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, January 19, 2014

Barrell Bourbon - Batch One

Barrell Bourbon...side pocket...
For many whisky lovers, the more proof the better!

I am no exception to this pseudo-rule.  For me it is about flexibility.  If I happen to dig a whisky at 55% and my buddy wants it closer to 45% ABV, we can both drink from the same bottle and be happy simply by adding water.

Now, that being said, there have been some lovely delicate Scotches in my life that I felt were perfect as-is in a low ABV, and vice versa, but again it is about flexibility for me.

I like having the option.  If it’s chilly in the winter and I need to create some ‘central heating’ in my belly, Cask Strength whisky is perfect. On the other hand, if I am working the grill in the dead of summer, sometimes I reach for a Cask Strength bourbon because I know it can stand up to the ice I want to dump in it!

This brings me to a new bottle that has popped up on the East Coast!

Barrell Bourbon is described on their website as ‘Small Batch, craft distilled bourbon bottled straight from the cask.  Every bottle of Barrell Bourbon is brought to you at full, unfiltered barrel strength…’

True to form, not only is this baby coming in at a humming 60+% ABV, there are actual little bits of cask/char in there!  I’m loving that!

While it appears the company is in its infancy (this is Batch #1) the website looks pretty slick, and there are some cool details on there for this first batch.

Per the website:

-Mashbill:  70% Corn, 25% Rye, 5% Malted Barley

-Distilled in Tennessee

-Aged in Kentucky

-Bottled at 121.6 proof

-Aged for 5 years in charred white oak barrels

At the end of the day, we all want to know…How does it taste?

NEAT:

Appearance:  Golden Amber, genuine flecks of true barrel sediment, big/fat/slow legs

Nose:  Vanilla Pods, Dark Cherries, Woody Caramel, Every Note is Big and Bold

Palate:  Rich and Thick mouthfeel, Cinnamon Apple Sauce, Caramelized Sugars, Vanilla & Nutmeg Cookies

Finish:  Lovely Char note, slight Rye spice kick, Long and Warming

WITH A FEW DROPS OF WATER:

Appearance:  Same as above

Nose:  Opens up to clear Vanilla (extract), Baked Cherry Pie, Rye is more exposed with a slight Pencil Shavings & Pine (in a good way)

Palate:  Vanilla Bean Ice Cream with Caramel Sauce, Oily and Luscious, Cinnamon Toast Crunch Cereal, Clove & Maple Sugar

Finish:  Powerful and Lovely, Cinnamon & Oak, Salted Caramel, Long and Warming

OVERALL:

This 5-year Old Straight Bourbon at Cask Strength this is one smooth sipper!  I was pleasantly surprised by this.  I’d put this somewhere in the realm of the Booker’s of the world in terms of proof & pricing.  Booker’s has a little more aged-depth and robustness to it on the palate, but I prefer this nose a little better as Booker’s nose is always tight for me...I just got a better read off this one.  The palate on this Batch 1 was more like a high-powered Bulliet.  Think of it as Bulliet on PED’s.  Hey, either way, for a first effort to even be mentioned with the likes of Booker’s & Bulliet is something to take pride in!  I’m sure the connoisseurs of the world may gravitate towards it due to the limited batch run as well (per the gentleman I spoke with, looks like a range of 2,000-4,000 bottles at most).  That makes it a bit more ‘special’ or ‘appealing’ for the sake of exclusivity or being collectible.  I’d like to know more about the back story of all of this, but perhaps that is a future write-up.  All in all, I’m happy with my purchase, glad I took a risk on it, and am willing to give Batch #2 a chance whenever that comes out.    Score:  89/100
 
**Follow Up Note:  Honored to have my notes featured on their webpage!**

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

New Holland Beer Barrel Bourbon


Many folks, including myself, have kicked back and enjoyed some barrel-aged beer in their time.

Usually it is aged in Bourbon barrels, and it can add quite a nice Oaky-Caramel impact on a base beer.

One popular version is New Holland Dragon’s Milk, which is an Imperial Stout made in Michigan.  Well, in a twist that seems as though someone should have thought about it ages ago, they have decided to go ahead and throw their Bourbon back into the barrels that previously held the beer!

As someone that is borderline infatuated with the Craft Whiskey movement, I find this to be an interesting concept worth exploring.  I just have to find out for myself whether or not the beer factor is identifiable, and of course…does it taste good?

Of course the technical side of me ponders…would this technically be considered more of a 'finished' bourbon?  It is entering a cask that is not pure, unused American Oak at the end.  Per their website:

Beer Barrel Bourbon is first aged in new American oak barrels for several years, before a three month beer-y slumber.

That leads me to believe that this is more of a “finished” bourbon, like Angel’s Envy.  I am pretty sure that the basis of this Beer Barrel Bourbon is a blend of 110-115 proof Bourbons that come from Lawrenceburg Distillers in Indiana.  (LDI supplies much of the Bourbon out there, like Templeton Rye and many others...purely a guess)  Then the bourbon is placed in the used Dragon’s Milk barrels, and about 3-months later it is transformed into an incredibly smooth treat.  Not too bad of an idea.  I am excited to see if the myriad of lives that the barrel has experienced will shine through here.

Tasting Notes:

Appearance:  Dark Brown, almost Black/Amber if that is possible

Nose:  Corn, something Sweet…tough to pin down…almost yeasty

Palate:  Caramel, Coffee Grinds, Malt, very mellow

Finish:  Easy and smooth, chocolate and coffee

Overall:

I love that New Holland is having fun here.  They clearly took a brewer’s perspective with this one, and I do think that they have achieved some new flavors.  This does not reek of innovation for innovation’s sake, I think there is some ingenuity behind this.  While overall I find the 80 proof flavors a little tame, it is hard to argue that there is something different (as there is hardly any Oak to speak of).  That is part of what I really enjoy about offerings from the smaller distilleries, they take risks.  Man, this really had some coffee notes in there, I’d love to try some type of cocktail with this and coffee liquor…or perhaps in some epic coffee based smoothie.  Super smooth sipper either way, and worth trying out to form your own opinion.

Score:  85

Sunday, January 5, 2014

#DAVINTT2 Highlight Reel



(Image courtesy of Whisky Discovery)
 
Despite a horrendous December overall, I was able to steal away a couple hours on a few Sundays for the outstanding Twitter Tasting being put on by Johanne McInnis (WhiskyLassie), Graham MacKenney, & Davin de Kergommeux. 

Each Sunday at 3pm EST, we spent a little time recapping part of Davin’s outstanding book, asking him probing questions, and getting to enjoy some fine Canadian Whisky.

It was all that I imagined and more.

While the first half hour of each session is tied to questions for the author (which Davin answers with precision and ease) the second phase is a blind tasting of Canadian whisky.

Blind tastings are one of my favorite things to do with whisky.  While it not only challenges your mind and palate, it is a great way to remove the stigmas attached with labels.  The first three whiskies we tried were all unique in their own right, and one of them is by far my favorite Canadian whisky ever, and genuinely in my top 3 new whiskies I’ve tried this year!

Like I noted in my WhiskyFest write up, as much as it about whisky, it is all about the people for me.

I have been able to connect with more folks in the Whisky Fabric through this experience.  Some of which have various skills…almost like a superhero team with unique attributes.

For example, did you know there is a person named Ansgar Speller that has an extraordinary palate in the Netherlands?  She has been able to finish many of our thoughts, or at least narrow the scope of some of our notes. (which is saying a lot considering the talent of the folks in this panel)

Prime example was Whisky #3.  Many people pulled out citrus or lemons, some even said ‘bubbly’ on the tongue.  But it was Ansgar that hit the nail on the head with ‘7up’.  Perfect!


Four Canadian Beauties
There were whisky lovers from all over the world chiming in during this event.  One gentleman loaded with wit is named Aaron Krouse.  There were some questions or points that had maybe faded in my mind, or that were left to wander astray in the midst of me tangling with a feverish 2 year old, but rest assured, Aaron would chime in with a creative manner.  (check out Booze Dancing if you haven’t yet!)

One of the very few folks involved in this #DAVINTT2 that I have met in person is Josh from The Coopered Tot.  We met briefly at a WhiskyGuild event in Morristown, NJ earlier this year.  Easily one of my favorite whisky blogs on the web, he never ceases to amaze with his palate, insight, and passion for the history behind each spirit.  There are quite a few fine write ups on that site, be sure to check it out!

Speaking of his palate, whisky #3 this past Sunday had an odd bittersweet note that I was having trouble pinning down.  Both Josh (& Susannah) hit the nail on the head again with ‘Grapefruit Pith’. Bingo.

I sure did feel humble and honored that yours truly was able to guess whisky #3 blindly!  Not too shabby!

There are many others that can be mentioned here, but certainly the charisma of Whisky Lassie is undeniable, the steadfast guidance of Graham MacKenney is essential, and the sharp wit of Davin de Kergommeux shines through every event.

One of the most outstanding ideas born out of this event was a Scavenger Hunt going on throughout the weeks!  A FANTASTIC Canadian goody basket filled with some great whisky and even Maple Syrup (of course) was being offered up to the person that answered the most questions correctly.

These questions were tweeted out in waves during the tastings.  With the final 5 being deployed via some fine whisky blogs:

Whisky Discovery  (Dave and his daughter Kat blog together about their whisky journey. While my daughter is only 2yrs old, I can only hope to share this joy with her someday!) Tire-bouchon Whisky Plus Whisky Corner Whisky Israel all outstanding blogs in their own right.

Lastly, there was the Bonus Question.  This one was a hunt in and of itself as the only hint as to where to find it was that it would be asked via the only non-Canadian to judge the Canadian Whisky Awards.

That honor went to the always entertaining Mark Gillespie of WhiskyCast!  I love that his show has its headquarters right here in my native New Jersey.  As a regular listener, it was cool to hear Graham pop up and chat about the tasting and give the question.  Mark may not be aware, but he has helped me on long car rides throughout the last few years. 

To clarify, as a Dad I naturally get the worst vehicle in the family, and mine does not even have a radio!  What I do is play WhiskyCast on my phone to maintain sanity on long drives and traffic battles.  Thanks Mark!

Here are my notes on the whiskies we tried.  (great compilation of the notes of many participants are summarized beautifully at Dave’s site here)

Whisky Joe's Tasting Notes:

Whisky #1 - Canadian Club Small Batch Sherry Cask (41.3% abv)

Quick Data: This small release is said to contain whiskies aged for at least 8 years in white oak barrels and then finished in Fino sherry casks imported from Jerez, Spain.
Tweeted Notes: 

-Nose is beautiful & rich, fruity, spicy, begging to be tasted
-Sinfully smooth, cloves and dark fruits, faint rye bread on the back end
-Drop or two of water upgrades this whisky from 'highly approachable' to 'irresistible'
-So many dark fruit notes on this palate, like eating the center of a cherry pie and neglecting the crust


Whisky #2 - Wiser's Red Letter Rye (45% abv)
One of my Favorite Drams of 2013!
Quick Data:  Distilled at Hiram Walker, master blender Dr. Don Livermore adheres to a grain recipe found in Wiser’s old records...finished in virgin oak

Tweeted Notes:

-Nose - Fresh rye bread, pine tree, clove, and @mynameisgone is right about the play-doh
-tastes lovely, pencil shavings fade to citrus, post storm earth, rye tones, syrupy sweet finish, a winner
-evolving w/drop of water (not needed) opens up more of the forest, crushed leaves & relentless pine cones (good way)
-I originally intended to preserve a little of W2 to revisit later, but it is too damn good! Down the hatch



Whisky #3 - Alberta Premium (40% abv)

Quick Data:  Known for its full flavor, this whiskey is made by Alberta Distillers.  Some of the finest rye whiskeys come from this region. A blend of two aged whiskies,  Alberta Premium is aged for 5 years.
Tweeted Notes:
-Nose: Nail polish remover, lemon zest, rye mintiness
-Nose w/water opens up those mineral notes more clearly, still plenty of lemon polish as noted & @ansgarspeller 7up note
-Nose = What the living room smells like when my wife is taking off nail polish and I am dusting with Pledge
-Palate mimics nose. Straight shooter. Earthy minerals, Pledge, rye, gentle creaminess, dusty & astringent
-Water is bringing out more of the peppery and floral notes. This one takes time in the glass, it's a 'creeper'
 
Whisky #4 - Forty Creek 'Heart of Gold' (43% abv)

(Please note that I was technically not available to partake in the live Twitter Tasting for this one.  These notes are from a quiet evening in my basement this past weekend.)

Quick Data:  John Hall took 10 years developing this whiskey.  He took some extremely narrow cuts of the 'heart' during distillation.  This is his labor of love.  He wanted to capture some of the floral notes that Rye can give off, so he used wine yeast.  Pot distilled in small copper pot stills.

Nose:  Floral, (Rose), dusty Rye, Sweet, nutty, truly evolves

Palate:  Ginger, Cinnamon, gentle fruitiness, but one clear and distinct note...Butterscotch!

Finish:  Trademark 40 Creek spiciness, warm & cozy. 

Overall:  This one evolves in the glass...it tasted different at the end than the beginning.  Another fantastic example of what John Hall and his team are capable of.  Truly venturing out & dabbling into some cool uncharted territory.  It is funny to think that when I started this Canadian journey, I had only had Barrel Select from 40 Creek.  Now, at this point, I feel like I can recognize their products in the glass.  Certain distinct tones & familiarities.  Similar to a band that finds it's 'sound', and you can recognize their songs by only a few notes.

'Enlightening' would be the understatement of the year for how much I learned about Canadian whisky throughout this journey.  It goes without saying that I highly recommend Davin’s book if you have any interest at all about Canadian whisky.  It is not just a fun read, it a bone-a-fide resource that I will revisit many times over!

It is also worth mentioning that that Davin’s Canadian Whisky website is a fun visit & can help you round out your knowledge and have you better prepared for Whisky Jeopardy!

Special thanks again go out to Whisky Lassie, Graham McKenney, & Davin de Kergommeux. 

Everyone involved made this whole experience truly first class, and continued to set the bar high for Twitter Tastings!

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Octomore Comus 4.2 & Ben Nevis 1999 6yr Old

I found myself at one of my favorite Scotch haunts again and was tempted.

There were a couple of bottles I had yet to try, and I can’t pass up something new.  My inner whisky-geek just comes bursting out sometimes, and immediately seizes control of my decision making. (and wallet!)

The two that I had to go for were both young, but quite different.

One was the Bruichladdich Octomore Comus 4.2.  Heavily Peated and then finished in Sauternes casks.  Oh boy…I love this kind of duality!  How could I ignore such an experiment?  Besides, I already know I enjoy the Nectar D’Or from Glenmorangie which is finished in similar casks.  (I believe the Glenmorangie Pride would be a more direct resemblance,(aside from age) but I have not yet had that one)  Already a fan of what Sherry can do with Peat, I was very interested in seeing what kind of impact another sweet wine would have on such a peaty dram.

The second was an independent bottle.  It was a Ben Nevis Distillery expression that was aged in Bourbon and Port casks.  Ironically, it was bottled at Bruichladdich!  I usually love whiskeys that are aged in casks that previously held fortified wines.  More magic at a respectable proof.

How did these beauties stack up?

Octomore Comus 4.2 61% ABV About 5 years Old

Appearance:  Very Light Gold

Nose:  Peat & lots of it, slight brine/ocean notes, still a delicate fruity undertone though

Palate:  More smokeyness, but quickly the sweetness starts to make an appearance, layers of sugary syrup and fruity citrus come out

Finish:  Wow, my tongue is just bursting with a clean crisp feeling, shockingly so…very nice.  Extremely clean.

Overall:  First, it is hard not to like the marketing story here.  That being said, I loved it!  I have never had such a peaty dram that finished so clean.  It was a crisp & sweet finish that I did not see coming.  A couple drops of water made this even more explosive like biting into a peated fresh yellow Starburst.  At 165 ppm they definitely brought the peat (which I enjoy) but boy those Premier Cru Superieur Sauternes casks (Ch√Ęteau d'Yquem )really tried to reign it in by the end.  While they didn’t completely tame the peaty beast, they did succeed in balancing it out a bit.  88/100

Ben Nevis 1999 (Bottled in 2005) 6 year old finished in Vintage Port Casks 46% ABV

Appearance: Dark Amber

Nose:  Lovely, Soft, Port, Rich & Complex, Butter & Dark Fruits  (w/water it was clear the dark fruit was Black Cherries)

Palate:  Velvet, thick more port notes, raisins, like Bing Cherry Vanilla Ice Cream

Finish:  Smooth, calm, delicate but rich, slight chocolate

Overall:  This one was a tiny bit young, but the Port helped tame that fact a bit.  It opens up more as time passes, so take your time with it.  More plums and figs showed their faces after a while.  Even a somewhat surprising leather note mixed in there.  Pretty solid for its youth.  86/100

Happy New Year

Happy New Year Everyone!!!
Please forgive the brief blogging hiatus,  December dealt me the toughest few weeks of 2013.
First, my toddler’s illness went on for too long, that was parlayed into myself getting sick, and then we had a family tragedy when my very young nephew passed on.  

All of this while working entirely too many jobs.

Rest assured I will be back in action very soon!
Including some long overdue posts (#DAVINTT2 Highlight Reel), possibly a new scoring system, and much much more!
Thank you so much for your patience!