Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Calvados Lemorton 25


Lemorton is probably the best known producer in the Domfrontais region of Calvados. Today I'm tasting their highly regarded 25 year old.


Lemorton 25 yo, 40% abv ($125)

This has a beautiful nose with sweet apple notes and some floral notes. The palate is slightly acidic with apple and then spice fading into a spicy finish which develops a nice, light apple note.

The nose on this is the strongest element. The palate is a bit mundane and it feels a bit watery, though it has a nice finish. While $125 is not an unfair price for a 25 year old Calvados, I don't think I would buy a second bottle of this.


Friday, December 23, 2016

New Whiskey Labels: Jefferson's, Deanston, Tobermory and More


This week's most interesting new labels from the federal TTB database:

Kentucky Artisan Distillers issued two new bourbon labels for the Jefferson's label: Jefferson's Jounrey and Jefferson's New Fill. Both appear to be distilled by Kentucky Artisan.

The importer for Burn Steward whiskies cleared two new labels for distillery bottlings: a 10 year old Deanston with a Pedro Ximenez finish and a 21 year old Tobermory with a Manzanilla finish.

Here's a mysterious one. Pennsylvania bottler Charles Jacquin cleared a label for a new expression of Hochstadter's Rye, a 15 year old straight rye made from 100% rye. Normally, 100% rye mashbill on a sourced whiskey points to Alberta Distillers in Canada, but this label does not state that the whiskey was imported. So, what do we think it is?

Note:  The fact that a label appears on the TTB database does not necessarily mean it will be produced.  In addition, some details on the label, such as proof, can change in the final product.


Thursday, December 22, 2016

Sazerac, Remy and Pernod in Bidding War for Guy who Made Whiskey in his Kitchen Last Week


Spirits giants Pernod Ricard, Remy Cointreau and Sazerac are in a multi-million dollar bidding war over the distilling operation of Ralph Peterson of Boise, Idaho who made a batch of whiskey on his kitchen stove last Thursday. Asked about his operation, Peterson said he used a mash of corn meal, sugar cubes and "whatever else he had around," and distilled it on his stove using two pots connected by a length of garden hose. Peterson admitted that his whiskey was "pretty terrible" and he didn't think he would try making it again, but that all changed once news of his experiment spread and the offers started pouring in.

There was no official comment from any of the bidding companies, but one spokesman anonymously explained, "The spirits industry is really starting to recognize the ingenuity and unique character of craft distilling, and that's what we're looking for. By the way, have you ever made whiskey? Do you know anyone who has?  I've got my check book right here."

As of late Thursday, the bidding was up to $130 million. Peterson said he was considering all of the offers very seriously, and had been in discussions with the competing bidders about his future role.

"I'd like to stay on as Master Distiller or at least work at the gift shop," Peterson stated, "it's really important to me to preserve the integrity of my distillery, er, stove."


Astor Wines Calvados Exclusives: Roger Groult & Montreuil


Today I'm tasting two Calvados exclusives from Astor Wines, both from the Pays D'Auge region. Roger Groult is one of the major producers in Calvados; Montreuil is less well known.

Roger Groult 10, Cask #3, 42% (Astor Wines $75)

The nose has dry apples and spice. The palate is dry and earthy with apple and some burnt sugar notes leading into a spicy and somewhat medicinal finish. This is a nice, dry Calvados - perfect for a winter night.

Domaine Montreuil 15, 42% abv (Astor Wines $85)

There is an apple and cinnamon aroma on this, but it's also slightly metallic. The palate has nice apple and honey notes along with earthy notes that turn medicinal into the finish. Longer into the finish there is the apple/honey from the palate. I like this one.

Both of these were good, but I definitely preferred the Montreuil which seemed to have more going on.


Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Three Michel Huard Calvados


There are really only two American retailers that matter when you're talking about French brandy: K&L in California and Astor Wines in New York. Now each of them have an exclusive from Calvados producer Michel Huard so I thought I'd compare them along with one Huard's general releases. These come from star importer Charles Neal.

Michel Huard Hors D'Age 90-92-99, 40% ($60)

This is a general Huard release that is a blend of brandies from 1990, 1992 and 1999, ranging from 16 to 25 years old. It has a big apple nose. On the palate, it's quite sweet with apple and spice notes. The finish has cinnamon and baking spices. This one's a bit sweet for me, and not particularly complex, but it's certainly drinkable.

Michel Huard Vieux (K&L), 43% abv ($53)

K&L's entry (pictured) is a blend of seven and 17 year old brandies. The nose is dry with apples and spice. Those notes continue on the palate - apples and spice, along with some new make type notes, and followed by a medicinal note that lingers into the finish where it grows stronger. This is decent but not particularly complex, and the finish is a bit overly medicinal for me.

Michel Huard 1999, (Astor) 16 yo, 43% abv ($80)

This is Astor's pick, a vintage 1999 16 year old. The nose is dry brandy without a lot of distinctive apple. The palate is spicy with light apple that leads to a medicinal finish.

These were three very different Calvados. None of them blew me away, but between the three, I liked the 1999 from Astor the best. It was dry and refined. The 90-92-99 had a totally different character - sweet and apple forward; it was very drinkable. My least favorite was K&L's Vieux which was raw and medicinal compared to the other two.


Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Serious Brandy



Is one of your New Year's resolutions to drink more brandy?  As I've said before, it's the Golden Age of Brandy, but there aren't a lot of places to find information or reviews on serious brandies. One place you can go is the Serious Brandy Facebook group dedicated to serious brandy reviews and information. And because it's brandy, there's no flipping, no obnoxious "look at what I found and am never going to open" posts and no "how much is this worth" queries. It's just folks drinking and discussing serious brandy, be it Cognac, Armagnac, Calvados, eau de vie, Spanish, American, Armenian, whatever.

Join us!


Monday, December 19, 2016

Cask Strength Rhum Clement


This is another K&L rum pick, a cask strength, single barrel of rhum agricole from Clement in Martinique. Aged in new American oak, it's on the young side, just shy of four years old.

Clement Cask Collection, K&L Pick, Distilled Sept. 1, 2012, 62.5% ($50)

The nose has anise, mint and spices. It smells like MGP rye. On the palate it's piney and herbal with more anise and some cocoa; then it gets that sweet, earthy funk so typical of rhum agricole The finish is sweet and herbal.

This is very tasty and a great rum for whiskey drinkers. Tasting blind, I probably would have guessed that it was an MGP rye. It's also a great deal for a cask strength rhum agricole.




Friday, December 16, 2016

New Whiskey Labels: Medley, Walrus Blood and More


This week's most interesting new labels from the federal TTB database:

Frank-Lin cleared a label for a barrel proof version of Medley Family Private Selection.

Another craft distillery cleared a label for a bottled in bond whiskey. Kentucky Peerless Distillery cleared a label for a bonded rye.

News of the weird: A Florida company called Mango Bottling cleared a label for Walrus Blood, described as "Artisanal blended whiskey flavored and colored with Hungarian oak cubes soaked in port wine." Oh, and be sure to read the back label for some good nonsensical blather.

Note:  The fact that a label appears on the TTB database does not necessarily mean it will be produced.  In addition, some details on the label, such as proof, can change in the final product.


Thursday, December 15, 2016

Jacoulot Marc de Bourgogne


Marc, aka pomace brandy, is a special spirit and, for many, an acquired taste. It's made from the dregs of wine production (skins, seeds, etc.). There are many varieties, grappa being the most well known, but from Burgundy comes Marc de Bourgogne. Jacoulot is one of the most prominent producers (and one of the few imported to the US). It's made from from Pinot Noir waste materials.

Jacoulot Marc de Bourgogne, 7 yo, 45% abv ($90 for 1 liter)

The nose is funky and earthy with some old rotting garbage notes. On the palate it's just a funk-fest of earthy notes, with dirt and really strong French cheese rind, wild mushrooms and grape seeds. The finish is minty and spicy with raisins and a sweet, stewed fruit on the nose as you exhale.

This is marc! It's funky and weird and wonderful. It takes you on a roller coaster from garbage to subtle grape notes...repulsive and endearing at the same time. It's like the durian of spirits.

If you like Marc or you just want a fabulously bizarre spirit experience, definitely pick up some of this stuff.


Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Pacory 15 Calvados


I was a big fan of the cask strength Pacory Reserve Calvados that K&L brought in last summer.  Now they have a 15 year old Pacory, though not at cask strength. Pacory is in the Domfrontais sub-region which means that it must be composed of at least 30% pear. This one is 100% pear.

Pacory 15 year old, 42% abv ($60)

Despite the 100% pear composition, the nose still has strong apple notes with just a hint of pear. On the palate it starts with sweet fruit then turns dry and spicy. The finish is spicy and just slightly bitter.

This is great stuff, balanced and drinkable. I think I like it even better than the Reserve, which I liked a lot.


Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Three Jamaican Rums from K&L


K&L recently brought in a trio of Jamaican rums from three different distilleries from Scottish bottler Hunter Laing. These use a new label called Golden Devil similar to Laing's Kill Devil label that is used overseas (I would guess there was a trademark issues with that name in the US because the bottles otherwise look the same).

Monymusk 2007, Golden Devil, 9 yo, 50% abv ($50)

The nose on this is very nice with both funky and fruity notes. The palate is light with a slight funk and some alcohol notes. The finish is a bit flat. Overall this one has some nice notes but is a bit light and flat.

Worthy Park 2006, Golden Devil, 10 yo, 50% abv ($50)

This one has a similar light funk on the nose to the Monymusk but more of the molasses comes out. On the palate it's rich with a light funk and vanilla notes. It gets more funky toward the end and has a mildly funky finish. I thought this one was quite good.

Hampden 1992, Golden Devil, 24 yo, 50% abv ($100)

I was a huge fan of the last Hampden rum that K&L brought in so I was excited to try this one. The nose definitely has that deep, sweet funk that the other Hampden had. On the palate it has honey, prunes, overripe fruit and a savory umami note. The finish is funky. This one is really good.

The Hampden is definitely the one to get here. The Worthy Park was also good, if a bit lighter, and I didn't care for the Monymusk.

Thanks to Dan Walbrum for the samples. 


Monday, December 12, 2016

The Year in Whiskey: A New Hope


While much of the whiskey news of 2016 was the same parade of idiocy we've grown accustomed to, there were, for the first time in a number of years, some signs of hope.

The year started inauspiciously when Heaven Hill removed the 12 year age statement that had been hiding on the back label of Elijah Craig. Would be another year of crappy moves by big whiskey?

Most of the new releases followed the now half-decade pattern of rising prices and falling quality.  It was the year of stupid expensive whiskeys like Booker's Rye, the new Longmorn range and a new NAS expression of Michter's Celebration for $5,000.

Even the more affordable whiskeys saw unprecedented inflation with Beam Suntory announcing last week that they would raise the price of Booker's from $60 to $100. Yes, you read that right, a 66% increase. Of course, after their ridiculously priced (and in my opinion highly overrated) Booker's Rye became the darling of everyone from Jim Murray to Whisky Advocate, you can hardly be surprised - clearly they were testing the waters on premiumizing the Booker's name in the hopes that everyone would pay more for their bourbon in the future. I'm surprised they didn't change the name to Pappy Van Booker's.

And we probably can look forward to more such antics. It was a year of continued corporate consolidation with Brown Forman buying BenRiach (including Glendronach), Constellation Brands swallowing up High West, Remy Cointreau gobbling up the Westland Distillery, and just last week, Pernod Ricard buying a majority share in Smooth Ambler. Over the last month, hardly a week seemed to go buy without a proudly independent distiller cashing in.

But despite all of that crap, for the first time in a while, there were some signs of hope in the whiskey world. Ardbeg finally dug into its vaults to produce a whiskey with some age on it, Heaven Hill released a decent bourbon for this year's Parker's Heritage Collection and Barton gave us the deal of the year with its 1792 Full Proof. Even Highland Park's ridiculously packaged Ice was pretty tasty.

On the craft scene, more and more craft distilleries are releasing aged product, and quite a number of them are now releasing bonded whiskey, a move which has the potential to revitalize that languishing category, known for high quality at affordable prices.

If things keep going in this direction, maybe I'll start drinking whiskey again, but for now, enjoy a bunch of brandy and rum reviews from now until Christmas.


Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Gift Idea: Butcher Box


Butcher Box is a meat delivery service specializing in grass fed beef, organic chicken and heritage pork. They offer 4 different boxes with a variety of meats and cuts for $129, which includes shipping.

The content of the boxes vary depending on what cuts they have available and they appear to source from a variety of producers. The company sent me some samples and they were tasty.

Pork chops were excellent, flavorful and juicy. Beef top sirloin was a beautiful cut, but people who haven't cooked grass fed beef before should note that it's quite lean and can be tough - marinating it is key. A package of Pederson's Bacon (the only meat with the source listed on the package) from Texas looked like mostly fat but was crisp and tasty when cooked up.

For a meat lover, a Butcher Box would make a great gift.


Monday, December 5, 2016

Gift Idea: The New Single Malt Whiskey


If you know someone who's a fan of single malt or world whiskeys, you should consider The New Single Malt Whiskey as a holiday gift. Edited by Carlo DeVito, the massive tome covers nearly every aspect of single malt including reviews of over 300 malts from nearly 200 distilleries across the globe. The list of over 60 contributors includes nearly everyone who has ever written anything about whiskey (myself included).

The only caution I'd give is that if you're a frequent reader of blogs, a number of these pieces will look familiar, having been lifted directly from the whiskey blogosphere.

The New Single Malt Whiskey ($35)
Carlos DeVito, Editor
Cider Mill Press


Friday, December 2, 2016

New Whiskey Labels: Glen Grant, Early Times, Willett and More


This week's most interesting new labels from the federal TTB database:

Gordon & MacPhail cleared a label for a 1952 Glen Grant.

Brown Forman cleared a label for bottled in bond expression of Early Times bourbon.

Buffalo Trace cleared the first label for its new OFC series, a 1980 bourbon.

The Willett Distillery cleared a label for a bottled in bond bourbon, distilled at Willett, to celebrate the 80th anniversary of the company's founding.

Compass Box cleared a label for Rivals, a blended malt.

Luxco cleared a label for Blood Oath Pact 3, finished in Cabernet casks.

Note:  The fact that a label appears on the TTB database does not necessarily mean it will be produced.  In addition, some details on the label, such as proof, can change in the final product.


Wednesday, November 30, 2016

My Favorite French Brandies of the 2010s


Following up on the list of my favorite whiskeys of all time, I thought I would do something similar for brandy. Listed below are my ten favorite French brandies released in the last five years. As with the whiskey list, I made this without regard to price or current availability, though I limited it to brandies available at retail in the U.S. since 2010 (i.e., the Golden Age of Brandy). They are listed in alphabetical order by type of brandy.

Cognac

Navarre Vieille Reserve, Grande Champagne, 45% abv
Paul-Marie & Fils Cognac, Borderies, Faultline Spirits, 61% abv
Paul-Marie & Fils Devant La Porte 1951, Grande Champagne, 51% abv

Armagnac

Domaine de Baraillon 1893, Bas-Armagnac, 40% abv
Domaine de Baraillon 1933, Bas-Armagnac, 40% abv
Domaine de Baraillon 1985, Bas-Armagnac 48% abv 
Chateau de Pellehaut 1996, Tenareze, 17 yo, 50.4% abv
Domaine de Pouchegu 1986, Tenzareze, 45% abv

Calvados

Camut Privilege 18 yo, Pays D'Auge, 40%
Henri Bernard Beudin Calvados, Eric Bordelet Selection, 18 yo, 53% abv


Monday, November 28, 2016

Sku's All Time Favorite Whiskeys


I often get asked what my favorite whiskeys of all time are. It's a tough question and one I've mostly avoided answering, but given that my blog is approaching the ten year mark, I thought I would take a stab at my very favorite whiskeys of all time. This isn't a buyer's guide. Most of these aren't available anymore, but these are the very best whiskeys I've tasted without regard to price, availability or anything else, listed in alphabetical order:

  • Ardbeg Provenance. I've tried two of the four releases (the two for the U.S.) and they were Ardbeg at its peaty, oily best. It captures the absolute bets of Islay. 
  • Brora 30 2007 Official Release. Brora is one of my favorites and of all the official releases I've tried, the 2007 was my favorite - smoky yet balanced.
  • Brorageddon. This heavily sherried Brora bottled for the Plowed Society is just incredible - with its matching sherry and peat notes. This could be my number one whiskey of all time.
  • Charbay Pilsner. Something magical happened in Sonoma County back in 1999 when Marko Karakasevic distilled some pilsner from the Sonoma Mountain Brewery along with some added hops. The whiskeys that resulted were funky and magical and weedy. All of the releases are great, but I especially love releases I and IV and, probably most of all, the special release they did for the LA Whiskey Society.
  • Glendronach 1972 700 Series. These perennial Malt Maniac favorites are probably the best sherried whiskeys around...yes, that means better than Black Bowmore! I've tasted casks 702, 710, 711 and 712, and they are all fantastic.
  • Highland Park Bicentennary. More than any other, this was the malt that made me a whiskey geek. I can still remember my amazement at its complexity and balance when I tasted it in the early 2000s. Does it measure up all these many whiskeys later?  I don't know, and I don't know if I want to know. I haven't had the courage to try it again. I think I prefer the memory.
  • John Gibson's PA Rye. I've been lucky enough to try quite a few prohibition era whiskeys, and the best thing I've tasted by far from that era are Gibson's ryes. Made in Pennsylvania, they have a lovely sandalwood note that you don't find in today's ryes.
  • Lagavulin 16. It's had its ups and downs for sure, ranging from exquisite to just good, but is there any whiskey that's been more consistent over the past 15 years? Is there any whiskey that's been more responsible for creating malt fanatics, peatheads and Islay lovers? I think not. Ten years ago, it was $40; now it goes for around $70, but that's nothing in terms of whiskey inflation. 
  • Willett's Bernheim Ryes (Rathskeller Rye/Doug Philips Rye, etc.). The casks of old Bernheim rye from the mid-80s purchased by Willett are legendary for a reason. They are massive spice bombs, some of the fullest bodied rye ever made. Not all of them, though, are created equal. The very best are the Rathskeller Rye bottled for the Seelbach Hotel, the two casks of Willett bottled for Doug Philips, the bottles done for Bourbon DC (Iron Fist and Velvet Glove) and LeNell's Red Hook Rye.  
  • Very Very Old Fitzgerald 1952/1964. Stitzel-Weller bourbon is widely coveted for good reason. At its height, it was amazing stuff, subtle, creamy and sweet. My favorite of them all is this 12 year old distilled in 1952 which is probably the best bourbon I've ever tasted. 
Those are my all-time greatest whiskeys.  What are yours?


Monday, November 21, 2016

Plums and Pear Eau de Vie from Coppersea


Coppersea is a distillery in New York's Hudson Valley. I was a big fan of their Green Malt Rye, so I was excited to try these two eau de vie - plum and pear. The fruit comes from Dolan Orchards in Wallkill, New York.

The eau de vie are naturally fermented without additives and distilled in direct fire copper stills. They are then aged in steel for at least six months.


Coppersea Pear Eau de Vie, Batch PR-1, Distilled 2013, 45% abv ($55 for 375 ml)

This has a nice, crisp pear nose. The palate is mostly new make though, with the pear notes falling to the back ground. The taste is mostly spirit. The finish is raw and grainy.


Coppersea Plum Eau de Vie, Batch PL-1, Distilled 2013, 45% abv ($55 for 375 ml)

On the nose I get cherries and cherry candy. The palate is much fruitier than the pear with cherry and raspberry notes. A distinct plum note doesn't come into play until the finish where juicy, red plum mingles with dried apricots and a slight bitterness that ads complexity and balance.  This one is nice, the finish being the strongest element.

Between these two, I definitely preferred the plum.

Thanks to Chris Dion for the samples.


Friday, November 18, 2016

New Whiskey Labels: Crafty BIBs and More


This week's most interesting new labels from the federal TTB database:

Craft distilleries are increasingly releasing bottled in bond whiskeys. Pittsburgh Distilling Company cleared a label for a bonded version of their Wigle Rye Whiskey. Meanwhile, Few Spirits cleared a label for a BIB single malt. This may be the first bonded single malt.

This cinnamon flavored whiskey is called Fire Starter and the label is  covered in flames, but the disclaimer makes it clear that you shouldn't start fires with it. Oh, and keep out of reach of children.

Note:  The fact that a label appears on the TTB database does not necessarily mean it will be produced.  In addition, some details on the label, such as proof, can change in the final product.


Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Delord 25 Armagnac


Delord is one of the larger houses in the Bas Armagnac. They both source brandy and make their own, and unlike many smaller produces, they have a distillery on site.

Delord 25 year old, 40% abv ($70)

The nose is spicy with some dry raisin notes. The palate starts spicy, then turns quite sweet and then bitter. The mouthfeel is watery. The finish has caramel and is slightly fruity.

I was not a fan of this brandy. The sweet and bitter notes lacked depth - no fruit or earthiness, just pure sweet and bitter, and it didn't have much else going on. Overall, it lacked complexity.

Thanks to Florin for the sample.


Monday, November 14, 2016

Dudognon Napoleon II Cognac


Today I'm tasting a K&L excluisve Cognac from Dudognon in the Grande Champagne region. It's a blend of portions of two Cognac casks distilled in 2006, one made from Ugni Blanc and the other from Montils, one of the lesser known Cognac grapes.

Dudognon Napoleon II, 40% abv ($50)

This has a really nice nose with a good balance of fruit and mild spices. It starts sweet on the palate and then develops some mineral notes which wind into a long, mineral finish.

This is nice and I really like the flavor composition of fruit, spice and mineral notes. It's a bit light though. I would love to taste a higher proof version because with a bit more alcohol, I think there would be a real depth and intensity to it.


Monday, November 7, 2016

Hennessy Master Blender's No. 1


There is a new Cognac out from Hennessy, of all places, that sounded intriguing when I read about it on the K&L blog.  I generally stay away from the big Cognac houses with their liberal use of caramel and sugar, but these houses have access to a huge number of producers who they have exclusive contracts with. One can only imagine the amazing casks they have access to that get poured willy nilly into their mass market brandies.

This is supposed to be a less sweet, more complex Cognac for the serious brandy drinker. Let's see.

Hennessy Master Blender's Selection No. 1, 43% abv ($80)

The nose is spicy with baking spices and fresh cut oak. The palate is spicy with a light sweetness that turns just slightly fruity. It packs a punch that feels stronger than its abv. The finish is mostly spicy at first, then turns to sweet grape juice notes followed by an artificial sweetener taste, as in diet cola.

As promised, this is more interesting than anything I've tasted from the standard Hennessy line. It's drier with more spice, better balance and more depth. That being said, it's still definitively Hennessy with the same general flavor profile. It's like how Knob Creek is better than Jim Beam Black, but it's still Beam.

All in all, this is drinkable and certainly a step up from standard Hennessy, but it's hard to recommend when there are so many great, complex Armagnacs available for the same price (or cheaper). Still, this is definitely a step in the right direction that I'd love to see more concentration on quality from the big Cognac houses.


Friday, November 4, 2016

New Whiskey Labels: Walker, Crown and Jameson


This week's most interesting new labels from the federal TTB database:

Diageo cleared a label for a new Johnnie Walker Blender's Batch, this is a ten year old that uses three grains - barley, wheat and corn - in its grain whiskey component and is aged in American oak.

They also cleared a label for the latest release from Crown Royal's Noble Collection which is wine barrel finished.

Pernod Ricard cleared labels for the Jameson Deconstructed Series which, so far, has been available only at global travel retail. The three Irish Whiskeys are Round, Lively and Bold.

Note:  The fact that a label appears on the TTB database does not necessarily mean it will be produced.  In addition, some details on the label, such as proof, can change in the final product.


Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Enough with the Apples: Spirit of Pear Brandy


Brandy Peak Distillery in Brookings, Oregon has been distilling since 1994, which make them craft distillery pioneers. Today I'm sampling their pear eau de vie, an unaged brandy made from 100% Barlett Pears and no additives. It's only available in and around Oregon.

Spirit of Pear Brandy, 40% abv ($23 for 375 ml).

The entire experience of this brandy is like biting into a ripe pear. Apple brandies can have lots of apple notes on the nose, but the palate tastes like brandy. Not so this one. It's like virtual pear. It even mimics that slightly grainy texture of fresh pear. If you love pears, you need to drink this.

This is really remarkable stuff and at 40%, it's easy to drink.  They also make an aged version; I'm very intrigued to see how barrel aging affects the freshness of this eau de vie.


Monday, October 31, 2016

Brandy Law: What is Straight Applejack?


During my Apple Brandy week tasting, I noticed that Laird's and Arkansas Black make something called "straight applejack" or "straight apple brandy," but what is that? To find out, it's time to open up the TTB Regulations, the federal regulations that govern distilled spirits.

Applejack is simply another name for apple brandy. 27 CFR § 5.22(d)(1). There is also something called "blended applejack" which, much like blended whiskey, is a blend of at least 20% apple brandy with grain neutral spirits. 27 CFR § 5.22(e).

It appears that, similar to the way it is used in whiskey, the applejack producers are using "straight applejack" to mean "not blended." Here's the curious thing though, as used in the regulations, the term "straight" only applies to whiskey. There is no definition of "straight brandy" or straight anything other than whiskey for that matter.

With regard to whiskey, "straight" means that it must be at least two years old and is prohibited from having any added coloring or flavoring. There is no similar requirement for straight brandy, so technically, straight brandy could be younger than two years old and have additives (just as other brandy can).

There are also some bottled in bond apple brandies on the market. Unlike the term "straight," which is only defined with regard to whiskey, the term "bottled in bond" applies to any distilled spirit, so you know that any bottled in bond brandy has no additives, is at least four years old and was distilled in a single season by a single distiller.


Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Loch Lomond & Glen Scotia


Loch Lomond Group is launching a new portfolio for the United States. The company owns two distilleries: Glen Scotia in Campletown and Loch Lomond in the Highlands as well as the stocks of  the former Littlemill Distillery. The Loch Lomond Distillery is the only Scotch distillery that makes both malt and grain whiskeys, which they sell under the Loch Lomond and Inchmurrin labels.

The folks at Loch Lomond Group sent me three whiskeys to try.

Loch Lomond Blended Scotch Reserve, 40% ($18)

The nose has a light malt followed by vanilla and grassy notes. On the palate it's light and malty with some grainy notes. The finish is malty on the nose with citrus on the palate. This stuff isn't complex but there aren't any off notes. It's a solid workhorse blend with a light character. For $18 you could do a lot worse. 

Loch Lomond Single Grain, 46% abv ($25)

The nose has intense notes of artificially flavored fruit candy or fruit stripe gum. The palate is very sweet with some of those same fruit notes. Mid-way through it develops a bitterness which grows into a fairly bitter finish. This stuff is pretty terrible.

Glen Scotia Double Cask, 46% abv ($54)

The Glen Scotia Double Cask is a vatting of American Oak and Pedro Ximenez casks. True to form, the nose has a strong, sweet sherry note. On the palate it's got a nice, sweet sherry with malt in the background which winds into a sweet sherry finish. It's Pedro Ximenez through and through, sherry with a sweet tooth. Again, not complex but an easy drinker.

Hey, two out of three ain't bad.


Monday, October 24, 2016

Tasting Notes Through the Years


I read a lot of whiskey reviews and spend a lot of time evaluating whiskey with friends, and one thing I've noticed is that as a whiskey drinker gains experience, the nature of their tasting notes changes.  Here's a general example of how whiskey tasting notes tend to change through the years.

Novice - One Year Experience
This is good whiskey.

Intermediate - Four Years Experience
Nose: Caramel and butterscotch.
Palate: Soft caramel notes, molasses, maple syrup.
Finish: A nice caramel note with some mint and spices.

Advanced - Eight Years Experience
The nose opens with Gaviota strawberries, green figs and a light alfalfa note in the background, after which it picks up soft tobacco, leather and Meyer lemon rind with the heft of a midnight fog that lifts gently off the ocean surface in a coastal town in Northern Maine. The palate shows seaweed, sponge cake, candied oranges and preserved lemons, with water bringing out allspice, Malaysian vanilla and spearmint. The mouthfeel is velvety with an oily residue akin to that of Ardbeg circa 1972-78. The finish is medium-long with traces of gooseberry, Blenheim apricot pit and anise.

Veteran - Over Ten Years Experience
This is good whiskey.


Friday, October 21, 2016

New Whiskey Labels


This week's most interesting new labels from the federal TTB database:

Edrington cleared a label for Macallan 1991, a cask strength, 25 year old whiskey aged in a sherry seasoned American oak cask.

Bacardi cleared a label for Craigellachie Double Cask, a 21 year old cask strength whiskey distilled in 1994.

Many whiskeys are blended from different types of casks, but why do that when you could just make one cask using many woods?  Amrut Spectrum is a single malt finished in a custom made cask made from American oak, French oak, Spanish oak, Oloroso sherry cask, PX sherry cask


Note:  The fact that a label appears on the TTB database does not necessarily mean it will be produced.  In addition, some details on the label, such as proof, can change in the final product.


Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Constellation Brands' Yippee Ki-Yay


There was big news a few weeks ago when Constellation Brand purchased High West. Constellation Brand formerly owned the Barton Distillery, but since selling it in 2009, they haven't had any American whiskey in their profile. High West, located in Utah, has been one of the break-out companies of the new whiskey boom. While they do distill, most of what they have released, and the whiskeys that have made a name for them, are blends of sourced whiskey, some of which, ironically, was distilled at the Barton Distillery.

With all this news, I thought it would be a good time to try one of High West's more recent offerings. Yippee Ki-Yay is High West's Double Rye (a mix of Barton and MGP rye) finished in Syrah and Vermouth casks.

High West Yippee Ki-Yay, 46% abv

The nose has a strong rye profile with lots of spice. On the palate it starts with rye but then the wine comes in and gives a really nice balance to the rye. Soon after that, boom, it's all vermouth.  Those botanical vermouth notes are big and stay with you through the finish, which pretty much tastes like you've been drinking a Manhattan.

This is a fun rye, but the vermouth notes are a bit overwhelming. I would have liked to taste the portion that was only finished in Syrah casks.

Thanks to Florin for the sample.


Monday, October 17, 2016

Parker's Heritage Collection 2016


This is the tenth year of Heaven Hill's Parker's Heritage Collection (If you don't know the history, I recently recapped all of the Parker's Heritage Collection bottlings). This year's bottling is a 24 year old bottled in bond bourbon distilled at the pre-fire Heaven Hill distillery in Bardstown, Kentucky.

There are two releases of this year's bourbon: one was distilled in the Fall 1990 and the other in the Spring of 1991. I will be tasting the Fall 1990 release.

Parker's Heritage Collection 2016, 24 years old, 50% abv ($250)

The nose starts with light caramel and honey, Evan Williams like, and then develops nice oaky/leather notes. The palate comes on strong and oaky with a nice caramel in the back. The finish is strongly bitter.

The nose and palate on this bourbon are very strong and hearken back to the good old days of Parker's. The only flaw is in the finish which is too bitter. The good news is that even with the bitter finish, this is tasty stuff and the best Parker's Heritage release in years. The bad news is the price.

Thanks to Chris Dion for the sample.


Thursday, October 13, 2016

Apple Brandy Week: Arkansas Black 21


I'm wrapping up Apple Brandy Week with Arkansas Black, a sourced apple brandy bottled by a Northern California company. Their regular applejack is made from Arkansas Black apples and is distilled at Clear Creek in Oregon. Today, I'm tasting the 21 year old. I don't know if that also comes from Clear Creek or is from elsewhere. UPDATE: Drinkhacker reports that the source of this brandy was a "California brandy family."

Arkansas Black 21 yo Straight Applejack, 46% abv ($110)

The nose has apples, oak and light butterscotch bourbon notes. It smells sort of like Evan Williams. On the palate, it's got a strong canned pineapple note. The finish is dominated by bourbon notes. This is a curious one, fruity on the palate with a bourbon-like finish.

I wasn't a huge fan of this one. It was indistinct without much in the way of apple flavor. It would be interesting to know what type of cask it was aged in.

Thanks for joining me for Apple Brandy Week. If you've enjoyed all this brandy talk, check out the new Facebook Group Serious Brandy, for people interested in reviewing and discussing brandies of all types.


Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Apple Brandy Week: Somerset 20 Year Old Cider Brandy


Did you know they make apple brandy in the UK? In fact, since 2011, there has been an AOC for Somerset Cider Brandy, even though there only appears to be one producer. The Somerset Cider Brandy Company bottles a wide range of expressions of their apple brandy, including 3, 5, 10, 15 and 20 year old expressions which are aged in a variety of oak casks. Today, I will try the 20 year old.

Somerset 20 Year Old Cider Brandy, Bottled 1/10/2015, 42% abv ($55 for 500ml)

This has a really beautiful nose with bold apple and oak notes. The palate is sweet and oaky. There's not much apple character on the palate; its tastes more like a Cognac or even a rum. It's quite sweet, making me wonder if there is added sugar. The finish is oaky, a bit bitter and it has a light sulfur like note, which may indicate some sherry cask aging.

This brandy reminds me of a standard Cognac. It's certainly sippable but not particularly interesting.

Somerset brandies are not currently available in the U.S. 


Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Apple Brandy Week: Copper & Kings Apple Brandy


I've been a big fan of Kentucky brandy producer Copper & Kings, but so far, I've only reviewed their grape brandies and beer cask finished brandies. They also make apple brandy.

Like all Copper & Kings aged brandies, their apple brandy is sourced. The brandy is a blend of apple brandies distilled in a number of states and is aged in a combination of bourbon and sherry casks. It contains no additives.

Today, I'll review three Copper & Kings apple brandies. Their original aged apple brandy, released last year, the new Floodwall Apple Brandy and their Tequila cask finished 3 Marlenas Apple Brandy.

Copper & Kings Apple Brandy, 50% abv ($40)

The nose starts with dry apple notes, like a good cider. It goes on to develop some herbal/botanical notes. The palate is distinctively spicy with baking spices. The finish is spicy/woody. This doesn't have a huge apple character, but I really liked the spice notes.

Floodwall Apple Brandy, 4 years old, 50% abv ($40)

This is similar to the original release, reviewed above, except that they used smaller sherry casks and it has a four year old age statement. The nose is apple and spice, like a mulled cider. The palate is dry and spicy with a distinct sherry note. The finish has sherry with a very slight apple note. This tastes like what it is: a more sherried version of the first apple brandy.

3 Marlenas Apple Brandy, 5 years old, 50% abv ($40 for 375 ml)

This five year old apple brandy spent its last two years in Tequila barrels. Sure enough, the nose on this has Tequila and apples like some kind of apple Margarita. On the palate it's got apple, oak and then a light Tequila note that lasts into the finish. I really like this one. It has pronounced Tequila notes but they work with rather than overshadowing the apple. It's a fun brandy.

Ever the innovators, Copper & Kings is the only producer I know of using whiskey style finishes with apple brandy. My favorite of these three was probably the standard apple brandy from last year which had a nice spicy character. I also enjoyed the Tequila/apple balance on the 3 Marlenas. The Floodwall was good, but it tasted much more of sherry than brandy, almost like a brandy de Jerez.


Thanks to Copper & Kings for samples of Floodwall and 3 Marlenas.


Monday, October 10, 2016

Apple Brandy Week: Laird's 12 Year Old


Last week, I drank Calvados. This week, I'll be drinking other apple brandies, and what better place to start than Laird's?

Laird's is the oldest name in American apple brandy. Based in New Jersey, the company claims roots going back to the seventeenth century. The actual brandy is distilled in Virginia. Their product line includes their standard applejack (a blend of apple brandy and neutral spirit), a bonded apple brandy, a 7 year old apple brandy and the 12 year old apple brandy I'll be reviewing today. According to Laird's marketing copy, the 12 year old "is a premium spirit and should be positioned among premium brandies from around the world like Cognac, Armagnac and Calvados." So there!

Laird's 12 yo Apple Brandy, Batch 19, Bottled 2014, 44% abv ($75)

The nose is sour apple Jolly Ranchers. It smells like liquid candy. On the palate, it's dry and oaky with bourbon notes but not much apple character – just a slight fruit note. The finish is oaky and a bit bitter. I found this one to be over-oaked, all I could taste was the wood. It tastes closer to a bourbon than a Calvados but not a bourbon I'd buy.


Friday, October 7, 2016

New Whiskey Labels: Amrut, Bushmills and More


This week's most interesting new labels from the federal TTB database:

Amrut cleared a label for Amrut Rye, a rye malt whiskey.

That Boutiquey Whisky Company cleared a number of interesting labels, including a 14 year old Port Charlotte and a 42 year old Invergordon single grain.

Bushmills cleared new labels for Red Bush and The Causeway Collection Single Malt

Luxco cleared a new label for a 25 year old expression of Hammerhead Czech Single Malt.

The Old Pogue Distillery cleared a label for Old Maysville Club, a BIB rye malt whiskey.

Note:  The fact that a label appears on the TTB database does not necessarily mean it will be produced.  In addition, some details on the label, such as proof, can change in the final product.

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Calvados Week: Domaine Hubert


Domaine Hubert is in the Pays D'Auge subregion of Calvados. There is no age statement on this bottle, but K&L, who brought it in, tells us it is around six years old, and it goes for a price that's pretty unusual for any French brandy.

Hubert Calvados, 42% abv ($30)

The nose has crisp, ripe apples. The palate is dry with oak and apple notes. The dry oak gives it a whiskey like quality. The finish is dry and woody, then it picks up a bit more apple and some bitterness.

This has a very different character than the Camut Calvados I reviewed on Tuesday. Whereas those are big and fruity, this one is dry and oaky. It's well balanced and complex. At $30, this stuff is an amazing deal, and I liked it better than the Camut 6 year old at double the price.

Get ready for more apple brandy next week but not from France.


Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Calvados Week: Camut 6 and 18


I'll kick off Calvados Week with a couple from Camut. Located in the Pays D'Auge Region, Camut is one of the biggest names in Calvados. I've been a fan of nearly everything I've tried from Camut, but I've missed some of the standard lineup, so I thought I'd start with these.

Camut 6 year old, 40% abv ($65)

The nose has massive, bold apple notes. The palate is light with some acidic apple notes and trails off with apples and a touch of oak. It's a bit watery on the palate. Overall, I thought this one was a bit disappointing; it's just not that full-flavored.


Camut Privilege, 18 year old, 40% abv ($150)

All the Camut I've had have big, round, beautiful fruity noses with a huge apple punch, and this one is no exception. On the palate it starts with big apple then develops some herbal/mint notes, trailing off with some oak and a touch of pepper. The finish is spiced apples. This is a great, delicious, drinkable brandy that has a great transition from nose to finish and comes together really well.



What a difference a dozen years makes. There's a real transition in this brandy from the one-note, somewhat watery six year old to the full-flavored and delicious 18 year old. Unfortunately, there's also a big price difference.


Monday, October 3, 2016

Calvados Week


I've been continuing my love affair with brandy, and for the next two weeks, I'll be reviewing apple brandies. This week, I'll taste three Calvados and next week, a number of other apple brandies. To prepare, I thought I'd start with a brief summary of Calvados.

Calvados is the world's foremost apple brandy. Produced in Normandy, France, Calvados is distilled cider made from apples and/or pears. The cider is often aged in oak casks prior to distillation, sometimes for years. Calvados must leave the still at no more than 72% abv. After distillation, the brandy must be aged in oak for at least two years and must be bottled at a minimum of 40% abv.  As with other French brandies, coloring, sugar and wood chips are permissible additives.

Within Calvados, there are two legally recognized sub-appellations (though they do not cover the entire Calvados region, so some producers are not in either sub-region and are just part of the general Calvados Appellation):

The Pays d'Auge Region is the most prominent region of Calvados, similar to Grand Champagne in Coganc or Bas-Armagnac in Armagnac. Brandy labeled as Pays d'Auge must have no more than 30% pear, and many use 100% apple. Pays d'Auge Calvados is required to be double distilled in a pot still.

The Domfrontais Region requires that the Calvados be made from at least 30% pear up to as much as 100% pear. The Calvados must be distilled once in a column still. As in Armagnac, many Calvados producers do not have their own stills but distill their brandy in a traveling column still.

From what I understand, producers in these sub-regions do not have to follow the requirements listed above, but they can only use the regional designation on their label if they do. 

Those are the basics, but I left out a lot of detail. There are tons of regulations in Calvados governing nearly every element of production from barrel size to permissible orchard irrigation.  If you really want a deep dive, pick up a copy of Calvados: The Spirit of Normandy, Charles Neal's 700 plus page tome that examines every facet of Calvados production. Neal also keeps up a nice website with basic descriptions of Calvados production.

Tomorrow I start tasting.


Friday, September 30, 2016

New Whiskey Labels: Balcones, Vanishing Whiskey and More


This week's most interesting new labels from the federal TTB database:

Balcones cleared labels for a cask strength versions of their Baby Blue Corn Whiskey and Texas Single Malt.

Weird Label Department: According to the label, Chadwick James Private Reserve is a "whiskey vanished on wood cubes." Does that mean there's none left?

And it always touches me to see a distillery put a lot of effort into their label, both graphically and in terms of providing the consumer with information. Here's a great example of a stunningly beautiful and highly informative label from Cannon Beach Distillery in Oregon.

Note:  The fact that a label appears on the TTB database does not necessarily mean it will be produced.  In addition, some details on the label, such as proof, can change in the final product.


Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Two New Cognacs

Photo Courtesy PM Spirits

Today I taste two new Cognacs being brought in by Nicolas Palazzi's PM Spirits.

Gourry de Chadeville, 8 years old, 55% ($95)

This is the third release of Gourry de Chadeville that we have seen. Each one has been different. This 100% Ugni Blanc Cognac is  composed of two casks. One spent four years in a Saint-Emillion cask and was then transferred to Cognac casks for an additional four years. The other spent its first four years in a Cognac cask and was then transferred to a Saint-Emillion cask for its next four years.

The nose has strong wine notes with some malt, very whiskey like. The palate is similar with strong malt and wine notes, and a bit of a funky note. Had I been given this blind, I might have guessed that it was a Springbank. It's got a nice punch with very little in the way of fruit character - definitely a brandy for malt drinkers.

Bourgoin Micro Barrique, 22 years old, 55.3% ($150)

Another 100% Ugni Blanc, this Cognac from the Fins Bois region was distilled in 1994 and finished in 10 liter barrels (i.e. micro barrique). The nose is grassy with green grapes. The palate is dry with grassy/malty notes and just a slight brandy character and a malty finish. This one has a slightly more brandy-like character than the Gourry, but it's still more malt-like than brandy like.

I don't know that traditional brandy enthusiasts will be excited about these Cognacs. Given their strong malt whiskey characteristics, they might appeal more to malt fans.  

Thanks to PM Spirits for the samples.


Monday, September 26, 2016

Fred Minnick's Newest Bourbon Book


Fred Minnick is one of the most prolific writers in whiskey. This fall, he will be releasing his third whiskey book since 2013 (his previous books were Whiskey Women and Bourbon Curious). His newest volume is an historical overview of bourbon.

Bourbon: The Rise, Fall, and Rebirth of an American Whiskey, traces the history of bourbon from its earliest days to the present. Minnick adds some new speculation as to who might have "invented" bourbon, saying that he believes a Bourbon County, Kentucky distiller named Jacob Spears was the "true father of bourbon," though the evidence, as Minnick describes it, seems far from definitive.

There are a number of bourbon histories out there by respected writers such as Michael Veach and Chuck Cowdery. What makes Minnick's book different though is that while Veach and Cowdery tend to focus on distilleries and bourbon brands, Minnick's new books is really a history of the regulation of bourbon. Each chapter focuses on the different ways that U.S. has affected bourbon production and the bourbon industry.  Minnick fills an important gap here, for while there are many books that deal with Prohibition, I'm not aware of any other book that comprehensively examines the history of alcohol regulation in the way that Minnick's does. He looks in depth at wartime prohibition, anti-trust investigations, tariffs and the various laws and regulations that have defined what bourbon is and how it can be made. The downside of this focus is that it can be a bit dry (pun intended). I found myself very interested in the various laws that defined bourbon but less so in the tariffs.

Minnick's discussion of more recent times veers more into information about brands and consumer habits, and he unearths some interesting stories like his anecdote about Brown-Forman's ill fated Frost 8/80 from the late '60s. Frost was a Pennsylvania bourbon that had the color filtered out of it to compete with vodka. It was so poorly received that Brown Forman issued a national recall, buried the bottles in a landfill and banned the word "Frost" on company property.

Bourbon: The Rise, Fall, and Rebirth of an American Whiskey in an important addition to American whiskey literature, and it's worth a read for anyone interested in bourbon's complex regulatory history.

Bourbon: The Rise, Fall, and Rebirth of an American Whiskey
Voyageur Press ($15)
Publishes October 1, 2016

Thanks to Zenith Press for the review copy.


Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Ten Years of LAWS: An Interview with Adam Herz


Adam Herz preparing to pour
A decade ago, the whiskey craze was still in its infancy. Increasingly, people were drinking, writing and talking about whiskey. At that time, a group of whiskey fans in Los Angeles started meeting for tastings as the Los Angeles Whisk(e)y Society. Unlike many informal whiskey groups of the time, they also created a website to track their tastings.

LAWS was founded by a small group of LA whiskey enthusiasts, but the driving force was screenwriter Adam Herz (best known for the American Pie films) who held the meetings in his home. Today, I talk with Adam about his reflections on the tenth anniversary of LAWS. (Disclaimer: I have been a member of LAWS since 2010).

How and why did you and the original members come up with the idea for LAWS?

It was just instinctive. The original email that I sent to 9 friends in 2006 went like this: “Guys. We’ve been drinking a lot of whisky lately. It’s time to take things to the next level. I propose we form some sort of gentleman's club dedicated to the drinking of fine whiskies.” So, we all met and chipped in together to drink good stuff. It just snowballed from there. Enormously.

How experienced with whiskey was the original group that formed LAWS?

Most of us had been drinking malts for a year or two. There was some debate over whether that qualified us to do ratings. My argument was, “what you taste is what you taste,” and that we should assign ratings based purely on our enjoyment of each whiskey. Cut to 10 years later, that’s kind of the group’s mantra: all that matters is your personal enjoyment of the beverage.

In your opinion, is there a "right way" to taste whiskey?

The way whiskey is supposed to be tasted is by pouring it in your mouth, then swallowing it. Smell also matters. That’s about it.

What we expect to taste has more influence than what we do taste. Your brain is looking to confirm or reject whatever it’s anticipating. So I try to remove all the pomp and circumstance. It’s just a beverage.

That’s why blind tasting is so important. Today, nearly every “blind” tasting I see online goes like this: “We took these 4 specific whiskeys and blind tasted them to find out which we liked best!” That’s not a blind tasting — that’s just a guessing game.

Blind tastings are when you have no clue what’s coming, period. Many people don’t like to do those because they’re afraid of “not liking something that’s actually good.” And vice-versa. But that’s what you want to happen! You have to realize what’s in your mouth vs. what’s in your head.

There are lots of whiskey tasting groups around but few have such extensive websites. How did you come up with the idea for the website?

When we started, the few existing whiskey sites were difficult to navigate and there was no way to sort and filter. That drove us nuts. So we custom-built our database and interface to be what we wished existed.

Also, we wanted a different rating system than the 100-point scale — one that had more generalized categories, along with a sense of “Would I buy this?" Hence our letter grading scale, which has been widely adopted, which is cool to see.

What is the average LAWS meeting like (subtext: How geeky are you guys)?

Each meeting’s format is to open 5 to 10 new bottles along some theme. For the first few years, we always tasted blind, only knowing the style of whiskey to be tasted -- bourbon, malts, etc. Now we’re kind of half-and-half. We’ve hit on some classic formats, sort of how The Price Is Right has their classic games. So we spend the first two hours very, very focused on tasting the new bottles, sometimes in a pure blind tasting, and sometimes in a game or competition. Then, we relax and move to “The Reserves,” which at any given time are around 175 open bottles from previous meetings, member donations, and group buys/finds.

As for “geeky” — our conversation is very whiskey-heavy, so to an outsider, it would probably sound overly detailed and maybe obsessive. But to anyone who loves whiskey, it would just be insightful and informative.

What have been your favorite LAWS meetings?

Too many to count. The “battle” format is a big favorite: two or more collectors will donate bottles from their collection. The bottles are known only to them and can't already be on the LAWS website. The group then tastes/rates them all blind, and whoever’s bottles score the highest wins. It’s a lot of fun, because we take winning way too seriously. And because someone’s “ringer” bottle always ends up getting lousy ratings, and they get all butthurt about it.

What has been the biggest change in the whiskey world over the last ten years?

Increasing scarcity and prices, but that’s a given. After that, I’d say the preponderance of the trophy mentality.

What happened was, as whiskey blew up in social and traditional media, newcomers to the hobby became less interested in whiskey itself and wanted only to obtain the specific bottles they’d read about. And they wanted them quickly and at any price.

So, whiskey (particularly bourbon) moved from something pursued for the merits of its flavors, to being a piece of commerce that you could brag about owning. Whiskey forums transformed from places of friendly collaboration to virtual trophy rooms. Tasting notes and buying tips were replaced by photographs merely proving ownership of a bottle — or even just ownership of a sample! Who needs to see the ten-thousandth photo of yet another Pappy or BTAC stash? They all look the same. Show me something I haven’t seen before.

How has the group changed over time?

Experience, comfort, and pickiness. “Experience” because we really, really know our stuff and have tasted an enormous amount. “Comfort” because, for those of us that have been in the Society a long time, there’s no longer that crazy, on-overdrive push to taste everything, meet everyone, get new releases, go to events and distilleries, and so on. We’re kind of more relaxed now, I guess. And “pickiness,” because the bar is admittedly very high for LAWS meetings now… we’ve tasted so much that, for us to keep future meetings interesting, the lineups have to include some insane bottles.

Oh, and also, we rarely publish anything about our meetings anymore. We kind of lost interest in doing the writeups… like I said before, braggadocio has come to dominate so much of the US whiskey scene, we don’t want to seem like we’re trying to contribute to that. Many of us still publish notes/ratings, because it’s fun to do, and we do feel we’re contributing to the community by posting those.

Any advice for people starting their own clubs? Or about whiskey in general?

The fun of whiskey is in the pursuit, the journey, the rise up the learning curve. You know all those crazy bottles you’re dying to try? You wanna know what they taste like? Something else you’ve already had. Or at least pretty similar. What will begin to matter most is who you’re drinking with and what the occasion is. I still love drinking crazy stuff I haven’t tasted before — but the fun of opening those bottles is in doing it with friends.

Lastly, what will LAWS be drinking for its tenth anniversary meeting?

A wide variety. I’m personally looking forward to opening a 1965 Corti Bros Clynelish, and one of our last remaining LAWS Charbays. [Ed. Note: the LAWS Charbay is a Charbay Hop Flavored Whiskey bottled especially for LAWS].

Thanks to Adam for taking the time to respond to my questions.


Friday, September 16, 2016

New Whiskey Labels: WhistlePig, Tyrconnell and More


This week's most interesting new labels from the federal TTB database:

Wyoming Whiskey cleared a label for Outryder American Whiskey, a bottled in bond whiskey made up of a "blend of stray batches of Wyoming Whiskey."

Whistlepig cleared a label for the third edition of its cask strength Canadian Whiskey, Boss Hog Rye. The label shows an age of 14 years (though age statements can be changed after label approval).

Beam Suntory cleared a label for a 16 year old expression of Tyrconnell Irish Single Malt.

Popular bottler Barrell Bourbon released a label for a New Year Edition for 2017, a non-straight blend of bourbon distilled in Kentucky, Tennessee and Indiana.

Luxco calls their new bourbon/rye blend Kentucky Best, but a close read of the label reveals that it's 50% MGP rye. 

CH Distillery in Chicago cleared a uniquely honest label for an MGP bourbon which says:

Sure, you can take your chances and buy an expensive bottle of craft whiskey and hope it doesn't taste like crap. Or, you can save your hard-earned dollars and give this a shot. We didn't make it, but it's damn good bourbon, and we sell it at a crazy low price.
Now that's some truth in advertising.

Note:  The fact that a label appears on the TTB database does not necessarily mean it will be produced.  In addition, some details on the label, such as proof, can change in the final product.


Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Foursquare Rum


Foursquare is a Barbados distillery that has been turning heads lately. This is one of their first cask strength bottlings available in the US. It's a blend of pot and column still rums, aged in ex-bourbon casks and bottled at cask strength without additives.

Foursquare 2004, 11 years old, 59% abv ($60)

The nose opens with sweet brown sugar and then some grassy notes. The palate begins with the same brown sugar note, then some sharp acidic notes that provide a nice contrast, like the adicidy of pineapple (though not having that flavor). It's quite hot for the proof. The finish is earthy with molasses. Water brings out some earthy notes on the palate which add to the complexity.

This is really fantastic stuff, and it's hard to think of a better deal for the price. This one is a must-buy for sure.

Thanks to FussyChicken for the sample.


Monday, September 12, 2016

Domaine du Tertre Calvados


Today I'm reviewing two new Calvados brought in by Captain Cognac, Nicolas Palazzi (though maybe he should change his moniker to Captain Calvados considering how much of it he's been bringing in lately).

Domaine du Tertre is run by two brothers who make cider and distill a small amount of it into Calvados. They use around 30 varieties of apple, ferment it for six months without heating and use indigenous yeast. Like many French brandy producers, they distill on a traveling column still.

These two bottles come from single ex-Cognac casks and are bottled at cask strength with no additives. The U.S. is only getting 90 bottles of each.


Calvados Domaine du Tertre 2000, 16 yo, 52.6% abv ($200)

This has strong oak notes on the nose with some underlying apple. The palate starts dry and oaky, then the fruit comes in, but it's a very dry apple flavor. It's got a thick, chewy mouthfeel. The finish is woody and slightly fruity then turns to chocolate covered cherries, but without the sweetness, if that make sense.

This is a really lovely and complex Calvados. It's the polar opposite of the big fruity style of some Calvados (Camut for instance); it's drier with oak notes and tannins. It's a great Calvados for a whiskey or Armagnac drinker. Really fantastic stuff.


Calvados Domaine du Tetre 1998, 18 yo, 51% abv ($225)

The nose on this one has maple syrup notes along with oak and a sort of musty note. The palate leads off sweet and then turns earthy with some sulfur like notes. The finish is slightly fruity and sulfuric and then develops apple and oak. This one is sweeter but has less overall fruit character than the 2000.


These were both great. Between the two, I preferred the 2000, which was drier and more complex, but those who prefer more fruit in their Calvados would probably prefer the 1998.  They are currently available at Astor Wines but should be popping up in other locations soon.

Thanks to Nicolas Palazzi for the samples.


Friday, September 9, 2016

New Whiskey (and Brandy) Labels: Chichibu, Westland and More


This week's most interesting new labels from the federal TTB database:

Copper & Kings cleared a new label for their Cr&ftwerk series of brandy finished in beer casks. This one is finished in Sierra Nevada Chocolate Cherry Stout barrels.

 A label cleared for Ichiro's Malt Chichibu Port Pipe, an almost five year old, single cask whiskey from Japan's Chichibu distillery.

A label cleared for Komagatake, a 30 year old cask strength whiskey from the Mars Shinshu distillery in Japan.

Washington's Westland Distillery released three new circus-themed labels for Peat Week.

Hey look, a new Calvados from, er, Michigan. Given that Calvados is a protected geographic term in France, it seems like some of the French producers may not be too happy about that.

Note:  The fact that a label appears on the TTB database does not necessarily mean it will be produced.  In addition, some details on the label, such as proof, can change in the final product.


Thursday, September 8, 2016

Berlin: Europe's Next Great Food City?


I walk down my block and I've got tons of great food choices: Korean, Italian, Vietnamese, burgers, Middle Eastern. Just another day in LA, right?  Except, I'm not in LA, I'm in Berlin.

Grilled octopus with polenta at Donath.
If you ask the average American to name some of the great food cities of Europe, Berlin isn't likely to be in the top five, maybe not the top ten. Paris, Barcelona and nearly every city in Italy have a claim to the greatest food on the continent so it's easy for people to overlook Berlin, but I think there's a strong argument for it as a great food city, and certainly one that is flying under the radar.

Octopus bibimbap at Gong Gang



But Berlin's food is great more in the way that LA's food is great. It's the food of immigrants in a cosmopolitan city. I particularly enjoyed eating my way around Prenzlauerberg, a very hip neighborhood in what used to be East Berlin. That's where we found great Korean, Italian and Vietnamese food.

Marzipan





There's great Middle Eastern food throughout the city. Along with all of the Donar Kebab and falafel stands, it's worth a trip to the Turkish Market and one of the higher end Turkish restaurants like Hasir.

And Berlin has some excellent sweets as well. From the delicate and not-to-sweet marzipan at Wald Konigsberger to the rich, chocolate drinks and cakes at Fassbender & Rausch.

I wish I had time to explore the regional Chinese restaurants or even more of the Turkish food. What didn't I eat much of?  Traditional German food. It wasn't even that easy to find it in Berlin (except for the ubiquitous currywurst), but hey, that's what Munich is for.

Standard-Serious Pizza


Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Bestia's Best Bone Marrow


Possibly the best dish I've had this year is the roasted marrow bone at Bestia. It's served on the bone, but you scoop it out and mix it with their spinach gnocchetti, a spaetzel like spinach pasta. The gnocchetti has been sauteed so its chewy and crispy with some garlic. The marrow bone is coated with balsamic to give it some acid. When you mix the fatty bone marrow chunks into the pasta, you get the contrast of chewy and creamy textures and fatty, acidic and salty flavors. It comes together beautifully.  Everything about this dish is great; it's one of those dishes I'll dream about until I have it again.

Bestia
2121 E 7th Place
Los Angeles, CA 90021
(213) 514-5724 


Tuesday, September 6, 2016

LA (and Maybe the World's) Best Pastrami: Ugly Drum at Smorgasburg


If you haven't been to Smorgasburg, you need to make a beeline there on your next free Sunday. Smorgasburg is a food fair that originated in Brookly and opened in LA in June. It includes around 50 vendors; some are connected to food trucks or stores, but many are only available at Smorgasburg.

The festival is a food lover's dream with vendors selling a wide range of great food from Summer Crab Company's fried soft shelled crab sandwiches to pork belly paratha tacos from Goa Taco to Wanderlust's fantastic ube ice cream.

But the best thing I've had so far in the entire place is Ugly Drum's pastrami. They serve one thing. Pastrami on rye with a squirt of mustard if you want it. This pastrami is amazing. The flavor is as rich as any I've had, but the texture is more akin to fat marbled, barbecued brisket; it has that melt-in-your mouth quality. This is the best pastrami I've ever had, better than Langer's, better than Katz's. Go eat it!

Smorgasburg takes place downtown at the Alameda Produce Market on Sundays from 10 to 5. It's shockingly uncrowded, and there is plentiful parking at the lot at Alameda and Bay Streets that is free for the first two hours.


Friday, September 2, 2016

New Whiskey Labels: Heaven Hill, Ardbeg and More


This week's most interesting new labels from the federal TTB database:

LVMH cleared a label for Ardbeg Kelpie, a non-age statement whiskey aged in "virgin casks crafted from oak grown on land in the Adyghe Republic, leading down to the Black Sea coast."

Remy Cointreau cleared a label for a new edition of Bruichladdich Black Art, distilled in 1992 and a second limited edition of Port Charlotte 10.

Heaven Hill cleared a label for a 20 year old Select Stock distilled before the distillery fire of 1996.

A label cleared for Michel Couvreur Very Sherried, a 27 year old single cask from the French Scotch bottler. 


Note:  The fact that a label appears on the TTB database does not necessarily mean it will be produced.  In addition, some details on the label, such as proof, can change in the final product.