Sunday, March 31, 2019

La Crosse Distilling High Rye Light Whiskey Review

Light Whiskey.  If you don't know what Light Whiskey is, it is essentially distilled between 160° and 190°, then aged anywhere from around five seconds (like Pabst's new whiskey) on down to however long in either "used" or new uncharred oak barrels. Light Whiskey has been around for about as long as I've been alive - I'm an old fart. But, Light Whiskey isn't all that common. It was essentially created to compete with vodka, gin, and other "light" spirits back when Bourbon was starting to lose its appeal.

I've had Light Whiskeys before. They're certainly different from anything else I've had. But, I've never taken the time to review one. That's now changed with La Crosse Distilling's High Rye Light Whiskey. As the name suggests, it is made with a high-rye mash, which is also blended with wheat. The mash comes from local farmers in La Crosse, Wisconsin and then distilled in-house. Everything at La Crosse Distilling is 100% certified organic, their facility is powered by geothermal energy, and they've been open since September 2018.

The label suggests this Light Whiskey is aged "at least one day" and the website confirms it is "kissed" by White American Oak for a single day. It is bottled at 90° and the suggested retail is $29.99.

I'd like to thank La Crosse Distilling for providing me a sample for a no-strings-attached, honest review.

La Crosse Distilling recommends using this whiskey in a cocktail or by adding a few drops of water. For the purposes of my review, I'll try it both neat and with a few drops of distilled water. Time to #DrinkCurious.

In the glass, the appearance was like a Pinot Grigio. As you'd imagine, it was very light in color. It left a thinner rim on my Glencairn but generated a fat, wavy curtain that dropped back to the pool.

The nose was very much like newmake. Again, that's expected from something that is technically aged. The rye really shined through. Beneath the rye, I picked up buttered popcorn. Inhaling through my lips brought a sweet moonshine flavor. Two drops of distilled water enhanced the buttered popcorn aroma.

Sipping this neat, the mouthfeel was just like drinking a glass of water, with the same viscosity and weight. I expected it to be softer and was pleasantly surprised. There was a definitive rye spice, but the wheat mellowed it and took down all the anticipated sharpness. With the additional water, the mouth thickened.  The spiciness diminished but yielded floral notes.

Neat, the finish was long but delicate. As it built, I was able to pick up that "kiss" of oak. When it subsided, there was no burn whatsoever. This was obviously proofed correctly. With the added water, the oak exploded. When the oak dropped off, the finish became peppery and kept building, giving it a longer finish versus the neat pour.

Bottle, Bar or Bust:   I said at the start of this review that I've had Light Whiskeys before and haven't reviewed them. Part of the reason was that I'd never buy one on my own. I haven't enjoyed Light Whiskeys. Saying all of that I found La Crosse High Rye Light Whiskey to be a much different experience. This one hovers somewhere between a Bottle and Bar.  I could see sipping this on a hot summer's day, maybe after mowing my lawn while hanging out on the deck and watching the sunset (even if my deck faces east instead of west). I honestly would not select this as an everyday pour, I personally like a "heavier" whiskey. However, this one surprised me and is very good for what it is - a Light Whiskey.

On a side note, while the bottle suggests adding water, I enjoyed this one better neat.  I'm excited to see what the future holds for La Crosse Distilling.


Monday, March 25, 2019

Four Roses Single Barrel - Pierce's OBSV

Four Roses Single Barrel picks can be a blast. The first barrel pick I was ever involved in was a Four Roses pick and it is one of my better life experiences. One of the reasons Four Roses is such a different, exciting pick is they have ten different recipes from which to choose, whereas if other distilleries have that many, the fact eludes me.

The recipes consist of two mashbills:  B is a high-rye mash of 60% corn, 35% rye, and 5% malted barley.  E is a low-rye mash of 75% corn, 20% rye, and 5% malted barley. In addition, there are five strains of yeast:  F, which typically has herbal notes; K, which typically is slightly spicy; O, which is typically rich and fruity; Q, which typically has a floral essence; and V, which is typically delicate fruit.  

The way to read a Four Roses recipe is O__S__.  The second letter would always be B or E, and the last letter would always be F, K, O, Q, or V.  A standard Four Roses Single Barrel is always OBSV, meaning it is going to be spicier due to the high-rye and have a delicate fruity quality. 

Today I'm pouring an OBSV store pick for BWP Pierce's of Baraboo, Wisconsin. This is a 100° Bourbon that has been aged seven years and four months and retail is $39.99. This will be an interesting experience because I don't typically pour 100° Four Roses and I've never had such a young barrel pick from them. However, in reality, age is just a number and while folks typically seek out older whiskeys, there are excellent younger whiskeys and terrible older ones, and vice-versa. It all depends on the individual barrel. This particular barrel is 19-6M and comes from Warehouse JW.

Everything boils down to how enjoyable a whiskey is and as such, it is time to #DrinkCurious

In my glass, the appearance was a rich caramel color. It left a very thick rim on the wall of the Glencairn with slow, fat droplets that I wouldn't really describe as legs because they never really made it back down to the pool. They just stuck.

The nose was light and delicate. I immediately questioned it and dismissed the same as I reminded myself this was not barrel-proof Bourbon. The initial aroma was very fruity, more than I expected from V yeast. Caramel and vanilla hid beneath the fruit. Underneath that was a slight spiciness of the rye. When I inhaled through my mouth, it was rich vanilla.

The mouthfeel was softer than I expected. Again, this isn't barrel-proof. This pick was doing an excellent job at challenging my preconceived notions. It was light and oily and coated my tongue. Flavors of oak quickly gave way to the rich fruit. Mid-palate turned to vanilla and allspice. The back was clove and oak. It was interesting how the oak started and ended the cycle.

The finish was extremely long. It didn't burn but it definitely warmed. The oak hung around, but so did the clove and allspice. It took almost five minutes before the Energizer Bunny finish gave up the ghost and melted away.

Bottle, Bar, or Bust:  I was skeptical. I avoid 100° Four Roses because I love the barrel-proof versions. Saying that this one has me damned curious about what I've missed and overlooked in the past. Shame on me for that. This OBSV was very enjoyable and I'm going to open my eyes and include 100-proofers as I hunt down store picks. Maybe they won't all be this enjoyable, but the BWP Pierce's pick is getting a Bottle rating from me. 


Sunday, March 17, 2019

Slane Triple Casked Irish Whiskey Review

Happy St. Patrick's Day!  If you're Irish, this is your day.  If you're not Irish, well, today you are, because everyone is. It is all in good fun. Even the whiskey is Irish today. My pour actually is.

I have a few excellent Irish whiskeys in my library, but for my celebratory pour, I decided to go with something brand new to me. I've chosen Slane "Triple Casked" Irish whiskey. What, exactly, is Slane? The short answer is it is Brown-Forman's contribution to the Irish whiskey world. The distillery itself is located at Slane Castle in County Meath. 

Slane is an affordable choice. My bottle ran $29.99.  The bottle itself is hefty with SLANE embossed on two of the side panels and the crest on the front and back and a screw-top closure. 

Brown-Forman does not disclose who sources this whiskey for them, and it carries no age statement, but in order to meet the legal requirements of Irish whiskey, it must be at least three years old. It is a marriage of an Irish Single Malt and Irish Single Grain whiskeys that have been aged in three different casks:  virgin oak, seasoned oak, and Oloroso Sherry barrels. It was then bottled at 80°.

The background and story are interesting, but what matters most is how this Irish whiskey tastes. As such, it is time to #DrinkCurious.

In the glass, Slane had a unique appearance for an Irish whiskey. I'm used to a far paler color. In this case, a rich gold presented.  It left a very thin rim on the Glencairn that generated equally thin and slow legs to drop back to the pool. 

Aromas of honey and sherry were heavily represented. Underneath those were sweet, dried fruits such as raisins and prunes. I also picked up oak and vanilla. When I inhaled through my lips, it was all thick butterscotch that made my mouth water.

The mouthfeel was very thin and oily and led to a very complex palate.  Up front, flavors of leather and oak were dominant. But, after the initial shock to the palate, it was far easier to pick up cocoa and coffee. While the front was very savory, mid-palate became fruity and sweet, with honey and raisin dancing across the tongue, obviously due to the sherry influence. The back changed up to an interesting combination of butterscotch, vanilla, and malt.

That sweetness hung on for a medium-long finish of the sweet, dried fruit and oak. When I allowed long pauses between sips, pepper popped up, hung around for a moment, and then vanished while yielding to sherry sweetness.

Bottle, Bar or Bust:  I have to say I really enjoyed this whiskey. Slane is completely atypical of my experience with Irish whiskey that it captured my full attention. I'm not suggesting it blew me away, but considering the price point and everything that was going on in my mouth, I'm rating this as a Bottle to keep in my library.


Saturday, March 9, 2019

Bearcat Bourbon Review

I'm not even going to tease this...

Sending a whiskey down the drain is almost sacrilegious.  It takes a truly special whiskey and I can count on one hand (and have plenty of fingers left over) for how many times that has happened. 

This article appeared originally on Bourbon & Banter on June 12, 2018. If you're interested in just how bad things have to get before I give up, you can read about it there. Cheers!

Thursday, March 7, 2019

Auchentoshan Three Wood Single Malt Scotch Review & Tasting Notes


I first tasted Auchentoshan early this year. It was a 17-year independent bottling sold exclusively at Vom Fass, and I fell in love. I felt an immediate need to find other expressions of Auchentoshan to taste what I’d been missing. I went to my favorite whiskey bar and tried the American Oak, the 12-year, and the Three Wood.

Of the three, I opted to buy the Three Wood. I honestly wanted to buy all of them, but alas, my wallet suggested otherwise that day...

You can read this review in its entirety (and, incidentally, this wound up being Whiskey of the Year for me in 2019) over at Bourbon & Banter. Cheers!

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, March 6, 2019

The Life and Times of a Whiskey Reviewer

This article originally appeared on Bourbon & Banter on May 26, 2017, and you can read it in its entirety there.

As a whiskey reviewer, I am often asked by both friends and strangers alike for opinions about whiskey. My reaction is I’m flattered that someone is actually interested in my thoughts. There’s a little bit of chest puffery that happens.
It used to be that I quickly gave my opinion and, while most people were gracious, I would sometimes be taken aback by the responses that followed. I soon learned to realize these weren’t simple questions. When you are asked, “What do you think of…” you really have to figure out what the inquirer is after. It may take probing, but in the end, it usually boils down to one of three questions...

TX Straight Bourbon Review

This review was originally published at Bourbon & Banter on April 13, 2017, and you can read its entirety there.

... the bottle design is simply gorgeous. They’ve outdone themselves, all the way down to the snakeskin covered cork. I know packaging means a lot to some folks, and at a lot of whiskey competitions, the packaging is a judged and awarded category...

Blade and Bow Bourbon Review

This review was originally published on March 20, 2017, at Bourbon & Banter and you can read its entirety there.

One of the qualities I like to observe with my whiskeys is the appearance. The bright amber is pleasant to look at, but an even more attractive quality is what kind of legs get left on the glass after a good swirl. At first, Blade and Bow left nothing… and I mean nothing. I had to hold it up to the light to discover that the whiskey did indeed cling to my glass, it was just taking forever to build legs. Then, they came down long and luscious. That’s something I just love to see...

Trader Joe's Kentucky Bourbon Whiskey Review

This review originally appears on Bourbon & Banter on January 4, 2017, and you can read it in its entirety there.

I am Mr. #RespectTheBottomShelf. I’m not afraid of “cheap” whiskey, and, in fact, when I see something super-affordable, it piques my curiosity. Normally, I make a mental note to keep the bottle in mind for my next bar tasting. There are times, however, when I come across something that I know won’t be at any bar, such as a store pick or something similar. There are just times when I’m willing to take a chance – if the price is right.
While shopping at Trader Joe’s, I stumbled upon an attractive bottle of Kentucky Bourbon. A closer look showed it was Trader Joe’s private label. The next thing I noticed was the $14.99 price tag. The wheels in my head started spinning. Trader Joe’s Two Buck Chuck is a $2.00 wine that gets some decent accolades. If you don’t mind how it is made, it can be a very attractive buy. This being a Straight Bourbon, I know it has to meet some pretty rigorous guidelines to be labeled as such.

How Valuable is that Drop or Cube in your Whiskey?

This review originally appeared on Bourbon & Banter on December 14, 2016, and you can read the entirety of it there.

You’ve spent your hard-earned money on that bottle of whiskey. You want to really enjoy the experience as the Master Distiller intended. You want to open up the hidden flavors, so you add a bit of water or ice. If you’re adding ice, maybe you’ve got one of those fancy ice ball molds. Spheres are all the rage now. Plus, using fancy molded ice sure beats breaking your teeth on whiskey stones!
Before you add a splash or some rocks to your whiskey, have you given any thought to the water you’re using?
Water impurities can interact with your whiskey and change the flavor. Too much-dissolved solids, chemicals, or mineral content in the water leaves you tasting something other than water, and that will leave you tasting something other than whiskey...

I Talked to my Doctor and He Prescribed Whiskey

This article was originally published December 5, 2016, on Bourbon & Banter. You can read the remainder there...

January 16, 1919, was a dark day for America. The 18th Amendment passed, prohibiting the manufacture, sale, and transportation of intoxicating liquors in the United States. The Volstead Act was then passed to lay out the guidelines for enforcing the 18th Amendment. On January 16, 1920, America went dry. Well, it went mostly dry.
What a sad day that had to have been! People watched as barrels and barrels of liquid sunshine were dumped into the sewers, never to be enjoyed by a single soul...

Monday, March 4, 2019

Review of Treaty Oak Distilling's Red Handed Bourbon

I was invited to write a review for Manliness is Next to Godliness... 

In today’s booming “Wonderful World of Whiskey”, there are some distillers that engage in smoke and mirrors. They’ll create a fascinating backstory, along with a smattering of tall tales. They want to lead you to believe that the whiskey behind the label is their grandpappy’s grandpappy’s secret recipe.

I’m going to tell you right now that most have NOT been handed down through generations of distillers. In reality, they’ve purchased someone else’s whiskey. While they may do something unique during the aging or finishing process, they’re still claiming it is their own. That’s not right and a few notable distillers have been nailed for breaking the rules on this.
It is a breath of fresh air to come across full transparency. Not only does it make my job as a reviewer easier, but it also earns a certain aura of respect.  One such example is Treaty Oak Distilling out of Dripping Springs, Texas. Treaty Oak stands out as a shining example of the right way to do things. The distillery not only tells you they’ve sourced the whiskey, but they’ll also tell you exactly where they source it from.
The remainder of the review can be read on the M.I.N.G. website.

Saturday, March 2, 2019

A Midwinter Nights Dram, Act 6 Review and Tasting Notes

Yes, Christmas has passed, but that doesn’t prevent you from enjoying it year-round if you’d like. Oh, sure, you won’t necessarily have presents under the tree, and you don’t have to listen to the endless yuletide tunes, but, on the plus side, you also won’t need a reason for the season.

Have I fallen off my rocker? Why am I talking about Christmas in March?

I was introduced to High West Distillery’s A Midwinter Nights Dram back at Act 1. My friend, “Made Man” Bob Howell of Sips Suds & Smokes poured me a glass way back when it came out and he said, “This tastes just like Christmas in a bottle!” At that time, I had never heard of High West, but I was already interested after that first sip.

Each year, A Midwinter Nights Dram takes on a new Act. Act 1 was the initial release, Act 2 the following year, and so on. Each Act is different from one another - sometimes slight, sometimes huge.

Today I’m reviewing Act 6, Scene 6, which was the 2018 release. One of the nice things about High West is its transparency. Act 6 is simply High West’s Rendezvous Rye which was then barrel-finished in French Oak port barrels. High West’s 2018 release of Rendezvous Rye is a blend of Straight Ryes ranging in age from four to seven years. One recipe comes from MGP of Indiana, using a mash of 95% rye and 5% barley, the other is 80% rye and 20% barley distilled by High West.

Retail on A Midwinter Nights Dram is anywhere from $89 to $99. This is a limited-release whiskey, there are still 2018 bottles out there, but they are getting more difficult to find. It is proofed at 98.6, the same as the human body, and this is consistent throughout the Acts.

How will Act 6 stand up? Will it still be like Christmas in a bottle? The only way to find out is to #DrinkCurious

In the glass, Act 6 appeared as a very deep, dark amber. It left a very thick rim on the glass and produced fat legs that took a medium pace back to the pool, suggesting a medium body.

Cinnamon was the very first thing to hit my nostrils. In fact, cinnamon was all over the entire nosing zone. At the lower end, the cinnamon had a nutty quality, at the middle, it was baked goods, and at the high end, the cinnamon blended with cherries and port. There was even a slight piney aroma hidden under the cherries and port. When I inhaled through my lips, the pine was more evident, along with creamy milk chocolate.

The mouthfeel was thicker than I was prepared for: prior Acts were not as heavy. Just as cinnamon dominated the nose, fruit controlled much of the palate. Up front, it was cherry and sweet, dried fruit. The middle was a marriage of raisin, dark chocolate, and nuts. All of that yielded to a return of cherry and cinnamon rolls on the back.

The finish was certainly different. It started off with a disappointment because it was so short. But, then it was like finding an overlooked present under the tree. It all came racing back with dry wood, clove, and the return of cinnamon and held on for several minutes.

Bottle, Bar, or Bust: Part of this challenge was to discover if Act 6 held up to the Christmas in a Bottle standard. Looking over the tasting notes, I’d say Act 6 fits the bill almost perfectly. While Act 6 isn’t my favorite of the series (that honor belongs to Act 2.2), it is nonetheless delicious and fun to sip. As such, it earns the coveted Bottle rating. I’m blessed with still having three Acts in my library and I’d highly recommend adding Act 6 to yours if you can still find it.


Thank you, Crooked Water Spirits!

This past Thursday, I hosted my Barrel Finished Whiskey Workshop & Tasting event at the beautiful Yahara Bay Distillers. We talked about the legalities and regulations surrounding this growing part of the whiskey world, and folks were able to then taste how the whiskey is impacted by the process.

Many thanks to Crooked Water Spirits for allowing me to feature a selection of their spirits in this event. This was a lot of fun, everyone had a great time. We learned, we laughed, and we enjoyed great whiskey.

My next event at Yaraha Bay is the Ides of March Irish Whiskey Workshop & Tasting on March 28th. Forget your standard Irish whiskeys, this one will blow your socks off! Cheers!