Monday, June 15, 2015

KY Spring 2015 - Day 2

Thursday had us on the road early in order to get to Buffalo Trace by 9:00 a.m.  We arrived and I let the gift shop folks know that we were there to see the BT Barrel Program Manager, Beau.  About 10 minutes later Beau shows up and apologizes stating that he mistakenly put us down for the following day and needed some time to set up since they were not prepared.  No big deal so we checked out the expansion construction going on in the gift shop to kill time.  About 9:40 we headed to Warehouse H where BT conducts the barrel picks.  Going in my concern was the quality of the barrels since they had to rush to pull samples and cut them down to 107pf.

On entering, there were 12 samples lined up ready for our fine tuned palates.  As we made our way through the samples it was clear, at least to me, that picking our top four was going to be a chore because once again, Beau's team pulled some mighty fine bourbon.  Unfortunately, I misplaced my tasting notes so I can't provide any details except to say they were excellent samples.  In all we picked four barrels.  We don't have bottling data yet as we are waiting on yield counts.

After the tasting there wasn't any standing around as we had to make our way back to Bardstown for a visit to Willett (KBD).  Drew Kulsveen was waiting on us and we arrived right about on time.  He took us on the tour which many of us had been on before but he walked us through the upgrade and repairs they will be doing this year to include breaking down some of the distillation components to fix some nasty leaks.  The end of the tour found us in one of the Rick houses and Drew pulled two samples of his own distillate for us to try; a 2 year old wheat bourbon and a 3 year old rye.  I think without exception, the group was quite impressed with both samples.  The wheat bourbon had no hint of new make or aggressive youthfulness.  It was rich, creamy, sweet and very delicious. The 3 year rye was also outstanding and I told Drew if he were to bottling it today, I would buy it.  Both samples were very impressive which hopefully translates to exceptional whiskey when bottled. 

That evening Jim Rutledge joined us for dinner and spent the evening hanging out with the group.  We had planned well ahead of the trip to pull together as many Four Roses Single Barrel bottles as we've picked as a group or just single barrel expressions that members have picked up over the years.  These bottles as you can see in the picture were lined up on the table for Jim to try at his leisure. We ended up with 50 bottles with about half of those single barrels we had picked over the last 5 years.  Jim was quite surprised by the lineup and enjoyed sipping on those and visiting with the group until close to midnight. It was an exhausting but great kick off to the first day of picking.

Friday, May 22, 2015

KY Spring 2015 - Day 1 Range Day

For the annual Kentucky trip we decided to head down a day early and do some range shooting on a friends property.  10 acres and a Kentucky hollow provided nice range shooting of 25 feet to 100 yards. 

There were about 8-10 of us with one member a certified range instructor.  Two tables; one for ammunition and one for weapons.  We set up the 25 foot range that included a spinner target, paper targets, cans, milk jugs filled with water, etc. were set up in front of a high dirt backstop. 

Safety fist so rules included:
  1. Ear and eye protection for everyone
  2. Only three shooters on the line
  3. All shooters remain at the line until all shooting is done
  4. When finished shooting, call out "clear"
  5. All clips must be dropped and displayed
  6. Check that breach is open and clear
  7. Replace cleared weapon on the table
  8. Take spent clip to ammunition table and reload
We started the day at the 25 foot range shooting a variety of guns that included a single action .44 Cal Ruger Blackhawk, vintage Colt 1911, Glock 17, Glock 19, AR-15 and AK-47. 

After breaking for lunch, we went to the top of the property and took the AR-15's, spotting scope, shotguns and clay skeet targets.  We spent the rest of the afternoon target shooting the spinner and paper targets using the spotting scope to view accuracy.  Last, we did some skeet shooting and I found out I sucked at it.  Couldn't hit a single clay while second shooter was nailing them every time.

We had a blast and I was able to shoot guns that I had not experienced before.  I have to say, the AK-47 was a heck of a lot of fun to shoot.   

Next up: Barrel picking at BT and Touring Willett

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Kentucky - Spring 2015

I've just returned from Kentucky where this last week we conducted the annual barrel picking endeavor.  Visits to Four Roses, Buffalo Trace, Jim Beam and Wild Turkey yielded multiple barrel picks that I'm very excited about. 

The week started off with a full day at an outdoor gun range shooting everything from vintage 1911's to AR-15's.  During the week we had some downtime with Jim Rutledge, Four Roses Master Distiller who joined us for dinner and an evening of just hanging out.  We also had a nice visit with Marianne Barnes, the new Master Distiller at the soon to be named distillery at the former E.H. Taylor Castle site and Saturday we had a sit down discussion with Jimmy Russell at Wild Turkey.  The week ended with a pig roast, tomahawk throwing competition and a whole lot of whiskey and cigars. 

I'll post details in the coming weeks.  The year's trip was the best to date, but now back to the real world.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Tasting American Style

Last Thursday I conducted a tasting at Jack Rose Dining Saloon in Washington D.C.  A financial consulting firm I've done business with for a number of years asked that I host a tasting event for their male clients.  Throughout the year they do special events for couples and have a number of Spa days for the ladies.  The men whined a little about the lack of manly events so this was the first event for men (although plenty of woman drink and enjoy whiskey).

In my discussions with the client and the Whiskey Adviser at Jack Rose we settled on an American Whiskey line-up that featured Corn Whiskey all the way to Rye Whiskey in order to provide the tasters the experience of the sweet to the spice.

The lineup was as follows:

Corn - Berkshire Corn Whiskey: 90% corn, 10% barley aged 1 year @ 86 proof
Wheat - Bernheim Original, NAS @ 90 proof
Wheat Bourbon - Weller Special Reserve, NAS @ 90 proof
Low Rye Bourbon - Eagle Rare 10 yr @ 90 proof
Hi Rye Bourbon - Old Grand Dad 114, NAS @ 114 proof
Rye Whiskey - Rittenhouse BIB, 4 year (at least) @ 100 proof

I would normally situate the line-up low proof to high proof but in this instance delivered as shown in the list above.

The Berkshire Corn was a last minute replacement since Jack Rose has had difficulty sourcing Mellow Corn which is what I originally planned to feature which is too bad because it would have been a better selection.  The Berkshire corn was light in color and the nose had a little new make quality to it.  Entry was sweet with notes of vanilla and grain but then around mid palate white dog showed up and spoiled it.  This selection needed more time in wood. 

Bernheim Original was enjoyed by most because it's very approachable. Nice notes of sweet caramel, vanilla and a moderately decent finish.  This was the NAS offering.....was hoping they would have had the 7 year available.

Weller Special Reserve was liked for the most part but really wasn't as special as the name implies.  I've had bottles under the old label with the 7 year age statement on it and this release has lost a couple steps from years past.  I let tasters know that this was the same mashbill from the same distillery that makes Pappy Van Winkle and I think that surprised a few of them.

Eagle Rare 10 year was probably the favorite among the group.  Comments were made about how smooth and flavorful it was and it didn't "have that burn".

Old Grand Dad 114 was interesting because this split the group from those that liked it's robust profile to those that thought it was closer to gasoline.  This is one of my favorite value shelf offerings and it was a favorite of the JR Whiskey Adviser as well.

Rittenhouse BIB was a good rye expression (even though the percentage of rye is closer to 51%) and I like it's aggressive entry.  The Rittenhouse has always been in my bunker and was a go to for many years for sipping and mixing.  Unfortunately, in my market it's become more difficult to find.  There weren't many that liked this offering because it was too spicy and then there was "the burn". 

The client suggested we do this again but next time bill it as a couples event since the ladies want to drink whiskey as well.  I'm thinking an Around the World tasting could be the next event.

If you're ever in D.C. and you love whiskey, stop by Jack Rose and explore some of the 2,000 bottles on their Wall of Whiskey.

Photo courtesy of Jack Rose Dining Saloon

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Spring Picking 2015

Two weeks from today I'll be headed down to Kentucky for the annual barrel pick festivities.  I recognize that I neglected to write much about last years picks and hope to remedy that this year.

We moved the arrival date a number of weeks to May in order to take advantage of better weather.  In previous years we attended during the Spring sampler held in and around Bardstown and in April the weather can still be somewhat wet and cold.

Last year we picked multiple barrels from each distillery we visited.  Jim Beam was a first for us and they really treated us well along with rolling out some very good barrels.  So much so that we ended up purchasing three of them.  I liked all three very much but one was a real stand out and I couldn't put the bottle down.  This year we'll visit Jim Beam again and have high hopes of finding great barrels once again.

Buffalo Trace has been a real great experience for us over the last couple of years as we've pulled some really great barrels of Old Weller Antique plus they are a great value to boot.  Beau, their barrel program manager, is a great host and we always enjoy spending time with him plus he pulls great barrels for us to taste through. 

Four Roses was one of the first distilleries we visited back about 5 years ago.  Jim Rutledge is  more than a host but a good friend of the group.  We always have a fantastic time with Jim and have purchased some top notch barrels from Four Roses.  Last year Jim rolled out ten barrels and the quality was so good, we had a hard time picking our top three, in fact, we ended up picking six of the ten barrels.

I'm very much looking forward to this years trip.  Better weather, great bourbon and good friends should make this years trip a great experience.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Cigar Journal - Macanudo Cru Royale

I've been smoking cigars  regularly for about 9 years.  Prior to that, a cigar would be enjoyed during a round of golf or maybe while mowing the lawn.  Since 2006, I've enjoyed some very fine domestic and cuban expressions and like whiskey, I know what I like and what I don't like.

Macanudo comes from General Cigar Company who makes other brands like Punch, Hoyo de Monterrey (non cuban offerings) and CAO.  Macanudo's are produced in the Dominican Republic and offer a couple different bands with Hyde Park being the most familiar.  Back in October 2010, General Cigar released the Macanudo Cru Royale.  This cigar features Dominican, Brazilian and Nicaraguan filler and a Ecuadoran Habano wrapper.  Eyeballing this stick reveals nearly flawless construction and a wrapper that leans Maduro in color.

I smoked the Gigante at 6 inches with a 60 ring gauge.  Over the course of about two weeks I smoked two of these cigars in order to check my impressions.  The first cigar seemed too one dimensional to me and while it smoked very nice with a razor sharp burn, the profile was maybe average but the second cigar smoked better over the first.  At times ones palate can play with impressions and this may have been the case with the first stick as the second one I enjoyed more.  The cigar featured a profile layered with cedar, dark chocolate and dark earth.  As the cigar burned down, coffee and some spice kicked in.  The burn on this stick was similar to the first; nice and even.  The ash held form and didn't drop even after burning down about 1.5 inches.  For me I would have preferred something with more pronounced transitions as the cigar burned down.

Overall, I would rate this above average and definitely a step up in flavor and quality over the regular Macanudo offerings.  This cigar would be for the individual looking to expand their experience with something a bit stronger and more flavorful than a pure Dominican stick.  For those looking for cigars with more power and flavor, this may be too mild for you but for those looking for a cigar with good construction and a moderately flavored smoke, this may your huckleberry.

The cigar came from Famous Smoke Shop and runs around $6.  From their website:

"Macanudo Cru Royale cigars are a medium-bodied, full-flavored selection from one of the cigar world's most highly-acclaimed brands. Crafted under the direction of the legendary Benji Menendez, each cigar has a core of Nicaraguan & Dominican Viso longfiller with Brazilian Mata Fina, plus a proprietary Dominican La Vega Especiale binder rolled in an Ecuadorian Habano seed wrapper. Expect a well-balanced, aromatic smoke brimming with rich, complex flavors on a savory finish."

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Elijah Craig 12 year Label Change

As part of the administrative tools available via the blog provider, I can see keyword searches you all put into the Google Machine or other browsers and clearly readers are questioning the possible demise of the age statement.  Within the last couple of days it was noted that Heaven Hill has made a label change to their Elijah Craig 12 year 94 proof brand.  Right now, the number 12 is front and center on the front label but new bottles showing up on retail shelves simply say "Small Batch" on the front with the age statement noted on the back.  For those of you that have been fortunate to pick up their barrel strength variant, there is no age statement on the front but is listed as "twelve years" on the back label.  The back label age designation will now be the place for their 94 proof offering.

Let the freak out begin.  One keyword search that popped up over the last 24 hours is "Elijah Craig losing age statement".  If I put on my tin foil hat I could forecast that this is a precursor to the age statement being dropped at some point in the future.  Let's analyze:

Go back to 2009 when Buffalo Trace removed the age statement from Old Weller Antique.  It was noted from BT that this was done because there simply wasn't room for the age statement with the new bottle format and label.  BT assured the enthusiast community that OWA will remain 7 years old.  Well, I'm not going to point the guilty finger directly at BT, the reality is, a shortage of wheat mashbill soon followed and there was a shortage of 7 years + barrels.  Weller Special Reserve was difficult to find for a period of time as was Old Weller Antique.  Bottom line, BT, as is their right, can put younger whiskey in the bottle if they choose.  The bean counters want more flexibility with bourbon stock and one way is to remove age statements which then removes outflow constraints (e.g. sell younger whiskey).  This in response to significantly higher demand.

So, Elijah Craig 12 year and the label change smells like the same trajectory.  Here's my tin hat theory.  Heaven Hill changes the front label and the consumer (that's you!) over time gets used to the new label and the absence of an age statement in plain view.  One day you walk into your local liquor retailer and pick up a bottle of Elijah Craig 12 year and suddenly notice the "12 year" is no longer on the back label.  Surprise, you're not buying a 12 year bourbon anymore.

So, what should you do? I guess that depends on whether you think it's good enough to bunker or trust that it will be around for a while.  To be honest, Elijah Craig is not a bottle I typically have in the bunker for the very reason that it's readily available.  This afternoon while traveling home, I stopped and picked up a bottle and am at this moment, sipping on a healthy pour.

This is a value pour no doubt.  I paid normal retail at $27 but in some markets, it's over $30.  I'm mulling over a trip to a neighboring state to pick up 1/2 case because their prices are around $20 a pop.  I've been drinking bourbon long enough to have seen many age statements drop off the shelves so this is one to watch.