Thursday, December 19, 2013

....and another one bites the dust

There are a number of bourbon labels I've enjoyed over the years that are real value pours.  Old Weller Antique 7 year 107, Very Old Barton BIB 6 year and Ancient Ancient Age 10 year.  I managed to bunker multiples of each of these labels while available.

As most of you may know, the OWA age statement dropped back in 2009 and the AAA10 is now a KY only release.  It appears that VOB has now dropped their age statement.  Friends in TX have spotted VOB with "6" on the label (or something to that affect).  So, for anyone who's a fan of this particular bourbon, maybe a trip to your local liquor store and grabbing a few VOB 6 year would be prudent since the age statement is now history.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Breaking News!!!!!! GTS now produced by Kentucky Bourbon Distillers!!!!! (hint: not true)

I've read bourbon or whiskey related articles in the past and many times the writer simply gets facts wrong.  This article re-posted by FoxNews from Bon Apetit is simply journalistic laziness on full display.  According to the author, Mr. Knowlton, Buffalo Traces's Weller Special Reserve and George T. Stagg are now produced by Kentucky Bourbon Distillers.  The premise of the article is that Pappy Van Winkle is impossible to find (uh....yah), and suggests George T. Stagg as an alternate stating it would be easier to find.......really? 

Ok, a show of hands from everyone that can easily find GTS........anyone?

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Willett - Spring 2013

I can't believe it's December 1st and I'm writing about the spring Willett pick.  In defense, the bottles only arrived about a month ago.

Our little group has been picking from KBD since March of 2009 and we've pulled some truly phenomenal whiskies from KBD's rickhouse's.  Drew Kulsveen has always been a gracious host and gone out of his way to make sure we have access to great bourbon.  This last pick in April was no exception.  In all, we ended up with six barrels this go around.  It's no secret that KBD sources their  whiskey although they are distilling, that whiskey won't be ready for another couple of years at least.

All the bourbons are cask strength and range in age from 8 to 11 years old.

Willett Barrel #1422 - From the taste of it, this bourbon is a wheat mashbill.  This is the second barrel of this series we've picked with last years at 8 years old making this one 9.  Bottled at 129.4 proof, this is another candy shop winner.  When I describe a bourbon having candy shop qualities that includes dark sugars, fudge, caramel, nuts, etc.  This one has all that with a nice oak backbone.  Heat pops up mid palate but then subsides allowing an oaky chocolaty finish to slowly fade.  I really like these cask strength wheaters.

Willett Barrel #824 - This selection is one of a long line of a series of barrels we've picked from since 2009 when our first Willett was 6 years old.  This one and its sister #813, come in at 10 years old.  The proof on this is 127.2 but as typical with our picks, the heat is totally in check to almost non-existent.  This one is spicier than previous iterations with cinnamon, clove up front on entry that transitions to stewed dark fruits and gooey pudding.  Sweetness is limited but flavor abounds on this one.  I noticed this one, even though from the same series as previous picks, really changed from 9 to 10 years as I don't pick up similarities as I did before.

Willett Barrel #810 - This selection is the same mashbill and barrel date as #824 and comes in at 126.9 proof.  This profile is more in line with the previous picks but exhibits a bit more creaminess on the mouthfeel.  Sweet entry that turns to oak barrel notes and finishes slightly drying.  The finish is quite nice and long on this one.

Willett Barrel #6472 - When sitting in the tasting room at KBD last April, we were asked if we were interested in tasting a 9 year containing a mashbill we had not selected previously.  My answer would be "does the Pope wear a funny hat?"  This one at first blush, was not as well received as the 11 year olds we were also tasting (more on that).  I liked it out of the gate and now that I have bottles in the bunker, I like it even more.  First impression on tasting was juicy fruit gum.  Big sweet mouth watering flavor of fruit and vanilla.  Flavor profile develops around mid palate to include honey and tobacco which then transitions to yet another long, warming finish.  This bourbon was bottled at 121.4 proof and is 8 years old

Willett Barrels #1586 and #1595 - I'm combining these two since they are the same mashbill and barreled on the same date.  They are similar in profile and for me, the jury is out on which one I like better.  Both are great selections that exhibits nice barrel notes, spice and eucalyptus. These have dark chocolate on the palate; first impression was chocolate mint. Sweet and spice on the entry migrating to a creamy sweetness mid palate. Finish is moderate to long. #1586 is an excellent bourbon fresh out of the bottle. As the bourbon sat in the glass over the course of an hour, the sweetness became more pronounced. Barrel #1595 while similar, has more caramel and chocolate on the profile and softer eucalyptus on the palate.  Crazy to think but both of these barrels came in at 123.4 proof and are 11 years old.

All in all, this years picks are really fantastic.  Each year we say we can't imagine picking better barrels the following year yet we manage to meet or beat previous selections. 

For 2014, we'll of course visit the normal distilleries as we've done in the past but we're working on branching outside the envelope and see if we can add some unique small craft offerings to our collective bunkers.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Four Roses - Spring 2013

I know I'm being repetitious but Four Roses whiskey is the bourbon bomb.  This isn't to say that BT or KBD or any of the other distilleries in the area don't turn out fine bourbon but under Jim Rutledge, Four Roses is turning out some of the best bourbon on the market.

I've mentioned in previous posts that I was not a fan of FR back when they started re-distribution in the US of their KSBW (right around 2005 or 2006) but since then, I'm hooked.  This is due in  part to getting access to single barrels picked by Jim or the FR warehouse manager, Cory (she knows where all the honey barrels sit).

This last round of barrel picks were again top shelf....I know I sound like a broken record but this is some seriously good drinking.

Our intention for this round of picks was two barrels.  As luck would have it, we liked more than just two barrels.  After picking the two top barrels, an animated discussion broke out with one member cheerleading the group to purchase a third.  Our expectation coming in was two so it took some time to warm up to the idea of committing to a third.  Not that the barrel wasn't stellar but we pre-commit every purchase so the group knows how many each has committed to buying.  Purchasing a third ad hoc took some time to discuss.  I won't go into the lengthy discussion and phone calls that ensued but we did in fact purchase a third barrel.

We selected three different recipes at barrel strength:

OESO 75% Corn - Fruity (Red Berries), Med Body - 10.6 YO – 113.4 PF
Warming as it enters the palate.  Barrel notes, sweet baking spice and burnt cream.  The low proof means no heat and all flavor.  Long finish that ends with a bit of spice tingling on the tongue.

OBSO 60% Corn - Slightly Fruity, Spicy, Med Body - 9.5 YO - 127.0 PF
Caramel and cream, no heat, moderate cinnamon spice mid palate.  Add a drop of water the the flavor pops.  The finish is quite long and satisfying.

OESV 75% Corn - Delicate Fruity, Fresh, Creamy - 9.0 YO – 122 PF
This is one sweet bourbon.  In fact, probably the sweetest FR we've picked.  This drinks way too easy and has nice red fruits mid palate with butter and honey mixing in toward the finish. I wish I had 10 more bottles of this one.  Superb.

All three of these bourbons handle water exceptionally of our picking criteria.

Whatever Jim is doing at Four Roses I hope he keeps it up and lives a long healthy life cranking out great bourbon.  Thank you Jim.

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Old Weller Antique - Spring 2013

It's hard to beat OWA.  The quality and price point make this expression a real bargain.  The upside of course is getting a single barrel to boot with the private barrel picks at the same retail price.  I mentioned in a previous post that Buffalo Trace contacted us prior to our arrival in April informing that the barrels would be about 6 1/2 years old; in previous years we were able to pick barrels that ranged from 7 1/2 to 8 years old.  I actually didn't mind the change as I saw this as an opportunity to pick up a run of OWA with significant age difference.

We picked two barrels; each with a profile different from the other.  The reduced age didn't hurt the drinking experience one bit.  In fact, many commented at the full flavor of the bourbon noting it did not present any youthfulness.

At bottling we were advised that one was short only yielding 72 bottles which was a real letdown.  The other barrel gave up 204 bottles.

OWA#17 (short barrel) - During the tasting I commented the bourbon was like velvet on the palate and so it was when cracking open the bottle and taking that first pour.  Smooth entry with flavor profile of brown sugar and loads of caramel.  Finish is moderate to long

OWA#18 - This pick was such an easy drinker that when shared with others, it disappears really quick.  Brown sugar again on the palate but with vanilla and baking spice that pops up about mid palate.  It's really sweet but not like white sugar; lots of candy shop qualities.  The finish is long with chocolate and a hint of ginger at the end.  Superb.

Running a little behind

As happens a couple times throughout the year, I get hammered by work and have pretty much no free time and that's where I'm at during this fall season.  The workload won't let up until Christmas.

As of yesterday, all the April barrel picks have arrived and I'm excited to share my thoughts.  The last run of Willett picks are downright stunning.  In addition to the private purchases, I've been actively trading picking up some great vintage and hard to find foreign whisk(e)y that includes Scotch and Japanese expressions.

As a recap, this years barrels picks included:

Jefferson Rye
Elmer T. Lee (didn't jump on this one)
Willett 12 year x 2
Willett 10 year x 2
Willett 9 year
Willett 9 year wheater
Old Weller Antique x 2
Four Roses SB Cask x 3

I'll do my best to get caught up in short order.

Monday, September 2, 2013

Exam-o-Dram Big House Bourbon

It's been a very busy summer and the PR folks for Big House Bourbon sent me a sample a number of weeks back.  I haven't had much free time to sit down and spend the time to review this whiskey; until now.  I'll state that even though this sample was provided to me, that in no way taints my review; good or bad.

Big House Bourbon is an offering from Underdog Wine and Spirits in Livermore, CA.  They are not a craft distiller but source their whiskey and sell it under their own label.  I give credit to Underdog for stating right up front where they get their whiskey and what mashbill is used (more on that later).  Many "craft" distillers do the same thing (source) but add some goofy backstory about some family recipe or how their Uncle Ebenezer moonshined back in the day.  Big House offers no illusions and state they source their whiskey from LDI/MGP and use the 60/35/5 mashbill (corn/rye/barley). 

Another interesting factoid is they have an age statement of 6 years old.  The age and the 90 proof caught my attention.  Selling younger, lower proof bourbon will yield more product driving higher revenue but it's a nice touch they buy 6 year old bourbon and proof it at 90.

Now, I'll admit I'm a bit of a snob when it comes to whisk(e)y so it's a bit of a chore to take off my enthusiast hat and approach the sample with an open mind and I hope I succeeded.

The packaging and label are cool enough and the name plays on a prison theme; maybe a little gimmicky. 

Now, let's talk about the bourbon.  Color is a nice amber/golden hue and the viscosity is actually decent for a younger whiskey.   The nose is interesting offering up some mild baking spice, baked rye bread, moderate vanilla and slight floral notes.  The entry is quite zippy with some pleasant spice right up front.  About mid palate the spice diminishes and is replaced with some white pepper, citrus zest, burnt sugar, baking spice and mild oak notes.  The finish is not overly lingering but last long enough to enjoy the fading profile for a minute or so.  As the finish subsides, you are left with a slight numbing sensation on the palate.  Overall, a very nice bourbon.  At the retail price of around $20 I would pick one up for myself if it was sold in my area.  Hat tip to Big House.  You have a nice selection here.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Son of George

Buffalo Trace announced today the release of Stagg Jr.  Daddy version historically has been around 15 years old, sometimes older and bottled at cask strength.  Son of George will also be cask strength and younger consisting of 8 to 9 year old bourbons.  The label says barrel proof which is a nice touch.

Here's the presser......

FRANKFORT, Franklin County, Ky (July 25, 2013) At long last, Buffalo Trace Distillery releases Stagg Jr. Bourbon, an uncut and unfiltered bourbon whiskey with a renowned family name.

The first batch of Stagg Jr. is comprised of barrels aged for eight and nine years. The proof weighs in at a whopping 134.4 proof (67.2% ABV). Future releases will undoubtedly be different proofs, as each batch is unique and no water is added. Just like George T. Stagg Bourbon, this new whiskey is not filtered and offers all the rich and complex flavors of bourbon right from the barrel. Bottles of Stagg Jr. will be limited, but several batches each year are planned. This new Stagg Jr. offering will not affect the stock of barrels already set aside for future George T. Stagg releases.

Master Distiller Harlen Wheatley describes that taste as, “rich, sweet, chocolate and brown sugar flavors mingled in perfect balance with a bold, rye spiciness. The boundless finish lingers with hints of cherries, cloves and smokiness.”

“We’ve been aging these barrels for years in anticipation of this Stagg Jr. offering,” said Kris Comstock, bourbon marketing director. “George T. Stagg has won countless awards, but we’re delighted to introduce Stagg Jr., which should be a bit more accessible.”

George T. Stagg is one of the legendary craftsmen of Buffalo Trace Distillery, and is responsible for building the most dominant American distillery of the 19th century on the banks of the Kentucky River, now known as Buffalo Trace Distillery. In 2002, Buffalo Trace introduced George T. Stagg Bourbon Whiskey, an uncut, unfiltered bourbon that has won numerous awards including World’s Best North American Whiskey, Number One Spirit in the World, and World Whiskey of the Year. Now the Distillery is offering a line extension through Stagg Jr. that still maintains the integrity of the brand – a big, bold whiskey bottled at barrel proof but at a more affordable price. Stagg Jr. will be available starting in August. Suggested retail price is $49.99 for a 750ml bottle.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Rye Influx - Spring 2013

Back in March I posted about some tastings in preparation to our April pilgrimage to Kentucky.  We added a rye whiskey to our selections and we had anticipation of tasting and buying some good rye whiskey.

Back on June 5th, the first of our barrels picks showed up; Jefferson Rye 10 year. I was pretty excited to get this bottle as I don't have many ryes in the bunker so this was a nice addition.

First, it's a little odd that the packaging for the Jeff Rye shows a silhouette of Jefferson, a great American icon...but in the bottle is good 'ole Canadian Rye.  Who cares.....what's it taste like?

First off, lots of flavor for a 94 proof whiskey.  Christmas spices, sweet rye, and maybe a touch of mint.  Nice mouthfeel....not overly coating but enough body to carry the finish quite nicely.  This rye is right in my wheelhouse; it's an easy drinker with lots of flavor.  Now I wish I had asked for a higher allocation cause the bottle I have open is about 2/3 gone with three remaining in the bunker.

I'm expecting our Old Weller Antique picks to arrive early next week. 

Thank you Elmer T. Lee

I've been absent a while due to work stuff in addition to a couple deaths in my family this last month so there's not been much time for blogging or even imbibing. 

As many of you may be aware, Elmer T. Lee passed away this week; a great loss to the bourbon community and to the history of bourbon.  BT's President Mark Brown released the following:

Dear Friends,
It is with a very heavy heart that I share with you that our beloved Master Distiller Emeritus Elmer T. Lee, 93, passed away July 16, 2013 after a short illness.

In the world of making really fine whiskey the role of Master Distiller is pivotal, but Elmer’s meaning to those he met, came to know, and worked with closely extended far beyond that of a Master Distiller. Elmer defined, in the simplest terms, what it means to be a great American – hard working, self-made, courageous, honest, kind, humble, and humorous.

Elmer was born in 1919 on a tobacco farm near Peaks Mill in Franklin County, Ky. He graduated from Frankfort County High School in 1936 and worked for Jarman Shoe Company until December 1941. He then served with the U.S. Army Air Force in World War II as a radar bombardier on a B-29. After flying missions against Japan through 1945, Elmer was honorably discharged in January 1946. He returned home and studied engineering at the University of Kentucky, where he graduated with honors in 1949.

In September 1949 Elmer began working in the engineering department of the George T. Stagg Distillery in Frankfort. In 1966, Elmer was promoted to plant superintendent, responsible for all plant operations and reporting to the plant manager. 1n 1969, he became plant manager.

But it was in 1984 that Elmer’s contribution to the bourbon industry gained him the most notoriety, when he introduced Blanton’s, the world’s first Single Barrel Bourbon. Elmer retired in 1985 but continued to serve as an ambassador for Buffalo Trace, and in 1986 he was honored with his very own single barrel bourbon, Elmer T. Lee. Of course, for those of us who knew Elmer, he never really retired. Every Tuesday we could see Elmer making his rounds at the Distillery in his trademark cap, signing bottles, posters, and other memorabilia at the Gift Shop, visiting his friends in Blanton’s Bottling Hall, and tasting bourbons (for quality control purposes!) in the lab.

Elmer was always ready to offer advice, and was a wealth of information that many of us relied on, myself included. Harlen Wheatley would inquire with Elmer when stuck on a mechanical problem, and any historical questions about the Distillery always went to Elmer, who, with his razor sharp memory, could invariably answer. To all of us, Elmer was a friend, a mentor, and a trusted advisor.

Elmer was known through the bourbon industry for his expertise and knowledge about bourbon whiskey and he received numerous awards and recognition, including induction into the Bourbon Hall of Fame in 2001, the Lifetime Achievement Award from Whisky Advocate in 2002, and the Lifetime Achievement Award and Hall of Fame induction from Whisky Magazine in 2012.
We have lost a wonderful friend today, and he will be missed terribly.

Services for Elmer T. Lee are pending and will be announced shortly.

Friday, May 31, 2013

I think I'm turning Japanese.........I really think so

Yah yah...I know...this is bourbon dork and here I am getting ready to talk about Japanese whisky.  My interest in other whiskies has definitely expanded outside American selections but I think that's a good thing.

This doesn't mean I won't talk any less about bourbon or rye but the blog will have to share space with other great selections.

Back in 2011 I picked up my first two Japanese whiskies; Yamazaki 12 and 18 year.  The 12 year is a very solid pour but the 18 year is quite stellar.  Both of these were easily found back then but now, forget about it.  In two short years Japanese whisky has really taken off and I know this because my fellow bourbon enthusiasts are all over Japanese whisky and it's getting very difficult to find any Japanese selection on the shelves.

This year while attending Julio's Go Whiskey Weekend, I picked up two more selections; Hibiki 12 year and Nikka Yoichi 15 year.  A couple months ago K&L Wines offered two different Karuizawa expression.  Interesting note that the Karuizawa has never been sold in the U.S. and K&L is the first to get two single barrels with one at 12 years old and the other about 30 years old.  I picked up two of the 12 year old and expect them to arrive sometime in August.  A couple weeks back a buddy of mine from Texas picked up two Suntory Hakashu 12 year for me.

In future posts, I'll do an Exam-o-Dram on each of these expressions.  Just as a heads up, I'm digging every one of these. 

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Buffalo Trace Shortages

Buffalo Trace announced about a week ago that they are experiencing shortages on some of their bourbon, specifically, bourbon that feeds their house brand and Eagle Rare.

The fact that BT's parent company, Sazerac, issued a press release is noteworthy.  During past shortages, news of something like this came by word of mouth through enthusiasts with inside knowledge or via distributors advising retail clients of shortages.

This happened around spring of 2008 when Weller Special Reserve went missing for a period of time.  I couldn't find any locally but managed to happen upon a country store in rural Maryland that had two bottles sitting on the shelf for $15 each so of course I grabbed them.  During this same timeframe, Binny's Beverage Depot purchased two barrels of Weller 12 (which was actually a 14 year) and in my conversation with their manager he indicated that BT told him he would not be able to purchase any more barrels for a while due to some shortages.  Now, it could have been true or a PR stunt to increase awareness and demand.  In any case, the shortage was noted in many markets for multiple labels.

Going forward what should we expect to see?  I don't know as my crystal ball isn't working but historically, BT has dropped labels in efforts to consolidate or support more popular labels.  I don't see BT dropping their house brand but Eagle Rare....who knows.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Baltimore Dusty Hunt

Last summer I did a little dusty hunting in D.C. with some friends.  I ended up bringing home some nice selections.  We decided to schedule another day of hunting but this time we traveled north and hit Baltimore.

Rather than simply drive around looking for run down liquor stores we put a little strategy and planning into the day.  We were able to pull a listing of all retail Class A stores that registered for a liquor license in Baltimore.  I used this file to upload the location data into Microsoft Streets and Trips.  I then exported the map to a GPS Exchange Format (GPX) file.  I created a new map in Google maps and uploaded the GPX file in order to plot all the liquor stores in Baltimore.  Doing this enabled us to map a specific area of Baltimore and systematically work our way through a quadrant of the city.  I know....dorky.

Dorky or not, we hit 25 of 247 stores and found some very nice things.  My goal today was to find some age stated Wild Turkey and even though I only found one bottle....I'm ok with that.  The total haul was split among 4 of us and included:

 1965/1970 Old Forester Bottled in Bond
1970/1975 Old Forester Bottled in Bond
1972/1977 Old Forester Bottled in Bond
1987 Old Forester Bottled in Bond
1992 Old Taylor 6 year (32 200ml bottles) 80 pf
1990 Old Taylor 6 yr 80 pf
1986 Old Taylor 6 yr 86 pf
1988 Pikesville Supreme 80 pf
1990 General Lee Bottled in Bond
1969 JTS Brown 86 pf
1968 Old Overholt 86 pf (PA rye)
1990 Wild Turkey 8 yr 101 pf

What's interesting is the difference in finds between D.C. and Baltimore.  I've not found any Old Fitz in Baltimore (or Maryland for that matter) while D.C. historically was a hotbed of Old Fitz.  It was
also interesting today that we found some bottles that were quite old.  Most stuff I've found in D.C. has been 80's and 90's vintage but looking at the list above, we found some items distilled in the 60's and the fill levels were all very impressive.

The day started off slow but we had a strong finish.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Lovin' the Turkey

It's not a big secret that I love Wild Turkey.....especially the older stuff from the 80's.  The current NAS Turkey 101 bourbon is a decent pour and in discussions with Jimmy Russell a couple years ago and through other sources, the bourbon in the current release is a blend of six to eight years old.  Not too bad for a bourbon that runs around $20 a 750ml.

The current Rare Breed I believe is around 108 proof and during my recent trip to KY, the rumor mill was spinning about a proof increase for this label to 114.  Rare Breed is another WT offering that's a pretty good pour so that news was encouraging although at the time, unconfirmed.

Back last year Wild Turkey Rye 101 proof did a disappearing act from retail shelves and there was speculation that the rye was going to be discontinued.  Chuck Cowdrey dispelled that myth stating that supplies were low across the rye spectrum and Wild Turkey was no exception.

As bourbon enthusiasts, there are some that like to troll the online site for the Government entity known as the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau.  In essence, any label a distillery wants to use must pass through the doors and receive approval from the TTB.  

Recent submission by Campari (Wild Turkey Parent Company) were for both Wild Turkey Rye and a new proof of Rare Breed at 112.8.  Good news on both and the proof increase on the Rare Breed is official.

So, keep your eyes peeled, especially for the Turkey Rye as rye in general is in limited supply.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Get off my lawn!!!! Clint Eastwood would say and I guess the same could be said of Robert Parker from Wine Advocate.  K&L recently posted a blog where Mr. Parker reviewed bourbons....his first foray into this relm.  Well, I didn't think the reviews were particularly well done and while I was going to post a more lengthy respone to Parkers bourbon tasting prowess....I decided to leave that to Tim over at Scotch & Ice Cream. 

Take it away Tim.......

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Road Trip: Bardstown KY 2013 - Friday

Back in February I wrote a piece on the soap opera called Old Weller Antique.  This past Friday our group settled in at 10:00 a.m. to taste through 12 samples of OWA.  As I mentioned in previous posts, our group was offered a younger OWA for this tasting which turned out to be 6 year 4 months old.  My feeling was that this was an opportunity to try the BT wheated mashbill at a younger age and and see how it compares to our
previous picks that were older by as much as 18 months.  BT again accommodated our request for samples to be pullled and proofed at 107 so we could sample at bottling, thank you Beau Beckman.

As we began tasting the samples, it was clear, at least to me at the time that we were afforded another set of very nice samples.  I tuned in on three specific samples that really stood head and shoulders above the others.  Other samples exhibited short finishes, thin mouthfeel or dry and tannic entries and those were quickly dismissed on my list.  The top three I identified exhibited great noses, big sweet entries of rich caramel, candied fruit, creamy mouthfeel and long lingering finish.  After all were done tasting we tallied up the votes (again, silent voting so there would be no undue influence) and my top pick, barrel #12 was the #1 pick of the group so it clearly was a favorite. 

My hat is off to Buffalo Trace for again taking the time to host our group and also provide some great bourbon for sampling.

We spent the afternoon grabbing a bite to eat and then visiting the Getz Museum.  If you have been to Bardstown or have plans to visit at some point, I would encourage a visit to the Museum.  It has some great examples of old bourbon, bourbon history and some very nice displays.  I ended up buying their book "Whiskey; An American Pictorial Book".  If you do visit, please make sure you give a small donation as the museum is free.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Road Trip: Bardstown KY Spring 2013 - Thursday

It's a brisk morning with a high of 41 and we're milling around outside the gate of Cox Creek.  After a few moments the security guard opens the gate and asks if we know where to go and of course we do.

We head to the bottling house and upon entering see the tasting stations set up with 8 glasses at each station.  Because of the size of our group, we have to double up so we can't be too concerned with cooties.  Next to the tasting stations are 8 barrels lined up bungs facing upwards ready for sampling.

Master Distiller Jim Rutledge arrives and we waste no time popping the bungs off the barrels and using the whiskey thief, begin pulling samples from the barrels.  As we start nosing the samples it
quickly becomes apparent that these barrels show great promise with some profiles showing fruit and cream.  We take our time rotating through each sample making notes as we go along attempting to narrow down the top three.  We're supposed to keep our impressions to ourselves as this is a secret ballot and which ones each person likes but looking around the tables quickly tells who likes what by facial expressions and the fill level of some glasses.

After the votes are tallied we picked two barrels that were clearly the favorite of the group; an OBSO at 9.5 years old and a OESO at 10.5 years old.  We don't know the proof of either just yet.  The OBSO was a first for us as we've never picked this particular recipe and the OESO is our second.  The third favorite was an OESV at 9 years old.  Quit a bit of discussion was generated around this barrel after we left and it looks like we'll end up picking up that barrel as well.  That OESV was the sweetest Four Roses I've ever tasted.

We leave Four Roses and head to Buffalo Trace up in Frankfort.  After lunch we arrive around 1:00 and head to Warehouse H which has the tasting room.  We walk in and 10 barrels of Elmer T. Lee are
lined up in pretty fashion and BT had already pulled samples into two sets of glasses for each barrel; one glass at barrel strength and one glass at bottling strength.  I'll have to admit that I have not been a fan of Elmer T. Lee over the years finding the flavor profile not to my liking.  Now, since the ETL is a single barrel offering there are going to be variances in drinking experience but my own experience has been more miss than hit.

I don't bother sampling the barrel strength as it won't be a factor in determining what we pick so
focus on the samples cut to bottling proof.  As I make my way through each sample I'm having difficultly finding one that really stands out.  In fact, there were a couple of barrels that were pretty much undrinkable.  In the end, for me, I really didn't find anything that I would want to pull the trigger on but since the process was to vote on your top three, I provided those that I thought were the best of the eight. I will point out that Beau Beckman from BT does a very nice job putting together the tastings and we always enjoy visiting (and purchasing) from BT.

Overall a good day and I think we picked some of the best Four Roses to date.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Road Trip: Bardstown KY 2013 - Wednesday

Does anybody else hate flying?  The process used to be fairly simple and straightforward.  Now it's an exercise in patience.

Visiting the Blue Glove Brigade at Dulles Airport wasn't too bad as I made it through security in about 20 mins.  Since I had an hour to burn, I met up with two flying companions for a beer and light meal before the flight.  Ok, no problem so far.

Flight gets called and we wait........wait.......wait......we finally board and wait......wait.....wait.....we taxi to the runway and wait.....wait.....wait.  Our wheels up time was about the same time we were supposed to be landing in Louisville.  I killed time on the plane reading through every page of  an Imbibe magazine.  My first time reading through this particular periodical and I'm not impressed.  Lots of advo's and not enough content.

We finally arrive at the hotel around 9:00 and check-in.  The hotel has always treated us well and provides a small meeting room for us to set up our bourbon table and have a place to socialize.  It was good seeing familiar faces as well as new members.

Fun kick-off evening with my very enjoyable pours consisting of Elijah Craig Cask Strength; not too sweet, big profile of barrel notes and semi bitter chocolate, moderate heat.  I actually liked this more than I thought I would.  Next up Wild Turkey Russell's Reserve 10 year 101; a favorite of mine....nuff said.  Following the Wild Turkey a dusty Fighting Cock 103; very tasty, viscous and wish I had some of my own.  Fourth pour was a 1970 Old Fitzgerald Prime 7 year; how I wish  they made bourbon like this today....oh well, a highlight of the evening with that classic Stitzel Weller Toffeenut and Cherries.  For the last pour of the evening, we grabbed a dusty ND Old Grand Dad 86 proof and retired to the patio for an evening cigar.  About 8 of us ended up outside in the brisk evening smoking cigars, picking on each other and sipping some good old school bourbon.

Tomorrow 9:00 we'll be at Cox Creek tasting through Four Roses.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Destination: Bardstown

This Wednesday I'll be boarding a flight to Louisville and then driving to Bardstown.  The schedule is set for this years convergence on Bourbon Mecca. 

Besides tasting through a god aweful amount of bourbon at the distilleries, we each also bring a bottle to share in the evenings.  Last years theme was "only damn good bourbon"  and boy did we have some fine bourbons show up.  Old, new, you name it, we had it.  I brought along a Rock Hills Farms that Julio's Liquor did back a number of years ago; it was a big cherry bomb and it got hit pretty hard over the course of 4 days. 

This years theme is a play on last years; "only damn fine malt".  That's right, all of us bourbon dorks are sliding to the dark side.  The list is pretty impressive and I'm excited to hit a number of those bottles as most of the selections are ones I have not tried.  Originally I was going to bring along a Springbank 12 year finished in a Claret cask (and cask strength to boot) but there were already two other Springers on the list so I changed my offering to a 2006 Arran Malt Cask finished in a Gonzalez Byass Cream Sherry cask.  There's no age statement but it's a terrific Scotch with a profile of apples and tropical fruits.  It drinks fantastic at cask strength. 

It will be a busy schedule with the first distillery being Four Roses first thing Thursday morning.  Nothing like drinking bourbon at 9:00 a.m.  That afternoon we hit Buffalo Trace and then BT again most of Friday as we're tasting through a number of various selections.  Saturday we'll be visiting Drew Kulsveen at Kentucky Bourbon Distillers (KBD).  Saturday afternoon we'll converge on a friends house for an afternoon and evening of BBQ, beer, bourbon, malt and cigars. 

I hope to come back home on Sunday with a sense of what we should expect in delivery come this summer.  The two that intrigue me this year is the OWA and Jefferson Rye.  The OWA will be younger than previous years so it will be interesting to see if we find something top shelf.  I've already tasted through the Jefferson Rye samples and there's some winners in the bunch so I confident we'll be picking at least one barrel of the Rye.

I'll try and post short updates as we progress.  Cheers.

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Spring is in the air......and so is Bourbon!

Finally....I think the last snow of the season is behind us and warmer weather is moving in.  Spring is an exciting time not just for warmer weather and leisurely episodes on the front porch, but it also means bourbon.

Each April I make my pilgrimage to Kentucky and pay homage to the Master Distillers at various distilleries in and around Bardstown and taste through some fantastic whiskey.  In preparation, advance samples are received to taste through in order to expedite the process.  This last week I had the opportunity to taste through a number of bourbon and rye samples.  Yes, I said rye and the group is pretty stoked about it.  Rye for the most part has been short supply and hard to come by so getting the opportunity to taste through some rye barrels is generating some enthusiasm for next month.

I tasted the rye samples blind and mixed in a couple shelf offerings.  We had 4 distillery samples plus a Van Winkle Family Reserve Rye, Sazerac Rye (Baby Saz), Dickel Rye and a Jefferson 10 year Rye that the ABC in Montgomery County did last year.  Surprisingly, the Jefferson Rye came out on top for me...even beating out the Van Winkle.  Second on my list was one of the distillery samples (we'll call it B52).  The sample had a nice sweet floral nose, creamy sweet entry and a transition to spice and dark bread mid palate with a finish that was moderate to long.  At 94 proof, it was a solid rye whiskey. 

I also tasted through two different sets of bourbon from two different distilleries.  I won't divulge who the distilleries are just yet but will say one set (3 samples) didn't pique my interest while the second set had some stunners.

A new batch of samples just arrived and I'll be tasting through those next Saturday evening.  Prior to that tasting, I'll be hosting a bourbon tasting at my house for some co-workers who want to try bourbon but now nothing about it.

Welcome Spring....the whiskey is flowing!

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Go Whiskey Weekend - The Grand Dram

Snow....and a lot of it was falling on Sunday morning.  The flakes were big, fat and sticking to everything which made driving the short distance from our hotel to Julio's somewhat white knuckled. 

Thankfully they organized the line inside the store this year versus last year making everyone queue outside waiting for noon.  We walked inside and I saw Ryan Maloney, owner of Julio's, running around making last minute preparations.  The bagpipers were warming up and a line was already forming through the beer aisle.  I was with a friend and we stood in line for about 30 minutes until it was time to start hitting the tables.

This year the selections were about the same as last numbering around 265 whiskeys from around the world.  My goal this year was focus on world whiskies looking for offerings I don't currently have sitting in the bunker.  Could be I just don't remember but this year there seemed to be a larger presence of craft distillers; some good, some not so good.

Last year a buddy of mine spammed a bunch of us saying he found a store in Texas offering Aberfeldy 21 year (a Scotch) for $65.  Well, most of us jumped on that price even though I myself had never tried it.  I figured the price was decent for a well aged Scotch.  Fast forward to this years Grand Dram and Dewars is offering a couple of Aberfeldy selections including the 21 year at the tasting.  I tried and liked it very much and even more so when I saw the shelf price of $165 knowing I paid a benjy less than that.  Score!

Both last year and this year High West was present but unfortunately this year Dave Perkins was not able to attend instead sending his rep Troy.  Last year Dave pulled a bottle from under the table asking me and another friend to try and give our impression.  The whiskey was malty, sweet, with  peat and more smoke than I cared for.  My opinion was it was too smoke forward but interesting nonetheless.  That bottle was the precursor to Campfire; a blend of Rye, Bourbon and Scotch Whiskies.  The result?  A very approachable and drinkable world whiskey blend so of course, I pulled a bottle aside for purchase as it drank much nicer than the lab bottle I tried previously.  +1

Next up, I headed over to Campari table to try some Suntory Hibiki.  I was very much interested in Japanese whiskies this year and wanted to try all that was available.  The Hibiki did not disappoint.  The profile consisted of honey and summer fruits like pineapple, mango with hints of citrus.  Nice body on the palate and the finish was very satisfying.  Fantastic expression and this bottle joined the HW Campfire to take home. +2

After my experience with Hibiki, I was looking forward to trying Nikka Yoichi 15 year.  This is another fabulous expression from Japan.  One sip and I was hooked.  Profile consisted of sweet and smoke, gingerbread, baking spice and nuts (walnut?) with a stunning finish.+3

I next headed over to Dickel as I wanted to try the new Rye expression.  I was skeptical as this is not even distilled by Dickel but in fact is LDI distillate.  Well, I was taken aback at how smooth and flavorful this whiskey was especially at only 90 proof.  Since this a new offering, maybe Dickel is being picky about the barrels used for bottling because this was a very nice pour.  +4

Last up,  I made my way through the crowd to the Compass Box table.  I have wanted to try Flaming Heart but I can't find it in my area and when I mentioned it to my buddy, he said "oh, they're pouring that right now".  Off I went and secured a dram.  Once again, another winner of a whiskey.  The peat/smoke were not over done making this one nicely balanced whiskey.  +5

To cap things off for the day, I pulled a couple beers I can't find in Virginia and ended up bringing home:

Alesmith Speedway Stout
The Bruery Sour in the Rye (fantastic brew....highly recommend)
FiftyFifty Eclipse (beer aged in whiskey barrels)

Even with the crappy weather, this was a great weekend and I tasted through some great, good and mediocre whiskies.  One that I was really looking forward to trying was the Balvenie 12 year First Fill.  This one disappointed me as I found it to be a pretty uneventful dram which is too bad because I've really like most of the Balvenie releases.  I'll make an un-honerable mention; Jim Beam Devils Cut.  I couldn't even finish it as I found it to be just plain bad. 

If you live in the New England area, I would recommend visiting Julio's but especially during Go Whiskey Weekend.  It's a great venue allowing you to try a great variety of world whiskies.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Exam-o-Dram - Concannon Irish Whiskey

As a fan of all things whisk(e)y, I'm always stoked about trying a new expression.  Irish whiskey has recently been seeing a resurgence in popularity.  It wasn't too long ago there were only 4 distilleries operational in Ireland but in recent years that's changed along with some boutique bottlers and blenders.

In the spirit of full disclosure, I was contacted by a PR firm in New York representing Concannon and asked if I would review the whiskey.  I accepted the offer to and they sent me a couple of sample bottles.  I only mention this so it's clear there are no expectations that my review be anything but my own and that's the way this review will be represented.

Concannon is a joint venture between Cooley distillery and Livermore Valley-based Concannon Vineyard and John Concannon is the Brand Ambassador and brain child behind this expression.

Concannon Irish is a blend from Cooley aged for about 4 years and then goes through a second fill in Concannon petit Sirah wine casks for about 4 months.  I'm intrigued.....let's see what it taste like.

The color is a very pale-straw like color.  As I swirl the whiskey, the viscosity is limited not really clinging to the glass.  The nose is light and fruity with a definite presence of wine, almost to the dominant.  The grain aroma is there but the wine influence masks the grain to some extent.

The entry is immediately sweet and then some grain and youth pops up at mid palate and continues toward the finish.  The wine notes are present but not as dominant as the nose.  The wine finish amps up the sweetness of the whiskey a bit and at mid palate oak takes a front seat along with bits of vanilla and essence of spun sugar.  There's an off note on the medium finish that I can't put my finger on that's maybe a combination of oak and tannin. After a few minutes I can taste mild grape on the palate which is a little odd. 

This is an interesting expression but not one I would say is great.  It's an easy drinker, approachable and unassuming. The wine presence may put some people off but I think it's an interesting experiment.  For me, I would prefer less of the wine influence and a little more age on the distillate as it needs more body and maturity.

I like the fact that Concannon is thinking outside the box and not just releasing another blended expression and for about $25 or less a bottle, it's a small investment to give it a try if this interest you.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Go Whiskey Weekend - Meet and Greet

Saturday was cold and eventually, the snow had to come.  Four of us made the trek to Worcester to have lunch at the Armsby Abbey.  This was my second visit and I wrote about it last year so this year I was looking for a repeat visit.  We were not disappointed as the Abbey was featuring a brunch menu with recipes that contained bourbon in some form or fashion. 

We started off brunch with cocktails and I chose the Barbecue Bloody; hands down the best Bloody Mary I've ever had.  Ingredients included charred hickory infused bourbon, house Bloody Mary mix, smoked sea salt rim garnished with dill pickle, pickled carrot, and housemade bacon...that's right bacon. While I ordered one and moved on the the next cocktail; the Bourbon milk punch, my lunch friends continued with the Bloody Mary's to the tune of 4 or 5 apiece.

Even though I'm on a "diet" (hey, I've lost 12 lbs since January) I decided to splurge, and boy did I go whole to speak.  I ordered up the Pork and Pancakes; Bourbon honey buttermilk pancakes topped with Bourbon sugar glazed bacon lardons, Bourbon-chocolate vanilla ganache, Bourbon whipped cream and a side of Bourbon-vanilla maple syrup.  I think I put on a pound just typing all that out.  Yes, it was decadent, delicious and a diabetics worst nightmare.  I finished off the 4 hour leisurely lunch with a Bruery Sour in the Rye which topped things off very nicely.

After lunch we decided to hit a local cigar lounge around the corner from the restaurant; Cigar Masters Cigar Lounge.  If you could picture a quintessential New England cigar lounge in your head, this would be it.  Old building, tile floors, brick/wood walls, tin ceiling, great bar stocked with a nice range of whiskies and well worn club chairs.  The four of us purchased cigars and whiskey and sat down for a couple hours before heading back to Westborough.   

At 7:00 that evening we made our way over to Julio's for the Meet and Greet.  This is a smaller, more intimate event where you can taste through a sub-set of whiskies that will be presented on Sunday at the Grand Dram.  Each distiller or rep is present giving you and opportunity to chat it up and ask questions.  I had a very nice conversation with Dan FitzHenry from Virginia Distilling Company.  Dan poured me their latest offering, a Virginia Highland Malt Whiskey.  It was young but rather tasty and I liked it overall.  They source there whiskey at present but have installed two pot stills and have plans to fire them up this year and begin distilling.

Hollis Bulleit was there and it was hard not to miss her.  Her headgear (hat?) was garish and cool at the same time.  It was fun chatting with her as she's animated and fun to talk with.

I tried a number of whiskies that were good but didn't inspire.  One that got me scratching my head was Son's of Liberty Uprising.  This is an unaged whiskey made from a stout beer base and has staves placed into the holding tanks to add influence.  Very young so lots of grain on the nose and palate.  The distiller kept talking about dark chocolate notes which were present if you tried hard enough.  I appreciated the fact that they distilled to 130 proof but then bottle it at 80 proof chill filtered.

Two whiskies got my attention that evening; Suntory Hibiki 12 year and Nikka Yoichi 15 year.  The Hibiki is a blend of three whiskies from different distilleries and then aged in Plum liqueur casks.  I enjoyed both so much that I ended up buying both on Sunday.

Craft distilleries had a good presence on Saturday among the big dogs; Son's of Liberty, Hudson Whiskey, Balcones (shout out to Winston and Chip), Angels Envy and High West.  It's an exciting time for whiskey, especially for those that venture out past bourbon and into world whiskies.  I really enjoyed the evening and for those within driving distance to Westborough, I would encourage a visit next year.  $20 for two hours of drinking great whiskey is a steal.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Go Whiskey Weekend - Compass Box dinner

Well, the whisk(e)y weekend at Julio's Liquor is over.  The only downer was the weather.  As I sit here at Logan Airport waiting for my return flight to Washington DC, I can see snow still falling.  Thankfully flights are still rolling out of here so the weather doesn't seem to be affecting departures to a great extent. 

Go Whiskey Weekend started Friday night at the International Club with a dinner and whisky pairing featuring Compass Box and hosted by John Glaser of the same.  Not knowing John's background I was surprised when he stood up and began to speak in a perfect American accent.  I assumed (incorrectly) that he was from across the pond but John was born and raised in the U.S. and hails from Minnesota.  Much of his career was spent  overseas and prior to starting Compass Box about 12 years ago, he worked for Diageo with a focus on trying to increase slumping sales of Johnny Walker.  Wired magazine did a nice write up here.

John is energetic and clearly passionate about whisky and Compass Box.  Of the four selections lined up I had only tried Spice Tree which I think is a decent pour.  The dinner started off with a smoked Salmon salad paired up with Oak Cross.  The main course of lamb was paired with Spice Tree and the butterscotch torte dessert was paired with Hedonism and after dinner coffee was paired with The Peat Monster (meh....not such a monster).  All were good blends with my least favorite being Oak Cross which I thought was too light in character.  The Hedonism was my favorite of the evening although The Peat Monster surprised me with smoke and peat on the nose but the entry displayed a burst of fruit and moderate peat.  It wasn't overplayed to my palate and while good, not one I would necessarily run out and purchase.

After dinner we retired to the cigar lounge to enjoy some cigars and libations.  Since I was the designated DD, the others ordered up whiskey and I stayed with ice water.  We were joined by Gable Erenzo of Hudson Whiskey and we spent the better part of 3 hours enjoying casual conversation.  The bar happened to have a 2012 George T. Stagg so two of the guys ordered up a Stagg.  I'm not sure if the bartender was paying attention because he served up the largest pour I've ever seen delivering  two snifters with a full 6 oz of barrel proof goodness.  The ride back to the hotel was funny with lots of animated conversation which was fine but I'm just glad there was no singing. 

I'll post two additional blogs about Saturday and Sunday.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Go Whiskey! Again!

Tomorrow I jump on a flight to Boston to attend the Go Whiskey Weekend put on by Julio's Liquor in Westborough Mass.  I attended this event last year and had a good time.  This year we have quite a few more group members attending.  Tomorrow evening will be a Scotch and dinner pairing featuring John Glaser from Compass Box where he'll be paring up 5 CB selections. 

I obviously have a lot of bourbon which is why my focus this weekend will be to secure a couple of non-bourbon whiskies.  Last year I picked up a Redbreast Cask Strength and look to secure another bottle.  I'm also interested in what Compass Box and Springbank whiskies Ryan will have for sale.  Last year Ryan also featured some great selections by Douglas Laing one of which I picked up, a Rosebank 20 year.  Should be a good weekend of hunting for unique additions to the bunker bar.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

New - Russell's Reserve Single Barrel

This month Wild Turkey will be releasing a new offering; Russell's Reserve Single Barrel bottled at 110 proof.  For you long time WT drinkers, you probably remember with fondness the Russell's Reserve 10 year 101 proof which to me was an excellent bourbon.  The current iteration is bottled at 90 proof and is still aged 10 years.  This new release is non-aged stated and bottled at 110 proof and will be priced at around $49.  I'm interested in this release and will more than likely pick up a bottle to give it a try.  It will have to be pretty darn good because it will share space in the bunker bar with the original RR101, WT 8 year 101 and WT 12 year 101. 

Here's the contents of the press release I received. 

LAWRENCEBURG, KY (February 20th, 2013) –
When it comes to whiskey making in the United States, Jimmy Russell and his son Eddie are America’s bourbon aristocracy. After an incredible 90 years
combined experience distilling award-winning whiskey, the two are rolling out one of their richest and most flavorful bourbons to date: Russell’s Reserve® Single Barrel Straight Kentucky Bourbon Whiskey.
This much anticipated bottling at a take-no-prisoners 110 proof is nonchill filtered, resulting in an unparalleled burst of flavor in every sip. As the crowning glory of America’s famed Wild Turkey bourbon family, Russell’s Reserve Single Barrel promises to not only be the choice for bourbon connoisseurs, but it will also be what Jimmy and Eddie reach for time and time again. As they say in Lawrenceburg, “Our experience guarantees yours.” What makes Russell’s Reserve Single Barrel unique is not only its high
proof, but the fact that the whiskey bypasses the chill-filtration process. Chill-filtration is a common process whereby the whiskey is chilled at temperatures below freezing and is passed through an absorption filter
thus removing fatty acids and other flavor contributors such as esters and proteins. By avoiding the chill-filtration process, the whiskey is bottled with more flavor compounds and a deeper color which is denoted by an impressive haze when ice or chilled water is added. Every expression of Russell’s Reserve – both the Bourbon and rye Whiskey - is matured in only the deepest number 4 or “alligator” charred American white oak barrels to ensure the richest flavor and color. Jimmy and Eddie insist on this char level and are among only a handful of whiskey distillers who use it. The best aged whiskey barrels are hand selected by this
legendary pair themselves and only from the center cut of the rick house – since that's where the optimal maturation occurs. Adamant about quality, the Russell’s will only use the natural, weather-driven process for maturation – never air conditioned or heated “because it’s the right thing to do.”

“This is Bourbon at its best,” declares Jimmy Russell, Master Distiller. “What is incredibly
special about the Russell’s Reserve Single Barrel is that each barrel has its own personality,
but still captures the rich, creamy toffee vanilla style of Russell’s Reserve. This bottling
celebrates what we love about Russell’s Reserve, but takes it to another level.”
Russell’s Reserve Single Barrel delivers a burst of intense vanilla and hints of burnt orange,
along with tastes licorice and anise seed, on the palate, culminating with a rich and long finish.