Posts tagged ‘Craft Distillery’

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.



Corsair Triple Smoke Whiskey Review

In the last five years, the American craft whiskey scene has exploded, with a new distillery popping up almost every week.  I have had the chance to try a number of very good craft whiskeys, as well as some whiskeys that have been very disappointing.  Generally speaking, the problem with artisan distilleries (i.e. new, fairly small distilleries) is that they are financially obliged to sell their products as soon as they can to make a profit, which means they are often stuck selling whiskeys that are too young and overpriced.  Such are the perils of opening a distillery; it costs a lot of money to start one, and it takes time to make really good whiskey.  However, that does not mean that all craft whiskey is sub-par and overpriced.  Over the next few reviews, I will be reviewing whiskeys from Corsair Distillery in Tennessee and Balcones Distillery in Texas, both distilleries that are doing some very exciting things in the whiskey world.Corsair Triple Smoke

Today’s review is of Corsair Triple Smoke, a small batch, American malt whiskey.  The name “Triple Smoke” comes from the fact that this whiskey is made from 3 different types of barley – peat-smoked barley, beechwood-smoked barley, and cherrywood-smoked barley.  I suspect that the barley is sourced and not malted on site, but I am not sure on that one.  The whiskey aged in new, charred oak barrels, but there is no age statement on the bottle, so I don’t know how old this whiskey is.  My guess is that it is around 18-36 months old, but I would be much obliged if anyone had more info on that as well.  The whiskey is then bottled at 80 proof (40% abv) and released in small batches (this review is of batch #84).

I think if I smelled this blind, I would think I was drinking a very young Islay whisky.  The nose is warming and peaty, but it also has notes of barley, olive oil, and the earthen woodiness of a deciduous forest.  The palate is medium-bodied and surprisingly complex.  The peat forms the backbone, but there are also notes of maple bark, oak, sweet bread, and a whiff of vanilla.  The finish is medium-long, and balances peaty notes and woody notes very well.  The whiskey certainly tastes young, but I don’t believe that is always a bad thing.

Overall, this is a young, brash, yet very good peated American whiskey.  I know that not everyone will like this whiskey, but I certainly do.  It is smoky, woody, brash, but still refined enough to make a wonderful pour.  I would love to see what this whiskey would look like if it were aged to 6 or 8 years old.  This is the first whiskey I have reviewed from Corsair, and I hope to review some more.  I really enjoy the Triple Smoke expression, and I cannot wait to see what else Corsair is coming up with.  My grade: B+.  Price: $45-50/750ml.  This is a bit pricey for a whiskey that probably is not three years old, but I believe that the whiskey in the bottle is a very good find, indeed.  Give the craft whiskey boom a try, and let it ride!

Berkshire Bourbon Review (and some End-of-2012 Thoughts)

For my last bourbon review of 2012, I am reviewing Berkshire Bourbon, a local Massachusetts bourbon from Berkshire Mountain Distillers.  Berkshire Mountain Distillers currently make six different products, two gins, a vodka, a rum, a bourbon, and a straight corn whiskey.  The bourbon is bottled at 86 proof; there is no age statement given, but I do not think this is much older than 5 years.  It is readily available in Massachusetts, but its availability decreases the further one ventures from the snowy New England landscape.   Berkshire Bourbon

The nose is the highlight of this whiskey for me.  It is quite hearty and dense, with notes of sweet corn, dessert cheese, candied walnuts, and dense caramel.  However, the whiskey goes downhill from there.  The palate is light-bodied, with dense corn providing the backbone.  There is a little orange peel and vanilla, but it does not present a lot of complexity.  The finish is short, with some lingering caramel and sweet corn.

Overall, this might be a nice whiskey for mixing, but I am not a fan of this whiskey on its own.  I am inclined to agree with Ralfy’s end of the year comments on the whisk(e)y world in 2012 when it comes to micro/craft distilleries.  It is important to release a good product on the first go round, because you only get one chance to make a good impression.  Too often, micro-distilleries are too anxious to put a product on the shelves that they whiskey gets bottled before it is ready.  It might be better to follow the High West or Willett model and source whiskey until you have a homemade product that you can confidently stamp your name on.

Berkshire Bourbon did not impress me, and it will take something special for me to return to this bourbon any time soon.  Honestly, if you like a simple, sweet bourbon, save the money and pick up some Evan Williams Black Label.  However, that is not to say that all craft/micro distilleries are bottling sub-par whiskey.  I hope to have a few reviews in the coming months that demonstrate that you don’t have to be a big Kentucky Distillery to make great whiskey.  My grade for Berkshire Bourbon: C.  Price: $30-35/750ml.  Not terrible, but certainly not worth the money.

That concludes my final bourbon review of 2012, but the New Year will bring some new reviews, and some new posts.  In the meantime, I will again turn to Ralfy for my parting thoughts.  Enjoy the mystery of whisk(e)y, and seek that same mystery of sensory adventure in all other areas of life, whether it be food, drink, flowers, or everyday life.  If you concentrate on the senses around you, it is hard to slip into monotony.  Happy New Year and let it ride!