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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)

Templeton Rye Whiskey Review

Many noted whiskey writers and historians (Chuck Cowdery for example) have been “out in front” taking on certain claims from various distilleries and craft whiskey operations across the country. And in some cases, even the industry giants aren’t left out as targets.

The main reason for this is that the “truth” on many whiskey brand labels is “bent” a little. And while some of the minutia that gets tossed around is a bit silly in my opinion, I think we all know how the “marketing guys” can quickly turn a mole hill into a mountain. That’s how some guy minimally associated with a particular distillery centuries ago suddenly “invented bourbon” or whatever the claim may be.

It is also worth noting with so many bourbon and American Whiskey brands on the market and only a handful of large production distilleries, much of the stuff you see on the shelves is made by only a few distilleries. This is not necessarily the case for some of the new upstart craft (or whatever you want to call them today) distilleries, but in the bourbon aisle alone most of the stuff is made by about 7-8 distilleries.

And why is that important? Well, the subject of this review has been the subject of much media drama around it’s story and the production of its product. Templeton Rye is a Templeton, Iowa based distillery. We can comfortably call it a distillery because the operation that exists in Templeton is now distilling, just not the the whiskey in their flagship Templeton Rye bottle. The distillery that is producing it is Lawrenceburg Distillers Indiana (LDI) in Lawrenceburg, Indiana. LDI produces whiskey for a number of very popular brands like High West, Redemption, Bulleit, and many others. Earlier this year I wrote about LDI as a part of a post I did on Four Roses.

The Templeton Rye Story
Templeton President, Scott Bush, lives in Chicago, IL but has family ties in Iowa. Bush grew up hearing stories from family members about a rye whiskey his great-grandfather was associated with. The whiskey was allegedly produced in Templeton, Iowa during prohibition. The company’s website, and Bush himself, also claim that the whiskey, like a viral video, made its way all over the country during that period. It eventually found it’s way east where Templeton claims it became Al Capone’s whiskey of choice. Soon after it was nicknamed “The Good Stuff” by those that knew it well.

Bush decided he wanted to bring whiskey production back to Templeton, Iowa. He set out to find folks that had a connection with the prohibition-era product. Soon he partnered up with Meryl Kherkoff, whose father helped make the whiskey during that time. Bush claims that Kherkoff provided him with the recipe. Rather than create it on their own, Templeton decided to contract the whiskey making to LDI.

Templeton confirms that the whiskey is greater than 90% rye grain with the remainder being malted barley. Interestingly LDI has a stock rye whiskey mashbill that is 95% rye. This is the juice that Bulleit, Redemption, and many others use in their products. It’s likely to me that Templeton Rye Whiskey is 95% rye based on this but that is only an assumption on my part. For the record, other stories have emerged on this subject where claims were made the original prohibition-era whiskey had a higher percentage of corn. If true that would further dispute the claim that the recipe today is the same.

Whether or not the above history of the product is true I don’t think we’ll ever be able to confirm. The story is certainly fun though. I bring up the fact that it’s unconfirmed firstly because it isn’t conformed. Secondly, and most importantly not to slight Templeton, but rather to challenge you to not get roped into the branding and marketing of certain products. In most cases, provided it’s not illegal, whiskey marketers can claim whatever the hell they want to. And they do.

The good news for consumers is there are new distilleries starting up every day that are learning that it’s not okay to fool us. That’s no way to build brand loyalty. Many existing distilleries are learning this fact also, but maybe not as soon as some would like. We all have to understand that some of this stuff is hard to prove.

When that’s the case I let the juice in the bottle do the talking. This latest review is from a sample of Templeton’s most recent release.

Templeton Rye Whiskey, 40% abv (80 Proof), $40
Templeton Rye’s nose is a balance of sweet and spicy flavors with aromas of caramelized banana, vanilla, cinnamon candy (red hots), bracing rye, and wintergreen. Oak is subtle and not overly pronounced. On the palate, a honey-sweet entry moves quickly to dry rye grain, chili flake, and black pepper. The sweet core of this whiskey keeps it from ever getting too fiery on the tongue. In fact it’s quite mellow (more than likely due to the low proof). I would love to see this maybe closer to 90-95 proof because I feel it might give it a bit more spark. Regardless, there’s a lot of great flavor here. The finish is crisp mint, honey, cinnamon spice, and dries up quickly. Whatever you think about the story or the recipe or the fact they don’t distill it, Templeton is bottling a very good rye whiskey.
Sour Mash Manifesto Rating: (8.4 Very Good/Excellent)

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)

1512 Barbershop Rye Review

“White” or Unaged Whiskeys can be sort of a mixed bag. By that I mean they mostly suck. Harsh? Perhaps, but in my experience that’s just been the case. I’m from the “wood is king” school of thinking. Wood does something to distillate that is pure magic. What more can be said?

About 4 weeks back I received an email from John Henry, a CA resident and visitor of this site. John asked me if I’d heard about an up an coming distiller out of the San Francisco Bay Area called 1512 Barbershop. He’d had a bottle and was floored by it and wanted me to be on the lookout. Soon after that I received a sample for review.

Here’s the scoop. Salvatore Cimino owns an actual barbershop in San Francisco called 1512 Barbershop. During prohibition, many barbershops acted as fronts for bootlegged spirits and whiskey. It wasn’t uncommon during those times for such “whiskey” to be of the unaged variety. Salvatore is a throwback whiskey purist of sorts having grown up distilling whiskey in an an old-school manner; milling grain by hand and copper pot distillation over open flames. 1512 Barbershop makes the not so subtle reference to this being Salvatore Cimino first “public” release. I chuckled when I read that. Thoughts of my granfather setting a mason jar with a peach floating in it popped into my memory.

So, how does this unaged Rye Spirit/Whiskey taste?

1512 Barbershop Rye, 45.5% abv (91 Proof), $30 (375ML Bottle)

Color: Crystal Clear

Nose: Green apple, ripe pear, clean, fragrant rye grain, and a confectionary sweetness.

Palate: The palate is crisp and clean with dusty, peppery rye grain shining through from the onset. Rock candy and taffy sweetness anchor this one as does an ever present fruity quality.

Finish: The finish is all rye, mild pepper, and a scant, haunting licoricey note.

Overall: I have to say this one caught me way off guard. To date, there are two white whiskey/spirits that I would consider “outstanding”. One of them is Four Roses OBSK mashbill (OBSQ isn’t far behind). The other is this one. If you are in the San Francisco Bay Area, K&L Wines has some in stock.

Sour Mash Manifesto Rating: (8.9 Superb/Outstanding)

Critical Beach Business

I am heading for a week vacation to beautiful Charleston, SC – Isle of Palms to be exact. But don’t fret, I’ve got a couple of new reviews in the queue that I hope to have out over the coming week.

One is a great new unaged rye from a small distiller in California called 1512 Barbershop Rye. It’s one of the best unaged or “white” whiskeys I’ve had – fruity, crisp and full of great rye character all at the same time. Stay tuned for that.

In addition I have a little value bourbon faceoff between Very Old Barton (Bottled in Bond) and Old Forester.

I hope you all have a great week, and please forgive me if I’m a little late to respond to comments.

Drink your whiskey!

-Jason

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)