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.