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.

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.

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.

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.

Private Tasting

Black Bull 30A local fellow whiskey enthusiast invited me to his home for a tasting and I enthusiastically accepted. This was a small gathering, including a local pub owner, liquor expert, another enthusiast, the host and me. I was honored to even be included and the lineup was incredible.

We started off by sampling a couple of beers:

  • Lagunitas Cappuccino Stout – nice coffee stout with notes of dark chocolate.
  • Prairie/Evil Twin Bible Belt – this is Evil Twin’s Even More Jesus imperial stout that is spiced like Prairie Artisan Ale’s Bomb! with coffee, vanilla, cacao nibs and chile… this is far less peppery and less complex than Bomb!, but it’s still good with a nice thick, dry dark chocolate flavor along with bitter coffee… the other infused flavors don’t really make much of a showing.

Up next was my first Armagnac and probably my first good brandy:

  • Chateau du St. Aubin Bas-Armagnac – dry, fruity, dark fruits, light wood, sherry finish, beautiful nose, refreshing (per our expert and I agree)… Excellent!

Finally, it was time to sample some whisk(e)y:

  • Mackmyra Special 06 Summer Meadow 2011 – wintergreen, ginger, white pepper, sea salt, white grape, green apple… very nice… may have to look for a bottle next time I’m in Stockholm
  • Glengassaugh The Spirit Drink That Dare Not Speak its Name – this is new make spirit (i.e. unaged) and it was pretty bad stuff… notes of barnyard on the nose and palate… on a positive note, it did give me an idea of what the wood was working on for all that time
  • Bruichladdich The Organic – earthy and sweet with a pure, natural malt profile… notes of dough, spice, ginger, pepper, lemon with a mildly leathery finish… different and very interesting… Excellent!
  • Old Potrero Single Malt Straight Rye – dough, swamp oak (per our host and I agree… thanks for naming that flavor for me), mild spice, honey and sweet tobacco… a different kind of rye… supposed to be old school
  • Glenmorangie 12 Year Sherry Wood Finish 2005 – grape, nice spice and sweetness, long finish, dark fruit, full malt, mild dry cocoa… Excellent… best Glenmorangie I’ve ever tasted!
  • Black Bull 12 Year – bitter caramel, cigar box, white pepper… bold and flavorful… at $45, this is a great buy!
  • Black Bull 40 Year (3rd Release, 41.6% ABV) – grain, more refined, balance of fruit, leather, mild ginger, bitter orange, very mild… I was expecting a lot more… disappointed
  • Black Bull 30 Year – lots of sherry influence, fruity, mild spice, dark fruit, apple, pear, cherry… Best blend I’ve ever had by far!
  • Longmorn 17 Year 1996 (The Ultimate, 57.2% ABV) – spicy, needs water, bold and untamed , fruity, mildly bitter, malty, strong sherry influence, very dark… not too good
  • Aultmore 12 Year 1991 (SMWS 73.12, 58.4% ABV) – spicy, fruity, spreads across the palate, fairly hot, tobacco, dark fruit, mildly sulfurous
  • Glen Grant 17 Year 1988 (SMWS 9.35, 53.9% ABV) – hot, slightly medicinal, fruity, herbal, probably second fill (per our pub owner), a little water opens it up
  • Ardmore 20 Year 1985 (SMWS 66.17, 53.4% ABV) – mildly peated, fruity, sweet, earthy, ashes
  • Glen Scotia 13 Year 1991 (SMWS 93.13, 63.7% ABV) – light fruit, spice, woody, light peat, mildly medicinal, leathery, machine oil (again, thanks to our host for this one)
  • Springbank 12 Year Recharged Sherry Cask 1999 (Springbank Society, 57.9% ABV) – mildly medicinal, fruity, mildly spicy, everything is here and with nice balance, mild peat… Excellent!
  • Brora 30 Year (6th Edition, 55.7% ABV)- bold fruit and spice, amazing balance and complexity, mild peat… Outstanding!
  • Glenlochy 32 Year Refill Butt 1980 (Signatory Cask Strength Collection, Cask #1759, 60.1% ABV) – pure malt, honey, lots of fruit with moderate spice, leathery finish, water really opens it up, fairly ho
  • Port Ellen 25 Year 1982 (Chieftain’s Choice, Cask #1522, 43% ABV) – mildly peated, lots of balance without any boldness, spice, fruit , mild leather… Excellent!
  • Glenfiddich 125th Anniversary Edition – mildly peated, mild spice and fruit, honey… different kind of Glenfiddich and pretty good
  • Laphroaig 9 Year Refill Sherry Butt 2001 (SMWS 29.88, 60.9% ABV) – bold peat, bold spice and fruit, in your face flavor, medicinal with balance… Excellent!

Wow!  What a great lineup of whisky!  The Brora 30 Year was definitely the standout for me and the best single malt I’ve tasted.  Honorable mention goes to Black Bull 30 Year from Duncan Taylor.  It’s too bad that many of these are unavailable, but some of the excellent ones still are, such as Black Bull 12, Bruichladdich The Organic and Chateau du St. Aubin Bas-Armagnac.  These are all worth seeking out!

High West Rendezvous Rye

Straight Rye, 6-16 Years, 46% ABV, $40

This is a blend of 6 and 16 year old sourced rye according to the distiller. That makes it the oldest rye I’ve had yet.  It’s also worth noting that the 6 year old rye contains 95% rye in the mash bill (only 51% is required to call it rye whiskey).

The nose is mild, but nice… toffee, straw, ginger, cocoa and dark cherries. The taste fruity and spicy up front and mildly woody on the finish without loosing the fruity and spicy elements… and it lasts a long time. The flavors are lemon, ginger, cherry, apple, pear, honey, dark roasted coffee, black pepper and orange. The finish is woody, but not leathery and the complementary spice and subtle fruits add a lot to it.

This is a great rye whiskey and my favorite to date, edging out the Willett Single Barrel mostly because of the nice aging elements. I’d love to get a taste of their now depleted 16 year old Rocky Mountain Rye, but that’s highly unlikely. At some point I may spring for a bottle of their 21 year old version.

Willett Family Estate Single Barrel Rye (5 Year)

Single Barrel Rye, 5 Years,
55% ABV, $30

This is from barrel #58, bottle #53 of 192. I’ve had a 3 and 4 year old selection from Spec’s, but I picked up this bottle from Total Wine in Orlando for $30 (usually about $38-40 here).

This pour is a slightly cloudy golden amber. The nose is toffee, vanilla, grass, honey, straw, dark cherry, pear and a bit of charred wood. He taste is vanilla, caramel, apple, pear, cherry, lemon, ginger and black pepper. The spice and fruits are nicely balanced all the way through to the sweet, spicy and mildly oaked finish. A little water reveals a bit of tart cherry, bitter orange, Granny Smith apple… the flavor really comes alive! On the finish I now notice a bit of apple and honey, while the spice is turned up a bit as well. A little more water accentuates the ginger just a tad along with an appearance of clove. There’s still plenty of caramel and vanilla about midway through as the fruit and spice subside.

This is a great rye whiskey and you can’t go wrong here. I just hope the barrel you find is as good as this one. The three I’ve had have all been good, but this is probably the best one. You’re really missing out if you don’t add water to this one, since that’s when it really comes alive.  You can also make a fantastic Sazerac with this one!

Wild Turkey Straight Rye 101

Straight Rye, 6-8 Years,
50.5% ABV, $19

This was discontinued last year in favor of the 81 proof version, but its rumored that this one will eventually return. Who knows if it will be the same stuff or not, but I had to grab some before it disappeared to see what all of the hype was about as this whiskey has quite the reputation.

The color is a really nice clear golden amber. Moving on to the aroma, I smell honey, straw, toffee and slight orange peel and cherry. The taste is almost malty with citrus and spice… lemon, ginger, white pepper, vanilla, peach, pear, cherry and green apple. On the finish its peppery and mildly oaky with a bit of lingering orange and cherry. Adding a tiny bit of water changes things dramatically. The pepper is subdued while the ginger flavor remains. The fruits are much less tangy and the flavor is more wood, but the finish is mostly the same with an additional straw flavor. The fruits are a more rounded collection of cherry, pear, peach, pomegranate and persimmon (you heard that right) with a mild caramel base.

This is a very good rye whiskey and easier to approach than the younger Willets or Rittenhouse 100. I still think that both of them are better, though. If this one comes back in good form and at a reasonable price (i.e. less than the Willets), then I’ll go for another bottle. By the way, this stuff is great in a Mint Julep or Sazerac.

The 2013 Spirit Journal World’s Top 120 Spirits

Spirit JournalF. Paul Pacult has published his Top 120 Spirits for 2013 and here’s how I fared with the list:

7. Parker’s Heritage Collection Master Distiller’s Blend of Mash bills Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey (USA) 63.5% abv, $80.

I know of 4 batch releases of this sixth release from the Parker’s Heritage Collection, but this doesn’t match any of them.  Perhaps this was a pre-release batch that he reviewed, after all he is a special guy in the world of spirits.  My bottle is the most current release at a whopping 69.7% ABV and considered by many to be the best batch of the four.

32. Thomas H. Handy Sazerac Kentucky Straight Rye Whiskey (USA-2012) 66.2% abv, $70.

I have the 2011 edition of this limited annual release from the Buffalo Trace Antique Collection, but I’ve yet to open it.

56. Merlet Crème de Cassis de la Saintonge Boisée Liqueur (France) 20% abv, $25.

I have a bottle of this that a friend of mine picked up for me in Paris last year.  It’s quite good!

60. William Larue Weller Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey (USA) 61.7% abv, $70.

This is another one in my cabinet from the Buffalo Trace Antique Collection and I’m looking forward to opening it.  It’s a wheated bourbon and I don’t have any experience with this type, so I need to open it soon.

67. El Tesoro de Don Felipe Añejo 100% Agave Tequila (Mexico) 40% abv, $59.

This is my favorite tequila and I’ve still got another bottle of it left from a clearance deal I happened upon over a year ago.  I also have the blanco and reposado from El Tesoro and they’re quite good as well.

85. Laphroaig Cask Strength 10 Years Old Islay Single Malt Scotch Whisky (Scotland) 55.3% abv, $60.

I’ve had a sample of this from a friend and it’s a bold Islay whisky.  I prefer Ardbeg Ten, but this one suits the preferences of many.  I spent too much time evaluating it at cask strength and my mouth was becoming numb by the time I had added enough water to bring it down to a realistic level.  I plan on giving this one another try.

86. Dos Maderas 5 + 3 Years Old Superior Reserve Rum (Guyana/Barbados) 40% abv, $38.

I finished my bottle of this one last year and it was pretty good, if not bit too sweet.  I like this much better than Dos Maderas PX (5+5), which is finished in Pedro Ximenes Oloroso Sherry casks, as that one is overly sweet for my taste.

87. Herradura Blanco 100% Agave Tequila (Mexico) 40% abv, $55.

Last year, I bought a sample pack of Herradura Blanco, Reposado and Anejo.  I liked the Anejo the best.

92. Santa Teresa 1796 Ron Antiguo de Solera (Venezuela) 40% abv, $39.

My brother introduced me to this Jamaican rum.  While it was good, I consider Appleton Estate Extra 12 Year Old Jamaican Rum to be better.

97. Rhum Barbancourt Réserve Spéciale 8 Year Old Rum (Haiti) 43% abv, $23.

I’m on my second bottle of this rhum agricole (i.e. cane juice rum) and it was a slow start for me with this one.  At first, I was totally unimpressed and considered it a bit over-aged, but as time wore on I came to appreciate it more and more.   It’s got a “reedy” flavor to it that takes a bit of getting used to.  Now, I don’t think I would be without it and plan to try other rums of this style.

99. WhiskeyPig Straight Rye Whiskey Aged 10 Years (Canada) 50% abv; $70.

This one is 100% rye (most rye whiskeys are around 90-95%) and is bottled in Vermont.  I found a bottle in Louisiana about a year ago, but now it’s readily available here in Texas.  I’ve not opened my bottle yet, but my friends tell me that I’m in for a real treat when I do.

114. Balcones 1 Texas Single Malt Whisky Special Release (USA) 52.7% abv, $68.

This local distillery in Waco, TX has won many awards with their Texas Single Malt.  Personally, I find it to be the best of the young or no age statement (NAS) malt whiskys that I’ve tasted.  It’s bursting with flavor and has a nice dry finish.