Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Forum of the Month: Reddit r/Bourbon

In place of this month's blog of the month, I wanted to recognize a forum of the month: Reddit's r/Bourbon.  The Reddit r/Bourbon site may be the most active whiskey forum on the web right now, with vibrant discussions of everything bourbon, tasting notes and even barrel purchases. Traditionalists may prefer which probably has more veterans in the mix, but there's no denying that Reddit has huge energy and a good mix of novices and more experienced folks. I'm not active on the site, but I'm a regular lurker, and it's a great way to gauge what folks are thinking about in the bourbon world.

Check it out!

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

1998 Ladeveze Armagnac from K&L

This is a new K&L Armagnac that they are very proud of. It is distilled from Graisse grapes in the Tenareze region of Armagnac. K&L only had 40 bottles to start with, and they sold out of those, but they expect to get more this fall.

1998 Ladeveze, K&L, 16 yo, 45% abv ($120)

The nose is very fruity with just a touch of spice - more of a Cognac nose than an Armagnac. The palate begins dry and fruity, but it quickly becomes diluted and flat tasting. Around mid-palate, the flavor just sort of disappears, and you're left with a sort of plastic note. The finish has a very vague pepper note, followed (much later) by green apples and medicinal notes on the palate and a slightly fruity nose.

I was really disappointed with this one. There's just not much to it. To be fair, K&L's David Driscoll specifically said, "This is not a Bourbon drinker’s brandy; it’s a wine lover’s brandy." I'm not much of a wine connoisseur, so maybe that's true, but this bourbon (and brandy) drinker wasn't impressed.

There is some good brandy news from K&L though. They just got new shipments of the 1994 and 1996 Chateau de Pellehaut, two of my favorite Armagnacs from last year.

Friday, May 22, 2015

New Whiskey Labels: Parker's Heritage, Laphroaig, Green Spot and More

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

Heaven Hill released the label for this year's Parker's Heritage Collection, an eight year old straight malt whiskey with a mashbill of 65% barley and 35% corn, bottled at 108 proof.

Beam Suntory released a label for a cask strength, 32 year old Laphroaig aged in Oloroso sherry casks.

Balvenie released a number of new labels including Batch 2 of their Tun 1509 and a new series called DCS (for the Balvenie's David C. Stewart) Compendium. This series will apparently include five "chapters," the first of which is a series of whiskies aged in refill American oak and includes the following vintages: 1968, 1978, 1985, 1997, and 2005.

Pernod Ricard cleared a label for Green Spot Single Pot Still Irish Whiskey finished in Bordeaux casks.

Compass Box cleared a label for the newest of edition of their Flaming Heart blended malt, to be bottled in July.

Glenfiddich cleared a label for Bourbon Barrel Reserve, aged 14 years in bourbon casks and finished in American new charred oak.

Fans of paying a premium for mystery whiskey are in luck, Prometheus is headed for our shores.  The 26 year old single malt from an undisclosed distillery goes for almost $600 overseas.

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.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Tween Whiskey - An Endangered Species?

Once upon a time, there were dozens of American whiskey options in the 8 to 12 year range.  Many people, including bourbon guru Chuck Cowdery, consider that to be the "sweet spot" for bourbon, when the new charred oak has had a significant impact but hasn't yet been overexposed.

These days, though, while there is plenty of really old whiskey (mostly thanks to Diageo dumping loads of old bourbon on the market), 8 to 12 year olds are becoming scarce. Distilleries are dropping age statements left and right. Both Eagle Rare 10 year old and Elijah Craig 12 year old recently moved their age statements to the back label in small print, a move many see as a precursor to eliminating the age statement altogether.

So what's left in the world of 8 to 12 year old age stated American whiskey that are in regular release in the US market?  Here is my attempt to list them all.

Jim Beam
Jim Beam Signature Craft (12 yo)Jim Beam Signature Craft Harvest (multiple varieties - 11yo)
Knob Creek (9 yo)
Knob Creek Single Barrel (9 yo)

Brown Forman
Old Forester Birthday Bourbon (12 yo)

Bulleit 10
George Dickel 9 (retail selection barrels only)

Four Roses
Single Barrel Retail Selections (vary from 8 to 12 yo)  

Heaven Hill
Elijah Craig 12
Elijah Craig Barrel Proof (12 yo)
Evan Williams Single Barrel (9 yo)
Henry McKenna (10  yo)
Very Special Old Fitzgerald 12 yo

Sazerac/Buffalo Trace
Eagle Rare 10
Old Rip Van Winkle 10
Van Winkle Lot B (12 yo)
W.L. Weller 12

Wild Turkey
Russell's Reserve 10

Independent Bottlers
Cacao Prieto (Widow Jane 8 yo Bourbon)
Frank-Lin (Old Medley 12 yo, Old Beezer 10 yo)
Luxco (Ezra B Single Barrel 12 yo)
Michter's (10 yo bourbon and rye)
New Riff (OKI 8 yo bourbon distilled by MGP)
Smooth Ambler (MGP - wide variety of bourbon & rye)
Willett (a number of bourbons and an 8 year old MGP rye)

I have to say that's a paltry list, especially compared to what was available just a few years ago.  Did I miss any?

Monday, May 18, 2015

Book Review: Bourbon Empire by Reid Mitenbuler

Whiskey writer Reid Mitenbuler begins his new book, Bourbon Empire: The Past and Future of America's Whiskey, with an anecdote about a relatively important figure I've never heard of. Captain George Thorpe who settled near Jamestown, Virginia was one of the first Americans believed to have distilled corn way back in seventeenth century. He was a promoter of corn and an advocate of more friendly relations with Native Americans. From that first distillation, Mitenbuler weaves countless fascinating tales through the history of the American whiskey industry.  He covers all the major events you've read about in other books but also has many more obscure histories about things like the beginnings of the ice industry and the impact of Jewish immigrants on the whiskey industry (In the 1880s, Mitenbuler writes, Jews comprised 25% of the Louisville whiskey industry while they represented only 3% of the population). Through the years, he traces the tensions between the industry heritage of many small producers (the Jeffersonian model) and the tendency toward consolidation and industrialization (the Hamiltonian model).

Mitenbuler is a good storyteller and an engaging writer who holds your attention with a narrative featuring quirky characters, tales separating history from myth and a good dose of humor. He provides an old recipe for fake whiskey (it involves sugar and bugs), sheds light on the real connection or lack thereof between Old Forester and Ku Klux Klan founder Nathan Bedford Forrest (no real connection but Brown Forman may have played it up during the Civil War centennial to increase sales), tells of a bitter rivalry between whiskey legends E.H. Taylor and George T. Stagg and digs up an old review of a questionable gin that might be my favorite tasting note ever: "having a brief wave of heat as from a match, then a flash of sweetish, pungent, bitter vapor, which seemed to leave all the membranes of the throat covered with a lingering, nauseating mustiness."  And people think I'm harsh.

Mitenbuler also has a good sense of the whiskey world today which allows him to focus, often with amusement, on historical parallels with the current industry.  For instance, after the repeal prohibition, when most whiskey was very young, distilleries looked for aging shortcuts. Publicker Distillery in Pennsylvania claimed that by using a new "artificial aging" process involving shaking barrels and applying heat, they could "make seventeen year old whiskey in twenty-four hours." Hmm, where have I heard that before? Similarly, consumers in the 1950s complained about standard whiskeys in expensive bottles fetching higher prices as evinced by a New York Times headline "Can't Improve Whiskey, So Distillers Turn to Its Container."

Needless to say, Bourbon Empire is a fun and educational read which will please novices and whiskey geeks alike (despite Mitenbuler's belief that whiskey geeks "find a way to argue everything to death.")

Bourbon Empire: The Past and Future of America's Whiskey
by Reid Mitenbuler
Viking $19 (Kindle $12)

Thanks to Reid Mitenbuler for sending an advanced copy of the book.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

If You Could Pick One Whiskey

Monday's reader poll about which single whiskey expression you would choose if you could only have one for the rest of your life received a lot of interesting responses both in the comments and on social media.

Four Roses Single Barrel was the clear winner, with a number of votes going to other Four Roses products as well, further reinforcing Four Roses' dominance of our whiskey geek hearts. Other popular choices were Elijah Craig 12 and Weller Antique.  One person mentioned Blanton's Straight From the Barrel, which would be an excellent choice for folks in Europe or Asia who have regular access to that great whiskey.

Bourbon dominated the choices, but there were many other whiskeys as well with several votes for Redbreast 12 Cask Strength and a smattering of Scotch.  Glendronach and Ardbeg received the most total votes, though for different expressions, but there was really no clear Scotch winner. Interestingly, I didn't see a single rye in the list.

What would I choose?  Four Roses Single Barrel and Elijah Craig 12 are both excellent choices, and I also considered Rendezvous Rye, but in the end, I think I would tend toward that old stalwart Lagavulin 16. Peat is one of the things that got me into whiskey, and for me, it would be one of the hardest things to give up.  That being said, I haven't had the 16 year old in a few years, so I'd need to make sure it's still solid...hmm, maybe time for a tasting.

Thanks for playing!

Monday, May 11, 2015

Reader Poll: Pick One Whiskey for Life

Alright readers, here's a question for you. Let's say you are only allowed to drink one whiskey for the rest of your life. Not one type of whiskey, not one distillery, not even one line of whiskeys but one single expression, such as Elijah Craig Barrel Proof, Yamazki 18 or Lagavulin 16 year old.  You can pick any label in current release to be your one whiskey, but it won't be any easier to get than it is now, so if you pick George T. Stagg or Pappy 20, you risk having some dry years (and let's assume you will not have access to any bottles you may have bunkered).

What's the one bottle you would pick?