Sour Mash Manifesto in 2015

Happy New Year! I hope that 2014 was kind to all of you. If it wasn’t –fear not! Simply resolve to make 2015 your best year yet. I’m going to work hard to do the same for me and my family.

There is one a regret I have for last year. I’m very disappointed with my lack of activity on Sour Mash Manifesto. If you’ve visited in the last 12 months you’ve probably read numerous excuses from me. I’ll refrain from making any specific promises, but I do intend to make Sour Mash Manifesto worth your time in 2015. I’m very grateful that you have stuck with me in spite of the snail’s pace of new content.

As I look back on 2014 from a whiskey point of view, I am a little disappointed to be honest. Not about a lack of great whiskey, mind you. There’s some awesome stuff out there. I’m not even overly concerned about escalating prices. Sure, I hate paying more for whiskey, but I adjust my expectations accordingly (probably like you do). What has really disappointed me is all this clamoring for limited releases, rare whiskey, and the constant questioning of “which one’s better, which one should I buy?” The whiskey loving community is so overcome with finding these limited and rare bottles that little else seems to matter. I’m worried we are forgetting to appreciate all that is readily available.

Bloggers must take the bulk of the blame for fanning these flames. I’ve come across as the head of the Pappy Propaganda Parade at certain points over the years (Guilty!). Yes I feel the 15 year is one of the great whiskeys on the planet, I truly do, but it’s all a bit much. Ironically this contributed a bit to the inactivity here. Why pile on to this fervor?

As an aside – I recommend ignoring every review you see on a Van Winkle, Buffalo Trace Antique Collection (BTAC), Four Roses Limited, etc. If you want to secure these rare releases I’d start making friends with a few local merchants. Find out how the store determines who gets a bottle of these highly sought after whiskeys. Then spend your money with the one or two that you feel give you the best shot. You’ll have to talk to owners and buyers at the stores and get a good “read” on that. Show the store that you are committed to giving them your business, and ask them to do the same. Like anything in life, ask for what you want, but be realistic about it (they can’t satisfy everyone). If the store is one that uses a list – get on it and be patient. When you have the opportunity, buy it.

Back on track……

The answer for me and for Sour Mash Manifesto is to get back to basics. That means focusing the majority of reviews on products with at least some moderate availability. There are so many gems out there that are overlooked while we scan for scan for labels of old men or deer antlers. I’m going to shed more light on those whiskeys. Some limited releases will find their way on the site from time to time, but less often. As a result, Sour Mash Manifesto won’t be your best place to find the latest ratings on the 2015 BTAC or Limited Edition Four Roses. For that information there are a ton of other great resources.

Another area I’ll be looking at more closely is “craft”/“micro” whiskeys. I hate both of those terms, but this segment of the industry continues to grow and evolve into a category on its own. It represents a lot of younger whiskeys, regional styles, and more unique grain bills and recipes. Fear not bourbon lovers – this won’t be a micro-only site, but I do wish to help wade through some of this stuff on the shelves.

Honesty, I’ve never had an original idea when it comes to Sour Mash Manifesto. I just talk about what has my attention. Other bloggers and industry folks have stated the same as I have above. I’m not trying to grandstand or act above the fray, and I don’t begrudge others that feel differently. Clearly people want to know what enthusiasts think about certain whiskeys.

To put my thoughts in perspective, consider for a moment that I’m sipping a beautiful Eagle Rare Single Barrel (private barrel selection) from One Stop Wine and Liquors in Johnson City, TN. It’s easily on the best whiskeys I’ve drank in the last six months. It’s spectacular, but writing about it is pointless due to your chances of securing some. Even still, you probably have a better chance getting this than you do some of the others I’ve mentioned. That’s the problem with all this hoopla, and I don’t need to add to it.

Please consider this a glimpse into where things are going at Sour Mash Manifesto. I know it will allow me to provide more value to the whiskey loving community. Thank you again for visiting.

Happy New Year to you and yours and drink your whiskey!


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.