husband, father, whisky lover, blogger, freelance whisky writer, and head of the New Jersey Whiskey Society & leading the USBG NJ efforts...currently the New Jersey Whisky Ambassador for Diageo & therefore leave the recent writing duties to guest bloggers, primarily that Bourbon loving fella named Gerard

average Joes on a whisky journey...all views are our own







Sunday, April 28, 2013

Bernheim Wheat Whiskey

Wheat Whiskies are a bit of an outlier in the Bourbon world.

In order to be classified as a Wheat Whiskey, you must have at least 51% Wheat in the mashbill. (the grains that make up your recipe)  In this case, I believe Bernheim uses exactly 51% with the remainder being mostly corn and barley.

Usually you would see Wheat used as a compliment in a mashbill.  It is a bit fragile to work with, but the reward you get for its inclusion is softer and gentler whiskey, filing off the rough edges that can be left by the more common corn and rye mixes.

Generally called 'wheaters', these are few and far between, but when done properly are a wonderful joy to imbibe.  The most popular one is likely Maker's Mark which is high in Wheat, but I am still looking forward to trying Dry Fly from Spokane, Washington.

All in due time...for this evening, I'm kicking back with some Bernheim Wheat Whiskey, part of the already huge Heaven Hill Distillery's line of products.  It's namesake is the historic Bernheim Distillery in Louisville Kentucky honoring bourbon legend Isaac W. Bernheim.

Tasting Notes:

Appearance:  Like looking at sunlight through tinted glass

Nose:  Nice and sweet, caramel, vanilla

Palate:  Honey, Multi-Grain Bread, Toffee, little peppery kick

Finish:  Rather quick...too quick quite frankly...but certainly a gentle goodbye...super smooth

Overall:

This gentle Bourbon has the softness of a Tempur-Pedic pillow.  There are little to no extremes here.  There is wood, but not a ton, and overall it is certainly pleasant.  I applaud this wheater for what it is...inoffensive and middle of the road in every facet.  I would not turn it down, but I would also not exactly hunt it down either.  I kind of wanted it to throw a bit more of that winter wheat into my face and be more aggressive, but it was just so darn polite.  Still, a lovely drink, and I'd enjoy giving it a spot in a head to head blind tasting with Dry Fly and MM and maybe even a craft wheater to mix it up a bit and see how it fares...could lead to a higher score.

Score:  84

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Scapa 16

Nifty looking bottle
Old friends and a barbeque can make for a wonderful day.  This was the case last weekend when my buddy Gerard invited a few friends (some of which are New Jersey Whiskey Society members) over to his home for a BBQ. 

In addition to some of the usual fun, like tossing the football, chasing our kids around the house, and reminiscing about the past, we were also excited to try out a couple of Scotches from Gerard’s stash.

We got to try an Independent bottling of the now mothballed Littlemill Distillery (notes in a future post), and the Scapa 16.

Hailing from the Northern Scotland Island of Orkney, it is usually compared up against the most successful distillery from that region, Highland Park.  In fact, Scapa would be the northernmost distillery in all of Scotland, but HP has that distinction by only a few hundred yards! (Thanks Ralfy!)

The Scapa 16 replaces the old Scapa 14, and this one is a bit smoother (and arguably better).  Another versatile dram from this island, the Scapa has the ability to combine some of the sweet Speyside flavors with the sea side notes that are normally attributed to the Islay malts.

Tasting Notes:

Appearance:  Amber -1

Nose:  Floral, Vanilla, Seaweed and Honey, Citrus

Palate:  Medium Bodied, more honey/caramel, Brine & Ocean, creamy nougat

Finish:  Buttery spices, additional maltiness, drying

Overall:

One of the coolest parts of Scapa has more to do what they do not do.  They do not use special cask finishes, and keep things incredibly straightforward.  They age in 100% ex-bourbon first-fill casks (as vanilla as it gets…pun intended).  They do not use their local peat to dry their barley.  This is basically as simple and unadulterated as a malt can get, and they do it well.  I would avoid water with this one.  At only 40% ABV it is already as low as it can go, and I think it lost a bit of that fun saltwater-taffy vibe even with only a few drops of water.  Just like when they create it, I prefer this one simple and straightforward…pair it with a glass.

Score: 87

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Maker's Mark 46


Almost out...surprised the tag lasted this long
Already being a fan of Maker’s Mark, when the distillery finally decided to release another expression, I had to jump all over it.

Being one of the most readily available Bourbons out there, it is often the drink of choice when I go to places with a limited selection.  After all, it is not everyday that you are at a fine dining restaurant.  Every now and then, you are at a place like a Red Lobster and your whisky selections become dramatically limited.  That’s a great time to reach for Maker’s…despite their recent ABV drama.
In this case, I had a gift certificate, and went bottle shopping…I had been waiting for a while to try it, so I decided to add it to the collection.  This one is described as being similar to their standard offering, but they take the original juice, re-barrel it, drop in some seared French Oak staves for a few months and wait for the magic to happen.

I must say, while I do thoroughly enjoy the original Maker’s, it always appealed to my sweet tooth.  I sometimes longed for a little bit of balance, or a surprise kick of spice that never comes.  But, I am here to state that this new Oak booster process takes this whisky to another place…a place I want to frequent!


Tasting Notes:

Appearance:  A bit darker than the original, but still a deep honeyed color
Nose:  Oak, Vanilla, Caramel…very much like the original

Palate:  Here is where the biggest change comes in my opinion.  Luscious and thick, buttery and sticky.  Caramel, vanilla, chewy spices like clove
Finish:  Woody and viscous, cinnamon and light spices…longer than the original Maker’s Mark

Overall:
Bill Samuels (former President for Maker’s Mark) referred to MM46 as a “breakthrough of contemporary Bourbon”.  While I will not go that far, I will certainly applaud them for stepping out of their comfort zone and creating a genuinely unique and tasty product.  I think they stepped it up a bit from the original, and I would not turn down a drink of either.  Although, at about $35 a bottle I may consider some other Bourbon options at that price point.  That being said, I would not be surprised to see this one in my glass a few times as I barbecue this summer.

Score:  88

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Glen Grant 28 Yr 1979 Speyside Single-Barrel Bottling

One of the best kept secrets in New Jersey (in my humble opinion) is a Restaurant called Catherine Lombardi in New Brunswick.
It looks even better in person


It boasts a number of accolades, from having an extensive spirit collection that you have to page through, to achieving a higher Zagat rating than any cocktail bar in Manhattan or Chicago!  (yes, you read that correctly)

Sticking to the spirits aspect of this fine establishment, I have found one thing particularly interesting.  It is the brainchild of Owner Francis Schott, and it is called ‘The Spirits Project’.

Essentially, every Thursday, this restaurant opens one rare bottle at precisely 6:30pm, and sells one ounce portions (at cost!) until the bottle is gone.  Once it is gone, it is gone.
Now, sometimes it is Scotch, sometimes it is Bourbon, sometimes Cognac, etc…but regardless, it is always a well thought out selection worthy of a trip into Rutgers Nation.

There she is...in all her glory...
Just last week my buddy Dimitri and I couldn’t pass up a chance to try the Glen Grant 28 Yr 1979 Speyside Single-Barrel Bottling from The Malt Trust.  (Especially at only $8 an ounce!!)

It was absolutely fantastic.  (Plus I got to try another Independent bottling of Highland Park that I will have to post about later…)

From the top-flight atmosphere, to the fine staff, to meeting Mr. Schott himself, we couldn’t have asked for a better experience.

Part of me was torn about this post…my friends were struck with fear that it could lead to larger crowds at the restaurant, and a pack of people jockeying for position to get samples every Thursday.  However, I look at this two ways:

First, they are giving me too much credit.  Sure, if every twitter and blog follower showed up, the bottle would be gone in minutes…but that is not likely to happen.

Second, the whole point of my whisky journey is to SHARE and EDUCATE as many people as possible…plus, I want to turn as many people on to this fine spirit as possible.

As my Uncle used to say, “I don’t have a dog in this fight”.  I have nothing gain by recommending this restaurant, and frankly may have something to lose by giving away such precious information to the whisky loving masses.

But, what I do stand to gain is that raw satisfaction that comes with steering people in the right direction, and spreading the ‘gospel’ of whisky!  I know some local people that would likely cut off their own leg to try rare Scotches at these prices…I want to let them know. (think of all the legs we could save!)

Plus, when there is a fine restaurant owner sticking his neck out to do something unique in this cookie-cutter society, they should be acknowledged as well.  Kudos to the team at Catherine Lombardi!

Many folks have referenced the phrase ‘Whisky Fabric’ when discussing all the people in the Industry, and I take that to heart.

I want to spread the knowledge, and spread the love of whisky.

Enough rambling though…let’s get to the Tasting Notes!



Glen Grant 28 Yr 1979 Speyside Single-Barrel Bottling from The Malt Trust
Bottle # 176 from a Single Barrel of 1979 that was dumped in 2007 - 55.6% ABV

Tasting Notes:

Appearance:  Very light, Pale Gold, Straw

Nose:  Very approachable, floral and gentle, a little fruity…peaches?

Palate:  Drying and crisp, malt & heather, fruit again…more citrus flavors

Finish:  Medium-long and enjoyable, slightly spicy

Conclusion:

I just love it when you taste a whisky nearly 30 years old and it doesn’t taste like a pile of wet sawdust!   I am pretty blown away at how crisp and fresh this whisky tastes despite its age.  I can see why Glen Grant has been such a hit with Independent Bottlers over the years.  Their product is just as pure as the land it comes from, and at the end of the day that is what you want out of your whisky.  You want it to not only reflect the region and Distillery it comes from, you want it to take you there.

Score:  90