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Revving Up!

I hope this summer finds all of you and yours doing well. If you are anything like me, with 3 active girls (10, 7, and 5 years old), your summer has probably been filled with activity. The frenetic pace over the last 6-8 weeks is finally starting to calm down a bit, and as a result I’ve got a number of things brewing for the site over the next month.

As I type I’m sipping the latest E. H. Taylor Barrel Strength offering from Buffalo Trace, and completing a review of course as well. Stay tuned for the full scoop on this one soon. Also on the roster for August are reviews of Evan Williams Single Barrel 2002, Bowman Brothers Pioneer Spirit Small Batch Bourbon (from A. Smith Bowman Distillery), a micro bourbon from Iowa called Cedar Ridge, and a value offering from Evan Williams, (“White” Label Bottled in Bond).

In addition to reviews I’ll be providing my take on the whole “adding water to whiskey” discussion that’s been going around even more than usual lately. Also, a great friend and the man behind the Owensboro (KY) Bourbon Society, Vince Carida, has put together some awesome information for starting whiskey clubs and societies. This is very important for whiskey’s growth in my opinion. I love being on my own with a great bottle of whiskey, but like many things – whiskey tastes even better with good company. A whiskey club/society is a way for people with like interests to to get together and share one of life’s best (and most affordable) luxuries. I get asked an awful lot about the best approach for starting such clubs, and Vince is way more qualified than I am to talk about it. Thanks Vince for your contribution!

Finally, I’m really looking forward to cranking out a multi-part series on how to expand and “train” your palate for better whiskey appreciation. We’ll start with proper glassware, how to execute an effective tasting session, how to select the right whiskeys for conducting tastings, and most critically how to begin to develop your individual palate. Some would have you believe that being able to pick apart a whiskey for aroma and flavor is something reserved for experts. I’m here to tell you that with a little discipline, knowledge, and of course practice, you’ll soon find you have all the ability you need to understand why you like certain whiskeys over others. It’s going to be fun.

Thanks again for all the comments on the site this last month. We’ll get things cranking beginning this week. Until then, sip something great!

Drink your whiskey!

-Jason

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.

Review: High West Son of Bourye

High West Son of Bourye is the latest “blend” of straight whiskeys from the boys in Utah. Like its father Bourye, this whiskey is a blend of a bourbon (5 year old with a mashbill of 75% corn and 20% rye) mingled together with a rye whiskey (3 year old 95% mashbill). The remaining 5% in each is barley malt. Bourye utilized older whiskeys for the blend (10, 12, and 16 years old).

Let’s see how this SOB tastes………

High West Son of Bourye, 42% abv (92Proof), $40

Color: Medium Amber

Nose: Sweet mint, vanilla, honey and golden fruits lifted by juniper, evergreen, fresh herbs, flint and wood/oak.

Palate: Soft and honeyed right at front entry, but builds swiftly to a spicy mid palate of mint, chili, and cinnamon red hot candy. Very bright and very drinkable!

Finish: Increasing warmth, wood notes, and big cinnamon flavors. Medium in length.

Overall: The folks at High West know how to bring together good whiskeys and make them so much better than the sum of their parts. Son of Bourye lacks the depth of Bourye, but is a more harmonious whiskey in my opinion. The rye plays lead, but the bourbon keeps it grounded as you would expect. I’m not sure what the ratio of the blend is but I’m guessing it pushes 75% rye to 25% bourbon. I’ll try to get David Perkins of High West to at least let me know if I am close. This is an excellent whiskey if you are looking for something extremely drinkable that is also lively, spicy, and fun.

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

Review: Wild Turkey 101 Rye Whiskey

Two months ago I did a simultaneous review with two other bloggers, Steve Ury and Tim Read. Steve’s (or Sku as he goes by) website is Recent Eats and Tim’s is Scotch and Ice Cream. We had a little fun with the collaboration review of Rebel Yell and thought it might be time to do another. So here we are.

The subject of this review is Wild Turkey 101 Rye Whiskey. Recently it surfaced that Wild Turkey was putting out Wild Turkey 81 Rye Whiskey. This lead some enthusiasts to conclude that the 101 Rye was being discontinued after certain control state product listings showed the 81 Rye hitting the shelves and the 101 leaving them. Chuck Cowdery posted a good bit of information on this subject. Apparently 101 Rye will not be discontinued, but like Rittenhouse and others before, it may be tough to find on store shelves for a while.

The Rye whiskey boom is well into it’s second year as far as I’m concerned. As folks learn to appreciate more flavorful whiskey, I believe rye will continue to grow as a category, and this is great for whiskey lovers. However, whiskey takes time to make properly. Predicting what will be in high demand 4+ years in the future is a difficult proposition. Focusing on 81 right now gives Wild Turkey a little breathing room. The fact that it’s 20 proof lower than the 101 will certainly help Wild Turkey meet demand while the company ramps up stock.

If Wild Turkey 101 Rye is a whiskey you love and keep on hand, then I’d recommend stocking up at least for the short term. If you are unsure or haven’t had it yet, then it’s perfect timing to read my thoughts.

Wild Turkey 101 Rye Whiskey, 50.5% abv (101 Proof), $22-25

Color: Medium Amber

Nose: The nose is sharp and bracing. Honeyed with a crisp rye grain quality, mint, sour apple, sandalwood, menthol, flint, and sun dried oak. There is also some rustic corn mash in there as well.

Palate: Much like the nose – the sip is sharp with a crisp, dry quality to it. Rye and mint are present all throughout the sip with apple and honey anchoring things to a degree. It’s all about the spicy rye with increasing warmth leading to the finish.

Finish: The finish is long, warm, and spicy. We get a bit more of a cinnamon and wood spice quality along with some oak grip.

Overall: Wild Turkey’s lesser expensive products, like the 101 Bourbon and this Rye, are some of the best American Whiskeys available in their respective price ranges. WT 101 Rye is loaded with sharp rye grain character, spice, and warmth, without a lot of the “green” notes that I associate with the very high rye, former LDI-based ryes (Bulleit, Templeton, Redemption, etc.). For a well stocked bar I’d recommend this one be in your arsenal. The versatility for neat sipping and a fantastic Manhattan are pretty tough to beat at this price.

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

Shades of Gray

Earlier this week I read a post from David Driscoll of K&L Wine and Spirits, an excellent California based retail store. I’ve frequently mentioned K&L and David because they are an example to what I feel wine and spirits stores need to aspire towards. They educate buyers regardless of the price or producer, bring unique products to attention, and really just make sure K&L is a resource for it’s loyal customers.

The premise of David’s post was the fact that the spirit and whiskey industry is complicated. We get caught up in this notion of “small batch” and “craft” and really – what is that? I’ve had the pleasure of emailing back and forth with David over various topics. He’s taught me a great deal about a number of artisan producers – their passion for just simply producing great stuff regardless of volume (or perhaps even profit), and also their relentless pursuit of the best raw materials. We’ve also had some interesting disagreements on a number of subjects. However his post last week titled “It’s Complicated” encompasses a lot of my thoughts about the world of whiskey today.

I urge you to read this if you are in any way “black or white” on craft/micro producers vs. the big boys. David discusses his recent visit from a passionate Grand Marnier representative. Apparently dreading the session, David was immediately engulfed by the guys passion upon hearing him speak (watch the video K&L’s blog a few posts down). I got to thinking about that and I believe the same is true for many of the big boys of bourbon and American whiskey.

The world is shades of gray folks. It’s so common for people to approach both with preconceived notions and opinions that can many times be changed if you are open to it.

Last Spring at WhiskyFest 2011 in Chicago I talked to Kris Comstock of Buffalo Trace in the Hyatt Regency Hotel Lobby. I think we all may share a feeling that Buffalo Trace is a “big boy”. It was so interesting to hear Kris talk about his desire to finally get BT’s flagship bourbon into all 50 states, and just how small their production really is. It’s clear the passion and care Kris takes in BT’s products. Ask Jim Rutledge of Four Roses where he gets the distillery’s corn and rye. But be prepared to spend 10-15 minutes learning just how critical Jim feels his relationships with the absolute best farmers in the country (or internationally for Rye) are to his finished product. To make assumptions that these guys are using lesser ingredients because they are bigger is very uninformed. To make assumptions they care less simply because they produce tens of thousands of barrels per year is an even bigger mistake.

On the flip side, you have micro distillers like Rick Wasmund of Copper Fox distillery going to the time and expense of floor malting barley at the distillery’s Sperryville, VA location. My numbers may not be exact but I believe there’s less than a half dozen distilleries in Scotland that are floor malting today. Rick knows it costs more, but he doesn’t care – he does it because it makes his product better. Head out to High West in Park City, Utah and talk to David Perkins about the lengths he went through to perfect his new OMG Rye. Having tasted a number of iterations, I know the care and time and energy High West put in to making sure it was EXACTLY the way they wanted. Spend a day with St. George Spirits in Alameda, CA, and if you aren’t excited about the state of their whiskey program then you are deader than a door nail.

The point is exactly as David Driscoll eloquently stated – It’s Complicated. We screw it all up when we make ourselves choose between the little guys and the big guys. Why in the hell do we do that? Why let romantic notions of the little guy sway our opinions of the bigger companies without facts. Why stay with the “old brand” just because we *think* those little guys can’t possibly be as good because they are not as established.

My suggestion is simple. If you find yourself in only one camp, do some research and try a few products across the aisle and see what you think. At worse you expand your whiskey palate. At best you may just find something you’ll love.

Drink your Whiskey!

-Jason

Review: Masterson’s Rye Whiskey

Masterson’s Rye is one of the latest rye whiskeys sourced from Canada. It’s a 100% rye, which is tough as hell to distill. The distiller that makes this juice is said to be the same that produced Whistlepig and Jeffereson’s Rye. The family resemblance among them is very apparent, but each of these whiskeys differ in the flavor delivery department.

Masterson’s is sourced and then bottled by 35 Maple Street, a new spirits company based out of Sonoma, CA. The operation is a division of The Other Guys, a wine company with an ever growing portfolio of wine brands. Started by siblings, Mia and August Sebastiani (of the Sebastiani wine family), 35 Maple Street has plans to produce a gin, and have also put out a small batch bourbon recently (review coming soon).

Masterson’s was named after Bat Masterson, who was an old west lawman. August Sebastiani says he was fascinated by the Wild West and thought the name was fitting for their first whiskey. I suppose the name is meant to conjure up images of the frontier and gun slingers, but that’s all about the marketers. How does it taste?

Masterson’s Rye Whiskey, 45% abv (90 proof), $70

Color: Deep Golden

Nose: Bright and floral rye grain, juniper, crushed green herbs (cilantro, dill, and spearmint), a touch of menthol and then the woody spice notes from clove and nutmeg. A bit of sour apple fruitiness tries to break through late in the nose, but the spice and grain chokes it out. This is not a particularly sweet nose. It’s laden with crisp and clean spices.

Palate: Again – crisp and sharp as a razor blade. Brittle burned caramel provides restrained sweetness, quickly shattered by the onslaught of spices – mint, chili flake, vanilla, anise, and pine. The influence of the barrel adds dryness, accentuating the prickle and heat halfway through the sip. Spicy and beautiful stuff, but a shade one sided and requiring a bit more sweetness to balance things out.

Finish: Long waves of dry, spicy rye grain, some heat, and bitterness.

Overall: Masterson’s rye is an excellent rye whiskey busting with character. It’s bright and well spiced on the nose and palate. However, it falls short of its sibling, Whistlepig, which manages to bring similar layers of spice (albeit restrained slightly), but does so with more balance, sweetness, and depth of flavor. At virtually the same price, my pick would be Whistlepig, but Masterson’s may be more appropriate for you if you like your rye’s spicier, drier, and crisper.

Sour Mash Manifesto Rating: 8.6 (Very Good/Excellent)