Showing posts with label Prohibition. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Prohibition. Show all posts

Wednesday, May 6, 2020

Iowa Legendary Rye Red Label Review

Iowa has a rich bootlegging history. Unlike many of the moonshiners of long ago, who distilled (and distributed) in secret, in Iowa, particularly around Carroll County, the local economy depended heavily on it and entire towns were in on the operation.  Oh, it was still illegal as hell, but when the revenuers came, the whole town was in on making sure there was denial, deflection, and distraction. It went from the moonshiners to the pastors and from the police to judges. Everyone was in on the game.

Recently I was in Carroll and had an opportunity to meet with the folks at Iowa Legendary Rye and was shown around by Rich, Alec, and Max. There were a lot of things said to me in confidence that I promised I would not publish and you know what my integrity means to me. In other words, if I'm not talking about it, don't ask because I won't tell. And, if you don't see a photo of it, it is because I agreed not to photograph it. Nothing illegal, just trade secrets.

Speaking of illegal, this recipe goes back to 1931 and unlike many backstories that are just tall-tales, Rich is the real deal. Things with Iowa Legendary Rye went legal in 2014.

The distillery is located in a nondescript one-story building in downtown Carroll.  You could drive right by the place (I did) and not even know the building housed a distillery. This is a true micro-distilling operation. Iowa Legendary Rye prefers to use the term small batch which is descriptive but as many whiskey people know, the term has no legal definition. Micro-distillery is much more accurate.

Ingenuity is key at Iowa Legendary Rye.  Handmade tooling, home-made stills, and a ton of growing-up-in-the-moonshine-business things are how it is done. I saw stuff that distilleries have spent tens of thousands of dollars on that Rich, the guy who has been doing this since he was a kid, spends $20 on parts from the local hardware store and it works just as well, if not better. I found myself laughing - not at them - but just in jaw-dropping shock with what they're doing compared to what I'm used to seeing. 

It starts off with the grain. Everything except the barrels and bottles come from Carroll County. They're using 100% organic rye and a bit of cane sugar.  There are no enzymes used at all. The rye is then ground and then fermented in 53-gallon, food-grade plastic barrels. They're distilling about 50 or so gallons a day.

First, there is their white whiskey. It is proofed down to 80° and this is the base for everything Iowa Legendary Rye puts out, including the vodka. For what it is worth, I tried both.  The white whiskey lacks any heat and goes down way too easy. The vodka is distilled twice and then charcoal-filtered (using one of those $20 contraptions I mentioned earlier). It is fruity with grape, melon, and berry - something that I don't run across often in vodka.

Everything is aged in 15-gallon, #5 charred oak barrels. That's right, #5 char. Those barrels are aged between 18 and 24 months before being bottled on-site using a very small, hand-bottling machine.  I got to visit the equally non-descript rickhouse.

Iowa Legendary Rye makes three finished whiskeys:  Black Label (their standard Aged Rye), Red Label (called Private Reserve, which I will review), and Patriot, which is a limited-edition, twice-distilled, twice-aged barrel proof Rye.

I want to thank Rich, Alec, and Max for both the private tour and the sample for a no-strings-attached, honest review of the Private Reserve.

Private Reserve is essentially Aged Rye that is then aged a second time in used cooperage.  Retail is about $69.00 and it, like everything else (except Patriot) is bottled at 80°.  Is an 80° Rye that many people have never heard of worth $69.00?  The way we find out is to #DrinkCurious.  For the record, I'm pouring Batch 44.

In my Glencairn glass, Private Reserve appeared as the color of chardonnay. It left a very heavy rim that created medium-fat legs to drop back to the pool. 

Even before the glass got anywhere near my face, the aroma of buttered popcorn was in the air. Coming closer, brown sugar joined the game. I discovered a slight evergreen (not to be confused with juniper) quality, and then vanilla cream. When I inhaled through my lips, a flavor I'm fairly certain I've never used in a whiskey review before: buttermilk.

A thin but coating mouthfeel greeted my palate. There was no burn factor whatsoever. At the front, I picked up caramel and (again) buttered popcorn. Come mid-palate, those flavors melted into both vanilla and chocolate. Then, on the back, a healthy dose of rye spice and tobacco leaf, with just a touch of coconut.

The long finish of charred oak, cocoa, and black pepper built fast without becoming overwhelming. I did discover that my hard-palate started to tingle, perhaps because I was casually sipping without long pauses in between.

Bottle, Bar or Bust:  The question I asked earlier was, Is an 80° Rye that many people have never heard of worth $69.00?  This, like the white whiskey, went down way too easy. It has an enticing nose, and while it had some familiar rye notes on the back and finish, the front- and mid-palates were on the unusual side for Rye, especially the buttered popcorn. This is something I could sit on my zero-gravity chair on my deck and smile while drinking. And, it may even be a bit dangerous due to how easy it is to enjoy. 

$69.00 is on the pricey side for true craft whiskey and for that, it needs to do something different. Iowa Legendary Rye accomplishes that task and does it in a great way. As such, it snags my coveted Bottle rating. 

On a parting note, I'm learning that Rye and used cooperage make an excellent combination - not just Iowa Legendary Rye but other brands as well.  Cheers!

My Simple, Easy-to-Understand Rating System:

  • Bottle = Buy it
  • Bar = Try it first
  • Bust = Leave it 

Thursday, December 5, 2019

Happy Repeal Day!

December 5th is just an ordinary day unless freedom is meaningful to you, in which case it is a landmark day. You see, today is Repeal Day, the day in 1933 that Utah cast the 36th vote at 5:32pm (Eastern) to pass the 21st Amendment. The 21st repealed the 18th Amendment and ended that horrific experiment called Prohibition.

For several years, I've been sipping on High West Distillery's The 36th Vote to celebrate Repeal Day. It really is the only time I ever get into the bottle. The 36th Vote is a barreled Manhattan, and while I'm generally not a fan of pre-mixed cocktails, High West does a good job with theirs.

What will be in your glass to celebrate the passage of the 21st Amendment?  

Happy Repeal Day!  Cheers!

Thursday, November 21, 2019

Wollersheim Bottled in Bond Bourbon Review & Tasting Notes

In Wisconsin, post-Prohibition Bottled-in-Bond is a very new thing. Unlike the law itself, dating back to 1897, my home state is a little late to the game. My favorite category is Bottled-in-Bond, so this naturally brings a smile to my face and piqued my interest.

On November 16th, Wollersheim Distillery released the second Bottled-in-Bond whiskey in the state since Prohibition. I was there, in line, in the cold, waiting for a chance to buy a bottle. I had tasted this several weeks before the release, but it was straight from the barrel and not proofed down. I enjoyed the straight-from-the-barrel taste I had and was excited about what might wind up in the bottle.

A small, but necessary segway if I may.  There are older Bourbons and there are younger Bourbons.  The same thing goes with American Rye.  Younger Bourbons and Ryes tend to have a much different profile than older siblings. As such, I consider each a unique category and don't compare younger to older unless there is a valid reason to do so.

Wollersheim's Bottled-in-Bond is their first-ever Bourbon release. It is aged four years and, as Bottled-in-Bond legalities require, it is bottled at 100°. I would consider it a younger Bourbon. Wollersheim used five different barrels in the initial blend. The mash is 75% white corn, 15% malted barley, and 10% rye, with the corn and rye grown about a mile from the distillery.  The barley is from Wisconsin, and the barrel staves are Wisconsin-grown and seasoned on site. Retail ranges between $50.00 and $65.00.

Wollersheim even mimicked a Wisconsin tax stamp to show the age of the Bourbon.

Packaging is nifty but can at times be deceiving. We all know there are some gorgeous bottles out there that are worth more than the whiskey inside. Does Wollersheim's first Bourbon fall into that category? The only way to find out is to #DrinkCurious, so here we go.

In my Glencairn glass, this Bourbon presents as an orange amber. It left a very thin rim on my glass that created no legs whatsoever. It was just a curtain of whiskey that dropped back down into the pool of liquid sunshine. Sometimes that happens with glasses that have an interior hydrophobic coating. I used a glass that I have used many times and am positive does not, so that was a bit of a shocker.

Despite the low rye content, my initial nosing was on the spicy side. First, it was oak. Behind that came cinnamon. Subsequent sniffs unveiled caramel and sweet corn. When I inhaled through my lips, it was corn, but more like standing in a cornfield rather than simply shucked corn. There was something earthy about it.

An oily, coating mouthfeel greeted my palate. At the front, it was corn and dark chocolate. Mid-palate, it became caramel and cocoa. On the back, it was a mixture of tobacco leaf, coffee, and vanilla. Moreover, the mouthfeel went from oily to creamy.

The finish was downright strange. It started off as oak. Then, it slid into caramel. From there, it altered to coffee.  But, these weren't individual change-ups. Rather, the finish notes would melt from one to the other. And, while all that diffusing occurred, my hard palate was sizzling with black pepper.

Bottle, Bar or Bust:  Mid-point on craft whiskeys is about $50.00. A few bucks either direction doesn't shock me anymore.  If you've read my reviews for any length of time, you know that I'm a fan of the strange and unusual so long as it is pleasant. Well, Wollersheim fits that. This is absolutely a younger Bourbon that has a lot of interesting things going for it. While I did enjoy this more at barrel proof, I'm happy with my purchase and believe you'll find this worth adding to your whiskey library.  

The second bottling of this Bourbon will be in June of 2020 if you are unable to find the initial release. Cheers!

Monday, November 4, 2019

Remus Repeal Reserve Bourbon Series III Review & Tasting Notes

George Remus was an American icon. Oh, maybe not the best example of a decent person, but he was, nonetheless, an icon. He was known as King of the Bootleggers.  Remus was a criminal defense attorney. Some of his clients were bootleggers, most of them were murderers, and he got a green tint in his eye watching his bootlegging clients making a fortune. One day, he decided he knew more about the criminal justice system than anyone else and he could make a ton of money by using his legal knowledge to do illegal activities and not fall prey to the authorities. 

Remus was, indeed, very clever.  He found a loophole in the Volstead Act that allowed him to buy distilleries and distill medicinal whiskey. He wound up buying most of the operating distilleries in and around Cincinnati, and his schtick was that his employees would hijack his finished product, which he would then turn around and resell on the black market. 

One day, Remus found out he wasn't as clever as he thought as the government indicated him on thousands of violations of the Volstead Act and was quickly convicted by a jury. He was sent to the federal pokey in Atlanta.

The story gets even better. Remus buddied up to a fellow prisoner and bragged about how all of his money was controlled by his wife. What he didn't know was this new pal of his was an undercover agent named Franklin Dodge. Dodge then resigned his position and then started an affair with Remus's wife. The two fell in love and started selling off Remus's assets, leaving him with a mere $100.

But wait, there's more.  Remus was on his way to court for his divorce proceeding when he chased down his ex-wife's car, got out, and shot her to death in true gangster fashion. He pled insanity and the jury believed him, taking less than twenty minutes to deliver the verdict. 

What's this history lesson have to do with a Bourbon review?  It is meant to provide some insight not only of a megastar during Prohibition, but also to show you this guy was a character. And, he was chosen by MGP to be the namesake of the brand of their Bourbon.

Remus Repeal Reserve is a limited-edition Bourbon in its now third incarnation, conveniently called Series III.  MGP has geared the full release of this Bourbon to coincide with Repeal Day on December 5th. MGP indicates this is made from one of the highest rye recipes they distill and is a blend of two mashbills:  12% of a 2007 Bourbon distilled with 21% rye, 78% from a 2008 Bourbon with the same, and 10% from a 2008 Bourbon with 36% rye. Series III has been bottled at 100°, is presented in a very attractive bottle has a suggested retail of $84.99.

I'd like to thank MGP for providing me with a sample of Remus Repeal Reserve Series III in exchange for a no-holds-barred, honest review. And now, on with the show!

In my Glencairn glass, Remus Repeal Reserve appeared as a deep, orangish amber. It left a hairline rim that stuck to the wall before finally creating fat droplets that seemed to defy gravity.

Aromas of candied orange peel and vanilla were apparent. Hiding behind those was soft oak and just a touch of cinnamon spice. When I inhaled through my lips, a blend of stone fruit and chocolate ran across my palate. 

The initial sip offered a thin and oily mouthfeel that took effort to fully coat my palate even while doing the Kentucky chew. Caramel greeted the front of my palate, and I was initially concerned this would be boring. But, mid-palate, flavors of dark chocolate, coffee, and allspice took over, followed by leather, and a very brief wisp of cherry. There was no real back no matter how much I tried to force the Bourbon that way. 

The super-long finish consisted of leather, dark chocolate, smoke, white pepper, rye spice, and oak. Complexity in a Bourbon's palate isn't all that unusual, but it has been quite some time since I've had one that was this complicated on the finish. It was a welcome diversion and pleasant surprise. It also had a nice tingly effect on my hard palate. For what it is worth, the white pepper stuck around at least five minutes.

Bottle, Bar or Bust:  The more I'm sipping this, the more I'm digging it. There is so much going on with Remus Repeal Reserve that it almost matches the convoluted backstory of the King of Bootleggers. I enjoy whiskeys that challenge me, and MGP did a great job of doing that.  Is this worth $85?  You betcha. This one earns an easy Bottle rating. If you see it, don't pass it up. Cheers!

Wednesday, June 5, 2019

Minor Case Rye Whiskey Review & Tasting Notes

What's a Minor Case?  No, that's not the opposite of a Major Case!  Minor Case Beam was an actual person, part of the Beam family. His motto was Craft only the finest whiskey. Unfortunately, Minor Case Beam was put out of business thanks to that horrible American experiment called Prohibition. From everything I can gather, Minor Case's son Guy S. Beam distilled, then it skipped a generation until Paul and Steve Beam came around over at Limestone Branch

Minor Case Straight Rye Whiskey is produced by Limestone Branch. This one is actually distilled by the folks at MGP. It utilizes a mash of 51% rye, 45% corn, and 4% barley. It is aged two years, then allowed to finish in ex-Sherry casks from Meier's Winery. Minor Case is non-chill filtered and bottled at 90°. Suggested retail is $50, which is about average for "craft" whiskey brands. 

The bottle is drop-dead gorgeous. The lettering is debossed, then painted white so it really jumps out at you. It has a very rich, premium look and feel. Packaging can be pretty or ugly, but all that matters to me is the whiskey inside. I'd like to thank Luxco for providing me a sample of Minor Case Straight Rye in exchange for a no-holds-barred, honest review. As such, it is time to #DrinkCurious.

In my Glencairn glass, the appearance was a light amber, and, in fact, looked young. It left a thin rim on my glass, which led to a heavy, wavy curtain that dropped back to the pool of liquid sunshine.

Aromas of cinnamon spice and floral rye filled my nostrils. Underneath those were bright, fruity notes, most likely from the sherry, along with an interesting touch of butterscotch. When I inhaled through my mouth, I picked up additional floral notes.

The mouthfeel was thin, light, and airy.  Immediately up front, I tasted a combination of raisins and brown sugar. At mid-palate, the sherry became evident, along with dark chocolate, most likely from the malted barley, but I was shocked how strong it was considering the very low barley content. On the back, it was a marriage of citrus and rye spiciness.

The finish was soft, and chocolatey, with cherries and dry oak. It was delicate but long-lasting, and something that almost begged for another sip.

Bottle, Bar, or Bust:  Thankfully, the youngish appearance was the worst thing about Minor Case Rye. There was a lot going on with this whiskey, it is interestingly complex and offers some surprises. I would have assumed heavier fruitiness due to the sherry finish but was pleasantly impressed by the heavier chocolate notes, especially in the finish. 

While the price for this two-year may shy you away, it is on par with other "craft" whiskeys you'll find on the shelf. Minor Case isn't another Me Too whiskey that could get lost in a sea of other similarly priced whiskeys. When you consider what Minor Case has to offer, I believe you'll agree this one earns a Bottle rating. Cheers!

Tuesday, May 14, 2019

J. Rieger Kansas City Whiskey Review and Tasting Notes

In this day and age in whiskey, it isn't overly difficult to stumble upon new brands. But, sometimes that "new" brand isn't so new after all. In the case of J. Rieger & Company, the brand has been around since 1887. At its heydey, J. Rieger offered more than 100 different spirits from its distillery in Kansas City, Missouri and was the largest mail-order whiskey house in the country. Unfortunately, when Prohibition reared its ugly head, J. Rieger was not one of the few, lucky survivors. It wasn't until 2014, under the guidance of Dave Pickerell, when the distillery reopened and launched their Kansas City Whiskey.

Rieger's Kansas City Whiskey is an interesting marriage of American Straight Rye, Light Corn Whiskey and Straight Bourbon. Then, that concoction is further blended with Dry Sack Especial Oloroso 15-Year Sherry. Rieger's carries no age statement, is bottled at 92°, and has a suggested retail of $43.00.

I'd like to thank J. Rieger & Company for providing me a sample of their whiskey for a no-strings-attached, honest review. And now, time to get down to business and #DrinkCurious.

In my Glencairn glass, the whiskey appears as a dark amber. It left a very thin rim on the wall and thin, fast legs that dropped back to the pool.

As a matter of practice, I normally leave my glass alone for ten or so minutes. Even before beginning the nosing, aromas of sherry filled the room. While that was obviously predominant, it wasn't overly difficult to pick out oak, maple syrup, and vanilla. When I inhaled through my mouth, very thick vanilla rolled over my palate.

The mouthfeel was thicker than I expected, perhaps from the sherry itself. And, that sherry was up front along with candied fruits, almost like a rich fruitcake. Mid-palate was a mixture of sweet corn, maple syrup, and toasted oak. On the back, it changed radically to very dark chocolate and rye spice. I don't recall too many whiskeys that transform from very sweet to spicy the way Rieger's did.

A long, spicy finish from the Rye mixed with dry oak and mingled with the familiar sweetness from the sherry. 

Bottle, Bar or Bust:  Like a few other Pickerell projects (notably, Blackened), there is a lot going on with Rieger's and it is a challenge for the palate to nail down flavors. Considering the makeup of the blend, that's understandable. But, it also makes the whiskey interesting in a good way and I'm always game for something that isn't just another "me too" whiskey. When you further consider the relative affordability, Rieger's earns the Bottle rating and I'm happy to have it in my library. Cheers!

Wednesday, March 6, 2019

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...