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.