Friday, January 30, 2015

New Whiskey Labels: Jefferson's Wood Experiments, Aberfeldy and More

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

Bottler Kentucky Artisan Distillery cleared 13 new labels for Jefferson's Ridiculously Small Batch Wood Experiments.  Each label indicates the product is Indiana bourbon aged in a variety of different types of barrels (different chars, barrel inserts, "cube tubes" -whatever that is, etc). Each label is listed as 200 ml and labeled "not intended to be sold separately" so presumably, these are part of a set.

The Last Drop cleared a label for a new 48 year old blended Scotch distilled in 1965 and bottled in 2014. Unlike previous iterations, this blend saw its secondary aging in bourbon casks. The label states there are 592 bottles.

Bacardi cleared a label for a new Aberfeldy 16 year old.

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, January 28, 2015

Blog of the Month: Diving for Pearls

While it's been dormant for a few months, the Blog of the Month is a feature in which I pick one of the over 550 whiskey blogs that I think deserves more attention.

Michael Kravitz of Long Beach, California started Diving for Pearls as a sort of general blog back in 2007 but has been writing mostly about whiskey since 2011. While he tastes a variety of whiskeys, Kravitz' blog is mostly Scotch focused. He does lots of reviews and has some great in depth stories. Recently, he posted a very detailed, three part economic analysis of the Scotch whisky boom.  But it's not all tables and graphs. Kravitz also does fun stuff like a comparison of the notoriously terrible black whiskeys: Loch Dhu and Cu Dhub.

Diving for Pearls is always a good read.  Check it out!

Monday, January 26, 2015

Crown Royal Hand Selected Barrel

This is the newest expression from Crown Royal, a single barrel whisky bottled at 103 proof.  Most Canadian Whiskies are blends, and while there have been some single barrel bottlings by independents, this is one of the first by one of the major Canadian distilleries.  Canadian Whisky guru Davin DeKergommeaux covers all the details over at Whisky Advocate, though American readers should be aware that he uses the term "rye" in the Canadian sense, to mean any Canadian Whiskey.  This Crown Royal is actually majority corn with rye as the secondary grain. 

Crown Royal Hand Selected Barrel, 51.5% abv ($55)

The nose has a sort of soapy bourbon note. The palate has some nice rye spice along with those soapy bourbon notes; the different notes alternate through the tasting.  The finish is spicy on the palate but soapy on the nose.  With some air, the soapy notes fade a bit into just a vague sweetness.

While I'm glad to see a single barrel, high proof Canadian Whisky, this one doesn't excite me much.  There's just not that much to it.  Of course, I'm not a huge fan of Crown Royal, so I suppose it makes sense that I wouldn't be impressed with one of its component whiskies.  That being said, these are single barrels, so the barrels will vary.  This one came from a store owned by the Goody Goody chain in Texas.

Crown Royal Hand Selected is mostly available in Texas now but should see wider release soon.

Friday, January 23, 2015

New Whiskey Labels: The Return of IW Harper

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

Diageo cleared new labels for IW Harper Bourbon and IW Harper 15 year old.  IW Harper is an old brand that used to be in wide release, but about 15 years ago, Diageo stopped selling it domestically. Like Diageo's Orphan Barrels, the label indicates that these are Kentucky bourbons bottled at the George Dickel distillery in Tennessee.

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, January 22, 2015

Charbay's Amador Hop Flavored Whiskey

Charbay is probably my favorite craft distillery with their bold, hoppy whiskeys, so I'm always excited to try a new whiskey from them. Their newest hop flavored whiskey was bottled for Trinchero Family Estates (makers of Sutter Home Wine) under the label Amador Whiskey Co. (not to be confused with Amador Distillery, which was responsible for bottling the Corti Brothers Exquisite Whiskey I enjoyed last year).

According to the hang-tag, the Amador Whiskey is a blend of 60% straight malt whiskey and 40% hop flavored whiskey distilled from an IPA (the front label confusingly states "straight hop-flavored whiskey" which is a bit of an oxymoron). The two components were aged separately for over two years in French oak and then married in Chardonnay barrels for another year.  They made ten barrels total.

Amador Hop-Flavored Whiskey, Batch 1, Barrel 2, Bottled June, 2014,
48% abv ($100)

The nose is bold and hoppy with fresh mint leaves.  The palate comes on sweet and syrupy with wildflower honey and some vanilla notes making it almost Scotch-like at the end of the palate. Then it explodes with hops before trailing off into an intensely long finish with more hops and spice.  It finally settles into the traditional, hoppy Charbay finish.

I'm a big fan of these hopped whiskeys, and I really enjoyed this one.  It's similar to Charbay's R5 (which may well have been one of the components) though it's a bit more refined.  It might have some more age on it, or it could be the influence of the straight malt. In any case, if you're a fan of hop flavored whiskey, this is definitely one to check out.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

It's Getting Better All the Time

It's easy to by cynical about the world of whiskey, especially for folks who have been following it for a while. In order not to get swallowed up in negativity, as I sometimes do, I thought I would take a moment to recognize some things that are getting better in the world of whiskey.

  • Availability of Foreign Whiskey.  Ten years ago, there were numerous brands that never made it to the US. We didn't get Green Spot, Ardbeg special releases or many other distillery bottlings.  For years, there were only two Japanese whiskeys available in the US:  Yamazaki 12 and 18. That situation has improved remarkably. We now have a decent selection of Japanese whiskeys from a number of distilleries, and we get a much larger share of regular bottlings from Scotland and Ireland than we used to.  There are certainly still things we aren't getting (Canada still keeps most of their good stuff), but it's a big improvement.
  • Craft whiskey.  It's been a shaky road and mostly uphill, but craft whiskey is gradually improving.  Sure, much of it is still swill, and very few are great, but more and more craft whiskeys are entering the pretty good to good range. It helps that some of the novelty has worn off.  Fewer news outlets are touting craft whiskey, and fewer consumers seem willing to buy something just because it's craft and instead, are demanding quality product.  This is probably the sector with the greatest potential for the next ten years.
  • Label Transparency.  Maybe it was the publicity, maybe it was the lawsuits, but label transparency seems to be improving.  More new labels include the state of distillation, and a number of brands have changed their labels in recent months to be more clear about who makes their whiskey. Add to that the TTB's clarification on age statements last week and we should be seeing more honest labeling in the near future.
  • News Coverage.  It's hard to believe that ten years ago, there were really just a handful of sources for whiskey news, reviews and information. With over 550 blogs and numerous podcasts, forums and Facebook pages, along with increasingly serious coverage in the mainstream media, there are more diverse voices talking about whiskey than there ever have been before. This has both positive and negative aspects.  The diversity of voices means that new information crops up in numerous places, not just a handful of sources, but while more voices should lead to more opinions, sometimes it can create a herd mentality instead of diversity of opinion. On balance, though, I think it's a good thing to have so many more people engaged as content creators/contributors as well as content consumers.
What else is getting better in the world of whiskey?

Saturday, January 17, 2015

How Old Are You Now? - TTB Clarifies Age Statement Rule

Along with violations of the state of distillation rule, one of my whiskey label pet peeves is the use of maximum age statements, that is, age statements that say "less than __ years old." The TTB regulations state that whiskey that is less than four years old must include an age statement that reads "___ years old." (27 CFR § 5.40(a)). Recently, though, "less than __ years old" age statements have been slipping through, particularly on sourced and craft whiskeys.  I find this annoying because it renders the age statement meaningless.  Sure, it's less than two or four years old, but how much less?  One year?  Six months?  A week?

Yesterday, the TTB issued a new FAQ on age statements (see section S11) which makes it clear that maximum age statements are not acceptable:

Can the age statement include minimum or maximum ages?
As noted above, age may be understated, but may not be overstated. A minimum age (such as "aged at least __ years") is acceptable, but a maximum age (such as "aged for less than ___ years") is not acceptable.

It's great to see the TTB clarify this issue. Hopefully, this marks the end of two month old whiskey labeled "Less than four years old."  Score one for the TTB and the whiskey consumer!

Friday, January 16, 2015

New Whiskey Lables: WhistlePig goes MGP and Gordon & MacPhail Goes Back to the '50s

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

Gordon & MacPhail reaches back to the '50s clearing labels for a 1951 Mortlach, a 1952 Glenlivet, a 1953 Linkwood and a 1957 Strathisla.

WhistlePig cleared a label for Old World, a 12 year old rye aged in Sauternes, Madeira and Port casks. There are a number of interesting things about this label, which is sort of a mess.  First, it states "distilled in Indiana," which almost certainly indicates MGP, while WhistlePig's previous releases had been sourced from Canada.  Second, it says it was "exclusively matured" in the wine casks.  If that's true, it shouldn't be labeled "rye whiskey" since rye whiskey must be aged in new, charred oak.  Rather, it should be "whiskey distilled from rye mash."  And why do they call it "double barrel" if it was aged in three different casks? Of course, this would all make more sense if it were finished in the wine casks, but that's not what the label says.

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, January 14, 2015

Filibuster Bourbon: The Gentleman from Indiana

Filibuster is a straight bourbon finished in "white wine seasoned French oak barrels."  The bourbon is distilled by MGP in Indiana and is bottled by a company called M.S. Trading LP based in Alexandra Virginia.  The mashbill is 75% corn, 21% rye, 4% barley.  They also bottle a rye, also distilled at MGP, and a Kentucky bourbon that is finished in sherry casks.

Filibuster Bourbon, Batch 2, 45% abv ($60)

The nose is light and fruity with white wine notes.  The palate has a nice spice to it then turns a bit floral/soapy/perfumey and ends with cough syrup notes.  The finish is spicy/minty on the nose but medicinal on the palate.

This definitely tastes like MGP bourbon, though with more perfume than usual, possibly because of the wine finish.  The whole thing is a bit of a mess with clashing flavors that don't come together well. I'm afraid I'd call for cloture on this one.

Thanks to Tyler Patton for the sample.

Monday, January 12, 2015

New Year's Wish List

Happy 2015 to everyone in whiskey land.  Here are some of my whiskey wishes for the New Year.

Parker's Heritage Rye:  Heaven Hill's Parker's Heritage Collection has experimented with all kinds of mashbills: rye recipe bourbon, wheated bourbon, a blend of rye and wheated bourbon and even wheat whiskey.  But they've never done a rye.  How great would it be to see a ten year old, cask strength version of Rittenhouse?  Of course, up until about five years ago, all their rye was still being made by Brown Forman, so they may not have enough old stock for a ten year old, but I'd happily settle for a cask strength version of the regular Rittenhouse Rye.

Older, Age Stated Ardbeg:  Ardbeg used to have a 17 year old, but now the only age stated bottling in their regular lineup is the 10 year old.  What a huge surprise it would be for this year's committee bottling to be, say, a 15 year old.

Someone Who Gives a Shit Buying Wild Turkey:  I'd argue that Wild Turkey is currently America's most underperforming distillery.  The Turkey used to be one of America's great whiskeys, but since Campari bought it in 2009, they've done almost nothing right.  I'd love for another company to buy this distillery and make it live up to its potential.

Diageo Stop Insane Pricing:  Everyone's prices are too high, and I'd love to see them all come down, but Diageo is the king of insane pricing.  What if they actually brought their prices back to earth and offered us a deal on this year's special releases?  I'm not saying they should be selling Brora or Port Ellen on the cheap, but they could at least throw a bargain or two into the mix for us regular folks. 

Balcones Drama: Go Away!  So far we've seen Balcones founder Chip Tate sued by the Balcones Board, then he was sued by his own lawyers, and now he's suing Balcones' master distiller and his wife. Unlike most whiskey bloggers, I've never been a partisan in this battle and don't have a preference for one side or the other, but for God's sake, make it stop before it becomes a reality TV show.

Great, Affordable, Old Brandy.  I figured I should have one New Year's wish that I thought would actually come true.  Here's to another year of amazing brandy!

What's on your New Year's wish list?

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Diageo's Orphan Barrel: Barterhouse 20

I've steered clear of Diageo's Orphan Barrel series since it didn't hold much appeal for me, but I recently sampled the second Orphan release, the 20 year old Barterhouse.  This release is so limited that I saw it for sale at my local Walgreen's for $64.

Barterhouse comes from the Bernheim Distillery which means it was likely bourbon that was intended for IW Harper or Old Charter (See my older posts for more information on the Old Bernheim and New Bernheim Distilleries).

Barterhouse, 20 year old, 45.1% abv ($64)

The nose on this is delightful with lots of oak and wood polish.  The palate is minerally, woody and very, very dry.  It's a bit flat toward the end.  The finish has big mineral notes.

The Orphan Barrel releases have been criticized for both cynical marketing and subpar, over oaked whiskey, but I liked this one. It's unusually dry and oaky, but I thought that made it interesting.  Certainly, though, if you like your bourbon sweet, this one isn't for you. Hmm, maybe I'll go back and try some of those other orphans.

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Ham from Bourbon Country: Col. Bill Newsom's Kentucky Ham

Kentucky is most known for bourbon and horses, but it really should be equally known for ham. Kentuckians will be quick to tell you how great their hams are, and I've even known people who have done Kentucky ham tours (they should make a ham trail like the Kentucky Bourbon Trail).

For the holidays, I was lucky enough to get a whole country ham from Col. Bill Newsom's in Princeton, Kentucky. A whole Kentucky ham is a massive thing; this one weighed 17 pounds and was a full foot and a half long. It requires a deli slicer (which luckily, I have) and a hacksaw (which I had to buy).  This is the story of a boy and his ham.

First, a quick aside on country hams.  When you think of a roast ham or an Easter ham or one with pineapples on it, that's a city ham; those are wet cured and a totally different beast.  A country ham is dry cured and aged.  Prosciutto and Jamon Serrano are probably the most famous examples.

Kentucky country ham is in the same family, but strangely, almost every recipe or instruction I've seen for it recommends cooking it.  Maybe it's because of the American aversion to eating uncooked pork (which is what prosciutto is as well...remember these things are salt cured for over a year), but can you image sticking a Jamon Iberico in the oven?  It would be like drinking a Very Very Old Fitzgerald with Coke.  If I had 17 pounds of what is essentially American prosciutto, I was going to do it right.

And so I hacked my way into the behemoth.  For my first go, I hadn't bought the hacksaw yet, and it was tough going with a serrated knife. The pig skin is leather-thick so it took a lot of work.  My efforts looked less like this and more like this, but I managed to get the job done and free a chunk from the center of the leg. Then I ran it through my deli slicer on as thin a setting as I could manage, slicing against the grain (as you should with any meat) into beautiful, nearly transparent pieces with white veins of fat running throughout.

This stuff is fantastically good.  It's better than any prosciutto I've had.  The aroma is amazing; it permeates the entire room with a deeply porky perfume. Like a Spanish jamon, it's richly porky, but it's also got a funk that you don't get in prosciutto; it's salty but not overwhelmingly so.  It was hard not to eat every piece I sliced (which is why I could never work at a deli).

The tougher pieces near the bones are great for cooking (throwing in a few thicker slices with some eggs makes one of the best scrambles ever), and there's a whole hock that can be used to add flavor to pretty much everything, but the bulk of this is going to be thin sliced and consumed.

I have no idea why Kentucky hams don't have the same reputation as European hams, but this one was clearly of the same caliber.

Col. Bill Newsom's country hams are $6.29 per pound and are nitrate free.  They also have a prosciutto style ham that is even further aged, and if you have any questions, give them a call. Nancy the Ham Lady is more than happy to chat about hams.

Friday, January 2, 2015

New Whiskey Labels: Jack Daniel's, Macallan and More

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

Jack Daniel's cleared two new labels for single barrel whiskey, a single barrel rye and a barrel proof version of their standard JD Single Barrel.

Brown Forman also cleared a label for Old Forester 1897, a non age statement bottled in bond bourbon.

It looks like fans of the animated television show Archer will finally be able to get some Glengoolie.  A blended Scotch imported by St. George Spirits, Glengoolie is "softer than the tufted ears of an ocelot."  There is also Glengoolie Slightly Darker.

Macallan cleared over 40 labels for their Fine & Rare series of old whiskies, many of which were rebottled around ten years ago.  The distilling dates range from 1937 to 1976.

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.