Posts Tagged ‘Buffalo Trace’

21st Annual Whisky Advocate Award: American Whiskey of the Year

Saturday, December 6th, 2014

Sazerac Rye 18 year old, 45%, $80

There were many great American whiskeys released this year, including Booker’s 25th Anniversary release, Four Roses Limited Edition Small Batch, and George T. Stagg. However, the winner this year is Sazerac Rye 18 year old.BTAC 2014 Sazerac 18

It’s not just because it’s a classic—I rated it a 95—but it’s also because of its consistently high quality, year after year. That, to me, is this year’s “tie-breaker.” Limited edition whiskeys change from year to year. Since Sazerac Rye 18 year old was first introduced in 2000, its quality has mostly been stellar and unwavering.

Part of its consistent quality is the fact that, for many years now, the whiskey released is essentially the same. About a decade ago, the management at Buffalo Trace realized there was a gap in production between the 18 year old rye they had in stock and younger rye that would eventually become 18 years old. The demand for ultra-aged rye whiskeys caught distillers by surprise.

Rather than do what other distillers did, which was to continue aging their rye and selling it at older ages to the point where the whiskeys were past their prime and over-oaked, Buffalo Trace wisely transferred theirs to stainless steel tanks, releasing a limited amount of it annually until fresh stocks of 18 year old come of age in 2016.

Some whiskey elitists have viewed the tanking as a negative, seeking out the pre-tanked bottlings on the secondary market. However, the whiskeys are nearly identical in quality and flavor profile, and Buffalo Trace should be congratulated for preserving a great whiskey while still in its prime, rather than selling it at an older age, higher price, and lower quality.

Why is this whiskey so great? It’s fully matured but still maintains its vibrancy. It’s complex too, brimming with allspice, clove, mint, and cinnamon. The spice notes are balanced by soft vanilla, soothing caramel, and candied summer fruits. It’s impeccably balanced and a pure joy to drink! —John Hansell

Check back tomorrow. We’ll be announcing the Canadian Whisky of the Year.

Whisky Advocate’s Spring Issue Top 10 Buying Guide Reviews

Tuesday, February 11th, 2014

Here’s a sneak preview of Whisky Advocate magazine’s spring 2014 issue Buying Guide. Today we reveal the ten top-rated whiskies. We begin with #10 and conclude with the highest rated whisky in the issue.

BT Extended Stave Drying experiment#10: Buffalo Trace Experimental Collection Extended Stave Drying Time, 45%, $47/375 ml

Richer and fuller when compared to the Standard Stave Drying Time variant in this Experimental Collection. Sweeter too, with creamy layers of vanilla and caramel. The extended drying time influence tames the dried spice and oak resin and is proof that extended stave aging really benefits older bourbons that might otherwise be dominated by oak. Sadly, with whiskey in such demand, I doubt many bourbon producers will take the time to age the staves longer.—John HansellPM10 BottleShot

Advanced Whisky Advocate rating: 92

#9: Compass Box Peat Monster 10th Anniversary Limited Edition, 48.9%, $130

Peat Monster is a staple Compass Box blended malt whisky, but this raises the bar significantly. The nose is “as you were”: peat reek, seaside, very Islay. But on the palate John Glaser’s added some peaty Highland whisky—probably a signature Clynelish—to add a hint of licorice, a softer, fruitier smoke base, and through some virgin French oak, a delightful spiciness. Compass Box is in a purple patch. Again.—Dominic Roskrow

Advanced Whisky Advocate rating: 92

35YO_Dec_Box_White_Front2#8: Glengoyne 35 year old, 46.8%, $4,640

Glengoyne 35 year old has been aged in sherry casks and just 500 decanters have been released. The nose offers sweet sherry, maraschino cherries, honey, sponge cake, marzipan, and soft fudge, turning to caramel in time, with a whiff of worn leather. Slick in the mouth, with spicy dried fruit, and more marzipan and cherries. Long in the finish with plain chocolate cherry liqueur; still spicy. Finally a buttery, bourbon-like note. No negative cask connotations in this well-balanced after-dinner dram.—Gavin Smith

Advanced Whisky Advocate rating: 92

#7: Aberfeldy Single Cask (Cask No. 5) 16 year old, 57.4%, $250

From a sherry cask. Bright and lively. Quite fruity, with notes of golden raisin, pineapple, nectarine, and tangerine. The fruit is balanced by honeyed malt and light caramel. A dusting of vanilla, cinnamon, and hint of cocoa, with black licorice on the finish. Lush and mouth-coating. The best of the Aberfeldy whiskies I’ve tasted to date. (New Hampshire only)—John Hanselltalisker1985

Advanced Whisky Advocate rating: 92

#6: Talisker 1985, 56.1%, $600

This 27 year old Talisker has been aged in refill American oak casks, and the nose offers brine, wood smoke, wet tarry rope, slightly medicinal, with the emergence of milk chocolate. Big-bodied, with lots of peat accompanied by chili and smoked bacon, with sweeter notes of malt, fudge, and apple. A hint of fabric Elastoplast. Long in the finish, with rock pools, bonfire ash, and sweet, tingling spice notes which carry to the very end. A powerful beast, even by Talisker standards. (3,000 bottles)Gavin Smith

Advanced Whisky Advocate rating: 92

#5: Signatory (distilled at Laphroaig) 1998, 60.8%, £100

Any sherried Laphroaig is welcome, and this does not disappoint. Rich, resinous, medicinal, with underlying soft fruits, the smoke is all-pervading, but never dominant. In other words, it isn’t just complex and balanced, but has that other dimension which elevates it in mind (and marks). With water, there’s antiseptic cream mingling with oxidized fruits and nuts; think manzanilla pasada. The palate shows storm clouds gathering over Texa. Rich dried fruits, cacao, and a ferny lift on the finish. Fantastic.—Dave BroomLongmorn

Advanced Whisky Advocate rating: 92

#4: Exclusive Malts (distilled at Longmorn) 28 year old, 51.6%, $250

The nose is fascinating, as if dust is cohering into form, and fruity form at that. When it emerges there’s baked banana, fruitcake, citrus peels, passion fruit, mango, mace flower, and nutmeg. A mossy edge anchors it to earth. Even livelier with water, this is a superbly balanced, mature whisky. The palate is pure, with big retronasal impact of the spice. Layered and long, it’s at its best neat; you need the intensity to amplify all the complexity. Superb.—Dave Broom

Advanced Whisky Advocate rating: 92

Bowmore 50 year old#3: Bowmore 50 year old (distilled 1961), 40.7%, £16,000

The whisky is sensational, a glorious mix of ginseng syrup, baked banana, semi-dried tropical fruits, and an exotic smoked edge. Without the last, you could believe it was a delicate Cognac. In time, there’s peppermint and guava syrup. A sip is all you need to reveal perfect, thrilling harmony: light nuttiness, pollen, subtle fruits, gentle smoke, and light fungal touches. It’s stunning, but it’s £16,000! Whisky this great, even in limited quantities, should be fairly priced. Points off.—Dave Broom

Advanced Whisky Advocate rating: 95Brora_35yo_2013_LowRes

#2: Brora 35 year old, 49.9%, $750

Maturation of this 1978 distillate has taken place in European oak and refill American oak casks. Fresh and fruity on the early, herbal nose; a hint of wax, plus brine, developing walnut fudge, and an underlying wisp of smoke. Finally, wood resin. The palate is very fruity, with mixed spices, then plain chocolate, damp undergrowth, gentle peat smoke, and finally coal. Mildly medicinal. Ashy peat and aniseed linger in the long, slowly drying finish. Brora at its very best. (2,944 bottles)Gavin Smith

Advanced Whisky Advocate rating: 95

General-Dieline

#1: Compass Box The General, 53.4%, $325

With a name inspired by a 1926 Buster Keaton movie, only 1,698 bottles produced, and the news that one of the two batches is more than 30 years old, the clues were there that this blend was never going to be cheap. It isn’t, but it’s superb, rich in flavor that screams dusty old oak office, fresh polish, and Sunday church, with spices, oak dried fruits, squiggly raisins, and a surprising melting fruit-and-nut dairy chocolate back story.—Dominic Roskrow

Advanced Whisky Advocate rating: 96

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.

WhiskyFest New York 2012: A whisky enthusiast’s dream weekend!

Monday, May 7th, 2012

The agenda for the saturday seminar program has been finalized. It’s going to be a great day: rare whiskies, debut whiskies, award winning whiskies, master distillers and blenders, and leading whisky writers all in one place.

A summary of the day’s events is below. If you follow the link to the WhiskyFest website (click on the logo), you’ll find the details in outline form and also be able to purchase tickets to this exciting event.

WhiskyFest New York: imagine a weekend of the world’s best whiskies, two nights of grand tastings and a day of seminars presented by the world’s top whisky distillers and blenders, bringing their best, their oldest,and their newest. The seminars on Saturday, October 27th, 2012, from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. will be an unprecedented whisky event for those fortunate enough to attend. This educational experience takes the hands-on approach to learning, engaging every sense as we nose and taste our way through a line-up that is not to be missed. Legendary master distillers, blenders, and whisky makers will be pouring their finest—and newest—whiskies!   

The Whisky Advocate writers—the best in the business—will moderate the five 45-minute seminar sessions, and a special whisky-themed lunch, along with several whiskies making their U.S. and world debuts. A brief summary of this very special day follows.

Debut Scotch Whisky

The first debuting whisky of the day will be presented by John Glaser of Compass Box Whisky, featuring mixologist and Whisky Advocate contributor David Wondrich.  In addition to treating us with a world-debut Compass Box whisky, they’ll also be serving it up in a breakfast cocktail. A great way to start a day!

Whisky Collecting and Auctions
Jonny McCormick, Whisky Advocate contributor and Martin Green of Bonhams will enlighten us on the auction and collecting scene that has exploded lately. They will offer tips on collecting and participating in whisky auctions. Attendees will taste some of the very rare whiskies that have been seen on the auction block. The whiskies speak for themselves, as do the personalities presenting them:

Gold Bowmore – Iain McCallum,
Balvenie Islay Cask 17 year old – Nicholas Pollacchi,
Glemorangie 1963 Vintage – Dr. Bill Lumsden,
Brora 30 year old – Dr. Nick Morgan,
The Glenlivet Cellar Collection (1983 Vintage).

Debut Irish Whiskey
Then, legendary Barry Crockett from the Midleton distillery will present the U.S. debut of his very own Midleton Barry Crockett Legacy bottling.

Trending Scotch
Keeping the momentum going, Dave Broom, Whisky Advocate contributor, examines the trends in Scotch whisky. Join Dave to explore smoky blends, designer whiskies, single malt extremes, and brand premiumization. Dave will be joined by the A-list of master distillers and blenders from Scotland who are making some of these special whiskies. Here they are, with the whiskies they will be pouring:

Dr. Bill Lumsden – Glenmorangie Malaga Wood Finish 30 year
Jim McEwan – Bruichladdich Octomore 4.2
Matthew Crow – Johnnie Walker Double Black
Richard Paterson – Dalmore Castle Leod

Debut Bourbon
Here we will feature the world debut of a very special bourbon presented by Truman Cox,  master distiller from  the A. Smith Bowman distillery.  He knows what the whiskey will be, but for now he’s keeping it a surprise.

Understanding Irish
Dominic Roskrow, Whisky Advocate contributor, follows by taking us on a tour of Ireland, explaining the difference between the single pot still, single malt, grain, and blended whiskeys of Ireland. And, of course, we will taste some very special examples of each, and we will be joined by the master distillers who make them:

Barry Crockett of Midleton distillery will pour Powers John’s Lane (Single Pot Still) and Jameson Rarest Vintage Reserve (Blend)
Noel Sweeney from the Cooley distillery will be pouring a very special grain whiskey – Greenore 8 year old
Colum Egan of Bushmills distillery treats us to a very special Bushmills 21 year old single malt.

Lagavulin Lunch

The whisky fun continues at lunch. Diageo’s Dr. Nick Morgan, Head of Whisky Outreach, along with Whisky Advocate writer Gavin Smith, will lead us through a tasting and comparison of three special Lagavulin whiskies: Lagavulin 16, Lagavulin Distillers Edition, and the very limited 2012 Lagavulin 21 year old Special Release.

Bourbon and Rye Innovations
Immediately after lunch, we focus on American whiskey. Whisky Advocate contributor and managing editor Lew Bryson will lead a session focused on innovations in bourbon and rye. Joining him will be three legendary master distillers and one whiskey pioneer, and they will be pouring some very special new releases:

Chris Morris – Woodford Reserve Master’s Collection new 2012 release
Harlen Wheatley  – Buffalo Trace Single Oak Project, comparing two Single Oak bottlings
Parker Beam – Parker’s Heritage Collection new 2012 release
David Perkins – High West’s “Campfire” (a blend of bourbon, rye and scotch!)

Award Winning Whiskies
Finishing up our special day, attendees will taste a sampling of the 18th Annual Whisky Advocate Awards winners published in the spring issue of Whisky Advocate magazine. Here they are, along with the Whisky Advocate contributors who will be presenting them:

Gavin Smith: Lowland/Campbeltown Single Malt of the Year: Springbank 18 year old (2nd edition)
Dave Broom: Islay Single Malt of the Year:Bruichladdich 10 year old
Lew Bryson: Canadian Whisky of the Year:Wiser’s 18 year old
John Hansell: American Whiskey of the Year:Elijah Craig 20 year old
Dominic Roskrow: Blended/Blended Malt Whisky of the Year: Compass Box Great King Street

Tickets for this special day of seminars can only be purchased through a combination package with one of the evening grand tastings.  Tickets are available at whiskyadvocate.com  or by clicking here. We hope to see you at this very special event.

Don’t buy this whiskey!

Monday, December 12th, 2011

Now that the Buffalo Trace Distillery is deep into their Single Oak Project, with quarterly releases of 12 different whiskeys over the next few years, I was wondering if they were still going to continue with their ongoing “Experimental Collection” releases. I got the answer to that question last week, when two new review samples showed up.

That’s the good news. I like trying new whiskeys and I really like all the experimenting going on at Buffalo Trace.

Before I continue, let me set the stage here about Buffalo Trace’s EC whiskeys. They are just that: experiments. There have been a bunch of releases over the past several years. I really liked some, thought others were okay, and disliked some too. But, one of the two new releases (shown here) has to be the worst. To me, the taste of it is borderline unpleasant!

The experiment with the two new releases involve the mash bill. Most bourbons are made with corn, malted barley, and rye. Some distilleries, like Maker’s Mark, replace the rye with wheat. These two new EC whiskeys replace they rye with rice and oats.

Now to the bad news. The EC release with rice in the mashbill is okay enough–not great, just okay. It’s a peculiar whisky, but not overly complex or inspiring.

In all fairness, the nose on the EC release made with oats isn’t all that bad either. Even on the palate, the whiskey begins pleasantly sweet. But then it turns aggressive and harsh, becoming rapidly unappealing.

I’m not really sure of the exact cause of the unpleasantness. Both of these whiskeys were aged for 9 years, 5 months, and in the same warehouse, but only the oat experiment comes across so harsh towards the finish. Could it be the oats? The length of aging? A combination of the two? Or perhaps even something else?

I’m really not sure. The one thing I am sure of: I could randomly pick any bourbon priced at $10 or more from any retailers’ shelf and be pretty confident I will like it more than this. And, with a suggested price of $46.35 for a 375 ml, bottle, I wouldn’t go anywhere near this whiskey.

P.S. I’ve now tasted this whiskey on three separate occassions and feel the same about it.

Review: E. H. Taylor Jr. Single Barrel

Thursday, November 3rd, 2011

E. H. Taylor Jr. Single Barrel, 50%, $60

The second release in the new Taylor line by Buffalo Trace, and the first single barrel offering. Similar in personality to the first release (a small batch offering), but a shade darker in color, flavor, and personality. A bit more intense, too, with more mouthfeel, and not as demure. A fair trade-off. Starts off sweet (rummy, burnt dark fruit, fig cake) then becomes dry, with dried spice, tobacco, toasted oak, and leather. Very exciting and distinctive.

Advanced Whisky Advocate magazine rating: 88

Review: Buffalo Trace Antique Collection 2011 Edition

Tuesday, November 1st, 2011

We still have no power at the Whisky Advocate offices in PA, thanks to the record-breaking snow storm. But, since tonight is WhiskyFest New York, we are in New York where there is power, Internet access, and WHISKEY! So, I am finally able to post a review.

The eagerly awaited annual release from Buffalo Trace distillery is out. Last year’s release was one of their best. This year is a repeat performance. Well done!

Sazerac Rye 18 year old, 45%, $70

Very similar to last year’s release. Well rounded, with a gently sweet foundation (toffee, vanilla taffy), pleasant spice (cinnamon, mocha, soft evergreen), date, glazed citrus, bramble, and a gentle finish for a rye. A classic ultra-aged rye whiskey.

Advanced Whisky Advocate magazine rating: 96

William Larue Weller, 66.75%, $70

No age statement, but distilled in 1998. The only wheated recipe bourbon in the bunch, and a very good one at that. Higher in strength than last year’s offering (which was 63.3%), but very similar (and equally as impressive). The most elegant and smoothest of this collection, with layered sweetness (honey, caramel, marzipan, maple syrup), fig, blackberry preserve, hint of green tea, and just the right amount of spice for balance (nutmeg, cinnamon, cocoa).

Advanced Whisky Advocate magazine rating: 95

George T. Stagg, 71.3%, $70

At this strength, it’s almost like getting two whiskeys for the price of one. A great value, considering its age. (It’s not identified on the label, but was distilled in 1993.) Try to find a great 18 year old, cask-strength single malt scotch for this price. Very mature — with a good dose of oak — but not excessively so. Notes of toffee, tobacco, dark molasses, roasted nuts, dried vanilla, leather, and a hint of dusty corn. Dry on the finish, with lingering leather and tobacco.

Advanced Whisky Advocate magazine rating: 95

Thomas H. Handy Sazerac, 64.3%, $70

The youngster in the family. One taste and its relative youth is confirmed. (But no worries; it’s mature enough to enjoy neat or with some water (and would be a killer in cocktails). This is rye whiskey in its most vibrant, masculine, and purest form. Bold spice (fresh evergreen, warming cinnamon), honey-coated orchard fruit, golden raisin, caramel, and brandy with a crisp, clean finish. The American equivalent to a young, cask-strength, smoky Islay whisky.

Advanced Whisky Advocate magazine rating: 93

Eagle Rare 17 year old, 45%, $70

The most underrated of the five in the collection, but this year’s release (like last year’s) is very lovely bourbon. Perhaps just a bit softer than last year, but with a similar profile: very even keeled and nicely balanced, with sweet notes (vanilla, toffee, añejo rum) peppered with soft orchard fruit and spice (cocoa, cinnamon, nutmeg, hint of mint), polished oak, and subtle tobacco.

Advanced Whisky Advocate magazine rating: 93

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.

A bourbon from Virginia…and Kentucky (sort of)

Thursday, October 20th, 2011

Truman Cox has moved from the Buffalo Trace distillery in Kentucky to replace retiring Master Distiller Joe Dangler at the A. Smith Bowman (ASB) distillery in Virginia, and he’s wasting no time. This just came in yesterday. (See picture.) It a limited edition bottling under the Abraham Bowman label, barrel proof (69.3%), and over 18 years old.

The whiskey itself also has ties to Buffalo Trace. It was actually distilled at Buffalo Trace, but then spent most of its life maturing in Virginia at the ASB distillery. This was explained to me in the press release that came with the bottle.

I’m pleased to see this distillery reinventing itself, even if in an unusual way. As Truman puts it: “ASB is coming at the micro-distilling level from a completely unique position. While other micros are starting from the ground-up and growing, ASB is redirecting from a large producer to a microdistillery.”

He continues: “While historically a full-scale producer and rectifier with large distribution, we are refocusing our footprint, home place, and marketing efforts at regional levels and practicing the flexibility and innovation that the microdistilling community is known for. We do not hide the fact that we purchase our starting material and source some whiskey from larger distilleries; other microdistilleries do this as well. We do our own distillation for our core whiskey. ASB has the fortunate luxury to source multiple starting distillates, which we will be blending before our distillation for future batches. This will allow us to compose an entirely new starting material to feed our still to come up with a whiskey distinctive to the distilling world.”

He goes on to say that this particular bottling came from Buffalo Trace, but continues by saying “However it has spent the better part of its barreled life aging in ASB’s distinctive warehouse. Since most whiskey men agree that the barrel and aging is where the predominant flavors come from, I believe we are offering an exception bourbon with a rare look at geographical distinction.”

Having just tasted the whiskey, I can say that I like the whiskey a lot. There’s no excessive oak, which I feared there might be for an 18 year old bourbon. It’s nicely balanced and flavorful.

I do not, however, envy Truman and the rest of the team at ASB when it comes to explaining in the future where their whiskies were distilled (or re-distilled), aged and bottled if they truly plan on being open and transparent about the source of their distillate (which doesn’t seem to be the case with this bottle–there’s no mention of it being distilled in Kentucky).  To begin with, the vast majority of the general public thinks that bourbon is only made in Kentucky. And from what I am gathering here, some of the ASB releases down the road could be distilled in Kentucky, Kentucky and Virginia, or only Virginia before being matured in Virginia. (I’ll try to get Truman to clarify or confirm this.)

Good luck with that, because it won’t be easy.

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!