Sunday, September 30, 2012

Great Caesar's Ghost: Caesar's Palace Bacchanal Buffet

On my annual long weekend trip to Vegas, I usually ignore the buffets. There is so much good food there, both on and off strip, that I've got a full meal plan without diving into the world of stand-in-line-to-gorge-yourself action. Of course, buffets have come a long way since the $6 all you can eat rib deal. About a decade ago, the Bellagio introduced the first upscale buffet, followed by the Wynn.

A few weeks ago, Caesar's Palace relaunched their buffet as the Bacchanal Buffet, a foodie-oriented paradise of xiao long bao, posole and other delicacies. Well, I finally broke down and gave a buffet a try.

Showing up at 4:45 pm, we spent an hour and a half in line. I assume that had we come later, it would have been much longer. The buffet itself is immense. Like most buffets, it's broken down into stations, but unlike many buffets, each has an open kitchen. The food is cooked and immediately plated, which means no carting food through the dining room, and you can see the action in the kitchen. Here's a breakdown of the seven kitchens.

  1. Seafood: King crab legs are the big thing here and they were really quite, rich, buttery and full of meat; you can eat them cold or the cooks will briefly boil them for you. There are oysters too, usually one of my buffet favorites, but they were small and gravelly; the oysters in the oyster shooters were better as it seems they had picked the plump ones for those and thoroughly cleaned them. I didn't much like the shooter itself, which was mostly tomato sauce, but the oyster was good. There was also shrimp, seafood gazpacho and all manner of fish dishes.
  2. Meat: There was all manner of food at the meat station, including lamb chops, prime rib, and a barbecue selection of spare ribs, brisket, sausage and chicken. The ribs and brisket had wonderful flavor though were a bit tough; I also enjoyed the sausage. This station also had all manner of small sides, including tater tots (regular and sweet potato), potato skins, fish 'n chips, sliders, onion rings, beans, mashed potatoes, etc., etc.
  3. Mexican: The Mexican station was definitely one of the highlights. Carne asada was perfectly medium rare and nicely spiced. Corn tortillas are made fresh in front of you and there is a large salsa bar. Unfortunately, I didn't get to the posole (such is the tragedy of the buffet), but I've certainly heard good things about it
  4. Italian: Pasta, meatballs and pizza. I didn't indulge. You've got to choose wisely.
  5. Charcuterie: This station featured six types of charcuterie, all of which were pretty tasty. As with the oysters, this is one of those times where the gourmand in me comes out; how often do you get to just load your plate with prosciutto?
  6. Asian: This was another great and very diverse station. Obviously, covering a huge continent in one station is challenging, but there was sushi, various chinese dishes and dim sum, Japanese beef curry which was quite good, and a noodle bar featuring ramen, soba and pho. The xiao long bao wrapper was gummy but the filling and broth were competent renditions.
  7. Dessert: This was another stand out. The crepe station featured freshly made crepes with a choice of toppings, and as per usual, there were all manner of mousses, cookies, cakes, bread pudding, bananas foster and a gelato bar (though I didn't care for the gelato).

So after an hour and a half odyssey (I pledged to spend as much time eating as I spent in line), here are my thoughts on the whole feast.

Overall, it's very well done. As with most really good buffets, there were a few prizes really worth searching out (the barbecue, carne asada, crepes, sweet potato tater tots, etc.) and everything else was at least competent. I appreciated that the portions on offer were very small, so you didn't have to waste a lot of food if you wanted to try something, and of course, you could always take more. This isn't a meal that is comparable to the finest eateries in Vegas. It's still a buffet, but certainly, a very good one and a fun experience.

One downside was the service. We were thirsty the entire time and we had to practically stalk the waitstaff to refill our water glasses. We suggested a pitcher, but were told that would violate their policies. I'm not sure if they skimp on service to save money or not giving you drinks is a policy to make people eat less, but it was an unpleasant aspect of the meal.

The buffet is $40 per person with an additional $15 for all you can drink beer and wine option (we declined). Value-wise, as with most buffets, it's hard to beat.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Dusty Thursday: All that's Stitzel-Weller is not Gold - Cabin Still (circa 1986)

If you mention "Stitzel-Weller" in a whiskey blog, people's minds turn to visions of Very Very Old Fitzgerald or the early editions of Pappy Van Winkle, rare and delicious bourbons that fetch large sums. It's important to remember, however, that in its day, Stitzel-Weller was a bourbon brand like any other, with both top and bottom shelf offerings. The Old Fitzgerald and Weller lines were on top, but the bottom shelf included brands like Rebel Yell and Cabin Still.

As part of a massive wheated bourbon tasting, I recently got to sample some Cabin Still from 1986, when Stitzel-Weller was still in operation (the brand is now owned by Heaven Hill).

Cabin Still, (circa 1986), 40% abv

The nose has wine like notes, some floral notes and is almost brandy like in some ways. The palate has licorice and mint, also some light corn syrup. It's very light with some Irish Whiskey like flavors. The finish is very short with that light corn syrup taste.

This is not bad by any mean and is certainly distinctly Stitzel-Weller (so much so that I was able to identify it as such in a blind tasting). It's quite drinkable but not at all remarkable and comparable in quality to many whiskeys available today. On the one hand, I'd say this shows that not everything Stitzel-Weller deserves to be worshiped, on the other, I'd note that if this was the bottom of the SW barrel, they were doing pretty well.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Hell Hath No Fury: A Craft Distiller Responds

Last week, as part of my Craft Whiskey Week series, I published a review of two new peated whiskeys from the Lost Spirits Distillery in Salinas, California. I thought the whiskeys showed promise, but overall, I thought they were too young, possessing some of the new makey characteristics that are common in underaged whiskeys.

Distillery owner Bryan Davis posted a lengthy response in the comments that I thought was worth publishing in its entirety, both to allow him to have his say and because I think it's somewhat emblematic of the way that certain distillers respond to anyone who doesn't think their product is the best thing ever to pass through a still:

This morning I woke up after reading your blog post and contemplated closing the distillery that Joanne and I spent the last 3 years of our blood sweat and tears to build. Then I poured myself a glass of Leviathan and the forthcoming Paradiso and said HELL NO I love this whiskey. It was at that moment that I decided to write a short rebuttal to your opinion of my work.

The criticism that a spirit is too young is insulting.

A spirit can be too hot for your taste. A spirit can be too sweet for your taste. A spirit can be to bitter for your taste. You can find notes in it that you don’t like or find awkward. That’s fine and you’re entitled to your opinion, but to say its too young is an undefined criticism.

You owe it to your readers to say why you don’t like it. Hell you owe it me, the person who slaved for years to make the whiskey you panned for no defined reason. Its like saying I am in my thirties and therefore too young to make whiskey. I, like the art I created, stand or fall on my own merits, not my age.

I further take issue with the statement “its too young” since it pretends to be an objective statement when we all know opinions about whiskeys are inherently subjective.

I would also point out that many trained palettes that have sampled my work see what I see in it and love it and support it. I am not saying you have to like it but I am saying the criticism “its to young” pretends to be objective when its not, and is really just a vindictive and mean way of saying I don’t care for it.

Why I did it:
A spirit derives its reason for being based upon what it does that is new, interesting, and unusual. If Leviathan tasted like Laphroag it would have no reason for being since Laphroaig already exists. I made bold changes to the production process, the wood, the peat, and the techniques used to age it. The ester profile and flavor density is off the charts. Is it conventional NO – it’s not supposed to be.

I think Leviathan has a lot to say, you don’t have to like what it says, but don’t tell people not to listen because it’s too young to speak – say why you don’t
like what it says.

Why “it’s too young” is a dangerous thing to say. Big distilleries are pushing the message that craft products are too young… why because they are trying to bankrupt them by discouraging people from trying the whiskeys at all. When you repeat their garbage you are being played like a pawn of the multinational corporations that don’t want to see a world with 10,000 distilleries in it. For them this is business. For me this is art, and the world will be richer place if we don’t let them push their corporate PR strategy down our throats.

For my part, I'm confident that my readers understand what I mean when I say something is "too young" and "new makey," and I think Mr. Davis does too since in this interview with K&L, he himself admits of these whiskeys, "We don't really want to tell you how long they've been in the barrel...obviously they're relatively young and it's not our strongest suit."

So what say you good readers? Is Sku nothing but a shill for corporate whiskey (something that I'm guessing Brown Forman, among others, would have a hard time believing)?

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

High Crimes & Misdemeanors: Larceny Bourbon

Larceny is a new wheated bourbon from Heaven Hill. For years, Heaven Hill plodded along with the Old Fitzgerald line which ranges from decent to mediocre. Many whiskey lovers had given up hope in them putting any energy into a really good wheated bourbon. Then, in 2010, they surprised us all by releasing a wonderful ten year old wheated bourbon as part of the Parker's Heritage Collection series. Since then, we've all been wondering if they would expand their wheater line, and now they have.

Larceny has no age statement, but the distillery says it is aged from six to twelve years. It weighs in at 92 proof.

Larceny, 46% abv ($23)

The nose is very light with some fruit cocktail and cherry cough syrup. The palate is similarly light and sweet with bubblegum notes. The finish is fleeting.

Larceny is fine but not at all interesting. If you're looking for a light, sweet easy drinker, it might be for you, and it may be that it's targeting such folks (that is, Maker's Mark drinkers).

Monday, September 24, 2012

Craft Whiskey Wrap Up - Some Craft Whiskey Doesn't Suck

After a week of tasting craft whiskeys (and there will be more to come, though not immediately), I thought I'd record some general reflections. It's been two years since I wrote that Most Craft Whiskeys Suck, and two years is a lifetime in the very young craft movement.

As a whole, I think the quality of craft whiskey is improving (or at least there are more quality craft whiskeys out there than when I proclaimed them mostly sucky). Unlike some of the just plain bad whiskeys I had in earlier days, the Lost Spirits peated whiskeys and the McKenzie Rye tasted like high quality distillate. The problem is that they are still too young, or in the case of McKenzie, aged in small barrels which give them that raw, woody quality. Unlike some of the really bad craft whiskeys, though, those issues can be addressed, and Finger Lakes (the makers of McKenzie) have already laid down some spirit in large barrels.

Good whiskey takes time and there's just no way around that, but now we have some distilleries that are actually making good spirit, and hopefully in a few more years, they will have some decently aged whiskey that we can all enjoy.

Would I recommend buying one of these young whiskeys with potential. Certainly not. Yes, these whiskeys are promising, but I don't by bottles of promise, and certainly not at $40 or $50 a pop.

The bright spot here was the Balcones Brimstone, which is probably the only new craft whiskey I've tasted which I would actually recommend buying. It's also young, but it manages to coax out a lot of flavor and for some reason, possibly the heavy smoke, it doesn't have that new make taste (though even heavy peating couldn't cover up the new make taste in Lost Spirits' Leviathan).

I'm a thrill seeker, so as long as they make new whiskey, I'll continue to try it. For now, I'd say that I've replaced my bleak outlook about the craft whiskey movement with a bit of cautious optimism.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Ten Years at the LA County Fair

This year was my tenth consecutive year attending the LA County Fair. I first visited back in 2001, upon hearing of the deep fried Snickers bar, still one of my fair favorites. Over the years, I've become very strategic at navigating fair food, concentrating on a few old favorites (notably the aforementioned Snickers and Dr. Bob's excellent ice cream stand) while scouting for anything new that looks like it has potential. (All of my fair coverage can be found here.) This year, I came out with two new finds.

The best strategy at the fair is to look for stands that are connected to local restaurants. Why eat some generic corn dog when you could be eating a taco from King Taco or a shrimp po-boy from Harold & Belle's? This year's find was a stand from the famous East LA institution, Manuel's El Tepeyac. The fair stand, as with most stands, has a limited version of the regular menu, but it includes the Hollenbeck Burrito bursting with chili verde, beans, rice and guacamole and their famous taquitos, which are some of the best anywhere.

The next good find was from an unexpected source, Chicken Charlie's, that haven of deep fried crap (which may have been an actual menu item one year). I generally decry each year's deep fried novelty but then try it anyway because I'm a sucker for such things. This year, it was deep fried cookie dough. About the size of doughnut hole, the fried cookie dough balls were sweet and gooey with a chocolaty molten filling. The contrast of a sweet, gloppy filling with a fried exterior is exactly what you want out of a fried treat, and this one worked well.

The Fair has another week to go so you're not too late to catch some deep fried goodness.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Craft Whiskey Week - Balcones Brimstone

Balcones Distillery, in Waco, Texas, was opened in 2009 by Chip Tate. They make a number of whiskeys (and only whiskey), but their main emphasis has been on corn whiskey made with blue corn. Their corn whiskey is really more of a corn whiskey/bourbon hybrid. It is made with 100% Hopi blue corn but it is aged in charred oak barrels that have only been briefly used. Essentially, they are aging in new charred oak which gives their corn whiskey some strong bourbon characteristics with a corn whiskey mashbill. (For more detail on all the Balcones whiskeys see this excellent post by The Coopered Tot).

In 2011, Balcones introduced a new product, Brimstone. They took some of their corn whiskey and smoked the distillate (not the grain, as the Scots do with peat) using Texas scrub oak. They then aged the whiskey in 55 and 60 gallon barrels for less than two years.

I participated in a Balcones tasting earlier this year (courtesy of the distillery) and generally liked what I they had to offer. The Brimstone, though, was something quite unique.

Balcones Brimstone, 53% abv ($50)

The nose opens with a strong smell of burnt rubber, like when a semi slams on the brakes, followed by some bourbon, so like when a truck full of bourbon slams on the breaks, deep into the nose you acclimate to the smoke and there's an almost sherry like frutiness. The palate is both sweet, in that fruity way, and smoky. There's honey, some burnt orange rind, still a bit of rubber though not nearly as much as on the nose and lots of campfire. It modulates between sweet and smoky with other flavors poking up; there's smoked salmon, sea water, mezcal...the more you drink the more you taste. The finish is like Los Angeles in September, a strong smoky haze from a fire somewhere nearby.

This is a pretty remarkable whiskey, different from anything else on the market. It's really packed with flavor. The smoke in this is huge, but it's nothing like peat. When I first tried Brimstone, I wasn't sure about it, but after a few different tasting sessions, I've really come to enjoy and even crave its flavors.

The craft distillery movement is at its best when it offers something completely different, not just younger or more local, but a completely new flavor profile. That's one of the reasons I'm such a big fan of Charbay's hopped whiskeys; you just can't get that flavor anywhere else. The same is true of Balcones Brimstone. It's a new style of whiskey and one that I'd welcome more of.

Brimstone ranks as one of the few craft whiskeys I've tasted that I would actually pay the asking price for. Alright Balcones, you have my attention.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Craft Whiskey Week - Lost Spirits Seascape and Leviathan

A few years ago, I reviewed Obsello, a really nice absinthe made in Spain by expat American Bryan Davis (aka B. Alex). Davis sold his absinthe distillery and moved back to California to open Lost Spirits Distillery in Salinas.

Inspired by his first taste of Octomore, Bryan and his business partner Joanne, set out to make a peated American single malt. Using California barley and Canadian peat, they released their last two whiskeys last month: Seascape and Leviathan I.

Both whiskeys are cask strength, non-chill filtered, single cask bottlings that are aged in French oak late harvest Cabernet casks from a Napa winery. The difference is in peating level, with the Leviathan being peated to an Octomore-like 110 ppm and the Seascape being a somewhat more lightly peated 55 ppm, though that still puts it solidly in the Ardbeg/Lagavulin level. Given that they are cask strength, single barrel bottlings, the abv varies.

Lost Spirits Seascape, Cask 1, 53% abv ($45)

The nose on this is very new makey with some nice, mezcal like smokiness. The palate hits you right off with smoke, but not like a peated Scotch, more like inhaling the fumes from a camp fire with a little bit of sweet mint in the background. The finish is a day old ashtray. This stuff is way too young, but it's engaging and the smoky quality is nice. Nothing picks up new make like a bunch of peat.

Lost Spirits Leviathan I, Cask 2, 53% abv ($55)

The nose on the Leviathan has a new make quality similar to the Seascape, very malty, also with some smoky mezcal notes. On the palate I expected a peat assault, but it's more of that smoky mezcal. The finish has peat notes, but also lots of dark chocolate. The finish has barbecue ash. If I was blind tasting this, I most certainly would have guessed that it was a smoky mezcal.

Like lots of the better craft whiskeys out there, these show promise but are way too young tasting. Remember, most heavily peated Scotch ages at least five years. I'm guessing these are under a year. If you like smoky mezcal, you might enjoy these, but they are much closer to that (which is usually unaged) than a traditional peated whiskey.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Craft Whiskey Week - Bowen's Whiskey from Bakersfield

What with the massive explosion in craft distilleries, it's sort of surprising that Southern California hasn't seen much in the way of craft whiskey. After all, there are new distilleries in New York and Chicago and the Pacific Coast from San Francisco to the Canadian border has so many distilleries it's practically its own whiskey region. There is, however, not a single whiskey distillery in the city of Los Angeles, and only one in Los Angeles County (St. James Spirits in Irwindale, whose single malt I reviewed here).

For this reason, I get excited anytime a distillery opens south of Monterey, even if it's not exactly close. The latest southern California distillery is Bowen's Spirits in Bakersfield, named for owner Wade Bowen.

Bowen's is sort of a mysterious operation. They sent me a bottle but give very little information about what's inside. It's labeled "whiskey" but neither the label nor the website give any hint as to the grains used to make it. I asked what grains were used and how old it was and was told that the information was "proprietary." Well, let's see what it tastes like.

Bowen's Whiskey, 45% abv ($40)

On the nose this is very raw with wood chips, young wood, that Home Depot smell; you know what I mean. On the palate it has the same young wood notes with a bit of sweetness and a touch of mint; it tastes a bit diluted as well. The finish is minty, like mouthwash.

If I had to guess, I'd say this was a wheat whiskey aged in small barrels. It's got the mildness of wheat with the fresh wood of young whiskey in small barrels. The label features a campfire and describes the whiskey as "smokey" but I don't get smoke at all.

This is not a whiskey I'd recommend.

UPDATE: I'm told the Bowen's mashbill is 100% corn, so hey, what do I know?

Monday, September 17, 2012

Craft Whiskey Week - McKenzie Bourbon & Rye from Finger Lakes Distilling

The Finger Lakes Distilling Company is located in Seneca Falls New York. Founded in 2007 by two unrelated guys named McKenzie, Brian from New York and Tom from Alabama, it likely wasn't hard to come up with a name for their whiskeys: McKenzie. Finger Lakes makes bourbon, rye and an Irish style pure pot still whiskey under the McKeznie label as well as Glen Thunder Corn Whiskey and White Pike Whiskey, a white whiskey made from corn, spelt and malted wheat. As with many craft distillers, they also make a variety of other spirits, including vodka, gin, grappa, pear brandy and liqueurs.

Today, I'll be sampling their McKenzie Bourbon and Rye. Both are aged first in small barrels and then finished in wine barrels (the bourbon in chardonnay casks and the rye in sherry casks).

McKenzie Bourbon, 45.5%, Batch 7/2012 ($35)

The nose has young wood and licorice. The palate has that craft taste of young spirit aged in small barrels. There is a lot of raw wood but not too much else. The finish is slightly minty and just a little bitter.

McKenzie Rye, 45.5%, Batch 8/2012 ($46)

The nose on the rye is quite new makey, with some pine/fir type notes and lots of wood, like walking through the lumber aisle at Home Depot. The palate is sweet up front with some fruit. Rye spice comes in mid palate and into the finish, which is a nice sweet an spicy balance from the rye and sherry.

I liked the rye better than the bourbon, but both of these fit my stereotype of small barrel aged spirit. They taste very woody and very young (there is no age statement on the bottles, which should mean they are at least four years old, but I'd be surprised if that were the case, and knowing the TTB these days, who knows).

The rye, in particular, shows a lot of promise. You can tell it's really good distillate. It's one of the better small barrel whiskeys I've had, but I would love to taste it aged for six years in traditional sized casks. Hopefully, the McKenzies will consider it.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Craft Whiskey Week

I've been pretty critical of craft whiskeys in the past, but there is no denying that this trend is still on the upswing. My Complete List of American Whiskey Distilleries, which I update almost weekly, shows nearly 150 craft distilleries making whiskey.

This week, I'll spend some time with craft distillers, tasing a variety of whiskeys from all over the country. These will be craft distilled whiskeys only, not sourced whiskey from larger distilleries, and none of it will be white whiskey, which I don't have much use for.

I'm not expecting much, but maybe something will surprise me.

Oh, and if you have a favorite craft whiskey. Let me know what it is.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Gettin' Tiki With It: The Original Mai Tai

My cocktail preference tends toward the classical prohibition style, but every once in a while, I yearn for the kitschy comfort of a tiki drink, and there is no more famous tiki drink than the Mai Tai.

While people identify the tiki drink movement with Hawaii, it was born in California, based on a romanticized mid-twentieth century view of Polynesia. Don the Beachcomber in Hollywood was the original tiki bar, but Trader Vic's, in the San Francisco Bay Area, was the most famous. Both Don's and Vic's claim to have invented the Mai Tai, but the recipe I'll use today comes from Trader Vic.

Unfortunately, if you order a Mai Tai today, you're likely to get a rum drink drenched in orange, pineapple or other tropical juices, which is really more like a Zombie. The actual drink is quite simple and much more interesting than a screwdriver with rum.

The only hard to find ingredient in a Mai Tai is orgeat. A non-alcoholic almond and orange flower water flavored syrup, orgeat is now fairly available in specialty liquor stores. I used the version from Berkeley based Small Hand Foods which is available at K&L for $16 for an 8.5 oz container. I know some people are tempted to use something like Monin almond syrup in lieu of orgeat, but I wouldn't recommend it. The orgeat has a much more subtle, milky, almond flavor than the sweet, amaretto-like flavor of a syrup. Save the Monin for your almond mochas.

The recipe also calls for orange curacao. I used Grand Marnier which is an orange curacao, but Cointreau or triple sec will work as well.

The traditional recipe (via drinkboy) is:

1 oz. light rum
1 oz. dark rum
3/4 oz. lime juice
1/2 oz. orange curacao
1/2 oz. orgeat

Shake well with ice and pour (with ice) into a rocks glass. Garnish with an umbrella, pineapple, cherry and assorted other tiki kitsch. You can also float a bit of rum on top.

I'm not a big fan of light rum, so I like to use two ounces of a good dark rum or even mix in some rhum agricole.

This is a great, refreshing drink, and if you're used to the syrupy sweet concoctions that most bars pass off as a Mai Tai, you owe it to yourself to try the original recipe.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Lost in Space: Ardbeg Galileo

Ardbeg Galileo is a special edition Ardbeg issued to commemorate the distillery sending some of its whisky into space (I kid you not). Unlike many of their recent special editions, this one has a vintage; it's from whiskies distilled in 1999 and bottled in 2012. It's a combination of marsala cask aged whisky with regular bourbon barrel aged Ardbeg.

Ardbeg Galileo, 49% abv ($95)

The nose on this is very nice with some typical Ardbeg notes as well as some smoked fish. Unfortunately, it really falls apart on the palate. It starts off with very sweet wine notes, sweetens to Kool Aid levels, then comes a weird sort of spice on the tail. The finish is short, which is odd for Ardbeg, and slightly spicy with light peat.

I've pretty loyally tried the official Ardbeg releases over the past few years and I can honestly say this is the one I've liked least of any Ardbeg official bottling I've had. There is a weird spicy note (possibly from the Marsala) and a strong sweetness with regular Ardbeg notes in the background. There is just something about it that doesn't work for me.

I guess I can stand by my contention that Ardbeg is one of the most overrated distilleries.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Little Bangladesh: Swadesh

Over the last fifteen years, an immigrant Bangladeshi community has taken root in the northern corner of Koreatown that I inhabit. Bangladeshi markets have sprung up next to Korean barbecues in local stripmalls and it's not uncommon to see women in saris outside of the local elementary schools.

I haven't found much in the way of formal sit-down Bangladeshi restaurants, but there are a number of Bangladeshi markets that offer take out from steam tables, one of my favorites is Swadesh at Third and Harvard.

Swadesh has been there for years. It's probably one of the oldest Bangladeshi shops in the neighborhood. The market is sort of a jumble of canned goods, a meat counter full of various cuts of goat and a few boxes of produce, including several large durian. There are a few tables inside, squished up against the canned goods, but it's still mostly a take-out joint.

For years, the food at Swadesh was inedibly greasy, but a few years ago they closed down the whole place and remodeled it, and the food has improved dramatically since then and seems to keep getting better. The highlight for me is the stewed goat which is fall-off-the-bone tender and is served in a wonderfully spiced curry sauce that mops up well with their excellent, made to order naan (definitely get the naan). The veggie dishes are nice and spicy, I like the cabbage in particular, and the samosas, meat pies and other fried and baked goodies make a great snack on the go. Add great prices to all of this and it's the whole package next time you need some good take out.

4153 W 3rd St
Los Angeles, CA 90020
(213) 386-7799

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Smooth Ambler Old Scout

Smooth Ambler is a distillery in West Virginia that makes a number of spirits, including a wheated bourbon called Yearling. Recently though, they have followed in the footsteps of craft distillers such as High West and Prichard's and started releasing some sourced whiskey which they call Old Scout.

Smooth Ambler was kind enough to send me samples of three of their new sourced whiskey: a six year old bourbon, a 14 year old bourbon and a seven year old rye. The bourbons are from LDI in Indiana, and while they are not disclosing the rye whiskey's source, the 95% rye mashbill also leads to the conclusion that it is from LDI.

Smooth Ambler Old Scout Bourbon, 6 yo, Batch 8, 49.5% abv ($37)

Big rye notes come at you right off the back when nosing with plenty of mint and anise. As the nose develops, it's almost absinthe like. True to the nose, the palate gives a big rye blast with spearmint notes that continue into the finish.

This is a big, minty, high rye bourbon. It's a bit one-note, but it's very drinkable and one that would make a nice regular pour.

Smooth Ambler Very Old Scout, 14 yo, Batch B2, 50% abv ($66)

According to Dave Driscoll on the K&L Spirits Blog, this one is a vatting of four LDI bourbons: 40% 14 year, 40% 15 year, 15% 17 year, and 5% 19 year.

This one has some nice wood on the nose along with light rye notes. The palate has an initially sweet kick followed by the unmistakable taste of kalamata olives, leading to a briny finish.

This one is very different from the six year old, as you would expect given the much older bourbons that it is composed of. Do you like olives? If so, give it a try or even better, pair it with a Greek salad.

Smooth Ambler Old Scout Rye, 7 yo, Batch 1, 49.5% abv ($40)

The nose on this gives off model glue and plastic. The palate is very LDI with mint. It starts sweet then has a bit of bitterness at the end which lasts into the finish along with some Eucalyptus notes.

Overall, I think this is the weakest of the three whiskeys (and I tend to be a rye fan). Interestingly, this one seems to have less rye character than the six year old, despite the 95% rye mashbill.

Smooth Ambler has done a good job selecting these whiskeys. If I had to recommend just one, I'd probably recommend the six year old. It may not be as complex as the 14, but it's a really nice drinking whiskey at a reasonable price.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Why isn't the TTB Enforcing the State of Distillation Disclosure Rule?

Last year, I posted about the federal regulation that requires most whiskey labels to list the state in which the whiskey was distilled. To summarize, 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).

However, it has recently come to my attention that the TTB does not seem to be enforcing this rule. I know of several LDI distilled whiskeys which don't have the word Indiana anywhere on the label. In such cases, the label typically says "bottled in..." the state in which the company is headquartered but does not designate the state of distillation in either the address or otherwise on the label.

This is a big deal. In the world of American whiskey, it's hard enough to figure out which whiskeys are produced by whom even when the state of distillation is clear. Labels are rife with fake distillery names, bottlers of sourced whiskey who imply that they distilled it themselves and other chicanery. At least the state of distillation rule told you if a local company was actually selling Kentucky bourbon, and in the case of LDI, it was especially helpful since the "produced in Indiana" line almost always pointed to LDI.

I've sent the TTB an email asking what their policy is on enforcing this rule. I'm not hopeful, but if I hear back, I'll let everyone know what they say.