Charbay Tequila Blanco

A word from Matt:  Let me start by saying that I am not a tequila drinker. I have not had tequila in probably eight years (apart from the very rare margarita). I have danced with Jose and Pepe and a myriad others and I always come away with a black eye, a wicked headache, and other maladies I’d rather not discuss. No matter the price or the quality, tequila has always brought the hurt. So when Charbay said they had a new tequila and they wanted me to try it, I was a little afraid to say the least. I have an open mind though. I am always a supporter of craft distilling. After all, rums are doing it, whiskies are doing it, even educated fleas are doing it. And I’ll try anything once. I was more than surprised by my findings…

Charbay Tequila Blanco
40%ABV, 80 Proof
SRP $49, Limited Availability

What the distillery says:
This is fragrant, true to the source, clean tequila. From all of the world’s distilled spirit classes, Tequila is by far one of the most challenging. We combined to traditional methods of classic tequila distillery in the Arandas area (Mexico) with our proprietary Charbay distilling methods that have developed for 13 generations. The mutual trust, respect and camaraderie with our host distillers will last a lifetime. This has been a real learning experience. (Miles Karakasevic)

During the final distillation at 142 Proof, our Tequila tasted as if you were chewing on fresh chamomile buds. Later, at 140 Proof, it started to taste like cinnamon. At 138 Proof, the flavors were herbaceous, rich agave, with a pepper spice finish. We captured all these flavors… (Marko Karakasevic)

What Matt says:
Nose: Agave nectar, vegetal (cactus?), cucumber, juniper, lime
Palate: Viscous, white pepper, herbal, whole lime that translates from lime meat to zest and back, a little burn around the edges
Finish: Short and sharp. Powerful lime zest and a side-of-the-tongue burn.
Comments: I can honestly say that this is the first tequila I’ve had in a long while that did not make me gag. As you may have guessed, I drink mostly whisk(e)y and the occasional gin. I think what I like most about this is that it is very much like a gin and not much like a tequila (from my experience with tequila). To me, that is very much a good thing. If you are a hardcore tequila drinker, this may leave you wanting. You will enjoy it, but it may not serve that craving (do people crave tequila?). I think most people use tequila as a mixer. Charbay Tequila Blanco is part of the craft movement that hopes to elevate tequila to something worthy of sipping. On that front, this is very successful. If I decide to stock tequila in my home bar, this will be the one. I always say that you should never stock a mixer that you can’t drink neat and Charbay’s Tequila Blanco fits the bill.
Rating: Stands Out

What Richard Says:
Nose: This definitely smells better than any tequila I’ve ever smelled.  The agave is still there but without the dirty jockstrap notes of other widely available tequilas.
Palate: Admittedly, I don’t drink much tequila anymore, especially straight.  That said, this doesn’t taste like any tequila I’ve ever tasted.  Fruity notes flow throughout and it is a very pleasant experience.
Finish: The flavors clear the mouth very quickly and leave only a clean crisp hint that the drink was there.  Top notch!
Comments: I was at first hesitant to review this offering from Charbay.  If I categorically don’t like a particular spirit then I don’t feel that it is my place to offer opinions on the quality.  However, I was intrigued by what Charbay might do and I can honestly say that I never knew tequila could be like this.  I’m still not going to be a regular tequila drinker but this is in a league of it’s own.
Rating: Must Try

Overall Rating: Must Try

Two New Drams From Preiss Imports

I just got back from a press event for Preiss Imports at Brandy Library in Tribeca.  It seems Whisk(e)y Apostle is becoming legit, oh my brothers.  I was hoping to run into Mark from WhiskyCast or Dr. Whisky, but they either did not come or came after I left.  Maybe next time.  Anyway, that’s neither here nor there.  The news of the day was two new drams from Preiss.

The first dram was the new whiskey from Cambeltown’s first new distillery in 100 years.  Though distilled at Glengyle (right around the corner from Springbank), the new single malt is called Kilkerran.  This is the first global release from Kilkerran and represents the launch of the “Work in Progress” series.  As a bona fide whisky nerd, the idea of this series really tickles my fancy.  It’s like being in the distillery with the Master tasting the whisky at each age until you know it is ready.  This first release is five years old and they will be releasing limited quantities each year until the whiskey is 12 years old.

Kilkerran 5yo Single Malt Scotch Whisky
46% ABV, 92 Proof
SRP $59.99, Very Limited Availability (only 1,800 bottles in the U.S.)

Nose: Light, vanilla, bananas, some peat
Palate: Light but rough around the edges, cloves, vanilla, tropical fruits, touches of peat and licorice
Finish: Makes the mouth water, peat, banana skins, a lot of alcohol
Comments: I love the idea of this.  You can really taste where this whisky is going, but it is not quite there yet.  It’s got a little too much heat and alcohol.  A little more time in the barrel is going to make this a great whisky.  If you get a chance, you should try this.  It is great for your whiskey education.  I’m hoping they are holding back a few bottles of this each year so we can do side-by-side tastings when the 12yo drops seven years from now.
Rating:  Average/Must Try For Whisky Nerds

The next pour was Black Bull 30yo Blended Whisky.  This is a one off and once it’s gone, that’s it.  Unfortunately, there is not much of it either.  Other than it’s age, what really makes this whisky interesting is that it is blended, then aged for thirty years in sherry casks.  Most blends are made from aged whiskies and “married” for only a short time.  The result is quite remarkable.  It has the cohesiveness of a single malt, but the complexity of a blend.  This is a unique experience not to be missed.

Black Bull 30yo Deluxe Blended Scotch Whisky
50% ABV, 100 Proof
Estimated Retail $199, Very Limited Availability (only 600 bottles in the U.S.)

Nose: Turkish coffee grounds, dark chocolate, ripe cherries
Palate: Heavily sherried but not overly so, chocolate, plums and cherries
Finish: Long and complex, cherry, cinnamon, cherry, chocolate egg cream
Comments: This is a very unique dram and very nice.  It is not like anything else.  If I had to compare it to something, I would compare it to Highland Park 30yo and Charbay’s Whiskey Release II.  It doesn’t really taste like either, but I am reminded of both as I sip.  I must say that I was surprised to find that its 100 proof.  Uncommonly smooth, you could hurt yourself drinking this.
Rating:  Hate to say this about a rare and expensive whiskey but… Must Buy

Thanks to the folks at Preiss Imports, especially Steve Fox, for setting this up and thanks to Ethan Kelley and Brandy Library for hosting us.

Drink well, drink responsibly.

Did You Know #1: More Than a Shelf Can Show

I thought it might be a good idea to post little nuggets of whiskey related advice, knowledge, or wisdom from time to time to help out our readers.   Some people may say that these are all “common sense” but in life, like whiskey I find that “common” sense is a little less common than we think.  A number of you may already know most or all the bits of information that we’ll share under the “Did You Know” banner but if we can enlighten just one reader then in my opinion the post was helpful.  So here goes…

Did You Know…that your local liquor stores have access to a lot more selection than you see on the shelves? 

Have you ever gone into your local purveyor of the water of life just to sigh as you see the same old bottlings again and again?  You may find yourself wondering why your local shop only carries the same 5 bourbons, 2 ryes, 2 Irish, and 4 scotches?  The answer?  Supply and demand.  I’m not going to give you an economics lesson but suffice it to say that if your local shop sells their selection just fine then why change?  However, if they see a growing demand for something else that they can get their hands on then they may start stocking that too.  Try talking to the local store manager/owner and see if they are willing to order specific whiskeys for you.  You may be surprised when they pull out the book they get from their local distributor and then ask you which of 50+ additional scotches on that list you are interested in. 

There are limits of course.  Some producers don’t sell in certain areas.  There are plenty of scotch bottlings that don’t make it stateside.  Japanese whisky is all but completely absent here.  Even a great brand like Buffalo Trace doesn’t send any of their standard bottling two states south to Georgia.  So don’t go in expecting to get  the most hard to find and esoteric whiskey imaginable.   On the other hand, see what they can get.  You may just be surprised.  If enough people start doing it then you may just see that standard selection increasing a bottling at a time.

One additional note about price – generally speaking the liquor store will probably charge you a little more for your special order bottle than if you bought it off the shelf.  Why?  Well, it’s either because they can (you obviously couldn’t get it elsewhere or you wouldn’t be coming in and special ordering it) or because what they pay for a single bottle is a good bit more than the per bottle price if they order a case/box of a regularly stocked item.   Either way, as long as they don’t completely screw you on the price then fair is fair.  They are getting a decent profit and you are getting the whiskey you’ve been looking for.  What’s not to like?

– Richard

Gateway Series #10: The Three Glens

For this week’s entry in the Gateway Series we decided to do something a little different.  Last week Matt was down in Atlanta and we got to sit down together and do some tasting.  We decided that a head-to-head-to-head tasting of the Three Glens would be a nice twist on our usual reviews.  There was some discussion if single malt scotches should even be included as a “gateway” drink given their tendency toward higher prices and a more refined palate.  That said, if you are venturing into single malts for the first time you’re likely to cross paths with one of these three.  Here are the results of our tasting of The Glenlivet 12 Year Old, Glenfiddich 12 Year Old, and Glenmorangie The Original.  Enjoy!

The Glenlivet 12 Year Old
40% ABV, 80 Proof
About $25 to $30
Darn near everywhere

What the Distillery Says:

Glenlivet 12 Year Old shows a perfectly balanced display of fruity and floral flavours.  Oak is present but in the distance.  This Classic Speyside conveys beautiful images of a fertile orchard, blossoming at springtime and laden with juicy ripe fruit at summertime.  Nose and palate offer a warm experience of Speyside fresh and fragrant air.  The single malt to choose for a relaxing moment, enjoyed on its own or with a fruit pudding (plum or apricot pie, Belgian waffle with stewed apples, marzipan biscuits).

What Richard Says:

Nose:  Light grass with sweet fruit notes pushing through. No note of earthiness (peat, smoke, etc.) which is a little surprising.  Water tends to fade the nose without continued agitation.
Palate: Apples, grass (like sitting in a meadow), and sweet cream (pre-whipped sweetened heavy cream).  Water mutes the more delicate notes.
Finish:  Short and fleeting.  Not much but it leaves you with notes of apple skin.
Comments: Full sweetness through the palate as opposed to a typical fore tongue sweetness.  Overall it was better than expected.  I’ve had this a thousand times and I’ll have it a thousand more.  It’s a great entry scotch but not necessarily typical of like scotches.  Good for fans of a fruiter white wine.

What Matt Says:

Nose:  Crisp green apples, caramel, candy apple coating.  This is a very fruity and accessible nose for the neophyte but not very “Scotch-y.”  No smoke and no earth.
Palate:  The green apple is still present, but the sweeter notes move from caramel to sweet cream.  There is something I can’t quite grasp that Richard calls grassy.  I suppose I could call it saw grass, but it is very vague and faint.
Finish:  Short and tart.  The skin of a Granny Smith apple.
Comments:  This is a pleasant dram with lots of crisp fruit.  It is a great introduction for folks with a fondness for fruity drinks.  Don’t bother adding water or using this as a mixer.  Mixing kills the flavor.  Among single malts, this is decidedly average (that’s why it is so popular).  However, this stands out among gateway whiskies.

Glenfiddich 12 Year Old Special Reserve
40% ABV, 80 Proof
About $25 to $30
The bestselling single malt in the world

What the Distillery Says:

The pioneer of the prestigious single malt Scotch whisky category, Glenfiddich 12 Year Old is today enjoyed by more people around the world than any other single malt whisky.

Our original, signature single malt Scotch whisky has matured for at least 12 years in American and European oak casks. The quality of these casks is exceptional as all are individually tended by our experienced team of coopers, ensuring our whisky develops complex, elegantly rounded flavours with notes of fresh pear and subtle oak.

Distinctively fresh and fruity with a hint of pear. Beautifully crafted single malt with a delicately balanced fragrance.

Characteristic sweet, fruity notes. Develops into elements of butterscotch, cream, malt and subtle oak flavour.

Long, smooth and mellow.

What Richard Says:

Nose:  Honey/honeysuckle with butter but it’s more like a brown butter sauce or clarified butter.  Not to sound too snotty but it has a really nice bouquet.  More of a green/under ripened note develops with water.
Palate: Initially not very much on the palate.  Upon further investigation this is a more peppered honey on the palate compared to the nose.  It has a creamier mouth feel.
Finish:  Leave the mouth feeling…chewy.  A slight vegetal note as the sweetness clears the throat.  More pepper is left behind.
Comments: There’s a reason this is sold more widely than any other single malt.  It’s a very pleasant dram.  A solid go-to malt.

What Matt Says:

Nose:  Honey butter and those little toast bites you can buy at Ikea (like heavily toasted mini baguettes).
Palate:  Buttery, toasty, viscous, clove, slightly burnt toast bites.  The palate gives an interesting sensation.  The whisky forms a meniscus then bursts on the center of the tongue.  Water opens the nose to some green apple, but kills the palate.
Finish:  Short finish with a slight burn.  Glenfiddich makes my mouth water and my cheeks feel full (almost swollen).
Comments:  Of the Glens, Glenfiddich is the one that I would suggest to anyone interested in getting into Single Malts.  It is not overly complex or overly simple and has a very accessible flavor profile.  Like the Glenlivet, this stands out only compared to other gateway drams.  This is my favorite gateway dram despite the fact that I prefer Glenmorangie (see notes below).

Glenmorangie Original
43% ABV, 86 Proof
About $40

What the Distillery Says:

Glenmorangie Original is an inviting single malt whisky, acclaimed and appreciated by luxury spirit drinkers around the world.
The original expression of Glenmorangie’s elegant, floral spirit that is renowned the world over for exquisite finesse and alluring complexity, The Original is the intriguing marriage of delicate spirit and long, slow maturation.

The taste characteristics from the first-fill bourbon casks that permeates the majority of the ages spirit, coupled with the increased proportion of our ‘designer casks’ (made from slow-growth, air-dried American oak from the Ozark Mountains of Missouri), results in a delicious spirit that enhances the relaxed and convivial mood of the group by igniting the senses.

The Original is, quite simply, the most delicate and deliciously complex single malt whisky in the world.

What Richard Says:

Nose:  Yeast rolls and tart apples.  For only 3% more alcohol than the other two Glens it makes a big difference on the nose.  Much more alcohol.  Water cuts down the alcohol but all else remains the same.
Palate: Viscous mouth feel with a bit of sweetness but more tart.  Almost like Dr. Brown’s Cream Soda.  Water mutes the flavor.
Finish:  There’s like a viscous hold on the finish and then it releases from the mouth like a dam break.
Comments: Glenmorangie seems to move away from a gateway malt to be more of a defined palate that needs to be sought out as opposed to embracing your.  Their reformulation over the old 10 Year is quite noticeable.  Would I call it “the most delicate and deliciously complex single malt whisky in the world”? No.  But it is quite good.

What Matt Says:

Nose:  Yeast rolls, tart apples and a lot of alcohol. 
Palate:  Birch beer, herbal, faint notes of licorice.  Water draws out some caramel sweetness but creates an odd sensation of a crystalline caramel shell with nothing inside.
Finish:  Short and slightly numbing
Comments:  I find it odd that Glenmorangie is so often mentioned in the same breath as Glenfiddich and Glenlivet.  Both ‘fiddich and ‘livet are Speyside malts while Glenmorangie comes from the Highland region.  Furthermore, the taste profiles are very different.  Glenmorangie is herbal and slightly medicinal compared to the fruitiness of the other two.  The extra alcohol content is small, but prominent.  This dram is for a decidedly different palate.  While this suits my palate best of the three, I cannot recommend it over the Glenfiddich as a gateway dram.

Rating:  This was a very interesting experience.  It brought up a lot of questions about the nature of ratings and whether they should be a definitive scale or a relative scale.  Definitively we rated all three as average because while good, they are far overshadowed by world of single malts.  On a relative scale all three standout from everything we’ve tried in the gateway series.  So if you want an overall rating they would each be Average/Stands Out.  Personally, Matt and I both picked Glenfiddich from the group.  No matter which one you pick up I don’t think you’ll be disappointed.

Charbay Tequila?

Tequila!?!  WTF, I thought this was a whisk(e)y blog.  Indeed it is.  However, we are dedicated to bringing you a little something else every know and again.  Now tequila is something I’ve never been able to get my head around, but our friends at Charbay have produced a tequila and they want you to know about it.  Here’s the press release.

SUBJECT: Charbay Father & Son Team Are First American Distillers to Distill 100% Blue Agave Tequila in Mexico

(St. Helena, CA) June 2009 – Charbay 100% Blue Agave Tequila Blanco is the first personally hand distilled tequila by American distillers in Mexico. Its bright and spicy agave flavors are elegant & smooth for sipping neat, over ice or in your favorite cocktail.

The adventure started when a highly acclaimed Tequila Distiller in Arandas Mexico offered to share his facility with Charbay’s father & son team to see what kind of tequila they could distill if given total freedom.  Miles & Marko Karakasevic jumped at the challenge. The 12th & 13th generation distillers are passionate about distilling fresh ingredients & always eager to distill something new.

Charbay’s goal: accent the natural agave flavors in a spicy, clean tequila. “Of all the world’s distilled spirits classes, Tequila is by far one of the most challenging,” says Miles Karakasevic, Master Distiller & the father of this distilling duo. “To capture brighter Tequila flavors of spicy agave freshness, we combined the traditional methods of classic tequila distilling with proprietary Charbay fermenting & distilling methods. They shared, we shared… everyone learned & enjoyed.”

Miles & Marko were given free reign to distill Charbay Tequila at the Los Altos Family Distillery, allowing them to be completely hands on during the entire process. They were 100% involved with harvesting the Agave, baking, fermenting, and hand distilling in traditional 90-250 gallon Copper Alambiques Tequilano Pot Stills.

Agave to tequila equals grapes to wine – altitude, climate and soil are flavor specific to the finished spirit. Charbay Blue Agaves were grown at the altitude of +7,120 in the superior, intensely red volcanic soils in the foothills of St. Augustine Mountain. When Miles designed the label, he put the GPS coordinates on each label to show exactly where the plantation is located.

With the Jimadores (agave masters), they hand selected the estate grown 8 year old Blue Agaves which were transported to the distillery. The pinas were then halved or quartered by hand and stacked into the old brick ovens (small ovens – not large steel autoclaves). The agave is baked slowly for four days and then crushed to extract the sweet agave juice (“Mosto”) for fermentation.

Only a selected fraction of freshly baked, sweet agave juice was pumped into small fermenters, allowing the fermentation to be cool and slow  to preserves the fresh, delicate agave flavors. Once the Mosto fermented into dry distilling material called “Mosto Muerte” it was ready to distill.

Marko points out: “During the final distillation at 142 proof, our tequila tasted as if you were chewing on fresh chamomile buds. Later, at 140 proof, it started to taste like cinnamon. At 138 proof, the flavors were of herbaceous, rich agave – with a peppery finish. We captured all of these flavors, even after cutting to 80 proof!”

The first release of 1,700 cases will be available in California & Nevada early August and will then roll out to Colorado, Missouri, Connecticut, Oklahoma, Florida and New York. Suggested retail is $49.00.

For more information: Charbay Tequila

I think we’re getting a sample here at Whisk(e)y Apostle, so stay tuned.  Until then, drink well, drink responsibly.