Tuesday, May 31, 2016

A.H. Hirsch 16 year old vs. Bourbon X

A.H. Hirsch is one of those legendary bourbons. Distilled at the Pennco Distillery in Pennsylvania (home of the original Michter's brand) in 1974, the Hirsch bourbon was among stocks sold to Preiss Imports (now owned by Anchor) when the distillery closed in 1991. The A.H. Hirsch bottlings were released throughout the '90s and early 2000s. Even ten years ago, the 16 year old gold foil, the most common bottling, was available for $100 or less.  Now they fetch four digits on the secondary market. If you're interested in the history of this bourbon, be sure to check out Chuck Cowdery's ebook, The Best Bourbon You'll Never Taste, (and note that "Hirsch" without the A.H. is an entirely different bourbon).

I always liked the A.H. Hirsch 16, but I didn't pay four figures for it.  How does it really compare to a good off the shelf bourbon from today?  Let's find out.

I need ten volunteers who have never tasted any A.H. Hirsch bourbon who would be willing to participate in a blind tasting of A.H. Hirsch 16 year old vs. an off the shelf bourbon. If you've never had the Hirsch and you're interested in participating, send me an email with "Hirsch Challenge" as the subject line and include your location. I will pick ten folks and we'll see how it goes.

Friday, May 27, 2016

New Whiskey Labels: EH Taylor, Tobermory and More

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

Buffalo Trace issued a label for E.H. Taylor Four Grain, a 12 year old bourbon.

A label cleared for a 42 year old Tobermory distillery bottling.

Pernod Ricard cleared a label for a new malt from Scapa. Glansa is a no age statement whiskey finished in peated casks. 

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, May 26, 2016

Not Yet the End

Thanks to all who commented on last week's post on the existentialist crisis of Booker's Rye (both on the blog and in the spirited Reddit discussion). There were lots of helpful and encouraging comments which I appreciate, and thanks also to My Annoying Opinions for making some helpful suggestions about what else I could blog about. It's given me a lot to think about. I'm not going anywhere right away, but I may do some different stuff and play around a little so bear with me.

Speaking of bloggers deciding what to do, I wanted to give a shout out to Josh Chinn of Red White & Bourbon who recently announced that due to the general business of life, work, kids, etc., he will not be continuing to blog. Josh's blog was one of my favorites. He brought a unique and uncompromising voice to the whiskey world, covering the scene in Colorado and nation-wide. I'll miss his work, but I respect his choice, and I'm glad he let us know (so many blogs just fade away). All the more reason for me to keep at it.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Booker's Rye: Is Whiskey Over?

Last week, Beam Suntory hosted a group of some of the highest profile whiskey bloggers and journalists at the Jim Beam Distillery for a tasting of Booker's Rye. Needless to say, I wasn't invited, but you can read about it on Chuck Cowdery's blog or Bourbonr.

The news that emerged from this press junket was that the new Booker's Rye will be a cask strength, 13 year old rye using a higher rye mashbill than Beam's other ryes and that it will retail for $300. Now, the bloggers who Beam hosted seemed to think this was a great rye, and I have no reason to doubt that (well, except...Beam), but $300 is a lot of money.

American whiskey prices have been heading in this direction for a while now. Wild Turkey, Michter's and Willett have all been pushing the envelope on prices, but $300 for a 13 year old rye is pretty extreme. In addition, the fact that this is Beam is important because they are the biggest game in town and have the power to set the standard for things like this. That being said, I'm not here to argue whether it's a fair price or not; those arguments have been made ad nauseam on numerous blogs and forums. Yes, the whiskey market is hot right now, yes there is a dearth of aged rye on the market, yes if it was reasonably priced it would just get bought up by flippers and resold for even more.

What saddens me is how out of reach these whiskeys have become for the average drinker. Sure, there are still plenty of decent, affordable, everyday whiskeys out there, but it used to be that someone could get really into American whiskey and taste some of the special stuff without shelling out three figures. Those days are clearly on their way out.

I never set out to write a blog about hard-to-get luxury items. While I've tasted and reviewed rare and expensive whiskey, the bulk of what I've written about has always been stuff that I think most of my readers could buy without breaking the bank. I don't have the stomach or the wallet for a world where $300 rye is the norm.

For my blog, this is an existential question. Should I still be blogging about whiskey at all or is it now akin to blogging about beluga caviar, yachts or Lamborghinis?  As I said, there are decent, affordable whiskeys out there, but I've already written about most of those, and how many blog posts do you need about Four Roses Single Barrel? After nine years of blogging, maybe I should just go ahead and call it a night before I hit the double digits...or transition into Sku's Recent Brandy.

So, I have some questions for you. What does the $300 Booker's Rye mean for American whiskey? Is it a big deal or am I overstating it? Is there anything in the whiskey world worth discussing or reading about anymore or should this be the end (at least for me)?  I eagerly await your responses.

Monday, May 16, 2016

Domaine de Baraillon 1986

There are a few brandies that are so consistently of excellent quality that I will reflexively buy them whenever they come out, sort of how I used to with new Ardbeg releases before they started to suck. Included in these automatic buys are 1990s Chateau de Pellehaut Armagnac, Navarre Cognac and 1980s Domaine de Baraillon Armagnac.

Knowing how good those brandies are, I jumped at the chance to get another when K&L announced a new, 1986 Domaine de Baraillon, bottled this year.  Let's see if it measures up.

Domaine de Baraillon 1986, 30 years old, 46% abv ($80)

The nose is beautiful and what I've come to expect from Baraillon with fruit and spice, almost like a mulled wine. The palate opens with the spice, cinnamon and clove, then develops orange rind and sweet brandy notes. Like the nose, it has mulled wine notes and maybe even Vermouth. The finish is dry and spicy.

This is a classic Baraillon, fantastic stuff and a great deal for a 30 year old brandy.

Unfortunately, it looks like this one sold out quickly, but sometimes additional bottles of these releases do pop up, so you might want to watch for it.

Friday, May 13, 2016

New Whiskey Labels: Bunnahabhain, Glenmorangie and So Much More

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

A label cleared for Bunnahabhain 13 year old Marsala Finish, exclusively for the US market.

Moet Hennessy cleared a label for a new 42 year old Glenmorangie Pride, distilled in 1974.

A label cleared for Deanston 14 year old Organic. Earlier this year, Deanston released a 15 year old organic malt in the UK. No word on why this one is 14 years old.

Have you always wanted to see a whiskey label featuring the skull of a murdered Indian Chief and a story about the "God-fearing" man who killed him? Look no further than Tanner's Curse, a new make bourbon mash whiskey from Boone County Distilling in Kentucky. There is a lot of mystery around this label. What does the story have to do with whiskey?  Why would you want to drink a whiskey associated with some guy who defiled Native grave sites and murdered Native Americans. And if it's new make, why is there a giant number 8 on the label?

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, May 11, 2016

Depression Era Calvados: Camut 1926

I've been getting into Calvados in a big way lately. There is something wondrous that happens to apples when you distill them.

Camut is one of the most prominent producers in Calvados and has been producing from the apples grown on their land in Normandy since the nineteenth century.

Recently, I was lucky enough to try a 1926 Camut Calvados. This was a European release bottled at 41% abv. We don't know the exact bottling date, but based on the story of the bottle, we think it was bottled in the late 1970s, so we are talking about fifty plus years in wood (unlike Cognac and Armagnac producers, Calvados producers rarely transfer their brandy to glass containers for any significant time prior to bottling).

For all the age on this brandy, it was fresh and vibrant with powerful apple flavors on the nose. The palate was rich with apple mellowed by light vanilla oak notes. There was no mustiness and it wasn't over-oaked. This came together so well and was so delicious that I stopped taking notes. It was as delicious as any spirit I've had, be it an old Brora or a Very Old Fitzgerald.

Yes, this beautiful spirit is unobtainable; I can't even find any evidence of its existence on-line. The good news is that the Calvados that's available right now is great too, including a lot of Camut's stuff. I'll be writing more on that in the months to come.

Thanks to Dan Walbrun for sharing his bottle.

Monday, May 9, 2016

Jim Rutledge Cancels Crowdfunding

Last week, I criticized Jim Rutledge's effort to raise funds for his new distillery through a crowdfunding website. On Friday, Rutledge pulled the campaign which, in its first week, had only raised about $10,000 of the $1.9 million it had sought.

In a message citing the campaign's "lackluster performance," Rutledge acknowledged that "mistakes were made by the management team" and that "the perks program could have been handled a lot better as well." Those who contributed will be refunded 100% of their contributions (something Rutledge did not have to do under the terms of the contribution).

Cancelling this campaign was the right move by Rutledge, and he did it in an honorable way. Everyone makes mistakes, but not everyone comes back from them with humility and grace, so kudos to Rutledge.

His announcement also noted that he has heard from a number of additional private investors, so hopefully he will get funding for his distillery and we will all be able to enjoy J.W. Rutledge bourbon and rye in the future.

Friday, May 6, 2016

New Whiskey Labels: Redbreast, K&L Scotch and More

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

 Pernod Ricard cleared a label for Redbreast Lustau, Redbreast Irish Whiskey finished in Oloroso sherry casks from Bodega Lustau. It does not include an age statement.

A new set of K&L exclusive Scotch labels were cleared this week, including the following from Hunter Laing's Hepburn's Choice and Old & Rare labels: Caol Ila 6Bowmore 14, Royal Brackla 17, Glen Keith 24, Bunnahabhain 28, Caol Ila 35, and two Speyside blended malts: 24 year old John McCrae and 10 year old William Hepburn. They also cleared two Scotch single grain whiskeys bottled by Sovereign: a 36 year old Girvan and a 42 year old Carsebridge.

I'm a big Miles Davis fan so I was a little taken aback my this label for Kind of Blue Blended Scotch which was apparently "inspired by the legacy" of Miles. Is a generic blended Scotch really the best we could do to honor one of America's greatest artists?

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, May 5, 2016

Mothers Deserve a Drink Part II

A few weeks ago I introduced my Mothers Deserve a Drink campaign, asking whiskey bloggers and companies, who always seem to make Father's Day whiskey recommendations, to make some for Mother's Day. Well, it didn't get a huge response. In fact, one company, 375 Park Avenue Spirits, even sent out a Father's Day email last week with no mention of Mother's Day at all. Who told these knuckleheads that ignoring a huge chunk of the population was good business?

But one blog took up the challenge and then some. The blogger at One-Line Whiskey, who happens to be a mother, printed a four part series (starting here) with dozens of great recommendations of all types of whiskey - Scotch, bourbon, Irish, crafts, you name it. The descriptions are pithy and fun so it's a good read too. For instance, she thinks Jefferson's Reserve smells like "candied ashtray" but the flavors make up for it. Balcones Baby Blue "tastes like summers on the front porch watching the kids play in the sprinklers."

So thanks to One-Line for taking on the challenge and Happy Mother's Day!

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Jim Rutledge Lays an Egg

For the past decade, Jim Rutledge has enjoyed a privileged status among bourbon lovers. Serving as Master Distiller of Four Roses at a time when it was reintroduced to the US after a long absence, Rutledge is respected for the uncompromising quality of his product and his disdain for flavored whiskeys. Four Roses has been one of the highlights of the bourbon revival and much of the credit for that has gone to Mr. Rutledge (though the Kirin Corporation, which purchased Four Roses in 2001 and saw it through the revival, certainly should share in the credit). In 2015, Rutledge announced his retirement from Four Roses.

Last week, Rutledge unveiled a new project, the J.W. Rutledge Distillery. Rutledge announced plans to build a "world-class," mid-sized Kentucky distillery where he will make bourbon and rye. Rutledge has formed a limited liability corporation with two business partners.

So far, it all sounds great, but here's where it gets a little weird. Rather than do what most businesses do and seek out investors, Rutledge is planning to raise the initial $1.9 million through the Indiegogo crowdfunding site. This initial amount will cover start up costs such as legal fees, consultants and property costs.

Now, I've contributed to crowdfunding campaigns before. They can be a great way to support an artist or craftsperson who needs some initial cash to realize a project they could not otherwise fund, but this is very different. This is an industry veteran with many contacts who wants to build a large and presumably profitable factory, and rather than rely on investors who will be rewarded with equity in the project, he wants us to give him these initial funds for free.

Well, not exactly for free. The benefit of contributing to crowdfunding campaigns is you get rewards, but Rutledge's rewards are downright crappy. For a $50 contribution, you get a t-shirt; $100 gets you a commemorative coin which gives you "first access to special releases through the gift shop" (i.e. you can use it to pay them more money!); $175 gets you two commemorative coins plus 15% off of non-alcohol merchandise from the distillery gift shop (most crowdfunding sites do not allow you to offer alcohol as an incentive); $400 gets your name on a brick at the distillery; all the way up to $1,250 which gets you an invitation to the grand opening.

On top of those lackluster prizes, Rutledge is using "flexible funding," which means that they get to keep your money even if they don't reach their goal.

I love the idea of a Jim Rutledge distillery and I hope it is a success, but this campaign is seriously uncool. Jim Rutledge has earned himself a great reputation, and now he is using that reputation to take advantage of whiskey lovers...some of whom will get their name on a brick.

But hey, if you are the type of person who is into giving money to a for-profit venture and getting little in return, please consider the Sku Store.

Monday, May 2, 2016

Clearly Apple: Double Zero Eau de Vie de Cidre

A few weeks ago, K&L held a tasting with spirits importer Nicolas Palazzi. It was an amazing deal. For $25, we got to try eight highly original spirits from a number of eau de vies to the latest Navarre Cognac to the 1975 Domaine Aurensan Armagnac. But among all these rare and long aged spirits, one of the stand outs was something young.

Double Zero Eau de Vie de Cidre is made by Cyril Zangs, one of the most well respected cider producers in France (sadly, his ciders aren't available in the US). Zangs uses over 30 varieties of apples, a mixture of sweet, bitter and sour, to make his cider. He then distills it on Jean-Roger Groult's Calvados still.

I'm not usually a fan of eau de vie. Like white whiskey, unaged brandy usually has a harsh, chemical flavor typical of raw spirit.This stuff is different. The nose has an incredible, intense apple note. It is utterly fantastic. I could just nose the stuff forever. The palate opens with crisp apple notes, followed by cinnamon and spice. It trails off with a yeasty/apple note with a strong apple finish. I love the purity of the apple flavor of this from nose to finish. For new make, this stuff is unbelievable. 

Double Zero clocks in at 100 proof (50% abv). There are 406 bottles coming to the U.S. Eventually, it should hit the shelves in California, but you can currently get it at Astor Wines. Astor has it for $80, but they have frequent one-day 15% off sales for things like all French spirits or all spirits made from apples; it's worth getting on Astor's mailing list so you know when the sales hit.