Sunday, December 18, 2011
Exam-o-Dram - Abraham Bowman 18 year barrel strength bourbon
The Bowman Brothers was a nice pour but average overall and not very captivating. The John J. was more appealing and overall an above average bourbon and I ended up purchasing two bottles. The Abraham Bowman was fantastic. To quote a friend after trying it "Big, huge, sweet, delicious!!!"
The color is golden amber and in the glass is viscous producing slow, well placed legs. The nose is very inviting showing little heat, dark fruit, caramel, cooking spice (clove, cinnamon). What's lacking that I fully expected is a woody profile, at least in some fashion, but it's not there. For a bourbon this old, this is unusual.
The entry is big on flavor, showing minimal heat, no oak or woodiness at all which reinforces the nose. The mouthfeel is very nice, thick with a syrup quality showing flavors is caramel, spice, sweet fruits of plum, dark berries with some barrel char popping up at the back of the palate. The finish is long, long, long. Transitions on the back of the palate start with those dark fruits and moves on to dark chocolate like quality and then very slowly diminishes. At the very tail end, the barrel strength heat numbs the palate ever so slightly. A full two minutes after the last sip, the finish is still present.
If you let the bourbon sit in the glass for a period of time, say 20 mins or so, the spice and berry flavors come forward a bit and the nose opens up and exhibits age like an old leather bound book.
Truman was asked about the various provenance of Bowman bourbons and he succinctly stated "Kentucky". Well, that doesn't narrow it down very much. At 18 years old, this bourbon pre-dates the purchase of Bowman by Buffalo Trace so where this bourbon came from is a bit of a mystery. It could be Ancient Age but who knows where Bowman was sourcing their bourbon from in the early 1990's.
This bourbon is fantastic. At barrel strength, it's way too easy to drink right out of the bottle and it does handle water very well and right around 107 proof, it opens up very nicely exhibiting a flavor profile that includes burnt brown sugar and dark chocolate.
I know that The Party Source has done two barrel picks of the 18 year making both of those single barrels over this bourbon which is a small batch. If you're traveling through Virginia and near Fredericksburg, stop off a ASB and pick up a bottle or three.
Saturday, December 17, 2011
Q&A #8 with Four Roses Master Distiller - Jim Rutledge
JR: Seagram introduced the black label and super premium in ~1990 to increase our Borubon market share in the major growth market in the world. We were already #1, but these news brands opened the market to various, and premium, price ranges of our brands.
Super Premium uses several of our recipes and 80% of the Bourbon must have been aged a minimum of 8 years while 20% aged 10 years or greater. Like our YL the formula can be tweaked to hit the target flavor profile as close as possilbe. Black Label uses both mashbills but only "K" yeast to create a full-bodied Bourbon with more spice. The mashbills are used at a 50:50 ratio so there is less variability and ability to tweak the formula - only different ages and different barrels.
Seagram always looked at quality as a "conformance to standard." We maintain that philosophy today. Conformance to standard is the reason Seagram started distilling and aging 10 recipes (and flavor profiles) of Kentucky Bourbon. This was started well before the time I began my career with Seagram's R&D in 1966. Since there are no two barrels a like it is impossible from bottling run to bottling run to consistently bottle the Same flavor.... The theory behind the 10 recipes was that prior to a bottling run we would sample the barrels, tweak the target formula and bottle the same flavor time after time. Well, it still wasn't possible, but the bonus behind the efforts was the variable lables we can now bottle and each will taste different because each labels blend formula will be different. For example, OBSV used for Single Barrel is not one of the four recipes used for Small Batch - OESK, OBSK, OESO AND OBSO. Note the yeast "V" yeast culture is not used in Small Batch and even a whiskey expert - that was not familar with FR - could not identify in a blind taste test that both were produced by the same distiller.
Thursday, December 8, 2011
Q&A #7 with Four Roses Master Distiller - Jim Rutledge
JR: I know older Bourbons have gathered more interest in recent years, yet I am not a fan of older Bourbons as a general rule, but I have seen some nice ones. As a norm, Bourbon peaks in performance between 5 to 8 years age, but there are exceptions. Most of the flavor and color during maturation are developed during the first year in a barrel, but continues at a far slower rate up to the time the natural sugars present in the white oak have dissapated. Then the Bourbon begins to take on too much woody characters and harshness.
I've had debates over the years with our marketing people who tell me we NEED an Older Bourbon with an age claim on the label. My response is always - "not as long as I'm around." The reason is we never know when the sugars will be depleted and once that happens we need to use the barrel within about 6 months. IF we must wait on "Birthdays" of barrels to attain say a specified age we could have a few barrels that have "gone south" in quality which would destroy the target flavor profile. And, if we can't be assured we're doing our best to fill bottles with only great Bourbon it's just not worth it to me. However, I also know (as mentioned) that there are some really good older Bourbons and that's what we use for our Limited Edition renderings.
I talked about our LE series previously and there were questions regarding our 2008 and 2009 Mariage offerings. I liked 2008 better than I did 2009, but in lab analyses I preferred the 2009. When I tasted the finished product I Knew something was not right. We were to use ~9.3% of a 19 year old OESK in the recipe. (We also used a 12 YO OESK at a far higher percentage.) When the barrels were dumped the 19 YO barrels were dumped first, but the average proof gallon yield was greater than anticipated and we ended up with about 20% of the 19 YO in the Mariage. 9.3% of the 19 YO complemented the flavor profile, but at the higher percentage the end product was a bit too woody (with a touch of harshness) BECAUSE of the Older Bourbon. Some people told me that was the best LE we've ever bottled, but in asking questions everyone that told me that were also Scotch drinkers and the `09 Mariage had less sweetness.... But, I'm an old-timer and a traditionalist and prefer the targted sweetness of Bourbon.
It is correct in saying that most of our better aged Bourbons are found in the bottom two tiers of our 6 tier high single story warehouses, but there are exceptions even here. I've seen some really good older Bourbon in which the barrels were aged in the top tiers. I don't "think" that would happen too often in a multi-story warehouse - from the 2nd floor up.
The vast majority of our barrels are heavy (4) char, but we use ~15% medium (3) char. We fill our barrels with 120 proof distillate. We've run experiments at 105, 110, 115 and 125 proof. We continue to run experiments, but I have been amazed that in blind taste tests the 120 proof filled barrels (with a little more age) has faired as well as the lower proofs. The taste tests were so close it was not worth changing our entry strength - even if we have to age the barrels 6 mos. to a year longer at 120 proof. Plus, at a lower proof the age in the bottle could be lowered and as discussed earlier the perception is that more age is a good thing. Lowering the age of Bourbon for bottling might be an economic plus on the production end of business but totally offset in the market. (I'm just talking out-loud and theorizing as I go along.)
Our single story warehouses benefit us via conformance to standard flavor profiles and consistency and could be beneficial IF we had an older Bourbon (including an age claim) on the market.
I think most Bourbons on the market (> 15 years age) are limited editions -even if it is not stated on the labels. That's all we will ever have LE older Bourbons - at least until the time I retire. I hope someday we can have a really old LE Bourbon, but in all honesty it's doubtful.
Tuesday, December 6, 2011
High West coming to town.....
Tomorrow evening, David will be traveling to Northern Virginia where we will meet at a local enthusiasts home for pulled pork and fixins. After dinner we'll be enjoying a wide selection of High West products as David talks through his various offerings. I plan on asking questions and taking notes so look for posts about this event.
Friday, December 2, 2011
Q&A #5/6 with Four Roses Master Distiller - Jim Rutledge
Q2: I'm not certain if Q1 is asking you to make a Straight Wheat...or using wheat as the second grain?? If you could...answer for both. Is working with wheat any different than working with rye, as the second grain? How would you change the amount of malt...if you changed from rye to wheat as the second grain?
JR: No, we have not used wheat as a small flavoring grain. We use more small flavoring grain in our mashbills than any other Bourbon. We use rye grain to generate a little more spiciness than found in Bourbon brands. Wheated Bourbons are sweeter than rye, and that's not because wheat itself is sweet. Rather it lacks flavor in comparison to rye grain; i.e., rye bread versus wheat or white bread. Sweet flavors in Bourbon are actually generated via the natural sugars present in the white oak and the flavorful rye will mask some of the sugar/sweetness that the wheat will allow to show in the finished Bourbon. That doesn't make one better than another - just different. With our unique 10 Bourbon recipes we distill and age separately we have an infinite number of blend formulas to create a different flavor with each of our labels/expressions. (The 10 recipes are created via two mashbills and 5 proprietary yeast cultures. I don't know of another distillery using more than one yeast culture.)
We have no plans of using as a small flavoring grain or as a straight wheat whiskey. If we made another straight whiskey it would be a straight rye, which I've been advocating for a number of years. Hopefully, one day my efforts will come to fruition. We'd have so many options with the 5 yeast cultures. For instance, we could replace 16% corn used in our "B" mashbill with rye and have a straight rye. Using our "K" yeast, which generates spiciness the resulting straight rye would taste like a straight rye that was made with a mashbill far greater than the minimum 51%.... We could also use a mashbill using 80% to 95% rye in combination with our "O" yeast and have a spicy straight rye with a lot of rich fruitiness. There are so many options available to Four Roses. I wish I knew the secret to be more convincing to our owners of the potential of Staight Rye....
Our regular FR Single Barrel (OBSV) averages greater than 9 years age. Most master distillers will tell you Bourbon peaks between 5 and 8 years age. There are some really good older exceptions to the norm. We don't put age claims on our labels (and never will as long as I'm around, despite pressure from marketing and sales people for obvious reasons.) We try to use our Bourbon barrels at the peak of their maturity and flavor. When the natural sugars in a white oak has been depleted the barrel needs to be used very soon else the Bourbon will begin to take on too much of a woody taste and character. We do hold barrels that are maturing slowly and creating good flavors. These barrels are used for our Limited Edition Single Barrel and Small Batch annual renderings.
Wheat has less enzymes than rye grain and is actually easier to work with than rye relative to fermentation and drying the by-product of distillation.
We would not change the amount of malted barley if we were to make a wheated bourbon or a straight wheat.
Monday, November 28, 2011
Q&A #3/4 with Four Roses Master Distiller - Jim Rutledge
Q2: What has been the most detrimental development or change in the bourbon/rye distilling industry? Examples: Dry yeast instead of liquid, change in water sources(from wells to city water), higher barreling proofs, higher distilling proofs, change in sources of barrel wood, consolidation of factories and therefor styles(range) of products, change to stainless fermenter rather than cypress, etc, etc....
JR: Benchmark was an excellent Bourbon distilled at Seagram's Calvert Distillery in Louisville. Going back further in time Henry McKenna was one of my all time favorites when it was distilled at Seagram's Fairfield distillery in Nelson County, prior to its closing in the late 60's.
I think increasing the barreling strength in 1984 had more of an impact on finished product than the optional higher distillation strength. I only know of one distillery that distills near the maximum 160 proof, and I believe too many good flavors are lost at higher distillation strengths. Most distilleries stayed relatively close to the distillation strengths of pre-1984. However, too much influence was exerted by the finance/accounting people in distilleries relative to barrel entry.... Moving the entry strength from 105 or 110 proof up to 125 proof or there about generated huge annual savings in the cost of barrels.
Distillers, blenders, quality personnel argued and argued with the change but their words and logic fell on deaf ears. In the end it was found that it generally took at least an additional year of maturation for the barrels at higher entry proof to be somewhat equivalent to the barrels in which the entry proof was less. As a result the anticipated savings were nearly off-set by the necessity to age the barrels longer to attain target flavor profiles, but I still think something was lost with the higher entry strengths. Also, since 1990 the focus has been on premium single barrel and small batch Bourbons - many of which are bottled at higher proof.
The additional strength will mask some of the flavors present with lower strength bottling, but the perception is that higher proof means quality. Economics may have an impact on the purchase of grains as well - negotiating lower costs for bulk purchase of millions of bushels of grain. This has had no impact on Four Roses. Since the early '60's - when Seagram opened its own grain division. Mr. Sam (Sam Bronfman) once said "to be the best of the best we must start with the best raw materials." Hence, Seagram's grain division. Since that time we've paid a premium for our corn and we're still purchasing corn from the same small geographic area in Indiana, and from many of the same farmers - or their families.
I can only speak to what we (Seagram > FRD) does today and yesteryear. I don't see much difference in today's distillation process, except we are A Lot better today than years ago. Computer technologies in operations has made us (the industry) a lot more consistent in what we distill today. Another Big influence (perhaps the biggest difference) was the trend to age Bourbon barrels longer. The perception was/is that if Scotch gets better with age the same must be true with Bourbon, but that's not so - if you like sweeter and creamer Bourbons. The sweet flavors of Bourbon are generated by the natural sugars present in the white oak barrels, and the peak of Bourbon maturity is between 5 and 8 years age. Beyond that age too many of those sugars have been depleted and the product is dryer (less sweet) and begins to pick up too much of a woody character.
If you look at those "dusty" Bourbons most of them were aged 4 to 6 years, so the older Bourbons of today are very different in flavor profile. I believe that's the biggest change. (That expression of opinion will probably cause a long-lasting debate.) To me (again a controversial statement) the "perception" that the more age on a barrel the better the Bourbon of rye. The perception is augmented by very high costs of bottled older whiskeys. But, keep in mind that the distilleries are paying ad valorem taxes every day a barrel is in a warehouse and that in combination with the industry average outage factor (angels share) of ~4.4% the cost per bottle must be A Lot higher to re-coop much higher costs that are spread over far fewer proof gallons and we all know if it's expensive it's got to be good. Right? - Not in my opinion. There are some really good older Bourbons, but they're the exception to the norm - 5 to 6.... In addition to recouping tax dollars handling costs are also higher with older Bourbons - more barrels being handled.
We only use dry yeast for distillery start up (one yeast tub) or in an emergency situation. Other than that we propagate our yeast from a test tube slant. I don't like dry yeast. When a distillery uses city water it loses too many of the minerals that create flavor. Most distilleries have their own water source - rivers and wells. I believe today's barrels are better than they were decades ago. In the 1960's and `70's long-term experiments proved that it doesn't make a difference if fermentation takes place in wood or steel or any container. The construction of the fermenter and the materials used have no impact on the chemical process.... These experiments were again confirmed in the `90's. We use both red cypress and stainless steel fermenters, and one's not better than the other. Today's technologies in distillation have come light years since the `60's, `70's and even the early 90's. Distillation has improved, in my opinion, but other influences may have offset enhanced distillation processes.
Saturday, November 26, 2011
Q&A #2 with Four Roses Master Distiller - Jim Rutledge
Q: Jim, there has been an ongoing debate for some time as to the impact of chill filtering on the flavor and mouth feel of whiskey, Some claim it has little impact others say it has little. Do you feel chill filtering impacts your bourbon and if so in what ways? Does Four Roses chill filter every bourbon that has water added to it
JR: Chill filtering came about in `70's after the minimum strength of bottled distilled spirits was reduced from 86 proof to 80 proof. The more water added to reduce the strength the greater the probability of fatty acids precipitating out and it didn't take long at 80 proof for this to be discovered. The precipate first forms a haze and eventually visible solids floating in the liquid. The solids resembled a small piece of cotton; I call them "puff balls." I was involved with the first incidence of fatty acid precipation with a Seagram shipment, via rail car, to Washington or Oregon. The rail cars were stranded for more than two weeks in Idaho in late January after a blizzard with temperatures well below zero. Soon after R&D finished their studies of he returned bottles Seagram began chill filtering Bourbon that was bottled below 90 proof. Fatty acids are present in nearly all foods and are Absolutely Not a health issue, but when a precipate develops it is definitely an aesthetic and marketing issue. One of the reasons it was difficult to first get a grasp on the seriousness of the issues is when a bottle is disturbed (a little swirl will do it) the fatty acids quickly go back into solution and disappear.
FRD chill filters YL and both Small Batch and Single Barrel, and I've tried to explain the NON-necessity to chill filter both higher strength labels. We don't chill filter any of our Limited Edition offerings or barrel strength private barrel selections.
Chill filtering involves lowering the temperature of product to below 20 degrees F. and letting it set for ~24 hours. After that period of time the fatty acids are not visible to the naked eye, but they have begun to solidify and may be filtered. I'd far prefer Small Batch, and especially Single Barrel were Not chill filtered. With removal of fatty acids some flavor, and body, are lost. In lieu of chill filtering some distillers add a chemical to generate a precipate. Of the two options I prefer chill filtering - even if it is far more costly....
I don't think it makes a difference what type equipment is used to chill the Bourbon, except from an efficiency perspective. The major change we made a few years back was in our filtering media which after changed aided us by not removing as much color in the process. Flavor was not impacted - once the fatty acids are gone they're gone. I'm an advocate of chill filtering Bourbon equal to or less than 86 proof, but when it's not necessary I'd far prefer Not Chill Filtering.
Friday, November 25, 2011
Turkey day drinking......
Beer: Green Flash Trippel. This was a new one for me and found it to be somewhat sweet with a moderate hop profile. Not a bad brew and one I would grab again. Second was a Firestone Walker Porter, another great selection from this brewer.
Whiskey: I just grabbed various selections that cross cut whiskey in general. For bourbon I brought along Old Charter Proprietors Reserve at 13 years old, an Old Rip Van Winkle 10 yr 107 and a private selection of Four Roses Single Barrel (OBSK mashbill) 9.5 yrs old. On the Irish front I brought along a Bushmills 21 yr and Jameson 18 yr. I also brought along some darkside selections starting with a Aberlour a'bunadh batch 29, '05 Edradour SFTC Marsala Finish and Arran Cream Sherry Cask which is barrel strength.
Wednesday, November 23, 2011
Q&A #1 with Four Roses Master Distiller - Jim Rutledge
Q: Can you tell us what your early years were like? Where did you start at Seagrams? How did they teach you the trade? What is the education process like now for young people getting into the craft of distilling whiskey?
JR: My first day at Seagram was November 14, 1966. I can still recall to this day the emotions I felt as I walked through the gates and headed back to Seagram's R and D Department. Most new hires got their start in the control lab - analyzing fermenters at different ages for sugar and alcohol content, learning the methods to propogate yeast.
My first job was running mini-gin stills. I distilled all the botanicals used in gin production. After distillation I began to learn to use my organoleptic senses to analayze and accept/reject botanicals based on smell and taste. (I think everything back then smelled and tasted the same to me - at first - but it was the beginning.) I later worked under experienced managers and supervisors in various operating departments. In my stints as a distillery shift supervisor I learned under Jules Kahn (distiller) and two of his key supervisors eventually became master distillers - Bill Freil (Barton) and Ed Foote (United.) It was crazy back in those days and I think about 70% of new hires left the business within the first year, and most of them moved directly into supervisory positions at other distilleries. I fell in love with Seagram and the Bourbon business and knew I'd found a home - hopefully for a lifetime. As with most of life a lot of luck and being in the right place at the right time seems to have been my good fortune. I was Very Fortunate when I was transferred back home to Kentucky in 1992 (from New York corporate office) and I've been living a dream come true ever since. Seagram hired numbers of people and hoped to find and keep the ones they believed had potential. Today a "person" is hired based on qualifications to fill a specific position. Often times these people are bogged down in one area. I don't agree with the Seagram philosophy back in the `60's but the ones who survived the initial training and assingments in operating departments generally had a good chance at success. By the early `70's Seagram had slowed down the numbers of people hired to move into training slot.
Saturday, November 19, 2011
2011 North Coast Brewing Old Stock Ale
Aggressive pour produced a minimal caramel colored head and lacing. Color is opaque and muddled orange. Nosing brings forth big malty goodness and mild hops. There's a lot going on with the entry; big caramel, coffee, chocolate, dark fruit/raisins with a chewy, boozy profile and a perfect amount of hops influence (IMO).
From the North Coast website: "Like a fine port, Old Stock Ale is intended to be laid down. With an original gravity of over 1.100 and a generous hopping rate, Old Stock Ale is well-designed to round-out and mellow with age. It's brewed with classic Maris Otter malt and Fuggles and East Kent Goldings hops, all imported from England."
This is a big drinker and one I'm going after to put down in the beer bunker. A great pour and a must buy.
2010 Parkers Heritage Collection
" Really nice mouth feel with caramel trending to burnt sugar right up front followed by oak which was readily apparent, but not overwhelming"
" Nice and thick. Oily with dry oak. The flavor is woodsy heat. Lovely. Really had me chewing"
"Nose which is very forward and sweet, toffee, canned pears, tangerine, honey and threads of spice. The palate shows immediate sweetness of brown sugar and hints of toffee. The mouth feel is a bit thin and seems to clean rather than coat the palate. A bit more heat than expected in the mid-range which wants to hang around for a bit and has a masking impact on flavor. Fruit, fall spices, vanilla, honey and some citrus notes come forward. The finish is OK length wise but the sweetness drops off quite quickly leaving a fairly flat after taste. I will need to revisit this whiskey as it is coming across a bit disjointed. Lots of stuff I like here but just does not seem to come together and a bit hot to boot"
"This deep copper whiskey is a high proofer. You can feel the alcohol when nosing, but it is not overpowering. It smells of sweet candied pear and caramel, toffee and vanilla. This is a huge whiskey it enters very sweet then the proof kicks in. A lot of the pear/apple character from the nose carries through for me on the taste. It is chewy with lots of vanilla. It is evident that this is a barrel proofer but again, the alcohol is not overwhelming. This whiskey finishes forever and is extremely well balanced. You get hints of everything: Vanilla, apple/pear, barrel character, alcohol but none of them take over. Very, very nice pour."
|95-100 Classic Whiskey||1||7.69%|
|90-94 Excellent Whiskey||5||38.46%|
|85-89 Very Good, Above Average Whiskey||5||38.46%|
|80-84 Average Whiskey||2||15.38%|
|75-79 Fair Whiskey||0||0%|
|74 and Under - Pass on This Whiskey||0||0%|
The PHC release each year has been above average to great over the years. The 2011 release has a Cognac finish. I've had it and I'm not sure the Cognac influence is doing the bourbon any favors. That's my first impressions but I need to go back and revisit this years release to give it a fair shake. If your hunting around and come across the 2010 release, do yourself a favor and bring one home as it's a very decent pour. Retails for about $70 and up.
Thursday, November 17, 2011
It's Alive! Pappy!
There's another store that has a small allotment of Van Winkle Family Reserve 12 year (Lot B). This is another wheat bourbon expression but the price is silly; $47. I would like to add a couple bottles to the bunker but for that price, I'm getting slightly younger barrel strength offerings. Guess I'll be passing on those.
Thursday, November 3, 2011
Oskar Blues Old Chub....good beer in a can
I've found a sweet spot in beers and it resides on Scottish Ales such as Founders Dirty Bastard, Bells Scotch Ale and Oskar Blues Old Chub.
From the OB website "This jaw-dropping Scottish strong ale (8% ABV) is brewed with bodacious amounts of malted barley and specialty grains, and a dash of beechwood-smoked malt. Old Chub features a skim-milk mouthfeel, semi-sweet flavors of cocoa and coffee, and a kiss of smoke. A head-turning treat for malt heads and folks who think they don’t dig dark beer."
To me the smoked malt comes through giving it a distinctive character. Color has a dark rudy color similar to a Porter. The flavor profile definitely coincides with the description from the website and includes bittersweet chocolate, dark roast coffee bean and a creamy caramel sweetness and no hops that I can detect. The mouthfeel is a little thin side but that's about the only negative. This is an outstanding Scottish Ale and it comes in a can no less. If you like malty beers leaning toward a dessert profile, check out Old Chub.
Wednesday, November 2, 2011
Green Spot comes home
MIL traveled to Ireland last week and she made the mistake of asking "is there anything you want me to pick up for you?" Well, as a matter of fact....yes. Green Spot. For the first half of the week she looked high and low as they toured various towns and came up empty. Finally, after conversing with a bar manager she asked if he had ever heard of Green Spot. "Best Irish whiskey there is" was his response. He pointed her in the right direction to a local store where she found said bottle. The price was a whopping $67 which has been reimbursed but that's not all it will cost me. She had to walk in the pouring down rain a number of blocks to get the whisky. I know I'm not going to hear the end of it nor will re-payment for her wet adventure be quick and easy.
I'm ok with paybacks as she did me a solid and picked up the one bottle I wanted to add to the bunker (now I have two).
2011 release of Pappy Van Winkle
Monday, October 31, 2011
A day at A. Smith Bowman Distillery
We arrived shortly before 11:00 a.m. and were met outside by Truman. I'm not sure what a typical Master Distiller is supposed to look like but Truman reminded me more of my brother in law ready to sit down with a beer and watch the Sunday game or maybe grab his bow and spend an afternoon sitting in a tree stand. Truman was affable and polite at first but shortly he realized that our group were a bunch of wiseacres and quickly adjusted his posture to dishing it out which kept us laughing throughout the afternoon.
Sazerac purchased A. Smith Bowman late in 2003. At the time and up until about two months ago the Master Distiller was Joe Dangler who worked for Bowman for about 32 years. Back in 1927 Abram Bowman moved to Virginia and purchased about 4,000 acres in the area now known as Reston and started Sunset Hills Farm establishing a dairy and eventually added cattle where the beef and dairy were sold to the local community as well as the White House. After prohibition Bowman began distilling around 1935 and produced Virginia Gentleman. Reston, VA was the first planned community in the U.S. and as such zoning laws were rather strict so while the reasons for moving the operation to Fredericksburg in 1988 may be multiple, Truman indicated one of the reasons for the move was due to increasing real estate prices which my own speculation would include an increase in personal property taxes.
Sazerac is investing some serious capital into the distillery which interestingly enough, the land is still owed by the Bowman family. Upgrades and renovations are currently underway as the distillery buildings smell of fresh paint and fresh coats of sealer on being applied to the floors in some of the buildings. The bottling operation for the Bowman value bourbons has been moved out of the facility and is now operated out of the Barton-Maryland (formerly Majestic) plant. The visitor center will reside in one of the existing buildings and is currently going through construction.
The tour finished up in the storage warehouse where pallets were stacked one on top of the other with barrels of bourbon stored upright. On the floor in the corner were five barrels of 14 year old bourbon ready for tasting. The particular group I associate with have purchased 15 barrels of bourbon in the last 2 1/2 years so this process was nothing new to us. It was new to Bowman as our group is the first to conduct an on-site pick of the new Bowman barrel selection program. We were thrilled that this tasting included a nicely aged selection. Truman popped the bung on the first barrel (like a pro, bung was out after two hits). He asked for volunteers for the second barrel to which I happily stepped forward and four strikes with the wooden mallet on the barrel next to the bung hole produced the expected result. Each barrel was tasted at proof and again at 100 proof. These barrels would be bottled as John J. Bowman which is labeled at 100 proof. My personal preference would be to take it at barrel proof but at this time (repeat, at this time), that's not an option. After tasting through the barrels, a selection was made and now we'll discuss as a group on how to go forward.During the tour Truman brought out three Bowman products; Bowman Brothers Small Batch (replaces Virginia Gentleman "The Fox"), John J. Bowman a single barrel and Abraham Bowman barrel strength. John J. and Abraham were both very nice both of which I purchased in the makeshift gift shop. I'll provide reviews in a separate blog entry.
I would like to thank Truman publicly for being a gracious host and taking the time to have lunch with the group after the tour and tasting. In spite of the crappy weather, it was a great day touring the distillery, tasting some great whiskey and socializing with likeminded dorks.
Friday, October 21, 2011
Hey Jack....pay your fair share
The local government sees Jack Daniels as a cash cow and now proposes an increase in taxes on Jack Daniels Tennessee Whiskey. The tax equates to a "pittance" 3.4 cents on each bottle of Jack. Well that pittance adds up to a whopping $4M a year in additional tax revenue as the distillery sells in excess of 100 million bottles a year.
Now, just to do some simple math, this additional revenue would actually add up to MORE than the current county budget to the tune of an extra $1M. A local concerned citizen stated (who of course is cheering on the increased taxes) that the county is "entitled" to more money because the distillery uses the small sleepy town image to sell it's product. Oh, and let's not forget that Jack Daniels attracts over a quarter million visitors to Moore County each year. In fact, the Jack Daniels website features local attractions and eatery's there in Lynchburg. I call that being a good neighbor.
Approximately 60% of the retail price on a bottle of Jack Daniels comes from taxes. Tommy Beam is none too happy about the proposed increase and has stated that the addition of $4-$5M in increased taxes is going to make it harder for them to compete, grow and take on additional staff.
Tommy Beam believes that the idea of taxing due to success is fundamentally unfair. "That's not free enterprise and that's not what this country was built on." he said. "I saw a quote the other day that said that a person used to look at a successful person and say now, what do I have to do to become like that? Whereas now, they might look at him and say, what can I do to get what they've got." What's next? #OccupyLynchburg?
Tuesday, October 18, 2011
Free Trade, Whiskey, George Washington and Iranian Buffoonery
After three years of languishing in the White House inbox, there were a number of free trade agreements set to be voted upon with one in particular of interest to the Spirits industry. The free trade agreement with South Korea included a lifting of a 20% tariff on Bourbon and Tennessee Whiskey. To the chagrin of some whiskey enthusiasts, the Pacific Rim has been a growing market for American whiskey. The attendees at the Spirit of Mount Vernon knew the vote for the free trade agreement was happening that evening and there was some anticipation passage was imminent. But then news came of a bizarre Iranian plot to assassinate the Saudi Ambassador in Washington DC as well as attack the Saudi and Israeli Embassies. It was reported that the Senate was being briefed on this late breaking news which had the potential of delaying the vote.......groan goes the crowd.
Many of us already know that Japan consumes a great amount of American Whiskey as does many European countries. Spreading this golden wealth to the world can certainly have an impact to those of us here in the homeland looking for current and limited release labels. Is it a good thing that the world loves our product? Maybe, maybe not. Considering the economics of supply and demand let's hope the increased interest (and lower tariffs) don't make it harder to find the good stuff on our own turf. We've all seen label changes over the last number of years from lower proofs to dropping age statements (e.g. Old Weller Antique) and some labels disappearing altogether. Is it a crazy idea that increased international interest has affected these changes? Hmmm.....let me dig out my tin foil hat and think on that one.
The trade agreement with South Korea did pass later that evening and the Mount Vernon crowd cheered. Should we be cheering? I'm undecided.
Monday, September 26, 2011
Another year is history
I'm not going to broadcast how old I am but I did celebrate a birthday this past weekend. Now that I have less time on this earth, I decided it was time to open one of my prized semi-vintage bottles.
My bottle of Haller's County Fair Bottled in Bond has been sitting in my bunker for the better part of 4-5 years. A fellow enthusiast found two such bottles in the Northeast sitting on a small liquor store shelf for something around $15. Distilled in 1972 and bottled in 1978, this particular bottle is very unique and comes from a distillery not in operation for some time.
The provenance on this particular bourbon is a little sketchy and some information indicates it came from the old Continental Distillery (Publicker) near Philadelphia PA. The Distilled Plant Number (DSP) on the back indicates distillation took place at DSP-KY-24 and bottled at DSP-PA-12. So if you go strictly by the DSP number, it would stand to reason that this was distilled at the old Glenmore distillery in Owensboro KY and bottled by Continental in PA. Bourbon historian Charles Veach once told me that this was distilled by Charles Medley at Glenmore so all indicators point to KY and Glenmore as the origin.
I enjoyed a moderate pour over the weekend and was captivated by the nose and entry. This bourbon is loaded with fruit like dates, raisins and cherries. There is also hints of chocolate floating around in the background. This is one of those drinks that you savor; never rushing to finish. The Haller's County will be consumed ever so slowly in order to enjoy over the long term.
Finally, my family helped me celebrate and gifted me two bottles I've been eyeballing for some time; Jameson 18 year Irish and Yamazaki 18 year Japanese. Both distinct and outstanding in their own way. The Jameson was buttery smooth and exhibited a degree of complexity I have not typically found in Irish whiskey's.
Finally, I have to give honorable mention to a beer I enjoyed over dinner; Epic Brewery Smoked Oak. For those that enjoy a malty beer with a profile of chewy caramel, this is your beer. Very interesting and one I'll hunt down again to put in the bunker for later enjoyment.
Saturday, September 3, 2011
Pumpkin Head to Head
There was a time I really disliked beer. The mass produced versions found on the shelves really were not to my liking. Having to serve a beer near freezing temperatures to mask any offensiveness isn't my idea of good drinking. Back in the 1990's I did a fare amount of international travel and one of my trips took me to Bonn Germany. As any good wait staff would do in a dining establishment, beer was offered and I declined. When asked by my traveling companions why I didn't like beer my answer was something to the tune of "beer of nasty." Well, undeterred, my companions talked me into ordering a local German Lager and from that night on, I was hooked. I don't remember what it was, but I do remember thinking "where in the world did this stuff come from?"
Fast forward umpteen years and beer is my second love next to whisk(e)y. My profile preferences tend to lean toward a malty beer rather than hoppy. This past week I was visiting a friend who wanted to do a little side by side tasting of 4 different seasonal Pumpkin Ales. I'm not one to turn down an invitation to drink for free but over the years I've avoided the "flavored" beers.
The four beers we lined up were:
New Holland Ichabod Pumpkin Ale: This one poured a light copper color. Nosing this beer didn't produce anything of interest. Upon tasting it, it was even less interesting. To me, it tasted like a standard light Ale, moderate carbonation and nothing in the way of interesting flavor, much less pumpkin. Beer Advocate readers rated this one a B- so I must be missing something here. This one wasn't finished and got dumped in the flower bed.
Uinta Brewing Punk'N Ale: Probably the poorest example of a pumpkin ale among the four as it lacked pretty much any pumpkin flavor whatsoever. Again, the flavor components were pretty much boring and in the end, this one was not finished either and tossed in the flower bed. Beer Advocate rated this a C+ which I think is generous.
Schafly Pumpkin Ale: The color on this one was poured somewhat darker than the rest leading to a slight anticipation of something better than the previous two. The nose did have some mild spice and pumpkin so a better start overall. The entry was good to start but then the finish took a weird turn and had the taste of simple syrup; a very sweet mid-palate. It wasn't bad per se, but didn't balance very well as a beer but I would say at least better than the first two. Beer Advocate rated this an A- as I would have given this a B- at best.
Williamsburg Alewerks Pumpkin Ale: This ale poured an orange bronze color and had moderate carbonation. The nose on this beer was very compelling and smelled of pumpkin pie. Very intriguing. The entry on this one was fantastic with the entry confirming what the nose displayed; a pumpkin pie profile with spices, mild hops and a finish that wasn't overly sweet. This one hands down was my favorite. In fact, I ended up grabbing a case for the beer bunker. Beer Advocate rated this an A-, a rating I agree with (not that that means anything). For fans of pumpkin ale, the WA Pumpkin is very very good.
Friday, September 2, 2011
Four Roses Limited Edition 2011
About a week ago, Four Roses announced the next Limited Edition release. Considering that Four Roses has only been re-distributing back here in the U.S. since mid 2000's, they've done quite a bit to grab market share. In September 2007, Four Roses released the first of their Limited Release selections with the 40th Anniversary which celebrated Jim Rutledge's tenure with Four Roses. Following on the success of this bottling the 120th Anniversary was released in 2008 along with the first Mariage. In 2009, Four Roses released the first Limited Edition along with another variation of the Mariage. Last year saw another Limited Edition along with a Limited Edition Small Batch at barrel strength and the 100th Anniversary release. So you're not confused, the 120th released in 2008 was the Anniversary of the Four Roses name whereas the 100th Anniversary was celebration of the distillery itself.
I hope that's not too much to take in but as you can see, they've been busy. I'll admit, I've not been a fan over the years of Four Roses with the exception of 120th Anniversary release and a private bottling done in 2007 by The Bourbon Society. In addition to those, I've also had the privilege of traveling to Four Roses with a group of other enthusiasts and picking out a couple of barrels; both of which ended up on my favorites list.
You should begin to see the 2011 LE on the shelves very soon depending on your market. Here is the presser from Four Roses:
Wednesday, August 24th 2011
Four Recipes Artfully Mingled in New Limited Edition Bourbon
Four Roses 2011 Limited Edition Small Batch Blooms
LAWRENCEBURG, Ky. (August 24, 2011) – Four Roses Distillery is adding to its collection of limited edition small batch bourbon expressions this September which mingles four recipes – aged between 11 and 13 years - of the distillery’s 10 unique recipes.
The release of the Four Roses 2011 Limited Edition Small Batch Bourbon will coincide with September’s Kentucky Bourbon Heritage Month and will be officially introduced at the 2011 Kentucky Bourbon Festival. It will include four recipes hand-selected by Master Distiller Jim Rutledge. The bourbon utilizes Four Roses’ recipes coded OBSK and OESQ, both aged 13 years, as well as recipes OESV aged 12 years and OESK aged 11 years.
The 2011 Limited Edition Small Batch Bourbon presents aromas of honeysuckle, toasted oak, almond toffee, and spicy hints of nutmeg and cinnamon, with subtle fruit flavors of dried apricot, ripe plum, plus brown sugar, honey and dark chocolate covered cherries.
“This year’s limited small batch release is a classically refined bourbon that really showcases our ability to utilize the distillery’s 10 distinct recipes,” said Four Roses Master Distiller Jim Rutledge. “The combination of spicy, fruity and floral flavors make this a rich, mellow offering perfect for any occasion.”
The distillery will produce approximately 3,500 bottles of the barrel strength, non-chill filtered bourbon to markets where Four Roses is currently available in the U.S.
Four Roses’ limited edition bourbon offerings have historically sold out quickly and been highly acclaimed by spirits critics. Last year’s 2010 Limited Edition Small Batch Bourbon was rated third by Paul Pacult amongst the top 140 Five-Star Rated Spirits
of the world in his renowned liquor industry publication The Spirit Journal.
Tuesday, August 30, 2011
Buffalo Trace Antique Collection - 2011
Well, it's official, the Buffalo Trace Antique Collection (BTAC) for 2011 is on its way. Now it its twelfth year of release, BT today provided some details about this years collection in the following press release:
"FRANKFORT, FRANKLIN COUNTY, KY (August 30, 2011) The long wait is over! Buffalo Trace Distillery will release its 2011 Antique Collection in September. The much anticipated collection will once again feature five limited-release whiskeys of various ages, recipes and proofs. Here’s what ardent fans can expect:
Sazerac Rye 18 Year Old
Last year’s release was given a liquid gold award and a 97.5 rating in Jim Murray’s 2011 Whisky Bible. This 2011 rye whiskey release is described as “intense spice with underlying sweetness and dry finish.” Hopefully critics agree this batch is just as good, or better!
Eagle Rare 17 Year Old
The previous edition of this bourbon was honored with a Gold Medal at the 2011 San Francisco World Spirits Competition. The 2011 edition was distilled in the Spring of 1993 and has been aging on the 2nd, 3rd and 6th floors of Warehouses I and K. After 18 years and 7 months of aging under its belt, it brings to the table notes of leather, vanilla and tobacco.
George T. Stagg
The 2010 release of this long-time favorite was named “Spirit of the Year” by F. Paul Pacult in the 2011 Spirit Journal. The 2011 George T. Stagg was found in Warehouses H, I, and K. This uncut, unfiltered bourbon was distilled back in the winter of 1993 and weighs in at 142.6 proof—some bold stuff! This whiskey tastes of espresso, chocolate and vanilla.
William Larue Weller
William Larue Weller is the Antique Collection’s uncut, unfiltered, wheated recipe bourbon. The previous edition was named “Bourbon of the Year” in Jim Murray’s 2011 Whisky Bible. The 2011 offering was distilled in the summer of 1998 and aged on the fourth and fifth floors of Warehouses N, O, and P. This William Larue Weller release registers in at 133.5 proof – a lot stronger than last year! It tastes of honey, caramel, light toffee and pipe tobacco.
Thomas H. Handy Sazerac Rye
Thomas H. Handy Sazerac Rye is an uncut and unfiltered straight rye whiskey. The 2010 edition was named “Rye Whiskey of the Year” by Jim Murray in his 2011 Whisky Bible. This year’s Handy was distilled in the spring of 2005, aged on the sixth floor of Warehouse K and weighs in at 128.6 proof. The flavor has been described as “Christmas cake and allspice. Bold and yummy.”
In case you didn't notice, I'll point out to you that the Sazerac 18 is the only one that doesn't give a barrel date. That wasn't an oversight as BT has had this 18 year Rye tanked for a number of years. For enthusiasts, this is an exciting time as they wait in anticipation for allocations to reach their respective markets.
In the past, I've collected (and enjoyed) the BTAC releases but as I mentioned elsewhere in this blog, I skipped last year and will most likely do the same this year. For the most part, these whiskies are top shelf with the only caveat being the Eagle Rare 17 which I've found to have wide swings in taste and quality. Collectors typically snatch up GTS and WLW first which is why many times you can still find the Sazerac 18 and the Eagle Rare 17 still on the shelves for a while after release. Now, I may change my mind and pick up a bottle or two, but that would be it. Not purchasing for me has more to do with a saturated bunker of previous years BTAC that I have yet to open and the fact that the taste profile stays fairly consistent year over year for these various offerings (with the exception being ER17).
So, anyone waiting with baited breath for the release? Have you called in your order? Let me know what you plan to do.
Wednesday, August 24, 2011
Great Quake of 2011!
Evidently, there was a 4.2 aftershock last night about 8:00 which I didn't notice. I did notice however another aftershock this morning about 8:15. I just hope the 5.8 rumbler wasn't a pre-shock.
To celebrate surviving the great quake of 2011, I'm enjoying a 1988 Old Forester 86 proof with a Padilla Achilles cigar. The Old Forester is one of my favorite out of production bourbons. I say out of production because this particular bourbon came from DSP414 where current Old Forester come from DSP356. Very different flavor profiles. The 414 is rich, creamy, buttery and uber delicious. The Padilla Achilles is a good value cigar that I picked up from Cigars International for $2 a stick. Good cigar at a great value.
I just hope Hurricane Irene passes well to the East.
Sunday, July 31, 2011
Exam-o-dram - High West 12 year Rye
For American rye the mashbill must be at least 51% rye. The remaining percentage will be corn and malted barley and distilled to not more than 160pf and put into a new charred oak barrel at not more than 125pf. To be called Straight Rye, it must be aged at least two years. Prior to prohibition, rye whiskey was abundant in the Northeast U.S. as there were distilleries in Pennsylvania and Maryland but after Prohibition, those distillery disappeared. Today, rye whiskey is made by the large distillers that includes Jim Beam, Wild Turkey, Heaven Hill and various micro distilleries scattered throughout the U.S. Another large producer of rye whiskey that's far off the radar and one you've probably never heard of is Lawrenceburg Distillery Indiana (LDI) who also produces many other spirits such as bourbon, gin and grain neutral spirits (GNS).
Rye whiskey for many years was the dominant whiskey consumed in the U.S. but then dropped off significantly over time but more recently it's been making a comeback and as a result, we've seen many new labels showing up on the shelves. One such producer is High West Distillery based out of Park City Utah which is where the High West 12 Year Rye comes from. High West offers other whiskies and what's exciting is the variation and quality of the whiskey being distributed.
The 12 Year Rye was tasted blind by 13 participants and they were asked to rate the whiskey based on a 100 point scale and provide tasting comments. My feedback on this particular whiskey is as follows:
Color: Moderate golden hue, medium depth
Nose: More floral profile on this one. Mild yet appealing
Entry: Nice combination of sweet/spice. Reasonably balanced showing a bit of age. Spice kicks in about mid palate. Mouthfeel a little on the thin side.
Finish: Moderately long with spice dominating most of the way and then subsiding giving way to a little sweet rye flavor.
Rating: Compelling and appealing. I like this one. This one gets a 87.
The group ratings were:
95-100 A Classic Whiskey - 1
90-94 Excellent Whiskey - 2
85-89 Very Good, Above Average Whiskey - 7
80-84 Average Whiskey - 4
There were no scores below 80
Additional group comments included:
"A well-balanced rye, probably 5-8yo. The original spirit is still hanging on with the barrel notes add to the experience. Needs a bit more depth though"
"both sweet and bitter, a good combo finish...falls off a little at the end"
"The mint is in check on this one and this strikes me as a good rye, but the taste just falls flat for me and really knocks this one down"
"Hmm… rye and menthol. There is some spice, but it is hidden behind the menthol touches. Not bad juice, just not something I would reach for"
"Nice transition to a long, dry finish. Begs for another sip"
This rye may not be found in many markets but I would at least call your local liquor store or ABC manager and ask them about availability. Bottle is 750ml and priced about $35.