Thursday, May 31, 2012

Dusty Thursday: Century Old Taylor

I tried some National Distillers Old Taylor on a previous Dusty Thursday. Today's Old Taylor is dusty on steroids. Bottled in 1912, this is pre-prohibition Old Taylor "Kentucky Whiskey." According to bourbon historian Mike Veach, E.H. Taylor thought that many bourbons of the time were inferior so beginning in the 1870s, he started labeling his bourbons as "Kentucky Whiskey."

This bottled in bond bourbon, which I received from a reader, does not appear to have been treated well. It has a mangled tax stamp and comes with the remains of a torn up cardboard tube. The bottled date of 1912 is legible on the stamp, but the stamp portion which would have included the distillation date is torn off.

Old Taylor BIB, bottled 1912, 50% abv.

The nose has some nice caramel and vanilla notes, some marshmallow and rye spice, but also a touch of vinegar. The palate on this starts with some of those sweet bourbon notes with that touch of tang that came off as vinegar on the nose. It goes down quite hot for a 100 proofer; it may be that the acidic quality adds to that. The finish is very acidic, sort of reminiscent of when you throw up a little bit in your mouth but manage to force it back down; it's not that it tastes of vomit but of the subsequent acid in the mouth.

Well, the problem with dusties, especially really old ones, is that you never know how they were handled over the years and whether they have maintained their integrity. Of course, it could have had these qualities to begin with, but that acidic vinegar note suggests to me that this one has gone bad, while some of the underlying bourbon notes hint at what might have been a really good whiskey. Given that this is one hundred years old, it could have spent 60 years in someone's steaming hot attic or woodshed. Who knows? Pity my poor reader who paid a pretty penny for it, but that's the world of dusties for you.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Old Ezra 101

After my experience with Rebel Yell, I was a bit skeptical about another Luxco product, but I thought I'd give them another chance. Old Ezra 101, 7 year old is part of the Ezra Brooks line. Like Rebel Yell, the Ezra Brooks label has a long history. It was most recently made at the now defunct Medley distillery. Now it's a product of the St. Louis bottler Luxco and most likely composed of Heaven Hill bourbon. Luxco has two Ezra Brooks expressions: a 90 proofer, and this one, Old Ezra 7 year old 101 proof.

Old Ezra 7 year old 101, 50.5% abv ($18)

The nose is light but nice with plenty of oak. The palate is woody and surprisingly drinkable for the abv. It's got lots of wood and then a good kick of briny rye which lasts into the finish. A strong, drinkable bourbon with plenty of wood and rye for under $20...what's not to like?

For the money, this is a great deal, and I liked it even more than Elijah Craig 12. The most difficult thing might be finding it as it seems to hover around the middle of the country without too many trips to the west coast. If you see it, pick one up.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Little Drummer Boy: Johnny Drum Private Stock

Johnny Drum is a Kentucky Bourbon Distillers (KBD) product. KBD is, of course, and independent bottler, so we don't know the source of this whiskey other than it is Kentucky Bourbon. There are two expressions, regular and Private Stock. The Private Stock is higher proof and more readily available. Previously a 15 year old bourbon, the current Private Stock has no age statement.

Johnnie Drum Private Stock, 50.5% abv ($35)

The nose comes on sweet. There's a bit of a smoky char, like burnt wood. Then there are some briny notes and some peanut notes (like a Payday bar); it's a good start. The palate, though, is quite light and lacks any of the nose's more complex notes. There are some light maple syrup notes (more Log Cabin than the real stuff) and some of those peanut notes from the nose. Like most non-Willett offerings from KBD, I find this pretty underwhelming. There are a lot better bourbons to be had for the price.

A KBD Kentucky bourbon can be from any distillery or any combination of Kentucky distilleries, but based on taste, I would guess that Brown Forman supplies a fair amount of this one.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Back to Basics: Elijah Craig 12

Every once in a while it's good to get back to some basics and that's what we'll do this week. We'll start with a standard bearer of good, affordable bourbon: Heaven Hill's Elijah Craig 12 year old. I'm a big fan of the 18 year old, but it's been hard to come by lately, so I thought I'd take a shot at the 12.

Elijah Craig 12 year old, 47% abv ($25)

On the nose I immediately pick up candied cherries and those candied pecans that street vendors sell. On the palate I get caramel, toffee, some nice woody notes and a bit of rye spice along with some caraway. It's a bit more alcoholic than I'd expect for the abv. The finish is slightly bitter.

I remember this one fondly, but I was a bit disappointed. Overall, I'd say it's worth trying and a good deal for the price, but not as good as I remember and not even close to the 18 year old in terms of quality.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Worshipping at Church & State

When Church & State opened a few years ago, it got plenty of buzz, but after chef Walter Manzke left, that buzz died down. I never made it during the Manzke days, but I love a French bistro, so I headed out there recently and was not disappointed.

Located at the eastern edge of downtown, right off the 101 freeway at 7th street, Church & State does fairly traditional French bistro food, but does it very, very well. The menu has a variety of small plates as well as entrees, and some of the entrees can be done as small plates as well. If you order small plates, they will serve them sequentially, so it's more like a tasting menu.

I ordered a variety of plates and everything was very good. The sweetbreads were among the best I've had. They were perfectly fried, very crispy on the outside and soft within. The charcuterie plate included six different items including a wonderful chicken liver mousse, smooth as silk but dense and not overly whipped, as well as some very nice country pates. The lamb tarte was a French style tarte with a cracker crust, gruyere, caramelized onions and bits of lamb. And the pork belly entree literally melted in my mouth into a porky, fatty treat; it was served with baby vegetables in a porky broth/jus.

Desserts were also very good. A chocolate-coffee pot du creme tasted more like a pudding then a traditional pot du creme but was quite good. The salted caramel chocolate tart was a slice of dense, dark chocolate torte dripped with a salted caramel sauce.

Everything was good and while not cheap, the prices were not as bad as I expected for this caliber of food. I will definitely be heading back.

Church & State
1850 Industrial St., #100
Los Angeles, CA 90021
(213) 405-1434

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Dusty Thursday: Yellowstone Bourbon circa 1979

Yellowstone is another old bourbon brand. The most recent iteration of the Yellowstone distillery, owned by Glenmore, closed in 1991, with some of the bourbon after that time being made at the Medley, distillery, now also closed. Eventually, the label was sold off to the Luxco Company, the independent bottler that also bottles the current incarnation of Rebel Yell. Chuck Cowdery has a brief two part history of the brand on his blog.

The bottle I'm trying today appears to date from 1979, so it's from the Glenmore era.

Yellowstone Bourbon, 86 Proof (43% abv), 200 ml bottle.

The nose on this has a lot of fruit candy. I'm talking Juicy Fruit gum (or maybe it's Fruit Stripe gum), also some Kraft caramel cubes and vanilla, very nice stuff. The palate also has a lot of candy notes, but now I'm getting salt water taffy, more caramel, and English Toffee ice cream. The finish has toffee. Despite all of the candy flavors, this isn't cloyingly sweet and has a richness of body that makes it quite pleasant and drinkable, if not overly complex.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

The Buffalo Trace Single Oak Project on Scotch & Ice Cream

Thanks to Tim over at Scotch & Ice Cream, I've been tasting through samples of the Buffalo Trace Single Oak Project bourbons. I just finished the fourth release, which means I am exactly a quarter of the way through. While there has been much written(including by me) that is critical of this project and its bourbons, I've enjoyed the tastings. Even though the bourbon is mostly mediocre (though it does seem to be improving), the point isn't really the quality of the bourbon (strange as that may sound), it's to note differences caused by different variables. I'm not about to list tasting notes for each bottle here. I have done that on the LA Whiskey Society site if you really want to see them, but I would instead recommend you check out Tim's reviews on Scotch & Ice Cream, which I consider to be the best available on-line. Tim's BTSO posts are very thorough; he gives tasting notes for each bottle, discusses the impact of each variable as he experiences it and names a best rye recipe and best wheat recipe bourbon from each release. If you want to live the Single Oak Project vicariously, do it through Scotch & Ice Cream.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Stuff We Don't Get: Blanton's Straight from the Barrel

Blanton's is known as the first single barrel bourbon (whether it actually was or not is the subject of some dispute). Distilled by Buffalo Trace for a Japanese company, Age International, Blanton's uses a higher rye mashbill than the other Buffalo Trace bourbons. The same mashbill is used for Elmer T. Lee, Ancient Age and Rockhill Farms bourbons, all of which are owned by Age. While Buffalo Trace makes barrel strength versions of its rye bourbon (George T. Stagg), wheated bourbon (William Larue Weller) and straight rye (Thomas Handy), Age International doesn't release a barrel strength version of its higher-rye bourbon the United States.

Blanton's Straight from the Barrel is a barrel strength version of Blanton's available in Europe and Japan. Like the regular version, it's a single barrel bourbon, so the proof varies, and it carries no age statement. It seems to go for around $90 in Europe, but that, of course, depends on the exchange rates.

Normally, I wouldn't review a whiskey that was not available in the US, but I thought this one would be interesting since there is no other way to sample a barrel strength version of this mashbill. In addition, there has been some rumor that Age might release this (or one of the number of other Blanton's expressions that are sold only overseas) in the US. I wanted to see if it was something we should be advocating for.

Blanton's Straight from the Barrel, Barrel 195, Warehouse H, Rick 18, 68.3% abv

The nose on this is fantastic and complex. It's starts off with sweet caramel and then transitions quickly to spicy rye and wood polish notes. There's also some fruit on the nose; I'm getting candied apples (the sticky red ones you get at the fair). The palate socks you with rye right off the bat and then treats you to sweet wood. Water, of course, is pretty essential for something this proof, and in this one, brings out the sweet candy but also enhances the rye, giving it a peppery like quality that lasts into the finish.

This is really great stuff, a bourbon you can sit and contemplate, with notes that continue to grow and evolve as you drink it. The folks at Age International definitely need to let us in on some of it.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Buy it Now: Trader Joe's Single Malt Irish Whiskey

While we're on the subject of Trader Joe's, you may recall that I was a big fan of their house label Trader Joe's Single Malt Irish Whiskey, a great Irish malt at a great TJ's price of $20. Well, if you have an interest and you're holding out, you may want to pull the trigger. That whiskey was made for Trader Joe's by the Cooley distillery, and as many of you undoubtedly know, Cooley was recently purchased by Jim Beam. One of the first things Beam did upon purchasing Cooley was to announce that they would reduce sales to independent bottlers. Now, if Trader Joe's has a contract going forward, Cooley would likely still have to honor it, but if the Trader Joe's bottling was a limited release or a short term contract they thought they could renew, we might not be seeing more of it.

In other TJ's news, it looks like their next house label whiskey will be a bourbon made by Buffalo Trace.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Oh Snap: Trader Joe's Jumbo Uncured Beef Franks

The biggest problem with most hot dogs you get at the grocery store, even "gourmet" grocery stores, is that they lack snap. Snap is that sensation when your teeth break the natural casing of the dog and release the spicy juice inside. It's this snap that hot dog lovers live for, but it's sadly lacking in most supermarket dogs.

Trader Joe's has thrown a bone to all of the hot dog lovers out there with their new All Natural Jumbo Uncured Beef Franks. Made without nitrates, fillers or MSG, these babies have a natural casing that gives you that snappity snap. And jumbo is not an exaggeration. About five inches long and an inch in diameter, they cook up red, plump and juicy, ready to explode with a nicely spiced, slightly garlicky flavor.

You can grill them, but I like to throw them in a covered frying pan with about an eighth of an inch of water so they steam and grill at the same time.

Thanks Trader Joe's, just in time for summer!

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Strong Medicine: Prohibition Era Medicinal Rye

One of the few ways to get legal booze during prohibition was to get a prescription (hmmm, sounds similar to what people do today at California's "green pharmacies"). Doctors, dentists and even veterinarians could legally prescribe liquor to cure your tired blood or whatever fake disease you had.

This bottle of Pennsylvania rye is an example of medicinal whiskey. Distilled prior to 1917, by the time this bonded whiskey was ready for bottling, twelve years later, prohibition was upon us. To that end, the back label clearly states, "For Medicinal Purposes Only - Sale or Use for Other Purposes will Cause Heavy Penalties to be Inflicted." Ouch! Just to make sure you know it's medicine, it includes a big Rx and the Latin name Spiritus Frumentt, which means fermented spirits. I'm convinced!

According to the label, this bottle of John Gibson's Son & Co. Ancient Special Reserve Rye was made by the Philadelphia Pure Rye Whiskey Distilling Company and bottled by the Dougherty Distillery.

John Gibson's Son & Co. Ancient Special Reserve Rye, Bottled in Bond, 12 years old, 50% abv.

I really love the nose on this. It's got leather and cologne and some wood. The palate is deep with that spicy sandalwood note that I associate with these old Pennsylvania ryes. It's also got some hops like notes that remind me of Charbay whiskeys as well as some cocoa. The finish in minty with wintergreen.

For as long as this stuff has been around, it's really retained a tremendous amount of flavor, and is my favorite of the Pennsylvania ryes I've been able to taste. This is a medicine I'd gladly take anytime!

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Four Roses at Two Retailers: Binny's vs. Shopper's Vineyard OBSV

These days, retailers are offering some great single barrel bourbons. Among those offered by a number of the better retailers are single recipe versions of Four Roses Single Barrel. As many of you undoubtedly know, Four Roses has ten bourbon recipes (two mashbills x five yeasts). A number of retailers have purchased a barrel of each recipe so that consumers can compare.

It's fun to compare the different recipes and I would encourage everyone to try them all, but I thought it might also be fun to compare the same recipe bottled for different retailers. In this case, the Binny's and Shopper's Vineyard editions of the OBSV, which is the recipe used in the mass market Four Roses Single Barrel. OBSV uses a mashbill of 60% corn, 35% rye and 5% barley with the "V" yeast strain.

Shopper's Vineyard Jim Rutledge Selection OBSV, Distilled 7/20/01, Bottled 10/13/11, Warehouse KE, Barrel # 8-1E, 52.8% abv ($50)

According to New Jersey retailer Shopper's Vineyard, this barrel was hand selected by Master Distiller Jim Rutledge (note, Shopper's Vineyard is pretty big on hype so take it for what it is). Unfortunately, it looks like this bottle is sold out.

On the nose I get coffee beans and rye spice. The palate is very spicy as well with lots of rye notes and a chewy mouthfeel. The finish is cooking spices - cloves, ginger, allspice. A really nice, spicy bourbon.

Binny's Four Roses Single Barrel OBSV, Distilled 10/15/00, Bottled 9/24/09, Warehouse KE, Barrel # 8-1C, 53.8% abv ($55)

Chicago superstore Binny's still has this one available. It was aged in the same warehouse as the Shopper's Vineyard bottle, though it was distilled and bottled earlier.

The nose on the Binny's bourbon is very light with caramel and toffee. The palate is candy sweet but oak takes a place at the table about mid way through and stays through the finish. It's nicely balanced and surprisingly light for its abv.

It's remarkable how different these two bottlings are. If I had tasted them knowing only they were Four Roses, I probably would have guessed that they were from different recipes. Both are good (and indeed, I don't think I've ever had a Four Roses single barrel I would characterize as less than good), but the Shopper's Vineyard bottling wins out for me because I like the pronounced spiciness.

Even within the single recipe, there clearly can be a fair amount of variety in Four Roses which means that even once you've tried all the recipes, keep sampling.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Ton of Love for Balvenie Tun 1401

While I will occasionally sip a Balvenie, it's never been a distillery whose whiskies I seek out. I've just never had a Balvenie that's gotten me excited, until now. Balvenie Tun 1401 is a vatting of seven bouron cask whiskies and three sherry cask whiskies (a tun is a large vat used for blending). There are, thus far, four batches of the 1401 for four different markets. Batch 3 is exclusively for U.S. distribution. There is no age statement on the whisky, but Balvenie has said that Batch 3 is "similar to" Batch 2 which went to Europe, Asia and South America and was made from casks "mostly from the 1970s with one from the 1960s and one from the 1980s."

Balvenie Tun 1401, Batch 3, 50.3% ($250)

The nose is very rich sherry with berries. The palate is lush and massively fruity with pears and sweet sherry notes and the finish has prunes and figs. This is a really nice sherried malt. The sherry is out front but not overwhelming; it's masterfully balanced and really a pleasure to drink. I'm not a huge sherry head but I really appreciated the balance and fruit on this malt.

People are quickly catching on to this one and it's starting to get picked off. If you want one, I would act quickly.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Umamicatessen: Willie Wonka's Meat Factory

If instead of setting his eyes on chocolate, Willie Wonka had gone into the meat business, you might imagine a world of high end pork rinds, pig ear garnished cocktails and foie gras doughnuts, and sure enough, all of those things are on the menu at Umamicatessen, the new restaurant from the Umami Burger group.

Located downtown, the cavernous, high ceilinged restaurant's menu is broken into three concepts, each with its own name and style. There is a regular Umami Burger; a Jewish style deli called Cure, and a pork/cured meat/charcuterie section known as Pigg. The Umami Burger menu will be familiar to anyone who has been to one of those outposts. The New York deli has the deli staples you might expect such as knishes, matzoh ball soup and corn beef sandwiches. Each concept was designed by a different chef.

Being a pork fan, I was immediately drawn to the Pigg section of the menu, and was pretty pleased with its offerings. Designed by San Francisco chef Chris Cosentino, Pigg features a wide variety of pork products. The Cone o' Cracklins is a cone of pork rinds seasoned with sherry vinegar and sage and advertised as "100% lard fried." These rinds were light and fluffy with just a slight pork inflection. Far from the grease bombs that are packaged rinds or chicharron, they had the texture of those puffed shrimp chips and were surprisingly free of grease.

My favorite offering though, was the pork liver pate sandwich. Served on a ciabatta roll, the liver was rich and juicy, shimmering with fat, more like a lobe of porky foie gras than a typical liver pate. The arugula and caramelized onions offered just enough sweet and acid to cut the fat. This is really a superior sandwich which I will definitely return to.

For dessert, well, I do love the doughnuts, and in these last days of legal foie gras, how can I not order a foie gras doughnut. The FJ&J is a doughnut stuffed with foie gras and berry jam and topped with peanuts (pictured at right bottom). When you cut it open, the foie, in liquid form, explodes out of the pastry like the liquid center of a molten chocolate cake. The first bite of this is a heavenly mix of sweet jam, fatty foie, pastry and peanuts, but it doesn't hold up as well beyond that first bite. It's one of those high concept dishes that isn't quite as good as amazing as it sounds, though still worth trying.

The tres leches, cajeta doughnut (pictured at right top) was excellent, topped with cinnamon studded whip cream and filled with a milky sauce that references a tres leches cake.

Excessive, silly, strange, delicious, Umamicatessen has everything except the Oompa Loompas.

852 S Broadway
Los Angeles, CA 90014
(213) 413-8626

Friday, May 11, 2012

The Sixth Circuit: A Federal Court that Knows its Bourbon

On Wednesday, the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals issued a decision in the case of Maker's Mark Distillery vs. Diageo North America. Maker's Mark, famous for their dripping red was seal, had sued Diageo claiming that the use of a similar red wax seal on its Jose Cuervo Reserva de la Familia Tequila infringed on the Maker's Mark trademark. A federal district court had ruled for Maker's and the Sixth Circuit, which hears appeals from cases originating in Kentucky, Tennessee, Ohio and Michigan, upheld the lower court opinion for Maker's.

The legal rendering itself is not particularly remarkable, though I don't envy Diageo having to defend itself against a beloved bourbon distillery in a court that sits just across the river from Kentucky. What is remarkable is that the Court went out of its way to discuss bourbon and its history.

The opinion opens with a wonderful quote from Supreme Court Justice Hugo Black, "I was brought up to believe that Scotch whisky would need a tax preference to survivie in competition with Kentucky bourbon." The Court then goes on to discuss the origins of bourbon, its history and the specific history of Maker's Mark, even dropping a footnote regarding controversies over the proper spelling of whiskey. The fantastic part is that the Court gets it right, quoting such noted authorities as Chuck Cowdery (not just his book but also articles from his Bourbon Country Reader), Mike Veach and Gary & Mardee Regan. Clearly one of these judges (or one of their clerks) is a bourbon fan who knows his or her stuff.

For those of you who don't read court decisions for a living, they can be mind numbingly boring, but this one is well written and animated. Kudos to the Sixth Circuit as well as Chuck, Mike and the Regans.

You can find the opinion here, and the fun part is on pages 2-7.

UPDATE: See Chuck Cowdery's own report on the case here.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Happy Fifth Birthday to Sku's Recent Eats!

Today marks the fifth birthday of this blog. It's hard to believe that I've been doing this for five years. Five years is a full-on Kindergartener, and in blog years, it's practically middle age. Sounds like a good excuse for some navel gazing.

Come now with me on a journey through time, back to the simpler world of May 2007. The President was George W. Bush, Facebook and Twitter existed but weren't in wide use, and it seemed like the Boston Red Sox might have a promising team, though probably not a Series winning team since they are, after all, the Boston Red Sox.

The whiskey blogosphere was very young in spring 2007. The go-to blogs were Serge Valentin's WhiskyFun for Scotch reviews, Kevin Erskine's Scotch Blog for Scotch business news and the Chuck Cowdery Blog for American whiskey. Sam Simmons was just getting started with his Malt Missions as Dr. Whisky and Chris Bunting had started a new Japanese Whisky site called Nonjatta. And that was pretty much it. John Hansell was publishing Malt Advocate, but he didn't start his blog until that fall.

When I started this blog, it was mostly about food (hence name). For the first few years, I stuck to a fairly rigid schedule of two food posts and one whiskey post per week, but that started to break down as (1) I felt I had more interesting and original things to say about whiskey than food; and (2) I got fat and needed to cut down on things like doughnuts, pupusas and gelato.

So I pivoted from a food blog with a weekly whiskey post to a whiskey blog with an occasional food post. I feel like this is when I hit my stride and really started having fun with it. And let's face it, that's what it's all about.

I have to say that I'm pretty happy with this little diversion. True, it doesn't look like much. My pictures, when I bother with them at all, mostly suck, I use the boring standard blogger template, and it's painfully obvious that I neither invest nor make any money on the blog. I'm not on the industry's list of bloggers to reach out to with important press releases (or free samples), and my blog has never been nominated for or received any sort of award.

Despite all of that, I have a great time and a great group of readers. I feel that my readers are some of the most knowledgeable, good humored folks out there, and I'm lucky to have them. I've also been lucky to have many readers who have their own great blogs and who are more than willing to share information and even samples. So thanks to all of you for reading, commenting, discussing and laughing (when appropriate, of course).

You'll find many of my favorite blogs on my links page, but I don't update it enough, so here's a quick shout out to some of those other blogs that I've been enjoying: Macdeffe's Danish Whisky Blog, Josh's Sipology, Aaron WF's Whiskey Wonka, Steve BM's Blind Tastes, Scott's Corvallis Epicurean, the Canadian based Scotch Club's ScotchBlog, Ryan's sadly defunct Value Whisky Reviews, Josh's The Coopered Tot, and the last food blogger to stick with me despite my whiskey-centrism, Tony C.'s awesome Sinosoul. So read these blogs and apologies to anyone I left out (and I'm sure I'm missing some good ones).

As part of my fifth birthday, I figured I'd put together a list of some of the posts I had the most fun with through the years. Nothing serious here mind you. This is a birthday party, and hey, nobody wants to read a post about the best dim sum place in 2008, no matter how artfully crafted I may be convinced it is. So here are some of the posts I enjoyed the most:

Now, if you have any suggestions for the next five years, please let me know.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

They Say It's Your Birthday: Old Forester Birthday Bourbon

Old Forester Birthday Bourbon is an annual release that comes out every fall. I haven't reviewed one since the 2007 release, so I thought I would check out the most recent version, from 2011. The Birthday Bourbon is widely regarded as the best thing Brown Forman has to offer (which, mind you, isn't saying much).

Old Forester Birthday Bourbon 2011, 12 years old, distilled 1999, 49% ($40)

The nose has green grapes, cough syrup and some tinny, metallic notes. The palate is light with some minty flavors akin to mint Chloraseptic spray, with a numbing mouthfeel to boot, and some tropical fruit notes, including banana and papaya. The finish has an artificial mint taste (if you've had a Disneyland Mint Julep, you know what I'm talking about).

I have to say, I found this one to be disappointing. The flavor profile is all over the map and it ends up as sort of a light mish-mash with some unpleasant notes. As I said, I haven't had the Birthday Bourbon in a few years, but this one is distinctly inferior to the last one I reviewed. This one is no way to celebrate a birthday. I think I'd rather drink their Woodford Double Oaked.

Hmmm, speaking of birthdays, there's one coming up on Thursday. Tune in then to find out more.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Recent Reads: Canadian Whisky, the Portable Expert

A few years ago, I wanted to write up a very short blog post that could serve as a quick primer on Canadian Whisky. I searched the web high and low but couldn't find a decent site that could answer even very basic questions about Canadian Whisky. Having failed in new media, I turned to the old, hoping to find a reliable book about Canadian Whisky. The only thing I found was a thin advert-book commissioned by Seagram's in the mid-1990s. I was shocked that this major whisky category was so lacking in reliable information.

Not long after that, sommelier and Malt Maniac Davin De Kergommeaux came along with his blog which immediately became the go-to website for Canadian Whisky. Now, he had done one better with a new book: Canadian Whisky, the portable expert. Davin sent me an early release copy, but it officially publishes on May 8.

Not only is De Kergommeaux's book easily the best book on the market about Canadian Whisky, it is one of the best books about whisky period. More than an introduction, the book gives thorough coverage of the science of whisky, production techniques, the history of the industry in Canada, and profiles of the nine Canadian distilleries along with tasting notes for 100 Canadian whiskies interspersed throughout the book. Many of the sections on the science and production apply to other types of whisky as well, so it's an interesting read even if you're not a particular fan of Canadian Whisky.

It would not bean exaggeration to say that I learned something on nearly every one of the 336 pages. For instance, I've always wondered about the often cited rule that Canadian Whisky can be include up to 9.09% flavoring agents, but had not found any good sources for explaining the precise rules or the rationale. De Kergommeaux includes a detailed description of the rule (which only applies to whisky exported to the United States) and the reason for its existence.

While I've sometimes found De Kergommeaux's more informal writing to be overly dense, the prose in this volume is more direct and streamlined, making for a pleasant and to-the-point read.

For someone like me who craves accurate, specific information about my whisky, I could not have asked for more. De Kergommeaux has written what will undoubtedly be the definitive word on Canadian Whisky for years to come, and for $20 U.S., it's a better value than most actual whisky.

Canadian Whisky, the portable expert by Davin de Kergommeaux
McClelland & Stewart, 2012 ($20)

Sunday, May 6, 2012

NY Deli Dogfight: Katz's vs. Carnegie

A few years ago, on one of my annual pilgrimages to Manhattan, I evaluated the merits of Katz's Deli and found that, while very good, it came up short in comparison to LA's own Langer's. This year, I took the opportunity to do meals at Katz's and its uptown competitor the Carnegie Deli. The verdict: Katz's by a mile.

First let's talk pastrami. A Katz's pastrami sandwich (pictured) may not capture the perfect gestalt of a Langer's, but it's still a pile of excellent pastrami, tender, soft and nicely spiced. Carnegie, on the other hand, has chewy, bland pastrami, unworthy of such a noteworthy institution.

That being said, I grabbed a reuben at both and preferred Carnegie's, even with their pastrami. The funny thing is, I didn't recall Katz's even having a reuben back when I lived in New York. I had thought Katz's was kosher, or at least "kosher style," which would prohibit the mixing of meat and dairy that you have on a reuben. In any case, the Katz's reuben was not grilled, rather the cheese and sauerkraut are microwaved and put on the reuben with a sauce that I can only characterize as odd. It seemed like a sweet tomato relish of some type. As the kids on the internet say, this was an "epic fail" at recreating this great sandwich. Carnegie does an open face reuben, piled high with sauerkraut and swiss cheese and accompanied by the traditional Russian dressing. It wasn't the best reuben I've had, but at least it was a recognizable form of the sandwich.

Sides at both restaurants were good. Chopped liver, pickles and a potato knish at Katz's were exactly what you want. Beer battered onion rings at Carnegie were also quite good. I had an egg cream at both delis and Katz's was better with a good balance; Carnegie's was a bit too sweet for my taste.

Prices are obscenely expensive at both institutions, but that's New York for you. Sandwiches at Katz's run $15 to $18. The reuben at Carnegie was in the $25 range with an additional, totally gratuitous, $3 charge for sharing the monster sandwich.

In the end though, Katz's may not know how to make a reuben, but they serve better food, and that's why they get the win in this deli challenge.

Katz's Deli
205 East Houston Street
New York, NY 10002
(212) 254-2246

Carnegie Deli
854 7th Avenue
New York, NY 10019
(212) 757-2245

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Dusty Thursday: J.W. Dant BIB (circa late 1980s)

JW Dant is a bourbon with a long history. The brand dates back to nineteenth century distiller Joseph Washington Dant. According to the excellent chronology over at bourbon historian Mike Veach's Bourbon Enthusiast site, after prohibition, National Distillers purchased the Dant distillery from the family, then sold it to the Schenley Company in 1952. Schenley eventually closed the distillery in the 1960s but held onto the label until the Schenley Company was purchased by United Distillers in 1987. The Dant label was acquired by Heaven Hill in 1993 and they continue to make JW Dant Bourbon.

The great thing about Bottled in Bond whiskeys is not only that they are 100 proof (though that is also good), but they take a lot of the guess work out of dusty hunting since they are required to provide the Distilled Spirits Plant (DSP) number where the spirit was distilled and bottled.

Today's Dant, a 375 ml bottle without a tax stamp, was distilled at DSP-KY-113, the Buffalo Trace Distillery, and bottled at DSP-KY-16, the Stitzel-Weller Distillery. That tells us that the bourbon was distilled during the Schenley era. At that time, Schenley owned the Buffalo Trace Distillery (then known as the George T. Stagg or Ancient Age Distillery). However, this bourbon was bottled after the United Distillers purchase in 1987, since United Distillers owned Stitzel-Weller at that time. This is consistent with the "89" on the bottom of the bottle which indicates a likely bottling date of 1989.

JW Dant Bottled in Bond, 50% abv.

The nose has a lot of complexity with caramel, peppermint, wood, pepper and bay. The palate is very spicy with lots of peppery notes, even some cayenne, rounded out with just a touch of caramelized sugar sweetness and a bit of acid. The finish keeps the pepper and the acid in a nice balance.

I really like this one. The peppery character is something you don't find in a lot of today's bourbons, and it's complex and well balanced from nose to finish. Good stuff! Keep in mind though, that Dant went through a number of different distilleries and the same label may differ greatly from version to version.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Put a Spring in Your Step: K&L Bourbon Barrel Springbank

K&L's Dynamic Duo of Davids is heading to Scotland again this year to find more single barrels for us, but I'm still tasting through last year's set. While there have been some I haven't cared for (and okay, one that was downright awful, but that's another story), the general quality of K&L's picks from last year was very high, and I previously posted about some of my favorites.

Last year's pick included two Springbanks, a 14 year old Madeira barrel and a 13 year old bourbon barrel aged. I was most interested in the bourbon barrel. Springbank is one of those distilleries with a cult-following, maybe not to the extent of Ardbeg, but pretty close. Personally, while I've enjoyed some Springers, I've never understood the devotion to the distillery. I just haven't had that many Springbanks that I've loved. I was particularly interested in this bourbon barrel expression because I always think it's interesting to try bourbon aged versions of malts that are more typically sherried. Once you peel away those bold sherry notes, what's left?

Springbank 1998 (for K&L), 13 years old, 56.9% abv ($95)

The nose on this is very botanical and herbal with gin-like juniper notes. The palate follows suit with huge botanical notes. I get Genever gin, some rye whiskey notes and pickling spices. Water brings out even more spice and some fresh wood notes. The finish is hot and spicy.

This is a really great Springbank and one I would heartily recommend. It's not the usual flavor profile at all, but very lively and flavorful. Great stuff and it's still in good supply.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

After the Rapture Poll Results: Scotch or American?

The results are in for my whiskey rapture poll, which pitted Scotch against American whiskey, and America takes it two to one. I wasn't surprised that American whiskey won out. After all, this is an American blog with probably a bulk of its readers coming from the US, and I focus a lot more attention on American whiskey than Scotch. Despite that, I was surprised how definitive the vote was.

For me, this is a hugely difficult one. Bourbon, rye and single malt are my favorite whiskey styles, and I love them all equally. Not sure what to do, I tried some empirical research. First, I looked at my own shelves and found I've got about equal amounts of Scotch and American whiskeys. Next, I looked at the scores I've given on the LA Whiskey Society site to see which type of whiskey I've rated highest in those tastings. It turns out that of my few "A" ratings on that site, exactly half are Scotch and half are American, so no help there.

Given that the empirical studies did not reveal a favorite, I tried to reason with the hypothetical. If I chose American, I could still enjoy great Japanese single malts. If I chose Scotch, I could still sip those bold Canadian ryes, but either way, I'd give up on many of my favorites. I'm a fan of WhistlePig, but I'd rather have Sazerac 18, and I love Japanese malts, but I can't see them replacing Scotch, and of course, no one else makes bourbon.

In the end, I went with emotion. It's easy to obsess over the intricacies of whiskey and tasting notes, especially when you write about it, but above all, it should be about enjoyment. I tried to think about what I would miss the most with my heart, not my head. The answer for me was peat. I love my bourbon and rye, but the thought of never sipping on another Lagavulin, never feeling the smoky exhale after a sip of Laphroaig, never getting the wisps of smoke on a more gently peated Talisker, Highland Park or Brora was too much for me. And so, Scotch it is. Goodbye sweet bourbon and rye.

Whew, I'm glad that was only a hypothetical. Thanks for playing.