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.