Saturday, May 27, 2017

State ABC's grow up....sort of

I've lived in Virginia for nearly 32 years and for that duration, the Commonwealth has been an ABC state.  Back when I moved here in 1985 my bourbon of choice was Wild Turkey 8 year 101 or Kentucky Spirit.  It took nearly 20 years to come around and realize there's a whole world of interesting whiskey's beyond what Wild Turkey offered.

Once that happened, my interest in acquiring different bottles was hampered by the fact that Virginia simply didn't put much effort in offering any variety to the extent that open market states carried a wide variety of spirits.  Thankfully, Maryland (not Montgomery County, a controlled jurisdiction) and D.C. were near by to help with my booze shopping.

On a fairly regular basis I travel to North Carolina which is also a controlled state.  While visiting family back about 5 year ago, I visited a local ABC near Lexington NC and was actually quite appalled at the anemic selection thinking at the time they were significantly worse than Virginia.

One of my early trips to NC I conducted a whiskey tasting for a group of local enthusiasts with two of the participants members of the NC ABC board.  One of the bourbons I featured was a Four Roses Single Barrel; one that shockingly they had not seen, at least not in the western part of the state.  Fast forward 1 year and I'm conducting the tasting once again (2017 was our 5th year going down) and the same two ABC board members are happy to inform me that western NC now carried Four Roses Single Barrel along with the Small Batch (I should get a kick back....seriously).  In my discussion with the two board members I encouraged them to broaden their selections.

In no way do I take any credit for what shows up on the shelves of North Carolina ABC stores.....maybe some minuscule influence but that would be it.  Last fall I was again visiting family in NC and was pleased to see ABC stores carrying a much broader selection that just a couple years previously.  I think this is in large part due to the huge popularity of American whiskey evidenced by the two rows of various rye and bourbon labels on the shelf of the ABC store.

Virginia has certainly changed their posture when it comes to whiskey and now feature a more diverse portfolio of whiskies, and not just bourbon and rye but a few more Scotch, Irish and Japanese as well.  I'm more inclined today to drop into my local ABC and see what's on the shelf. 

Of course as the state controlled monopolies increase their shelf selections, so too does the open market retailers in non-controlled states.  In my opinion, the ABC's will always be playing catch up to the rest of the country as their bureaucracy is a natural impediment to the freer movement of inventory elsewhere.  As an example, I've never seen Independent Bottlers of Scotch, etc release in ABC states.  Maybe they have but in my area I have to shop in non-controlled jurisdictions to find releases from Cadenhead, Caskers, Douglas Laing or Old Malt Cask.  What ABC's have done is single barrel selections form Jim Beam, Four Roses or Knappogue.

I do hope ABC states one day relinquish control and allow the open market retailers to do what they do best.  Sell a broad and diverse selection of great spirits.

Monday, April 17, 2017

In remembrance - Tim Davis

Understand it's been some time since I've posted and truth is, I got lazy for a while. 

A friend and fellow whiskey enthusiast passed away the afternoon of April 8th.  He wasn't old and had not been feeling ill.  It was just one of those things that happens and then you're gone.  The reasons for his passing are to this day still unclear.  His family understandably is deeply saddened by the loss of a husband and father.

Tim was only 49 years young and had a passion for life and the things of life.  My introduction to the fabled and rare Port Ellen Scotch was through the generosity of Tim.  When I had trouble sourcing a hard to find Japanese whiskey, Tim again helped out.  And when he was excited about a release of a 19 year old Caperdonach Scotch, Tim shared by sending bottles.  It wasn't just whiskey that he freely shared but his passion for his family and work.  All you have to do is peruse his Facebook page and see loads of pictures of his wife and two kids. 

His passing has left a hole for many of his friends and of course his family.  Too often we take for granted those that are around us only to realize when a person we care about is gone, the time was too short and regret sets in on missed opportunities of fellowship.

A group I head up, 1789b is still in a bit of shock over Tim's passing as he was one of our own.  In our own way we desperately want to help the family and as such we will be conducting some charity auctions and donating the proceeds to the Davis children's 529 Education Fund. 

We are partnering with Tim's employer Rockfish Innovation Group and Pappy & Co. who have graciously donated bourbon and Pappy Van Winkle Cigars. 

If you knew Tim or simply want to know more, I encourage you to read some recent words from folks who knew Tim best.

Rest in peace my friend.  It was my pleasure knowing you.

Tim doubling up his bourbon allocation

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Happy Thanksgiving

Want to wish everyone a happy and safe Thanksgiving.  Among my enthusiast friends, this time of year always generates the question "what are you drinking this Thanksgiving?".  I don't know about the rest of you but I really don't map out what I'm going to drink.  Fine drinks will be consumed no doubt but I don't have a menu planned. 

A theme among my friends is to open a bottle of Wild Turkey in recognition of the day.  Not a bad idea and as a starter, I'll probably bring out a bottle of American Spirit.  It's open, it's Turkey so why not.  Other than that, the bar is open so what's poured will be whatever fancy's me. 

I'll most likely indulge in a nice cigar (cuban for sure) and now that I think about it, maybe a Port.  I have a very nice Taylor LBV 2010 that will pair well with a cigar. 

Enjoy your holiday and if you're going to drink, try and drink well.


Tuesday, October 11, 2016

High West Goes Corporate

I've been a big fan of High West for quite a few years.  Their 21 year rye is probably my favorite rye whiskey.  So I had mixed feelings when it was announced last week that Constellation Brands purchased High West for $160 million.

David Perkins, the founder of High West, left his job at Genentech back in 2004.  His decision to move from biochemistry to distilling was due in part to a vacation he and his wife took to Kentucky.  In a conversation I had with David a number of years ago he made the observation that while touring the distilleries, he noticed some familiarity with that equipment and what he used as a biochemist. He stated to his wife "I could do that", and the seed was planted.

David at the outset sourced from Constellation among others and in my opinion, did a very good job with barrel selection and ultimately, blending.  Much of the success of High West is due in part to David's vision and execution and all you have to do is visit Park City Utah and see the High West compound first hand to see his dream in action.

So, back to my opening comment about mixed feelings of the sale.  David has stated he will be staying with High West as Brand Ambassador playing a very hands on role in the business.  His reason for selling had to do with growth stating that where he wanted to take the distillery couldn't happen without some bigger player with bigger money.  Enter Constellation Brands who also owns Corona, Modelo and Ballast Point beers and a whole gaggle of winery's and wine labels.  This to my knowledge would be the first spirits addition to their portfolio and truth be told, it's a good addition.  My first reaction was some sadness to see an independent distillery go corporate but I certainly understand the reasoning.  The purchase of Ballast Point didn't go so well and I hope that Constellation took some lesson's learned and won't repeat the same mistakes.  I glad that David and his team will be staying on to keep things going.

Time will tell how this investment will pay off for whiskey enthusiasts because that's all I really care about and of course curious as to what new products or innovations High West will produce in the future. 

Friday, July 22, 2016

Booze shopping European Style

Over the years my job has taken me to places all over the world; Europe, Asia, Africa, South America, Middle East and Down Under.  On my bucket list of places to at least visit once has been Paris and Rome so while in between jobs in May, my wife and I decided to take a trip to Paris and Zurich.  We opted for Zurich because it was pretty much free and free is always good.  My sister is a Cardiologist and had been invited to study at the University of Zurich for the whole month of May.  Being the nice brother that I am, I decided to crash her two bedroom apartment in the heart of the city.  Nice....right?

My wife and I only spent two days in Paris so it was a speedy trip doing the major sites over the course of those two days.  I did manage to sneak in a visit to Maison du Whisky and boy was that an experience.  The selection was overwhelming but once I got past all the things I couldn't or wouldn't

afford I was able to down select to a reasonable number of nice bottles.  I spent the better part of an hour with a very nice salesman who happened to be from middle U.S. so there was no language barrier issues.  He was helpful and informative and led me to some very nice items I ended up purchasing.  One item on my "hope to find" list was a Nikka Miyagikyo 15 year which just so happened to be sitting on the shelf among the Japanese selections.  Next up, a Nectar of the Daily Dram 14 year Irish (at a very nice 103pf) and then finally a Signatory 24 year cask Highland Park. Truth is, I could have selected three different bottles and been just as happy since the offerings were broad and varied.  I did manage to avoid buying the Karuizawa 31 year cask bottle at around $9,000.

Overall Paris was nice, the sites were fun to visit but I'm not sure I'll be visiting again.

For those that have not traveled to Switzerland, you're missing out.  As I mentioned, I've been all

over the world but no place in my previous travels compares to this beautiful country. We spent the better part of the week doing some sightseeing around the city as well as visits to other destinations.   We visited the beautiful city of Lucern with Chapel Bridge as the focal point which was built in the 14th century.  While in Lucern we took the Golden Tour which starts with a boat ride on Lake Lucern, then to a Rack Railway that takes you to the top of Mount Pilatus.  While the railway was pretty slow going, the ascent was steep sometimes at a 48% grade.  The wife was not happy.  After reaching the peak and having lunch, we took the gondolas to the bottom.  The highlight of the week  was a visit to Interlaken and then a final destination of Jungfraujoch also called "The top of Europe" with an elevation of just under 12,000 feet.  It was an amazing experience and the view was spectacular.

I avoided drinking on this trip as the elevation was messing with my head and respiration so I avoided anything that would put me under.  While there I did buy a small bottle of Interlaken Swiss Highland SMW which was simply a novelty.  Back in Zurich we made a point of stopping by Old Crow bar that has a very diverse whisky collection; many old out of production bourbons and rye's.

Finally, I did manage to get out and do some whisky shopping (of course!) and fortuitously Glen Fahrn whisky shop was just around the corner from the apartment.  As a whisky enthusiast, Glen Fahrn was stocked with some great selections which made shopping fun.  They had many current release offerings along with plenty of independent bottlings.  I opted for two bottles that really intrigued me.  Teeling offers a standard Irish whiskey here in the U.S. that is aged in rum casks for 6 months.  It's a nice enough expression but I

knew that Teeling had many single cask labels finished in various casks.  The two I found at Glen Fahrn came home with me.  First a 13 year Port finish at 56.7 ABV and a 13 year Carcavelos finish at 56.6 ABV.  This shop had some great staff and they allowed you to try before you buy so of course I took my time tasting before deciding.

Since my brother in law was also in Zurich the two of us traveled to Baar to visit a fellow whiskey enthusiast who is a member of our whiskey group.  We had a great meal at a local brew pub and enjoyed some schnitzel and bratkartoffeln.  Back at my buddy's house we spent the evening diving into some great Willett selections, Michters 10 yr bourbon and some fantastic Velier cask strength rums.  Facilitating a trade, I ended up bringing home an early release of Redbreast 15 and two Diamond 1999 Demerara 15 year old rum.

It was a fantastic trip and I ended up with some great selections for the bunker. 

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Exam-o-Dram Ardbeg Dark Cove

Here I am.....reviewing Ardbeg Dark Cove on a very warm July afternoon.  I'll admit I took a bit of a hiatus to enjoy some down time.  As I mentioned in my previous post I was shedding some overhead out of my life and took a break to just relax.  That being said, it's time to look at another whiskey that of course has been reviewed by others.

As I always do, full disclosure up front this sample was provided to me by the US marketing firm for Ardbeg so a thank you to them.

Heavily peated and smokey scotches are a relatively new profile for me but once I tuned in to this style, I had no problem adding various expressions to the bunker.  Back just four years ago I stated on this blog that I disliked most Islay whiskey's giving a hat tip to a Bruichladdich 15 2nd Ed. that I picked up on a cruise maybe 8-10 years ago.  Since 2012 my palate has gone through some transformation which resulted in a broadening of styles added to the bunker.

Dark Cove is Ardbeg's annual limited release and they billed this release "the darkest yet".  Viewing the whiskey it's pretty light in color on par many other whiskey releases.

On the nose I get a couple different aroma's that pique my interest.  The smoke and peat are right up front but there are a couple other things happening that are inviting.  There's definitely a summer fruit essence on the nose, maybe pear or apple.  One other thing that I can't put my finger on is a creamy smells syrupy if that makes sense.  The viscosity is above average producing decent legs around the glass.

The entry somewhat contradicts the nose producing a spicy and salty entry with a moderate sweetness in the background and the peat hangs on the tongue.  As the whiskey transitions to mid palate there's malt and mild chocolate coming through.   The finish is moderate with a dominance of malt and peat finishing off the experience.  As some minutes passed by the back of my palate has a noticeable campfire taste that's not entirely unpleasant.

Overall, this is a pretty decent whiskey.  This whiskey is for those that gravitate towards a peaty and smokey expression.  For my friends who tend to shy away from this style I would tell them to steer clear but for those that are peat heads, this should be in your wheelhouse.  For me, I like this for the most part but it would not be a "daily drinker".  This style of whiskey for me is more of a "in the mood" pour.  After receipt of this sample I did go out and grab two bottles of the Committee Release and it will be interesting to pair up this lower proof version to the higher proof CR.

This whiskey is non age stated and runs somewhere north of $100. 

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Update - Finally

Sorry, sorry's been quite some time since I've posted.  Up until about 3 weeks ago I was heavily engaged in the selling of a business that really took longer and more of my time that I expected so it impacted time reserved for extra curricular activities (blog!). 

So, now that that's done, I will have some free time in the coming weeks.  In the meantime, I do have a review coming up featuring Ardbeg Dark Cove.  Right about now I would be socializing the fact that I'm headed to Kentucky for the annual barrel picking.  Unfortunately, I won't be able to attend this year and will have to rely and trust on the mediocre palates of my friends.  The upside is I'll be in Paris and Zurich for 10 days goofing off (and hopefully finding some nice whisky and cigars).

While busy over the last number of months, I've still managed to do some horse trading and picked up some very nice expressions that span Scotch, Japanese, Bourbon and Rye and will share my acquisitions in a future post.

This is the year of change with selling a business, I quite my job last Friday (yes, I have new job lined up) and have my house on the market; it's time to downsize.  So, lot's of stuff going on and it's all good.

Now, I'm off to find something to drink.