Michters Tasting

US1-lineup3Spec’s hosted a tasting of Michter’s US♦1 product line with Trent Roberts of Chatham Imports/Michter’s Distillery available to tell us about the history of Michter’s and some details about the production of their whiskey.  Here’s what we tasted:

Michter’s US♦1 Sour Mash ($43) – Lots of sweet corn on the nose with caramel, vanilla, cherries, lemon drops, straw and sweet tobacco. The taste is similarly caramel, vanilla, ginger, straw, sweet corn and green pepper with a mildly charred, oily leather finish with notes of spice, sweet corn and pine sap.  If you like a sweet corn whiskey, then this is your stuff.  It’s bolder on the nose than on the palate and has a lot to offer, but the green notes detract from the overall balance a bit.  Still a solid, if not overpriced offering.

Michter’s US♦1 Bourbon ($42) – Very similar to the Sour Mash, but less sweet on the palate; however, the sweet notes carry through to the finish better than with the Sour Mash.  Some milk chocolate and mild spice on the nose with lemon drops, tart cherries and pepper on the palate that I didn’t detect with the Sour Mash.  Overall, I like this a bit better, but it’s still overpriced compared to some Evan Williams offerings.

Michter’s US♦1 Rye ($42) – A milder rye than I’m used to with a tendency more toward sweet fruits and candies than the bold spices.  The spices are still there, but the sweet flavors dominate with notes of dark cherries, dark chocolate, candied fruit and a bit of corn, caramel and vanilla.  Like the bourbon, the sweetness carries through to the finish quite well. It’s the same theme here as above… a nice whiskey that’s a bit overpriced.

Michter’s US♦1 American ($40)- The standout of the evening, but not necessarily the best whiskey.  It’s different than the others, being a 4-grain whiskey, and uniquely flavored as compared to most whiskey that I’ve tasted.  There’s lots of rich chocolate with marshmallow to accompany the typical caramel, corn and dark fruits of a bourbon or rye with great balance and a long finish.  It’s fun to drink, pares amazingly well with good chocolate (and we did this tonight) and offers good complexity as well.  It’s got a good chewy feel to it, yet the sweetness probably relegates it to a dessert whiskey.  That’s okay with me as I would prefer that to an overly sweet liqueur.  I highly recommend this one if the chocolate profile appeals to you.

Michter’s US♦1 Barrel-Strength Rye ($70) – This rye is bolder in flavor than the normal rye offering with more complexity and more interesting, longer finish.  Although not the most interesting whiskey of the evening, it’s the best crafted one with a nice aroma, plenty of fruit, spice, candy and grain flavors in nice balance and a moderately long finish with notes of chocolate, tobacco and spice.  Still, we return to the overall theme and hurts Michter’s product line… price.  There are better barrel strength rye whiskeys out there at the same price or less, like Willet 2-5 Year Single Barrels and Smooth Ambler Old Scout 6-8 Year offerings.  I’d check those out instead.

Campbeltown Tasting

SpringbankTrinity Hall hosted a tasting of Campbeltown whisky with offerings from Springbank (Springbank, Hazelburn and Longrow) and Glengyle (Kilkerran) distilleries.  Here’s the rundown:

Hazelburn 12 Year Old Single Malt ($90) – The Hazelburn brand is for the non-peated offerings from the Springbank distillery.  Aromas of cereal, vanilla and plum, with similar tastes of cereal, vanilla, red delicious apple and pear.  Also, notes of white grape, ginger, white pepper, black pepper and green pepper. The finish is mild leathery wood and mild pepper.  A solid whisky, but overpriced.

Kilkerran Work-in-Progress #6 Sherry Wood Single Malt ($60)– This is a 10 Year Old work-in-progress offering from Glengyle distillery, which will culminate in a 12 Year Old offering in 2016.  A fruity nose of cherry and plum with cereal and vanilla that precedes similar tastes of mild peat, plum, cherry, apple and cereal along with spices of ginger, white pepper, black pepper and a mild barnyard note. The finish is peppery and leathery with notes of vanilla, charred oak and bitter honey.  Another good whisky that shows promise for the eventual production offering, but I think I’ll wait for the final product.

Springbank 10 Year Old Single Malt ($50)  – Springbank offerings are mildly peated and this one is matured for 10 years in ex-bourbon and ex-sherry casks.  The nose brings cereal, mild peat, apple and pear, while the palate senses cereal, vanilla, ginger, apple, pear, nutmeg and honey before a spicy and leathery finish. Springbanks youngest age-stated whisky is well balanced and offers a rounded flavor with mild peat.  I highly recommend it as an introduction to the Campbeltown style of Scotch whisky.

Springbank Green 12 Year Old Single Malt ($95) – This is an atypical Springbank offering with lightly fruity nose (mostly pear and apple) amidst a bit of smoke, vanilla and honey. I taste white grape, peach, pear, mild peat, ginger, honey, pepper, cigar box and detect a spicy, fruity, leathery and long finish with lingering light fruity notes. Each drop of water seemed to reveal new flavors, indicating a complex whisky that needs more exploration.  I’m glad that I have a bottle of this at home and would recommend it over the Hazelburn 12 Year Old if you can handle a bit of peat.

Springbank 18 Year Old Single Malt ($140) – An inviting nose of cereal, vanilla, plum, apple and cherry precede a palate of cereal, vanilla, plum, cherry, pear, apple, ginger and cigar box followed by a finish of charred oak and leather with spice and dried fruit. Lots of flavor here and a long finish with great balance across the board.  This is just as good as I remember and an exciting whiskey that I highly recommend even at the moderately price premium.

Springbank 17 Year Old Single Cask Fresh Sherry Single Malt 1997 ($160) – A rare Springbank offering with a fantastic nose of raisin, plum, molasses, cereal and a mild farminess and an equally fantastic montage on the palate of plum, raisin, ginger, pepper and almond. Other notes of tropical fruits and nuts.  It’s a bold whisky with great balance and lots of flavor that develops will with the addition of water.  Easily the winner of the night and an outstanding whisky!  I hope I can find a bottle!

Longrow 18 Year Old Single Malt ($180) – Essentially, a peated Springbank 18 Year Old, the nose is peaty with nuts, cherries, raisins and plums. The taste is mildly farmy with honey, mild smoke, tobacco, raisin and plum developing into an oily, farmy, briny, fruity and very long finish.  It’s good, but not great and probably my greatest disappointment of the night as I was expecting much more.

Afterwards, everyone at our table took turns buying mystery whiskies for each to take a guess at.  Here’s what we tried:  Bruichladdich Port Charlotte Islay Barley, Compass Box The Peat Monster, Ardbeg Galileo, Bowmore 15 Year Old, Lagavulin 16 Year Old, Glenfarclas  17 Year Old, Isle of Jura 16 Year Old and Ardbeg Corryvrecken.  All of them were good and there were only 2 correct guesses, although it was fun making an attempt to hone in on the answer and we learned a lot in the process.  In fact, our group decided to do a formal blind single malt tasting at a later date.

Cedar Ridge Iowa Bourbon

Single Barrel Bourbon, No Age Statement, 40% ABV, $38

Single Barrel Bourbon,
No Age Statement,
40% ABV, $38

I picked up this bottle on a trip to Breckinridge, Colorado a couple of years ago and have been working on it slowly and sharing it with others who have never heard of it.  Today, I decided to jot down some notes and actively work to empty the bottle in order to make room for more stuff.  Cedar Ridge claims that this is the first bourbon to be produced in Iowa and it’s even distilled there, not sourced like Breckinridge Bourbon (and so many others).  It’s a single barrel offering and this is bottle 267 from barrel 189 (can’t find a bottling date or age).

The nose is minty with hints of vanilla, caramel, barrel char and sweet corn.  At only 40% ABV, there’s still a good bit of alcohol burn and you’ll have to work to get past that to smell the fresh-cut cedar, but it’s worth it.  It’s different, but I like it.

The whiskey hits the palate with vanilla, sweet corn, wintergreen and develops a spicy bite before finishing with a mildly woody alcohol burn at the back of the throat.  There are further notes of cardboard, powdered lemon drop, bitter honey, white pepper, black pepper and a hint of persimmon.  The finish mostly lingers in the back of the throat with mild tannins, remnants of mint and a good burn.  It’s not a bad drink, but it’s lacking any kind of balance and comes across more like a minty rye whiskey than a bourbon after you get past the brief entrance.

For me it was worth the admission just to try an Iowa bourbon, but I’m done with it.  It doesn’t really stand on its own merit even at $38.  Get a bottle of Four Roses Single Barrel instead and you’ll discover how something like this should really be executed.

StraightBourbon D/FW Gathering #3

Jefferson 21 Year RyeThis time the gathering occurred at the beautiful home of one of the SB members in Wylie.  He had a great collection of whiskey (mostly bourbon and rye) and was very generous in allowing us to taste several good whiskies.  Here’s what I sampled:

Four Roses Small Batch:  I’m surprised that I’ve not tasted this before, but I was glad to get a chance today.  It’s fruity, flavorful and a great value at $25-30 here. It made LiquorHound’s list of 10 best bourbons under $30 and it’s easy to see why.

Parker’s Heritage Collection #7, Promise of Hope:  A very solid and interesting bourbon, but nothing stellar.  I don’t think that this one is worth the effort of seeking out (and it’s very rare).

Rittenhouse 25 Year Rye:  This is by far the oldest rye that I’ve ever tasted and I’m quite certain that I’ll never find or be able to afford a bottle, so it was quite exciting to get a sample.  A very minty profile for sure, with good woody flavor, mild burn (50% ABV) and a nice balance of vanilla and caramel as well.  It doesn’t have the fruit flavors that I favor in a rye, but neither does Rittenhouse 100 Bottled-in-Bond, so this must be the profile of their whiskey.  It’s a very solid and well executed aged rye whiskey.

Jefferson 21 Year Rye:  Another heavy hitter, this time with much less mint and much less bold.  This is an easy drink with good complexity and I enjoyed it a lot while watching the fountains in the pool from the back porch.  There’s not a lot of wood as you might expect from the age and it’s nicely balanced and mildly complex.  I’d like to spend more time getting to know this one… especially by the pool.

My contributions for the gathering were: Smooth Ambler Old Scout 8 Year Old Single Barrel Bourbon (55.7% ABV), Stagg Jr. Batch #3, Old Forrester Birthday Bourbon 2010, StraightBourbon Blend (60% Old Weller Antique and 40% Weller 12 Year), Copper Fox Rye and Four Roses 9 Year & 3 Month Single Barrel OBSK (59.2% ABV McScrooge’s Selection Barrel QS 88-3D).  I think they were thoroughly enjoyed and you’ll be hearing more about them here as I get to them myself.

St. George Single Malt (Lot SM012)

No Age Statement
43% ABV, $70

I picked this up in Denver a couple of years ago, but it’s now available in Texas.  This was the first lot that received enough praise to generate some interest, so I sought it out for a while before landing this bottle.  A new lot has since been released, although I haven’t seen it anywhere yet.

This single malt has a very fruity nose with notes of apple, pear and maraschino cherry complemented by marzipan, hazelnut, fresh cut straw and a hint of cocoa powder.

The taste is light, sweet and mildly spicy.  There’s some lemon drop, pear, candied fruits, short bread cookie, cocoa and graham cracker.  It’s a lighter profile with none of the thick caramel or vanilla flavors, but it’s still got a nice oily feel to it.  The spice is mild, mostly ginger, and fades into a finish of hazelnut and short bread cookie.

It’s clear that the spirit has been influenced by the wood greatly, but there’s no tannic effect or woody finish.  That means that it doesn’t really taste very young (I guess at around 8-10 years, but I don’t know the age of the whiskey).  I like the unique flavor (more like some younger Linkwood bottlings that I’ve had without any farmy flavors) and the bold, yet light flavors.  It’s a good change of pace and I’m looking forward to see what they’ve done with Lot 13.

Ron Matusalem Gran Reserva 18 Year Old

Cuban Rum, 18 Years, 40% ABV, $32

I originally learned about this rum a few years ago from Cap’n Jimbo’s Rum Project, where it was put forward as a reference standard for Cuban style rum.  Last year, it was discovered from court documents related to a dispute between members of the Matusalem family that the original recipe included macerated prunes and vanilla.  Since then, the current producers apparently started using artificial flavors resulting in the aforementioned dispute.  In any case, this is a relatively inexpensive rum with quite a heritage that has gone through some unfortunate changes recently.  Let’s give it a go….

Nose is sweet with a rich charred character and laced with overripe banana, vanilla bean, sweet tobacco and a feint reediness.  There’s also a bit of black pepper that comes through with more intense inhaling and overripe stone fruits with a softer approach.  It’s not very complex, but very enjoyable, especially if you enjoy sweet fruity aromas.

The taste is immediately sweet and that sweetness carries through to the finish.  Like the nose, there are lots of overripe fruits, but that’s tempered with a mild bitterness like the caramel at the bottom of a good flan.  The reedy character is more noticeable here while the banana and vanilla are joined with soft cocoa before fading into the mildly bitter finish.  It’s an interplay of spices, overripe fruit and sugar cane that takes you from a sweet entrance through a flavorful cascade ending in a fairly long finish of caramelized banana peel and charred wood.  After a while, the black pepper becomes more evident and seems to linger with the reedy quality… like there’s an affinity between the two.  It’s never strong or pronounced, but it’s more noticeable.  With each sip, the sweetness intensifies as it counters the woody caramel finish and reveals overripe pear, overripe dark cherry, orange marmalade (thanks Cap’n Jimbo) and banana peel.  While these other fruits and flavors are noticeable, the initial ones continue to dominate, namely the overripe banana and vanilla.

This is a moderately complex rum that is very enjoyable.  The sweetness played against the bitterness provides some contrast and keeps things interesting, while the overripe fruit character with mild spice develops over time and then lingers with each sip.  We know that this rum is sweetened and I imagine that this is too counter some of the bitterness that is present.  Unfortunately, the added sugar probably mutes some of the flavors that would be expected with a complex rum.  I don’t mind the added fruit and vanilla, as long as it’s natural (not artificially flavored) and clearly labeled, but the added sugar can’t be helping the quality.

For me, this lies between the demeraran and agricole style rums with characteristics consistent with both while never fitting into either category.  The 15 year old is almost as good as this 18 year old and the price is only marginally different.  I’ll be looking for a new reference for Cuban style rum.  In the meantime, give this one or the 15 year old a try.  Both are pretty good.

Balcones Rumble

No Age Statement,
47% ABV, $49

With all of the mess happening in Waco this week, I thought I should have a drink of Rumble tonight.  This is batch R11-6 bottled on April 11, 2011 and I particularly like seeing the initials “CT” handwritten on the label in the Distiller field.  Of course, CT stands for Chip Tate, the head distiller at Balcones and the creator of Rumble, which is a spirit made from Texas wildflower honey, Turbinado sugar and Mission figs.  It’s also the first product offering from Balcones and is bottled at 47% ABV.

Nosing Rumble reveals notes of straw, honey, dried fig (really), dusty cocoa, overripe banana, field-burned cane sugar (as in for harvest) and a bit of cigar box.  At full proof, there’s a bit of alcohol burn, but not much.  Just a touch of water tones that down nicely.

The taste is honey, reedy cane, dried banana, grass, straw, bitter cocoa, bourbon vanilla bean, bruised banana peel and a mild amount of toffee.  The mouthfeel is quite good throughout with an oily coating and carries a bit of white pepper into a finish that is mildly tannic and leathery.  The overripe fruits balance well with a mildly peppery spice and fade slowly into the finish.  After a while, ginger and white pepper become more evident just after the overripe fruit entry and the grassy and reedy notes move to the background.  Just a drop of water opens up the flavors even more with a bit more spice, but it does little else to affect the balance.

This isn’t just unique, but it’s quite good.  I’m reminded of rum, but there’s no confusing this with any rum that I’ve tasted.  It’s enjoyable, easy to drink and distinctly different from start to finish.  You really should give it a try if the profile sounds at all interesting.  If you’re lucky enough to find a bottle of Rumble Cask Reserve, then I would opt for that instead… the $20 premium is well worth it.  Although I’ve tasted it, the only bottle I’ve seen for purchase was deferred to a guest from Canada who went home happy (he probably has the only bottle in the country).