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Category Archives: News and Info

Buffalo Trace Single Oak Project

I am ashamed to call myself a whiskey geek today. Very ashamed indeed. I say this because I cannot tell a lie – no matter how hard I make myself, I can’t get excited about the Buffalo Trace Single Oak Project. Honestly I have tried like hell to get into it. To date, I’ve sampled three bottles (different barrel numbers). They’ve been good, don’t get me wrong, but not mind blowing. I still wonder if it will even be worth the effort. Let me explain my thoughts……

For those that don’t remember, Buffalo Trace embarked on one of the most aggressive “projects” in whiskey history earlier this year. That’s not an understatement. You can read more about the experiment here. To summarize, Buffalo Trace has gone right to the barrel making source to isolate the components of the wood that impact the finished whiskey more favorably in the eyes of the general public. You can purchase a bottle, log onto the website, enter your thoughts on the whiskey, and see what components/factors impacted the bourbon you tasted. The goal, simply put, is to figure out what sections of the tree (top or bottom cuts), what char levels, grain type (course to fine grain), and other factors yield the best results when mated with either a rye-based bourbon or a wheated bourbon. To date, Buffalo Trace has released 36 Single Oak Project Bourbons (3 releases of 12), each representing 192 possible combinations of flavor factors.

This is cool stuff right? On the surface I agree – it’s very cool. Buffalo trace is going to lengths no other distillery in the world has gone (to my knowledge) in order to improve consistency, and perhaps find the “holy grail” bourbon.

Here’s the thing – I think they have little or no chance of finding what they seek. Is that based on fact, research, or anything concrete? Nope, not a all. Still, I believe they are looking at this in a one dimensional way, focused on isolation of components. What if it’s a combination of top and bottom tree oak that yields more balance? What if variances in grain type actually help? What if it’s a combination of rye-based bourbons blended together that yield the best finished whiskey? What if my brain explodes as I think of the myriad of options that could yield the best results?

Also, and perhaps more critically, what are Buffalo Trace’s plans to execute on the “perfect” bourbon as per the Single Oak Project ratings? How does a distillery scale in such a way as to isolate top tree sections with tight grain (for example) and still produce an affordable bourbon? Does Buffalo Trace intend to buy their own cooperage to control those costs? Will it end up being a $150 bottle? The folks behind this endeavor are a hell of a lot smarter than me, but these are the things that run through my head, and keep me from jumping up an down with excitement.

Bottom line, I feel this will end up being a fun, cool experiment for the whiskey geeks in all of us. And there’s nothing wrong with that as long as we all don’t get our hopes up.

What about you? Share with me what you think about Buffalo Trace’s Single Oak Project. Perhaps I’m alone in my opinion here.

Happy Holidays!

I’m not sure where the time has gone, but it has been a wild year for sure. I hope this post finds you all getting ready to enjoy the holiday season with family and friends. I would like to thank you for taking time and visiting Sour Mash Manifesto, for commenting, and for sharing stories and insights on whiskey. I appreciate each of you for those contributions to the site. It’s clear a lot of people share a passion for whiskey.

As for me, I don’t plan on hibernating over the next 2-3 weeks. Coming up we have a series of Rye reviews – the 2011 Sazerac 18 year, Sazerac Rye Whiskey, and Willett 3 year Single Barrel Rye. In addition I will be reviewing a new one from High West called Son of Bourye, which is a blend of a younger bourbon and rye than it’s father – Bourye. I’ll also take a look at High West’s newest “silver” whiskey, OMG Pure rye, a nod to the Old Monongahela. Finally, we’ll get back to some entry level products with some reviews of Jack Daniel’s Old No. 7, Jim Beam “White Label”, and George Dickel No. 8. I’m sure there will be some others here and there as well, and it will be a fun few weeks. I hope you agree.

Lastly, I plan on joining the fray with some awards for a few specific categories for 2011. Like the whiskey world needs more awards, but there are some distilleries and bottles that deserve acknowledgement. Be on the look out for that very soon.

Drink well, but responsibly, this holiday my friends. All the best to you and yours!

-Jason

Happy Thanksgiving!

I am very thankful for the opportunity to have a place to spout on about something I love very much. Even more so, I’m thankful to have great folks that visit often and contribute. I honestly cannot describe how much fun I have interacting with all of you. The fact that you take time to stop by and hear me out is a blessing for me.

I wish you and yours a very happy Thanksgiving, and hope it will be filled with great family, friends, fantastic food, and of course great whiskey.

This holiday I have a boatload of family coming into town, like every year. It’s my favorite holiday for that very reason. I love to cook and so this holiday just fits right in. Each year we make 3 turkeys (one fried, one roasted, and one smoked) with some of the best sides (or fixins as we say in the south) you’ll ever eat. This year, after the dust settles on a meal that takes 2 days to prepare and 30-45 minutes to eat, I’ll pull all the willing participants into my dining room and we’ll make our way through my liquor cabinet. I’ve got some special ones in store for them – an older Pappy 15s, a 2009 Stagg, the 2011 Parker’s Heritage Collection, and probably a few gems from across the pond as well.

Whiskey, like a lot of things, is best when shared with people. It was meant to be enjoyed any time of course, but it just always seems to taste better with others. Share a bottle with someone this Thanksgiving and you’ll be glad you did. Also, I would love to hear what you’ll be sipping this week – please let us all know!

World Whiskey Review

For those that may not know Dominic Roskrow, he is a former editor of Whisky Magazine, one of the largest whisky publications in the world. Today he writes about World Whisky for John Hansell’s magazine, The Whisky Advocate, as well as popular titles like New York Daily. In addition to editing Whiskeria and The Spirits Business, Dominic has also published a number of books. His best in my opinion was released about 18 months or so ago titled, “Worlds Best Whiskies: 750 Drams from Tennessee to Tokyo”.

Dominic’s latest project is an online magazine called World Whisky Review (WWR). This eZine is published through Whisky Connosr, an online whisky community of sorts. Originally intended to focus on whiskey outside of the top-five producing countries/areas around the globe, Dominic quickly recognized the need to feature the occasional article on the exciting U.S. Craft Whiskey scene in WWR.

Enter yours truly. Earlier this year I struck up a conversation with Dom online, and was quite pleased (and very honored) to be invited to contribute an article for his latest project. You can take a look at World Whisky Review HERE. I have an article on white whiskey. Perhaps he’ll invite me back for another contribution, but regardless it was quite fun. Be on the lookout for new WWR releases bi-monthly, with the next one coming before the end of the year.

Cheers!

Jason

Public Service Announcement

We interupt your regularly scheduled whiskey drinking to inform you that Van Winkle bourbons are close to shelves. According to Chuck Cowdery, The Van Winkles have informed him that their highly anticipated line of whiskeys will hit stores after Turkey Day, but just before the end of the year. Chuck’s a more than reliable source.

My recommendations, like earlier this year, are to to call your local liquor stores and get your name on a list. Make nice with your merchants and they’ll be kind to you. If you want to know which ones to get, I’d suggest the 15 year old Pappy Van Winkle, and the 12 year old Van Winkle Special Reserve. The 13 year old Rye is solid stuff, but there’s better out there for the dollar. The 20 and 23 year old Pappy are expensive. If your budget allows purchasing those, great, but they can’t come close to touching the 15 year old.

Cheers!

Spirit Merchants and The Knowledge Gap

When I’m in a Wine and Spirits store, perusing the whiskey section, more times than not I’m approached by a store clerk that really doesn’t know what they are talking about. I don’t mean that to sound ugly because most times that’s perfectly fine (I know what I want or I’m just checking things out). However a recent encounter had me thinking about a customer scanning a shop’s inventory reliant upon a store clerk’s advice or guidance to make a purchasing decision.

Let me give you an example of what I mean and the reason I decided to write this post……

Last Saturday I was in a new section of town here in Franklin, TN, and I strolled into a beautiful wine and spirits store. I make this a habit wherever I go. I’m not always in need of something, but I don’t like to pass by a liquor store without popping in. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve ran across some real gems that many higher traffic shops have don’t stock any longer. This store in fact had every bottle of the Buffalo Trace Antique collection from 2010. Anyone that was upset they never got their hands on a bottle of George T. Stagg or William Larue Weller (from 2010) would be very pleased walking into this establishment. They haven’t been on the shelves at many of the better stores in town in more than 10 months and the 2011 releases are coming out as we speak.

While scanning the inventory a young store clerk approached me and asked me if I needed any help. I told him I was doing fine and complimented him on the selection (which was pretty solid). That started a conversation about some of the new whiskeys they got in recently. He was doing just fine, until he said the following……

Store Clerk: (Pointing to a bottle of Four Roses Single Barrel) “See that bottle of Four Roses right there?”
Me: “Yep”
Store Clerk: “That is what they start with for Pappy Van Winkle?”
Me: “What?”
Store Clerk: “The whiskey in that bottle is the same whiskey that’s in Pappy Van Winkle. It’s just aged longer for Pappy Van Winkle. It’s great whiskey.” (I am NOT joking!)
Me: “Actually you are correct it is great whiskey, but it’s not Pappy Van Winkle…..” I went on to explain that Four Roses has 2 mashbills, and that Single Barrel happens to be their highest percentage of Rye. I also explained that it is one of, if not THE highest percentage rye of any bourbon on the market. The lesson concluded with explaining the Pappy, Van Winkle, and Old Rip Van Winkle bourbon line is all wheated bourbon with no rye at all. They are on two opposite ends of the bourbon spectrum.
Store Clerk: “Oh! That’s just what the owner told me.”

This is not unusual. I’d venture to guess similar exchanges happen all of the time at liquor stores across the country. I’m sure many of you have had these types of discussions. It’s not necessarily the store clerk’s fault that he didn’t know this information. It is however the owners fault for not either brushing up on his/her own knowledge in an effort to help the store’s customers, as well as for not working with the store clerk to improve his knowledge.

We live in the information age where a clerk can look up a quick reference to the products on their shelves in an instant. Spending a little time doing this builds a stronger connection to the store and to that particular clerk when a customer has a great experience. Even if the clerk did not know an answer to a question, stopping for a moment, excusing himself and returning with more information (using the internet) would be a great way to go above and beyond.

There are shining examples across the country where effort and care has been taken by good spirit merchants, but they are the exception to the rule. As a liquor store owner or manager, think how big a differentiator that kind of product knowledge can be for your shop in a sea of sameness. Now go do something about it.

My Suggestions:
Most obviously, if you own or manage a liquor store, be sure to educate and train your staff if you indeed have the knowledge and resources. If you do not then you must first educate yourself. Here are some suggestions.

1) Use your distributors that may have intimate knowledge about the products they distribute. I’ve talked to a few that do a very good job in knowing their products in and out and what separates them. In many cases they carry enough whiskey products they can do some comparisons so you have an idea of the ranges.
2) Subscribe to publications like The Whisky Advocate (formerly Malt Advocate) and Whisky Magazine.
3) Spend time on the internet reading blogs and sites focused on whiskey that your shop specializes in or that appeal to your customers. There are lots of resources out there.
4) Invite master distillers, brand managers, and distributors to come speak to your staff and customers. All of these people want their products sold. This is a great way for them to educate your team so they are more informed while also educating your customers.
5) Attend events like WhiskyFest and WhiskyLive to experience many of these products in one single, efficient location. Perhaps not very practical in light of the other suggestions, but if this is an option for you, there are few places where you’ll be able to try so many products at once.

While you are doing all of this, bring your staff in on the act. Give them the opportunity to learn along with you whenever possible. There are probably an infinite number of suggestions that can be made here to help improve a store’s product knowledge. The above is a good start.

As customers, what suggestions do you all have that could help stores serve you better?