Thursday, December 27, 2012

Dusty Thursday: Kentucky Vintage 1974

The current bottling of Kentucky Vintage is an independently bottled bourbon by Kentucky Bourbon Distillers. This bottle, however, is a rare Japanese export of the same name. The label states 1974 as the vintage year and it was bottled in 2000 exclusively for the Japanese market. Based on the name and what I've heard about it, I assume it was also a KBD product, but I don't know for certain.

Kentucky Vintage 1974, bottled 2000, 25 years old, 47% abv

The nose has mango, tropical fruit and a bit of shampoo. The palate is very sweet, like fruit punch, and the finish is bitter. Water doesn't help.

Yuck. This stuff is terrible.

See reviews of Kentucky Vintage 1974 by the LA Whiskey Society.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

A Dusty Curiosity: Brown Forman President's Choice

Brown Forman introduced a President's Choice bourbon into its line in the late 1960s, but prior to that, it used the President's Choice label for gifts to special customers and other clients. The official name is actually the President's Choice for Distinguished Gentleman. The label includes the following description:

This whisky was selected by the President of Brown-Forman Distillers Corporation for its perfect balance and true Kentucky Bourbon flavor, and set aside for his private stock. This rare Bourbon was custom distilled and specially bottled at the direction of the president at the proof of 90.3 selected for barrel #989843 through barrel #989867.

Hmm, distinguished gentlemen? I'm not sure I qualify, but let's give it a try anyway. This bourbon was bottled in 1963, a blend of 24 barrels.

Brown Forman President's Choice, bottled 1963, 90.3 proof/45.15% abv

Another nice dusty nose, this one is rich, sweet and candy-like; It reminds me very much of some of those great, dusty Old Foresters I like (another Brown Forman bourbon). The palate is sweet with peppermint and vanilla, moving onto spices in the late palate. It's very rich and densely flavored, though a bit flatter than the nose. The finish is short and spicy.

Sweet and rich, this is a very drinkable bourbon.

See the LA Whiskey Society reviews of Brown Forman President's Choice.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Sku's 2012 Whiskey Awards

Welcome to Sku's 2012 Whiskey Awards. Each winner was the product of blind tastings before a specially selected panel of expert tasters.

Best Bourbon over 140 Proof: George T. Stagg

Best Blend of Scotch, Bourbon and Rye: High West Campfire

Best Scotch Distillery (Isle of Skye): Talisker

Best Scotch Distillery (Isle of Arran): Arran

Best Scotch Distillery (Isle of Jura): Jura

Best Scotch Distillery (Isle of Mull): Tobermory

Best Indian Distillery (limited to those available in the US): Amrut

Best Religiously Themed Independent Bottler: The Jewish Whisky Company

Best Bourbon Aged on a Boat: No Winner (there were no good bourbons aged on a boat this year)

Congratulations to all the lucky winners! (Winners, please feel free to contact me for special "shelf talkers" available at a reasonable price or to advertise in our special "awards edition").

Monday, December 17, 2012

Stagg-nation: George T. Stagg 2012

George T. Stagg, along with Pappy Van Winkle, has become the most renowned and hard to get bourbon out there. I don't really bother with these annoyingly hard to find whiskeys anymore, but I'll certainly give it a try if a friend drops me a sample.

George T. Stagg 2012, Distilled 1995, 16 years 9 months old, 71.4% abv. ($70 - in theory)

The nose has rich, woody bourbon goodness like only Stagg can have. The palate starts off quite tannic but then moves to candy and wood with a dash of pepper; the acid returns for late palate and the finish with a touch of mildew. A few drops of water brings out a chocolate milk like sweetness but also makes it lose a shocking amount of the woody notes which are reduced to a faint char in the late palate, making it one dimensional.

I've been drinking George T. Stagg since around 2005, and some of those bottlings have been among my all time favorite whiskeys. Starting with last year, though, I feel like Stagg has lost some of its luster. It's still very good bourbon, but the last couple of releases haven't been as transcendent as the earlier ones.

Just to make sure I wasn't being overly nostalgic, I did a side by side tasting with the 2010 Stagg, one of my favorites. Sure enough, the 2010 had a richness and complexity that was lacking in this year's release. The 2010 has a huge dose of polished wood and leather mingled and balanced with candy sweetness, the two maintaining a perfect balance well into the everlasting finish. This year's Stagg is certainly good, and I wouldn't turn down a glass, but it lacks that level of complexity, and given how hard Stagg is to find, it makes me even less likely to hunt for it.

See the LA Whiskey Society reviews of George T. Stagg 2012.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Dusty Thursday: Eagle Rare 101 (circa 1979)

Back in February, I sampled a bottle of the now discontinued Eagle Rare 101 distilled, as is today's version, by Buffalo Trace. The bottle I'm sampling today, though, dates to before the label was sold to Buffalo Trace. It was originally a Seagram's brand made at the Old Prentice Distillery in Lawrenceburg, Kentucky, which is now Four Roses.

Eagle Rare 101 Old Prentice, (circa 1979), 10 years old, 50.5% abv

The nose is a bit musty and very woody with some sweet maple syrup The palate is heavily spicy and minty in a mouth wash sort of way which continues into the finish. This is a very nice bourbon and one I'd happily buy if it was available, but I must say I preferred the later, Buffalo Trace version of the 101 that I sampled back in February.

See the LA Whiskey Society reviews of Eagle Rare 101.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Deal Alert: K&L Longmorn 20

I did a number of reviews from the 2011 K&L exclusive barrel Scotch program, but I'm just getting started on the single malts from their 2012 program.

My first foray into this year's set is a 20 year old Longmorn distilled in 1992, bottled by Exclusive Malts. It sells for $100.

1992 Longmorn 20 (Exclusive Malts), 52.8% abv ($100).

The nose has sweet dessert wine and tropical fruit. The palate is bursting with fruit and dessert wine with a syrupy mouthfeel. I get dried, candied mangoes. The wine note gets more sherry like later in the palate and into the finish where there's just a touch of sulfur.

This one's a winner - just a really drinkable sherried malt with a lot of fruit. The back label states, "This should be much more expensive," and they're right. This is far better than the distillery's 16 year old which is only about $10 cheaper for a younger and lower proof whisky. If you need a last minute holiday gift, this is it.

See the LA Whiskey Society reviews of K&L Longmorn 20.

Monday, December 10, 2012

The Year in Whiskey 2012

This was a frustrating year in whiskey. Back in July, I declared the end of the Golden Age of Whiskey, and I think the year bore that prediction out.

New but not noteworthy

The year saw a massive cache of new releases. Nearly everyone had something new, but much of it didn't seem very special. It seems that the the whiskey companies have caught on to the fact that people like new things so we see continual brand extensions. This year alone brought us two new Ardbegs (Galileo and Day), Highland Park Thor (in the big wooden boat box), Woodford Reserve Double Oaked, Heaven Hill's Larceny and Elijah Craig 20, Knob Creek Rye, George Dickel Rye, Jefferson's Ocean Aged Bourbon and no fewer than four new E.H. Taylor bourbons from Buffalo Trace. Jack Daniel's and Jim Beam jumped on the invisible whiskey trend, releasing unaged white whiskeys to compete with, or perhaps overwhelm, the craft distillers.

The dropping of age and proof continued with Macallan eliminating some of its age statements and Wild Turkey dropping the proof of its rye.

Distillery happenings

It was a bad year for independence. Jim Beam, which purchased the Cooley Distillery in December 2011, announced that it would no longer be selling Cooley whiskey to independent bottlers, and the once fiercely independent Bruichladdich sold out to Remy Martin.

In the US, the explosion of craft distilleries continued with some notable names, including Old Pogue, Willett and The Party Source starting their own distilleries.

In Ireland, William Grant announced it would build a new Tullamore Dew distillery.

Meanwhile, sourced whiskey continued to grow in the US. It seemed like everyone had an LDI whiskey to release this year, and speaking of sourcing, bourbon geeks will remember this as the year of the Great Pappy Controversy.

Going once...

It was a tough year on the secondary market as well. The beginning of the year saw ridiculous mark ups at Bonhams and ebay, with Bonham's courting controversy with some of its bottle descriptions. Meanwhile, K&L sold a $90 bottle of Jefferson's Ocean Aged for over $1,000.

The tide seemed to turn when ebay shut down all alcohol sales, and Bowmore couldn't unload their latest six figure whiskey, which led some to wonder if the whiskey bubble was finally bursting.

And the silver lining

All of this isn't to say there wasn't a bright side to the year. Balvenie distinguished itself with the Tun 1401 series, showing that some distilleries are still willing to do the serious work of putting out great whiskey without gimmicks. GlenDronach's vintage series and Glenfarclas' family casks continued to impress without jewel encrusted bottles.

Four Roses continued to distinguish itself with its Limited Edition Small Batch. High West continued to innovate with Campfire (a blend of bourbon, rye and peated Scotch) and Son of Bourye, and Bulleit offered a bold and spicy rye that wouldn't break the bank (or even bruise it).

So while investing and speculation may have reached new levels of stupidity, there is still good whiskey to be had. Let's hope for good whiskey at affordable prices for the new year.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Dusty Thursday: Fairfax County BIB 1955

The A. Smith Bowman Distillery in Virginia dates back to the 1930s. Built just after prohibition's end, it was most famous for Virginia Gentleman Bourbon. The distillery was sold to the Sazerac Company/Buffalo Trace in 2001; Virginia Gentleman and other bourbons are still made there though now they get their first distillation at the Buffalo Trace distillery in Kentucky.

This bonded bottle of Bowman's Fairfax County Bourbon was distilled in 1950 and bottled in 1955. It's described on the label as "Heavy Bodied," whatever that means.

Fairfax County Bourbon, distilled 1950/bottled 1955, 100 proof.

The nose is quite lovely with vanilla and floral notes. The palate is floral then a minty note kicks in which turns herbal. The finish is a tad bitter. Water is actually terrible for this one, bringing out even more bitterness.

This is a nice enough bourbon, though not one that is particularly exciting. It's fun to try a Virginia bourbon from that era.

See the LA Whiskey Society reviews of Fairfax County Bourbon.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Single Pot Still Hits the Spot: Green and Yellow Spot Irish Whiskey

Green Spot is a well loved single pot still (formerly known as "pure pot still") Irish Whiskey made by the Midleton Distillery for the Mitchell & Son spirit shop. For years, it and Redbreast were the only single pot still whiskeys available, but unlike Redbreast, Green Spot was only available in Ireland. In its effort to expand its single pot still offerings, Midleton has refurbished and expanded Green Spot and brought back an older offering, Yellow Spot, a 12 year old single pot still, made up of whiskeys aged in a variety of casks, including malaga dessert wine casks from Spain. (While I know that Yellow Spot is an old brand, I couldn't shake the thought that it connotes either a part of the snow that you wouldn't want to eat or something you should call your physician about.)

I've long been a fan of Green Spot, but haven't had it in a while, so I was excited to try it again and compare to the new Yellow Spot. The Spots are not yet available in the US.

Green Spot Irish Whiskey, 40% abv ($55)

I love the Green Spot nose. It's just pure and malty with fresh grass and hay; it's like everything you want Irish Whiskey to be. The palate follows up nicely with those pure malt notes, a bit of sweetness and a slight fruitiness in the late palate. The finish is mostly malty. I've always preferred Green Spot to almost any other Irish, even the acclaimed Redbreast. It just shows so much lovely malt, nicely balanced with some sweetness; straightforward, perhaps, but very well done.

Yellow Spot Irish Whiskey, 12yo, 46% abv ($98)

Surprisingly, the Yellow Spot nose is much lighter than the Green Spot; it has a grainy, almost bourbon like quality to it. The palate is also very grainy with a very alcoholic type flavor. Tasting blind, I think I would guess that it was a single grain whiskey. The initial grainy note then leads to some bitterness and some soapiness, and a bit of sourness which could be the wine influence. Some floral notes emerge in the finish, followed by bitterness. This one is a bit all over the place. The flavors don't come together well, and there are a number of off notes and clashing flavors. It's as if it can't decide if it wants to be grainy or sweet, so it settled on bitter.

For me this comparison was no contest. The pure simplicity of Green Spot easily wins out against the muddled flavor profile of Yellow Spot.

See the LA Whiskey Society reviews of Green Spot and Yellow Spot.

Monday, December 3, 2012

2012 Holiday Gifts: What not to get.

Last week I published my list of whiskey gift recommendations for the holiday season. This week, I want to take some time to tell people what not to get for their spirit loving friends.

The Rabbit Electric Cocktail Mixer ($20) (image from Metrokane). For the past month or so, this has been advertised in full page ads in the New York Times Magazine. According to the ad copy, "Measure the ingredients of your favorite cocktail into the Rabbit Mixer, add ice and press the start button. Sit back and enjoy the mixing show."

This thing may be the saddest statement I've ever seen about American consumers. Is this what we've come to? Are we so lazy that we can't even work up the energy to shake a cocktail? Even if there was a reason someone couldn't shake a cocktail, say that had severe arthritis of the elbow or something, my guess is most people who are into cocktails already have a machine that mixes things for's known as a blender.

If you know someone just getting into cocktails, consider a Boston shaker for $2.75 and use that extra money for ingredients. Come on people, get up and shake that cocktail.

Whiskey Stones ($20). The idea of whiskey stones is to cool your whiskey without diluting it. You put these cute little rocks in the freezer and then add them to your whiskey. Now, I don't typically drink my whiskey on the rocks, so this clearly isn't for me, but even if I did, would I really need a $20 item just for this purpose? Does ice melt so quickly that your drink is diluted before you finish? And isn't the point of ice to dilute as well as cool? If you really wanted to drink cold, undiluted whiskey, why wouldn't you just put the bottle in the fridge or freezer? There, I just saved you $20. You can thank me later.

The Balvenie 50 ($30,000). (image from Scotch Malt Whisky). This new release from Balvenie looks on track to become the whiskey equivalent of fruitcake for the 2012 season. Don't get me wrong, I'm sure it's great Scotch, but like most whiskey lovers, I'm assuming I'll get dozens of these. Then I have to think about who I can regift them to or whether I can pass them off at the office "white elephant" party. For everyone who was thinking of this as a gift, instead, consider getting 120 bottles of the excellent Balvenie Tun 1401...or a Toyota Camry.

Happy holidays!

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Taco Heaven: Guisados

Boyle Heights lies at the western-most outpost of East LA, just across the LA River from downtown, and it's one of the culinary centers of Mexican food in LA. I've been craving Mexican a lot lately, and while there is good Oaxacan in my neighborhood, to get traditional northern Mexican cuisine, it helps to cross the river.

A small, rectangular taco shop at the corner of Cesar Chavez and St. Louis with a sort of Chicano hipster vibe, Guisados is a recent edition to the neighborhood, having opened in 2010. It's purely a taco shop, offering about a dozen varieties and no other dishes to speak of. For those of you who are fans of Loteria, it's like the taco selection there, but so much better with bolder flavors and spicier sauces. And if it's not spicy enough, try some of their fiery habaƱero salsa, but use it sparingly, very sparingly.

The base of any taco is the tortilla, yet so many LA taco joints just pop them out of a plastic bag, not so Guisados which makes fresh, thick corn tortillas. And the toppings are worthy of those excellent tortillas (guisados is Spanish for stews).

The chicken tinga, shredded chicken in a savory red sauce, was a stand out. The mole Poblano was less thick and molten than the Oaxacan style found in my neighborhood but equally rich and complex. The fish tacos were also wonderful with pan fried rather than deep fried fish and the traditional cabbage and cream sauce. All of the meat dishes, spicy chorizo, tangy conchinita pibil, a lovely bistek in salsa rojo, and many others, were superb. Vegetarian tacos were also excellent, including a lovely hongos (mushrooms) con cilantro in which the earthy mushrooms were well paired with the bright flavors of cilantro. It's apparent that so much care goes into the preparation of each of these dishes, both the cooking of the meat and the sauces; you really can't lose at this place.

For all of these complex stewed delicacies, though, my favorite taco was probably the quesadilla (pictured as the center taco in the bottom plate at right). It consisted of a disk of Mexican cheese fried so that it developed a crispy crust, and topped with a sort of remoulade sauce. It was so simple, but so rich, with a diversity of textures and a richness from both cheese and sauce that practically forced me to order a second.

For your first visit, a great menu option is the sampler plate of six mini tacos with your choice of toppings (pictured), then go back for the ones you love most.

If you're a taco lover, you need to get to Guisados.

2100 E. Cesar E Chavez Ave.
Los Angeles, CA. 90033
(323) 264-7201