Posts tagged ‘Sazerac’

Phil’s Favorite Rye

Rye is making a huge comeback, and is quickly regaining its prominence as one of the very best spirits around.  It is the shining star of many classic cocktails, works great on the rocks on a sunny summer day, and a good rye sips just fine straight up and neat.  Some of the following ryes are made exclusively of rye grain, while others have only the 51% rye necessary to make a straight rye.  Like many of the other posts in this series, these whiskeys are based solely on the flavor and quality of the whiskey, not on the price or availability.  Without further ado, the nominees for my favorite rye whiskey:

Name: Jefferson’s 25 Year Presidential Select

Distillery: Not Stated (Most likely Alberta Distillers)

Batch: 1

Age: 25 Years

Proof: 86 (43% abv)

Price: $150-175/750ml

Notes: This whiskey most likely comes from Alberta Distillers’ 100% rye mashbill, but since I cannot confirm this, I have put this one into the rye category as opposed to the Canadian whisky category.  There is something magical that can occur to rye whiskies after they’ve spent a long time in the barrel.  All that brash rye spice gets tamed by the wood into something truly special.  Sipping one such whiskey is like listening to an elderly person who was a firebrand in their youth talk about their life story.  This is a rich, sophisticated whiskey with layers upon layers of old wood, maple fudge, and cinnamon spice.  Nosing this whiskey is pure heaven.  Unfortunately, this whiskey is released in very small batches, and is very hard to come by.  And, to boot, with the heightened popularity of rye whiskey, the price is only going up on this gem.

Name: Masterson’s 10 Year

Distillery: Alberta Distillers

Batch: 005

Age: 10 Years

Proof: 90 (45% abv)

Price: $70-80/750ml

Notes: This whiskey could just as easily be categorized as Canadian, but since I usually see it in the rye section, I have included it here.  This is one of several Alberta Distillers 10 year-old rye whiskeys sourced out to other bottlers.  Of those that I have had, this one is one of my favorites.  It provides great balance between spicy and sweet notes, while also mixing in notes of mint, pipe tobacco, and drying oak.  This is not a cheap dram, but it is a consistently good, well-aged rye whiskey.

Name: Sazerac 18 Year

Distillery: Buffalo Trace

Batch: 2012

Age: 18 Years

Proof: 90 (45% abv)

Price: $80-90/750ml

Notes: Like many of the Antique Collection whiskeys, there have been many great Sazerac 18 releases.  I’ve simply chosen the one I enjoyed the most.  As I said above, something magical happens with old ryes, and this is no exception.  This whiskey unloads a full complement of rich oak, baking spices, and luscious vanilla cream.  This is a complex dream of a whiskey from start to finish.  Like other Antique Collection whiskeys, this is released once a year, and is often difficult to come by.  When found on the secondary market, this one tends to command a very hefty price tag, but it comes awfully close to being worth every penny.

Name: Thomas H. Handy Sazerac

Distillery: Buffalo Trace

Batch: 2012

Age: 6 Years

Proof: 132.4 (66.2% abv)

Price: $80-90/750ml

Notes: Like the Sazerac 18, there have been many brilliant Handy releases.  This is a young, brash, exhilarating whiskey that packs a rye punch like few others.  Drinking this whiskey is an experience akin to chewing on a hot cinnamon candy that had been dredged in vanilla frosting.  The rye spices are in full force here, more so than in older ryes, but there is enough sweetness to bring complexity and body to it.  Few whiskeys will warm you better on a cold night.  Like the Sazerac above, it’s a tough find nowadays and usually ends up being priced awfully high when floating around the secondary market.

Name: Willett Family Estate Single Barrel

Distillery: Midwest Grain Products

Batch: Barrel #148

Age: 6 Years

Proof: 114.6 (55.8% abv)

Price: $50-60/750ml

Notes: There have been many memorable MGP ryes bottled under the Willett label, but this one was my favorite of all the ones I have tried.  It has all the underpinnings of this series, with some briny notes and sharp rye, but what brought to love this whiskey was the creamy texture on the palate that supplemented the spiciness with sweet vanilla and cinnamon sugar notes.  It is highly doubtful that this particular barrel is still available anywhere, but Willett has begun bottling their own ryes, and what I’ve had so far has been pretty promising.

 

 

Don’t Always Trust the Experts (Some Thoughts on the Antique Collection)

So, before I start getting angry emails, I realize that some folks might think I am an “expert,” so I am saying you should not trust me.  Well, I am not a whiskey expert, only an avid drinker and blogger.  Also, you should not trust me just because I have a blog, similar to the way you should not trust Jim Murray just because he writes a Whisky Bible.  Take all us whiskey yappers with a grain of salt, and trust your own palate.

In Jim Murray’s 2013 edition of his Whisky Bible, he said he thought the 2012 Thomas H. Handy Sazerac Rye was the best whiskey in the world for the previous year.  His runner-up vote went to William Larue Weller, a barrel-strength wheated bourbon also from the Buffalo Trace Antique Collection.  This is the first year that I have actually gotten a bottle of Jim Murray’s Whisky of the Year, so I was pretty excited.  I got to try three different whiskeys from Buffalo Trace’s Antique Collection, which was also exciting for me.  For me, out of the 2012 editions of the Sazerac 18, the Thomas H. Handy Sazerac, and the William Larue Weller, my favorite was the Saz 18.  Both the Weller and the Handy were both very good, but I thought the Sazerac 18 was the deepest and most complete whiskey.  It leapt out of the glass, and different layers to its spices and sweetness.  In addition, there are Scotches that I can think of that I thought could have won out over the Sazerac 18.  I have not tried all the whiskeys that Jim Murray has, but I do think there were finer whiskeys released in 2012 than the Thomas H. Handy Sazerac.

My point in writing this article is not to call out Jim Murray for being wrong about the best whiskey in the world.  Jim Murray has his own palate, just as I have mine, and you have yours.  Therefore, if Mr. Murray thought the best whiskey in 2012 was the Thomas. H. Handy, then he is well right in his own mind with his own senses.  I disagree with him on this point, just I some of y’all have disagreed with me about my favorite whiskeys.  Be careful not to take blogs and whiskey reviews as the all-knowing authority on whiskey.  My point is that we shouldn’t all go out and buy a bottle of something just because you hear one person (even an “expert”) tell you it’s the best whiskey in the world (if ten experts say so, it might be worth the investment).  Taste the whiskey for yourself, and see what you like.  There are no right or wrong answers in tasting whiskey, just how much we love the various whiskeys we have the privilege to encounter.  Few things permit the indulgence of subjectivity like whiskey, so appease your own palate and let it ride!

(What’s In) Phil’s Cabinet

Happy New Year!  To kick of the New Year, I am starting a new section on the blog called (What’s In) Phil’s Cabinet.  People ask me all the time what I am drinking at present, what they might expect if they came by for dinner and a dram.  So, on the first of every month, I will update what is in my whisk(e)y cabinet, both opened and unopened bottles.  This is also an opportunity for you to put in requests as to what you would like to see me review in the future, whether it is Scotch, Irish, Bourbon, Rye, Welsh, Indian, Japanese, or other type of whisk(e)y.  So, leave me a comment, or drop me a line on Facebook or Twitter.

Here is what is in the cabinet as of January 1, 2013:

Bourbon:

Angel’s Envy (unopened) – This is a bourbon that some folks have asked about, and I should have a review of it up by the end of spring.  It is a bourbon finished in port wine casks, and I am very excited to try it.

Evan Williams Single Barrel 2002 Vintage – This is a wonderful everyday bourbon, and I looking forward to grabbing a bottle of the 2003 Vintage that just hit shelves a few weeks ago.

Maker’s 46 – This is very good bourbon, with a very nice, deep sweetness that unfolds beautifully.  If it were a few bucks cheaper, it would contend for one of my favorite value bourbons.

Wild Turkey Rare Breed (unopened) – Another whiskey that has been requested a lot, this is a barrel-strength offering from Wild Turkey.  I am excited to try it, review it, and here what y’all have to say about it.

William Larue Weller (fall 2012 bottling) (unopened) – This is a barrel strength, limited-release wheated bourbon from Buffalo Trace that my father found as a Christmas present.  Not necessarily a value bourbon, but it is one of the most anticipated bourbon releases every year.

Rye:

Jim Beam Yellow Label – A solid every day pour that makes a very nice cocktail, too.

Sazerac 18 yr. (fall 2012 bottling) – This is my favorite whiskey currently in my cabinet.  I love this one.  Not necessarily an ideal price point, but you get your money’s worth for $70.

Thomas H. Handy Sazerac (fall 2012 bottling) (unopened) – This is the younger, brash brother to the Sazerac 18.  Jim Murray rated this bottling as his Whisky of the Year in the 2013 Whisky Bible (William Larue Weller was his runner-up).

Willett Single Barrel Estate Reserve 4 yr. (unopened) – This is an LDI rye, bottled at cask strength.  My affinity for Bulliet 95 is what made me seek this one out.

Scotch:

Ardbeg 10 yr. – This is one of my favorite Islay Scotches from one of my favorite Scotch distilleries.  As far as Scotches go, it is a pretty good value, and I’ll probably put up a review here in the next few weeks.

The Black Grouse – A nice, peaty blended whisky that works well for an everyday Scotch.

Highland Park 12 yr. – Another beautiful Single Malt Scotch from Scottish islands.  I should have my review of this one up soon.

Those are the whiskeys in my cabinet at present.  What’s in your cabinet?  What whiskeys do you want to see reviewed on the blog?  What whiskeys are you hoping to try in 2013?  Once again, Happy New Year and let it ride!

Holiday Whiskey Comparison Review: Part 1 – 18 yr. American Whiskey

Well, it is getting to that time of year when us Americans over-celebrate holidays, which often involves drinking.  There are many folks who think that holiday drinking ought to entail drinking rare or expensive whiskey.  Of course, rare and expensive whiskeys are fun and often delicious, but holiday drinking is about enjoying your favorite dram.  So, enjoy a whiskey you might like this holiday, and avoid paying too much.

With that in mind, though, here are a few tips on buying hard to find and expensive whiskeys.  My primary piece of advice is probably the most important, do your research.  There are whiskey blogs all over the internet, and reviews of whiskeys are not hard to find.  When I am looking into buying an expensive bottle, it is usually because I have a specific flavor profile that I am looking for.  To that end, I read whiskey blogs and discuss my possible purchase with friends who have had previous bottlings or expressions of the whiskey.  If I am going to buy a whiskey for $80, then I want to have a good idea of what I am going to get.

My second piece of advice is that just because a whiskey is old, hard to find, and expensive, does not mean that it is a great whiskey.  I have said this over and over again because it is true.  Every whiskey has an ideal age that depends on the type of cask used, the temperature of the storage, the nature of the new make, your palate, etc.  The trick is to find the age you like a whiskey at the best, and balance that out with how much you are willing to spend on a bottle of whiskey.

Without any further gab, I’ll get to my comparison review.  Today, I am reviewing two 18 year-old American whiskeys, Sazerac 18 yr. and Jefferson’s 18 yr. Presidential Select.  Sazerac 18 yr. is a straight rye whiskey that is bottled by Buffalo Trace in limited quantities every fall as part of the Antique Collection.  Jefferson’s 18 yr. Presidential Select is a wheated bourbon from the old Stitzel-Weller Distillery (famously the makers of the coveted Van Winkle line).  Both these whiskeys are expensive, hard to find, and aged at least 18 years.

I am reviewing the Fall 2012 bottling of the Sazerac 18 yr., as it is the first and only bottling that I have tried.  It is a straight rye whiskey that is also bottled and sold in a 6 yr. edition.  Rye whiskeys have enough flavor to be very good at a young age, but I had always heard that the Sazerac line was at its best in the 18 year old.  It is bottled at 90 proof.

On the nose, the whiskey has a backbone of cinnamon and honey, but it is rounded out beautifully by oak, brown sugar, toffee, ginger, roses, and vanilla.  This whiskey is alive in the glass.  The scents come flooding deep into the nostrils; it is a wonderful, warming aroma.  On the palate, the whiskey opens up with fresh fruits and spiced sweetness.  There are notes of plums, cinnamon, oak, peaches, apples, and rye.  The finish is medium long, with notes of vanilla, rye, cinnamon, and oak.  My only minor complaint is that the finish can be a little tannin-ish sometimes, but that is a minor complaint.

Overall, this is a brilliant rye whiskey.  It balances the rye spices and the oak sweetness perfectly.  It is a joy to drink, and it is a hard whiskey to beat.  My grade: A.  Price: $70-80/750ml.  The price tag is a little steep, but it is worth a try if you can find it.  This whiskey is almost an A+.

Jefferson’s 18 year-old Presidential Select is a wheated bourbon from the old Stitzel-Weller Distillery.  As I have documented before, I am not a big fan of wheated bourbons, but they tend to be whiskeys that age very well.  Jefferson’s certainly proves that.  It is a small-batch bourbon bottled at 94 proof (I am reviewing Batch 14).

On the nose, Jefferson’s Presidential Select has many typical bourbon notes.  The oak is clearly present, but it is dense and flavorful, not too overpowering.  There are notes of toffee, corn sweetness, and melted caramel.  The palate is light-medium bodied, with notes of caramel, vanilla frosting, and silky oak.  It is an extremely drinkable bourbon (be careful).  The finish is of medium length, but it tastes delicious, with the rich oak melding with the toffee, caramel, and vanilla.

Overall, this whiskey drinks well under its proof point, and it is much better than other wheated bourbons I have reviewed on the site.  However, it still falls short of greatness in my opinion.  It is too light-bodied for my tastes, but that does not mean that it isn’t the rare bourbon for you.  My grade: B+.  Price: $90-100/750ml.  This is a damn good bourbon, but it is hard to justify the money for me.  It is a little too mellow for my taste.

My point in all this is to say that not all 18 year old whiskeys are the same.  Read up on some old whiskeys you might like to try, and let it ride!  Stay tuned for Part 2 where I compare an 18 year-old Islay Scotch and an 18 year-old Speyside.