Archive for the ‘Rye whiskey’ Category

More About Diageo’s Kentucky Distillery Plans

Tuesday, June 10th, 2014

Author - Fred MinnickDiageo still doesn’t have a name for its new Shelby County distillery, but the liquor giant somewhat revealed its American whiskey strategies at a public gathering at the Shelbyville Country Club on June 10.

Diageo officials said they’re investigating the possibilities of moving its Stitzel-Weller stills from Shively to the new location. These stills have not been used since the early 1990s, but produced some of the greatest bourbon ever made. Meanwhile, Diageo has tapped Vendome to build a 60-foot-tall column still, and Fluor Engineering to construct single story warehouses, which will be 27 feet tall and 55,000 square feet, with slight heat in the winter to keep the fire protection sprinklers from freezing. The heat will not influence aging, officials said.

The "Before" shot

The “Before” shot

The 300 acre, $115 million distillery will yield a projected 750,000 9-liter cases or 1.8-million proof gallons annually, but the officials were quick to point out that this volume is just an early estimate and the selected site—Benson Pike—offers growing room.

As for the upcoming master distiller, well, Tom Bulleit, founder of Bulleit Bourbon, had something to say about that. “It wouldn’t be me. I’m just the founder, just the business guy like Bill Samuels [of Maker’s Mark],” Bulleit said. “It will take two or three years just to get going. There will be a great national distiller here, a representative of Kentucky.”

Whether Diageo recruits a current master distiller from another company or pulls in George Dickel master distiller John Lunn (who has been known to be looking over Stitzel-Weller) remains to be seen. But all indications point toward this new facility being solely an American whiskey producer.

Diageo spokesperson Alix Dunn said the distillery will be used to make Bulleit and “innovative products in the pipeline.” It will most certainly not be used for distilling or aging George Dickel Tennessee Whiskey, Dunn said, adding “we can’t do that.” Diageo recently proposed a Tennessee whiskey law change that would allow the use of used barrels. Brown-Forman, the makers of Jack Daniel’s, said this was an effort to age George Dickel in Kentucky, among other things. Tennessee lawmakers said they will study the issue after the summer legislation ends. [UPDATE: the Tennessee legislature's investigation into this matter ended abruptly last night after Lunn testified that the liquor stored in Kentucky would be blended with other spirits and not used for George Dickel.]

As for why Diageo chose to build a new distillery instead of repairing the historic Stitzel-Weller facility, Dunn said, “It made the most sense for the future to start fresh on a new site that allows for more options as needed.” It’s also worth pointing out that the closest residential area to the proposed single story warehouses is about one mile away with the surrounding areas zoned for agriculture. This puts the new facility at a significant distance from potential whiskey fungus litigants.

“We’re not right on top of other people,” Dunn said of the proximity of the distillery. “[Whiskey fungus] is not something we’re in agreement with, but it remains to be seen what the courts have to say about it.”

Tom Bulleit (left) talks with local folks at the meeting

Tom Bulleit (left) talks with local folks at the meeting

It also remains to be seen what the future holds for Bulleit. Diageo has not named the Shelby County distillery, though the founder tipped his hat to the fact he might be campaigning for it to become the Bulleit Distillery.

Bulleit bourbon has been one of the most important growth brands, especially in the cocktail culture, and owns the wells in core markets like San Francisco. Bulleit Bourbon sold 600,000 cases last year. Bulleit says his immediate goals for the brand is to roll out a private barrel selection program this fall at Stitzel-Weller, where Bulleit bourbon and rye are currently aged, as well as at two other locations. Neither he nor the other Diageo officials knew exactly how much Bulleit would be aged at the new location, saying there are many steps left to be taken.

The Diageo facility has received the support of the Kentucky governor as well as local and county politicians. A public hearing will be held on June 17 at 6:30 pm in Shelbyville.

At the June 10 gathering, during the first two hours, nobody opposed the distillery. In fact, most locals seemed incredibly enthused, including the Radcliff Farm owners who grow corn for one of Diageo’s competitors. (They didn’t say who.) “It’s going into a beautiful area, very peaceful,” said Jim Tafel, the farm owner. “They’ll have nice neighbors.”

A Revealing Chat With WhistlePig’s Raj Bhakta

Wednesday, March 19th, 2014

Author - Davin de KergommeauxWhen Robert Simonson alerted me recently that the makers of WhistlePig rye were finally ready to “come clean” and confirm that the whiskey* they bottle is from Canada, I was skeptical. However, in an article written for the upcoming summer 2014 issue of Whisky Advocate, Simonson quotes WhistlePig’s master distiller, Dave Pickerell, saying that the original WhistlePig came from Canada’s Alberta Distillers (ADL), and that some of it still does.

Here’s some of what that piece will say:

“It’s fairly common knowledge that that’s where we started,” Pickerell said of ADL. “What’s not common knowledge is that’s not where we are now. We are growing our own rye on site and contracting whiskey from three distilleries in the U.S. and two in Canada.” One of those Canadian distilleries, however, is still ADL.

Has several years of badgering from American whiskey bloggers softened the stance at WhistlePig? Finally, Pickerell has stated for the record that at least some of the whiskey is from Canada. He also went on record in 2010 that this is the very best rye whiskey in the world.

Raj Bhakta and Dave Pickerell at WhistlePig Farm

Raj Bhakta and Dave Pickerell at WhistlePig Farm

When WhistlePig was released in 2010, the firm’s publicist was blunt that they did not want people to know that the whiskey was Canadian. So I was surprised when WhistlePig brand owner Raj Bhakta contacted me last week wanting to talk. Speaking of his whiskey’s Canadian heritage he was quick to say, “That’s not something I’ve shied away from,” although he did later concede that might not have been his approach in the beginning. In any case, he is talking now, and is completely candid that the whiskey they are bottling today is still from the same single Canadian source, not five distilleries as Pickerell implies.

“Yes, we’ve been growing our own grain,” he continued, “and we have been contracting others to distill it for us. We wanted to see how it turned out. That whiskey is currently maturing on the farm in Vermont, but it is not yet ready for release.” And the whiskey in the bottles? It’s still all Canadian rye whiskey, and will be for years to come.

“We’re deeply in bed with Canada, it’s just not our lead,” he continues. “WhistlePig is a Canadian-U.S. collaboration to the core. The latest batch has spent four years on the farm in our own barrels, so much of the flavor is from wood we put it into in Vermont.”

Shortly after Bhakta bought WhistlePig farm in 2007, he began casting about for business ideas. A mutual friend introduced him to Pickerell. He had found what he called “the best rye whiskey in the world,” in Canada and wanted to bottle it. However, try as he might, Pickerell could not convince any of the big players to sell Canadian whiskey at a premium price. Bhakta, meanwhile, wanted to create “America’s first luxury rye.”

Rye growing at WhistlePig Rye Farm

Rye growing at WhistlePig Farm

“Dave had the product and the pedigree, I had the entrepreneurial gusto,” he told me. But after so many rejections, Pickerell wasn’t sure how to tell people the whiskey was Canadian.

“I’ve never not wanted to disclose,” Bhakta told me, citing what he called “the Templeton debacle.” But, he added, “you don’t start out saying, ‘This is Canadian whiskey.’ It’s looked down on. It’s been an interesting navigation. It’s a tricky piece—the people who react are the geeks of whiskey—but we don’t want to confuse the general public.

“Look, I’m a salesman with a bit of P.T Barnum in me,” Bhakta continues, “and I like that.” According to Bhakta, rather than talking about the Canadian connection, they decided to focus on their long-term vision of making rye whiskey in Vermont. “We’re not trying to dance around the issue, but how do you navigate this?” he wondered.

“We have the opportunity to sell younger whiskey,” he noted, “but we are storing our stocks and doing barrel experimentation. Five years from now the critics will come to see there was a much greater vision here. I feel I am getting attacked for building the thing the right way.”

One thing is certain from my conversation with Bhakta. There are no stills at WhistlePig. Although they have applied for a permit to open a distillery, they are still awaiting approval. For now WhistlePig is a farm, pure and simple, and not a drop of the whiskey bottled under the WhistlePig label was actually distilled by Dave Pickerell: sourced, selected, and approved, but not distilled.

 

*Rather than switch back and forth between the American “whiskey” and Canadian “whisky,” this one time we decided to just use the American spelling. Davin, no shy Canadian, approved, for which we thank him.

Whisky Advocate Award: Craft Whiskey of the Year

Wednesday, December 11th, 2013

Few Spirits Rye, 46.5%, $60

Reviewing craft-distilled American whiskeys is still a matter of degrees, especially when the craft distillers venture into the stylistic territory Few Ryestaked out so strongly by the established traditional distillers. The benchmarks of bourbon and rye are well-known, and to openly declare your competition with them is to invite direct comparison. I call it the “Evan Williams Test”: is this craft whiskey good enough that I’d buy a bottle of it instead of yet another $14 bottle of the reliably well-made Evan Williams Black? Only the very best craft whiskeys can stand up to that.

By that test, Few Spirits Rye is clearly in the top tier of current craft whiskeys.

Although it’s young, the whiskey is well-made and clean in character, not funky and flawed, which still counts for a lot these days. As I said in my review (an 89 score), “Straightforward rye crisps out of the glass in no-nonsense style; dry grain, sweet grass, and light but insistent anise almost wholly drown out the barrel character.” It’s backed up on the palate, where you’ll get more rye, some tarragon and dry mint spice, and then some oak in the warming finish.

That light barrel character is hardly surprising in a young rye, and we’re not going to see much but young whiskey out of craft distillers for a while yet. So high marks to Few Spirits for making a very good young rye, one I’ve been using as a benchmark ever since I tasted it. — Lew Bryson

Tomorrow, the American Whiskey of the Year will be announced.

Whisky Books for the Holidays, Part 1

Wednesday, November 27th, 2013

We know the holidays are coming…er, are here, and we’re sorry this is a bit late for Hanukkah, but we wanted to get you some advice on whisky books. Here’s the first set, from Fred Minnick; more to come.Fred Minnick

When my literary agent and I were shopping Whiskey Women, the most common rejection we received was, “Whiskey is a niche audience and doesn’t interest the masses.” That’s why many whiskey writers have been forced to self publish and American whiskey enthusiasts have had to rely on dated texts—mainstream American publishers never took whiskey books seriously.

My, oh, my, times are changing. Publishers are bringing new books to light that are good for the future of whiskey. This holiday season whiskey books are on many gift lists, and there are two new ones I highly recommend for the American whiskey fan in your life.

American Whiskey Bourbon & Rye by Clay RisenAWBRCover

American Whiskey Bourbon & Rye: A Guide to The Nation’s Favorite Spirit by Clay Risen, an editor for the New York Times, is the first true whiskey guide dedicated to only American whiskey. Other whiskey guides have explored rye and bourbon whiskey, but they also covered Scotch, Irish and Japanese whiskies. Risen sticks to American distillations.

Risen delicately walks readers into whiskey’s past, present and future without getting on too much of soapbox. But, he sends a few jabs to distillers and bottlers, revealing where products are actually distilled and questioning odd product marketing.

With the “Old Whiskey River” brand Risen informs us Willie Nelson commissioned the whiskey, but adds a parenthetical “whatever that means.” For Bulleit bourbon, Risen uncovers the worst kept secret in modern whiskey history: the Four Roses distillery in Lawrenceburg, Kentucky, makes Bulleit Bourbon.

Risen’s words are meant for whiskey lovers, as he dissects every brand’s hi  story and scores products on an NR (not recommended) to four-star scale. He conveniently left out flavored whiskeys and gave NRs to mostly craft whiskeys, including four Hudson whiskeys. Risen’s palate certainly skews to older bourbon, granting four stars to Pappy Van Winkle 23 year old, Michter’s 20 year old, and Jefferson’s 18 year old bourbons.

American Whiskey Bourbon & Rye is an American whiskey treasure worthy of four stars in Risen’s scoring format. One downside to this book is Risen likely made Pappy Van Winkle even more desired. When describing Pappy Van Winkle 23 year old, Risen says, “bourbon doesn’t get better.” Retailers didn’t need that!

 

Kentucky Bourbon Country by Susan ReiglerReigler, BOURBON Cover 300dip

With the growth of the Bourbon Trail and the whiskey’s mainstream media coverage, Kentucky’s bourbon experience looks to join California’s Napa Valley as a spot for adult beverage travel. But unlike Napa, Bourbon Country has lacked a truly informative guide to help folks navigate the commonwealth’s distilleries. Until now.

Kentucky Bourbon Country: The Essential Travel Guide by Susan Reigler, with photographs by Pam Spaulding, leapfrogs Internet travel sites and gives a comprehensive travel guide that digs deep into each Kentucky region.

Reigler gives a terroir look to Kentucky bourbon, breaking the book into the commonwealth’s major bourbon regions: Louisville, Frankfort and Midway, Lexington, Lawrenceburg, and Bardstown. In each section, Reigler offers the area’s bourbon history, from a brief mention of the Henry Clay distillery in the Lexington area to Frenchman Leopold Labrot’s shareholding status with the Frankfort/Midway region’s Labrot & Graham distillery, now the Woodford Reserve distillery.

As a Kentuckian, I’m thrilled with how Reigler explores not only bourbon, but takes you inside several relatively unknown destinations, such as Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill near Lawrenceburg, a hidden gem in this state that’s often overlooked by travel writers; the Perryville Battlefield, a Civil War park where 7,500 were killed or wounded; and along the beautiful horse farms and race tracks that complement Kentucky’s bourbon heritage.

Reigler also gives cogent driving advice that GPS programmers should listen to and great boarding recommendations. Beyond the detail of most travel guides, Kentucky Bourbon Country was most certainly written by a Kentuckian.

Both Reigler’s and Risen’s books show great promise for the whiskey book world. Just remember to read responsibly and with fine bourbon in hand.

Whisky Advocate’s Fall Issue Top 10 Buying Guide Reviews

Tuesday, August 20th, 2013

John HansellHere is your sneak preview of Whisky Advocate’s fall issue Buying Guide: the top 10 whiskies reviewed. We begin with #10 and end with the highest rated whiskey.Few Rye

#10: Few Rye, 46.5%, $60

Solid, chunky bottle with idiosyncratic whiskey inside. Straightforward rye crisps out of the glass in no-nonsense style; dry grain, sweet grass, and light but insistent anise almost wholly drown out the barrel character. The mouth is as dry and spicy-medicinal as the nose hints at, laying down character like a winning hand: rye SNAP! heat SNAP! light tarragon SNAP! oak SNAP! and a warm wrap-up finish SNAP! Full house, flavors over sensations. Clean and interesting. Nicely played.—Lew Bryson

Advanced Whisky Advocate magazine rating: 89
Special09_SV_frilagd_cmyk_300dpi

#9: Mackmyra Special No. 9, 46.1%, $90

Mackmyra continues to play a far more sophisticated game than it is given credit for, releasing pleasant and easy drinking mainstream malts, and then packing a punch with one-off oddball single casks. So this is an utter delight and among the very best Mackmyras released. Vanilla, banana, sweet jellybeans, and some toffee all playing Dr. Jekyll. Mr. Hyde pops up with earthy salt notes. Medical gauze and pepper for a savory finale.—Dominic Roskrow

Advanced Whisky Advocate magazine rating: 90

#8: Elmer T. Lee Single Barrel, 45%, $30

An elegant bourbon, and very drinkable too! Its flavors are clean and tight, with bright fruit (nectarine, tangerine, pineapple), soft coconut, honeyed vanilla, cotton candy, and subtle gin botanicals. Polished leather and a hint of dark chocolate on the finish. Great anytime. (Exclusive to Capital City Package.)John HansellGlen Grant 5 Decades

Advanced Whisky Advocate magazine rating: 90

#7: Glen Grant Five Decades, 46%, £115

Created by Dennis Malcolm to celebrate his half century at Glen Grant, this uses casks from each of his five decades. Pale it may be, but this is no dainty little thing. There’s lots of buttery oak before classic Glen Grant lift and energy emerge: green apple, fruit blossom, William pear, and yellow fruits; lemon butter icing and nettles with water. The palate is vibrant and energetic, but holds to the middle of the tongue. A suitably celebratory dram. Congratulations!—Dave Broom

Advanced Whisky Advocate magazine rating: 90

#6: Caol Ila Feis Ile Bottling 2013, 56.5%, £99

Although aged in refill, then active hoggies, and finally sherry, there’s more smoke than oak here, a smoke like the aroma of a fire clinging to a tweed jacket. A note akin to wilting spinach gives way to more conventional strawberries and cream, but always mixed with seashore breezes. This is Caol Ila in deep and bold mood with green fig, banana, and a sweet center. Water gives greater integration. You might (just) be able to get this. Do it. (distillery only)Dave Broom

Advanced Whisky Advocate magazine rating: 91
ArdbogBottle&Pack_WB

#5: Ardbeg Ardbog, 52.1%, $100

The follow-up to last year’s Ardbeg Day, here’s the cult distillery in its funkiest guise with a nose that’s reminiscent (I’d imagine) of a frontier trading post: all pitch, furs, and gun oil. Some mint hangs around in the background alongside eucalyptus. This is an earthy, in-your-face Ardbeg with a hint of box-fresh sneakers indicating some youthfulness. The mouth is thick and chewy: wild mint, oily depths, and the slightly manic energy typical of Ardbeg’s young years.—Dave Broom
Nienty 20yr
Advanced Whisky Advocate magazine rating: 91

#4: Ninety 20 year old, 45%, C$48

Tucked away in the small Alberta town of High River, Highwood distillers has made large volumes of Canadian whisky and dozens of other distilled beverages since 1974. Undaunted by recent flooding and with more than three decades of aging whisky on hand, the owners recently decided to emphasize premium whiskies. Ninety, the latest of these, is simply gorgeous. Crispy clean oak, dark fruit, butterscotch, corncobs, and nutmeg precede candy cane, sour fruits, cinnamon, ginger, and citrus pith. (Canada only)—Davin de Kergommeaux

Advanced Whisky Advocate magazine rating: 91

#3: Lagavulin Feis Ile 2013 bottling (distilled 1995), 51%, £99

Though quiet to start, the impression is of a fog of smoke, balled up within a dunnage warehouse, ready to erupt to add itself to the cool spearmint and oxidized nuttiness. The palate is where it shows its class: mature, slowly unfolding and layered, with Latakia tobacco, menthol, nori, white pepper, pear, and a massive, tarry Bohea Souchong tea element on the finish. Everything from Lagavulin is touched with gold at the moment. Try to find a bottle. (distillery only)Dave Broom

Advanced Whisky Advocate magazine rating: 92

#2: The Exclusive Malts (distilled at Laphroaig) Cask #10866 22 year old 1990, 47.1%, $250

Clean and complex, showing a matured, somewhat restrained personality for Laphroaig: less medicinal, but more rounded. Tar, pencil shavings, anise, honeyed citrus, Spanish olive brine, and a hint of seaweed and white pepper on a bed of creamy vanilla, caramel, and light nougat. Lingering, satisfying finish. Frustrated by a dearth of 20-plus year old distillery-bottled Laphroaigs? Look no further. Delicious!—John Hansell

Advanced Whisky Advocate magazine rating: 92
Four Roses/ 070

#1: Four Roses 2013 Limited Edition Single Barrel, 60%, $90

Thirteen years old, but it shows its age nicely. It’s peppered with complex dried spice notes (mint, cinnamon, ginger, vanilla), yet it also has interwoven sweet notes (maple syrup, caramel, honey) to keep the whiskey from being too dry. Hints of dark chocolate and berried fruit add complexity. Dry, spicy, tobacco and leather-tinged finish. Great complexity!—JH

Advanced Whisky Advocate magazine rating: 92

 

 

Thoughts on some new whiskies

Tuesday, June 4th, 2013

John HansellThe stream of new whiskies keep coming. Here are my thoughts on some that I’ve tried over the past month or so.

ArdbogStarting with scotch, I’m enjoying the new Ardbeg “Ardbog.” I must be. I’m halfway through my bottle. (Okay, so I had some help.) It’s contains some Ardbeg matured in Manzanilla sherry casks. I think the Manzanilla integrates a little better than the Marsala in Ardbeg, which was the sherry influence in Ardbeg’s previous release, Galileo. Plus, I find myself in the mood more for Ardbog than I do Galileo.

At WhiskyFest Chicago, I tasted the new Port Charlotte 10 year old (PC 10) from Bruichladdich and really liked it. Great balance to it, along with a nice maturity. This whisky has really come of age.

Regarding Irish whiskey, I tasted a new Powers Signature Release Single Pot Still whiskey at WhiskyFest, bottled at 46% and not chill-filtered. There’s no age statement, and it doesn’t taste as old as Powers John’s Lane 12 year old, but I really enjoyed it. It’s another nicely balanced, flavorful Irish whiskey. (I’m told it will be in the U.S. this September.)

Up north in Canada, Canadian Club has introduced a Canadian Club 12 year old Small Batch. According to my contact, it contains a higher percentage of barley and is aged in more first-fill casks than the standard CC 12. I think I would enjoy something light like this during the warmer summer months.

Port_Charlotte_TenHere in the U.S., there’s a bunch of new releases from Beam. The Limited Edition “Distiller’s Masterpiece” is an “extra-aged” bourbon finished in Pedro Ximinez (PX) sherry casks. Those of you who know PX sherry won’t be surprised when I tell you that there’s a lot of raisonated fruit in there, along with layers of toffee and other caramelized sugars. It’s a polarizing whisky, given the fruit, but I’m enjoying it as a change of pace. It’s also expensive ($200) and only available at the distillery. Those of you drinking bourbon as long as me will remember the Beam released two previous Distiller’s Masterpiece whiskies over a decade ago, one finished in cognac and the other finished in port wine. They were older (18 and 19, respectively), and I liked both of these more than this new release.

Beam has also released two Beam “Signature Craft” whiskeys: one is a 12 year old (which will be a regular stock item), and the other is finished in Spanish brandy (the first of a series of limited edition releases). I like the 12 year old. It’s very traditional, polished, nicely rounded and easy-going. It’s not going to set the world on fire with excitement, but it is indeed very enjoyable with nothing to complain about (except perhaps for the ABV, which is 43%. I would like to see it at 45% or maybe even higher.) The Spanish Brandy  release is more of a mood whiskey, given it’s Spanish brandy influence. It’s rich, fruity and sweet. Just like the Distiller’s Masterpiece above, I think some of you might like this for variety, but “traditionalists” might not be so receptive.

Kavalan Solist VinhoHeaven Hill has released a Limited Edition Barrel Proof Elijah Craig 12 year old. It’s nice to see the age statement still on this whiskey. (It seems all too often that when a producer introduces a barrel proof version of a brand, they do away with the age statement and release it at a younger age.) I like it! It’s very much in the EC style: lots of chewy, nutty toffee notes. In fact, given its higher proof, I would describe it as chunky–in a good way. It’s not a polished or refined bourbon, but it sure is flavorful.

Finally, I would like to mention two other new whiskies I’m enjoying. The new Amrut Greedy Angels  (50% ABV) proves once again that this distillery from India can release lovely whiskies. Also, the whiskies from Taiwan’s Kavalan distillery will be here in the U.S. later this year. I recently tasted my way through their line-up. While I was pleased with most of their offerings, I was particularly impressed with the Kavalan Solist Vinho Barrique bottling. It was complex, distinctive, and nicely mature.

Updated: Two late additions I almost forgot about. (Thanks Adam for the reminder in the comment section on both.) My Editor’s Pick for the Summer issue of Whisky Advocate is the new Angel’s Envy Rye. I really like that whisky. I enjoy the spice from the rye and how it dovetails with the Caribbean rum notes. I also am enjoying the new Four Roses 2013 Limited Edition Single Barrel Bourbon. It’s 13 years old, but the oak is kept in check, with plenty of spice, fruit and sweetness.

How about you? What new releases have you been enjoying lately?

 

 

 

 

My Informal Thoughts on New Whiskies (Part 2)

Monday, October 15th, 2012

Here’s the second half of my post that began on October 5th (with a WhiskyFest summary in between).

So, about the new Ardbeg Galileo. Interesting stuff, this. Here’s my take on it. Ardbeg, for most people is a “mood” whisky to begin with, meaning that you have to be in the right mood for it. (I know, there are some of you out there who could drink Ardbeg all day long, including with your sausages at breakfast.) The fact that Galileo contains some Ardbeg matured in Marsala wine casks makes it even that much more of a mood whisky. So much to the point where I am currently struggling to find a mood where I would prefer Galileo to even another Ardbeg. Let’s face it. There have been so many great Ardbeg releases that the bar is set pretty high. Maybe too high for Galileo. And I am just not sure if the wine flavors play well with the other more traditional Ardbeg notes. This is a “try before you buy” whisky.

And while I’m still scratching my head a little, I might as well bring up Jack Daniel’s Unaged Rye. Okay, I know that many of the craft distillers have come out with essentially unaged whiskeys, and yes, some of the big boys have released some “white” whiskeys too. I also appreciate that many talented mixologists have created some interesting cocktails with unaged whiskeys. Personally, I would prefer to wait another several years or so after this whiskey has aged and mellowed out a little.

Speaking of aged Tennessee whiskeys, there’s going to be a new George Dickel Rye ($25). All the whiskey in this new bottling is at least 5 years old, and for this reason alone I am enjoying it more than Jack Daniel’s Unaged Rye. It’s made from 95% rye, like many other rye whiskeys on the market, including the another Diageo-owned bourbon label, Bulleit Rye. (Some Whisky Advocate readers out there might have a pretty good idea where these 95% rye whiskeys are sourced, because we’ve written about it recently.)

I thought it quite a coincidence that Jack Daniel’s Unaged Rye was introduced just days before George Dickel announced their new rye. A wry rye, perhaps? :)

On to another product which, at this time, is more of a curiosity now but, like Jack Daniel’s Unaged Rye, could blossom into a very nice whisky. I have a sample of the new Glen Moray Peated Spirit (Batch #1). It a 200 ml sample, hand-bottled, from a single cask at barrel proof (60.6%). It’s not old enough (3 years minimum) to be called whisky, but it shows a lot of promise. Time will tell.

Two new whiskies I like very much, and we don’t have to wait another 5 years to drink them are from Compass Box. They are the Great King Street New York Blend and the most recent version of Flaming Heart. The NY Blend of Great King street is bolder than the original GKS: it’s maltier and smokier. John Glaser did a great job matching the personality of the whisky with the great city of New York. And the Flaming Heart kicks ass, as always. Well done John.

Finally, I’d like to make a quick mention of another new whisky I am enjoying. It’s the Glenfiddich Maltmaster’s Edition. It’s matured in bourbon casks and then finished in sherry casks. Compared to, say, the standard 12 year old bottling, this one is richer, fruitier and spicier. This whisky is for those of you out there who keep telling me that Glenfiddich 12 year old is just not interesting enough for you. ($80)

 

 

Some whisky highlights from WhiskyFest San Francisco

Wednesday, October 10th, 2012

WhiskyFest San Francisco was this past Friday. I had a chance to try some new whiskies while I was there and would like to share my thoughts. Some of these are so new, they haven’t even been formally released yet. I was just offered pre-release samples to taste.

One of my favorite whiskies of the evening was a Samaroli Glenlivet 1977 Vintage. It was elegant, well-rounded, and subtly complex. Very nice!

The U.S. finally has Japanese whisky besides Suntory’s Yamazaki and Hakushu. Nikka is making its formal debut at WhiskyFest New York in two weeks, but the importer was also pouring Taketsuru 12 year old “Pure Malt” and Yoichi 15 year old single malt at the San Francisco event. The 12 year old, a blend of malts, was nicely rounded and easy to drink, while the 15 year old was very distinctive. My feeling on Japanese whisky is: the more the merrier!

Angel’s Envy has two new whiskeys coming out. The first one is a barrel-proof version of their flagship Angel’s Share bourbon that’s finished in port pipes. The other one is a high-rye whiskey that is currently being finished off in a Caribbean rum cask. I tasted both. Both were very interesting. The high rye/rum finish combination was unique.

Wild Turkey is finally coming out with a new whiskey that’s not 81 proof! (Thank goodness!) There’s a new Russell’s Reserve Small Batch being released soon that’s 110 proof, with no age statement.

I was able to taste the next Evan Williams Single Barrel vintage release (a 2003 vintage). It was very smooth, easy-going, and dangerously drinkable.

There’s a new Michter’s 20 year old single barrel about to be released. I was concerned that it was going to taste too woody, dry and tannic. Not a chance! I was so impressed with this whiskey, that I kept taking people I knew over to the Michter’s booth to taste it before it disappeared. (Well, it wasn’t officially there in the first place, but I did my best to spread the word.) I know this was a single barrel, but I sure hope they all taste like this!

Gable Erenzo had a unmarked bottle of a Hudson Bourbon he wanted me to try. It was a six year old Hudson bourbon matured in a standard 53 gallon barrel (not a small barrel!) and it was the best Hudson whiskey I have tasted to date. Thanks for the tease, Gable…

One of the most pleasant experience of the evening wasn’t even a whisky. It was a beer! At the Anchor booth, they were pouring Anchor Steam that was bottled just five hours earlier. Damn that beer was fresh. It was the best Anchor Steam beer I ever had outside of the brewery. So, if you saw me walking around with a glass of Anchor Steam, now you know why!

Finally, I couldn’t resist sitting in on one of the seminars: a flight of Bowmore whiskies paired with a variety of West Coast oysters that were flown in that day and shucked right in front of us.  Delicious!

My Informal Thoughts on New Whiskeys (Part 1)

Friday, October 5th, 2012

WhiskyFest San Francisco is tonight. WhiskyFest New York weekend is three weeks from tonight. Because of this, I don’t have much time to blog at the moment, but I did want to provide my informal thoughts on some new whiskies.

Let’s start with American whiskey. I’ll do another quick post next week sometime and address some new scotch whiskies I’ve tasted, along with some more bourbons.

I tasted my way through the newest Buffalo Trace Antique Collection and I must say that they are all great. If you normally like one or more of these whiskeys (Sazerac 18 yr., Eagle Rare 17 yr., George T. Stagg, Thomas H. Handy, and William Larue Weller) and you manage to find a bottle for sale somewhere, buy it! I don’t think you will be disappointed.

The new Colonel E. H. Taylor Straight Rye release is different than Buffalo Trace’s other Rye offerings. This one is very high in rye and has no corn in the mashbill. It’s a different flavor profile and you might want to try it before you buy it to make sure you like that style of rye. While a nice whiskey, I don’t put it on the same level as Sazerac 18 yr. old or even Thomas H. Handy Rye.

I’ve really been enjoying the new Four Roses Limited Edition Small Batch 2012 Release. It’s one of the best Four Roses whiskeys I’ve ever tasted and one of the best bourbons I’ve tasted this year. Yes, high praise indeed.

As you know, after we named the initial single barrel release of Elijah Craig 20 yr. old our American Whisky of the Year, Heaven Hill decided to discontinue their 18 yr. old and start releasing limited amounts of Elijah Craig 20 yr. old nationwide. I’ve tasted my way through a few of the single barrels, and my favorite to date is Barrel No. 13. I don’t know where Barrel No. 13 went, but if you can find a bottle, I think you will like it. It’s not as elegant as the initial release, but it has a richer flavor. And while there is more wood influence (something that concerns me with well-aged bourbons), there are lovely sweet notes to balance the dry oak spices. (I also want to mention to be on the lookout for Elijah Craig 21 yr. old hitting the market soon.)

The new Buffalo Trace Experimental Collection releases are whiskeys aged in two large French oak barrels: one for 19 years, the other for 23 years. I enjoy the 19 yr. old release. It’s surprisingly nicely balanced, and defies its age. The 23 yr. old, however, is a different story. I think that one was left in the barrel too long and I would avoid that one if I were you.

P.S. Speaking of WhiskyFest San Francisco tonight, we have a first for WhiskyFest: Nikka 12 yr. and 15 yr. from Japan are on the pour list. While I enjoy Suntory’s Yamazaki and Hakushu, it’s nice to see a new Japanese whisky here in the U.S.

Small barrels vs. large barrels: some perspective

Friday, August 24th, 2012

Well, I was going to write about all the new whiskeys I’ve been tasting while I was on vacation, but I’ve been inspired to write about barrel size today instead. I’ll offer my thoughts, and then I would like to hear what you think.

On Wednesday, Buffalo Trace put out a press release announcing that the small barrel experiments they conducted were failures. From their press release:

Using 5, 10, and 15 gallon barrels, the company filled each small barrel with the same mash bill (Buffalo Trace Rye Bourbon Mash #1) around the same time, and aged them side by side in a  warehouse for six years.

The results were less than stellar.  Even though the barrels did age quickly, and picked up the deep color and smokiness from the char and wood, each bourbon yielded less wood sugars than typical from a 53 gallon barrel, resulting in no depth of flavor.

Each of the three small barrel bourbons were tasted annually to check on their maturation progress, then left alone to continue aging, hoping the taste would get better with time.  Finally, after six years, the team at Buffalo Trace concluded the barrels were not going to taste any better and decided to chalk up the experiment to a lesson learned.

The same day, Whisky Advocate contributor Chuck Cowdery also wrote a post which he titled “Small barrels still produce lousy whisky,” where he discusses the BT experiment and even got to taste some of them while at the distillery about a year ago.

Coincidentally, also on Wednesday, New York Times published a story entitled “Rolling out smaller barrels sooner.” Have a look. (I was quoted in it.) Still, on the very same day, In With Bacchus posted about the Buffalo Trace experiment, (and Chuck’s reference to it), criticizing it.

Wow, Wednesday was quite the day for barrel size discussion, wasn’t it?

Take a few moments. Follow my links. Read everyone’s viewpoint on this. And while you’re at it, read my initial, unscientific thoughts about this topic in my post way back in June, 2011, entitled “Do smaller whiskey barrels mature whisky faster?”

Now I’ll offer my current thoughts on all of this, and then you can tell me what you think.

My feeling is that craft distillers and the larger, established bourbon distillers (like Buffalo Trace) are approaching barrel size and aging from two different perspectives. Some people are viewing the BT press release as a dig against small craft distillers, many who use small barrels in their maturation process on a regular basis. Others, in support of craft distilling, think that the experiment was ridiculous from the get go, only monitoring the whiskeys on an annual basis (stretching out to six years) when most craft distillers monitor their small barrel maturation much more frequently and often bottle their whisky within a year or two, long before the whiskey gets woody due to the large surface area to volume ratio.

What I think Buffalo Trace was attempting to say in their press release was this: aging their whiskey in smaller barrels will not produce “traditional-tasting” bourbon more quickly. That was also the gist of my comment in my original blog post back in Jume 2011, and also my quote in the New York Times piece. In this regard, you can’t cheat time. If you could, then every damn distiller throughout the world would be using smaller barrels, because the could save billions of dollars. Time is money, after all.  I don’t think that BT was taking a jab at craft distillers.

Now to the craft distiller perspective. What I think craft distillers are doing is very cool and everyone here at Whisky Advocate completely embraces them. It’s nothing short of changing the way the world (not just the U.S.) will view whiskey from here on. I draw an analogy to craft brewing. American brewers took traditional brewing techniques that originated in other countries and put their own signature on it. They experimented, pushed boundaries, produced (and still are producing) some amazing beers. And they often don’t taste anything like the original beer style they used as a springboard.

That’s what I feel is happening in craft distilling right now. We are seeing craft distillers learn from traditional distilling methods and then add their own signature to it. That includes using smaller barrels, unusual grains, and improvised distilling techniques, different types of barrels, etc. You name it, I am sure someone will be trying it.

With experimentation comes success as well as failure. Smart craft distillers who have their shit together know how to age whiskey in a small barrel for a short time period and have it taste good. Sometimes really good! Does it taste like traditional bourbon? No, but American whiskey doesn’t have to taste like straight bourbon or straight rye to be good. (We will save the debate of whether they are as good as older, more traditional bourbons, for another time.)

On the flip side, I have also tasted craft distilled whiskey aged in small barrels that were failures. They were whiskeys that looked mature in color, and inherited the dry woody (tannin) notes from the barrel, but not much more. No balance, no depth of flavor.

So, reiterating my main point here. It’s all about perspective. Success (and failure) means different things to different people–and to different different distillers.