Wednesday, August 31, 2016

The Anti-Booker's: 1792 Full Proof

As far as I recall, the new 1792 Full Proof is the highest proof offering from Sazerac's Barton distillery in Bardstown. It's non-age stated, but Sazerac says it is 8 1/2 years old.

1792 Full Proof, 62.5% abv ($40)

The nose has light bourbon notes with some banana. On the palate it opens sweet with caramel notes, then develops some red wine like savory notes and some nice oak. It fades into a pleasing roasted marshmallow finish which is followed by dry oak notes. Water adds complexity, bringing out earthy, hay and grass notes as well as additional oak.

This is nice stuff. It's well balanced, has some complexity of flavor, and is fantastic for the price. Kudos to Sazerac for giving us a good, high proof bourbon that doesn't break the bank.

Ed. Note: In an earlier version of this post, I incorrectly stated that this bottling was cask strength, which it's not. "Full proof," as defined on the label is the proof that it went into the barrel (not the proof it came out of the barrel). 

Thanks to FussyChicken for the sample.

Monday, August 29, 2016

Stupid Whiskey: Booker's Rye

Some of you will recall that I had an on-line melt-down when I heard that Jim Beam's new 13 year old Booker's Rye would be priced at a whopping $300. To me, this was symptomatic of everything that is wrong with the whiskey world today. That discussion wasn't so much about the whiskey itself as about whiskey's soaring prices. Now I have a sample of this stuff, so let's see if it's truly worth the gargantuan price tag.

Booker's Rye, 13 years old, 68.1% abv ($300)

The nose is understated with light rye and caramel. The palate has sweet hot cocoa, simple syrup and light medicinal notes but not a lot of rye character, which is typical of Beam ryes (though this one is supposed to have a higher rye mashbill than their standard rye). The finish is sweet and mild.

This is a perfectly decent whiskey that's soft and sweet but has very little rye character. As with most Beam rye whiskeys, it's a good rye for people who don't like rye. Those folks who like their whiskey "smooth" will love it.

Is it worth the price? Definitely not for me - not even close, but if people are willing to buy sweet, not very flavorful whiskey for $300, who am I to tell Beam Suntory that the price is too high? Hell, they should probably get some kind of marketing award for convincing anyone to buy this stuff. Welcome to the whiskey world of 2016; please empty your pockets at the door!

Luckily, not every company is following Beam Suntory's lead. Later this week, I'll review a whiskey that's the anti-Booker's Rye in both flavor and price.

Thanks to FussyChicken for the sample.

Friday, August 26, 2016

New Whiskey Labels: Compass Box, Elijah Craig and More

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

Earlier this year, Compass Box launched a transparency campaign to challenge Scotch Whisky Association rules that prohibit whiskey producers from listing the ages of component blends other than the youngest blend, even where they list the percentage of each blend. This week, they issues a label for Three Year Old Deluxe, but the back label makes clear that less than one percent of the blend is three years old, but SWA rules prohibit them from disclosing the age of the older whiskeys. The blend is made up of Clynelish and Talisker.

Heaven Hill cleared a new label for an Eljiah Craig 23 year old, possibly indicating a new release of that bourbon is coming.

Bruichladdich cleared a label for a new edition of Octomore 10 year old. This on is peated to 167 ppm.

A label cleared for West Cork Black Reserve, Irish Whiskey finished in double charred bourbon casks. 

Some whiskeys are sourced but Fiddler Bourbon is foraged, you know, like wild mushrooms.

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, August 24, 2016

Michel Couvreur Blossoming Auld Sherry Malt

I've been a big fan of Michel Couvreur's blended malts. Now, K&L is carrying a sherried single malt from Couvreur. The new Michel Couvreur Blossoming Auld Sherry Malt is a single cask aged in a 70 year old sherry cask. It is from an undisclosed Scotch distillery. There is no age statement but K&L tells me it was distilled in 2001 and bottled this year.

Michel Couvreur Blossoming Auld Sherry Malt, 45% abv ($220)

This has a beautiful, old sherry nose with some fruit. The palate is sweet, fruity sherry with just a touch of sulfur at the end. It drinks strong for the proof. The finish has sherry and light sulfur notes.

This is a very well composed, classic sherry malt. Great stuff!

Monday, August 22, 2016

Italian Brandy: Villa Zarri 1991

K&L snagged a 24 year old, single barrel cask strength brandy from Villa Zarri in Northern Italy just outside of Bologna. This brandy is made in a style similar to Cognac - pot distilled, made from Ugni Blanc grapes and aged in French oak, and unlike many Cognacs, it has no additives.

Villa Zarri 1991, 24 yo, 59.7% abv ($100)

The nose has deep, earthy notes, like slightly wet dirt on a misty morning. The palate is bold and powerful.There's a touch of sweetness at the opening, followed by huge spice notes and an earthy finish that turns bitter and then strongly bitter.

It's really good, densely flavored stuff, but what you really need to do is add water. Just a few drops of water brings out big, sweet, fruit notes on the nose along with mulling spices. The palate opens with sweet fruit and the develops spice, while keeping those sweet notes in the background. The finish is spicy, earthy with nice fruit notes on the nose, though it retains the strongly bitter long finish.

This has tons going on and it balances it all very well.  Cognac fans (who drink the additive free stuff, not the mass market caramel/sugar bombs) will love this stuff.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

German Food in LA

Schnitzel with spaetzel at Wirtshaus

This summer, I was lucky enough to be able to visit Germany, which should be considered more of a food lover's destination (maybe I'll write something up about that but if you're interested, I covered it on Instagram).  Upon returning home, I was craving some traditional German food. There aren't a lot of options in LA, but here are two that I really liked.

Wirtshaus, on La Brea, has many traditional German dishes including sausages and schnitzel. I enjoyed the schnitzel and spaetzel (a German pasta) and they make a really great pretzel. Their strength, though, is really their beer and pretzels. They have a massive German beer selection and the pretzels are baked fresh, come out piping hot and have a great crusty outside and chewy inside.

Alpine Steinhaus, in Torrance, is located in the Alpine Village, a bizarre, cheesy recreation of an Alpine Village with a mix of German themed shops. It feels like a cross between Epcot Center and a horror movie set, but the food is great. There is a German market with a fantastic selection of salami and house-made sausages as well as German packaged food. The restaurant is also surprisingly good with some of the sausages offered at the market, very good schnitzel and a garlicky, pan fried spaetzel. The food is comparable to Wirtshaus though Alpine does a better spaetzel and Wirtshaus does better pretzels and has a much better beer selection.

Bratwurst with spaetzel at Alipine Steinhaus

If you know of any other good German food in LA, let me know (but no currywurst places please; I'm really not a fan of currywurst).

345 N La Brea Ave
Los Angeles, CA 90036 
(323) 931-9291

Alpine Steinhaus (Alpine Village)
833 W Torrance Blvd.
Torrance, CA 90502 
(310) 327-4384

Monday, August 15, 2016

Is Highland Park Ice Worth Your Cold Cash?

Highland Park Ice Edition is a new, 17 year old expression from the Orkney Island distillery.  It's bottled and priced similarly to the Valhalla Collection, though the strange wooden frame looks like a mountain or pyramid instead of a ship. Highland Park recently cleared a label for a Fire Edition, so this appears to be another series.

Highland Park Ice Edition, 17 years old, 53.9% ($300)

The nose is very nice, malty with light peat notes. The palate opens with sweet honey malt notes followed by some light peat. The finish is dry and peppery.

This is a nicely composed and well balanced malt. Tasting notes really don't do it justice because the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. It's highly drinkable and the dry finish leaves you wanting another sip. This is the type of balanced malt that Highland Park can do so well. It reminds me of some of their older releases that I really loved. The only downside is the price, but hey, did I mention the mountain shaped box?

Thanks to Highland Park for the sample.

Friday, August 12, 2016

New Whiskey Labels: Lagavulin, Michter's and More

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

Diageo cleared a label for the Lagavulin 25 year old, a cask strength bottling they announced earlier this summer. Before you get too excited, Diageo announced that the suggested retail price will be $1,200.

Edrington cleared a label for Highland Park Fire Edition, a 15 year old that appears to be in the same series as the current Ice Edition.

Ten years go, the original Spice Tree from Compass Box ran into opposition from the Scotch Whisky Association for its use of added oak staves in the barrel. Now Compass Box has cleared a new label for Spice Tree Extravaganza to commemorate the ban of the original. This new version of the blended malt draws from "older components and a significant portion of sherry-cask aged malt whisky."

Michter's cleared a label for Excellus single barrel Bourbon and Rye. Interestingly, the label highlights the fact that it's filtered, something most whiskey fans don't like:  "We select a particular barrel and put it through a filtration protocol designed to best highlight the rich character of the whiskey."

Luxco cleared a label for Ezra Brooks Rye, a 90 proof, 2 year old Indiana rye. 

Hey look, it's 100% American Bourbon. You know, as opposed to all that foreign 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, August 10, 2016

More Craft Whiskey: Union Horse Bourbon & Rye

Union Horse is a craft distillery located outside of Kansas City (on the Kansas side). Founded in 2010 as Dark Horse Distillery with the help of craft whiskey consultant David Pickerell, they source grains locally, mill them at the distillery, distill in a copper pot still and age in full sized, 53 gallon Missouri oak barrels.

Today I'm tasting a bourbon and a rye. Both are straight whiskeys which is always good to see from craft producers (though still fairly rare).  They seem to go for $50-$60 with the rye being slightly more expensive.

Union Horse Reserve Straight Bourbon, 2 years old, Batch 2, 46% abv

Union Horse uses a somewhat unique bourbon mashbill consisting of 80% corn and 20% rye. The oldest whiskeys used for this bourbon are five years old but the age statement is 2 years. The nose on this is grainy. The palate is tinny and a bit watery with vanilla notes. The finish is dry and grainy.
Union Horse Reunion Straight Rye, 2 years old, Batch 1, 46.5% abv

This is made from a 100% rye mashbill. It has a really nice nose with rye and some Charbay like hops notes. The palate has that tiny-grainy taste so typical of craft whiskey. The finish turns spicy but bitter. It's got a great nose, but it declines sharply after that.

For me, this is yet another craft whiskey that seems to be trying really hard and doing all of the right things on paper but still disappoints. Maybe it's the flavor of the pot stills or maybe this stuff is just too young, but these whiskeys taste like so many other grainy/tinny craft whiskeys. Check out The Whiskey Jug though, because he really liked both the Union Horse Bourbon and Reunion Rye.

Thanks to FleishmanHillard for the sample.

Monday, August 8, 2016

How Tan is my Valley? High West Valley Tan

Utah distillery High West is primarily known for their great sourced whiskeys and blends, but they also distill their own whiskey, and they have been slowly releasing it to the public. The only aged whiskey made from their own distillate which they are currently selling is Valley Tan. Previously, Valley Tan was an oat whiskey (85% oat, 15% barley), but for this third release, they've combined the oat with a wheat whiskey (90% wheat, 10% barley). It is aged in a combination of new and used barrels and contains whiskeys from one to six years old. It is only available in Utah.

High West Valley Tan Utah Whiskey, Batch 3, 43.5% ($50)

The nose is grainy and grassy. The palate is sweet with grassy and floral notes. It's got a sweet, mild finish.

I'm not usually a fan of young, craft whiskeys, but this one is quite nice. It's got the grainy notes all craft whiskey seem to have, but it lacks any of the harshness. It's quite pleasant - definitely one of the better craft whiskeys I've tried.

Thanks to High West for the sample.

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

More French Whiskey: Rozelieures Single Malts

Lately, we seem to be getting a lot of new single malts from France. The latest to land at my door is a quartet of single malts from G. Rozelieures. These malts come from Lorraine, where the family grows its own barley. They are all peated to some degree and are aged in a variety of casks.

Rozelieures Origine Collection, 4 years old, 40% abv ($50)

This whiskey is aged in sherry and Cognac casks. It has a nice nose with malt, light peat, and some agave notes. The palate is very heavy on Tequila type notes with some sweetness at the end that leads into a sweet, Tequila finish. It's not bad but at 40% it tastes a bit diluted. A few points higher on the proof scale would do it well.

Rozelieures Rare Collection, 5 years old, 40% abv ($60)

This expression is lightly peated, aged in sherry and Cognac casks and finished in Sauternes casks. There are nice peaty/malty notes on the nose. The palate has light peat and very slight wine notes. The finish is slightly peated with some nice peat on the nose. Again, very decent, less watery tasting than the Origine.

Rozelieures  Fumé Collection, 6-8 years old, 40% abv ($75)

This one is aged in first fill Oloroso and Fino sherry casks. The nose opens with big sulfur notes. The sulfur is more muted on the palate which has pleasant dry sherry notes. It gains a touch of sweetness in the finish.

Rozelieures Tourbe Collection, 8 years old 46% abv ($90)

This one is peated to 30 ppm, aged in ex-bourbon casks and finished in new oak from Lorraine. It's malty on the nose with light peat. On the palate, it's got syrupy sweet peat. The peat grows into the finish.

There are all very pleasant and worth trying. They are certainly the most Scotch-like of the French malts I've tried without any of the flowery/perfume notes that I associate with French single malts. They all could benefit from a higher proof point though. I'd love to try them at cask strength.

Thanks to Heavenly Spirits for the samples.

Monday, August 1, 2016

Ten Years of Parker's Heritage Collection

Last week, Heaven Hill cleared a label for the tenth release of its Parker's Heritage Collection, which will be a 24 year old bottled in bond bourbon. Given that it's now been around for a decade, I thought this would be a good time to look at the Collection as a whole over the years. For each bottling, I've included the original price.

First Edition (2007) Cask Strength Bourbon ($80): The very first release of Parker's was a high power bourbon. Composed of 68 barrels distilled in 1996, it was released in three batches at slightly different proofs (122.6, 127.4 & 129.6). This was a delicious monster of a bourbon (and as per the world of 2007, it sat on shelves for months). The 122.6 proof is still my favorite of the entire Parker's series.

Second Edition (2008) 27 Year Old Bourbon, 48% abv ($185): These days, we're used to bourbon aged well into its third decade, but back in '08, few bourbons pushed past the 20 year mark and this 27 year old was, by far, the oldest bourbon available when it came out. That being said, it's a rare bourbon that can hold up over 20 years, and this one had some musty, old woody notes. It was good but didn't reach the heights of the first release.

Third Edition (2009) Golden Anniversary, 50% abv ($150): In honor of Parker Beam's 50 years at Heaven Hill, the Third Edition of Parker's combined bourbons from each decade he was on the job going back to the 1960s. This one made waves for receiving the highest rating to date from Malt Advocate Magazine (now Whisky Advocate): 97 points. I liked it but wasn't quite that enthusiastic; I thought it was on the sweet side. (I'm not sure why I never wrote this one up on the blog but I did rate it for the LA Whiskey Society).

Fourth Edition (2010) 10 Year old Wheated Bourbon, 63.9% abv ($80): After a couple of years of high priced Parker's that I liked but didn't love, Heaven Hill dropped a cask strength ten year old wheated bourbon and lowered the price back down to $80. And it was great! It had a great balance of sweet, savory and oaky notes. This was particularly surprising since Heaven Hill's standard wheated bourbons were mostly an afterthought back then. This is my second favorite after the First Edition.

Fifth Edition (2011) Barrel Finished, 10 years old, 50% abv ($80): This was a ten year old bourbon finished for six months in Frapin Cognac casks. The Cognac really came through and made for a tasty, if not exceptional bourbon.

Sixth Edition (2012) Blend of Mashbills, 11 years old ($80): The sixth edition was a blend of rye and wheat recipe bourbons bottled at cask strength. Like the first edition, this one was released in three batches at three different abvs (65.8%, 68.95% & 69.7%). This bourbon managed to capture the good elements of both mashbills and was a solid bourbon. This was probably the last of the very good to great Parker's Heritage Collection whiskeys. After 2012, the series really went into decline.

Seventh Edition (2013) Promise of Hope, 10 years old, 48% abv ($90): In 2013, Parker Beam, the Heaven Hill Master Distiller who the Heritage Collection was named for, announced that he had ALS. The Promise of Hope bottling helped raise awareness of ALS, and for every bottle sold, $20 went to ALS research. This was a ten year old, single barrel, rye recipe bourbon; 100 barrels were released. It was a noble cause to be sure, but while it was a decent bourbon, dry with a chaotic palate, it wasn't great.

Eighth Edition (2014) Wheat Whiskey, 13 years old ($90). For years, Heaven Hill was the only major distillery that produced a straight wheat whiskey (Bernheim Wheat), so it made sense that they would use one in a Parker's Release. This one had two batches at different abvs: 63.4% and 63.7%. I thought the 63.7% was decent for a wheat whiskey, but I found the 63.4% to be a sour and acidic mess. Most others didn't see much of a difference between the two.

Ninth Edition (2015) Malt Whiskey, 8 years old, 54% abv ($100). This was a pretty surprising release. Who even knew that Heaven Hill had made malt whiskey, but here it was, and it was pretty bad. I found it soapy and cardboardy with no complexity. Definitely my least favorite of the entire series.

Will this year's 24 year old return the Parker's Heritage Collection to its past glory? Will it set a record for pricing of the series? Will anyone be able to find it? Will Heaven Hill ever appease the whiskey geeks who have been pining for a 10 year old cask strength rye or a really old corn whiskey? Time will tell.

ADDENDUM (To keep the list complete)

Tenth Edition (2016) 24 Year Old BIB, 50% abv ($250). Pre-fire Heaven Hill bourbon distilled in 1990 and 1991.

Eleventh Edition (2017) 11 Year Old Single Barrel, 61% abv ($130).  This single barrels that were bottled for this edition all came from Rickhouses in Deatsville which, according to Heaven Hill, was Parker Beam's favorite rickhouse location. The precise rickhouse and floor is listed on each bottle.