Wednesday, October 29, 2014

America's Oldest Craft Whiskey: Old Potrero 18

Old Potrero, made by the Anchor Distillery in San Francisco, was one of the first craft whiskey makers on the scene back in the 1990s.  Their ryes have always been some of my favorite craft spirits.  Their Hotaling's series is a bottled in bond rye that they have released at several age points. Like all of their whiskeys, it is made from 100% malted rye.  Last year's Hotaling's release was an 18 year old, making it, as far as I know, the oldest craft whiskey bottled in the modern era. It is aged in a once used barrel.  These are very limited runs, so they can be hard to find.

Old Potrero Hotaling's 18 year old, 50% abv ($190)

The nose is Hawaiian Punch with some brandy notes.  On the palate, it's a huge fruit monster with tutti fruity notes.  The finish is light and sweet with a dash of spice in the finish.

This has a surprising lack of rye character, particularly compared to Old Potrero's other offerings. The last Hotaling's I had was the 11 year old which had much more rye character; I definitely preferred it to this one. While generally good, the 18 year old is very fruit forward without much in the way of rye.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Henry McKenna from Everson Royce

Today, I'll taste a bottle of Heaven Hill's Henry McKenna Bottled in Bond Bourbon bottled for Everson Royce in Pasadena.

Henry McKenna BIB 10 year old Single Barrel, Barrel 6386, 50% abv ($28.50)

The nose on this is really great with caramel and oak.  It reminds me of the nose on the old Elijah Craig 18 year olds.   The palate follows through well; it starts with that nice sweet/oaky balance, and then turns nicely spicy and earthy which is what sticks around into the finish.

This stuff is just really good bourbon. It's complex and rich, elements that are lacking in so many of today's bourbons.  Heaven Hill clearly still has some wonderful barrels in its massive warehouse.

The Whiskey Jug blog recently asked a number of whiskey fans (myself included) what they wanted to see from the whiskey industry.  Most of the answers boiled down to good product at a reasonable price with honest information and no gimmicks or inflated back stories.  Well, here's a prime example.  At a time of the year when people are searching the world over for the privilege of overpaying for a single bottle of Pappy or BTAC, it's comforting to know that you can walk into a liquor store today, pay less than $30, and go home with a great bottle of bourbon.

Disclaimer:  The sample I tasted was given to me by someone who is not affiliated with Everson Royce or Heaven Hill but who received a free sample from the store.

Friday, October 24, 2014

New Whiskey Labels: Bulleit Label Changes, Kinsey Whiskey and More

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

Diageo's Bulleit appears to be the latest company to modify its label to reflect its sourcing. Bulleit is a sourced whiskey, but for years, the label stated that it was"Distilled, Aged and Bottled by the Bulleit Distilling Co." A new label approved this week changes that statement to "Bottled by the Bulleit Distilling Company" and "Distilled and Aged in the Bulleit Family Tradition."

The Kinsey distillery was an old Pennsylvania distillery owned by Publicker.  It appears that the brand is being revived as a sourced whiskey by Millstone Spirits in Philadelphia which cleared labels for Kinsey Rye and a seven year old Kinsey Whiskey.  No telling where they were distilled.

And in these days of bourbon hype, it's nice to see a label with some humility (and a sense of humor). Here's a new one for Lowered Expectations Bourbon, which the label touts as "good enough."

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, October 22, 2014

An Exquisite Whiskey from Corti Brothers

Corti Brothers is a well known and loved Sacramento gourmet store. Owner Darrell Corti is a legend in the California food and wine world, known as one of the pioneers of the modern gourmet food movement. Corti knows his way around spirits as well; they even did a private bottling of 20 year old Van Winkle bourbon back in the '90s.

Corti Brothers recently sent me a sample of their newest whiskey which is set for release in November.  For this whiskey, Amador Distillery, a Central California craft distillery, acquired 13 casks of a seven year old, 2006 Kentucky bourbon (70% corn, 25% rye, 5% barley) and finished it for about eight months in casks which had held Harbor Winery Mission del Sol for the previous 40 years. An Amador County, high alcohol dessert wine that is no longer being produced, Mission del Sol is made from late harvest Mission grapes.

This whiskey will be available in regular 750 ml bottles for $50 and in 375 ml bottles for $30; they will be selling it at their store, but it's possible that it will find its way to some other retailers as well (EDIT: David Driscoll notes in the comments that K&L will be carrying it - and see his blog write up as well).

Corti Brothers Exquisite Whiskey, 7 yo, 42.25% ($50)

The nose on this is pure port with some brown sugar.  The palate is similarly big on wine with fruity port or sherry.  Digging deep, there is a caramel bourbon note underneath, but I can't say I would pick it out if I didn't know this was actually a bourbon.  The port notes increase as it trails off into the finish where it's joined by some oak.

It's not often that I taste something that's totally unique.  Tasting blind, there is no way I would guess this was bourbon. If I had to compare it to anything, I would say it tastes most similar to the Navazos Palazzi sherried brandy than anything else I've tasted.

Usually when I taste finished bourbons, I'm left with the feeling that the finishing was just a method to add some sweetness to an inferior product.  This one is more akin to a sherried Scotch where the wine notes become an integral part of the whiskey.

This is great whiskey and likely one you won't see again.  I'm not sure hard core bourbon fans will like it since it has so little traditional bourbon flavor.  Fans of port, sherried Scotch and brandy, on the other hand, will love it.

Monday, October 20, 2014

As Seen On TV: J.R. Ewing Bourbon

J.R. Ewing Bourbon is a new bourbon which is a promotional tie-in to the reboot of the television show Dallas, produced by Warner Brothers for TNT. Unfortunately, the timing of the product launch was a bit poor as the series was cancelled earlier this month...and now they likely have a lot of bourbon, so much so that they are willing to give away bottles to the likes of me.

Bottled by Strong Spirits for Warner Brothers, J.R. Ewing is a four year old Kentucky bourbon.

J.R. Ewing Bourbon, 4 years old, 40% abv ($35)

The nose has notes of magic marker, solvent, and some fruit juice.  There's some vanilla and other notes, but every time they try to come out they're beaten down by the chemical notes.  The palate starts with light, sweet notes; it's watery.  It has some oak, but it develops quickly into bitterness and trails off with chemical solvent notes.  The finish is bitter and chemically.

If J.R. had given me a glass of this, I probably would have shot him too.

Friday, October 17, 2014

New Whiskey Labels: Finished Jefferson's and a New Bunnahabhain

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

Bunnahabhain cleared a new label for Ceobanach, a ten year old, heavily peated malt.

New labels cleared for Jefferson's Reserve rum cask finished and Cabernet Sauvignon cask finished.  

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, October 15, 2014

LA's Only Whiskey: Slow Hand Whiskey from Greenbar Distillery

The growth craft distilleries over the last five years has been nothing short of phenomenal.  My list of whiskey distilleries includes over 300 across the country, including distilleries in every state except Hawaii.  Metro areas like Portland, New York and the San Francisco Bay Area have scads of distilleries making whiskey. Los Angeles has one.

The Greenbar Distillery has existed as a company making infusions since 2004, but in 2012, they opened a distillery in a warehouse space on the east side of downtown LA.  They make a wide variety of spirits, from rum to liqueurs.  Everything they make is organic and everything is made in-house except for their tequila, which is made in Mexico.  This month, they are coming out with their first aged whiskeys and opening a new tasting room that will offer tours and samples.  Melkon Khosrovian, who runs the distillery with his wife Litty Mathew, invited me to see the tour and taste some samples.

Last year, Greenbar released Slow Hand White Whiskey, a whiskey made from an oat, barley and spelt mash.  For their aged whiskey, they wanted something a bit different, so they went for a single malt distilled in a column still to a lower proof than their white whiskey.  Khosrovian isn't a fan of small barrels so he went in the other direction entirely, aging the whiskey in a massive, medium toasted 1,000 gallon French oak tank.  To spice things up a bit, he added wood cubes made from hickory, mulberry, hard maple, red oak and grapewood.  He wouldn't tell me how long new whiskey is aged, but it's obviously young since they've only been distilling for two years.

The aged whiskey is slated for release later this month in regular and cask strength expressions.  I tried those along with the white whiskey that is already on the market.

Slow Hand White Whiskey, 40% abv. ($35)

The nose has soft new make notes with some vanilla and peppercorns.  On the palate, it's surprisingly delicate and less new makey than the nose.  It's very light and sweet but it lacks much in the way of character.  There's a slight acidity at the end of the palate that trails into the finish where it's joined by some of the peppery notes from the nose.  As far as white whiskey goes, this isn't bad; there's just not much to it flavor-wise. Of course, I don't typically drink white whiskey, so keep that in mind (though I have to say, I'm not sure who does).

Slow Hand Six Woods Malt Organic Whiskey, 42% abv

This is not on the market yet, but I was told it would likely retail for under $50.

The nose has really nice wood grain notes, like an unfinished bookshelf; once it sits a bit, it develops some pine.  The palate is very light with wood notes.  It's less new makey than I would expect for something that is quite young, but it isn't big on flavor.  There's a hint of spice and a hint of citrus, but they are very subtle.  The finish leaves a nice wood note on the nose but only an alcoholic tinge on the palate.  Letting it sit out for a while, it develops a bit more with some mint on the palate and less alcohol on the finish.

Slow Hand Six Woods Malt Organic Whiskey Cask Strength, 57.5% abv

This is not on the market yet, but I was told it would retail for around $60.

The nose on this one has wood and spice and then, after some time in the glass, sweet candy notes with some fruit.  The palate is sweet with vanilla, fruit and wood, then spice; with some air, it develops a distinctive sweet milk chocolate note.  The finish is short but has a nice balance of sweet and spicy. This is quite drinkable, and air really opens it up, so give it a decent amount of time in the glass. 

The cask strength malt is definitely the best of the bunch here.  It's an interesting craft whiskey and one that shows promise, but as with so much craft whiskey, it has the taste of an experiment that's not quite complete.

LA folks interested in these whiskeys can sample them by taking a distillery tour, which is also a great way to see a working distillery without leaving town.  The $12 fee includes up to six sample pours, and their new tasting room is a really nice, open space.  Tours are by reservation only at 5, 6 and 7:00, Tuesdays through Saturdays. You can sign up for tours on their website, but don't bring llamas; they seem to have a problem with llamas.