El Dorado 15 Year Old Special Reserve

Demerara Rum, 15 Years, 40% ABV, $32

I’ve been enjoying this rum for quite some time and it’s become a favorite of mine, even though it has recently come under fire for undeclared additives (a significant amount of sugar), effectively destroying the presumed purity of this Caribbean classic.  I know… what a way to open a review!  That’s definitely a digression, so let’s start from the top.

This very dark rum comes in a classic “squatty” rum bottle (and nicely boxed, I might add). It’s a blend of ”specially selected aged rums, some as old as 25 years, from the Enmore and Diamond Coffey stills, the Port Mourant double wooden pot still and the Versailles single wooden pot still, [which] is blended to perfection and aged in old bourbon oak casks.”  There’s definitely a lot of history associated with the unique stills employed by Demerara Distillers in the making of El Dorado rum.  It’s also interesting to note that each of the products are distinct blends and not merely various ages of the same blend.  This provides more of an adventure in exploring the range and I recommend doing so… I’ve been impressed with everything I’ve tried so far.  The unique blend employed here is aged for 15 years “in old bourbon oak casks.”

The nose is a rich entanglement of molasses, prunes, vanilla, straw, sweet tobacco, overripe pear, honey, charred oak, pomegranate, wet grass and ginger.  There’s the slightest amount of heat, but it’s mostly sweet and rich with just a note of musty leather.  The taste is similarly sweet, rich, flavorful and mildly hot.  Initially sweet, the flavors arrive in waves of fruit followed by waves of spice as you anticipate the transition to a slightly leathery, fruity finish with a bit of musty bitterness.  The first wave brings sweet tobacco, caramel, prunes and honey followed by a wave of pear, molasses, vanilla, bitter orange, overripe banana and fresh straw.  Next a wave of charred wood, ginger, plantain and white pepper overlap the previous wave and then both fade into the finish.  It’s really interesting to note the arrival of the flavors with each sip and this experience keeps the entire pour desirable and pleasurable.  The sweetness is noticeable, but not objectionable.  I just wish I could experience it without the added sugar.

At the current $32 per bottle, this is truly a bargain for a masterpiece of history and flavor.  Of all the rums that I’ve tasted, this is the most alluring… almost calling me whenever I glance at the bottle.   There are better rums for sure, but this is definitely a favorite.  If you want a cheaper introduction to El Dorado Rum, then give the 8 Year Old a try at less than $20… you’ll be amazed!  I hope to give the sweeter 12 Year Old a try this year.

Update: I’ve received some offline comments from my good friend, Cap’n Jimbo, so I’d like to offer some clarifications.

  • The fact that Demerara Distillers adds sugar to a premium offering like El Dorado 15 Year, especially 31 g/l (among the highest in the industry), is truly disheartening.  This is effectively a pollution of the Demerara style which they represent and a sad omen for things to come with respect to their products (I hope I’m wrong about this, at least for their premium offerings).
  • I still think that El Dorado 15 Year is a great tasting rum and has some complexity and flavor robustness that is rare in the $30 range; however, it is no longer representative of the Demerara style of rum that it once was.  I say this because I have it on good authority that the addition of sugar is a recent change and, in my opinion, a sad one.  I’ll be on the lookout for good examples of the Demerara style, which is my favorite so far.  At this point, my reference is Flor de Caña Centenario Gold 18 Year.
  • El Dorado 15 is now officially my favorite flavored rum. ;-)

Stagg, Jr. Kentucky Straight Bourbon

Straight Bourbon, No Age Statement, 67.2% ABV, $48

At 134.4°, this is a whiskey that you just don’t inhale deeply without a good shock to the system. No, this is a whiskey that demands some respect. Giving it a careful whiff reveals a rich aroma of dark cherry, vanilla, caramel, red apple, straw, sweet tobacco, overripe pear and a good burn, if you’re not careful. Nose it delicately and it’s very rewarding.

At full proof, its a bold, flavorful whiskey with a robust burning sensation that fades fairly quickly, leaving behind a sweet, leathery mix of vanilla, tobacco and dark fruit. That initial burst of flavor is full of honey, cherry, tobacco, hay, lemon drop, molasses, ginger, black pepper and vanilla.

Adding a few drops of water tones down the burn just a bit, allowing me to smell everything a bit better without losing any aromatic intensity. Similarly, the burn in my mouth is slightly subdued, but the flavors burst forth more quickly before fading to make way for the finish, which is still long, mildly tannic, peppery, slightly leathery and accented with the same sweet tobacco, dark fruit and vanilla.

I still haven’t tasted George T. Stagg, but I really like this whiskey. I prefer the darker fruit emphasis without water, but it is a bit hot like that… not to the point of being objectionable for me. I do add a few drops on occasion just to change things up. It reminds me of a bolder version of Eagle Rare 10 with more dark fruit and candy. It is bursting with flavor! Even at twice the price, I think this is worth it. It’s my favorite bourbon to date aside from the immensely better Pappy Van Winkle 23 Year, and that’s just too expensive and hard to find. I highly recommend Stagg, Jr. if you’re not averse to a bit more hot alcohol burn than normal. By the way, this is bottling B1319607:27M (July 15, 2013 7:27am).

Teeling Whiskey National Debut

Teeling Whiskey

Irish Whiskey, No Age Statement, 46% ABV, No Price Yet

Stephen Teeling was on hand at Trinity Hall Irish Pub tonight to introduce Teeling Whiskey to the USA.  This was his first stop among many cities throughout the country pouring samples of their Irish whiskey in advance of their product availability in local stores.  His brother is on a similar journey that begins in San Francisco on this same night.

Stephen sat down and visited with us for a while, intimating their history as a contract distiller, then an independent bottler (of their own contract distillation), and now a full distillery that bottles their own product.  Their initial product is an Irish whiskey finished in Flor de Caña rum casks for 6 months.  The rum was mostly evident on the nose along with sweet sorghum and overripe fruit.  The taste was somewhat sweet, medicinal and herbal, while the finish left an almost numb feeling in the mouth and a slight burn in the back of the throat.  This is an un-chilfiltered, 46% ABV dram that exhibits potential on the nose, then lets you down on the palate. It’s not bad (like Jameson’s entry level whiskey), but it’s no better than acceptable.  The flavors even seem like they want to be something else, but that numbing, herbal effect really ruins any potential that is waiting in the whiskey.

I don’t want to be too negative here.  You should give this a try for the unique experience, especially if you like whiskey with an herbal characteristic that follows a richer, fruity flavor than any entry level Irish whiskey I’ve tasted.  For comparison, I much prefer Jameson 12 or Bushmills Black Bush to this one, but I believe that Teeling Whiskey will cost a bit less.  I suspect that there will be many opportunities in the upcoming months to sample Teeling Whiskey as they attempt to establish a North American presence.  Be on the lookout for a tasting… especially a free one!

Balcones V Anniversary Single Malt Event

Balcones_Fifth_Anniversary_1190342I traveled to Waco, TX today with two friends and fellow Balcones fans to tour the facility and pick up a bottle of Balcones Fifth Anniversary Single Malt. There were two versions available and I sampled both of them:

  • Balcones Fifth Anniversary Single Malt Rumble Cask Reserve Finish – Finished in an ex-Rumble Cask Reserve barrel, this malt added another dimension to their already flavorful single malt. The bright fruit flavors of Rumble were a nice addition to the single malt.
  • Balcones Fifth Anniversary Single Malt Brimstone Resurrection Finish – This is actually a triple wood style release as it was first finished in an ex-Rumble Cask Reserve barrel, then again in the (only one exists) ex-Brimstone Resurrection barrel. There was a slight hint of smoke and the distinct blue corn characteristic coming through as a slightly caramel flavor.

I also sampled Rumble, Baby Blue, Single Malt and Brimstone. While all of them were good, the Rumble was better than any previous batch I’ve tasted… in fact, it was really good. Baby Blue fell a bit flat today, lacking the nice sweetness that it typically has, but still it was good.  Brimstone was like a sweet smokey Texas barbecue, just like I remember. The Single Malt deserves a bit more description, since it forms the basis for the special releases today.

I sampled my own 13-5 batch of Single Malt last night, but the 14-2 batch was quite an improvement with more balance to the woody tannins characteristic of Balcones whiskey. There was more fruit flavor and less heat in this batch (tasted with no water as opposed to the 10 drops necessary to open up the 13-3). Trusting the expertise of Chip Tate, I walked away with a 14-3 batch today. As far as the V Anniversary Single Malt, I bought the Resurrection Finish (designated SMK for sweet smoke on the bottle).

As an added bonus, I picked up a bottle of Balcones Fifth Anniversary Brimstone Resurrection on the way home that was on hold for me at a local retailer in Dallas. Now I’ll have the original Resurrection to sample next to the Single Malt finished in the same barrel.  Brimstone Resurrection is the real winner of the day for me as I’ve wanted a bottle ever since tasting it at the Balcones Event at Trinity Hall last year. All in all, this was a fantastically successful day with respect to whiskey.

StraightBourbon D/FW Meet-Up

20140322-184540.jpgThanks to the generous hosting of Eskwar, seven of us were able to gather for an afternoon of sharing and tasting.  I’d have to say that the highlight of the day was a tasting of some dusty (paper label) Weller 12 Year and Old Weller Antique and the subsequent blending into a 50/50 StraightBourbon Blend.  We were also able to do a side-by-side comparison with current bottles of each as well as the blend.  Unfortunately, this demonstrates how superior the old products were and how much better they blended.  On the positive side, StraightBourbon Blend is quite competent with the current stock and I must put these on my list to buy and blend.

Here’s the list of what I tasted for the first time:

  • Four Roses Single Barrel Private Selection OESO Barrel Proof – woody with some mild heat
  • Four Roses Single Barrel Private Selection OESF Barrel Proof – more caramel and vanilla than OESF, still the same wood with mild heat
  • High West 21 Year Rocky Mountain Rye – mild spice, mild wood, mild flavor, not much here for a rye
  • Jefferson 10 Year Rye – not much flavor or spice for a rye, more dry than sweet
  • Yamasaki 12 Year  - woody with honey, grass, bitter through to finish
  • Hookers House Bourbon – Pinot noir finished and its noticeable on the finish especially, tobacco, plum, raisin without sweetness, menthol, reminds me of wine finished ER10
  • Evan Williams Vintage Single Barrel 1998 – caramel, cherry, nice sweetness, tobacco, short finish but very good
  • Black Maple Hill Bourbon – sweet, menthol, tobacco, dark fruit, cocoa
  • StraightBourbon Blend  - definitely better than either Weller 12 or Old Weller Antique, tends more to OWA
  • StraightBourbon Dusty (Paper Label) Blend – less sweet and bit more wood than the newer blend with a longer finish
  • Tom Moore Bottled-in-Bond – really solid bourbon at around $20 for a handle

My pick of the day was Hooker’s House Bourbon because of it’s unique flavor profile.  The wine finishing really worked better than I expected it to.  This is only available in California as far as I know, so I’ll have to be on the lookout on my travels.  The other standouts were the StraightBourbon blends, Black Maple Hill and the old Evan Williams Single Barrel.  I did come home with a bottle of Four Roses Single Barrel OESF, thanks to a generous fellow StraightBourbon forum member, so that’s worth mentioning, too.  Oh, I almost forgot about my final pour of the day, Tom Moore BIB, which was very good.  I plan on looking for a bottle of this one so that I can study it a bit more, but I was very impressed with my quick introduction and the price makes it a bargain.

Garrison Brothers Tasting

VoorhesBotleCropped1Trinity Hall Irish Pub in Dallas hosted a Garrison Brothers tasting tonight with Charlie Garrison and their master distiller, Donnis Todd.  This was a different kind of tasting… we had 3 vintages of the same whiskey, providing an opportunity to compare releases and observe any trends represented by them.  This was the lineup… all vintages of the same Garrison Brothers Texas Straight Bourbon Whiskey:

Fall 2012 – A sweet nose of caramel and vanilla. A briefly sweet and bright flavor followed by grass, straw, honey, then becoming tannic and astringent.  The finish is leathery, spicy and woody.  Water lessens the astringent quality (only took a drop) and brings out more of the sweet flavors to produce more balance, while notes of lemon and pear appear.

Spring 2013 – Similar sweet nose with a hint of menthol and pecans.  Also, a similar flavor profile, but less astringent and the finish is less bitter/tannic.  Water produces a nuttier and spicier profile, but the balance isn’t maintained and the finish has more burn, bitterness and a less leathery mouthfeel.

Fall 2013 – Another great, sweet nose with more menthol.  The sweetness is more subdued compared to the Fall 2012 release with less bitterness and more spice (but less of the latter than the Spring release).  This one has a nicely balanced finish. Water did not bring about any appreciable change to this one.

This was a very interesting exercise and here’s how I ranked them:

  1. Fall 2012 – Without water, this was the worst of the bunch.  With just a drop or two, a nice balance was achieved and it just edged out the Fall 2013 release with a bit bolder flavor and an added sweetness that carried through to the finish.
  2. Fall 2013 – Least impacted by water, this one maintained a nice balance with a bit of menthol that the Fall 2012 release lacked.  Still, a bit more sweetness to balance the woody characteristic was missing from this one.
  3. Spring 2012 – Although it improved significantly with water, this one was far behind the other two.

At $75, I can’t recommend any of these whiskeys, but I can offer this buying advice if you want to try one… stick with the Fall releases!  If you like heavily wooded bourbon (like Woodford Reserve Double Wood), then you might like this style.  It’s too woody for me.

Tom’s Scotch Party

Tom Caughran hosted a Scotch whisky tasting at Total Wine & More in Dallas tonight.  For me, it was their best tasting to date with a nice mix of independent bottlings and a French single malt.  Here’s what he served with some brief notes:

  • Arran 16 Year Old Oak Cask 1997 (Exclusive Casks) – $90

This one was a cask strength bottling (51.2%) with notes of bright fruit, honey, ginger and a woody, bitter finish.  A bit of water exposed some nuttiness.  I’d say it was decent, but I’d pass on this one.

  • Glen Garioch 23 Year Old 1989 (Exclusive Casks) – $130

Another cask strength bottling (54.1%), this one was also fruity with a bit of spice and the fruits carried over into the finish, being joined by a mild nutty flavor.  Water really opened the fruit flavors up and revealed a slight creaminess.  This is a solid whisky, but not worth the asking price.

  • Bruichladdich 20 Year Old 1992 Cask #3793 (Berry’s) – $130

The first peaked whisky of the evening with notes of dried fruit, clover, ginger and herbs.  The finish was herbal and leathery with a touch of cocoa.  The nose was mellow with touches of fruit and grass.  Unfortunately, this was another solid whisky that was overpriced… another pass.

  • Longmorn 20 Year Old 1992 Cask #71735 (Berry’s) – $100

This was only my third Longmorn (the first one was a younger expression, also from Berry Bros and Rudd and the second one was another 20 Year Old from Master of Malt… both disappointing) and it was the first eye opener of the evening.  This one smelled and tasted a bit like bourbon with notes of caramel and vanilla on the nose, then adding dark fruit, lemon and honey flavors.  The caramel carried through to the finish, which became slightly leathery and peppery, mostly of white pepper.  While this one was well done, I’m not a fan of white pepper and that was enough to put me off of this one and on to the next one.

  • Linkwood 15 Year Old 1997 Cask #7182 (Berry’s) – $70

Another nose that reminded me of bourbon, but with a light delicate characteristic.  The taste was also light and fruity with a bit of pecan.  The finish was long and light, eventually adding some spice while the nuttiness lingered.  There’s nothing bitter about this one and the operative word for me was, “delicate.”  I thought this one was fantastic!

  • Imperial 17 Year Old (Battlehill) – $100

The sherry influence was immediately noticeable on the nose.  Flavors of plum, hazelnut and anise were joined by dark berries and sage on the finish, which lasted quite nicely.  This is a big whisky with lots of flavors lining up to be noticed.  None of them overpower the others, which keeps me interested and searching for more.  This is one I’d like to spend some additional time with.  In fact, this one was so good that I was still reflecting on it when the next sample arrived and had a hard time shifting my attention away from it.

  • Strathmill 22 Year Old (Battlehill) – $120

While this was a good whisky, it had the unfortunate distinction of following the fantastic Imperial.  It was hard not to keep reflecting on what had just happened, but I finally managed to focus and give it a fair shot.  I’m glad I did as it was another solid offering.  This was the second, more mildly peated whisky of the evening with a mildly fruity nose and a nutty, slightly medicinal flavor profile.  Also present were notes of marshmallow and nuts as a light and spicy finish was unveiled.  This was my first Strathmill and it was very good.

  • Michel Couvreur Pale Single Malt – $100

I had learned about the two offerings from Michel Couvreur recently and was interested in learning more.  I was pleasantly surprised to see their more expensive offering on the slate tonight.  This was a very unique whisky that reminded me of Earl Grey tea, with it’s notes of lavender, heather, bergamot along with light fruit and ginger.  The lavender was present from nose to finish, providing a consistent context for the other aromas and flavors.  I don’t know if I would want to drink this often, but it might be a nice whisky to have once in a blue moon.  If you like Earl Grey, then you should definitely try this one; conversely, if you don’t like Earl Grey, then I would stay away from it.

The clear winner of the night was the Imperial, which I took home with me.  A complex, bold amalgamation of fruits, nuts and spices, it grabbed my attention immediately and held it throughout the (unfortunate) next pour, which it overshadowed by a mile.

Runner-up was the Linkwood with it’s delicate profile.  I was amazed at how complex it was while remaining delicate and very approachable.  This would be a great summertime whisky for a clear, calm night under the stars with the one I love… except she won’t touch the stuff. :-o

Honorable Mention goes to Michel Couvreur’s Pale Single Malt, which was true to it’s tasting notes of lavender and heather.  The unique flavor profile intrigued me; however, at $30 less I’ll probably have to pick up their Overaged Single Malt.  It’s a blend of sherry casks up to 27 years old and I hear that it’s the better of the two.