Posts from the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

Getting Weird with Homemade Blends: Some Thoughts

If you’ve ever been unlucky enough to spend some time with me, you are probably aware that one of my favorite sayings is, “If you ain’t gettin’ weird, weird is gettin’ you.”  And, it is upon that basis that a few years ago, I began to take to experimentation with blending my own whiskeys at home.  If you are one of those folks who believes that each whiskey you buy should be drank neat, then you’ve got to expand your horizons, my friend.  And, as opposed to leaping straight into making Laphroaig cocktails, why not do some dabbling with homemade blends (especially around the holidays when you’ve got all sorts of in-laws blowing up your spot)?

The biggest reason I started working with homemade blends is because of whiskeys that I was not the biggest fan of on their own merits, but saw potential in their flavors.  The first ever blend I created at home (and I always recommend starting with a glass and then working up to a full batch) originated from my having a bottle of Willett rye that was a little hot for my tastes, with some heavy herbal notes that were not my favorite.  To be sure, this Willett was not bad whiskey, merely not my favorite.  So, to bring in some sweetness, but not too much, I created a glass of whisky with 1.5 ounces each of Willett rye and Wild Turkey Rare Breed.  The result was a fantastic dram, but big vanilla and spice, backed by a whispering herb garden.  I was hooked on blending.

My favorite blend that I have ever made came out of the search for good uses for Balcones Brimstone, a Texas Scrub Oak whisky that resembled a mix of gasoline and barbecue sauce.  The flavors were intense and powerful, but hot and unpleasant (it turned out to be a great cooking whiskey, too, but more on that in another post).  At around this same time, somebody gifted me a bottle of Old Crow Reserve bourbon, hardly my favorite bourbon, but decent bourbon at $15/bottle.  I started teaspooning full measures of Old Crow Reserve with Balcones Brimstone, and magic happened.  The result was a bold, brash, and balanced whiskey wafting back and forth between spicy, earthy notes, and sweet cereal flavors.  If you’ve ever thought sweet corn would taste good smothered in caramel and a Cajun dry rub, this was the blend for you.

Not every blend I have ever tried has worked out, but not every person you date ends up being your spouse, but that’s why you date them.  The reason I blend whiskeys at home is because whiskeys are like people – sometimes that friend of yours growing up that always gets the group into trouble just needs to find the right person to be with to smooth out those rough edges and create a masterpiece.  Happy blending, y’all!  Let it ride!

Crown Royal 75th Anniversary Blend Review

Well, with everybody threatening to move to Canada, I thought it was high time I review a great Canadian whisky.  Crown Royal’s 75th Anniversary blend has been produced to honor the origins of the brand, first blended for King George VI and Queen Elizabeth’s visit to Canada some 75 years ago.  It is a rye-forward blend bottled at 80 proof (40% abv).

The nose is dry and oaked, with some vanilla extract, caramel, and dried mangoes.  The palate is dry and woody as well, with caramel and a light rye spice.  The finish is long and very dry with oak, dry cocoa, dark chocolate, and cinnamon sticks.  There is a unique combination of fresh oak/sawdust notes and old, mature oak in the finish.

Overall, this is a smooth as silk blend with a lot of wood influence, but it lacks complexity to be a truly epic whisky.  Even still, this is a top of the shelf Canadian dram, and a worthy pour for the purpose of such a milestone anniversary.  My grade: B+.  Price: $70-80/750ml.

Tullamore Dew 12 Year Irish Whiskey Review

I do not know what the weather has been like this spring in your neck of the woods, but here in the mid-Atlantic, its been somewhat Irish.  Windy, rainy, cold, with just enough sun thrown in to keep the grass on the golf courses green.  So, today I am reviewing a lovely Irish whiskey – Tullamore DEW 12 year-old “Special Reserve.”

The Tullamore 12-year is a blended Irish whiskey aged in both bourbon casks and Oloroso Sherry casks, a classic double-matured style Irish dram.  It is distilled at Midleton, the famed Cork distillery.  This expression was originally a travel retail exclusive, but has now been released as part of the standard Tullamore Dew range.  It is bottled at 80 proof (40% abv).

The color has a orange-ish tint to it, a beautiful color in the glass.  The nose presents apples, white zinfandel, caramel, dried pineapple, and salted walnuts.  The palate is silky smooth, with dry sherry, green apples, milk chocolate, dried plums, and some bitter white chocolate.  The finish is medium and drying with pineapple, sawdust, and dry white port notes.

On the whole, this is exactly what one would expect from a blended Irish whiskey with a substantial amount of Oloroso influence.  It presents a simple, approachable mouthfeel with balanced sweet flavors alternating from both bourbon oak and sherry oak.  My grade: B+/B.  Price: $45-50/750ml.  If you like Irish whiskey, this will be a whiskey worth trying for you, especially if you are interested in trying Irish whiskey with some different aging techniques from standard Irish blends.

The Irishman Single Malt Irish Whiskey Review

Happy Masters week, everybody!  So many folks are talking about this as the year that Rory McIlroy breaks through at the Masters, so let’s reviews some Irish juice!

The Irishman Single Malt is a limited release whiskey that I believe is made at Cooley (but I could be wrong).  It is aged in both ex-sherry and ex-bourbon casks, culminating in a rich golden color.  This particular review comes from Batch #1402/2014.  There is no age statement on this whiskey, and it is bottled at 80 proof.

The nose is rich and vibrant with fresh pears, toffee, white wine, and hazelnuts.  The palate is smooth and bodied, with toffee, vanilla, and green apples.  The finish is medium, dry, and sweet with orchard fruits and a whisper of oak.

Overall, this is a solid, well-built, tasty Irish whiskey.  It is exactly what I would expect from a single malt Irish whiskey, but it is hardly anything beyond that.  Only being bottled at 80 proof, it lacks some depth and punch, but it has a lot of pleasant flavors nonetheless.  My grade: B-.  Price: $40-45/750ml.  If you’ve got a friend that loves an Irish whiskey, drop them a bottle of this juice and make their day.  If you’ve got a friend that loves barrel strength bourbons, leave this one on the shelf.

Comparison Review: Teeling Single Malt vs. Teeling Single Grain

Saint PatrickLast St. Patrick’s Day, I reviewed a relatively new Irish whiskey, Teeling Small Batch.  This year, I am stepping it up with two new Teelings, the Single Grain and Single Malt expressions.  Before I go any further, it is important to mention the definition of a single grain whiskey, as it is rarely seen.  A single grain whiskey is a whiskey made at a single distillery from any cereal grain that may include, corn, rye, wheat, barley, or others.  A single malt must also come from a single distillery, but it must be comprised of solely malted barley.  But, that is not all that separates these whiskeys.  (I believe both of these expressions were distilled at Cooley in Louth, but I do not have confirmation on that hunch as of yet.)

The Teeling Single Malt is comprised of whiskeys finished in 5 different types of wood (Sherry, Port, Madeira, White Burgundy, and Cabernet Sauvignon).  There is no age statement on this whiskey, but according to Teeling, there is some whiskey as old as 23 years in it.  Like all Teeling whiskeys, their Single Malt is non-chill filtered and bottled at 92 proof (46% abv).

The color is pale orange.  The nose is full of white grape juice, backed by Concord grape jelly, corn flakes, and sweet bread.  The palate is full-bodied with red berries (rasp and straw varietals), red licorice candy, watermelon, red apples, and pumpernickel bread.  The finish is dry and long, featuring a revival of the red berries and white grape juice notes.  There is the slightest hint of white pepper and spiced pecans, adding a bit of spiciness.

The Single Malt expression is dripping with class and elegance, tame and univocal in its direction.  I could see detractors arguing that it is too singular and one-tricked, and it is until the finish, but there is a spiced character that underlines the sweet fruit and wine characters that dominate the whiskey.  If you find this one, you won’t be disappointed if you give it a try.  My grade: B+/A-.  Price: $45-50/750ml.  It flexes muscles well outside the category of Irish Single Malt whiskies.

On the other hand, the Teeling Single Grain expression is matured exclusively in Cabernet Sauvignon casks from Sonoma County, California.  The result is a darker color in the resulting whiskey.  There is no age statement on this whiskey, nor is there a description of what grains have gone into the mash-bill (I suspect it is primarily a mix of corn and barley).  But, a little mystery never hurt anybody, and this whiskey certainly stands on its own without a detailed backstory.  Like the Single Malt, it is bottled without chill filtration at 92 proof (46% abv).

The nose is slightly alcoholic and boozy, with cinnamon, hard cider, fresh bread, and cloves.  The palate is silky delicious with cloves, cinnamon, red apples, and red grapes.  The finish is long and dry with cinnamon, allspice, and cloves coming through a drying oak note.

Overall, the Single Grain expression brings a lot of potential and flavor, but it is a little more unpolished and rough around the edges.  Nevertheless, the flavor is complex, with all sorts of spice and sweetness to kick around in your mouth even if the alcoholic content comes through a little more.  My grade: B+/A-.  Price: $40-45/750ml.  Like the Single Malt, this transcends the category of Irish whiskey into something wholly unique.

To conclude, both of these whiskeys are among my favorite Irish whiskeys.  Both are worth seeking out and worth trying if you see them while you’re on  the town in your favorite whiskey bar.  If I had to choose, I enjoy the mouthfeel of the Single Malt better, but I like the flavor and price point of the Single Grain a little better.  Too close to declare a winner, but it is safe to say the winner is the consumer if Teeling stays on this pace.  Happy St. Patrick’s Day, y’all!  Be safe and let it ride!

Jack Daniel’s Barrel Proof Tennessee Whiskey Review

Out here on the East Coast, we just got slammed with the first big snowstorm of the year, dropping about 30 inches or so on my residence.  Thanks a lot, Jonas.  So, a tipple or two, perhaps.  Today, I am revisiting a distillery that I often disrespected in my early days of whiskey-ing, but I have come to respect it more.  There is something to be said for a distillery that comes out with a consistent product time after time and that whiskey maintains its status as a worldwide best-seller year after year.  However, nothing swings a label over to my good side like some high proof juice, which is exactly what we’ve got here.Snow

Jack Daniel’s has always released the single barrel series, and some of them are good.  But, in 2015, Jack Daniel’s launched a nationwide release of a barrel strength single barrel product.  My beloved uncle and aunt bestowed a bottle for the Christmas holiday, and I’ve been enjoying it ever since.  The bottle I am reviewing was bottled on November 5, 2015 from barrel 15-6410 from rickhouse L-25.  There is no age statement on the bottle.  It clocks in at a sexy 131 proof (65.5% abv).

The color is a rich, amber hue with some orange tints.  The nose is smells of off-piste bourbon, with vanilla, burnt caramel, brown sugar, mahogany, and oak.  At its full strength, it is a little bit of a boozy nose, too. The palate is rich and creamy, with oak, vanilla, caramel, brown sugar, and some alcohol heat.  The finish is warming, full, and medium in length, with a balance between brown sugar and vanilla, and some old leather notes.  Water brings out a little more Jack Daniel’s character, with some tannic woodiness present on the palate, rich caramel, bananas, maple syrup, but maintaining the warming oak throughout.  However, water also brings out some cinnamon and pipe tobacco notes that I was not getting before.

Some people had informed me that if I did not like Jack Daniel’s Old No. 7, I would not like their barrel proof juice.  However, it was precisely the opposite.  I love what Jack is doing here.  I found this more complex and deeper than standard Jack Daniel’s.  I did not start to see true Daniel’s character until I added a little water, but the notes I usually find in Jack Daniel’s like bitter wood and bananas were tempered and rounded into the whole profile of the whiskey.  I have enjoyed this bottle immensely, almost as much as I enjoy the people who gifted me the bottle.  My grade:  B+.  Price:  $60-70/750ml.  This is right up there with barrel strength bourbons in its price range and gives Jack’s fans their favorite juice as God intended it.

The Glenlivet Nàdurra Oloroso Matured Single Malt Scotch Review

2016 Gary Anderson WDC

Congratulations to Scotsman Gary Anderson on defending his World Darts Championship Title to kick off 2016! Have a glass, Gary!

Happy New Year, everybody!  My first review of 2016 is a bit of a follow up to my final review of 2015.  In my last review, I mentioned that I have not yet found a better Aberlour than the A’Bunadh, but it is a bit out of my price range and hard to find here in Pennsylvania.  But, what if I found a cask strength, Oloroso-matured single malt that could operate as a substitute?  So, without further ado, here is my review of some Oloroso-matured whisky from The Glenlivet.

Traditionally, the Nàdurra lineup has been comprised of cask strength whiskies matured in (often first-fill, but occasionally refill) bourbon casks.  However, The Glenlivet has recently different takes on their Nàdurra lineup over the last few years, and I am reviewing one such batch today.  This review is of batch OL0614 (the final four digits are the bottling month/year), which is aged entirely in Oloroso casks and bottled without chill filtration.  There is no age statement on this whisky, and comes in at a lovely 121.4 proof (60.7% abv).

This is a rich, amber mahogany.  The nose smells of Oloroso sherry, with macerated grapes, blackberry jam, and a slight hint of ginger and allspice.  On the whole, it is a sweet, pleasing nose.  The palate is medium-bodied, perhaps a little lighter on the entry than I was expecting.  There are notes of sweet sherry, gingerbread, and drying oak present.  It is a pleasing palate, although not an especially complex one.  The finish is long and warming, with a wonderful puff of spiced pecans, along with sherry, mahogany, and gingerbread cookies.  Water brings out a more intense sherried nose, and a more jammy, sticky palate.  The finish doesn’t quite have the potency it does at cask strength, though.

Overall, this is a nice, simple sherried single malt. It doesn’t have the depth, complexity, or intensity of some other sherried whiskies, but it is a great inculcation of the style.  To be honest, there is just something missing here; I can’t put my finger on it, but this whisky just does not whisk me away to a magical land.  It is good, for sure, but it does not live up to the Aberlour A’Bunadh for me.  That said, if you’re looking for an introduction to a cask strength, sherried whisky, this is a very good start.  My grade: B+/B.  Price: $60-70/750ml.  For a whisky at this strength, this is a good value buy to keep around your cabinet this winter.

Dad’s Hat Pennsylvania Rye Vermouth Finish Review

Yesterday, I reviewed Dad’s Hat Pennsylvania Rye in honor of my own father’s birthday week.  Today, I am continuing with this trend with a review of Dad’s Hat Vermouth Finish.  The base of this whiskey is the standard Dad’s Hat rye.  The difference is that this whiskey has spent at least 3 months extra-aging in barrels that previously held Vermouth.  In addition, this whiskey has been bottled at the higher proof of 94 (47% abv).

The nose has some of the berry sweetness, wood shaving, and chocolate notes of the original, but the sweetness is more to the fore against the sharper rye flavors.  The palate has some cherry cola sweetness (without being overpowering or cloying), some rye, mint, and juniper. The finish is longer and spicier than the original in my estimation with a little more rye, cinnamon, and drying gingerbread.

Overall, the fingerprints of Dad’s Hat are right there in this whiskey, with some sweetness rolling through it nicely.  The vermouth finish on this whiskey is well-integrated, adding a lot to the finished product without taking away the quality of the rye.  If you like dry, dusty rye whiskeys, this one might be right up your alley despite its youth.  This one is definitely worth seeking out.  My grade: B.  Price: $40-45/750ml.  Like with the Dad’s Hat rye, the age might make the price seem high, but the whiskey in the bottle is worthy of the price point.

Happy Birthday, Dad!

Dad’s Hat Pennsylvania Rye Review

Dad's Hat RyeMy father is not a big whiskey drinker, but his birthday is this week and I love him dearly, so there’s no time like the present to give my thoughts on Dad’s Hat Pennsylvania Rye.  Dad’s Hat is distilled for Mountain Laurel Spirits at the Grundy Mill Distillery in Bristol, Pennsylvania, a commonwealth with a rich history in rye whiskey.  Dad’s Hat is a true craft whiskey, distilled and bottled at a small distillery with time and attention given to the craft of making whiskey.  The shelves at liquor stores have become inundated with new products of sourced whiskey from one of about ten different distilleries in the United States.  This is not to say that there is anything wrong with sourced whiskey, but there are bottlers that do it right and well, and bottlers that hide their sources and overcharge for inferior whiskey.  Dad’s Hat has come along as a sign of vibrant quality in the craft whiskey world.

According to the bottle, Dad’s Hat is at least 6 months old, aged in new oak quarter casks.  I have to admit that I was skeptical when I read this statement, given the price I paid for the bottle.  Along my whiskey journey, I have tried way too many American craft whiskeys that are just too young to be let out of the barrel yet, much less sold at $40/bottle.  However, a few sips into my first glass of Dad’s Hat, my skepticism turned to the pleasure one gets from enjoying a fine, authentic Pennsylvania rye whiskey.  Dad’s Hat is bottled at 90 proof (45% abv).

The nose is a good one, different from what I was expecting.  There is a lot of cocoa, berry sweetness, sawdust, white chocolate, and juniper all wrapped up in a lively rye scent.  The palate is softer and smoother than I was expecting.  There are notes of cola, rye, wood, and cherry sweetness.  The finish is short and sweeter than I was expecting, with a little rye, cherry, and cereal sweetness.

Overall, this whiskey was not at all what I thought it would be.  I was expecting a young, fiery rye in desperate need of a good sleep in a barrel.  I had tried it some time ago at a sampling, and I was not impressed.  This is not that same, brash whiskey.  On the contrary, this is a soft, elegant, dry, spicy, immensely enjoyable rye.  It will be very exciting to see what happens in time when Mountain Laurel comes out with an older Dad’s Hat.  One of the common complaints about this whiskey is that it is not a good cocktail companion, and this is a soft, subtle whiskey that is best on its own, for sure.  The flavors of a traditional rye whiskey are present throughout the whiskey, but the whiskey is not harsh and aggressive like the 95% or 100% rye whiskeys coming out of MGP or Canada.  So, who would want to ruin a well-done whiskey such as this in a cocktail?  If you want a better-integrated cocktail, give it a whirl.  My grade: B/B+.  Price: $35-40/750ml.  Despite its age, this whiskey easily competes in its price range, and its worth a buy next time you’re looking for a rye to sip on.

Happy Birthday, Dad!

 

Old Hickory Great American Straight Bourbon Review

Old_Hickory_Whiskey_Straight_BourbonToday, I’m reviewing a relatively new product – Old Hickory Great American Bourbon.  To be clear, the bourbon I’m reviewing today is the Straight Bourbon Whiskey (white label), not the Blended Bourbon Whiskey (black label).  This bourbon, named after the 7th president of the United States (Andrew Jackson), comes from MGP in Indiana, a distillery with a sterling reputation among American whiskey connoisseurs.  Old Hickory is bottled in Ohio under the watchful eye of RS Lipman, a spirits company from Tennessee.  The stocks in this bourbon are between 4 and 7 years old, one of the most common bottling ages for MGP bourbons for good reason.  Old Hickory is bottled at 86 proof (43% abv).

The nose has soft rye, rich vanilla, caraway, and whipped cream.  The palate is not as spicy as I was expecting.  It is soft and seductive, with vanilla cream, a little rye spice, and some light cinnamon sugar.  The finish is short and sweet with a little pipe tobacco, and it really makes me want another sip.

Overall, this is a good bourbon, with a good balance of flavors throughout the whiskey.  It is a dry bourbon in my opinion, which I rather like about it.  My only complaint here is that the proof is a little soft.  It makes the whiskey feel a little short and simple on the palate.  I know Old Hickory was gunning for 86 proof as “the perfect proof,” but I’d like to see this one with a little more heft behind it.  My grade:  B-.  Price:  $35-40/750ml.  Definitely a bourbon worthy of Old Hickory, a little pricey for its age, but don’t let it turn you away from this one – such things never stopped “Old Hickory.”

 

Much thanks to Todd from Double Diamond for the sample!