Monday, December 21, 2015

Holiday Cocktail - Barrel Aged Manhattan

This is my second run of using a 5 liter oak barrel to age the Manhattan cocktail.  I like a good cocktail but must admit, I'm pretty novice when it comes to mixed drinks.  My father in law is a big lover of Manhattan's so that was my introduction into that drink many years ago.

This last fall I purchase a new, toasted 5 liter oak barrel.  Upon arrival I filled the barrel with water and let it sit for about 6 days.  Doing this seals the barrel and pulls some of the astringency from the barrel.  My previous barrel I actually put in Very Old Barton BIB and then eventually made it into a Manhattan barrel.  This last October I was in Atlanta for a weekend with some guys from our bourbon club and we had dinner at Chop's of Atlanta.  The bartender there was mixing up Manhattans and I was struck by the quality of the drink.  They used their house Four Roses, Carpano Antica Vermouth, Blood Orange bitters and Luxardo Cherries.  As I sat at the bar sipping this fantastic cocktail, my mind started to churn with thoughts of doing another barrel and this time around, amping up the quality of the ingredients.

Putting those thoughts into action, I acquired the Vermouth, cherries and the bitters.  3 days prior to Thanksgiving I did a first charge of the barrel.  I waited until just before Thanksgiving since I knew the barrel influence would be greater at first fill and I was right.  The oak presence was there when we dipped into the barrel on Thanksgiving.  The base bourbon was Old Grand Dad 114 since I wanted something with some punch and we got just that.  For those that have used the neon red maraschino cherries in the past, let me encourage you to seek out and use Luxardo.  They are decadent.

Seven days ago I recharged the barrel but this time I used a variety of bottles that I needed to clear off the bar.  There's nothing wrong with this practice as the cocktail blends and melds over time and produces a quality drink; just use good products to start and you can't go wrong.  Over time the oak influence will fade and you will be left with mild barrel notes and creamy quality to the cocktail.

I'll be enjoying Manhattan's through the Christmas holiday.  It's four days until Christmas, if you hurry you might get an order in for a new oak barrel.

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 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 win.....fail.

Actually, I wasn't shocked.  The congregation of whiskey seekers is deep and only gets 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 want.....one, 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:

Bourbon/Rye:
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

Blends:
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 first 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.

Monday, March 30, 2015

Latest Acquisition - Bacardi and Angel's Envy

The deal closed on Friday, March 27th with Bacardi acquiring Angel's Envy with this marking Bacardi's entrance into the American whiskey market.  Bacardi will leave in place the management and staff structure allowing Angel's Envy to continue operations as is currently planned with distillery expansion set to be
complete in 2016.

Read the details here from Businesswire.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Go Irish - Teeling Irish Whiskey

I'm not Irish and don't do a lot of celebrating on St. Patrick's Day but one thing this Irish holiday represents (besides the Irish and great whiskey) is the entrance of Spring.  After a rather long and at times harsh winter, I'm looking forward to warmer weather and with that, digging in to some new whiskey. 

Teeling has a long history of making whiskey dating back to 1792 where Walter Teeling began distilling in Dublin.  Fast toward to 1987 and John Teeling opens up Cooley Distillery which prior to his purchase was making Potato based alcohol.  Since Cooley's opening they became a force in the Irish distilling scene racking up numerous international awards.  Point is, they know whiskey.  In 2011, The Teelings sold Cooley to Beam Global for a cool $95M.  Now, Jack Teeling is kicking off a new venture by sourcing whiskey from his fathers former distillery with the release last year of Teeling Irish Whiskey.  This is a small batch Irish blend that is finished in Flor de CaƱa rum casks for around 6 months.  This is non-chill filtered (NCF) and is bottled at 92 proof. 

This expression interested me as I'm not sure there's another Irish whiskey with a second finish using rum casks.  I'm a big fan of Balvenie and they offer a rum finish 14 year old Scotch that to me is average with the rum not balancing so well with the scotch base.  So, I was maybe a tad skeptical with the Teeling. 

The whiskey is 35% malt whiskey (100% malted barley) and 65% grain whiskey (95% corn and 5% malted barley) and according to Teeling, aged between 4-7 years in first fill bourbon casks.  After that first aging, it's then rum cask finished. 

Color: Very light pale straw
Nose: Molasses (backstrap), vanilla, grain whiskey 
Entry: Grain forward, vanilla just a touch of cinnamon
Finish: Rum notes, mild oak with a touch of pepper toward the end.  Medium in length.  

I like the fact that it's NCF and they didn't cheat us on the proof.  This is an easy sipping Irish and one that I will keep on the bar on a regular basis.  I have quite a few Irish whiskies but this rum finished expression is a nice deviation from the norm.  Teeling has plans to offer future expressions with additional second finish expressions as well as super premium aged single malts. 

The Teeling Irish Whiskey Small Batch is readily available in numerous markets and runs about $40 a 750ml.  

Note: This whiskey was provided by the PR firm representing Teeling here in the U.S.

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.