Friday, August 26, 2016

New Whiskey Labels: Compass Box, Elijah Craig and More

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

Earlier this year, Compass Box launched a transparency campaign to challenge Scotch Whisky Association rules that prohibit whiskey producers from listing the ages of component blends other than the youngest blend, even where they list the percentage of each blend. This week, they issues a label for Three Year Old Deluxe, but the back label makes clear that less than one percent of the blend is three years old, but SWA rules prohibit them from disclosing the age of the older whiskeys. The blend is made up of Clynelish and Talisker.

Heaven Hill cleared a new label for an Eljiah Craig 23 year old, possibly indicating a new release of that bourbon is coming.

Bruichladdich cleared a label for a new edition of Octomore 10 year old. This on is peated to 167 ppm.

A label cleared for West Cork Black Reserve, Irish Whiskey finished in double charred bourbon casks. 

Some whiskeys are sourced but Fiddler Bourbon is foraged, you know, like wild mushrooms.

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, August 24, 2016

Michel Couvreur Blossoming Auld Sherry Malt

I've been a big fan of Michel Couvreur's blended malts. Now, K&L is carrying a sherried single malt from Couvreur. The new Michel Couvreur Blossoming Auld Sherry Malt is a single cask aged in a 70 year old sherry cask. It is from an undisclosed Scotch distillery. There is no age statement but K&L tells me it was distilled in 2001 and bottled this year.

Michel Couvreur Blossoming Auld Sherry Malt, 45% abv ($220)

This has a beautiful, old sherry nose with some fruit. The palate is sweet, fruity sherry with just a touch of sulfur at the end. It drinks strong for the proof. The finish has sherry and light sulfur notes.

This is a very well composed, classic sherry malt. Great stuff!

Monday, August 22, 2016

Italian Brandy: Villa Zarri 1991

K&L snagged a 24 year old, single barrel cask strength brandy from Villa Zarri in Northern Italy just outside of Bologna. This brandy is made in a style similar to Cognac - pot distilled, made from Ugni Blanc grapes and aged in French oak, and unlike many Cognacs, it has no additives.

Villa Zarri 1991, 24 yo, 59.7% abv ($100)

The nose has deep, earthy notes, like slightly wet dirt on a misty morning. The palate is bold and powerful.There's a touch of sweetness at the opening, followed by huge spice notes and an earthy finish that turns bitter and then strongly bitter.

It's really good, densely flavored stuff, but what you really need to do is add water. Just a few drops of water brings out big, sweet, fruit notes on the nose along with mulling spices. The palate opens with sweet fruit and the develops spice, while keeping those sweet notes in the background. The finish is spicy, earthy with nice fruit notes on the nose, though it retains the strongly bitter long finish.

This has tons going on and it balances it all very well.  Cognac fans (who drink the additive free stuff, not the mass market caramel/sugar bombs) will love this stuff.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

German Food in LA

Schnitzel with spaetzel at Wirtshaus

This summer, I was lucky enough to be able to visit Germany, which should be considered more of a food lover's destination (maybe I'll write something up about that but if you're interested, I covered it on Instagram).  Upon returning home, I was craving some traditional German food. There aren't a lot of options in LA, but here are two that I really liked.

Wirtshaus, on La Brea, has many traditional German dishes including sausages and schnitzel. I enjoyed the schnitzel and spaetzel (a German pasta) and they make a really great pretzel. Their strength, though, is really their beer and pretzels. They have a massive German beer selection and the pretzels are baked fresh, come out piping hot and have a great crusty outside and chewy inside.

Alpine Steinhaus, in Torrance, is located in the Alpine Village, a bizarre, cheesy recreation of an Alpine Village with a mix of German themed shops. It feels like a cross between Epcot Center and a horror movie set, but the food is great. There is a German market with a fantastic selection of salami and house-made sausages as well as German packaged food. The restaurant is also surprisingly good with some of the sausages offered at the market, very good schnitzel and a garlicky, pan fried spaetzel. The food is comparable to Wirtshaus though Alpine does a better spaetzel and Wirtshaus does better pretzels and has a much better beer selection.

Bratwurst with spaetzel at Alipine Steinhaus

If you know of any other good German food in LA, let me know (but no currywurst places please; I'm really not a fan of currywurst).

345 N La Brea Ave
Los Angeles, CA 90036 
(323) 931-9291

Alpine Steinhaus (Alpine Village)
833 W Torrance Blvd.
Torrance, CA 90502 
(310) 327-4384

Monday, August 15, 2016

Is Highland Park Ice Worth Your Cold Cash?

Highland Park Ice Edition is a new, 17 year old expression from the Orkney Island distillery.  It's bottled and priced similarly to the Valhalla Collection, though the strange wooden frame looks like a mountain or pyramid instead of a ship. Highland Park recently cleared a label for a Fire Edition, so this appears to be another series.

Highland Park Ice Edition, 17 years old, 53.9% ($300)

The nose is very nice, malty with light peat notes. The palate opens with sweet honey malt notes followed by some light peat. The finish is dry and peppery.

This is a nicely composed and well balanced malt. Tasting notes really don't do it justice because the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. It's highly drinkable and the dry finish leaves you wanting another sip. This is the type of balanced malt that Highland Park can do so well. It reminds me of some of their older releases that I really loved. The only downside is the price, but hey, did I mention the mountain shaped box?

Thanks to Highland Park for the sample.

Friday, August 12, 2016

New Whiskey Labels: Lagavulin, Michter's and More

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

Diageo cleared a label for the Lagavulin 25 year old, a cask strength bottling they announced earlier this summer. Before you get too excited, Diageo announced that the suggested retail price will be $1,200.

Edrington cleared a label for Highland Park Fire Edition, a 15 year old that appears to be in the same series as the current Ice Edition.

Ten years go, the original Spice Tree from Compass Box ran into opposition from the Scotch Whisky Association for its use of added oak staves in the barrel. Now Compass Box has cleared a new label for Spice Tree Extravaganza to commemorate the ban of the original. This new version of the blended malt draws from "older components and a significant portion of sherry-cask aged malt whisky."

Michter's cleared a label for Excellus single barrel Bourbon and Rye. Interestingly, the label highlights the fact that it's filtered, something most whiskey fans don't like:  "We select a particular barrel and put it through a filtration protocol designed to best highlight the rich character of the whiskey."

Luxco cleared a label for Ezra Brooks Rye, a 90 proof, 2 year old Indiana rye. 

Hey look, it's 100% American Bourbon. You know, as opposed to all that foreign bourbon.

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, August 10, 2016

More Craft Whiskey: Union Horse Bourbon & Rye

Union Horse is a craft distillery located outside of Kansas City (on the Kansas side). Founded in 2010 as Dark Horse Distillery with the help of craft whiskey consultant David Pickerell, they source grains locally, mill them at the distillery, distill in a copper pot still and age in full sized, 53 gallon Missouri oak barrels.

Today I'm tasting a bourbon and a rye. Both are straight whiskeys which is always good to see from craft producers (though still fairly rare).  They seem to go for $50-$60 with the rye being slightly more expensive.

Union Horse Reserve Straight Bourbon, 2 years old, Batch 2, 46% abv

Union Horse uses a somewhat unique bourbon mashbill consisting of 80% corn and 20% rye. The oldest whiskeys used for this bourbon are five years old but the age statement is 2 years. The nose on this is grainy. The palate is tinny and a bit watery with vanilla notes. The finish is dry and grainy.
Union Horse Reunion Straight Rye, 2 years old, Batch 1, 46.5% abv

This is made from a 100% rye mashbill. It has a really nice nose with rye and some Charbay like hops notes. The palate has that tiny-grainy taste so typical of craft whiskey. The finish turns spicy but bitter. It's got a great nose, but it declines sharply after that.

For me, this is yet another craft whiskey that seems to be trying really hard and doing all of the right things on paper but still disappoints. Maybe it's the flavor of the pot stills or maybe this stuff is just too young, but these whiskeys taste like so many other grainy/tinny craft whiskeys. Check out The Whiskey Jug though, because he really liked both the Union Horse Bourbon and Reunion Rye.

Thanks to FleishmanHillard for the sample.