Archive for October, 2008

Review: William Larue Weller (2008 release)

Friday, October 24th, 2008

William Larue Weller, 62.65%, $65
A significant improvement over the previous release in 2007, which I felt was the weakest of Buffalo Trace’s Antique Collection last year. Wheated bourbons, like William Larue Weller, lack the bold zing of rye, and therefore are vulnerable to being too tame, too easygoing, like the 2007 WLW release. What wheated whiskeys gain in drinkability, they can lose in vibrancy and zest. The distiller might need to augment this with something. A good way to do this is by increasing the oak impact (spice, resin, balancing dryness), as was done here (quite masterfully, by the way) with this new expression. Sweet notes of vanilla custard, maple syrup, Demerara rum, shortbread cookie and marzipan are balanced by raspberry jam, cinnamon, nutmeg, teaberry and gentle oak resin that lingers on the finish. Great balance too!

Advanced Malt Advocate Magazine rating: 93

Review: Sazerac Rye 18 yr. old (2008 release)

Thursday, October 23rd, 2008

As promised, this is the first of five in-depth reviews (one each day for five days) encompassing the new 2008 release of Buffalo Trace’s “Antique Collection.”

Last night, I lined up and tasted the last four years of Sazerac Rye 18 year old. The last great vintage of Sazerac Rye 18 year old was 2005, which I rated a 95. It was impeccably balanced and still displayed great youthful qualities.

The three vintages since then, including this one, came from a different batch of whiskeys which were transferred to stainless steel to keep them from any additional aging (and additional oak impact). This was a smart move. These recent vintages are similar in flavor profile and, while still very nice whiskeys, show just a tad too much oak and lethargy to reach the classic status of the 2005 release.)

Sazerac Rye, 18 year old, 45%, $65
Deep and complex, yet still quite lively for an 18 year old whiskey. Not as lush and sweet as its younger sibling (Thomas H. Handy Sazerac), showing more oak, dried spices and a certain degree of sophistication. Toffee and molasses are quickly matched and then dominated by notes of brittle mint, vanilla, cinnamon, dried fruit, and black raspberry leading to a long, earthy, resinous, polished leather finish.

Advanced Malt Advocate magazine rating: 87

Five days of Buffalo Trace Antique Collection

Wednesday, October 22nd, 2008

After a two week cold, I finally have my taste buds back. I have a backlog of samples to review and I’m going to start with the 2008 Buffalo Trace Antique Collection.

Starting tomorrow, I’m going to review one each day for the next five days. I’ll be comparing each whiskey with previous releases too, so this should be fun. First up: Sazerac Rye 18 year old.

Is every whisky great?

Tuesday, October 21st, 2008

I wear many hats. I’m Malt Advocate magazine’s Publisher & Editor (and owner). My wife and I own and run three WhiskyFests. I also host whisky tastings, consult for the whisky industry, and write a lot about whisky for Malt Advocate and other publications.

My most difficult job, however, is rating whiskies. Tasting whisky isn’t hard. (It’s quite fun, actually.) Writing tasting notes isn’t difficult either. Scoring whiskies isn’t hard either, because once I nose and taste a whisky, I know what I like about the whisky or don’t like about the whisky (and why).

The tough part is dealing with the aftermath when I give a whisky an inferior rating, which I often do. By inferior, I mean rating a whisky in the 70s or lower. You might think that a rating in the 70s is something that shouldn’t upset a whisky producer, but it often does. To me, rating a whisky in the 70s means, and I quote from my rating scheme definition in Malt Advocate: “Average. No unique qualities. Flaws possible.” It’s not the end of the world.

But, many whisky companies seems to believe that all their whiskies are great, and they don’t like anyone telling them that one of their whiskies has flaws. I’ve lost a lot of advertising over the years because I gave whiskies low ratings, and it’s the main reason why most magazines that rate alcoholic beverages on a 100 point scale only publish ratings at 80 points or higher. (A leading wine magazine and a leading beer magazine immediately come to mind.)

The responses I receive from the producers are quite varied, but many lead to the same opinion: they don’t want to believe me. Here are a few examples of responses I will get.

Other people have tried it and they liked: Maybe they just didn’t have the guts to be honest with you. Or maybe they are looking for just one thing in a whisky. I know people who will like any whisky, as long as it’s really sherried. I know a guy who only likes woody whiskies, and he spends a lot of money on old whiskies.

Do a re-taste: I don’t need to do this because before I score a whisky in the 70s or lower, I automatically re-taste on a different day prior to publishing the rating, just to be certain. And if I don’t like a whisky, I always explain why I don’t like it.

Joe Schmo in some other publication gave it a good rating: There are many legitimate (and illegitimate) whisky writers rating whiskies right now, and if you look around long enough, you’ll probably find someone to say something nice about your whisky. I’m just one person, with one person’s opinion. There are many other opinions out there.

It won a medal: With competitions out there awarding medals to nearly 90% of all entrants (for a fee, or course) you should be able to win a medal somewhere. And if you don’t, I would be very concerned.

The bottom line here is that there are great whiskies, good whiskies, average whiskies, and bad whiskies (just like everything else in life). They can’t all be great. I just wish that more people in the industry would acknowledge this.

Woodford Reserve’s New Master’s Collection bourbon is a “sweet mash”

Monday, October 20th, 2008

After two different “Four Grain” releases and a subsequent “Sonoma-Cutrer” wine finish offering, Brown-Forman is about to release their newest Woodford Reserve Master’s Collection whiskey titled “1838 Sweet Mash.”

The press release I received has done an excellent job of explaining what a “sweet mash” is versus the industry-wide practice of “sour mash” whiskey, so I won’t reinvent the wheel. Here are the main points from the press release:

Woodford Reserve will revive a long-abandoned bourbon production practice in early November with the release of the third whiskey in its award-winning Master’s Collection series, 1838 Sweet Mash. The spirits industry is famous for its sour mash whiskies, and the Woodford Reserve 1838 Sweet Mash is an exception with this revival of a historic technique.

wrmcsweetmash.jpg“The present-day Woodford Reserve Distillery is largely known as the site where the sour mash process used to make all American whiskies was defined,” said Woodford Reserve Master Distiller and Spirits Historian Chris Morris. “The sour mash process was innovative at the time and is now common practice. The Woodford Reserve Distillery has taken that innovation ‘a step in reverse’ by bringing the original sweet mash practice back to life.”

All bourbon whiskies are traditionally crafted using a sour mash process in which ingredients – grains, yeast and water — from a prior distillation (referred to as spent mash) are introduced into a new mash mixture. The result is a sour mash which is fermented for several days before being distilled. Sour mash ultimately creates a more consistent product with less variation from batch to batch. Sweet mash, however, was the original production practice established to craft bourbon whiskies, and it consists of using entirely fresh ingredients – grains, yeast and water – to create a mixture which will be fermented for several days and then distilled. This process gives the mash a higher pH level and reveals a layer of aromas and flavors which aren’t commonly found in sour mash bourbons.

“We believe that this is the first bourbon of its kind to be bottled in 150 years,” said Wayne Rose, brand director for Woodford Reserve. “Bottling sweet mash was the original standard for bourbon production until the sour mash process came along, and Woodford Reserve is honored to release 1838 Sweet Mash as a tribute to the industry’s heritage.”

Woodford Reserve 1838 Sweet Mash will be sold in 25 markets: Arizona, California, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nevada, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, Washington, D.C. and Wisconsin. The bourbon is individually hand-numbered and is bottled at 86.4 proof. Available in major metro markets, only 1045 cases are available with a suggested retail price of $89.99 for a 750ml bottle. The Master’s Collection will also be released for the first time in Canada.

I’ll be getting a review sample shortly and will let you know my thoughts at that time.

The Wall Street Journal and Malt Advocate forges alliance for 2009

Sunday, October 19th, 2008

Building on the alliance that Malt Advocate and The Wall Street Journal developed for the second half of 2008, I am proud to announce that both companies will continue their mutually-beneficial relationship for the entire 2009 calendar year.  

The alliance includes, among other things:

The Wall Street Journal sponsoring WhiskyFest Chicago in April, WhiskyFest San Francisco in October and WhiskyFest New York in November,

Wall Street Journal ads in Malt Advocate magazine and on the Malt Advocate magazine website, along with exposure at all three events through branding,

Malt Advocate advertising in The Wall Street Journal,

Editorial support by Malt Advocate Magazine’s Publisher & Editor (me) for a special Whisky advertising supplement in The Wall Street Journal slated for November.

This should increase circulation in both publications, while also increasing attendance at WhiskyFest and reaffirming its status as America’s premier whisky events. And it accomplishes Malt Advocate magazine’s primary mission: to promote whisky and educate consumers.

AAA 10 yr. old vs. AAA 10 yr. old single barrel

Friday, October 17th, 2008

The Party Source in Bellevue, KY has just bottled the first-ever (so I am told) Ancient Ancient Age 10 year old single barrel bourbon. I just couldn’t resist comparing it to the standard issue AAA 10 yr.

I did a very informal review the other night, sipping each side-by-side while watching the Phillies game. There’s an obvious distinction between the two (which is what makes single barrel bottlings so interesting).

The Party Source single barrel is lighter in color, more nimble on the palate and subtly complex. It’s also softer, more elegant and creamy in texture.

The standard bottling, which is not from a single barrel, is darker in color, “heavier”, with darker sugars, more grit and more oak influence.

Both, by the way, are very nice.

Bruichladdich 16 yr. old replaces Bruichladdich 15 yr. old

Thursday, October 16th, 2008

Bruichladdich is replacing their existing 15 year old whisky with a new 16 year old. This new 16 year old is aged entirely in used bourbon barrels. The price is expected to be about $100. According to the press release I just received, it is expected to be part of the Laddie portfolio until 2011.

Here is the press release I received:

Bruichladdich has released an all American Classic with French royal family and a revolutionary war connections – The Bourbon 16.

bruichladdich-16.jpgNew Bourbon laws, when US Prohibition ended in 1933, stated casks must be  used just once before being sold off. Today redundant Bourbon barrels represent about 97% of casks used for maturing Scotch whisky. Their influence on Scotch is enormous.

These casks are made from Quercus Alba, white oak, also known as American Oak from the Ozark mountains of Missouri and Kentucky.  Tyloses, or cellular growths, make this oak more water-tight meaning  it can be machine-worked, use thinner staves,  reducing coopering costs.

“Our American Classic, the Bourbon 16”, says MD Mark Reynier, “makes a great contrast to our French oak “First Growth” series.

“We wanted to reaffirm the American connection: The end of Prohibition changed not only America but the flavour of Scotch Whisky. “Scotch and American whiskies are historically linked. It’s a symbiotic cycle: we gave them distilling, so they can sell us cheap casks.”

Immigrant Scots started distilling in the US shortly after the American War of Independence in a newly established (1785) county –  Bourbon. It was called Bourbon in homage to the French royal family, in recognition of their help in the battle against the English.

Just four years later the French Revolution started. America’s national spirit was nearly called  Napoleon.

When I get a review sample, I’ll let you know my thoughts.

WhiskyFest San Francisco raises $8,000 for charity

Wednesday, October 15th, 2008

Thanks to the donations of very rare whiskies by Macallan, Glenlivet and Glenfarclas, WhiskyFest San Francisco raised $8,000 for Food Runners. If we can taste some great whiskies, have a good time, and raise money for a good cause, then we all win.

So, how are you shipping your whisky purchases into the U.S.?

Tuesday, October 14th, 2008

Okay, here’s an issue many of us have to deal with, and that includes me. So many whiskies are not imported to the U.S. You want to buy a whisky from a retailer somewhere overseas, you have a friend who wants to ship you whisky, or (in my case) a whisky company wants to send you review samples. But if you ship through the proper channels it gets flagged at the Newark Airport (or wherever) and they won’t send it to you unless you have an importer license, pay them lots of money, give up your first born child, etc.

I’m not advocating breaking any laws, but I know some of you have found ways to have your whisky shipped to you faster and with less red tape. You comments are anonymous, so does anyone want to offer some advice to those of us less enlightened?

(I’m not referring to shipping whisky with you when you are traveling but rather having whisky shipped to you from overseas.)