Monday, May 15, 2017

All Good Things...

All good things must come to an end. Well, mediocre things must come to an end too, and bad things for that matter. And whatever category you put this blog into, this is the end.

It's been a blast of a decade, but after ten years, I've said pretty much all I have to say about food and drink. I'll continue to Tweet my spirituous thoughts, talk brandy on the Serious Brandy Facebook page, score whiskeys at the LA Whisk(e)y Society and post my silly food pictures on Instagram, but this will be my last blog post.

I had fun. I hope you did too. Thank you for reading!

Friday, May 12, 2017

A Decade of Sku: Acknowledgments

Lots of people have made the last decade of this blog possible by sharing spirits, information, friendship and conversation, giving me ideas, reading drafts or just plain inspiring me. I thought I would take a moment to thank all of the following:

Adam Herz, Andrew Goodloe, Andy Smith, Anna Olson, Arnab, Blake Riber, Brendan Prouty, Brian Haara, C. Thi Nguyen, Chris Bunting, Chris Hall, Chris Stevenson, Chris Uhde, Chuck Cowdery, Clay Risen, Dan Walbrun, Dan Zimmerman, Daniel Laurence, David Driscoll, David Othenin-Girard, David Perkins, David Wankel, Davin DeKergommeaux, Dean Chiang, Doug Philips, Eric Felten, Florin, Frank & Debra, Fred Minnick, Funky Tape, Greg Gilbert, Heather Greene, Howard Levinson, Janet Patton, Jason Beatty, Jason Pyle, Jeffrey Morgenthaler, Jim Leff, Johanne McInnis, John Hansell, John & Linda Lipman, Jordan Devereaux, Josh Chinn, Josh Peters, Josh Wright, Joshua Feldman, Karen & Carl, Keith Boyea, Ken Tanaka, Kevin Erskine, Leah, Lew Bryson, Linh Do, Mark Gillespie, Marko Karakasevic, Martin Daraz, Max Wallhausser, Michael Kravitz, Michael Ries, Michael Veach, Naomi, Nicolas Palazzi, Nina Wanat, Oliver Klimek, Paul Schurman, Ralfy, Randy Blank, Reid Bechtle, Reid Mitenbuler, Richard Anderson, Rob Gard, Ronde Ingvar, Russell Hogg, Ryan Oberleitner, Sam Komlenic, Sam Simmons, Serge Valentin, Steffen Brauner, Steve Leukanech, Steve Neese, Tim Puett, Tim Read, Tony Chen, Wade Woodard, and Winston Churchill Edwards

I'm sure I forgot some folks and for that, I am truly sorry.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Ask Me Anything!

I got tons of great questions in response to my Ask Me Anything post.  Here are answers to a number of them.

Years ago, you wrote an article for one of the whiskey magazines titled "Craft Whiskey Sucks." Now, many years later, would you write the same thing? Do you still think it mostly sucks? 
It was back in 2010 that I wrote on the Malt Advocate blog that "Most Craft Whiskeys Suck" (Whisky Advocate seems to have taken down the old blog archive but I cross posted the piece on my blog). For the most  part, I think that's still true. There are over 800 craft distilleries making whiskey in the US, but I can count the ones I've had anything good from on two hands: Charbay, Balcones, Cut Spike, Old Potrero, Seven Stills Tom's Foolery...maybe a few more, but not many. It's surprising because seven years ago, I assumed that the reason most craft whiskeys sucked was that they were too young, but now there are a number of four and five year old craft whiskeys, even BIBs, and they still mostly suck. If it isn't age, what's the issue?  I've heard lots of theories, from the stills to the yeast to the length of fermentation, but I can't claim to know.

Sku - at what point does a whisky that you own become too expensive that you don't open the bottle? For instance, I have a 2012 FR Small Batch that I'm told now sells for over $700 - that seems a ludicrous amount to spend on a bottle, and I wouldn't spend that amount on it and I'm happy I got it at retail back then. But now I find that decision to open is harder and harder, and I might not ever.

I do my best to ignore the secondary market. Every bottle in my closet is there to drink. I don't think of it as an investment except in my own happiness, so I don't hesitate to open anything.

Do Armagnac houses/domaines have recognizable profiles? For example are there specific differences in notes between Chateau de Gaube and Domaine de Busquet that you could expect to find despite the vintage?
I can't speak to your two examples as I've don't think I've had them, but Armagnacs absolutely have house styles. There are a number of variables which contribute to house style including grape varietals, types of barrels used and use of additives. Even within houses, there are recognizable differences, such as a Domaine de Baraillon Armagnacs made from Folle Blanche, which tend to be dry and earthy, vs. those made from Baco/Ugni Blanc. which tend to be fruitier.

How many spirits bottles do you tend to have in your personal collection at any given time (more or less)? of that group, what percentage consists of whiskey v. brandy v. other spirits at this point? do you have any favorite spirits categories other than whiskey or brandy (e.g. mezcal or Jamaican rum)?
I keep a list, so I can tell you exactly. I currently have 269 bottles of whiskey (115 of which are open), 55 bottles of brandy (25 open), and 14 bottles of rum (9 open). Beyond that I have a handful of Mezcals and  Absinthes and a dozen or so spirits I mostly use as cocktail ingredients. Other than whiskey and brandy, I love super-funky rums, and in the summer, I drink a lot of amaro (Aperol, Campari, Cynar, etc.).

1. in your opinion are micro-distillers pricing their bourbons too high?
2. is the bourbon renaissance a bubble?
2a. if it is a bubble how bad will the pop be?
3. are "tech" whiskies like cleveland viable? that is, in the long run, can a "whisky" that's aged for an hour really compete on price/quality with a bourbon that's aged for 10 years? in fact, i have seen cleveland priced higher than eagle rare and laughed all the way home.


1.  Yes.
2.  Not entirely, but there is a bubble.
2a.  Somewhere between Bordeaux and Beanie Babies.
3.  I doubt we will see amazing tech whiskey that connoisseurs will seek out, but eventually, technology will likely allow for the production of whiskey that is close enough to standard aged whiskey that it will sell successfully. I'm guessing one day there will be hour-old tech whiskeys competing with standard Beam and Jack Daniel's. Even if they aren't quite as good, if the price is significantly lower, they will be fierce competitors.

Simple: 100 duck sized horses or one horse sized duck?
The duck, assuming I get to eat it if I win.

How does it feel to be the dean of American whiskey bloggers? How much longer do you think you'll keep going? Do you think blogging about whiskey is still relevant?

1.  I appreciate the accolade, but if there is a dean of American whiskey bloggers, it's Chuck Cowdery. He had already been at it for years when I showed up on the scene.
2. At least through the end of the week.
3. Blogging, in general, is much less relevant than when I started ten years ago.  These days, people spend a lot more time on social media than on blogs, but I still find blogs relevant and read them, both for reviews and information. That being said, it does seems like a dying books.

1. What is the next big thing in spirits and why is it Armagnac?
2. Do you believe that dusty bourbon/rye has a familiar profile that you don't find in today's products, i.e. "dusty notes"? If so, do you believe that's due to bottle conditioning or some other factor(s)?
3. Given the current boom and scarcity of anything allocated or limited edition, are there bottles you regret passing on years ago that you wish you would have bought more of?

1.  I love Armagnac, but I actually think full proof, additive-free rum is more likely to be the next craze. Serge at Whiskyfun recently compared Hampden Jamaican rum to 1970s Ardbeg which pretty much guarantees that thousands of malt-heads will be seeking it out, and they should. In terms of Armagnac, there's a new new generation of Armagnacs aged in new oak (e.g. Charron, L'Encantada) which may well catch on with the bourbon lovers.
2.  That's a great question. My experience, and I think most folks who drink a lot of dusties would agree, is that those bourbons definitely have a different profile and one that's changed through the years.  For instance, prohibition era bourbon tastes much spicier than today's stuff whereas '70s bourbon is like liquid candy.  I have no idea why the differences exist and how much of it is related to so-called old bottle effect. I don't think we will ever know for sure, since there were many differences between how they made bourbon and rye decades ago and how they make it now - lower entry proofs, differences in fermentation and distillation, etc.
3. There aren't really bottles I regret passing on because I didn't pass on much. I was lucky to get into this whiskey in the early 2000s when things were cheap and plentiful, so I had some great stuff at ridiculously low prices (some of which seemed ridiculously high at the time). In terms of bottles I wish I had bought more of, one of the first bottles of bourbon I purchased was the old Wild Turkey Russell's Reserve 10 year, 101 proof - that's one that I really miss, though not enough to pay secondary prices for it.

Why "Sku"?  
It's my initials.

We often talk about the downsides of the bourbon boom? From your perspective, what are some of the positive aspects?

Great question! With all the complaining about prices, loss of age statements and the secondary market, it's easy to forget that thirty years ago, almost no one was drinking bourbon, and there were only one or two ryes on the shelf, if that. No one bothered to do special releases, experiment or put out well aged whiskey because no one cared about American whiskey. Fast forward thirty years and there's bourbon everywhere. I just did a tasting of 20 currently available, affordable rye whiskeys, and we could have probably done 40. We have a diversity of mashbills, yeast, proof and nearly everything else. It's true that compared to ten years ago, prices are higher and well-aged whiskey is harder to come by, but there are more choices in the American whiskey aisle than there have ever been, and more is coming. Everyone talks about the craft distillers, but the growth of mid-sized Kentucky distilleries is what I find most promising. These larger distilleries like Willett, Michter's and New Riff are going to have the means and capacity to produce great bourbon and rye, and I'm betting they will.

Does MAO still make you swoon? 
-Jealous in Jersey
 Nah, that guy's annoying.

Do you ever have any regrets about spending so much of your life on this whisky hobby?
Not at all. On the contrary, I've met amazing friends, had a lot of great times, and I have been endlessly impressed by the kindness and generosity of the other folks in the hobby.

That was fun! Thanks to everyone who sent in questions.

Monday, May 8, 2017

A Decade of Sku: Favorite Posts

This week marks ten years of Sku's Recent Eats, and to celebrate, I'll be indulging myself with frivolous posts all week long. 

At the blog's five year mark, I listed some of my favorite posts from the first five years, so I thought I would do the same for the last five years. These may not be the best posts, and they weren't necessarily the most popular, but they are the ones I had the most fun with.

My all time most viewed post, other than my big lists of whiskey distilleries and whiskey blogs, was a 2011 post on deciphering Van Winkle bottle codes.

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Ask Me Anything

One reader suggested I do a Reddit-style Ask Me Anything session. I wasn't sure I would have anything interesting enough to say, but I figured I'd give it a shot. If you have a burning question, serious or not, ask in the comments, by email or social media and if there are enough questions, I'll cover some of them in a blog post next week.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Big Plastic: Fleischmann's Rye

Fleischmann's Rye is sort of an odd bird. It's the only rye made by the Barton distillery, and it's mostly for sale in Wisconsin, where it's a budget offering. It used to be a straight rye, but a few years ago they dropped the "straight," so now it's just cheap rye in a big plastic bottle.

Fleischmann's Rye, 40% abv ($15 for 1.75 liters)

The nose is herbal, slightly minty and botanical with some perfume notes.  On the palate there's pine and some spice but it also gets a bit bitter. The bitterness increases into the finish has some spice as well.

This had some nice notes on the nose but the bitterness was overwhelming.

Thanks to Reid Bechtle for the sample and photo.

Monday, April 24, 2017

Beam Pre-Pro Rye

I've been doing a big rye tasting that includes a lot of current off-the-shelf budget ryes, so I thought I would run down some of the ones I've never reviewed before. The Jim Beam Pre-Prohibition Rye first came out a few years ago. It's not really pre-prohibition of course. In fact, the Jim Beam company was founded after prohibition (though parent company Suntory existed well before American prohibition).

Jim Beam Pre-Prohibition Rye, 45% abv ($20)

It starts with a nice spicy rye aroma. The palate comes on sweet, followed by spice and some acidic notes which lead to a finish that is drier than the palate with some nice spice.

I'm not generally a fan of Beam ryes, but this one is pretty decent with more rye character than Beam ryes typically have. It was a bit too sweet on the palate, but otherwise came together well.

Thanks to Reid Bechtle for the sample. 

Friday, April 21, 2017

New Whiskey Labels: Ardbeg, Bowman, MGP and More

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

Ardbeg cleared a label for Twenty Something, a 23 year old.

Diageo began clearing labels for this year's limited release series. So far, they have cleared labels for a 17 year old Teaninich, an 18 year old Glen Elgin and a 52 year old single grain from Port Dundas.

Edrington cleared  label for Highland Park Full Volume, distilled in 1999 and bottled in 2017.

A. Smith Bowman cleared labels for a series of bourbons commemorating late master distiller Truman Cox. They included Emerson Cox, an 8 year old bourbon named for Cox's daughter; Jayden Quin,  a 12 year old bourbon named for his niece and Truman Cox First Whiskey Barrel, a 6 year old barrel proof bourbon.

Last year, MGP purchased the George Remus label and last week they issued a label for Remus Repeal Reserve, a blend of three MGP bourbons.

Sazerac cleared a label for a 1971 blended Scotch under the super-pricey The Last Drop label.

Anchor cleared labels for three finished version of their rye malt whiskey finished in stout, port and wine barrels,

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, April 19, 2017

Crown Royal Northern Harvest Rye

Two years ago, Jim Murray made waves, as he is wont to do, by naming Crown Royal Northern Harvest Rye as his whiskey of the year. I'm only now just getting around to trying it.

Crown Royal Northern Harvest Rye, 45% abv ($28)

This has a nice nose with spicy rye notes and a touch of mint. On the palate it's minty with bubblegum but then quite bitter. The finish is spicy with some medicinal notes.

This one starts nicely but then turns bitter and flat.

Thanks to Reid Bechtle for the sample and photo. 

Monday, April 17, 2017

Darroze 50

One of my go-to recommendations for people wanting to try an Armagnac is Darroze Les Grands Assemblages 20 year old.  Darroze is an independent bottler with a large selection of casks at their disposal. Most of what they bottle are single barrels but their Les Grands Assemblages series are blends of their different casks.  Today, I'm lucky enough to sample the 50 year old Armagnac from this series.

Darroze Les Grands Assemblages 50, 42% abv ($350)

The nose is spicy with overripe fruit. The nose is a bit flat but it really comes alive on the palate with big fruit notes at the front end, followed by spicy mint and earthy notes leading to a peppery, somewhat medicinal finish.

As with all of Darroze's blends, this one seems calculated for mass appeal.  It's very good, but there are probably other brandies I'd buy before spending $350 on it.

Thanks to My Annoying Opinions for the sample.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Last Year's Peat: Laphroaig Cairdeas 2016 & Lagavulin 8

Today I review two peated whiskeys that were released last year, courtesy of samples from My Annoying Opinions.

Lagavulin 8 year old, 48% abv ($60)

This was a limited release to celebrate the 200th anniversary of the Lagavulin Distillery. What better way to do so than with a really young whiskey?

The nose is sweet and peaty with floral notes; surprisingly, the peat doesn't blow you away. The peat comes on strong on the palate, with some light sweet notes, and it fades into a peaty finish.

This tastes exactly how you think it will taste, like a younger Lagavulin, and it's pretty good, because it's Lagavulin.

Laphroaig Cairdeas 2016, 51.6% abv ($85)

The 2016 Cairdeas, an annual release that varies year to year, was composed of Laphroaig finished in Madeira seasoned casks.

The nose has a lot of wine character; it mixes with the peat to produce some fuel like notes. On the palate there's that same dynamic - first wine along with some fruit notes, then peat, then fuel-like notes but with a bit of spice, likely from the Madeira. The finish is mostly peated with some spice on the palate.

What separates this from any other Laphroaig is the spicy wine notes. I'm not a huge fan of Madeira finishes, so this one wasn't for me - it just gets in the way of an otherwise good Laphroaig, but if you like that sort of thing, you'll probably really enjoy this Cairdeas.

See My Annoying Opinions' reviews of the Lagavulin 8 and Laphroaig Cairdeas 2016

Monday, April 10, 2017

Better Late Than Never: Four Roses 2016 Limited Edition Small Batch

It's harder and harder to get these bottles, so thanks to My Annoying Opinions for sending me a sample of the 2016 edition of the Four Roses Limited Edition Small Batch was released last fall and sold out pretty much immediately.

The 2016 Small Batch Limited edition was a blend of 12 year old OESO, 12 year old OBSV and 16 year old OESK

Four Roses Small Batch Limited Edition 2016, 55.6% abv ($1 Bajillion)

The nose is nice with bourbon caramel notes. The palate comes on sweet, then picks up woody notes and develops a chewy mouthfeel. It feels hot for its strength. The finish is dry with peppery notes and then a very slight mint. Water makes it soapy so I'd stay away from the faucet.

This is a very nice bourbon, in the traditional "old bourbon" style with a lot of oak showing through. Taking it side by side with the 2015, they are pretty similar. The 2015 may have had more complex flavors but the 2016 is more balanced between the oak and sweeetness. Still, none of them stand up to the amazing bottlings of 2012 and 2013. Those are the bottlings that made the Small Batch Limited Edition a cult must-have bourbon, but the more years pass, the more they seem like an aberration.  The more recent releases have certainly been very good, but not amazing.

Also see MAO's annoying opinion on this bourbon.

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Canadian Club 100% Rye

I'm still looking for good, affordable, available whiskey and it's hard to get more affordable than this. Canadian Club's 100% rye is distilled at Alberta Distillers (the distillery that makes most of the Canadian rye available in the US - Whistlepig, Masterson's, Jefferson's, Alberta Premium Dark Batch, etc.). This one comes from the actual owner of the distillery: Beam Suntory, and I picked it up for a whopping $13.

Canadian Club 100% Rye, 40% abv ($13)

The nose is botanical with lots of herbal notes and some honey sweetness. The palate is very light with some black tea, a very slight mint note and pepper leading into a peppery finish.  Overall it's quite bland.

This is a very light and soft compared to the bold mint and pickle notes in the American bottlings of Alberta rye. My guess would be that this is a blend. (You can have a 100% rye blend because Canadian blends combine base whiskies distilled to a very high proof with lower proof, more flavorful whiskeys). This could even be one of those base whiskeys. There's just not much to it. The saving grace is that I'm only out $13, as opposed to the $85 I frittered away on the WhistlePig Farmstock.

Monday, April 3, 2017

Vermont Whiskey at Last: WhistlePig Farmstock Rye

Seven years or so after coming onto the market, WhistlePig finally has made some of their own whiskey. Since its founding, most of WhistlePig's product has been Canadian rye made at Alberta Distillers, though they have also bottled some MGP rye from Indiana. Farmstock, their newest product, includes both of these but also some Vermont rye, presumably made at their own farm distillery.

WhistlePig's Farmstock whiskey is made up of 49% five year old Alberta rye, 31% 12 year old MGP rye and 20% one year old Vermont rye (and kudos to WhistlePig for disclosing all of this right on the label).

WhistlePig Farmstock Rye, Crop 001, 43% abv ($85)

The nose is typical WhistlePig and very nice, spicy with some pickle juice notes. The palate starts with some spice but very quickly turns bitter with raw wood notes which lead to a bitter finish.

This stuff is pretty bad. The nose has some nice qualities but the palate is flat and bitter like many craft whiskeys.  If you are going to drink it, give it lots of air, which takes off some of the rougher edges.

Dear WhistlePig, if this is what your Vermont distillate tastes like, please go back to sourcing your whiskey.



Friday, March 31, 2017

New Whiskey Labels: Balvenie, Glen Grant & More

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

William Grant cleared a label for Batch 4 of Balvenie Tun 1509.

A label cleared for a Gordon & MacPhail bottling of Glen Grant 1936 that is 45 years old, so it's either an old bottling or it's been sitting around somewhere, not in a barrel, for 35 years. They also cleared a label for a 1954 Glen Grant that's 59 years old.

Douglas Laing cleared a label for a sherried version of their Rock Oyster, a blend of island malts.

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, March 29, 2017

The New Craft BIBs

Just a few years ago, it looked like the category of bonded whiskey was on its way out. In 2013, I made a list of all of the bottled in bond whiskeys available and could only identify 18, more than half from Heaven Hill and many of which were regional releases that weren't widely available. Only one of them, Anchor's Old Potrero, was from a craft producer.

Well, like many other things, craft whiskey seems to have brought back the bottled in bond category. Over the last couple of years, there has been a huge boom in new BIB whiskeys from craft producers, as well as more products from the big boys like Brown Forman and Beam. Here is a list of BIBs from the new distilleries that have either been released or cleared labels:

A.D. Laws Four Grain Bourbon
Dad's Hat Rye (Mountain Laurel Spirits)
Few Bourbon & Single Malt
Kings County Distillery Bourbon
Leopold Brothers Maryland Style Rye
North American Steamship Rye (Quincy Street Distillery)
Old Maysville Club Rye (Old Pogue)
Oregon Spirit Distillers Bourbon, Rye and Wheat Whiskey
Outryder American Whiskey (Wyoming Whiskey)
Peerless Rye (Kentucky Peerless)
Project No.l 1 Bourbon (Breuckelen Distilling)
Rocktown 5th Anniversary Bourbon
Tom's Foolery Bourbon, Rye & Corn Whiskey (as well as Applejack)
Wigle Rye (Pittsburgh Distilling)
Willett Bourbon

It's pretty impressive that in four years craft distillers have nearly doubled the number of BIB whiskeys on the market.  If I've missed any, please let me know in the comments.

Monday, March 27, 2017

New from Copper & Kings: Blue Sky Mining Muscat Brandy

Kentucky brandy producer Copper & Kings' latest release is a seven year old, pot distilled muscat brandy which was aged in wine barrels and spent its final 30 months in a single Kentucky hogshead with used Bourbon staves and new American oak heads. It is non-chill filtered and additive free.

Copper & Kings Blue Sky Mining Brandy, 50% abv, ($40 for 375 ml)

This has a beautiful nose that starts with crisp, white wine notes and quickly moves to spicy notes, but spicy like a Gewurztraminer. The palate has pine notes and cloves along with some Scotch-like malt notes. Overall, it's quite dry, but there is a very slight sweetness after the spice and a light bitterness as well. The finish is fresh and piney with peppery notes.

This is a really unique and delicious brandy; it's fragrant and spicy with notes of Scotch and dry white wine. It's quirky, and not for those who like a sweeter brandy, but I'll certainly try to pick up a bottle or two.

Thanks to Copper & Kings for the sample.

Friday, March 24, 2017

New Whiskey Labels: Woodford Master's, Laphroaig and More

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

Brown Forman released a label for this year's Woodford Reserve Master's Collection. It's called Cherry Wood Smoked Barley, and it's a bourbon. That's pretty much all the information that's on the label.

Beam Suntory cleared two Laphroaig labels: a 27 year old finished in first fill bourbon and refill quarter casks and a 25 year old aged in American and Oloroso casks.

Pernod Ricard cleared a label for Green Spot finished in Zinfandel casks from Chateau Montelena.

Two labels cleared for Collabor&tion, a collaboration between Copper & Kings and Bardstown Bourbon Company. Both are ten year old finished bourbons: one is finished in American brandy barrels, the other in American  Muscat barrels.

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, March 22, 2017

Burnside Bourbon

Burnside Bourbon is a four year old sourced straight bourbon bottled by Eastside Distilling in Portland, Oregon.

Burnside Bourbon, 4 yo, 48% abv ($25)

The nose is nice with plenty of spice and oak. The palate opens with spicy notes. It's quite dry and has a slight soapy note. The finish is spicy. Hmm. This tastes like MGP's high rye bourbon recipe.

This bourbon has a very nice nose and finish, but the palate is a bit flat. This is probably one I would use for cocktails.

Thanks to Eastside Distilling for the sample. 

Monday, March 20, 2017

Ten Places You Should Eat When You Visit LA

So you're coming to LA and you want to know where to eat? We are blessed with a wide variety of most excellent food, but the volume can be daunting, and since I get this question a lot, I thought I'd make a list. Obviously, any such list will necessarily exclude huge amounts of great food, but if you don't frequent LA and you're looking for a taste of the town, here are some recommendations. They will be most convenient if you're staying anywhere in the mid-city area (they are in no particular order):

1. Guisados. You wan't tacos?  This is your place. Originating in Boyle Heights, there are now five locations serving some of the best tacos in LA, with stewed fillings (the guisados). I'm partial to the bistek in salsa roja, the tinga de pollo and the quesadilla - which will ruin every other quesadilla you ever eat.

2.  Chi Spacca. It's more of splurge than most of the places on the list, but Nancy Silverton's meat-focused Italian restaurant is one of my favorite places in town.  Here's what you should get: Focaccia di Recco, a glorious, cheesy flat bread; Beef & Bone Marrow Pie - braised beef, onions and mushrooms baked in a pie with a marrow bone - this may be my favorite dish in LA; a few veggie sides -the white beans in olive oil if they have them; and Butterscotch Budino, a salty, creamy pudding that is one of LA's most beloved deserts.

3. Smorgasburg. One of LA's biggest food legacies of this century is that it helped pioneer alternatives to the brick and mortar restaurant - food trucks, pop ups, underground restaurants and food festivals have defined cutting edge dining in LA for the last decade. Smorgasburg was Brooklyn born but it's tailor made for LA - a Sunday food festival at the downtown produce market where you can get anything from lobster to doughnuts from various stands and trucks. Smorgasburg is partly on this list so you can experience the variety of this LA scene, but it's mostly here so you can experience the amazing pastrami at Ugly Drum - I'm talking life-changing, moist, smoky, bursting with flavor pastrami. So go hungry, shop around, but be sure to get a pastrami sandwich.

4. Szechuan Impression or Chengdu Taste. The number of spots serving great Sichuan food, with its palate numbing peppercorns and oceans of red peppers, has multiplied in recent years, and that's a very good thing. My family is divided about whether the best purveyor is Chengdu Taste or Sichuan Impression, so I figured I'd include both. So head out to the San Gabriel Valley and get some boiled fish, toothpick lamb and, at Szechuan Impression, don't miss the chicken in chili oil.

5. Elite Restaurant (or Sea Harbor, King Hua, Lunasia). It's hard for me to fathom LA without San Gabriel Valley dim sum. Sea Harbor pioneered the genre of higher end LA dim sum, but at all four of these spots, you'll find a similar experience of high quality dim sum ordered off the menu rather than from carts. All of these are great and the offerings are fairly similar, though King Hua is more expensive than the others.

6. Park's BBQ. As a denizen of our Koreatown neighborhood, I eat a fair amount of Korean food, but Korean BBQ is the most widespread. There are tons of places - at least one per block, but the meat at Park's continually rises above the competition. I like the non-marinated options which let the meat shine, but it's all good.

7. Republique. Republique is a much loved fine dining restaurant serving Cal-Frenchish seasonal cuisine. It's known, in particular, for fantastic charcuterie, roast chicken and fries, but it's really on this list for the breakfast and lunch menu. During the day, Republique transforms into a more casual spot where you order at the counter; the cheese and oyster bars from the evening are replaced by a lavish pastry display including an amazingly moist chocolate caramel cake and the best caneles I've ever had. The lunch menu has a nice variety of fairly simple dishes done very well; there are perfectly cooked eggs with bright orange yolks alongside thick cut slabs of bacon and one of their wonderful baguettes, pork adobo over rice, kimchi rice with a soft poached egg, sauteed mushrooms over eggs on toast and a great croque madame. I never tire of breakfast at Republique, and I always leave wishing I could eat more pastries.

8. Philippe The Original. There's an ongoing argument about which of two restaurants in LA originally came up with the French Dip sandwich, but Cole's has been completely remade into a hipster-friendly bar, and while their dip is good, it's nothing like the sandwich they served ten years ago, so it's hard to imagine it would be anything like what they served one hundred years ago. Philippe's, on the other hand, is a meaty time capsule that will make you wonder if you've been transported Tardis-like to a different century. You stand in line, you order at the counter, your feet are cushioned by the sawdust on the floor, and they even have phone booths - mysterious antiquities that never cease to amuse my kids. It's not elegant; the sandwiches are served on paper plates that look like they were somehow fashioned from old egg cartons. And it's probably not what you're used to when you order a French Dip. There's no cup of au jus; they dip it for you, and you can choose a single dip, double dip or get it "wet." You can get the original beef if you like, but I like the lamb, sliced off the bone as you watch, double dipped with blue cheese and a few squirts of their nasal clearing hot mustard. Sides of cole slaw, potato salad and pickled eggs are a nice addition.

9. Night + Market Song. There are many great Thai places in LA, and to be sure, Night + Market is a more hipster Thai joint and not even in Thaitown, but I can't get enough of the crispy rice salad with bits of sour pork, the fatty pork toro and pork shoulder and the hearty bowls of khao soi, Locations in Silverlake and West Hollywood.

10. Jaragua. It's funny how ubiquitous the pupusa is in LA and how hard it can be to find in much of the rest of the country. Central America was one of the biggest sources of immigrants to LA in the 1980s and '90s, and while Guatemala and Honduras have some culinary representation, it's Salvadoran food which really took off, and pupusas, corn meal patties filled with meat, cheese and/or beans, became the most recognizable Salvadoran dish.  I used to rely on a tiny pupuseria near my house that made amazing disks, scorchingly hot and beautifully spiced, but while it's still there, it's pupusas have fallen on hard times. The best pupusas I eat now are the ones at Jaragua on Beverly, particularly the pupusa revuelta in which the pork and cheese meld together into a wonderful savory lava that oozes out when you cut into it. You can also get very good renditions of other Salvadoran staples, like pan con pavo, a giant turkey sandwich drenched in gravy, and salpicon, a dish of finely chopped beef, mint, radish and onion which resembles the Thai dish larb.

Honorable Mentions:  I wanted to keep this list to ten and create something that was actually usable for someone visiting town who wanted to have an experience that was both diverse and delicious, but of course, I left a lot out, so this is where I cheat and add some other great places that I was sorry to leave off.

It's hard to believe I couldn't fit a Oaxacan place on here - Guelaguetza is the most well known, and you probably need to go there if you've never been or if you're new to the cuisine, but I spend much more time eating clayudas (giant pizza-like discs of tortilla topped with beans, cabbage and meat) and mole at La Morenita Oaxaqueña and memelas (thick tortillas with beans and cheese) at Antequera de Oaxaca.

There is amazing sushi in LA that's also very expensive. High end Japanese food is not my forte, but when I eat it, I like Sushi Park in Hollywood and Sushi One in Koreatown.

There is so much Korean food in LA, much of it excellent. If BBQ isn't your thing, it's worth trying the dol sot bi bim bap at Jeon Ju, the braised mackeral and kalbi at Seongbukdong and the roast pork bossam (sliced pork wrapped, taco-like, in radish slices) at Kobawoo House.

If you read LA Times critic Jonathan Gold's annual top 101 restaurants list, you'll find that ultra-high end Providence is always his number one pick. Sure, you could go to Providence, spend five to seven hundred dollars and eat very delicately prepared seafood dishes, but I've always preferred Providence chef Michael Cimarusti's, casual, New England seafoood joint, Connie and Ted's where you can get hot buttery lobster rolls (as well as the cold version), fried clams with bellies, oysters galore and other great seafood staples. Plus, there are weekend brunch specials like a fried clam breakfast sandwich with egg and aged Hook's cheddar and one of the city's best Bloody Marys.

Happy eating!  Did I leave anything out? Feel free to add or criticize in the comments, and if you're a local, I'd love to hear your top 10.

Friday, March 17, 2017

New Whiskey Labels: Jack, Bowman, Old MGP and More

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

Strong Spirits cleared a label for Redemption Wheated Bourbon, a 4 year old wheater from MGP and two labels for a new Redemption expression: The Ancients, an 18 year old rye and a 36 year old bourbon, both made at MGP back when it was the Seagram's Distillery.

Jack Daniel's cleared a label for a straight rye.

Heaven Hill cleared a label for the fifth edition of William Heavenhill, a 14 year old single barrel bourbon.

A. Smith Bowman cleared a label for Isaac Bowman Pioneer Spirit, a straight bourbon finished in port casks.

Some old Scotch labels cleared this week, including a 50 year old Tamdhu and a 1970 Tullibardine.

We know dropped age statements is a big trend, but did the age statement for Barton's 1792 225th Anniversary release get dropped before it was even released? A label released earlier this month stated it was aged "for a full ten years." This week, the company cleared another label that was almost identical, except that it states it was aged for "nearly a decade."

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, March 15, 2017

The Lost World of Lost Spirits Part 2

On Monday, I described my trip to the new Lost Spirits distillery/ride in LA where I learned about Bryan Davis's system for aging spirits. On paper, he can mimic the esters in aged spirits, but how do they actually taste?  I casually sampled some spirits at the distillery and while his 61% rum certainly didn't taste unaged, it still had some new make notes that you wouldn't taste in the old rums he's using as a model.

Davis sent me samples of his treated Isaly whiskeys, aptly named Abomination. These were made from underaged (approximately two year old) heavily peated Islay whiskeys and subjected to Davis's week-long treatment which included exposing it to treated American oak which had been seasoned with late harvest Riesling.

There are two bottlings of Abomination, an orange label, titled The Crying of the Puma, that was exposed to toasted oak and a black label, aka The Sayers of the Law, that used charred oak. At my request, Davis also sent me a sample of the untreated whiskey so I could compare. I'll start with my notes on that base whiskey and then review his two bottlings.

Lost Spirits Abomination Base Whiskey

The base spirit is completely colorless. The nose has a rich peat like any young peated malt would. The palate is actually pretty decent, sweet with some fruit notes (green grapes) and a big hit of peat. The finish has peat and fuel type notes.  This is a high quality whiskey with a lot of peat and a good balance. It's an Islay, so we know the likely distilleries.  This could be Laphroaig or even a Lagavulin. Alright, let's see what happened after a week in Bryan's "reactor."

Lost Spirits Abmoination, The Crying of the Puma (Orange Label), 54% abv ($50)

The Orange Label Abmoniation is the color of tea (color is relevant here since Davis doesn't use any coloring additives, so any color comes from the one week exposure to wood in his contraption). The nose is a bit less raw than the base spirit. It has a sort of savory note and then maple syrup. The palate opens with a nice coffee note along with the peat. It's got a weird brown sugar note, but otherwise tastes like a good peated malt. The finish is very nice with strong peat.

This is a good, peated whiskey. It still tastes like a young whiskey but not an underaged one; it doesn't have new make notes. Tasting blind I would probably guess it was five to seven years old.

Lost Spirits Abmoniation, the Sayers of the Law (Black Label), 54% abv ($50)

The Black Label was treated with charred oak. The color is similar to the Orange Label. It has a sort odd nose with peat and soy sauce. The palate is peaty and quite sweet, with an artificial sweetener type of a note. It also has a touch of that umami note from the nose and a slight soapiness. The finish is nicely peaty.  I don't like this one as much as the Orange Label. There is a syrupy sweetness that I don't prefer and that slight soapiness as well.

Overall, I'd say these are successful whiskeys. I really enjoyed the Orange Label and while I thought the Black was too sweet, it wasn't bad. They both tasted significantly older than the underaged base spirit.

So what does it all mean?  Has Bryan Davis conquered whiskey aging?  Well, it's hard to say. Whatever he did here, he certainly succeeded in making two whiskeys that look and taste older than the young spirit he started with. He certainly deserves credit for that and for producing good whiskeys.

The caveat here is that heavily peated malt is probably the most forgiving of all whiskeys. The heavy peat can mask a lot of flaws and off notes; that's why heavily peated malts are one of the few whiskeys that taste good when very young, and this base was a very good peated malt. Even the two year old spirit was palatable. That's not to take away from the quality of these whiskeys, but it does raise a question of whether Davis's mechanism would be replicable for other spirits that are less forgiving.

But despite the caveat, Davis not only has the most unique distillery tour around, he managed to make a very young whiskey taste significantly older - and also taste pretty good, and that's no small feat.

Monday, March 13, 2017

Bryan Davis and the Lost World of Lost Spirits Part 1

Bryan Davis at his new LA distillery.
Bryan Davis is a unique individual even in an industry full of unique individuals. I first ran into Bryan back in 2009, when he was living in Spain making Obsello Absinthe which I quite enjoyed. After selling his absinthe business, he came back to his home town of Monterey, California and founded the Lost Spirits Distillery where he began making whiskey. In 2012, I reviewed some of his whiskeys (Leviathan and Seascape), which I found promising, but I also thought had too many of the raw notes typical of craft whiskeys. Davis took exception to my reviews, to say the least.

A few years later, Davis started promoting a quick aging scheme for spirits. I never tasted those spirits, mostly rums, but I'm generally skeptical of quick aging schemes, having never tasted one that was any good. Originally, he was selling his technology to other companies, but he is now concentrating on using the technology himself. Along with rum, he recently, released two Islay whiskeys that he treated with his system.

Davis is getting ready to open a new distillery here in Los Angeles and, after not being in touch for five years or so, he invited me to come take a look at it and try some of his recent spirits.

Now, I've been on a lot of distillery tours, and let me say, I have never seen a distillery like this one. In his previous career, Davis made theme park rides, and his LA distillery is like a cross between Disney's Pirates of the Caribbean and the boat ride in the original Willy Wonka movie, complete with boat, palm trees, jungle sounds and talking birds. I kid you not.

At one of the boat stops which has a sort of English drawing room aesthetic, Davis showed me a presentation on his system, which seeks to produce the same esters present in aged spirits through a combination of wood manipulation and infrared light (though never with additives). There will always be deviations, but on paper, he claims he is very close to copying the esters present in aged rum. For his Islay whiskeys, the process was less analytical. Rather than trying to mimic a particular ester profile, he just went by taste and smell.

Boats, birds and charts are all well and good, but how does this stuff taste?  Tune in on Wednesday and we'll find out.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

The State of American Whiskey Distilleries 2017

Each March I review the state of craft whiskey per my Complete List of American Whiskey Distilleries and Brands.  As of today, the list shows 803 American distilleries making whiskey, up from 683 last year. Here's the number for each year since I started doing the count (I didn't do counts in 2010 and 2011):

2009: 44
2012: 129
2013: 190
2014: 325
2015: 517
2016: 683
2017: 803

New York continues to lead the pack with 70 distilleries making whiskey (up from 53 last year), followed by Washington (58), California (51), Colorado (46), Pennsylvania (36), Texas (36) and Kentucky (35).

And be sure to check out this month's issue of Imbibe Magazine which focuses on whiskey and has a two page spread, including a color coded map, based on my whiskey list (only available in hard copy).

Monday, March 6, 2017

Why Doesn't Four Roses Follow the Labeling Rules?

Four Roses is one of the most beloved distilleries among whiskey fans, and the annual Limited Edition Small Batch is probably their most prized release, but they have consistently ignored labeling rules for that release.

Last week, Four Roses cleared a label for this year's Limited Edition Small Batch. The label states that the bourbon is composed of a blend of four of their bourbons: 12 year old OBSF, 13 year old OESV, 15 year old OBSK and 23 year old OBSV. The problem is that they don't state the percentage of each bourbon in the blend.

Under TTB regulations, the age statement for a whiskey should be the age of the youngest whiskey in the blend. The TTB guidelines allow that a whiskey that is a blend of different aged components can list those components, but in doing so, it must also include the percentage of each component in the blend.

Most whiskey geeks like having more information and are happy to know the components of the Four Roses Small Batch, so what's the problem?  Well, take this year's label for example. The big news here is that it includes a 23 year old bourbon. That's the oldest bourbon I've ever seen in any Four Roses bottle which is pretty exciting, but since we don't know the percentages, there could literally be a thimble full of 23 year old in the entire vatting. The purpose of the percentage requirement is to prevent companies from advertising the use of more aged whiskey without disclosing exactly how much old whiskey is in the mix.

Pursuant to the rules, Four Roses should either publish the percentage of each bourbon that went into the Small Batch or call it a 12 year old whiskey.

Friday, March 3, 2017

New Whiskey Labels: Four Roses, Hirsch, Van Winkle and More

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

Four Roses cleared the label for their 2017 Limited Edition Small Batch. This year's edition will be a blend of 12 year old OBSF, 13 year old OESV, 15 year old OBSK and 23 year old OBSV. The label does not list the percentage of each whiskey in the blend.

Two new Hirsch labels cleared last week, an 8 year old bourbon and an 8 year old high rye bourbon, both MGP.

Barton cleared a label for a new, 10 yer old expression of 1792 to commemorate the 225th anniversary of Kentucky statehood.

Beam Suntory cleared a label for batch 9 of Laphroaig 10 year old cask strength.

Sazerac announced with great fanfare last week that it would be introducing Old Rip Van Winkle 25 year old which will sell for $1,800.

Woodford Reserve cleared a label for a blended rye combining straight rye with rye mash whiskey.

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, March 1, 2017

Whiskey You Can Buy: Michter's Rye

As part of my effort to try more available and affordable whiskeys, today I'm trying Michter's Single Barrel Straight Rye, a sourced rye from the standard Michter's US*1 line.

Michter's US*1 Straight Rye, 3 years old, Barrel 16D581, 42.4% abv ($40)

The nose has soft minty notes. The mint comes on strong on the palate followed by sweet notes, creating a sweet mint tea type of flavor and closes with some acid. The finish tastes like breath mints.

All of this mint makes me think this is an MGP rye. The source isn't listed (nor is the state in contrast to the Michter's barrel proof rye which specifically states that it is Kentucky Straight Rye). Of course, this is a single barrel whiskey, so different barrels could be sourced from different distilleries.   

This is sweet and low proof; It's inoffensive and easy to drink, but not particularly interesting. If you have a sweet tooth - and like mint, it might be for you.

UPDATE: Michter's contacted me to let me know that the Michter's Straight Rye is a Kentucky rye. 

Thanks to Reid Bechtle for the sample and photo. 

Monday, February 27, 2017

Can you tell wheat from rye?

Over the past fifteen years, I've participated in hundreds of blind tastings and hosted my share as well. Tasting blind and watching others taste blind is a great experience and teaches you a huge amount about spirits and your own palate. There is one very surprising thing I've learned from blind tastings: almost no one can consistently differentiate between wheat and rye recipe bourbons.

Bourbon fans put a lot of stock in the mashbill, but I've done tasting with some incredibly experienced drinkers, and I don't think I've ever blind tasted with anyone who could consistently differentiate between wheat and rye recipe bourbons. Sure, some high rye bourbons are a giveaway and some people are very good at identifying particular distilleries, but even very experienced tasters often miss the mashbill in a large and varied blind tasting.

And I'm no different. I was once so convinced that a Bowman bourbon I had blind tasted was a wheater that I contacted Sazerac to ask - no dice. I was told it was rye recipe.

To me, this indicates that we may put too much stock in mashbill. There are many factors that contribute to bourbon flavor from yeast to cask and maybe mashbill content isn't as important as we think it is.

Can you tell wheat from rye?

Friday, February 24, 2017

New Belle Meade Single Barrels from K&L

K&L purchased two barrels of 10 year old cask strength MGP bourbon from Nelson's Green Brier which bottles under the Belle Meade label. The two casks are made from different mashbills. Barrel 2573 is 75% corn, 21% rye, 4% malted barley while Barrel 2525 is 60% corn, 36% rye, 4% malted barley.

Belle Meade Barrel 2573, 2006, 10 yo, 55.65% abv ($70)

The nose is spicy with some soft, sweet vanilla notes underneath. The palate is sweet with toffee, fading into a butterscotch finish with a slight herbal note.  This is a sweet one, but it's a tasty bottle of dessert.

Belle Meade Barrel 2525, 2006, 10 yo, 59.6% abv ($70)

This one has a fantastic nose of old, polished wood and lemon rind. The nose actually reminds me of the nose on some of those old Bernheim wheaters that Willett put out ten years ago. The palate has a similar profile with wood spice, caramel and a dry, ashy mouth feel. The finish picks up a light, acidic berry note which balances nicely with the dry oak notes.

These are both good bourbons, but the 2525 is great.  For only being ten years old, it has lots of old-bourbon notes. It's definitely among the best MGP bourbons I've tasted, up there with some of the best Smooth Ambler bottlings.  Get it while you can!

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Crowdsourced Whiskey: Old Forester 1920

When I asked readers what affordable, available whiskey I should be drinking, the top answer, by far, was Old Forester 1920, so I had to give it a try.  Traditionally, I have not been a fan of Brown Forman products, but I have enjoyed some of their recent releases in this series, so let's see how this one is.

Old Forester 1920, 57.5% abv ($60)

This has a really nice nose with polished wood, the type of nose you don't find on many current release bourbons. The palate starts rich, balanced and fairly dry.  After that, it develops a strong, unpleasant acidic note which develops into a berry like finish.

Water is really good for this one. A few drops of water cuts the acidity and brings out spicy rye notes from nose to finish which complement the dry, woody notes and make for a really delicious drink. This is a really nice bourbon provided you add some water.

Thanks to all the readers who suggested this.  A tasty, available, high proof bourbon for $60 is quite find these days.

Friday, February 17, 2017

New Whiskey Lables: Compass Box, Baijiu and More

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

Compass Box cleared a label for The Breakthru Blend, a limited edition bottling for Breakthru Beverage Group.

Two labels cleared for The New Zealand Whisky Collection. This company bought casks of both malt and grain whiskey made at the shuttered Willowbank Distillery. They cleared labels for High 
Wheeler, which they call a single grain, but is actually a blend of malt and grain whiskeys, and Oamaruvian, a grain whiskey finished in wine casks.

I don't know that I've ever seen an aged baijiu, but here's Dong Fang Long, a 10 year old baijiu.

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 15, 2017

2006 Foursquare Rum

Here's another Foursquare Rum, though I believe this one was only available overseas. It was aged for three years in a bourbon cask and seven years in a Cognac cask.

Foursquare 2006, 10yo, 62% abv ($135)

The nose has caramel and brown sugar. The palate is sweet with a very slight funky note toward the end.  The finish is has some funk but mostly leaves you with sweet cane sugar.

This is a nicely balanced rum with both sweet and funky notes.

Monday, February 13, 2017

Highland Park, You're Fired!

I was a big fan of the Highland Park Ice, so I thought it would be fun to try the newest whiskey in that series. Highland Park Fire. Fire was aged in refill port casks.

Highland Park Fire, 15 yo, 45.2% ($300)

The nose is malty with beer notes. The palate starts with that same malty beer but then has peat and a skunky note that lasts into the finish, which is quite skunky and a bit flat. Yuck! This tastes like flat, skunky beer

I gave this one about a week of oxygen, and it did develop a bit. After a week, the nose had a more traditional peated malt nose and the palate got sickly sweet, but it still maintained those bitter beer notes, so it changed, but it didn't really get better.

I'd stay away from this one.

Thanks to Josh Peters for the sample. 

Friday, February 10, 2017

New Whiskey Labels: Knob Creek, Laphroaig and More

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

Beam Suntory cleared a label for the 2017 Laphroaig Cairdeas. This year's Cairdeas is described as a cask strength quarter cask.

Beam also cleared a label for Knob Creek 25th Anniversary, listed on the label as 125 proof.

Compass Box cleared a label for its third edition of Double Single, this one a blend of Glen Elgin malt and Girvan grain whiskeys.

Proximo clared a label for a 10 year old version of its Tincup American Whiskey, distilled in Indiana.

Two years ago, Frank-Lin cleared labels for Very Olde St. Nick Bourbon, but I don't believe they were ever released. Now they have recleared the bourbon labels, adding a 17 year old, and also cleared labels for a series of Very Olde St. Nick rye.  The rye labels include Estate Reserve Winter Rye and Estate Reserve Summer Rye, both are no age statement Canadian rye whiskeys.

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 8, 2017

Chateau de Briat 1996

As a follow up to my recent review of the 1995 Chateau de Briat, I thought I would taste a 1996. This one is an exclusive pick from Astor Wines and, like the 1995, is made from 100% Baco grapes.

Chateau de Briat 1996, 20 yo, 46% abv ($100)

The nose is full of maple syrup, cinnamon and cloves. On the palate it starts spicy followed by sweetness and a mild, pleasant bitterness. The finish is dominated by gingerbread notes.

This is a really nice Armagnac, well balanced and full of baking spices. It didn't have any of the strong bitter notes I disliked in the 1995.

Thanks to Dan Walbrun for the sample. 

Monday, February 6, 2017

2017 High West Bourye

High West sent me the new batch of their Bourye bourbon/rye blend. This year's batch is a blend of MGP whiskeys aged 10 to 14 years old and is composed of  a 75% corn/21% rye recipe bourbon the 95% rye.

High West Bourye, Batch 17A17, 46% abv. ($80)

The nose has oregano and spice. The palate opens with rye spice, then moves to bourbon sweetness. The finish is on the sweet side.

This is a very good whiskey with a nice balance of sweet and spice. Tasting it side by side with the 2016 Bourye, this one is a bit sweeter with more bourbon notes whereas the 2016 is spicier and more rye. I'd say I slightly prefer the 2016 but both are very good. Another good blend from High West.

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

There Will Be Whiskey

I received tons of great responses to my query about great, affordable, available whiskeys. Thanks to everyone who responded (and by all means continue your responses).  For those of you who are tired of brandy and rum, there will be whiskey in the not too distant future!

Monday, January 30, 2017

What Whiskey Should I be Drinking?

If you're a regular reader, you'll know that lately I've been reviewing more brandy and rum than whiskey.  It seems much easier to find great brandy and rum without participating in the whiskey rat-race, but I feel like I should see if I'm missing anything in the whiskey world, so I thought I'd ask for opinions.

Are there any truly great, affordable (say under $100), available whiskeys that you have been drinking lately?  If so, what are they?

These can be any type of whiskey and can include old standbys or newer releases.

Let me know, and if I see anything I haven't tried before, I'll try to give it a whirl.


Friday, January 27, 2017

New Whiskey Labels: Basil Hayden, Balvenie, Bagels and More

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

Beam Suntory cleared a label for Basil Hayden's Rye which they call a "very limited release." It is "aged and blended with a rebarreled in rye re-barreled in new charred oak quarter casks." The label carries no age statement and says the whiskey will be bottled "at a smooth 80 proof."

William Grant cleared a label for a peated 14 year old Balvenie for Peat Week. While Balvenie has released whiskeys aged in peated casks before, I'm not aware of them releasing an actual peated whiskey.

Three Springs Bottling cleared a label for a ten year old expression of Calumet Farm Kentucky Bourbon.

A label cleared for the new 40 year old Deanston.

Brandy lovers take note, there are new labels for Domaine Baraillon Armagnacs from 1976 and 1987, a 1995 Domaine D'Ognoas and a 1980 Lemorton Calvados.

News of the Weird. Seven Stills cleared a label for Sea Farmer Whiskey, distilled from grain and hops...with salt. Oh, and here's a whiskey distilled from bagels.

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, January 25, 2017

Dudognon Napoleon Cognac

A few months ago, I tried the K&L exclusive Dudognon Napoleon II Cognac. Now, I'll try one from Astor: the Dudognon Napoleon Cognac is a 15 year old.

Dudognon Napoleon, 42% abv (Astor $65)

The nose is light with a malty quality, like an Irish Whiskey. The palate has a similar grassy and grainy quality which fades to malt in the finish.

This is an odd bird and much different from the Napoleon II that I tasted previously. It tastes much more like a light whiskey than a Cognac. Tasting blind, I would have guessed it was a blended Irish Whiskey or maybe even a Scotch grain whiskey. It's an odd profile for Cognac and not one I prefer.

Thanks to Dan Walbrun for the sample. 

Monday, January 23, 2017

Chateau de Briat Armagnac 1995

This brandy comes from the Bas-Armagnac. It's made from 100% Baco grapes. K&L has been promoting it lately and has it for a good price, so I thought I'd check it out.

Chateau de Briat 1995, 21 yo, 43% abv ($70)

This has a really dry and spicy nose. The palate is dry and exceedingly bitter, like beyond any regular level of bitterness. It just dominates everything from mid-palate to finish. Air opens it up a bit - bringing out some fruit and a slight sweetness, but it's still fairly bitter.

This stuff is way too bitter - not an Armagnac I would recommend.

Friday, January 20, 2017

New Whiskey Labels: Ardbeg, Glenrothes, Jefferson's and More

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

Moet Hennessy cleared a label for Ardbeg An Oa, a no age statement whiskey that vats whiskeys aged in bourbon cask, PX sherry and new, charred oak.

Edrington Group cleared a label for Highland Park 12 year old Viking Honour. It's not clear if that would be a new release or a just a new label for the standard 12 year old.

Two new Glenrothes labels cleared for 1992 distillate finished in different casks, one in Lustau sherry casks and one in Ridge Vineyard Zinfandel casks.

Luxco cleared a label for Jefferson's Grand Selection - a Kentucky bourbon finished in Sauternes casks.

A label cleared for a 1914 vintage Pierre Ferrand Cognac.

The latest in dumb labels: North Texan Distillers cleared a label for Texan Bourbon, complete with a map of Texas and a big old lone star. But watch that fine print: "Distilled in Kentucky." Some Texan.

And here's Original Spice Flavored Whiskey, described as a rye whiskey "infused with a mix of perfect spices." Cuz, you know, everyone loves spices, no matter what they are.

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, January 18, 2017

Cardinat Armagnac

K&L recently brought in three Armagnacs from Cardinat in Bas Armagnac. They are made with Folle Blanche, Baco, Colombard and Ugni Blanc grapes.

Cardinat 1992, 23 yo, 47% (K&L $60)

This has a beautiful, spicy nose with some fruit in the background. The palate starts spicy and earthy and ends on a sweet note. The finish starts with that same sweet note, moves to spicy mint and ends on earthy notes and some bitterness. This one is nicely balanced and densely flavored.

Cardinat 1987, 28 yo, 49% (K&L $70)

Interestingly, this brandy is much lighter in color than the other two. K&L informed me that it was a larger yield so more of it went into used barrels. The nose is woody with a light grainy note, almost like a Canadian Whiskey. The palate is spicy with a light sweetness and a bit of rum-like funk. The finish is brief and spicy. This one is much more nuanced.

Cardinat 1981, 34 yo, 49% (K&L $90)

This has a huge, oaky nose, like a bourbon. On the palate it's quite sweet and oaky with leather and tobacco and a chewy mouthfeel. The finish is sweet with a light spice. This is a super-concentrated monster. It's bourbon like in its woodiness but also very sweet. Some will probably think it's over oaked. I like the oak level, but find it a bit too sweet.

These were three very different brandies. The 1992 was my favorite. It's well balanced with lots of flavor. The 1981 is the opposite; it's got huge, bold oak with a lot of sweetness, definitely a bourbon lover's brandy. The 1987 was much more nuanced, lighter than the other two but a fine brandy with some character nonetheless.

Monday, January 16, 2017

Whiskeys to Watch for in 2017

There are lots of great whiskeys that will be coming out this year. Here are a few to watch for.

Compass Box FUSWA. The FUSWA is a blend of 8 year old Clynelish, Caol Ila that's been aged for 2 years and 364 days, Irish Whiskey and Bourbon. It was aged in French oak with plastic staves, will be released at 39.9% abv and John Glaser will personally spit in each batch.

Booker Van Winkle. According to Beam Suntory, the new Booker Van Winkle Bourbon will "have the same great taste as Booker's but at triple the price." Booker Van Winkle will be sold exclusively by assholes on Facebook.

Highland Park Wood. Following up on Fire and Ice, Highland Park Wood celebrates the mysterious forests of Scotland and features a lovely, polished wooden box. When asked about the whiskey inside the box, an Edrington Group spokesman replied, "Crap, I knew we forgot something. There was supposed to be whiskey in there. Oh well, people will buy it anyway."

Trump Whiskey. A follow up on the really, really tremendous Trump Vodka that was just so successful, this is a terrific whiskey; it's going to be amazing, much better than Hillary Whiskey, which was a disaster. Trump Whiskey is made in Russia and it's going to be free because Mexico is going to pay for it.

Good luck on your hunt for these great new whiskeys!

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Whiskey, er Brandy, er Rum of the Year

I discussed some of my favorite whiskeys of 2016 in my review of the Year in Whiskey, but I realized I didn't do much of a wrap up of all of the other spirits I tried, so here it is, better late than never.

For the last two years, the best spirits I've tasted have been brandies. In 2016, I had some good whiskeys and some great brandies, but the very best stuff I tasted was rum.


The best current release spirit I had all year was, unfortunately, a European only release of 24 year old, cask strength Hampden rum under the Douglas Laing Kill Devil label. It was probably the best rum I ever tasted, and maybe one of the best spirits I ever tasted period. It has this marvelous funk that you get in those Jamiacan rums. While it wasn't quite in that league, the similar, 24 year old Hampden that K&L brought in under the Golden Devil label was also excellent with a lot of those same notes.

I also loved the 2004 Foursquare and the cask strength Clement that K&L brought in (which is still available).  My rum rule of thumb lately is buy anything from Hampden or Foursquare.


While my favorite 2016 spirits were rums, I drank plenty of good brandy, especially apple brandy. Highlights were the Pacory Reserve and Pacory 15 year old Calvados and the pricey but tasty Domaine Du Tertre Calvados. And I absolutely loved the Double Zero apple eau de vie from Cyril Zangs, one of the best unaged spirits ever.

Armagnac-wise, my favorite new release was a Europe only release, the fantastic Lous Pibous from L'Encantada, though I'm told we may see some of this in the US this year.  If you do, buy it! And K&L brought in two great Baraillons, the 1986 and the 1988 Folle Blanche.

All in all, it was another great year for brandy and a phenomenal year for rum.  Hopefully, more of that great rum will come to the US.

Monday, January 9, 2017

New Armagnac: Domaine de Baraillon 1988 Folle Blanche

Today I taste a 1988 Folle Blanche Domaine de Baraillon. I enjoyed a similar 1988 Baraillon that came out two years ago. This one is available now at K&L.

Domaine de Baraillon 1988, Folle Blanche, 28 yo, 46% abv ($120)

This one has a really wonderful nose with nutmeg and roses. On the palate it's spicy, woody and earthy with a thick mouthfeel.  There's just a touch of fruit underneath. The finish is dry and earthy with a slight bitterness.

These Folle Blanche Baraillons tend to be drier and earthier than those made from Baco and Ugni Blanc grapes. The Folle Blanche barndies may not be as balanced, but they pack a lot of flavor in a profile I really enjoy, and this one is a great example of that with a lot of punch. I would definitely recommend it.

Friday, January 6, 2017

New Whiskey Labels: Black Bowmore, Inaugural Whiskey and More

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

Beam Suntory released a label for its new expression of Black Bowmore. Black Bowmore The Last Cask was distilled in 1964 and is 50 years old. Look for it soon at your local supermarket or the bargain bin at your liquor store.

In case you want to celebrate...or drink yourself into oblivion on Inauguration Day, Strong Spirits cleared labels for two inauguration day themed MGP whiskeys: The Presidential Dram 4 year old rye and the Presidential Dram 8 year old bourbon (the ages are listed as one term and two terms - get it?)

Here's a label for Southern Pride Double Barrel Tennessee Whiskey. What does Southern Pride mean to them?  Well, the label includes the Confederate Stars & Bars flag so draw your own conclusions. The label also notes that the whiskey is "made with our multi family recipe" whatever that means.

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.