Archive for the ‘Rye whiskey’ Category

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!

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