Archive for the ‘Rye whiskey’ Category

Coming in May: daily whisky reviews

Thursday, April 21st, 2011

The Summer issue of Malt Advocate will be out June 1st. (It will be our 20th Anniversary issue!) In it, we have a record number of whisky reviews too: almost 90! Nearly all are new releases.

I’m going to share with you a sampling of these reviews before they are published in Malt Advocate. (It’s my way of saying “thank you” for taking time out of your busy schedule to check in here.) I’ll post up at least one new review every day for the entire month (including weekends).

Stay tuned…

A few brief Scotch, Bourbon, Rye and Irish whiskey updates

Monday, April 18th, 2011

First, let me thank all of you who offered whisky recommendations for the new enthusiast in my last post. More than 100 comments later, I can say that the post is a very valuable resource.

As you know, I was in Chicago last week hosting WhiskyFest. It was a great event, and I even managed to find time to taste some whiskies and get the scoop on a few items. I thought I would pass them on to you.

I tasted the new Spring 2011 release of Kilchoman. This one has some sherry aging, unlike the previous two releases here in the U.S. I must say that I think this is the best Kilchoman whisky yet. It’s well rounded, surprisingly mature for its age, and 100% Islay!

This was the first time independent bottler Samaroli was at WhiskyFest. Indeed, they are only now being imported to the U.S. I tasted a few of their offerings and really enjoyed them. (Really cool bottles, too, as you can see pictured on the left!) I look forward to tasting more of their whiskies in the future.

The importers of Springbank for the U.S. hand selected several casks 14 year old Springbanks, each one matured in a different type of sherry, and what will be offered at cask-strength. It’s an interesting essay in the impact of different sherry wines on a whisky. You might want to check those out.

I was able to taste a prototype of what will be a new barrel-proof expression of Angel’s Envy bourbon which will be released later this year. It was delicious!

The folks behind the Jefferson’s line of bourbons, including the outstanding Jefferson’s Presidential Select releases, told me they will be releasing a 10 year old 100% rye whiskey later this year at 94 proof. I tasted a pre-release. It reminded me of WhistlePig. I mean, it really reminded me of WhistlePig (hint!), but at a slightly lower proof (and what will be offered at the significantly lower price of about $35).

Do you remember my review of Redemption Rye? Well, they recently came out with a high-rye bourbon. Which was also pretty good. Now I’m told they will be introducing a more standard, easy-going bourbon (which the brand manager referred to as a “breakfast bourbon”) in July. They will also be releasing a barrel-proof version of their high-rye bourbon around August.

This isn’t WhiskyFest related, but there’s a big press event going on at the Midleton distillery in Ireland in a couple weeks. A little while back I was informed that Pernod has repackaged Redbreast and Green Spot single pot still whiskeys. (Note that I used the word “single” and not “pure.”) Rumor has it that they will also be introducing a new line of single pot still whiskeys at this press event. Malt Advocate will be present at this event and we will report back here with our findings.

Finally, some of you were also at WhiskyFest Chicago. For those that were, please feel free to share what you learned at the event–new releases, whiskies the really stood out, etc.

The lines between established distillers and small craft distillers are becoming blurred

Wednesday, March 23rd, 2011

And they will continue becoming even more blurred in the future.

As the young, developing craft distilling movement matures and begins offering longer-aged whiskeys, they will compete with the established distillers’ products.

On the flip side, the established distillers are increasingly offering younger, and as is the case with Heaven Hill’s “TryBox Series” (shown in the picture), sometimes even unaged product for sale. In fact, distillers on both sides of the pond are selling unaged spirit.

Craft distillers comprise a rapidly growing, but still relatively low-production, market. I don’t think the large, established distillers have anything to worry about–yet. But they would be foolish to not pay attention.

Just take a look at the American craft beer market and you will see where craft distilling is heading. According to a recent Brewers Association press release, overall beer consumption is down, but the craft beer market continues to grow and capture market share.

The large brewers who made relatively bland pilsner-style beer are now making beer with more flavor–or forming alliances with craft brewers to compete with them.

You are witnessing the same happening within the whiskey industry. Small craft distillers like Stranahan’s and Anchor have been purchased by larger players in the drinks industry. And large distiller William Grant (owners of Glenfiddich and Balvenie) bought the Hudson whiskey brand from Tuthilltown Spirits, the Hudson Valley craft distiller.

Yes indeed, the lines between established distillers and small craft distillers will continue becoming more and more blurred in the future. For the most part, I think this is a good thing. It will be healthy for the whisky industry.

Will there be some downside? Sure! We will have to endure the “weeding out”  of the inferior brands and “fly by night” companies that will undoubtedly surface to make a fast buck in this growth market (as we witnessed in the early phases of craft brewing–and that cigar boom a while back).

But the upside is far greater–and well worth any temporary inconvenience.

Malt Advocate Whisky Awards “Distillery of the Year”: Heaven Hill

Saturday, February 26th, 2011

Heaven Hill Distilleries, Inc.

We’ve honored whiskeys from Heaven Hill; we’ve honored Heaven Hill’s revered master distiller, Parker Beam. For years, we’ve talked about the integrity and service of this independent, family-owned and managed distillery (one of the last, of their age and size). They make and import other spirits but Heaven Hill remains, and always will remain, a whiskey distillery.

It’s about time we honored that. Heaven Hill has persevered through the biggest distillery fire in recent memory (including the loss of their Bardstown distilling plant), and found a new home in Louisville. Smart whiskey lovers know their reputation for delivering great value in their whiskey brands. They just celebrated their 75th anniversary in a big way, by filling their six-millionth barrel of whiskey.

They’ve been pioneers with their Evan Williams Single Barrel Vintage series and the Bernheim Original wheat whiskey. Parker Beam’s skills are celebrated with the eponymous and often stupendous Parker’s Heritage Collection, particularly the tour de force that was last year’s Golden Anniversary release: a blend of bourbons from five decades. The latest Parker’s Heritage release shows that Parker Beam quickly absorbed the idea of making wheated bourbon ten years ago, and brought his years of skills to bear on it. They have been at the spearhead of the rye resurgence, maintaining availability of their value brands (Rittenhouse and Pikesville) and also rolling out an amazing trio of ultra-aged ryes.

Heaven Hill takes whiskey seriously. They deserve nothing less.

Tomorrow’s post will feature the “Lifetime Achievement Award”. Be sure to check back!

Malt Advocate Whisky Awards “Pioneer of the Year”: David Perkins and High West

Thursday, February 24th, 2011

This is going to be a controversial decision, and the cry will be “High West doesn’t make whiskey!” Well…maybe.

Here’s the thing. Perkins and High West burst onto the scene three years ago with Rendezvous Rye, a whiskey that was so good it surprised people. Rye whiskey? From Utah? Perkins was quick to explain that he had blended the whiskey from stock he had bought from an undisclosed source, something he would continue to do, and therein lies the tale.

High West currently has much more in common with Compass Box Whisky from Scotland than it does with an artisan whiskey distiller like Tuthilltown Spirits. Perkins is blending American straight whiskeys, something that distillers had largely stopped doing decades ago. A few examples: Rendezvous Rye is a blend of two rye whiskies, a 6 year old and a 16 year old. BouRye is a blend of 12 year old 95% rye mashbill whiskey and 10 year old bourbon. The new Double Rye mixes a very young 2 year old high rye whiskey with a 16 year old rye. All of these were something anyone could have done, but he actually did it; more to the point, he did it really, really well. These are killer whiskeys, just check their ratings in our Buyers Guide.

Is Perkins “just” blending whiskeys other people made? Sure. And how much of what a master distiller does is just that: tasting, nosing, tracking, identifying, blending? The fact is, whatever he’s doing, he’s bringing whiskeys to light that might otherwise have died a woody death, and making something great out of them, by blending them together.

Meanwhile, Perkins has a distillery in operation, and is tweaking it to create great whiskey…all in good time. While we wait for that to reach true maturity, he’s delivering properly aged whiskey, blended masterfully from existing stocks.

No one else in America is doing this, and he’s doing it well, pioneering in new territory.

Check back tomorrow to find out who has been awarded the “Industry Leader of the Year”.

Malt Advocate Whisky Awards “American Whiskey of the Year”: Buffalo Trace Antique Collection (2010 Release)

Friday, February 18th, 2011

Roll these names off your tongue: Stagg. Handy. Weller. Sazerac. Eagle Rare. Now wrap it all up with Buffalo Trace Antique Collection. Collectively, these are the bottles that American whiskey lovers go nuts for every year, tracking them down on shelves three or four states away, swapping and trading for them.

They drink them, they don’t just collect them, because these are really good whiskeys. Any one of them — three bourbons, two ryes — has the potential to snag this award in any given year, and some years they have. But one’s usually a lot better, and sometimes one is under par that year, and that’s kind of good: you don’t have to buy all of them.

This year, though…the stars are aligned, and you’d better get out your checkbook. This is probably the strongest Antique Collection as a collection since Buffalo Trace started sending out allocations of these five excellent spirits. Weller: layers of lusciousness. Stagg: finely-carved power. Eagle Rare: beautifully balanced corn and oak. Handy: barely-restrained youth. Sazerac: smoothly spicy. (See full tasting notes here.)

Can we pick five whiskeys as “best”? Of course we can. When they’re all this good, when the Collection comes together like this, how can we do anything else?

photo courtesy of Buffalo Trace Distillery

The “Canadian Whisky of the Year” will be announced tomorrow. Stay tuned!

Review: High West Double Rye

Friday, January 28th, 2011

High West Double Rye, 46%, $35

A blend of two straight whiskeys: a very young 2 year old high rye content whiskey and a 16 year old rye whiskey with a lower rye content. Perhaps the spiciest American whiskey I have ever tasted, yet at the same time, quite tame and mellow. Complex notes of mint, clove, cinnamon, licorice root, pine nuts, and dark chocolate, with a surprising dose of gin botanicals throughout. A soft underbelly of caramel, sweet corn, and soothing vanilla provides an interesting counterpoint. Very easy-drinking, too (hard to believe it’s 46%). Intriguing, and a must-try for rye whiskey aficionados — even if only to satisfy your curiosity.

Advanced Malt Advocate magazine rating: 90

Review: Hirsch Rye, 25 year old

Monday, January 10th, 2011


Hirsch Rye, 25 year old, 46%, $200

Enjoyable, dark sweet notes: molasses, maple syrup, fig, grilled corn. The spices are there, too (cool mint, cocoa powder, warming cinnamon, nutmeg). They’re well-rounded and show up more toward the finish (along with some tobacco and polished leather). Soft, reserved, and slightly past its prime, but it still maintains its dignity.

Advanced Malt Advocate magazine rating: 92

Review: Buffalo Trace Antique Collection (2010 Release)

Thursday, January 6th, 2011

I think this might be the best annual release of these five whiskeys so far. All are classics, or very close to it.

96 William Larue Weller, 63.3%, $70

Very similar to last year’s release. (A good thing, since it was wonderful!) Very smooth, with layered sweetness (toffee, fig cake, nougat, maple syrup), dark fruit (black raspberry, blueberry), cinnamon, and polished oak on the finish. A whisky of elegance and sophistication.

95 Sazerac Rye, 18 year old, 45%, $70

This was my second lowest rated whiskey from the 2009 Collection (a 91 rating). This one is an impressive whiskey, and an improvement from last year. It’s soft (for a straight rye), well rounded, and easy to embrace, with tamed spice (cinnamon, mint, vanilla, mocha), nougat, toffee, fruit (bramble, subtle citrus), subtle date, and polished leather on the finish. Buffalo Trace is playing a shell game with this aged rye (being stored in stainless steel tanks over the past several years until new stocks mature), but in this instance there seems to be a prize under every shell. Well done!

94 George T. Stagg, 71.5%, $70

Very close to last year’s release in personality, with great balance between the sweetness, spice, and fruit. Nicely structured, with clearly defined notes of toffee, molasses, cinnamon, vanilla bean, dried citrus, brittle mint, roasted nuts, tobacco, and polished leather on the finish. A great value too, considering it’s almost the equivalent of two bottles of bourbon.

93 Thomas H. Handy Rye, 63.45%, $70

One of the best Handy offerings yet. Very vibrant with dynamic spice (firm mint, warming cinnamon, allspice, hint of clove) and lush fruit (citrus, orchard fruit, golden raisin, brandy, and teasing coconut), all tamed by a bed of soothing caramel and honey. It’s not easy for a whisky to come across as excitingly youthful, yet nicely matured. It’s a difficult balance to achieve, and this whiskey finds that balance.

93 Eagle Rare, 17 year old, 45%, $70

The only setback from last year’s Antique Collection release, when I rated it an 84 because it was showing too much wood (especially compared to the 2007-2008 releases). The 2010 release is back on track, with great balance, and showing very traditional notes of vanilla toffee, rummy molasses, dusty corn, soft summer fruit, and a sprinkling of spice (cinnamon, mint, cocoa), with oak resin to balance out the sweet notes.

New Buffalo Trace Antique Collection is a winner!

Friday, October 15th, 2010

Several of you have already been emailing me for my thoughts on the new release. Yesterday I tasted the entire (soon to be released) Buffalo Trace Antique Collection 2010 release side-by-side with the entire 2009 release to see how they changed.

I don’t have formal tasting notes written up yet, but I can tell you my general thoughts on the new release. In short: wonderful!

The only true setback last year was with Eagle Rare 17 yr. old (which I rated an 84), because it was showing too much wood (especially compared to the 2007-2008 releases). I’m happy to report that the 2010 is back on track and will score somewhere in the mid 90s.

My second lowest rated whiskey from 2009 was Sazerac 18 yr. old rye whiskey, which came in with a 91 rating. A very nice whiskey, but lost a lot of its zing from earlier years. The 2010 does show more character. Surprisingly, I’m tasting more wood notes in this year’s release. I say surprisingly, because it was my impression that this whiskey over the past few years has been aged in Stainless Steel tanks. This year’s release still doesn’t have the vibrancy of some earlier releases, but it’s a very nice whiskey, which I will rate somewhere in the low to mid 90s.

The William Larue Weller, put simply, is wonderful, just like last year (which I rated a 96). And very similar in profile. (Perhaps just a bit less spicy?) Once again, I will score this somewhere in the mid 90s.

The same goes for George T. Stagg. I loved last year’s release, giving it a 95. This year’s release is very similar–perhaps just a bit less complex, but I am splitting hairs here. I’ll be rating this somewhere in the 93-95 range.

Finally, the Thomas H. Handy rye whiskey, which I gave a 92 to last year, is also very similar this year–perhaps even a little better overall in complexity. I’ll be scoring this at least a 92 and most likely a couple of points higher than that when my formal reviews are done.

So, the bottom line here: we’re looking at five great whiskeys–all classics, or pretty close to classic.