Archive for the ‘Rye whiskey’ Category

More new releases, and my general thoughts on them

Friday, October 28th, 2011

Again, this is from a U.S. perspective…

Starting with Ireland, it looks like Jameson is introducing a new whiskey in their “Reserve” line. I received an invitation to attend an event in New York this Sunday where they will be uncorking the first bottle of Jameson Select Reserve Black Barrel. Black must be the new cool these days, because we’ve recently seen the introduction of Crown Royal Black, Johnnie Walker Double Black, Canadian Mist Black Diamond, Bruichladdich Black Art, and now this whiskey. I guess Black Bush  and Black Bottle were way ahead of their time…

Also, from Ireland, I got my hands on a review sample of the new Redbreast 12 year old Cask Strength, which is supposed to arrive here in the U.S. sometime early next year. Amazing stuff!

You recently saw my review of the new Bruichladdich 10 year old. Well, I also received a review sample of the new Kilchoman 100% Islay release. It’s bottled at 50% ABV (slightly higher than the standard releases), and priced higher too at $100. It’s called 100% Islay because, according to my press release, it’s produced from barley grown, malted, distilled matured, and bottled at the distillery. Only 780 bottle are coming to the U.S.

I’ve tried it and must admit that–as cool as this bottling is with the “all Islay” theme–it’s my least favorite of the Kilchoman releases here in the U.S. It just taste too young and immature to me, which is atypical for Kilchoman. Their 3-4 year old whiskies usually tastes a few years older than they really are. My advice: go and get a bottle of the Spring 2011 bottling if you can find one. That’s my favorite of the releases so far.

Turning to the U.S., Buffalo Trace just announced the third release of their Single Oak project. I’ve tasted all the whiskeys from the first two releases. I must say that, as a whole, I liked the second release more than the first release, which had a lot of whiskeys in the 12 bottle lot with an aggressive amount of oak influence. Round two was tamer and more to my liking. (In fact, I actually thought a couple from the second round to be too tame…!)

The news on the Woodford Reserve Master’s Collection release for 2011 is out. This time it’s actually two releases: both 100% rye whiskeys. One is aged in new charred oak barrels, while the other is aged in first fill Woodford barrels. Details to follow.

The 2011 allocation of Van Winkle whiskeys are coming out. Again, they will be in very limited supply. The collection consists of Old Rip Van Winkle 10 years, available in 90 proof and 107 proof; Van Winkle Special Reserve Bourbon, aged 12 years; Pappy Van Winkle’s Family Reserve Bourbons, aged 15 years, 20 years and 23 years; and Van Winkle Family Reserve Rye Whiskey, aged 13 years.

Feeling a bit overwhelmed and not sure which one to buy? I tasted my way through the 10, 15, 20, and 23 year olds recently at WhiskyFest San Francisco. My favorite was the 15 year old. That’s the sweet spot in the range. Save yourself some money and get this one instead of the 20 or 23 year old.

Finally, I wanted to mention again that Suntory’s Hakushu whisky is finally being distributed here in the U.S. Unlike Suntory’s Yamazaki whisky, which has been available for quite some time here, the Hakushu is slightly smoky. (If you like whiskies like Ardmore or Oban, then you might want to give this one a try.)  I really enjoy the entire line of whiskies from Hakushu and have been asking Suntory to bring this whisky to the U.S. ever since I toured the distillery several years ago. For now, we’re only getting the 12 year old (43%, $60). Hopefully, the 18 year old will follow shortly.

Some new whiskies I’ve been enjoying

Thursday, October 13th, 2011

I was in San Francisco most of last week hosting WhiskyFest (More on that in a bit). We’re gearing up for our New York WhiskyFest which is only a couple weeks away. In the interim, we’ve got to put together the Winter issue of Whisky Advocate. So, if you’re wondering where I’ve been lately, now you know. This is the busiest time of the year for me. The moment I get some free time, I will post something up here.

I’ve been tasting a lot of whiskies lately. Formal reviews will follow for most of them. But, in the interim, so you can get a jump on your autumn whisky-buying, I’ll let you know my informal thoughts now.

I was able to taste the new Bruichladdich 10 year old at WhiskyFest. (It’s not in the U.S. yet, but the importer brought me a sample.) As you may know, this is the first 10 year old whisky being sold that was produced by the current owners. It’s a new dawn for Bruichladdich, and I am happy to say that this whisky is very good. Most of it is from bourbon barrels, but there’s some sherry casks thrown in too. I just hope they can keep this profile consistant going forward. If they do, it could become the go-to entry level non-smoky Island whisky (competing with Highland Park 12 year old and Bunnahabhain 12 year old  for that honor). To me, it tastes like a 12 year old whisky.

Another whisky that surprised me was the Kilkerran WIP (Work In Progress) 3rd release. If memory serves me correctly, it’s 7 years old and tasted surprisingly fresh and also nicely mature for its age.

Dr. Bill Lumsden, after his Ardbeg seminar, let me sample a 1975 Ardbeg from a sample bottle (Cask #4714) from a refill sherry cask which I thought was outstanding! My favorite whisky of the night. He said they’ve been using so much from this cask at whisky shows, they won’t have much left when it is bottled. But let me put it this way: when it’s bottled, I am buying a bottle (if it doesn’t cost me an arm and a leg).

I tried some of the Samaroli releases. This independent bottler is new to the U.S. I tasted a 1967 Tomintoul and a 34 year old Glenlivet which were delicious. (The Glenlivet was not identified as such–it had a false name which I didn’t write down. I’ll try to dig that one up and let you know what it was called.). I’m not sure what the prices and availability of these whiskies will be at this time. Details to follow.

I have a bottle of the Shackleton whisky, which I have really been enjoying over the past couple of weeks. Very distinctive for a blend, and with plenty of character. Dominic Roskrow rated it in the lown 90s for us, and I would probably have given it at least a 90 myself if I formally reviewed it.

Another new blended scotch I really like for its drinkability and versatility is Compass Box’s Great King Street. It’s not going to set your world on fire, but it was never intended to do so. That’s what whiskies like Peat Monster are for. Whiskymaker John Glaser continues to impress me.

For the bourbon enthusiasts out there, I’ve been through the new Buffalo Trace Antique Collection a few times already. It’s just hitting the shelves now. The entire line is stellar–as it was last year, and they taste very similar to last year’s release. So, if you liked last year’s offering, you can be confident that you will like this year’s releases if you have a chance to buy them. (They are always hard to come by.)

Heaven Hill has two really nice whiskeys that just came out. This year’s Parker’s Heritage Collection is a 10 year old, 100 proof bourbon finished in Cognac barrels (similar to the old Beam Distillers’ Masterpiece bottling). The cognac doesn’t dominate, adds intrigue, and this whisky is dangerously drinkable for 100 proof. But, if you are a purist (dare I say stubborn?), and don’t want people meddling with your bourbon, you might think differently about this offering.

The second whiskey from Heaven Hill is a Elijah Craig 20 year old single cask bottling (Cask #3735). The good news: I love this whiskey, and will be rating it in the mid 90s. The bad news: it’s only available at Heaven Hill’s Bourbon Heritage Center in Bardstown, KY, and it will set you back $150.

Finally, for those of you who are budget-minded, I tasted my way through the Pappy Van Winkle line of bourbons (12, 15, 20 and 23 year old). My favorite? The 15 year old. Save your money and get this one!

More whiskies (and whiskeys) heading our way

Wednesday, August 31st, 2011

The new and seasonal releases are still picking up with autumn just around the bend. (This post is from a U.S. perspective.)

There’s yet another 10 year old, 100% rye whiskey from an undisclosed Canadian source coming out called Masterson’s. I have a bottle and tried it last night. It definitely displays the same flavor profile as WhistlePig and Jefferson’s Rye whiskeys. So, if you missed out on your chance to get those, you have another opportunity with Masterson’s. It’s 90 proof and will be priced at around $80.

I also have a review sample of the 2011 Limited Edition release from the Four Roses distillery. This one combines four different recipes, aged between 11 and 13 years. It’s being released in September.

Buffalo Trace announced the impending release of this year’s Antique Collection. No change in the whiskey line. Just tweaks. I’m looking forward to trying them.

Laphroaig Triple Wood is finally hitting the U.S. shores. Look out for that one.

Finally, Drambuie introduced “Drambuie 15” in the U.S. It’s a more premium version of the liqueur, supposedly made with Speyside malts (pictured). It’s bottled at 43% and will be around $56.

I’ll try to get some formal reviews done on the American whiskeys and post them up here soon. (You can find my Laphroaig Triple Wood review here. )

Review: Jefferson’s Straight Rye Whiskey

Friday, August 5th, 2011

Jefferson’s Straight Rye Whiskey, 10 year old, 47%, $40

A 100% straight rye from Canada. This is curiously similar to WhistlePig Rye, which is also a 100% Rye, 10 year old Canadian whisky, but at the slightly higher 50% ABV. (Neither whiskey identifies its origin.) It oozes spice (mint, cinnamon, hint of nutmeg) balanced by layers of sweetness (honeyed vanilla, caramel), with nutty toffee emerging on the finish. An affordable alternative to WhistlePig. — John Hansell

Advanced Malt Advocate magazine rating: 85

Buffalo Trace’s new “Single Oak” project: Part 1

Monday, May 16th, 2011

Buffalo Trace newest (and biggest) project was announced a couple weeks back. For those of you who haven’t heard about it yet (which is understandable given that the whiskeys are only now getting into circulation), here’s an excerpt from the press release:

Beginning in 1999, then Warehouse Manager Ronnie Eddins traveled to the Missouri Ozarks to hand pick 96 trees, consisting of fine grain, medium grain and coarse grain wood, based on the tree’s growth rings. Each type of grain indicates a different growth rate and will yield a different flavor profile.  From there, each tree was cut into a top and a bottom piece, yielding 192 unique sections. Next stop was the lumber yard, where staves were created from each section and were tagged and tracked. The staves were divided into two groups and given different air dried seasonings, 6 months and 12 months.  The air drying allows Mother Nature to break down some of the more harsh flavored characteristics commonly found in wood.  

After all the staves were air dried, a single barrel was then created from each tree section, resulting in 192 total barrels.

The next step in the process was to experiment with different char levels of the barrels. Two different char levels were used, a number three and a number four char. (The standard char level for all Buffalo Trace products is a number four char, which is a 55 second burn.

Then, barrels were filled with one of two different recipes, a wheat and a rye recipe bourbon. To further the variety of experiments, barrels were filled at two different proofs, 105 proof and 125 proof.  And if this wasn’t enough, two completely different warehouses were used, one with a wooden ricks and one with concrete floors.  In total, seven different variables were employed in Buffalo Trace’s ultimate experiment.

And then, the waiting began.  For eight years the Distillery continued with its tracking process, creating intricate databases and coming up with a potential of 1,396 tasting combinations from these 192 barrels!

The Single Oak project is part of a much larger, and noble, effort: to create the perfect bourbon. How? By asking consumers to rate the whiskey they taste and then provide this feedback to Buffalo Trace via this new website that has been established for the Single Oak project.  As the press release puts it:

On the website, consumers create a profile and after rating each bottle, will then see the aging details and provenance of each barrel. They can interact with others who have also reviewed the barrel, compare their reviews on the same barrel, and even use it as a learning process for themselves by discovering which characteristics they like in a bourbon to help them select future favorites.  

Participants online will earn points after reach review and most importantly, help Buffalo Trace Distillery create the perfect bourbon!

According to Mark, at the conclusion of the project, they plan to take the top rated barrel, make more of that product and launch it under the Single Oak Project nameplate. So, ultimately, the 192 unique barrels with 1,396 tasting combinations will lead to one style of bourbon. One damned good bourbon!

I say this is only part of a much larger effort to create the perfect bourbon because over the years, Mark Brown, President and CEO of Buffalo Trace, has told me of some of his other projects to achieve this goal. One of them is to critically deconstruct the tasting notes and ratings of key whiskey writers (including yours truly). Incidentally, he told me just last week that, even though each of us may differ the way we describe our whiskeys, there is common ground in our reviews too. (He didn’t go into detail, so I suppose we’ll save that for a later time.)

Will the lucky ones who actually happen to get their hands on a bottle of Single Oak Project whiskey take the time to rate it and record it on the Single Oak Project website? Only time will tell, but I hope so.

Here’s another snippet from the press release, describing the logistics of the first release (and future releases):

The first release of the Single Oak Project Bourbon is expected to hit stores nationwide in very limited quantities around the end of May. Each release will consist of 12 unique single barrel bourbons.

Every case will contain 12 bottles, each from a different barrel. The first release is made up of barrel numbers 3, 4, 35, 36, 67, 68, 99, 100, 131, 132, 163 and 164. Each of these barrels had the same entry proof, seasoning, char level and warehouse aging location. However, the  hope is to identify the differences in taste based on recipe, wood grain size and tree cut as these characteristics varied amongst this group of barrels.

There will be a series of releases over the next four years until all of the 192 barrels have been released.  All releases will be packaged in a 375ml bottle. Suggested retail pricing is $46.35. 

In Part 2 of my post on this project (which will probably be later in the week), I will get out my secret decoder ring and tell you about the first 12 releases and how each barrel of bourbon differs. Additionally, I’ve tasted all of them and, while I don’t plan on rating them formally, I will give you my general thoughts on them (including which ones I liked, the ones I would take a pass on, and why).

Stay tuned!

Review: Bulleit Rye Whiskey

Tuesday, May 3rd, 2011

Bulleit Rye Whiskey, 45%, $28

No age statement, but it includes 4 to 7 year old whiskeys. The mashbill is 95% rye — much higher than most standard rye whiskeys out there. It’s brisk, vibrant, and loaded with spice (crisp mint, warming cinnamon, cocoa, hint of anise). Fruit — ripe nectarine, apricot, golden raisin — drizzled with maple syrup. Dry oak rounds out the finish. Bold enough for cocktails. Mature enough to drink neat (or on the rocks).

Advanced Malt Advocate magazine rating: 85

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!