Friday, June 28, 2013

Goings on Around Town

  • If you're looking to have a smoky weekend, check out the LA Scotch Club's Peatin' Meetin' at UCLA, probably the best whiskey tasting event in LA.  It's this Saturday from 5:30 -10:00 pm and features music, barbecue and more peated whiskey than you'll note what to do with. Cost is $100 per person.
  • Adam at the LA Whiskey Society (the other LA whiskey group) has published a new chapter in his series Adventures in Whiskey.  This one, The Peculiar Pikesville from Prohibition, is definitely worth a read. 
Have a great weekend!

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Brandy de Jerez: Sherried Brandy

If you like sherried Scotch, you should try Spanish Brandy de Jerez.  The Spanish brandy is required to be aged in sherry casks which impart many of the same notes that are found in sherried whiskey. Today I taste some popular Spanish brandies. (Also see my previous review of the Navazos Palazzi Single Olorso Cask)

Gran Duque D'Alba Solera Gran Reserve, 40% ($45)

Purportedly aged for 12 years, the nose on this brandy is pure, sweet dried fruit with the faintest hint of sulfur.  The palate is full of very sweet sherry, dried fruit covered with a teaspoon of sugar, a slight orange rind note comes in late palate which makes it interesting.  There's a hint of oak in the finish.

This stuff is exceedingly sweet, so much so that I'd guess it has added sugar, which is fairly common in brandy, but it's also exceedingly drinkable.  I wish it was higher proof and not quite as sweet, but I also finished it pretty quickly.  At 40%, it just slides down.  It's not complex, but it's fun.

This reminds me of a tasting I did with a former chemist turned distiller.  He was going on about the various element of whiskey and other spirits and their effect on the product when he asked what effect sugar had on a spirit.  Several people threw out guesses having to do with molecular structure and bonding, but his answer was, "It makes stuff taste good."  And so it does.

Cardenal Mendoza Gran Reserva, 40% ($30-$40)

This is another very sweet one.  The nose is sweet sherry.  The palate is very sweet but without too much else.  A slight earthy note comes in later and gives it a bit of a boost into the finish, but overall, it's just a one-note sugar bomb.  If you're looking for something sweet and drinkable, I prefer the Gran Duque D'Alba.

Lepanto Pedro Ximenez, 40% ($45)

The Lepanto brand is owned by Spanish spirits company Gonzalez Byass, which also owns Tio Pepe fino sherry.  Their brandies are made from 100% Palomino grapes.  This expression is aged for 12 years in Tio Pepe casks and then three years is Pedro Ximenez sherry casks.

The nose on this is tangy, dry sherry.  The palate, though, is quite sweet with lots of bold fruit notes, including raisins and stone fruit.  The finish has that same, slightly tangy fruit note.

This is a bit of a one-note, but it's a good note, another very drinkable sherry.

Lepanto Oloroso Viejo, 40% ($60)

Made by Spanish spirits company Gonzalez Byass, this is a 15 year old aged for ten years in in Tio Pepe fino sherry casks and five years in Oloroso casks. It is made from 100% Palomino grapes.

The nose on this is a very dry sherry.  The palate follows suit with a very dry sherry note with some oak and earthy flavors coming in at the end and into the finish with a very slight bitterness.  It's a bit more interesting than the first two, though not quite as drinkable.

Well, this was a good contrast in sweet and dry Brandies de Jerez.  This is definitely a spirit I'm going to be trying more of.  The earthiness of brandy aged in sherry seems to be a winning combination.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Domaine Boingneres Armagnacs

Today I try three Armagnacs from the well regarded Domaine Boingneres in Bas-Armagnac which specializes in Folle Blanche Armagnacs though they also grow Ugni Blanc and Colombard.  Their releases tend to be cask strength, though not all say that on the bottle.  (After a single distillation and aging, cask strength for Armagnac is typically quite low compared to whiskey or even Cognac).

Domaine Boingneres Reserve Speciale, 48% abv ($95)

Fresh oak and wood spice dominate the nose.  The palate is sweet with lots of oak and spice and a touch of mint.  The finish has bananas.  This is a very nice, very drinkable brandy. 

Domaine Boingneres Cepages Nobles, 48% abv ($110)

The nose is almost gin like with juniper and some anise.  The palate also has those gin like qualities along with peppery notes, coriander and other botanicals, including some distinct rye whiskey type spiciness.  The finish has sweet anise and some earthy bitterness.

This one is all over the place with notes reminiscent of gin, absinthe and rye whiskey.  It's nice, but not something I would go out of my way for.

Domaine Boingneres 1984 Folle Blanche, 24 years old, 48% abv ($200)

This 100% Folle Blanche Armagnac has a nose of spice and honey.  The one develops quite nicely on the palate.  It starts with a very brief sweet brandy note, which is quickly subsumed by a dry spiciness with clove and pepper, moving then to oak and a chewy mouthfeel.  The finish is earthy oak with a tinge of bitterness.

This is a very nice, complex Armagnac with great spicy and earthy notes.  Unfortunately, the price is very high compared to comparable Armagnacs which makes it hard to recommend without qualification.  Still, it's good stuff. 

For being from the same producer, these are very different brandies.  I didn't care for the Cepages Nobles, but the Reserve is wonderfully drinkable and the 1984 Folle Blanche is delicious and complex.

Domaine Boingneres is definitely one of the Armagnacs that's doing it right and worth seeking out.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Totally Honest Whiskey Labels

With all the talk lately about non-distiller producers and the lack of transparency in the whiskey industry, I thought I would try to help out.  Below, at absolutely no cost, I have provided some labels that whiskey companies can use to try and be completely truthful with their products.  Just cut and paste the text to the back of your whiskey label and you will be on the road to a more honest and virtuous marketing strategy.

Label 1:  Sourced Whiskey

We should have thought this through more, but we didn't. The truth is, we have no idea what we're doing. We thought it would be fun to start a distillery but we have no idea how to make whiskey so we bought some. We wanted to get something special, something made to our specifications using our preferred mashbill, but the market is tight, and it turns out that whiskey is expensive, so we just bought the cheapest stuff we could find and then watered it down as much as possible to take the edge off. We put a cool picture on the label which refers to our state's proudest landmark to distract from the fact that it's two year old whiskey from Indiana. If enough people buy this whiskey we'll probably give up on distilling altogether because why bother if we can sell two year old 80 proof whiskey for $40 a bottle.

Label 2: White Whiskey

The product you are about to purchase is a handmade, artisan product made by two innovative pioneers who want to change the world of whiskey, but it sucks. You see, we had all these ideas about making the greatest whiskey ever, but we had to take out second mortgages on our houses, and our investors are calling on a daily basis, and we can't even pay the phone bill at this point, so we have to sell something. So, please, please, buy this unaged crap. You'll never drink it, but it will look nice on the shelf. Maybe you can make a cocktail with it or unclog your drain. Hell, we don't care what you do with it. We just need money like really, really fast. If enough people buy this crap, maybe we'll be able to afford to buy some barrels to make some actual whiskey.

Label 3: Large Scale Marketer

We think you're an idiot. No, we know you're an idiot. You see that guy with a beard on the label with some ridiculous sounding name like Ezekiel BeJesus. We made him up. Completely. And then we drew a picture of some old dude with a beard. We don't even know where this whiskey came from...and we don't care. We pay a bottler who buys the whiskey from the distillery or maybe from another bottler. Whatever. We pay them to bottle it. Then we pay a design firm to design the label and tell a story about how Ezekiel BeJesus was an old timey outlaw or some such shit, and then we slap on the label, and it ends up in a supermarket to be purchased by the lobotomized chimpanzees that are our customers. Oh, and if you like it, please try the cinnamon and banana flavors.

I'm hoping some companies will take up my offer and use these totally honest labels as their first step toward whiskey industry transparency.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Pennypacker Bourbon

Earlier this year, I posted a review of a Heaven Hill bourbon bottled in Scotland and then imported back into the US.  Here's another example of that phenomenon, but from Germany.  Borco is a German company that bottles a Heaven Hill bourbon under the label Pennypacker Bourbon.  In the past, this has only been for sale in Europe, but now they are exporting it to the US.  The folks at their importer sent me a bottle for review.

The label has lots of Americana on it, and the press materials talk a lot about Abraham Lincoln, but while there's a picture of a bearded gentleman on the bottle, it's definitely not Honest Abe.  Oh well, maybe the Europeans don't notice these details.  Let's see how it tastes.

Pennypacker Bourbon, 3 years old, 40% abv ($22)

The nose has a distinct anise note, like an LDI rye, then turns to mint.  The palate is very minty and mild but then fairly dull and watery.  By the finish, there's not much left other than a vaguely minty taste.

This has very little flavor or character.  It's watery with just a touch of mint.  Tasting it blind, I might even guess that it was a blended whiskey.  Let's just say I wouldn't recommend it.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Indie Bottled Bourbon: Breckenridge Bourbon

There has been a lot of scuttlebutt lately about bourbon bottlers who don't distill their bourbon but buy it from other distilleries and bottle it.  In Scotland, these are called independent bottlers.  Chuck Cowdery calls them Non-Distiller Producers or NDPs.  Given all the attention they've been receiving, I thought I'd sample a couple of  independently bottled bourbons this week.

Breckenridge Distillery is an actual distillery (meaning one that actually distills) in Breckenridge, Colorado.  The current Breckenridge Bourbon is a sourced Kentucky bourbon made from 56% corn, 38% rye and 6% barley aged from two to six years old (note that their website says two to three years but they told me that was out of date).  Breckenridge is making their own bourbon but they haven't marketed any of it yet. Once theirs is ready, they plan to blend it with the sourced whiskey and eventually transition to using only bourbon made at the distillery.

Breckenridge Bourbon, 43% abv ($40)

This smells like a high rye bourbon with strong briny/minty rye notes. The palate follows suit with lots of mint and spice rounded out by some sweet caramel notes and a tinge of banana, like a good Bananas Foster. The finish is spicy/briny.

I'm so used to all of the LDI sourced bourbon that it's nice to have something from Kentucky.  This one has more balance than most of those LDI bourbons though it still has strong rye notes.

My only complaint about this is the price which is quite high.  At $20 it would be a great deal, at $30 worth a try, but $40 seems a bit steep.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Springbank Calvados Finish

I'm continuing my peat theme for the week with something special.  The Springbank Calvados Finish spent six years in bourbon casks and another six in Calvados casks.  It was distilled in April 2000 and bottled last fall.

Springbank Calvados Finish, 12 years old, 52.7% abv ($110)

The nose has malt and fruit with wisps of smoke.  The palate has serious peat, like you knock you over peat.  It opens with some light sweet malt character and then the peat comes in waves, getting sharper and sharper, building until it's like a mouth full of ash (in a good way) which is pretty much what the finish is. To the extent there is Calvados influence it's only lightly suggested with a tinge of apple on the late palate and in the's very subtle.  Overall, it tastes more like Octomore than a typical Springbank.

This might be the best new whisky I've had so far this year.  If you've got $100 or so to spend, pass up the Ardbog and grab a bottle of this stuff.  Luckily for us, there seems to be plenty around.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Smokin' Good Deal: Smokey Joe Islay Malt

After my disappointment with the Ardbog yesterday, I thought I would taste some nicely peated alternatives for the rest of the week.

Good, affordable Scotch is hard to find, especially of the peated variety.  Each year, it seems that prices get higher while quality gets lower.  Ten years ago Lagavulin 16 was $40, now it ranges from $60 to $80...and it was better ten years ago.  Ardbeg, once the benchmark for great peated whiskey, is fast becoming the poster child for the disappointing gimmick.

But there is still good peated whiskey to be found and without breaking the bank.  Here's one for all you peat heads on a budget.

Smokey Joe is a vatting of Islay single malts produced by Angus Dundee.  It has no age statement but does state that it is not chill filtered.  In the US, it's available at the Total Wine chain for $35.

Smokey Joe Islay Malt, 46% ($35)

The nose has a sweet, syrupy peat to it.  The palate has ashy peat notes with a sweet background.  It's somewhat perfumy but not in an overwhelming or offensive way.  It's got a very nice peaty finish with some subtle wine notes.

This is a very solid peated whiskey that is highly drinkable with a strong finish.  I actually like this a bit better than the Ardbog, and at $35, it's hard to beat the quality to price ratio.

Monday, June 10, 2013


Unless you've been living under a whiskey rock, you know that the latest Ardbeg special release came out last week.  Ardbog is a vatting of Ardbeg aged for ten years in Mazanilla sherry casks and the regular bourbon cask ten year old.

I've been quite cynical about the special releases, particularly after last year's disastrous Galileo.  Let's see what this year's release is about

Ardbeg Ardbog, 52.1% abv ($100)

The nose is peaty with a malty background.  On the palate it comes across as very young with some almost new makey notes followed by bold, sweet peat.  The finish is like licking a big slab of peat.  Okay, I've never actually done this, but you know what  I mean.

This is a bold whisky with sweet, peaty notes that tastes much younger than its ten years.  In fact, tasting blind, I pegged it for closer to five years old.  It's definitely a step up from the Galileo, but while it's decent, it's not particularly special and is certainly not something I'd recommend for the $100 price tag.

See the LA Whiskey Society reviews of Ardbog.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Bourbon Law: Bourbon + Rye = What?

News came out recently that Wild Turkey is planning to release a blend of bourbon and rye.  In the ensuing discussion on one of the forums, this question came up:  If you add rye to bourbon, but the final mashbill is still at least 51% corn, can you call it bourbon?

The answer is no.  Under the federal regulations, the definition of bourbon includes the mashbill of at least 51% corn, the new, charred oak barrels, etc.  It also states that the definition includes "mixtures of such whiskies of the same type."  27 CFR § 5.22(b)(1)(i).  Rye is not the "same type" of whiskey as bourbon, so once you add rye whiskey, it's no longer bourbon.

So what is it?

Well, if both whiskeys are straight, it's a "blend of straight whiskeys."  27 CFR § 5.22(b)(5)(i).  If both whiskeys are not straight, there is no real category that covers it, other than the generic "whiskey."

Of course, the company could also describe the whiskey composition in the title, such as "Joe's Whiskey, a blend of bourbon and rye."  This is what High West did with Campfire, another undefined category of whiskey.  The heading on the label simply says "High West Whiskey" but there is a subheading that explains that the whiskey contains straight rye, straight bourbon and Scotch.  This makes sense, since it informs the consumer of what is actually in the bottle, and that, after all, is the intent of all of these labeling regulations.

Monday, June 3, 2013

The Complete List of Whiskey Blogs Keeps Growing

I've continued to update my Complete List of Whiskey Blogs (being a blogger means never being bored) and the list is now includes over 300 whiskey blogs!  In addition, I now have a section at the end which features informational websites which are not quite blogs, such as databases, pod casts and other media (note that those are not included in the blog count).

In my first go round at the list, I started with blogs I know and mostly engaged in link following, but my updates are now done through voluminous Google searches, so there are now a lot of blogs on the list that are probably unknown to most of my readers.

There are some really interesting and bizarre whiskey blogs out there.  Interested in some Catholic theology with your whiskey?  Whiskey Catholic is the blog for you.  But if that's not your thing, maybe you're an avid cycler or a fan of fine time pieces.  Yup, there's a whiskey blog for that.

 My current nominee for best named whiskey blog is the very short-lived, but excellently titled Daddy Drinks 'cuz Baby Cries.

Every once in a while, I'll post some updates of particularly notable or fun new blogs I find.