Category Archives: Other Whisk(e)ys

Gateway Series #4: Gentleman Jack

In the spirit of fairness, we follow up our Jack Daniel’s Old No. 7 review with the next in the Jack Daniel’s line.  If you remember, we started our Gateway Series with Jim Beam White Label and Jim Beam Black Label.

Gentleman Jack Rare Tennessee Whiskey
40% ABV (80 proof), about $30
Available in most US markets (not sure about abroad)

What the distillery says:
Just like Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Whiskey and Jack Daniel’s Single Barrel, Gentleman Jack in Charcoal Mellowed before going into the barrel. Gentleman Jack, however, receives an additional “blessing” when it is Charcoal Mellowed again after reaching maturity – making it the only whiskey in the world to be Charcoal Mellowed twice, giving it ultimate smoothness. Gentleman Jack is full-bodied with fruit and spices, and its finish is silky, warm, and pleasant. When you drink Gentleman Jack, you’ll always enjoy rich, rewarding taste.

What Richard Says:
Nose: Honeysuckle and a lot of honey.  It’s a much more delicate nose than the standard Jack Daniels expression.
Palate: Tart candy, a lot of honey, and vanilla.  It is even smoother and more mellow that Jack Daniels Black Label.  It also has a more viscous mouthfeel.
Finish: Exceptionally smooth finish.  Almost none of the spice of regular Jack but more of that odd tartness.
Comments: Gentleman Jack is Jack Daniels smoking a huge blunt.  It just doesn’t get more mellow.  That’s good and bad.  On the good side it really doesn’t get any smoother and easier to drink that Gentleman Jack.  The downside is that there aren’t many pronounced flavors to bring me back for a second glass.
Rating: Average

What Matt Says:
Nose: Honeysuckle and hummingbird food (sugar water).  Delicate and floral, like spring in Tennessee.
Palate: Smooth and slightly oily.  Oak, vanilla, spice, and something that curls my tongue a little at the sides.  I don’t taste a tartness as much as I experience it.
Finish: Very smooth with very little burn.
Comments: Probably the smoothest “gateway” whiskey in the American whiskey bracket.  It lacks the complexity of similarly priced (but harder to find) bourbons.  I would drink this before Jim Beam Black though.  It is an interesting science experiment.  Gentleman Jack is produced and matured in the exact same manner as Old No. 7, but is filtered again after maturation.  It really smooths out the rough edges.  I’ve got a soft spot in my heart for Gentleman Jack.  I’m not sure why.  I could drink it anytime.  What it lacks in complexity is what makes it accessible as an everyday dram.  That said, I don’t keep it stocked in my bar, but I wouldn’t say no to glass if offered.
Rating: Average

Overall Rating: Average

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

Gateway Series #3: Jack Daniels Old No.7

This week we continue our Gateway Series with another staple of American whiskey, Jack Daniel’s Old No.7.

Jack Daniel’s Old No. 7 Sour Mash Tennessee Whiskey
40% ABV (80 Proof), about $20
Available: Most Widely Available Whiskey In The World

What the distillery says:
Jack Daniel’s, the best selling whiskey in the world, was established in 1866 and is crafted at America’s oldest registered distillery in the small town of Lynchburg, Tennessee. Made using the finest grains and pure, iron-free water from our cave spring, Jack Daniel’s is a unique whiskey that is slowly mellowed drop by drop through 10 feet of sugar maple charcoal and matured in new American oak barrels to achieve its smooth character.

What Richard says:
Nose: On the nose I get mostly burnt caramel and vanilla. There is also a subtle undercurrent of wildflowers.
Palate: Candied oak? It sounds odd but that’s what it tastes like. Overall the palate is very smooth and almost chewy. Very mellow. So much so that there are not a lot of “strong” flavors that stand out to be recognized.
Finish: This has a much smoother finish than comparable bourbons. There is a little bit of peppery spice but mostly I’m left with an odd sort of tartness.
Comments: Personally, I think Jack Daniel’s is one of the best gateway whiskeys around. It is very smooth and drinkable. In terms of consistency, with the millions of bottle a year that they sell, you really can’t get much more consistent. While I would prefer Jack with Coke, I’m not against drinking it straight. The charcoal mellowing really adds to the smoothness and drinkability over like bourbons. If it wasn’t for that weird tart finish I’d like it even more.
Rating: Average

What Matt says:
Nose: Orange shellac primarily. With water, it opens up to potpourri (more pungent/sharp/floral than sweet).
Palate: Smooth and bland. Old No. 7 is so “mellow” it is difficult to grasp good tasting notes. There are faint traces of oak and orange peel.
Finish: Smooth and dry with very little burn. Does not linger.
Comments: There is nothing interesting or impressive about this whiskey. There is nothing terribly off-putting either. The smoothness and mildness of flavor makes Old No. 7 a better mixer than Jim Beam White Label. What makes Jack desirable (and a great gateway whiskey) is its lack of distinctive character. Do not waste your time sipping this one. Use this for mixers when you are feeling lazy.
Rating: Probably Pass (unless making a cocktail)

Overall Rating: Average (good if you are planning on mixing or looking for gentle entry into the world of whiskey)

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

Knocking on Death’s Door

Last night, I had the opportunity to try a “white whiskey” from small craft distillery in Madison, WI. Death’s Door (named for the waterway that runs between Washington Island and the Door County peninsula) produces gin, vodka, and whiskey in small batches for a variety of markets here in the US. They only recently came to NYC. I did not try the vodka, the gin was passable (interesting, but still a lightweight in the world of craft gins). Since this is a whisk(e)y blog after all, let’s talk about the whiskey.

As you all know, I am huge advocate of the craft distillery movement. Craft distilleries are raising the bar for all sorts of distilled spirits and whiskey is no exception. However, innovation and experimentation do not always lead to greatness. There are always stumbling blocks.

Death’s Door has an interesting operation. All of their spirits are distilled in the same 90 gallon copper pot still using locally sourced materials (including water from Lake Michigan). The White Whiskey is double distilled, “rested” for three weeks (I assume in a stainless steel vat) and then conditioned in small oak barrels for less than 72 hours (hence the whiskey remains clear or “white”). The rep at the tasting could not tell me anything about the mash bill (she didn’t even know what that meant). When I explained, she said rye (from the taste, a lot of it), wheat, and “something else, but no corn.” The literature from the distillery just says “organic grains.”

The whiskey is interesting, but not my cup of tea. The nose is a little like tequila (I hate tequila). The palate is somewhere between a rye and a tequila. The short aging does not give the whiskey enough time to take much from the oak. On the plus side, the harsher elements of the rye are tempered by the other components of the mash bill. The mash bill may be a winner with a little more time in the barrel. It certainly shows potential.

If you’ve ever said to yourself, “I like the smoothness of aged ryes, but I don’t care for all that oak,” then check this out. If you are a tequila drinker looking for a transition into whiskey, this could be your gateway dram. For me, this is nothing more than a novelty act.

I applaud the effort, especially the terroir approach and sense of experimentation. Not my bag though. There are much better craft whiskeys out there. I hope that these guys continue to experiment with their whiskeys. Maybe they will hit on something truly sensational.

Death’s Door White Whiskey will set you back around $35 and is available in limited markets (Chicago and New York for sure). For more information on availability or just to learn more about their operation visit www.deathsdoorspirits.com.