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!