Thursday, December 31, 2015

Bourbon Stories

We all love great whiskey, but I've always said that the whiskey you really remember is going to be the one you enjoyed with friends or on an especially important occasion - the birth of a child, the time you toured a distillery with your best friends or your future spouse. But good whiskey can also be memorable when it served as a comfort in hard times.

In response to one of my posting on Very Old Fitzgerald, Bill Cowern sent me the following story of his memories of drinking some Very Old Fitz:

In 1967-1968, I was a marine helicopter pilot in northern I corp. South Vietnam. I was fortunate enough to get a R&R to Hawaii in February of 68, to meet up with my wife. On the flight back to Vietnam, we stopped to refuel in Guam and I bought a bottle of Very Very Old Fitzgerald for $15 or $20 in the duty free shop there on base. I had always remembered it as being labeled 25 years old but it could be that 50 years has dulled that memory. Regardless when I returned to the base I was assigned to, in Dong Ha, I opened the bottle when we were under mortar attack one night and could not believe what a smooth soothing whiskey it was. Like nothing I had ever tried before, or since. We had slit trenches under our wooden hooches and trap doors in the floors to allow us to be below ground during attacks. It became a routine for four of us that we would have a half jigger of the bourbon whenever we were under attack. After a while we used to joke about how we wished they would attack. The bottle lasted about one month, but I, obviously, have never forgotten it. Thank you for resurrecting the memories.  

Thanks to Bill for sharing his story, certainly one of the best bourbon stories I've had the pleasure of hearing.

Happy New Year to all and here's to having great (but maybe less dangerous) bourbon stories in the future!

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Cadenhead's Heaven Hill...or is it?

Heaven Hill seems to be one of the only bourbons bottled by independent Scotch bottlers. A few years ago, I reviewed an Alchemist bottling of Heaven Hill. Now, I'm tasting a Cadenhead's bottle of 17 year old Heaven Hill.

Interestingly, this bottle is 17 years old and was bottled in July 2014. If it went directly from cask to bottle, that would mean it was distilled in between August 1996 and July 1997. The Heaven Hill distillery, though, burnt down in a massive fire in November 1996, so if this is from Heaven Hill, it must have been some of the last distillate made from the Bardstown Distillery.

After the fire, Heaven Hill contracted out distilling to the other big Kentucky distilleries, including Jim Beam and Brown Forman. In 1999, they purchased the Bernheim Distillery in Louisville which now distills all of Heaven Hill's whiskeys.

The label on this bottle states that it was "Distilled at Heaven Hill Distilleries in Bardstown, Kentucky" so presumably, that's what it is.  Of course, it could have been distilled earlier than 1996 and stored in steel tanks, and since whiskey can always be older than the stated age, it could be older than 17 years, though it would be odd to use a lower age statement on a single barrel bottling (assuming that this is a single barrel. It's labeled "Individual Cask," whatever that means.)

Heaven Hill 17 year old Cadenhead's, 58% abv

The nose is heavily peanutty. The palate is oaky with light peanut notes trailing off into the finish with brown sugar. Hmm, this is very Beamy tasting with that peanut nose. In fact, it tastes much more like old Beam, say an older Booker's, than pre-fire Heaven Hill. Either way, it's quite good, and who doesn't love a bourbon with a little mystery?

Monday, December 28, 2015

Parker's Heritge Collection Malt Whiskey

There was some surprise when Heaven Hill announced that this year's edition of Parker's Heritage Collection would be an eight year old malt whiskey. Who even knew that Heaven Hill was aging malt? What's next year's release going to be? Spelt whiskey? Triticale? Are they just teasing those of us who are salivating over the idea of a ten year old, cask strength rye?

I didn't make much effort to try this one, but when Josh from The Whiskey Jug showed up at a tasting with a bottle, I figured I'd give it a shot.

Parker's Heritage Collection Malt Whiskey, 8 years old, 54% abv ($100)

This stuff smells like vanilla scented soap. The palate has oak and cardboard and is slightly sweet. That's pretty much all there is to it, and that same oaky cardboard note carries into the finish. It's boring with no complexity or depth of flavor.

I've often thought the problem with American malt whiskeys is that malted barley is too subtle a grain to withstand the new, charred oak required by American regulations. This seems to confirm that supposition. That being said, lots of other folks seem to like it (including The Whiskey Jug), so as always, different strokes for different folks.

Thursday, December 24, 2015

The Sku Awards: Stupidest Whiskey Person

Our final Whiskey Award is for the Stupidest Whiskey Person. It's sort of like a reverse MacArthur Award, because why should only geniuses get awards?

Today's winner is Randall Johnson from Fort Collins, Colorado. Randall paid $400 on a Facebook site for a bottle of current release Old Weller Antique. Before deciding on the award, I interviewed Randall to see if he had the enhanced level of stupidity that would make him worthy of a Sku Award.

Randall, what made you pay $400 for a bottle of Old Weller?

Well, I was interested in bourbon because I saw an article on Bloomberg News that said it was really hot right now. I like hot things, but I also want whatever hot thing I get to be the very best, so I needed to do some intensive research. Luckily, I found out that on Facebook there are a lot of places to purchase bourbon from some very knowledgeable people. The best bourbon, of course, is Pappy Van Winkle. Very few people know it, but this Old Weller is actually pretty much the same as Pappy Van Winkle 10 year old. If you look on the label, you can tell because they both say "Frankfort." It also has a UPC code!

Okay, but why didn't you just go to a liquor store and buy a bottle?

This isn't just any Old Weller; it was bottled specially for one of the liquor stores in Kentucky, where the bourbon was actually made. It's a very precious bottle, and the guy who sold it to me even let me pay extra for him to put some parafilm wax over the top to prevent oxidation.

And how did you like it?

It is the first and by far the best bourbon I've ever had! It tasted really bourbony. I don't have any notes on the finish because there is still some left in the bottle.

What do you think your next bourbon purchase will be?

The funny thing is that after I bought the Weller, I received all kinds of great offers for amazing stuff. There's one guy who said he could get me a bottle of Angel's Envy for $500. Another one said he had something called Barterhouse that he would let me have for $750. There are so many great deals to be had, and it feels so great to be part of a community of like minded enthusiasts!

Well, there you have it. Congratulations to Randall and all of our Sku Award winners!

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

The Sku Awards: Stupidest Whiskey Trend

The stupidest whiskey trend of the year is investing in stupid, whiskey related crap on Kickstarter. A new glass utilizing "A process of combining fluid dynamics modeling and bio-mimicry," a piece of wood that will enhance your whiskey through "accelerated transpiration through capillary action," a charred oak tumbler to age your whiskey while you drink it - this is just some of the whiskey paraphernalia that is asking for your hard earned money on Kickstarter.

Here's some free investment advice. If the whiskey you're drinking is so crappy that you need all of this junk to make it taste decent, maybe you should be investing in better whiskey.

Tomorrow: the Stupidest Person in All of Whiskey!

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

The Sku Awards: Stupidest Whiskey Labels

Following label releases on the TTB website, I see a lot of stupid labels. I'm normally against those awards where everyone wins, but in this case, there really are no losers...except for the whiskey drinking public. All of these labels get the Sku Quadruple Gold Medal!!

This label for Stray Rye Whiskey is utterly stupid. It says it was "Founded in Illinois," but is "made from a 17th century recipe out of Pittsburgh." Pittsburgh, by the way, wasn't founded until the mid-18th century. Oh, and that 17th century recipe just happens to be 95% rye and 5% barley.  Hmm, that sounds familiar for some reason.

Disaster whiskeys are always stupid. In the past, we've seen whiskeys that bravely survived snow storms and tornadoes, but Hooker's House cleared a label for what may be the first earthquake whiskey. Hooker's House Epicenter is composed of the whiskeys that "hung precariously" and "mico vibrated" during last year's 6.0 earthquake in Northern California. Mmmmm, precariously hung whiskey.

You can usually count on producers to know what their whiskey is but apparently, not always. The Panther Distillery in Minnesota cleared a label for a...well, I'm not sure. It's labeled Saint Paul Rye Whiskey, but the description says it's "Three-year-old cold weather aged rye corn whiskey bourbon." What is "rye corn whiskey bourbon"? I don't know, and the back label just furthers the confusion referring to it as a rye whiskey and then stating "Distilled from a Bourbon Mash." What is this stuff? How did it get approved by the TTB? Can someone please get their shit together.

The label for Old Scenter Bourbon is mind numbingly stupid.  It says it is based on an old family recipe. How unique! Of course, they never tasted the old stuff, but they smartly imagined that it was "the perfect combination of corn, rye, and barley mashed together then aged in wood casks long enough." How long is long enough? Well, they knew it would probably have to age for "years at a time," but...oh screw it, just bottle some six month old MGP and call it a day.

And perhaps nothing epitomizes modern whiskey label stupidity more than Old Dominick, an 8 year old bourbon released by a three year old company to celebrate its 150th anniversary.

Tomorrow: The Year's Stupidest Whiskey Trend

Monday, December 21, 2015

The Sku Awards: Stupidest Bourbon

Everyone is always saying that there just aren't enough whiskey awards. To help cure this horrible shortage, all this week I will be presenting the Sku Awards. While most awards recognize greatness in whiskey or large entry fee payments, the Sku Awards celebrate stupidity, though I am happy to take entry fees. We will get started with the coveted Stupidest Bourbon award.

Stupidest Bourbon: John E. Fitzgerald 20 year old

This is possibly the most competitive category in whiskey today. From Kentucky Owl to Blood Oath to Blade & Bow, it really is the Golden Age of Stupid Bourbon. But just when Diageo thought it had cornered the market on stupid, Heaven Hill blasts in with this tiny vial of diluted Stitzel-Weller juice for $300 that comes in its own tomb.  There's no question, this is the stupidest bourbon of the year, possibly of the decade.

Congratulations to Heaven Hill!  Please contact me for your shelf talker and feel free to add this award to your promotional materials.

Tomorrow: The Year's Stupidest Whiskey Labels

Friday, December 18, 2015

New Whiskey Labels: Ichiro's, Craft Whiskeys and More

This week's most interesting new labels from the federal TTB database:

A label cleared for Ichiro's Malt & Grain Whisky by Ichiro Akuto of the Chichibu Distillery in Japan. It appears to be a blend of whiskies from multiple sources.

Independent Scotch bottler Alexander Murray is a major supplier to American grocery stores. They cleared labels showing that they have some pretty old mystery hooch including a cask strength 1962 Highland Malt (but why would you finish a 52 year old malt in sherry for a year? Well, we can probably guess.) and a 1964 Highland Malt. They also cleared some name brand stuff including a 1995 Mortlach, a 1990 Bladnoch and a 1999 Dalmore, among other things.

Ohio craft distillery Tom's Foolery cleared a label for a single barrel Bottled in Bond corn whiskey finished in an applejack barrel.

Another craft distiller, Las Vegas Distillery, released a label for a 10 grain whiskey. Hmm, I'm not sure I can name ten grains, but from their other labels released at the same time, it's probably got rye, corn, oat, millet, spelt and kamut (an ancient wheat) among others.

Note:  The fact that a label appears on the TTB database does not necessarily mean it will be produced.  In addition, some details on the label, such as proof, can change in the final product.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Brandy Gifts

On Monday, I recommended some whiskey gifts. Now, it's on to brandy.

One of the best spirits I tasted this year was the Eric Bordelet Selection Calvados distilled by Henri Bernard Beudin, an 18 year old monster of an apple brandy with huge notes of oak, apple and spice. At $115 to $130 for a half bottle, it's expensive, but if you're splurging for a brandy, this is the one to get.

At an easier price point is Copper & Kings' Butchertown Brandy ($60), a powerhouse brandy from a Kentucky producer that is blending sourced brandies.  They also have a lower proof American Small Batch Brandy ($35) and an apple brandy ($40), though I haven't tried either of those yet.

The Domaine de Maouhum and Domaine de Jean-Bon Armagnacs from K&L that I reviewed last week are amazing deals and an easy gift for any brandy lover. Go Maohum for spice and Jean-Bon for fruit.

Happy holidays!

Next week: The Much Awaited Sku Awards!

Monday, December 14, 2015

Whiskey Gifts

Happy holidays!  Here are some of my favorites of this year's new releases for your imbibing friends and family.


The Whisky Exchange had a big hit with a couple of sherry aged single malts from Signatory: a 1998 Laphroaig ($180) and a 1996 Clynelish ($120).  Both were excellent, and the Laphroaig might have been my favorite whiskey of the year.

For lovers of sherried Scotch without the peat, it would be hard to do better than this 1990 Glenfarclas  from K&L ($170). A vatting of two Oloroso sherry casks, this malt is balanced and highly drinkable. Honestly, I'm shocked there is any of this left, but they seem to have plenty.

Another K&L pick I really liked was their release of the Michel Courveur Peaty Overaged Malt ($90), distilled in Scotland, blended in Burgundy.

American Whiskey

My favorite of this year's special releases (that I was able to taste) was the Russell's Reserve 1998 from Wild Turkey, but it's expensive ($250) and hard to find.

For quite a bit less, I was pleasantly surprised by Old Forester 1897 ($50), a Bottled in Bond bourbon that's dry and spicy.

For those of you in the LA area looking for a great deal, Everson Royce in Pasadena bottled a very tasty Old Weller 107 ($30); a really good wheated bourbon at a good price is a rarity these days. UPDATE: Apparently this is now sold out. Sorry folks.

In the rye world, I enjoyed the Redemption Barrel Proof Rye ($100) which is one of the stronger MGP ryes on the market.


This year saw two fantastic new books about American whiskey that would make great gifts. Bourbon Curious: A Simple Tasting Guide for the Savvy Drinker by Fred Minnick ($15) is a deep dive into the world of bourbon. The book goes further than the average bourbon book with detailed information about the grains, water and wood that make bourbon great. Bourbon Empire: The Past and Future of America's Whiskey by Reid Mitenbuler ($18) is a fun romp through bourbon history. Mitenbuler has a knack for storytelling and illuminating historical parallels with the whiskey world of today.

Coming Wednesday:  Brandy Gifts

Friday, December 11, 2015

New Whiskey Labels: Maker's, Octomore and More

This week's most interesting new labels from the federal TTB database:

Maker's Mark cleared a label for Maker's Mark Private Select finished in a "custom recipe of oak staves unique to each barrel." A number of options for the staves are included on the label with check boxes; presumably allowing them to check the various woods that were used for any particular barrel. It looks like this could be a retailer private barrel program, which I don't believe Maker's has ever had before. 

Remy Cointreau cleared a label for a new edition of Octomore from Bruichladdich. Octomore 7.4 is 7 years old, peated to 167 ppm and aged in virgin oak.

Benromach cleared a label for a 35 year old.

New Riff Distillery issued a new label for OKI Antique Barrel Finish Bourbon, a 9 year old MGP bourbon finished in a new charred oak cask.

Breckenridge Bourbon cleared a new label for a blend of straight bourbons, indicating the bourbons i the blend come from more than ones state.

Copper & Kings released a label for Craftwerk, a brandy finished in 3 Floyds Dark Lord Russian Imperial Stout barrels.

Note:  The fact that a label appears on the TTB database does not necessarily mean it will be produced.  In addition, some details on the label, such as proof, can change in the final product.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Armagnacs: Jean-Bon & Manohum

Around the holidays, I always struggle to find great spirits that are actually on the shelves and won't cost a fortune. For the past few months, K&L has had some great Armagnacs that seem to be flying under the radar, so there are plenty on the shelf. They are a series of brandies from Domaine de Jean-Bon and Domaine de Maouhum. Both are small producers located in the Bas Armagnac that use Baco grapes.

Domaine de Maouhum 1987, 28 yo, 46% abv ($73)

The nose is woody with some bourbony caramel and lots of oak. The palate has a nice acidic fruit note, like slightly sour grapes. Going out it has a chewy mouthfeel. The finish is heavy on the menthol with some earthy, spicy notes. TThe finish was a bit too heavy on the menthol but otherwise, a great brandy.

Domaine de Maouhum 1983, 42% abv ($100)

The nose is dry and spicy with ginger. The palate is spiced cider or mulled wine. It comes on sweet with cinnamon, ginger, clove and lemon.  On the palate, the dry, spiciness of the nose returns along with oak and menthol notes. This is very nice and very balanced.

Domaine de Jean-Bon 1990, 25 yo, 45% abv ($80)

The nose is oaky with some light fruit. The palate is sweet and fruity with just a touch of spice toward the end which leads into a spicy finish. This is fun, really drinkable stuff, sweet, fruity and delicious.

Domaine de Jean-Bon 1987, 28 yo, Bas-Armagnac, Baco, 45% ($100)

The nose has huge oak notes along with bourbon and red wine. The palate opens sweet with cane sugar syrup then develops fruit notes with a bit more acid, then some juniper. The finish has light fruit notes with some wood on the palate. It's interesting that the nose can be so intensely woody while the palate retains so much sweetness. 

Domaine de Jean-Bon 1979, 36 yo, 45% abv ($130)

This is another heavily oaky nose, this time even more so and with less fruit. The palate is oaky with a light sweetness and a dry, ashy mouthfeel, like an old red wine. Toward the end, some fruit notes emerge and the finish has a fruity nose and some spice on the palate. Going through these three, you can really see the interplay of oak and fruit over time. The 1990 was fruit forward, the 1979 dry an oaky, and the 1987 is a perfect balance of the two.

These were all very good. The Maouhums are spicier and the Jean-Bons are fruitier. As usual with Armagnac, these are fantastic deals, and they are there for the taking. In addition to these, K&L brought in a Maouhum XO for $50 and a number of other Jean-Bons, including a 1974 ($140), a 1995 ($60) and a 1999 ($50).

Disclaimer: I purchased the 1987s (which sparked my interest in these); the others were samples provided by K&L. 

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Ham Tasting

American country hams are tragically underappreciated. Few people know that across the mid-south, we have purveyors of cured hams comparable in quality to Italian prosciutto and Spanish jamon. Last year, I wrote about my experience buying a leg of Newsom's Ham Country Ham.

Recently, I was lucky to join a group of friends in a country ham tasting, featuring five hams from Virginia, Kentucky and Tennessee.  Below are the hams we tasted ranked from my fifth to first place pick. In parenthesis I've listed the number that corresponds to the picture above.

5.  Edward's Virginia Smokehouse, Surry, VA (#5 in the picture). The aroma was very smoky with some bacon notes. Texture is very dry. Palate was very salty and very smoky. There were fat on edges but it was fairly lean overall. It has a funky finish and is a bit peppery. This one had more smoke and salt than pork flavor. It was very dry and the only one I really didn't care for.

4. Kite's Country Hams, Wolftown, VA (#2). This one had a funky, gym sock aroma. The texture was moist, medium salty, with not much smoke; it was fairly fatty. It was more funky on the aroma than the palate. It had a nice fresh taste and a soft mouthfeel. It was pretty good stuff.

3. Col. Bill Newsom's, Princeton, KY (#3). This is the ham I wrote up last year. The aroma was bacony. The texture was medium between dry and moist.  On the palate, it was medium salty and very smoky with lots of bacon flavor. It was nicely veined with medium funk. Bacon notes ruled this one; it is very tasty and was a favorite of a number of the tasters.

2. Benton's, Madisonville, TN (#1). This had a nice fresh aroma, dry texture and was fairly salty. There wasn't much in the way of smoke. It was nicely marbled and had some good funk. I thought it was very well balanced, not too extreme in smoke, salt or funky notes.

1. Father's Country Hams, Bremen, KY (#4). This one has a strong aroma of BBQ ribs. The texture was melt-in-your-mouth soft. On the palate, it was fairly salty, not as smoky as the nose with a light funk. It was fairly lean. Most importantly, this one had a beautiful, pure pork flavor. It was super-rich, almost like liver in its richness and was packed with flavor. This one was a transcendent ham for me, about as good as any ham I've eaten.

I have to say, this was probably one of the most fun tastings I've ever done. Hams 1 through 3 were all fantastic. I guess I'm not as big a fan of the Virginia offerings.

If you're not up for a whole ham, many of these producers sell slices or chunks of their great hams. It's a fantastic holiday gift for any pork lover.

Monday, December 7, 2015

New Releases You Don't Need

Given that we are fullt into the holiday season, I thought I would make this easy and review a bunch of new whiskey releases that you don't need to buy.

Old Forester Birthday Bourbon 2015, 12 yo, 50% abv ($80)

I've often been critical of this annual release from Brown Forman (though I did like last year's). This year's release isn't bad. It's got oak and maple syrup on the nose, a touch of acid and vanilla on the palate and a light vanilla finish. It's inoffensive and decent, but why on earth anyone would pay $80 for it, I don't know, especially when you can still get the Old Forester 1897, which is better, for cheaper.  

Maker's 46 Cask Strength, 54.45% ($40 for 375 ml; available only at the distillery gift shop)

I was a big fan of the regular Maker's Mark Cask Strength, and I generally like Maker's 46, so I was excited to try this cask strength version of the barrel stave finished Maker's 46. The nose is floral, earthy and fruity. The palate comes on with sickly sweet candy notes, like Kool-Aid. The sweetness dissipates after a few seconds but there's nothing much left, or whatever is left is so dominated by the initial sweetness that it's undetectable. The finish tastes like artificial sweetener. Yuck. Stay away!

Jack Daniel's Single Barrel Barrel Proof, Barrel 15-4962, 66.1% abv ($65)

Jack Daniel's finally gives us a barrel proof offering with this new version of the single barrel. The nose starts with bananas foster and ends with rotten bananas. The palate is banana liqueur and the finish is banana candy. Surprisingly, it's not too hot for the high abv. Well, JD delivers the bananas, which I suppose their fans must like. I don't much like bananas, so I thought this one was worse than the Maker's Kool-Aid.

For those of you who love to buy every special release, I just saved you $185 (plus tax) and who knows how much on the secondary market!  You're welcome.

Thanks to The Whiskey Jug and Steve Neese for the samples.

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

More Angelic: Angel's Envy Cask Strength 2015

The marketing firm for Louisville Distilling Company was kind enough to send me a sample of the new edition of Angel's Envy Cask Strength.  As with the regular Angel's Envy, this is bourbon finished in port casks. This year, they are releasing 7,500 bottles of the Cask Strength. It is the first new release since Bacardi purchased the company.

Angel's Envy Cask Strength, 2015 Release, 63.95% ($170)

The nose has honey and some nutty notes. The palate opens with rich butterscotch. It develops some spice and then turns a bit medicinal. The finish is where you get some port notes which blend well with the caramel. Water brings out some soapy notes.  I prefer it neat - while it's high proof, it doesn't feel hot or alcohol heavy.

This one has improved a lot since it first came out. An earlier batch I tasted was dreadful, but this one is quite good with a nice richness and complexity to it.

Thanks to Aaron at Ro-Bro Marketing for the sample. 

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

More on Copper & Kings Brandy

My post about Copper & Kings Butchertown Brandy led to a lot of questions and speculation in the comments so I reached out to Copper & Kings' Joe Heron, who had joined the comments, for some answers. There's also a lot of good information on their website. According to Joe:

  • The brandies are sourced from multiple producers in Washington, Oregon, California, Idaho, Ohio, Michigan, and New York State.
  • All of the brandies are distilled in pot stills (note that this would exclude brandies from the big California producers).
  • The blend is 75% aged in bourbon casks and 25% aged in medium char American white oak
  • They use a solera type system with a new blend each year which uses a portion of the previous year's blend. They are up to their fifth blend right now.
  • They purchased brandies at 3 to 12 years old and continued to age them. Current bottlings contain brandies from 54 months to 13 years old, though most of the blend is around 8 or 9 years old. 
  • Sources for pot stilled brandies have pretty much dried up.
  • Their apple brandy is pot distilled, aged in bourbon and sherry casks and the youngest brandies in the blend are four years old.
  • None of the brandies are chill filtered or use any sugar, caramel or boise.

Thanks to Joe for being willing to share information about his brandies.

Monday, November 30, 2015

Behold His Majesty John E. Fitzgerald Very Special Reserve

"Stunning." "Amazing." "Mind blowingly awesome!" These are just a few of the comments in my notes reviewing the box that contains Heaven Hill's new John E. Fitzgerald Very Special Reserve Bourbon. It's a huge cube of polished wood with a giant keyhole on either side; the wood's beautiful reddish hue is reminiscent of the color of the bourbon. The box opens outward to reveal the tiny rectangular bottle sitting on a pedestal over an engraved plaque. As you open it, a trumpet fanfare plays in your head. It's as if you had just opened the Lost Ark or the final horcrux. The bottle itself is thick glass with a heavy, metal stopper that feels like it could kill a rhino. It almost makes you forget how much they charged for this half bottle.

So what is the whiskey inside this lovely tomb?  Does it matter? Will anyone drink it? Well, it's none other than 20 year old Stitzel-Weller. According to Heaven Hill, this wheated bourbon was distilled in 1992, Stitzel-Weller's last year of production, and moved to steel tanks in 2013. It's bottled at 90 proof in a 375 ml bottle for a suggested retail price of $300.

The nose is fantastic, super oaky and dry like some of the best old Stitzel-Wellers.  Unfortunately, the palate doesn't follow suit. It's fruity and sweet with some cocoa, but it's lacking the strong oak notes and complexity of the nose. The flavors are diluted with a watery mouthfeel.  The finish is very light and a bit fruity. It's too bad that it didn't live up to the promise of the nose.

So this a good, not great bourbon. But kudos to Heaven Hill for finally producing a bourbon that people can be honest about when they declare, on illegal bourbon selling sites, that "the value of the item is in the collectible container, not its contents."

Thanks to the great Chris Stevenson for being one of the few people on the planet willing to say, "Hey I just got a Fitz 20, let's drink it."

Friday, November 27, 2015

New Whiskey Labels: Laphroaig, Rebel Yell & Booker's

This week's most interesting new labels from the federal TTB database:

A label cleared for Laphroaig Lore which the label describes as "our richest expression ever." It appears to be NAS.

Luxco cleared  label for a ten year old Rebel Yell.

Jim Beam cleared labels for the first six 2016 batches of Booker's

Note:  The fact that a label appears on the TTB database does not necessarily mean it will be produced.  In addition, some details on the label, such as proof, can change in the final product.

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Dusty Thursday: Wild Turkey Cheesy Gold Foil 1988

More Thanksgiving Turkey! Today our dusty is a 1988 Wild Turkey 12 year old. Bottles of the 101 proofer from this era are affectionately known as CGF or Cheesy Gold Foil for obvious reasons.

Wild Turkey 12 year old, 1988, 50.5% abv

The nose is caramel with lemon rind and cinnamon. The palate is a Christmas spice pack with ginger, brown sugar, orange rind and clove; the late palate has some nice oak. It gets minty and medicinal on the finish.

This is certainly a nice bourbon but not one that I think is exceptional. The palate is nice, but the finish is a bit heavy on the mint and medicinal notes. From what I understand, it's very popular among Wild Turkey fans, but I've never been as big a fan of old Turkeys as some folks.

Thanks to Brendan Prouty for the sample.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Thanksgiving Turkey: Russell's Reserve 1998

I'm a sucker for a Wild Turkey post on Thanksgiving, so I figured this would be as good a time as ever to review the new Russell's Reserve 1998. This was distilled in 1998 and bottled in 2015, but according to Josh at The Whiskey Jug, it was moved to steel containers in 2014.

Russell's Reserve 1998, 51.1% abv ($250)

This has a beautiful nose with caramel, honey and plenty of oak. The palate carries those same notes along with tannic and earthy notes which lead into an earthy, peppery finish.

As someone who has been pretty disappointed with the recent output from Wild Turkey, I'm pleased to report that this is really good stuff.  It's probably the best release since the American Spirit (which I reviewed for Thanksgiving six years ago).

It's definitely on the expensive side, and I'm sure it will be hard to find, but it's one of the best of the bourbon special releases I've had this season (and I'll be running down a bunch of the others next week).

Thanks to Dan Walbrun for sharing his bottle.

Monday, November 23, 2015

Kentucky Brandy: Copper & Kings Butchertown Brandy

Last week I tasted a single malt from Cognac. Today, it's a brandy from Kentucky. It's become a topsy-turvy spirits world.

Copper & Kings is a brandy distillery/blender in Louisville, Kentucky. Their brandy has recently appeared at K&L in California, so I thought I'd try one of their offerings (there's lots of background about the distillery on K&L's blog). While they do have a distillery, Copper & Kings is currently bottling sourced brandies aged in a solera style. They have three aged brandy offerings: Small Batch Brandy ($35), Butchertown Brandy ($60) and an apple brandy ($40). Today I'm tasting their Butchertown Brandy which is cask strength and non-chill filtered.

Copper & Kings Butchertown Brandy, 62% abv ($60)

The nose is spicy with light fruit like a good Cognac. The palate opens with sweet grapes and cocoa. Midway through, it takes on spice which gets stronger through the finish which is spicy on the palate but fruity on the nose. It's got great flavor, though you can definitely feel the high abv. Where it really shines though is with a splash of water. Water brings out a fuller fruit on the nose and a more rounded palate which synthesizes the fruit and the wood. It was tasty without the water, but with the splash, it tastes like one of those great single cask Cognacs that K&L has brought in over the last few years.

The K&L blog called Copper & Kings the next big thing. I'm a big fan of the K&L blog, but I can understand some people's skepticism since sometimes it seems like everything they write about is described in glowing terms. In this case though, I'd have to agree. This is fantastic stuff and at $60, it's a great price for the quality you're getting. Brandy fans, and fans of good spirits generally, should definitely give this one a try.

Friday, November 20, 2015

New Whiskey Labels: Interesting Scotch Blends

This week's most interesting new labels from the federal TTB database:

A label cleared for a 35 year old, sherry aged blended Scotch from independent bottler the Creative Whisky Co.

There are lots of private labels approved for use in individual bars and restaurants, both of which are pretty standard stuff, but here is an interesting one. It's a 41 year old Scotch blended grain whiskey made by Compass Box for Bern's Steak House in Tampa, Florida. According to the label, the whiskey is a blend of five 41 year old casks of Girvan and Strathclyde.

Note:  The fact that a label appears on the TTB database does not necessarily mean it will be produced.  In addition, some details on the label, such as proof, can change in the final product.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Cognac's Single Malt: Brenne & Brenne 10

Brenne is the project of whiskey blogger Allison Patel who writes The Whisky Woman blog. A few years ago, she began marketing this French single malt distilled by a Cognac producer on a Cognac style Alembic still. It is aged in new French Limousin oak and finished in Cognac casks.

Brenne has no age statement but averages 7 years old. Patel recently extended the Brenne line with a ten year old expression. Thanks to Brenne for sending me these samples. 

Brenne, 40% abv ($55)

Brenne is a single cask whiskey, but there was no cask number on my sample.

The nose has massive fruit candy notes, like a Jolly Rancher. The palate is a weird fusion of Cognac and malt. It starts with strong fruit notes, almost like a Calvados, then transitions to dry notes with a touch of malt. The finish is lightly malty and, later on, a bit soapy. This is very unique stuff, unlike any single malt I've had before, but it doesn't work that well. The nose and early palate are aggressively fruity, but in a sort of artificial fruit flavor sort of way. The late palate and finish are dry but without much character.  

Brenne 10, 48% abv ($100-$120)

The new Brenne 10 is a marriage of four casks that have been aged in new oak, Cognac casks or a combination thereof.  Josh Feldman has a detailed interview with Patel about the new product on The Coopered Tot.

The nose on the ten year old has very light malty notes. The palate is lightly sweet with some brandy like earthiness which develops into a peppery finish. This one is nice and worth a try. It has more complexity and the flavors come together more cohesively.

Well, between the two of these, I definitely prefer the ten year old. However, I have heard there can be a lot of variation between different casks of the standard Brenne, so some may be better than others.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Benromach Imperial Proof

Speyside Distillery Benromach recently released a new bottling, Benromach Imperial Proof.  Bottled at 57% abv, the 10 year old Imperial Proof is the same as the Benromach 100 Proof sold overseas, but of course, 100 proof in Britain is 57% so they had to change the name for the US market.

The folks at Gordon & MacPhail, who own Benromach, sent me a sample of the new Imperial as well as the standard Benromach 10 to compare.

Benromach 10 years old, 43% abv ($50)

The nose has nice malty notes. Palate is similarly malty with sea air and coastal notes at the end and a slight soapiness on the finish. This is a solid if straightforward malt.

Benromach Imperial Proof, 10 years old, 57% abv ($80)

The nose on this one has a measure of peat and some sulfur. The palate is lightly peated with sweet, syrupy notes. The peat comes back on the finish.

The Imperial seems to be more than a higher proof version of the regular ten year old.  The regular is malt-forward whereas the ten has more peat and sulfur notes. Both are good, and it's nice to see a distillery put out a new high proof expression with an age statement.


Friday, November 13, 2015

New Whiskey Labels: Ichiro's Malt, Pendleton, Glen Moray and More

This week's most interesting new labels from the federal TTB database:

Hood River Distillers cleared a label for Pendleton Director's Reserve, a 20 year old expression of their Canadian blend.

Glen Moray cleared a label for their non age statement peated whiskey which has been available overseas.

A label cleared for a new Japanese Whiskey from the Chichibu Distillery:  Ichiro's Malt The Floor Malted.

A label also cleared for anCnoc blas, which appears to be a high proof NAS anCnoc.

For brandy fans, a number of new Darroze Armagnacs cleared, including a 1941 Chateau de Laree.

Note:  The fact that a label appears on the TTB database does not necessarily mean it will be produced.  In addition, some details on the label, such as proof, can change in the final product.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

PM Spirits Pineau de Charentes

Our last day of PM Spirits samples from Nicolas Palazzi is a Pineau de Charentes. Palazzi has been on a one man mission to popularize Pineau de Charentes, the spirit made from combining brandy with barely fermented juice made from grapes with their skins, stems and seeds left on. Usually, they are unaged, but Palazzi likes to age them. This one is younger than his previous release. It consists of a one year old Grande Champagne Cognac made with Ugni Blanc grapes which was aged for an additional four years after it was mixed with the juice.

PM Pineau de Charentes, JEP 01, 4 yo, 17% abv ($50)

The nose has a strong lychee fruit note. On the palate, it's crisp and acidic with green grape notes. It's not nearly as sweet as many Pineau. It trails off with a sort of musty grape note that's pleasantly funky.

I really like this one. For being as young as it is, it doesn't have any of those youthful, new make type notes, and whereas I usually prefer Pineau chilled, I like this one at room temperature where I can really taste all of its elements. This stuff is just delicious; it's the type of thing I could definitely develop a craving for. It would be a great apertif before a holiday dinner.

A big thanks to Nicolas Palazzi for this week's samples. I continue to be impressed at Palazzi's knack for consistently bringing in high quality, unique spirits.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Domaine d'Aurensan and Chateau Leberon Armagnacs

Today I continue my week of French spirits with some new Armagnacs brought to us by Nicolas Palazzi. These are from two small estates in the Tenareze Region that are owned by the same family. 

Domaine d'Aurensan 20 year old, 42.5% abv ($210)

This one is a blend of four casks from 1973, 1978, 1981 and 1990. The nose on this is fantastic. It's very bourbony with caramel notes and oak. Whereas the nose says bourbon, the palate says rum, opening with big, sweet molasses notes. Those yield to earthy notes more typical of Armagnac that trail into the finish, which also adds some anise.

In addition, Palazzi is offering a 1975 Aurensan for $425 (funny, he didn't send a sample of that one).

Chateau Leberon 1986, Single Cask, 44.7% abv ($260)

The nose on this has earthy Armagnac notes along with some sulfur, like you'd fine in a sherry cask. On the palate, this is a much more traditional Armagnac than the Aurensan with dry, earthy notes. The late palate brings out some of that sulfur, briefly but sharply, and the finish returns to earthy Armagnac.

Palazzi is also bringing in a 1964 Leberon at $750.

I really liked both of these, though I'd say I slightly preferred the Domaine d'Aurensan which was a bit bolder in character. That being said, they are quite expensive, and there are Armagnacs of comparable quality that are quite a bit cheaper.

Thanks to Nicolas Palazzi for the Samples.


Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Beudin/Bordelet 18 year Calvados

The next in our series of tastings from Nicolas Palazzi is a Calvados. Eric Bordelet is a Normandie based producer of wonderful apple and pear cider (seriously, go buy one of his ciders right now! You won't be disappointed.). Bordelet is also sitting on a bunch of aged Calvados that should be heading our way soon. This one was selected by Bordelet but distilled by Henri Bernard Beudin. It's a single cask distilled in 1997.

Henri Bernard Beudin Calvados, Eric Bordelet Selection, 18 years old, 53% abv ($115 for 375 ml)

The nose on this is immense with apples, wood and caramel, like a giant caramel apple...with wood. It's one of those noses that fills the room. The palate is deep, thick and intense. It's got strong woody notes, acidic apple, some spice - a nice touch of anise, and even some dusty bourbon and chocolate notes. It trails off with dried apple that lasts into the finish, which is just pure apple. The flavors are intensely concentrated, and the mouthfeel is thick and syrupy. It's strong for its proof. Water brings out the acid and pure apple flavors.

While I haven't written that much about it, I'm a big Calvados fan, and this is the most intensely flavored Calvados I've ever had. Not everyone will love it. It's bold, woody and on the dry side, but its intensity and complexity make it a true stand-out. Yes, it's expensive, but in this case, I'd say it's worth it, a must have for any Calvados lover.

From what I understand, this is available on the East Coast (and on-line at Astor Wines) but not in California yet. Hopefully, we will see it soon.

Thanks to PM Spirits' Nicolas Palazzi for the sample. 


Monday, November 9, 2015

New Cognac from PM Spirits: Gourry de Chadeville Sauternes Aged

This week I'll be drinking brandy. New York based importer/distributor Nicolas Palazzi of PM Spirits, aka Captain Cognac, sent me a number of interesting samples he is now carrying. Palazzi is a stickler for quality so I was excited to try them. As with nearly all of Palazzi's products, these are cask strength with no additives. We'll start with Cognac, move on to Armagnac tomorrow, then some Calvados and Pineau de Charentes.

I was a huge fan of the Gourry de Chadeville Cognac Palazzi brought in last year. This year, he's got a new one which combines two casks: one Sauternes cask and one Cognac cask. After five years in those casks, they switched them (dumping the Sauternes into the Cognac cask and vice versa), aged them another five years and then blended them. 

Gourry de Chadeville Sauternes Aged Cognac, 10 years old, 43.4% abv ($99)

The Sauternes influence is apparent from the get-go on the nose. There's a sweet wine note early on followed by pears and hay. It's really nice. On the palate it's fresh and fruity, obviously young but not offensively so. It's got some hay that makes it taste similar to a single malt. The finish is sweet and a bit acidic. This is nothing like the monster Gourry of last year, but it's a very pleasant brandy.

Thanks to Nicolas Palazzi for the sample.  

Friday, November 6, 2015

New Whiskey Labels: Lots of Irish!

This week's most interesting new labels from the federal TTB database:

William Grant cleared a label for an 18 year old Tullamore Dew Single Malt, finished in Oloroso, Madeira, port and bourbon casks.

Teeling cleared a label for a single cask offering. It looks like it also might be cask strength.

Flight of the Earl's is a three year old blended Irish Whiskey. Hmmm, the label looks oddly familiar.

Note:  The fact that a label appears on the TTB database does not necessarily mean it will be produced.  In addition, some details on the label, such as proof, can change in the final product.

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Dusty Thursday: Weller Special Reserve 1945/1952

Every fall, I have a backyard bourbon blowout party called Gazebo West. Named for a party started by bourbon fans in Kentucky, I held my first one four years ago, asking everyone to bring a bottle of something to share. It quickly mushroomed with more friends and more bottles, and now it's a pretty amazing tasting with people bringing fun new stuff as well as digging deep into their collections.  It's one of my favorite nights of the year.

One of this year's most exciting bottles came from LA Whiskey Society founder Adam Herz. Adam can always be counted on to bring the good stuff. This year, he brought us a bottle of W.L. Weller Special Reserve distilled at Stitzel-Weller in 1945 and bottled in 1952. It's bottled in bond, so it's 100 proof.

W.L. Weller Special Reserve, 7 years old, 50% abv

This bottle is in fantastic condition for something this old. The fill level was high, meaning it hadn't suffered from evaporation, and the cork came out like new. We were surprised that it hadn't chipped and cracked like so many old corks.

The nose had equal parts caramel and mint. The palate is fabulous; it's sweet with lots of big spicy notes on a caramel background. The finish is dry with oak, candle wax and a hint of banana along with a bit of damp basement on the nose.

This is great stuff, but interestingly, it does not taste much like a typical Stitzel-Weller. Old Stitzel-Weller has a very distinctive flavor profile, all sweet caramel with some pine and oak. This one had some of those caramel notes, but it had spicy notes that differentiated it from other Stitzel-Wellers I've had.  In fact, given all of the spicy notes, I probably would have guessed it was a rye recipe bourbon had I been tasting blind, though the spice profile is a bit different from rye; it most likely comes from the oak.

Why would this Weller be so different from other Stitzel-Wellers?  Well, there are a few things to consider.  First, this is the oldest Stitzel-Weller distillate I've tasted, and it would have dated from the era when Will McGill, the original distiller, was in charge. He served from the founding of the distillery until his death in May, 1952 so this may have been bottled under his watch as well. Second, the high fill level and pristine cork may have kept this in better condition than some of the other bottles I've had. Part of what we find distinctive about dusty bourbon may be the impact of some amount of oxidation. For whatever reason, that may have been less present in this bottle which had a freshness to it that I don't associate with dusties.

The long and short of it is that while this stuff may not taste like typical Stitzel-Wellers I've had, it was excellent bourbon.

Monday, November 2, 2015

Uncooked: Coppersea Green Malt Rye

Coppersea is a craft distillery in New York's Hudson Valley. Their Green Malt Rye is made from 100% floor-malted rye which is distilled in direct fire stills and aged in 15 gallon new charred oak barrels. Interestingly, they call their rye "unkilned" because it is not cooked after malting, just ground, fermented and distilled.

This bottle was distilled in October 2014 and is listed as .6 years old.

Coppersea Green Malt Rye, .6 years old, Batch 15-2, 45% abv ($95 for 375 ml)

The nose is young but complex with strong grassy and grainy notes. These eventually settle and yield to some maraschino cherries. On the palate it starts raw and woody, like a whiskey aged in small barrels, but behind that there is a lot of flavor, including those grassy notes from the nose and a malty note, more like malted milk than the malt notes that typically come from rye malt. The finish has pencil shavings, dry autumn leaves and beer.

This has some of the raw notes I dislike in craft whiskeys, but there is more going on here. There is definitely some complexity on the palate that you don't see in most craft whiskeys. The more I taste it, the more interesting I find it and the more I want another sip.  That being said, $95 for a half bottle is a crazy price for this, which is too bad, because it's one of the few craft whiskeys I might recommend if the price were somewhere close to reasonable. 

Thanks to Christopher Dion of Young's Co. Market for the sample.

Friday, October 30, 2015

New Whiskey Labels: Glenlivet, Kavalan and More

This week's most interesting new labels from the federal TTB database:

Glenlivet cleared labels for a series of 14 year old single cask expressions that appear to have train themes: Pullman 20th Century Ltd., Pullman Club Car and Pullman Water Level Route.

A new label cleared from the makers of Kavalan, the Taiwanese malt whiskey, for King Car Conductor Whisky.

A label cleared for Reisetbauer, a 15 year old Austrian single malt aged in trockenbeerenauslese casks, which is apparently a dessert wine.

And whoever said flavored whiskeys weren't classy.  Terresentia's Betty Bomber cinnamon whiskey features cleavage and a mushroom cloud!

Note:  The fact that a label appears on the TTB database does not necessarily mean it will be produced.  In addition, some details on the label, such as proof, can change in the final product.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Everson Royce Old Weller 107

Everson Royce, in Pasadena, had a Henry McKenna that I really liked so I was interested to try their pick of an Old Weller 107.

Old Weller 107, Barrel #07-L-20-L-2-66 (for Everson Royce), 53.5% abv ($29.50)

The nose has some nice woody notes. The palate is rich and chewy with some strawberry and red wine notes.  It's got some nice oak that carries into the finish along with some of the strawberry. Very nice stuff.

Tasting side by side with a standard, off the shelf Weller 107, the Everson Royce pick is richer and more complex with more oak notes. I definitely prefer it to the standard expression, which is pretty good in its own right. These guys seem to make good picks when it comes to private barrels.

Monday, October 26, 2015

Spirit of American Bourbon - A Wheater from MGP

MGP of Indiana is known for their ubiquitous 95% rye whiskey as well as their high rye bourbons. In 2013, the company added a number of additional mashbills, including a wheated bourbon. When I was offered a sample of Spirit of America bourbon, I was interested to see that it was a bottling of the MGP wheated recipe. I'm not aware of any other wheated MGP out there right now, though given how much MGP there is under other labels, it's certainly possible that there is more. In any case, I was excited to give this one a try.

Spirit of America comes is a highly patriotic bottle, like Sam the Eagle levels of patriotism. The label is owned by Indiana based Hobson & Roberts who donate a dollar of every purchase to Hope for the Warriors, a support group for veterans and their families. This MGP bourbon (which they openly disclose is from MGP in their materials) is two years old and has a mashbill of 51% corn, 45% wheat and 4% malted barley.

Spirit of America Bourbon, 2 years old, 43% abv. ($35)

The nose has very light caramel notes; it's sort of Maker's like. The palate is light and fruity but a bit thin. Toward the end, it picks up some nice oak notes which carry into the finish where it is joined by light mint.

For a two year old bourbon, this stuff is not bad. It's light but not particularly youthful in its profile. Tasting blind, I might have guessed that it was standard Maker's Mark, though I did not do a side by side comparison. While there's not much in the way of complexity, there's nothing off-putting about it. I don't know that I'd run out and buy a bottle, but it definitely has potential.  It will be interesting to see how this wheat recipe develops with some more age. 

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

The You Creed: Response to the Sku Creed

On Monday I published the Sku Creed, the rules that govern my whiskeying. As I said in that post, my creed is for me and others may have different rules. Both in the comments and on social media there were some good additions so I thought I'd highlight some of my favorites here.

1. If the whiskey tastes good to you, it's good whiskey.

2. Don't be dogmatic about the spelling of "whiskey" versus "whisky".

3. Do whatever you want with your money and your whiskey.

4. Profit, profit, profit.

5. Have fun with whiskey. It's not rocket science. Never have fun with rocket science.

6. Have a budget/ceiling and stick to it. It keeps me from getting carried away by excitement.

Monday, October 19, 2015

The Sku Creed

As we enter the crazy fall whiskey season, I try to remind myself that there are whiskey rules I live by. You may live by different rules, but these are mine.

1. Whiskey is a beverage to be consumed. All whiskey is to be enjoyed and shared. It is neither an art work to display on a shelf nor a status symbol to make you feel good about yourself.

2. My whiskey is not for sale, but I might consider a trade now and then.

3. Don't be dogmatic about water, ice or glassware.

4. Do be dogmatic about flavored whiskey, which sucks.

5. There are few better acts than sharing great whiskey with someone who's never had it.

6. No one should accumulate more whiskey than a family of four can consume in a lifetime.

7. Be patient with and kind to newbies.

8. Don't purchase whiskey based on hype.

9. Don't "clear the shelves." (See #5)

10. You don't have to try every damn new release.

11. Very few whiskeys are worth three figures. No whiskey is worth four figures.

12. No whiskey is worth waiting in line for hours.

What's your whiskey creed?

Friday, October 16, 2015

New Whiskey Labels: Wild Turkey, Highland Park and More

This week's most interesting new labels from the federal TTB database:

Wild Turkey cleared a new label for its Master's Keep series.  Decades is aged 10 to 20 years and the label (which is subject to change) shows 104 proof. 

Edrington cleared three labels for old Highland Parks: a 1964 bottled in 2009, a 1970 bottled in 2010, and a 1971 bottled in 2011.

Deanston released a label for a 20 year old malt matured in Oloroso sherry casks.

A few interesting non-whiskey labels came up recently as well. I really enjoyed K&L's single barrel rums. Now they have a label for a 17 year old blend of Jamaican rums under their Faultline label.

Brandy importer Charles Neal cleared labels for a 25 year old Lemorton Calvados, a 15 year old Domaine du Manoir de Montreuil Calvados and a 15 year old Chateau de Briat Armagnac.

Two different importers cleared labels for new Armagnacs from Domaine D'ognoas, including a 1976 and a 1995.

Note:  The fact that a label appears on the TTB database does not necessarily mean it will be produced.  In addition, some details on the label, such as proof, can change in the final product.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Dusty Thursday: Ezra Brooks 15/101

Ezra Brooks was a brand from the old Medley Distillery. The brand was purchased by Medley in 1959 and became their most prominent brand. Eventually, the distillery was purchased by United Distillers (now Diageo), who shut it down along with Stitzel-Weller in 1992 and sold off the Ezra Brooks brand to Luxco who still bottle it today using Heaven Hill bourbon. The distillery changed hands numerous times but never reopened for business. It is currently owned by South Carolina based Terresentia who are in the process of refurbishing it and, according to Chuck Cowdery, plan to reopen the distillery in 2016.

Today's bottle is a 1981 15 year old 101 proof Ezra Brooks from the Medley Distillery. Per the label, it's "Rare Old Sippin' Whiskey"!

Ezra Brooks 15 year old, 50.5% abv

I don't usually comment on color, but this stuff is dark as night. The nose has typical bourbon caramel notes but also dark chocolate and even some fruit. The palate has dark caramel, espresso and rich, earthy notes. The finish has brown sugar and a touch of earthy bitterness.

This is a really complex, old bourbon. It's just delicious, certainly the best bourbon I've had from Medley.

Thanks to Dan Walbrun for the sample.

Monday, October 12, 2015

The Flavoring Game

A few months ago, Templeton Rye announced that it settled a lawsuit which had alleged that it had used misleading labeling.  This brouhaha largely dealt with sourcing issues and was one of many lawsuits filed after a Daily Beast article about sourcing whiskey went viral last summer.

But whiskey geeks have known about sourcing for years. One of the biggest revelations to come out around the Templeton Rye lawsuit was not that Templeton sources its whiskey from MGP in Indiana, we all know that, but that they also use flavoring additives provided by a Louisville company called Clarendon Flavors. This was revealed last year on an episode of Mark Gillespie's WhiskyCast.

While few of us guessed that Templeton was adding flavoring, it's all perfectly legal because Templeton is not labeled "straight" whiskey.  As I've noted before, according to the TTB regulations, rye, wheat and malt whiskeys that are not labeled "straight" can have up to 2.5% "harmless coloring, flavoring, or blending materials."  27 CFR 5.23. These can include caramel, sugar, oak chips, wine or other whiskeys.

I was curious as to what other whiskeys were adding flavoring and what exactly they were adding, so I started looking into it. The most important thing I learned was that no one wants to talk about flavoring.
For instance, I contacted a number of other producers of non-straight rye whiskey to ask if they use flavoring.

Knob Creek Rye is now labeled as straight but initially was not.  I asked if they used flavoring in the non-straight rye. The company did not respond.

George Dickel Rye, which like Templeton is sourced from MGP, is not labeled straight. Interestingly, Diageo's other MGP rye, Bulleit, is labeled straight. That being said, none of the Dickel line of products is labeled straight. In any case, the company did not reply to my inquiry.

Angel's Envy markets a straight bourbon finished in port casks and a non-straight rye finished in rum casks.  I had numerous exchanges with Angel's Envy's Wes Henderson but could not get him to give me a  "straight" yes or no answer about whether they use flavoring in the rye.

Unlike rye, bourbon, even if not straight, may not include flavoring additives without disclosing them as part of the label description. Recently, Sazerac has cleared new labels for "bourbon whiskey with natural flavors" for Kentucky Tavern, Ancient Age and Ten High.  I asked why they were adding flavoring to those whiskeys and what exactly they were using as flavoring. I was told that information is "proprietary and confidential."

Jeez, you'd think I was poking into a matter of national security.  I can't understand why whiskey companies are so unwilling to tell customers about the ingredients in the whiskey we purchase. There is no legal issue here as they are allowed to use a certain amount of flavoring and coloring additives. Presumably, the companies that use flavoring believe it improves their whiskey or else they wouldn't use it. Other whiskeys are known to use additives, including Scotch (coloring) and Canadian Whiskey, and their sales don't seem to suffer, but something about flavoring makes American companies go dark.

Are there flavoring and coloring additives in some American whiskeys? Clearly there are. There are flavoring companies that are in this business, and we have at least one documented case in Templeton. I would appeal to the companies to exercise a bit more transparency and let us know what they add and why. Meanwhile, keep in mind that any rye that isn't labeled straight can legally include additives.

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Dusty Thursday: Bellows Club Bourbon 1977

This is another dusty bottle courtesy of The Whiskey Jug.

Bellows is an old brand that was purchased by National Distillers in the 1940s. As with Old Crow, it passed to Beam when Beam purchased the National Distillers brands in 1987. In 2013, Beam sold the brand to Luxco in St. Louis who still sells it today.

This handle of Bellows Club Bourbon (Built-in Pourer!) dates from around 1977 and thus was likely distilled at one of the distilleries National Distillers owned at that time: Glencoe or Old Grand-Dad.

Bellows Club Bourbon, 1977, 6 years old, 40% abv

The nose on this is really quite nice. It's rich with cherry and berry notes along with the typical caramel notes from bourbons of that era. The palate has good flavor, with tons of vanilla, but it tastes a bit watery. The finish is minty.

On the whole, this is quite pleasant and very drinkable.  Fun stuff!

Monday, October 5, 2015

Why I Don't Review the BTAC

A reader asked:

How come you never review the BTAC? Every year, they are the hottest releases (along with Pappy) and most other folks seem to review them but not you. What gives?

For those of you who have been spending your hard earned money elsewhere, BTAC is the Buffalo Trace Antique Collection, the annual release of three bourbons and two ryes: George T. Stagg, William Larue Weller, Eagle Rare 17, Sazerac 18 and Thomas H. Handy. Well, there are three reasons I don't review the BTAC anymore (and these all apply to Pappy Van Winkle as well):

1.  I can't get them. I don't have any magic whiskey blogger powers that get me free stuff. While I get the occasional free sample from a small producer, I don't get samples from any of the big whiskey companies. The vast majority of my reviews are from (1) whiskey I bought; or (2) whiskey that a friend shared with me, and like everyone else, I can't get the BTAC. But even if I could get the BTAC, I wouldn't review it because...

2. No one else can get it. It's the proverbial tree falling in the forest.  If you review a whiskey that no one can drink, does it matter? It's true that I do my share of reviews of rare and hard to get whiskeys, but there has to be something interesting or unique about them. I know my readers can't go out and buy a 1930s Maryland rye, but I figure they might want to know what it tastes like. If I can find them, I will also review other hard to get annual releases like Parker's Heritage Collection or Four Roses Small Batch, but the difference between them and BTAC is....

3. The BTAC doesn't change from year to year. I don't review it every year for the same reason I don't review Elijah Crag 12 every year. It's the same whiskey (and for Sazerac 18, which has been in steel tanks for around ten years, it's literally the same whiskey). Sure there are some variations from year to year, but that's true of lots of releases of the same stuff. If you like Stagg or Weller, you'll probably like it every year, plus or minus a year or two, but since you can't find it anyway, who cares?

Now, that being said, there are a number of folks who are able to review the BTAC every year and do a good job of it which is all the more reason for me not to bother with it. For me, it's just not something that's worth the effort.

Friday, October 2, 2015

New Whiskey Labels: Ardbeg, Ancient Age and More

This week's most interesting new labels from the federal TTB database:

Ardbeg cleared a label for Dark Cove, "The Darkest Ardbeg Ever." It is a blend of Ardbeg aged in bourbon and "dark sherry casks."

A label cleared for a peated Glendronach aged in bourbon casks and finished in sherry casks.

Sazerac released a new label for what appears to be an extension of the Ancient Age brand line. Ancient Age Five Star, a bourbon "with natural flavors."

And perhaps nothing epitomizes modern whiskey label BS more than Old Dominick, an 8 year old bourbon released by a three year old company to celebrate its 150th anniversary or something like that.

Note:  The fact that a label appears on the TTB database does not necessarily mean it will be produced.  In addition, some details on the label, such as proof, can change in the final product.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Teeling Single Malt & Single Grain Irish Whiskeys

Stephen Teeling from the Teeling Whiskey Company was in town a few weeks ago tasting folks on his line of Irish Whiskeys. I reviewed his Teeling Small Batch blend last year and, it's become one of my go-to Irish blends for tastings. Since then, the company has introduced a single grain whiskey and, most recently, a single malt. While Teeling now has a Dublin distillery which ran its first spirit in March of this year (and they are working on a second distillery for grain), the Teeling whiskeys being sold come from Cooley, the distillery founded by Stephen's father Jack which was purchased by Beam in 2011.

Teeling Single Grain, 5 years old, bottled October, 2014, 46% abv ($50)

The Teeling grain whiskey uses a mash of around 95% corn and 5% malted barley and is aged in California Cabernet casks. It has very light cereal notes on the nose followed by sweet cereal on the palate. Mid-palate turns to wood spice notes, and it finishes with dry hay notes.  I'm not a huge fan of grain whiskeys of this type, but this one was quite pleasant and comparable to the better Scotch and Irish grain whiskeys I've had.

Teeling Single Malt, 46% abv ($55)

The new single malt carries no age statement and includes barrels treated with various finishes. The nose has light grain notes, sweet white wine and grapes.  In contrast to the rather sweet nose, the palate is quite dry with some spice leading into a spicy finish. There was a nice contrast between the sweetness of the nose and the dry palate on this one. Interestingly, it lacked much in the way of traditional malty notes. If anything, the Teeling Small Batch blend tastes more like a single malt than this one does, and while the Small Batch might be more approachable, the single malt is a bit more complex.

Teeling is doing some good work in the world of Irish Whiskey, and they aim to continue. Currently, they have a number of older, age stated single malts (21, 26 and 30 years old) available in Europe. They are looking at bringing some of those to the US next year and possibly some single cask bottlings as well. I know I'll be interested to try whatever they release.

Monday, September 28, 2015

Here Comes the Judge: My First Spirits Competition

I've reviewed over a thousand whiskeys and participated in numerous tastings through the years, but until a few weeks ago, I had never judged a formal spirits competition. I've been invited to judge some competitions in the past, but it just never worked out, so I was excited to give judging a try.

When distributor/importer Nicolas Palazzi asked me to be a spirits judge at the Good Food Awards in San Francisco, my first question was how many medals they give out. I'm very skeptical of the spirits award circuit where medals are handed out like candy to nearly every entrant (each of whom pay a sizable fee). Then the companies prominently advertise that they won the triple bronze medal. Not to worry, Palazzi assured me, there are no medals. They either get a Good Food Award or they don't, and only the ones the judges think merit it, based entirely on quality, get the award. There are entry fees, but they are low ($60 per entry compared to over $400 for some competitions).

The Good Food Awards defines "good food" as being "tasty, authentic and responsible." The criteria for entrance are quite strict. In the spirits category, which includes spirits as well as modifiers (bitters, shrubs, syrups, mixers, etc.), the products are required to be free of artificial additives, grown and sourced "responsibly," and largely free of pesticides, GMO ingredients and synthetic fertilizers (I say "largely" because the criteria are very detailed, but the whole thing is very San Francisco). Given those criteria, I'm not sure how many spirits would qualify to enter, but that's not my job to figure that out. I was just there to taste.

And taste I did.  In the morning session, we split into three groups, each of which tasted ten to fifteen spirits and another ten to fifteen mixers.  Each table decided which items from the first set of tastings deserved to be tasted in the second heat, which would be the awards scoring panel. That afternoon, we tasted the items bumped up by one of the other groups, scored them and recommended which we thought merited awards.

For the tastings, we were only told the type of spirit and proof.  I tasted everything from cucumber vodka (which was surprisingly good) to ginger liqueur. In my usual style, I was very conservative with my scoring, and that seemed to be the approach most of the judges were taking.  Of the 40 or so products I tasted that day, I think I recommended four for awards. Among the best things I tasted were a raspberry shrub syrup and an apple brandy. There were a handful of whiskeys, but none of them made the grade. They tasted like typical, small barrel craft whiskeys. Of course, based on the structure of the awards being divided into three groups, I didn't taste every spirit that was being judged.

I still don't know what I tasted or what will win awards. That will be announced in January along with the awards for the many other categories, from cheese to honey to cider, but I'll be interested to see what we came up with, and it was a fun way to spend a Sunday.

Friday, September 25, 2015

Dusty Tasting: 1970s Cabin Still

Today we have another dusty tasting sponsored by The Whiskey Jug. Yesterday's dusty tasting showed the decline of Old Crow over the years. Another bourbons that was famously ruined after being sold off was Cabin Still. Josh Feldman, over at The Coopered Tot, did a fantastic post tracing the decline and fall of this former Stitzel-Weller brand. He notes that at some point after Norton-Simon purchased the Stitzel-Weller Distillery in 1972, they started dumping low end Canada Dry bourbon into it.

The bottle provided for this tasting is likely from the mid-1970s (a 1974 copyright appears on the label). The label states that it was "distilled, aged and bottled by Cabin Still Distillery."  That puts it after 1972, when Norton Simon purchased the distillery and stopped using the Stitzel-Weller name, but before the later incarnation, which states "distilled for and bottled by Cabin Still Distillery." Does that mean it could still be old Stitzel-Weller, before the dump of Canada Dry began. Who knows? Let's taste it.

Cabin Still, 4 years old, 40% abv

The nose is caramelly but very light. The palate starts with some nice caramel, but fades away very quickly, and there is only a very faint finish. This isn't bad, but there is very little to it. I actually think this could be Stitzel-Weller, or have some in it, because it has traces of those sweet and creamy caramel notes, though it's very watered down. People forget that not all Stitzel-Weller was great, and Cabin Still was their bottom shelf brand.

Overall, if it was the '70s and I was perusing the bottom shelf, I'd go for the Old Crow.

This was another group tasting, so be sure to check out The Whiskey Jug, The Coopered Tot, It's Just the Booze Dancing, Axis of Whiskey and Bourbon & Banter for more reviews.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Dusty Thursday: Dusty Blogger Old Crow Tasting

Old Crow (right) and new Crow.
No, I'm not tasting dusty bloggers, but I did agree to participate in a dusty bourbon tasting hosted by Josh from The Whiskey Jug. Also participating are The Coopered Tot, It's Just the Booze Dancing, Axis of Whiskey, and Bourbon & Banter.

Josh gave us four dusty, bottom shelf bourbons that he found in his travels.  A comparison of old and new Old Crow, Cabin Still and an old Bellow's. Today, I taste the Old Crow and compare it with modern Old Crow.

Bottle marks date this Old Crow to around 1978, back when the brand was owned by National Distillers before it was purchased by Beam. For further comparison, see my previous review of a 1980s Old Crow, also from the National Distillers days.

Old Crow 1978, no age statement, 40%

The nose is fantastic, candy sweet with some herbal noes. The palate is light and sweet with a shot of spice. It's not complex and nothing really special, but it's very drinkable.

Old Crow, 3 years old, current, 40%

From the get-go, you can tell this is a totally different whiskey. The nose has peanut notes with light sugar. The palate is soapy with artificial fruit flavors, and the mouthfeel is watery thin.  It's very blah, and while it's not horrible, it doesn't have any redeeming features.

Well, this is another clear example of how Beam screwed up the National Distillers brands (they did the same thing to Old Overholt), managing to turn a perfectly drinkable bourbon into a crappy bourbon. Why did you do this to us Beam?