Monday, March 2, 2015

Cigar Journal - Monte by Montecristo Jacopo No. 2

I don't have to point out that my writing on this blog is pretty much exclusive to whiskey.  My friends know that whiskey isn't the only thing that I have a passion for.  Good BBQ, craft beer and cigars make there way into my normal consumption routine.

During the winter it's tough to sit down and enjoy a good cigar because the weather pretty much sucks here in the Mid Atlantic.  I won't whine because my neighbors to the north have had it far worse.  That being said, I make it a point to travel to my local cigar lounge where they allow clients to "bring their own".

This last week I settled in to enjoy the Monte by Montecristo Jacopo #2.  This has got to be one of the nicest box pressed cigars I've seen as well as being a little unusual in that it had 4 equal sides; not something you see in a typical box press.  The construction of this torpedo looked to be spot on and the wrapper was a typical colorado brown.  Using a Xicar cutter, I clipped the end and used a torch to toast the foot and then light.  Initial draw was nearly perfect with just the right amount of resistance.The one thing lacking with this cigar was noticeable flavor transitions as I smoked through the stick.  This is not necessarily uncommon but something I experience when smoking an aged Cuban.  Overall, this was a medium strength cigar with a good flavor profile.

From a flavor perspective, this cigar had some good things going on.  Initial profile consisted of honey sweetness with light citrus on the back end; a combination I like in cigars.  Added to that I got some espresso, cocoa and moderate wood notes.  As I continued to smoke the stick down, the citrus influence dropped off and the coffee and wood notes became more pronounced with the honey sweetness still lightly in play. Taking my time with this cigar avoided any bitterness from popping up toward the end due to tar build up.  This was a pleasant smoke and one I'll come back to as the weather becomes more favorable.

This cigar was featured in the Cigar Aficionado Magazines top 25 cigars of 2014 coming in at #9.

I got this cigar from Famous Smoke Shop where it runs about $9.25 a stick.  From their website, they say this about the Jacopo:

 "Monte by Montecristo is a modern twist on the classic cigar. The Monte features a double binder, composed of a Dominican Olor and Nicaraguan Corojo which encases an aged Dominican filler, all wrapped in a rich Ecuadorian Habano wrapper. With the name of Montecristo, you can be assured you will get the same flavor, complexity, and enjoyment out of this cigar that you have come to expect from all of Montecristo's offerings.  In a word, this smoke is exquisite."

Size: 6 1/8 x 54 
Country of Origin: Dominican Republic
Wrapper Color: Natural
Wrapper Origin: Ecuadorian
Wrapper Leaf Type: Habano
Price: $9.25 (per cigar)

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Wheater line-up: Results

This past weekend I traveled to North Carolina to conduct a bourbon tasting.  As mentioned in my previous post, bourbon using wheat in the mashbill was featured.  I had 17 tasters attend.

I decided to line up the bottles based on proof so they were presented as follows:

W.L. Weller 12 year 90 proof:  Most everyone liked this one although some stated it was a little hot.  Overall, well received and most stated they would purchase a bottle.  For those in the group that are hard core Pappy fans, I told them this is the closest they can get for the price sans having PVW itself.

Jim Beam Red Wheat 11 year 90 proof: Most were indifferent to this selection.  I found the nose to have a slightly funky sour note to it.  The entry didn't exhibit this sour note but had a sweet start and then a quick finish.  Very one dimensional with the nose getting a thumbs down.

Larceny 92 proof: Overall, this was an average bourbon.  For the most part average feedback with most stating the nose was a little underwhelming.  This one didn't do anything for me whatsoever. To me, a simple sipper.

Makers Mark 46 94 proof: This was an instant hit among the group.  They liked the entry, sweet with spice, transitions over the palate finishing with dark chocolate.  I like this expression.  Normal Makers is not something I keep around because it's average to me but the "46" expression punches above its brother.  While most liked it, many said the extra $10 plus dollars was not worth it over the standard shelf expression.

Old Fitzgerald BIB 100 proof (HH): Many liked this and I thought it was decent enough to sip on.  Granted, this is no SW variation but as a 2009 release, I thought it was good enough.  Overall for the group, average pour.

Old Weller Antique 7 year 107 proof: I cheated on this selection.  For the life of me I could not find a normal OWA shelf offering.  I've mentioned before the Weller products are exceedingly difficult to find so I had to grab one of my single barrel selections.  This hands down was the favorite of the group.  Profile was fruity with spice and cream exhibiting a great mouthfeel and long finish.

We had a great time and I've been asked to maybe consider doing this twice a year.  Summer would be a great time to visit down south and share some bourbon.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Bourbon Tasting - wheater line-up

For the last couple of years I've traveled down to North Carolina to conduct a whiskey tasting to a group of bourbon enthusiasts.  I was invited down initially by my brother-in-laws father.  The first year I brought along a variety of selections to include OTS, dusties and private picks.  The favorite among the men the first year was a 1987 Old Grand Dad 86 proof.  When they asked where to purchase this bottle I responded "in 1987". 

Last year I lined up a rye tasting that spanned OTS and private pick with a focus more on what's currently available.  I had nine selections so we took our time tasting through all the bottles.  The selections included Thomas H Handy, Jim Beam Rye, Sazerac Rye, High West Double Rye, Jefferson Rye, Rittenhouse Rye BIB and a couple others.  This was a large venue with about 40 people in attendance to include the ladies who had a separate table to sample wine.  By the end of the evening, many of the ladies had joined the men tasting through the flights of rye.

This year I am bringing selections only found in the retail market; no dusty's or private picks.  For this tasting I'm presenting Makers Mark 46, Heaven Hill Larceny, Heaven Hill Old Fitz BIB, Old Weller Antique, W.L. Weller 12 and Jim Beam Red Wheat.  Some of these selections may be harder to find than others but at least it's all current production.  One of the tasters actually sits on the local ABC board and as a result of these tastings has championed getting some of these selections on the shelves.  Up until 2013, Four Rose Single Barrel was not carried in that market.  Now it is. 

Looking forward to spending the weekend visiting family, eating NC BBQ and drinking whiskey.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Heads Up! New offerings from Brown Forman and Barton 1792

For years a regular offering from Brown Forman was their Bottled in Bond; one of my dusty favorites.  It was replaced somewhere in the early 2000's by Old Forester Signature (IIRC), still a 100 proof but without the BIB designation.

A recent submission to the TTB shows BF bringing the BIB back under their new 1897 label.  This means this whiskey will be at least 4 years old, distilled in the same season and bottled at 100 proof.  I'm glad to see the BIB making its way back into their rotation.....now we'll have to wait and see how it tastes.

Another new addition is from Barton 1792.  Kelsey Creek KSBW will be a small batch offering at 90 proof.  The TTB approval came December 19th.  In the past we've seen many labels drop from portfolios so again, nice to see a new addition.  Unknown at this time is whether this bourbon will be high or low rye mashbill.

The back label denotes "Old Tine Company" located in Louisville, KY with no UPC listed as yet.  This looks to be a new trade name under the Barton 1792 umbrella (or maybe Sazerac) as it was submitted for consideration back in June of 2014. 

There's no guarantee that these labels will see market but I'll assume at this point it may be a number of months in the event they do.

Note: Edits made to post based on feedback from Buffalo Trace PR Rep.


Thursday, January 8, 2015

Exam-o-dram - Jim Beam Quarter Cask

I purchased this bourbon quite a few months ago and as many readers on this blog will attest, I don't do many reviews of off the shelf releases.  There are many other sites that do just that so I leave it to them for the most part.  Every once in a while though, I'm intrigued by a certain release. 

Over the years Jim Beam has not been a brand that I've kept on the bar regularly.  Back in 2010 Jim Beam made the decision to release a Single Barrel 120 proof Knob Creek that really got my attention.  Unfortunately, I was a little underwhelmed by the end product.  I understand Single Barrels will vary but through multiple instances of this whiskey, I continued to be unimpressed. 

In May of this year I posted that Jim Beam was gearing up for releases that jumped into the creative sandbox much like Buffalo Trace was doing with their BTEC and Single Oak projects.

What really intrigued me about this specific release was the use of quarter casks, something that Laphroaig was doing....well almost.  Laphroaig does an initial aging in normal sized barrels and then does a finishing in much smaller barrels (quarter cask).  The greater surface contact of the whiskey in the barrel in essence speeds up the aging process injecting more wood influence into the whisky.  The Jim Beam expression is similar except it's a blend of bourbons aged in quarter cask....not finished. 

From the Jim Beam website:

Introducing Jim Beam Signature Craft Quarter Cask. Base bourbon finished with a variety of fine quarter cask bourbons, all aged at least four years in smaller barrels. Boasting notes of vanilla, oak, and a hint of caramel, this spirit should be enjoyed neat or on the rocks.

I have to admit this whiskey is above average.  The blending of quarter cask finished bourbon lends greater wood notes and the vanilla is definitely present.  Entry is sweet exhibiting some candy corn with a touch of baking spice but then the wood notes jump up mid palate providing dominance. As the wood notes fade, so does the finish.  That's one strike against this bourbon as the finish is somewhat weak and dry.  Overall though, a pleasant enough bourbon and if found on sale, worth picking up to experience the quarter cask influence. 

I'm looking forward to the other expressions Jim Beam has for planned release.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Bourbon Shortage - maybe / maybe not

Let's say you live in Houston Texas...chances are you can walk into any store and find W.L. Weller 12 year for $23 (I paid that just two weeks ago so it's real).  Let's say you walk into a liquor store in Pensacola Florida and see that same bottle on the shelf except it's behind glass and costs $199 (that's real too).  Here in Virginia fat chance finding any Weller products as Weller 12, Weller Antique and Special Reserve have pretty much disappeared from the shelves.  So, for me, there's a shortage because what was once found simply by walking into an ABC, now is not. 

About 6 weeks ago Tripp Mickle a staff writer with the Wall Street Journal contacted me about a story he was doing on whether there was a pending bourbon shortage.  It was a simple question but really produces a complex answer...or maybe non-answer.  Go back 4 decades and the American Distilling industry experienced a significant downturn in demand.  So much so that distilleries were bottling extra aged bourbon in labels that stated "This whiskey is four years old", only, it wasn't.  The glut lasted for quite a few years.  The difference now is that world demand for whiskey is at an all time high.  Japan has been a large consumer of American whiskey for a long time; so much so that they purchased both Four Roses and Beam Global.  China is a large consumer as is Europe.  That wasn't the case back in the 70's when all those barrels sat in the rick houses.  So, while a second glut is possible, I think unlikely.  The world loves bourbon and rye.

The Wall Street Journal article was released yesterday and makes for some interesting reading.  Yours truly is featured in the piece.  Additionally, the WSJ blog has a secondary posting on three bourbons worth the hunt.  Before anyone comments on the picture....I agree, I look pretty miserable.  I didn't get to pick what Polaroid was used.

Distillers are producing more now than ever, new distilleries are opening, craft distilling is gaining greater foothold in the market, storage is expanding and new expressions are popping up almost monthly.  It's a great time for whiskey drinkers; even for Scotch, Irish, Japanese and other world whiskies.

My take?  There is a shortage but the net effect isn't felt among the typical consumer who picks up a Jack Daniels, Jim Beam White label or Makers Mark.  Those guys pump out serious distillate.  I'm talking about Limited Release and Small Batch.  Those bottles when released get snatched up in no time making acquisition very difficult.  I've been collecting long enough to have seen the shift in the marketplace where bourbon is hotter now than ever before.  So, if you like Blanton's, maybe pick up two bottles instead of one....you never know what tomorrow will bring.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Evan Williams Red Label 12 year

I have the white label and green label....now all I need is the red label.  In case you didn't know it, Heaven Hill has sold a red label 12 year 101pf expression in the overseas market showing up in places like Japan and Australia.  Sadly, not here for us local folks.  I do some crazy bourbon purchasing but on occasion (last Saturday being one of them), I pick up the very drinkable and value based Evan Williams Bottled in Bond (White Label).  To think I could get the same whiskey at 12 years old is very enticing.

Five days ago TTB approved the new red label for Heaven Hills 12 year old expression.  Will this label be available here in the U.S. market?  I don't know but I can only hope.  With labels and age statements rotating out of circulation over the last number of years, it's encouraging to think that a distillery just might put a decent proofed, aged stated bourbon on the market.....but what market is yet to be seen.

UPDATE 1/24/15: Rumor has it that this will be released here in the U.S. and will be (at least for the time being) a distillery only bottling.  I've heard two timelines; this month or within the next few months.  I have friends keeping an eye out so at the very least, I'll pick up some bottles in May while in KY picking barrels.

UPDATE 2/15: Expect to pay around $130 a bottle and it's available in the gift shop only.  Moving on.