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!

Be a Better Whiskey Ambassador



Do you remember the first time you really got into whiskey?  How did you go about learning more?  Did you reach out to friends?  Liquor stores?  A social media group? 


When someone who is obviously new to whiskey (usually they'll volunteer that information) tells the world about their favorite pour, you can take it to the bank there will be folks who chime in.  Much of it is congratulatory because most people are decent. 


The remainders are the haters.  Haters come along and just ruin the day for everyone. Haters aren't like trolls, who try to simply stir the pot for their own amusement. Haters are under the impression their opinions are fact and who will make you feel horrible for even asking a question or making a statement.


As an example, someone posts to a group and says, I just picked up Bib & Tucker for $39.99!  I'm so excited!  There are a variety of supportive comments: Congratulations!  Nice find!  I love that!  and others. 


The haters chime in with their responses:  That's the worst whiskey I've ever tried!   You wasted your money on that!  Why would you buy that garbage? and similar, less-than-positive statements.


If someone posts, Hey, I found Bib & Tucker on the shelf for $39.99, should I buy it?  Then, at least one of the haters might be giving a correct response. My own might include, Set the bottle down, turn around very slowly, then run away.


What's the difference?  Aren't the haters just giving their opinion?  Sure they are, but the problem is the poster in the first scenario wasn't asking for opinions on Bib & Tucker, they were excited about what they considered a find and wanted to share their joy. However, the haters had this compelling need to rain on the original poster's parade.  In the second scenario, the poster was specifically asking for opinions.  Even so, the haters could have at least provided responses that don't shame the poster. But, haters gotta hate.


In May 2017, I wrote a piece for Bourbon & Banter entitled The Life and Times of a Whiskey Reviewer, and I explained the most cringe-worthy question posed to me is, I have a favorite whiskey. What do you think about _____?  The reason for that is the haters who will attack once they learn I don't like whatever that favorite whiskey happens to be. 


Another example can be someone in the business who makes an innocent, minor error. I'll use myself as an example. I wrote a review on a locally-distilled whiskey earlier this year. I made a very minor error defining a sub-category of whiskey. Two people, both in the business and neither with the distillery involved, pointed out the mistake.  One approached me in a comment and told me about my error. I thanked him and fixed it.  The second took the opportunity to tear into me and then berated me for having the audacity to write and talk to people about whiskey since I was so stupid.


As you can see, these are two very different approaches to pointing out my error. I know both of these people. I respect Respondent One and value his advice and knowledge to this day.  Respondent Two is also very knowledgable, but I feel like I need a shower whenever we interact.



Interestingly enough, as I'm writing this, one Facebook user asked in a group, What is MGP? and another chimed in with an easy-to-understand complete answer. I was ready for a bloodbath that, thankfully, never came. 


At some point, you were new to whiskey. You asked questions. If the liquor store owner gave you an answer that made you sound stupid, would you keep going back?  If you asked in an online forum and were treated like a moron by morons, were you quick to ask another question?


We have choices in life. We can choose to be nice. We can choose to be helpful.  We can choose to act like a schmuck online in an effort to prove how knowledgable we are, while if they said that same thing in public, they'd likely be trounced. Whiskey is meant to be enjoyed with friends and I believe it brings people together in a positive way. I've been blessed with a plethora of great people and opportunities in my life because of whiskey. 


Go forth upon the world and spread the whiskey love. Don't be a hater. Be a better whiskey ambassador.


Cheers!