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Monthly Archives: February 2012

Review: Hooker’s House Bourbon

Whew, sorry for the layoff folks. Appreciate your patience with me. Let’s get things started off with a review of a reasonably new small batch product called Hooker’s House Bourbon.

Hooker’s House is bottled by Prohibition Spirits, which is affiliated (owned actually) with HelloCello, a Sonoma, CA based company producing limoncello. Hooker’s is named after Joseph Hooker, a civil war general that was known to help lift soldier morale (shall we say) with the help of some of his finest ladies. The term we use as a slang reference to prostitutes can be credited to Hooker. Hooker’s home now serves as a Sonoma, CA museum of sorts.

But that’s only the name. What about the bourbon in the bottle? First off, this is four year old sourced bourbon whiskey from Kentucky. According to Prohibition Spirits, the whiskey is a mashbill of 54% corn and 46% rye. A search across the internet will prove fruitless in determining the origin distillery of such a grain recipe. According to Sku over at Recent Eats, Prohibition Spirits procured the barrels from a pilot program that never got off the ground. The bourbon was then placed in Pinot Noir barrels for 9 months before bottling. In a year where we’ve seen Port and Cognac barrel-finished bourbon, this is quite unique.

For the record, i’m a big fan of the finishing “craze”. It’s really hard to call it a craze because only a few are doing it, but I think it’s building towards that. I’ve found most of these products, like the 2011 Parker’s Heritage Collection and Angel’s Envy, to be quite good. Let’s see how Hooker’s House fares.

Hooker’s House Bourbon, 50% abv (100 Proof), $36

Color: Medium Amber

Nose: Rich toffee and fig and plum jam overcome much of the rye spice at first. Eventually the bright rye spices emerge (cloves), but the overall impression is soft and rich with a touch of sun dried hay and toasted oak on the back end.

Palate: Much bigger and bolder than the nose indicated with a lovely, coating viscosity. Ripe, sweet cherry syrup, vanilla toffee, chili, spicy cinnamon, clove, and razor sharp rye. This is a very entertaining sip with loads of spice and fruit.

Finish: You actually can make out the winey notes on the finish, but it’s minor. Again fruity with remains of the cherry and spice flavors. Some developing oak as well.

Overall: Hooker’s House is a winner with great fruit and spice balance. The finishing process is well integrated, making something greater than the sum of its parts. In the end that’s what you look for in a well executed finished whiskey. The 100 proof also helps to accentuate the rich fruit and still keep things zippy with spice. I find this a more interesting whiskey than Angel’s Envy, which would have been a good notch better at 95-100 proof. Well done Prohibition Spirits! If you can find this whiskey online, grab it.

Sour Mash Manifesto Ranking: 9.2 (Outstanding/Superb)

Reviews Coming Soon

Folks, hang in there – reviews coming soon. I’ve been sick as a dog for the last week and that’s put my tasting on hiatus for a bit. Sip one for me!

Cheers!

-Jason

Canadian Whisky Awards

While I focus primarily on American Whiskeys of various style, I also realize it’s a big wide world out there. Canadian whisky producers continue to put out some excellent, and under appreciated whisky. Just this past weekend I reviewed Masterson’s Rye, which is a sourced product from Canada. That’s really just the tip of the iceberg.

Perhaps more so than anyone, Davin de Kergommeaux has helped to prop up the Canadian Whisky industry with his fantastic website, CanadianWhisky.org. In the last week or two, Davin produced his annual Canadian Whisky awards where he outlines the best and brightest from the previous year. Davin’s one of the best whiskey writers out there – take a peek at his annual whisky award link if you are interested in trying something new and different.

2011 Canadian Whisky Awards

Cheers!

Review: Masterson’s Rye Whiskey

Masterson’s Rye is one of the latest rye whiskeys sourced from Canada. It’s a 100% rye, which is tough as hell to distill. The distiller that makes this juice is said to be the same that produced Whistlepig and Jeffereson’s Rye. The family resemblance among them is very apparent, but each of these whiskeys differ in the flavor delivery department.

Masterson’s is sourced and then bottled by 35 Maple Street, a new spirits company based out of Sonoma, CA. The operation is a division of The Other Guys, a wine company with an ever growing portfolio of wine brands. Started by siblings, Mia and August Sebastiani (of the Sebastiani wine family), 35 Maple Street has plans to produce a gin, and have also put out a small batch bourbon recently (review coming soon).

Masterson’s was named after Bat Masterson, who was an old west lawman. August Sebastiani says he was fascinated by the Wild West and thought the name was fitting for their first whiskey. I suppose the name is meant to conjure up images of the frontier and gun slingers, but that’s all about the marketers. How does it taste?

Masterson’s Rye Whiskey, 45% abv (90 proof), $70

Color: Deep Golden

Nose: Bright and floral rye grain, juniper, crushed green herbs (cilantro, dill, and spearmint), a touch of menthol and then the woody spice notes from clove and nutmeg. A bit of sour apple fruitiness tries to break through late in the nose, but the spice and grain chokes it out. This is not a particularly sweet nose. It’s laden with crisp and clean spices.

Palate: Again – crisp and sharp as a razor blade. Brittle burned caramel provides restrained sweetness, quickly shattered by the onslaught of spices – mint, chili flake, vanilla, anise, and pine. The influence of the barrel adds dryness, accentuating the prickle and heat halfway through the sip. Spicy and beautiful stuff, but a shade one sided and requiring a bit more sweetness to balance things out.

Finish: Long waves of dry, spicy rye grain, some heat, and bitterness.

Overall: Masterson’s rye is an excellent rye whiskey busting with character. It’s bright and well spiced on the nose and palate. However, it falls short of its sibling, Whistlepig, which manages to bring similar layers of spice (albeit restrained slightly), but does so with more balance, sweetness, and depth of flavor. At virtually the same price, my pick would be Whistlepig, but Masterson’s may be more appropriate for you if you like your rye’s spicier, drier, and crisper.

Sour Mash Manifesto Rating: 8.6 (Very Good/Excellent)

Review: Rebel Yell Bourbon

There are a number of whiskey sites and blogs that I frequent on a consistent basis. Two that I enjoy are Steve Ury’s (he goes by Sku) Recent Eats and Tim Read’s Scotch & Ice Cream. Both of these guys are entertaining writers and good people to boot. If you are a whiskey geek you will be right at home at their sites. If you are a novice or interested in learning more about whiskey – there’s no shortage of knowledge either. Check them out on a regular basis, but particularly today, for reason’s I am about to explain.

With the ass kissing out of the way, let me give some background on how this review came about…….

A few weeks ago Sku posted a piece on Whiskey Collectors. He went so far as to categorize the various types of collectors with a “which of these categories fits you best” field guid. While almost dead on, I noticed I didn’t fit into any of Sku’s categories. I sent at Tweet informing him of the same, and he responded (jokingly) that he forgot the “Blogger that spends too much money on whiskey to blog about it” category. Sku can sympathize with this behavior as well. He recounted a recent moment of weakness where he almost bought a bottle of Rebel Yell just to write a post, before finally thinking better of it (“what was I going to do with the rest of it?!?!”).

I thought we were moving on, but Tim (who had seen these Tweets go back and forth) seized the opportunity to propose a simultaneous review of Rebel Yell on each of our sites. The only stipulation was no Billy Idol references, which was harder than I thought it would be. Rebel Yell was also a fitting suggestion since I had intended to review more entry level and lower price point whiskeys over the months of February and March. What a way to get started.

I invite you to take a look at my review below, then please go check out Sku’s and Tim’s websites for their thoughts. If it turns out they don’t agree with me, just remember they are wrong. Cheers!

Rebel Yell Bourbon, 40% abv (80 Proof), $13

Background: Rebel Yell is actually a pretty storied name from the standpoint that it was one Stitzel-Weller Distillery’s (S-W) primary brands (along with Old Fitzgerald, Cabin Still, and W.L. Weller). For more background on S-W, check out this post. After the S-W closed in the early nineties, these brands were all sold off to other distilleries and independent bottlers. Today, Rebel Yell is distilled, aged, and bottled by Heaven Hill (their Bernheim Distillery) for Luxco, a spirits company that owns Ezra Brooks Bourbon and a few other liquor and spirit brands. It’s a similar wheated recipe bourbon that was made popular by Stitzel-Weller.

Color: Medium Gold, like over-oaked chardonnay

Nose: Heavy sweet corn, corn oil, vanilla, and honey are the predominant notes. Candied orange, hints of dry corn husk and light hickory are also faint but present. NOTE: A healthy splash of water and time actually improves the nose a great deal, bringing out a whole lot more fruit (ripe pear and soft golden delicious apple) and lessening the crude corn assault.

Palate: Think corn whiskey rounded by the wheat. No surprise the sweet corn and vanilla are still the major flavors. Some sweeter, golden dried fruits (golden raisin, apple, and apricots) do their best (unsuccessfully) to lift the insipid whiskey. The influence of the wood is negligible, except for a light dryness/toastiness and bitterness most of the way through the sip.

Finish: 3-2-1……done. The faint flavors of ripe orchard fruits, sweet corn, and a kiss of honey are all that’s left. Some soapiness also.

Overall: What struck out to me the whole time I nosed and sipped this whiskey is the irony in the name. “Yankee Whisper” would be much more appropriate since there is little character or shape to this whiskey. Actually I take that back – I like yankees and mean no disrespect, but this whiskey is anything but a yell. It’s also lacking so much in the flavor department that it makes it hard to even call it “bad”. One thing is for sure – it’s just not worth your time in the least. The price point is low, but at half the price it still wouldn’t be worth it. There are so many other whiskeys (around this price) that offer more flavor, more character, and more value: Very Old Barton (80, 90, and 100 Bottled In Bond), George Dickel No. 8, Evan Williams Black Label, and Old Grand-Dad to name a few.

Sour Mash Manifesto Rating: 6.8 (Decent – Palatable only)

Thanks to Sku and Tim for the suggestion. Drink your Bourbon!

-Jason