Saturday, January 23, 2016

Goodbye Elijah Craig 12 year

I'm not an oracle and I had no insider information to call this one.  It's been done before and will be done again so the prediction wasn't that hard.  Back in April of 2015 I posted that Heaven Hill changed their label format for Elijah Craig Small Batch 12 year bourbon and predicted (correctly) that this move was in anticipation of the ultimate demise of the age statement.  Fred Minnick posted the details so check out the news and his thoughts on the subject.

I noted in my post that I may pull the trigger on half a case in the event the age statement was dropped.  Well, I did indeed make that purchase and am glad I did.  Those bottles are now flying off the shelves with this news so within a week or two, that label will be increasingly more difficult to find.

I contemplated grabbing some additional bottles this weekend but alas, I'm buried under 30+ inches of snow which will take days to clear out.  In the meantime, I'll get back to my movie and pour another whiskey.

EDIT: Here's the link to the news release from Heaven Hill.

Monday, January 4, 2016

What do you do with excess whiskey?

One of the benefits of picking your own barrel is actually taking possession of the barrel if you choose.  I've done that twice with two of our Four Roses picks back 2-3 years ago.  One local member of our bourbon club took possession of one of our BT Old Weller Antique barrels.  Collectively we decided to use the barrel for a re-fill project.

There were 7 of us that contributed 48.3 gallons of bourbon from our collective bunkers.  The contributed bottles consisted of a broad selection of labels to include; Willett Family Estate Single Barrel, paper label Weller Special Reserve, Weller 12 (raised wheat!), Evan Williams BIB, Very Old Barton BIB, 1969 Old Crow 10 year, EWSB, Wild Turkey Rare Breed, Old Bourbon Hollow and many many others totaling 243 750ml bottles.  Point is, this was a cornucopia dump of pretty much anything.  The proof average after fill was 97.2 and the barrel sat in a garage over the course of 3 1/2 years.

After one month in the barrel we gathered together to taste and were sorely disappointed.  It wasn't that good and the whiskey was way out of balance.  As time progressed we would gather and taste and agreed that time was smoothing out the rough edges and doing good things to the melding process.  July of 2014 we congregated around the barrel and pulled a sample to try.  We were pleased with the results as the whiskey had good flavor, good balance and had actually increased in proof by 8.9 points to 106.1.  We decided to let it rest for a little while longer thinking it couldn't hurt.

Last November we again pulled a sample from the barrel and hit jackpot.  The whiskey was full bodied, minimal heat and the flavor profile consisted of huge amounts of caramel and chocolate with a strong oak backbone; it was unanimous, time to dump the barrel.

This last Sunday, January 3rd, we arrived with boxes of empty bottles.  Using a small pump and two filling stations, we proceeded to pull the whiskey from the barrel and fill bottles.  We had a pretty good system going on as two members kept empty bottles rotated on the table, two members filling the bottles and one member capping the bottles and moving them into boxes.  In the course of about 30-40 mins we filled the equivalent of 176 750ml bottles.  Final proof out of the barrel was between 104-105.  This was a fun project and very interesting to witness how the whiskey changed with time and thankfully for the better.  I came home with fifteen 750ml bottles from an original contribution of twenty.   After dumping the barrel we enjoyed a lunch of smoked corned beef brisket and then finished off the afternoon with various whiskey's and 2003 Montecristo Edicion Limitada cigars.  Life is good.


Monday, December 21, 2015

Holiday Cocktail - Barrel Aged Manhattan

This is my second run of using a 5 liter oak barrel to age the Manhattan cocktail.  I like a good cocktail but must admit, I'm pretty novice when it comes to mixed drinks.  My father in law is a big lover of Manhattan's so that was my introduction into that drink many years ago.

This last fall I purchase a new, toasted 5 liter oak barrel.  Upon arrival I filled the barrel with water and let it sit for about 6 days.  Doing this seals the barrel and pulls some of the astringency from the barrel.  My previous barrel I actually put in Very Old Barton BIB and then eventually made it into a Manhattan barrel.  This last October I was in Atlanta for a weekend with some guys from our bourbon club and we had dinner at Chop's of Atlanta.  The bartender there was mixing up Manhattans and I was struck by the quality of the drink.  They used their house Four Roses, Carpano Antica Vermouth, Blood Orange bitters and Luxardo Cherries.  As I sat at the bar sipping this fantastic cocktail, my mind started to churn with thoughts of doing another barrel and this time around, amping up the quality of the ingredients.

Putting those thoughts into action, I acquired the Vermouth, cherries and the bitters.  3 days prior to Thanksgiving I did a first charge of the barrel.  I waited until just before Thanksgiving since I knew the barrel influence would be greater at first fill and I was right.  The oak presence was there when we dipped into the barrel on Thanksgiving.  The base bourbon was Old Grand Dad 114 since I wanted something with some punch and we got just that.  For those that have used the neon red maraschino cherries in the past, let me encourage you to seek out and use Luxardo.  They are decadent.

Seven days ago I recharged the barrel but this time I used a variety of bottles that I needed to clear off the bar.  There's nothing wrong with this practice as the cocktail blends and melds over time and produces a quality drink; just use good products to start and you can't go wrong.  Over time the oak influence will fade and you will be left with mild barrel notes and creamy quality to the cocktail.

I'll be enjoying Manhattan's through the Christmas holiday.  It's four days until Christmas, if you hurry you might get an order in for a new oak barrel.

Sunday, November 1, 2015

I think I'm turning Japanese.....I really think so

The blog is Bourbon Dork and I love bourbon.  Truth is, I love whiskey and the diversity of profiles whiskey brings to the palate.  For anyone that's been a long reader of this blog, I would not have guessed back in August of 2009 that I would be buying world whiskies at the rate that I'm currently purchasing.  From 18 years old to about 2006 I pretty much consumed Wild Turkey where I kept a bottle in the pantry and for the most part drank through a bottle or two throughout the year.  Then in 2006 I was hit with the knowledge that there were old out of production bourbons sitting on the shelves to be scooped up with those in the know.

From there, my whiskey appetite turned to higher end brands like Pappy Van Winkle, Buffalo Trace Antique Collection, Parkers Heritage, etc.  Then in 2009 I got in with some like minded enthusiasts and we went for the gusto and began purchasing whole barrels (93 to be exact) of bourbon and rye for our collective bunkers.  Had I reached whiskey nirvana?  Nope.

As my palate matured so did my search for new and different whiskey.  Scotch was the first to enter in as an outsider to my bunker intruding in on all the brown liquor made in 'murica.  Irish was next, then Indian and finally Japanese.

The Japanese make some darn fine whiskey and my first bottle was the Yamazaki 18 year.  It was a birthday present that my wife picked up for me way back when it was $129 on the shelf.  I quickly added the Yamazaki 12 year; a very good gateway whiskey for those interested in jumping into this style.  Besides really liking this new discovery in Japanese whiskey I had a problem.  This was a new thing to the U.S. market and there really weren't a lot of labels to be found.  At least not in my area.  I managed to secure two bottles of Hakushu 12 year from a buddy who lives in TX.  My big score was two bottles of Karuizawa 13 year cask from K&L Wines a couple years back.  Through a trade I managed to get the older sibling; Karuizawa 31 year old.

I enjoy immensely these new profiles but was now on the hunt for additional new and exciting Japanese expressions.  Over the last six months I've been on a tear picking up what I can in order to stock the bunker with a supply to last me for years to come.

Summer of this year Nikka dropped a bombshell and announced it was discontinuing two of their age stated expressions.  They simply ran out of older stock due to a sharp rise in demand world over.  Shelf space that was once occupied by Hibiki 12 year now sits vacant with a shelf tag saying "out of stock.  A recent discussion with a manager of a very large whiskey bar said his distributor cannot get them Hibiki 12.

Seeing the wave of discontinued labels or a retraction of distribution, I did what any good lover of whiskey would do.  Buy, buy buy.  So, as I mentioned over the last number of months I've been on the hunt and purchasing when found good Japanese expressions that are now history or run the risk of going that direction.  Recent acquisitions include:

Yamazaki 12 and 18 year
Yamazaki LE 2014 and 2015
Hakushu 12 and 18 year
Nikka Yoichi 15 and 20 year
Nikka Miyagikyo 12 year
Nikka Coffey Malt
Nikka Coffey Grain
Nikka Taketsuru 12 year
Hibiki 12 and 17 year
Chichibu The First
Chichibu On The Way
Akashi White Oak Single Malt

I have other Japanese expressions that I picked up in the last year or two that include Karuizawa 14 and 16 year, Kirin 18 year and a Mars Kagoshima 25 year.

For those that love a good whiskey and have not experienced a good Japanese single malt or blend, I encourage you to grab a bottle and give it a go.  To me, the Japanese make great whiskey and I'm glad to add their whiskey to an ever more diverse bunker.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Chasing Whiskey or Drinking Whiskey

Ok, show of hands who has stood in line and/or joined a lottery for the BTAC or Pappy or Parkers Or Birthday Bourbon?  That's what I thought....a whole lot of you.  I admit, I too joined a lottery as I figured it's no effort on my part to enter my email and hit submit.  I was shocked to find out I didn't win.....fail.

Actually, I wasn't shocked.  The congregation of whiskey seekers is deep and only get's worse year over year.  The hunt simply isn't fun and in fact takes a lot of time and energy to acquire these very limited bottles.  Take George T. Stagg which is part of the Buffalo Trace Antique collection.  They dumped 128 barrels but yield was lower than normal with some barrels only containing a few gallons.  So, good luck finding a bottle retail and if not there then look on the secondary market but be prepared to pay five or six Benjamin's for said bottle.

Gone are the days of asking for and getting multiple bottles or the whole set of BTAC.  The lottery I joined asked which one of the 5 did I want.....one, that's it.  I visited my local ABC store and decided to go ahead and fill out the special order form entering George T. Stagg, William Larue Weller and Saz 18.  The manager took my form and upon reading my request, chuckled out loud.  I'm actually not expecting much and would be surprised if I got a bottle next year.

This leads me I guess to my musing.  Some people chase these bottles to flip and some to drink.  To me, I'm simply not interested in drinking whiskey that cost me $500 or more.  Now, if you're talking some rare 40 year old Scotch or Japanese whiskey, well then maybe it would be worth it.  But Stagg or Saz or Weller or even the vaunted Pappy simply are not worth the money that many retail or secondary market sellers are asking.

As many readers of this blog know, I do a lot of barrel picking and that to me provides great drinking without having to stand in line for hours or fill out multiple lottery forms.  For those of you who cannot pick private barrels, I would encourage you to do a little scouting around your local liquor stores and see if any of them do store barrel picks of Old Weller Antique, Four Roses Single Barrel or Knob Creek 120.  I'm not suggesting that these will be superior to the normal shelf offering but these single picks do offer something a little more unique that what you can find typically.  Besides single barrel store picks, there's a ton a great whiskey's on the shelf that can provide hours of satisfying drinking enjoyment. 

For those looking for solid whiskey's at a good price, may I suggest the following varietal selection:

Bourbon/Rye:
Old Grand Dad 114
Evan Williams Bottled in Bond
Makers 46
Elijah Craig 12 year
Old Weller Antique
Wild Turkey Russell's Reserve Rye 104 pf
Baby Saz
High West Rendezvous or Double Rye

Single Malts/Pot Still:
Glendronach 15 year Revival
Glenlivet Nadurra 16 yr cask
Balvenie Doublewood 12 year
Talisker Storm
Lagavulin 16 year
Yamazaki 12 year
Redbreast 12 year
Green Spot NAS

Blends:
Hibiki 12 year
Monkey Shoulder
Compass Box Spice Tree
Sheep Dip

This is just a very small sampling of whiskies that I feel are great pours for prices that will range from $15 on the low end to maybe as high as $100.  So, stop chasing elusive whiskey and start buying easy to find whiskey and drink up.

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Exam-o-Dram Wild Turkey Russell's Reserve Rye Single Barrel

It was announced recently that Wild Turkey was releasing a new Rye expression in single barrel format and higher proof as well. That expression showed up on the shelves of VA ABC stores last Tuesday.  I happened into a store the other day and noticed the new label and was intrigued.  I was a little less so after seeing the price tag of $60.

Story is, the single barrels are pulled from the center of the warehouse and Eddie Russell intended to bottle the rye at 110 proof but ended up going with 104 proof as he felt that was the sweet spot.  Purported age is approximately 6 years old and thankfully non-chill filtered.  Seriously, thank you Campari, Wild Turkey, Eddie or Jimmy or whomever made that decision.  Bravo.

As you can guess, the bottle ended up back on my bar and I popped the cork to give it a go.  Rye and oak on the nose. Entry is baking spice, light fruit sweetness and a touch of citrus with a mouthfeel that's coating. Mid palate spice kicks up and sweetness drops back and the finish is moderate spice oak with a pop of juicy fruit at the end.  The NCF and extra proof gives this whiskey nice body.

I hit the bottle again the next night and was equally impressed yet again.  Campari stepped up and offers a real winner in this release.  The whiskey is a very compelling rye and a great proof that's very approachable with nice profile transitions and a pretty long finish.  

I'm thinking this whiskey will do well with a little air time so looking forward to how it will change (for the better let's hope) over time.  Wild Turkey indicated this will be a normal shelf offering but keep in mind that being a single barrel, expect variations from bottle to bottle.  In this day and age of price increases and availability issues with many labels, the price point may cause some to take pause but as I always tell people "it's never cheaper than it is today".  For me at $60, yeah, I'd buy another.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

KY Spring 2015 - Day 3

Yup, sorry for the lag in posting but recent life events have taken priority.  I wanted to finish up the spring pickings which ended on Friday with a visit to Four Roses and Jim Beam.

We headed out from the hotel and arrived at Four Roses about 9:30 to their new tasting room.  In years past we've tasted through barrels at the back of the bottling warehouse but now they have this fancy new tasting room set up to handle large groups like ours.  As usual, Jim Rutledge selected 10 barrels for us to taste through.  I think we had around 40 or more tasters and this is the first year we didn't have to double up at a tasting station; everyone had their own 10 glasses to sample from.

Jim selected 10 barrels representing 9 of the 10 Four Roses recipes with OESQ missing from the lineup.  In its place, we had two barrels representing the OBSO recipe.  As a group, the tasting is done pretty much in silence with the idea being to analyze the bourbon and write down thoughts and scores in order to avoid undue group influence.  We also requested Jim not have the barrel heads facing forward in order to avoid any pre-knowledge of the recipes selected in order to taste all selections in the blind.  Most of us conduct at least two passes on each sample so after about 30-40 mins we wrapped up and collected each tasters top 4 selections.  The vitals on the top four are as follow:

1. OBSO 11 years 7 months
2. OESK 9 years 7 months
3. OBSK 10 years 7 months
4. OBSV 10 year 3 months

My number one pick was number four, the OBSV.  My notes reflected a creamy, sweet caramel bourbon with a long finish.  As a group we only picked the top two.  In the end, individual members made commitments for an additional 4 barrels.  I chose to pick up barrel four with one other person.

I've received the first two Four Roses and am waiting on my barrel which should arrive sometime in October.  This was another great tasting but was also a little bittersweet as this was the last one with Jim as Master Distiller.  He's retiring come September 1st.  The new Master Distiller, Brent Elliot, has already announced changes to the barrel program where they will roll out younger barrels.  Additionally, Four Roses is running low on three recipes so those most likely will not be included, at least for a time, in the barrel program.  Finally, Four Roses will no longer ship samples to retailers wishing to purchase a store barrel.  If you want to purchase one, you'll need to buy a ticket to KY and visit the distillery in person.

Now on to Jim Beam.  The afternoon brought us to Jim Beam's American Stillhouse facility where we met up with Craig Weiter, Beams barrel program manager.  Our group was much smaller as we limited the number of people attending this tasting due to room limitations in the rickhouse.  Craig loaded us on a bus and off we went to WHSE K.  Last year we picked three barrels from Jim Beam so I was stoked about leading this group for another tasting with Beam.  On arrival we saw four barrels were pulled to taste from.  I have to admit, I had some disappointment as I was hoping we would have at least 6-8 barrels to select from.  Having only four barrels limits the potential of finding something we would want to buy.  Fortunately, Craig did a nice job pulling the barrels and had tasting notes from his perspective already formulated.


We tasted through the four and found one we felt met our groups benchmark for purchase.  This barrel was pulled from WHSE P and was distilled on Nov 13, 2003, making this a little over 11 years old.  The proof was 129 at cask which meant there would be a small dilution to get it down to 120 for the Knob Creek 120 bottle.  Many of our barrel picks are of course bottled at cask (Four Roses, Willett, Smooth Ambler) and we asked Craig if Jim Beam had any plans to offer a cask single barrel offering.  He indicated that come 2016, Knob Creek will begin offering a 130 proof bottling which will be included in the barrel program.  Good news for us.

On a side note, we paired up with a large retailer we've done a lot of business with over the years to pick barrels from Wild Turkey.  While the retailer was there to pick barrels for the store shelves, we were able to finagle a single barrel Russells Reserve for our group.  I have it in and boy is it fantastic.  It's almost reminiscent of old style Turkey.  I'll review the bourbons in a separate post.