Friday, May 6, 2016

New Whiskey Labels: Redbreast, K&L Scotch and More

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

 Pernod Ricard cleared a label for Redbreast Lustau, Redbreast Irish Whiskey finished in Oloroso sherry casks from Bodega Lustau. It does not include an age statement.

A new set of K&L exclusive Scotch labels were cleared this week, including the following from Hunter Laing's Hepburn's Choice and Old & Rare labels: Caol Ila 6Bowmore 14, Royal Brackla 17, Glen Keith 24, Bunnahabhain 28, Caol Ila 35, and two Speyside blended malts: 24 year old John McCrae and 10 year old William Hepburn. They also cleared two Scotch single grain whiskeys bottled by Sovereign: a 36 year old Girvan and a 42 year old Carsebridge.

I'm a big Miles Davis fan so I was a little taken aback my this label for Kind of Blue Blended Scotch which was apparently "inspired by the legacy" of Miles. Is a generic blended Scotch really the best we could do to honor one of America's greatest artists?

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, May 5, 2016

Mothers Deserve a Drink Part II

A few weeks ago I introduced my Mothers Deserve a Drink campaign, asking whiskey bloggers and companies, who always seem to make Father's Day whiskey recommendations, to make some for Mother's Day. Well, it didn't get a huge response. In fact, one company, 375 Park Avenue Spirits, even sent out a Father's Day email last week with no mention of Mother's Day at all. Who told these knuckleheads that ignoring a huge chunk of the population was good business?

But one blog took up the challenge and then some. The blogger at One-Line Whiskey, who happens to be a mother, printed a four part series (starting here) with dozens of great recommendations of all types of whiskey - Scotch, bourbon, Irish, crafts, you name it. The descriptions are pithy and fun so it's a good read too. For instance, she thinks Jefferson's Reserve smells like "candied ashtray" but the flavors make up for it. Balcones Baby Blue "tastes like summers on the front porch watching the kids play in the sprinklers."

So thanks to One-Line for taking on the challenge and Happy Mother's Day!

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Jim Rutledge Lays an Egg

For the past decade, Jim Rutledge has enjoyed a privileged status among bourbon lovers. Serving as Master Distiller of Four Roses at a time when it was reintroduced to the US after a long absence, Rutledge is respected for the uncompromising quality of his product and his disdain for flavored whiskeys. Four Roses has been one of the highlights of the bourbon revival and much of the credit for that has gone to Mr. Rutledge (though the Kirin Corporation, which purchased Four Roses in 2001 and saw it through the revival, certainly should share in the credit). In 2015, Rutledge announced his retirement from Four Roses.

Last week, Rutledge unveiled a new project, the J.W. Rutledge Distillery. Rutledge announced plans to build a "world-class," mid-sized Kentucky distillery where he will make bourbon and rye. Rutledge has formed a limited liability corporation with two business partners.

So far, it all sounds great, but here's where it gets a little weird. Rather than do what most businesses do and seek out investors, Rutledge is planning to raise the initial $1.9 million through the Indiegogo crowdfunding site. This initial amount will cover start up costs such as legal fees, consultants and property costs.

Now, I've contributed to crowdfunding campaigns before. They can be a great way to support an artist or craftsperson who needs some initial cash to realize a project they could not otherwise fund, but this is very different. This is an industry veteran with many contacts who wants to build a large and presumably profitable factory, and rather than rely on investors who will be rewarded with equity in the project, he wants us to give him these initial funds for free.

Well, not exactly for free. The benefit of contributing to crowdfunding campaigns is you get rewards, but Rutledge's rewards are downright crappy. For a $50 contribution, you get a t-shirt; $100 gets you a commemorative coin which gives you "first access to special releases through the gift shop" (i.e. you can use it to pay them more money!); $175 gets you two commemorative coins plus 15% off of non-alcohol merchandise from the distillery gift shop (most crowdfunding sites do not allow you to offer alcohol as an incentive); $400 gets your name on a brick at the distillery; all the way up to $1,250 which gets you an invitation to the grand opening.

On top of those lackluster prizes, Rutledge is using "flexible funding," which means that they get to keep your money even if they don't reach their goal.

I love the idea of a Jim Rutledge distillery and I hope it is a success, but this campaign is seriously uncool. Jim Rutledge has earned himself a great reputation, and now he is using that reputation to take advantage of whiskey lovers...some of whom will get their name on a brick.

But hey, if you are the type of person who is into giving money to a for-profit venture and getting little in return, please consider the Sku Store.

Monday, May 2, 2016

Clearly Apple: Double Zero Eau de Vie de Cidre

A few weeks ago, K&L held a tasting with spirits importer Nicolas Palazzi. It was an amazing deal. For $25, we got to try eight highly original spirits from a number of eau de vies to the latest Navarre Cognac to the 1975 Domaine Aurensan Armagnac. But among all these rare and long aged spirits, one of the stand outs was something young.

Double Zero Eau de Vie de Cidre is made by Cyril Zangs, one of the most well respected cider producers in France (sadly, his ciders aren't available in the US). Zangs uses over 30 varieties of apples, a mixture of sweet, bitter and sour, to make his cider. He then distills it on Jean-Roger Groult's Calvados still.

I'm not usually a fan of eau de vie. Like white whiskey, unaged brandy usually has a harsh, chemical flavor typical of raw spirit.This stuff is different. The nose has an incredible, intense apple note. It is utterly fantastic. I could just nose the stuff forever. The palate opens with crisp apple notes, followed by cinnamon and spice. It trails off with a yeasty/apple note with a strong apple finish. I love the purity of the apple flavor of this from nose to finish. For new make, this stuff is unbelievable. 

Double Zero clocks in at 100 proof (50% abv). There are 406 bottles coming to the U.S. Eventually, it should hit the shelves in California, but you can currently get it at Astor Wines. Astor has it for $80, but they have frequent one-day 15% off sales for things like all French spirits or all spirits made from apples; it's worth getting on Astor's mailing list so you know when the sales hit.

Friday, April 29, 2016

New Whiskey Labels: Whistlepig, Templeton, Compass Box and More

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

Whistlepig cleared a label for Whistlepig Farm Stock, a blend of their ten year old stocks and whiskey they distilled in Vermont.

Templeton cleared a label for Templeton Special Reserve, a 10 year old MGP rye. 

Compass Box issued a label for 5th and Harrison, a special bottling for K&L (the name is the location of their new San Francisco store) made up of 76% sherried Glen Ord and 24% Caol Ila, bottled at cask strength.

Pernod Ricard cleared a label for Longmorn 23.

Luxco issued a number of new labels including Yellowstone 2016 Limited Edition, a 7 year old, 101 proof bourbon composed of 12 year old and 7 year old rye recipe bourbons, Daviess County Bourbon, a brand they have owned for some time but haven't marketed recently, and a Rebel Yell 2016 Limited Edition, though there is no indication on the label of what makes it any different than regular Rebel Yell.

Beam Suntory cleared a label for Jim Beam Double Oak, finished in a second, new, charred oak barrel.

And just in case you thought the days of ridiculous labels getting through the TTB process were over, here is Circa Straight Bourbon, described as "the finest blend of orchard fruits, ryes, corn and spices."

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, April 27, 2016

Benromach Sassicaia 2007

Since Benromach sent me another sample (these guys have been busy), I figured, hey, why not make it a full week of Benromach. Today we have the Benromach Sassicaia, distilled in 2007, aged in first fill bourbon barrels and finished for two years in Sassicaia wine casks. This is the latest in their Wood Finish series and the second time they've done a Sassicaia finish (the first was a 2006 vintage). It's not available in the US yet, but in the UK they are charging £40.25.

Benromach Sassicaia 2007, 45% abv

This has a nice malty nose with a hint of peat and some sweet notes. On the palate it's got peat with a slight honey sweetness and then some real savory notes in the back. It ends on a very dry note and picks up a slight soapiness in the finish.

This is a well balanced malt and one worth tasting.

Thanks to Benromach for the sample. 

Monday, April 25, 2016

Benromach Organic and Peat Smoke

The folks at Benromach recently "updated the look" of their whiskeys and sent me some samples.  I don't spend much time looking at whiskey, but I'll give them a taste.

Benromach Organic, 5 years old, 2010, 43% ($65)

The nose on this is straightforward and malty. The palate also has a pure, malty character. It's a bit diluted tasting and the finish fades quickly. While it's good whiskey, there's nothing special about it, and it's hard to recommend at $65. 

Benromach Peat Smoke, 9 years old, 2006, 46% ($60)

This has a really nice nose with lots of fuel like peat and a sort of solvent note, though not in a bad way. The palate follows up nicely with plenty of peat followed by a light sweetness. The peat is pretty steady and leads into a really spectacular finish which seems to go on forever.  This one is quite good and something I would buy.

Thanks to Benromach for the samples.