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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)

Old Grand-dad Bourbon (Bottled In Bond) Review

Old Grand-Dad is a high rye bourbon offered in a couple of different proof points. This one is their 100 proof Bottled-in-Bond bourbon whiskey. The “Granddad” reference in the name is homage to Basil Hayden, a very recognizable name in bourbon and also the name of another product I’ve reviewed on this site. Basil Hayden was known for using a higher percentage of rye grain in the mashbill (whiskey grain recipe) for his bourbon whiskey. His grandson, Raymond Hayden, started Old Grand-Dad using his grandfather’s high rye recipe. While we don’t know the exact percentage of rye in the mashbill, I’m guessing it’s pushing somewhere around 30%. If you know, please share.

As a side note, we’ve talked about the term “bottled in bond” before. It essentially refers to a single distillery bourbon whiskey that was distilled all in one single season (vs. pulling from various barrels distilled and aged at different times), and aged in a federally bonded warehouse for a minimum of 4 years. It’s also offered at 100 proof, or 50% alcohol.

Old Grand-Dad Bourbon (Bottled in Bond), 50% abv (100Proof), $19

Color: Medium Amber with Orange tones

Nose: Sweet corn and spicy rye yield to candied orange peel, cinnamon, honeysuckle, maple syrup, and kiln dried wood. There’s an alcohol punch you have to dodge but with time this one opens up nicely.

Palate: Big flavors of brown sugar, orange jellybeans, and loads of woody and peppery spices. The corn and rye is always present and welcoming. A healthy dose of barrel char emerges from mid palate.

Finish: This long finish is leaning towards the char, but mint, black pepper, and corny sweetness give relief.

Overall: This is a hell of a bourbon, and a continuation of the “parade of value” that I’ve been consciously trying to showcase on the site. It’s a marvelous thing when you can find such fantastic whiskey at this price. Old Grand-Dad BIB is a big whiskey with a spicy character, excellent and mature grain quality, and healthy doses of sweetness and wood to add complexity. All of that for around $20 or less.

Sour Mash Manifesto Rating: (8.7 Very Good/Excellent)

Old Forester Bourbon Review

I just returned from vacation with three new reviews ready for this week. Unfortunately there won’t be video accompanying them, but we’ll be back to the vids starting next week. First up on the review front is Old Forester Bourbon. 1512 Barbershop Rye and Very Old Barton (BIB) are up next. Cheers!

Old Forester Bourbon has been around a long time, since around the 1870′s in fact. Produced by Brown-Forman in Shively, Ky, Old Forester’s 72% Corn, 18% Rye, and 10% Malted Barley is the same mashbill used for Woodford Reserve and Old Forester Birthday Bourbon, two bourbons I rated quite highly. There is no age statement on the bottle, but this one is around 4+ years in age and at a great price point. So how does it fare?

Old Forester Bourbon, 43% abv (86 Proof), $15

Color: Medium Amber

Nose: The strength of this whiskey – caramel corn, ripe apricot, wood spices, earth, and barrel.

Palate: Corn, caramel, vanilla, a diluted fruitiness, and a pinch of cinnamon/nutmeg spice – all encapsulated by a sturdy oak veneer.

Finish: The finish is moderate in length with dry oak asserting itself mightily, along with some bitter char, and a faint caramel sweetness struggling to bust through.

Overall: This one starts with a bang – the nose is very good and presents numerous layers, especially for a whiskey at this price point. The flavors on the palate however lean a bit towards pedestrian. The sweetness, fruit and spice never quite assert themselves as much as the oak influence on the palate. However, considering the price point, Old Forester packs some value in that simple bottle.

Sour Mash Manifesto Rating: (7.9 Good)

Evan Williams “Black Label” Bourbon Review

Forgive the lack of video, but I wanted to get to this review of the tried and true Evan Williams “Black Label”. Lately I’ve been on a bargain hunt spurned by a number of you returning visitors that have requested we examine some of these often overlooked whiskeys.

The folks from Heaven Hill make this bargain “juice” from the same mash bill (grain recipe) used for Evan Williams Single Barrel and their Elijah Craig products. John Hansell of Malt Advocate recently named it (along with Very Old Barton Bottled in Bond that I’ll soon be reviewing) as one of his “Best Buy” whiskeys of the year. Let’s give it a further look……….

Evan Williams “Black Label” Bourbon, 43% abv (86 Proof), $11

Nose: Caramel, cola, and cinnamon spice showcase a sweet nose that’s made more interesting by a sturdy backbone of oak.

Palate: Corn, cola, vanilla, and maraschino cherry syrup at the front of the palate with a good dose of cinnamon/all spice at mid palate. Like the nose, on the palate the sweetness is lifted by that familiar, and glorious oak. It’s a bit disjointed from the entry, but once the oak asserts itself you might be reminded of Elijah Craig 12 year old.

Finish: Caramel sweetness, light fruit, and oak veneer leave their mark in a moderate length finish.

Overall: Evan Williams “Black Label” lays its cards on the table right from the start, but there’s a great deal of quality here. It’s not particularly complex stuff, but who cares. It’s accessible, drinkable, and has a delicious combination of sweetness and wood that would appeal to a broad audience. Simply put this is well made stuff at a great price. Heaven Hill once again shows us that really good whiskey doesn’t have to be expensive. I’ll drink to that!

Sour Mash Manifesto Rating: 8.4 (Very Good/Excellent)

Rittenhouse Rye Whiskey Review

Rittenhouse Rye Whiskey, 50% abv (100 Proof), $21

Rye Whiskey has been hotter than a $2 pistol these days. The independent bottlers and craft distillers had their ears perked up and their finger on the pulse of where things were going. Because of that, these little guys were able to take advantage of this Rye Whiskey surge. Well, I imagine it didn’t take long for some of the big boys to ramp up production of their Rye products. And that’s a great thing, because when that happens, we are able to find true gems like this one on the shelf. It’s not a new whiskey, just one that had been tough to find for a while. I hope that is changing. Rittenhouse Rye Whiskey is made by the folks at Heaven Hill.

Color: Dark Amber/Copper
Nose: Dusty cocoa, rye, flint, and wood spices mix beautifully with vanilla infused caramel and toffee.
Flavor: Wow what a sipper – rich and intense. Dark Chocolate, Rye, Clove, with sticky caramel and well integrated oak. Marvelous stuff.
Finish: Long with cocoa, licorice, and lingering spices.
Overall: This might be the best whiskey in the world around $20.00. It’s just that good. Spice, sweetness, and a deep, dark rich quality that blew my mind. It’s always great when you find a whiskey that brings this much flavor at such a great price. I’m not sure how Heaven Hill does it but this one gets “Cabinet Staple” status from me.

Sour Mash Manifesto Rating: 9.3 (Outstanding/Superb)

Single Barrel Bourbon Comparison: Blanton’s, Rock Hill Farm, and Kentucky Spirit

Wild Turkey Kentucky Spirit Single Barrel Bourbon, 50.5% abv (101 Proof), $45-50
Background: Wild Turkey Kentucky Spirit sits at the top of Wild Turkey Distillery’s (Lawrenceburg, KY) primary line of products. Not including some of their limited releases of course. The Wild Turkey hallmark is a spicy rye character that is quite prevalent (albeit in varying degrees) throughout the range. Jimmy Russell, a bourbon icon, and his son Eddie are the Master Distillers at Wild Turkey.
Color: Deep Amber
Nose: Crushed rock, leather, and dry oak at the front with dried banana, vanilla, herbs, and rye to follow. Maple syrup increasingly more prevalent with air time.
Flavor: This one is almost dry and crisp throughout the sip. It starts spicy with peppery heat and a rye-heavy punch. Hard caramel candy sweetness struggles through just gripping oak takes it to the finish.
Finish: Long and spicy with a bit of corn and toasted, dry oak.
Overall: The nose is fantastic, bringing some aromas that don’t present themselves very often in other bourbons. On the palate it leans heavily towards dry and spicy, so if you are a fan of this type of flavor profile, Kentucky Spirit will please you.
Sour Mash Manifesto Rating: 8.6 (Very Good/Excellent)
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Blanton’s Single Barrel Bourbon, 46.5% abv (93 Proof), $45-50
Background: Produced by Buffalo Trace in Frankfort, KY, Blanton’s was the bourbon that started the single barrel craze in the early 1980’s. It’s disputed by some noted historians and industry figures as to whether it was the first Single Barrel, but nobody can dispute that it was the first to really achieve commercial success. Others took note and quickly followed. It’s named after Colonel Albert Bacon Blanton, a former George T. Stagg Distillery (now Buffalo Trace) president. His favorite bourbon came from Warehouse H, which is where Blanton’s barrels are selected today. We owe Elmer T. Lee for getting Blanton’s released. At his urging, the distillery agreed to release this bourbon to the public in 1984. It is made using Buffalo Trace’s mash bill #2.
Color: Medium Amber
Nose: Corn, apples and apricots, cinnamon, rye, and a little caramel sweetness adds weight.
Flavor: Corn, orchard fruits (apples, peaches), bracing rye spice, and the bitterness of charred wood.
Finish: Baking spices, fruit, maple syrup, and barrel yield a moderate length finish.
Overall: Blanton’s is a wonderful expression of a rye recipe bourbon full of grain and barrel aromas and flavors. It is also accessible and relatively easy drinking. My only complaint is Blanton’s flattens a bit on the palate. I would love to see this at barrel proof as Colonel Blanton used to sip it. Buffalo Trace, are you listening?
Sour Mash Manifesto Rating: 8.7 (Very Good/Excellent)
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Rock Hill Farm Single Barrel Bourbon, 50% abv (100 Proof), $45-50
Background: Rock Hill Farm is a Single Barrel bourbon made by Buffalo Trace in Frankfort, KY. Like Blanton’s, Rock Hill Farm is made using Buffalo Trace’s mash bill #2.
Color: Deep Golden/Amber
Nose: Corn, honey, apple cider, a sprinkle of rye, mint, and wet oak. What a fantastic nose this is, and with fruit and corn prevailing and enough oak and spice character to keep it lively.
Flavor: Again we have corn right from the fore, loads of honey, rye, peppery bite, burned sugar, maple, and again that apple note.
Finish: Moderate length -fruity with caramel and peppery spice.
Overall: Rock Hill Farm is a tremendous bourbon that really doesn’t get its due. It has depth and layers of flavor that Blanton’s didn’t quite measure up to. More than anything I enjoyed the balance of grain and fruit that shines through.
Sour Mash Manifesto Rating: 9.0 (Outstanding/Superb)