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.