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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)

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)

Tennessee Whiskey Review: Jack Daniels Single Barrel and George Dickel Barrel Select

Jack Daniels Single Barrel, 47%/94 Proof $45
Jack Daniels has one of the most distinctive flavor profiles in whiskey. The Lynchburg, Tennessee distillery’s single barrel effort is the same profile ramped up a few levels, particularly in the wood department. The deep amber, copper-red hued Tennessee Whiskey is thick and viscous in the glass. The nose is a all sweet and oak: huge caramel and vanilla, toasted oak and cedar, as well as floral aromas. Burnt cinnamon sugar and cocoa help make for a dark, sultry aroma. The flavors on the palate are sturdy and firm, again with tremendous weight. In spite of that, the front half of the sip is a bit flat, eventually evolving as vanilla infused caramel, black pepper, wood spices, and charcoal towards the finish. Oak, a resinous grippy quality, and dry spices dominate the finish. Jack Daniels Single Barrel is a very well made whiskey hurt a bit by a lack of balance and a slow development of flavors on the palate.
Sour Mash Manifesto Rating: 8.3 (Very Good/Excellent)

George Dickel Barrel Select, 43%/86 Proof $39
It’s no secret that George Dickel plays second fiddle to Jack Daniels when it comes to production and notoriety. Heck take a look at Dickel’s parent company’s (Diageo) website. Regardless, the little distillery in Cascade Hollow (Tullahoma), Tennessee continues to put out some excellent products. Take for example their Barrel Select, which is the name for the distillery’s small batch of select barrels. It’s light amber/deep gold in hue with a nose of corn mash, sweet tobacco, honey, canned pineapple, and maple syrup wrapped around a core of oak and leather. It’s a special nose! On the palate this whiskey continues with the well rounded theme. Honeyed dried apricots, caramelized nuts, big corn, vanilla, and spearmint lead to a solid punch of splintered fresh oak. The finish is all corn, warming wood spices (cinnamon and allspice), and honey. George Dickel Barrel Select is a superb whiskey with balanced flavors of fruit, corn, wood, and spices. It’s too bad those morons from Diageo continue to treat it like a red headed stepchild, because the whiskey Dickel produces is some of the best in the country for the dollar.
Sour Mash Manifesto Rating: 9.0 (Superb/Outstanding)

Micro Monday: A look at Koval Lion’s Pride Whiskey

The “craft” whiskey movement, while littered with a lot of sub-par products, is also one of the biggest reasons why the United States is the most exciting whiskey industry in the country. It’s amazing what some of these distilleries are doing.

Recently I’ve reviewed products and received samples from about 25 micro/craft distillers. I have to be honest – some of them are simply not good at all. But on the other hand, the stuff that is good really stands out. I’ll be talking about some of those in the coming weeks and months.

Today, let’s take a closer look at one of the distilleries doing some great work – Koval, based in Chicago, Illinois. Koval is owned and operated by husband and wife team, Sonat and Robert Birnecker. Robert, master distiller, is from Austria, and has built a reputation on utilizing some interesting grains for Koval’s whiskey. After turning some heads with the distillery’s un-aged and light whiskeys, Koval set out to create some aged products named after the couple’s son, Lion. The result is Lion’s Pride Whiskey, with both a Dark and Light version of each grain.

Below I have reviewed 4 of the 5 “dark” whiskeys. They are all aged under 2 years in new oak and distilled from single grains. Koval uses enzymes rather than barley for fermentation. The result is a very grain forward character to the whiskey.

To me, these whiskeys almost fit into their own category. They are lighter in style and body, really clean and bright, and less oak-forward. While they do taste young, all of the usual “funk” and rough edges that younger whiskeys typically have are not present here. Koval credits that fact to focusing on capturing only the heart cuts of the distillate, preferring to remove as much of the heavy flavors (which can bring that funk) with them. There’s more waste, but it results in a flavor profile that Koval prefers over the heavier bodied American Whiskeys.

Lion’s Pride Dark Millet Whiskey, 40% abv/80 Proof, $50.00
Tasting Notes: The nose consists of fresh, ripe fruit (green apple, plum, and peach), bright spices (ginger and anise), and caramelized nuts. The palate begins sweetly (brown sugar and canned fruit) before barrel, wood spices, and licorice dry things up on through to a moderately spicy finish. Millet is a grain I dare say few distillers, if any, work with today. It’s an eye opener and very distinctive.
Sour Mash Manifesto Rating: 8.4 (Very Good/Excellent)

Lion’s Pride Dark Oat Whiskey, 40% abv/80 Proof, $50.00
Tasting Notes: I have been accused of having a sweet tooth before. Guilty as charged! This Dark Oat Whiskey is a confectionary wonder. The distillate has a distinctive banana aroma. It comes across as banana cream, vanilla fudge, and brown sugar syrup on the nose. The flavors on the palate are sweet as well with banana bread, oatmeal, and taffy balanced by cracker dryness, and black pepper. The finish is clean, sweet, and light. Superb stuff and my favorite in the lineup.
Sour Mash Manifesto Rating: 8.8 (Superb/Outstanding)

Lion’s Pride Dark Wheat Whiskey, 40% abv/80 Proof, $50.00
Tasting Notes: The other grains seemingly have so much more depth and character. The wheat without a supporting cast struggles to keep up. The nose has notes of toffee, juicy fruit gum, and graham cracker. The flavors are soft and sweet with vanilla custard, sticky caramel, and a welcomed hot ginger bite as it leads to the finish, which is mildly peppered with cinnamon. A solid effort, but certainly the weakest of the four by a good margin.
Sour Mash Manifesto Rating: 7.6 (Good/Solid)

Lion’s Pride Dark Rye Whiskey, 40% abv/80 Proof, $50.00
Tasting Notes: This one is perhaps the most grain forward of the lineup. This is rye in all it’s glory: evergreen, eucalyptus, and peppery rye grain dominate a nose that comes across quite fresh and lively. There’s a sweet, fruity underbelly at play on the nose as well. Vanilla infused honey makes an appearance early on the palate before being overcome by a rush of spices in the form of cinnamon, anise, and peppermint.
Sour Mash Manifesto Rating: 8.2 (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)

Very Old Barton Bourbon (Bottled in Bond) Review

Very Old Barton has a myriad of bourbons that include 80, 86, 90, and this 100 proof product. Made by Barton Brands at the Tom Moore Distillery in Bardstown, KY. Today it’s owned by Sazerac (Buffalo Trace). This particular bourbon is offered at 6 years old and “Bottled in Bond”. What does that mean? BIB, as it’s abbreviated, refers to a bourbon from one distillery that has been distilled in one season (not bourbon pulled frome barrels of various ages), aged in a federally bonded warehouse at least 4 years, and is offered at 100 proof or 50% alcohol. This came about in the late 1800′s largely because people were selling inferior, diluted products as bourbon. It was also backed by a lot of the power players in the bourbon industry at the time to curb this practice.

From a mashbill standpoint, VOB BIB is 75% Corn, 15% Rye, and 10% Barley. It’s also well under $15 a bottle. Recently, Malt Advocate named it one of their best value picks of the year. And without ruining any review suspense I will say that designation is certainly not a stretch. Value is a very subjective topic because what one person considers a great value another person might have higher expectations. So how does VOB BIB rate out? Let’s give it a try.

Very Old Barton Bourbon (Bottled in Bond) , 50% abv (100Proof), $12

Color: Medium Amber

Nose: A fairly big, bold nose that has ample measures of fruit, spice, and grain. Corn and caramel/toffee at first with a sour apple fruitiness and baking spices galore (Cinnamon, Clove, Nutmeg). Oak lingers along with an earthy twang (barn?) to keep you sniffing happily.

Palate: The comforting synergy between the nose and palate is apparent with the first sip. Corn, chewy caramel, apple, cinnamon stick, and a good punch of rye make for a firm and assertive whiskey.

Finish: The finish is moderate in length with some drier, spicier oak quality emerging to blend and harmonize with after-sweetness of vanilla and caramel.

Overall: What is great about Very Old Barton BIB is the fact that it’s pure bourbon flavor to the core at a tremendous price. There is enough corny goodness to make you aware of what you are drinking, but so many other flavors to keep things very interesting and pleasant. No wonder many Kentuckians consider this their “table bourbon” of choice. Is this the best whiskey value on the market? I don’t think I can quite give it that designation, but it’s certainly right up there with some of the best values on the market.

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