Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Spring Picking 2015

Two weeks from today I'll be headed down to Kentucky for the annual barrel pick festivities.  I recognize that I neglected to write much about last years picks and hope to remedy that this year.

We moved the arrival date a number of weeks to May in order to take advantage of better weather.  In previous years we attended during the Spring sampler held in and around Bardstown and in April the weather can still be somewhat wet and cold.

Last year we picked multiple barrels from each distillery we visited.  Jim Beam was a first for us and they really treated us well along with rolling out some very good barrels.  So much so that we ended up purchasing three of them.  I liked all three very much but one was a real stand out and I couldn't put the bottle down.  This year we'll visit Jim Beam again and have high hopes of finding great barrels once again.

Buffalo Trace has been a real great experience for us over the last couple of years as we've pulled some really great barrels of Old Weller Antique plus they are a great value to boot.  Beau, their barrel program manager, is a great host and we always enjoy spending time with him plus he pulls great barrels for us to taste through. 

Four Roses was one of the first distilleries we visited back about 5 years ago.  Jim Rutledge is  more than a host but a good friend of the group.  We always have a fantastic time with Jim and have purchased some top notch barrels from Four Roses.  Last year Jim rolled out ten barrels and the quality was so good, we had a hard time picking our top three, in fact, we ended up picking six of the ten barrels.

I'm very much looking forward to this years trip.  Better weather, great bourbon and good friends should make this years trip a great experience.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Cigar Journal - Macanudo Cru Royale

I've been smoking cigars  regularly for about 9 years.  Prior to that, a cigar would be enjoyed during a round of golf or maybe while mowing the lawn.  Since 2006, I've enjoyed some very fine domestic and cuban expressions and like whiskey, I know what I like and what I don't like.

Macanudo comes from General Cigar Company who makes other brands like Punch, Hoyo de Monterrey (non cuban offerings) and CAO.  Macanudo's are produced in the Dominican Republic and offer a couple different bands with Hyde Park being the most familiar.  Back in October 2010, General Cigar released the Macanudo Cru Royale.  This cigar features Dominican, Brazilian and Nicaraguan filler and a Ecuadoran Habano wrapper.  Eyeballing this stick reveals nearly flawless construction and a wrapper that leans Maduro in color.

I smoked the Gigante at 6 inches with a 60 ring gauge.  Over the course of about two weeks I smoked two of these cigars in order to check my impressions.  The first cigar seemed too one dimensional to me and while it smoked very nice with a razor sharp burn, the profile was maybe average but the second cigar smoked better over the first.  At times ones palate can play with impressions and this may have been the case with the first stick as the second one I enjoyed more.  The cigar featured a profile layered with cedar, dark chocolate and dark earth.  As the cigar burned down, coffee and some spice kicked in.  The burn on this stick was similar to the first; nice and even.  The ash held form and didn't drop even after burning down about 1.5 inches.  For me I would have preferred something with more pronounced transitions as the cigar burned down.

Overall, I would rate this above average and definitely a step up in flavor and quality over the regular Macanudo offerings.  This cigar would be for the individual looking to expand their experience with something a bit stronger and more flavorful than a pure Dominican stick.  For those looking for cigars with more power and flavor, this may be too mild for you but for those looking for a cigar with good construction and a moderately flavored smoke, this may your huckleberry.

The cigar came from Famous Smoke Shop and runs around $6.  From their website:

"Macanudo Cru Royale cigars are a medium-bodied, full-flavored selection from one of the cigar world's most highly-acclaimed brands. Crafted under the direction of the legendary Benji Menendez, each cigar has a core of Nicaraguan & Dominican Viso longfiller with Brazilian Mata Fina, plus a proprietary Dominican La Vega Especiale binder rolled in an Ecuadorian Habano seed wrapper. Expect a well-balanced, aromatic smoke brimming with rich, complex flavors on a savory finish."

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Elijah Craig 12 year Label Change

As part of the administrative tools available via the blog provider, I can see keyword searches you all put into the Google Machine or other browsers and clearly readers are questioning the possible demise of the age statement.  Within the last couple of days it was noted that Heaven Hill has made a label change to their Elijah Craig 12 year 94 proof brand.  Right now, the number 12 is front and center on the front label but new bottles showing up on retail shelves simply say "Small Batch" on the front with the age statement noted on the back.  For those of you that have been fortunate to pick up their barrel strength variant, there is no age statement on the front but is listed as "twelve years" on the back label.  The back label age designation will now be the place for their 94 proof offering.

Let the freak out begin.  One keyword search that popped up over the last 24 hours is "Elijah Craig losing age statement".  If I put on my tin foil hat I could forecast that this is a precursor to the age statement being dropped at some point in the future.  Let's analyze:

Go back to 2009 when Buffalo Trace removed the age statement from Old Weller Antique.  It was noted from BT that this was done because there simply wasn't room for the age statement with the new bottle format and label.  BT assured the enthusiast community that OWA will remain 7 years old.  Well, I'm not going to point the guilty finger directly at BT, the reality is, a shortage of wheat mashbill soon followed and there was a shortage of 7 years + barrels.  Weller Special Reserve was difficult to find for a period of time as was Old Weller Antique.  Bottom line, BT, as is their right, can put younger whiskey in the bottle if they choose.  The bean counters want more flexibility with bourbon stock and one way is to remove age statements which then removes outflow constraints (e.g. sell younger whiskey).  This in response to significantly higher demand.

So, Elijah Craig 12 year and the label change smells like the same trajectory.  Here's my tin hat theory.  Heaven Hill changes the front label and the consumer (that's you!) over time gets used to the new label and the absence of an age statement in plain view.  One day you walk into your local liquor retailer and pick up a bottle of Elijah Craig 12 year and suddenly notice the "12 year" is no longer on the back label.  Surprise, you're not buying a 12 year bourbon anymore.

So, what should you do? I guess that depends on whether you think it's good enough to bunker or trust that it will be around for a while.  To be honest, Elijah Craig is not a bottle I typically have in the bunker for the very reason that it's readily available.  This afternoon while traveling home, I stopped and picked up a bottle and am at this moment, sipping on a healthy pour.

This is a value pour no doubt.  I paid normal retail at $27 but in some markets, it's over $30.  I'm mulling over a trip to a neighboring state to pick up 1/2 case because their prices are around $20 a pop.  I've been drinking bourbon long enough to have seen many age statements drop off the shelves so this is one to watch.