Wednesday, July 31, 2013

George Dickel 14 for Park Avenue Liquor

I've always been a fan of George Dickel, the "other" Tennessee Whiskey overshadowed by it's more popular neighbor Jack Daniel's.  While Dickel 12 remains one of the best deals around, I've often wondered why we never see any special releases from Diageo's only American whiskey distillery.  It would be great to taste older or higher proof expressions.

Well, we finally have one.  Dickel apparently has a new barrel selection program, and Park Avenue Liquor is offering a 14 year old Dickel exclusive selection at 53% abv.

George Dickel 14 year old, Park Avenue Liquor Exclusive, 53% abv ($90)

This stuff smells exactly as you would expect.  It's got all those mineral and lumber notes that are typical in Dickel along with some extra wood.   The palate starts in with chocolate, then gets some of those mineral notes, some nice wood and a touch of maple syrup at the end.  The finish is probably the weakest part of the tasting; it's a bit hot with oak and a vague mineral note along with some citrus.

This is exactly what I've been waiting for, a high proof, more aged Dickel that hits all the right notes.  I can honestly say this is the first new bourbon release I've been excited about in quite a while.  It's a bit pricey, but it's still available, and you know how the market is these days, so I would buy now if you're interested.

Monday, July 29, 2013

The Age Old Question: How Important is Age?

It's a question that has generated debate among whiskey enthusiasts for years.  How important is the age of your whiskey?  The default enthusiast answer, one that I've given many times myself, is that older isn't necessarily better, just more expensive.  We can all ring off examples of whiskeys that we like better at a younger age as well as examples of older whiskeys that were caustic and over-oaked. But is this really a rationale or are these examples just our own confirmation bias, anecdotes that stick with us because they support our preexisting beliefs?

The whiskey industry is predictably unhelpful in this matter.  They want us to believe that their super-aged bottlings are worth the high prices, but they also claim age really isn't that important whenever they drop an age statement.

But how important is age really?  I thought I would dive deeper into the question by looking at how important it is to me, statistically speaking.  When I look at my own ratings on the LA Whiskey Society site, I've given 92 A or A- grades out of 740 whiskies I've rated.  I'm pretty stingy with my A range, reserving it for the whiskeys that truly blow me away.  I broke down those top grades by age to determine the percentage of A/A- grades for different age statements (I didn't count NAS whiskeys). Here are my results:

  • Age 0-5 years:  3% A/A-
  • Age 6-10 years: 5% A/A- 
  • Age 11-19 years: 13% A/A- 
  • Age 20-29 years: 22% A/A- 
  • Age 30-39 years: 25% A/A- 
  • Age 40 and over: 60% A/A-
I was quite surprised at how consistent this result was.  I expected some correlation to age and the very best whiskeys I'd tasted, but I didn't expect the correlation to be so direct.  The older the whiskey gets, the more likely it would be to be something I really loved (and remember, only 12% of the 740 whiskeys I've rated on the site received an A range grade).

Now, this doesn't mean that there aren't very good young whiskeys.  Even among the zero to five year olds, I gave 3% A range grades, and of course it doesn't mean their aren't some well aged stinkers.  There is a 39 year old that I awarded a C+.

And this little chart is far from a scientifically controlled study.  Some of these tastings were blind and some weren't.  The sample probably has some bias as well; I'm more likely to make the much more considerable investment in a very old whiskey if I hear something positive about it, whereas I don't mind taking a chance on a cheaper, younger whiskey, even if I have no idea what it's like, which may mean that I'm sampling a better crop of whiskeys at the higher price points (which tend to be older).  And of course, I tend to like old whiskey and probably have a higher tolerance for the woodiness that comes with age than some other whiskey fans.

Even with these caveats, when I look at these numbers, it's hard for me to deny the importance of age at least for my own palate.  While older may not always be better, the older a whiskey is, the more likely it is to be truly outstanding.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Blog of the Month: My Annoying Opinions

My Complete List of Whiskey Blogs now numbers over 400...yes there are more than 400 people who are writing (or have written in case of the dormant blogs) about whiskey on-line.  And I seem to find more on almost a daily basis.

As I've mentioned before, these blogs run from the brilliant to the bizarre.  Since I've got this list, I figured I'd dedicate one post a month to highlighting a whiskey blog that I find interesting or amusing or bizarre or all three.

I'll kick off this month with a new but high quality blog:  My Annoying Opinions.  MAO is written by an anonymous, Minnesota teacher who goes only by "Snookums" on the blog, but he's been known to post frequently on Scotch forums under a different moniker.

The blog mostly consists of Scotch reviews with occasional posts about food or other things.  The writing is pithy and occasionally sarcastic...and not really that annoying, and the ratings are refreshingly uninflated.  It's a refreshing read from someone who knows his (or her) stuff.  Check it out!

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Jefferson Presidential 21 Bourbon

Jefferson Presidential Select 21 year old is the newest bourbon in the Jeffeson's line, a non-distiller produced bourbon owned by Castle Brands.  The original Jefferson Presidential Select line of 17 and 18 year old bourbons were wheated bourbons, the first stocks of which came from Stitzel-Weller.  The 21 year old, however, is a rye recipe bourbon from an undisclosed distillery.

Jefferson Presidential Select 21 year old, 47% abv, Batch 3 ($125)

The nose is very nice with lots of polished wood notes showing some serious age.  The palate is very dry with oak, mint, pine and a chewy mouthfeel, though it is a little flat by late palate.  The finish has menthol and pepper.

This is good stuff, though it feels a bit diluted.  At cask strength, I bet it would be great. As with almost everything these days, it's hard for me to recommend this based on the price to quality ratio, but I suppose that high prices for good but not great bourbon are the new normal, and we just have to get used to that.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Navarre Pineau des Charentes Vieux

Pineau des Charentes is a fortified wine made by adding Cognac to grape juice.  I was first introduced to it by Nicholas Palazzi's Paul-Marie Fils Pineau des Charentes which uses aged Cognac as opposed to the typical unaged eau de vie.

I very much enjoyed the Cognac I tried from Navarre, so I was excited to see they had a Pineau  on the market. Like the Paul-Marie Fils, the Navarre Pineau uses aged Cognac.  A six year old, 1982 Cognac was added to the wine.  The Pineau was then aged an additional 30 years and bottled in 2012.

Navarre Pineau des Charentes Vieux, 17% abv ($70)

This Pineau has some fantastic, complex flavors with heavy sweet syrupy notes rushing in first, followed by the aged Cognac with its earthy notes.  The flavor combination works well, but it's far too sweet for me to take it neat, cutting it is a necessity.

Mixing one part Pineau with two parts club soda makes about the best spritzer I've ever tasted.  The two to one ratio mellows the sweetness without compromising any of the earthy qualities.  It's insanely refreshing and very light, the perfect drink for a summer afternoon.

Monday, July 15, 2013

New ADI Certification Program to Differentiate between Craft Spirits and Blends

The American Distilling Institute (ADI), the largest trade association for craft distillers, yesterday announced a new program for certifying spirits as either "Craft Distilled Spirits" or  "Craft Blended Spirits."  The ADI defines the terms as follows:

  • Craft Spirits are the product of an independently owned distillery with maximum annual sales of 52,500 cases where the product is PHYSICALLY distilled and bottled on site. (emphasis in original)
  • A Craft Blender is independently owned and operates a facility that uses any combination of traditional and/or innovative techniques such as: fermenting, distilling, re-distilling, blending, infusing and warehousing to create products with unique flavor profiles. Craft blending is not merely mixing high-proof spirits with water or sweetening. Many craft distillers both distill and blend products and must identify them as such on their TTB approved label.
The terms used in these definitions are further defined on the ADI website.  

This is an important step by ADI to provide some clarification to consumers of craft spirits, and kudos to them for excluding those brands who buy sourced whiskey and just add water.  While it's not quite as blunt as the totally honest whiskey labels I'd envisioned, it's a very good step for consumers.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Kabab Mahaleh

The first thing you notice when you walk into West LA Persian kabob house Kabab Mahaleh is the bread making.  A baker is stationed to the left of a giant cylindrical oven.  He plops down a large pile of dough with a consistency that appears similar to The Blob.  He then pats it into a thin sheet and it goes into the oven, pizza style.  When done, the huge sheets of bread, long, flat and sprinkled with sesame seeds are laid to cool on a rack before being served, still warm.

The bread, known as sangak, is chewy with crispy spots and is one of the highlights of Kabab Mahaleh, but most everything is great.  The kabobs are moist and nicely spiced.  The ground beef and chicken are similar to kefta kabobs at Lebanese restaurants.  The regular chicken and salmon are all moist and delicious and all the meat is perfect wrapped in a greasy piece of sangak and sprinkled with sumac and a leaf of lemon basil.

Kabab Mahaleh
8762 W. Pico Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA  90035
(310) 275-3000

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Elijah Craig 20

I though I'd make this week a Heaven Hill trifecta. Elijah Craig 20 year old was first released in 2011 as a gift shop exclusive, but saw wider release last year (the gift shop bottlings have a blue label while the wider release has a brown label).  I'm not sure if there is more of it in the pipeline.  Like the 18 year old, it's a single barrel offering so quality can vary.

Elijah Craig 20, 45% ($130)

The nose on this has huge oak notes along with traditional bourbon corn.  The palate has oak, orange rind, some spice and dry wood notes, getting drier as it goes down.  By the finish, you're left with a very dry peppery wood note.

This is a good, solid bourbon, though it's quite heavy on the wood, and those more sensitive to wood might not like it.  I liked it much better than the Evan Williams 23, but for the price, I'd go for this year's Evan Williams single barrel.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Evan Williams 23 Year Old

In a time when whiskey age statements are dropping like flies, Heaven Hill is one of the few whiskey distilleries anywhere that is adding older age statements to its regular line up.  Within the last two years, the distillery introduced Elijah Criag 20 for the domestic market and Evan Williams 23 for the overseas market.  The Evan Williams 23 is available domestically but only at the Heaven Hill Visitor's Center, and only for $400, which is a pretty wild price for a 23 year old.  I tried the Evan Williams 23 as part of a blind tasting on Twitter (thanks to @Bourbontruth for setting it up).

Evan Williams 23 year old, 53.5% abv ($400)

The nose is hugely oaky with caramel and toffee.  The palate set me back with an acid attack.  It's sharply acidic, then yeasty.  With a bit of air, caramel notes emerge, but it's still really sour.  The finish gets back to some of the candy notes but still has that acidic sharpness.

I really didn't care for this.  The nose is nice, but the palate is way out of balance with the heavy acidic notes.  This was a gift shop bottling, and I've heard that some of the export bottlings are better, but this one is seriously flawed, and for the price, that's a real crime.

Monday, July 8, 2013

Evan Williams Single Barrel 2003

I've never been a huge fan of the Evan Williams Single Barrel series, but I always like to try a new whiskey.  As per usual, this year's release is just shy of ten years old, having been distilled in 2003.

Evan Williams Single Barrel 2003, Barrel 170, 43.3% abv ($25)

The nose is very grainy with light caramel.  On the palate, it's very corny with just a touch of spice.  The finish is peppery and slightly soapy.  This is a well done bourbon which emphasizes the corn in the mash.  The rye notes are so subtle that it almost has some wheater like qualities.

This is definitely one of the better Evan Williams Single Barrels I've had (and I've had most of them), and the good thing about this release is it's always a good deal and easy to find.


Monday, July 1, 2013

High West's Barreled Boulevardier

High West is both a distiller and a bottler/blender.  They've also done something fairly unique in bottling barrel aged cocktails.  I'm a big fan of High West's 36th Vote Barreled Manhattan, so I was excited to hear they were releasing a second barrel aged cocktail.  A Boulevardier is a bourbon Negroni, a combination of bourbon, bitter liqueur (usually Campari) and sweet vermouth.  The High West version combines two parts bourbon, one part Vya sweet vermouth and one half part Gran Classico, a Swiss amaro (using more bourbon and less bitter than is typical).  The bourbon is a six year old low-rye recipe bourbon from MGPI in Indiana.  It is then aged in bourbon barrels for four to six months. 

High West sent me a sample of the Barreled Boulevardier along with a non-aged version to compare.

High West, The Barreled Boulevardier, 36% abv ($50)

The Boulevardier has a pleasant herbal flavor.  The botanicals from the vermouth mix well with the bourbon.  The bitterness of the amaro is much more understated than in most Negronis I've had (which are usually made with Campari).  It really doesn't hit until the finish which has just a slight bitterness mixed in with the herbs.

Unaged, this was too sweet for me, but the barrel aging seems to mute the sweetness and bring out the spice.

This is a very nice cocktail and definitely worth trying for the cocktail fans out there.