Monday, June 29, 2015

Blog of the Month: Whisky Israel

This month's Blog of the Month is Gal Granov's Whisky Israel.  Since late 2009, Whisky Israel has been consistently posting several reviews per week, mostly of single malt Scotch but occasionally of other whiskeys or other spirits.  Granov's reviews are thoughtful and succinct and his scores are uninflated.  He's been blogging for long enough now that Whisky Israel has quite the library of reviews, including 27 BenRiach reviews, 31 Ardbeg reviews and many more.

Check it out!

Friday, June 26, 2015

New Whiskey Labels from India and Ireland

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

I don't believe we have previously seen whiskeys from Indian distiller Paul John in the US, but this week, labels cleared for Paul John Classic, Edited, Peated and Brilliance.

Irish bottler West Cork Distillers cleared a label for The Pogues, billed as "the official Irish Whiskey of the legendary band."

Speaking of Irish Whiskey, someone must have decided there were not enough Irish Whiskeys using tired stereotypes on their labels. Thankfully, there seems to be an effort to remedy this situation with new labels like Drunken Sailor and Flaming Leprechaun.

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, June 25, 2015

Old Standbys: Highland Park 18

Sometimes it's good to go back to basics.  Highland Park 18 year old has long been a staple of single malt lovers everywhere.  It was one of the whiskeys I tried early on that really turned me on to Scotch, but like many of those old favorites, I haven't tried it in quite a while, passing it up instead for flashy new releases.  The price of this one has gone up over the years making it less of a staple and more of a splurge.  Nonetheless, I thought it was time to try a current edition of the old standby.

Highland Park 18 yo, 43% abv ($130)

The nose brings me back to all those nights with Highland Park.  It's got well balanced malt and peat with some fruity notes in the background.  The palate is grassy with just a touch of peat and maybe a bit of sulfur.  The finish is salty with some very light sherry on the nose.

Is this everything it once was?  It's hard to say as I didn't have the opportunity to do a side by side with an earlier batch.  It doesn't have quite as much complexity of mouthfeel as I remember, but even if it's not everything it once was (and hardly anything is), it's still a good, balanced malt.  It has elements of peat, sherry and bourbon cask malt with none being overly dominant.  I'm glad to see it's still such a reliable, drinkable malt, and I'd still recommend it without hesitation.

Monday, June 22, 2015

NAS vs. Aged Scotch

On, whisky blogger Oliver Klimek ran a blind tasting comparing entry level aged and non age statement (NAS) Scotch from the same distilleries.  It was an interesting experiment that essentially ended in a draw.  I participated in the tasting and thought I would share my own results.

I was part of tasting group A.  I was given five pairs of samples to compare that were labeled only with a code.  The only thing I knew about them was that each pair included one NAS and one age statement whisky from the same distillery.  We were asked to indicate which one we liked best.  I did so but elaborated on how much better I thought each one was.  Here is how I compared each whisky in my sample set along with the results for the group as a whole:

Sample 1: Glen Moray 12 vs. Glen Moray Port Cask Finish

I thought these were fairly comparable but had a slight preference for the age statement, though I actually thought it tasted younger.  Also, I tend not to like port finishes, so this may have impacted my preference more than age.  The age statement won this one for the group as a whole, but only by one vote.

Sample 2: Dalmore 12 vs. Dalmour Valour

On this one, I preferred the NAS Valour. I felt the 12 year old was bland and the Valour was richer with a drier finish.  This one was a draw for the group as a whole.

Sample 3: Glenlivet 12 vs. Glenlivet Founder's Reserve

I had a very strong preference for the 12 year old over the NAS Founder's Reserve, which I found raw and new makey.  It was probably the one I liked least of the entire tasting. The group as a whole also preferred the 12 year old by 8 votes.

Sample 4: Cardhu 12 yo vs. Cardhu Amber Rock

On this one, I had a slight preference for the NAS, which I found bolder and more complex than the 12 year old. The group as a whole also preferred the NAS by 6 votes.

Sample 5: Macallan 10 yo Fine Oak vs. Gold

I had a strong preference for the 10 year old which had a spicy/fruity nose, an earthy palate and a peppery finish. The Gold had a decent nose but the palate was overly perfumy and floral; it just didn't come together well.  The group as a whole, though, preferred the NAS.

So over these five samples, I preferred the age statement in three cases and the NAS in two. However, I should also note that in both cases in which I had a very strong preference between the two samples, it was for the age statement expression.  In the cases where I preferred the NAS, it was a much closer call.  To my mind, this demonstrates that while it is possible for distilleries to make NAS that is as good as their entry level age statement whiskies, it's not easy to do.

This was a fun and educational tasting. Many thanks to Oliver for putting it together.

Friday, June 19, 2015

New Whiskey Labels: Bowmore, High West, Wasabi (?!?) and More

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

Bowmore cleared labels for the third edition of their Devil's Casks, a blend of Oloroso and PX sherry aged whiskies and for a Mizunara cask finish.

High West issued a new label for Yippee Ki-Yay, a wine cask finished version of their Double Rye. The back label has some great copy on it too.

St. George Spirits cleared a label for a Kentucky bourbon bottled for K&L's Faultline label.  It is NAS and the distillery or distilleries are not disclosed, but maybe one of the Daves will let us know some details in the comments.

I'm not a big fan of corn whiskey, but I do love these cool, retro labels for Cobb County Corn Whiskey and Georgia Mountain Dew from the folks at R.M. Spirits in Georgia.

There have been a lot of whiskey related lawsuits lately, so I suppose it was only a matter of time before we saw a label for a truly Litigious Whiskey.

And what's the newest label from Sazerac, makers of George T. Stagg, E.H. Taylor and Blanton's? It's Sabi, a wasabi flavored spirit whiskey.  Well, at least they didn't resort to silly cliches.  Oh, wait, the label has a dragon and a samurai on it and is said to be "like a smooth ninja kick to the face."

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, June 17, 2015

Sticking it to 'em: Walking Stick Bourbon

Walking Stick is a no age statement, single barrel bourbon from the Sazerac owned Barton 1792 Distillery.

Walking Stick Single Barrel, 45% abv ($35)

The nose has fruit cocktail and sweet white wine. Wow, the palate is really fruity.  It's like canned pears. The finish is sweet with more traditional bourbon note on the nose.

I didn't really care for this, but if you're into light, fruity bourbon, you might enjoy it.  As for me, I'll keep walking and stick to other bourbons.

Thanks to John Burlowski for the sample.

Monday, June 15, 2015

More Beam Signature Craft: High Rye & Rolled Oats

I previously reviewed the brown rice and red wheat bottlings from the Jim Beam Signature Craft series. Today, I taste two more bottlings from this series: rolled oats and high rye.  Both are 11 years old and 90 proof.

Jim Beam Signature Craft Rolled Oats, 11 yo, 45% abv ($50 for 375 ml)

The nose is sweet with honey and some peanut notes, a pretty typical Beam nose. The palate begins with sweet caramel then turns dry with some nice oak notes. It's a decent bourbon, though it's hard to discern any particular impact from the oats.

Jim Beam Signature Craft High Rye, 11 yo, 45% abv ($50 for 375 ml)

Jim Beam already makes a series of high rye bourbons under the Old Grand-Dad and Basil Hayden's label.  Is this simply an older version of those bourbons?

The nose has a lot of fruit: pineapple, nectarines, etc. The palate is dry and a bit soapy with some mineral notes that carry into the finish. This one is a bit all over the map flavor wise.  Surprisingly, what it doesn't seem to have is much in the way of spicy rye notes. There's a bit of rye spice in there, but it's pretty muted. This one just didn't come together well.

Well, this was the opposite of what I expected.  The rolled oats was pretty decent, but I didn't care for the high rye.  Having now tasted four of these alternative mashbills, it's interesting to note which elements of the Jim Beam style are in evidence in the different permutations. While I certainly haven't cared for all of them, the quality has generally been good, and I'm glad Beam released them, though I wish they were a bit more affordable.

Thanks to John Burlowski for the samples.

Friday, June 12, 2015

New Whiskey Labels: Compass Box, Hirsch, Beam and More

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

Compass Box cleared a new label for a blend called This is Not Luxury.

A label cleared for Berry's 40, a 40 year old  blend from Berry Bros. & Rudd.

Beam Suntory issued a label for Urban Stillhouse Select, an "extra aged," non-chill filtered bourbon with no age statement.

Over the last few years, Anchor has been marketing a Kentucky bourbon under the Hirsch Reserve label (Anchor has owned the Hirsch label since its 2008 purchase of Preiss Imports). This week, they cleared a new label designating Hirsch Reserve as "distilled in Indiana," and we know what that means.

Here's a competitor for our ongoing worst label competition. It's Crippled Crow Rye Whiskey from Mississippi River Distilling in Iowa.  How bad is this label? Let us count the ways. First, it uses a term many consider distasteful and shows a crow with a cane. Second, the back label seems designed to pack in as many bad whiskey cliches as possible: "secret formula," "custom-designed," "distilling art."  Yikes! At least it's not NAS; this stuff has been aged more than one year!

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, June 10, 2015

Sort of Almost Stitzel-Weller: Blade and Bow 22 year old

Blade & Bow is a new series of bourbons released by Diageo under the label "Stitzel-Weller Distillery."  This is, of course, utter bullshit and merely an attempt to capitalize on the hype surrounding Pappy Van Winkle's Stitzel-Weller Distillery which a corporate ancestor of Diageo had the foresight to shut down back in 1992. (If you want to have fun, try to count the mentions of Stitzel-Weller on the Blade & Bow website).

The series includes a non age statement bourbon and a 22 year old, which I review today.  The NAS uses a solera method which Diageo claims includes some Stitzel-Weller bourbon. The 22 year old includes bourbons distilled at Buffalo Trace and the Bernheim Distillery but was "inspired by the passion and craftsmanship of the legendary Stitzel-Weller Distillery." The odd thing is that Buffalo Trace and Bernheim are no slouches when it comes to great bourbons, but I guess they just don't have the cache of Stitzel-Weller.

Blade & Bow 22 year old, 46% abv ($150)

The nose is rich caramel and dry oak; it smells like a lovely, old wheater, much like some of the aged wheaters from Bernheim that were bottled by Willett (though I should note that Diageo has not stated whether this is composed of any wheated bourbons). On the palate, it's very dry and oaky with some acidic notes, and then it just fades away.  You get a quick taste of those old wheaters, but with none of the complexity or strength.  On the finish, there is lots of dusty bourbon with more great caramel and oak.

This has the nose and finish of a great bourbon, but the palate is just average. My guess is this may have been great at cask strength, but they added too much water. Old whiskeys, especially old wheaters (and this definitely tastes like it has some wheated bourbon components), can be very temperamental with water. Too much water breaks up the complexity and dulls the long-slumbering subtleties while giving emphasis to bitter and/or acidic notes. As it is, it's fine bourbon, but the best thing about it is that it hints at some of the great old ones.

Thanks to John Burlowski for the sample.

Monday, June 8, 2015

EH Taylor Cured Oak

This is the latest release (and the first new release in quite some time) from Buffalo Trace's EH Taylor series.  Buffalo Trace has stated that it is a 17 year old bourbon (there is no age statement on the label) that was aged in barrels with staves that were air dried for 13 months as opposed to the usual six months. It was aged in Warehouse C, which means it presumably survived the same tornado that hit the distillery's warehouse and produced an earlier bottling in the series.  As with most of the Taylor whiskeys, it is bottled in bond. Suggested retail price was $70, but good luck with that. Going retail price seems to be around $100.

E.H. Taylor Cured Oak, BIB, 50% abv ($100)

The nose is sweet and fruity with fresh cherries. The palate starts with a touch of sweetness. The middle palate is grainy with brown rice, and then the desert dry oak sets in which turns bitter.  The bitter palate stays on for the finish, although it does have a nice sweet finish on the nose.  This is fairly good stuff, though quite dry and oaky, and it needs a lot of air.  Straight out of the bottle, it tasted pretty bad; it took some time to develop.  While that's not unusual for older whiskeys, the difference here was more extreme.  I would open it a day before you intend to drink it to give it some exposure to air.

Friday, June 5, 2015

New Whiskey Labels: Diageo Distiller's Editions and More

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

Diageo cleared labels for a number of this year's Distiller's Editions, including Cragganmore (distilled 2003), Dalwhinnie (no dates), Talisker (2005) and Glenkinchie (2003).

Diageo also cleared a label for Johnnie Walker Select Casks, a ten year old blended Scotch finished in rye casks.

A new label cleared for anCnoc Rascan, a no age statement peated whiskey.

A label cleared for Wild Reeds Blue Bourbon Cask Whiskey, a South African whiskey distilled at the Schoonspruit Distillery. The label indicates that it is a three year old corn based whiskey. I would have thought the TTB would have had a problem with this whiskey classing itself as "Bourbon Cask Whiskey."  Bourbon must be from the United States.  While lots of Scotches and other whiskeys are aged in bourbon casks, they normally are designated as single malt (or blended whiskey, etc.) aged in bourbon casks.  This whiskey doesn't do that and seems likely to cause confusion.

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, June 3, 2015

Said No One Ever - Reader Responses

There were some great reader responses to my whiskey edition of Said No One Ever, both in the comments and on social media. Here are a few of my favorites:

  • I'm glad I bought all the Orphan Barrels.
  • This six month old Frankenstein whiskey really does taste like it's ten.
  • I wish my favorite distillery would come out with a younger expression or a NAS because I really love the grassy sweet and aggressive kick of young whiskey.
  • K&L really underplayed that whiskey.
  • I really like Canadian Whiskey because it always has such depth and character.
  • I think Bowmore peaked in the '80s.
  • I think closed distilleries generally went out of business because their whiskey was bad.
  • I think I'll wait and buy this on the secondary market.

Monday, June 1, 2015

Said No One Ever - Whiskey Edition

Okay, I realize that this meme is like five years old, but, hey, I'm a bit slow, and I don't think anyone ever did a whiskey edition. So here for your enjoyment is the whiskey geek edition of things said by no one ever:

  • My favorite distilleries are Dailuaine and Girvan.
  • I collected a ton of Pappy Van Winkle back in '06 - I'm happy to sell you one at cost.
  • I wish they had bottled this at lower proof.
  • We started our grain to glass microdistillery in the hopes that one day a major corporation would buy us out and make us really rich.
  • It doesn't matter whether Jack Daniel's is technically a bourbon or not. 
  • I really prefer whiskeys that have been aged in small barrels.
  • Our company's whiskeys are not at all smooth.
  • I prefer Willett bottlings that don't have a name.
  • I wish they had finished this in port casks.
  • Wow, did you see the great deal on Casker's!
  • The industry has been struggling to find a way to get more middle aged white men interested in whiskey.
  • I love reading the distillery profiles in whiskey magazines.
  • There just aren't enough whiskey blogs.

Now it's your turn...