Sunday, December 27, 2009

Exam-o-Dram – Pappy Van Winkle 20 year

This is one of those uber-aged bourbons and it comes from Julian Van Winkle at Buffalo Trace. This is still (or at least should be) Stiztel Weller bourbon because at 20 years old, this particular bourbon would have been distilled in 1986, 6 years prior to the distillery closure. My first love of bourbon really gravitated toward the wheated variety early on in my bourbon experience; I had access to Stitzel Weller Old Fitz and loved the creamy, candied quality to this particular wheated bourbon. As I expanded my bourbon horizon I naturally gravitated towards wheated bourbons and most of those from Buffalo Trace. The Pappy Van Winkle line of bourbons are very good whiskey's and my personal order of preference starts with the 15 year, 20 year and then 23 year. The 20 year old Pappy is a bold bourbon even at 90.4 proof and provides a pleasant drinking experience.

The bottle is really a non-descript standard shape; nothing eye catching. The Label on the other hand has a nice picture of Pappy Van Winkle smoking his trademark stogie along with red lettering and gold accents. The bourbon comes in the standard 750ml size with a red foil top and can be found in a cheesy velvet bag on most occasions.

As I nose this bourbon, there's a fruity quality to it that at first I wouldn't expect as most wheated bourbons have a caramel, vanilla and brown sugar trait to it. The nose is soft and velvety with the alcohol sitting in the background not intruding on the experience. Moving my nose deeper into the glass and taking in a deeper whiff brings some of the alcohol to the foreground along with a hint of citrus.

The color is a soft golden hue and really is not very eye catching. Although it is extra aged which typically gives the bourbon a deeper color, cutting the proof to 90.4 lightens up the bourbon to an average depth and tone.

Now to the most appealing part of this bourbon and that's the taste. I heard some folks say that they feel this bourbon is too soft and they prefer something more "lively". While I would agree in part, I don't think that one dimensional. If I want something with moderate complexity, extra age and delicious, then I reach for Pappy 20. On entry there's an oily mouthfeel; a quality that I really like in bourbon. I pick up the fruit initially but then the transition to mid palate quickly exhibits flavors of vanilla, caramel, leather and some bold oak but not overstated for bourbon this aged. I pick up traces of smoke also but I have to dig for it. The finish is lengthy and appropriate for the proof.

This bourbon isn't cheap. The bottle I have bunkered I paid $85 for in 2007 but it now goes for around $120 and then some. The bourbon used for this review was a sample given to me by a friend and as I stated, was bottled in 2006. The whole Pappy Van Winkle line is good bourbon and always a good drinking experience. If you can handle the high price tag, pick up a bottle and enjoy on some special occasion.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow…..NOT!

As a person who really dislikes snow, I'm sitting in a major storm right now. Started about midnight and it's now about noon and we have about 2 feet on the ground at a balmy 24 degrees. That's a lot of freakin white stuff. I began checking the reports 2 days ago and the snowfall projections started out at 5-8" but by yesterday afternoon, that had changed to 10-20" and the by later evening updated yet again to 15-25". Of course, those projections were for total snowfall over the course of midnight last night to early tomorrow morning. I can say (and as you can see by the nice pretty pictures), we have met and will exceed those numbers. I'm thrilled. I've been out twice and plowed the driveway with my trusty '74 Farmall 140 and if not for that old tractor, I'd be buried for a number of days. So, I'm thankful for tractors and of course I'm thankful for one other thing on a day like this; Bourbon. Thank you George T. Stagg and thank you Thomas H. Handy for your warming embrace and being my warm bourbon blanket. So, if you happen to be stuck in this wide band of snow, what's the bourbon you pour to stay warm?

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Monthly Bourbon Recommendation - George T. Stagg

There's something almost unworldly about George T. Stagg. I have yet to try any year and have bad thoughts about what I'm drinking. To me, always a top notch pour and this year's release certainly won't disappoint. My brother was kind enough to pour off about 100ml for me so I could try it and boy am I glad he did.

First, let's talk about the vital statistics of this great bourbon. Barreled in the winter of 1992 and bottled in the fall of this year, makes this baby about 16 years old and comes in at another HAZMAT level of 141.4 proof. What's scary is you can drink Stagg neat no problem; that's how smooth this bourbon is. So for the sake of everyone's health, while you CAN drink it neat, I wouldn't necessarily recommend it. Drinking any bourbon at this proof can be detrimental. I would recommend adding a bit of spring water to take it down about 20 points or so, or if you prefer a small cube of ice should do the trick also.

I find George T. Stagg to be consistently balanced with typical notes of vanilla, toffee, nuts and hint of maple syrup. While the proof and flavor does change year over year, one thing that doesn't change is its consistent quality of nose, taste and finish. I'll also have to advise that this is a bottle that will not be easy to find. This, along with the other four bottles that make up the Buffalo Trace Antique Collection, is a limited release item and in some markets, not available at all.

I'll tell a quick story. A good friend of mine was a Scotch drinker and continuously prattled on about the virtues of his Scotch collection. I like Scotch (Highland mainly) but bourbon is my drink of choice. So, I introduced him to George T. Stagg and told him to give it a spin and let me know what he thinks. Well, after one bottle, he converted and is now a bourbon snob prattling on about the virtues of bourbon. Coming up on the 19th I'll be attending a family Christmas party where a challenge has been leveled. I'm bringing the Stagg and another family member is bringing Irish whiskey and we're gonna have a whiskey throw down. I'm looking forward to me and George crushing the competition.

One last note. Stagg is expensive; $72 here in Virginia so don't expect to find many deals as they really aren't out there. I would still recommend getting a bottle because any true bourbon dork has at least one of these in their bunker.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Project Re-barrel VOB – Day 14

Early this afternoon I pulled about 50ml from the barrel and took a quick sip; is it my imagination or is this more vibrant than what went in? Unsure of my own analysis, I put it aside and waited until this evening to sit down and do a more logical examination of my project. I've taken two Glencairn glasses and poured about an ounce in each glass. As I hold the glasses side by side and place then up to the light, it is apparent that two weeks in my barrel has changed the color. The reference bourbon wasn't real dark to begin with and had a light straw like color. Week 2 bourbon is slightly darker and has a touch more amber/orange to it so score one for better color.

Nosing the original bourbon I pick up a fruit and banana quality along with some leather and wood notes. At two weeks the nose has changed and the banana is more ripe but not rotten. There's a softness to the nose that didn't exist before that has a cream quality to it.

As I stated, the color has changed. This is one quality I look for in a bourbon. To me, it's a good indicator of proof and age and the fact that the color has deepened slightly is a good sign.

As I taste the original, which is a great bourbon to begin with, I pick up the fruity banana quality to it and something that reminds me of leather chairs. It has bold flavor mid palate with a medium finish. Again, a great value bourbon. Tasting the next bourbon the flavors are more robust and the bold flavor found in the original is even more pronounced. The leather and wood is definitely up front but not unpleasant with a finish that resembles the original.

I'm digging the results so far and am pleased that the bourbon decided to cooperate and get slightly better instead of slightly worse. I'll be pouring off a sample for an upcoming party on December 12th so we'll see what other folks say about the bourbon. It's been unseasonably warm here in Virginia so the bourbon has gone through some exercise I would suspect but the weather is turning colder now so the changes may be more subtle in the coming months. We'll see.

Keep your collective fingers crossed for better results in the future.

Day 55

Friday, November 27, 2009

Shifting vices

I have two vices; whiskey and tobacco which consist of cigars and pipe. Whenever winter begins to set in, the winds of change overtake my whiskey and smoking habits, I can't explain it, it just happens. During temperate months I drink bourbon and smoke cigars almost exclusively but as colder weather sets in, I rotate in Scotch and pipe smoking. There's just something about cold weather and my pipe with a nice dram of Single Malt Scotch. Am I alone? I know this blog is about bourbon but I'm curious if anyone else shakes things up a little as winter sets in. As the Thanksgiving celebration settled down last night, I sat on the front porch enjoying a bowl of pipe tobacco for the first time in quite a few months. It was really nice and I look forward to having another. Another change over the winter is a gravitation toward higher proof bourbons like George T. Stagg or William LaRue Weller; typically cut with a little water or a small cube of ice.

So let's hear it, stay the course or take a right turn and go off road for the winter?

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Project Re-barrel VOB – Day one

As promised, the deed is done. 6.5 bottles of Very Old Barton Bottled in Bond dump into a new white oak, medium char barrel. As I began to pour in the bourbon, leaking started and I thought "uh oh…..bad barrel". But very soon the leaking stopped and I finished pouring in all bottles, popped in the bung and stared at the barrel for while like an idiot. So, as I said, the barrel will be placed in the backyard shed and over time, I'll pour off small samples and provide tasting notes. I kept back about 375ml as a reference bourbon of what went into the barrel and you can find tasting notes here for the standard VOB BIB. It was suggested that I keep a close eye on the barrel for the first few weeks just to make sure things are going smooth so I plan on doing that.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Project Re-barrel – Very Old Barton BIB

A friend of mine conducted a re-barrel project about 18 months ago with very good results. For those that are unfamiliar with re-barreling, it's taking bottles of whiskey and dumping them back into a charred barrel. Simple as that…..almost. First, selecting the whiskey is kind of important. If the whiskey or bourbon you want to re-barrel isn't that good to begin with then chances are what comes out won't be that much better. So, picking a good whiskey for starters is key. Another important aspect is the entry proof. Going with at least 100pf means I'm starting with something that has greater potential for change (e.g. increase in proof over time). Re-barreling an 80pf bourbon wouldn't result in much change would be my guess. For my project, I'm going with Very Old Barton Bottled in Bond which is a darn good bourbon for a paltry $11 a 750. This particular bourbon is of course 100 proof and 6 years old, and pretty tasty. I really wanted to get this project going this last summer but work and other life issues got in the way so here I am almost to Thanksgiving ready to purchase a barrel and dump away. I wanted to post a short blog just to alert you of my newest dorky activity. It's going to be fun and based on my friend's success, looking forward to the progress through next spring and summer. I'll post progress reports as I go and when I'm ready to dump and seal the barrel, I'll post that as the starter

Day 14, Day 55, Finish

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Exam-o-dram – 2000 Evan Williams Single Barrel

I've been collecting this particular release for some time now and I have bottles that go back to 1988 distillation. The EWSB was first released in 1996 with a distillation of 1986. I have not had the first release but a friend of mine who has informed me it wasn't that good. In fact, the first release was 1995 but was not distributed at the retail level but was done more as a test run, at least that's the story told to me. The EWSB has received a number of awards over the years as reported on the Evan Williams website. The nice thing about this particular bourbon is that it's a well aged bourbon, single barrel proofed at 86.6 and runs around $20 a 750ml. Keep in mind that since it's a single barrel, there will be variations from bottle to bottle.

This year Evan Williams Single Barrel (EWSB) is sporting a new look which I actually like over the previous packaging. It's a clean simple look as far as the labeling goes, the bottle shape and black wax remains as in previous releases. The label size is under proportioned to the bottle as compared to other bourbons and I like this as it allows me an unobstructed look through the glass getting the full exposure of color.

The color is a moderate shade with hues of orange and gold, depending how it's held up to the light, in fact, the color caught my eye as I was reaching for the bottle in the package store.

Nosing this bourbon is interesting and I think more complex that other variants I've had over the years. My first thought when nosing was it smelled more like a rye whiskey than rye bourbon. On the nose is oak, rye, blue flowers and muted aspects of bubble gum, smoke and vanilla. On entry this bourbon is a little zinger; not overpowering but the rye is very present. Secondary attributes are a mild sweetness after the rye subsides, blue flowers, leather and mild flavors of bubble gum and smoke. I think the finish is unfortunately understated and dry as the short burst of rye on entry diminishes too quickly and leaves the drinker wishing for more.

I like the opening nose and flavors of this bourbon but wish the finish was longer. I purchased this bottle in the Virginia ABC store and paid $23.95 for it. This bottle was barreled on 3-30-00 and bottled on 10-14-09 from barrel 37.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Monthly Bourbon Recommendation – Wild Turkey 101

I'll have to admit that this one surprised me. I have a number of dusty bottles of Wild Turkey 8 and 12 year 101 and they're terrific. I've had the standard 101 over the years but have never been too impressed by it. It was a good bourbon in a pinch and good all around for mixing but drinking neat wasn't something I usually did with this one. Call me a snob (go ahead) but at least I can admit when I'm wrong, and I was on this one. Now, let me quantify my apology with saying that no matter how hard a distillery attempts to repeat the flavor profile on a consistent basis, that's not always the case and I believe that's how it is with the current Wild Turkey 101. I've had enough Wild Turkey over the years to know when one bottle is better than others and that's what I found with the current release; I almost have to believe that it's slightly older that previous versions.

I'll not say a whole lot about the packaging since it's pretty much been unchanged for years and it's a pretty recognizable brand. For a 101 proof bourbon reported to be around 8 years old, the price is very reasonable for around $20 for a 750ml bottle.

When I purchased this bottle, my intent was to use it as a mixer but upon nosing the bourbon, I got some nice hints of wood, char, rye and a subtle sweetness so I was curious. I poured about 1.5 oz in a glass and sipped it neat and as I said, I was pleasantly surprised. On further nosing, there were hints of honey, vanilla, and slight floral and of course the proof was evident also. Sipping this bourbon was pleasant and not too aggressive like some rye bourbons tend to be (e.g. Fighting Cock 103). I found this bottle to have a balance of flavors that I don't remember the standard bottle having in previous years. At first taste, the rye is very much up front but not overdone and the transition to mid palate introduces a nice subtle sweetness that lingers on to the finish. For new drinkers, they may find the 101 proof to be "too much" and may opt for the 80 proof version but I would recommend getting the 101 proof and knock it down with a splash of water or a cube or two. The price difference between the 80 and 101 proof is nominal so you're getting "more" whiskey in essence if you drink at a lower proof using the 101 version.

I'll confess that this Wild Turkey 101, while good in many respects, is not a bottle I would necessarily keep in my bunker. I may have a bottle on occasion for mixing purposes but with so many other personal choices, this isn't a bottle I would hit on a regular basis. For others, drinking this as a daily pour might be just the ticket. Bottom line, a good, consistent bourbon priced reasonably.

Personal rating: 7/10

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Bourbon - the art of the dusty hunt - final post

So here we are having gone through a number of posts talking about dusty hunting. This last post will cover some safety and etiquette practices to employ when hunting.

Keep in mind that retail store owners are looking to make a buck so don't get too greedy when looking to score the big dusty. While I've negotiated the price down on bulk purchases, I don't make insulting offers but am simply looking for fair prices. On the flip side, it's not your job to educate the owners on what they have. You've done the research and leg work so there should be some reward for arming yourself with the relevant bourbon information.

To set the environment, most of my hunting is done is stores that have bars on the windows and scratched up Plexiglas between me and the cashier so the clientele are what's to be expected in a place like this. It's good practice to strike up a conversation with the proprietor on mundane topics; weather, latest football game, etc. assuming they're open to chatting. If the store is busy, I'll tend to stand back and scan the shelves before approaching the counter and engaging in conversation. What I want will take time whereas most other customers are looking to purchase their Wild Irish Rose and a lotto ticket. There's been many times I'll just wander about waiting for the lotto line to die down before asking to see a bottle of bourbon. When engaging the owner or cashier, be open and friendly. If I see something of interest, sometimes I'll buy a soda and chips or candy bar and snack before getting down to business. Don't be anxious or pushy as many folks will be curious or guarded toward you at first. I've found that most store cashiers or owners have no clue about bourbon so when asking to see a particular bottle, expect that they will grab the wrong one or be unsure what you are asking for. Be patient in directing them to what you want to see. It's key to not appear too excited about the bottle and showing indifference will many times help with the total sale price in the end. There may be instances where you experience a language barrier and trying to get the bottle you want can be difficult. Again, have patience and be respectful; in the end this will help you achieve your overall purchase. Be sure to thank the store clerk for assisting you along the way. There's been many times once the comfort level sets in where the owners or clerks will begin to help you find additional bottles. When you get to that point, it's a simple process of digging through all the shelves or back store rooms to find those elusive dusty's. Remember, if they don't feel threatened or irritated by you, chances of getting behind the counter or storage room are pretty high.

Let's talk safety. The reality is, many of the best bottles are found in the nastiest places. I wouldn't recommend hunting alone in areas that are prone to violence or drug problems. Having someone along with you projects strength in numbers. There are times when I've shopped with 2 or 3 other guys and we're left alone for the most part. When you shop is important, especially in more dangerous areas. Most of my shopping is done on Saturday mornings shortly after stores open, usually around 10:00 a.m. Most folks that are up and around early on a Saturday and most likely going to work or shopping. The baddies are typically sleeping off all their rabble rousing from the night before. Shopping at night is not recommended. Keep in mind that if you hit a store that has a good selection of dusty's, chances are you will be buying quite a few bottles and doing so will attract attention. Finalizing your purchase and getting back on the road is a good thing. Hanging around, not so much. Finally, use common sense and if you feel uncomfortable in a certain area or feel something isn't right, listen to that inner voice and move on. You can always go back another day.

Hunting for old bottles is fun and certainly thrilling when you hit the mother lode. When shopping you may not be able to purchase everything you see as has been my case. I take notes as I shop, recording the store name, address and what was left behind.

Have fun hunting but please use common sense when doing so.

To read the complete series, see part 1, part 2, part 3 and part 4

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Spinning the Spice Rack

Warning: this blog pokes a little fun at those conducting whiskey reviews.

I'll caveat my comments by saying I do have a lot of respect for those that conduct whiskey reviews for a living. Training one's palate over the long term to pick out nuances of whiskey is a deft skill and one that is informative and interesting most of the time.

But…..for those of us not used to licking wet stone or chomping on sea spray scones, when was the last time you tasted or smelled any of the following:

Fig Paste, mossy river stone, bracken (look it up), sea tangle, rose hips, ozone, wet sheep, smoked seaweed……and I could go on (actually wet sheep wrapped in smoked seaweed sounds very appetizing).

Seriously, when nosing or tasting a whiskey, and in this case, bourbon does anyone really pick up these very obscure features, assuming they exists at all? The reality is I could write anything about any whiskey and have people agree with me. Don't believe me? Well, I have a couple folks that conducted a little experiment and wrote reviews using the spinning spice rack routine. The idea was born from a friend of mine who provides reviews on cigars. His contention was that most folks writing elaborate cigar reviews were full of their own doo doo, and I quote "The best written cigar reviews are composed by experts with god like palates who don't smoke so to insure that flavor and fact won't get in the way of a well crafted review that we mere mortals will salivate over......... I suspect the same of those who review alcoholic beverages". He noticed the bandwagon effect with others agreeing with these god-like reviews. So, in order to test his theory, he went into the kitchen, sat down and wrote his review while spinning the spice rack. Wherever the rack stopped, he would use the item that was visible to describe the smell and taste of the stogie; cream of tar tar, caraway, bay leaf, crisco? So, using various descriptions, he posted his review and not surprising, had respondents agreeing with his review.

After hearing this story, and after we stopped laughing, we got to thinking. Are folks swayed by the power of suggestion just because it's in review format, or because they respect the reviewer's opinion or because they just don't know any better? When I first started drinking whiskey (both scotch and bourbon), I would read the reviews and see the responses and in all honesty, felt intimidated to offer my own thoughts. I thought here are folks picking out all these smells and flavors and all I get is bourbon, and maybe some vanilla. Over time though, my palate began to mature and I did indeed pick out other features like bubble gum, corn flakes, hay, maple syrup, brown sugar, green apple, caramel, toasted nuts, cherry's, etc. I can honestly say that I have never nosed a bourbon or scotch and picked out something as obscure as wet sheep or fig paste.

As I mentioned, some bourbon reviews were created using this spinning technique and sure enough, people agreed with the appraisals. Is that mean? Maybe. Is it informative? Sure. Is it important that you pick out obscure smells and tastes in a bourbon? To me, not really. The real question is, do you enjoy what you are drinking and if so, then tasting wet dog or moldy stick doesn't really matter and in reality, tasting either of those would be pretty gross.

I can't argue that it's fun when you can pick out a smell or flavor but I would just say, don't work so hard at it. Enjoy the experience and if aged hairball pops up as a taste, stop drinking, dump the bourbon and get a new bottle.

There are techniques the everyday consumer can use to begin the process of training the palate to recognize various flavor qualities in bourbon. Just as high end athletes in the process of rigorous training begin to acquire muscle memory, so too the palate can be trained to "remember" specific tastes. There is actually a kit you can purchase with respect to Scotch to train your smeller to pick out various odors. It's an interesting idea and one that can be used for bourbon also. Keep in mind that when you nose a bourbon, what you taste should confirm what you smell. If, when nosing the bourbon, you pick up maple syrup and wood, those same qualities should arrive on the palate at some point. Simple, low cost practices you can employ right at home are taking a look at your spice rack, pantry and refrigerator and within those cabinets you hopefully have any of the following:

Maple Syrup, nuts, cinnamon, brown sugar, oatmeal, vanilla, butter, custard powder, toffee, coffee, tea, grain cereal like Corn Flakes or Wheaties, apples, cocoa, dark chocolate, maraschino cherries, oranges, etc. I could make a long list but you get the idea. Start by nosing some of these various items just to reinforce your memory, especially items that you wouldn't normally come into contact with on a regular basis. Another practice is to purchase a bag of dried fruit and munch on those over the course of a week. Going through the exercise of smelling and tasting these various food items will help introduce and train your palate to recognize these flavor components found in bourbon or rye whiskey. I still remember years ago I was drinking an Eagle Rare 10 year 101 and kept commenting on a specific smell and flavor that was very appealing yet I couldn't put my finger on what it was (ever have that happen?). All of a sudden a light bulb went off and malted milk balls sprang to mind. While it may seem goofy, I was pretty pleased with that revelation as that was the beginning of going beyond just smelling or tasting wood and vanilla in my bourbon.

There are two primary areas where the aroma and flavor in whiskey is generated; production (yellow) and maturation (orange). Here's how they break down as described by

While the tasting wheel speaks specifically about Scotch, these various smells and flavors do appear in bourbon also.

While I've poked a little fun at the whole tasting and review scene, I did so just to point out that taste is purely subjective and just because an expert smells and taste Atlantic sea spray and wilted violet, doesn't mean you will. The next time you pour yourself a bourbon (or Scotch), enjoy it for what it is and if you can pick out apple pie or cocoa, good for you. If not, don't sweat it, it'll come eventually for the important part is just enjoying the dram.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Buffalo Trace Antique Collection – breaking the piggy bank

The Buffalo Trace Antique Collection is a series of 5 bottles distributed by Buffalo Trace Distillery. The first release was in 2000 and consisted of only 3 bottles which, in my opinion, were more true to the namesake of Antique; Eagle Rare 17, Sazerac 18 and Weller 19. All super aged whiskey and all sitting at 90 proof. Following are the release details by year:
2001: Eagle Rare 17 year, Sazerac 18 year and Weller 19 year, all 90 proof
2002: Eagle Rare 17 year 90 proof, Sazerac 18 year 90 proof, Weller 19 year 90 proof, George T. Stagg ~15 year 137.6 proof. This is the first time we see GTS and the last time we see Weller 19.
2003: Eagle Rare 17 year 90 proof, Sazerac 18 year 90 proof, George T. Stagg ~15 year 142.7 proof. Any proof above 140 is legally considered Hazardous Material, thus this second release of Stagg is affectionately called Hazmat I.
2004: Eagle Rare 17 year 90 proof, Sazerac 18 year 90 proof, George T. Stagg ~15 year 129 proof
2005: Eagle Rare 17 year 90 proof, Sazerac 18 year 90 proof, William LaRue Weller 12 year 121.9 (first release year). This year alone there were 3 Stagg releases. George T. Stagg ~15 year, 130.9 (KY only Spring release), 131.8 (Spring release), 141.2 (Fall release, called Hazmat II).
2006: Eagle Rare 17 year 90 proof, Sazerac 18 year 90 proof, William LaRue Weller 15 year 129.9 proof, George T. Stagg ~15 year 140.6 proof (Hazmat III), Thomas H. Handy 8.5 year 132.7 proof (first release year).
2007: Eagle Rare 17 year 90 proof, Sazerac 18 year 90 proof, William LaRue Weller 10 year 117.9 proof, George T. Stagg ~15 year 144.8 proof (Hazmat IV), Thomas H. Handy 6.5 year 134.8 proof.
2008: Eagle Rare 17 year 90 proof, Sazerac 18 year 90 proof, William LaRue Weller 11 year 125.3 proof, George T. Stagg ~15 year 141.8 proof (Hazmat V), Thomas H. Handy 6.5 year 127.5 proof
2009: Eagle Rare 17 year 90 proof, Sazerac 18 year 90 proof, William LaRue Weller 11 year 134.8 proof, George T. Stagg ~16 year 141.4 proof (Hazmat VI), Thomas H. Handy 7.2 year 129 proof
2010: Eagle Rare 17 year 90 proof, Sazerac 18 year 90 proof, William LaRue Weller 12 year 126.6 proof, George T. Stagg 17 year 143 proof (Hazmat VII), Thomas H. Handy 6.5 year 126.9 proof
2011: Eagle Rare 17 year 90 proof, Sazerac 18 year 90 proof, William LaRue Weller 11 year 133.5 proof, George T. Stagg 16 year 142.6 proof (Hazmat VIII), Thomas H. Handy 6 year 128.6 proof,
2012: Eagle Rare 17 90 proof, Sazerac 18 year 90 proof, William LaRue Weller 12 year 123.4 proof, George T. Stagg 17 year 142.8 proof (Hazmat IX), Thomas H. Handy 6.5 year 132.4 proof 
2013: Eagle Rare 17 90 proof, Sazerac 18 year 90 proof, William LaRue Weller 12 year 136.2 proof, George T. Stagg 16 year 128.2 proof, Thomas H. Handy 6 year 128.4 proof  
2014: Eagle Rare 17 90 proof, Sazerac 18 year 90 proof, William LaRue Weller 12 year 140.2 proof, George T. Stagg 16 year 138.1 proof, Thomas H. Handy 6 year 129.2 proof

I've collected these releases over the course of three years but also have a smattering of bottles from earlier years. I'll admit I have not tried all that I have (too much whiskey, so little time) so can't speak to the profile of all releases. Taste being subjective, it wouldn't be appropriate to level a blanket statement that a particular bourbon or whiskey is better than any other. What I will share is my own personal preferences which are the only ones I care about anyway. I like the barrel strength offerings as it gives me the ability to control the drinking proof. I may want something high test because I'm in a pissy mood or lower the proof to open up the more subtle flavors that the high proof may mask. Having control is a nice feature with barrel strength whiskey. I won't speak to each individual year since I haven't tasted all years but I will give a broad opinion and rank them in order of general preference; William LaRue Weller, George T. Stagg, Thomas H. Handy, Sazerac 18, Eagle Rare 17. This list may change a bit depending on the release year but for the most part, that's how I stack them up.
Understand that these are super premium whiskey's due for the most part because of age and price. On first release these bottles retailed for around $39.99. Today, those prices have almost doubled as I've seen in Virginia where prices are over $70 a bottle. In fact, the West Virginia ABC website has last year's release listed at $42 a bottle but a friend recently informed me they have increased the price to over $60 which they blame on increases from Buffalo Trace. It's getting harder and harder to justify spending upward of $350 for the release, and that's just for 5 bottles, so chances are, I'll pass on this year's release. I have many bottles of previous years BTAC bunkered away so my consolation will be to just drink what I have.
So now my curiosity is piqued; do you think it's worth paying that much for this series?
Edit: For a review of the 2009 release, see John Hansell's review of each bottle here.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Does it matter – Age Statement

So there's much ado about the recent drop in the Old Weller Antique Age statement along with the change in packaging and label. There are pretty much two camps:

Wait and see what happens, but in the end, if you like what's in the bottle, does it matter.

I like an age stated bourbon and I'm mad as hell about this change….it does matter.

Where do you stand? Does the age statement on a bottle mean something to you and if so, what? Does the marketing aspect appeal to you? Does the age statement speak to a level of quality? Does it affect your purchasing decision in favor of the age statement? Is it not a factor at all?

I'll tell you where I stand. I like the age statement. I agree that taste is the important factor when it comes to bourbon and everything else is secondary, for the most part. BUT….if given a choice, I'm more apt to lean toward age stated bourbon over an NAS sitting side by side on the shelf. For the average consumer, I think price is the determining factor, e.g. more expensive means better quality. For those of us that have been around bourbon for a while, we know that's not true, Woodford Reserve 4 Grain is a good example. Some good bourbon has lost their age statement over the last number of years and to me, it's a shame. But, the market and bean counters drive change and as such, it is what it is. I wrote in my earlier blog about the OWA I recommended you grab some bottles to bunker and I think it's still good advice.

My impression in reading the various forums is that an age statement is important to the majority, and I fall into that camp. I would rather have an 8 year Old Fitzgerald 1849 than the current NAS bottling. I would also argue that when the age statement is taken off the label, and younger whiskey ends up in the bottle, taste suffers, but that's just my personal drinking opinion.

So, what say you…..matter or not matter?

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Exam-o-Dram-Ancient Age Bottled in Bond

One recipe I've enjoyed over time is the one produced by Buffalo Trace and that's the Ancient Age mashbill. As I've mentioned on this blog and on various bourbon forums, I really like the Ancient Ancient Age 10 year offering (now only available in Kentucky), and in fact was named "Best Buy of the Year" by Malt Advocate in 2008. A relative of this bourbon is the Bottled in Bond release which is low price, about $15 or less in most markets, and for the most part is a good bourbon. If your palate is tuned to distinguish more age in bourbon, you will pick up some youthfulness present in this bourbon which isn't necessarily a bad thing.

The bottle I have is a square, 750ml bottle with a light tan (or off white) cap, neck and front label with Ancient Age written in script type lettering. The bottle reminds me of an old style bottle. The Bottled in Bond designation on the front label means it's a 100 proof, at least 4 years old and from the same distillery of the same distillation season. This bourbon I have was bottled in 2006 and while there is no age statement on the label, I don't think it's much older than 4 years. An interesting thing missing from the label (front or back) is the Distilled Spirits Plant designation which would be DSP-KY-113 and would indicate Buffalo Trace Distillery. The reason may be because there is a brief history of the Buffalo Trace distillery on the label on each side of the bottle. My understanding is that it's a legal requirement to indicate the distillery for Bottled in Bond bourbons and the fact that they have the distillery name rather than the DSP number satisfies the legal condition.

On nosing this bourbon, I pick up some youthful vigor as the rye is evident up front. I don't pick up much in the way of wood, vanilla or floral as I would expect with a rye bourbon, therefore, I'm thinking this is probably not more than 5 years old or less, but that's just my opinion. The initial taste is a spirited burst of rye flavors, not much in the way of sweetness and it transitions to a mild tannic state and then diminishes. The finish is pretty short for the proof as I have lower proof bourbons with much longer finishes. In a very slight way, this reminds me of Wild Turkey on the initial taste, but the Turkey has more depth attributed to more age. All in all, this is not a bad bourbon for the price. I think this would do well in a Manhattan, Old Fashioned or mixed with a nice Ginger Ale like Blenheim's Hot. Another concept to try, if you're feeling adventurous, is vatting; the mixing or blending of two bourbons attempting to get an outcome that is better than either of the two individually. I do this with Charter 101 and Ancient Ancient Age 10 year. The higher proof and younger age of the Charter, blended with the older lower proof AAA makes a very nice vatting.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Busy, not absent

Sorry folks but owning my own business sometimes requires long hours and little sleep and such has been the case over the last week and a half. I'm working on an Exam-o-Dram and will post in the next couple of days. Cheers.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Stuck in a funk

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

Bourbon – The art of the dusty hunt – pt. 4

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

Monthly Bourbon Recommendation – Old Weller Antique 7/107

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 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.  This 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

An Exercise in Tasting , Four Roses Style

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

120th Anniversary

40th Anniversary

Limited Edition






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

Bottling Year






Less than 10 years

12 years

13 ½ years

11 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.


Color (1-5)

Nose (1-5)

Entry (1-5)

Finish (1-5)



120TH Anniversary

40th Anniversary

Limited Edition

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

Bourbon - The art of the dusty hunt – pt. 3

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 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.

Happy Hunting!

Next, part 4.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Four Roses Bourbon Variety Show

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

Death of the Age Statement

Before you read this blog first understand I'm peeved so you understand my frame of mind. A good bourbon friend was killed off and I'm not too happy about it and I'm not alone. In the bourbon circles I run in, there are many that are none too happy over the passing of Old Weller Antique, a 7 year 107 proof bourbon. This particular bourbon is a wheated bourbon and is one of the best value bourbons out there….or at least it was. For some inane reason Buffalo Trace has decided to drop the 7 year age statement from this label. It was mentioned by someone on one of the bourbon boards that they had it on good authority from a BT rep that the juice was not going to change. With all due respect, HORSE PUCKY! What other reason on Gods green earth would BT remove the age statement if not to prepare for the age reduction of the bourbon in the bottle. Sorry, this line of thought isn't a stretch but a common sense conclusion. The reason this particular change is painful is because BT has pulled some favorite labels off the shelves in recent years and this is just one more step in the wrong direction. As I stated on "I've had more disappointments over the last couple of years than gratification of a new product." As I just mentioned some good labels have been removed by Buffalo Trace such as:
  1. Old Charter Proprietors Reserve – A 13 year 90 proof bourbon that was and still is quite popular among enthusiasts
  2. Old Charter "The Classic" 90 – Another great bourbon at 12 years old and 90 proof.
  3. Weller Centennial – A 10 year old 100 proof wheat bourbon.
  4. 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
Each one of these bourbons, if found, make it home to my bunker. Not because they are not available anymore but because they are great bourbons at price points, when sold, were reasonable. For instance, I found a half dozen or so bottles of Old Charter Classic 90 a few months back while dusty hunting and paid $10.50 each for them. A great bourbon at a great price. Now, I'm not a complete imbecile and understand that offering a 12 year old bourbon for that price is kind of crazy. I wouldn't be at all upset if BT raised the price of that bourbon, it would be fair and reasonable for them to do so. But to lift it completely from the shelves was stupid (it's my blog, I'm entitled to my opinion).
I'm thankful I have a dozen bottles of Old Weller Antique residing in my bunker but now I'll be on the "hunt" for this label in order to continue the enjoyment of this great bourbon for years to come. Let me segue to a related topic and that is of wheat vs. rye bourbon and why it relates to what I've discussed above. As a general rule, rye bourbon can sit for less time in the barrel than wheat and be a great bourbon or rye whiskey (e.g. Thomas H. Handy). A younger wheat bourbon is going to taste young and will probably have some rough edges. A more aged wheat bourbon will exhibit a more robust flavor profile. The Old Weller Antique at 7 years was a good age. I have an Old Weller Antique that is 9 years old and the difference is noticeable over the 7 year as the extra age brings out more of the flavors found in the 7 year. I think going younger than 7 years runs the risk of moving this bourbon to the lower shelf rather than mid shelf. Here are some examples of well aged wheat bourbons; Old Rip Van Winkle 10/107, Old Weller Antique 7/107, Weller 12/90, Van Winkle Family Reserve Lot B and Pappy Van Winkle 15 yr. As a friend of mine pointed out recently, watch out for Old Rip Van Winkle, that will probably be next to go. I'm thinking the same thing.
All I can do about this change is kick the dirt and whine in this forum, so there you go. Good bye OWA 7 year and hello OWA NAS (no age statement) and thanks for nothing Buffalo Trace.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Exam-o-Dram – Charter 101

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

Exam-o-Dram – 1982 Eagle Rare 101

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.