Thursday, April 24, 2014

Road Trip: Bardstown KY 2014 - Wednesday

Kicking off this years Bardstown trip with an early morning departure of around 7:30 and arrived Bardstown around 6:00 pm.  Couple stops along the way with special mention to Hillbilly Hot Dog in Lesage, WV.  Awesome dogs and awesome staff.

First night was an open table to bring whatever interests you. Some notables this evening were:

Dusty Early Times
Dusty Yellowstore 90 pf
OWA SB 9 yr non chill
WT 17 year
Willett 18 year wheater
Old Saint Nick 17 year
Balcones Rumble Cask Reserve

There were also some world whiskies that showed up on the table that included:

Karuizawa 13 year NOH
Green Spot
Balvenie TUN 1401 B9
Powers Johns Lane

Tomorrow morning it will be an early start as we head out to Buffalo Trace and then on to Jim Beam after lunch.  Beautiful weather is forecast as we spend the next couple of days barrel picking.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Death of the Barrel Programs?

I'm not going to go all gloom and doom here but something is amiss with various distillers and their barrel programs.  Let's start with Buffalo Trace.  While the program is still available, selections are dwindling.  Last year there were limitations on the age of Old Weller Antique and limitations on Elmer T. Lee.  This year BT is limiting the number of OWA barrels available to States.  KBD suspended their barrel program but that was due to a significant backlog.  Last week, Heaven Hill announced an indefinite suspension of their barrel program.

K&L out in California reported last week that Buffalo Trace is now limiting them to 1 case of Old Weller Antique per week and as a result, each customer is limited to 1 bottle.  K&L is no small Mom and Pop operation so that's significant news.  

What gives? I can see in KBD's case, they just need to get caught up but Heaven Hill has one of the largest holdings of aging bourbon in KY so I'm baffled about the suspension.  I'll be in KY starting Wed of this week and we have a tasting scheduled at HH so I guess I'll come out and ask for details.

For enthusiasts such as myself, this is a little disconcerting.  With my trip to KY this week, our group will top 60 barrels of bourbon / rye selected in the last 4 years.  Seeing these barrels starting to become out of reach isn't fatal but it does mean we will have to be creative and establish new relationships with other producers / bottlers.

For the average consumer, this will have little or no impact on them but for us crazy people? We'll have to see what the next year or two brings and I for one hope this isn't a permanent condition.






Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Barrel Shortage.....say it so

Evidently, Independent Stave is having issues keeping up with demand.  As a result, distillery's are negatively impacted with a barrel shortage. 

For those of you who do not know, ISC provides the barrels for most distillery's.  The exception would be Brown Forman who actually have their own cooperage formerly called Blue Grass  Cooperage but changed to Brown Forman Cooperage a couple years ago. 

Jim Rutledge at Four Roses is faced with either shutting down, reducing output which means also cutting employee hours.  Not a good situation to be in.  Small micro distillers are pretty much shut out completely.  For the time being, Four Roses is operating on reduced production.  What this means in the short term is not much in my opinion but some years down the road...maybe something. 

ISC also produces barrels for the other big guns like Jim Beam, Buffalo Trace and Heaven Hill.

Let's hope the sourcing of American White Oak is only a temporary glitch for ISC and things get back on track soon.

On a more positive note, Four Roses has submitted their 2014 Limited Edition label to TTB noting the recipe as OESF and aged 11 years.  Rumor has it that aged whiskey is in limited supply at Four Roses but to be honest, I prefer their whiskey in the 8-12 year range.


Saturday, March 8, 2014

Whiskey trading and tasting......

As part of a larger whiskey enthusiast community, participating in tastings (both known and blind) and trading samples is part of sharing the passion.  Over the years I've acquired a rather large collection of sample bottles.  For many I know the provenance but for others, I have no idea.  The whiskey samples include bourbon, rye, craft, Scotch, Irish, Canadian and out of production.  I know I have a couple samples that date back to shortly after prohibition as well as older samples of Mt. Vernon Rye from the 30's, Very Old Fitzgerald from the 50's and Old Fitzgerald Bottled in Bond from the 50's

I've always intended to pull samples and go through them but my intentions have never materialized into actual execution.  I routinely attend tastings and we're always thinking of various themes to try. One recently focused on various expressions of Glenmorangie.  I'm planning a tasting for sometime this spring so I'm thinking of using these 2-4 oz sample bottles in a tasting where I may know the provenance or may not so basically a grab bag tasting.

The nice thing about swapping samples is trying expressions you may have never tried or don't want to invest the capital into a whole bottle.  A 2 or 4oz sample is a nice "try it" pour before committing.

Guess it's time to take stock of what I have and start digging in.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Spring on the Horizon

I hate winter....seriously......hate as in loathe.  This winter has been exceptionally harsh for the D.C. area.  I know, what we experience is nothing like upstate NY or other areas to the north but here in the mid Atlantic, this winter has dumped higher than average snow and the temperatures much colder than normal.  This morning as I left for work it was 5 degrees and that's just too cold.

We're now in to March which means spring is about 2 weeks away.  Spring also means the annual visit to Bardstown KY for barrel picking.  That's right....the time has come once again to taste through wonderful barrels of bourbon.  The schedule is pretty much the same as previous years with the exception of skipping KBD as their barrel program is suspended for a spell until they get caught
up on their bottling backlog.  Next year.

The schedule of events is firming up that includes a 35 bottle Wild Turkey tasting that pretty much encompasses every variant of Wild Turkey released over the last couple of decades.  We're visiting Four Rose, Buffalo Trace, Heaven Hill as well as hosting the
owner/distiller from Smooth Ambler while in KY to conduct a little barrel sample tasting one evening.  Speaking of Smooth Ambler, the group conducted a barrel tasting at the distillery in December and selected 3 barrels; 7 year, 8 year and a 10 year.  Those will be ordered this week and I should have them in hand next.  I'll post tasting notes once I get them.

As of today, we're at 49 days until picking time.......spring can't come soon enough.  


Saturday, March 1, 2014

Go Irish! Knappogue Castle Irish Whiskey

This second blog post is a follow on to the review I did for Contarf.  Castle brands has a number of expressions and the three I'll focus on for this post is Knappogue 12 year, 14 year Twin Wood sherry finish and 16 year Twin Wood sherry finish, all single malts. 

Irish whiskey dates back quite a few centuries and in the 16th century Queen Elizabeth I was quite the fan of uisce beatha or "water of life". Peter the Great declared that of all the wines in Europe, Irish whiskey was the best. At a point in the 19th century, Irish whiskey took off on a global basis and
while competing with blended Scotch was considered the most popular.  In 1880 Irish whiskey was the most popular spirit in the word due in part to a devastating crop infection that almost wiped out the Cognac industry.

By the 20th century, Irish whiskey took a number of body blows that significantly interrupted growth and nearly killed it off.  The Irish War of Independence, English closing its market to the Irish, American prohibition which was particularly harmful as low grade bottleg whiskey was passed off as Irish whiskey and then Wold War 2 were just a few noteworthy events.  In 1880 there were approximately 160 distilleries in Ireland but by the end of WWII, only seven remained clinging to life.

At one point there were only three distilleries in operation in Ireland but since the late 20th century, Irish whiskey began gaining in popularity again.  Today there are seven distilleries with another nineteen either under application or in the process of build out.

Ok, enough history.  Let's talk whiskey.

Knappogue Castle 12 year - this expression is one I've enjoyed over a couple of years.  I mentioned that Castle's Contarf could be distilled by Jameson but the reality is, it could be Bushmills as well since they triple distill.  No matter who distilled the whiskey, this expression is a light, smooth and somewhat creamy whiskey.  On the nose I pick up vanilla and mild oak and some citrus notes.  The entry is smooth, sweet and clean with moderate fruit and a honeyed quality to the finish which is medium in length.  I would consider this an nice entry level Irish whiskey which is no way detracts from its pleasant flavor.

Knappogue Castle 14 year Twin Wood- On the nose is toasted nut, sherry and summer fruit.  The entry has a bit more kick than the 12 year as it's bottled at 92 proof rather than 80.  On the palate I get a touch of bitterness like bitter chocolate, caramel, nut and some dark fruits from the Oloroso sherry cask.  The finish is moderately long with the sherry notes hanging on the palate to the end.  A very nice expresssion and one I'm glad to have in the bunker.

Knappogue Castle 16 year Twin Wood - The nose oak forward, dark fruits and vanilla.  Entry is slightly dry, dark fruits, caramel, oak with a buttery mouthfeel.  About mid palate I pick up a slight pepper and floral profile.  This whiskey has nice transitions, is full bodied and the 80 proof is tricky as the whiskey doesn't drink low proof.  This is a classy whiskey and now I'm on the hunt for a bottle of my own.

March 17th is St. Patricks day so maybe the Contarf or any of the Knappogue expressions above would be appropriate for celebration. 

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Go Irish! Contarf 1014 Irish Whiskey


The tag line on this blog is "The ridiculous pursuit of Bourbon (...and other whiskies)" and in the other whiskies column would sit Irish whiskey.  I've slowly added numerous expressions of Irish whiskey to the bunker over the last couple of years.


Full disclosure, this review is from a sample received from the PR firm representing Castle Brands which distributes Clontarf.  The fact sheet indicates the whiskey comes from Dublin which would mean distillation is most likely from Irish Distillers Group (Jameson). 

The Gaelic spelling of Clontarf is Cluain Tarbh meaning “Bulls' Meadow.” It refers to an area north of Dublin where a famous and decisive battle – the Battle of Clontarf - between the Irish, under the leadership of High King Brian Boru, and the Vikings, took place in 1014. 

Ireland at the time was heavily forested, rural and rich in natural resources. Large parts of the island that historically had been divided up among many fractious clans were controlled by the
High King (the Ard Ri) named Brian Boru. There were also coast trading cities, such as Dublin and Limerick, built and controlled by the Vikings. And there were some rebellious Irish allies who were against the High King. Boru took them all on and routed the Vikings in a bloody conflict. He himself was killed at the conclusion of the battle, however, the Vikings mostly left Ireland after the battle, hence the pride felt by the Irish in subsequent centuries for this historic victory. 

Clontarf 1014 is a blended Irish making up ten percent pot stilled single malt whiskey; the rest of the blend is a combination of pot stilled and column stilled grain whiskey.  Whiskey is aged 4 years in bourbon casks.  Color is very pale and the viscosity is thin in nature.  On entry, the profile starts off sweet and malty but then turns grainy exhibiting its youth.  Keep in mind that the climate in Ireland is much different than KY when aging whiskey.  The more moderate and wet climate means the whiskey does not age as aggressively as say Bourbon or Rye whiskey.  Additionally, I don't know if first or re-fill bourbon casks are used.  My guess would be re-fill casks as there is little barrel influence in the profile.  The finish is short and just a tad bitter. 

Castle brands recommends this be enjoyed neat, with a dash of water, on the rocks or mixed with ginger ale or ginger beer.  My recommendations is don't add water or ice.  At 80 proof it's already a very easy sipper and adding more water doesn't make sense.  

As a whiskey, it's light and easy to drink and at about $20 this is one for the bar or to share among friends.  As I say in all my posts where I get samples provided to me, I call it the way I see (or drink) it and this one will get the same consideration.  For me, not one I would carry in my bunker as it's simply too light and young a whiskey.  Taste being subjective, others may find this is what they're looking for.  

In the coming week, I'll be adding three more reviews from Castle Brands; Knappogue Castle 12 year, 14 year single malt twin wood, and 16 year single malt sherry finish.