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Review: 2012 William Larue Weller

As the Tennessee Vols continue their pathetic search for a football coach, I am left scouring the house for the highest proof stuff I can find. I only slightly kid about that. In all seriousness, my week of Buffalo Trace Antique Collection (BTAC) reviews continues on with William Larue Weller – the only wheater in the bunch. This is the part where I’d like to tell you, “hey, if you want to find Pappy 15 but can’t – give this one a go!” Well it turns out Weller, much like Stagg in the BTAC collection, is just as tough to find. Regardless, here are my thoughts on what is typically one of the better bourbons of the year.

2012 William Larue Weller Bourbon, 61.7% abv (123.4 Proof), $80/bottle
Color: Deep Amber
Nose: Dried fruits (dates, raisins), macerated berries, cherry licorice, toffee, and brown sugar.
Palate: Toffee, caramelized nuts, chocolate caramels, clove and cinnamon, fading into bitter black coffee.
Finish: Toasted oak, vanilla, clove, and fruity sweetness.
Overall: As usual this one is an exemplary whiskey. The 2011 was darker, richer, and more complex, but the 2012 is easier sipping with a touch less zip and spice. Such a decadent pour, like dessert in a glass.
Sour Mash Manifesto Rating: 9.3 (Superb/Outstanding)

Review: Antique Ryes – 2012 Sazerac 18 and Thomas H. Handy

Two rye whiskeys are a part of the highly anticipated Buffalo Trace Antique Collection (BTAC) released each fall, Sazerac 18 year and Thomas H. Handy. The later is a youthful 6 year old bottled at cask strength, while it’s older brother of 18 years is released at a more composed 90 proof. Their greatness cannot be disputed, at least not by me. I cannot recall a year when these whiskeys have not been at worst very good, and at best, some of the top whiskeys released in a given year.

So as not to add to the frenzy over these releases, I was leaning towards making Sour Mash Manifesto a BTAC free zone for 2012. That went out of the window as I simply I have no self control (for the record I’m sticking to my Pappy free zone pledge for 2012). Thanks goes to Brad Kaplan, of Thirsty South, for sending me a sampling of the Saz 18. Brad has an excellent post on the make up of this whiskey. It’s really quite interesting, and rather than rehash it, I’ll just link to his well written post.

Below are my tasting notes and ratings on these two rye whiskeys.

2012 Sazerac 18 year Rye Whiskey, 45% abv (90 Proof), $75.00
Color: Medium/Deep Amber
Nose: Bright notes of mint, vanilla, spiced orange tea, cinnamon and old, dusty rye with a core of caramelized fruits (banana, orange), ripe berry, and hints of maple. Gorgeous layers and complexity. Softened by time.
Palate: Drier, and only moderately sweet. Toffee is fleeting now with a plethora of sweet orange flavors (marmalade and candied rind) dominating the palate. Vanilla, mint, clove and cinnamon add sparkle with hints of coffee bitterness.
Finish: Old wood, bitter orange, berry fruit, and hints of toffee.
Overall: Time continues to soften this whiskey into an even more harmonious sip. Perhaps the finest rye whiskey made today with one of the best noses in all of whiskey. Not much has changed with this one, but I consider it a must buy if you can locate it.
Sour Mash Manifesto Rating: 9.4 (Superb/Outstanding)

2012 Thomas H. Handy Rye Whiskey, 66.2% abv (132.4 Proof), $75.00
Color: Deep Amber
Nose: Rich and syrupy – maple sugar, caramel, ample blasts of mint, licorice, and Big Red chewing gum. Hints of sticky fruits – cherry, raisins, and candied orange.
Palate: Bold and brash – big rye influence. Honey, maple syrup, kirsch, chili and cinnamon heat with bitter burned sugar.
Finish: Long and lingering warmth, wood spices, and sweet fruit.
Overall: An exceptional pour even at 6 years of age. Rich and concentrated with ample spice, fruit, and enough sweetness at it’s core to keep the whiskey anchored. What’s more – perhaps the easiest BTAC whiskey to located. Requires a healthy dose of water to wake things up.
Sour Mash Manifesto Rating: 9.0 (Superb/Outstanding)

In spite of the family lineage – the 2012 Sazerac 18 and Thomas H. Handy are two very different whiskeys. One uses finesse and well developed flavors that only time can create. The other – brute force and concentrated sweetness, fruit and spice. Both are superb.

Review: Eagle Rare 17 Year Bourbon

I am making my way through the last of the Buffalo Trace Antique Collection. For this review we are taking a look at Eagle Rare 17 Year Bourbon. This 17 year old whiskey is made using the same mashbill as Buffalo Trace’s namesake whiskey. The 2011 release is one of the better Eagle Rare 17′s I’ve had in the last 3-4 releases.

Eagle Rare 17 Year Bourbon, 45% abv (90 Proof), $75

Color: Medium Amber

Nose: Vanilla, baked banana and apple, sorghum syrup, old rum, a touch of corn, and sweet baking spices.

Palate: Viscous and creamy mouth feel. Vanilla fudge, spiced (cinnamon and clove) caramel, corn cakes, maple syrup, apple cider, and well toasted oak. There is a bit of resinous grip as well, but it drinks so easily.

Finish: Lingering fruitiness, tea, and juicy old oak – moderate length.

Overall: Eagle Rare 17 Year is not quite as interesting as it’s 4 other brothers in the Buffalo Trace Antique Collection (BTAC). For starters it has a rather pedestrian proof point in comparison. However, let’s remember that the BTAC is made up of some of the best whiskeys in the world. The pluses for Eagle Rare 17 are still many. It’s absolutely the easiest drinking of the bunch, and has an oily “texture” on the palate with tremendous aroma and flavor – no doubt aided by 17 years in oak. If you are new to the world of bourbon or perhaps don’t like the challenge of 125+ proof whiskey, then this is absolutely where I would point you within the collection. For the initiated willing to water their own, I would probably steer you to one of the others. Regardless this is beautiful stuff worthy of a Superb/Outstanding rating.

Sour Mash Manifesto Rating: 9.0 (Superb/Outstanding)

2011 Sour Mash Manifesto American Whiskey Awards

The world doesn’t need any more whiskey awards. This is probably a fact we can all agree on, but I felt compelled to acknowledge some great work in 2011. I hope you’ll allow me to add my contribution to what I believe to be the best of American Whiskey for the year.

Sour Mash Manifesto America Whiskey Awards – 2011

Distillery Of The Year: Buffalo Trace
This was actually the easiest pick of all. When it comes to whiskey, few distilleries in the world can touch Buffalo Trace’s monstrous portfolio of rye whiskeys and bourbon. If you favor value focused products, then Buffalo Trace’s namesake bourbon delivers in spades. If you are looking for high end whiskey offering more distinctive flavors, the Buffalo Trace Antique Collection bring 5 whiskeys to the table with three or four vying for best American Whiskey of the year. This year also saw the first (from what we’re told) Pappy Van Winkle 15 year bourbon made entirely from Buffalo Trace wheated bourbon stock (they supply the Old Rip Van Winkle line as well). On top of all of that, Buffalo Trace undertook perhaps the most educational whiskey endeavor ever with the unveiling of the Single Oak Project. In spite of what I think of Single Oak as a whole, there is no doubt that it will serve to provide Buffalo Trace with invaluable information to help them continue to craft great whiskey. There are many great distilleries in America, but in my opinion none can match Buffalo Trace in 2011.

Bourbon Whiskey Of The Year: Pappy Van Winkle 15 Year
If you want to get hardcore bourbon enthusiasts riled up, start feeding them information about shortages of their much beloved Stitzel-Weller wheated bourbon. Stitzel-Weller, closed since the early 90′s, has been the source of bourbon whiskey for the longer aged Pappy Van Winkle line. Last fall, Preston Van Winkle made it known that the Fall/Winter 2011 release of Pappy 15 was 100% Buffalo Trace wheated recipe bourbon. From that point the anticipation and frenzy reached new heights even by Pappy Van Winkle standards. Would it be as good? Did they ruin one of the most highly regarded bourbons on the planet? The short answer is “No!” The resulting bourbon lacked some of the softness and refinement of the Stizel-Weller whiskey, but made up for it with ramped up spice and bolder wood notes, which in some ways made the whiskey even more interesting. In spite of slight differences, the Pappy 15 DNA was still present, resulting in the highest rated whiskey of the year (9.7/10).

Rye Whiskey Of The Year: Sazerac 18 Year
2011 was a big year for rye. The craft and micro distillers have been on the rye bandwagon for a while now, but some of the big boys and independent bottlers got in on the act as well. A common trend for the year were sourced rye whiskeys from Lawrenceburg Distillers Indiana (LDI). LDI’s 95% rye mashbill could be found in various ages, and bottled under names like Bulleit, Templeton, and Redemption to name a few. While quite good, many of these whiskeys tasted similar, leaving an opportunity for a new release rye whiskey to stand out from the crowd. Enter Buffalo Trace with their home run release of the 2011 Sazerac 18 Year Rye Whiskey. Each year this whiskey proves to be one of the better ryes, but the 2011 version had added depth and complexity. Few whiskeys can match the balance of dryness and sweetness as well as capturing both the vibrancy of rye with the stateliness of older whiskey. Not to mention that it’s one of the best noses in whiskey – period. Without a doubt one of the best Rye Whiskeys I had this year.

Craft Whiskey Of The Year: St. George Spirits Single Malt, Lot 10
Situated in a former Naval aircraft carrier along the San Francisco Bay sits one of the coolest distilleries in the country. St. George Spirits has been making whiskey longer than most craft or micro distilleries, but their approach and attitude is still fresh and vibrant. Well known for creating fantastic gins, absinthe, and liquers, the pride and joy of the distillery is the Single Malt Whiskey. Actually I just made that part up. They’d probably tell you their pride and joy is something else that they make, but to me it should be their pride and joy – it’s phenomenal. The Single Malt is made from a Sierra Nevada Beer, crafted especially for the distillery using a number of different barley malts (chocolate malt makes it’s presence felt). The resulting whiskey is unlike any other being made today – fruity and full of deep, rich, smoky notes from the beer. With more than 15 years of whiskey making under their belt, I can’t wait to see where St. George takes this delicious Single Malt Whiskey.

Value Whiskey Of The Year: Rittenhouse Rye Whiskey, Bottled In Bond
I consider whiskey a “for the people” product – something to be enjoyed by all. As a result, value is very important to me. Don’t get me wrong I love the high end stuff and can’t wait to try them each year. But I get really excited when I get my hands on a whiskey at a great price that sacrifices nothing in the way of flavor and character. Rittenhouse Rye Whiskey (Bottled in Bond), which is distilled by Brown Forman for Heaven Hill, is undoubtedly one such whiskey. At 100 proof, this rye whiskey packs a wallop with great depth and balance. Unlike some of the newer rye whiskey offerings consisting of 90+% rye grain, Rittenhouse is less rye-forward. I categorize it as a “bourbon drinker’s rye” – a bit richer and fuller bodied. At between $19-$24 depending on your area, Rittenhouse is a must find for the value seeker. I keep a bottle on hand at all times, and consider it a foundation whiskey for any great bar. NOTE: Rittenhouse Rye Bottled in Bond is now being distilled at Heaven Hill’s Bernheim Distillery.

As we all know, taste is very subjective. The above represent whiskeys and a distillery that I believe to be worthy of distinction relative to their peers. What about you? What gets your vote for whiskey of the year?

Review: 2011 Sazerac 18 Year Rye Whiskey

Sazerac 18 year old Rye Whiskey is one of five Buffalo Trace Antique Collection whiskeys released each fall. It is usually the more composed, elegant, and stately representative of the lineup’s two ryes. The much younger Thomas H. Handy Rye, which is offered at barrel strength and around 6 years of age, is the second in the release. (As an aside, I’ve often wondered why the Handy fits into a release called the “Antique Collection”, but it’s outstanding whiskey!)

Does the 2011 Sazerac 18 live up to its billing as one of the best rye whiskey releases of the year?

Sazerac 18 year Rye Whiskey, 45% abv (90 Proof), $75.00

Color: Deep amber

Nose:  The rye is floral and sweet with a darker side. Vanilla taffy, soft mint, sweet orange rind, a bit of cinnamon stick, caramelized banana, and maple syrup against old leather. The rye’s edges have been rounded beautifully by wood and time, but still have some vibrant zip.

Palate: Only moderately sweet, which is a different impression than the nose indicated. Brittle toffee and orange marmalade try to anchor the vanilla, crisp mint, and cinnamon. Chicory coffee, pepper, moderately spicy rye, and some light woody grip adds interest.

Finish: Bolder wood notes and chicory bitterness are mellowed with lingering fruit (citrus rind, berry) and rock candy.

Overall: One of the best available Rye Whiskeys each year, but this year is exceptional indeed. The nose alone is one of the finest in whiskey. A slightly higher proof might help to add more body. Outside of that, it is simply brilliant rye.

Sour Mash Manifesto Rating: 9.4 (Superb/Outstanding)

Review: 2011 William Larue Weller Bourbon

It’s perhaps the most highly anticipated release of the year in American Whiskey. Each Fall the Buffalo Trace Antique Collection (BTAC) releases a line up of five whiskeys; George T. Stagg Bourbon, Eagle Rare 17 Bourbon, Sazerac 18 Rye Whiskey, Thomas H. Handy Rye Whiskey, and the subject of this review, William Larue Weller. Supply and demand are clearly good for business because these whiskeys can be tough to come by. Some might suggest you have to have compromising pictures of your local spirit merchant to even get a bottle or two. I say just make friends and/or be a great customer and that usually helps.

William Larue Weller is made from a wheated bourbon mashbill (grain recipe) that contains no rye grain. It’s a similar (likely exactly the same) recipe as used in Pappy Van Winkle.

2011 William Larue Weller Bourbon, 66.75% abv (133.5 Proof), $80/bottle

Color: Mahogany, deep amber

Nose: Dark dried fruits (dates, raisins), Fruitcake, toasted almonds, cocoa, and creamy cafe au lait. This is one where a splash of water releases beautiful roasted notes of coffee beans and saddle leather.

Palate: Dark and sultry. Toffee, roasted and caramelized nuts (slightly burned?), candied fruits, black coffee, bitter dark chocolate, and clove. The balance of sweet, rich, spicy, and bitter is just outstanding.

Finish: Chocolate caramels, concentrated berry syrup, toasted oak and vanilla.

Overall: Clearly one of the three best whiskeys I’ve sipped this year thus far, but I do hate the fact that this stuff is so damn tough to get. I can’t believe they don’t have more of this to get to the public. Keep searching though because this is without question an Epic whiskey. It’s the best William Larue Weller of the last 2-3 years for sure, and based on the three I’ve tasted from the collection this year (Stagg and Handy), it’s the best so far in my opinion.

Sour Mash Manifesto Rating: 9.6 (Epic/Classic)