Monday, March 30, 2015

Blog of the Month: Breaking Bourbon

The March Blog of the Month, Breaking Bourbon, started about a year ago and is written by the trio of Eric, Nick and Jordan. The blog includes reviews (rated on a scale of zero to five barrels), a calendar of new releases and various articles.  One of the most exciting things they are working on is a bourbon storage experiment.  Regular readers might remember that I did my own very small scale experiment on how oxygen impacts open bottles of whiskey.  Breaking Bourbon is taking it to a whole new level with experiments on how bourbon at different fill levels is impacted in different environments, including direct sunlight, a dark closet and a refrigerator.  They plan on testing the samples at six, twelve and twenty-four months.  I'll be excited to see how it turns out.  Meanwhile, I'll be reading their regular reviews and articles.

Check it out!

Friday, March 27, 2015

New Whiskey Labels: High Proof Ryes, Ardbeg Supernova and More

This week's most interesting new labels from the federal TTB database:

Wild Turkey cleared a label for a single barrel version of their Russell's Reserve Rye.  It's a no age statement, non-chill filtered straight rye listed at 104 proof on the COLA label.

Heaven Hill cleared a label for a six year old, 110 proof version of Pikesville Rye. Proof can be changed after label approval, but hopefully this one isn't a placeholder (usually placeholders are listed as 80 or 100 proof).

Ardbeg cleared a label for Supernova 5, a 2015 committee release which they say is the "final" committee bottling and, as per Ardbeg, there's some mumbo jumbo about space exploration and zero gravity.

Compass Box cleared a label for Hedonism Quindecimus, a new version of its Hedonism blended grain whiskey to celebrate the company's fifteenth anniversary. It's a blend of grain whiskeys that are at least 20 years old.

Balcones cleared a label for a Single Barrel Texas Whisky.  I'm told that this label is for a very small, distillery only bottling of a blend of their corn whiskey and single malt that was then rebarreled.  There will apparently be more Balcones single barrels to come.  

In the past, we haven't gotten much in the way of Ben Nevis original bottlings in the US, but a number of them cleared this week including Ben Nevis 10 year old, a 15 year old single cask sherry wood, the McDonald's Ben Nevis, a replica of an 1882 malt, and MacDonald's Glencoe, a cask strength, 8 year old (and yes, two spellings of M(a)cDonald's are used on the different labels). Glencoe in the UK is labeled a blended malt, but the US label doesn't say blended, only that it is "Finest Malt Scotch Whisky." I assume this is the same blended malt they have in the UK, but I'm curious as to why they don't use the designation on the US label.

Note:  The fact that a label appears on the TTB database does not necessarily mean it will be produced.  In addition, some details on the label, such as proof, can change in the final product.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Dusty Thursday: Bonded Beam from the Swingin' '60s

This is a lovely decanter of eight year old bonded Jim Beam bourbon that would fit in well on the Mad Men set or even a tiki party.  Since it is bottled in bond we know that it was distilled in 1960 and bottled in 1968. I haven't had any Beam this old, so this should be fun.

Bonded Beam Decanter, 8 yo, 50% abv

This has a great old dusty nose with tons of caramel and some oak but then a few soapy notes come out. The palate is much drier than I would have expected with medicinal notes and some spice but not much beyond that.  It's dense in a way that it seems like there should be more to it, but if there are more layers of flavor, they aren't showing themselves. The finish is dry with some spice and then medicinal.

This had some good notes, and it's much more complex than most current Beam, but it felt like it was missing something. These decanters sometimes have looser seals than regular bottles, and this one had seen some evaporation as you can see from the photo, so I wouldn't use this to pass judgment generally on older Beam bourbon.  If anything, it makes me interested to try more.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Four Roses Single Barrel Limited Edition 2014

Earlier this year, Four Roses announced that it was discontinuing its annual limited edition single barrel release.  That means the 2014 will be the last regular release of the limited single barrel (they noted that they might still do special releases - I guess those would be limited limited editions).  For now, they will still be doing single barrel releases for retailers, so don't panic too much.  Still, I thought it would be fun to try the last release and was lucky enough to have a friend who could send me a sample.  The 2014 Four Roses Single Barrel Limited Edition is 11 years old and from their OESF recipe (lower rye and F yeast).

Four Roses Single Barrel Ltd Edition 2014, OESF, 11 yo, 54.5% ($100)

The nose is floral and perfumy. The palate comes on very sweet the shows some wood spice.  Water rounds it out nicely. There's a nice sweet finish on the nose but not too much on the palate.

This is good bourbon as nearly all Four Roses is, but it doesn't jump out at me as particularly special.  There's plenty of equally good or better Four Roses I've had from retailer barrels.

Thanks to Dan Zimmerman for the sample. 

Friday, March 20, 2015

New Whiskey Labels: Old Forester, Island Scotch, Guns and Flies

This week's most interesting new labels from the federal TTB database:

Brown Forman cleared a label for Old Forester 1910. The label says it is "barrel finished" but doesn't say in what type of barrel it is finished.  Presumably, this expression will taste 40 years younger than their Old Forester 1870.

Beam Suntory cleared a label for Hibiki Japanese Harmony, which debuted in Japan earlier this month, as a new addition to the standard line of Hibiki blended whiskies.

Douglas Laing cleared a label for its new blended malt Rock Oyster which includes whiskeys from the Scottish islands of Islay, Orkney, Jura and Arran. The whiskey has been out in Europe for a few months now.

Speaking of Scottish islands, when I first saw this new label for Islay Rye from the Grand Traverse distillery in Michigan, I thought maybe it was a rye/Scotch blend along the lines of High West's Campfire. Instead, it's blend of 80% rye to 20% peated malted barley which appears to be distilled in house.  The label calls it a "nod to Islay Single Malt Scotches."  It sounds delicious, but the label is problematic.  The TTB regulations state that "words connoting, indicating, or commonly associated with Scotland, shall not be used to designate any product not wholly produced in Scotland." 27 CFR § 5.22 (k)(4). Well, if Islay doesn't connote Scotland, I don't know what does. This label should have been rejected.

Attention Jeff Goldblum fans:  Have you always wanted a bourbon with a giant fly on the label?  Your dreams have come true thanks to New York's Gristmill Distillers who cleared a label for Black Fly Bourbon.

Lastly, for those of you who like to mix some politics with your whiskey, Scissortail Distillery in Oklahoma cleared a label for Leadslingers Bourbon, a bourbon for those who are "tired of people afraid to support the second amendment."  I'm not sure why people with certain political views need their own bourbon, but as the slogan says, "Stay frosty and freedom on!"  I'm hoping next will be a whiskey for those who support the third amendment: No Quartering Rye?

Note:  The fact that a label appears on the TTB database does not necessarily mean it will be produced.  In addition, some details on the label, such as proof, can change in the final product.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Elmer T. Lee Regular and Commemorative

If you were going to pick the one person most responsible for the bourbon boom, Elmer T. Lee would be a good candidate.  Lee started working for Buffalo Trace (then the George T. Stagg distillery) in 1949 as a maintenance man.  He moved his way up to distillery manager and in 1984, he was responsible for releasing Blanton's, the first widely released single barrel bourbon.  Lee retired as Master Distiller soon after but stayed active with the distillery for decades.  He died in 2013 at the age of 93.

Elmer T. Lee Single Barrel bourbon has been around for years. It's one of the higher rye bourbons from Buffalo Trace.  To commemorate the life of Mr. Lee, Buffalo Trace released a commemorative version of the bourbon at a slightly higher proof.  Since I haven't tasted the regular Elmer in a while, I thought I'd compare it with the Commemorative bottling.  The Commemorative came out last year and has been pretty hard to find, though these days, even the regular Elmer seems pretty scarce.

Elmer T. Lee, 45% ($30)

This has a nice, typical BT style nose with caramel, some spice and a touch of oak. The palate has a balance of sweet, rum like notes and more acidic notes. It's more acidic than I remember from previous bottles (of course, single barrels can always vary).  The finish is acidic, with lemon rind and a bit spicy.  It's a decent and well composed bourbon, though not one that I find particularly exciting. 

Elmer T. Lee Commemorative, 46.5% ($35)

The nose on this one is much more subtle with vanilla notes. The palate begins sweet with some grainy notes and moves into a finish that is pure vanilla.  This one lacks any of the acid of the other bottle and has big vanilla notes throughout so much so that it's a bit of a one noter, though it's certainly not unpleasant.

While these two have a different flavor profile, all in all, I'd say these are of similar quality.  Both are fine but not exceptional.

Thanks to Dan Zimmerman for the samples.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Spanish Whisky from Navazos Palazzi

Navazos Palazzi, the joint venture between spirits bottler Nicolas Palazzi and sherry bottler Equipo Navazos has previously released sherry aged brandy and rum. Recently, they introduced their first sherry aged whiskeys.

There are two single cask Navazos Palazzi whiskeys, a malt and a grain whiskey. Both were distilled in Spain at the Beam Suntory owned DYC distillery in Segovia. They are around five years old, and the grain whiskey is made from 100% corn.

The whiskeys were aged in Palo Cortado sherry casks and released at cask strength.  Palo Cortado is apparently a very rare sherry, but I couldn't tell you much more than what I've read on a particularly unhelpful Wikipedia post about it, so feel free to add info in the comments if you're a sherry buff.

Navazos Palazzi Malt Whisky, 52.5% ($100)

This has a sweet, fruity nose with apples and cherries. The palate is a light, sweet sherry with just a touch of malt underneath, leading to a fruity finish.  This is a nicely done, sweet sherry cask whisky that's easy to drink.

Navazos Palazzi Grain Whisky, 53.5% ($100)

The nose has very sweet sherry notes, like a Spanish brandy.  The palate is a massive hit of dry sherry with lemon rind and vanilla which ends in a deep sherry finish.  Given that this is a grain whiskey, I wasn't expecting a lot from it, but I really like it, maybe even more than the malt.  It might taste more akin to a brandy de Jerez (or just sherry) than a whiskey, but it's very tasty and I like those drier sherry notes.  It's also fun to drink in tandem with the Malt, just to note the differences.

The thing I love about these Navazos Palazzi spirits is that they really push the boundaries of sherry cask aging, infusing more sherry into the spirit than you might think was possible and just barely retaining the character of the original spirit, though it is retained.  It's fun and interesting stuff.