Thursday, December 29, 2011

The Good Stuff Continued and Introducing Dusty Thursday: Old Weller Original 107

I'm going to use my end of year tasting of good stuff to inaugurate a new feature here on Recent Eats. I taste a fair amount of old dusty bottles that I find in corner stores or through generous friends. I usually don't write these up since they are hard to find and not something you can run out and buy. But since there seems to be precious few on-line reviews of dusty bottles, I thought I would start an occasional series, Dusty Thursday, in which I will review old, out of production American whiskeys. These whiskeys give us a window into the past both in terms of how whiskey tasted and the business of whiskey since they often involve distilleries that are no longer operating or brands that have been sold, often multiple times.

We'll start this series today with one of my biggest dusty treasures. Bourbon from the closed Stitzel-Weller distillery is pretty much the holy grail of dusty hunting. Today's bottle is Old Weller Original 107 from Stitzel-Weller. The bottom of the bottle carries a "79" so it is likely bottled around or later than 1979. The bottle has a federal and state (Oklahoma) tax stamp, abv is indicated only in proof, there is no government warning and volume is listed in milliliters (though on the bottle and state stamp, not the label). It also includes a Louisville address; the bottle came in a clear plastic box with gold colored trim. All of these factors point to a late '70s or early '80s bottle. Later, this expression was changed to "Old Weller Antique."

After Stitzel-Weller was closed by the company now known as Diageo, the Weller brand was sold to Buffalo Trace. A few years ago, they removed the 7 year age statement and changed the bottle design.

Old Weller the Original 107, 7 years old, 107 proof (53.5% abv). No. 3038-A.

Wow! The nose just screams Stitzel-Weller with lovely caramel and toffee notes and a very slight citrus note underneath. The palate has intense vanilla, caramel and candy flavors followed by a musty note, like old dusty boxes in the attic. It trails off with some citrus/creamsicle. It has a satisfyingly chewy mouthfeel and even a slight puckering quality. The finish is almost Cognac like in its sweetness. This whiskey manages to be light and rich at the same time.

Tasting this time capsule of a bourbon, I realize what a tragedy it is that this distillery is no longer operational. These old whiskeys really do have a unique flavor profile. It's true that there is still Stitzel-Weller on the market; you can get it in the Jefferson Presidential Selection bourbons or the Pappy Van Winkle 20 and 23 year olds, but those older whiskeys have a very different flavor profile from this seven year old Weller. While Jefferson and Pappy are certainly good, they taste much more like other bourbons on the market today. The extra age and the wood influence that comes with it seems to compromise some of the sweet and mild character that these younger Stitzel-Wellers had. Maybe seven to twelve years was the Stitzel-Weller sweet spot, and the additional oak mutes those qualities that made it so special. If you're ever lucky enough to find some of this stuff or one of the equally great Stitzel-Weller bourbons from the Old Fitzgerald line, raise a glass and shed a tear for the distillery that is no more.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

The Good Stuff Continued: Glenfarclas 40

Glenfarclas is an independent Speyside distillery known for its heavily sherried malt whisky. Last year, they made a big splash by introducing a 40 year old. Most 40 year olds released by distilleries are put into hand blown bottles encased in specially carved boxes made out of antique wood made by forest gnomes. Glenfarclas put their 40 year old in a regular bottle encased in a typical cardboard tube and priced it such that you could get it for around $470 retail. Now, that may seem like a lot of money for a bottle of whisky (and indeed, it is), but it is nowhere near what you will pay for other distillery produced 40 year olds. For instance, Highland Park 40 and Glenfiddich 40 both go for around $2,000. And Bowmore 40? That will cost you $11,000. So in the world of extravagantly priced whiskies, the Glenfarclas 40 is a true bargain.

Glenfarclas 40 year old , 46% abv($470)

The nose on this is really wonderful. It starts with Welch's grape juice and then moves into more classically sherried territory with raisins, but it's also got tropical fruit, some maple syrup and vanilla extract. I could smell it all day. The palate starts with vanilla candy and follows up with soft sherried notes, ending on a slightly bitter note. While it's very nice, the palate is not as interesting as the nose. It feels a bit hotter than 46%. Water brings out some nice woody notes that give it a savory flavor. The finish is sherry and vanilla with maybe a bit of creamsicle.

For being so old, this is incredibly drinkable. It's very well balanced, sherried without being a real sherry bomb. If this were an average priced whisky, it would be something I would want to drink every day. Given the price, that's simply not possible. Still, the Glenfarclas 40 is awfully fun to drink, and the more I drink it, the more I like it.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Blue in the Face: Johnnie Walker Blue King George V

Several years ago, I reviewed the standard Johnnie Walker color line: Red, Black, Gold, Blue. My conclusion was that while the Blue was the best of the bunch, it was way overpriced. Well at $170 per bottle, the Blue is downright cheap next to its well heeled brother Johnnie Walker Blue King George V which weighs in at $350.

One of the things often touted along with the King George V is that it includes malt from the closed Port Ellen distillery, but that seems less impressive when you think about the fact that there is still plenty of Port Ellen single malt available for substantially less than the George V costs with its undisclosed amount of Port Ellen.

The fact is though, King George V isn't competing for those of us who might buy Port Ellen. This is status whisky, pure and simple. It's for the broker who had a good year or a piece of swag in the awards basket for the Hollywood star. They don't know from Port Ellen, they know from Johnnie Walker Blue.

But how does it taste? Well, thanks to a sample from my pal at Scotch and Ice Cream, I'm able to tell you.

Johnnie Walker Blue King George V, 43% abv ($350).

The nose on this has sweet malty notes with pineapple, bing cherries and wet grass. On the palate it is malt forward but there are some slightly grainy notes (I first tasted this blind and was pretty sure it was a blend based on these grainy notes) as well as some corn syrup. Despite the Port Ellen, there was no discernible smoke. The finish is very light and short.

This is fine to drink, but it's nothing at all special. It's the type of profile I would probably really like at a higher proof. As is, it's pleasant and drinkable, but at this price, I could probably think of a few hundred whiskies that would be much better. So I implore you, don't buy this stuff, it's not for you anyway (unless you happen to be a Hollywood star, hedge fund manager or someone else who delights in status symbols.

Monday, December 26, 2011

The Good Stuff

Ah, the slow week between Christmas and New Year's Day. It's one of the few times in the year when the whole Western world seems to slow down just a little. I've decided to take this time to step back and enjoy life, and that means trying some of the good stuff. Some choice whiskey samples or the bottles I've been saving for a special occasion, because what better occasion than right now. This week will be a celebration of good whiskey (or at least the whiskey that is supposed to be good). Hopefully it will be fun. We'll start tomorrow with something blue.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Last Minute Gift Idea: Sweet Confections by Nina Wanat

I was crushed earlier this year when Nina Wanat shut down her awesome candy company BonBonBars which produced some of the best candy anywhere, ever. But Nina must know the old adage, give me some candy and I eat for a day, teach me how to make candy and I eat for a lifetime, because while BonBonBars is no more, she has a new candy making book out just in time for the holidays.

Sweet Confections: Beautiful Candy to Make at Home, is a fabulous book. It's got some of everything: caramels, fudge, marshmallows, toffee, after dinner mints, you name it.

The best thing about this book is that it is very accessible. I've made lots of chocolate but never made any other types of candy, and I was able to jump right in and make some great things out of Nina's book. The recipes are clearly explained and not overly time consuming. And for the most part, you can do them with ordinary kitchen equipment, although you will need a candy thermometer. Lots of recipes also require a stand mixer, but I found I was able to do fine with a food processer. The only caution I have is to watch how much the recipe makes; some of them make quantities that are larger than you may need (unless you're opening your own candy store) so you may want to halve them.

One thing to be clear about is that this isn't a BonBonBar cookbook. Very few recipes for the old BonBonBars appear (the exceptions are some of their marshmallow candies). My guess is the candy bars were just too challenging for the average home cook, so I will have to wait to see if there is a second volume that teaches me out to make those Scotch bars.

So if you're looking for a great gift for a home cook or lover of sweets, check out Sweet Confections, available for only $12 on Amazon.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

2011: The Year in Whiskey

Last year, I complained that it was a pretty ho hum year in the world of whiskey. Well, I'm happy to report that this year was anything but. So let's review 2011: The Year in Whiskey.

Buffalo Trace. Buffalo Trace was on fire this year. Their Single Oak Project is perhaps the most ambitious project ever undertaken by a distillery. On top of that, they released a new label, E.H. Taylor, with two expressions. As if that wasn't enough, they reinvigorated the A. Smith Bowman distillery with a new line of bourbons and ryes. Pretty amazing output from one distillery, though, with the exception of the Bowmans, much of BT's new whiskey this year was more innovative than tasty. Still, the level of output from Buffalo Trace this year was beyond impressive.

Rye Revolution. The rye expansion continues. There were new ryes everywhere in 2011. Bulleit and Willett brought out LDI ryes, Woodford introduced not one but two as part of their Master's Collection, and Beam announced it would come out with a Knob Creek Rye as well, though it may not be here until 2012. Add to that the Canadian straight ryes listed below, and it goes to show that the rye renaissance is far from over.

Finished American Whiskey. Long a staple of Scotch, wine finishing received some attention from American whiskey this year. The year started with the popular, port finished Angel's Envy and ended with a Cognac finished bourbon from the Parker's Heritage Collection. Given these high profile releases, I'd say we will see more finishing experiments in the future.

Pure Pot Still Power. When there is news from the sleepy world of Irish Whiskey, it usually comes from Cooley, but this year the Midleton Distillery woke us all up with three new pure pot still whiskeys: Midleton, Powers and a cask strength version of Redbreast. It's great to see Midleton playing to the whisky lovers and not just finding new ways to market Jameson.

New Canadians. Canada was also hopping with a 30 year old Alberta Premium, and while we won't get it here, there were a number of American bottlings of Canadian straight rye. Following the lead of last year's WhistlePig, we saw similar ten year old ryes coming from McLain & Kyne (Jefferson's) and the Sebastiani wine group (Masterson's- review coming in the new year). It seems that we're finally getting some good Canadians in the US, though more in the American, straight rye style.

Scotch. The world of blended/vatted Scotch got lots of coverage this year with the highly publicized release of Shackleton's whisky. Meanwhile on Islay, Bruichladdich gave us their first 10 year old from the new ownership, and Kilchoman released an all-Islay whisky which was probably their best to date.

Many of us in California (or within shipping distance) spent our spare time counting our money to figure out how many bottles of K&L's amazing new line of exclusive barrel Scotch we could afford. In one year, K&L gave us a whopping 17 privately bottled single barrels, including two single grains and four offerings from closed distilleries.

More Japanese. Lovers of Japanese single malts have literally been waiting years to get more Japanese Whisky in the US. This year we got the good news that whiskies from Nikka and Suntory's Hakushu distilleries are finally heading for our shores.

I could go on and on. Heck, even those stodgy stalwarts Johnnie Walker and Jack Daniel's came out with new expressions. Let's hope these trends continue and look forward to an exciting 2012!

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Dear Santa: My Whiskey Wish List

In my experience, most whiskey fans have a wish list of some sort, a list of the rare bottling they missed out on or the white whale they have searched high and low for. The list may be ever changing, but it's there. I'm no different so I thought, since I've tried everything else to track these down, I'd ask Santa.

I've tried to come up with a list that's not pure fantasy. Sure, I'd love to try the Mortlach 70 or the original Shackleton whisky they found buried in the ice in Antarctica, but that ain't gonna' happen. This is a list of things that, while off the market and hard to find, are somewhat realistic possibilities. In fact, I may be able to eventually wrangle all of them if I really put my mind to it. Some are rare exclusive bottlings, but others are just things I missed or came on the scene too late for. So, in alphabetical order, here they are (Santa, I hope you see this - I'm banking on the fact that the one North Pole hit I get for the blog is you and not one of those heavy drinking elves).

Alberta Premium (25 or 30): If I lived in Canada this would be easy enough, but I don't live there or go there and this stuff doesn't make it south of the border. Of all the Canadian whiskies we miss out on in the US, which includes most of the good stuff, this one is probably the gold standard, a 100% rye Canadian blend that gets consistently rave reviews.

Ardbeg Provenance: This 24 year old Ardbeg released in 1997 is one of the most legendary Ardbegs around. It is the single highest scoring whisky on the LA Whiskey Society website, and they've had several tastings of it, but I keep missing it.

Ardbegeddon: The first exclusive bottling by the PLOWED Society, the famed (or perhaps notorious) American malt tasting group, the Ardbegeddon was a 29 year old sherry aged Ardbeg bottled by Douglas Laing's Old Malt Cask series in 2002. Having been lucky enough to sample PLOWED's unbeliveably good Brorageddon, I can only imagine how great this is, but it may be the hardest one on the list to get. I don't even know if there are any bottles still in existence.

Bruichladdich Blacker Still: This is one I just missed out on. I had seen it on the shelf and passed it over due to its price at the time (two or three hundred if I remember correctly). Well, this sherry malt seems to be loved by everyone and may be Bruichladdich's most sought after recent bottling. By the time I caught on, it had tripled in price.

Eagle Rare 101: I've done pretty well in exploring the obscure corners of the world of American whiskey, which is why you don't see that many listed here, but I've never managed to find an Eagle Rare 101. Before the brand was purchased by Buffalo Trace and made into a lower proof, single barrel offering, it was a 101 proofer. Originally produced by Seagram's, it was subsequently made by Old Prentice and then by Buffalo Trace before they phased it out in favor of the newer bottling. I'd love to try any of the oldies.

Pennsylvania or Maryland Rye: I'm a big fan of rye, but I've never tried one of the old Mid-Atlantic ryes from all of those now closed distilleries. Pennsylvania and Maryland rye were distinct genres of whiskey that thrived in the pre-prohibition years but never fully recovered and eventually, petered out and sold their labels to Kentucky distilleries. Every now and then a bottle of Pennsylvania distilled Old Overholt or Rittenhouse does pop up in an auction, but Maryland ryes like Pikesville and Mount Vernon are harder to find. As a true fan of rye, I'd love to try these old whiskeys from the original rye whiskey heartland.

Van Blankel: A private bottling of Stitzel-Weller whiskey for one individual, a bourbon that's allegedly as subtle and nuanced as a Cognac, the best barrel ever produced by the Van Winkles...I've heard all of these said about the famous "Van Blankel" bottling of Van Winkle 12 year old Lot B, a single barrel bottled for Randy Blank, a regular on the StraightBourbon forum. Like the Ardbegeddon, this is a private bottling, so I don't hold out a lot of hope, but you never know. Hopefully, someone out there will spare me a taste.

Now mind you Santa, I'm not greedy. I understand it might be hard to get a whole bottle of these things. A small sample in my stocking would be plenty.

So, do you have a list?

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

A is for anCnoc, B is for Balblair

Balblair and anCnoc are single malts that have only been on the US market for a little over a year. Both are owned by Inverhouse, a subsidiary of Thai Beverage (ThaiBev) which also owns the Pulteney, Speyburn and Balmenach distilleries.

The anCnoc malt (pronounced "ah-nock"), is made at the Knockdhu distillery in Speyside. They bottle a 12 and 16 year old as well as a few annual special releases. I will be sampling the 12 year old.

Balblair is a Highland distillery which releases malts with vintage statements as opposed to age statements. Their latest US release is the 2000, though they just released the 2001 in the UK. I will be tasting the 2000.

anCnoc 12 (Knockdhu Distillery), 43% abv ($27)

The nose on this is about as light and fruity as it gets. The palate is more malty though still quite light. I can see how this would compete for the Glenlivet/Glenfiddich drinker who wants something a bit lighter and with a bit more fruit, but there's not much substance to it.

Balblair 2000, bottled 2011, 43% abv ($55)

I like the nose on this which has malt with dessert wine notes. The palate is chocolate covered cherries, yielding to malt, wait,'s chocolate malt balls. Mouthfeel is a bit thin and the finish is maraschino cherries. This one is definitely on the sweet side.

My take on the current introductory line for Inverhouse: They are fine to drink, but I'm not going to run out and buy them. If you like these profiles (light and malty for the anCnoc, sweet for the Balblair), you might want to check them out, but I found them one dimensional.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Holiday Whiskey (and Spirits) Gifts

If this is December, it must be time for holiday booze giving. Here are my recommendations for some fabulous holiday gifts for your whiskey loving friends and loved ones.

Scotch: There were lots of new Scotch releases this year, but some of the most interesting were from K&L's exclusive casks. I have only made it through a hand full of these so far, but they have all been very good to great. I recently reviewed the Bladnoch ($90) and the GlenDronach ($116) which are both fabulous. While I haven't formally reviewed it yet, my other favorite so far is the 1975 Banff, though it's a higher end gift ($225). You can find them all on the right hand column of the K&L Spirits Blog.

Bourbon & Rye: Another retailer wins the day here. If K&L is the go to place for private barrel Scotch, then The Party Source, in Kentucky, plays that role for American Whiskey. The Party Source's private barrel cask strength Abraham Bowman Rye ($73) was, in my opinion, the best new American whiskey of the year. They also released a couple of Bowman bourbons, all of this from the newly revitalized, Buffalo Trace owned A. Smith Bowman Distillery in Virginia. Check it out at The Party Source.

Budget Bourbon & Rye: For more budget conscious gifts, I'd suggest two new whiskeys made by LDI (Lawrenceburg Distillers Indiana). Willett 3 year old Rye ($36) is a solid, spicy number that will be fun for any rye fan. Redemption High Rye Bourbon ($25) has elements of sweet and spicy and, while the sweet is a bit more dominant, it is an easy drinker and good for the price.

Cognac: At the risk of looking like a K&L shill, my favorite Cognac of the year, by far, was the single barrel, uncut, unfiltered Paul Marie & Fils from Cognac bottler Nicolas Palazzi, sold through K&L's Faultline Spirits label. This is one of the few unfiltered, cask strength Cognacs available, and it is just brimming with flavor. ($130 only at K&L).

Cocktails: If you know a cocktail lover who goes for the classics, you owe them a bottle of the High West Distillery's 36th Vote Barrelled Manhattan. Using their rye, High West makes a Manhattan and then barrel ages it. The ageing takes off some of the sweet edge and gives it a subtle, smooth disposition. Great stuff! ($45).

Happy holidays!

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Good Burgers Great Spuds: Short Order at the Farmers Market

Short Order is the new Nancy Silverton burger spot at the Third and Fairfax Farmer's Market. It features a fairly slim menu of grass fed beef burgers as well as pork, lamb, tuna burgers. A brunch menu will be added in January. And they are working on too sister establishments: Short Cake - a bakery and Single Origin - a coffee bar.

I tried the Frisee Lardon Raft, an open faced burger topped with frisee dressed in a light vinaigrette, lardons and a fried egg. The components were all very good, but the burger didn't come together. It felt like an egg on top of a salad on top of a burger, not a single composition. I also sampled the patty melt with pimento cheese sauce, which was good but not any sort of revelation.

I liked these burgers, but they didn't blow me away, and when you are paying $14 for burgers during an LA burger renaissance, you expect greatness.

Now, the "Short Order Spuds" were a different story. These fabulous nuggets are tater tot sized, deep fried potato chunks (including skin). You can get them with a sour cream and chive dipping sauce or with truffle salt. Fried to a golden brown, the shape of these things (almost like mini-potato skins) maximizes the surface area giving you plenty of crunchy crust. They are highly addictive. I could have eaten a much larger serving than the little pail.

I'll probably head back to Short Order, but I may just get a beer and some spuds.

Short Order
6333 w. 3rd st. (The Original Farmers Market at Third & Fairfax)
Los Angeles, CA 90036

Friday, December 9, 2011

Post-Cognac Al Pastor: El Matador Taco Truck

What's the best place to get cheap eats after a night of Cognac
(or rum) at La Descarga, the rum bar on Western just south of the 101? The clear answer is the El Matador taco truck. Situated in the parking lot of mechanic on Western that advertises "Smog Transmission" just across the street from La Descarga, El Matador is recognizable for the line that forms every night after dark.

There's good reason that people line up, they've got the full menu of meats including sesos (cow brain) and buche (pork stomach). I went a bit more conventional and tried tacos with carnitas, al pastor, lengua and cabeza. All of these were very good, but the al pastor was a stand out. Heavily seasoned pork (not sure if they spit roast theirs in the traditional style) in nicely fried bits with plenty of crunch along with the satisfying spice. Really addictive stuff.

I may go out late just as an excuse to eat here again. And with four tacos for five bucks, you can't afford not to go.

Tacos El Matador Truck (nights)
1174 N. Western Ave (@ Lexington)
Los Angeles, CA

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Jazz Age Brandy: Nicolas Palazzi's Cognac Tasting

On Monday night I attended a stunning Cognac tasting hosted by K&L at the La Descarga rum bar, featuring Cognac bottler Nicolas Palazzi. As you may recall, Palazzi is a Cognac bottler who seeks out small growers and bottles cask strength, unfiltered Cognacs with no additives. He is truly a pioneer in the Cognac world who is trying single handedly to move it away from the sticky, sweet brandies that most of us associate with Cognac.

We started the night with a sazerac cocktail made from Paul Beau VSOP Cognac (while the sazerac now usually features rye, the original recipe used Cognac). I'm a big fan of sazeracs so no complaints here, but in a tasting I would usually save a cocktail until later, especially one which includes Absinthe, which can deaden the taste buds.

To demonstrate the difference made by filtration, we moved on to a Paul Beau Hors D’Age, which is distilled "off the lees," meaning it is filtered to remove residual dead yeast. We tasted this side by side with a Guillon Painturaud Hors d’Age which is distilled "on the lees" or unfiltered. Lees contact is said to add richness, body, and flavor to the spirit. I did find that the unfiltered Cognac had more going on flavor wise, including a spicy character, but the filtered Cognac was more delicate and subtle.

We ended with a trio of Nicolas' cask strength, single barrel Cognacs under his Paul Marie & Fils label, beginning with the recent K&L exclusive which I reviewed here. We then moved on to his 58 year old Devant La Porte (51% abv) and finally, the L'Artisan, which was distilled in 1923 (41.6% abv). These three were utterly fantastic Cognacs.

One advantage that Cognac has over whiskey is that there seem to be more really old barrels out there. The 1923 was moved out of barrel last year, so this was in wood for 87 years (the oldest whiskey that has been released is 70 years old). Remarkably for having spent a human lifetime in wood, the Cognac was incredibly fruity with very distinct grape notes. In fact, the dominance of the fruit was such that it came off as lacking in complexity, but it was not over oaked.

My favorite of the night was the 58 year old. Distilled in 1951, the Devant La Porte was released last year and goes for around $600. It was fruity but had some wood and complex, caramel notes; it was probably the most whiskey-like of the Cognacs.

The problem with many spirits tastings is that they cover only widely available, basic spirits lines. It is difficult to find tastings featuring very rare spirits. For the $70 cost of this tasting, we got a chance to try some truly rare and remarkable Cognacs. Nicolas Palazzi and K&L Spirit Buyer David Girard really pulled out all the stops. Let's hope we see more of these types of tastings in LA.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Whiskies Worth the Hype: Bladnoch & GlenDronach from K&L

Sometimes it seems like whisky quality is inversely proportional to the hype surrounding it. I can no longer count the amount of times I've been let down by highly touted special releases. On the other hand, obscure indy bottlings or even budget daily pours are sometimes unpublicized gems. During the holiday season, the whisky hype can get totally out of the control, which is why it is especially refreshing to find some bottles that meet if not exceed the hype.

Earlier this year I wrote about K&L's exclusive barrel series in which the spirit buying Davids of K&L went to Scotland to select their own barrels from both distilleries and independent bottlers. The Davids took up a fair amount of bandwidth talking about how great these barrels were, so expectations were pretty high. Now the bottles are in the store, and I've been able to taste a handful of them, I must say that I agree that, at least with regard to the ones I've tasted, they are some pretty special bottles. Here is a review of two of my favorite so far.

Bladnoch 1992, 18 years old (Chieftain’s), Cask 4195, 270 bottles, 55.3% abv (K&L exclusive $89.99).

A Lowland distillery that was mothballed for much of the '90s and doesn't send its distillery bottlings to the US, Bladnoch is not easy to find. Even finding independent bottlings can be a challenge. The nose on this Chieftain's bottling is of pure, rich malt with a pinch of dried fruit in the back. The palate is also malt forward with sweet grassy notes, fruit cocktail syrup, and perhaps just a touch of a sherry-like quality. The finish is sweet and malty with fruit. This reminds me of some of the best Lowlanders I've had, thick, rich, malty and syrupy (but not at all light, which is the stereotype for Lowlanders that really only applies to Auchentoshan). Good stuff and a very good price for what it is.

GlenDronach 1994, 16 years old, Cask 3186, 56% abv (K&L exclusive $116).

This is the other side of the spectrum from the Bladnoch, a huge sherry monster of a whisky. This whisky consists of two bourbon cask aged malts which were combined and finished in a Pedro Ximenez sherry cask for a short time (around six months). It was bottled by the distillery for K&L. The nose is a full on sherry assault with candied fruit and maybe even a bit of cinnamon. The palate kicks in very sweet; that dissipates a bit s you go, but it stays pretty sweet throughout. You don't get any malt flavors until the finish when the malt really kicks in. Drinking this neat is too sweet for my tastes, but water really does wonders for it, bringing out the malty flavor that's hinted at in the finish. A few drops of water cuts the sweetness and gives it a balance that was lacking when neat.

These are two dramatically different but very good whiskies. The entire list of K&L exclusive bottlings can be found on the right hand column of the K&L Spirits Blog.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

How do you know it's LDI?

I've recently reviewed a number of whiskeys distilled at Lawrenceburg Distillers Indiana (LDI), and a few people have asked how I know the whiskey is made by LDI. Well, it's easy to figure out. First, though, some background.

LDI is a large Indiana distillery that was formerly owned by Seagram's. It is currently owned by Angostura but is in the process of being sold to a Midwest Grain Products (MGP), a large Midwestern maker of neutral spirits.

Located in Indiana just over the river from Kentucky, LDI is the only major whiskey distillery in the US that does not market anything under its own label. They operate entirely by contract. Companies pay to buy their whiskey (or vodka or gin) and market it under their own labels. The LDI website lists the different whiskeys they make, including mashbills.

Not long ago, it was not possible for a US consumer to buy an LDI-made whiskey. The closest you could come was Seagram's 7, a blended whiskey whose component whiskey was said to be made at LDI, but blended whiskey is mostly vodka and mostly crappy. Then, just a few years ago, small bottlers Templeton Rye and High West Rye put out some LDI rye (in High West's case it was part of a blend with another rye) to great acclaim. This opened an LDI floodgate and now there are a dozen or so bourbons and rye whiskeys that are made at LDI, and it seems like a new one comes out almost every day. Among the more well known are Redemption Bourbon, Redemption Rye, Bulleit Rye, Temptation Bourbon, the new series of Willett three year old ryes, W.H. Harrison Bourbon, Big Bottom Bourbon, High Whiskey, Riverboat Rye and Smooth Ambler's Old Scout Bourbon.

From time to time, people ask me how I know that a given whiskey is made at LDI, since that fact is almost never disclosed on the bottle and often not disclosed at all by the bottler.

There are lots of clues you can look for to figure out an LDI whiskey. When a new sourced whiskey is announced, the press release will usually brag about its heritage. If it's from Kentucky, they will usually say so since there is cache in releasing a real Kentucky bourbon or rye. So if Kentucky isn't mentioned in the press release, I usually assume LDI (and be aware of general staements like "bourbon country" which can include Indiana).

But the proof is on the bottle. The federal regulations of the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) require that whiskey labels disclose the state where the whiskey was distilled. If the whiskey is distilled in the state where the company is located, then the address of the company is sufficient to comply with this requirement. However, if the business address is not in the state where the whiskey was distilled, the state has to be stated separately on the label. (There are some limited exceptions to this regulation, but it applies to most whiskey). See 27 CFR § 5.36(d).

LDI is the only whiskey distillery in Indiana, so if the bottle says "Product of Indiana" or doesn't state where it was distilled but the business address is in Indiana, then you know it was made at LDI.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Woodford Reserve Goes Rye

You'd think I'd have had my fill of the Woodford Reserve Master's Collection this year, what with this almost comprehensive tasting and this follow up. In fact, I fully planned to ignore the release this year, then they went and made rye, and not just one rye, but two. As a rye whiskey lover, I had an obligation, to both myself and my loyal readers, to check these out.

The 2011 rye release is Woodford's first rye and their first time issuing two whiskeys as part of the Master's Collection. They are sold as a set of two 375 ml bottles, so it's the same amount of whiskey as a full bottle, but you get two whiskeys for your $90.

The concept here is similar to the Buffalo Trace Single Oak Project but on a much smaller scale. The ryes are the same except that one is aged in a new, charred oak cask and one is aged in a used cask (they also have different entry proofs). Both are triple distilled in pot stills and made from a mash of 100% rye. There are no age statements.

Woodford Reserve Master's Collection New Cask Rye, 46.2% abv. This one is straight rye whiskey aged in new, charred oak barrels. The distillate went into the barrels at 100 proof. The nose on this actually has some bourbony sweetness which is followed by a big hit of rye spice. The palate has a lot of rye but is a bit tinny as well (a common Woodford note). The finish is fairly bitter with medicinal notes. This reminds me of some of the craft ryes I've had.

Woodford Reserve Master's Collection Aged Cask Rye, 46.2% abv. Since this wasn't aged in new, charred oak barrels, it's not technically "rye whiskey" but instead "whiskey distilled from rye mash." These were aged in used barrels that previously held Woodford Reserve bourbon ("aged barrels" sounds a bit better than "used barrels" doesn't it?). The distillate went into the barrels at 86 proof. According to Woodford Master Distiller Chris Morris on WhiskyCast (episode 341), they lowered the proof in order to "coax as much subtle barrel character out as possible."

The color on this rye is much lighter than the straight rye, more of a white wine versus the more typical amber/copper color of the straight rye. The nose is fruity with some white wine notes. The palate has a little bit of that trademark Woodford pot still tang, then some fruit and toward the end some medicinal minty flavors (a little bit of Vicks VapoRub). The rye spice finally comes to the fore in the finish. Overall, there is not a lot of rye character in this rye. Tasting blind, I might have guessed an American malt whiskey.


Point taken. The difference between new and used barrels is huge. I actually like the aged barrel, which had an interesting fruit/rye interplay, more than the straight rye which was a bit harsh.

Should you buy this set? If you like experiments of this type, you might enjoy the comparison, as I did. As with many such experiments, though, the end project is interesting but not particularly good. These weren't bad whiskeys but they weren't particularly good either, and neither was anywhere near what I'd be willing to pay $90 per bottle for. So in the end, I'd recommend this the same way I would the Buffalo Trace Single Oak Collection. If you are a whiskey geek with whiskey geek friends who might split it with you, it will be fun. If you're just looking for a good bottle of rye, look elsewhere.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

More LDI Rye: Willett Three Year Old Rye

It's funny to think that only five years ago there was literally no way for Americans to taste whiskey from LDI. Now it seems that a week doesn't go by without a new release of LDI whiskey.

LDI is, of course, Lawrenceburg Distillers Indiana. Located right across the river from Kentucky, LDI is a huge distillery but they distill on a contract only basis, so they don't release any of their own whiskey. Formerly a Seagram's distillery, LDI is currently owned by the financially troubled Angostura, which is in the process of selling it to Midwest Grain Products, a maker of neutral spirits.

If you've had Templeton Rye, Redemption Rye or Bulleit Rye, then you've had LDI rye. It's very seldom marketed as such, but there are clues. "Product of Indiana" on the label is a big giveaway. And in press releases for a new sourced bourbon or rye from a bottler, if they don't mention Kentucky explicitly, LDI is a pretty good guess.

Now Kentucky Bourbon Distillers (KBD), the biggest independent bottler of American Whiskey, has their own LDI rye, a three year old released under the Willett label. There are a few different versions of this out there which range in abv. This one comes in at 55%.

Willett Rye, 3 years old, Single Barrel (Barrel 6), 55% abv ($36)

The nose is what I've come to expect from young LDI ryes, strong rye notes, pickle juice, caraway. The palate is a huge mint bomb with plenty of spice and pine. It's a good sock-you-in-the-face rye. The only real flaw is a touch of unpleasant bitterness on the finish.

I liked this better than a lot of the young LDI rye I've had. I appreciate that KBD bottled it at cask strength which is likely what makes it more interesting than many of the more watered down LDI ryes on the market. It's a fun one, at a good price, that's worth a try.