Monday, February 14, 2011

Dragon's Milk - It's good to be the King

In the movie "History of the World Part 1" Mel Brooks proclaimed "It's good to be the king" but I dont' think he was talking about beer. In the 17th century, beer reserved for royalty was referred to as “Dragon’s Milk”. New Holland Brewing Company’s Dragon’s Milk is a very nice example of a beer aged in used bourbon barrels. There are a number of breweries that use bourbon barrels for aging strong ales; e.g. Goose Island and Founders to name a couple. This particular beer sits in used bourbon barrels from 80-100+ days with the barrel only being used once for Dragon’s Milk. Back in October I was introduced to Founders Backwoods Bastard which was an instant hit with me and I quickly went on the hunt for more bottles. I opened the Dragon’s Milk this past weekend and noted the similarity to Backwoods; caramel, vanilla, malt, chocolate and bourbon. To me, this is a very good beer if you like strong ale aged in bourbon barrels. An aggressive pour produced a caramel colored head about an inch thick and the lacing stayed consistent as I emptied the glass. I’ve only seen this in the 22oz bomber bottle so that may be your only choice. I spread my enjoyment over 2 days since this particular brew comes in at 10% ABV. This is listed as a seasonal beer yet the New Holland website shows Dragon’s Milk shipments ongoing. In any case, if you see it, grab it and enjoy this highly rated brew.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

American Spirit in the middle of nowhere

In 2007 the United States Senate designated September “National Bourbon Heritage Month” emphasizing bourbon as America’s native spirit. Wild Turkey in partnership with the resolution released a 15 year 100 proof bourbon; Wild Turkey American Spirit (WTAS). When this was released, I passed it by considering the opening price tag of around $100 and higher at most retailers. The other reason I passed on this release is I had a fairly deep bunker of Wild Turkey 8 year 101 proof from the 80’s and 90’s that I picked up while dusty hunting in our nations capital. These older bottles cost around $20 or less a 750ml so paying 4 times that amount didn’t seem fiscally prudent at the time.

Fast forward to January of 2011 and I’m sitting in Frederick, MD picking up some Van Winkle Family Reserve Rye; a fantastic 19 year old rye whiskey that is actually labeled 13 year (more on that in another posting). Once you depart Frederick MD, it’s pretty much farm land and older homes on large acreage. As I drive in this “middle of nowhere” heading back into Virginia, I spy a dilapidated building on the side of the road that has a two signs “Motel” and “Liquor”. To be honest, I’ve seen this place before but ignored it based on the rundown, creepy look of the place. I peel off the highway and park in the pot-holed parking apron and go inside. The place smells old but appears to be fairly clean and as I scan the store, I notice a good supply of beer and back to the left, a number of aisles of liquor. I head back and begin to scan the bourbon section and much to my surprise I spy a dusty bottle of Wild Turkey American Spirit. My focus is on the single bottle and I initially miss the other 4 boxes of American Spirit sitting right behind the bottle on display. Looking down at the big orange shelf tag, it’s listed at $65. A small smile crosses my lips as I realize this is a pretty good deal at 35% off normal retail. I grab all five and drop them on the checkout counter. A nice young girl gives a weird glance as I stack them up and begins to ring them up at $75 each. I correct the shown amount and declare the price is $65 and she says “well, it’s coming up as $75”. I show her the shelf tag and she states she has to call the owner who promptly tells hers to sell them at the displayed price. This store turned out to be a very nice establishment as they had a good selection of craft beer (Yeti Chocolate Oak Aged joined the WTAS), Single Malt Scotch and Irish Whisky and the prices were pretty reasonable.

Sometimes, the best finds are in the middle of nowhere.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

M.I.A. Pappy Van Winkle 15 Year

It wasn't too long ago I could walk into a liquor store and see Pappy Van Winkle (PVW) 15 year or the 20 year sitting on the shelves leading to a laissez-faire attitude about future purchases. Snap…..all gone. I've been on the hunt for some time looking for PVW15 and going so far as to call a liquor store in South Carolina that I've purchased from in the past to check on their stock; no luck. A bourbon buddy in Maryland shot me an e-mail and said "I have pappy's for you if and when you need them. I got your back brother." Thank you my brother!

First, let's talk about Pappy Van Winkle just a little. I did a review of the 15 year last April and mentioned in the post that it was difficult to find but now it's near downright impossible. The 20 and 23 year bottling contain Stitzel Weller bourbon but the 15 year may be questionable. Julian Van Winkle posted on a bourbon site that the bottles with Pappy's picture on it are SW bourbon. But then there are conflicting statements that it's a blend of SW and either Bernheim or Buffalo Trace wheat bourbon. In fact, it's been reported that Julian used Buffalo Trace juice around 2007 because of a shortage of SW 15 year. To me it doesn't make a difference because it's tasty bourbon and that's what's important.

So what happened to PVW15? Time, that's what happened. Stitzel Weller stopped production in the summer of 1992. So, do the math and that places the last 15 year at 2007. Julian states that he did a mass bottling of PVW 15 (that contained 15 and 16 year old bourbon) and has slow rolled the release which means he's at the end of that bourbon run. Enter Buffalo Trace wheat bourbon?

Jason over at Sourmashmanifesto reports that Julian has advised the next release of Pappy 15 will be this spring. There are also unconfirmed reports that this will be the last drop and the next release in the fall of this year will be Old Rip Van Winkle (ORVW) 15 year and will more than likely not contain SW bourbon. For those in the know, ORVW 15 is the predecessor to Pappy Van Winkle 15 and also contained SW bourbon. Confused yet? So it appears Buffalo Trace will re-release the ORVW 15 year, but again let me caveat that this is unconfirmed.

Finally, with the absence of PVW15, I went on the hunt for PVW20 and was able to secure 4 bottles. This too is starting to disappear. A store manager at a local liquor store made the comment to a friend of mine that he's had PVW20 sitting on the shelves for months on end and then all of a sudden, it's flying off the shelves and is now almost gone in my state. If you're a lover of PVW15, keep your eyes peeled for spring as that may very well be the last allotment of this label.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Same stuff, new look

Maybe it was boredom or my creative juices, but I decided to give the blog a makeover. Still playing with fonts and colors. The old configuration didn't allow me to re-size various portions of the layout so I decided to change it up. Hope the new format appeals to the masses. Cheers.