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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.

Micro Monday: St. George Single Malt Whiskey

St. George Spirits has been making single malt whiskey for over a decade, well before most distilleries in the United States took on a category of whiskey long dominated by our friends across the pond. During this period of time, St. George has amassed a reserve of older barrels, giving the distillery a great deal of versatility to blend some pretty phenomenal single malt whiskey.

One of the unique aspects of the distillery’s single malt is the use of a distillers beer crafted from varied types of malted barley. The barley has been smoked or roasted to different levels, which comes across cleanly in the finished whiskey. The result is a whiskey with base notes of roasted malt and cocoa. The product I reviewed is a sample of St. George’s Lot 10 release, their tenth bottling of the single malt whiskey. Lot 10 also consists of a batching of 18 barrels ranging from four years of age on up to 13 years, with most of the barrels between eight and nine years old. Something tells me the distillers at St. George like variety. They even uses different types of oak barrels (refill bourbon, sherry, port, and French Oak) to add depth and dimension to the whiskey.

I’d be lying if I said the craft or micro whiskey movement has yielded many exceptional products. Frankly most of what I’ve tasted is palatable at best. For those that share this concern, St. George Spirits gives us a taste of what’s possible when it’s done right.

Soon, I believe the distillery’s Lot 11 will release. For now, let’s enjoy what we have, which is superb.

St. George Single Malt Whiskey, Lot 10, 43% alcohol (86 proof), $50
Review: St. George Single Malt Whiskey is defined by a complex blend of malt and fruit. The nose is exceptional, opening up with lush aromas of melon, banana, pear, lemon-lime soda, and ginger ale. The fruitiness eventually gives way to smoky malt. On the palate the flavors are layered and evolving with ripe orchard fruit, spiced honey, nutty almond toffee, and cocoa. The finish is stamped with chocolate malt and the lingering flavors of the beer used to craft this excellent whiskey. Superb stuff!
Sour Mash Manifesto Rating: 9.2 (Superb/Outstanding)

Micro Monday: A look at Koval Lion’s Pride Whiskey

The “craft” whiskey movement, while littered with a lot of sub-par products, is also one of the biggest reasons why the United States is the most exciting whiskey industry in the country. It’s amazing what some of these distilleries are doing.

Recently I’ve reviewed products and received samples from about 25 micro/craft distillers. I have to be honest – some of them are simply not good at all. But on the other hand, the stuff that is good really stands out. I’ll be talking about some of those in the coming weeks and months.

Today, let’s take a closer look at one of the distilleries doing some great work – Koval, based in Chicago, Illinois. Koval is owned and operated by husband and wife team, Sonat and Robert Birnecker. Robert, master distiller, is from Austria, and has built a reputation on utilizing some interesting grains for Koval’s whiskey. After turning some heads with the distillery’s un-aged and light whiskeys, Koval set out to create some aged products named after the couple’s son, Lion. The result is Lion’s Pride Whiskey, with both a Dark and Light version of each grain.

Below I have reviewed 4 of the 5 “dark” whiskeys. They are all aged under 2 years in new oak and distilled from single grains. Koval uses enzymes rather than barley for fermentation. The result is a very grain forward character to the whiskey.

To me, these whiskeys almost fit into their own category. They are lighter in style and body, really clean and bright, and less oak-forward. While they do taste young, all of the usual “funk” and rough edges that younger whiskeys typically have are not present here. Koval credits that fact to focusing on capturing only the heart cuts of the distillate, preferring to remove as much of the heavy flavors (which can bring that funk) with them. There’s more waste, but it results in a flavor profile that Koval prefers over the heavier bodied American Whiskeys.

Lion’s Pride Dark Millet Whiskey, 40% abv/80 Proof, $50.00
Tasting Notes: The nose consists of fresh, ripe fruit (green apple, plum, and peach), bright spices (ginger and anise), and caramelized nuts. The palate begins sweetly (brown sugar and canned fruit) before barrel, wood spices, and licorice dry things up on through to a moderately spicy finish. Millet is a grain I dare say few distillers, if any, work with today. It’s an eye opener and very distinctive.
Sour Mash Manifesto Rating: 8.4 (Very Good/Excellent)

Lion’s Pride Dark Oat Whiskey, 40% abv/80 Proof, $50.00
Tasting Notes: I have been accused of having a sweet tooth before. Guilty as charged! This Dark Oat Whiskey is a confectionary wonder. The distillate has a distinctive banana aroma. It comes across as banana cream, vanilla fudge, and brown sugar syrup on the nose. The flavors on the palate are sweet as well with banana bread, oatmeal, and taffy balanced by cracker dryness, and black pepper. The finish is clean, sweet, and light. Superb stuff and my favorite in the lineup.
Sour Mash Manifesto Rating: 8.8 (Superb/Outstanding)

Lion’s Pride Dark Wheat Whiskey, 40% abv/80 Proof, $50.00
Tasting Notes: The other grains seemingly have so much more depth and character. The wheat without a supporting cast struggles to keep up. The nose has notes of toffee, juicy fruit gum, and graham cracker. The flavors are soft and sweet with vanilla custard, sticky caramel, and a welcomed hot ginger bite as it leads to the finish, which is mildly peppered with cinnamon. A solid effort, but certainly the weakest of the four by a good margin.
Sour Mash Manifesto Rating: 7.6 (Good/Solid)

Lion’s Pride Dark Rye Whiskey, 40% abv/80 Proof, $50.00
Tasting Notes: This one is perhaps the most grain forward of the lineup. This is rye in all it’s glory: evergreen, eucalyptus, and peppery rye grain dominate a nose that comes across quite fresh and lively. There’s a sweet, fruity underbelly at play on the nose as well. Vanilla infused honey makes an appearance early on the palate before being overcome by a rush of spices in the form of cinnamon, anise, and peppermint.
Sour Mash Manifesto Rating: 8.2 (Very Good/Excellent)

WhistlePig Rye Whiskey Review

WhistlePig Rye Whiskey (10 Year Old), 50% abv (100 Proof), $70/bottle

As one of the few 100% rye whiskeys on the market today, WhistlePig has an interesting story. First off, any rye whiskey must be at least 51% rye grain (in the grain recipe) to technically be called “Rye Whiskey” in the U.S. Typically most rye’s don’t exceed much more than 60-65%, with corn and/or barley making up the remainder. But then again, this ten year old WhistlePig doesn’t have just any man (or men) behind it.

During a year plus long search, David Pickerell, previous Master Distiller at Maker’s Mark for 14 years through 2008, came across this wonderful expression of rye in Canada. That’s correct, WhistlePig was not distilled by Pickerell and WhistlePig distillery (yet), but rather “sourced” or “found” and bottled. Pickerell partnered up with Raj Bhakta, an entrepreneur and former “Apprentice” reality show contestant, to form WhistlePig and get this great rye whiskey to the public. Today it is bottled at Bhakta’s 500 acre WhistlePig Farm in Vermont. It has been said by a number of sources that their goal is to create a fully sustainable “farm to bottle” distillery, growing the rye grain that will eventually become WhistlePig Rye Whiskey. But until they have their own distilled product we’ve been given a little gift to satisfy our thirst.

WhistlePig is pure rye without the training wheels. The nose brings a big burst of spearmint, wintergreen, menthol, licorice/anise, and woody spices. All this freshness is anchored with a nice core of sweetness that exudes spun sugar, cotton candy, and some light maple syrup. The nose as a whole is extremely complex but also airy, fresh, and lively for a 10 year old whiskey. I found myself nosing this rye forever to uncover all of the nuances it has to offer. The first sip explodes in the mouth, again with sweet southern red stem spearmint and wintergreen, rye grain prickliness, licorice, a big dose of honey, and dry oaky flavors. Texturally, WhistlePig takes over the mouth with it’s intense spices and lingers on long after it’s “down the hatch”. You’re left with those wonderful spearmint, honey, oak, and licorice flavors.

WhistlePig Rye Whiskey is an outstanding pour, and one of the most unique I’ve ever tasted. It’s currently only available in large markets like New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles, so order quickly online before all 1000 cases are gone. I highly recommend it.

Sour Mash Manifesto Rating: 9.4 (Superb/Outstanding)

****Note: Most of the information above came from some general forums and various websites. But I want to point out a couple of websites in particular that have some great background on WhistlePig. Davin De Kergommeaux of http://canadianwhiskey.org has a fantastic article on WhistlePig. He also has a great site loaded with Canadian Whiskey info. Second, Chuck Cowdery is a Bourbon Hall of Famer and a true historian. His site, http://chuckcowdery.blogspot.com/ is a fantastic source of information on Bourbon and American Whiskey. Give both of these great sites a visit!****

High West Rendezvous Rye Whiskey

High West Rendezvous Rye Whiskey, Batch 47, Bottle 421, 46% abv(92 proof), $40-45

A big ole nose of cinnamon stick, clove, vanilla, peppermint, and burned sugar is freshened up with crisp Green Apple. One of the more interesting noses I’ve been introduced to this year. The first sip is intense with rye spice, volumes of vanilla, some barrel char, and an extremely rich and viscous mouth feel – quite oily and coating. The finish takes hold with huge rye spice, cinnamon, mint, and vanilla and it lingers for ages. Outstanding finish to this whiskey. Drink neat at room temperature to get the full experience, but don’t hesitate to add a few teaspoons of spring water to cool it down a shade. Feel free to mix, but with a whiskey this fantastic, why would you? (Highly recommended).

Sour Mash Manifesto Rating: 9.4 (Outstanding/Superb)

Note: As mentioned in the video review, High West Rendezvous Rye Whiskey was sourced (read: not distilled by High West) from an undisclosed distillery. It’s a blending of two Ryes, a 6 year old 95% Rye and a 16 year old 80% Rye. This product has been out for a couple of years, but High West being a new distillery, wanted to put a whiskey out to market and did not have enough aged product to do so. Rendezvous Rye was the result. Whatever your opinion may be on “sourced” vs. distilled, or whether or not that’s a true “micro” or “artisan” distillery, the proof is always in the pudding. When these arguments are removed from the equation, this Whiskey stands on it’s own merit. High West does distill other products, namely Vodka, and to my knowledge is producing and aging its own whiskey.