Monday, March 10, 2014
Angel's Envy Cask Strength was one of the most popular releases of last fall's bourbon season, at least on Facebook bourbon pages. It is a casks strength version of the Angel's Envy port finished bourbon. As with the regular 86 proof version, it has no age statement and is made by an undisclosed distillery.
Angel's Envy Cask Strength, Batch 20, bottled 2013, 61.5% abv ($150)
The nose is very similar to the regular Angel's Envy with sweet corn notes and some chemical notes. The palate starts out with nice caramel but it quickly develops a burning plastic note, sort of similar to sulfur that you'd get in a sherried malt (maybe the port barrels were sulfur treated?). It's quite hot and needs a dash of water, but even then, that burning chemical note is quite strong and off-putting. After taking notes, I looked at Tim Read's review on Scotch & Ice Cream (and thanks to Tim for this sample), and he describes the off note as a hair salon smell which is a perfect description; it's like burning hair.
While this starts decently enough, it quickly goes down hill, and fast. There are different batches of this bourbon so there may be some batch variation, but I certainly wouldn't recommend this one regardless of what you read on Facebook.
Wednesday, March 5, 2014
File this under the weird rules department. Did you know that according to 27 CFR 5.42(b)(7) of the TTB regulations for distilled spirits:
Labels shall not contain any statement, design, device, or pictorial representation which the appropriate TTB officer finds relates to, or is capable of being construed as relating to, the armed forces of the United States, or the American flag, or any emblem, seal, insignia, or decoration associated with such flag or armed forces;The only TTB ruling I found dealing with this provision involved a retailer who wanted to put stickers on bottles "bearing the slogan 'Fight Communism' and pictures of the Statue of Liberty and of the American flag with its staff transfixing a bleeding serpent." Classy! The TTB nixed the flag but said the rest of it was good to go, so I guess bleeding serpents are okay.
Of course, as with most rules, the TTB seems pretty lax about it these days, letting at least a few flags and military themes slip through.
Monday, March 3, 2014
It's March, which means one thing in most of the whiskey world: Irish Whiskey. Yes, you're allowed to drink Irish all year 'round, but let's face it, March is the one time in the year when non-whiskey people wake up and pay attention to it.
I've always been a fan of Knappogue Castle's Irish single malts, but haven't sampled any of their whiskey since they switched from vintage years to age statements, so I was quite pleased when Castle Brands sent me samples of their entire lineup.
Castle Brands is an independent bottler which also owns the Jefferson's line of bourbons. Their Irish line includes Clontarf, a blend, as well as the Knappogue Castle single malts. While they have not disclosed where these whiskeys are distilled, given that the Knappogue Castles are all triple distilled single malts, they are likely from Bushmills. The only thing they say about Clontarf is that it comes from Dublin, which means it could be a Midleton product (while Midleton Distillery is in Cork, they have a presence in Dublin as well).
Clontarf 1014, 4 years old, 40% abv ($20)
Not part of the Knappogue line, Clontarf is Castle's budget brand. Clontarf is a blended whiskey aged in bourbon casks. It is 10% single malt and 90% grain whiskey (both pot and column distilled).
The nose is light with honey and malt, a very typical blended Irish Whiskey nose. The palate is malty, a tad soapy, then later in the palate develops a nice mustiness and some briny coastal notes that dominate the finish. I really wasn't expecting much from this, but it's a very nice Irish blend with some complexity, and for $20, a real deal.
Knappogue Castle 12 year old, 40% abv ($42)
This is a single malt aged in bourbon casks. It is "lightly chill filtered" at a higher than usual tempreature and has no coloring added.
The nose is malty and fruity. Palate is soapy with a bit of pepper. The finish is mostly peppery with some malt on the nose. This is not at all bad but a bit on the bland side.
Knappogue Castle Twin Wood 14 year old, 46% abv ($60)
The 14 year old single malt was distilled in 1998 and bottled in 2012. It includes malt aged in both bourbon and Oloroso sherry casks. The 14 year old is not chill filtered and had no added color.
The nose on this one has some malt but is dominated by chemical notes. The palate is again a bit soapy with some floral notes. The finish is floral and perfumy. Despite the "twin wood" designation, there is very little sherry character on this whiskey.
I wasn't a big fan of this one. It just didn't come together that well.
Knappogue Castle Twin Wood 16 year old, 40% abv ($100)
This single malt was distilled in 1995 and bottled in 2012. It spent 14 years in bourbon casks and 21 months in sherry casks. It is "lightly chill filtered" without added color.
The nose on this one is very nice with fruity malt. The palate is malty and straight forward with some of that nice pepper going out and into the finish, which also has some salty notes. Again, there is very little sherry character here. This is decent enough but not particularly exciting.
Celtic Honey, 30% abv ($22)
Everyone has a flavored whiskey these days, and apparently, Castle Brands is no different. Just for the heck of it, I thought I'd give their Celtic Honey a try. The nose has marshmallows in honey. The palate is pure honey. I mean, it's like drinking a watery honey. I keep wanting there to be some spice, but I don't get any. The finish is a bit bitter, like artificial sweetener. Obviously, this isn't my thing, but I didn't feel this one was particularly good even for a flavored whiskey.
Overall, I wasn't particularly impressed by the new Knappogue Castle lineup, particularly given that they have put out some really great whiskeys in the past. The 16 year old was my favorite over the 12, though not by much, and $100 is a bit steep for it.
For a good Irish Whiskey at a very good price, I would recommend the Clontarf. It's a straightforward blend, but it has some more complex notes, and it's a real bargain.
Wednesday, February 26, 2014
The Bruichladdich Distillery at one time looked like it might be a casualty of the lean years. Founded in 1881, it changed ownership multiple times until it eventually became part of the Whyte & Mackay portfolio and was mothballed in 1995. Except for a few months of production in 1998, the distillery stayed silent for the rest of the century. Then, in 2000, a new investor group purchased the distillery and set about reopening it. Michael Jackson lovingly described the moment it opened its doors in the 5th edition of his Complete Guide to Single Malt Scotch:
Islanders carried children on their shoulders to witness the historic moment. They lined the Islay shore to watch the reopening in 2001 of Bruichladdich, Scotland's most westerly distillery. The single morning plane, bringing more guests, was running late. The people on the shore scanned the skies. They had waited ten years; what was another hour? Lovers of Bruichladdich had come from London, Seattle, and Tokyo. There were tears of joy, a ceilidh, and fireworks at midnight.
The new owners didn't waste time making an impression. They started releasing a vast number of whiskies, more expressions than any single Scotch distillery had ever released at one time, possibly by a factor of five. They had sherried malt, lightly peated malt and began distilling heavily peated malt. They released whiskies with unconventional names in bottles with unconventional colors.
Probably no bottlings from that first decade are more heralded than the "still" series, a series of whiskies distilled in the 1980s that were released as Blacker Still, Redder Still and Golder Still. The Blacker Still, in particular, became legendary and probably still stand as Bruichladdich's most heralded whisky, certainly of those distilled pre-closure.
Things are different at Bruichladdich today. After an exciting and tumultuous decade, the distillery was purchased by liquor giant Remy Countreau. They now make a wide range of very good whisky, but there don't seem to be as many surprises anymore.
Today I relive some of the salad days of Bruichladdich with my friend Tim over at Scotch & Ice Cream, and many thanks to Tim for sharing these old whiskies and making this tasting possible.
Blacker Still, distilled 1986/bottled 2006, 20 yo, 50.7% abv.
Blacker Still was matured in Oloroso sherry casks. As you might expect, the nose has deep sherry notes. The palate is sweet sherry with a touch of sulfur. There's all kinds of fruit in here: raisins, dark cherries, figs - delicious stuff. The finish is dessert sweet. This is a big old sherry bomb. For a legendary bottling, I didn't find it particularly complex, but it's wonderfully drinkable.
Redder Still, distilled 1984/bottled 2007, 50.4% abv
The Redder Still was aged in first fill bourbon casks and finished in Chateau LaFleur Bordeaux casks. The wine notes come out clearly in the nose with sweet notes similar to dry sherry as well as some herbal notes. The palate is also filled with a dry sherry type note which lasts in to the finish. It's much drier than the Blacker Still and the wine notes seem to have less depth, which may be due to the fact that this is only finished in the wine casks.
Golder Still, distilled 1984, 51% abv
Golder Still was released in 2008 and aged in "hand-made squat American Bourbon hogsheads – experimental 'dumpy' casks that American coopers flirted with briefly in the eighties." The nose is clean and malty with perfume notes and canned fruit salad (especially the grapes). The palate has lots of sweet malt with some peppery notes and then some nice peat notes. The finish is lightly peated. This is a whisky with strong malt notes and a nice, light touch of peat.
These are all very nice. If I had to rank them, I would say I liked the Blacker best, followed by Golder and then Redder. It will be interesting to see how Bruichladdich's new distillate compares to these once they reach the 20 year mark.
Monday, February 24, 2014
The US regulations governing whiskey include definitions of many terms that appear on labels, including straight, bottled in bond and blended. While there are long lists of defined terms, there are some common label terms that are not defined. It's important to know what these are because when a term is undefined, it means that it could be used very loosely. Here is a list of some common whiskey terms that are not defined in the regulations.
Barrel Proof/Cask Strength: The general understanding of this term among consumers is that the whiskey has not been diluted with water, but does it always mean that? Can a small amount of water be added to keep batches consistent? If a label said "no added water," that would be a definitive factual statement that you could take to the bank, but "barrel proof" or "cask strength" are a bit more fuzzy. This isn't to suggest that anyone is actually adding water to barrel proof whiskey, but it is not a defined term.
Moonshine: Traditionally, moonshine meant any illegally made alcohol. Obviously, when it appears on a label, it doesn't mean that. These days, it seems to be used for unaged spirits, both whiskey and sugar based, but it's not defined, so it really has no meaning.
Single Barrel: Most of us think this means that the the whiskey in the bottle is the product of one barrel, but does that mean only one barrel? The My Annoying Opinions blog recently did an excellent report about how, in Scotch, single barrel whiskeys are sometimes rebarreled (thus not literally aging entirely in a single barrel), but it could go even further. If a company vatted a number of barrels and then rebarreled them, presumably they could still use the single barrel designation once they bottled those barrels. I have heard rumors of this practice occurring in American whiskey, and it is contrary to what most educated whiskey consumers expect from a single barrel whiskey.
Single Malt: In Scotland, a single malt is a whisky that was (1) distilled at a single distillery and (2) made from 100% malted barley. In the US, this term has no legal meaning. While we all assume that American whiskeys labeled as single malt adhere to the same definition as Scotch, there is no regulation to ensure that is the case.
Small Batch: Small batch is a meaningless marketing term. If Jim Beam, the world's largest bourbon company, can call its bourbons "small batch," then who can't?
White Whiskey: This is another term that has come into frequent use fairly recently but has no legal definition. We all know white whiskey means unaged whiskey, but unless it's corn whiskey, it still has to spend some time in wood to be called whiskey. As a result, lots of white whiskeys get dumped into a barrel and then immediately dumped out, a silly practice that is required by the current definitions.
These terms are so common that it would be helpful if the TTB issued regulations defining them. With the exception of small batch, there is a pretty common understanding among consumers of what these terms mean, and it would be good to know that those understandings are correct and are being adhered to by the industry.
Thursday, February 20, 2014
A lot of times when I write about craft whiskeys, I really like the people who make the whiskey, but I don't like the whiskey itself. With WhistlePig, a non-craft whiskey dressed up in craft clothing, it's the opposite. I like the whiskey, but the guy who sells the stuff is a real piece of work. The owner of the brand is Raj Bhakta, a reality TV star and failed politician who was mentored by Donald Trump, which explains a lot. Bhakta recently gave an embarrassing interview to Bloomberg News in which he came out with gems like, "If you look at American whiskeys, traditionally speaking, you don't see an age statement on the bottle." Er, what? And in the whole interview, he talks a lot about American whiskey but never mentions that his whiskey is made in Canada.
All of that being said, I very much liked the first iteration of WhistlePig, though that likely has very little to do with Mr. Bhakta and everything to do with WhistlePig "Master Distiller" Dave Pickerell, formerly of Maker's Mark, who is the brains behind many successful whiskey start-ups.
WhistlePig's latest release is the Boss Hog, a 12 year old cask strength, single barrel rye that is finished in bourbon barrels and sells for an eye popping price. As with all of the WhistlePig whiskeys, it's 100% rye, which indicates it is likely of Canadian provenance, though the bottle has no statement of origin. The bottle lists a series as well as a barrel; keep in mind that as with all single barrel offerings, the different barrels may vary.
WhistlePig Boss Hog, 12 years old, Spice Dancer series, Barrel 3, 67.3% abv ($160)
The nose has a whiff of that pickle juice that's typical in these Canadian ryes but with a bit of vanilla as well. The palate has a nice balance of sweet and spicy rye notes, caramel and plenty of brine but the brine overwhelms by late palate. A drop of water brings out the vanilla notes and really enhances it, smoothing out some of the rough edges. The finish is briny and slightly bitter.
This is very similar to the standard WhistlePig. It's exactly what you would expect from a cask strength version. I actually prefer the standard 10 year old which has more balance. The brine in this one tends to take over.
While this is a good rye, it's hard to recommend at this price point. I don't see many advantages of this over the regular ten year old, which is half the price. Then again, if you really want a 10 to 15 year old cask strength rye, there aren't a lot of other options.
Tuesday, February 18, 2014
Many of you may remember some of my early forays into whiskey marketing including Sku's Great Grandpappy's Down Home Real California Sippin' Whiskey and its follow up, Loki Titanic Mule Train Diamond Jubilee Whiskey. Those whiskeys, of course, are long sold out and have become the stuff of legend, but I'm proud to introduce an exciting new release.
Old As F*&$ Whiskey
Old As F*&$ Whiskey is a mysterious 48 year old whiskey that we uncovered in an old warehouse. We took this long forgotten whiskey and gave it some additional aging in the same state that once housed the famed Stitzel-Weller distillery. Yup, none other than Pappy Van Winkle's distillery known for wheated bourbons like Very Old Fitzgerald and Old Weller. If it's good enough for Pappy, it's good enough for us!
The only thing that's been added to this whiskey is love and pure West Virginia water (which it turns out, is very cheap these days). We hope you will enjoy this old whiskey which should be on sale soon at a store near you for $499.99, and considering the age, that's quite a bargain compared to Pappy Van Winkle!!
Produced and Bottled by the Schitzel-Willer Distilling Co., a subsidiary of SKU International Spirits & Plumbing Supplies, 1423 Dixwell Avenue, Hamden, Connecticut. 100% Rye Grain Spirit aged in used cooperage. A product of Canada.