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.

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Louis Roques Prune Brandy

This prune brandy hails from Armagnac country. While Americans often use the term prune to refer to dried plums, in this case, prune refers to a variety of small, purple plums, sometimes called French prunes in the US.

Louis Roque La Vieille Prune Reserve, 42% abv ($45)

The nose has a strong plum note with some floral notes as well. This is very sweet on the palate, almost liqueur like with a strong plum flavor.

This has good plum flavor and is easy to drink, but it's too sweet for my taste.

UPDATE: Serge Valentin from Whiskyfun provided some interesting background on this brandy:

One thing that you might find interesting is that they started to distill these plums after the phylloxera devastated the vineyards. A kind of temporary ersatz if you will, but people started to like this brandy around the beginning of the 20th century and so they went on making it even after the normal production of wine brandy resumed (Armagnac actually lies around 150km away from Souillac, towards the south-west).