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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

Your whiskey stash is probably better than mine

Your whiskey stash is probably better than mine. “What!”, you might say. “You write a whiskey blog – how is that possible?” It’s possible because I drink the whiskey I buy. As in – I don’t hoard it. If I don’t like it, I give it away. If I love it, I drink it and especially share it with others.

You will find no more Pappy Van Winkle 15 Year in my cabinet because I got three bottles last year, planned on saving two, but the stuff is so damn good that I simply cannot force myself to keep it around. I bought two extra bottles of the Four Roses Limited Edition Small Batch for 2012. I did so with the following mindset that I’m sure is familiar, “this stuff is great, and if I have two more bottles I’ll be able to savor and enjoy it for years to come.” Who am I kidding? This whiskey will be gone before the first tulip peeks its head above ground. And that’s just the way I am.

Yes, I’ve got some extremely good whiskeys around the house. Some you can find, some you can’t. Regardless, they’ll all be gone soon because I appreciate great stuff. The people that made these whiskeys didn’t do so for me to look at it for a decade. They did it for me to enjoy. And that’s what I do. Will I miss these bottles after they are gone? Yes, indeed, but they become a memory that is even better.

Drink your whiskey!

-Jason

Review: Four Roses Limited Edition Small Batch Bourbon (2012)

Four Roses first introduced a limited edition small batch bourbon a good 4 or so years ago. At that time the distillery called this product “Mariage” (one “r”) because it started as a marriage of 2 different bourbons from the distillery’s ten bourbon recipes.

In speaking with Four Roses Master Distiller, Jim Rutledge, in early 2011 (videos here), he informed me that the term “Mariage” was often mispronounced by the buying public. Consumers were confusing the term with a the wine term, meritage. In addition, the name was limiting for the distillery due to the common meaning of marrying just two components. Jim was interested in creating a small batch blend that didn’t constrain him to only two whiskeys.

For the 2010 release, Four Roses chose to stick with simplicity, calling the bourbon the “Limited Edition Small Batch”. The name has stuck since. The 2012 edition is a blend of a 17 & 11 year old OBSV, 12 year old OBSK, and a 12 year old OESK.

For clarification, the “B” in the designation refers to the distillery’s higher rye (35%) bourbon while “E” is the lower rye (20%) version. Even at 20%, that’s a great deal more rye content than the average bourbon whiskey on the market. Venturing a guess, I’d say average is closer to the low teens in terms of percentages. In addition, the “V” in the recipe refers to the distillery’s fruitier, creamier yeast strain. “K” refers to a spicier strain of yeast. These four whiskeys were “mingled” (as Jim refers to it) together to create a harmonious blend. The results are something truly epic.

Four Roses Limited Edition Small Batch Bourbon (2012), 55.7% abv (111.4Proof), $70/bottle
Color: Medium Amber/Copper/Burnt Orange
Nose: Cinnamon, allspice, candied orange, brandied cherries, maple fudge, and heaps of vanilla. So full of bright wood spice tamed by sweet, soft fruit.
Palate: Vanilla cream, maple, and toffee on the palate with prickles of cinnamon and chili heat. Bitter orange, grapefruit, and cherry add a layer of fruitiness. Well structured, and layered flavors unfold with each sip.
Finish: Wood and spices bring on warmth while the fruit and vanilla notes linger long.
Overall: Four Roses has managed to create one of the great bourbons of all time with the 2012 Limited Edition Small Batch. I can’t think of a more complex and satisfying pour of whiskey for 2012 than this one. It’s amazing that in a time when the Pappy and the Antique Collection products seem to gain all of the press, a whiskey of this stature can still be found on shelves. What I enjoy so much about Four Roses is that it tastes like………Four Roses. There’s nothing else quite like it. The wood never dominates and these whiskeys amaze you with both their finesse and their power. At 55.1% alcohol, I had little trouble sipping this neat. A splash of water tones down the heat, ramps up the fruit, and makes for a completely different (yet not less satisfying) sip. Well done Four Roses – my shoe-in American Whiskey of the Year.
Sour Mash Manifesto Rating: 9.8 (Epic)

Review: Jefferson’s Presidential Select 18 Year Bourbon

Jefferson’s Presidential Select 18 Year small batch bourbon is perhaps one of the most requested whiskey reviews I get asked about. So this one is a long time coming. The answer to the question of whether or not this is actual Stitzel-Weller bourbon is simple. Yes – this is from the same distillery that started the Van Winkle line. The distillery is known for their wheated bourbon mashbill, which is absent any rye grain. Below are my tasting notes on this old wheater.

Jefferson’s Presidential Select 18 Year Bourbon, Batch 13, 47% abv (94 Proof), $80/bottle
Color: Deep Amber/Copper
Nose: A heady mix of rum soaked dried fruits (raisin, dates), pancake syrup, toasted almonds, caramelized banana, vanilla wafers, old leather, and oak. Air time ramps up the wood influence quite a bit.
Palate: Toffee, fig preserves, vanilla, and heaps of oak and resiny grip.
Finish: Toffee sweetness, rich fruit, and wood make for a marvelous ending.
Overall: Jefferson’s 18 year old bourbon certainly packs a complex and flavorful punch. It’s layered with rich, sweet aromas and flavors. The whiskey drinks its age with a heavy wood influence, but the results can only be described as a superb whiskey. Highly recommended.
Sour Mash Manifesto Rating: 9.2 (Superb/Outstanding)

Review: John E. Fitzgerald Larceny Bourbon

Larceny Bourbon is the latest release from Heaven Hill Distillery. This small batch bourbon consists of 100 barrels “or less” aged in the 4th, 5th, and 6th floors of the aging warehouse. The name refers to John E. Fitzgerald’s (Old Fitzgerald namesake) propensity to use his keys to the aging warehouses to “steal” bourbon from the very best barrels at his disposal. These barrels became known as the “Fitzgerald barrels”.

I’m not exactly certain if Heaven Hill intends to eventually replace the Old Fitz line with Larceny, or if this is simply an additional product offering. Time will tell. For now, let’s take a taste of this new wheated bourbon.

John E. Fitzgerald Larceny Bourbon, 46% abv (92 Proof), $24.99/bottle
Color: Medium Amber
Nose: Brown sugar, caramelized banana, honeysuckle, corn, and a healthy dose of ground cinnamon. There is a bit of oaky resin as well.
Palate: Velvety on the tongue and surprisingly well spiced. Brown sugar syrup, vanilla, and notes of sweet corn are livened up big time with a cinnamon and wood spice punch.
Finish: Falls off quickly, but with an even warmth, never too hot, and a hint of honeyed sweetness.
Overall: This is an impressive release from Heaven Hill at this price point. First off – the proof is right on for an easy sipping and inexpensive wheated bourbon. They’ve left the flavor here without compromising drinkability. Because of the price, the natural comparison is against Maker’s Mark, but to me this compares closer in flavor profile with Maker’s 46. The healthy doses of cinnamon and wood spice have made for a much more interesting sip than the standard Maker’s.
Sour Mash Manifesto Rating: 8.6 (Very Good/Excellent)