Monday, August 31, 2015

Redemption Barrel Proof Rye

Redemption Rye is an MGP rye sold by Dynamic Spirits. Besides being barrel proof, this expression has an age statement, is labeled "straight" and discloses on the label that it's distilled in Indiana so it meets all the whiskey geek criteria.  Now how does it taste?

Redemption Barrel Proof Rye, 7 years old, Batch 6, 61.3% ($100)

On the nose you get a big hit of MGP rye right away with huge bold spicy notes. The palate is similarly bold and spicy as you would expect but it's nicely balanced with some sweetness.  Toward the late palate, though, it gets bitter and the bitterness hangs on until the finish; it's an almost Campari type of bitter note.  Eventually, the bitterness fades and you're left with a lot of pine type notes. Water brings out sweet mint tea (another traditional MGP note) on the palate but doesn't do anything to cut the bitter notes in the late palate and finish.

While the ending notes were too heavy on the bitterness, this rye has great, bold rye notes. It's definitely one of the stronger MGP ryes I've tasted, and I wouldn't hesitate to pour a glass or use it in a cocktail.  If they could cut the bitter notes, it would be fantastic.

Friday, August 28, 2015

New Whiskey Labels: Ghosts and Earthquakes

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

Weird of the Week:  Boone County Distilling's Eighteen 33 Bourbon was made to celebrate the heritage of early distillers in Boone County, Kentucky.  And what better way to honor early Kentucky distillers then to bottle an Indiana bourbon?  Oh, and apparently, it's made by ghosts.

Disaster of the Week: In the disaster whiskey category, we've seen snow storms, fires and tornadoes.  I suppose it was only a matter of time before the first earthquake whiskey appeared on the shelf, and here it is: Hooker's House Epicenter, whiskeys that "hung precariously" and "mico vibrated" during last year's 6.0 earthquake in Northern California. I'm taking bids on the next disaster whiskey - maybe an El Niño surviving whiskey?

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 26, 2015

Sukkah Hill Spirits Liqueurs: Etrog & Besamim

I don't drink a lot of liqueurs, but every once in a while I find one that's interesting. Sukkah Hill Spirits, named for the outdoor shelters from the Jewish holiday of Sukkot, is a small, Los Angeles area company. Like many liqueur start ups, it was started by a culinarily inclined couple who used to blend alcoholic infusions for holidays (hence name). They went into business and are now making two liqueurs:  Etrog, based on a rare citron-like fruit, and Besamim, a sweet and spicy liqueur.

As a base, both spirits use a neutral spirit distilled from cane sugar in South Africa. They use all natural ingredients with no artificial flavors or coloring, and both of their spirits are certified Kosher. They sell for $33 for a 375 ml bottle.

Etrog (38% abv) has a great nose with bright citrus notes. On the palate, it has a light citrus flavor with none of the Lemon Pledge notes that are so typical in citrus liqueurs. As with most liqueurs, it's too sweet for me to drink straight, but it does well in cocktails.  In terms of whiskeys, they suggest adding it to rye, which is good, but I prefer it with heavily peated Scotch since I love the combination of sweet and smoke. It's like a citrusy, smoky Rusty Nail.

Besamim (37% abv) is a delicious, spice mix with tons of cinnamon (real cinnamon, not that Red Hot style flavor you get in flavored whiskeys), clove and ginger; they hand grind the spices for it. It's pretty much pumpkin pie in a bottle, and puts you right at the Thanksgiving table.  There are tons of cocktail possibilities, but honestly, I just like to sip it neat, even as sweet as it is. That warm holiday feeling that it gives me will be perfect when it starts to cool down around here.

Occasionally I'm surprised by something I wouldn't normally like, and these liqueurs are really good. If you have a sweet tooth, I would definitely recommend them. They may have a holiday theme, but you don't have to wait until the high holidays or Thanksgiving to give them a try.

Thanks to Sukkah Hill Spirits for providing samples of their spirits.

Monday, August 24, 2015

Whiskey Law: The Age Statement

Recently, the TTB seems to be cracking down on improper age statements on whiskey labels, so I thought I would provide this brief primer on age statements on American labels.

  • There are no minimum ages for American whiskeys.  However, to be labeled "straight," a whiskey must be at least two years old. 27 CFR §5.22(b)(1)(iii).
  • The age of a whiskey means the period for which it was stored in oak or, where new charred oak is required (as in bourbon, rye, etc.), the period for which it was stored in new charred oak.  So if a bourbon is finished in a wine cask, the finishing period cannot be part of the listed age (though the label can state separately how long it was aged in the finishing cask). Similarly, if a whiskey is transferred to steel tanks, the period in those tanks cannot be included in the listed age. 27 CFR §5.11
  • An age statement is required to be listed on the label if the whiskey is younger than four years old. 27 CFR §5.40(a).
  • The age statement on the label must be the age of the youngest whiskey included in the bottle and the age may be understated but not overstated. 27 CFR §5.40(a)(1), 5.40(e)(1).
  • A minimum age statement ("at least 2 years old") is acceptable but maximum age statements ("aged less than 2 years old") are prohibited. Distilled Spirits FAQ, S11. This is one the TTB seems to be cracking down on.
  • If a label lists the age of more than one whiskey contained in a bottle, it must list the percentage of each such whiskey in the bottle. (TTB Beverage Alcohol Manual, Chapter 8). This is to prevent a label from saying the whiskey is a blend of 2 year old and 17 year old bourbon when there is only a drop of 17 year old whiskey in it.  This has not been enforced in the past, but there are some signs that the TTB has become more strict about it.

Friday, August 21, 2015

New Whiskey Labels: New Orphan Barrels, Maker's Mark and More

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

Diageo cleared two new labels in their Orphan Barrel series. The Gifted Horse 4 year old is another "mistake" whiskey in which they somehow accidentally blended whiskey.  The label describes it as containing "roughly 39% 17-year-old Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey and 61% younger corn whiskey and Indiana Bourbon Whiskey." They second label they cleared was for Whoop & Holler, a 28 year old whiskey distilled at George Dickel.

Maker's Mark cleared a label for a cask strength version of Maker's 46.

American whiskey bottler Frank-Lin cleared a label for Medley's Private Stock, a ten year old Kentucky bourbon.

Last week I wrote about new labels for the Diageo 2015 special releases.  Add to that another for Dailuaine 34 year old.

Gordon & MacPhail cleared labels for Glenlivets from 1961, 1966 and 1977.

Balblair cleared labels for a number of their vintage malts ranging from 1969 to 2003.

Brandy fans will be happy to see a label for a new version of Gourry de Chadeville Cognac.  Last year's Gourry de Chadeville was one of my favorite spirits of the year.

What kind of whiskey are you department: Here's a new label from the Panther Distillery in Minnesota for a...well, I'm not sure. It's labeled Saint Paul Rye Whiskey but the description says it's "Three-year-old cold weather aged rye corn whiskey bourbon."  What is "rye corn whiskey bourbon"?  I don't know, and the back label just furthers the confusion referring to it as a rye whiskey and then stating "Distilled from a Bourbon Mash."  What is this stuff?  How did it get approved by the TTB? Does anyone out there know what they're doing?

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 19, 2015

K&L Sale Scotches

K&L has recently lowered the price on a number of their exclusive barrel picks, so I picked some up...because I'm a sucker for a sale.

BenRiach 1994 Peated, 19 years old, Cask 7187, Bourbon Barrel, 53% abv ($110)

The nose has heavy, sharp peat. The palate has sweet peat notes and then gets a bit sour.  It has a great peaty finish on the nose.  This is very BenRiach with its sharp peat notes.  It's a bit one note, as the peated BenRiachs tend to be, but it's quite decent.

Bowmore 2001 Signatory, 12 years old, Cask 1371, Refill Sherry, 59.1% abv ($59)

The nose opens with honeycomb candy (or Bit-O-Honey for those that remember that). Then, there are some fuel type notes, like you dropped your Bit-O-Honey in a mysterious puddle at the mechanic's shop, plus peat and sulfur. The palate opens with a similar mix of flavors - lots of honey plus peaty, fuel type notes. Then there are some sulfur notes which come to dominate the late palate. The finish is mostly peat.  This one is a bit weird, but I like it. It's sweet and bold and leaves you feeling peaty, and for $60, it's a great deal.

Laphroaig 1998 Signatory, 15 years old, Cask 700386, Refill Butt, 59.1% abv ($127)

The nose has tropical fruit. The palate is pure peaty Laphroaig with a very light fruitiness that stays on the palate for the finish, but the nasal exhale of the finish is pure peat.  If this was indeed, aged in a sherry cask, it must have been used multiple time as there is almost no sherry character, but it's quite good as a straight forward Laphroaig...tastes like something that could have been a distillery bottling.

That's three very solid peaters from K&L.  They were all good, but the Laphroaig was my favorite, followed by the Bowmore and then the BenRiach.  That being said, I generally tend not to favor BenRiachs as much as some others do; if you're a BenRiach fan, you may well like that one the best.

Monday, August 17, 2015

American Single Malts: Westland and Cut Spike

Two of the most well regarded American single malts are Westland from Washington State and Cut Spike from Nebraska. Today, I taste new offerings from each of them: Batch 3 of Cut Spike and a K&L barrel from Westland (which seems to be sold out).

Cut Spike Single Malt, 2 yo, Batch 3, 43% abv ($60)

I reviewed Batch 1 of Cut Spike last year and found it quite good. Batch 3 is brand new on the market.

The nose has prominent gin notes, then some vanilla. The palate is very raw with sweet grainy notes. The juniper notes come back in the finish.

Unfortunately, this couldn't be more different from Batch 1, the earlier batch which I liked (I tasted them side by side as I still have some of Batch 1 left). It has none of the depth and complexity of that bottling. Instead, it tastes like a pretty run of the mill craft whiskey, young with raw wood.  I'm hoping this is an aberration. 

Westland Cask 300, 60.8% abv ($90)

Westland has been popular for a few years now, but this is the first one I've tried. This is a special, cask strength, fino sherry aged bottling for K&L.

This has an odd nose with Butterfinger and pralines & cream ice cream. The palate is full of sweet toffee, a more literal toffee flavor that is found in bourbon, which often has toffee-like notes.  The toffee note comes on strong but then fades quickly and you're left with a very vague sherry note on the finish. Water tames the sweetness a bit but also brings out some sulfur on the palate.

This one was a mess. It was sweet but without depth, and it didn't retain any positive notes from the sherry aging.

I was really looking forward to this tasting since these are two of the stars of American single malt, but both of these were disappointing.  I have another few Westlands in the tasting queue, so I'll see if this one was a fluke or not.  As for Cut Spike, I know they can make good whiskey, this batch just didn't live up to the earlier one. I hope, as they have become popular, they are not rushing out barrels that aren't yet ready.

Thanks to Funky Tape for the samples.

Friday, August 14, 2015

New Whiskey Labels: Lots of Scotch and More

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

Diageo cleared labels for this year's special releases.  They include Brora 37, Port Ellen 32, cask strength NAS Clynelish, Dalwhinnie 25, Caol Ila 17 unpeated,  Lagavulin 12, Pittyvaich 25, and The Cally, a 40 year old single grain from the Caledonian Distillery.

Glenmorangie cleared a label for Milsean, the seventh release in its private collection consisting of "single malt whisky matured in ex-bourbon casks and then extra-matured in former wine casks, re-toasted for the purpose."

William Grant cleared a label for a 36 year old Glenfiddich distilled in 1978 and Ghosted Reserve, a 21 year old blended malt that includes malts from the shuttered Ladyburn and Inverleven distilleries.

The current Kentucky Tavern is a Sazerac label straight bourbon distilled at the Barton 1792 distillery. This week, Sazerac cleared a label for Kentucky Tavern Special Reserve, labeled "bourbon whiskey with natural flavors." I guess the natural flavors make it special.

Looks like K&L will be bringing in some more Scotch grain whiskeys, including a 50 year old Invergordon bottled by Sovereign.

A label cleared for a single malt from one of Scotland's newest distilleries: Wolfburn.

There are a lot of mystery malts out there, but you don't usually see them as old as this Ainsley Brae 49 year old Highland malt distilled in 1964.  It's bottled by Alexander Murray, so don't be surprised to see it at Costco or Trader Joe's as they are the bottler for these chains. 

I've seen whiskeys finished in maple wood and maple syrups aged in whiskey barrels, but I think this Roundstone Rye from Catoctin Creek is the first time I've seen a whiskey finished in a maple syrup barrel.

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 12, 2015

Younger Armagnacs from Baraillon and Darroze

Today I taste two Armagnacs from two of my favorite producers.  

Domaine de Baraillon 10 year old, 2003 42% abv ($53)

Domaine de Baraillon has blown me away with some of their older vintages.  This is by far the youngest Baraillon I've tasted.  It was bottled for K&L.

This has a really nice nose with honey and floral notes.  The palate is sweet and fruity and the finish has raisins. With the sweet and fruity notes, it's more like a Cognac than a typical Armagnac.

This is light and sweet and not very complex but totally enjoyable.

Darroze Les Grand Assemblages 20 year old, 43% ($100)

Darroze is the most prominent independent bottler in Armagance.  Most of their bottlings are vintage bottlings which disclose the (usually very small) distillery.  This is age stated but there is no distillery listed so it is likely a blend of Armagnacs from different distilleries.

The nose is spicy with a touch of fruit slipped in between the spicy notes. On the palate, it's rich and spicy with a touch of sweetness, a typical Armagnac mix.  The finish surprised me with Christmas spices, especially ground ginger but also some clove at the end of the finish.

As with the Baraillon, this Armaganc is not overly complex, but fun to drink with a nice balance of sweet and spicy notes.   

Thanks to Funky Tape for the samples.

Monday, August 10, 2015

Old Forester 1897

Old Forester 1897 is a new Bottled in Bond expression from Brown Forman, part of their Whiskey Row series.

Old Forester 1897, BIB, 50% abv ($50)

The nose is dry with straw and some soapy notes. The palate is grassy/grainy with spicy notes of clove and ginger, showing more rye than most Old Forester does. The finish is the first time there is much sweetness in the whiskey with some gentle sugar on the tongue surrounded by spice.

As regular readers know, I don't generally have much good to say about Brown Forman products, but this is the best Old Forester I've had in quite a while. It's dry and complex without the bitter, off notes that have dragged down some of their past whiskeys.  It's really quite nice.

Thanks to John Burlowski for the sample.


Friday, August 7, 2015

New Whiskey Labels: Amador, Seven Stills and The Last Drop

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

Amador Distillery, the folks who brought us the Corti Borthers Exquisite Whiskey, cleared a new label for Fillmore/Sacramento, an 8 year old bourbon finished in casks from Sonoma Portworks, bottled for D&M in San Francisco.

Seven Stills, the San Francisco distiller that makes whiskey from craft beer, has cleared a label for a whiskey made from Almanac Beer Company's Dogpatch Sour, the first whiskey I'm aware of distilled from a sour beer.

The Last Drop, the brand that makes hyper expensive blended Scotch, cleared a label for a  single malt.  The Last Drop Distilles Limited is a 47 year old Glen Garioch distilled in 1967, aged in a bourbon cask and bottled at cask strength.

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 5, 2015

TTB Proposes New Whiskey Definitions

The TTB regulations have long been in need of an update to cover newer whiskey styles that have emerged in the past decade.  This week, the TTB announced a new list of proposed whiskey classifications and requirements. They aren't perfect, and some don't go far enough, but they are a good start at updating the regulations. As with all federal regulations, these will be subject to a public comment period before being formally enacted.

Tennessee Whiskey: Whiskey produced in Tennessee at not exceeding 160° proof from a fermented mash of not less than 51 percent corn and stored at not more than 125° proof in charred new oak containers; and also includes mixtures of such whiskeys of the same type.

Vermont Whiskey: Whiskey which is a distinctive product of Canada, manufactured in Canada in compliance with the laws of Canada regulating the manufacture of Canadian whiskey for consumption in Canada.

Handmade or Handcrafted Whiskey: Whiskey which is a distinctive product of Indiana, manufactured in Indiana in compliance with the laws of Indiana regulating the manufacture of Indiana whiskey for consumption in Indiana. 

Craft Whiskey: Whiskey (1) made by a former accountant, lawyer or banker who decided to quit the rat race and follow his/her dreams; (2) which is unaged, or if aged, is aged in small barrels; and (3) which shall have the taste and character typical of turpentine or other chemical solvents.

Moonshine: An unaged spirit which (1) shall include a vintage car, scantily clad woman or old, bearded man on the label; (2) shall be bottled in a mason jar or jug-like container; and (3) shall include non-standard spellings and/or contractions on the label.

Small Batch: A spirit which shall contain on the label the term "small batch." 

Orphan Barrel: A whiskey conforming to the standards for Bourbon whiskey that carries a required age statement of at least 20 years old and that has the taste and character associated with wood chips, splinters and/or plywood.

Limited Edition, Limited Release or Special Edition: Whiskey which comes in a decorative bottle or box and which is priced at not less than $80 for a 750 ml container.

State of Distillation Requirement: All whiskey shall include on its label one of the following: (1) the state in which the whiskey was distilled; (2) the state in which the whiskey was aged; (3) the state in which the whiskey was bottled; (4) the state wherein is located the aquifer which supplied the water that was added to the whiskey; (5) the state in which a previous whiskey that used the same brand name was produced; (6) the state in which lived a deceased gangster or outlaw who is featured on the label of said whiskey; or (7) any other state that seems cool.

As I said, these aren't perfect, but they are at least an effort to update the regulations.  Let me know what you think of them.

Monday, August 3, 2015

Bleeding Out with Blood Oath Bourbon

Luxco is a St. Louis based spirits company that markets a number of spirits, including budget, sourced whiskey, much of it from Heaven Hill.  Their bourbon brands include Ezra Brooks (including standard and 12 year old expressions) and the wheated Rebel Yell and Rebel Reserve.

Blood Oath Bourbon is Luxco's attempt to bring a "high end, luxury type bourbon to the market." According to this excellent interview of Luxco's John Rempe by Bourbon & Banter, the company's goal in producing this product was "to bring an innovative and unique tasting experience and bourbon experience to the bourbon connoisseur geared toward the person who really knows what he wants in a bourbon." Er, okay.

The company has said that Blood Oath is a blend of two rye recipe bourbons and one wheat recipe bourbon, presumably a mixture of the bourbons that populate their other offerings. The bourbons in the blend range from 6 to 12 years old.

There's a lot of cheesy atmospherics here including the batches being labeled as "pacts" and a proof of 98.6 (i.e. body temperature) which, according to Rempe, "mixes right in with the blood."  Alright, let's do some blood mixing.

Blood Oath Bourbon, Pact 1, 49.3% abv ($90)

The nose is very light with light caramel and grain notes. The palate is also very light with cane sugar and light caramel notes. The finish is candy sweet (sort of like the red candy on candied apples).

This is perfectly decent stuff; it's light and drinkable, but not very complex and hardly a "unique tasting experience." I could recommend it as a pleasing sipper if it were in the $30 range, but I certainly wouldn't pay anywhere near $90 for it. Blood Oath? I'd say it's more of a pinky promise.

Thanks to John Burlowski for the sample.