Just in case you're wondering, I really love bourbon but every so often, a funk sets in and it's just not appealing to me. I'm in one right now and I can't get too excited over the thing I really have a passion for. This has happened before and it's almost like my body is telling me "ok, time for break……no bourbon for you!" I did have a small pour this evening but didn't finish it. The bourbon I poured was Rowans Creek and is a good bourbon from Kentucky Bourbon Distillers but even after a week's dry spell, I couldn't get too jazzed about sitting on the front porch and having a dram of Rowans. I like cigars also and have been indulging in a stick more often than I used to and when I smoked in the past, it was usually paired with a nice complimentary bourbon . Over the last week, it's been a solo show with cigar only. I spoke to a friend of mine today who's a huge cigar guy and mentioned to him I was in a bourbon funk and he commented that he hasn't had a cigar in nearly two weeks. So, I guess when the funk sets in on bourbon or cigars, best to just ride it out. I just hope it's a short trip.
Sunday, September 27, 2009
Decoding the Label continued….
We discussed in the previous blog the Universal Product Code (UPC) on bottles of bourbon. As I stated, knowing the UPC will assist you in identifying the distiller for a particular bourbon but there are other indicators on the label that will also narrow down the provenance. Some bourbon is designated with a Bottled in Bond (BIB) statement on the label and this relates to the Bottled in Bond act of 1897. In short, the act in effect provided a guarantee with this designation since whiskey back then was adulterated with all types of additives primarily for purposes of greed. Coloring and flavorings were added tainting the whiskey. The Bottled in Bond act ensured to the consumer that what they were buying was genuine "straight whiskey". I mention this one, because it's interesting, but also because on each bottle of bonded whiskey, the label will indicate the Distilled Spirits Plant (DSP) number of the distillery. This is important because many distilleries in production 20, 30 or 40 years ago are no longer in operation. Knowing the DSP of a bottle of bonded whiskey tells you exactly who made the bourbon. I'll go back to my example of the Old Fitzgerald BIB which indicated DSP-KY 16. This tells me it was distilled by Stitzel Weller Distillery. Today's Old Fitzgerald BIB is designated DSP-KY 1 which is Bernheim Distillery that is now owned by Heaven Hill. Armed with this information while dusty hunting will quickly tell you whose bourbon is in the bottle. Now before you start looking for the DSP number on each dusty bottle you find, chances are good you won't find the DSP number on any non-BIB bottle. This is because distilleries are required by law to indicate the DSP on bonded whiskey. For example, a bottle of Old Grand Dad 86 proof bourbon indicates it's from the Old Grand Dad Distillery which in fact does not exist (anymore) and is distilled by Jim Beam. Likewise, Old Weller Antique is not distilled by W.L. Weller & Sons but rather Buffalo Trace Distillery.
As a general rule, I like my bourbon at higher proof. There are few types of bourbon I will drink at 80 proof just because it's not a very exciting dram for me at the lowest legal proof. The exception to this is a couple of dusty bottles I found recently that I do enjoy even at 80 proof. Early Times Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey (KSBW) from early 80's and older and early 80's Old Crown and older. The reason I like these two is because I believe they contain glut whiskey. What's glut whiskey you say? Well, this would be whiskey older than what's stated on the label. Because whiskey sales had gone soft from the mid 70's and into the 80's, a lot of product sat in the warehouses aging not going to market. Because of this, bourbon was typically older than what the label stated.
Other indicators on the bottle include the proof, age statement and location of bottling or distillation. There are a number of occasions where distilleries have lowered the proof of their bourbon in order to stretch profits or maybe because they like making silly decisions, but whatever the case, understanding when a proof change happened is another key indicator of dating a bottle. Age statements on bottles are also a way to know when a bottle was produced. For instance, Old Fitzgerald's 1849 used to carry an 8 year age statement. Today, there's no age statement. Evan Williams 1783 used to be a 10 year old bourbon. In 2007 Heaven Hill dropped the 10 year age statement and now the 1783 simply says Old No. 10. Fancy huh? What's now in the bottle is a younger whiskey. Finally, knowing when the location change happened on a label is another factor in dating a bottle. Many times, the change in location (e.g. Louisville, KY vs Frankfort, KY) is a change in ownership. An example may be Old Charter 12 year Classic 90 which was produced by United Distiller showing Louisville, KY on the label. When Buffalo Trace picked up the brand, the label then indicated Frankfort, KY.
While this seems like a lot of information, it is. But, if you're serious about dusty hunting and want the ability to zero in on dusty bottles, this information is necessary in your quest. You don't want to purchase blindly as you may end up with a dusty bottle that's also a nasty bottle.
In the next blog, we'll do a wrap up and speak briefly about shopping techniques, safety and etiquette during your dusty hunting.
Next, part 5 - final post.
Thursday, September 24, 2009
Last week I posted a blog about the death of the age statement for Old Weller Antique (OWA) 7/107. It may or may not be too late for you to find this bourbon as it depends on your geographic location. The reason it depends is because some markets are quick to move product off the shelves; e.g. State controlled liquor sales, or Alcohol and Beverage Control (ABC). In my State, this bourbon was special order. I called my local ABC manager to inquire if they had any on the shelves and the answer I got back was yes, it's available but only 4 bottles are left....in the whole state. Good grief that was quick. Fortunately for me, the 4 bottles were at a store about 15 minutes from my house. Needless to say, I picked them up and got them to fellow bourbon enthusiast that could not find this bourbon in other parts of the State. So, if you live in non-controlled States, you have a pretty good chance that OWA is still on the shelves and will still be found months from now. In any case, if you love bourbon and have not tried this particular label, get a bottle (or five) and give it a try.
As is the case for many bourbon labels, they state the distillery which in most cases is simply a marketing name and does not exist in reality and is the case with Old Weller Antique which states "Genuine Old Line Sour Mash Distilled and Bottled by W.L. Weller and Sons, Louisville, Kentucky". This is another product from Buffalo Trace and was a very good value bourbon. The reason I say "value" bourbon is because it's good bourbon, has a seven year age statement and is 107 proof and typically costs between $15-$20 depending on your market. This bourbon is one of my favorite mid shelf value bourbons and I've managed to bunker away a number of bottles and am thankful I did so now that the age statement has been dropped.
The bottle is a squat, broad base bottle with a burgundy label on the neck that depicts the age and the word "Liter" if the bottle was a liter size. The label on the front of the bottle looks like old parchment with old book style writing. It's an attractive package and the bourbon inside is even better. This is a wheated bourbon and as I've mentioned in other blogs, I think wheat bourbon does better with more age and proof in order for the subtleties to pop out. For instance, while I can drink Makers Mark, I find it uneventful at 90 proof, there's nothing from start to finish that makes me go back to this bourbon. The OWA at 107 proof has a little punch to it and really is a nice proof for this particular mashbill.
The bottle I'm sampling is from 1995 and is a softer, sweeter bourbon than its rye brother. The color is medium amber and depending on the bottling can go a shade or two darker. This OWA that I'm trying now has some wood on the nose that doesn't transition to a great extent on the palate. I also pick up vanilla, fruit and a syrup quality which gives visions of a thick, creamy sweetness. On entry the bourbon starts soft but grows because of the proof. No spice in this bourbon, just sweet notes, vanilla, fruit and muted floral. The finish is moderate and begins to decline more rapidly that I would like. I've had various years of this bourbon and some exhibit more wood on the palate than others which may be a byproduct of age or rick house location for that particular dump. I recently compared 5 different OWA bottlings; 1995, 2002, 2004, 2005 and 2007. Of these, the 1995 and 2004 stood out as best of the lineup. While the distillery does attempt to keep the profile consistent over the years (think Jim Beam White), there will be variations, especially with this bottling as the provenance of the bourbon has changed over the years from Stitzel Weller to Bernheim to Buffalo Trace (or a blending on two of these). Overall though, this has been a very good bourbon over the course of years and a bottle I would highly recommend you pick up, add to the bunker and enjoy years after the label disappears.
Personal rating: 8/10
Monday, September 21, 2009
As promised, here are the results of the Four Roses tasting I hosted yesterday. First, you couldn't ask for better weather; clear skies, mid 70's and a slight breeze. Perfect.
Nine of us gathered together and conducted a tasting of Four Roses Single Barrel bourbon. First, let me just say that these are a great group of guys and we really had a good time.
We didn't waste any time and started right in with the tasting. We had four bottles of FRSB and before we started, I bagged all four bottles to hide the identity of each bottle. I had everyone pour a sample of each into their glass and asked each one to do a quick taste of all four and give me their pick for which one they liked best. I didn't let people take too long on making a decision as I wanted to get quick first impressions.
After we went around and everyone gave me their quick pick, I removed the bottles from the bags so they could see what we were going to be tasting. I also handed out a packet that contained a little info on Four Roses and the 10 different recipes they use in their bourbon. I also had an explanation of each bottle we were going to try:
Standard Single Barrel
Recipe Mashbill & Flavor Profile
60% Corn, 35% Rye, 5% Barley - Delicate Fruity, Spicy, Creamy
60% Corn, 35% Rye, 5% Barley - Spicy Full bodied
75% Corn, 20% Rye, 5% Barley - Fruity (Red Berries), Medium Body
75% Corn, 20% Rye, 5% Barley - Floral, Banana, Fresh, Medium Body
Less than 10 years
13 ½ years
I also included a section where they could rank each quality (1-5 for color, nose, palate, finish) of each bottle and then come up with a total score.
Folks took their time examining the color, nosing the bourbon, tasting and re-tasting, re-re-tasting, contemplating the finish and then ranking each category.
After we completed the tasting, we went around and discussed the following:
After doing a more thorough tasting, did your initial pick change over the final? At the initial quick pick, 5 chose the 120th Anniversary and 3 picked the Limited Edition 2009 (one person arrived late and didn't participate in the initial taste). After the tasting, impressions changed and the 120th scored even higher with 7 selecting that and two selecting the Limited Edition. In the scoring from highest to lowest it was 120th, Limited Edition, 40th and Standard. As you can see from the info above, we had 4 different recipes with a split between two high rye and two low rye.
We also discussed the impression that most folks who have had the 40th and 120 side by side, people picked the 40th. With our tasting, 120th won hands down. We also discussed if after tasting Four Roses, would you include this brand as part of your normal bourbon rotation. For the most part, folks said they would with a couple that said they were still unimpressed with Four Roses.
After the tasting, we got to eatin' and enjoyed a kitchen full of BBQ chicken skewers, smoked pork butt, bourbon baked beans, pierogi with sautéed onions and a green salad. For dessert we enjoyed a homemade upside down apple pie and some ginger molasses cookies.
Now that everyone had a full belly, it was off to the front porch for cigars and to taste a lineup of all things dusty. On the table:
1969 Old Crow 10 yr 86pf
1974 Old Fitz Prime 86pf
1979 Early Times KSBW 80pf
1980 Old Grand Dad 114
1980 Old Fitz BIB 8 yr
1981 Old Taylor 86pf
1982 Eagle Rare 10/101
1982 Jim Beam White 80pf
1983 Old Forester 86pf
1988 Old Forester BIB
90's Wild Turkey Split Label 12 yr 101
1995 Old Weller Antique 7/107
The two favorites of the lineup was the 1980 Old Grand Dad 114 and the 1969 Old Crow.
If you are interested in hosting a bourbon tasting, it's not hard and there's plenty of info on the web that provides guidance on the do's and don'ts of tasting. Also, feel free to comment or contact me if you have any questions.
Thursday, September 17, 2009
Here in this the third blog on dusty hunting, we'll discuss the label on the bourbon bottle that may hold some clues as to the heritage of the bourbon in the bottle. Some distilleries have changed ownership through the years and as such, the bourbon itself may not be the same product. Overall, the grains, water, seasonal fluctuations and maturation process will offer variances to any bourbon but in some cases, a change in ownership may trigger a recipe change. I mentioned in the previous article that I had found an Old Fitzgerald Bottled in Bond bourbon distilled in 1965. This particular brand has changed ownership a couple of times and as such, the product has changed over time. Ownership of this particular brand has included Stitzel Weller, United Distillers and currently, Heaven Hill. Old Fitzgerald from Stitzel Weller is considered some of the best bourbon ever produced while the current version from Heaven Hill is drinkable and some consider good for the price, but it's a far cry from the time when Pappy Van Winkle oversaw the production of Old Fitzgerald.
As I mentioned, the label will hold some clues as to the heritage of the bourbon. In the case of my 1965 Old Fitzgerald, the lack of UPC tells me that it's an older bottle that pre-dates the use of the UPC which, on a broad scale, was around the late 70's to early 80's. Because there are a number of items on the label, I'm going to break down the various things to look for in future articles. For the purposes of this article, we'll focus on the UPC symbol itself. Using the UPC is not a 100% guarantee which is why it's important to use it in conjunction with other visual indicators. In the case of the Old Fitzgerald, new bottles I have that date from the 80's show a UPC of 88508. This tells me that the bourbon is still Stitzel Weller due to the fact that the Stitzel Weller distillery stopped producing around 1992. Newer bottles will indicate 88076 which indicate Heaven Hill which may not Stitzel Weller bourbon, depending on the bottling date. If this sounds confusing, you're not alone. There's much ambiguity in the distillery world and trying to get a clear picture is sometimes difficult.
The UPC symbol should tell you who produced the bourbon. For a listing of UPC's, you can visit www.upcdatabase.com and search on the product itself. By searching on Old Fitzgerald you will see multiple UPC's for the same product (use quotes around the name to filter out things like Ella Fitzgerald…unless you like Ella). Knowing when a particular UPC was used for bourbon will give you an idea of the heritage.
In the next blog, we'll discuss the remaining indicators on the label that will help you in your quest for out of production bourbons. We'll be looking at things like proof, DSP number, distillery name and location.
Next, part 4.
Wednesday, September 16, 2009
I got a four letter word for you…….OBSV! If you don't know what that is then you're not a true bourbon dork, if you do, welcome to the club. Four Roses bourbon is truly a unique operation and I believe as time progresses, we'll continue to see some really great offerings from them. I say as time progresses because for nearly 40 years, their bourbon was only sold in the foreign markets. So, for about the last 2 years or so, we've seen Four Roses begin expanding market share within the continental U.S.
To take a step back, Four Roses was established sometime around 1860 and over the years became a top selling brand within the U.S. Then something bizarre happened. Seagram's entered the picture, purchased Four Roses and removed the Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey (KSBW) offering and only sold a blended whiskey in the U.S. The KSBW was then sold overseas. While I'm not certain of the timing, somewhere toward the end of the 90's Four Roses was available in the U.S. but in Kentucky only. Fast forward to 2007 and Four Roses announces expansion into New York and since then they've expanded to numerous markets. To many, Four Roses is a "new" brand because of the hiatus in America but is fast becoming a favorite among bourbon aficionados.
What makes Four Roses a distinctive distillery is its use of two mashbills and 5 yeast strains. This variety gives Master Distiller Jim Rutledge freedom to create bourbons that are so varied you may taste a Four Roses Single Barrel offering using recipe OESV and not recognize that it's from Four Roses. Ok, so before you get too annoyed with the four letter designations I've been throwing around let me explain the mashbill and recipe process from Four Roses.
First, Four Roses uses two mashbills. The "B" mashbill is high rye containing 60% corn, 35% rye and 5% barley. The "E" mashbill contains 75% corn, 20% rye and 5% barley. Now, add to that the fact that they use 5 different yeast strains as follows:
V - Light Fruit
K - Spicy
F - Herbal
O - Rich / Full Bodied Fruit
Q – Floral
By mixing the combination of mashbill and yeast strain, Four Roses has 10 different recipes they can use for their product line. Here are the recipes and the respective details:
OBSV 60% Corn - Delicate Fruity, Spicy, Creamy
OBSK 60% Corn - Spicy Full bodied
OBSO 60% Corn - Slightly Fruity, Spicy, Medium Body
OBSQ 60% Corn - Floral (Rose Petal), Spicy, Medium Body
OBSF 60% Corn - Mint, Fruity, Spicy, Full Body
OESV 75% Corn - Delicate Fruity, Fresh, Creamy
OESK 75% Corn - Spicy, Full Body
OESO 75% Corn - Fruity (Red Berries), Medium Body
OESQ 75% Corn - Floral, Banana, Fresh, Medium Body
OESF 75% Corn - Mint, Fruity, Full Body
Putting all of this together here is what Four Roses has delivered to us, the bourbon community. Their standard Four Roses, 100 proof single barrel bottling is recipe OBSV. The Four Roses 40th Anniversary release was OESO; and the just released Four Roses Limited Edition 2009 is OESQ. To me as an enthusiast, this is a great capability to have as it provides an opportunity to experience numerous variants from this distillery.
I'm conducting an informal tasting later this week where we will be sampling four different Four Roses Single Barrel offerings using three different recipes. I'm excited for the results and will post here after the event. One final note, Four Roses also offers a Small Batch bourbon that is a marriage of four different recipes (OBSO, OBSK, OESK & OESO). No other distillery can do this. If you haven't experienced Four Roses bourbon, do something about it and pick up a bottle (assuming it's carried in your state).
Tuesday, September 15, 2009
- Old Charter Proprietors Reserve – A 13 year 90 proof bourbon that was and still is quite popular among enthusiasts
- Old Charter "The Classic" 90 – Another great bourbon at 12 years old and 90 proof.
- Weller Centennial – A 10 year old 100 proof wheat bourbon.
- Eagle Rare 101 – Another 10 year old 101 proof bourbon that was quite popular when removed from the shelves and is now highly sought after by enthusiasts
Monday, September 7, 2009
This is a new offering from Buffalo Trace and looking at the bottle it states "Old Charter Distilling Company", which of course doesn't exist. It's a Buffalo Trace product pure and simple. Charter has been around for quite a few years, in fact, more than a few years. According to historical records, it appears that "Old Charter" was introduced in 1874. The current Charter 101 states on the front "Since 1874", that is without the word Old. Before I talk about what's inside, I'll mention that I like the design of this bottle which has been around for some time. I like the shape which has a scalloped crown and wheat stocks pressed into the sides of the bottle with white and gold old style lettering on the face. I have bottles of Old Charter in my bunker that consist of various Charter releases which include Old Charter Classic 90 (out of production), Old Charter Proprietors Reserve (out of production), Old Charter 7, 10, and 12 year old. There is a current release of Old Charter that is age stated at 8 years old.
Now to the bourbon itself and we'll start with the color which is a medium colored amber/orange hue that shows its got proof or age going for it. In this case, it's the proof at 101. Nosing this bourbon I pick up vanilla, which is a fairly common character in bourbon, dried fruit, a little mustiness which could be leather or tobacco quality. The mustiness is a quality found in a couple of Buffalo Trace offerings. The bourbon itself is not oily and the legs descend at a fairly rapid pace after swirling the glass and appears to be a little thin in consistency. On entry this bourbon packs some nice flavor exhibiting some sweetness and spice up front but then transforms into heat toward the mid palate which hides the flavor components found on entry. The finish contains a little bite at the end. I would be surprised if this bourbon is any older than 4 years as it appears to be on the young side. Overall, it's a nice bourbon that can be sipped neat but can also be used as a mixer without guilt. For the price of about $15 depending on your market, it's not a bad pour. For me, not a bourbon I would go to as a daily pour (which I drink neat on most occasions). But for some, this may be the ticket. I just wish this was a little older at this proof.
Tuesday, September 1, 2009
In the spirit of full disclosure, I'm very partial to Eagle Rare 101. The current iteration which comes in at 90 proof is nothing like the 101. When I first tried ER101 I smelled and tasted malted milk balls, which I love, therefore it was love at first taste. Eagle Rare has been parented by a couple of owners and as a result, the profile has gone through some changes. But for the most part, it's a very good bourbon and unfortunately was discontinued by Buffalo Trace back in 2005.
Eagle Rare entered the market in 1975 and was started as a counter to Wild Turkey and Heaven Hill did the same thing with the release of Fighting Cock. Eagle Rare was a Seagram's product who also owned the Four Roses Distillery. In 1989 the Sazerac Company (Buffalo Trace) purchased Eagle Rare and Benchmark Brands from Seagram's.
Eagle Rare 101 is one of those benchmark bourbons that rise above others of similar breed but I'll caveat that statement by saying that while the label stayed the same through acquisition, the mash bill did not. Seagram's, to my knowledge, used the now Four Roses distillery for their Eagle Rare brand, which was a high rye mash bill and more than likely consisted of a vatting of a couple of recipes. Four Roses does this today with their Small Batch release and Seagram's was known to do this when they were producing. After Buffalo Trace acquired the label, I believe they switched to a low rye recipe, thus the profile changed. To its credit, Eagle Rare was still a very good whiskey even with the change in recipe so any bottle you can find whether from Seagram's Old Prentice Distillery or Buffalo Trace, this is a bottle you should try and find.
If you go into a liquor store and See Eagle Rare on the shelf, don't celebrate too fast because this is more than likely the current Single Barrel 90 proof version. The 101 was not a single barrel.
Now, to the overall experience of the Eagle Rare, I currently have a bottle that was distilled in 1972 and bottled in 1982. This came from a eagle decanter that was part of a four series release. The bourbon inside is quite good. I mentioned in the first paragraph about picking up malted milk balls on the nose and palate. Well, that was a Buffalo Trace release of the Eagle Rare, not Seagram's which is what was in the decanter. This variant has a very nice nose with traces of candy shop, nuts and caramel. On the palate the proof does not dominate the experience but compliments the flavors, almost accentuating them. The taste validates what the nosing revealed; candied nuts, caramel and maybe a hint of citrus. The mouth feel was full and robust with a nice oily texture. The finish is medium to long dispersing the flavors until you're left with a slight tingle on the tongue.