Wednesday, March 30, 2016

The State of American Whiskey Distilleries

It's time for my yearly update on the state of American whiskey distilleries.  This year, my Complete List of American Whiskey Distilleries shows 683 total distilleries making whiskey. That's up from 517 last year at this time, which is similar to the number of new whiskey distilleries we saw between 2014 and 2015.

This year, New York passed Washington as the state with the most whiskey distilleries, having 53 to Washington's 52. They were followed by California (45), Colorado (38), Kentucky (30) and Pennsylvania (29).  There are distilleries making whiskey in 49 states plus the District of Columbia (still no whiskey being made in Hawaii).

Monday, March 28, 2016

Brandy, Beer and Ampersands: Copper & Kings Cr&ftwerk Brandy

Copper & Kings the Kentucky brandy producers has a new series of brandies aged in craft beer barrels. Each brandy in the Kr&ftwerk series is made from the same sourced brandies used as the base of Copper & Kings other brandies and is finished for a year in a different craft beer cask. They are all 55.5% abv and go for $50.

Copper  & Kings Cr&ftwerk finished in 3 Floyds Dark Lord Imperial Stout casks

True to form, the nose has both beer and brandy notes. There's a hoppy/grainy note along with a subtle sweetness. The palate is pretty weird. It's very sweet with beer notes, much more beer than brandy. It ends with a brief bitterness, then a beer-like finish. A few drops of water brings out out almost Scotch-like malty notes. I'm not a huge fan of this one, the beer and brandy notes seem to clash rather than working together. 

Copper  & Kings Cr&ftwerk finished in Sierra Nevada Smoked Imperial Porter casks

The nose on this one is malty, like a Scotch, so much so that nosing blind, I would almost definitely guess that it was a Scotch. The palate starts with big, sweet brandy notes, then oak, then a general sweetness. The finish is sweet and matly. I wouldn't recommend water in this one as it mutes the flavors too much. This one has much less direct beer influence than the 3 Floyds, but I think it comes together better overall.

Copper  & Kings Cr&ftwerk finished in Oskar Blues Imperial IPA casks

This bottle is composed of brandies finished in Oskar Blues G'Knight and Deviant Dale's IPAs. The nose on this one is lovely, crisp and hoppy. The palate is very beer forward with a Charbay-like hoppiness (reminiscent of Charbay's Racer 5 IPA), then it picks up some sweet brandy notes that nicely complement the beer flavors. The finish is beer and honey with some nice hops on the nose. This one is a winner with lots of complex notes that come together well. 

Copper  & Kings Cr&ftwerk finished in Against the Grain Smoked Scottish Ale casks

The Copper & Kings Against the Grain is finished in Against the Grain's Mac Fannny Baw. So, just to be clear, this is a brandy aged in casks from a beer that is supposed to taste like a peated Scotch. Got it?

This one begins with a very nice nose with beer and some sweet, brandy notes, probably the first real fruit I've gotten on any of these. The palate has nice sweet brandy notes with just a touch of beer, and the finish is mostly beer. This one is nice and balanced.  I don't get much in the way of smoky, peat type notes, but I like it a lot.


The big winner for me was definitely the Oskar Blues. It was the perfect synthesis of beer and brandy, and was reminiscent of some of Charbay's hopped whiskeys. The Against the Grain was my second favorite; it was the most brandy-like of the three and probably the most drinkable. These are two I would absolutely spend money on. The Sierra Nevada was good but not as interesting as the other two, and I didn't care for the 3 Floyds which was all over the map, flavor wise.

Kudos to Copper & Kings for trying something unique here. Using the same brandy base in four different beer casks created four very different spirits. I don't know if this is a first, but I'm not aware of any other beer finished brandies. The spirit they created isn't anything like a typical brandy; it has more in common with hopped whiskey and would probably appeal more to beer fans than brandy fans.
  Thanks to Copper & Kings for providing samples of their brandies.

Friday, March 25, 2016

New Whiskey Labels: Ardbeg, Four Roses and More

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

Moet Hennessy cleared a label for a 21 year old Ardbeg "distilled during some of the most precarious days of Ardbeg's past, when only a handful of casks were set aside."

Four Roses cleared a label for a 2016 Limited Edition Single Barrel labeled Elliot's Special in honor of new master distiller Brent Elliot. It's a 14 year old OESK recipe bourbon.

Luxco cleared a label for Rebel Yell 2016 Limited Edition. It's not clear what will make it different from the regular Rebel Yell (other than the label).

Strong Spirits cleared labels for Redemption Barrel Proof Bourbon and Barrel Proof High Rye Bourbon, both nine year old MGP bourbons.

Pernod Ricard cleared a label for two new Jameson expressions: The Distiller's Safe and The Blender's Dog, both part of their Whiskey Makers series. 

This week saw new labels clear for a number of world whiskeys, including whiskeys from France, Spain, Mexico, Germany and Israel.

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, March 23, 2016

High West 16 Year Old Rocky Mountain Rye

Earlier this week, I tasted High West's new release of Bourye. Today, I taste another new version of a previous release. The original High West 16 year old Rocky Mountain Rye was one of my favorite of all High West whiskeys. It was made from a Barton rye with an 80% rye mashbill.  They recently brought back the 16 year old, but now it's a blend of that original Barton rye with 16 year old MGP rye with the standard 95% rye mashbill.

This is a small release (100 cases) only available at the new High West distillery at Blue Sky Ranch that will be released each year on Labor Day. This one came out last year and, I believe, is sold out.

High West Rocky Mountain Rye, 16 years old, Batch 15G07, 46% abv ($130)

This has a great, complex nose with rye spice, sweet floral notes, bubblegum and cotton candy. The palate starts sweet and then turns highly medicinal, leading into a medicinal finish that fades into a nice sweet/spicy balance.

This was another good, bold rye from High West. The influence of the MGP is certainly evident in the medicinal notes. As with the original Bourye, it's been a long time since I tasted the original 16 year old so it's hard to compare, but going by memory, I would say that this one, while good and very enjoyable, is not quite as good as the first all-Barton edition.

Monday, March 21, 2016

The Return of Bourye

High West opened up a new category when it first introduced Bourye in 2010. A blend of 10 year old Four Roses Bourbon, 12 year old LDI rye and 16 year old Barton Rye, it wasn't the first blend of bourbon and rye (blended whiskey has a long, if sketchy, history) but it was the first in recent memory to create a premium blend of the two American whiskeys. As those older whiskeys started to dry up, High West introduced the Son of Bourye, made from younger components.

Now, High West has rereleased Bourye as a limited release. The new Bourye is all all MGP affair, made up of three whiskeys: a 9 year old bourbon, a 13 year old rye and a 17 year old rye.

High West Bourye, Batch 16A13, 46% abv ($70)

This has a great bold, rye nose with a touch of maple syrup. The palate is much drier than the nose would indicate. It has good rye spice, a touch of sweetness which comes up quickly, then fades and is followed by a mild bitterness. The finish is dry and spicy with some nice sandalwood notes on the nose.

It's been a long time since I tried the original recipe Bourye, but based on my memory of it, this one has less bourbon character and tastes much more like a rye. While it's different from the original, it's quite good in its own right with lots of bold rye notes and a nice dryness to it.

Thanks to High West for the sample.

Friday, March 18, 2016

New Whiskey Labels: Old Forester, Compass Box, Laphroaig and More

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

Brown Forman cleared a label for the 2016 Old Forester Birthday Bourbon and Old Forester 1910, an "old fine whisky."

Beam Suntory cleared a label for the 2016 Laphroaig Cairdeas which will be finished in Madeira casks.

Jack Daniel's cleared three labels for single barrel bourbon with different flavor descriptions: Full Bodied & Robust, Flavorful & Balanced and Sweet Forward.

Compass Box trolls the SWA with Enlightenment, an effort to "champion reason and liberty amongst those who regulate the world of Scotch Whisky."

Balcones cleared a label for Sangre Roja Single Malt.

Forty Creek cleared a label for a 2016 Founder's Reserve, it doesn't include anything in the way of description.

High West cleared a label for Blue Sky Ranch, a blend of High West Rendezvous and Double Rye finished in different wine casks.

A label cleared for what appears to be a new official MGP whiskey. Cloud's Batch '41 is a blended wheat whiskey bottled in celebration of MGP's 75th anniversary. It's composed of 51% two year old straight wheat whiskey and 49% neutral spirits distilled from wheat.

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, March 17, 2016

Finest Irish Single Malt

Is this the finest Irish single malt? Well, it says so on the label, so I assume it must be, because you wouldn't lie about something like that.

Finest Irish Single Malt is a 22 year old malt bottled by The Whisky Exchange. As we noted yesterday, there are only two possible sources for older Irish single malt: Bushmills and Cooley, and Cooley sold a lot more of its whiskey.

Finest Irish Single Malt, 22 years old, 58.1% abv ($233)

The nose begins bright and fruity. Midway through, there are some fuel notes. The palate is malty with fruit candy, fresh mint and then some light peat notes that last into the finish.

Well, given that I detected some peat in this, that makes it almost certainly a Cooley malt (EDIT: though see David S's comment below about some lightly peated Bushmills that The Whisky Agency has been bottling). I thought it was quite good, the peat/fuel type flavors providing a nice contrast to the fruity flavors. I'd say this is my favorite of this week's Irish Whiskeys.

Happy St. Patrick's Day!

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Egan's Irish Single Malt

Egan's is a new Irish Whiskey in the U.S. It's a sourced, ten year old single malt. There are only two possible sources of Irish single malt from ten years ago: Bushmill's and Cooley, and Cooley sold a lot more of their whiskey to other bottlers.

Egan's Single Malt, 10 year old, 47% abv ($50)

The nose has grapes and sherry notes. The palate is fruity sweet in a grape soda sort of way with some malt notes at the back. Fruit continues into the finish.

This is a decent, fruity Irish malt. If you're a fan of sweeter, fruity malts, it's worth trying.

Thanks to Josh from The Whiskey Jug for the sample (and see his review of Egan's as well).

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Powers John's Lane

Like Redbreast, Powers John's Lane is a single pot still Irish whiskey made at the Midleton Distillery.

Powers John's Lane, 12 years old, 46% abv ($70)

The nose is light and fruity. The fruit fades on the palate which is malty and just slightly sweet. The finish is reminiscent of Samoas, the Girl Scout cookies with coconut and caramel.

This is a decent whiskey with some nice malty character but not one that I can see paying $70 for when Midleton's other single pot stills, Redbreast and Green Spot are cheaper.

Thanks to Josh from The Whiskey Jug for the sample.

Monday, March 14, 2016

Irish Whiskey Week: Redbreast All Sherry

I had planned to avoid the cliched St. Patrick's Day week Irish Whiskey reviews and instead review the best green dye to use for beer, but since I happened to attend an Irish Whiskey tasting with some interesting new bottles, I thought I'd swallow my pride and Irish it up this week.

We start the week with a single cask, Oloroso sherry aged Redbreast single pot still Irish Whiskey bottled exclusively for The Whiskey Exchange. It was distilled in 1999 and has no age statement, but The Whisky Exchange says it is "around 15 years" old. There are 576 bottles of this stuff.

Redbreast All Sherry Single Cask, 59.9% abv ($255)

This is sweet sherry from nose to finish. In fact, it's more sherry than whiskey. The lighter notes of a single pot still just don't stand up to the sherry the way a single malt does. That isn't necessarily a bad thing, but whereas the sherry aging on a Glenfarclas or Glendronach presents a synthesis of spirit and wine, this tastes more like amped up sherry. It's somewhat reminiscent of the Navazos Palazzi sherry finished brandy and Spanish grain whiskey with their high power sherry notes.

All of that being said, this is enjoyable stuff, and if you're a fan of sherry (as opposed to sherried malts), you will undoubtedly love it, and it's probably worth your time.  If you're looking for the flavor of single pot still whiskey however, you may want to stick with the more traditional Redbreast expressions.

Friday, March 11, 2016

New Whiskey Labels: Balvenie, Old Forester and More

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

William Grant cleared a label for Batch 3 of Balvenie Tun 1509.

Brown Forman cleared a label for Old Forester 1920, an NAS "prohibition style" bourbon bottled at 115 proof.

New Riff Distillery cleared a label for a new expression of their MGP distilled O.K.I. bourbon. The O.K.I. Antique Barrel Finish is a 9 year old bourbon finished in a new barrel made "according to circa-1900 coopering techniques."

New Calvados. Nicolas Palazzi is bringing in two Calvados from Domaine du Tertre, a 1998 and a 2000. Charles Neal is bringing in a series of Chateau de Breuil Calvados, including a VSOP, a 15 year old and a 20 year old.

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, March 9, 2016

Kilkerran Bourbon Cask #7

It's been a few years since I tried a Kilkerran, whiskey from the Springbank owned Glengyle Distillery.  For 2015's the Work in Progress 7, they released the whiskey at cask strength. There's not much information on the label, but according to The Whisky Exchange, this is the last of the Work in Progress expressions and is 11 years old.

Kilkerran Work in Progress #7 Bourbon Cask, 54.1% ($75)

The nose is dry and malty with lots of grassy notes and some Ivory soap. The soap notes continue on the palate, in both the flavor and mouthfeel. Then it's got some nice coastal sea air/seaweed stuff going on that continues into the finish along with some peat.

This is like drinking two whiskeys. The first half is soapy and weird whereas the second half is quite good.  A few drops of water helps even things out a bit, though the mouthfeel still has that soapy characteristic. Overall, I wasn't as impressed with this one as I was with the last Kilkerran bourbon cask I tasted.

Monday, March 7, 2016

Jefferson's Ocean Batch 19

One of the signs of the coming bourbon apocalypse is when the first edition of Jefferson's Ocean Aged Bourbon sold for $1,000 at auction. With 20+ releases under their belts, I believe the market is a bit less bullish on this no age statement sourced bourbon. I would also note that while some earlier bottles were labeled as "Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey," the one I'm sampling today simply states that it is "Straight Bourbon Whiskey," and we all know what taking Kentucky off the label implies...that it's a Mighty Good Product.

Jefferson's Ocean, Batch 19, 45% abv ($65)

The nose has peanuts and butterscotch. The palate is nicely spicy, a tad salty (from all that ocean air obviously) and the finish has honey and rye spice.

This is actually quite a bit better than the first edition that people went nuts for. It's got some nice spicy notes and some complexity.  I wouldn't pay $65 for it, but it's decent bourbon.

Friday, March 4, 2016

New Whiskey Labels: A Little Bit of Everything

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

A new label cleared for a 16 year old Lock Stock & Barrel rye; like their younger version, it is made from 100% rye and likely from Canada.

You don't see Mexican whiskey very often, but here's a label for Pierde Almas, a Oaxacan corn whiskey. The label needs some work as it says "blended," "straight" and "unaged."

Teeling cleared a label for a 24 year old single malt aged in Sauternes and bourbon casks.

Moet Hennessy cleared a label for a 1990 Glenmorangie, bottled in 2016. It carries no age statement.

 A few years ago, Diageo pulled Johnnie Walker Green from American shelves. Last year, it trickled back in, but there have been questions about how lot it will stay.  Well, Diageo cleared a new label for JW Green, which probably means they are at least thinking about continuing it in the US market.

Rebel Yell was an old Stitzel-Weller bourbon that is now being bottled by St. Louis based Luxco Inc. Undoubtedly wishing to honor the memory of Stitzel-Weller founder Pappy Van Winkle, the man who said "always fine bourbon," Luxco has cleared a label for Rebel Yell Root Beer. As the back label asks, "Are you Rebel Enough?" No, I am not.

Now here's a great whiskey label! Throttle 2 Bottle features race cars and dirt bikes that look like they were taken from early '90s clip art or maybe an old Evel Knievel lunch box. The back label proudly declares "God Bless America!", "Cheers to the 2nd Amendment", and "Product of Canada." Hmm, I'm guessing someone is hoping to get a head start on this year's Sku Award for Stupidest Whiskey Label.

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, March 2, 2016

No, I Can't Recommend a Good Armagnac

For the past few years, I've been singing the praises of brandy, and Armagnac in particular. As a result, I get a lot of requests for Armagnac recommendations. This is always tough. While there is great Armagnac to be had at great prices, it's not very widespread.

There are just two people who seem responsible for bringing in the majority of the great Armagnac (and many other French spirits for that matter) available in the US.  Charles Neal, in California, is a long-time importer of French spirits. He brings in all of K&L's special Armagnac picks as well as many others. Nicolas Palazzi is a New York based importer/distributor. His company, PM Spirits, brings in tons of good stuff from all over France. The problem is, these guys have limited reach. Neal's best stuff are the K&L picks, but he also brings in barrels for D&M in San Francisco.  In Southern California, you can find Palazzi's stuff at K&L and Everson Royce in Pasadena, and it's in a number of NY venues including Astor Wines.

But what if you're not in New York or California?  Well, you can order on-line from K&L or Astor, but if you're in a no-shipping state, you're in trouble. The Armagnac selection in most liquor stores, including many that have huge whiskey selections, is tiny, and the stuff that is there tends to be from a few big producers or blenders that make fairly indistinct stuff (Tariquet, Laubade, Castarede, etc.).

As for all of those fun things I write about, Pellehaut, Baraillon, Domaine d'Aurensan, you're probably out of luck. The big exception is Darroze. They are one of the best bottlers in Armagnac and bottle lots of cask strength, single grower expressions as well as a number of excellent blends. They are the one really great Armagnac bottler that has more widespread availability, though they are also more expensive than most smaller producers.

And while it would be great to have fantastic Armagnac available everywhere, it's probably never going to happen. Most Armagnac producers are tiny. Neal and Palazzi (and the K&L Davids) spend their time hunting around dusty barns in Gascony to find the good stuff. It's like American Pickers, but with brandy and in France. And the same is largely true for Calvados and even Cognac.

So, I'm sorry that I can't recommend a great Armagnac, even though you live in a big city with great liquor stores, but who knows what the future holds? There is definitely room for more Armagnac in the US and so hopefully, as it grows in popularity, we will start to see more of it in more places.