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Review: Four Roses 2013 Limited Edition Single Barrel

Four Roses has been on one hell of a roll. Aside from having an excellent product line in the company’s primary whiskey portfolio, Four Roses’ Limited Release offerings (two annually) are always highly anticipated. The 2012 Limited Edition Small Batch received my highest rating for 2012 for example.

The 2013 Limited Edition Single Barrel is a 13 year old barrel proof whiskey using the distillery’s OBSK recipe (high rye mash bill, “K” yeast strain). Let’s taste it…..

four-roses-limited-edition-single-barrel-2013-202x300Four Roses Limited Edition Single Barrel (2013), 57.3% abv (114.6 Proof), $70/bottle, Barrel #3-2D
Color: Medium Amber
Nose: Elegant and refined. Caramel, orange blossom honey, maple syrup, crisp mint, nutmeg, strawberry jam, and graham cracker.
Palate: Very composed flavors of maple syrup and honey, touches of cocoa and mint, and light fruit character. Additional water brings on more chocolate and fruity notes. Full of flavor, yet uncluttered.
Finish: Maple and butterscotch sweetness, a touch of old barrel and nutmeg linger.
Overall: Another stellar offering from Four Roses! There isn’t a distillery producing better limited release whiskeys today. The 2013 Limited Edition (LE) Single Barrel takes over where 2012′s LE Small Batch left off (and the 2012 LE Single Barrel before it, etc. etc). This one keeps you guessing with each sip as the aromas and flavors are so well dovetailed together. Easily one of the best whiskeys of 2013.
Sour Mash Manifesto Rating: 9.4 (Superb)

Review: Bulleit and Bulleit 10 Year Bourbon

Bulleit is a growing brand owned by the largest beverage alcohol company in the world, Diageo. Bulleit has certainly made a name for itself in the last 14 or so years. A lot of Bulleit’s growth has to do with being embraced by the ‘craft’ cocktail movement that has taken place in the last decade. I don’t have a plethora of facts to back that up admittedly but if you have been paying attention at your local upscale watering holes I think you’ll agree.

The first product produced under the Bulleit brand was Bulleit Bourbon, a high rye grain bill made for Diageo by Four Roses distillery in Lawrenceburg, KY. Seagrams owned Four Roses since the early 1940′s, and purchased the Bulleit brand name in the late 90′s. Upon hitting hard times due to a diluted portfolio, Seagrams was purchased by Vivendi, who then sold it’s whiskey brands to Diageo. Whew (almost done)! Diageo then sold Four Roses to Kirin out of Japan, but kept the Bulleit brand name, which was distilled at Four Roses under contract. That contract continues to this day for Bulleit brand bourbons.

In the last year and a half, Bulleit expanding portfolio saw the introduction of a rye whiskey produced by Midwest Grain Products (MGP, formerly LDI). In the last month they’ve released a 10 year old version of namesake Bourbon. The subject of this review is the company’s orange labeled flagship as well as the new 10 year old. Let’s get to tasting shall we…….

Bulleit Bourbon Frontier Whiskey, 45% abv (90 Proof), $25/bottle
Color: Medium Amber/Deep Orange
Nose: Caramel, fragrant and sweet orange rind, clove, vanilla, spiced honey, hints of banana, and wet stone. The nose is crisp, mildly floral, and razor sharp.
Palate Caramel and vanilla up front but overcome quickly by cinnamon red hots, orange rind, and clove. Healthy spices here but with an attitude that is not overly aggressive nor too “hot”.
Finish Cinnamon, vanilla, lingering earth/minerality and barrel.
Overall: One sip and you’ll see why Bulleit is loved by cocktail enthusiasts. It’s clean and sharp leaning towards the drier side of things on the palate. As a neat sipper it works very well and offers versatility in a shaker to boot. Much like Four Roses Small Batch, when used to make an Old Fashioned or Mint Julep, the fruit and spice notes really come through. This one is not very frontier like at all, and that’s probably a good thing.
Sour Mash Manifesto Rating: 8.4 (Very Good)

Bulleit 10 Year Old Bourbon Frontier Whiskey, 45.6% abv (91.2 Proof), $45/bottle
Color: Medium Amber/ Deep Orange/ Copper
Nose: Stickier, richer and fuller on the nose than little brother. Caramel candy, maple sugars, vanilla, citrus rind, black tea, clove, and a healthy backbone of wood.
Palate Caramel and vanilla wrapped around a fruity core of orange and red apple. The wood notes ramp up quickly at mid palate. Barrel spices abound (cinnamon, clove, and a bit of licorice bite) without being overly dry.
Finish Big barrel spice and wood notes. Subtle caramel sweetness. Moderate length.
Overall: Certainly the oak influence is ramped up considerably as you would expect, but not overly so. It’s a bit sweeter, richer, and bolder than the younger Bulleit. It’s also a great sipper neat, with a splash, or with a cube. I found the fruitier and sweet spice notes more pleasing to my palate on the whole, but keep in mind the $20 price difference. Is it worth it? If you are a Bulleit fan or a fan of drier bourbons I’d recommend this one.
Sour Mash Manifesto Rating: 8.7 (Excellent)

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: Four Roses 2012 Limited Edition Single Barrel Bourbon

Four Roses 2012 Limited Edition Single Barrel came out in May of this year. Unfortunately I was unable to get a bottle here in the Nashville area until August. Four Roses has three standard products – the “Yellow” label, Small Batch, and Single Barrel bourbon. The later is a top value pour in my book, but I usually can’t wait to see what the distillery puts out in their Limited Edition releases each Spring. With 10 recipes for which to choose from, Four Roses has near limitless options at their disposal.

This years release is the OESK mashbill, the distillery’s lower rye recipe at 75% corn, 20% rye, and 5% malted barley. The “K” in the designation stands for the yeast strain – which amplifies and enhances the spice aromas and flavors in the whiskey. For anyone suspect to Four Roses’ claims, trust me when I say, “yeast matters!”. Having spent some time with Jim Rutledge nosing and tasting every recipe, yeast is possibly the most under-appreciated “flavor factor” in whiskey making.

Four Roses 2012 Limited Edition Single Barrel Bourbon, 55.6% abv (111.2Proof), $69/bottle
Barrel Info: Barrel 81-3E, aged 12 years
Color: Deep Amber
Nose: Big plumes of maple and barrel sugars, peanut brittle, nougat, peach preserves, hints of cinnamon, and old wood. One of the best noses of the year – unreal.
Palate: Maple, brown sugar, caramel apple, and a swift uppercut of spice notes (cinnamon, nutmeg, and chili flake).
Finish: Long and lingering warmth, spices, and maple sweetness.
Overall: For me it’s a top 5 whiskey of the year at this stage. The “K” yeast strain’s spicy influence elevates a sweet and fruity pour. What impresses me most about Four Roses is their bourbons are unlike any other distillery, at their best achieving a great balance of sweetness, spice, and fruit. The 2012 Limited Edition Single Barrel is superb with added depth. It doesn’t come cheap, but it’s well worth the price of admission. Here’s my suggestion: while most lament the fact that they missed a Buffalo Trace Antique Collection whiskey, just walk into your local shop, grab this and smile knowing you have something at least as good.
Sour Mash Manifesto Rating: 9.5 (Superb)

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.

Mint Julep Perfection: The Components

I mentioned in my earlier post this week that I am a purist for the most part.  That doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy the bizarre every now and again, but it does however drive my philosophy about a number of things.   Most notably food and drink.  We tend to over complicate stuff that is so perfect to begin with.  When it comes to cooking and making cocktails I start with great ingredients.  Then I showcase them as purely and simply as possible.

Mind you, there is no Mint Julep police out there.  You can go nuts with this if you so choose.  I’ll share with you some of my recommendations on variations that have worked well for me.  For now, let’s dive into the individual components that make up a perfect Classic Mint Julep.  At the end of this post I have included a video recipe to follow.  It was produced about a year ago, the sound is poor, but it’s a great recipe.  Supplemented with the information below, there is no doubt that if you follow these simple ideas, and execute well, you’ll be sipping the finest mint juleps on Derby Saturday (and hopefully every Saturday thereafter).

Let’s get started!

The Components for the Perfect Mint Julep


The Right Vessel:

The perfect vessel for a mint julep is creatively enough called…..a Julep Cup.  It’s usually made of stainless steel or pewter.  Stainless Steel is my preference because it’s a great heat conductor, pulling heat away from the contents in the cup.  This helps to create condensation on the outside of the cup that actually freezes with the proper application of ice (below).  This frost silver cup is not just dramatic to look at.  It’s also quite practical on a hot spring/summer day, helping to produce a colder finished cocktail.  Smarter people than me can tell you why.  I just know it works.

Where do you find a mint julep cup?  They are everywhere online (google it) and you can pay as little or as much as you  wish.  My one recommendation is to spring for stainless steel – you won’t be sorry.   However, DO NOT fret if you don’t have a Mint Julep cup.  It’s a unitasker that you’ll use for one thing and one thing only.  A simple rocks glass will work just fine. The thinner it is the better for proper frost buildup, but it’ll still taste fantastic regardless.  A mint julep in a rocks glass is a hell of a lot better than no mint julep at all.

The Perfect Mint:

Peppermint is to a mint julep what finger nails are to a chalkboards.  They don’t go together.  If you try to force the marriage, the results can be cringe-worthy.  A mint julep requires a much rounder, sweeter form of mint.  In short – spearmint.  If this is a little confounding, let me give you a practical example.  Head to your nearest supermarket or convenience store and purchase a pack of peppermint and spearmint gum.  Try both.  Which is sharper, spicier, and more intense?  I would imagine 90+% of you would say the peppermint.  And you’d be correct.  Sure the gum  probably contains artificial mint, but this little experiment drives home exactly what you’re dealing with in the fresh form.

Spearmint’s soft sweetness blends harmoniously with the bourbon, syrup, and ice.  And frankly it doesn’t taste like toothpaste.  My favorite types of mint for this purpose is red stem spearmint, and Kentucky Colonel.  Both are brilliant choices.  If you live in the Southeastern U.S., and purchase packages of mint from the grocery store, take note of a red stem on the mint sprig.  If you look closely in the picture above you may be able to make out the rhurbarb colored stem.  If you see that, you’ve got what you need.  If you have wild mint growing in your back yard, try a leaf.  Is it acrid, overly minty, or does it have a soft minty flavor to it?  Let your taste buds be your guide, but hopefully the above gives you an idea of what you are looking for.

The Ice is Right:

This is pretty easy.  You need good clean ice.  If your freezer produces ice with “off” freezer flavors, don’t ruin all your hard work and effort.  Go grab a good quality bag ice from the super market.  Once you’ve got clean, great tasting ice to work with, it’s time to get to crushing.  The perfect mint julep requires an almost snow cone-like powdery ice.  First, it chills the bourbon and syrup within much quicker.  Second, it helps with frosting the glass.  Think whiskey, mint, and simple syrup snow cone and you have the right idea for the ice consistency.  So how do you get that?  You can use a Lewis Bag if you have one.  If not (I don’t have one) you can simply use a good clean lint free tea towel.  Grab your ice, load it up in the tea towel, and gather everything up tightly (see below).

Once you have everything tightly gathered, begin bashing away with a meat cleaver or soft rubber mallet.  You can even use a rolling pin.  The goal is to turn that ice into powdery snow (see below).  The tea towel helps to wick away any moisture, leaving the ice dry and ready for making the perfect Mint Julep.  When I’m making mint juleps for the masses, I will spend a morning bashing away and reserving the ice in containers I can freeze until I’m ready to use.

Simple Syrup:

I am not a fan of watered down cocktails.  To combat this,  I use a simple syrup recipe that consists of a sugar to water ratio of 2 to 1.   Most use a 1 to 1 ratio.  To start, simply take 2 cups of sugar, add 1 cup of water, place in a medium saucepan, and bring up to heat over a medium flame.  Don’t use high of heat.  All you want to do is fully dissolve the sugar.  Once that happens, remove the simple syrup from the heat and reserve to the side.  You will need to cool it down to room temperature before making any mint juleps.  If you’d like to ramp up the mint flavor, here is a great opportunity to do so.  Grab a good 4-6 sprigs of fresh mint and add it to the hot simple syrup while it cools.  Much like steeping tea, you’ll infuse the simple syrup with even more mint flavor.  You can also make this well in advance (days if need be) and reserve in the refrigerator.  It’ll be ready when you are.  Remember, you can vary the sweetness you desire with just a bit more or less simple syrup.  Play with it to see what works for your tastes.

The Main Ingredient: Whiskey

I’ve said this a number of times already.  Each of these components is critical to the finished product.  However, because we’re using anywhere from 2.5-3 ounces of whiskey – this ingredient may be the most critical.  My preferences lean towards higher proof bourbons for a mint julep.  The additional proof takes longer time to water down with the ice and syrup, resulting in a stronger drink to start, but one that mellows more slowly than lower proof whiskey.

Now, if you don’t believe just how greatly a specific whiskey can influence the finished drink, I have another experiment for you.  Two bourbons I really enjoy using for a mint julep are Four Roses Small Batch Bourbon and Buffalo Trace Bourbon.  Because of the Four Roses’ healthy dose of fruity flavor, the resulting mint julep is more fruit forward.   It’s beautiful.  The Buffalo Trace is drier and more rustic, yielding an entirely different mint julep, but equally wonderful.  Pick your poison.

My “house” julep is made with Very Old Barton Bottled in Bond.  At 100 proof and with ample rye character and balanced sweetness, this makes a tremendous julep.   Old Grand-Dad Bottled in Bond, also 100 proof, adds a bit more rye zip.  What’s important to note is each of these whiskeys are below $30.  The last two I mentioned are well under $20.  Don’t break out the expensive stuff for mint juleps.  It’s not necessary.

If Rye whiskey is your thing – by all means give it a go.  I prefer bourbon in a mint julep, but a great rye adds a whole other dimension of flavor.  Give Rittenhouse Bottled in Bond, Sazerac Rye, and Wild Turkey 101 Rye (if you can find it right now) a try.

Mint Julep Variations:

I don’t make variants on the classic very often.  When I do, I keep it simple, introducing perhaps one, but no more than 2 additional components.  In the heat of summer, when peaches are at their finest, I’ll muddle a good chunk of peach, skin and all (lots of flavor there!), with the mint and simple syrup.  It’s pretty fantastic.  I have also not hesitated to add a couple dashes of bitters, or even muddled lemon wedge from time to time.  Feel free to play with this and add things you like.  I’m not a big fan of berries – it sounds good on paper, but the results I’ve found to be a bit inconsistent.

The Finished Mint Julep:

There you have it.  The components are pretty simple, but require just a bit of forethought and a little preparation.  I’ve included a photo of a finished mint julep below – a Kentucky Snow Cone.  Doesn’t that look incredible?

As mentioned to start this post, please check out my Mint Julep Video where I actually show you how to craft one.  Now get to making those mint juleps and let me know what you think.

Enjoy the Derby, and Drink your Bourbon!

-Jason