Thursday, March 28, 2013

Dusty Thursday: Who's Afraid of an Old Dog? - Old Dog American Whiskey

Occasionally I stumble on a whiskey that's more conversation piece than treasure.  This one, provided by my pals at the LA Whiskey Society, falls into that category.  It appears to be a prohibition era "American Whiskey" called Old Dog (helpfully translated as "Perro Viejo") with a nice dog on the label.  It's a full sized bottle but there is no bottle volume or proof listed. The label states:

Reg. DSP No. 17070-A
Elaborado y Embotellado por
La Destileria Española
N. San Juan, Colonia del Valle, Mexico DF

So what do we have here? The Spanish translates to "made and bottled by the Spanish Distillery." Colonia del Valle is a neighborhood of Mexico City (i.e. Mexico DF).  The DSP number does not match any US DSP, and I have no idea what distillery identification, if any, Mexico was using at the time.  The best guess is that this is a whiskey made in Mexico for distribution in the US during prohibition.  Of course, technically, it is properly labeled as American Whiskey since, although we in the US forget it, the Americas include the entirety of North and South America.   

What is this stuff like?  The color is a very light yellow.  It smells nothing like whiskey.  It starts with a strong paint thinner type nose, but that quickly fades into mint, licorice and vanilla ice cream.  The nose is strangely alluring, like the smell of gasoline.  On the palate it's....hellll no!  Look, I'm pretty obsessive in pursuit of my hobby, but I draw the line at mystery liquor from unknown distilleries most likely made for unlawful smuggling.  This could have literally anything in it. People went blind and died from drinking questionable liquor during prohibition; I'm not about to be the last casualty of bad prohibition whiskey.  You've got to draw the line somewhere, and I'm drawing it at this Old Dog. I do have a brave (or crazy) friend who tried it (Cognac guys are nuts) and said it wasn't terrible but tasted nothing like whiskey. Of course, even if this isn't poison, that doesn't mean it's whiskey; it could be distilled from sugar or anything else.

Even if this is the exception to the idea that old whiskey should be for drinking, it's a fun bottle and a great conversation piece. Good dog!

UPDATE:  My friend who tried the whiskey (and only had a sip or two) reported to me that he woke up that night with terrible acid reflux and feeling dehydrated and just weird.  So far, he can still see.  Was it the Old Dog?

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Life's a Veach: Michael Veach's Kentucky Bourbon Whiskey - An American Heritage

Michael Veach may be the world's only full-time, professional bourbon historian. He began his career working for distilleries as an in-house historian and now works at the Filson Historical Society in Louisville, Kentucky.  Anyone who has read his comments on fourms like StraightBourbon or BourbonEnthusiast knows that he is an amazing wealth of information.

In Kentucky Bourbon Whiskey:  An American Heritage, Veach offers up a slim, readable jaunt through bourbon history, from bourbon's origins to today.  Despite the succinct nature of the history, he manages to pack in a fair amount of information, making it a fantastic survey course in bourbon history. 

Veach sheds new light on a number of area, but what struck me the most is how little we know about early bourbon history.  We don't know who first distilled bourbon, who first put it in oak barrels, who first charred those barrels or even why it's called bourbon.  Veach tackles each of these questions, debunks the origin myths surrounding them and offers a few possible answers including a number that I had never heard before, but in the end, there is a lot that we just don't know.   

My only complaint about Veach's work is that it left me wanting more.  I appreciate the effort that went into making this such a great read and a streamlined history, but I've read enough of Veach's various writings to know that he is brimming with information, and I'd love for him to share a bit more of it.  He concedes in the introduction that this work isn't meant to be exhaustive, but now that he's written this excellent survey, I would love to see Veach take a microscope to some small facet of bourbon history and share more of his very valuable knowledge and insights.

In any case, if you're a fan of bourbon or just good history, Veach's book deserves a place on your shelf.  

Kentucky Bourbon Whiskey:  An American Heritage ($15.81)
Michael R. Veach
University Press of Kentucky

Monday, March 25, 2013

Compton Comes North: Bludso's on La Brea

What happens when you take a beloved Compton Barbecue pit and marry it with a hipster bar?  The answer is Bludso's Bar & Cue on La Brea, and it's a really good answer.

Bludso's is a Texas style BBQ joint that has been pumping out amazing brisket and ribs in Compton for the past three years.  Golden State is a craft beer pub on the hip stretch of Fairfax that popularized the beer float in LA.  The two got together to open a branch of Bludso's on La Brea, just north of Melrose.

Bludso's La Brea, known formally as Bludso's Bar & Que, has all of the excellent BBQ from Compton: melt in your mouth brisket, smoky pork ribs that almost taste like ham, pulled pork, links and chicken.  The sides are tasty and the sauce is lovely, though I never know what to use it for because the meat is so good on its own that I hate to cover up the flavor with sauce.

But where the Compton spot doesn't serve drinks, the La Brea Bludso's has a full service bar with a menu full of craft cocktails that will stand up to good BBQ.  I had the mint julep (pictured), one of the best I've had in LA (well, outside of my house mint julep).  It's made with Evan Williams bourbon and packs a good wallop.They also have an intriguing Texas Margarita with tequila and Pabst Blue Ribbon.

I was shocked, on a Sunday afternoon, that the place was more than half empty, a situation which will surely change once word gets go while you can.  My only qualm is that they aren't open for week day lunches, but hopefully that will change.

This place is a no brainer.  Great BBQ and great cocktails go together like....Compton and Fairfax.

Bludso's Bar & Que
609 N. La Brea Ave.
Los Angeles, CA  90036
(323) 931-2583

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

The Complete List of Whiskey Blogs

Like most lazy writers, I love a list.  There's something satisfying about listing things, especially when there are a lot of them.  I've been thinking, for a while, whether it would be possible (not to mention advisable), to list every whiskey blog.  It feels like there are hundreds of them; some pop up for a month or two and others (like mine) rattle on, seemingly in perpetuity.  Well, I decided to try it, so I present to you:  The Complete List of Whiskey Blogs.

Well, it's not actually complete, not even close probably, but it's a start.  To start with, I limited myself to English language blogs.  Unfortunately, I'm not competent in any other languages, and it would be pretty tough for me to figure out if a blog in Armenian or Hindi was about whiskey, so I figured I'd stick to what I know.

I tried to be pretty liberal with my definition of "blog," but I did exclude sites that were more databases or forums.  A blog has to have regular updates with content.  In categorizing blogs as "whiskey blogs," I used a loose definition of any blog that was mostly about whiskey.  I excluded general spirits blogs and cocktail blogs (unless they were really mostly about whiskey).

I divided the list into four sections:  (1) general whiskey blogs; (2) blogs by distillers and whiskey producers; (3) blogs by retailers or bars; and (4) dormant blogs.  I defined dormant blogs as blogs that hadn't posted for quite a while (at least eight or nine months) and seemed inactive.  They can, of course, always come back.

Overall, I found 174 active whiskey blogs and another 51 dormant whiskey blogs.  I'm sure I missed many, especially in the retailer/distillery areas, as many of them seem to have blogs that they post to only occasionally.

I'm sure the number of blogs is an interesting measure of something, but I'm not quite sure what.

I'm going to try to keep the list current, and I'd appreciate any feedback with blogs I missed (and apologies to anyone I left off).

Monday, March 18, 2013

A Tale of Two Port Ellens

Unsurprisingly, whisky from the closed Islay distillery Port Ellen is getting rarer and much more expensive.  I recently blind tasted two recently released Port Ellens: the most recent official Diageo release (12th Edition) and K&L's single barrel Port Ellen from their exclusive bottling program (Sovereign label). 

Port Ellen 12th Release, 32 yo, distilled 1979, 52.5% abv ($950-$1,000)

The nose on this one has peat with wild flower/honey notes. The palate kick off sweet with those same floral and honey notes then a big hit of earthy peat and sea water. The finish is slightly bitter, peppery and peaty.

Port Ellen 1982, 30 yo, distilled 1982, bottled by Sovereign, K&L Exclusive, 51.9% abv ($600)

This has a great nose with  sweet white wine, malt and peat.   The palate is sweet and malty with peat coming in mid-palate and hanging on for the finish.  This is a flavor profile I really like done really well.

These are two quite different Port Ellens.  The Diageo release is bolder with stronger peat notes and sweeter honey notes.  The Sovereign is more subtle with its  malt and wine notes.  They are different but of comparable quality.  Both are very good, but I slightly favor the more subtle notes of Sovereign over the bolder official release. Happily, the Sovereign is a solid $300 to $400 cheaper, so if you're in the market for these, I'd say that makes it a clear choice.

Tim over at Scotch & Ice Cream did the same blind tasting but preferred the Diageo release, so check it out, and also see the LA Whiskey Society reviews of the Port Ellen 12th Release and the K&L Sovereign 1982 Port Ellen.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Whiskey from a Winery: Concannon Irish Whiskey

 Here's an oddity for you, an Irish Whiskey distilled by Cooley and bottled by a California winery.  The Concannon Vineyard is an old winery, founded by Irish Americans, in Livermore, California.

This is a four year old Cooley blend made from malted barley and corn (it's nice that they provide some mashbill information, which is unusual for an Irish Whiskey producer).  It's aged for four years in bourbon barrels and then finished for an additional four months in their petite sirah casks.  Just in time for St. Patrick's Day, the folks at Concannon sent me a sample.

Concannon Irish Whiskey, 40% ($20)

The nose has a nice, clean maltiness to it.  The palate is heavy on the vanilla with malt in the background.  The finish is pure vanilla, turning to cream soda notes and lasts forever.

This is a sweet, very drinkable, Irish blend.  It's not overly complex, but for a $20 blend, it hits all the right notes.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

More From Chateau du Tariquet: Les Domaine Grassa and Cask Strength Armagnacs

A few weeks ago I tasted the XO and blanche Armagnacs from Chateau du Tariquet. I liked them but mentioned that it would be interesting to try the cask strength expressions. Well, Chateau du Tariquet heard my cries and sent me samples of a number of additional samples including three cask strength samples. (Hmm, why doesn't it work this way with whiskey. Have I mentioned how "interested" I would be to try the Balvenie 50?) In any case, here they are:

First the non-cask strength offering,

Chateau du Tariquet Les Domaines Grassa, 40% abv ($36)

This brandy is made from 60% ugni blanc and 40% baco grapes. The youngest brandy in the vatting is four years old.

The nose on this one reminds me of malt whiskey, a fruity, floral malt, but very malty. The palate retains some of those malty characteristics with fruit only around the edges. It's dry throughout and just a tad spicy in the finish. Very pleasant stuff, certainly worth trying and a good deal for the price.

Now the cask strength line (keep in mind that single distilled Armagnac has a much lower cask strength than whiskeys do). All of these are made from 100% folle blanche grapes, and they come in at 8, 12 and 15 years old. It is nice to see both cask strength expressions and age statements on French brandies as both are rare.

Chateau du Tariquet 8 year old, 51.1% abv ($43)

The nose has an almost Canadian Whisky like quality to it, with oak and a touch of medicinal sweetness. The palate has similar qualities, sweet medicine. It really is very Canadian tasting, so much so that if I had tasted blind, I might have identified this as a Canadian Whiskey (albeit one of the better ones, like Forty Creek). The finish has a short burst of fruit followed by candy sweetness.

Chateau du Tariquet 12 year old, 48.5% abv ($50)

The nose on this is light and spicy. The palate has some nice spice and ends with pepper and just a touch of melon. The spice lasts into the finish.

Chateau du Tariquet 15 year old, 46.8% abv ($56)

The nose is spicy with white wine notes. The palate is fruity with some of those malty notes I got in the Les Domaine Grassa. The finish is malty and just a tad bitter.

While all of these Armagnacs were pleasant and none was offensive, I found them all to be fairly one dimensional. There is just not that much going on in each expression. They are less spicy than many Armagnacs I've had and tend to take on a more whiskey type characteristic in chameleon like fashion, but they lack any complexity like so much Glenmorangie 10. Perhaps that is a result of the 100% folle blanche composition. The 8 year old was my least favorite, but I'm not a huge Canadian Whisky fan. I may have preferred the Les Domaines Grassa, at a lowly 80 proof, to the cask strength offerings. It had a nice malty character and would be good to sip on a warm summer day.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Chateau de Laubade Armagnac

Chateau de Laubade is one of the giants of Armagnac, one of the largest producers is the Bas Armagnac region. Laubaude sent me a sample of their XO, so I thought I would try that along with a sample of the higher end Chateau de Laubade Extra that I picked up from a friend.

The XO expression blends brandies from 12 to 25 years old and includes a mixture of Baco, Colombard, Ugni-Blanc, and Folle Blanche grapes. In the world of Armagnac, Laubade is one that most everyone hears about from the moment they get interested in the spirit. 

Chateau de Laubade XO, 40% abv ($60)

The nose is thick with fruit, apricots, raisins, apples, you name it.  The palate opens quite sweet with just a bit of spice kicking in mid palate, then fades into a nice fruit spice.

This is perfectly pleasant but not very the same way that Glenlivet is to Scotch.  Comparing it to the two other Armagnacs I've tried at this price point, I'd say the Chateau du Tariquet XO is sweeter while the K&L Domaine D'Ognoas is spicier, but both of those are more interesting than this Laubade.

Chateau de Laubade Extra, 40% ($350)

The nose on this has a sweet, woody quality with some maple syrup notes.  The palate starts very sweet with fruit juice; it's followed by pleasant, tannic, woody note and then some spice.  The spice picks up a bit more late palate and into a fairly short finish.

I have to say, I'm not overly impressed with this one.  It has some nice spice notes but a bit more sweetness than I would like on the front palate.  It's fine, but it doesn't strike me as anywhere near a $350 spirit. I found it to be pretty average.

Others really like this, so I would encourage everyone to check out the review of our frequent commenter Numen on the Cognac Forum for an alternative view. 

Friday, March 8, 2013

Adventures in Dusties: Old Fitzgerald

I do a lot of hunting for dusty bottles and have become pretty good at dating old bottles from the past thirty or forty years based on clues like tax stamps and other label issues.  My pal Adam from the LA Whiskey Society, though, is in a totally different dusty hunting league.  He specializes in identifying and dating bottles from seventy to more than one hundred years ago and has a deep knowledge of early twentieth century bottle manufacturing, including the companies that made bottles, their trademarks and the processes used to make the bottles.

Adam has posted an engaging story on the LA Whiskey Society site in which he finds a bottle labeled Old Fitzgerald 1859.  He tells the story of how he evaluated the bottle and what he determined that it most likely contained.  It's a great post, sort of a bourbon mystery, that he titles Adventures in Whiskey:  The Case of the Strange Fitzgerald.  (It's listed as episode one, so I can only hope there will be future installments about other interesting bottles).

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Dusty Thursday: Virginia Gentleman 90 - The Fox

Since I spend so much time on obscure and nearly impossible to find dusties, I thought I would dedicate a post to something more recent.  My post on the Bowman distillery made me think of Virginia Gentleman, the storied old brand from A. Smith Bowman.  Owned by Buffalo Trace, the Bowman Distillery has added a number of higher end labels and deemphasized its budget brands over the last two years.  Around 2011, it discontinued the higher proof version of Virginia Gentleman, known as "the fox" because of the fox hunting scene on the label.  Given that these were only discontinued a couple of years ago, my guess is there might still be some on the shelves, especially in the Mid-Atlantic.  The one I'm reviewing today was part of a blind tasting and dates from 2003.

Virginia Gentleman 90, 45% abv

There is lots of sweet candy on the nose.  The palate is sweet and a bit soapy with a touch of cough syrup which leads into a medicinal finish.

I poured some of this side by side with the standard issue Virginia Gentleman.  Honestly, they aren't too different.  The standard Gentleman has some bubblegum sweetness which is missing in the 90 proof version, but they are very similar and the extra five points of abv seems to make only a minor difference.

See the LA Whiskey Society ratings for Virginia Gentleman 90.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

A Truman Cox Tribute with Some Bowman Bourbons

The whiskey world suffered a huge blow recently with the death of 44 year old A. Smith Bowman Master Distiller Truman Cox.  Tributes to Cox and his work by John Hansell and Sam Komlenic at Whisky Advocate are worth a read.

The A. Smith Bowman distillery was a sleepy distillery that made Virginia Gentleman bourbon before Buffalo Trace let Truman Cox and his predecessor Joe Dangler wake it up, releasing premium bourbons and ryes under the Abraham Bowman label. 

In memory of one of the whiskey greats, I'm going to sample two of the most recent limited releases from Truman Cox's A. Smith Bowman Distillery.

Abraham Bowman Port Finished Bourbon, 7 years old, 50% abv ($70)

This most recent Bowman limited edition bourbon was finished for 8 months in a bourbon cask that was refilled with port for two years before it was used to finish this bourbon.

The nose on this is really nice with a balance of sweet candy notes and wood with some fruit and wine noes in the mix as well.  The palate is very sweet, with caramel and maple syrup, but lacks some of the balance of the nose.   It's quite hot for being 100 proof.  Adding water produces some sour, acidic notes.

I've never been much of a fan of finished bourbons, and this one doesn't convince me otherwise.  The nose is beautiful, but the palate doesn't quite keep up with it.  It's good, but not exceptional.

Abraham Bowman Limited Edition 1994, 73.75% abv ($70)

This is another limited release Bowman, the third in that series.  It was distilled in 1994 and aged over 17 years; it's hard to find outside of Virginia and Maryland.  At 147.5 proof, this is Stagg level stuff.

The nose is very similar to a Stagg (which makes sense given that it's the same mashbill and a similar age and proof), with huge polished wood notes and some candy sweetness.  It also has some good rye type notes with some light mint and spice.  The palate has a lot going on; there's wood, vanilla, anise, mint and some rye; the only flaw is an acidic note that pushes some of the other flavors to the background around mid-palate.  The finish is sweet mint and spice, like a good mint julep.  It's very hot, of course, but once it's diluted and airs out a bit, it's very nice.

Despite it's high proof, this isn't quite up to Stagg quality, but it's good stuff with lots of complexity. 

The willingness to experiment with these limited releases is a real tribute to all of the folks at Bowman, including the great Truman Cox.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Cognac Comandon

This is another from last year's K&L Exclusive series.  They originally had it priced at $120 bur recently lowered it to $100.  Given this big price cut, I thought it would be a good time to review it (though chump that I am, I bought it at the original price).

This Cognac Comandon is that most unusual thing, a cask strength, single barrel Cognac. A Borderies Region Cognac, this Comandon is 18 years old.

Cognac Comandon XO 18 years old, Barrel #524, K&L Exclusive, 45% abv ($100)

This has a beautiful nose with apples and spice and maybe a touch of mustiness like a damp, fall day.  The palate comes on candy sweet, then picks up a bit of spice and ends on a drier, spicier note.  The fruit on the nose isn't apparent on the palate.  The sweetness on the palate is sort of a generic sweetness more than a fruit sweetness.  The finish is spicy with just a slight bitterness.

This Cognac had a promising nose, but I felt the palate didn't follow through and was overly sweet.  I prefer K&L's Famille Esteve Coup de Coeur, which is $10 less than even the reduced price of the Comandon.

Monday, March 4, 2013

Burning Organs: Compass Box Flaming Heart Fourth Edition

The 2010 release of the third release of Compass Box Flaming Heart was one of my favorite whiskeys of that year.  Last year, Compass Box released a fourth edition of Flaming Heart.  The third edition of this blended malt whiskey was made primarily from whiskeys distilled at Clynelish, Tobermory and Caol Ila.  According to Compass Box, the fourth edition is composed of:

Single malt whiskies from distilleries located in the Northern Highlands, Islay, Speyside and Islands. Primarily from the south shore of Islay and the village of Brora (Highlands).
The village of Brora is Clynelish (also a major component of the third edition).  The south shore of Islay would indicate Laphroaig, Lagavulin or Ardbeg.  Of the three, Laphroaig is probably the most likely.

Compass Box Flaming Heart Fourth Edition, 48.9% abv ($90)

The nose is really nice with peat and seaweed and some malt notes behind them.  The palate is sweet peat with some fruit notes as well (canned pears) and has a nice, oily mouthfeel.  The finish has nice coastal notes.

Taking this head to head with the third edition, I'd say it's peatier but a bit less complex.  The third edition was notable for its balance and complexity.  The fourth edition is more squarely in the peated camp, with more traditional coastal notes.  My guess is that it either has more of the Islay malt or the south shore Islay they are using in place of the third edition's Caol Ila is more dominant, which makes sense given those bold, south shore Islays.  Either way, both flaming hearts are good whiskies.

While I like the romance of the name Flaming Heart, I thought I would suggest some names for John Glaser to consider on future Compass Box labels:  Smoking Spleen?  Burning Liver? Combustible Esophagus?  Come on John, throw me a bone.

See the LA Whiskey Society Reviews of Compass Box Flaming Heart Fourth Edition and Compass Box Flaming Heart Third Edition.