Posts from the ‘Whiskey Events’ Category

Mountain Laurel Spirits Visit and Dad’s Hat Port Finish Review

I recently had the opportunity to visit Mountain Laurel Spirits in Bristol, PA, where Dad’s Hat Pennsylvania Rye is distilled, aged, and bottled.  I loved my time there and will definitely be back.  In my experience with various alcohols, it’s a great feeling when seeing the alcohol being made lends a greater appreciation to the beverage itself.  So it is with Dad’s Hat Rye for me.

The distillery is brimming with history.  There are old, dusty bottles lining the bar and black and white pictures of Pittsburgh bartenders serving Pennsylvania’s finest (rye that is).  Dad’s Hat is made the Pennsylvania way, with just rye and malt, and every care is taken to create the finest, most authentic product possible.  Both the distillery and the whiskey emerging from it have perfectly blended the technology of modern distilling with the tradition of Pennsylvania rye.

Mountain Laurel Spirits is a throwback to the old industrial distilleries of historical Pennsylvania.  There is an ancient mystery to the distillery when you visit it, as if you’ve been transported back in time 100 years to a time when American whiskey drinkers loved rye.  The founders’ love of Pennsylvania rye seems to seep out of the walls, themselves.  In fact, the history of rye whiskey in the commonwealth hangs on the walls behind the wooden bar through old bottles, jars, pictures, and other memorabilia.  The distillery itself is in an old, industrial area of greater Philadelphia, surrounded my old homes and old buildings.  There is even history oozing from the Master Distiller, Herman Mihalich.

Herman is a Pennsylvania native whose parents ran a bar in greater Pittsburgh in the days when Pennsylvania rye ruled the American whiskey market.  Pennsylvania rye was in Herman’s blood from day one, and that comes through when you are lucky enough to converse with him on the subject.  There is a deep emotional connection to the spirit for him, lending a care and attention to detail necessary for a great whiskey (a lifetime’s experience as a chemical engineer doesn’t hurt either).

I have reviewed two Dad’s Hat whiskeys to this point (Pennsylvania Rye & Vermouth Finish), enjoying both of them.  The third whiskey in their current portfolio is their Port Finish, a whiskey that defies the category of rye entirely.  It is sweeter than you would expect from a rye whiskey, but there is some wood and spice enough to round it out.  Its best function is as a digestif with a rich, slightly tart slice of cheesecake.  Trust me on this one; no need to thank me.

Dad’s Hat whiskey is one of the few whiskeys matured entirely in quarter casks that manages to come out as an excellent whiskey.  This speaks to Herman’s meticulous nature as a distiller, using only the purest heart of his run, and, along with John Cooper, managing their stocks to perfection.  If you are wondering if Dad’s Hat is experimenting with full barrels, the answer is a resounding affirmative.  Dad’s Hat’s next release will most likely be a straight whiskey, aged entirely in their 53 gallon barrels.  I had a chance to sip a few sips from these barrels and my face nearly melted off.  The whiskey maintained all of the rye vigor of the standard Pennsylvania rye coupled with an overlay of vanilla and rich berry fruits.  I cannot wait until the first bottles of this stuff hits the Pennsylvania shelves.

It was a fantastic day down in Bristol, PA, and I am very thankful for Herman for hanging out after the tour to chat a few minutes.  Its worth a trip there if you can.  If you can’t make it down the distillery, give Dad’s Hat rye a try.  It’s what craft whiskey is meant to be.

 

 

WhiskyLive Boston 2014 Review

Earlier this autumn, I attended Whisky Live Boston with several of my very good, whisky-loving friends. The great food, great company, and excellent whiskies always make this a highlight night of the year, and this year was no different. Here are some of my thoughts on some of the drams I really enjoyed from this wonderful evening…

The view from the 2nd floor of the State Room during Whisky Live Boston 2014.

The view from the 2nd floor of the State Room during Whisky Live Boston 2014.

Coming into the evening, the American whiskey that I was most looking forward to trying was the new 8th release of Parker’s Heritage Collection, a 13 year-old straight wheat whiskey. I was, of course, very excited when I saw a bottle of this sitting on the Heaven Hill display table, but I was a little disappointed on the whiskey overall. Perhaps my standards were too high because I was really stoked to try this one, but I found it a little too grain-driven for my tastes. This is still a very good whiskey and a great idea, but I did not like it as much as I have enjoyed previous PHC releases.

Lest you think I stormed out of the venue and swore off whiskey for the rest of my days, I did have the chance to enjoy some fantastic drams. I really enjoyed the balance between fruit, spice, and oak in the Redbreast 21 year-old, certainly one of the finest Irish whiskeys I have tried to date. I got to try some of the whiskeys that Koval is bottling, and I am anxious to find more. I was also very impressed with some of the Benromach whiskies I sampled at the Gordon & MacPhail display table (more on that in the weeks to come). I thoroughly enjoyed getting to taste the two most recent Laphroaig Cairdeas releases side-by-side. I preferred the 2013 release to the 2014 release, but they are both fantastic. The 3rd edition of the “Islands” impression from Bruichladdich was a wonderful pour, and the Speyburn 25 year-old is not to be missed. However, none of these wonderful whiskies were left holding a medal in my book at the end of the night (these medals are not real, so I apologize if I got your hopes up). Without further ado, here were my three favorites from WhiskyLive Boston 2014.

Bronze Medal Winner: The First Editions – Bowmore 17 yr. This is an independently bottled Bowmore that was distilled in 1996, and bottled in 2013 from a single ex-bourbon barrel at cask strength (52.8% abv). I think the Bowmore spirit is definitely best with a little age under it, and this one was really a zinger. The age smoothed out some of the plastic, acidic notes of Bowmore’s younger whiskies, and left a wonderful whisky. The palate was a full-bodied cavalcade of Memphis barbecue, peat, ginger, and wet clay. This one balanced the spirit and the cask wonderfully, giving a very welcome dose of peat and spices with some dark sweetness mixed in. The price tag on this bottle ($150-175/750ml) would probably be a little beyond what I would pay for the contents, but this was definitely a wonderful take on Bowmore’s spirit.

Silver Medal Winner: Laphroaig 10 yr. Cask Strength (Batch 006). I will avoid ranting about this whisky here, as I have already given it plenty of praise on the blog with previous releases. That said, this was one of the best releases of the 10 year-old cask strength that I have had. It balances the sweet flavors of the ex-bourbon casks with the rich Laphroaig peat almost perfectly. This is always reasonably priced ($70-80/750ml) for the quality and strength, and is a very worthy addition to any winter liquor cabinet. I will certainly endeavor to buy a bottle of this wonderful whisky.

Gold Medal Winner: Bruichladdich Octomore 06.1 Scottish Barley. This was my first go at the legendary Octomore, a 5 year-old, cask strength peat monster (peated to 167 ppm, nearly four times as peated as standard Laphroaig), and I was lured into its mysteries. When the barley is peated to that level, something crazy happens, and this whisky shows a depth of character that I have rarely experienced. It smells and tastes like the earth after a bonfire, with a touch of Cormac McCarthy’s The Road. There are also some lovely citrus notes that mingle with the soot and coaldust, giving the palate a sublime workout. This whisky is not cheap ($150-175/750ml), nor is it easy to find, so I do not think a full bottle is in my future, but this was surely my highlight of Whisky Live Boston 2014.

I know that my highlights were all peated Scotches, but those were the whiskies that stood out most to me, so that’s what I picked. All across the board, it was a night of wonderful whiskies, great company, and a wonderful venue with a fantastic aerial view of Boston. If you’re in Boston, hope to see you at Whisky Live Boston 2015 next fall!

Barrel Strength Bourbon Tasting: Four Roses, Booker’s, Elijah Craig, and E.H. Taylor

Last week, some of my best new and old whiskey-loving friends got together for another meeting up of the Boston Brown Water Society.  Last month, we kicked off the society in style with some full-bodied Scotches, and last week we crossed the pond for some full-bodied, barrel strength bourbons.  We tasted the four bourbons mentioned above, and we did the tasting blind so as not to allow our preconceived notions about these bourbons to influence our palates.  I have done my best to summarize everyone’s general thoughts (and some of my own) on these four wonderful bourbons from four of Kentucky’s most notable distilleries.  Bourbon Barrels Aging

The first bourbon we tried was a private barrel selection of Four Roses, bottled for Kappy’s liquor store in Medford, Massachusetts.  It was made from Four Roses’ OBSK recipe, aged 11 years and 4 months, and bottled at 109.6 proof (54.8% abv).  This bourbon got mixed reviews around the table, ranging from really good to a very solid bourbon.  This particular inculcation of Four Roses was especially spicy, with rye zip, chili peppers, and some black pepper.  Those spicy, zesty notes and some alcoholic heat continue all through the bourbon, but are tempered out nicely by  the addition of water, which calms the whiskey down and opens up more sweet flavors, such as caramel and butterscotch.  Overall, this one is quite tasty, indicative of the consistent quality of Four Roses.  My grade: B+.  Price: $45-50/750ml.

The second bourbon we tried was Booker’s.  This bottle of Booker’s was 7 years and 6 months old, from Batch 2013-6, and bottled at 125.4 proof (62.7% abv).  This bourbon was widely put at the bottom of everybody’s list for the evening.  I have been a bit proponent of Booker’s in the past, but this batch was not the best bottle to ever hit the shelves.  There was a tannic bitterness that stayed throughout the nose, palate, and finish that most of us found off-putting.  There were some sweet brown sugar and caramel notes that stayed throughout the bourbon, but this one did not bring the complexity or depth of the other bourbons of the evening.  Water did not help this one much at all, either.  My grade: B-/C+.  Price: $45-50/750ml.

The third bourbon we tried was the third release of Elijah Craig Barrel Proof from Heaven Hill distillery.  It is 12 years old and registers at a whopping 133.2 proof (66.6% abv).  For many folks around the table, this bourbon was the highlight of the evening.  The nose on this bourbon is unbelievably delicious, with all sorts of deep caramel, mocha, brown sugar, vanilla, and oak notes.  The palate is plenty drinkable at barrel strength, but if you find it a little hot, water calms it down beautifully yielding notes of barrel char, spiced nuts, vanilla, and freshly roasted coffee beans.  The finish is long, warming, and sweet.  This bourbon was my personal favorite of the night, and I loved it equally as much at barrel strength and cut with a little water, demonstrating the complexity and depth of this sexy bourbon.  My grade: A.  Price: $45-50/750ml.

The final bourbon of the evening was Buffalo Trace’s Colonel E.H. Taylor Barrel Proof.  This was the only whiskey we sampled without an age statement, but judging by its fiery 135.4 proof point (67.7% abv), I suspect this bourbon probably has at least an average of 10 years or so under its belt.  This bourbon also garnered some votes for the best bourbon of the evening, and for good reason.  The nose on this one is woody in a really good way, described as “funky in a good way” by several people at the table.  There are some citrus notes in this nose as well, along with some spicier notes and some traditional bourbon sweetness.  The palate is pretty hot, but water brings the heat into balance with the sweetness and yields a great bourbon.  It remains quite woody and citrusy, but there are also notes of orchard fruits and a spice cabinet.  The finish is long, warming, and mildly woody.  Overall, this is a rough and ready bourbon in the best possible sense.  It might not fit in at fancy dinner parties, but that’s alright with me.  My grade: A-.  Price: $60-70/750ml.

At the end of the day, these are all good bourbons, and none of them are too overpriced.  The E.H. Taylor is the most expensive of the four, but some in our society believed this was the best bourbon of the lineup as well.  The Elijah Craig packs the best value of the bunch, but it is very hard to find.  The Booker’s is the most readily available of these four bourbons, but its variance from batch to batch does not always make this a great buy.  The Four Roses was a limited edition, privately-selected bottling, but judging by what I have tried from Four Roses, if you see a bottle of Four Roses Private Selection Single Barrel available, I highly doubt you’ll be disappointed with the quality of the bourbon.  The real moral of the story is that price, popularity, and exclusivity do not determine a bourbon’s quality.  The only way to determine the quality of a bottle of bourbon is to crack the bottle, let it ride, and let the bourbon speak for itself.

Whisky Live Boston 2013

A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to attend Whisky Live Boston, a massive alcoholic drinks exhibition in downtown Boston.  For nearly four hours, vendors, brand ambassadors, and sales representatives discuss their products, while hundreds of patrons sample the aforementioned products.  Most of the exhibits are whiskeys of some kind (bourbon, Scotch, Irish, Australian, etc.), but rum, tequila, vodka, gin, and cocktails of all kinds can also be found at Whisky Live.  It is a great event to try new spirits, socialize with other whiskey enthusiasts, and eat some very good food cooked with whiskey (Four Roses supplied the entrées this year).

If you ever get the chance to attend Whisky Live (or another similar event), I highly recommend it.  However, an evening at Whisky Live requires planning and pacing.  If you love whiskey as much as I do, it is too easy to become overwhelmed and go crazy.  This usually results in irresponsible drinking, a rough night, and an even worse morning.  But, if you pace yourself, drink plenty of water, and make your rounds well, you can have one of the best evenings of your calendar year!  Here are a few of my highlights of Whisky Live Boston 2013.

William Gemmell (of A Dram Good Time) and I at  Whisky Live Boston 2013

William Gemmell (of A Dram Good Time) and I at Whisky Live Boston 2013

I got to try two bourbons from Heaven Hill that I have wanted to try for some time – Parker’s Heritage Collection Promise of Hope and Elijah Craig 12 yr. Barrel Strength.  Previous editions of Parker’s Heritage Collection have been some of the best bourbons released in the last decade, but I was disappointed in this particular edition.  That said, it is still a worthy investment, since 25% of the proceeds from every bottle goes to ALS research.  The Elijah Craig Barrel Strength is quite a bourbon.  It is nearly black in the bottle, but it takes water very well and equals a very good bourbon in the end.  I am definitely going to be looking for a bottle to review this fall/winter.

I also got to try two very good rye whiskeys that I will be reviewing in the next few weeks: Angel’s Envy Rye and George Dickel Rye.  Stay tuned to the blog for more information on these fine ryes.

Now, for my whiskeys of the evening…  The three whiskeys that really won the evening for me were Glenmorangie Signet, Redbreast 12 year Cask Strength, and Sullivan’s Cove French Oak Port Cask (if you are reading the blog and thinking about present ideas for me this holiday season, take a hint).

Glenmorangie Signet is a wonderful single malt Scotch that is made with 20% chocolate malt in the grain bill, and then batched together with older Glenmorangie barrels.  It truly is a wonderful sip, with a lot of dark mocha notes, as well as some Sherry influence, and a warming sensation that will warm you up even on the coldest nights.  It is not a cheap or easy to find whisky, but if you find it, it might be worth it to bite the proverbial bullet ($225 or so) and grab a bottle, because this is damn good juice.

Redbreast 12 year Cask Strength is simply a cask strength offering of the single pot still Redbreast 12 year.  At 119.8 proof, this sherry-aged Irish gem leaps out of the glass and across the taste buds with dark fruits, floral notes, sherry, and coffee.  This whiskey is the best Irish whiskey I’ve experienced to date  (although the Jameson Rarest Vintage Reserve at Whisky Live came close), and it is usually around $70 for a bottle, making it a great choice for the holidays.

Last, but certainly not least, Sullivans Cove French Oak Port Cask is a Single Cask Malt Whisky from Sullivans Cove Distillery in Tasmania.  This juice is very hard to find in the United States, and it usually sells for about $150 per bottle, but it is some phenomenal whisky.  It is a single malt, aged exclusively in a French Port pipe, which lends the spirit dark chocolate notes, plums, port sweetness, all with an upright malted backbone that comes through with some burnt toffee and vanilla pound cake.  This stuff is really good, and its limited availability means you should pick up a bottle if you ever find one.  (Much thanks to Terry from Drink Insider for recommending this one; otherwise, I probably would have never ventured over to the Sullivans Cove booth.)

Those are my thoughts on some whiskeys that impressed me at Whisky Live.  What whiskeys have impressed you lately?  What whiskeys are you looking forward to trying this fall (whiskey season)?

An Evening with Four Roses

Last week, several other Boston spirits writers and I were invited to an evening with Al Young, Four Roses’ brand ambassador and historian.  It was a wonderful and informative evening, especially for me as a historian (not necessarily of bourbon).  I went from knowing very little about Four Roses distillery and just loving their bourbon as a drinker to loving their bourbon even more from knowing a lot more about the distillery.  This post is only a few highlights from the evening, and not nearly as much as I could write about the history of Four Roses.  If you are interested in learning more about the history of the distillery, I highly recommend adding Al Young’s book, Four Roses: The Return of a Whiskey Legend, to your home library.

From left to right: Yours Truly of Bargain Bourbon, Al Young of Four Roses, and William Gemmell of A Dram Good Time

From left to right: Yours Truly (Phil Conner) of Bargain Bourbon, Al Young of Four Roses, and William Gemmell of A Dram Good Time

One of the questions inevitably asked of Mr. Young was one of those questions that always seems to pop up in American whiskey circles: Why doesn’t Four Roses make a rye whiskey?  Al Young’s answer was simple; Four Roses is pretty damn good at making bourbon.  Period.  I really liked this answer because all too often distilleries are too concerned with being the hottest new thing, which would certainly involve getting in on the rye craze.  But, as Mr. Young pointed out, who knows if rye would still be popular in the next ten years?  Or, more importantly, how do we know that Four Roses would make a good rye, being that rye is a difficult and fickle grain to distill?

Under the direction of Jim Rutledge (Four Roses’ Master Distiller since 1995), Four Roses has become one of the finest distilleries in the world.  Whisky Magazine has named Four Roses their American Distillery of the Year for three years running.  Their standard bourbon releases are all very good, and their limited releases are some of the best bourbons released every year.  Last year’s Limited Edition Small Batch is still my favorite bourbon to date (named American Whiskey of the Year by Whisky Advocate Magazine).  My point (echoing Mr. Young) is that Four Roses makes great bourbon, and they are a distillery that wants to stand for quality, not trends, and I am a huge fan of that philosophy.

One of the other questions that often comes up in whiskey conversations is about sourced whiskey, and how much Four Roses is distilling for themselves and how much is being shipped out under contract to other bottlers.  I was excited to hear that Four Roses is intending to phase out their sourcing contracts.  By the end of 2014, Four Roses expects to be making exclusively Four Roses bourbon.  While it might seem like a bad thing because Four Roses would have no place to send the whiskey they did not want under their own label, I think Four Roses takes such great pride in their bourbon that they will continue to bottle the very best bourbons on the market, and hopefully the future will yield more of it for Four Roses’ consumers to enjoy.

My last two highlights of the evening both showcase one of my mottos here at Bargain Bourbon – bourbon is all in personal taste and preference.  First, I was somewhat surprised when Mr. Young enjoyed himself a Manhattan with Four Roses Small Batch.  He said it was his favorite way to drink his favorite Four Roses bourbon, which leads me to my second point.  Al Young said his favorite bourbon was Four Roses Small Batch because of the red fruit notes and subtle spiciness to the bourbon.  In his opinion, this gives Four Roses Small Batch more versatility than the other bourbons in the lineup, making it great neat, on the rocks, with a splash of water, or in a cocktail.  For the record, I like my bourbon neat, and I love Four Roses Single Barrel for its soft sweetness and balanced approach between sweet, woody, and spicy.  It just goes to show that everybody has their own opinion, and that’s what makes bourbon and Four Roses so enjoyable to drink.

Al Young drinks his Four Roses Small Batch in a Manhattan, and I drink my Four Roses Single Barrel neat.  What’s your favorite Four Roses bourbon and your favorite way to drink it?  Comment here, or hit me up at my Facebook page or on Twitter.  In the meantime, drink your bourbon and let it ride!