Monday, February 29, 2016

Blog of the Month: Signde Drinks

I've gotten lazy about my once regular Blog of the Month feature.  There are just so many whiskey blogs, it's hard to keep up, and there are a lot that deserve recognition. So I'll try to dive back in this month; we'll see if I can keep it up.

One blog I've been meaning to feature for a while is Ryan Oberleitner's signde drinks. Ryan was a regular whiskey reviewer on Reddit's very active r/bourbon forum, and his blog seems to have grown out of those reviews. He's a very good writer who doesn't pull any punches. Check out his recent review of Jefferson's Ocean which begins:

What is this? Well it’s a bourbon that supposedly spent time in barrels on a boat at sea. How much time? Fuck you. Okay, well who made it? Not us, fuck you. Hmm, how old is it? No idea, fuck you. Alright then, how much does it cost? A lot, fuck you.
Now that's my kind of review! That being said, that kind of snark is a bit out of character for his reviews, which tend to be straight forward and to the point with succinct, well written notes and no grade inflation.

Check it out!

Friday, February 26, 2016

New Whiskey Labels: Booker's Rye, Stitzel-Weller, Macallan and More

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

Diageo cleared a label for Blade & Bow Single Barrel, a 24 year old bourbon  distilled at Stitzel-Weller.

Beam Suntory cleared a label for Knob Creek 2001, a limited edition Knob Creek distilled in 2001 and bottled in 2016.  Of course, since it doesn't include an age statement, we can't be sure how many years it actually spent in the barrel.

Beam also released a label for Booker's Rye. Label details can change, but the label they cleared has the rye at 7 years old and 127.1 proof. 

High West released a label for a 14 year old light whiskey from MGP. According to the label, it's a corn based whiskey (likely a bourbon mash) distilled between 1999 and 2001 and aged in used barrels.

Edrington cleared a label for Macallan 12 year old Double Cask, aged in both European sherry and American oak.

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, February 24, 2016

Four Roses Super Premium

Four Roses Super Premium aka Four Roses Platinum, is a Japan only export. It seems fairly popular among US whiskey fans, but it's hard to know if that's just because it's unavailable here. You know, the whiskey is always greener on the other side of the ocean, or something like that.

Four Roses Super Premium, 43% abv

The nose is rich caramel and toffee, very Four Roses. The palate is spicy with mint, clove and preserved orange rind. The finish is peppery with menthol.

This is a good, straightforward Four Roses.  Nothing I would fly to Japan for, but something I would gladly drink if I happened to be there.

Monday, February 22, 2016

Fukano Japanese Rice Whiskey

Fukano is a Japanese whiskey made from 100% malted rice. The Fukano Distillery, down south in Kumamoto, Japan, makes shochu, an unaged rice spirit. This stuff is essentially a high proof shochu that has been barrel aged. Los Angeles based whiskey distributor Chris Uhde found this whiskey and brought it to us (it hasn't even been released in Japan). The whiskey is distilled once in a pot still and aged in new oak then bottled at cask strength, though the abv is still rather low since it comes off the still at only about 45%.

There eight single casks of this whiskey that are going to various retailers, including  K&L and Flask Fine Wines in Studio City. The following review is from a sample of the K&L cask that Chris gave me.

Fukano Whisky, Cask #282, 40.7% abv ($80)

The nose is really bourbony with a hint of lemon. The palate follows suit. It's got light bourbon notes with just a touch of lemon then some grassy cereal notes and some light spice. The finish is similar to what you would find in a light er bourbon or maybe even a Canadian Whiskey.

I wasn't sure what to expect from this, but I was surprised how similar it is in character to a bourbon or Canadian Whiskey, especially given that it is 100% rice. It's definitely worth tasting, especially for folks who like a lighter spirit.

Friday, February 19, 2016

New Whiskey Labels: Lagavulin, Woodford Reserve, Harley Davidson and More!

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

You don't see a new Lagavulin every day.  Diageo cleared a label for a 200th Anniversary Limited Edition 8 year old Lagavulin.

West Cork Irish Whiskey cleared a bunch of new labels last week including West Cork Barrel Proof, a blend; a 12 year old port finished single malt; a 12 year old sherry finished single malt; a 12 year old rum finished single malt and West Cork Black Reserve, a blend finished in "double charred" bourbon casks.

Wild Turkey cleared a label for Old Ripy Bourbon, which the label states is made by the American Medicinal Spirits Co. This is a long defunct brand which has a similar old-timey look to their previous label for Bond & Lillard. It seems as though Wild Turkey is thinking about reviving some old brands and releasing bottles in the style of prohibition era medicinal pints.

Woodford Reserve cleared a label for Master's Duet, described as "Master's Collect Rye re-barreled in used Pinot Noir barrels" and Toasted Oak, in which the same rye was re-barreled in "new heavily toasted barrels." These appear to be for sale at the distillery.

Is there anything that could turn Harley Davidson fans away from Jack Daniel's? Ole Smoky Distillery hopes so with two authorized Harley Davidson whiskeys: Charred Moonshine spirit whiskey and a honey flavored moonshine, because nothing says tough biker like honey flavored whiskey.

Lastly, could there be a better hipster whiskey than something called 12 Foot Beard?

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.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

How Old is Your Whiskey? Are You Sure?

Here's a quiz.  Let's say you have a bottle of whiskey that says "Distilled June 12, 1996 and Bottled December 5, 2015."  How old is the whiskey in that bottle?

The answer is: you don't know. The label has not given you enough information to determine the age of the whiskey.  How so?  Well, the age of a whiskey is the time spent in a barrel. According to the Federal regulations, Age means:

The period during which, after distillation and before bottling, distilled spirits have been stored in oak containers. “Age” for bourbon whisky, rye whisky, wheat whisky, malt whisky, or rye malt whisky, and straight whiskies other than straight corn whisky, means the period the whisky has been stored in charred new oak containers. [27 CFR §5.11]
Even if you know when a whiskey was distilled and when it was bottled, you don't know how much time it actually spent in the barrel. It is not uncommon for whiskeys to be transferred to stainless steel containers before being bottled, sometimes for years. Some brandies spend decades in glass containers. Steel and glass are considered neutral containers that don't impact the flavor of the spirit. While some would certainly argue with that statement, I doubt anyone would argue that their impact in anywhere near as strong as that of an oak barrel.

In contrast to a vintage date or distilled and bottled dates, an age statement (e.g. "10 years old") means that the whiskey was actually in the barrel (and the proper type of barrel) for the amount of time listed. On brandies, however, even those age statements are often incorrect, but that's a story for another post.

The moral of the story is: unless there is an actual age statement on that whiskey, you don't know how old it is.

Friday, February 12, 2016

New Whiskey Labels: Chivas and Bulleit

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

Pernod Ricard cleared a label for Chivas Regal Ultis, a blended malt made from five single malts.

Diageo cleared  a label for a barrel strength expression of Bulleit Bourbon.

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, February 10, 2016

Four Roses 2015 Small Batch

The Four Roses Limited Edition Small Batch is increasingly hard to find but is often one of the best bourbon releases of the year. Last fall's release was a combination of the following four Four Roses bourbons: 16 year old OBSK, 15 and 14 year old OESK, and 11 year old OBSV (the B recipes have a higher rye content than the Es).

Four Roses Small Batch Limited Edition 2015, 54.3% ($100)

The nose has deep rich caramel with some orange rind and lots of oak. The palate opens with huge caramel, then oak, followed by some tannic notes. The finish picks up anise, rye and some medicinal notes.  There is some astringency on the late palate, but it fades with air. 

This is a very nice, well balanced bourbon. It has a degree of complexity that was lacking in the 2014 Four Roses Small Batch, though I wouldn't say it rises to the level of the stellar releases of 2012 and 2013. Still, it's very good and worth buying if you can find it at a decent price (which I know is a challenge).

Monday, February 8, 2016

Accident Whiskey: a Stupid Genre

Diageo recently released its latest whiskey in the Orphan Barrel series, the Gifted Horse, in which a young corn whiskey and bourbon were "accidentally" mixed with some older bourbon. Wow! How lucky for the largest spirits company in the world that some corn whiskey (which usually sucks) was poured into a 17 year old bourbon...and now it's $50 a bottle.

Unfortunately, the "accident whiskey" seems on the way to becoming a genre of its own. First came Serendipity, a blend of Scotch in which someone poured young Glen Moray into old Ardbeg.  How...serendipitous. Then Wild Turkey introduced Forgiven, in which someone dumped rye into the bourbon.

Just like those old Reese's Peanut Butter Cup commercials in which someone eating a chocolate bar collides with someone eating a jar of peanut butter and makes a delicious discovery, the Accident Whiskey backstories are silly and seem implausible. (Who the hell walks around eating peanut butter right out of the jar?)  Then, the company bottles it and gives it a name like WTF Whiskey which emphasizes the accidental nature of its creation.

The prevalence of these Accident Whiskeys would lead one to believe that either these stories are marketing fluff or whiskey distilleries are run by total idiots who randomly dump barrels together. The whiskey companies can let me know into which category they fall.

Friday, February 5, 2016

Even More Whiskey Festivals

Over the past couple of days, I received even more suggestions for the list of the best whiskey festivals in the US, so here are some additions.

  • Bourbon Classic. This Louisville, Kentucky event sponsored by the Bourbon Review will take place February 26-27. The price ranges from $269 to $375.
  • Go Whiskey Weekend. Sponsored by Julio's liquors in Westborough, Massachusetts, this year's festival runs from February 24-28. You can pay for events separately or buy a VIP ticket for $150. 
  • Kentucky Bourbon Affair. Another Kentucky bourbon festival, this Louisville event will be June 14-19. The general tasting is a WhiskyLive event which costs $129, but the bulk of the festival consists of masterclasses which range from $35 to $275 per class.
  • Kentucky Bourbon Festival. Located in Bardstown, Kentucky, this year's Kentucky Bourbon Festival will be September 13 to 18. Prices vary by event.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

The Best Whiskey Festivals

On Monday, I asked folks for their favorite whiskey festivals excluding the most well known (WhiskyLife, Whisky Fest and the Scotch Malt Whisky Extraveganza).  I got a lot of interesting replies for events big and small:

  • Binny's World of Whiskies. There was lots of love for this event sponsored by Chicago liquor chain Binny's. It takes place annually just before WhiskyFest Chicago (March 16 this year). Price looks to be around $40.
  • The Nth Universal Whisky Experience. This Las Vegas show is known for it's high-roller crowd. This year's Nth will be on March 4. Ticket prices range from $525 to $2,495 for a package that includes super pours of rare whiskey and "whisky speed dating" with "whisky celebrities." 
  • Pittsburgh Whiskey Festival. The Pittsburgh festival happens every fall and costs $102. They do not appear to have a date yet for this year's event.
  • Tales of the Cocktail. America's premiere cocktail event takes place every July in New Orleans. While it's not a whiskey festival, there are plenty of whiskey related tastings and events. This year's Tales is set for July 19 to 24. Tickets are sold per event so there are many options.
  • Victoria Whisky Festival. This is one of the big ones. It's not in the US, but it is US adjacent in Victoria, British Columbia. It takes place over a weekend in January. There are various events and classes, but the main tastings seem to run from $110 to $175.
  • Whisky Jewbilee. Sponsored by whiskey bottler Single Cask Nation, the Whisky Jewbilee started in New York five years ago. This year, they will be in Seattle (March 8, $95), New York (June 15, $130) and Chicago (Sept. 1, price TBA).
  • Whiskey Obsession Festival. This festival takes place in Sarasota, Florida. This year, it will be March 30 to April 1. ($50-$211).
  • Whiskey on Ice is a Minneapolis tasting that started last year. This year's event is on April 10 ($85-$125).
  • Whiskies of the World is another travelling event. This year they have shows in San Jose (March 24, $80), San Francisco (March 26, $130-$185), Austin (Sept. 29, price TBA), Houston (Oct. 1, price TBA), and Atlanta (Oct. 22, price TBA).

Monday, February 1, 2016

The Best Whiskey Festivals

There are a growing number of whiskey festivals throughout the U.S. Three of the oldest and most well known festivals are Whisky Advocate's WhiskyFest, Whisky Magazine's WhiskyLive, and the Scotch Malt Whisky Society's Whisky Extravaganza, all of which travel to multiple cities.

In addition to these established festivals, in the last few years, there have been many newer, independent single-city festivals. Whiskey festivals can be a great way to taste a variety of whiskeys, so I'd be interested in knowing about these newer festivals and putting together a list of the best.  So....

What is your favorite whiskey festival (other than those mentioned above) and why?