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 to 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

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, 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:

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

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. 

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Bourbon Documentary's

It's been a busy couple of months so I'm running behind on getting some posts up.  That being said, I wanted to drop a post on a coming documentary NEAT: The Story of Bourbon coming out sometime in 2016.  Also, for those with DIRECTV, you can watch Bourbontucky which can be viewed On Demand with that provider's Audience Network.  It's a great piece and I enjoyed watching it.

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