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!).

NTSS Single Malt Scotch Whisky Tasting

The North Texas Spirits Society met for a tasting of Scotch Whisky and the lineup was pretty spectacular.  I can honestly say that there wasn’t a single poor that I would consider average – they were all very good.  The standouts for me were the Glendronach 21 Year Single Cask (see my review here), Linkwood-Glenlivet 23 Year and Lagavulin 12 Year 2014.

Whisky List:

  • MacAllan 14 Year 1990 (Provenance, 46%)
  • Bladnoch 25 Year 1990 (Exclusive Casks, 51.5%)
  • Coleburn 21 Year 1979 (Rare Malts, 59.4%)
  • Linkwood-Glinlevet 23 Year (Cadenhead, 55.3%)
  • Mortlach 21 Year (Cadenhead, 53.5%)
  • SHamamoto Custom Blend (58.8%)
    • 2 parts Aberlour A’bunadh (Batch 45, 59.8%)
    • 1 part Aberlour A’bunadh (Batch 30, 60.2%)
    • 2 parts Tamdhu Sherried Cask Strength (Batch 1, 58.8%)
    • 2 parts Glendronach Cask Strength (Batch 3, 54.9%)
    • 1 part Macallan Cask Strength (58.6%)
    • 1 part Macallan Cask Strength (59.0%)
    • 3 parts Macallan Cask Strength (60.1%)
  • Glenfarclas 24 Year 1990 (K&L Wine Merchants, 50%)
  • Glendronach 21 Year Single Cask Oloroso Sherry Butt 1990 (#2209, Spec’s Exclusive Selection, 53.8%)
  • Bowmore 25 Year (AD Rattray, 47.9%)
  • Two Brewers Peated Single Malt (43%)
  • Laphroaig 10 Cask Strength (L7, 55.7%)
  • Lagavulin 12 Year 2014 (54.4%)
  • Ardbeg Supernova 2010

As is the custom of the group, there are bonus offerings from several members of the society that are revealed after the official lineup is completed.  I was really impressed with all 3 of the older offerings, particularly the Longmorn 15; however, the Buchanan Deluxe bears mentioning as the best blend I’ve ever tasted.  I wish that they still made them like this one!  I have the 2 Cairdeas offerings, so you should see them reviewed eventually.

Bonus Pours:

  • Springbank 15 Year (bottled pre-2006)
  • Longmorn 15 (bottled in 1980’s)
  • Laphroaig Cairdeas 2015
  • Laphroaig Cairdeas 2016
  • Buchanan’s Deluxe 12 Year (bottled in 1960’s)

Glendronach 21 Year Single Cask Oloroso Sherry Butt 1990 (#2209, Spec’s Exclusive Selection)

img_1876This was bottled in August 2012 and I’ve had it opened for quite a while. It’s been a very enjoyable whisky and one of the first recommendations from my friend, Sorin.

Wonderful nose with lots of stone fruits, cocoa, cereal, honey, straw, sweet tobacco, toffee and lemon drop. At 53.8%, it’s got the expected burn as well. A bit of water tames the burn and serves to emphasize the fruits a bit with dark cherry and plum being prominent.

The first sip brings a burst of dark stewed fruit, cocoa, straw, honey and a bit of tobacco. Further exposure reveals lemon pie filling, straw, honey and a bit of old leather. The mouthfeel is full with an oily coating leading to a leathery finish of black pepper, cocoa and candied ginger. With water I get more pepper… some white and black that carry through to the finish. The fruits become lighter and more vibrant without losing the balance of cocoa and tobacco. It takes water really well, which serves to subdue the fruits while bringing out the cocoa powder. You can experiment with the water or keep adding drops to gain a new experience with each one. This is what makes a whisky fun and enjoyable.

This whisky is an excellent example of cask strength, sherried single malt. Most of the Glendronach cask strength offerings I’ve had have been similar and I highly recommend them. This bottle was around $150 a few years ago, but you should expect to pay more than $200 for newer bottles today.  If you can’t find one, then try their 15 Year Old Revival at about $90 instead (discontinued last year, but still available), as it’s also a very nice whisky.

Papa’s Pillar Blonde Rum

light-rum-bgEvoking the name of Ernest Hemingway’s boat, Papa’s Pilar Blonde is a blend of rums from Florida, the Caribbean and South America that are solera-aged using ex-bourbon and port wine barrels before being blended, then finished in Spanish brandy barrels.  I picked up a sample of this a while back because it was cheap and the grenade-like full-sized bottles looked cool. I’m glad that I didn’t bother with a larger bottle, but I’m getting ahead of myself.

The aroma is full of nuts, milk chocolate and vanilla with a lot of sweetness. The taste is similar, except I’ll change the chocolate to white and specify the nuts as of the macadamia variety. There’s also a peppery bite with a bitter chocolate and nut finish. It’s simple and very un-rum-like, but that’s not the problem. It’s unbalanced and artificial tasting… very artificial tasting. Don’t bother with this one unless you like artificial chocolate and nut flavors with vanilla and pepper.

Crown Royal Hand Selected Barrel (Spec’s Selection)


Canadian, No Age Statement, 51.5% ABV, $44

I’ve never been a fan of Crown Royal (or Canadian whiskey for that matter), but a friend handed me this sample and told me it was surprisingly good, so here we are.  This is the original barrel delivered to Spec’s in Dallas.  I have no way of knowing how this compares with current offerings and I’ve since seen this practically everywhere in the DFW metroplex.

The smell is first of all sweet with vanilla, butterscotch, brown sugar, milk chocolate and a mild alcohol burn.  The taste is similar, but not as sweet, offering the expected vanilla, butterscotch and brown sugar with a finish that is thin with a bit of burn.  There are notes of milk chocolate midway through and some mild varnish on the finish.  Still, it’s fairly solid and somewhat enjoyable.  Eventually, there is some dried honey up front and some straw and young leather on the finish with the latter tasting  tannic, but not much excitement.

This isn’t bad, but tastes somewhat artificial and doctored.  The flavors are simple and mostly enjoyable, but not well integrated.  If you suspend the critical aspects of your palate and just enjoy the show, then you probably will.  For the price, I think I’ll pass.

Thanks to Mark E. for the sample.

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.