Tuesday, February 28, 2012

The Laddie 10 Arrives Stateside

Bruichladdich made a huge splash last year with the release of the Laddie 10, the first ten year old malt distilled after Bruichladdich was reopened in 2001. The new malt was given year end awards by both Ralfy
and Whisky Advocate. We in the states didn't have a chance at the malt last year, but it's finally arrived on our shores.

The Laddie 10 (Bruichladdich), 10 years old 46% abv ($55)

For part of the unpeated line, the nose on this is immediately peaty, though not in an overwhelming way, and a bit acidic with some fruity notes, maybe even a hint of sherry. The palate also comes on peat forward with a sweet malty backup. The finish is peaty and yeasty. The peat in this is immediately recognizable though certainly lighter than a heavily peated whisky. The character is more of coal than smoke, and there's plenty of sweetness to keep it in balance.

This is a very nice malt, but it doesn't strike me as the stuff of awards. Because of their independent, fighting spirit and the fact that they reopened a closed distillery, I think all of us whisky fans root for Bruichladdich, and that sentiment surely goes into some of the recognition they get. As I said, this is a very good malt. Sweet with medium peating, it's quite drinkable, but there is not much in the way of complexity. As a standard 10 year old, though, this may be exactly what is intended, and I wouldn't hesitate to recommend it to someone looking for a peated but not ashtray-sucking flavor profile.

This is not the first expression Bruichladdich has put out from its own distillate; several years ago, they released the Resurrection Dram, a seven year old. Since I still had some left from a previous review, I did a head to head. As one might expect, the Resurrection Dram is a bit more raw and stronger tasting, though they have the same abv. Resurrection is more syrupy and fruity while the Laddie 10 has more peat (which may indicate that they are not the same composition, since if they were, you would think the younger version would have stronger peat). I'd say they are of equal quality but quite different in flavor profile.

The Laddie 10 is surely an accomplishment, but I'm not as ga-ga over it as the rest of the whisky world. I expect that it will settle down and take its place among the very good standard expressions. As the whisky continues to age, it will be interesting to see what other standard age expressions Bruichladdich adds to the lineup.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Whiskey Law: Have a COLA and a Smile

US regulations require the federal Alcohol Tobacco Tax & Trade Bureau (TTB) to preapprove all alcohol labels used in the United States. Companies wishing to sell any form of alcohol must apply to the TTB for a Certification of Label Approval (COLA). Through this process, the TTB reviews the label for compliance with federal regulations.

The COLA approvals are publicly available through the TTB's on-line database. This is actually quite helpful to consumers because it allows you to view the labels for any approved spirit.

For instance, say you hear about the release of a new high-rye bourbon and you're wondering it is sourced from LDI in Indiana. Just go to the TTB, search by the name of the whiskey, click to see the "printable version" and look for the tell-tale "Distilled in Indiana" on the label. The COLA approval will also tell you the name of the company that requested the approval, which can be helpful in searching through whiskeys that aren't forthcoming about their provenance.

Since this is a preapproval process, you can also find out what whiskeys might be coming out in the future. For instance, a search of "E.H. Taylor," Buffalo Trace's new line of limited releases, produces a number of results, including this application for an E.H. Taylor Straight Rye.

Similarly, if you are a Scotch fan, a search for Murray McDavid or any other independent bottler will show you what new Scotch releases might be coming our way. Before any press release goes out, you know the inside scoop!

Now go ahead, spend the rest of the day geeking out and searching for labels.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Dusty Thursday: Eagle Rare 101

Today for Dusty Thursday I get to sample one of the whiskeys that was on my holiday wish list. Thanks to the generous reader who helped me out.

According to Chuck Cowdery, the Eagle Rare 101 brand was established in 1975 to compete with Wild Turkey 101 in the bird-themed bourbon category. It was a Seagram's brand, distilled at the Old Prentice Distillery in Lawrenceburg, Kentucky (now Four Roses). In 1989 Sazerac purchased the brand and bottled sourced whiskey for a few years until they purchased the Buffalo Trace distillery in 1992, after which they used bourbon made at the Frankfort distillery. It was discontinued in 2005 in favor of the current Eagle Rare offerings: a 10 year old single barrel and a 17 year old for the Antique Collection, though both come in at lower proofs than the 101. The bottle I'm sampling today is from the Buffalo Trace era of Eagle Rare 101 which we know from the Frankfort address on the label.

Eagle Rare 101, (Buffalo Trace) 10 years old, 50.5% abv

The nose is full of butterscotch with a bit of maple syrup. On the palate the first taste is sweet with some very sophisticated Cognac-like notes, then spice box and some nice brine. The finish is full of spice, almost hoppy at times reminding me a little of Charbay's hopped whiskey.

This is really an amazingly flavor-packed, complex bourbon. I like the current Eagle Rare, but this version is just above and beyond it in terms of complexity. Next time you see a Buffalo Trace rep at a whiskey show, give them a good talking to for discontinuing this fine bourbon.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Join the Protestant Malt Whisky Society

In my endless effort to monetize my blog, I've discovered that the one thing whisky drinkers love more than paying for exclusive, limited edition whisky is paying to join a club that lets them pay for exclusive, limited edition whisky. To that end, I'm proud to announce the formation of the Protestant Malt Whisky Society. Now, I'm not Protestant, but I have many friends and a wife who are, and I feel strongly that they should have the same opportunities to pay extravagant prices for access to whisky that my own people do.

Here's how it works. You pay to join the Society at one of our three levels listed below. Then, you have the opportunity to pay more to buy whisky. That's right! You pay now and pay later, a deal you can't beat. Each bottle you receive is guaranteed to be the finest caramel colored, chill filtered whisky, chosen by me personally from the selection at my local Spirits World Warehouse. In addition, each member will receive: (1) a membership card hand-crafted by my half-Protestant children from the finest construction paper; (2) our quarterly magazine, Filtered, which will keep you up to date with Society news; (3) two Glencairn glasses inscribed with "WhiskyLive" or "WhiskyFest"; and (4) a free subscription to my blog!

And while each of our whiskies is chosen to meet all Protestant dietary restrictions, we are ecumenical in nature and accept cash from people of all faiths (additional charges may apply to Scientologists).

Please choose your level:

Methodist Level ($250): The most puritanical level of membership comes with a 100 ml bottle of whisky, which I'm told is enough to last most Methodists for a lifetime. (Also suitable for Congregationalists).

Lutheran Level ($1,500): Nail your thesis to the wall with this exclusive membership for our Lutheran brothers and sisters. Along with two bottles of our finest whisky, you will receive a choice of (1) a six month supply of lutefisk; or (2) the complete Prairie Home Companion recordings on LP, eight track or cassette.

Episcopal Level (known as Anglican Level outside of the US) ($10,000): Be part of a world wide communion of whisky lovers with our ultra-exclusive Episcopal Level. Sure, you'll have schisms from time to time, but you will also be getting 5 bottles of our exclusive whisky as well as a premium selection of incense. You may notice that this is the exact same benefit offered by the Catholic Malt Whisky Society but with less guilt.

What are you waiting for? Operators are standing by and if you call in the next 15 minutes, we will include a chop-o-matic, a set of Ginsu knives and a Time-Life history of the War of 1812 in 38 leather bound volumes.

Order now! And remember, few things mix better than liquor and religion!

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

WTF is OMG Rye?

One of Utah based High West Distillery's latest offerings is OMG Rye, or Old Monongahela Rye. Unlike many of High West's offerings of sourced whiskeys, the OMG is an unaged spirit that they distilled themselves in Utah.

OMG Rye is High West's attempt to recreate the Western Pennsylvania style of whiskey. In the style of those Old Monongahela ryes, it is made from a mash of 80% unmalted rye and 20% malted rye. It is a vatting of whiskeys made with three different yeasts.

Now I very rarely write up unaged whiskeys because, well, I don't like them. However, given that I was recently able to sample an actual Old Monongahela Rye, I was curious as to how the High West version would compare and whether there would be discernible similarities.

High West Silver OMG Pure Rye, 49.3% abv ($37)

Nosing it...well, it's new make. There is that undeniable smell of the still before the barrel has had a chance to do its magic; behind the initial surge are some grainy notes. On the palate it's quite sweet, again very typical for new make but not what I would have expected in a 100% rye. Once the initial sweetness fades, there is some graininess on the palate. The finish is fairly short but it's the only place where I really pick up much in the way of rye in the form of a faint spiciness left on the tongue. It's in that last bit of the finish that I get something in common with the Large Old Monongahela that I reviewed last week, a sort of dry spiciness.

Well, I never recommend new make to anyone, but High West has put some of this in barrels to age. I'll be interested to see how it develops.

Monday, February 20, 2012

The Reading Spirit: Whisky Periodicals

Last year was a big year for whiskey periodicals in which change was afoot for many of the major whisky publications. The role of "old media" is shifting in every sector and that includes whisky magazines. Reviews and industry news used to be the focus of spirits publications, and while they are still a big part of the whisky periodicals, more is needed. With a quarterly or bi-quarterly publication competing with hundreds of bloggers, news is inevitably stale by the time an issue is published. With the limited edition whiskies so popular these days, even a review can easily be stale, the bottles impossible to find, once the magazine containing the review lands in your mailbox. To be relevant today, an old-school whisky magazine needs to offer more than can be found on the thousand and one blogs: in-depth articles, real reporting and insider information.

While these magazines give out their own awards, no one takes the time to evaluate and recognize the periodicals that specialize in our favorite spirit. To that end, here is a quick summary of the best of the whisky publications. (Prices, listed below each entry, are for a one year subscription for US subscribers. Be aware that lower prices are sometimes available for multiple year subscriptions and that the periodicals sometimes offer promotions).

Whisky Advocate

The last few years has seen a major transformation in the publication formerly known as Malt Advocate. In 2010, John Hansell's magazine was purchased by Shanken Communications, publisher of Wine Spectator and Cigar Aficionado. In September of 2011, the magazine changed its name to Whisky Advocate and launched a redesign. For years, John Hansell has put out the best publication in whiskey and his blog has been the go-to place for news about new releases and the whisky business. Like many, I was concerned that the changes might sacrifice quality or put style over substance, but the issues that have come out since then have more than reassured me, with longer, more in depth articles on the whisky world. In addition, WA's new team, including Dave Broom, Lew Bryson, Dominic Roskrow, and Gavin Smith is like a whisky journalist dream team.

It will be interesting to see where Whisky Advocate goes from here. There are synergies with other Shanken publications that cover wine and the spirits business world that could probably be taken advantage of by the publication. It seems as though John Hansell is always thinking about how to make his publication better, and he usually succeeds. I look forward to what's in store for the future.

Whisky Advocate publishes quarterly; $18 per year.

Whisky Magazine

UK based Whisky Magazine has always been a bit behind Whisky Advocate in terms of news and quality articles, but they made a big leap last year by embracing new media writers. They picked up Canadianwhisky.org blogger Davin de Kergommeaux and WhiskyCast host Mark Gillespie, two prominent internet personalities who ensure a knowledgable and insightful look at their areas of expertise. This is smart thinking by the Whisky Mag folks. There is a vibrant whisky journalism scene on-line, and it makes sense for old media publications to tap into it.

Whisky Magazine publishes 8 issues per year; $44.95 per year.


Unfiltered is the magazine of the Scotch Malt Whisky Society, available to members only, and free with Society membership. This relatively recent addition to the scene has a more innovative layout and page design than either of the standard magazines. Despite a fair amount of marketing fluff (it is a company publication after all), Unfiltered has some surprisingly interesting articles, though they hew more to human interest than news. The always wacky Jim Murray column alone may be worth the annual membership fee (see his latest column defending critics who take consulting gigs - on page 7).

Unfiltered publishes quarterly; free to members of the SMWS (membership in the US is $229 with an annual renewal fee of $60, though the main reason to join is to buy whisky; the magazine is just an added benefit).

The Bourbon Country Reader

Comparing Chuck Cowdery's Bourbon Country Reader to the magazines above is sort of like comparing a deli to a Michelin starred restaurant, but as you know if you read my food postings, a really good deli can be just as good if not better than any white tablecloth joint. Cowdery's scrappy newsletter is four pages long with only three to four articles. What it gives you, though, is extensive bourbon history, industry news, articles on craft distilleries and reviews directly from the foremost authority on American whiskey. The Reader's slogan sums it up: Always Independent & Idiosyncratic - No distillery affiliation.

Lately, Chuck has been experimenting with e-reader material, so I wouldn't be surprised to soon see more along these lines.

The Bourbon Country Reader publishes whenever Chuck gets around to it; $20 for six issues.


The state of whisky journalism is strong. For a small community, we are lucky to have this diversity of publications for relatively affordable prices (in most cases, much cheaper than the actual whisky). That being said, I have to give my own two cents, so I have a few tips for these whisky publications:

1. Distillery profiles are boring. They just are. I don't know how many people care about the height of the still or the size of the malting floor, but it can't be too many. I can't remember the last time I read one of these things.

2. Business news is interesting. Business reporting in these publications tends to be along the lines of new products or acquisitions by whisky companies, but I would like to see more of the type of information that appears in some of the trade publications, such as information about the industry trends and economics in the whisky world.

3. The biggest short coming for all of these publications is that they really need is a bitingly sarcastic humor columnist...

So, dear readers, what's your favorite whisky publication and why?

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Dusty Thursday: Large Monongahela Rye (circa 1918)

There are dusties and then there are dusties. Most of the dusties I find languishing on the shelf at the corner store date back to the 1980s or, at the earliest, the late 1970s. Today, we go back further, much further to a whiskey released in 1918. Yes, 1918. Do you remeber 1918? Woodrow Wilson was president, World War I came to an end, Babe Ruth was a pitcher for the Red Sox and, unbeknownst to the citizenry, the United States only had a few years left of legal drinking.

Back then, American whiskey usually meant rye whiskey, and Old Monongahela Pennsylvania style rye was one of the major categories of rye. It's hard to find information about the rye of that era, but from what I gather, it contained a much higher percentage of rye than today's Kentucky rye whiskeys, which tend to have close to the minimum of 51% rye. Monongahela rye also usually combined malted and unmalted rye. [EDIT: See the comments by Pennsylvania whiskey expert Sam Komlenic which indicate that by the twentieth century, Pennsylvania rye was no longer using rye malt but barley malt in combination with the unmalted rye].

The Large Distillery was a major producer of rye whiskey in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. According to the excellent history at the John and Linda Lipman site, after prohibition, the distillery was sold to National Distillers, which retired the Large label and used the distillery to make whiskey for another Pennsylvania rye the company had purchased: Old Overholt. National eventually sold the distillery and it was no longer distilling by the 1950s.

Well, thanks to a very generous friend, I've got a small piece of this liquid history to sample. This Large Rye is bottled in bond. It was distilled in fall 1913 and bottled in spring 1918. I don't see a proof on the bottle, but as a BIB, it would be 100 proof.

Large Monongahela Pure Rye Whiskey, 50% abv.

The nose is very musty, like an old antique shop. (old bottle effect?) There is polished leather and an underlying spiciness but not similar to the rye spice I know from today’s ryes, also some pine and floral notes. On the palate, I am again struck by how very unlike today’s ryes this is. It's very dry and musky, like old fashioned shave soap and polished wood, ending on a sort of peppery note with some nuttiness. The finish may be the best part of the whole experience, lingering with a sandalwood scent.

This is wonderfully different from anything around today. It’s dry and spicy but much more fragrant than today's ryes; the spice notes are less in the realm of cooking spices and more in the realm of wood, soap and subtle cologne. Fascinating stuff. It definitely transports me back, back to an old drug store with a polished wooden bar. I can almost hear the barbershop quartet.

Is it good? I'm not sure I would say that. Honestly, it's so different from today's whiskeys that it's hard to compare. If this liquid had come out of a modern bottle, I would probably thing something was dreadfully wrong, the style being so dramatically different, though the more I drink it, the more I like it. And of course, I have no idea how it would measure up to other Old Monongahela style ryes from a century ago, but what's life without a little bit of mystery.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Battle of the Pappys

As fans of Pappy Van Winkle know, the 2011 fall release marked the first year that the vaunted Pappy Van Winkle 15 year old was distilled entirely by the Buffalo Trace distillery. Earlier Pappys were made from old stocks of what is left of the bourbon from the Stitzel-Weller distillery (though it's not clear if some of those old stocks included Buffalo Trace bourbon blended in as well). The 20 and 23 year Pappy are still from Stitzel-Weller stocks though eventually, those will run dry as well.

I've written about the Pappy flap before, but I have yet to taste old and new Pappys side by side. Today I'll compare the 2008 release and the new, fall 2011 Buffalo Trace Pappy. Jason Pyle did a similar comparison on his excellent Sour Mash Manifesto, and hey, I know a good idea when I see it, so I'm going to shamelessly copy him.

Pappy Van Winkle 15 yo 2008, 53.5% abv

The nose on this begins with pure maple candy, then some citrus notes with just a touch of oak. The palate is really delicate with layers of candy, oak and a touch of orange. The finish is candy sweetness with just a bit of tartness. This is the standard Pappy profile I've come to know, sweet with a dose of oak and some citrus. It's well balanced and delicious.

Pappy Van Winkle 15 yo Fall 2011, 53.5% abv

The nose on this is much oakier than the '08. It's pleasant but pretty much a one-noter. The palate starts with a rich vanilla then fades to a more oaky, just slightly bitter vanilla, like the crust on a creme brulee. It's got a nice chewy mouthfeel that trails off into an oaky/vanilla finish.

Pappy vs. Pappy

These are two quite different whiskeys, but both are very good. You can definitely taste the transition from Stitzel-Weller to Buffalo Trace. The 2008 Pappy has that candy/oak balance that I associate with Stitzel-Weller. It's more delicate and has a more complex flavor profile.

The 2011 is much more similar to the bourbons in the current Weller line, almost like a lower strength William Larue Weller. It's much bolder than the 2008 Pappy, coming at you with big oak and a chewy mouthfeel, but it lacks the layers of flavor that you get in the earlier version.

Comparing these two I'd have to say I think they are of equal quality though very different in flavor profile. I can understand those who mourn the last of the Stitzel-Weller Pappy because those Stitzel-Weller whiskeys have a fairly unique flavor profile. Their delicacy and complexity is not something that you see in the market today. The boldness of the Buffalo Trace version is great, but it may not be worth the extra cash for Pappy when you can get similar Wellers for a comparable or lower price.

All good things must come to an end, and that includes Stitzel-Weller bourbon, but I think the Van Winkles have done well by their brand with the new version, even if it's not the same as the old.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Sku Awards: Whisky of the Year

As you know, every year around this time we announce the Sku Award for Whisky of the Year and then let commenters complain endlessly about our choices. There were many find contenders this year, but here is our choice.

Whisky of the Year: Hans-Adam Memorial Blend

And now I'm proud to announce that the Whisky of the Year for 2011 is...The Hans-Adam Memorial Blend. A commemoration of the Crown Prince of Liechtenstein, this is a stunning blend that really sets in motion a type of balance never seen in a blended whisky before. This is a whisky everyone should try!

The Hans-Adam Memorial Blend was a limited release of 38 bottles, most of which were given as gifts by the Liechtensteinian royal family, but at least 8 of them were available at Liechtenstein duty free shops.


Roger says:
Sku, this is an atrocity! They do not carry this bottle at my local store (Dave's Liquor, Bait and Tackle in Des Moines). You should not be drinking, reviewing or writing about whiskey that is not accessible to me personally, much less giving them awards.

Sku Says:
Sorry Paul, but the rules of these awards are very clear. Any whisky that was in existence during the calendar year 2011 qualifies for the award. I can understand your frustration, but I don't make the rules.

Roger says:
Like hell you don't! Dave's is a good store, carrying both Glenfiddich and Glenlivet as well as a number of fine blends and mini bottles of Jim Beam and Maker's Mark. Please limit your awards to that selection instead of all those snooty whiskies.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Dusty Thursday: Old Overholt (circa 1984)

For today's Dusty Thursday we look at our first dusty rye whiskey. Old Overholt is a storied brand of rye whiskey, originally distilled in the rye whiskey heartland of Pennsylvania. After prohibition, Pennsylvania rye never recovered and National Distillers, the post-prohibition owner of the brand, shut down its Pennsylvania distillery and moved production to the Old Grand-Dad distillery in Kentucky. In 1987, Jim Beam purchased National Distillers and closed most of its distilleries, moving production to the existing Jim Beam distillery. Now, Overholt is essentially just another bottling of Jim Beam rye. For a more detailed history of the brand, see this post by Chuck Cowdery.

This dusty Overholt dates from National Distillers days. The red cap is one indicator of the older version. The bottom of the bottle is marked with both a 76 and an 84. Given that the bottle measurement is metric and the bottle has a UPC code, 1984 is a more likely date than 1976. I picked this dusty up for $10 at my corner store.

Old Overholt Rye Whiskey, circa 1984, 4 years old, 86 proof/43% abv.

I was immediately taken aback by the rich, caramel color in this relatively young whiskey. The nose was almost Cognac like, with lots of sweetness, fermented fruit and some herbal qualities as well. Taste gave a big bang of fruit, a tad bit of spice and some woody notes as well. It doesn't have much in the way of rye spice but it's a very nice whiskey.

I had some current Old Overholt on hand, so I did some comparative drinking. The new Overholt, distilled by Jim Beam and pictured on the right in the above photo, is also a four year old but only 40% alcohol (80 proof).

There is a huge difference between these two whiskeys. The color of the current version is much lighter and the flavor profile is completely different. Modern Overholt is sweet, light and fruity without any of the deep complex notes of the older version. The Beam version lacks the depth and richness of flavor of the older version. Indeed, it is a completely different whiskey, which bears little resemblance to its older brother.

One of the things that's apparent in American whiskey is that because of all the changes in ownership of labels, an old whiskey doesn't necessarily have anything in common with the current version of the label. The National Distillers Overholt, as with the National Distillers Old Crow I tasted, was made at a different distillery than the current Beam version, likely with a different mashbill and a different yeast. Only the label seems to remain the same, which is a pity.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

The Newest High West: Son of Bourye

I was a big fan of High West's innovative Bourye, a mix of a bourbon and two rye whiskeys. Stocks for that original recipe ran out so now High West has a similar blend it has bottled as Son of Bourye.

Son of Bourye combines a five year old Four Roses bourbon that is made from 75% corn, 20% rye and 5% barley malt and a three year old LDI rye that is 95% rye and 5% barley malt. This is a much younger affair than the original Bourye which contained the same bourbon at ten years old, the same rye at 12 years old and an additional 16 year old rye made by the Barton distillery. Son of Bourye also runs about $20 cheaper than the original.

High West Son of Bourye, Batch 2, 46% abv ($40)

Already on the nose it smells on the young side. I can pick up that strong rye that I associate with young LDI. Based on the nose, I braced myself for the heavily briny and vegetal rye palate you get with the youthful LDI ryes, but the palate is actually much more delicate. That young, bold rye is in there, no doubt, but it's balanced nicely with some sweet and slightly oaky notes. It may be that a shot of Four Roses is exactly what a three year old LDI rye needs to moderate some of its rough edges. There is a slightly diluted quality to this and I would have liked to taste a higher strength version, but it's quite drinkable.

I still have some of the original Bourye, so I did a head to head comparison. As you would expect, the original Bourye, made from much older whiskeys, is more complex with more interplay going on between the rye spice and the more bourbony notes. It's a more sophisticated whiskey, but of course, it's a completely different composition, and it is significantly more expensive than its more brash young son, which is fun and drinkable in its own right.

It may not have the complexity of Bourye, but Son of Bourye is a fun and drinkable whiskey that's worth trying.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Salt of the Earth

A few weeks ago I posted my ridiculous salt collection, but the truth is, I love salt. It brings out the savory elements of meats, it brings out the sweet in baked goods, it's cheap, it acts as a preservative, has no calories and has an amazing history (check out Mark Kurlansky's Salt: A World History; it's a surprisingly good read).

Despite my bad example, you need not turn your home into a salt cellar to have adequate cooking salt. The fact is that all culinary salt is mostly NaCl (sodium chloride). The varieties deal with how it is acquired (mined from the earth or evaporated from sea water) and the size and shape of the crystals (as well as whether additives like iodine or anti-caking agents are used).

Of course, you can live fine with a carton of Morton's, but if you want to move on to the next level, I would recommend two salts: Kosher and/or a basic sea salt for everyday use and Maldon salt for sprinkling.

1. Kosher Salt. Kosher salt is the chef's choice for cooking. It's called kosher salt not because it adheres to Jewish dietary rules (though it does) but because of its use in preparing kosher meats. Kosher salt is similar to regular salt but has larger, flatter crystals. It contains no iodine though can have anti-caking agents. Nearly all chefs swear by this stuff. The only downside is that it doesn't work in a traditional shaker because the crystals are too big. Kosher salt is made by the big companies that make regular table salt, Diamond Crystal and Morton's, and usually runs $3 or $4 for a three pound box. If most of your salt use is in cooking, Kosher should probably be your go to salt.

2. Basic Sea Salt. There are all kinds of sea salts out there, but these days, it's pretty easy to find standard white sea salt in fine grains. These grains are usually a bit smaller than standard table salt. I like the sea salts better than the standard Morton's because they tend to have a cleaner, somewhat saltier flavor (though that may just be the lack of iodine). I use sea salts from Trader Joe's or Whole Foods as my basic cooking and sprinkling salt. The most popular brand is probably La Baleine, but it includes anti-caking agents. These salts usually come in a tall, 26.5 ounce canister and run from $3 to $8. It's a good all-purpose substitute for your table salt.

3. Maldon Salt. Maldon salt, simply put, is one of the best things ever. It's an English sea salt that comes in large, flat crystals that provide a satisfying crunch to everything you put them on. Maldon is not for cooking or seasoning. It's a garnish, to be sprinkled sparingly on everything from veggies to sweets. A glob of burrata with a few crystals is a great snack and it does very well on bread with good, unsalted butter. It runs a bit pricey compared to most salts at $15 for an 8.5 ounce box, but given how sparingly you use it, it should last (my last box lasted me around four years).

Now being a salt obsessive there are other salts I use. Powdery, small grain popcorn salt for homemade popcorn and various sizes of sea salt for different applications, but these are just gravy. The three above are really all you need.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Dusty Thursday: Dating your Dusty

Since Dusty Thursday is a regular feature now, I thought I'd share some standard tips about how to identify dusties. I'm not a dusty expert myself, but I've read a lot of research that real experts have done. One of the best resources for dusty knowledge is Greg, over at Bourbon Dork, and I would urge you to read his series on Dusty Hunting. Another great resource is the Jack Daniel's Collectors Page which goes into much more detail than I do here.

So you found a dusty bottle of bourbon on the shelf of the corner store. It looks old, but you have no idea how old it is? How do you find out? Well, here are some initial things to ask yourself.

Does the bottle have a tax stamp?

If you're old like me, you'll remember those colored strips of paper that used to go over the cap of all alcohol bottles. That's the tax stamp. Use of the tax stamps was discontinued in 1985, but after they were discontinued, some brands kept using them. In fact, some still do for aesthetic purposes, but the key is that they don't have any numbers stamped on them. We call those faux tax stamps.

Is the volume listed in metric measurements?

Prior to 1980, bottles were listed in standard measurements: pint, quart, gallon, or fraction thereof. For some reason, the US, which didn't convert to the metric system on anything else, converted on alcohol volume such that now volume is listed in liters or milliliters. Beginning in 1980, all bottles were required to use metric measurements.

Is the alcohol content listed in proof or abv?

As of 1990, alcohol content had to be listed by percentage of abv (alcohol by volume). However, prior to that, many spritis had already switched to abv. or were using abv as well as proof (which is still permissible). However, if only proof is listed, you know the bottle is definitely older than 1990.

Is there a UPC code?

The presence of the UPC code alone doesn't provide a precise date, but they came into use around the late 1970s and early 1980s.

Is there a government warning?

The ubiquitous government warning that appears on all spirits was mandated as of 1989.

Is there a two digit number on the bottom of the bottle?

Many bottles include a two-digit date code on the bottom indicating when the bottle was made. Not all bottles have this and it's not always easy to tell what it is because some use multiple numbers. Many bottles go directly into circulation after being made so this is a good indicator of the approximate bottling date for the spirit, but it is not always the case. I have seen examples of older bottle codes on newer whiskeys. So while not full proof, bottle codes are a fairly reliable indicator of the general period.

Distillery/Brand specific information.

It pays to know some history of the distilleries and brands you like. Changes to the label design, proof, name of the brand or address can give you clues as to the age of the bottle.

Now you are armed with the information. Head to your corner "Liquor/Deli/Lottery" store and start looking through the dust!

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Budget Booze: Rebel Yell

For those of you who think I spend too much time on snooty, high end booze and hard to find dusty bottles, this one's for you: Rebel Yell. And I'm doing it in tandem with two of my most excellent whiskey blogging colleagues, Jason Pyle from Sour Mash Manifesto and Tim Read from Scotch & Ice Cream, so check out their blogs. I should note that when we discussed this joint blogging venture, I advocated that we refrain from Billy Idol references as part of our reviews. Tim and Jason, however, clearly being suckers for the obvious punchline, declined, but in this post, at least, you can be assured that you will see no references to Mr. Idol (well maybe a few).

Formerly a Stitzel-Weller brand, Rebel Yell is now bottled by Luxco out of St. Louis using bourbon from an undisclosed distillery. It's a wheated bourbon so that narrows the field down to three distilleries: Buffalo Trace, Heaven Hill and Maker's Mark. Of the three, Heaven Hill is the one most known for selling bulk whiskeys to independent bottlers, so it's a pretty good bet that this is Heaven Hill's wheated bourbon.

Rebel Yell, 40% abv ($10.99)

The nose on this is strong with peanut M&Ms, then lemon. The palate is generically sweet but watery with a bit of the peanut M&M note that was on the nose and a bit of navel orange juice, then it dissipates into a flavorless alcohol, really more like water with something chemical mixed into it. This note goes on to dominate the finish. The palate on this flat and dull with very little substance.

It saddens me that they've turned this Stitzel-Weller brand into a vaguely sweet alcoholic water. Even for the price, there are much better bourbons to be had.

Kiss Me Deadly Rebel Yell, and Luxco, one day we fans of Stitzel-Weller will get our Sweet Revenge. As for me, well, that's the last $11 I'll blow on Rebel Yell.