Tag Archives: American Whiskey

Stillhouse “The Original Moonshine Clear Corn Whiskey”

Recently, I attended a press event for “The Original Moonshine Clear Corn Whiskey”  from Stillhouse distillery in Virginia.  This is not your typical whiskey company.  Founded by a brand developer and an internationally renowned chef (Brad Beckerman & Adam Perry Lang respectively).  Original Moonshine is a brand of style and purpose.  Notice, I say “brand” and not “whiskey.”  While the whiskey itself is important, you never forget that you are being sold on something.  To me, its refreshing when a brand chooses to talk about markets and strategy instead of pretending that brand image and marketing are irrelevant.  That’s not to say that the product should not take precedent; it’s just nice when everyone in the room knows what’s going on and is not afraid to talk about it.

The whiskey itself was developed for a purpose (a premium mixer good enough to drink neat).  To do this, they use a 100% corn mash and distill it four (FOUR!) times to insure a clean and mellow spirit.  Just in case it wasn’t mellow enough, they float charcoal in the mash and filter the spirit through more charcoal as well.

The verdict?  It’s very clean and smooth with just the barest flavor of sweet corn.  This raises the question:  Why go through all this trouble to create a whiskey that basically tastes like vodka?  Their answer:  “The vodka market is saturated.  We wanted a product that was different.”  Different, but the same from my eye.

Is it good neat?  Yes, but its better with ice and a twist of lime.  Does it make for a good mixer?  Most certainly.  Will it be embraced by the Whiskirati?  Most certainly not.  However, if someone is having a hard time getting into brown liquor, this could be a gateway to new worlds of flavor.

The product is good for what it was designed to do and the packaging is great.  I have a feeling this one will catch on in some of the hipper bars.  It’s already in a few places in NYC and should be on the shelves sometime in January.

For more information, check out moonshine.com.

Drink well, drink responsibly.

Matt

Bourbon & Bacon Expo 2010

While Richard was at the Single Malt and Scotch Whisky Extravaganza in Atlanta, I was at the 2010 Bourbon and Bacon Expo at Astor Wines in New York City.  Last year the festival got some rather mixed reviews, so I was hoping the folks at Astor would use the criticism to make the event a little better.  There were plenty of changes, but I can’t say that it was all for the better.

There was plenty of good whiskey to drink (though nothing as premium as the Parker’s Heritage 27yo they were pouring last year).  There were nine tables pouring whiskey and/or cocktails, plus the additional cocktail pour in the classroom.

Hirsch was there pouring three of the A.H. Hirsch Selection whiskeys.  The Buffalo Trace table was pouring Eagle Rare 10 and the standard Buffalo Trace.  Maker’s Mark was pouring some bacon infused cocktails at the lounge bar, while bacon infused Old Fashions were served in the classroom (featuring Four Roses Yellow Label).  Although none of the Tuthilltown team was in attendance, cocktail-crafters/mixologists were pouring white dog Sazeracs made with locally produced ingredients including Edward III Manhattan Absinthe and Hudson New York Corn Whisky (both distilled at Tuthilltown), yum.  Other pours included Heaven Hill, Michter’s, Four Roses, Wild Turkey and Black Maple Hill.  Bacon presenters included Carlton Farms, The Breslin, Swiss Meat & Sausage Co., Broadbent’s, Flying Pigs Farm, D’Artagnan, Black Pig Meat Co., and Nueske’s.

This year the Expo was cheaper and the space was bigger, two big pluses in my book.  Astor center recently opened a lounge area with seating and a bar.  We showed up as the doors opened.  As people spread out and took advantage of the new layout, things felt less cramped than last year.  By the time we left, the entire space had filled to the same overcrowding that many of these events fall prey to.

Although one of the complaints from last year’s event was a lack of organization, this year was worse.  Like last year, there were whiskey tables and bacon tables.  There were no pairings as the marketing for the event suggested.  The whiskey tables had brand ambassadors leading the gathering masses through a selection of whiskeys while the bacon tables consisted of a descriptive title card and a platter of bacon cut into bite-sized chunks.  Since we showed up early, we managed to try all the porky offerings.  When we left, some 1.5 hours into the 3hour event, all the trays were empty and had been that way for at least 20 minutes.

At last year’s event, there was a charming hostess with a microphone that made sure everyone knew what was going on and where to go for classes and presentations.  There were no such announcements this time.  I wonder how many attendees even made it back to the classroom for the bacon-infused Old Fashions.  The marketing for the event mentioned a class on how to perform a bacon infusion, but if this happened, my party and I missed it.  When we went back for our Old Fashions there were very few people in the classroom.  If people didn’t know about it, they really missed out.  It’s like a country breakfast in a glass.

Now, on to what is important, the whiskey.  With so few whiskeys available, I was able to hit up every table without much risk of palate fatigue.  It’s all about pacing and knowing when to spit/dump.  The pours were rather generous, so people had to show some restraint.  The whiskey highlights for me included the Heaven Hill table.  I finally gave Evan Williams (the standard black label) a try.  Since a few unfortunate incidents, I have been gun shy when it comes to alcohol that you can purchase in a large plastic jug.  I was pleasantly surprised.  It’s the same mash bill as the more premium Elijah Craig, but spends less time in oak.  This gives it a much sweeter character without a lot of woody notes, definitely a worthy entry level or even every day dram.  While the Evan Williams is good, I am quite partial to the Elijah Craig 12yo.  At the Expo, they were pouring the EC 12 and 18 side by side.  I have to say, the 12 is my preference.  Something about the mash bill makes this whiskey take on oak really quickly.  That extra six years is overkill for my palate.  The Evan Williams Single Barrel (2000 I believe) was also on hand and quite good.

The Hirsch table was interesting.  With all the original Michter’s whiskey gone forever, Hirsch is bottling Hirsch Selection, a collection of whiskeys from across the U.S. bottled exclusively under the Hirsch name.  The Small Batch Bourbon from Kentucky that was sweet with a nice black pepper bite to it.  The aged (3yo?) Small Batch Corn Whiskey tasted like corn whiskey.  There was nothing really outstanding about it, but nothing unpleasant either.  It’s milder than some corn whiskeys but also less cereal in nature.  The 20yo American Whiskey is purported to be distilled in Illinois.  Since the only whiskey distillery that I know of in Illinois closed in the late 70’s, I wonder where this actually came from.  It certainly tastes like it could be from the Hiram Walker distillery, but that would make the spirit over thirty years old, unless it’s been sitting in a bottle in a warehouse for 12 years.  Maybe I’ll reach out to my contact at Preiss Imports and see if he will give me more information.

One of the whiskeys I was eager to try was the Black Maple Hill Small Batch Bourbon.  I don’t know much about this label, but it has always intrigued me.  The rep at the table was not very talkative.  I really wish there had been water at this table (it was the only table without a carafe).  This is high proof bourbon and without water, the alcohol really dominates both the nose and palate.  I probably should have sought out some water, but the aloof rep was not very inspiring.

That’s about it for my whiskey highlights, although I should mention that I decided I like the Four Roses Small Batch over the Single Barrel.  The bacon highlights for me were the Applewood-Smoked, Peppered Bacon from Neuske’s and the Wild Boar Bacon from D’Artagnan.  A couple of the folks in my party really enjoyed the Flying Pigs Farm Heritage Breed Bacon.  I really missed RUB’s pork belly from last year.  I still dream about that stuff.

Ultimately, I enjoyed myself and felt like I got my money’s worth.  They still have some stuff to work on though.  It would be nice to see reps at the bacon tables and have at least one table that offers specific pairings of the whiskeys and bacons on hand.  Clearly the teaching kitchen in Astor Center cannot handle the needs of this event.  I’m not sure how they could solve that problem, but it needs to be solved if they intend to continue this event.  Did I enjoy my self?  Yes.  Will I go next year?  Probably.  However, if the event is just like this year, I probably won’t go a fourth time.

-Matt

Tuthilltown Spirits New York Whiskey

Tuthilltown Spirits New York Whiskey
Batch #3, 2009
46% ABV, 92 Proof
About $45, Limited Availability

What The Distillery Says (from notes taken at the distillery tour):
New York Whiskey is Tuthilltown’s experimental line, a series of one-offs used to let the distillers flex their creative muscles.  It all started with a blend of leftovers from the weeks distilling.  Matt loved that one.  It was complex and weird (in a good way).  Batch #3 is 100% wheat.

What Richard Says:
Nose: A sweetness that brings to mind a dram that’s now forgotten. It seems like a mixture of rum and Canadian whisky.  Water dampens the rum notes and pulls forward the oak.
Palate: A very medicinal flavor.  Sinus clearing bite with little of the sweetness promised on the nose.  Water opens it up but it is still not the most outgoing whiskey.
Finish: It finishes spicy and then retreats to something reminiscent of cough syrup.  Odd but not altogether unpleasant.
Comments: It became more evident to me as I try more whiskey matured over a shorter time span through the use of smaller casks that this imparts a medicinal note on the whiskeys.  I get this from Laphroaig Quarter Cask too.  I’m all for innovation but I haven’t seen proof yet that this is a corner worth cutting.  Overall, this is an interesting whiskey.  It’s not for me but I don’t want t dissuade others from trying it.  Innovation has a tendency to be polarizing when it comes to whiskey.  If you’re in the area then give it a go and decide for yourself.
Rating: Average

What Matt Says:
Nose: Karo syrup, pecans, heavily citrus, honeysuckle and a big plug of charred oak.
Palate: Oak, sweet potato, brown sugar and sweet cream butter.
Finish: Dark fruits, light spice, sweet cherries and menthol.  Like a very sweet cough drop or the cherry lollipops my pediatrician gave out when I got a vaccination or had blood drawn (did this happen to anyone else?).
Comments: My experience with this whiskey was very different from Richard’s.  I really enjoyed it at the distillery and didn’t get the menthol/medicinal note.  Maybe it’s the power of suggestion, but I get it every time now.  I still enjoy this whiskey though.  It feels like Fall.  My official rating is “average”, but I really think it’s somewhere between “average” and “stands out”.
Rating:  Average

Overall Rating:  Average.  An interesting dram worth trying.

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

Whisky On The Hudson ‘09

If you’ve been following me on Twitter, you already know that Thursday night was the Whisky Guild’s annual Whisky On The Hudson booze cruise.  You also know that I forgot my ticket and had to wrangle a new one (which makes this the most expensive tasting event I’ve ever attended.  Not the Guild’s fault, but there it is). Despite my ineptitude, Thursday turned out to be a really great night.  I schmoozed with industry insiders, helped turn other attendees on to new things, and most importantly I learned a lot.  I was even surprised a couple of times.

The boat was bigger this year, but the number of presenters was about the same, which made for a more comfortable socializing experience.  The down side was that things looked a little sparse for a while.  I decided to get the lay of the land first and to seek out some friends.  First I headed to a part of the boat where Glenmorangie had set up a little jazz club, where you could taste the whole line (including many Ardbeg’s) and relax a bit.  Of course, there was a mob around the Signet.  Even though I love Glenmorangie, I was on a mission (I grabbed some of the new Ardbeg Supernova on the way out though).  I didn’t want to be sidetracked.  However, I am easily sidetracked.

I found a boat map to help look for the William Grant & Sons tables.  I know I will find Dr. Whisky there.  On my way, I get turned around and end up talking Rick Wasmund of Copper Fox Distillery in Virginia.  Wasmund’s Single Malt Whisky (hmm, he leaves out the ‘e’ even though it is an American Single Malt) is a pot stilled whisky that uses barley malted over apple and cherry wood.  I tried it last year and was not impressed, but a trusted source said that they have improved the product, so I was willing to give it a try.  I was pleasantly surprised.  You can taste the influence of the fruit woods, but it does not come off as overly fruity.  It’s bold, round and balanced.  To sweeten the deal, Rick was also pouring an aged rye (containing both rye and his proprietary malted barley) and white dog* of both whiskies.  I’ve tried a lot of white dog in the past couple of months (it seems to be the it whisk(e)y these days).  I have to say, these were my favorites.  The malting process really smoothes out the rough edges commonly associated with white whisky.  The most interesting thing Rick has to offer is a box set that contains two bottles of the white whisky and a miniature charred oak barrel.  You can age your own whisky!  He had a second fill barrel there with five month old whisky.  It was different from the bottled stuff.  The wood was really bold.  This is a must have for any whisky nerd (like myself).  Here’s the rub.  Wasmund’s is only available in the D.C. area right now.  They are working on getting New York distribution, but the rest of the country is still without fruit wood malted single malt.

Once again, I was off to find Dr. Whisky.  He’s always good for a laugh and some quality information.  In route, I caught a glimpse of a Jefferson’s Reserve bottle.  “I wonder if they brought the Presidential Select,” I think to myself.  It’s not on the table.  I ask and they deliver.  Trey Zoeller, V.P. of Bourbon Operations for Castle Brands, comes over and we start talking about this whisky from the now defunct Stitzel-Weller distillery.  This is one of Malt Advocate’s “Must Buy” bourbons (but you already knew that).  It’s every thing John Hansell says it is (we’ll have a formal review someday).  As Trey and I reminisce about dead distilleries (we agree that the Hirsch <Michter’s> 16yo is superior to the 20yo), he tells me that he has another batch of this Stitzel-Weller bourbon that he plans to release next year as Jefferson’s Presidential Select 18yo.  I can’t wait.

Finally, I make it back to the Balvenie table where I find a bearded(!) Dr. Whisky pouring the entire Balvenie line.  We have a chat and I try the new 17yo (Madeira cask).  This is a good one folks.  I was a little disappointed with the Rum cask 17yo from last year.  The palate did not deliver on what the nose promised.  The Madeira 17yo is just the opposite.  The nose is a little weak and uninteresting, but it really delivers on flavor.  Later, I came back and tried the 21yo.  A very fine dram indeed.

Much of the remainder of the night was a flurry of schmoozing and tasting (I even ran into Mark Gillespie of WhiskyCast).  I reacquainted myself with the Glenlivet 15yo (aged in virgin charred Limousin oak).  Limousin oak is used in Cognac barrels and is tricky to work with but it makes a damn fine whisky.  The 15yo is the only Glenlivet to use Limousin oak casks.  This specialty oak gives the whisky a richness and boldness that round out and compliment the sharp, fruity qualities common to Glenlivet.  This is smoother and richer than the standard expression.

I had the opportunity to try the PC6 and PC7 (both distilled at Bruichladdich).  These are both good drams with a fair amount of peat.  I prefer the PC6.

Dave Conroy of International Beverage Company, Inc., took me through his whiskies from Mull and Islay.  I don’t remember ever trying Bunnahabhain before and I think I would remember an unpeated Islay.  I liked it at every age.  There is a sweetness and complexity that I associate more with the mainland.  This is very approachable whisky.  Dave also introduced me to Tobermory and Ledaig (both from the Isle of Mull).  Really good stuff, the Ledaig especially is a must try for any peat lovers out there.

Other things that stood out for me that night were the Knappogue Castle 1995 Irish whisky, the Hibiki 12yo Blended Japanese whisky, Deanston 30yo, and Tuthilltown’s New York Whiskey.  However, the topper had to be the tasting lab led by Master Ambassador for Laphroaig, Simon Brooking.  We tasted peated barley, he lit a peat brick on fire, and each dram was accompanied by a song (or a joke) and a toast.  Simon is a real showman.  We tasted Ardmore 30yo (loved it), Laphroaig 10yo, Quarter Cask, 15yo, 18yo, and 25yo.  I really like the Quarter Cask (and the 25yo of course).  The 18yo is a new addition that will be replacing the 15yo.  They are very different whiskies, so if you are a fan of the 15yo, stock up.  Personally, I prefer the 15yo, but I seem to be among the minority in the critics’ circles.  Maybe I’ll have to give it another go in a less overwhelming setting.

So, that was my Whisky on the Hudson experience.  I’m already looking forward to next year.  The Whisky Guild does several of these events around the country each year.  You should check it out.

* “White dog” is a common term for whisky straight from the still (non-matured, no water added).  I’m not sure if Wasmund’s non-matured whisky is unwatered or not, but it is pretty high proof.

Drink well.  Drink responsibly.

-Matt