Monday, June 30, 2014

Blog of the Month: Bourbonr Blog

This month's Blog of the Month is the Bourbonr Blog by Blake Riber.  If you're a fan of useful information delivered in a pleasing way, Bourbonr is a fun blog to follow.  Check out their guides to Elijah Craig Barrel Proof releases, Heaven Hill mashbills, and the history of the Buffalo Trace Antique Collection. I'm a fan of the crisp, minimalist graphics paired with useful lists.

The only downside of the blog is that he's a little Pappy obsessed.  For a while, practically every other post was something about Pappy.  I get it, Pappy gets hits (and he advertises, so that matters), but most of us in the bourbon geek world are pretty done with endless Pappy chatter.  Thankfully, though, he seems to be moving away from that.

Check it out!

Friday, June 27, 2014

New Whiskey Labels: Alabama Gets a Whisky and Some Scotch

Sheep Dip, the well known Scotch blended malt, has cleared a label for an all Islay blend.

It's rare to see new independent bottlings from any of the more desirable closed Scotch distilleries, but here's a 23 year old Rosebank from Gordon & MacPhail.

It looks like Alabama is going to get it's first new craft distilled whiskey.  The John Emerald Distillery, which just opened this year, cleared a label for John's Alabama Single Malt which will be "smoked with southern pecan and peach wood."

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

The Best American Whiskeys You Can Actually Buy Part II: The Little Guys

There were a lot of good responses to my query about the best American whiskeys that you can actually buy, both in the comments and on Twitter. One reader pointed out that while the list covered the best available whiskey from each major company, there are also some good, readily available whiskeys from smaller producers, be they craft distillers or independent bottlers (aka NDPs).  I thought that was a valid point, so today, we will expand the list to good quality, readily available whiskeys from smaller operations.

Craft Whiskey

At local stores in Southern California, it's pretty easy to find the Charbay R5 and S whiskeys, though I don't know how available they are out of state; likewise the new Seven Stills Whipnose Whiskey, another California beer distillate that I really liked, is still around, and while it's distribution is probably still pretty localized, you can order it on-line from K&L.  Balcones Brimstone is another tasty craft whiskey that I could easily grab at a number of locations.

Independent Bottlers

High West is one of those producers like Four Roses that people tend to take for granted since their whiskey is excellent quality, a good value and easy to find.  I regularly see no less than five of their labels on the shelf, but for my money, their original whiskey, Rendezvous Rye, is still the best of their basic offerings.

Kentucky Bourbon Distillers has many easy to find products.  My pick of their current offerings would be the Willett Rye, distilled at MGP.  While it may not be at every store, I see it often enough to count it here.

The basic Michter's, Jefferson's and Angel's Envy lines are all pretty available, and I'm sure some folks would put them on the list, but I've never been a fan of any of their standard offerings that you can actually find on a shelf (as opposed to hard to find special releases like Jefferson's Presidential 17 and 18).  If I had to pick one from that group, it would probably be Angel's Envy Rye (and yes, that would be my third MGP rye on these lists - third and a half if you count Rendezvous Rye).

Did I miss any?

Monday, June 23, 2014

Reader Poll: The Best American Whiskeys That You Can Actually Buy

Today's question is:  What is the best whiskey from each major American producer that you can buy?  Not the best ever, not the best special release, not the best that you might win in a lottery or the best retailer exclusive barrel, but the best general release whiskey that anyone can walk into a store today and actually walk out with a bottle of (or order on-line).

Here's my list. 

Beam Suntory:  I'd say Baker's with Old Grand-Dad 114 as a runner-up; others would probably say Booker's, Knob Creek Single Barrel or Maker's 46.

Brown Forman:  Well, I've never been a fan, but if you held a gun to my head, I'd probably say Jack Daniel's Single Barrel.  

Diageo:  George Dickel 12 with Bulleit Rye as a runner up. 

Four Roses:  Four Roses Single Barrel, still one of the best deals in whiskey.

Heaven Hill:  Elijah Craig 12 and Rittenhouse 100 are easy picks.

Sazerac:  This is tough because the availability varies so much from market to market.  I'd probably say Blanton's or Old Weller Antique since the Weller 12 seems tough to find.  I haven't tried the new no age statement Very Old Barton.  Is anyone still a fan?

Wild Turkey:  Wild Turkey Rare Breed.  The 101 rye is apparently back, but I can't say I've seen it anywhere. 

What do you think?

Friday, June 20, 2014

New Whiskey Labels: New EH Taylors, Teeling and More

Buffalo Trace cleared two new labels for the E.H. Taylor series: E.H. Taylor Cured Oak, aged in barrels made from staves cured for more than 13 months and E.H. Taylor Seasoned Wood, a wheated bourbon "treated with an innovative method of bathing and natural outdoor seasoning."

The Teeling Whiskey Company cleared a label for a five year old single grain Irish Whiskey aged in wine casks.  

The St. George Distillery in Alameda, California is one of the more popular craft distilleries.  They make numerous well regarded spirits but their only bourbon, Breaking & Entering, is made from Kentucky bourbons.  This week, though, they cleared a label for St. George California Straight Bourbon, a three year old, single barrel, four grain bourbon distilled by St. George.
UPDATE: Whisky File reports that "A company spokesperson told me in an email that the label is intended for a couple of barrels that will be bottled for a pair of San Francisco bars. There is house-made bourbon aging away at St. George, but it won’t be ready for another couple of years."

And lastly, for the brandy fans, California producers Germain-Robin cleared two new labels: Augustin's Blend, distilled in 1990 and bottled in 2012 is a blend of Pinot Noir and Colombard and Cask 17 which doesn't include any details on the label.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Recent Eats: Buns, Fries, Ice Cream and More

It's been a long time since this was a food blog, but I still get asked a lot about where I've been eating, so I thought I would do a brief, totally eclectic post which actually covered Sku's recent eats.

Republique, in the old Campanile space on La Brea is phenomenal.  The food is served family style on communal tables.  I went with a big group, and everything we had was very good; about half of it was mind blowing. And Jonathan Gold is absolutely right that these are the best fries in town and that the Bernaise sauce is nearly drinkable on its own.  Other highlights were the eggs and uni on toast, duck confit, and for dessert, a chocolate cherry bread pudding.  The cocktail menu was sadly unimpressive for a restaurant of this quality.

I was so impressed that I stop by for breakfast and they have what may be the best breakfast in mid-city.  The breakfast is a much more casual affair.  You order at the pastry counter and take a seat in the dining room.  This place has wondrous eggs.  The eggs on toast with asparagus and arugula was as simple as it sounds, but it was one of the best breakfast dishes anywhere.   The scrambled eggs are so pillowy soft and creamy they are almost a custard, sliced asparagus spears were perfectly cooked with just the right crunch, add toast from their bread and the slight bitterness of arugula with sea salt and...its hard to describe how good this dish was.  On top of that they had a perfectly executed kimchi fried rice.  At the bakery items are more standard but you must try the canelles.  The burnt sugar on the outside is crisp and sweet almost to the level of  a creme brulee crust which gives way to a creamy, custardy center.  I may have enjoyed the breakfast more than the dinner menu (though I would have liked a side of those fries)  

The Bun Shop. This new Koreatown shop is one of those Asian fusion food trucks that opened a restaurant.  This one is a great concept, Chinese style bao buns stuffed sandwich-style with all manner of fillings: pork belly, bulgogi, spam, chicken katsu and more.  They are slider sized and come with an order of macaroni salad or marinated edamame.  These things are great and highly addictive.  They make a great snack anytime, but you could see how this place could become a major late night craving, though it closes at 10 pm.  This place is all sorts of fun. Go there now!

Sweet Rose Creamery.  This Brentwood ice cream shop now has a branch on Beverly across from Pan Pacific Park.  As a huge ice cream fan, I'm always happy to see more great ice cream, and this is indeed great, with fresh ingredients and creative (though not insane) flavors. They have a standard menu with silky smooth salted caramel, strong coffee and other standard flavors and a changing list of seasonal offerings.  The seasonal offerings are particularly good, utilizing fresh cherries, orange and other seasonal ingredients.  This place immediately rockets to the top tier of LA ice cream; hell, it may be the best.  They also have homemade sodas and toppings, but the ice cream is so damn good that I've never gotten around to them.

I've never had much of a wait at Sweet Rose despite the fact that people continue to line up around the block for the mediocre ice cream at Milk, just down the street.  Just as well, hopefully those Milk drinkers won't find out that Sweet Rose puts their overly sweet  concoctions to shame.  They also make great coffee using Caffe Luxxe beans.

SnowLA. I'm not sure if snow ice has reached other parts of the country yet.  I first had it in Hawaii a few years ago, but it's been in the San Gabriel Valley for a while and is starting to make in-roads in Koreatown. An ice cream/shave ice mash up, snow ice is made by placing a large block of ice cream in a shave ice-type machine; then toppings are added that would be typical for shave ice or frozen yogurt.  The thin, ribbon-like shaved ice cream at Snow LA is airy and light and melts in your mouth.  I particularly like it topped with condensed milk and dulce de leche as well as "popping boba" that burst with mango, yogurt or strawberry flavor when you bite into them.  The snow ice at SnowLA on Sixth Street is the best I've had with a really fine texture and good toppings.

Isaan Station.  Great Thai comes to Koreatown.  Alright, we're not that far from Thai Town, but still, it's rare for good Thai to be available south of Santa Monica Boulevard.  Issan Station, on Western at First (just down from the Bun Shop) brings some T-Town to K-Town with its classic Thai street food.  Really great sour sausage, loads of larps and papya salads as well as soups and noodles.  This will definitely become a regular spot for me.

The Oinkster.  The Oinkster, the fast-casual-gourmet-hipster joint in Eagle Rock recently opened a Hollywood branch.  Despite all of the praise heaped on the Eagle Rock joint, I never went because I consider Eagle Rock to be nearly unreachable by major freeways and boulevards, and for some reason, it seems to take me longer to get there than to Monterey Park.  So I was excited to finally get to try Oinkster, where everything except the beer is homemade.  My favorite here was probably the pulled pork sandwich, which had a nice Carolina style vinegar based BBQ sauce.  The burgers were nicely flavored if over cooked. The pastrami, which is house cured, was quite good, though more in the style of The Hat (thin cut, greasy, fast food stand style) than Langer's (thick cut, juicy, deli style).  The homemade condiments were very good, particularly the chipotle ketchup (and I seldom like homemade ketchup), but the fries and onion rings were lackluster.  When you call your fries Belgian, you have a lot to live up to, and these were not crispy enough and needed salt.  The breaded-style onion rings were similarly bland.  All in all, pretty good food, though expensive (but that goes with the category).  A good option for that area of Hollywood.

Eat up!

Monday, June 16, 2014

Special Announcement from the Liquor Store of the Future

To:  All Customres

From:  Sku's Liquor Silo

Date:  June 1, 2017

Hey everyone, here are the latest deals from Sku's Liquor Silo, where you always get the best deals on premium whiskey!

Our new, specially picked barrels of Old Crow are here!  We got two really great picks from the Old Crow private barrel program and they are available now for $59.99 per bottle.  We don't expect them to stick around for more than three minutes after this notice goes up, so buy now!

W.L. Weller 12.  We really lucked out on this one.  Our new allocation of the W.L. Weller 12 month old just came through and we got three bottles!  Sign up for the raffle for a chance to win one.

We're also expecting a shipment of the Eagle Rare Old No. 10 any day now.  We will email out to the group when it gets here.

WhistlePig 13 year old.  The oldest WhistlePig expression yet, this stuff is a steal for $300.  As many of you know, this whiskey is sourced from Canada, but I'm told that they are planning to open a distillery on their Vermont farm any day now.

Ardbeg will be bringing their tricked out Ardbeg Segways to the shop next week to celebrate their new special release, the Ardbeg Amadan.  The folks at Ardbeg are looking to make a more traditional style whisky with this release, so this one will be 80 proof, caramel colored and chill filtered!  Leave it to Ardbeg to always be the innovator...and I'm told the segways will be awesome (apparently Ardbeg has learned something from last year's nuclear submarine mishap).  

SPECIAL OFFER.  For a limited time only, anyone who makes a purchase with a value over $2 will get a free bottle of Old Blowhard.  No?  Okay, we will pay you $10 to take a bottle?  No?  Okay, pull a truck up to the store, and we will just fill it with this crap.  Seriously, it's been years since we ordered any, but it just keeps coming.  We don't even pay for it.  The stuff must be made of kudzu or tribbles or something. Please, please, take it away...

Order now!


Sku's Liquor Silo

Friday, June 13, 2014

New Whiskey Labels: Four Roses Limited Small Batch, Cask Strength Maker's, Willett's Own Rye, and More

Starting this week, the title New Whiskey Labels replaces the geeky This Week in COLAs.  Same information, more understandable name...and we had a lot of interesting new labels this week.

Four Roses revealed its 2014 Limited Edition Small Batch, a blend of  9 year old OBSK, 13 year old OBSV, 12 year old OESV and 11 year old OBSF.

Maker's Mark cleared a label for a cask strength expression. Interesting stuff coming from a brand that only last year was trying to drop proof.  According to the an email sent to members of Maker's ambassador program, this will be a limited release for bars and possibly, the distillery gift shop. The proof will range from 108 to 114. (Ignore the 100 proof notation on the label. Proof is one of the label elements that can be modified, so it's common to use a placeholder for the COLA).

Willett's own rye. Since KBD opened the Willett Distillery in 2012, whiskey geeks have been waiting for the first Willett release from thenew distillery (as opposed to the traditional Willett bottlings of sourced whiskey).  It looks like that moment is growing nearer as Kentucky Bourbon Distillers has released a label for a Willett Straight Rye that is "distilled, aged and bottled" by the Willett Distillery.  The whiskey is two years old and bottled at cask strength. 

Alberta Rye Dark Batch. Numerous independent bottlers have been doing good business bottling rye from Alberta Distillers and selling it in the US.  Given that Beam owns the distillery, it makes sense that they would finally get in on the action with a rye, but unlike the straight ryes bottled by companies like WhistlePig and Masterson's, this rye is blended with "high-rye bourbon & a touch of sherry."

In the world of Scotch, William Grant cleared a label for a Ladyburn 40 year old.  Malt from the long closed Ladyburn Distillery is some of the rarest whiskey out there so expect this to cost a pretty penny.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Belgian Whiskey

As in the United States, there's craft whiskey distilling going on all over Europe these days, so I thought I'd try a few malts from Belgium.

Belgian Owl, 3 years old, bottled July 4, 2011, 46% abv ($80)

Belgian Owl is a 3 year old, bourbon cask aged single malt made by the Owl Distillery in GrĂ¢ce-Hollogne, Belgium. This has a strong juniper/gin nose.  The palate is much lighter with malt and hay.  The juniper from the nose comes in toward the end. The finish is peppery, spicy.  This is quite light without much in the way of malt character.  It's not terrible, and I sort of like the gin notes, but I certainly wouldn't buy a bottle of it.

Duvel Distilled 2013, 40% abv

Since I've been into distilled beer lately, and Belgium is famous for its beer, I thought I'd try a Belgian distilled beer.  Duvel beer is made by the Duvel Moortgat Brewery in Breendonk, Belgium.  To make Duvel Distilled, Duvel used the Filliers Distiller, known for its well regarded gin.  The Duvel Distilled (not called whiskey on the label) was aged for six years in bourbon and sherry oak and produced 5,000 bottles as well as some minis; it was only sold in Belgium. It's not clear if they used one of their regular beer recipes or made a special recipe for the distilled version.  From what I understand, the Duvel Distilled has somewhat of a cult following in Belgium and each release sells out very quickly.

The nose on this has a fruity beer note then a crisp white wine with some malt notes.  On the palate, it's very light without much character at all.  It's got a vague alcohol taste, but that's about it.  There aren't any hops or really any flavor.  It's hard to believe this was aged in six years unless it was in seventh fill barrels or something like that.  I guess this just goes to show that cult-like followings are not always based on quality.

Well, let's just say I'm not exactly enamored of my first tastes of Belgian whiskey.  Hopefully, they will keep working on it.

Big thanks to DB for these hard to find samples.

Monday, June 9, 2014

Very Olde St. Nick Tasting with the SoCal Whiskey Club

Very Olde St. Nick is a whiskey label that was bottled by Julian Van Winkle and Kentucky Bourbon Distillers exclusively for the Japanese export market back in the early 2000s.  Back then, the Japanese market was much more interested in super-aged bourbons than the the American market. These bourbons and ryes likely came from some of the same sources that went into the legendary Willett and Black Maple Hill bottlings from that era.  The ryes are most likely to be from the old Bernheim or Medley distilleries; the bourbons could be from any number of sources.

These are extremely rare.  Even in Japan, they haven't been available for years, except for the occasional dusty. I've never seen one in the flesh.

For the first time that I know of in the US, there will be a public tasting of the entire line of Very Olde St. Nick whiskeys.  The Southern California Whiskey Club is hosting two tastings in which they will run through the entire line up; the first tasting, later this month, will cover the ryes.  In August, a second meeting will taste the bourbons.  The club was formed last year, and the great thing about it is that anyone can join, and meetings are open to all comers, first come, first served. 

The Very Olde St. Nick rye tasting will be Sunday, June 22 at 7:00 pm at Far Bar in Little Tokyo.  The fee is $59 which includes a half ounce sample of each whiskey and food.  The whiskeys being sampled in that meeting are:

  • Summer Rye, 80 proof
  • 15 year Ancient Rye, 86 proof
  • 16 year, Rare Perfection Rye, 86 proof
  • 17 year, Ancient Rye, 103.7 proof
  • 18 year, Ancient Rye, 104.6 proof
 You can sign up for the tasting on the Southern California Whiskey Club website.

I doubt a tasting like this will come around again anytime soon, so even if you're not in the Southern California area, you might want to consider attending.

Note:  Sku is not affiliated with the Southern California Whiskey Club and receives no compensation from them.  He just thinks this is a really cool tasting.

Friday, June 6, 2014

This Week in COLAs: A New Old Forester, New Malts and More

Brown Forman cleared a label for Old Forester 1870, a 90 proof bourbon with no age statement.

Lowland Scotch distillery Auchentoshan cleared two new labels: the 1988 Wine Cask Finish, a 25 year old aged for 8 years in bourbon casks followed by 17 yeaars in Bordeax casks an earlier version of which appears to have been previously released in Europe, and a second batch of the Virgin Oak, a no age statement malt aged in virgin oak.

Bowmore cleared the label for the second release of their Devil's Casks.  Like the Bowmore Devil's Casks first edition, it is a 10 year old malt aged in first fill sherry casks.

Check out Old Grumpy Bastard.  Maybe he's grumpy because his whiskey is 72.5% grain neutral spirits.

Lastly, a note to all of those companies who source whiskeys.  Here is the way to label your whiskey. It's really not that hard.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Kilkerran Sherry Cask

A companion to the Kilkerran Work in Progress Bourbon Cask, which I very much enjoyed, is this sherry cask Kilkerran.  Like the bourbon cask, it's distilled at Glengyle and bottled at 46% abv.

Kilkerran "Work in Progress" #5 Sherry Cask, 46% abv ($63)

The nose has light peat and ocean breezes.  The palate has light peat and coastal notes with just a touch of sweetness and some acid.  It's the coastal notes which last into the finish with some brine and seaweed.  There's very little sherry in evidence; at most a trace of fruit and sweetness in the late finish.

Tasting this side by side with the Bourbon Cask, both are good, but I prefer the Bourbon Cask, which seems to be more balanced and have more going on. 

Monday, June 2, 2014

Distilled Beer: White Christmas and Whipnose Whiskey

Since I'm such a big fan of Charbay, the hopped whiskey distilled from bottle ready beer, I thought I'd sample a few more distilled beers.

Anchor White Christmas, 45% abv ($30)

Anchor is, of course, a brewery and a distillery, so it would make sense for them to distill some beer.  This release for the 2013 holiday season was a distillation of their Christmas Ale.  It's not labeled as a whiskey, likely meaning that it was never stored in oak, just distilled and bottled.  It was initially released at $60, but K&L has it marked down to $30 (like any holiday gift that didn't sell).

The nose is very new makey with a touch of hops. The palate has mild new make notes with just a touch of hops.  The finish has peppermint and beer. This has some nice flavors but the pure new make qualities dominate the beer notes.  I'd pass on this one.

Whipnose Whiskey, Seven Stills Distillery, 47% abv. ($36 for a 375 ml bottle)

Whipnose Whiskey, from Seven Stills Distillery in San Francisco is a distillation of Pacific Brewing Laboratory's Whipnose IPA.  Seven Stills distilled the beer without adding anything to it.  The beer includes five malts (2-Row barley, Crystal 15, Rye Malt, Aromatic Malt (Amber 50) and Belgian Cara-Pils), four types of hops (Simcoe, Centenial, Cascade, Chinook) and maple sugar. Seven Stills then ages it for six months in 5 gallon new charred oak barrels.

The nose is full of beer; spicy and hoppy. It's very similar to Charbay's R5.  The palate is also beer heavy with a discernible hops; it even has a prickly mouthfeel as if it were slightly carbonated.  It definitely has a young taste to it, a bit raw and new makey, again not unlike Charbay's R5 and S whiskeys, but the strong hoppy taste mitigates some of that youth. The finish is exactly what you would expect after a good IPA, slightly bitter and a bit hoppy.

I'm not sure I've ever had a whiskey that tastes this much like beer.  If you're a fan of IPAs or of the Charbay whiskeys, I'd definitely recommend it.  It's got some rough edges, but it's bursting with flavor.

I really like the flavor of distilled beer.  I'm hoping we will see more an more of these on the market.