...where distraction is the main attraction.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Further failures in bourbon blending......

(Yes, I'm aware that these aren't all bourbons, but I was looking for lazy alliteration.)

Two weeks ago, I shared with you the brief tale of my solid number two.  I made three whiskies out of Balcones True Blue Cask Strength corn whiskey and Rittenhouse Bottled-in-Bond straight rye.  Whiskey #1 and #3 had their strengths, but their weakness tilted them out of favor.  Whiskey #2, an ultra-high rye bourbon, was good enough to bottle 600mL worth.

On September 2nd, I took the last dribbles of the Balcones True Blue CS, the remainder of the Koval Dark Millet, and some of the Koval Dark Rye whiskey (each 100% one grain) and did two experimental blends.  The idea was to create a bourbon and a rye, but using the extra light millet grain whiskey rather than a malted barley whiskey as the third grain in each.

On the surface it sounds relatively harmless, but there were two issues floating above the experiments.  Firstly, these were all super young whiskies that displayed nearly no maturation characteristics.  Secondly, I didn't particularly care for the way any of them tasted on their own.  There were positives in their noses, but not in the palates.  With my previous whiskies, #1, #2, and #3, at least I had Rittenhouse BiB bringing a little bit of age and luscious flavor to the mix.

#4 - Goal: Design a 51%-corn bourbon.  Result: Due to adjustments I had to make to take into consideration the whiskies' alcohol strengths as well as the microscopic milliliter adjustments, I had to settle for a 52%-corn bourbon.  Curses!

Approximate resulting mashbill: 52/24/24 (corn/rye/millet)
Approximate ABV: 47.4%
Quantity made: 30mL
Resting time: 22 days

Nose -- Turpentine, caramel, vodka, corn, apple-flavored candy.  Lightly smoky.  But that's before I air it out.  After giving it 20+ minutes in a covered glass something awful began to happen.  While it still smelled of caramel and sugar, a massive note of rotten fish began to emerge.  And it wouldn't go away.  Either it absorbed something weird from the air or I crossed the streams.
Palate -- Corn, apple juice, vodka, and paper. With the extra time in the glass it improved slightly, with some more sweetness and bitterness.  But it never reaches a drinkable quality.
Finish -- More paper.  Very drying.  With air it becomes chemically bitter.

Verdict:  Wow.  Bad.  I could not finish it.  Worse than the sum of its parts.

#5 - Goal: Design a rye with Rittenhouse's mashbill (37/51/12), substituting millet for barley.  Result: Due to the structural issues mentioned in #4's, I got pretty darn close

Approximate resulting mashbill: 37.6/52.6/9.8 (corn/rye/millet)
Approximate ABV: 45.1%
Quantity made: 30mL
Resting time: 22 days

Nose -- Less ugly than #4.  A little bit of rye spice sneaks in.  Some flower blossoms.  Vanilla.  Vodka.  Lots of corn pushes past the other elements.  With 20+ minutes in the glass there isn't much change.  Might be a little more sugary.
Palate -- Lots of bitterness.  No sweetness whatsoever.  Corn, paper (again), bland vegetation.  Very light, almost like a Canadian blend.  With time no major flavors develop.  Sort of semi-bitter / semi-sweet.  Sort of drinkable.
Finish -- Paper, corn, imitation vanilla extract, some bitterness and caramel.  Nothing changes with time.

Verdict:  Better than #4, but I still wouldn't drink it if it were free.

Both of these blends were crappy, though on different levels.  Aside from the bizarre rotten note, what was most disappointing was the feeling that in both instances I was drinking paper-flavored vodka (attention: makers of Cupcake Vodka...).  For a moment I considered blending #4 and #5 together, but then I decided that the whole thing needed to end promptly because...

The main lesson I learned from this blending experience is to not expect to suddenly create something good from elements one doesn't like in the first place.  Quality ingredients are the key to great dishes and cocktails.  Having at least one decent whisk(e)y may also be required in a blend.  So it's likely that one won't be able to salvage a bad whiskey by adding another one to it and then another one.

This week we'll see if professional blenders did a better job than I with the young whiskies they had at hand.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

NOT Single Malt Report: Blue Hanger (7th Release) Blended Malt

In 2013, the vatted malt named after the Third Lord Coleraine's attire preferences materialized on American liquor retailer shelves in its septenary edition.  In the previous (sixth) release, Doug McIvor and BB&R started to dabble in adding peat to Blue Hanger's recipe by including two Bowmore hogsheads.  Then in the seventh release, they upped the peat's intensity by adding very young peated malt from Bunnahabhain.  The size of the release was also expanded to 3,088 bottles.  And though it was again given no age statement, the cask specifics were detailed in its press release one full year ago...

Bruichladdich 1992 hogshead
Miltonduff 1997 hogshead
Miltonduff 1997 hogshead
Miltonduff 1997 hogshead
Miltonduff 1997 hogshead
Bunnahabhain 1990 sherry butt
Bunnahabhain Moine (peated) 2006 hogshead
Bunnahabhain Moine (peated) 2006 hogshead

Thank you to Eric S. for this sample!

Company: Berry Bros. & Rudd
Brand: Blue Hanger
Type: Blended Malt (formerly known as Vatted Malt)
Edition: 7th Release
Bottled: 2013
Ingredients and Age: See notes above
Alcohol by Volume: 45.6%
Limited release: 3,088 bottles

The color is medium gold.  The nose begins with peated dark chocolate and rubber bands.  This is followed by subtle sherry, tennis balls, jasmine flowers, toffee pudding, and vanilla extract.  The peat is intensely grimy at first, though it mellows with time, becoming more mossy and vegetal.  A nice pop of anise also shows up, alongside cardamom, and little sulphur.  A dense ashy peat jumps out in the palate; creating the feeling of a bunch of cigarette butts in the mouth.  It takes a moment before the sherry-ish dried fruits roll in.  Grape jelly.  Currants in dark chocolate.  It's never over-sweet and the bitterness never takes over.  The finish has a decent balance between sherry and ash.  Bitter cocoa, vanilla, and cigarette mouth.

This is a much different creature than the fifth release.  The choice of very young peated malt is a brave one.  Those two casks make the entire whisky feel much younger than the age carried by the other six casks.  I like the grimy peat, though it overwhelms the rest at times.  Once the whisky is aired out, the good sherry butt shines and the blend eases into a single unit.  It's comparable to Laphroaig Triple Wood.  They're not the same, but BH7 reminded me of Triple Wood quite a bit and the quality is very close.  Keep in mind that the Hanger is much scarcer, bottled by a smaller company, and 50% more expensive.

Availability - Still can be found at many specialty retailers
Pricing - $85-$90 in Minnesota (wuh?), $100-$120 in the rest of the states
Rating - 86

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

NOT Single Malt Report: Blue Hanger (5th Release) Blended Malt

I have one hour to write and post this report or else......I'll just have to post it tomorrow.

The Blue Hanger blended malts are created by Doug McIvor for Berry Brothers & Rudd.  The first edition had only Glen Grant and Glenlivet casks in it and was given a 25 year old age statement.  The second and third had the same distilleries but had a 30 year old age statements.  For the fourth release, more distilleries had joined the lineup and the age statement was dropped (though it was just under 20 years old at that point).  The next year, McIvor and BB&R tested three different potential versions at Whisky Live Paris in order to let those socialists democratically elect the 5th edition.

Here are the ingredients for the prototype selected and ultimately bottled in October 2010:
Clynelish 1997, hogshead #4704
Dufftown 1982, hogshead #18584
Glenlivet 1978, hogshead #13510
Mortlach 1991, sherry butt #5141
(Source: Roskrow, Dominic (Ed.). 1001 Whiskies You Must Taste Before You Die. New York, NY: Universe Publishing. 2012.)

And here's the sample I bought from Master of Malt:

Company: Berry Bros. & Rudd
Brand: Blue Hanger
Type: Blended Malt (formerly known as Vatted Malt)
Edition: 5th Release
Bottled: October 2010
Ingredients and Age: See notes above
Alcohol by Volume: 45.6%
Limited release: 1,155 bottles

Its color is a dark gold.  The nose leads with oranges, brown sugar, and nutty sherry.  That's followed by dried cherries, caramel candies, pear, and toasted oak.  There's a little grassiness and some salted beef (the cows who ate the grass, I suppose).  Gradually a note of honey cinnamon glaze develops, as does a bold one of mackintosh apple skins.  It's big sherry that hits first on the palate.  Tobacco, mint leaves, candy canes, something pepperish (which might be sulphur), and chocolate malt follow up next.  Also a subtle note of rosewater and little bit of salt.  It's not that sweet, which is appreciated.  There's a lot of sherry in the finish as well.  Madeira too; let's just say it's a fortified wine party.  Toasty grains and oak meet tart berries.  Nestle's milk chocolate and stewed cherries.

That single Mortlach sherry butt must have been a monster on its own because it holds court throughout.  The result is very similar to a version of Macallan that some of us wish still existed: dense, bold, malty, and loaded with fruits.  With the sweetness in control and the hint of sulphur in the background, the whisky is much more interesting than I had expected.  I think it's right up there with Compass Box's Spice Tree as my favorite vatted malt so far.  The apple skin note in the nose was lovely.  The tobacco/rosewater/sulphur combo really worked somehow, as if it was a Persian restaurant in a glass.  If you're sherry-phobic this won't work for you, but if you're not then good luck tracking down a bottle!

Availability - This release has mostly sold out, a few European stores may still have it
Pricing - £70 or more, especially if it's deemed "collectible"
Rating - 89

Monday, September 22, 2014

Notes from a tasting: Peatin' Meetin' Whiskies at Home, Part 5 (The Final Chapter)

In the beginning, there were thirteen samples...

...then there were the home tastings (here, here, here, and here)...

...and then there were three:

Here's the intro that I've been regurgitating:  Though I attended Peatin' Meetin' this year, I did not drink during the event.  Instead I picked up a baker's dozen samples, all of which I have been tasting in the controlled environment of my home.

Because most of the samples tended to be smaller than my usual reviewed samples, I haven't been providing number grades, instead I've used letter grade ranges.  Since I spent 45 minutes with each of these last three samples and I want to give them number grades.  Especially the final one.

I'll be listing these three in an order opposite of which I tasted them:

Ardmore 17 year old 1996 Gordon & MacPhail (43% ABV)
according to whiskybase this cask was matured in refill sherry hogshead
Color -- Gold
Nose -- Begins with paint fumes and paper. Needs a moment, then the citrus tones arise, followed by vanilla custard and caramel sauce.  With more air it grows more candied.  It's mostly oak though.  Something about it is reminiscent of Yamazaki 12, maybe it's the sherry + US oak.
Palate -- Thickly textured considering the ABV.  Smoked butterscotch, nougat, and toasted grains.  Soft bitterness and sweetness.
Finish -- Sweet and creamy with a hint of smoke and a little citric tartness.  Not very long though.

Nose -- Vanilla and malt. Cardboard in the distance, but limes and oranges up front.
Palate -- More bitterness, which is nice. More malt. Some wood smoke. Seems tighter and tarter.
Finish -- A wisp of smoke, more drying and bitter. Not much.

Verdict: I love Ardmore, but not this one.  It's only the second Ardmore I've found disappointing.  It's not bad, but it seems like not much more than an oaky high-malt blend; though I'm sure a 17-18 year old Teacher's would be much better.  The peat barely shows up, which is a shame because all of the '90s Ardmores I've had (before this one) register as peaty as Caol Ila.  With the vintages from 1990 to 1997, G&M have released reduced ABV single casks of Ardmore.  After tasting this one, I'm not sure why they water the casks down.  I won't be chasing after any of them, so at least I saved a few bucks in the process.
Rating: 79 (C+)

Springbank 17(ish) year old 1995 for The Whisky Exchange (56.5% ABV)
a single cask with a retro label bottled exclusively for TWE
Color - Pale amber
Nose -- Lemon, pineapple, citronella candles, tropical fruits, and melons are packed in the beginning.  Floral hand soap and almonds develop with time.  A strong alcohol burn remains throughout.
Palate -- Intensely nutty and bitter.  Very rich caramel meets sharp bitter peat.  Lemon Warheads candies.
Finish -- Bitter and drying. Lemon peel and almonds. Very simple.

Nose -- More nuts (almonds and walnuts), lemons, roses.  It's very grassy.  And something milky in the mix too.
Palate -- Brightens up a bit.  More tartness too.  Mango and lemon.
Finish -- Lemony malt.  Sweet and tart.

Verdict: As you can probably tell, the nose was a lot of fun.  The palate and finish were very mild and, frankly, bland for a Springbank.  The Whisky Exchange's site suggests that this might be a Longrow, but aside from the lemon notes I get nothing Longrow-like.  I would never have even guessed it was a Springer.  It's very pretty and grunge-free.  Almost peat-free too.  I probably would guess it was a Speyside or a mild Highland malt if I'd tried it blindly.  It's not bad by any means, especially the nose.  But, like with the Ardmore, the standards are set high.  I'd take this one over the Ardmore G&M though.
Rating: 81 (B-)

And to close it up...
Inchmoan (Loch Lomond) 11 year old 1994 for Whisky Fair (54.8% ABV)
cask 646, probably a refill bourbon barrel
Color -- Very light, like watered down pinot grigio
Nose -- Oh, so much stank.  At first sniff, there's the greasy industrial stuff missing from the Springbank but on a VERY intense level.  Then some moss, sugar, and baby powder.  But then something very bad starts to happen.  It smells of chemicals, as if it was made to unclog sinks and polish metal.  Then there are notes of cheap blends (Lauders, Clan Macgregor, Hanky Bannister).  Then it's a dead rat in the drywall.  Infected puss.  And vanilla extract with orange peel.
Palate -- Rotten bananas.  Garbage.  Lots of garbage.  Week-old Taco Bell dumpster garbage; I worked at Taco Bell in high school, I wore this scent on my purple uniform.  Then up bursts a ton of sugar and moss.
Finish -- Dumpster.  All dumpster.  An acrid chemical bitterness.

Nose --
Sour smells.  Cabbagey peat.  Industrial cleanser mixed with honey.
Palate -- Better, I guess.  Very bitter.  Less sugar.  Lots of veg.  Less garbage, though it still tastes unsafe.
Finish -- Bitter garbage.

Verdict: When I added water, I expected a dead body to float to the surface.  While this might have challengers amongst the worst single malts I've ever experienced, there is no doubt that this Inchmoan brings with it the worst finish ever.  While the nose is almost so bad that it's entertaining (Finlaggan-style), the palate is not funny.  And the finale made me nervous about what I'd consumed.  And if you're interested, The Whisky Exchange has it on sale.
Rating: 43 (F)

Yes, let's end on that note.

Here is the final Peatin' Meetin' Scorecard:
-- Balvenie 17 year old Islay Cask (OB, 43% ABV) - Grade Range: B-/B
-- Loch Lomond Peated, green label (OB, 46% ABV) - Grade Range: D+/C-
-- Bowmore 16 year old 1990 Sherry Cask (OB, 53.8% ABV) - Grade Range: B-
-- Laphroaig 13 year old 1994 (Cadenhead, 54.7% ABV) - Grade Range: B-/B
-- Bladnoch Lightly Peated 11 year old 2002 K&L exclusive (OB, 51.5%) - Grade Range: B
-- Longrow 10 year old Sherrywood (OB, 46% ABV) - Grade Range: B+/A-
-- Laphroaig 15 year old 1998 K&L exclusive (Signatory, 61% ABV) - Grade Range B/B+
-- Schlenkera Rauchbier Spirit (40% ABV) - Grade Range: B-/B
-- Port Askaig 19 year old (Specialty Drinks, 50.4% ABV) - Grade Range: A-
-- Ardbeg Supernova SN2010 (OB, 60.1% ABV) - Grade Range: B/B+
-- Ardmore 17 year old 1996 (Gordon & MacPhail, 43% ABV) - Grade Range: C+
-- Springbank 17(ish) year old 1996 (The Whisky Exchange, 56.5% ABV) - Grade Range: B-
-- Inchmoan (Loch Lomond) 11 year old 1994 (The Whisky Far, 54.8% ABV) - Grade Range: F

The two big winners from the group were the Port Askaig 19 year old and Longrow 10 year old Sherrywood.  The Laphroaig '98 from Signatory and the Supernova 2010 were good but are not priced at a level I'd recommend to anyone.

The two big losers were both Loch Lomonds.  Official "Peated" NAS bottling is actually sorta drinkable.  The indie Inchmoan is not.

The highs didn't quite match the lows, but the whole experience was a lot of fun.  Thanks for sticking with this series.  Hopefully it was of some use to you.  Now it's time to move on.

Friday, September 19, 2014

NOT Single Malt Report: Compass Box Great King Street New York Blend

Yesterday I reviewed my sample of Peat Monster from Compass Box's regular range.  Today, I'll take a look at Compass Box's Great King Street New York Blend.

The Great King Street appears to be a series now.  First there was the Artist's Blend, which is the version you'll find most readily and priced the lowest.  Then there was the limited bottling of the New York Blend, released in 2012.  Last year there were a pair of Experimental Blends released in Europe.  This year there's going to be a Glasgow Blend which appears to be a mix of peat and sherry.

This New York Blend is the only one released at 46% ABV, though I think all of them are non-chillfiltered.  While the Artist's Blend was released to a lot of fanfare and received a lot of rave reviews, I found it to be not much more than a mild acceptable high-malt blend, very drinkable and competitive in the $20-$30 bracket, but probably can't compete at the $40+ block at which it is priced.  The NY Blend was always of interest to me because it brought with it more malt, a higher ABV, and the peat which was absent from the Artist's Blend.  So, many thanks to Jordan from Chemistry of the Cocktail for this sample!

Company: Compass Box
Series: Great King Street
Type: Blended Whisky
Ingredients: 20% Lowland grain whisky, 80% malt whisky; as per Compass Box, "A quarter of the recipe is from heavy-peated single malts, mostly from Islay."
Age: ???
Maturation: "Mostly first-fill American oak casks combined with refill ex-Bourbon and Sherry casks for additional complexity," says the Compass Box site
Alcohol by Volume: 46%
Chillfiltered? No
Color added? No
Limited Bottling: 1,840
Here's the whisky's official fact sheet

The color is light gold.  The nose begins with minty creamy peat.  Probably some mint leaves and mint chip ice cream too.  A little bit of BBQ sauce, sand, and burnt paper.  Menthol and a little bit of US oak.  Less oak than on Peat Monster, but it still feels older.  The palate is gentle like most of Compass Box's regular range.  There's a pleasantly perfumed element in the fore which is met by a tart sharp bitter peat rumble in the back.  In between there's some caramel and butterscotch, burnt hay and lavender.  But it's the peat that lingers longest in the finish.  It's almost fizzy and effervescent.  There's a mentholated black coffee bitterness met by a little Bowmore-esque lavender (flowers, not soap).

From the nose, I would've guessed this was a Highland malt had I been trying it blindly.  Oranges and lemons and Pixy Stix hit first.  The peat retreats but not entirely.  Still has the BBQ and sand.  Some seaweed now, new carpet, and a hint of struck matches.  The light sugary palate has some roasted nuts, soft smoke, and the aforementioned floral note.  It's soft at the start but has a slight tart bite at the end.  That bite becomes a little more bitter (and bitier) in the finish, but not badly so.  Some sugar and soil.  Possibly a little soap too.

So what's in here?  Probably the usual Compass Box suspects like Clynelish and Ardmore.  I'm getting Caol Ila and Ledaig (again).  Jordan thinks there's Laphroaig, Ardbeg, peated BenRiach, and Ledaig (as well).  The lavender notes say Bowmore to me.  Looking at our guesses, you'll see all of these peated malts because it's the good peat that stands out.  But something unpeated makes up three-quarters of the rest of the malt recipe.  Maybe it's mostly Clynelish (which may or may not be unpeated) or there are some creamy but subtle Speysiders filling out the rest.  (Update: Compass Box let me know the malts!)

While still fitting into Compass Box's graceful style, the New York Blend has much more character and spark than the Artist's Blend.  It also can stand up to Peat Monster pretty well.  I'm torn over which one is "better".  I didn't test the Monster with water, but the New York Blend's palate doesn't hold up well with hydration.  The PM was farmier and more complex, but the New York Blend feels more mature and more whole.  While the PM feels like it's for a specific mood, the New York Blend can be enjoyed more broadly.  Ultimately, while I might actually like the Peat Monster better, to others I'd recommend the New York Blend first.

Because of its very limited release, New York Blend costs a little more than Peat Monster.  At least it does now.  When it was going for less than $60, it was a pretty good buy.  Now I'm looking forward to the Glasgow Blend.

Availability - Only a couple dozen retailers still have it
Pricing - $65-$80 (only Party Source still has the original low price)
Rating - 87

Thursday, September 18, 2014

NOT Single Malt Report: Compass Box Peat Monster

On Monday, I posted one round of my recent attempts at blending whiskies.  Next Monday, I'm going to (try to) post about some more of my blending activities.  Those two entries are being joined by four weeks of blended whisk(e)y reviews.  Or maybe three or five weeks, depending on my fortitude.

This week I'll make it easy on all of us by downing a pair of Compass Box blends.  John Glaser (aka The Most Elegant Man in the Whisky Business) and his Compass Box whiskies do seem to have "most favoured nations status", to quote MAO, amongst whisky fans.  Nary a bad word gets blogged about the company and Glaser has been seen as somewhat of a hero after his run-in with the Scotch Whisky Association nine years ago.

Compass Box tends to focus on vatted malts (or blended malts) and often bottles them unfiltered at 46%abv or higher.  That's a good start for winning over the geeks.  In my opinion, their success has a lot to do with choosing good malts to begin with -- Clynelish, Ardmore, Laphroaig, Caol Ila, Ledaig, etc.  They also know how to blend those elements better than you or I, and they experimented with different sorts of toasted oak before most other producers did so.

Ignoring my mancrush on Glaser for but a moment, I probably respect their company more than I actually adore their whiskies.  The only one of their regular range that's totally won me over is Spice Tree.  The rest aren't bad; they're all decent, but I'm not running out to buy bottles of them.  (On a side note, I do have two of their limited editions which look forward to opening during some decade soon.)  From the regular "Signature" range I've reviewed Hedonism, Oak Cross, Spice Tree, and Eleuthera so far, and today I'll report on Peat Monster.

From what I've gathered about Peat Monster there may have been at a least a couple of versions over the years.  Ardmore (yay!) has always been in the mix.  Ledaig is definitely in it now.  Laphroaig has been in it, though perhaps not always.  Caol Ila has been in there too, either in addition to Laphroaig or replacing it.  Let's try to figure out which version I'm tasting.

Company: Compass Box
Type: Blended Malt (formerly known as Vatted Malt)
Distilleries: Ardmore, Ledaig, Laphroaig (maybe), Caol Ila (maybe)
Age: ???
Maturation: Fact sheet says just refill American oak, Tasting video says "70% first fill American oak, 30% refill American oak"
Alcohol by Volume: 46%
Chillfiltered? No
Color added? No
(sample was purchased from Master of Malt in 2013)

The color is bright amber.  The nose starts with Ledaig!  Farmy Ledaig.  Maybe not a monster, but may I suggest... Peat Cow?  That has a nice ring.  Anyway, then there's a blast of dense US oak, reading as spicy vanilla.  Then there are some herbs, mint and anise.  Moss wrapped in candied orange peel.  Seaweed and sea air.  With time, it grows mintier and orange-ier.  Smoked gouda and chimney evolve alongside stronger grassy notes.  The palate leads with charred bacon and hay.  A big swoop of smoke is followed by fresh sage and thyme.  Vanilla simple syrup in the center, with tart citrus around the edges; a bitter peat bite binding it together.  With time it simplifies down to sugar, smoke, and ginger notes.  The almost floral long finish gets a little sweeter. Maybe some limes and oranges.  Peat ash.  The bitterness holds the tongue in a good grip.

I have a bunch of thoughts buzzing around my head about this.  In no particular order:

--This is better than I thought it was going to be.
--It's much better than the first time I tried Peat Monster last year.  But that version was loaded with black licorice and had almost no peat character to it.
--I'm not finding much in the way of Laphroaig here, perhaps this version had Caol Ila instead?  Or at least more CI than Lp? (UPDATE: Once again, Compass Box shares some recipe information!)
--There's nothing monstrous about this whisky.  There are enough peat monsters coming from Islay right now, many of them focused on the phenolics and not much else.  This has loads of softer elements complimenting the peat.  And the Ledaig-like farmy notes are much appreciated.
--Again, Peat Cow, anyone?  Imagine the label graphics that Marc Burckhardt could do.

This is my second favorite of Compass Box's signature range.  At $50 or less it would be of interest, though I think it's trending towards $60 or more in most places.  Once a whisky gets into the $60+ range, it has to be damned great before I buy it; at $50, merely great will do.  As we know, there are fewer and fewer great whiskies sitting at $50.  Thus, choices will need to be made.  This is very good, I recommend you try it before you buy it to see if the non-peat characteristics appeal to your palate.

Availability - Any hip self-respecting whisky retailer
Pricing - $48-$70
Rating - 87

Monday, September 15, 2014

Michael makes a solid number two

(alternate title: Adventures in Bourbon Blending!)

I was sitting on (figuratively) about about eight fluid ounces of Balcones True Blue Cask Strength, a high ABV all-corn whiskey which smelled nice but didn't taste like much.  With no desire to ever drink it again, I wondered if there was a drinkable bourbon to be made from it.  Perhaps applying some good rye would fix things.  I had plenty of Rittenhouse Bottled-In-Bond on hand, so I began to tinker.

Here are the three bourbons I blended:

#1 - 50% True Blue Cask Strength / 50% Rittenhouse BIB.

Approximate resulting mashbill: 71/24/5 (corn/rye/malted barley)
Approximate ABV: 53.6%
Quantity made: 30mL
Resting time: 11 days

Nose -- Very nutty, specifically hazelnuts and almonds.  Then caramel sauce, halvah, Heath bar, sawdust, and maple syrup.
Palate -- Very hot and tannic.  It's nutty here too, maybe walnuts?  Something fibrous and grainy in there.  A little bitterness and very light on the sweets.
Finish -- Wood smoke and coffee

Verdict:  Smells yummy but tastes so-so.  Too hot and woody for me.  Have no interest to drink it again.

#2 - Goal: Design a high-rye (~35%) bourbon.  Result: Due to the two whiskies' mashbills it became an "ultra-high-rye" bourbon.

Approximate resulting mashbill: 51/40/9
Approximate ABV: 51.4%
Quantity made: 30mL
Resting time: 18 days

Nose -- A bit hot at first, but it eases down with a little air.  At first sniffs there's corn meal, molasses, sugar & spice.  Then a lightly perfumed foundation powder, sawdust, caramel, vanilla, kettle corn, and mint.  And oh so much rye.  Rye candy!
Palate -- Bourbony cough medicine, salt, and pipe tobacco.  An orange peel note develops into tart cherries and blackberries.  Very tingly with a soft bitterness underneath.
Finish -- Cough medicine, salt, and an herbal r(h)um. Mellow tartness and a mild herbal bitterness.

Verdict:  It's almost all rye on the nose, while the palate is thick and rich.  It tastes very good.  I wanted more as soon as I finished my sample.

#3 - Goal: Design a high-corn (~79%) bourbon.  Result: Easily doable with with these whiskies.

Approximate resulting mashbill: 79/17/4
Approximate ABV: 54.6%
Quantity made: 30mL
Resting time: 18 days

Nose -- Less hot than #2 (though the ABV is higher).  LOADS of caramel.  Saltwater taffy, butter, caramel apples by the ocean, maple candy, and raisins.
Palate -- Here it's much hotter, though quiet flavor-wise.  Corn stuff, but not sweet.  Some rye spices lift it up.  A hint of wood smoke.  Grows a little sweeter with time.
Finish -- Cigar mouth, sugar, some tartness.  Long, but mild in content.

Verdict:  The nose was good again, though the buttery element became weirdly strong.  Yet as vibrant as the nose showed itself to be, the palate went the opposite direction.  The corn and rye didn't merge and almost no secondary flavors appeared.

Without a doubt, my favorite was #2.  While all three blends smelled nice, #1 and #3 didn't taste great.  I enjoyed the second one so much that I sacrificed the rest of my Rittenhouse bottle to fix up 600mL of this solid number two.
After giving it two weeks in the bottle to marry, I just tried it again last night and it's still very lush.  Sometimes it tastes like a bourbon, sometimes like a rye.  It's almost too big for the 90+ degree September heat, so I'll probably use it to fix up mint juleps and sazeracs.  If I can remember to do it, I'll save a sample for a proper review when the weather cools off.

Next week, I'll post about bourbons #4 and #5, which I built from three American whiskies...

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Notes from a tasting: Peatin' Meetin' Whiskies at Home, Part 4

The Peatin' Meetin' sample journey continues.  This is technically Part Four.  If you're looking for Part Three it was the Schlenkerla post.

Anyway, here's the intro again.  Though I attended Peatin' Meetin' this year, I did not drink during the event.  Instead I picked up a baker's dozen samples, all of which I will be (and have been) tasting in the controlled environment of my home.

The stash, at the start
Since the samples tend to be smaller than my usual reviewed samples, I probably won't be providing numerical grades.  Instead, I'll be giving each one a letter grade range.

This week, I chose two samples that are well known but dissimilar in style.  The Port Askaig 19 year old and Ardbeg SUPERNOVA SN2010.

Yes, SUPERNOVA.  Relevant!  If you've made the mistake of regularly reading whisky news (pronounced: ad-ver-tahy-zing) as I sometimes do, you've been getting socked in the ear with the trumpets preceding this (or next?) week's release of the new Supernova.  My review is not of the new 2014 version.  It is of the 2010 version.  I'm classic like that.

I actually do hope the new version kicks ass.  And if it does, I hope to get a wee sippy of it because I won't be hauling out the $150-$250 it'll probably cost.  The 2010 version is bracing, but more on that below.

Here's the Peatin' Meetin' Scorecard so far...
-- Balvenie 17 year old Islay Cask (OB, 43% ABV) - Grade Range: B-/B
-- Loch Lomond Peated, green label (OB, 46% ABV) - Grade Range: D+/C-
-- Bowmore 16 year old 1990 Sherry Cask (OB, 53.8% ABV) - Grade Range: B-
-- Laphroaig 13 year old 1994 (Cadenhead, 54.7% ABV) - Grade Range: B-/B
-- Bladnoch Lightly Peated 11 year old 2002 K&L exclusive (OB, 51.5%) - Grade Range: B
-- Longrow 10 year old Sherrywood (OB, 46% ABV) - Grade Range: B+/A-
-- Laphroaig 15 year old 1998 K&L exclusive (Signatory, 61% ABV) - Grade Range B/B+
-- Schlenkera Rauchbier Spirit (40% ABV) - Grade Range: B-/B
-- Port Askaig 19 year old (Specialty Drinks, 50.4% ABV)
-- Ardbeg Supernova SN2010 (OB, 60.1% ABV)
-- ???
-- ???
-- ???

Normally the younger whisky goes first in a tasting, but Supernova is a scorcher and I'd like to have my taste buds present to try the Port Askaig.

Port Askaig 19 year old (Specialty Drinks, 50.4% ABV)
Unofficially, this is Caol Ila. It isn't sold in the US, so I'm glad I was able to sneak a 20mL pour.
Color -- Pinot grigio
Nose -- Very beachy and sandy.  A candy shop in the summer heat.  Lots of lemons and honeydew, maybe some subtle mango.  Smaller notes of mustard and peppercorns.
Palate -- The peat rolls in here, mostly as smoke and embers.  Vanilla cupcakes and roses.  Sea air and sea salt.
Finish -- A snuffed bonfire that lingers and lingers.  Rose petals.

Grade Range: A-
Terrific.  Lovely.  Now I want my own bottle.  It's too bad that UK shipping costs as much as an additional single malt bottle.  Anyway, enough bitching.  This graceful whisky topped my expectations.

Ardbeg Supernova SN2010 (OB, 60.1% ABV)
Distilled from barley that was peated to 100pm at its malting, this whisky was bottled in 2010, back when Bill Lumsden had the confidence in his malt to release an all non-rejuvinated bourbon cask whisky. Look at me with the sassy talk.
Color -- Very light amber
Nose -- Dingy stinky peat.  Baked fruit breads.  Sprite and black licorice.  Yeasty and slightly cheesy.  This is really young.  Makes Kilchoman Machir Bay look like Dalmore Sirius (agewise).
Palate -- Massive inky mossy dirty peat.  Toasty malt and cinnamon buns.  Salty and bitter.
Finish -- Peat.  Maybe some cinnamon candy.  Peat.  Slight bitterness.  Peat.  Ashtray.  Peat.

Grade Range: B/B+
In the graphic-novel-sounding Octomore versus Supernova battle, Octo is more complex and has more depth.  Supernova has more raw power.  It does one thing and does it completely.  This is my second time trying Supernova 2010 and this new tasting has clarified how I see it.  Imagine Ardbeg Ten infused with peat moss, parched dirt, and Marlboro** ashes at its inception, but then bottled the moment it reaches the legal 3 years.  Octomore wins the war, but Supernova is good if you want to char your tongue with peat concentrate.

** - the man, not the cigarettes

This was an entertaining duo.  Port Askaig was a layered late-night indulgence, while Supernova punched me in the mouth.  The not-so-secretly-Caol-Ila Askaig tops the group so far, becoming the second of the ten samples that I would consider tracking down if I could.

In Part Five: The Final Chapter, I'll be tasting the last three samples, none of which are actually from Islay...

Friday, September 12, 2014

Ancient Age Straight Bourbon Whiskey (current bottling)

Last Thursday, I reviewed my bottle of an odd but enjoyable early '80s bottling of Ancient Age.  Three days later, I spied some bottles of the current version of Ancient Age.  So I bought a 200mL.  For $2.99.  That price could have had me setting my expectations low, but I bought the dusty version in 750mL form for $9.69 and that one was fun.  So I lined up one Ancient next to the other for a tasting last night.

I'm not sure if my dusty version of Ancient Age was bottled before or after Schenley sold the brand to Age International, but it was definitely distilled before the changeover so I don't know what its mashbill was.  The current version of Ancient Age uses Sazerac / Buffalo Trace's high(er) rye mashbill.  The dusty bottle was 86 proof.  The new one is 80 proof.

They are definitely not the same whiskey.  Not too long ago, I thought Buffalo Trace could do no wrong.  I was wrong.

First, the dusty...

Owner: Ancient Age Distillers (either Schenley Industries or Age International)
Brand: Ancient Age
Distillery: Leestown Distillery
Location: Frankfort, Kentucky, USA
Type: Straight Bourbon Whiskey
Mash Bill: damfino
Age: Ancient
Bottle year: early 1980s
Alcohol by Volume: 43%

(For more detailed notes, see last week's post)
Color -- Dark bronze
Nose -- Vibrant.  TONS of caramel.  Maple, corn syrup, earthy molasses, anise, a bit of a green herbal kick, and a definite malty note.
Palate -- Salt and caramel, met with plenty of rye spices.  SunMaid raisins.  Kinda painty.  The chemical and medicinal notes are still present but in the background.
Finish -- Caramel and salt water meet up with the medicinal note and some herbal bitterness.

Not bad.  Still a little zany.  The caramel notes keep growing as oxidation settles in more and more.

Then there was...

Owner: Sazerac and Age International
Brand: Ancient Age
Distillery: Buffalo Trace Distillery (technically the same distillery)
Location: Frankfort, Kentucky, USA
Type: Straight Bourbon Whiskey
Mash Bill: Buffalo Trace #2 (higher-rye; about 15%)
Age: at least two years, but probably not more than that
Bottle code: CA131831559B (perhaps 2013?)
Alcohol by Volume: 40%

Color -- Light gold
Nose -- Vague.  Woody: pulp, bark, and pine sap.  Hazelnuts and marzipan.  Pretzels, cheap plastic toys, and "plastic banana" (that sorta makes sense, right?).
Palate -- Again, not much.  Sweet to bitter.  Very corny, maybe some vanilla and caramel and black pepper.  Uh oh, going downhill quickly...  Grows bitterer.  Tastes like burning.  Burning perfume and burning bubblegum.
Finish -- Woody bitterness.  Bland barrel char.  Also begins to grow off-putting with an ever expanding acrid aftertaste.

At first, I wondered if I'd accidentally bought Ancient Age Preferred, their blended whiskey, because there seemed to be so little whiskey in the whiskey.  But, nope, it was their straight bourbon.  Slowly, the scent and flavor arrived.  Then slowly, things went sour.

The two are distinctly dissimilar.  The new version has a lower ABV, but it's only a three point difference.  So the gap comes from a marked disparity between the quality of the barrels going into each bottling.  The dense Age bottled in the early '80s shouts out, announcing its presence, whether one likes it or not.  The Age bottled in 2013 barely ekes out a whimper before soiling itself.  I'm pretty certain they have different mashbills, but that doesn't matter if Sazerac is scraping bottom to pull together the current Ancient Age.

I'm going to bring this to a quick close because the whiskey isn't worth many additional words.  This is unquestionably the worst whisk(e)y I've reviewed this year.  Will a challenger arise?

ANCIENT AGE 86 PROOF (bottled early '80s)
Availability - Happy hunting!
Pricing - $9.69 is how I found it
Rating - 81

ANCIENT AGE (current bottling)
Availability - On a lower shelf at a retailer near you
Pricing - $10-$14 (Buffalo Trace is only twice the price but eleventy times better)
Rating - 63

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

A Pair of Dickels, Classic No. 8 and Rye Whisky

When it comes to Tennessee Whisk(e)y many of you know more about it than I.  This I blame on Jack Daniels Tennessee Whiskey, one of America's worst exports, worse than nuclear weapons and Jerry Lewis.  I've never understood why people choose to get drunk off of Jack.  Yes, they want the rock star clich√© but, goddamn it, rock stars have gotten drunk off of everything.  Go huff gasoline fumes rather than drinking Jack from the bottle; the lights will be brighter and you'll pass out quicker.  Mmmmm, gasoline.

I first heard of George Dickel in the film Wonder Boys, in which a double Dickel on the rocks was Grady Tripp's drink of choice.  The Dickel didn't hit my lips until last year, when Florin (a prince) donated most of a 375mL bottle of Dickel's No. 8 to the Diving for Pearls Laboratories.

Dickel's bourbon-esque mashbill is very high in corn, around 84%.  They use the Lincoln County Process, which is now legally required in order to label a booze "Tennessee Whiskey" (except for Prichard's).  In a small shriveled nutshell, the Lincoln County Process is a method wherein the spirit is filtered through or soaked in charcoal chips, chunks, or slabs before being poured into barrels.  The benefit of this filtration is something forever debated between Kentucky and Tennessee whiskey fans. (For more and better info see The Chuck Cowdery Blog.)

In 2012, Dickel released a rye.  Using MGP spirit (95% rye), they give it a pass through charcoal before barreling it in order to Tennessee-up its Indiananess.

While Dickel has other products -- such as the No. 12, No. 1, and Barrel Select -- today I'm reporting on the "Classic No. 8" and the rye.

Brand: George Dickel
Product: Classic No. 8
Owner: Diageo :(
Distillery: Cascade Hollow
Location: Normandy, Tennessee, USA
Type: Tennessee Whiskey
Mash Bill: 84% corn, 8% rye, 8% malted barley
Barrel Char: #4 on the barrel, #2 on the heads
Age: used to be 4 to 6 years, probably closer to 4 years now
Bottle code: L00192P00109:48 (2000 or 2010?)
Alcohol by Volume: 40%
(Thank you to Florin for the sample!)

The color is light gold.  The nose is bright and brown sugary.  Something smoky lingers, whether from the barrel or the charcoal.  There are notes of oatmeal and baby spit-up, along with peppery rye.  The butyric note grows with time.  The palate is full of yeast, barley, and burnt corn.  Smaller notes of fennel seeds and tree bark float around.  There's also a strong vegetal note throughout, sometimes it's asparagus, sometimes black kale, sometimes brussels sprouts.  The vegetal thing continues into the very drying finish, joined by oak pulp and bark, burnt corn, and (perhaps) urine.

More on this below.  Onto the rye.

Brand: George Dickel
Product: Rye
Owner: Diageo :(
Distillery: Midwest Grain Products
Location: Lawrenceburg, Indiana, USA
Type: Rye Whiskey
Mash Bill: 95% rye, 5% malted barley
Barrel Char: #4 on the barrel, #2 on the heads
Age: ???
Alcohol by Volume: 45%
(Thank you to Florin for the sample!)

The color is a much redder gold than the No. 8.  In the nose there's a load of the MGP-style rye herbal spices, trending peppery.  It's also floral and very sugary (lollipops, caramel, and cotton candy).  I'm also finding some papaya and raspberry jam amongst a bit of charred oak.  The palate is the mildest MGP rye I've had: a heavily watered down Willett mixed with simple syrup.  There's cherry lollipops, rosewater, lots of peppercorns, and a hint of berry syrup.  It gets drier in the finish.  More oak rumbles in.  Sweet caramel and black pepper.

The rye is rounder and bolder than the No. 8.  But keep in mind, I'm biased towards MGP's rye.  The noses are the best parts of both whiskies.  The veggie note in the No. 8 isn't as big as my notes may make it seem, but it is definitely present.  When I drank the No. 8 last summer, I usually did it on the rocks and found it pleasant enough.  So, I recommend doing it Grady Tripp-style.  Hitting it with ice cuts the veggie notes out completely.  The rye doesn't need ice.  I also think it didn't deserve any charcoal filtering, as that was likely responsible for domesticating the MGP beast.

While the No. 8 is the weaker whisky, it is still a step or two above Jack Daniel's Old No. 7.  But then again, so are hemorrhoids.

Availability - At most major retailers
Pricing - $15-$20
Rating - 75

Availability - At most major retailers
Pricing - $20-$26
Rating - 82

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Aecht Schlenkerla Rauchbier and Spirit (Peatin' Meetin' Pt. 3)

The last time anyone had heard from me on Twitter, I was ears deep in Schlenkerla:

I'm here to say I survived, free from ruin.  It's no longer my habit to consume a liter of beer unless I'm in Ireland.  So I consumed probably 80% of those beers over two hours, along with the sample of spirit I'd obtained from Peatin' Meetin' 2014.

Okay, let me take a step back.  Schlenkerla is a pub in Bamberg, Germany that has become well known for the rauchbier (or Smoked Beer) that they brew onsite.  Rauchbiers get their smoky character from malted barley dried over open flames.  The damp barleycorns absorb some of the characteristics from the resulting smoke......which may sound a little familiar to peated whisky fans.  And the good news is, Schlenkerla has started to experiment with distilling their smoky beers.

After escaping with a sample of the Rauchbier spirit last month, I wasn't sure what to expect from the stuff, nor what should accompany it.  With some quick research I discovered that a few of Schlenkerla's rauchbiers have made their way to the US.  So I bought the two that I found at a local store so that I could match them up with the spirit.

Here's the Twitter pic again, cleaned up.

In the back are the beers, Urbock (6.5%abv) and Marzen (5.1%abv).  Up front is the spirit (40%abv).  I'm not a beer connoisseur, but I do like beer a lot.  The fact that these two aren't pushing 9% or 10% abv (as many American craft beers have been doing lately) is also much appreciated.  The Urbock and Marzen do not need a higher alcohol content since their flavors are quite potent already.

Aecht Schlenkerla Rauchbeir URBOCK (6.5% ABV)
Color -- Cassis juice. Almost black with hints of red.
Nose -- Massively bacony and hammy. Lots of barley. Coffee brewing and dark chocolate melting.  Old sweaty gym clothes.
Palate -- Caol Ila of beers.  Actually Caol Ila with some extra charred bacon thrown in.  Moderate sweetness and bitterness.  A bit ashy and savory.
Finish -- Huge (pronounced: yooooooge).  Ashy, charred things; very similar to peat smoke.  Pre-lit matchsticks and manure.

Aecht Schlenkerla Rauchier MARZEN (5.1% ABV)
Color -- Similar to the Urbock.
Nose -- Mesquite chips, pre- and post-barbecue. Stout-ish. Some coffee and dirty hay notes. After some time there's a full note of vegetable oil burning in the fryer.
Palate -- Grainier than the Urbock. Very refreshing actually, with a mild sweetness, roasted coffee, and honey. Occasionally feels like a very low ABV bourbon cask Ardbeg.
Finish -- Here's the bacon, alongside a little bit of coffee and hops.

Verdict: Winners, both.  Urbock is darker in nature, perhaps a bit too much of a wallop for a summertime beverage, but probably a killer on a rainy night.  Marzen is lighter and could work during all seasons.  They each run about $5-$6 per half liter bottle.  I will be buying them again.

Next up is the spirit distilled from the smoked beer.  There's not a lot of info about it online and Schlenkerla's site doesn't reference it at all.  Some sites say that it is aged in Michel Couvreur casks for a few to several months.  Their distributor in New Jersey says it is "matured in M. Couvreur whiskey barrels for 24 months. They then add freshly smoked barley malt to the barrels, and age for an additional 12 months."  So now you know as much as I do.

Aecht Schlenkerla Smokemalt Rauchbier Spirit (40% ABV)
Color -- Medium gold, with quite a bit of unfiltered schmutz floating around.
Nose -- Very big and bright considering its alcohol content.  Black licorice, cinnamon candy, oatmeal, and baked raisins.
Palate -- Intensely herbal, like a hoppy eau-de-vie. That's followed by apple and cinnamon with lots of pepper and clove. Sweet anise candy. Sometimes seems like a second cousin to a good rye spirit.
Finish -- Caramel apples with cloves. A hint of smoke and bacon.

Grade Range: B-/B
I really liked this, but I'm not comfortable grading it higher until I have a larger sample to reference.  It's mostly a raw eau-de-vie style spirit.  The refill whisky barrels give it some color but rarely interject.  There's much less smoke here than in the beers, but the palate and nose are just as aggressive in their own way.

The price on the Smokemalt Spirit will scare away most customers; $110 for a 750mL bottle.  Most of us are not in the habit of paying that sort of money for a three-year-old whisky.  But it's not whisky.  This is a different creature, one not frequently available in this part of the world.  As always, I recommend you try before you buy it, if that is humanly possible with this thing.  And, perhaps, if you do some googling you may find half bottles for $55...

The Peatin' Meetin' Scorecard so far...
-- Balvenie 17 year old Islay Cask (OB, 43% ABV) - Grade Range: B-/B
-- Loch Lomond Peated, green label (OB, 46% ABV) - Grade Range: D+/C-
-- Bowmore 16 year old 1990 Sherry Cask (OB, 53.8% ABV) - Grade Range: B-
-- Laphroaig 13 year old 1994 (Cadenhead, 54.7% ABV) - Grade Range: B-/B
-- Bladnoch Lightly Peated 11 year old 2002 K&L exclusive (OB, 51.5%) - Grade Range: B
-- Longrow 10 year old Sherrywood (OB, 46% ABV) - Grade Range: B+/A-
-- Laphroaig 15 year old 1998 K&L exclusive (Signatory, 61% ABV) - Grade Range B/B+
-- Schlenkera Rauchbier Spirit (40% ABV) - Grade Range: B-/B
-- ???
-- ???
-- ???
-- ???
-- ???

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Something Weird: Ancient Age 86 Proof Bourbon (bottled early '80s)

Welcome back to Kravitz's Cabinet of Curiosities.  Today's sideshow is...

...Ancient Age 86 Proof Straight Bourbon Whiskey, bottled in the early 1980s; or better known in these circles as The Dog-Faced Man.

Since the start of the Ancient Age brand in 1946, there have been a whole slew of similarly named Ancient Age bourbons.  There's the regular Ancient Age (with one "Ancient"), which has had ages of 3 and 6 years, as well as at least one without an age statement.  These bottlings were released at 80, 86, 90, 100, and 107 proof at different points in time.  Then there was the Ancient Ancient Age 10 year old (hella ancient), which was recently sneakily replaced by the Ancient Ancient Age 10 Star (no age statement, not hella ancient?).  The version I found while scouting curios was the Ancient Age 86 proof, which had no age statement.  Since it was bottled in the early '80s it may or may not have some old glut whiskey in there; about that I have no idea.

Ancient Age has been made in the same distillery over the past 68 years, though it has undergone name and ownership changes.  The location was often known as the Leestown Distillery, sometimes as the OFC Distillery, sometimes as the George T. Stagg Distillery, sometimes as Albert B. Blanton Distillery.  It was run by Blanton, Stagg, and E.H. Taylor at various times.  Around the time of Prohibition, Schenley Industries bought it.  Some folks say that it was called Ancient Age Distillery for a while, some folks say that was never its official name, rather AA(A) was just its best-selling brand.  The Ancient Age brand itself was sold to Age International in 1983.  Age still owns the brand and produces the whiskey at the same distillery, now known as......Buffalo Trace Distillery.  (Here are a couple of my sources: this and this.)

Today, Ancient Age is a 3 year old 80 proof bottom shelf bourbon made from BT's higher rye mashbill.  The bottling I have was obtained for all of $9.69, but I have no idea what its mashbill was.

Upon opening this bourbon six months ago, I was immediately struck by its massively astringent, salty, and medicinal palate.  It was odd, but I kinda liked it.  With time and a little oxygen, the bourbon in the bottle mellowed slightly but remained unusual.  The notes below are from samples I took at two different parts of the bottle.

Also, posting simultaneously with this review, My Annoying Opinions will be reviewing a sample from this very bottle as well!  Here's the link to his review!

So much going on here: Ancient Age just opened, Peatin'
Meetin' notes, a mystery man in the shadows, and
yes an empty bottle of Finlaggan.
Owner: Ancient Age Distillers (either Schenley Industries or Age International)
Brand: Ancient Age
Distillery: Leestown Distillery
Location: Frankfort, Kentucky, USA
Type: Straight Bourbon Whiskey
Mash Bill: damfino
Age: Ancient
Bottle year: early 1980s
Alcohol by Volume: 43%

The color is dark woody brown.  The first thing that strikes me about the nose is how malty it is, a good ex-bourbon cask malt.  But then in rumbles some oloroso sherry.  Then Old Spice aftershave.  After that, it's all bourbon.  Corn syrup, caramel, and honey with some peppery rye hints around the edges.  It smells like it's going to be a sweetie.  But on the palate, it's not.  It's still somewhat astringent and medicinal.  Some toffee thrown in.  Then it picks up its case of the weirds.  Shaving cream smell (as a flavor), hairspray, and a hint of soap.  So there's this chemical angle, yet it's still fully palatable (for me).  The chemicals don't stick around in the sweeter finish.  Some salt and caramel.  Spices like black pepper, nutmeg, and cardamom.  Maybe a little of the soap sticks around.

Most of that malt note is gone now from the nose, though a nutty sherry remains.  It's much more vegetal and corny now.  Savory herbs, corn chips, paint fumes.  Then some rye seeds to go with a lot of caramel and vanilla.  Vanilla and caramel also lead off a palate which seems to be cured of the chemicals. Though that soap hint remains.  Much more corn whiskey now.  It's sweeter, spicier, savorier, and saltier.  The chemical thing peeks in at the finish, along with ripe banana, black pepper, and granulated sugar.

So, this bottle gave me three whiskies for the price of a bottom-shelfer.  Pretty swell deal, I'd say.  As mentioned above, the top of the bottle was a raw sharp medicinal stinger.  The middle of the bottle smelled great and tasted strangely.  The bottom third was more like a contemporary bourbon of better than acceptable quality for a $10 bottle.  One thing was consistent though: It does not work in a mixed drink, highball, mint julep, etc.  It just doesn't play well with others.

I'm sort of mystified as how to grade it.  So I'll have to provide a disclaimer to whatever number I make up.  I like it A LOT more than the previous two Curiosities, and would even consider getting another bottle if I found one for $10 again.  If you wind up discovering a bottle of this (with the faux tax stamp), and want to get in on the weird, I don't recommend letting too much oxygen get to it.  Split it up amongst your friends peers and watch everyone make faces.

Availability - Happy hunting!
Pricing - $9.69 is how I found it
Rating - 81 (Disclaimers: 1. Rating only covers this era of this bourbon, not the current version. 2. The whiskey changes often in the bottle.  3. It can be a little weird. 4. You should probably disregard this rating altogether.)

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Koval's Lion's Pride Organic Dark Millet and Organic Dark Rye Whiskies

If you've been wondering where the "R" in Whiskyfun's "Stanahan's" review went, I stole it.

Florin gave me substantial samples of two whiskies (thank you!!!), both of which I labelled and referred to as "Korval" for almost four months.  It was when I started googling Korval that I realized there is no Korval distillery.  There's a Koval distillery, located in Chicago -- in the actual city, near Ravenswood and Lincoln Square -- and run by the Birnbeckers, an Austrian family with distillers in their lineage.  Koval has made a number of whiskies using grains that are often grown in America but are rarely distilled.

Until recently their main range was called Lion's Pride (named after their son, Lion) and it contained a number of organic whiskies. Very recently, the "Lion's Pride" title was discarded and the entire line's bottling design redone.  The "organic" designation is no longer on the front label though the company says they use only organic grains.

The two whiskies I'm reviewing here are the Lion's Pride editions of the Organic Dark Millet and Organic Dark rye.

Distillery: Koval
Region: Chicago, IL, USA
Grain: Millet (100%)
Age: less than two years old
Maturation: 30 gallon new American oak barrels with level-four char
Alcohol by volume: 40%

The color is very light gold.  Not much on the nose at the start.  First, some turpentine (a la Cutty Sark) floats up.  Then notebook paper, grain grist, paint, rice wine vinegar, and yeast.  Hints of vanilla, sugar, and white pasta follow.  The palate is reminiscent of very young low-oak Scotch grain whisky. It's, er, grainy. Some vanilla and sugar. A hint of vinegar. Lots of notebook paper (again), but this time it's covered in Nutrasweet.  A peppery nip gives it some character.  That pepperish peep continues into the finish, followed by paper and a slight sweetness. And not a lack of what I'd guess is acetate.

Distillery: Koval
Region: Chicago, IL, USA
Grain: Rye (100%)
Age: less than two years old
Maturation: 30 gallon new American oak barrels with level-four char
Barrel #: 198
Alcohol by volume: 40%

The color is also a very light gold.  The nose is bigger than the millet's, though it starts on varnish.  Then there's some raw green herbs and old shoe leather.  Peppercorns and caulk.  A hint of brown sugar.  Eventually it opens up and smells like a deli pickle plate.  And, per my wife, it smells like whiteboard markers. The palate has a case of The Turps with some pepper and tartness mixed in. A little pickle brine, maybe some fennel and horseradish.  Some sweetness builds at the end.  It's all very quiet, like a watered-down white rye.  The finish has the pepper and brine, too, along with pencil eraser.  There's a cloying note that I've found in very young proto-whisk(e)y.

If those reviews aren't loud enough raves for you, let me just add that the filtered water from my fridge has a denser texture than these unfiltered whiskies.

Just to clarify, I do not know how to distill a spirit.  I've only flubbed around with trying to age stuff in tiny barrels.  I am aware that distillation is very difficult, especially without bringing any malted barley into the mix.  If making good spirit was easy, then entire whisky empires would never have been built.  And I want to cheer on the small businesses, as opposed to the empires.  But I can find very little that appeals to the nose or palate in these two whiskies.

They both feel significantly watered down and I wonder (as usual) how these would swing at much higher ABVs.  The millet whiskey is as light as a feather, which can sometimes be a good thing, but there's not much spirit character to it.  The rye is larger, but it's still the shyest rye I've ever tried.  It tastes and smells so young that even Corsair's unaged Wry Moon feels like its senior.  But even if it is young, where is all of its rye power?

As I mentioned, Koval's bottle and label design have been reworked, so perhaps the whisky has as well?  I don't know.

Here are other folks' reviews:
--Sour Mash Manifesto has positive things to say about these whiskies, but commenter "Sherman Owen" at the end of the comment section says much of what I think about the whiskies.
--Not many votes on whiskybase, but the small sample size loves the millet and hates the rye.
--My Annoying Opinions reviewed a sample of my sample and had an experience similar to mine.
--And Whisky Advocate, which rarely prints grades under 80, gave all of Koval's whiskies grades under 80.  (And Lew Bryson has sorta tried more American whiskies than most of us combined.)

Koval Lion's Pride Organic Dark Millet
Availability - The newer addition is much easier to find at specialty retailers
Pricing - $40-$50
Rating - 70

Koval Lion's Pride Organic Dark Rye
Availability - The newer addition is much easier to find at specialty retailers
Pricing - $40-$50
Rating - 72