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)

Diageo
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?


Friday, May 8, 2015

New Whiskey Labels: Laphroaig, Ledaig, Old Wild Turkey and More


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

Beam released a new label for the 2015 Laphroaig Cairdeas commemorating the distillery's two hundredth anniversary.

A label cleared for a 42 year old Ledaig, the peated malt from the Tobermory distillery on the Isle of Mull.

Wild Turkey cleared a label for a new expression of Russell's Reserve bourbon, distilled in 1998 and bottled in 2015.  That would make it the oldest Wild Turkey expression in quite a while (assuming it's been in the barrel that whole time).

High West cleared a label for a new version of its popular, 16 year old Rocky Mountain Rye. Whereas the previous version came from the Barton Distillery, High West reports that this new version is a blend of a 16 year old Barton rye and a 17 year old LDI (Seagram's) rye. It will be a small release that will likely be available only in Utah.

Luxco Company, a St. Louis bottler, recently bought 50% of the Limestone Branch distillery in Kentucky and announced they would make it the home of the old Yellowstone brand.  Now they have released a label for a seven year old, 105 proof Yellowstone Bourbon. The new bourbon is is a vatting of three Kentucky bourbons: a 12 year old rye recipe, a 7 year old rye recipe and a 7 year old wheated bourbon. While the bourbon is bottled at Limestone Branch, it is distilled elsewhere.

Here's a Heaven Hill label for something called Evan Williams Master Blend which is helpfully described as a "masterful blend of various expressions." It looks like a gift shop item.

Diageo cleared a label for a 12 year old Port Dundas single grain whiskey.

Gordon & MacPhail cleared a label for a 32 year old St. Magdalene.

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, May 6, 2015

Only in Canada: Gibson's Finest Rare & Alberta Premium Dark Horse


While the US gets more Canadian Whiskey than it used to, there are tons of well respected Canadians that still never make it down south.  Today, I will review two Canadian blends that are only available in Canada (though one is now in the US under a different name).

Gibson's Finest Rare, 18 yo, 40% abv ($65 Canadian)

A former American brand that moved north during prohibition, Gibson's is currently owned by William Grant and distilled at Hiram Walker. The older Gibson's expressions, like this one, were distilled at an old Schenley distillery in Quebec.

The nose is very light with green grapes and rubbing alcohol. On the palate, it is quite light and sweet with strong alcohol notes. The finish is short and a bit medicinal with a touch of anise. Yuck!  It's light and alcoholy and just unpleasant.  Too bad, as I had heard a lot of good things about it and was really looking forward to trying it.


Alberta Premium Dark Horse, 45% abv ($30 Canadian)

Beam Suntory's Alberta Distillers is one of the most well regarded distilleries in Canada.  Aside from being responsible for most of the Canadian straight rye that makes it to the US (WhistlePig, Masterson's, Jefferson's, etc.), they make a Canada-only line of blended whiskeys under the Alberta Premium label.

Dark Horse is a blend of a 12 year old high proof rye (i.e., the base whiskey), a six year old lower proof rye (the flavor whiskey), 8% bourbon (Old Grand-Dad) and a small measure of sherry. While Dark Horse is not available in the US, Beam recently introduced a whiskey called Alberta Rye Dark Batch to the US market which appears to be the same stuff.

The nose is fruity, and the palate, at first taste, is light and fruity. Light wine notes emerge in the middle and then a strong grain whiskey profile dominates the later palate and finish. It's not terrible, but very grainy; more of a light horse, if you ask me.


I have to say, every time I taste one of these well regarded Candian blends, I feel disappointed.  The light, grainy notes that seem to characterize them just aren't my cup of tea.