience and put me off - it had the same over-malted palate that seems to be the downfall of a lot of American craft distillers. I'd love to find out they've managed to work their way to a stronger profile.

Florin said...

RC, I had a glass in a SF restaurant last year -- so it must have been Lot 9 or earlier. I liked it, but was not crazy about it. It had flavors of milky hot cocoa, which I found interesting and original, but I didn't spring for a bottle. The K&L single 11yo barrel blew me away -- I'm still cherishing 1/3 of the bottle one year after opening it, and after Jason Pyle's review of Lot 10 I tried it and liked it immensely: this one bottle only lasted less than a month. The milk chocolate is still there (Jason found Nutella; my wife found coffee), but there is also depth and spice. You may still not like it -- one man's Nutella is another's Ovaltine.

It stands to reason that their lots would improve from year to year, since they have older barrels to draw from, as many maturing distilleries (Arran, Penderyn, Kilchoman...)

sku said...

Florin, thanks for the great info! It's interesting that they told you that it doesn't have any Heaven Hill.

In reality, with 80 barrels, it would be hard to tell anything. Even if it has six distilleries, we don't know how many barrels of each there are and how many recipes from each distillery. There are a lot of possible permutations with that much whiskey.

But it's fun to guess.

Florin said...

Sku, I agree that 80 barrels and 6 Kentucky distilleries (out of 9) covers a lot of ground. Good catch on the Straight Bourbon designation! According to my reading of the law (Title 27, sec 5.22 (b)(1)(iii)) the only way the "straight" designation is not met is if indeed some whisky is aged in new barrels for less than 2 years, as you suggest (presumably it could still be aged longer in used barrels).

Now, when you go out and buy 80 barrels, this begs the question: once you have them, what are you going to do with all this whiskey, other than vat it together, bottle and sell it? Are you going to throw away 10 barrels because they don't fit your final recipe? Where is the blender's art involved? If you are a big distillery you can bottle the leftover under a lower shelf label, but what could SGD do?

sku said...

Florin, check out the exchange between me and Jason Pyle in these comments to his review. According to Jason, the whiskey is 5 to 7 years old. There are other things that would keep it from being straight (added coloring for instance), but I doubt St. George would do that.

Of course, even if a whiskey is straight, it is not required to place that designation on the label (e.g. Tennessee Whiskeys), so maybe they just thought it was unnecessary.

Anonymous said...

Please correct me if I'm wrong but I recall reading somewhere that Buffalo Trace no longer contract distills (with the exception of the Van Winkles) so that would mean no Buffalo Trace in Breaking and Entering either. If Barton has the same policy, then we have our six distilleries (Wild Turkey, Four Roses, Jim Beam, Maker's Mark, Brown-Forman, and Woodford).