Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Happy Thanksgiving

Want to wish everyone a happy and safe Thanksgiving.  Among my enthusiast friends, this time of year always generates the question "what are you drinking this Thanksgiving?".  I don't know about the rest of you but I really don't map out what I'm going to drink.  Fine drinks will be consumed no doubt but I don't have a menu planned. 

A theme among my friends is to open a bottle of Wild Turkey in recognition of the day.  Not a bad idea and as a starter, I'll probably bring out a bottle of American Spirit.  It's open, it's Turkey so why not.  Other than that, the bar is open so what's poured will be whatever fancy's me. 

I'll most likely indulge in a nice cigar (cuban for sure) and now that I think about it, maybe a Port.  I have a very nice Taylor LBV 2010 that will pair well with a cigar. 

Enjoy your holiday and if you're going to drink, try and drink well.


Tuesday, October 11, 2016

High West Goes Corporate

I've been a big fan of High West for quite a few years.  Their 21 year rye is probably my favorite rye whiskey.  So I had mixed feelings when it was announced last week that Constellation Brands purchased High West for $160 million.

David Perkins, the founder of High West, left his job at Genentech back in 2004.  His decision to move from biochemistry to distilling was due in part to a vacation he and his wife took to Kentucky.  In a conversation I had with David a number of years ago he made the observation that while touring the distilleries, he noticed some familiarity with that equipment and what he used as a biochemist. He stated to his wife "I could do that", and the seed was planted.

David at the outset sourced from Constellation among others and in my opinion, did a very good job with barrel selection and ultimately, blending.  Much of the success of High West is due in part to David's vision and execution and all you have to do is visit Park City Utah and see the High West compound first hand to see his dream in action.

So, back to my opening comment about mixed feelings of the sale.  David has stated he will be staying with High West as Brand Ambassador playing a very hands on role in the business.  His reason for selling had to do with growth stating that where he wanted to take the distillery couldn't happen without some bigger player with bigger money.  Enter Constellation Brands who also owns Corona, Modelo and Ballast Point beers and a whole gaggle of winery's and wine labels.  This to my knowledge would be the first spirits addition to their portfolio and truth be told, it's a good addition.  My first reaction was some sadness to see an independent distillery go corporate but I certainly understand the reasoning.  The purchase of Ballast Point didn't go so well and I hope that Constellation took some lesson's learned and won't repeat the same mistakes.  I glad that David and his team will be staying on to keep things going.

Time will tell how this investment will pay off for whiskey enthusiasts because that's all I really care about and of course curious as to what new products or innovations High West will produce in the future. 

Friday, July 22, 2016

Booze shopping European Style

Over the years my job has taken me to places all over the world; Europe, Asia, Africa, South America, Middle East and Down Under.  On my bucket list of places to at least visit once has been Paris and Rome so while in between jobs in May, my wife and I decided to take a trip to Paris and Zurich.  We opted for Zurich because it was pretty much free and free is always good.  My sister is a Cardiologist and had been invited to study at the University of Zurich for the whole month of May.  Being the nice brother that I am, I decided to crash her two bedroom apartment in the heart of the city.  Nice....right?

My wife and I only spent two days in Paris so it was a speedy trip doing the major sites over the course of those two days.  I did manage to sneak in a visit to Maison du Whisky and boy was that an experience.  The selection was overwhelming but once I got past all the things I couldn't or wouldn't

afford I was able to down select to a reasonable number of nice bottles.  I spent the better part of an hour with a very nice salesman who happened to be from middle U.S. so there was no language barrier issues.  He was helpful and informative and led me to some very nice items I ended up purchasing.  One item on my "hope to find" list was a Nikka Miyagikyo 15 year which just so happened to be sitting on the shelf among the Japanese selections.  Next up, a Nectar of the Daily Dram 14 year Irish (at a very nice 103pf) and then finally a Signatory 24 year cask Highland Park. Truth is, I could have selected three different bottles and been just as happy since the offerings were broad and varied.  I did manage to avoid buying the Karuizawa 31 year cask bottle at around $9,000.

Overall Paris was nice, the sites were fun to visit but I'm not sure I'll be visiting again.

For those that have not traveled to Switzerland, you're missing out.  As I mentioned, I've been all

over the world but no place in my previous travels compares to this beautiful country. We spent the better part of the week doing some sightseeing around the city as well as visits to other destinations.   We visited the beautiful city of Lucern with Chapel Bridge as the focal point which was built in the 14th century.  While in Lucern we took the Golden Tour which starts with a boat ride on Lake Lucern, then to a Rack Railway that takes you to the top of Mount Pilatus.  While the railway was pretty slow going, the ascent was steep sometimes at a 48% grade.  The wife was not happy.  After reaching the peak and having lunch, we took the gondolas to the bottom.  The highlight of the week  was a visit to Interlaken and then a final destination of Jungfraujoch also called "The top of Europe" with an elevation of just under 12,000 feet.  It was an amazing experience and the view was spectacular.

I avoided drinking on this trip as the elevation was messing with my head and respiration so I avoided anything that would put me under.  While there I did buy a small bottle of Interlaken Swiss Highland SMW which was simply a novelty.  Back in Zurich we made a point of stopping by Old Crow bar that has a very diverse whisky collection; many old out of production bourbons and rye's.

Finally, I did manage to get out and do some whisky shopping (of course!) and fortuitously Glen Fahrn whisky shop was just around the corner from the apartment.  As a whisky enthusiast, Glen Fahrn was stocked with some great selections which made shopping fun.  They had many current release offerings along with plenty of independent bottlings.  I opted for two bottles that really intrigued me.  Teeling offers a standard Irish whiskey here in the U.S. that is aged in rum casks for 6 months.  It's a nice enough expression but I

knew that Teeling had many single cask labels finished in various casks.  The two I found at Glen Fahrn came home with me.  First a 13 year Port finish at 56.7 ABV and a 13 year Carcavelos finish at 56.6 ABV.  This shop had some great staff and they allowed you to try before you buy so of course I took my time tasting before deciding.

Since my brother in law was also in Zurich the two of us traveled to Baar to visit a fellow whiskey enthusiast who is a member of our whiskey group.  We had a great meal at a local brew pub and enjoyed some schnitzel and bratkartoffeln.  Back at my buddy's house we spent the evening diving into some great Willett selections, Michters 10 yr bourbon and some fantastic Velier cask strength rums.  Facilitating a trade, I ended up bringing home an early release of Redbreast 15 and two Diamond 1999 Demerara 15 year old rum.

It was a fantastic trip and I ended up with some great selections for the bunker. 

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Exam-o-Dram Ardbeg Dark Cove

Here I am.....reviewing Ardbeg Dark Cove on a very warm July afternoon.  I'll admit I took a bit of a hiatus to enjoy some down time.  As I mentioned in my previous post I was shedding some overhead out of my life and took a break to just relax.  That being said, it's time to look at another whiskey that of course has been reviewed by others.

As I always do, full disclosure up front this sample was provided to me by the US marketing firm for Ardbeg so a thank you to them.

Heavily peated and smokey scotches are a relatively new profile for me but once I tuned in to this style, I had no problem adding various expressions to the bunker.  Back just four years ago I stated on this blog that I disliked most Islay whiskey's giving a hat tip to a Bruichladdich 15 2nd Ed. that I picked up on a cruise maybe 8-10 years ago.  Since 2012 my palate has gone through some transformation which resulted in a broadening of styles added to the bunker.

Dark Cove is Ardbeg's annual limited release and they billed this release "the darkest yet".  Viewing the whiskey it's pretty light in color on par many other whiskey releases.

On the nose I get a couple different aroma's that pique my interest.  The smoke and peat are right up front but there are a couple other things happening that are inviting.  There's definitely a summer fruit essence on the nose, maybe pear or apple.  One other thing that I can't put my finger on is a creamy smells syrupy if that makes sense.  The viscosity is above average producing decent legs around the glass.

The entry somewhat contradicts the nose producing a spicy and salty entry with a moderate sweetness in the background and the peat hangs on the tongue.  As the whiskey transitions to mid palate there's malt and mild chocolate coming through.   The finish is moderate with a dominance of malt and peat finishing off the experience.  As some minutes passed by the back of my palate has a noticeable campfire taste that's not entirely unpleasant.

Overall, this is a pretty decent whiskey.  This whiskey is for those that gravitate towards a peaty and smokey expression.  For my friends who tend to shy away from this style I would tell them to steer clear but for those that are peat heads, this should be in your wheelhouse.  For me, I like this for the most part but it would not be a "daily drinker".  This style of whiskey for me is more of a "in the mood" pour.  After receipt of this sample I did go out and grab two bottles of the Committee Release and it will be interesting to pair up this lower proof version to the higher proof CR.

This whiskey is non age stated and runs somewhere north of $100. 

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Update - Finally

Sorry, sorry's been quite some time since I've posted.  Up until about 3 weeks ago I was heavily engaged in the selling of a business that really took longer and more of my time that I expected so it impacted time reserved for extra curricular activities (blog!). 

So, now that that's done, I will have some free time in the coming weeks.  In the meantime, I do have a review coming up featuring Ardbeg Dark Cove.  Right about now I would be socializing the fact that I'm headed to Kentucky for the annual barrel picking.  Unfortunately, I won't be able to attend this year and will have to rely and trust on the mediocre palates of my friends.  The upside is I'll be in Paris and Zurich for 10 days goofing off (and hopefully finding some nice whisky and cigars).

While busy over the last number of months, I've still managed to do some horse trading and picked up some very nice expressions that span Scotch, Japanese, Bourbon and Rye and will share my acquisitions in a future post.

This is the year of change with selling a business, I quite my job last Friday (yes, I have new job lined up) and have my house on the market; it's time to downsize.  So, lot's of stuff going on and it's all good.

Now, I'm off to find something to drink.


Saturday, January 23, 2016

Goodbye Elijah Craig 12 year

I'm not an oracle and I had no insider information to call this one.  It's been done before and will be done again so the prediction wasn't that hard.  Back in April of 2015 I posted that Heaven Hill changed their label format for Elijah Craig Small Batch 12 year bourbon and predicted (correctly) that this move was in anticipation of the ultimate demise of the age statement.  Fred Minnick posted the details so check out the news and his thoughts on the subject.

I noted in my post that I may pull the trigger on half a case in the event the age statement was dropped.  Well, I did indeed make that purchase and am glad I did.  Those bottles are now flying off the shelves with this news so within a week or two, that label will be increasingly more difficult to find.

I contemplated grabbing some additional bottles this weekend but alas, I'm buried under 30+ inches of snow which will take days to clear out.  In the meantime, I'll get back to my movie and pour another whiskey.

EDIT: Here's the link to the news release from Heaven Hill.

Monday, January 4, 2016

What do you do with excess whiskey?

One of the benefits of picking your own barrel is actually taking possession of the barrel if you choose.  I've done that twice with two of our Four Roses picks back 2-3 years ago.  One local member of our bourbon club took possession of one of our BT Old Weller Antique barrels.  Collectively we decided to use the barrel for a re-fill project.

There were 7 of us that contributed 48.3 gallons of bourbon from our collective bunkers.  The contributed bottles consisted of a broad selection of labels to include; Willett Family Estate Single Barrel, paper label Weller Special Reserve, Weller 12 (raised wheat!), Evan Williams BIB, Very Old Barton BIB, 1969 Old Crow 10 year, EWSB, Wild Turkey Rare Breed, Old Bourbon Hollow and many many others totaling 243 750ml bottles.  Point is, this was a cornucopia dump of pretty much anything.  The proof average after fill was 97.2 and the barrel sat in a garage over the course of 3 1/2 years.

After one month in the barrel we gathered together to taste and were sorely disappointed.  It wasn't that good and the whiskey was way out of balance.  As time progressed we would gather and taste and agreed that time was smoothing out the rough edges and doing good things to the melding process.  July of 2014 we congregated around the barrel and pulled a sample to try.  We were pleased with the results as the whiskey had good flavor, good balance and had actually increased in proof by 8.9 points to 106.1.  We decided to let it rest for a little while longer thinking it couldn't hurt.

Last November we again pulled a sample from the barrel and hit jackpot.  The whiskey was full bodied, minimal heat and the flavor profile consisted of huge amounts of caramel and chocolate with a strong oak backbone; it was unanimous, time to dump the barrel.

This last Sunday, January 3rd, we arrived with boxes of empty bottles.  Using a small pump and two filling stations, we proceeded to pull the whiskey from the barrel and fill bottles.  We had a pretty good system going on as two members kept empty bottles rotated on the table, two members filling the bottles and one member capping the bottles and moving them into boxes.  In the course of about 30-40 mins we filled the equivalent of 176 750ml bottles.  Final proof out of the barrel was between 104-105.  This was a fun project and very interesting to witness how the whiskey changed with time and thankfully for the better.  I came home with fifteen 750ml bottles from an original contribution of twenty.   After dumping the barrel we enjoyed a lunch of smoked corned beef brisket and then finished off the afternoon with various whiskey's and 2003 Montecristo Edicion Limitada cigars.  Life is good.