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.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Makers Mark 180

As many of you may know, Makers Mark announced a little over a week ago they were dropping the proof of their bourbon from 90 to 84.  I don't think Makers could have anticipated the firestorm that developed from that decision.  Initially the negative feedback on their Facebook page didn't seem to phase them.  Well, that quickly changed as days progressed. 

At first Rob Samuels at Makers released a statement explaining in further detail the reason why they changed the proof and to explain the process they went through to determine that there would be no loss of quality to the Makers Brand.  The 3% drop, as Rob explained, would enable them to meet market demand, which I will agree is valid reason.  I personally think the decision was the path of least resistance and cost; at least that's what they may have thought.  Brand Ambassadors and loyalists pitched a hissy fit in the ensuing days. 

Well, this evening  I received an e-mail from Rob Samuels as I'm sure many of you did stating this:

"Since we announced our decision last week to reduce the alcohol content (ABV) of Maker’s Mark in response to supply constraints, we have heard many concerns and questions from our ambassadors and brand fans. We’re humbled by your overwhelming response and passion for Maker’s Mark. While we thought we were doing what’s right, this is your brand – and you told us in large numbers to change our decision.

You spoke. We listened. And we’re sincerely sorry we let you down.

So effective immediately, we are reversing our decision to lower the ABV of Maker’s Mark, and resuming production at 45% alcohol by volume (90 proof). Just like we’ve made it since the very beginning.

The unanticipated dramatic growth rate of Maker’s Mark is a good problem to have, and we appreciate some of you telling us you’d even put up with occasional shortages. We promise we'll deal with them as best we can, as we work to expand capacity at the distillery.

Your trust, loyalty and passion are what’s most important. We realize we can’t lose sight of that. Thanks for your honesty and for reminding us what makes Maker’s Mark, and its fans, so special.

We’ll set about getting back to bottling the handcrafted bourbon that our father/grandfather, Bill Samuels, Sr. created. Same recipe. Same production process. Same product.

As always, we will continue to let you know first about developments at the distillery. In the meantime please keep telling us what’s on your mind and come down and visit us at the distillery. It means a lot to us."

My opinion of this about face is Makers saw the potential fall out of this decision and did the smart thing; eat a little crow, apologize and seek other solutions to meet market demand.  As Rob said in his note, growth is a good problem to have.  I applaud Makers for keeping the proof at 90.  I believe this in turn, will make their growth problem even worse attracting more drinkers of Makers Mark.  For all those that ran out day one of the announcement snatching up bottles of 90 proof Makers.....I hope you kept your receipt.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

R.I.P Truman....

Sad news today.  Last night Truman Cox, Master Distiller at Bowman Distillery in Fredericksburg, VA passed away of congestive heart failure.  He was 44 and is survived by his wife and daughter.

Back in October of 2011 our group picked out a barrel at Bowman and then afterwards had lunch with Truman and his father.  Hanging out was plenty of fun and it was great talking bourbon over lunch.

My thoughts and prayers go out to his family as they grieve.  Tonight, I raise a glass of Abraham Bowman 18 year in remembrance.

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Dusty Sampler #1....Dixie style

One of the fun byproducts of being part of a bourbon group is the degree of sharing that happens on a regular basis.  A common activity among the group is tastings, sometimes blind tastings as is the case with the current one I'm doing now.

Many of us in the group still dusty hunt so there's lots of out of production bourbon sitting in bunkers all across the US of A.  A buddy of mine down in North Carolina ponied up 10 samples of bourbon for a group of us to try blind.  These are all dusty examples with the first sample tasted and rated last weekend.

Eagle Rare 10 year 101 is one those iconic whiskey's that is considered good to great by most bourbon enthusiasts.  I blogged about ER101 a number of years back stating how much I liked this expression.  So, when I poured the sample, again not knowing at the time what is was, here were my comments.

"The nose is spicy as is the entry. Mouthfeel is moderate; not thin but not coating either. Entry has some spice kick, oak with an undertone of sweetness that is quickly overtaken by some heat and spice. Finish is medium in length with some bitter chocolate popping up toward the end. Rated 83"

At the time I posted my rating, my feedback was accurate.  The only problem is I should have waited about an hour because my review would have changed if I had done that.  I still had a healthy pour in the glass and so I slowly sipped over the course of time and after about 45 minutes I noticed the heat and spice begin to balance out and a caramel sweetness moving toward the front.  At about an hour the bourbon had changed noticeably and I was surprised that it happened that fast.  I made a rookie mistake in my haste to get my review in and since I have 9 more samples to work through I won't do that again.  So, as a reminder more to myself than anyone reading about this, air, water, ice can change the profile of whiskey and in some cases dramatically.

If you're in a rush, have a Bud Light....otherwise, pour a nice bourbon from you bunker and enjoy over time.

Friday, February 1, 2013

OWA - As the Mash Tun Churns!

In this episode of "As the Mash Tun Churns", the dramatic saga of Old Weller Antique continues......

Old Weller Antique get's a curious makeover......

Harlan shares a secret that causes a volatile reaction.......

The BT Brand Representative frantically tries to quash Harlan's contemptible comments......

Rumors abound Old Weller Antique may not live to see seven!

.....tune in next week for the continuing tale of "As the Mash Tun Churns"

Old Weller Antique is a much loved bourbon brand produced by Buffalo Trace.  I have a fondness for this much so that I and a group of like minded bourbon dorks buy the stuff by the barrelThe first round of barrel picks we were fortunate to acquire were two 8 year old barrels.  The next run of three barrels 7.5 year and the last 2 barrel picks were also 7.5 years old. 

Our bourbon group is gearing up for another run in April with the expectation we would be picking 7 year plus barrels.  Well, that is not the case.  We've been offered 6 year old barrels and all for the same price.  I've blogged twice about OWA here and here. In summary, 2009 the age statement dropped from OWA.  I made some assumptions about the potential demise of this brand.  Fast forward to March of 2012 and Harlan Wheatley, the BT Master Distiller makes comments about the termination of OWA.  Now, this statement has been poo pooed by BT and others so you can make your own judgement.  But now, BT is saying no more 7 year old wheat bourbon in the Barrel Program.  Zilch.  There has also been comments about saving some of the 7 year stock for Weller 12 "...and other brands".  So, I guess one could come to the conclusion that the currently aging stock is for older expressions like Weller 12 or even Lot B.....and not OWA.  Hey, I'm just speculating....that's all.  But if that turns out to be the case, does that then mean OWA or maybe even Weller Special Reserve (WSR) go by the wayside to maintain stock of older expressions?  

Now, before someone reading this goes all freaky deaky and tells me that his buddy Cletis in Texarkana  just purchase an OWA barrel that was 9 years old let me clue the reader in on how the barrel program works.  BT allocates a certain number of barrels for their Barrel Program and when Group A wants to buy a barrel, they roll out a number of barrels for the tasting.  Group A picks the one they like and BT rolls those rejected barrels right back to the Program racks.  Group B comes in and very possibly, those barrels rejected by Group A end up on the tasting room floor......rinse and repeat for subsequent groups.  See how it works?  So Texarkana Cletis that just purchase that 9 year old barrel of OWA got a barrel that potentially was rejected numerous times by prior purchasers. 

Our process?  We specifically request first pick rejects.  We do the same thing with Four Roses.  Four Roses has a semi trailer behind the bottling house loaded with barrels for their Barrel Program.  We asked them not to pick from the trailer but only pick from the rickhouses to which they graciously submitted.  We have other criteria we submit for consideration to ensure we get great barrels and so far, it's worked great.

While the news was somewhat disappointing, it's an opportunity to try some younger OWA wheat mashbill and see how it stacks up against our previous picks....which will be used as reference during the tasting.  The only downside to the younger whiskey is the price stays the same.  So, in effect, we just got hit with a price increase.  Not surprising since BT has raised their prices on some of their product line (around 10% or so).  In the end, it's all about taste; not age or mashbill or label.  When we pick from Four Roses, we ask Jim Rutledge to roll out the barrels blind....we didn't want to know the mashbill recipe or age.  I think that approach is the most honest you can be when tasting bourbon.

So, just let me now make the point that this deviation in age affects the BT Barrel Program and may or may not have anything to do with the current OWA shelf offering.  I'll post my thoughts after the tasting in April but my hope is we find another stellar OWA barrel even at 6 years old.