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Most Wanted

This weekend I was pondering the world of whiskey and in particular what I’d most like to see from producers. Obviously, for a whiskey lover, spending too much time on this subject could yield a rather long list. Outside of easy availability for all for the Buffalo Trace Antique Collection and Van Winkle products, here are a few things I’d love to see:

George Dickel Barrel Strength No. 12: George Dickel is probably my favorite distillery. Is it because they produce the best whiskey? No – not exactly. I do love their 12 year old and Barrel Select, and it’s such a quaint, beautiful distillery tucked into a remote hollow in the southern portion of Middle Tennessee. I hate the fact that it’s treated as second class by the parent company, Diageo. Anyways, I would love to try a barrel proof version of their No. 12. I don’t think this one will ever see the light of day. Diageo uses Dickel essentially as a barrel producer for the company’s main whiskey brand, Johnnie Walker. Don’t plan on them doing any special releases that might divert away from their primary mission. Hey, a man can dream though.

Older (17+ year) Four Roses: This kind of goes against Four Roses Master Distiller, Jim Rutledge’s, philosophy on great bourbon. He believes bourbon hits a sweet spot between 8-12 years. I’d be a fool to think I know more than a thimble full of the whiskey knowledge Jim possesses, but I can’t help thinking that their single story aging process would make for some stellar older bourbons(17-20 years). Aging whiskey in a single story warehouse (5-6 barrels high) puts the whiskey through a less volatile aging process. If you’ve tasted many Four Roses products, what you’ll notice in most cases is well integrated oak – it’s a component and not the star of the show. Every now and then we get a taste of some older juice in the Four Roses Limited Edition Small Batch releases, but it’s usually mingled with 10-12 year old bourbon. What I want to see is either a blend of older bourbons or some single barrels. Are you listening Four Roses?

Four Roses Rye: Four Roses makes it on my list again here. It’s widely known that Four Roses uses more rye grain in their “B” mash bill than just about any other bourbon. A distillery that does that as well as Four Roses I’m sure could produce some outstanding rye whiskey. More than that, I’d be keenly interested in seeing how Four Roses’ 5 yeast strains influence a final rye whiskey. Talk about a hell of a lot a options. Will we see it? Rye whiskey isn’t going anywhere, and provided Four Roses can add it to their product line without hurting bourbon production, I think we will see it one day. Check out my three part discussion with Jim from 2011. He talks about rye a little bit. The reason it’s not an easy decision is because Four Roses, in spite of the history, is still a young brand (reintroduced in the U.S. in the last decade). It has taken tremendous efforts just to get the primary product lines (Yellow Label, Small Batch, and Single Barrel) entrenched. That’s a smart business model for sure – do a few things REALLY well, but I think it’s time for Four Roses to branch out. A rye whiskey is the perfect way to do so. The bad part is we’ll have to wait a long time before it would be properly aged. I’m patient though.

These are just a few things I’d like to see from a couple of producers. What about you? Let’s hear what you’d most like to see.

Revving Up!

I hope this summer finds all of you and yours doing well. If you are anything like me, with 3 active girls (10, 7, and 5 years old), your summer has probably been filled with activity. The frenetic pace over the last 6-8 weeks is finally starting to calm down a bit, and as a result I’ve got a number of things brewing for the site over the next month.

As I type I’m sipping the latest E. H. Taylor Barrel Strength offering from Buffalo Trace, and completing a review of course as well. Stay tuned for the full scoop on this one soon. Also on the roster for August are reviews of Evan Williams Single Barrel 2002, Bowman Brothers Pioneer Spirit Small Batch Bourbon (from A. Smith Bowman Distillery), a micro bourbon from Iowa called Cedar Ridge, and a value offering from Evan Williams, (“White” Label Bottled in Bond).

In addition to reviews I’ll be providing my take on the whole “adding water to whiskey” discussion that’s been going around even more than usual lately. Also, a great friend and the man behind the Owensboro (KY) Bourbon Society, Vince Carida, has put together some awesome information for starting whiskey clubs and societies. This is very important for whiskey’s growth in my opinion. I love being on my own with a great bottle of whiskey, but like many things – whiskey tastes even better with good company. A whiskey club/society is a way for people with like interests to to get together and share one of life’s best (and most affordable) luxuries. I get asked an awful lot about the best approach for starting such clubs, and Vince is way more qualified than I am to talk about it. Thanks Vince for your contribution!

Finally, I’m really looking forward to cranking out a multi-part series on how to expand and “train” your palate for better whiskey appreciation. We’ll start with proper glassware, how to execute an effective tasting session, how to select the right whiskeys for conducting tastings, and most critically how to begin to develop your individual palate. Some would have you believe that being able to pick apart a whiskey for aroma and flavor is something reserved for experts. I’m here to tell you that with a little discipline, knowledge, and of course practice, you’ll soon find you have all the ability you need to understand why you like certain whiskeys over others. It’s going to be fun.

Thanks again for all the comments on the site this last month. We’ll get things cranking beginning this week. Until then, sip something great!

Drink your whiskey!

-Jason

Review: Old Fitzgerald 12 year Bourbon

Old Fitzgerald Bourbon first hit the market in the late 1800s, and was eventually produced by the much lauded Stitzel-Weller distillery in Shively, KY. Yes, the same distillery that once made bourbon under the Weller and Old Rip Van Winkle labels among others.

Diageo purchased the Stitzel-Weller Distillery in 1992, thus taking over the Old Fitzgerald brand. In the last 1990′s the brand was sold to Heaven Hill along with the Bernheim Distillery in Louisville, KY which produces Old Fitz today.

Old Fitz still follows a wheated recipe made famous by the Stitzel-Weller Distillery. Exact mashbill proportions I am not aware of, but it’s safe to say the recipe is probably identical to the original.

Old Fitzgerald 12 Year Old Bourbon, 45% abv (90 Proof), $39.99/bottle
Color: Medium Amber
Nose: Banana bread, toffee, buttered popcorn, and deep vanilla notes. There’s quite a bit of cinnamon spice and some staler aromas of sweet corn mash.
Palate: Soft as a puddle of toffee sauce. Rich vanilla custard, some maple sugars, and spicy cinnamon prickles the tongue. Very simple in terms of the flavors presented, but it does so with excellent structure. It’s not fat and overly sweet in the least.
Finish: A zippier finish than expected. The warmth from the cinnamon dominates with that ever present buttery toffee sweetness.
Overall: Old Fitz 12 year old is a beautiful whiskey full of classic wheated bourbon aromas and flavors, but made far more interesting with age. A wealth of cinnamon spice notes add some complexity, cutting the richer, sweeter flavors. My only slight criticism is the price is a good $13-15 more expensive than W.L. Weller 12 Year Old, which I rated an 8.8. Still, Old Fitz 12 is excellent whiskey and a delight to sip.
Sour Mash Manifesto Rating: 8.7 (Excellent)

Reviews: Few Spirits and Ranger Creek .36 Bourbon

It’s been a while since I’ve examined some new Micro-Distillery offerings. Here are two that have caught my eye of late, and warrant some discussion.

The first is Few Spirits Bourbon. Few Spirits is an upstart of the last 18 months out of Chicago, IL. Chicago’s a city that has seen more local distilleries popping up, which is a great thing. I have paid attention to Few Spirit’s growth, and was surprised to see their bourbon already in the Nashville, TN market. Few makes an aged rye, white whiskey, and gin as well.

The second whiskey, Ranger Creek .36 Texas Bourbon, comes from the Ranger Creek brewery in San Antonio, TX. The operation calls itself a “brewstillery” of sorts. Texas’ Balcones and Garrison Brothers distilleries have received some press nationwide for their products, and Ranger Creek is poised to do so as well. The distillery focuses only on a bourbon whiskey for now.

Few Spirits Bourbon Whiskey, 46.5% abv (93 Proof), $45.00/bottle
Color: Golden/Light Amber
Nose: Brash, youthful whiskey notes give way to vanilla, golden raisin, demerara sugar, clove, and corn.
Palate: Spicy and dry. Caramel and maple syrup dries quickly with clove and allspice. Some astringent bitterness overpowers the sip leading to the finish.
Finish: A tad on the bitter side with sweet corn and cinnamon.
Overall: Few Spirits Bourbon Whiskey is certainly drinkable, but there’s just way too much youth and rough edges to recommend it in any way. The label says “Aged in charred new oak barrels less than four years.” I’d guess no more than 6-9 months tops. Age is not the be all end all, but a whiskey is ready when it’s ready, and this one clearly needs more time to tie up the loose ends.
Sour Mash Manifesto Rating: 6.7 (Decent)

Ranger Creek .36 Texas Bourbon Whiskey, 48% abv (96 Proof)
Color: Deep Amber
Nose: Rich chocolate caramels, vanilla, nougat, banana, cinnamon, flint, dry corn and hints of rye spice.
Palate: Big and bold attitude – bitter caramel, cinnamon, maple candy, and a touch of chili heat. One quick note – avoid water. It’s 96 proof, and tended to go a little lopsided with the addition of too much. Add with caution.
Finish: Long – a balance of sweet caramel and barrel spices.
Overall: Ranger Creek .36 Texas Bourbon has been aged for 9 months. I would have guessed it to be far older. Some traces of the typical young whiskey notes are present, but overpowered by a deep, dark, rich aroma and flavor profile that belies it’s age. Easily one of the best whiskeys under 2 years of age that I’ve tried. Ranger Creek claims it has a lot to do with the aggressive Texas heat, which they believe ages the whiskey quicker and more aggressively. I certainly believe the well developed flavor profile demonstrates the later well. As a result I’m looking forward to seeing more from this distillery. If this bourbon is any indication they are doing something right in San Antonio.
Sour Mash Manifesto Rating: 8.3 (Very Good/Excellent)

Review: Woodford Reserve Double Oaked Bourbon

Woodford Reserve has released a new bourbon called Double Oaked in the last couple of months. The whiskey starts with standard Woodford, which is distilled in both copper pot and column stills before aging in heavily charred white oak barrels. Double Oaked starts off with standard Woodford Reserve before undergoing an inventive finishing process.

Once the standard Woodford is dumped, it’s then placed in a second barrel for an additional 9 months of aging. These barrels have been toasted twice as long, and charred far more lightly, than the first barrels. The result is a different type of “seasoning” to the wood that is designed to provide a dramatic impact on the flavor of the finished whiskey.

Let me say that I’m a big fan of these finishing processes. Mashbills (grain recipes) can only be tweaked so much. Significant flavor variations are hard to gain by tweaking grains a few percentage points. Same is true for distillation – it is what it is. Distillers are left with but a few weapons at their disposal, one of which is the wood – a HUGE flavor impact on the finished product. I hope to see more finishing out there. To me this is not a “tired” trend in the least.

Here are my thoughts on Woodford Reserve Double Oaked:

Woodford Reserve Double Oaked, 45.2% abv (90.4 Proof), $49/bottle

Color: Dark Copper/Amber

Nose: Huge wafts of butterscotch and toffee with a bit of heady molasses. Vanilla cream, baked peaches, apricots, and clove provide some interest along with a heavy dose of toasted wood. The nose is far creamier, more buttery, and also much sweeter than the standard Woodford.

Palate: Butterscotch, vanilla, and toffee notes at the front of the palate, eventually giving way to cinnamon, clove, and rum raisin. As the sip finishes, a concentrated wood tannin and bitterness begins to emerge.

Finish: Flavors of butterscotch do their best to tone down the lingering bitterness. Moderate length with ample warmth.

Overall: It’s interesting that this is named “Double Oaked”, because it comes off literally with a bit of a dual personality. What we have here is clear evidence of standard Woodford Reserve, but it’s had a veneer applied to it that makes it quite different. The additional barrel finishing comes off best on the nose – an almost creamy quality emerges. Unfortunately from mid-palate through the finish, an increasing bitterness sets things a tad off course. The intensely sweet aromas and flavors juxtaposed against the bitterness almost speaks of two different whiskeys. I do applaud the process immensely. The results are also good, but don’t measure up to the original Woodford, which I enjoy very much. Factoring the additional $15-20 in cost makes it tougher to justify for me. But I can tell from comments and emails that many are already enjoying this new Woodford release immensely despite the price.

Sour Mash Manifesto Rating: 8.1 (Very Good)

New Book: 1001 Whiskies

Last Spring I was given a great opportunity to contribute towards the American Whiskey section of a new book put together by noted whiskey writer Dominic Roskrow. Dominic’s objective was to create a different type of whiskey book – one focused less on the reviews and more on the stories and insights of some of the most unique and better whiskeys across the globe.

What’s more, Dominic had the grand idea to accomplish this objective working with both whiskey writing veterans as well as some new(er) faces. Enter yours truly. I was honestly a bit awed by the chance, but I jumped at it. Seeing it in my hands now is a very gratifying feeling for sure.

My task was simple conceptually – contribute write ups and tasting notes on a variety of American Whiskeys that fell under some of the lesser “traveled” categories (beyond Bourbon and Rye). I learned so much in the process, and the end result was on of the most rewarding experiences in my life. Thanks goes to Dominic.

So lets get to the important stuff. How’s the book? At the risk of sounding self serving in any way – the book is extremely well done. There is no doubt that many will debate some of the whiskeys included within, but what can’t be debated is the depth of the stories of each and every whiskey included. Rather than the typical review, rating, and a blurb or two about the distillery, this book dives into the specific whiskey and touches on where it got its name, how it was made, why it’s unique, etc.

Is this book worth you money? Honestly I believe it is. You’ll learn something about whiskeys you thought you already knew everything about, and will read about new whiskeys you might not have known before. If you are in the market for some interesting whiskey reading – give it a try and let me know what you think.

You can order the book here: “1001 Whiskies You Must Taste Before You Die

NOTE: I get no royalties on the sale of this book. It’s just a damn good read.