Tuesday, February 18, 2020

Ritual Zero Proof Whiskey Alternative Review

I don't even have to say anything. I already know what some of you are thinking after just seeing the photo:  This Whiskeyfellow character is off his rocker! or Who the heck cares about a whiskey alternative?  For that matter, What is a whiskey alternative?

The very short answer to the final question is it is a non-alcoholic beverage meant to mimic whiskey. There's a rhyme to the reason of my reviewing a synthetic whiskey. First of all, there's the whole #DrinkCurious lifestyle. Second of all, some of us partake in Dry Januarys or Dry Weeks. Or, maybe we're on some medication and can't drink, or we're a designated driver but we want to enjoy a "drink" without impairment. Or, if the horrible thing happens, something comes up where we have to give up alcohol. Egad, that last thought just gave me the heebie-jeebies!

Ritual Zero Proof Whiskey Alternative is what I'm working with today, and this review is going to be different than others. I've already been warned by Ritual that a whiskey connoisseur won't be fooled into thinking it was real whiskey. If you look at the label, it also states Ritual Zero Proof is meant to be mixed in cocktails. The packaging even suggests cocktail recipes. And, that's exactly what I'm going to do - make one of their suggested cocktails - after I do a small neat pour.

But, I won't end the trial there. I'm going to put that cocktail up head-to-head with the exact same recipe, just substituting real whiskey for the whiskey alternative.

Before I get started, I need to provide you with some background on the Ritual whiskey alternative It is made with some pretty simple ingredients:  filtered water, invert sugar, natural flavors, xanthan gum, citric acid, sodium benzoate, and potassium sorbate. That's it. A 1.5oz pour costs you an entire ten calories. It is also gluten-free. One caveat is that once opened, you have six months to finish the bottle or it needs to be disposed of. Retail is about $25 and you can even buy it off Amazon. Finally, there's no math to do when figuring things out. Ritual suggests a 1:1 swap-out on the real thing.

I'd like to thank Ritual for providing me with a sample of the Zero Alcohol Whiskey Alternative in exchange for a no-holds-barred, honest review.

For the first part of this review, I'm going the standard route and will sip this from my trusty Glencairn glass.

In my glass, Ritual Zero Proof appears as a cloudy amber, almost like a common beer. It didn't leave any sort of rim on the wall but did leave behind some globby droplets on the side of the glass. 

Barrel char and wintergreen fragrances smacked me in the face. There was also a definitive medicinal aroma along with green pepper. When I inhaled through my lips, it was all green pepper. 

It had a very watery mouthfeel. I'm going to stop this right now for a segway. I do not like green peppers. I pick them out of anything I ever find them in. Well, if green peppers are your thing, you're going to be in absolute heaven. Once I got past the palate shock, I was able to discern other things. I found green peppercorn (not to be confused with green peppers), and then a sour flavor I couldn't nail down.

The finish was long-lasting green peppercorn and char. By long-lasting, I mean it just sat there, it didn't build, it didn't fade, but it went on for many minutes.

For the next part, I'm going to make two Old Fashioneds:  One with Ritual whiskey alternative and the other with JW Dant Bottled in Bond Bourbon. They will be otherwise identical in every way, including using the same kind and design of glass. To make this simple Old Fashioned with Fee Brothers West Indian Orange Bitters, Stirrings Simple Syrup, and Traverse City Whiskey Company's Premium Cocktail Cherries. On a side note, those cherries happen to be the best of any cocktail cherries I've ever had. Ever.

The recipe is easy:  2oz Ritual whiskey alternative, 1oz simple syrup, 2 dashes orange bitters, and garnish with a cherry. I may modify this with several cherries - they're so fantastic.

Because I do not want to give an unfair advantage to either cocktail, I'm even using identical cocktail glasses. I went as far as to use the same cocktail stirrers, one in each, so as to not contaminate one with the other.

So, how did these Old Fashioneds taste?  I could absolutely tell the difference between the two. But, in all honesty, that was expected. The Ritual wasn't bad at all and was, in fact, completely drinkable. I would have guessed it to be an Old Fashioned made with something from a bar's well draw.  I've had similar in my life many times over.

Bottle, Bar or Bust:  As a whiskey drinker expecting whiskey, this is an easy Bust. drinking it neat, again, an easy Bust. However, this isn't whiskey and it wasn't meant to be drunk neat, this is supposed to give some semblance of whiskey for folks who aren't drinking it. For my Pseudo-Old Fashioned, I think this passes the test. In a highly unusual move, I'm giving it a Bottle rating for performing as advertised. Cheers!

Saturday, February 15, 2020

Punjabi Club Rye Whisky Review & Tasting Notes

Microdistilleries are interesting because you never quite know what to expect. Some micro distillers are very talented and know what they're doing. Others have, well, unique spirits that their family and friends "enjoy" because they know the distiller and don't want to be rude.

In 2019 Mrs. Whiskeyfellow and I took one of our random road trips and we found ourselves in Monroe, Wisconsin. If you're not familiar with Monroe, it is known as the Swiss Cheese Capital of the United States.  One of the businesses in Monroe is the Minhas Craft Brewery, which is home to the brewery, a restaurant, a gift shop, and a microdistillery.  The brewery is actually the second oldest in the nation. and has a sister operation in Calgary, Canada where the owners, Ravinder and Manjit Minhas reside. The distillery was established in 2006 and utilizes a 1000-gallon, 45-foot column still to make various spirits. For what it is worth, the tasting room is a fun experience, presenting an opportunity to try a wide variety of liqueurs and spirits.

Today I'm reviewing Punjabi Club, which is a Canadian Rye whisky. What you can make from that is it was not distilled in Monroe. The rules for Canadian Rye are fast and loose things but one of the few requirements is that at least 91% of the whisky must be a product of Canada. 

The age and mash bill are undisclosed. While Canadian whisky must be aged at least three years, one thing to keep in mind that just because the word rye appears on the label of Canadian whisky, there is no requirement for even a single grain of rye to be in the mash. In the case of Punjabi Club, from my sipping experience, there is likely a significant amount of rye content.

Punjabi Club is bottled at 86° and can be purchased both at the distillery and online from a few outlets. Retail for a 750ml is about $24.99. How does this one taste? Time to #DrinkCurious and find out.

In my Glencairn glass, Punjabi Club appeared as the color of straw and was clear and bright. It left a medium-thick rim that created a thick, heavy curtain. Once the curtain dissipated, fat, slow legs were left behind.

The initial nosing was aromas of heavy oak and floral rye spice. Beneath those, I found orange citrus and mint. There was also a certain musty quality of wet wood. When I inhaled through my lips, flavors of ginger and oak started off and then became sweet red pepper.

A light but oily mouthfeel greeted my palate. Rye spice and oak dominated the front. At mid-palate, it smoothed out to a nice mix of pineapple, citrus, and spearmint. On the back, rye spice returned, this time with white pepper and tobacco.

The finish was initially short, but that turned out to only be a hiccup. Just as it fell off, it suddenly built and lasted for almost a minute. A blend of very dry oak and white pepper started both initially and returned for the comeback. Then, it got very sour. I can't say I've ever experienced a sour note with whiskey before. It was both unexpected, unpleasant and overshadowed the entire drinking experience.

Bottle, Bar or Bust:  The $24.99 price tag is very enticing. I tell people all the time that price doesn't dictate quality. After all, I am Mr. #RespectTheBottomShelf. Unfortunately, Punjabi Club is not a bottom-shelf gem. Aside from the very sour finish, I was turned off by the musty nose. This is one that I would just avoid, and as such, I have no qualms rating it a Bust.  Cheers!

Thursday, February 13, 2020

About Last Night...

Last night I hosted a massive whiskey event at Cask & Ale in Madison. When I say massive, I'm not fooling around:  48 different whiskeys were poured!

Now, I know what you're thinking... how could I be that irresponsible? Well, it isn't quite what you may be thinking. The 48 whiskeys were broken down into four flights of twelve half-ounce pours. Guests chose which of the four that appealed to them the most, both by what was offered and how it affected their wallets.

This was set up as a World Whiskey Tasting.  I love doing these in particular because, even for experienced whiskey drinkers, it offers guests an opportunity to stumble across something different and to #DrinkCurious. We had selections of Irish whiskey, Bourbon, American Rye, American whiskey, Japanese, French, and Indian whiskies, and then, to wrap things up, Scotch. The four flights went along the same lines to keep things logical and have various people at the same table relate to what someone else was enjoying.

As guests were enjoying their pours, I provided some historical trivia as well as background information on the various categories. There were a ton of questions for me to answer, which is one of my favorite aspects of these events. I love sharing knowledge and watching folks have an ah-ha! moment as they figure things out on their own. 

The three most-talked-about pours were Jack Daniel's Heritage Single Barrel, Brenne 10, and Stranahan's Diamond Peak. Folks who had Old No. 7 stuck in their minds were blown away by the Heritage Single Barrel and its night-and-day difference. The Brenne 10 was unusual as most guests never even knew French whisky was a thing. Finally, Diamond Peak opened up the eyes of those who had no idea how diverse American whiskey could be.

When all was said and done, everyone suggested they had a great time and many were asking about future whiskey tastings. 

To everyone who came out and braved the weather, thank you so much for attending!  Thank you, Cask & Ale, for partnering with me. And, for those of you who are curious, be on the lookout for future events so you can learn, laugh and enjoy great whiskey. Cheers!

Monday, February 10, 2020

McKenzie Straight Rye Whiskey Review

Today's review is of McKenzie Straight Rye Whiskey, distilled by Finger Lakes Distilling in New York.  This one was published at Bourbon & Banter and, due to professional courtesy and copyright laws, you'll have to click on the link to read it.  Cheers!

Friday, February 7, 2020

Bone Snapper "Darkest Sorcerye" Straight Rye Whiskey Review

If you search the term, Bone Snapper, you'll find a variety of hits. Some lead to a type of dragon, another to World of Warcraft, and several to Yu-Gi-Oh!  Me?  I have nothing to do with the two latter, and with the former, I'm just not all that interested. But, according to Backbone Bourbon Company, a Bone Snapper is basically an attention-getter. 

Bone Snapper comes as either a small batch or, in the case of a store pick, a single barrel. The standard expression, which is the small-batch version, is bottled at 108°. An option for the store pick is barrel proof. Either way, you're in for a serious sip. It is distilled from a mash of 95% rye and 5% malted barley, then once ready, non-chill filtered and bottled. Bone Snapper is sourced from MGP of Indiana.

Today, I'm reviewing a Bone Snapper's Niemuth's Southside Market store pick named Darkest Sorcerye. This one was barrelled in June 2013 and aged for 6.5 years until it was dumped in November of 2019. The barrel proof option rings in at 119.8°. Retail is $64.99.  I'd like to thank Niemuth's for providing me a sample in exchange for a no-strings-attached honest review. Time to #DrinkCurious...

Darkest Sorcerye appeared in my Glencairn glass as a deep, orange amber. It left a very thin rim on the wall, which led to fatter legs that slowly dripped back to the pool of liquid sunshine.

Cherry and plum blasted me in the nostrils as I picked up the glass and brought it toward my face. Once there, rye spice and oak were evident. Underneath all of that was a lovely mix of mint and chocolate, sort of like an Andes candy. When I inhaled through my lips, the plum was back and this time it joined with vanilla bean.

The first sip gave a very thin, light and airy mouthfeel. Subsequent ones never gained weight or viscosity. But it sure numbed the hard palate!  At the front, an interesting combination of milk chocolate and cocoa started things off. At mid-palate, the chocolate disappeared and was replaced by vanilla, rye spice, and dark fruits. Then, on the back, the chocolate returned, this time a definitive dark version which married with oak.

The finish was very, very long. It started off as white pepper, then was joined by dark chocolate. As those two danced with each other, that oak from the finish rolled in and out like it was a series of waves.

Bottle, Bar, or Bust:  When you consider that Darkest Sorcerye is barrel-proof whiskey, the price isn't out of line. The nose and palate provide plenty of complexity and I really enjoyed the two types of chocolate from the front to back of the palate. I've been very impressed with Niemuth's ability to pick barrels. In full disclosure, I've joined Niemuth's in picks, but Darkest Sorcerye was not one of them. However, were I on the selection committee, I would have been proud to have this one associated with my name. When I combine all of this, it easily earns my coveted Bottle rating.  Cheers!

Tuesday, February 4, 2020

Leopold Bros Rare Stock Whiskey Review

I've been familiar with Leopold Bros for several years. It is located in my old stomping grounds of northeast Denver, Colorado not far from what was the old Denver Stapleton Airport. If you've never heard of Leopold Bros, they're quite unique. It is a family-owned distillery established in 1999, and they have their own malting floor. Yeah, you read that right, and it isn't just a malting floor, but it is the largest malting floor in the United States. Everything is done in-house, they even grow the botanicals that attract the wild yeast used in the secondary fermentation on the distillery premises.

To celebrate their 20th Anniversary, Leopold Bros released a very limited edition whiskey. By limited edition, only 250 bottles were produced. It has a simple name:  Rare Stock Whiskey.

Rare stock whiskey is distilled from a mash of 58% corn, 23% malted barley, and 19% rye. But, before setting it in wood, it soaked in charred sugar maple wood chips for several months. That, right there, prevents this whiskey from being Bourbon. Todd Leopold told me that they charred the wood chips themselves and he went for a very heavy char with the intention of having a smoky quality. After it steeped, it was filtered through a non-dyed, virgin wool blanket in the tradition of Appalachia. Then, the barreling took place. Leopold used 53-gallon, #3 charred oak barrels, let it rest for nine years before dumping. It was then bottled uncut at 114.6°. All of the bottles were sold via a lottery at the distillery for $125.00. As such, the only way to find it is on the (cough, cough) secondary market. I was given my bottle as a gift from very dear friends who knew I would appreciate it.

If you were to seek out a bottle of Rare Stock Whiskey, is it worth the quest? Let's get on to the tasting notes. Time to #DrinkCurious...

In my Glencairn glass, Rare Stock Whiskey presented as a deep burnt amber. That's the color Mrs. Whiskeyfellow used when I showed her my glass, and that works just fine for me. It created a medium rim that generated fast, thicker legs that raced back to the pool of liquid sunshine. 

An aroma of candied fruits greeted my palate before the glass got close to my face. Once that happened, a marriage of smoke and vanilla took over before giving way to dark stone fruits. When I inhaled through my lips, the smoke and vanilla changed to smoked caramel and oak.

And then, there was the mouthfeel. It was thick and creamy, but it was also a smoke bomb in my mouth. That took me by complete surprise, enough so that I started coughing and Mrs. Whiskeyfellow wondered what happened. There was nothing bad about it, it was just unexpected. It also was a reminder of one of my standard lessons in classes I host:  Never judge a whiskey on the first sip. Once my palate was past the shock of the smoke, I was able to pick up flavors of plums and cherries. Past that, maple and tobacco leaf. Then, on the back, it was charred oak and clove.

The finish was long. Very, very long. It started off as heavy smoke and clove. The smoke dissipated, leaving the clove to carry on. Then, the clove faded off. 

When I write reviews, I have a pad of paper that I use to take notes. As I go through nosing and tasting, I jot things down. After my first glass, I start tweaking those notes. This is not a short process, it takes many minutes. I am taking this segway because it is illustrative of how long it took the finish to end. After the clove faded off, there was nothing. As I was tweaking my tasting notes, my entire mouth got walloped by dark cherries. I've had whiskeys take a hiatus in the finish, but nothing like this.

Bottle, Bar or Bust:  I want to say two things here.  First, let's not confuse smoke with peat. This is a smoky whiskey, it is not a peaty whiskey. Second, let's look at this one logically. You aren't finding this bottle on through conventional means. That means you're getting it one of two ways: Someone is going to gift it to you (like me) or sell it to you. I have no idea what Rare Stock Whiskey is worth on the secondary market. I can tell you this much - this is about one of the most unusual American whiskeys I've ever tasted, and that's a compliment. If you are offered a chance to buy this and it isn't offered at an obscene price, grab it. I'm enjoying the hell out of mine, and as such, it gets my coveted Bottle rating. Cheers!

Friday, January 31, 2020

Backbone "Unicorn Slayer" Single Barrel Bourbon Review

I can remember, not even a few years ago, when everyone was sneering at MGP and calling it junk. Fast forward a bit, and magically here we are with MGP being all the rage. 

If you're unfamiliar with MGP, it is the old Seagram's Distillery in Lawrenceburg, Indiana. It has its own house brands, but for the most part, they're the major source of whiskeys for new craft brands. Sometimes, these craft brands are waiting for their own distillate to mature. Others are just sourcing barrels and hoping the supply doesn't dry up. 

Today I'm reviewing Backbone Bourbon, which is a brand that sources from MGP.  This is a single barrel release, and it is nicknamed Unicorn Slayer by Niemuth's Southside Market in Appleton, Wisconsin. As I demand transparency from producers and distillers, I hold myself to the same standard. So, in full disclosure, I assisted the Secret Midnight Whiskey Club in picking this barrel. 

Unicorn Slayer was distilled in May 2012 using MGPs Bourbon mash of 70% corn, 25% rye, and 5% malted barley. It aged for seven and a half years before being dumped in November 2019. The barrel yielded 166 bottles and was uncut at 119.3°.  Retail is $69.99 and is available exclusively at Niemuth's.

In my Glencairn glass, Unicorn Slayer was a deep and dark amber. It created a micro-rim on the wall that led to a thick, wavy curtain to drop into the pool of liquid sunshine. That left behind fat, heavy legs that stuck to the side of the glass.

An aroma of freshly-sawn oak filled the room. I left the glass alone for about 20 minutes just enjoying the smell. Once I brought the glass to my face, the first thing I picked up was berry and vanilla. Upon further inspection, cocoa and nutmeg teased. Then, as I brought the glass to my mouth, mint became obvious. When I inhaled through my lips, it was a blend of cocoa and stone fruits.

The mouth was thin and oily and coated everywhere. Amazingly, there was very little heat.  Berry, vanilla, and cinnamon greeted the front of my palate. As it worked its way back, I picked up a definitive dry oak, white pepper, and caramel. Then, on the back of my palate, it was all rye spice and clove.

All of this enveloped into a very long, warm finish. If you would have told me this was almost 120° and I didn't know any better, I would have challenged you on the claim. Clove and rye spice remained for much of the finish, but as it began to die off, creamy caramel closed everything up in a nice, neat package.

Bottle, Bar or Bust:  I have a very strict standard when I pick barrels. It has to be something special, and I don't attach my name to anything that is a me-too whiskey. One of the things that really grabbed me was how easy it was to drink. There was nothing harsh about this barrel and, quite frankly, the proof will sneak up on you if you're not careful. The nose was very complex, and the palate offered a wide range of flavors. This is a combination that I find very attractive and it is available at a very fair price.

I'll go one step further. I have picked a lot of barrels. Unicorn Slayer is easily in the Top 5 of what I've picked. Obviously, this one is a Bottle rating. Cheers!