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Category Archives: News and Info

Rest In Peace Elmer T. Lee

The whiskey world lost an icon today with the passing of Elmer T. Lee. While it may be arguable that Mr. Lee was responsible for pushing for the release of the first Single Barrel Bourbon in Blanton’s Single Barrel. What is not arguable is that Mr. Lee certainly deserves recognition for making Single Barrels more accessible to all of us. He made them popular by taking a risk that none were taking at the time. Eventually Elmer T. Lee got his own namesake bottle of Single Barrel bourbon produced at Buffalo Trace. I believe right up until very recently he was still hand selecting barrels for the ETL bottling.

For me, I will always remember Elmer T. Lee fondly for his namesake whiskey, and what it represented for me personally. This single barrel bourbon was the bourbon that ignited the flame of passion for me with regard to whiskey. I remember the first time I tasted it how harmonious it was, how drinkable, yet how complex the flavors were. To this day I enjoy the hell out of Elmer T. Lee Single Barrel, keeping a bottle on hand at all times. I have a beautifully engraved glass caraffe bottle at the office. Contained within is Elmer T. Lee Single Barrel for when the 4:30 hour calls. I will think fondly of him each time it does.

My sincerest condolences and prayers to Mr. Lee’s family. May he rest in peace.

Elmer T. Lee Single Barrel Bourbon Review

Thanks Bob!

What a crazy couple of months it has been. Between running a growing staffing firm and trying to corral three beautiful, active girls, I’m learning just how tough managing it all can be. But who isn’t busy right?

I just have to say thanks to Robert Parker, noted wine expert and writer, for digging me out of my hole a little sooner than I anticipated this week. Frequent readers know I’m a fan K&L Wine’s blog, Spirit Journal, written predominantly by David Driscoll. David’ post from yesterday has more than a few bourbon writers/bloggers puzzled. You can check it out here.

I’ll summarize by simply saying that Robert Parker felt compelled to go on a bourbon “conquest” for us all. That is correct. One of the foremost experts on wine decided to lock down bourbon and rye whiskey in a nice, tidy list.

Tim Read over at Scotch and Ice Cream had a strong take on Parker’s efforts. Chuck Cowdery did as well. I can’t wait to read Sku’s that is surely coming down the pipe (no pressure Steve!).

Obviously, Robert Parker is well known and clearly accomplished, but I am more than a bit surprised at his audacity. You might say, “Jason this man clearly has a great palate and a rolodex of descriptors to boot.” I’d agree…..when it comes to wine. Ask yourself if a man, regardless of his resume, knows the brown stuff if he is compelled to state this “shocker”:

“To tell you the truth, I have never been a big fan of liquor, but I was blown away by the quality of the top bourbons. They are every bit as good as a great cognac or Armagnac … and I’m not kidding!

For another laugh, check out his notes on Blanton’s, where he remarks that its either “a masterful blend or a bourbon of serious age.” You all of course know that it’s neither. In addition, The curious arrangement of whiskeys he chose to talk about also made me scratch my head a little. Experimentals mixed with some middle shelf stuff, a dash of the highly lauded releases, and a sprinkle of micro for good measure. To me it ended up an odd collection.

Of course there’s no law against Parker’s foray into “liquor”. It also doesn’t upset me in the least. In fact he’s shown a lot of balls tackling something he clearly knows only a wee bit about. Hmmm – Grapevine Manifesto has a ring to it.

One thing Parker and I do agree on: “Drink your bourbon!”

Hoarding Whiskey Part 2

Apparently the whiskey hoarding debate from my post in late January struck a chord. Some response was positive, some negative, but regardless a fun discussion where over 50 comments can be read here. A nasty cold and cough have derailed my tasting and review plans for the week. But that’s okay – it allows me a chance to revisit this topic if you will allow me.

First, I wanted to further clarify my position. Like most things, it’s never black and white. I consider the hoarding mentality one of collecting whiskey for the sake of the collection. Who am I to tell you what you should or shouldn’t do with your whiskey? It’s your money. If you can build your stash while not sacrificing your personal enjoyment of good whiskey, then I say go for it.

There were a number of great points made about being a smart consumer. Something I am not. I can only speak for myself but for me, my title as whiskey blogger runs opposite of the title, “smart consumer”. I buy 90+% of the whiskey I review, and taste a whiskey no less than 2-3 times (sometimes more) before writing about it. That requires plenty of sipping and not a ton of saving. If a smart consumer knows he loves XYZ whiskey, shouldn’t he take advantage of good pricing and stock up? Absolutely. If that smart consumer enjoys that whiskey and drinks it regularly that is not a hoarders pursuit in my opinion.

The biggest point I wanted to make is don’t let a hoarding mentality keep you from enjoying the great stuff you have in your cabinet. Don’t rush to finish all those open bottles, don’t crack your Pappy just because you think I said so (but if you already did – save me some), but do find the time to enjoy these whiskeys that you’ve purchased. Don’t always wait for the perfect moment – a great whiskey MAKES the perfect moment perfect.

And finally, for some background, I’m not one that lives in the past. I don’t believe that everything made back in the day was better. Doesn’t mean some wasn’t better, but nobody can convince me that the juice put out by some of these distilleries today is not as good or better today as it was 10, 20, 30 years ago. Buffalo Trace makes better whiskey than Stitzel-Weller did from top to bottom. Is that subjective? No. ; )

A number of comments also saw an underlying optimism in my post. Those folks are absolutely correct. I don’t believe the whiskey bubble is close to popping. I don’t have facts or figures to discredit what others feel to be an absolute certainty, citing rising prices, rising gimmicks, and depleting supply as chief reasons. Sure, it saddens me to see stuff aged on boats, but constraints (lack of supply) also lead to wonderfully creative products we’d never have otherwise.

Distilleries are making more whiskey today than ever before. Yes it’s getting more expensive – that happens. But we will soon have even more viable choices with natural selection doing its thing on a number of the micro distilleries. I tasted a Balcones whiskey that is very good and will only get better. The better micro distilleries are forcing other micros to make ever better products. It’s also forcing established distilleries to be more creative.

You could argue that 2012 would be a chief knock against my theory for the most part. I consider it an average year for whiskey, perhaps one of the worst for me in the last 5 years. Still, I tasted enough great stuff from the likes of Four Roses, Buffalo Trace, High West, Heaven Hill, and St. George Spirits, among others, to keep me optimistic. Therefore I still encourage you to drink your good stuff.

It’s Wednesday night – have a pour in good health!

-Jason

Smart move Maker’s Mark

Last week Maker’s Mark sent communication out through their Ambassadors membership program that they were reducing the percentage alcohol from 45% to 42% (90 proof to 84 proof). This angered me greatly. Not because I drink a lot of Maker’s Mark, but because clearly others do. I saw reducing the proof as a slap in the face to consumers. Chuck Cowdery posted some excellent thoughts on this on his blog if you’d like some more back story. Obviously I’m sure Maker’s Mark wouldn’t have made that decision were it not for parent company, Beam. But nevertheless the backlash was intense.

Today, Maker’s Mark issued the below statement on their website. I for one applaud them. This is the way it works in today’s digital age. The power of social media and the ability for company’s to read and process what is being said about them, made it far easier for Beam and Maker’s to address this. Companies are ran by people (and bottom lines), and they make mistakes. What’s important here is they corrected it. As angry as I was about the decision in the first place is as pleased as I am to see the change of heart.

Smart move Maker’s Mark!

-Jason

You spoke. We listened.

Dear Friends,

Since we announced our decision last week to reduce the alcohol content (ABV) of Maker’s Mark in response to supply constraints, we have heard many concerns and questions from our ambassadors and brand fans. We’re humbled by your overwhelming response and passion for Maker’s Mark. While we thought we were doing what’s right, this is your brand – and you told us in large numbers to change our decision.

You spoke. We listened. And we’re sincerely sorry we let you down.

So effective immediately, we are reversing our decision to lower the ABV of Maker’s Mark, and resuming production at 45% alcohol by volume (90 proof). Just like we’ve made it since the very beginning.

The unanticipated dramatic growth rate of Maker’s Mark is a good problem to have, and we appreciate some of you telling us you’d even put up with occasional shortages. We promise we’ll deal with them as best we can, as we work to expand capacity at the distillery.

Your trust, loyalty and passion are what’s most important. We realize we can’t lose sight of that. Thanks for your honesty and for reminding us what makes Maker’s Mark, and its fans, so special.

We’ll set about getting back to bottling the handcrafted bourbon that our father/grandfather, Bill Samuels, Sr. created. Same recipe. Same production process. Same product.

As always, we will continue to let you know first about developments at the distillery. In the meantime please keep telling us what’s on your mind and come down and visit us at the distillery. It means a lot to us.

Sincerely,

Rob Samuels Bill Samuels, Jr
Chief Operating Officer Chairman Emeritus
rob@makersmark.com bill@makersmark.com

Rest in peace Truman Cox

Today I received an email from John Little of Smooth Ambler distillery. John told me that Truman Cox, master distiller of A. Smith Bowman distillery passed away yesterday. I have reviewed some of Bowman’s products and talked to Truman a number of times. He was a gem of a guy, like most that make the whiskey business their home.

As recent as 4 weeks ago I had a quick chat with Cox about his port finished bourbon that I will be reviewing soon. He was very excited about how things were headed for the distillery. So what a shock to find this out today.

Thoughts and prayers go out to him and his family.

Happy New Year

I hope your new year has gotten off to a great start. I’m starting out the new years with apologies for few posts of late. Its been a busy 2013 so far. But rest assured – there’s a number of new reviews and posts on the horizon. Namely – Four Roses 2012 Limited Edition Small Batch, as well as my votes for American Whiskey, Distillery, and Craft whiskey of the year. I assure you – no pomp and circumstance with those awards.

In addition, if you haven’t heard the news, Diageo has fired up the still at Stizel-Weller Distillery. John Hansell of Whisky Advocate broke the news this week after it got leaked and rumblings began to start. Chuck Cowdery and Sku also have good posts on this subject.

As for, obviously I think S-W distilling again is great for whiskey lovers. We all have to have conservative expectations and see where things go. Pappy quality bourbon takes time, but reportedly they have some excellent stocks of older barrels as well. Regardless, it will be fun to see how things go.

More to come folks!

-Jason