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







Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Glenfiddich Gift Pack


Every now and then one of my favorite liquor stores lands some nice sample packs for Scotch.

I found this long Glenfiddich sampler, and besides my desire to try them all side by side, I liked the whole ‘shotgun case’ appearance.

The price was fair enough, so I jumped all over it.

Already being quite familiar with the best selling and ‘most awarded’ Scotch in all the world, I figured a head to head comparison was in order.

Let's get to it!




Glenfiddich 12 Year Old (40% ABV)

Appearance:  Light Straw

Nose:  Fruits, Pears & Apples, Oak

Palate:  Malt, Oak, with definite fruitiness

Finish:  Medium finish, creamy & mellow

Score = 82, this one is a very familiar stand-by.  Very approachable and steady, but not overly complex or interesting.



Glenfiddich 15 Year Old 40% ABV

Appearance:  Golden Amber

Nose:  Complex, Vanilla, Cinnamon, a lot going on here

Palate:  Bursts in the mouth, hits all areas of the tongue, Sherry, Cinnamon, vanilla…well-rounded and fresh.

Finish:  Medium to Long, Sweet & Rich

Score = 87, the Solera Vat method really makes this one a standout & bang for the buck candidate.  With spices, honey & fruits, this dram offers a bit of everything.  I had it once at a higher ABV and it was breathtaking! (I would have scored this higher at a higher proof)

Glenfiddich 18 Year Old 40% ABV

Appearance:  Deep Bronze

Nose:  Cooked fruits (baked apples), and Oak

Palate:  Cinnamon, more juicy fruits, wood but not overpowering wood, delicate

Finish:  Smooth, Long and warm…

Score = 88, man that Oloroso wood and the classic ‘Fiddich flavor mate well.  This is a delicate and rich dram worthy of a fireplace and cigar.

12,15,18 Respectively
Overall:

I have to say that I am always impressed by the Glenfiddich 15.  While overall I have the 18YR just a notch higher (just a little less intense), the 15 should hold its head high.  Depending on the size of my wallet I could easily go for either, as they are both reasonably priced as far as whiskeys in that age bracket go.  I have seen the 18 under $100 pretty consistently.  All in all, these are good and solid fruity options when that craving hits.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Side By Side Down Cody Road


Part of what thrills me about whiskey is the romanticism.

With American whiskies, it is not just from our pioneering  history, but also from the notion that one person can create whisky from just what can be found around them.  The idea of one distillery utilizing what they find locally, and creating something with a sum greater than its parts fascinates me.  That throwback spirit is being echoed across our nation every day now more so than ever.


Literally Side By Side
Mississippi River Distilling Company is one of these genuine craft operations.  They have a single still, they sort/clean and mill their own grain purchased locally in Iowa.  They do their own fermentation, and they age their spirit in small barrels from oak trees grown on the Mississippi River.

They even made their namesake William “Buffalo Bill” Cody.

It is refreshing to see these fine folks in Iowa doing it the old fashioned way.

Tonight I will be tasting both their Bourbon and their Rye expressions.  Their website has exceptional Batch notes on each expression, something that a whiskey geek like me adores.  (why can't more folks do this?)  Looks like this Batch 8 of Cody Road Bourbon is made from made from 70% corn from Dan & Ryan Clark and Dan Schurr of LeClaire with 20% wheat and 10% barley from Tracy Doonan of Reynolds, Illinois.  Then it is 'aged for less than four years' (likely in the 1-2 year range) in 30 gallon oak barrels. (about half the size of traditional casks)

Cap Close-Up

Legend has it that Buffalo Bill’s favorite spirit of choice was Rye whiskey.  Per their site, this Batch 5 of Cody Road Rye is handmade with 100% Rye from the Wherry Brothers of Fulton, Illinois.  It even notes that it was the last of the Rye before the New Year.

I love how specific the fine folks at Mississippi River Distilling are.  That's romantic to me.

They also have a couple other fun things on their site, like ‘Adopt a Barrel’ and ‘Whiskey School’.  Worth checking out.

Let’s get down to it, and see what Iowa has to offer us here:

Cody Road Bourbon Batch # 8 Bottle # 1576

Appearance:  Very Light Gold

Nose:  Floral, Citrus, Fresh Cut Grass

Palate:  Nutty, Granny-Smith Apples, Cinnamon

Finish:  Medium, Soft & Kind, little bit of Toasty-Oak

Overall:  Clearly well crafted, but with many of the ‘usual’ Bourbon suspects politely remaining in the background. (Vanilla)  Truly unique and I’d love to taste this aged just a little bit longer.  Slightly thin mouthfeel.  Really a distinctly original flavor though.  Score: 86

Cody Road Rye Batch #5 Bottle # 242

Appearance:  Light Straw

Nose:  Mint Leaves, Grain, Fruits

Palate:  Spicy pop of Cloves, very strong Mint flavor, Sweet

Finish:  Medium, Maple Syrup

Overall:  This was actually a bit better with a little water.  There is that Rye Spiciness but the water really opens up the brown sugar and sweet side.  I may have tasted more Mint in this Rye than I have in others, not sure why, but I liked it.  Again, I have to use the words distinct & unique.  Score: 87

OVERALL:

First, I want to thank the fine folks at the Mississippi river Distilling Company for the samples.  You can really get the grains across your palate, and that is something that can get muddled in other whiskies.  It is almost as if you can taste the tender loving care.  Combine that with what sounds like a great little tour, and I think I have a pretty solid reason to visit Iowa!  At the end of the day, these whiskies have a character all their own, and that is likely the goal of most distillers.  While their youth may not make their flavor profiles customary, they are undeniably gripping.  I think that Buffalo Bill would be proud of this juice.

 

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Breckenridge Bourbon

Mmm...Snow-Melt...

Earlier in my life I was fortunate enough to live in Colorado for a little while.

I had an apartment with my buddy, and we had fun.  Being exposed to that area, it is hard to dispute its beauty.

There are lots of things to marvel at.  I can clearly remember driving to work out there and just being enamored with the Rocky Mountains.  It was very hard to concentrate on the road with such a spectacle everywhere you turn.  Another marvel was how the elevation affected everything in sports…from how far a ball travels, to how quickly you get winded.

That leads me to a distillery perched at 9,600 feet above sea level (highest distillery in the world) in Breckenridge, CO.  There is something else to marvel at here too…how can a whiskey so relatively young (2-3 years) taste so fantastic?

Everything I have learned leads me to believe there is a Scotch fan at the distillery.  They use an open-top Scottish fermenter, a Vendome copper pot still, and even claim to mix Rocky Mountain snowmelt into their high rye mashbill!

Breckenridge has been really racking up the awards since 2011, and the hits keep coming.  While other big names like Jefferson’s and Elijah Craig are releasing bourbons in their 20’s, it is pretty nifty to see success with something so relatively young.

According to Bryan Nolt (Owner) and Jordan Via (Master Distiller) the mashbill is 56% Yellow Corn 38% Green Rye and 6% Un-Malted barley.  Aged in 55 gallon, Char No. 3 Missouri white oak barrels for 2-3 years, plus factor in some snow melt from the peaks of Mt. Quandary, something special is happening here.

It was quite a big hit at our New Jersey Whiskey Society tasting earlier this month, and I know a few folks literally picked up a bottle on the way home.  That is saying quite a bit when you consider the pricetag is a little on the high side for such a youngster ($40).  But, at the end of the day, the proof is in the pudding.

Tasting Notes:

Appearance:  Honeyed Amber +1

Nose:  Solid for its youth, butter & corn (think cream corn), slightly sweet (brown sugar) with just a faint hint of Oak

Palate:  Flavor!  Rye spices of cinnamon/nutmeg, fresh New Jersey Sweet Corn, the spirit has a thin mouthfeel though

Finish: Medium length finish with Oak and Vanilla as the primary suspects

Overall:

I enjoyed Breckenridge quite a bit.   What I would love to do is taste this at cask strength!!  I imagine that would resolve the mouthfeel issue and make some of these beautiful notes shine that much brighter.  I'd steer away from the water with this one, a little opens it up, but I wouldn't put it on the rocks.  I already fancy a flavorful, high rye bourbon over the sweeter ones in general.  This bourbon has the ability to be a smooth sipper as-is or could be a fine addition to your favorite cocktail.  I just really like the flavor profiles that get achieved here.  Special thanks go out to the Breckenridge team for the sample.  Breckenridge Bourbon is just one more thing to marvel at when we set our gaze at Colorado.

Score:  88

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Lost Spirits - Bohemian Bonfire


Whiskey, despite being comprised of the simplest of items, can be astoundingly difficult to perfect and make.

There is an art and a science behind it all.  It can be maddening to comprehend how something that appears so easy can be extraordinarily intricate and beautiful.

This leads to most distilleries following tried and true methods passed down over generations.  Rightfully so, because if it is not broken, don’t fix it!

However, there are a few brave souls in the world that dare to take on something totally different.  To stray from the pack and attempt (what appears to be) the unattainable.

There are companies that have ventured into some form of this in the USA.  Buffalo Trace has their experimental collection and Balcones has elevated corn whiskey to a new level, Corsair is always trying new things, and a few others.

But, few are as beguiling and intriguing as what Bryan Davis and Joanne Haruta are doing in Salinas, California at Lost Spirits Distillery.  Bryan is not only trying to venture out into some new type of experimental whiskeys, he is practically on a ship trying to prove that the Earth is not flat.

Top view...looks like a wine bottle
And it could not be more exciting!

Sometimes the peat is not ‘standard’ (Canadian), the casks are usually from his locale (usually wine casks), there is a dragon head on the lyne arm, heck, even the pot still is out of the ordinary. (it is wooden!) 

Super cool stuff to a whiskey geek like me.  Add to this three of my favorite whiskey characteristics:  Cask Strength, Un-Chillfiltered, Single Cask, and I am panting!

One of their goals is to make a peated Single Malt US whiskey.  Most of the distillate appears to be Canadian or California malted barley that is heavily peated in his homemade smoker.  I also read that he throws away the head and tail cuts instead of redistilling them!  Unheard of! 

With many small distilleries trying to get younger whisky to taste older through various methods, Bryan is to be applauded for doing some pretty unique work.  One of which is utilizing air pressure to increase the interaction between the wood and the whiskey.   (he uses this even when seasoning barrels too)

Ok, but how does it taste?

Well, when reading about Lost Spirits online, the reviews run the gamut.  It seems that people either love it or hate it.  Endlessly curious, I had to find out for myself!

At a recent New Jersey Whiskey Society meeting, we had the honor of sampling Lost Spirits Bohemian Bonfire.  A super rare treat (roughly only about 160 bottles available) we were all on the edge of our seat to try this.  (special thanks to Joanne for the sample)
Sunshine in a bottle
Tasting Notes:

Appearance:  Very light, white wine

Nose:  Peat (not-Islay), but a different type of peat smoke like moss-meets-sweatsocks (in a good way) vegetal.  Like a wet dog that dried out but still smells a little funky.  A few drops of water unleash fruits and honey.  Earthy and rich.  Layers upon layers here, lots to think about.

Palate:  Malt blending with odd smoke, nutty, dark fruits and a spicy surprise of clove

Finish:  Medium length finish, a little bit of sweet cookie dough at the last moment and that distinct smoke and fresh pepper on the way out

Overall:

This distillery already has their popular Leviathan series, which are heavily peated single malts for peat-heads everywhere.  Bohemian Bonfire is meant to take the same base as Leviathan II but make narrower cuts during distillation.  In addition, I believe he uses more neutral wine casks to help decrease the oak notes.

Bryan is quoted as calling Bohemian Bonfire “a more ‘pure’ version of Leviathan without all the wood and complex esters getting in the way.  In short its Leviathan as Minimalism.”

While I have yet to try any Leviathan releases, they must be pretty fun.   Being a bit of a peat geek myself, I have to say that I love that this is so different.  I feel that one of the great things about whiskey is its versatility.  There is a time and a place for each one.  Even each peated expression.  There are times I want Lagavulin, and there are times that I lean towards Laphroiag, and still others that nothing but Ardbeg can quench.

Now I can add something totally new to my Peat List.

I would not have really thought that this whiskey is as young as it likely is (labeled as ‘less than 4 years’ on the bottle).  At the NJWS meeting, and while reviews varied, everyone pretty much had a similar first reaction:
Some members were still outside sweating, but we got a few together for a photo

“This is different.”  “What the heck?” “Totally unique.”

When my mind races about my peat cravings, there is a new one to satiate now.  There is a niche for this on my palate, as I will likely get to the bottom of the bottle and not completely figure it out.  When I want something out of the ordinary, to get me out of a rut, to force me to think, I now have another bottle to reach for. 

I’ve heard Bryan was quoted as saying, “I want a whiskey to entertain me with fireworks and surprises – so don’t expect subtle from me.”  Mission accomplished my friend!

I can’t help but get excited about what Bryan can do with these simple ingredients and even more time to hone his craft and age his whiskey…truly art and science having fun and yielding something inimitable.

Score:  86

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Berkshire Bourbon

It is the eve of the 4th of July, and what better way to cozy up to Independence Day than an American Bourbon.

Up in Massachusetts you can find Berkshire Mountain Distillers.  They create a range of items from gins to vodka and rum and more.  Tonight, rather than just head over to the Kentucky area of my cabinet, I felt like mixing it up a bit.

Bottled at 86 proof, and without an age statement, it is kind of hard to find around here in New Jersey.
It is a shame too, because this is one of those bourbons that has a distinct tone.  A clear note for me, that is consistent through the whole experience, is that of sweet cinnamon.  Every now and then, when my pallet needs a breather from the peaty scotches and spicy ryes, I want to go for my sweet tooth.  Usually, I can get that fix from Bourbon or certain Speysides, but I digress.

A special thanks goes out to the fine folks at Berkshire for the sample.  I have been advised that this is Triple Distilled (Pot) and has a mashbill coming in at 72% Corn 18% Rye and 12% Barley.  Lots to look forward to!

Tasting Notes:
Appearance:  Honeyed amber
Nose:  Light but fairly rich, sweet caramel & cornbread

Palate: Medium bodied, like biting into a piece of Big Red Chewing Gum, sweet upfront with a faint spicy tang

Finish:  Peaceful and quiet, a gentle farewell

Overall: 

This one is best with very little water.  It is just right as is.  You can tell that there was some heart and soul put into this.  Very smooth and delicate, it doesn't need to blow the doors off.  Instead of being a tank rumbling into town and blowing everything up, this is the Navy SEAL sneaking up on you, quietly without a peep, and getting the job done. 

Score:  85