All posts by Richard

Founding Apostle

Summer Whiskey?

As June draws to an end we find ourselves in the midst of summer.  At least in Atlanta anyway.   I don’t think there’s been a high below 90 in the last two to three weeks.  With the change in climate has your whiskey drink of choice changed?  Now if you’re like me you have more than one bottle or favorite in the local bar so it’s not like you have to be exclusive to just one.  What I’m really asking is, does your desired beverage profile change in the warmer months?  Do you gravitate away from peaty Islay malts in favor of  whiskey sours? 

Personally, I tend to be a mood drinker.  I drink whatever strikes my fancy at the particular moment.  That said, I’ve noticed lately that I do tend to gravitate toward or away from certain whiskeys depending on the time of year.  Peaty scotches just seem to go with cold weather for me.  Maybe I secretly picture myself blasted by cold scottish winds on the coast of Islay.  Who knows?  Fiery bourbons also seem to fit well.  I guess I’m keeping out the cold from the inside out.

When it’s warmer I’m still not much of a cocktail drinker but my tastes do change.  Sweeter bourbons, Irish whiskeys,  and lighter Scotch tend to be the drams I reach for more often than not.  But again, all this is more of a general trend.  There are plenty of whiskeys of all types that I’d be more than happy to drink anytime of the year.  What about you?

– Richard

Atlanta whiskey tastings?

Just so we’re clear, I want everyone who visits our site to know that I really hate Matt.  Yes, of course we’re friends and all that but I still hate him.  Why?  Because New York is soooooooooo much more of whiskey town than Atlanta.  More bars, better selections, more niche liquor stores, need I go on?  And now the S.O.B. is doing wonderfully successful whiskey tastings to boot!

So in an effort to liven up the Atlanta whiskey scene and help me hate Matt a little less I’m putting a question/invitation out there.  Is there interest in whiskey tastings in the metro Atlanta area?  If so then shoot me an email.  Bourbon, Scotch, Rye, Irish, or whatever you fancy, it doesn’t matter.  Let’s work to bring more whiskey to the ATL.

– Richard

Charbay Hop Flavored Whiskey, Batch #2

After hearing that we accused them of over-pricing, the good folks at Charbay endeavored to teach us otherwise by sending us gobs of literature and a lovely sample. How’d they do? Read on, dear apostles, read on.

Charbay Hop Flavored Whiskey, Batch #2
55% ABV, $325
Available: Limited

What the distillery says:
[these are some bullet points from the press release – Matt] Single malt distilled from pilsner beer – a first in the history of whiskey distillation. 100% Two-Row European Barley grown and malted in British Columbia. No peat during malting – to emphasize the natural grain flavors. Hops added to the mash: Nugget, Cascade & Eroica. Double-distilled in 1000-gallon Alambic Charentais Pot Still. Classical 7-Fraction distillation method for purity & smoothness. Aged 6 years in custom-made new White Oak barrels (charred to #3 Gator Skin); aged for 3 more years in stainless. Bottled at 110 proof and not filtered. Second release from Collector’s Series – 20,000 gallons of Pilsner distilled for 3.5 weeks straight (24/7) in 1999 by Miles & Marko Karakasevic (22 barrels total). Aged at variable temperatures; 5 barrels chosen & blended to share how the Whiskey is aging.

What Richard says:
Nose: This really is a truely lovely nose.  It’s very floral and fruity with hints of grape, citrus, and something tropical that I can’t put my finger on.  The nose strongly resembles a medium aged cognac.  Pierre Ferrand Amber or Grand Mariner maybe?
Palate: Quite a precocious little tart aren’t you?  The palate opens slow.  First a tangy flavor that’s almost sweet but not quite.  It follows with a spiced heat and finishes with the hoppy pilsner notes.  It’s very viscous and luscious in mouthfeel.  For 55% ABV it’s more drinkable than you would expect.  Unfortunately, with water the palate deflates.
Finish:  The finish remains hoppy and a little rough around the edges but that’s mostly from the bottling strength.  Cutting it with a little water smooths out the finish.
Comments: This whiskey confuses me a little.  It has more in common with a brandy than a whiskey, both in nose and palate.   Definitely a whiskey for cognac drinkers.  It is remarkably smooth at higher proof.  It’s a very intriguing tipple but at the price that they are asking I can’t tell you to go out and buy it.  Matt and I don’t disagree too much on whiskey but I can’t give it nearly as high a rating as he did.  I can’t say must buy because of the price tag.  I’m inclined against must try too because it’s doesn’t taste like a whiskey.  But maybe that’s why you should try it.
Rating:  Stands Out

What Matt says:
Nose: Nutmeg, rice pudding and caramel. There is a distinct smell that reminds me of the cold dregs from a Turkish coffee. Yes, I said it. It smells cold. I know that “dregs from a Turkish coffee” is pretty specific and of little use if you have not had the experience, but that is what I get. Sorry.
Palate: Incredibly complex. Black pepper, cold (there it is again!) wet black tea, high-end marijuana, spearmint, evergreen, and Moroccan mint tea. There is even some fruit in there (muscadines?).
Finish: There is a little bit of burn on the finish (it’s 110 proof!), but with a few drops of water that goes away completely. This whiskey dances on the palate for a while, leaving a long finish of Moroccan mint tea.
Comments: I can only assume that the complexity of this whiskey comes from the addition of the hops. This is truly an amazing dram. Smooth and delicious. The only critique I can offer is this: this whiskey is so unique and interesting that it would not satisfy my craving for single malt whiskey. However, if I had a craving for this (and I will) there is nothing else that could satisfy my lust. The price tag is hefty, but there is nothing like it anywhere. There are only a few bottles of this left, so I hope there is a Batch #3 in the works (and that they send us a sample of it).
Rating: Must Try/Must Buy

Overall Rating: Must Try

Georgia and their wonderful Blue Laws

I’m going to try to keep this blog as PG rated as possible.  That said, I’m really pretty pissed off.   Matt and I were talking about our new “Gateway” series of reviews over the weekend and we thought a good way to save money would be grabbing some miniature bottles of some the regulars like Jim Beam, Bushmills White Label, etc.  It seemed more cost effective that going out and dropping $300.  So yesterday I headed out to Total Wine in Dunwoody.  I’ve spoken before about this particular establishment.  It’s well laid out, has a broad selection, and best of all it has a wall of miniatures to buy from.  The selection of these is nice but what I really like is the fact that they aren’t buried behind the counter where you can’t see them.  That’s one of my major pet peeves with liquor stores. 

So I go in last night and notice that they’ve moved things around.  No big deal.  Or so I thought.  By the time I’d walked through the store I noticed that they were missing something.  LIQUOR!  It was all wine and beer.  I asked one of the guys working there and he said that they were told by the state that they couldn’t sell liquor anymore.  The reason?  The way the blue laws are written in Georgia to prevent gas stations and grocery stores from selling spirits is written ignorantly broad.  Apparently, in Georgia if a retail company owns two or more store locations then it is prohibited from selling spirits.  Because Total wine has two locations, they can no longer sell spirits.  How F—–G stupid is that? 

I accept the no sales on Sunday because I grew up here.  I accept that a restaurant has to wait until 12:30 PM on Sunday’s to pour because I figure I can wait.  But this is just stupid.   Maybe one day we’ll pull ourselves out of the dark ages.  Until then, I’d like to formally raise a middle finger to Blue Laws of the great state of Georgia.

Fad Focus 3 – Barrel/Cask Strength

It’s that time again. It’s time for me to highlight another growing fad or trend within the whiskey industry. We’ve discuss rampant peating levels of scotch and the explosion of wood finishes across the industry. Today I want to talk about strength. Not strength of character but rather the alcohol strength at which whiskeys are bottled.The level of alcohol content in a bottle of whiskey is measured in one of two ways. The most straightforward is using “ABV” or “alcohol by volume” measures. If a whiskey states that it is 43% ABV that means that 43% of the liquid content of that bottle at the time of bottling is alcohol. What’s the rest? Mostly water.

“Well then, what’s this ‘proof’ I see on some of the bottle?”

The term “proof” comes from 18th century Great Britain. The idea being that a “proof spirit” was the minimum level of alcohol in a particular spirit that would sustain combustion of gunpowder. The term originated when the rations of rum to sailors were “proofed” by seeing if gunpowder would still light when doused with the rum. This made sure the rum wasn’t watered down. In today’s terms the proof of particular spirits is twice the alcohol by volume. For example, a 90 proof spirit contains 45% ABV.

Originally, whiskey was sold by the barrel. You’d go to your local merchant and fill up your bottles from the barrel. The whiskey you get then was always barrel strength. (Unless the merchant water it down!) Over time distilleries and merchants began bottling the whiskey themselves. For the larger part of the 20th century whiskeys on both sides of the Atlantic were commercially bottled near 40% ABV. Mostly because this was the minimum legal alcohol content allowed if you wanted to call your product whiskey. If you’re trying to maximize your profits then you want the least amount of alcohol in the bottle as possible. That way the alcohol coming out of your barrels will go farther, thus allowing you to sell more bottles and make more money. There were some obvious exceptions to this. Wild Turkey 101 is probably the most well known.

In the last 15 years or so we’ve seen this trend change. More and more bourbon, and scotch distilleries are bottling at higher and higher strengths. They’ve determined that the flavor profile loses something in the process of watering down. This varies by whiskey. Some lend themselves more to higher strengths than others. The most prevalent example in my mind is George T. Stagg. Stagg is an uncut and unfiltered barrel proof bourbon that is part of Buffalo Trace’s annual Antique Collection releases. It’s never hit the bottle at less than 64% ABV. Despite the high alcohol content this stuff is scary smooth. Matt bought a bottle of Stagg for me a few years back and he, my wife, and I dusted off half the bottle that night. It didn’t seem like much at the time but the next morning we were all feeling it.

While Stagg is quite wonderful, if you look at the numbers, it can be pretty scary. The lowest proof release was in 2004 at 129 proof/64.5% ABV. There have been four releases that topped 70% ABV. These were referred to as “Hazmat” releases. They were called this because anything 70% ABV or higher can’t legally be brought on commercial flights and is deemed Hazardous Materials. The Hazmat releases culminated n the 2007 Hazmat IV release. It was bottled at a whopping 144.8 proof/72.4% ABV. That’ll wake you up!

Unfortunately, not all whiskey is George T. Stagg. I’ve found none that are as smooth at that strength. In my opinion, bourbon tends to hold up better at higher proofs than other whiskeys. Scotch, Irish, and Japanese seem too subtle and delicate of flavor and balance in most cases to drink above 50% ABV. So what do you do? You add water. Which really gets us back to the 40% or so ABV that the whiskey used to be bottled at. There’s nothing wrong with bottling at 40% to 43% ABV. Some of my favorite whiskeys are bottled in that range.

There are arguments both ways. On the one hand I like being able to pour something from the bottle and drink it. I don’t like having to monkey around with water to get it to an enjoyable balance. On the other hand, you get more for your money when you buy at higher strengths. The whiskey lasts longer.

Then there are those that want it at cask or barrel proof for the “purity of the spirit”. The easiest example I can think of the Scotch Malt Whisky Society. They buy and store their own barrels and always bottle uncut and unfiltered for their members. More power to them. It’s just not my thing.

It’s really up to you to decide what you prefer. If you like to drink it from the pour like me, then the ever escalating proof can be annoying. If you want the value or the barrel purity then it’s a boon for you. Either way, you should drink, enjoy, and proselytize.

Slainte,

Richard