Tuesday, September 3, 2019

WhistlePig 10-Year Single Barrel Rye (Niemuth's Southside Market) Review & Tasting Notes



I am not a fan of Canadian Rye.  It isn't really any specific Canadian Rye, it is the category itself.  It is partially due to some amount of whiskey snobbery (which I try desperately to avoid) but mostly because I find Canadian Rye just not very good.


The snobbery part has to do with how you can play fast and loose with Canadian Rye - there are basically three rules:

  1. It must be mashed in Canada;
  2. It must be distilled in Canada; and
  3. It must be aged at least three years in Canada


Wait a minute... there's nothing there about the mashbill!  You forgot that!


No, no I did not. Believe it or not, for Canadian Rye to be considered Canadian Rye, it requires not one single grain of actual rye.  Not one, single grain at all. There are also no rules about adding artificial coloring or flavoring.  Hence, my slight snobbery regarding this category. 


When the folks at Niemuth's Southside Market in Appleton asked me to review their WhistlePig 10-year Single Barrel, I asked if it was from MGP or Alberta Distillers.  When they told me Alberta Distillers, my heart sank a bit. But, it had been some time since I've had anything to do with anything Canadian and it was time to suck it up and review the category.  You know, that whole #DrinkCurious philosophy thing.


Let's start off with the facts:  Niemuth's WhistlePig is nicknamed the Happy Honey Beast. It came from Barrel #72355 and rested in Warehouse 1, Rick G and Level 2.  Did it rest in Vermont for all of its 10 years?  Likely not.  Did it rest in Canada at least three years?  Probably.  WhistlePig claims they rescued aged stock before bringing it to Vermont and then aging it in new, American oak with a Bourbon Finish. It was then bottled at 118.5° and this barrel yielded 132 bottles. Niemuth's has this priced at $89.99 for a 750ml.  Alberta's ryes are, despite the lack of Canadian regulations, 100% rye content. 


It is also a Straight Rye.  From that, we can assume there are no artificial flavoring or coloring, and I'd assume it aged on the WhistlePig farm at least two years.


In my glass, this WhistlePig appeared as a deep amber.  It left a thin rim but created a thick, wavy curtain before dropping down to the pool.


Aromas of dry oak, cinnamon were prevalent.  That dry oak was very strong.  But, behind that were walnut and cherries.  And then, just before fooling myself in thinking I'd identified it all, there was a punch of caramel.  When I inhaled through my lips, that caramel continued, which was followed by honeysuckle.


The mouthfeel was very thin and oily.  Sometimes a thin mouthfeel thickens up and becomes coating after a few sips. That didn't happen with the Happy Honey Beast.


At the front of the palate, flavors of cocoa and cinnamon were prevalent. That spice then changed up to spearmint. At mid-palate, it was coffee and rye spice.  And, then, out of nowhere, on the back, the honey appeared, making sense of this whisky's nickname. 


The finish of smoky rye spice, clove, and vanilla fooled me into believing it was very short.  But, before I took my next sip, it all came back to make for a very long, dry finish. 


Before I get to my rating, for curiosity's sake I added two drops of distilled water to see what would happen by proofing it down.  The nose got very minty, but on the palate, the spearmint quality disappeared entirely, allowing the caramel to shine through. The clove on the finish changed up to the elusive spearmint and this time, there was no pause in the finish, it just kept building. The dryness on the finish went away, but it exaggerated the smokiness.


Between the two, I preferred it neat.


Bottle, Bar or Bust:  I started off saying I am not a fan of Canadian Rye. There are several things going on with the Happy Honey Beast.  It threw me for at least three loops.  I'm used to that happening once, or occasionally, twice. But I don't recall any doing it a third time until now. That's exciting. Moreover, in a blind tasting, I guarantee I would not identify this as Canadian.  It gets bonus points from me there.  The $89.99 is a bit steep, but this seems to be an average price for WhistlePig 10.


This is a better barrel compared to several of the other WhistlePig 10's I've tried. For a Canadian Rye, I would say this is very good. If you're a WhistlePig fan, Happy Honey Beast is an easy Bottle.  For those who haven't tried WhistlePig yet, you'll probably want to sample this before you buy it, but since it is a store pick, you're not going to find this one available at a bar.






Wednesday, August 28, 2019

Head to Head Match-Up: Stolen X v. Hochstadter's Slow & Low




As much as I love whiskey, my experience with whiskey cocktails is fairly limited. I like a good Old Fashioned.  I've enjoyed Manhattans.  There's been a few more, but for the most part, I just prefer my whiskey neat.


Recently, I had the opportunity to try Rock & Rye.  If you're not familiar with it, in short, it is a mixture of Rye whiskey and rock candy.  There can be other ingredients as well, but those two are the main ingredients.


I've had a can of Hochstadter's Slow & Low in my liquor cabinet for quite a while.  My wife picked it up and it has just been sitting there.  I've not had any real desire to open it up.  However, the folks at Stolen Spirits were kind enough to send me a sample of Stolen X for a no-holds-barred, honest review. Considering the fact I've never had Rock & Rye before, I felt a review would be baseless without something to compare. I remembered that lonely can of Slow & Low and decided a head-to-head tasting would be the fairest approach. 


And, to be consistent, I used the same Norlan Rauk heavy tumbler with both on two different days. 






First up was Stolen X.  Stolen X is made of American Rye aged "over two years," fresh orange peel and organic raw honey.  There is no mention of rock candy in it at all, which is interesting.  It is bottled at 80°. Stolen X is available in 100ml cans, and 750ml and 1-liter bottles. A 750ml on average runs about $23.00.


The appearance was an orangish-amber and was somewhat cloudy. Aromas of orange and honey were evident, and after several minutes, I could pick up a slightly floral note, perhaps from the rye itself.  When I inhaled through my mouth, there was a definitive orange peel.


Flavors of orange citrus, orange peel (yes, these are two different flavors) and sweet honey coated my tongue. The finish was long and very, very sweet, with some citric acid left on the tongue. I could not find any "evidence" of whiskey during my trial. I don't mean to imply there is no whiskey in it, rather, there just wasn't any whiskey flavor. However, the sweetness left me grabbing a barrel proof Bourbon to end the sensation.





The second tasting was Hochstadter's Slow & Low.  It is made from Straight Rye, raw honey, naval oranges, rock candy, and bitters.  The recipe has been used since 1884, and it is 84°.  Slow & Low is available of 100ml cans and 750ml bottles.  A bottle retails for about $19.99.


The appearance is a deep, dark amber that was clear.  The aroma of orange citrus was very heavy with a hint of maraschino cherries. There was also a candy quality on the nose.  When I inhaled through my lips, it was all thick honey.


The mouthfeel was light and airy. Flavors of orange bitters hit my palate hard.  Behind that was honey and white sugar.  Candied orange slices left a long, very sweet finish.  There was also mild alcohol burn, but it was not overwhelming. Then, the sweetness turned bitter which rolled on and on.  The best way I could describe the experience is the beginning of an Old Fashioned, but not in a good way.


The Verdict:  Normally I would do a Bottle, Bar or Bust recommendation. I decided to go a different way because, to be perfectly frank, after tasting both the Stolen X and Slow & Low, I enjoyed neither. But, rather than stating these were bad versions of Rock & Rye, I am assuming I just don't care for Rock & Rye in general.


Saying all of that, these are two absolutely different expressions of the classic cocktail.  As a whiskey drinker, the Slow & Low offered me minor evidence of Rye on the palate. And, to be fair, there is a four-point difference in proof between the two. The Slow & Low was also more complex than the Stolen X.


When I drink a cocktail, I want the character of the main ingredient, in this case, whiskey, to shine through. Only one had some whiskey character and as such, the winner became easy:  Slow & Low. 


Cheers!

Friday, August 23, 2019

The #30DaysofBourbon Explanation and Rules are now available!



The wait is over, the time is ripe to publish the explanation and rules for the #30DaysofBourbon challenge!  


As I've teased, this isn't just about drinking Bourbon for 30 days, there's a lot more involved with this challenge.  Moreover, there's the charity aspect.  We should strive to help others.  My request is that at the end of the challenge, please donate $30 or more to any charity of your choosing.


My charity of choice is the Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy Syndrome Association (RSDS.org).  This is a very personal decision for me because my amazing wife has been battling RSD/CRPS for several years.  It is a horribly unfair disease that robs people of their own bodies by keeping them in constant, unending pain. The RSDSA provides education, assistance and drives research for a cure.


Rather than doing a daily post here, I'll save that for social media. However, come September 30th, I'll post what my 30 Bourbons were and provide my calendar.


The rules are published at Bourbon & Banter.  There are both a calendar and logo overlays you can use to help spread the Bourbon Gospel.


Will you join me for this year's challenge?

Wednesday, August 21, 2019

Ardbeg Drum Limited Release Scotch Whisky Review & Tasting Notes


Once a year, on Ardbeg Day, the Ardbeg Distillery releases something new and special.  I've been lucky enough to take part in hosting Ardbeg Day in South Florida for a couple of years and those events are a ton of fun. This past July, my wife and I were down in that neck of the woods again visiting our friends at Fine Spirits Wine & Liquor in Cooper City. As it turned out, they were hosting a tasting of Drum, the newest Ardbeg Day release. 


There are two different releases of Drum.  One is a Committee Release at 52% ABV and other is the Limited Release, which is 46% ABV.  I was able to explore the general release. Regardless, Drum is a very special and unique release from this Islay distillery because while it isn't unusual for them to age their whisky in ex-Bourbon barrels, they've never then taken that and aged it again in ex-Rum casks. Drum carries no age statement, is non-chill filtered, and retails for about $110.00.


For the most part, I enjoy Ardbeg. There have been just a few "meh" releases that I've been very unimpressed with, particularly Auriverdes.  On the other hand, one of my favorite peated Scotches is Corryvrecken. As such, I'm coming into this review hoping to enjoy it but prepared for the worst. And that, of course, is all part of the #DrinkCurious lifestyle.  Let's get at it, shall we?


In my glass, Drum appeared as clear and pale, producing a thin rim and very fast legs that dropped back to the pool. 


Aromas of peat hit my nostrils before I got anywhere near the glass. That's something almost required from Ardbeg and in fact, I'd be curious and perhaps concerned if that quality was missing. Once I was able to get beyond the peat, there was a briny quality. Typical Islay whisky, right?  When I inhaled through my lips, there was a strong banana flavor that rolled across my tongue.


The mouthfeel was thick and coating despite the thin rim and speedy legs. On the front, Drum was a mix of flowers and sweet pineapple.  Mid-palate offered dark chocolate from the malted barley and a bit of vanilla. On the back, it was peat, brine, and citrus.  For the peat to show up on the back instead of the front is, at least in my opinion, uncommon. 


A long smoky, briny finish left my hard palate tingly. 


Bottle, Bar or Bust:  Before I get started on the rating, I want to give some insight as to what I observed during this Ardbeg event. Drum was a very polarizing whisky. I heard folks saying they loved it and others who were very disappointed. I think that's something very fair when a distillery comes out with something other than a me-too whisky. Ardbeg took a risk with Drum. I think it is obvious I found this one unique and I am in the camp of "loved it." Personally, I give it a Bottle rating and I'd happily purchase Drum.  If you've been following me long and our palates are fairly synched, buy it. However, because it is such a polarizing Scotch with a $110 price tag, I believe most folks should try Drum first and because of that, it will officially take a Bar rating.


Cheers!

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

The 5th Annual #30DaysofBourbon Challenge is almost here!



Get your liver checked, because the 5th Annual #30DaysofBourbon challenge starts September 1st!  This is an amazing, fun month-long event that grows by leaps and bounds every year.  Details will follow, but if you've never taken part, it is harder than you think and has a charity angle. Cheers!

Sunday, August 11, 2019

Bardstown Bourbon Co Fusion Series #1 Review & Tasting Notes



There's a new sheriff in town... well maybe not so new, but it is one of the newer distilleries:  Bardstown Bourbon Co. of Bardstown, Kentucky. Bardstown Bourbon Co., or BBC, claims to be "the first Napa Valley-style destination on the Kentucky Bourbon Trail to combine distilling, culinary, and beverage expertise to create a modern, authentic Bourbon experience."  BBC offers both their own distillate as well as a Collaborative Distilling Program. According to their website, they produce around 40 different mashbills, and some of their clients include Jefferson's, High West, Belle Meade, Calumet, James E. Pepper, and Cyrus Noble


One of the house whiskeys they offer is Fusion Series #1.  Because BBC has only been around a few years, they had to reach out for help and source a portion of the whiskeys. The blend is comprised of 42% BBC's 2-year, 1-month 60% corn, 36% rye, and 4% malted barley, 18% was BBC's 2-year, 3-month 68% corn, 20% wheat and 12% malted barley. Both of those are married to an 11-year, 7-month mash of 74% corn, 18% rye, and 8% malted barley from an undisclosed Kentucky distillery making up the final 40%. That marriage resulted in a 98.9° Bourbon that will set you back about $59.95 and is currently available only available in Kentucky, but the planned distribution includes Indiana, Tennessee, Illinois, Northern California, and Southern Florida. 


I'd like to thank Bardstown Bourbon Co. for sending me a sample of Fusion Series #1 in exchange for a no-holds-barred, honest review. And now, let's get to it.


In my Glencairn glass, Fusion Series #1 appeared as a coppery (almost like a new penny) liquid.  It left a thin rim on the wall that produced fat, wavy legs to drop back to the pool of Liquid Sunshine.


Aromas of berry fruits, cinnamon and nuts filled the air. I really didn't need to hold the glass to my face to pick those up, it was that aromatic. The only other note I picked up was oak.  When I inhaled through my mouth, flavors of berry and vanilla raced over my tongue.


The mouthfeel was thin and light. At the front of the palate, leather was predominant but there was also a suggestion of cherry. Moving to mid-palate, it was a combination of creamy caramel and nuts. On the back were aggressive rye spice and dry oak. 


The finish was very long-lasting and spice-heavy. It just kept building and building with pepper and was fairly complex with how it increased and rolled in my mouth and throat.  The 98.9° had my hard palate buzzing pretty well, and that's something usually how a barrel-proof whiskey reacts on me.


Bottle, Bar or Bust:   I found the nose enticing and I definitely relished the finish.  I'm a big fan of high-rye Bourbons. I know several folks who aren't and prefer the gentle caress of a wheater. This isn't that despite the wheated component. The palate was fairly subtle beyond the dominating leather and rye and I struggled to pick up the other flavors. I've had a few pours of Fusion Series #1 to see how oxidization affected it and the notes never really changed.  Fusion Series #1 is good, but it isn't great, and in my opinion, it will appeal to a segment of folks who crave those high-rye mashbills. As such, this is rated a Bar and I suggest you try it before committing to the bottle. 


Cheers!

Tuesday, August 6, 2019

Traverse City Whiskey Co. American Cherry Edition Review & Tasting Notes



I'll be completely transparent here... Flavored whiskeys are a crap-shoot with me. They're either good or they are terrible. The terrible ones taste very artificially-flavored and I'm usually under the impression the goal is to hide an otherwise bad whiskey. The good ones don't let the flavoring get out of control. 


Recently, Traverse City Whiskey Co sent me a selection of whiskeys to try in exchange for a no-holds-barred, honest review of each. One of them was their American Cherry Edition, which is a Bourbon that has been infused with "Traverse City Cherries and Natural Flavor." The Bourbon carries no age statement and comes from a mash of corn, rye, and malted barley. The finished product is bottled at 70°, forcing it to lose the legal definition of whiskey, which is required to be no less than 80°. It has a suggested retail price of $30.  The flavor is advertised as whiskey with a hint of cherry, not the other way around. The batch number I was provided is 013.


Those cherries?  I'll talk about them more at the end of the review. And, speaking of the review, let's get down to it, shall we?


In my Glencairn glass, the appearance was a reddish plum. It left a very thick rim that created fat, slow legs to drop back to the pool. 


An aroma of black cherry hit my nose. That was the end of it. It was a curiosity, especially with the suggestion that there was only "a hint of cherry, not the other way around."  When I inhaled through my mouth, I picked up that obvious cherry, but rye spice and vanilla followed. This at least gave me some hope.


The mouthfeel was very thick and oily. Up at the front of the palate, flavors of cherry and vanilla morphed into a creamy vanilla mid-palate. On the back were notes of rye spice and a hint of dry oak. Very dry oak. 


A longer than expected finish consisted of mostly cherry, but that very dry oak hung around to keep the cherry from becoming overwhelming.


Bottle, Bar or Bust:  Here's where the rubber meets the pavement. As a reminder, this is not a legal whiskey. When considering the rating, I take into account the category, what it offers, and is the price worth it.  In the case of American Cherry Edition, this is a solid flavored spirit and it does live up to its advertisement of being "not the other way around."  It is priced fairly with respect to similar items in this category and it is enjoyable. As such, it earns a Bottle recommendation. 


No, I haven't forgotten!  Those Traverse City Cherries are decadent and luscious. They come in very thick syrup and will blow away any maraschino cherry in a cocktail. I chomped some dark chocolate and then stuck a few cherries in my mouth and it was almost orgasmic!


Cheers!