Battle of the High West Manhattans

I’ve admired High West’s The 36th Vote since it was introduced and have recommended it to many. Now that they’ve discontinued it, I thought it was time to explore other options. Tonight I’ll compare a similar Manhattan made in the same proportions (2:1) and using the same whiskey (Double Rye). For my version, I’ve employed my favorite Carpano Antica Formula Sweet Vermouth and Angostora Orange Bitters.

The barrel aging of The 36th Vote is so readily evident on the nose and palate, offering a sweet toffee in balance with the wine. On the palate, the wine is more evident as is the older rye component of  Double Rye (as opposed to my usual Wild Turkey 101 Rye). These flavors meld together so wonderfully in the barrel in a way that seems to elevate this traditional cocktail (I told you that I liked it). Fruity flavors intertwine with barrel char, spice and toffee to create this delectable cocktail that showcases the whiskey as it should be.

I don’t know which vermouth High West used in The 36th Vote, but it’s nowhere near as rich as Antica Formula. This cocktail still shows a bit of barrel char from the whiskey but the fruit flavors are more stewed than wine-like. The orange bitters add just a bit of zing to sharpen things up. I think the ratio with this vermouth is too high and that 3:1 may be more appropriate to let the whiskey show through more. Still, this is a nice cocktail, but not as enticing as The 36th Vote.

Since it’s so easy to increase the whiskey ratio, I’ve done it tonight. At 3:1, the rich vermouth is finally retreating, but still a bit too dominant. At 4:1, I’m finally satisfied with the balance of whiskey and vermouth. I can now taste the rye spice and the rich fruit flavors are still there all the way through to the finish. Even at this ratio, I prefer The 36th Vote, so I guess I really like a barrel aged Manhattan.

I’m still left with the unavoidable disappearance of this product, so I’ll be trying more experiments with another rye (Rendezvous) and another vermouth (Ransom). One thing I’ve determined tonight is that Antica Formula isn’t as expensive as I once thought because you need less of it.  The flavor is awesome and you can use it sparingly compared to other cheaper products. Stay tuned for more Manhattan exploration.

Trinity Hall Rum Tasting 

Tonight, Trinity Hall presented a selection of rums from various Caribbean locales and representing different styles based on the influence of the European settlers there.  It’s always fun to experience the uniqueness of these cultural interactions and tonight was no exception.  Here’s what Marius, the proprietor, picked for us tonight.

English Harbor 5 Year Old Rum – hailing from Antigua, this rum has molasses and dark fruit on the nose with a taste of light brown sugar, cane, white pepper then turns negative with some rubbing alcohol that pretty well ruins it. There’s a bit of leather on the finish but it’s dominated by a tannic, industrial taste and the overall experience is thin. Definitely not recommended.

Ron Abuelo 12 Year Old – This Panamanian Rum opens with an aroma of molasses, tobacco, raisin, pecan praline and butter and continues with an engaging taste of molasses, toffee, vanilla, cane syrup and tobacco. The finish is cane syrup, leather and a continuing note of tobacco, making this a rich and flavorful rum that you have to try!

Plantation XO 20th Anniversary Rum – This edition is a blend of 12-20 year old rums from Barbados that is finished in Pierre Ferrand Cognac casks.  It’s full of vanilla, but of the artificial variety,  along with toffee and sweet honeysuckle, butterscotch candy and nutmeg.  The artificial flavors and sweetness carry through to the finish making this somewhat disappointing.

Ron Zacapa 23 Centennario – This is a very popular Guatemalan Rum that I haven’t had in a while. From start to finish the dominant impression is sweet and syrupy. There’s a smell of sugary cherry syrup and a taste of sugary vanilla and toffee, cherries, prunes with some black pepper and tobacco adding the only interesting balance. The finish is sweet and flavorful, but too syrupy and simple. If you like sweet and simple, this is an overpriced version that you could probably do without. Look for something cheaper.

Appleton Estate 21 Year Old Jamaican Rum – While this does have the typical Jamaican funk (caused by the esters from fermented additions to distillate), this is a terrible representative of the style.  In short, it’s pretty awful!  Once you get past the vanilla, dark fruit, rotten banana peel, molasses and black pepper, you’re met with rubber and other industrial flavors that ruin the experience.

Ron Zacapa XO –  Another Guatemalan rum from Zacapa aged in ex-cognac casks, but this time the range is 6-25 years old (presumably the ages represented in the solera system that they use, which means diminishing amounts as the age increases).  This is a definite improvement over Zacapa 23, with an aroma of red grape, cherry and straw and a perfectly expected follow-through of the same with molasses, prune, vanilla, tobacco and black pepper  on the palate. To be honest, this tastes more like a Spanish brandy than a rum and you might be better off going that route for more flavor and complexity at a better price.

Balcones Texas Rum (batch 16-1) – This is one of the latest rum batches from Balcones and still a fairly limited offering.  It’s a huge 63% ABV and takes a lot of water to bring the burn under control.  Once you get there, it might even start to resemble rum ;-).  By far the boldest offering of the evening (after all it’s from Texas!), the nose offers toffee, corn, honey and dark cherry, while the taste is the typical tannic Balcones profile (there is a distinct taste to all of their offerings) with toffee, corn, vanilla, ginger, black pepper and white pepper followed by a long, leathery, spicy and peppery finish.  It’s not your typical rum, but well worth the unique experience. See my review of Batch 13-1 to see how this rum has improved since the first batch.

These tastings are about weeding out the riffraff as much as they are about discovering great spirits to enjoy and I accomplished both tonight.  The clear winner is Ron Abuelo 12 Year, which I highly recommend for under $40.  It’s sweet for sure, but it retains a really nice, complex flavor even so (I’d love to taste an unadulterated version of this one).  Aside from the Balcones offering (and only because of it’s uniqueness), I would stay away from all of the others.  As a side note, I would recommend Cardenal Mendoza Spanish Brandy Solera Gran Reserva for about $50 as a much better experience of what Ron Zacapa XO is trying to offer.  Trust me, you’ll be glad you did!

Copper Fox Rye Whisky

copperfoxYou may remember my recent review of Wasmund’s Single Malt Whisky from the Copper Fox Distillery.  This is the their namesake rye whisky, which is made with 2/3 Virginia rye and 1/3 Virginia Thoroughbred malted barley that is kiln dried over apple wood and cherry wood smoke.  It’s then aged 12 months in used bourbon barrels with added chips of apple wood and cherry wood before being bottled at 90º.  I’ve never seen their products in Texas and I picked up this bottle (bottled on October 12, 2011) in Lafayette, LA for $42.

The relationship to Wasmund’s Single Malt is immediately evident on the nose as the apple and cherry wood smoke are the first out the block.  Working past the smoke I sense cereal, straw, stewed dark cherries, caramel, honey, stewed spiced apples, grass and a whiff of tobacco.  The taste is similar but in reverse.  The stewed fruits show up first, followed by the straw and honey, then giving way to the fruit wood smoke.  There’s a moderately oily mouthfeel which contributes to a long leathery finish of smoky fruit, cereal, pepper and honey.  This is unlike any rye I’ve had before, mainly due to the lack of spices, the types of fruit and the presence of smoke.  It’s unique and interesting, even if a bit young with some mild grassy and tannic notes in the finish.  Each sip provides the full experience of transition from fruit to smoke consistently, providing a nicely repeatable experience to the last drop.

This is a nicely crafted American whisky that provides a unique experience (a quality that I really like in a whisky).  It’s flavorful, rich and long in the finish without any off-balance or off-putting aspects.  At under $50, it’s also a great value.  Don’t expect a typical rye, though and don’t expect the peaty smoke of an Islay Scotch.  The smoke is evident, yet soft and provides a truly complimentary flavor and aroma.  I recommend giving it a try if you spot it on shelves somewhere, especially if you’re looking for something different.

Wasmund’s Single Malt Whisky

wasmunds-single-malt-whiskyRick Wasmund hand crafts this whisky at the Copper Fox Distillery in Sperryville, VA.  He malts his own barley, smokes it over a “unique blend of fruit wood and hardwood smoke,” then pot stills it in small batches.  Aging employs wood chips in barrels and the method is secret.  According to Wasmund, this results in the whisky reaching “optimal maturity much faster” (I’m glad he didn’t say that it ages faster).  Well, that’s the information from the label, plus the fact that this is Batch No. 49 and aged for 16 months before being bottled at 96º… and it’s non chill-filtered.  I picked this bottle up a few years ago for just under $50 in Louisiana and have shared it on at least 2 occasions with tasting groups to good reception.  Here we go….

There definitely some non-peat smoke to the aroma and I’ll venture to guess that it’s the result of some apple and cherry wood.  Additional notes of cigar box, cereal, honey, dark cherries, straw, rubber, spruce and lumber yard complete the nose.  The palate is similar but with pronounced tannins and the sweeter flavors taking a back seat to the smoke, cereal, cigar box and straw.  There’s a fruity aspect up front followed by light smoke, wood and straw before giving way to a peppery, leathery finish with lingering tannins and light smoke.  There’s also a chewiness to this whisky that’s quite nice.

Overall, this is a fairly young, flavorful whisky with a light fruit wood smoke that lingers a long time.  The malt is quite evident as are the wood influences… even after just 16 months.  I should also note that the color is a nice reddish copper.

This is a an unusual (in a good way) single malt with a distinct, if not young, character.  It’s got a nice nose and great mouthfeel with a pleasant taste and long finish, although I don’t think it will interest Scotch drinkers as much as it will American Whiskey drinkers.  Like Balcones Brimstone, this is more of a niche whisky with an acquired taste, but not as brash as Brimstone, which I also enjoy.  I’m guarded in my recommendation because of the unique type of smokey, tannic profile and I’m not sure why because I’ve enjoyed it.  In any case, there you have it… adventurous whisky drinkers should check it out as the price is not bad and the whisky is pretty good.

Stay tuned as I check out Copper Fox Rye Whisky soon.

Scotch Finishes Tasting

story_imageTrinity Hall Irish Pub hosted a tasting of Scotch Whiskies with various finishes. Here’s what we tasted:

Glen Moray Port Cask Finish – Simple, yet pleasing with orchard fruit, some stone fruit, cereal and vanilla. The nose and palate are similar with more fruit variety showing up on the palate. The finish is short and sweet resulting in a fairly nice whisky… especially for just $25.

Spey River Rum Cask – This was the worst showing of the night with a slightly astringent and grassy palate along with some fruit and even a note of tar (remember that this is a Speyside offering). I wouldn’t recommend this one.

Glen Moray Chardonnay Matured Cask – Another good showing from Glen Moray with buttery molasses and fruit with some vanilla.  Again, more fruit variety on the palate, including white grape, plum and apple. This is a bit lighter than the Port Cask Finish as would be expected when using a lighter wine. This one is about $45 and about on par with the Port Cask Finish, so not as good of a value. I also noticed that both of the Glen Morays did not take to the air well, deteriorating a bit after sitting for a while. I would recommend drinking a dram within about 20 minutes to preserve the flavors.

Glen Scotia Double Cask – While fairly mild on the nose, this one was bold on the palate. The cereal, honey, apple and plum on the nose were joined by cherry cough syrup, green apple and a note of licorice on the palate. A long and oily finish with lingering cough syrup and cereal rounded out a fairly nice whisky, if you like cough syrup. This Campbeltown single malt was more promising at first, but the cherry cough syrup was too dominant for my taste. Still, I would recommend it at less than $60.

Loch Lomond Inchmurrin Madeira Wood Cask – A bit of cereal and plum with cocoa notes on the nose with apple, straw, white grape, ginger and black pepper added on the palate. A nice long and leathery finish with lingering spice, fruit and cocoa. A very nice whisky and a good value at $75 from the Loch Lomond Distillery in the Highlands.

Kavalan Concertmaster – This is another port cask finished single malt… this time from Taiwan. It’s much bolder than the Glen Moray with some bourbon-like notes added and bigger fruit notes… plum, cherry, apple and prune. The finish is long and rich with dark stewed fruit and a touch of tobacco. It’s not quite as good as the Inchmurrin and more on par with the Glen Scotia, but I like the flavor profile better here (i.e. not a fan of cherry cough syrup). At $75, it’s a premium value for what you get.

Deanston 18 Year Old Cognac Cask Finished – Note that this is the only whisky with an age statement tonight! It’s quite good with very noticeable cognac influence after having spent 6 years in a cognac cask. Notes of cereal, cherry, plum, grape, apple, pear, ginger and a hint of tobacco. The finish is fruity, spicy and long. This is a very nice whisky and the most expensive of the night at about $160.

Quite a nice lineup tonight and none that I’ve ever tasted before. Although it’s close, I would pick the Inchmurrin as the best of the night with the Deanston 18 following closely behind. The fact that the Inchmurrin is half the price is a bonus! I consider the Kavalan to be overpriced, while the two Glen Morays are a great value.

Balcones Texas Rum (Batch 13-1)

rum-2015To my knowledge, this is the original release of Balcones Texas Rum, although there were several variants entered into competitions prior to this release.  It was bottled on September 27, 2013 at 58.5% ABV; however, my bottle also bears a gold label declaring this a Commemorative Bottling available at the distillery on December 7, 2013.  In any case, I purchased this almost a year later at True Spirits in Plano, TX and it bears the signature of the former Head Distiller, Chip Tate.  As you can see from the picture, later batches were bottled at a significantly higher ABV.

The nose is fairly hot, but not overly so, with molasses, caramel, straw, tobacco, rotten banana peel and vanilla.  After a while, a light dusting of cocoa develops and a distinctly reedy aroma (yes, like cane juice rum).  A bit of water tends to bring the straw forward, subduing the fruits and vanilla, while  leaving the molasses and tobacco in place.  I think it’s a nice improvement in balance, but it was good before as well.

The taste is different and much bolder than the aroma with an opening of cocoa, prune, straw and overripe orchard fruit before giving way to a spicy transition of tannic white pepper layered over the previous fading flavors.  The finish is leathery and spicy with lingering cocoa-laced molasses and it lasts a long time.  Water tames the initial flavors as well as the spiciness so that the transition is less pronounced and the experience is more of a slow morphing of flavors with the same descriptions as before.  The finish becomes less leathery with a bit more extension than before and the cocoa-laced molasses becomes nice and spicy.  All of this takes nothing away from the excellent mouthfeel, which remains plenty oily.

When I first opened this bottle, I judged it to be the worst offering I’d tasted from Balcones (and I’ve tasted just about everything and several different batches of each), but I’ve completely changed my mind as the rum has oxidized in the bottle over more than 2 years.  It’s improved over time to the point that I’m sorry to see it go.  This is a unique rum that seems to defy the traditional Caribbean styles, but I would venture to say that it most closely resembles a Cuban-style rum.  It lacks the esters of a Jamaican, the rich sweetness of Demerara and is much bolder than any Bajan that I’ve had, but it has a nice melding of overripe orchard fruit and spice that I would attribute to a good Cuban rum.  I guess I’ve convinced myself that it may not defy these styles after all. 😉

I’m told that subsequent batches have seen more barrel time and have improved significantly, so I may have to explore a more recent batch and I’m genuinely surprised that I’m thinking this way.  It looks like Texas does produce some good rum after all, but I’ll warn you that this is not for the typical Bacardi drinker.  If you like Matusalem Gran Reserva 15 or 18 with a bit more boldness and less sweetness or if you like Westerhall Plantation with more boldness and less reediness, then you should give Balcones Texas Rum a try.  I warn you not to judge it on the first pour, but rather to be patient (possibly for months) while the flavors improve to offer you the full experience.

The Barrel Man and JD 150th Anniversary

img_1925-jpg27674726853_e601ba00fcI visited True Spirits yesterday and happened upon The Barrel Man, Kevin Sanders from Jack Daniel’s.  He was on a tour in his customized Polaris Slingshot and had made a stop at the store to sign bottles and shake hands.  After shaking his hand and watching him sign a few bottles, he handed me a free, signed bottle of Jack Daniel’s 150th Anniversary Commemorative Special Edition of Old No. 7 Tennessee Whiskey.  According to Sanders, this edition is aged in toasted oak (as opposed to charred oak) and bottled at 86º instead of the normal 80º for Old No. 7.

He then sent Greg True (proprietor of True Spirits) and I for a spin in his Slingshot and allowed me to take the picture above when we returned.  This was a lot more than I bargained for with my visit and a welcome break before returning to work after lunch.

As far as the signed bottle, I think I’ll hold on to it, which means I’ll have to acquire another one in order to taste the whiskey.  Since I’m not a fan of JD Black Label, but I do like their Barrel Proof Single Barrel offering and have a couple of batches on hand, it may be that it’s a better choice to break open. 😉

Four Roses Single Barrel OBSK (McScrooge’s Hand Selected 2014)

Four Roses Single Barrel

9 Years – 3 Months, 59.2% ABV

I picked up this private selection Four Roses Single Barrel OBSK at McScrooge’s in Knoxville, TN.  It was aged 9 years, 3 months in Barrel QS 88-3D and bottled at 59.2% ABV on March 13, 2014.  If you don’t know the different recipes of Four Roses, then this is their high rye mash bill (60% corn, 35% rye and 5% malted barley) fermented using their K strain of yeast (full-bodied flavor with light spiciness).  For comparison, their regular Single Barrel uses their OBSV recipe, which employs the same mash bill with the V yeast strain (creamy with delicate fruitiness).

I’ve been collecting private barrel selections from different stores in order to gain a wider varied sampling of the Four Roses recipes and, at this point, I’m only missing the OBSO and OESO.  The remaining 8 recipes have been collected from 4 different stores and I’ll eventually plan to review them all, although too late for you (or I) to secure any more. 😉  In any case, here is what I learned of this OBSK.

Rich caramel with light barrel char are the first to greet your nose, followed by sweet tobacco, straw, cocoa and dark cherries.  Water brings out some spiciness, otherwise everything remains the same.

The taste is consistent with the aroma, with rich caramel, light tobacco, marzipan, straw and just a hint of cherries and a light dusting of cocoa.  After a few sips, the cherries become a bit more prominent as the finish becomes long and spicy with lingering bitter caramel, tobacco and the light fruitiness.  Additional spices – ginger, pepper – join in around mid-palate before that long finish arrives.  With water, the spices remain moderately bold, while tobacco is somewhat subdued in favor of the fruit and some candy, specifically lemon drops and red hots appear.  The mouthfeel improves a bit too as the whiskey becomes nice and chewy without the alcohol drying out the palate.  In the end, you’re left with lingering marzipan, cinnamon and dark cherries with a nice, leathery feel that just goes on for a long time.

This is a an excellent whiskey for sure, combining the spiciness of rye with the lightly spicy strain of yeast to create a lively dance of spices across a montage of barrel flavors while the barrel proof ensures that the flavors remain full and the oily texture endures.  I picked up this bottle two years ago for about $60, but I suspect that similar offerings should still be available for a similar price, although Four Roses private selections aren’t as prominent as they were back then.  If you can find some, then I highly recommend exploring at least the OBSV, OBSQ and OBSK.  I can’t wait to try the other eight recipes!

An Old Forester Trio

signatureTonight I’m comparing three bourbon whiskies from Old Forester.  The first is Old Forester Signature, a 100° straight bourbon with no age statement.  Second is Old Forester 1870 Original Batch, a 90° small batch straight bourbon with no age statement commemorating the first bottled bourbon in America (according to Brown-Forman’s claim).  I’ll finish with the 2010 edition of Old Forester Birthday Bourbon (a limited edition, annual release), which is a 12 year old vintage release (all 72 barrels were distilled on the same day) straight bourbon bottled at 95°.  By the way, I’ve presented them in order of increasing price and will be tasting them in the same order.  Here we go….

Old Forester Signature – The nose is rich with caramel, vanilla, cigar box, dark cherries and lemon drops.  On the palate, the tastes are similar with the addition of straw and black pepper.  The finish lingers with a peppery and leathery mingling of barrel char and caramel. It starts out with a burst of flavors and an initial sweetness, then transitions to an oily and peppery heat before finishing with that leathery mix.

Old Forester 1870 Original Batch – While I still smell the cigar box and some barrel char, this one offers a less rich mixture of butter, candy corn and a whiff of menthol.  The taste is light and balanced, with a mild peppery bite that lingers through to the finish accompanied by barrel char and straw.  In the middle of the palate, there’s a grassy taste that throws things off a bit, but not too much.  The mouthfeel is lacking here and the finish is only moderately long.

Old Forester Birthday Bourbon 2010 – A mild aroma of caramel, barrel char, menthol and mint with hints of grass and honey, this is not the typical rich, beautiful aroma that I’ve found in other Birthday Bourbon offerings, which are some of my favorite bourbons to nose.  Lots of barrel char greets the palate along with black pepper, caramel, honey, menthol and a hint of grass that throws things off a bit, although not as much as 1870.  The finish is long and peppery and the mouthfeel is somewhat oily, but laced with grass through to the finish.  In other words, you feel the oiliness but taste the grass where you just felt it.

The easy winner is the 100° Signature at around $22-25.  Old Forester Signature is a great value for those who enjoy this flavor profile of sweet dark fruit with tobacco and candy, although the sweetness gives way quickly to a solid finish.  I would pass on the 1870 Original Batch, unless it’s significantly reduced from its typical $40 price.  I’ve long known that the 2010 Birthday Bourbon was a disappointment, so if you happen upon a bottle on the secondary market at the current $250 price, I would recommend not taking a second look.  If by chance you spot it on a shelf for $25 as I did, then you might want to check it out just to see what the woody Birthday Bourbon profile is like.

NTSS Mezcal Tasting

imbericoproductNTSS gathered for their first Mezcal tasting with the following lineup:

Mezcal “Fenix” de Oaxaca Con su Gusano (1970’s) – fruity, earthy and  herbal with a note freshwater lake air and a notably good mouthfeel for a low-proof bottom-shelf spirit… this is pretty good

Forever OAX ($40) – vegetal with underripe fruit, mild pepper, mild smoke and green pepper… this is okay, but not worth exploring

Tres Papalote ($63) – cucumber, agave, grass, white pepper, black pepper, green pepper, green apple and a good mouthfeel… not an exciting spirit, but good

Del Maguey Vida ($31) – vegetal with light smoke, green pepper, brine, green apple and spearmint… very good stuff at a great price

Del Maguey Chichicapa ($64) – apple, pear, pineapple, green pepper, black pepper, green papaya, light smoke, slightly metallic… not as great as I remember, but this is a newer batch and still good

Del Maguey San Luis del Rio Special Cask – 20 Year Old Van Winkel Stitzel Weller Barrel ($120) – green pepper, vanilla, pear, grass, apple, nutmeg… very good, well-balanced with good character

Del Maguey Iberia ($200) – salty and sweet with anise, meat, apple, grapefruit, nectarine and grass… excellent!

Mezcal Vago Espadín ($51) – roasted corn, light smoke, black pepper, corn starch, pineapple… very good and I especially appreciated the roasted corn aspect

Mezca Vago Eloté ($58) – burnt candy corn, corn syrup, honey, candies ginger, vanilla cream … too much corn flavor

Pierde Almas Joven Tequilana Weber (Lote 02TW-SJR, 51.6%, $68) – green pepper, white pepper, guava, agave syrup, straw with a good mouthfeel… this is a really solid mezcal!

Pierde Almas Pechuga (Lote 02-P, 50.1%, $120) – coconut and meat with a nice oily texture and notes of grass and grilled pineapple… excellent!

Wahaka Tobala ($84) – butter, agave, white pepper, meat, plantains… not as good as I was expecting, but still very good

Marca Negra Arroqueño ($130) – astringent with green pepper, vanilla and agave … disappointing

Marca Negra Espadín ($55) – meat, light smoke, green pepper, nectarine and pear … good

My winner for the night was the Del Maguey Iberico (~$200) with Pierde Almas Mezcal de Pechuga (~$120) as the runner-up.  Both of these are a pechuga-style mescal – using ham for Ibérico and the traditional chicken breast for Mezcal de Pechuga.  I really like the contrast of meat and fruit against the smoky agave base. Honorable mention goes to another offering from Pierde Almas, Tequilana – a discontinued offering that is still available for about $60 (I found this bottle for $6 on a clearance rack!).