Sunday, April 14, 2019

Calumet Farm Kentucky Bourbon Whiskey Review

There is nothing wrong with sourcing whiskey. There are a variety of reasons why someone would want to source. Either they're waiting for their own distillate to mature and they want to offer something now, or they have no intention whatsoever to distill and want to be an NDP (Non-Distilling Producer). Regardless, if someone is sourcing their whiskey, in my opinion, they need to be transparent and not try to pull the wool over the eyes of the consumer.

Calumet Farm is produced by Western Spirits Beverage Company out of Bowling Green, Kentucky. These are the same folks that produce Bird Dog, Sam Houston, Lexington Bourbon, and Whitetail. They don't distill. They also keep a lot of information close to their vest, and if you go to their website, they don't even have an About Us link. Again, they can choose to disclose what they like as long as they aren't pretending to do something they're not.

A friend provided me a sample of Calumet Farm 12-Year Old Single Rack Black Kentucky Bourbon Whiskey. Western Spirits describes this as hand-selected barrels over 12-years old, all picked from a single, center rack of 19 barrels. What's that mean? Not much, it is more marketing-speak than anything else, especially since they don't disclose who the distiller is, where in Kentucky the rickhouse is, how many stories the rickhouse is, what the aging process (natural or climate controlled) is, etc., etc., etc. As I said, it is market-speak. Again, nothing wrong with that, market-speak is more common than not.

What do we know about Calumet Farm? Not much. The Bourbon is at least 12-years old. It comes from Kentucky. The mash is corn, rye, and barley, and it is aged in #4 charred, new oak barrels. It retails for $69.99, it comes in an attractive bottle and is 94°. Whether we get disclosure or not, the most important aspect is how Calumet Farm 12-Year Bourbon tastes. Time to #DrinkCurious

In my Glencairn, Calumet comes across as a brassy, deep amber. It left a very thin rim that generated very thin, fast legs to drop back to the pool of liquid sunshine.

The nose started off with cinnamon and vanilla, which then morphed to a rye spice. That, in turn, gave way to toasted oak. When I inhaled through my lips, I picked up orange peel and caramel.

The mouthfeel was very thin and oily. The palate offered caramel up front with a heavy rye spice mid-palate. On the back, it was all clove. There was nothing overly complex involved.

The finish was spicy and lingering. It turned a smidge minty. 

Bottle, Bar or Bust:  I enjoy high-rye Bourbons and, in fact, prefer them to wheaters. You'll notice there's not a lot of tasting notes here. It isn't that I wasn't trying, rather I found Calumet Farm to be very meh and a $70 Bourbon this is not. I could not determine who the actual distiller is, I suspect this may be a barely legal high-Rye Bourbon (meaning 51% corn, a hint of barley, and the remainder rye). There are much better selections at this price and, in fact, there are much better selections for half the price. As such, this one is a Bust and should be avoided. Cheers!

New Riff Bottled in Bond Rye Review

If you've followed me long, you'll know that I have a favorite category of American Whiskey:  Bottled in Bond. In my opinion, if the bottle makes that proclamation, you'd be hard-pressed to be disappointed. Of course, all rules have their exceptions, but for the most part, Bonded whiskeys are affordable, they represent American distilling in its purest form, and they're delicious. Until recently, the category was also largely ignored and regulated to the bottom shelf so much so, that when I first started reviewing whiskeys, I created a #RespectTheBottomShelf hashtag because I found so many gems down there.

For folks new to whiskey, or at least new to American whiskey, a common question is What is bond and why is something bottled in bond? In a nutshell, back in the old days, there were very unscrupulous renderers and resellers pushing spirits with a lot of additives. Some of those additives were simply disgusting, like spent tobacco "juice" and others were downright dangerous, such as turpentine. The additives were there not to help extend the inventory and make as much money from a barrel as possible.

The Bottled in Bond Act of 1897 addressed all of that. It was a consumer protection act. By calling something Bottled in Bond, certain guarantees were put in place:

  • It must be a product of one distilling season from a single distillery. A distilling season is either January to June or July to December;
  • It must have been aged in a federally bonded warehouse for at least four years;
  • It must be bottled at 100°;
  • It must state on the bottle the name of the actual distillery (versus just a brand name of a non-distilling producer); and
  • It must be a whole US-made spirit.

New Riff Distilling was created in 2014 by Ken Lewis and Jay Erisman in Newport, Kentucky. It is an independently-owned distillery that distills Bourbon, Rye, Malted Rye, and Gin.  New Riff Rye is a 100% Rye mash bill (95% rye and 5% malted rye) aged in 53-gallon new, charred oak barrels. It is non-chill filtered and retails for $49.99. It is four years old and, fulfilling the Bottled in Bond requirement, it is bottled at 100°.

All of this is well and good, but in the end, the important stuff matters... time to #DrinkCurious.

In my Glencairn, New Riff Rye was a very dark, inviting amber. It left a thin rim on my glass but produced thick, faster legs that dropped back into the pool of liquid sunshine.

Initial spicy aromas of mint and cinnamon permeated my nostrils. Once I got beyond the shock, orange peel, oak, and vanilla came through. When I inhaled through my lips, it was a complete vanilla bomb that made my mouth water.

The mouthfeel was very creamy. Up front, that thick vanilla from the nosing raced across my palate, and mixed into the vanilla was almost a perfect amount of cinnamon. Mid-palate changed to black pepper and sweetened condensed milk (a note I never thought I'd pen in a rye review). On the back, the rye spice shone through with a combination of toasted oak and clove.

A long-lasting finish of clove, dry oak and caramel hung around to bring a smile to my face.

New Riff Rye is a very complex, very different rye from start to finish. On my Bottle, Bar or Bust scale, this one is an absolute recommended Buy, and especially for the price, I don't see how you can go wrong.


Bain's Cape Mountain Single Grain Whisky Review

South Africa isn't exactly famous for whisky, despite the fact they've been distilling there for about 125 years. And, regardless of its history, there is currently only one commercial distillery on the entire continent!  That lone distillery is the James Sedgewick Distillery located in Wellington. Their Single Malt brand is Three Ships. But, they also distill a Single Grain whisky called Bain's Cape Mountain Whisky.

Bain's is a non-age statement 100% unmalted corn mash whisky that is first aged in first-fill Bourbon casks for three years, then again for two years in fresh first-fill Bourbon casks. It is bottled at 43% ABV (86°) and retails for $29.99. Bain's is not overly difficult to find, at least not in Wisconsin. 

One of the interesting things about South African whisky is that it ages similarly to Indian whisky. This is due to the very hot temperatures the two climates share. As such, it matures must faster than Scotch, Irish or American counterparts.

For the record, Bain's won Best Single Grain Whisky back in 2018 at the World Whisky Awards. If you're unfamiliar with my opinion of awards, for the most part, I find them to be money-making gimmicks rather than legitimate ratings of excellence. There are some exceptions. And, all awards aside, what matters is how it tastes. Let's #DrinkCurious.

In my Glencairn, Bain's appeared as a deep, rich gold. It left a very thin rim and created fast, thin legs that dropped back into the pool of liquid sunshine.

Aromas of many fruits lingered in the air. I picked up both tropical, such as pineapple and coconut, along with light berries, such as raspberry and blackberry. When I inhaled through my mouth, the tropical and berry gave way to citrus.

The mouthfeel was very light and thin. Up front on the palate was coconut and caramel, which was, to say the least, an interesting combination. As it drifted mid-palate, I picked up brown sugar and creamed corn. Further back was white pepper and oak.

Bain's offered nothing in terms of burn. The finish was very long with waves of pepper, dry oak and corn.

Bottle, Bar or Bust:  The palate combinations may raise an eyebrow and come across to some as gross. But, for some reason, they meshed well and I found Bain's quite enjoyable. It is absolutely interesting and unusual in terms of what a whisky offers, and for $29.99, this is an easy one to want as part of my library. As such, it earns the Bottle rating. Cheers!

Saturday, April 13, 2019

The Rat Pick - Knob Creek 120

Barrel picking is a blast. I've been involved in many, many picks of various Bourbons and Ryes. I've never, though, had my face appear on a bottle's label (I'm the one in the middle). There's also Troy Mancusi, owner of The Speakeasy_WI and Matt Bents, owner of Riley's Wines of the World.  We had a great time picking this 14-year old Knob Creek 120.

This is the second-best whiskey I've ever picked, the first being a Four Roses OBSO... and to prove how excellent this Knob Creek is, the entire barrel sold out in three days!

I had my own write-up, but Matt Bents did a great job... here are his notes:

Aromas of maraschino cherry, crème brûlée, toasted hazelnuts, vanilla, orange peel, and fennel. Slight sweetness on the palate with foundations of crème brûlée, clove, black pepper and mint. Honeyed baked apples, cinnamon, and hazelnut layer on more complexities. Adding a few drops of water focuses the aromatics but amplified the baking spices. Even at 120 proof, this drinks best full-strength. Finish is off-dry with lots of black pepper, cherry, vanilla, and cinnamon evolving as the warmth of the whiskey continue to shine.

I'll add that there is no need whatsoever to proof this one down. If you were lucky enough to get a bottle, congratulations!

Blaum Bros. Distillery Visit

When I'm on the road, I try to make it a point to visit with friends. In this instance, I was in Iowa for a week and heading home. I'm usually knowledgable with regard to geography, but in the case of Illinois, that's apparently not so. I thought Galena was near Chicago. It isn't, it is near Dubuque, somewhere I find myself at least a couple of times a year.

What's in Galena?  It honestly is a gorgeous, historic town. But, it is also home to a single distillery owned by the Blaum Brothers, Mike, and Matt. Conveniently, the distillery is called Blaum Bros. Distilling Co., and I'm kicking myself for missing out on a bunch of prior opportunities. For a product that is only distributed in Illinois, Colorado, Tennessee, and Wisconsin, Blaum Bros. enjoys a ton of national respect.

I've met the brothers more times than I remember. These are genuinely great guys who love distilling and love talking about (and enjoying) whiskey. Moreover, they actually know what the hell they're talking about. Plus they're both hilarious. This is the first time I had a chance to really sit down and talk to them and get to know them.

Aside from getting a tour of the place (and not taking enough photos), we enjoyed some great whiskeys and shot the breeze. Matt is the CEO and distiller.  Mike (he's the one with the long flowing beard), is the COO and chief distiller. Both are funny and were easily the smartest guys in the room.

A few weeks ago, I wrote a review on a Light Whiskey from La Crosse Distilling. I found it impressive. Matt and Mike poured me their Light Whiskey, aged for years instead of a day, and it blew me away. You could easily put it up against many non-Light Whiskeys and choose it as a winner. Unfortunately, this was one of those one-offs under their experimental label Galena Reserve.

I was also treated to their 100% Rye and their MGP-sourced Old Fangled Knotter Bourbon. They're aging their own distillate now in a non-temperature controlled warehouse and they aren't trying to duplicate the MGP-recipes. What's out there now is simply called Blaum Bros. Straight Bourbon. I can tell you it is 100°, runs about $50 a bottle, and was delicious. No, I didn't take tasting notes. That will happen in the future when I can sit down and concentrate.

If you head out to the tri-state area (Illinois, Iowa, and Wisconsin), you have to swing by the distillery. It is located at 9380 W. Highway 20 in Galena. Cheers!

Thursday, April 11, 2019

Cutwater Whiskey Black Skimmer Bourbon Review & Tasting Notes


Everyone is new at some point. When new whiskey brands come about, they have two choices:  Source a whiskey now so you have something to sell (and help pay off the cost of the still), or distill now and sit on the product while it ages, and not recoup any money in the meantime. Both are very expensive, one requires a bit more patience and a lot of faith.

Sourcing is no big deal...

You can read this review in its entirety over at Bourbon & Banter. Cheers!