Category Archives: Other Whisk(e)ys

Whisky Fest NY ’09 Recap

Last night the Whisk(e)y Apostles re-united at the Marriott Marquis in Times Square for the 12th Annual New York Whisky Fest.  Despite selling fewer tickets this year, it still seemed awfully crowded.  We ran into some friends, saw some from a distance, and I’m sure we missed others entirely.  We had a great time, but we hope you appreciate what hard work an event of this magnitude is for humble whisk(e)y writers such as ourselves.

The night started off with VIP hour.  For the first time, there were published special VIP only pours.  Before we just got to drink for an hour longer than everyone else.  When we saw that The Dalmore was pouring the King Alexander III during the VIP hour, we made a b-line for the table.  The King Alexander III is comprised of whiskies aged in six types of barrels.  The results is a very rich and complex whisky that far out shines the rest of the Dalmore line (more on that later).

Bushmills‘ VIP pour was the 1608, a very fine dram indeed.  However, both of us agreed that the 21yo to be superior (although Matt found it to be a slow opener).  It delivered a complexity of character previously unseen in the Bushmill’s single malts.

Not to buck the established whiskirati, but both of us found the new Wild Turkey Tradition to be superior to the recent American Spirit bottling (but Matt never really took to the American Spirit).

Next up was a lovely pour of Jameson Rarest Vintage Reserve.  This was another high point of the VIP hour.  It started with a lovely nose and followed all the way through as an all around great Irish whiskey experience.  Highly recommended by both Apostles.

There were a few disappointments during the VIP hour.  Tullamore Dew’s 10yo single malt, Bunnahabhain’s 25yo, and the Kilbeggan 15yo all were not bad but didn’t grab us as particularly special, although the Kilbeggan’s nose was unlike any Irish we’d ever smelled.

We rounded out the VIP hour with a stop at Pierre Ferrand’s booth.  This was always Richard’s favorite cognac distiller but it was a new experience for Matt.  In addition to their great standard offerings they were pouring their 45yo Abel and 75yo Ancestrale bottlings during the first hour.  Both were magnificent to say the least.  Unfortunately, we fear that Matt is now ruined on cognac with a new affinity for these exceptional and very old Grand Champagne bottlings.  (And you thought all we drank was whisk(e)y!)

At the end of the VIP hour we tried to handled the overwhelming abundance of offerings with strategic planning but even for the experienced attendee Whisky Fest can be overwhelming.  We’ll take you through the high points by group.

Most of our bourbon time was spent with Woodford, Heaven Hill, and Buffalo Trace.  We got a nip of the new Master Distiller’s Seasoned Oak release from Woodford Reserve.  It was unanimous that the Seasoned Oak is far superior to the most recent two releases but still doesn’t hold a candle to Four Grain releases of years past.  Heaven Hill was offering the 27yo and Golden Anniversary bottlings of Parker’s Heritage Collection.  Both are very good but Matt found the Golden Anniversary more complex while Richard thought the 27yo was the better of the two.  Either way you really can’t go wrong.  We ended bourbon for the evening by thoroughly harassing the Buffalo Trace representative. Threats were issued and promises were made.  In the end there is a loose promise that we will see Buffalo Trace in Georgia by the end of next year. Richard finds it a travesty that Georgia is so close to Kentucky but can’t get any of Buffalo Trace’s standard release.  We haven’t formally reviewed it but it is a personal best buy for both Apostles.

Next we move to our neighbor to the north.  Seasoned readers of our site will know that we haven’t spoken too kindly regarding Canadian whiskies in the past.  We were fortunate enough to have a very candid discussion with John Hall of Forty Creek about the current state of the Canadian whisky industry.  He is great guy and always good to talk with.  During the discussion he poured the Double Barrel Reserve release of Forty Creek, which is very nice.  We also found out that there is the potential for a new release of the Port Wood that didn’t make it to the U.S. the last time it was made.  This time, according to Mr. Hall, it will make it to the US market.  We rounded out our Canadian experience by tried the Cask No. 16 from Crown Royal.  What can we say?  It was good!  This is just more proof that Limousin oak can make anything taste great.

As with most of these events, Scotch seemed to dominate the floor.  We were eager to try the new Dalmore range and were a little disappointed.  The Dalmore has been an Apostle favorite in the past.  The new line tasted flat.  However, we didn’t make it over there until later in the evening.  There is a great possibility that we were suffering from palate fatigue (not to mention the general distraction involved with these events).  We agreed that it would be best to try these again under calmer circumstances before making any definitive statements.

We had a long chat with John MacDonald of Inver House (distillery manager for Balblair) about great whisky and sexy packaging.  We started with AnCnoc, an interesting dram with the scent of a Speyside and the palate of a Highland.  The 16yo particularly stands out.  John’s baby, Balblair was poured as 1991 and 1997 vintages.  Both were really exceptional and will be in the states January of 2010.  When asked about a vintage model versus the age model, he said it was about quality.  After tasting, we could not argue about the quality.

Other highlights in Scottish whisky included as short visit with Dr. Whisky at the Balvenie table, where we tried the 17yo Madeira Cask.  This edition of the 17yo is a fine dram, a step up from last year’s Rum Cask, but still not as heavenly as the original Islay Cask.  The Springbank table gave us some very lovely 18yo Springbank and some very promising 5yo “work in progress” Kilkerran.  Ronnie Cox of The Glenrothes poured us some excellent whisky before being mobbed by Orthodox Jews.  To our palates, the Alba Reserve is superior to the Select Reserve and the 1985 vintage is just swell.  Perhaps the most colorful part of the night was the latest Compass Box offerings.  John Glaser has re-introduced The Spice Tree and Orangerie to the line.  The Spice Tree is going to once again be an Apostle favorite, while Mr. Glaser himself described the Orangerie as some “wacky shit.”  We couldn’t agree more.

After hearing all the hype about Amrut whisky (not to mention the weeping, wailing, and gnashing of teeth involved in getting it to the US), the Apostles were eager to try this Indian single malt.  Matt had been taken in by the hype and was a little disappointed, while Richard’s ardent skepticism provided him with a pleasant surprise.  In general, the entire line is overly sweet and a little unbalanced, it might benefit from a higher proof.  The Fusion expression (a mixture of Indian barley and Scottish peated barley) is the most balanced and enjoyable of the line.

Finally, there were the American microdistillers,  There were more this year than ever before.  Finger Lakes Distilling in upstate New York brought Glen Thunder Corn Whiskey and McKenzie’s Rye.  Glen Thunder can best be described as liquid corn bread in both nose and palate.  McKenzie’s Rye is unlike any other American rye.  The palate is heavy with ginger bread without any of the sticky sweetness of modern ryes.  Stranahan’s Colorado Whiskey continues to improve.  It is very much a beer drinker’s dram (very malty).  The much talked about High West Whiskeys brought their entire line.  All were good, but the Rendezvous Rye stands above the rest.  Lastly was Triple Eight Distillery’s Notch whiskey.  We were like “how good can whiskey from Nantucket be?”  The answer:  pretty darn good.  Made using their own bottle ready beer, it reminded us a little of Charbay Whiskey.  However, at $888, it makes Charbay look like a steal.

Whisky Fest was a great event again this year.  This is always a highlight of the U.S. whiskey calendar every year for twelve years running.  We would like to thank everyone involved in making Whisky Fest work.  The food was great and the atmosphere was friendlier than ever before.  Thanks especially to John Hansell and his entire staff at Malt Advocate for organizing this event.  We can’t wait until next year!

-Matt & Richard

A visit to Tuthilltown Spirits

Hudson Baby Bourbon
Hudson Baby Bourbon

I traveled up to the Hudson Valley this weekend to re-energize from the grueling pace of the City.  While I was up there, I decided to head over to Tuthilltown Spirits for a distillery tour, a tasting, and nice chat with Gable Erenzo (Distiller, Brand Ambassador, etc.).  As you know, I am a huge fan of the micro-distillation movement.  So, this was a particular treat for me.

When Tuthilltown opened around six years ago, they were the first whiskey distillery in New York State since prohibition.  They are no longer the only (Finger Lakes Distilling started producing whiskey this year), but they are still the first and there are a few other things that make them special.  Every whiskey produced at Tuthilltown is double distilled.  They have a “large” 400 gallon combination pot and column still that uses a steam jacket to heat the mash (which includes the solids from fermentation for a more flavorful product).  There is another smaller still for the second distillation.

As with many of the microdistillers, Tuthilltown uses a variety of small barrels for maturation.  Smaller barrel size allows for greater surface area contact between wood and spirit, thus speeding up the maturation process.  Since the whiskey only matures 6-10 months, the spirit does not experience the environmental changes that a 3-6 year old bourbon from one of the Kentucky behemoths feel.  In an attempt to rectify this situation, the warehouse walls are lined with baseboard heaters.  The heaters are powered with hot waste-water from the stills.  So, when the stills are running, the warehouse gets very warm, but the warehouse can get very cold (in the winter at least) when the stills are dormant for the night.  Additionally, there are bass speakers placed all over the warehouse that play very deep bass each night.  Gable calls this “sonic aging”.  The bass vibrates the barrels, agitating the spirit and creating micro expansions and contractions in the barrels themselves.  If you visit Tuthilltown, you will notice another oddity.  They store their barrels on end.  When I asked Gable if he noticed a difference in the end product.  He said they’ve always done it that way, so he’s never been able to compare   They regularly rotate the barrels though.

What is really striking about Tuthilltown is their commitment to the environment.  Except for the oak in the barrels and the malted barley in their single malt and four grain whiskies, all of their whiskey ingredients are grown within 10 miles of the distillery.  The waste water from distillation is used to heat the warehouse and is then circulated through a reed pond to be absorbed by the reeds.  They currently burn the waste alcohols for fuel and the ultimate goal is to be completely off grid.

While whiskey is job #1 at Tuthilltown, Gable and his father Ralph (along with business partner Brian Lee and a small staff of workers) also supply the Hudson Valley, New York City and select other markets with rum and vodka.  The vodka is made from cider produced at a farm down the road and they offer both a double distilled (Heart Of The Hudson) and a triple distilled variety (Spirit Of The Hudson).  My wife and I both prefer the Heart of the Hudson Vodka.  Triple distillation is overkill and makes it just another vodka.  The double distilled spirit smells strongly of fresh apples and carries a hint of the flavor.

Due to the nature of their license, the tasting room can only pour spirits made from local products.  So you won’t find the single malt or the rum in the tasting room.  I’m a fan of their whiskeys in general and you can read our review of the Four Grain Bourbon here.  The Manhattan Rye is one of my favorite ryes (although the one they bottled for Park Avenue Liquors is even better than the standard).  They offer a Baby Bourbon (100% corn bourbon aged in tiny casks for about 6 months) and un-aged corn whiskey (which is surprisingly smooth and flavorful).  Richard and I will be posting a formal review of the latest bottling of New York Whiskey this week.  The New York Whiskey line is Tuthilltown’s experimental collection.  This bottling is 100% wheat.  It’s smooth and lovely.

So what is on the horizon for Tuthilltown?  Well, they have already laid down some whiskey in second use barrels for bourbon style whiskey.  They won’t be able to call it “bourbon” because of the second use barrels, but I’m sure it will be well received.  Whiskey enthusiasts and cocktail crafters alike love Tuthilltown whiskeys but some complain about the price point.  It’s around $45 for 375ml of their main whiskey line.  The second use matured whiskeys will be available under another label at a lower price point.  Gable is also growing some hops on the property for a hop infused whiskey.  I really enjoyed Charbay’s hop infused whiskey, I can’t wait to see Tuthilltown’s offering.

If you want more information about Tuthilltown or for a tour, check out the website.

Drink well, drink responsibly.
-Matt

Gateway Series #12: Canadian Round-Up

After Crown Royal, we decided that providing two negative reviews for the remaining Canadian whiskies was a bit overkill.  So Richard took one for the team and reviewed two of the other three on our list.  I think I got off pretty easy (the Canadian Mist was my contribution).

Canadian Club Blended Canadian Whisky
40% ABV/80 Proof

Nose: Citrus, vanilla, and burnt tire.  This smells pretty awful.
Palate: I would say that the only good thing about the palate on this is that it got the taste of Seagram’s 7 and Black Velvet out of my mouth from the same tasting but that’s not an improvement.  This is like industrial drain cleaner.
Finish: The finish is actually the best part.  It is rather smooth but the after taste is too reminiscent of the palate.
Comments: Wow, this was not a pleasant experience at all.  I know we pledged to review the often over looked entry level stuff as part of the Gateway Series but I can only hope that if you’re reading our site then you’re drinking better than Canadian Club.  Please tell me you are.
Rating: Possibly the worst whisk(e)y I’ve ever drank.

Black Velvet Canadian Whisky
40% ABV/80 Proof

Nose: Juvenile oranges and rubbing alcohol with notes of sweet vanilla.  Agitation make the nose almost industrial.
Palate: On the palate this tastes like unaged grain alcohol.  Very little flavor and very rough.
Finish: It actually finishes rather smooth on the throat but it leaves a hornet’s nest in your mouth.
Comments: Every time I see this somewhere I think of that Alana Miles song about Elvis.  Unfortunately this doesn’t resemble the King in any way, shape, or form. Don’t bother.
Rating: I’ll Pass (so bad that I’m adding another rating to our system)

Canadian Mist Blended Canadian Whisky
40% ABV/80 Proof

Nose: Really nice right after the pour, like high-rye bourbon.  Sweet, toffee, and caramel.  When agitated, the nose becomes antiseptic (rubbing alcohol).
Palate: Not much to it.  It tastes more like a honeyed Lowland Scotch than anything from North America.  The flavor is very delicate.  What little flavor is present, is honeyed and cereal with an oily mouth feel.
Comments: This seems like it would be a good mixer.  It stands out among the other gateway Canadians in that it is not retched.  That being said, it is like whisky light.  This could be a true gateway whisky for folks unaccustomed to drinking alcohol with flavor.
Rating:  Average

So, there you have it.  The Canadian round-up.  You may think that we are being unfair to our Northern cousins, but we cannot help our tastes.

We still have a few more gateway reviews on the way, so stay tuned.

Slainte
Matt & Richard

New U.S. Releases – September ‘09

Here’s our monthly round up of new releases. There should be something for everyone this month. We’ve got prices from $23 to $15,000.

High West Bourye
Timeframe: This fall
ABV: 46%
Price: TBD
This is a new product from High West that is a blending of a 12 year old straight rye whiskey and a 10 year old bourbon. A post-aging mashbill? I can’t wait to try some.

Dearstalker 18 Year
Timeframe: This fall
ABV: 46%
Price: TBD
This is malt distilled at the Balmenach Distillery that hasn’t been available before. More expressions are scheduled for U.S. release next year.

Benromach 10 Year
Timeframe: This Fall
ABV: TBD
Price: TBD
A new addition to the Benromach line up. I’m sure Matt’s already got a bottle on hold.

The Spice Tree
Timeframe: This fall
ABV: TBD
Price: TBD
A great whisky makes its return! We loved the original incarnation and now that John Glaser has found a way around the SWA’s rules I can’t wait to taste the new expression.

Gold Bowmore
Timeframe: This Fall
ABV: 42.4%
Price: $6,250
This comes from the famed 1964 vintage that gave us Black Bowmore and White Bowmore. With those kind of siblings it’s hard to go wrong.

Slane Castle Irish Whiskey
Timeframe: July 2009
ABV: 40%
Price: $23
This one apparently slipped under our radar. Thankfully, more Irish Whiskey is never a bad thing.

The Macallan Lalique 57 Year Old
Timeframe: This fall
ABV: 48.5%
Price: $15,000
Wow! Fifteen grand for a bottle of whisky. Out of my price range but let us know what you think if you get the opportunity to try some.

Elmer T. Lee Single Barrel Birthday Edition
Timeframe: Now
ABV: 45%
Price: $29
The standard bottling is great and I can’t wait to toast Mr. Lee with a bottle of his special edition.

There’s also a bunch more that we didn’t get many details on. The annual release of the Buffalo Trace Antique collection will be out in October with the same line up as last year. Glen Garioch and Conemmara are both coming out with new bottlings.

Diageo also announced their 2009 Classic Malt limited editions. Here’s what I’ve got on those so far:
•Talisker 25-Year-Old ($199.99)
•Brora 30-Year-Old ($399.99)
•Caol Ila Unpeated 10-Year-Old ($59.99)
•Lagavulin 12-Year-Old ($74.99)
•Port Ellen 30-Year Old ($369.99)
•Royal Lochnagar Selected Reserve ($209.99)
•Talisker The Distillers Edition ($79.99)
•Oban The Distillers Edition ($99.99)
•Lagavulin The Distillers Edition ($109.99)
•Caol Ila The Distillers Edition ($79.99)
•Dalwhinnie The Distillers Edition ($74.99)

That’s it for September. If that’s not enough for you then we’ll have to wait and see what October brings!

Gateway Series #11: Crown Royal

Crown Royal Fine De Luxe Blended Canadian Whisky
40% ABV, 80 Proof
Around $25, Widely Available

What The Distiller Says:
The distinct blend of 50 full-bodied whiskies has captivated senses for 70 years and continues to be a staple of our portfolio. Though created in 1939 to celebrate the visit to Canada of King George VI and his Queen Elizabeth, Crown Royal remains approachable and unpretentious to the everyday drinker.

What Matt Says:
Nose: Caramel, hazelnuts, vanilla, and mint. There is also something sour lingering in the background (smells like stomach acid). Water opens up the rye notes (mint and spice) to create something quite lovely.
Palate: Not bad upfront, with toffee sweetness, but turns woody and bitter. Although Richard Paterson suggests holding whiskies “long in the mouth,” I would not suggest doing that with this particular dram. It becomes thoroughly unpleasant, not unlike chewing the shrapnel from a barrel explosion. While water helps the nose, it kills the flavor (which may be a good thing).
Finish: Smooth and oak-y with a hint of mint. Water kills the mint.
Comments: Supplying Redneck high school girls with low cost purses for 70 years, Crown Royal is probably as known for it’s purple velvet bag as for the whisky inside. It is a shame really, Crown Royal is actually capable of producing good whiskies. The standard expression is not one of them though. It is not the worst whisky in the Gateway Series, but I cannot recommend it.
Rating: Probably Pass

What Richard Says:
Nose: The nose seems surprisingly alcoholic for an 80 proof whisky. I get fruitiness on the nose reminiscent of fruit brandies. There is also just a hint of nuttiness that I can’t quite place.
Palate: Peppered oak lollypops? Seriously. Sickly candy sweetness on the front of the palate. As the drink settles into the palate it turns to peppery oak. Not in a good way. The longer you hold it on the palate, the worse it gets. Definitely drink it quickly.
Finish: The finish starts out not too bad but the burn kicks in and punches above it’s 40% ABV. The after taste is rough, woody, and unpleasant.
Comments: My early experiences with Crown Royal really turned me off to the drink altogether. That said, I tried to give Crown the benefit of the double. For my trouble I found all the things that originally turned me off of Canadian Whisky. The only way I’ve found that I can tolerate Crown Royal is in a Red Snapper.
Rating: Probably Pass

Overall Rating: Probably Pass

Crown Royal is really our first major departures from one of the whiskey writers we both most identify with, John Hansell. He gives standard Crown an 88/100. I can’t fathom how. It just goes to show you that everyone’s palate is as individual as their fingerprints.