Thursday, November 21, 2019

Wollersheim Bottled in Bond Bourbon Review & Tasting Notes

In Wisconsin, post-Prohibition Bottled-in-Bond is a very new thing. Unlike the law itself, dating back to 1897, my home state is a little late to the game. My favorite category is Bottled-in-Bond, so this naturally brings a smile to my face and piqued my interest.

On November 16th, Wollersheim Distillery released the second Bottled-in-Bond whiskey in the state since Prohibition. I was there, in line, in the cold, waiting for a chance to buy a bottle. I had tasted this several weeks before the release, but it was straight from the barrel and not proofed down. I enjoyed the straight-from-the-barrel taste I had and was excited about what might wind up in the bottle.

A small, but necessary segway if I may.  There are older Bourbons and there are younger Bourbons.  The same thing goes with American Rye.  Younger Bourbons and Ryes tend to have a much different profile than older siblings. As such, I consider each a unique category and don't compare younger to older unless there is a valid reason to do so.

Wollersheim's Bottled-in-Bond is their first-ever Bourbon release. It is aged four years and, as Bottled-in-Bond legalities require, it is bottled at 100°. I would consider it a younger Bourbon. Wollersheim used five different barrels in the initial blend. The mash is 75% white corn, 15% malted barley, and 10% rye, with the corn and rye grown about a mile from the distillery.  The barley is from Wisconsin, and the barrel staves are Wisconsin-grown and seasoned on site. Retail ranges between $50.00 and $65.00.

Wollersheim even mimicked a Wisconsin tax stamp to show the age of the Bourbon.

Packaging is nifty but can at times be deceiving. We all know there are some gorgeous bottles out there that are worth more than the whiskey inside. Does Wollersheim's first Bourbon fall into that category? The only way to find out is to #DrinkCurious, so here we go.

In my Glencairn glass, this Bourbon presents as an orange amber. It left a very thin rim on my glass that created no legs whatsoever. It was just a curtain of whiskey that dropped back down into the pool of liquid sunshine. Sometimes that happens with glasses that have an interior hydrophobic coating. I used a glass that I have used many times and am positive does not, so that was a bit of a shocker.

Despite the low rye content, my initial nosing was on the spicy side. First, it was oak. Behind that came cinnamon. Subsequent sniffs unveiled caramel and sweet corn. When I inhaled through my lips, it was corn, but more like standing in a cornfield rather than simply shucked corn. There was something earthy about it.

An oily, coating mouthfeel greeted my palate. At the front, it was corn and dark chocolate. Mid-palate, it became caramel and cocoa. On the back, it was a mixture of tobacco leaf, coffee, and vanilla. Moreover, the mouthfeel went from oily to creamy.

The finish was downright strange. It started off as oak. Then, it slid into caramel. From there, it altered to coffee.  But, these weren't individual change-ups. Rather, the finish notes would melt from one to the other. And, while all that diffusing occurred, my hard palate was sizzling with black pepper.

Bottle, Bar or Bust:  Mid-point on craft whiskeys is about $50.00. A few bucks either direction doesn't shock me anymore.  If you've read my reviews for any length of time, you know that I'm a fan of the strange and unusual so long as it is pleasant. Well, Wollersheim fits that. This is absolutely a younger Bourbon that has a lot of interesting things going for it. While I did enjoy this more at barrel proof, I'm happy with my purchase and believe you'll find this worth adding to your whiskey library.  

The second bottling of this Bourbon will be in June of 2020 if you are unable to find the initial release. Cheers!

Tuesday, November 19, 2019

Blood Oath Pact 5 Review & Tasting Notes

I've really enjoyed what Lux Row Distillers has produced lately. Their distillery-only Double Barrel Bourbon is one of the top whiskeys I've tried this year. Their sister distillery, Limestone Branch, has also done a great job overall.  While both sisters are working distilleries, most of what's out there is still sourced. 

Last year, on Bourbon & Banter, I reviewed Blood Oath Pact 4. My recommendation was to try it at a Bar. As such, when Luxco sent me a bottle of Blood Oath Pact 5 for a no-strings-attached, honest review, my curiosity was piqued. Would it be better than Pact 4? I'd soon have the opportunity to find out. I'd like to take an opportunity to thank Luxco for this opportunity.

One of the consistent qualities of the Blood Oath line is proof:  98.6°.  Why?  Because that's the average human body temperature and its blood inside. Pact 5 is a blend of 13-year high-rye Bourbon, an 11-year wheated Bourbon, and an 8-year Rye.  Then, the concoction was finished in Caribbean dark rum barrels. Retail is $99.99, and while we don't know who the actual distiller is, it is an educated guess that it is Heaven Hill.

In my Glencairn, Pact 5 presented as a medium amber with a very definite orange hue. The rim was thin and the legs were among the fastest I've seen as it raced back to the pool of liquid sunshine.

There was a complicated mixture of vanilla and raisin on my initial sniff. Beneath that was brown sugar and light citrus.  Just as I was getting ready to move to what aromas would greet my mouth, I picked up wet oak.  When I inhaled through my lips, it was thick molasses that coated my palate.

The mouthfeel was almost like molasses.  I picked up black pepper first, which was followed by oak and honey. On the back, it was a lovely mix of caramel and chocolate. The finish was long, with black pepper, wet oak, and caramel. And, as I was quite impressed, that long finish became bitter, just like I had placed bitters on my tongue.

Bottle, Bar or Bust:  I really, really enjoyed Pact 5 until the finish finished. I did polish through the sample bottle, and the more I sipped it the more I enjoyed it - again, until the finish, which became a turn-off. With that, combined with the $99.99 price, I'm going to recommend trying this one at a Bar and taste if that finish is a deal-breaker for you or not.  Cheers!

Saturday, November 16, 2019

My Visit & Tour of Waldschänke Ciders

Life is sometimes more than just whiskey. Wait, what did I just say?

Last week I was in Denver visiting my parents. Last time I came out, my mother wanted to visit a distillery. We visited A.W. Laws Whiskey House.  This year, they heard about a brand new cidery called Waldschänke Ciders (pronounced Vahld Shen Kee) and both Mom and Dad wanted to visit. While I don't drink beer, I do love a good hard cider. But, unlike whiskey, I know virtually nothing about hard cider or how it is made, so this prospect was exciting to me, too.

Waldschänke Ciders is located at 4100 Jason Street just outside of LoDo (Lower Downtown). I met with owners Keane, Kelley and John Dufresne. Keane and Kelley appear in the photo below.

Forgetting for just a second what Waldschänke Ciders has to offer, I was able to speak in-depth with Kelley and Keane. These two young entrepreneurs have their heads screwed on straight. They understand the very long, sometimes brutal hours that lay ahead for them, they know they're not going to magically strike it rich next week, and they have a solid business plan. We bantered about ideas for attracting customers and packing the house. They and father John are in this for the love of making cider and having happy customers. 

Now that tangent is over, let's get to what Waldschänke has on tap.  As I stated earlier, this is a brand new business, open just over a month. They are currently mashing their own cider that will be ready soon. In the meanwhile, they pour 16 different Colorado ciders and two specialty bottles. When their cider is ready, they plan to place it side-by-side with their competing brands. Frankly, I like that idea - let the customer explore what they like best and show how your product can shine. No fear!

Ciders are served in three sizes:  16oz for $8, 10oz for $6, or 4oz for $3.  But, the fun part is you can buy a flight, where you can select any four ciders for $11.  That's the route I chose.

Keane has a lot of woodworking experience, and he created these serving trays for the flights. If nothing else, it made for a beautiful presentation. The menu tells you enough about each option as well as whether it is sweet, semi-sweet, off-dry or dry.  I went with Grow A Pear (a semi-sweet pear cider from Talbotts), Sour Cherry (an off-dry cherry cider from Snow Capped), Blueberry Hibiscus (an off-dry blueberry cider from Wild Cider), and Colomosa (a dry cider made with apples, orange juice and lime from Talbott's).  While I enjoyed all of them, Blueberry Hibiscus was my favorite, but I'm admittedly a blueberry freak, so perhaps it had an unfair advantage. 

There is a lot of construction in the area, with revitalization occurring all over and a 400-unit apartment complex going up directly across the street. Connected to that is a Light Rail station, so Waldschänke has a very good chance of being in a high-traffic area once things are over and done.

John gave me a tour of the back of the house, showing me the mechanics and the private tasting room. 

While this is a different way of doing things than a whiskey distillery, I was able to understand the basics.  They've partnered with Mad Loon Roasters and are getting ready to open up a European-style coffeehouse that will serve traditional pour-overs, french presses, and drip coffees for the morning hours. 

I head to Denver at least annually to see my folks. I made some new friends in Kelley and Keane and it should be exciting to see how much has changed when I visit next. While Denver has a ton of breweries and several distilleries, if you're into doing something off the beaten path, I think you'll enjoy Waldschänke Ciders.


Friday, November 15, 2019

Something beautiful happens...

Sometimes, Mother Nature is super cooperative and things just line up perfectly for a photo opportunity... cheers!

Fukano Whisky Vault Reserve #1 Review & Tasting Notes

And then, sometimes something damned unusual just falls in your lap...

I've enjoyed discovering Japanese whiskies lately. It is an interesting category because there can be an almost level of perfection that goes into their single malts, but then there is the whole, Who really distilled this? factor. Many times, Japanese whiskies aren't even Japanese.  They can be distilled in Scotland (Canada is also a common source) and simply shipped over to Japan. It doesn't even have to be aged there! You see, Japan has the same issue that India has:  There really are no rules and it is a complete free-for-all.

On the other side of the coin, you have several legitimate distillers where everything is sourced, distilled and aged in Japan.  One such example is Fukano Distillery, located in Hitoyoshi City. This distillery was founded in 1823 and utilizes a pot still instead of a more efficient, higher capacity Coffey (column) still. They also use both malted and unmalted rice instead of barley as the mash. Fukano can also be considered a craft distiller of sorts. Everything they distill is barreled in only a handful of casks and each expression is different from the next, with the goal of Shigeruriku Fukano to never repeat them.

I have some amazing friends in the liquor business who are kind enough to let me sample their products. Good or bad, I'm always thankful for the opportunity. In this case, one of those friends let me try Fukano Vault Reserve #1. With this release, Fukano's mash came from polished rice. Polished rice is another term for white rice, where the outer, brown husk has been removed and stripped of much of its nutrients. It is also more difficult to distill. It is bottled at 40.5% ABV (or 91°), comes with a screw top closure, and retails for about $74.99.  There is no age statement, but it is a blend of whiskies ranging from three to eleven years old. 

I've given quite a bit of background, and as you and I know, all of that is really nice but the important question is how does it taste?  Let's get on with the show, shall we?

In my Glencairn glass, Vault Reserve #1 appears as a bright gold. It created a thin rim that left fat legs to race back to the pool of liquid sunshine. 

The first aromas to hit my nose were sherry and orchard fruits. But beneath those were a combination of toffee, caramel, and oak. When I inhaled through my lips, it was very starchy, exactly what you'd expect from white rice. 

The mouthfeel was very thick and coated my entire mouth. Dark cherries and plums danced across the front of my palate. Then, those fruits took on a chocolate coating mid-palate. On the back, there was a slightly astringent quality reminiscent of many Scotches. All of this led to a very long finish of oak and light spice.

Bottle, Bar or Bust:  Fukano Vault Reserve #1 is absolutely different. I've never had a rice whisky before (or at least not that I'm aware of) and I was shocked as to what flavors were produced. This was a very enjoyable experience and in the realm of Japanese (including pseudo-Japanese) whiskies, $75 isn't out of line. As such, this one grabs my coveted Bottle rating.  Cheers!

Thursday, November 14, 2019

Auchentoshan "The Bartender's Malt" Lowland Scotch Review & Tasting Notes

If you don't like peat and you don't like "band-aid" flavors, there are still plenty of options for drinking Scotch. Auchentoshan "The Bartender's Malt" has neither of those qualities, read my review at Bourbon & Banter to see if this affordable Scotch is right for you. Cheers!

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

Starlight Huber's Single Barrel Old Rickhouse Rye Whiskey Review & Tasting Notes

Two weeks ago I had an opportunity to visit Starlight Distillery, which is located in Borden, Indiana. I know what you're thinking, if it is Indiana it must be MGP, right?

Flashback to about six weeks ago, I was introduced to Starlight Distillery via Niemuth's Southside Market, which had a barrel pick of Huber's Old Rickhouse Indiana Straight Rye. My first question was what I asked above. As it turns out, no, Starlight has nothing at all to do with MGP aside from the fact they're housed in the same state.  Starlight is housed on the Huber's Winery campus, a winery that has been family owned since 1843, is in its seventh generation, and they've been distilling since 2001 when they started off with brandy, and now distill gin, rum, whiskey, grappa, and vodka.

Today I'm reviewing Barrel #1350, selected by the Secret Midnight Whiskey Club and lovingly called Tasty Tuff. This barrel was distilled from a mash of 85% rye and 15% malted barley, then aged 5-1/2 years old before being dumped at 119.6°.  It yielded 210 bottles and retails for $54.99. I'd like to thank Niemuth's for providing me a sample in exchange for a no-holds-barred, honest review.

In my Glencairn glass, Tasty Tuff appears as an enticing orange amber. It left a thin rim on the wall that led to fat droplets that crawled back to the pool of liquid sunshine.

Aromas of plum and cherry greeted my nostrils. Beneath that stone fruits were mint and prevalent oak.  When I inhaled through my lips, it was a combination of the plum and mint, creating an interesting flavor.

The first sip offered a thin and coating mouthfeel.  The plum and cherry made themselves known at the front. Mid-palate changed those up to cinnamon and rye spice, finally yielding to cocoa and oak on the back. If this sounds like a dessert whiskey, it isn't but the dessert flavors are there nonetheless. The finish was a massive blast of dark chocolate complimented with a long, spicy clove.

I opted to try Tasty Tuff with two drops of distilled water to discover what might change. The nose was definitely sweeter with more fruit, this time closer to berries and cocoa. When I inhaled through my lips I got the same plum, but it was now married with vanilla.

The mouthfeel was still thin and coating.  On the palate, the chocolate that was on the finish was way up on the front. The cinnamon remained at mid-palate and was joined by oak, with the rye spice on the back. The finish itself was unaltered with that dark chocolate and clove.

Bottle, Bar or Bust:  I've been a fan of Niemuth's ability to pick barrels and I'll be frank:  Tasty Tuff is no exception to the rule. There were so many good things going on with this Rye and "tasty" doesn't provide an accurate descriptor. When you consider this is bottled at barrel proof, the $54.99 outlay is an easy Bottle recommendation. Cheers!