Two More Reasons To Love Buffalo Trace

Here at Whisk(e)y Apostle, it is no secret that we love Buffalo Trace.  Not only do they make some really excellent whiskies (Buffalo Trace, Eagle Rare, George T. Stagg, and Sazerac Rye to name a few), but they approach whiskey making with an almost religious fervor and a sense of experimentation rarely seen in such a large scale operation.  This week, the folks at Buffalo Trace announced two more reasons to get excited.  Here’s the press release:

What’s next? After more than twenty years of experimentation, Buffalo Trace Distillery is rolling out the latest release of the prized Experimental Collection. This round of tinkering was conducted to find out how barrels with different wood grains affect bourbon aging. In particular, what impact do barrels made from fast-growth oak trees with coarse grain patterns have on bourbon aging, versus barrels made with slow-growth trees with fine grain?

Here are some answers to that question:

1. FINE GRAIN OAK: These barrels were filled July13, 1994 and bottled May 7, 2009. Buffalo Trace Mash Bill #2 was used and the product entered the barrel at 125 proof. After more than 14 years of aging, the slow-growth of fine grain wood concentrated the sugars and imparted extra doses of caramel and vanilla.  The bourbon is rich and exceedingly sweet with an almost syrupy character.  It also has a nice balance of flavors and complexity.

2. COARSE GRAIN OAK: The filling and aging time on these barrels is the same as with the fine grain. After nearly 15 years in the barrel, this whiskey is dry with a balance of smokiness and wood with herbal qualities. The finish is quick and woody and it is slightly heavy with a powerful complexity.

“We continue to learn new and interesting information from these experiments. We never know how they are going to turn out,” said Harlen Wheatley, master distiller. “It’s also great to see the excitement that surrounds these releases. The customer feedback is great.”

There are more than 1,500 experimental barrels of whiskey now aging in the warehouses of Buffalo Trace. Each of the barrels has unique characteristics making it different from all others. Some examples of these experiments include unique mash bills, types of wood and barrel toasts.  In order to further increase the scope, flexibility and range of the experimental program an entire micro distillery complete with cookers, fermenting tanks and a state of the art micro still has been constructed within the Buffalo Trace Distillery.

The Experimental Collection will be packaged in 375ml bottles. Each label will include all the pertinent information unique to that barrel of whiskey. These whiskies will be released in late May of 2009 and retail for approximately $46.35 each. Each experiment is rare and very limited. For more information on the Experimental Collection or the other products of Buffalo Trace Distillery,

Gateway Series #5: Bushmills Irish Whiskey

Bushmills Original

What The Distillery Says:
The cornerstone of our family, it’s a blend of our own triple distilled malt whiskey with a lighter Irish grain whiskey.  Making it an approachable whiskey with a rich, warming taste of fresh fruit and vanilla.

What Richard Says:

Nose: Woody and peppery with vegetal/grassy notes.
Palate: Uber-mellow on the palate.  It’s a very cereal taste with the minutest hint of sweetness and pepper.
Finish: Peppery grains but very smooth.  You get some of the wood on the finish too.
Comments: I cut my whiskey teeth on a bottle of Bushmills Original so it holds a special place in my heart.  That said, I’ve come a long way in terms of development and experience in appreciating whiskey.  I ask for a lot more from my dram now that this whiskey can provide.  Is it bad?  No. It’s very consistent and drinkable but nothing make me take notice either.
Rating: Average

What Matt Says:
Nose: Not much on the nose.  Everything is subtle.  Notes of caramel and wet coffee grounds.
Palate: Not very bold.  Cereal, sweet and peppery with a hint of cucumber skin.
Finish: A little spice, very little burn and a little bit of wood.
Comments: Like Richard, I was introduced to Bushmills early in my whiskey education.  And, also like Richard, I now ask more from my dram.  In my youth, I sought anything that I could palate neat and was not too expensive.  I was not looking for complexity or nuance.  This was long before I before I began proselytizing the Way.  Bushmills will always taste the same though and there is something to be said for that.  A mediocre dram you can count on.
Rating:  Average

Overall Rating:  Average

A Cache of Rye

This past weekend, I made my first attempt at organized proselytizing.  I hosted a small American Rye Whiskey tasting at my apartment.  Five students were present while I spoke the Word about malted rye.  Most were familiar with bourbon, Irish, and Scottish whisk(e)ys.  However, rye remained a mystery.  We talked about the history of rye and why it gets a bad rap.  After all, rye is the first truly American spirit and was once the base for most American whiskey cocktails.  Why is it so feared and reviled?

Rye’s dubious past began with Prohibition.  While bourbon was still being produced as “medicinal whiskey,” inferior ryes were being produced in bathtubs or imported from Canada.  This helped bourbon gain a strangle hold on the American whiskey scene.  Another reason rye gets a bad rap is also the reason bourbon gets a bad rap and that is the ubiquitous availability of crappy, harsh, fiery whiskeys.  Rye is thought of as something guys will drink on a dare or “to put hair on [their] chests.”

To combat previously held prejudices and fears, I hand picked six ryes that I thought sure to enthrall the harshest skeptic.  Our tasting menu contained (in order of tasting):  Michter’s US-1 Rye Whiskey, Old Overholt Straight Rye Whiskey, Sazerac 6yo Rye, Rittenhouse Bottled In Bond Rye, Russell’s Reserve 6yo Rye, and Old Potrero 19th Century Single Malt Straight Rye Whiskey.  I chose these six whiskeys based on heritage, current producer, and mash bill as well as more subjective criteria revolving around my concept of “good” whiskey (my chest is hairy enough thank you very much).  Eventually, Richard and I will post formal reviews of all of these but I’m just going to give you the highlights of the night.

The Sazerac was the standout favorite of these six.  Smooth and very drinkable when neat, Sazerac held up well to the addition of water and we concluded that it would hold its own in a cocktail (I know the truth of that from experience).  Sazerac also went well with the blue cheese on the cheese plate and the brownies served after the formal tasting.  Furthermore, a bottle of Sazerac 6 yo will only set you back about $25.  This is the one everyone went to for seconds.

The Old Potrero (the only 100% rye on the menu) gained accolades for uniqueness, but we determined that it was an occasional dram, not as accessible as the Sazerac.

Old Overholt surprised us all with its flavor and nose, but fell completely flat with the addition of water.  If you want something cheap to drink neat any day of the week, here’s your dram.  However, this will not hold up in a cocktail.

For a rich cocktail experience at a very low price, the Rittenhouse Bottled in Bond Rye is surely the way to go.  100 proof, 4 years old, tasty and under $20.  Who can ask for more?

We all liked the Michter’s, but it didn’t earn as much appreciation as the other drams.  I feel like the 10 yo Michter’s would have gone over better with this crowd.

Lastly, we were all a little disappointed with the Russell’s Reserve.  While this is a HUGE step up from the stock standard Wild Turkey Rye, it did not have the strength of character to tussle with the rest of the tasting menu.

There were a  few folks in the group who had bad rye experiences and a few who had never tried rye.  All were surprised by the complexity and approachability that these six Rye whiskeys offered. I think we may have some converts to the wider world of whiskey experience.

If you would like my notes from our tasting (which include a short history of rye and of each dram along with tasting notes), just drop me a line.

Drink well, drink responsibly.

-Matt

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