High West Whiskey – Son of Bourye -Review

The biggest problem I have with High West’s Son of Bourye is that every time I see or hear the name I think of this classic bit from the Simpsons. Actually, now that I think of it, that’s not really a problem. The name also makes me think of the Vaselines‘ song “Son of a Gun”, thereby starting the endless internal debate as to which version of the song I like better: the quasi-primitive yet impossibly charming original…or Nirvana’s venerating, languidly frantic cover.

IMG_5253But that’s neither here nor there. Bourye, the father-figure here, was second whisky ever released by High West. Its blend of bourbon and rye whiskey was as novel at the time as it was delicious…and it was delicious. Proudly wearing the blender’s hat, High West’s head honcho, David Perkins, masterfully combined three whiskeys – a 10 year old bourbon from LDI/MGP, a 12 year old, 95% rye, rye whiskey from LDI/MGP, and a 16 year old straight rye (with a relatively low rye content of 53%) from Barton Distillery. Not surprisingly, Bourye was a hit, and since it was created from a limited stock of selected sourced whiskies, it has all long since disappeared.

High West released the Son of Bourye to help fill the demand for the dear departed father, and while the concept is similar, it really does seem like a young, slightly rebellious scion. The whiskeys used in the Son of Bourye are much younger, and a bit more straightforward. Two instead of three different whiskeys make up this expression: a relatively low-rye bourbon from LDI/MGP, and the 95% rye recipe whiskey from LDI/MGP. Initially, the youngest whiskeys used were five years old, but High West has been bumping up the age a bit as each batch is bottled. Currently, Son of Bourye is made up of six year old whiskeys and is an ongoing part of their lineup, but once the necessary stocks are gathered for another older Boureye release, High West says the father will rise again.

The Nose:  Lots of rye initially but quite tempered by familiar bourbon notes. That MGP/LDI high rye is quite clear – rye bread, a little pickling spice, pepper, and hint of pine sap, softened by the bourbon’s vanilla extract, corn bread, spiced orange, and nutty toffee. The rye also provides a nice flinty-ness, think fresh sharpened pencil, and a subtle herbal quality…believe or not a touch of mint chocolate chip ice cream. The bold-ish spice notes of cinnamon, clove, peppercorns, and dried orange peel show off the bourbon more.

The Palate:  Like the nose, the rye is prevalent yet still nicely balanced by the bourbon. At first, there’s warm caramel sauce, burnt toffee, and well-toasted rye bread with a thin scrape of marmalade. Baker’s chocolate and salted nuts make a brief appearance before lots of spice and a surprising (but pleasant) amount of oak for its age moves in. Crushed peppercorns, vanilla bean, Vietnamese cinnamon, clove, and mint lead to a hint of burnt popcorn and a little too much alcohol burn towards the end

The Finish:  Drying,  still a bit hot, rye-tinged and peppery, with a little salted nuttiness and barrel char.

Thoughts:  High West always does a great job. It’s often hard for the son to live up to the father, and while comparisons to Bourye are inevitable, all in all, this is a satisfying, very well-crafted blend of bourbon and rye. There’s a vibrant youthful complexity throughout that works in its favor until the end, where things get a little too spirited and rough. I like this quite a bit over ice as it smooths those edges, but it also sips nicely neat. I found it also makes for an interesting twist in a Manhattan, Old Fashioned, or a Brooklyn. The $35-$40 price tag is a little on the steep side value-wise, but given that this is a smaller company blending sourced stocks into a rather unique product, I also think it’s fair. Recommended.

High West Whiskey – Son of Bourye, Batch #13K25

46% ABV

Score:  85

Whisky-Related Stocking Stuffers for 2014

Scrooges_third_visitor-John_Leech1843Well, here we are again and already. It seems as if we were just celebrating the Winter holidays and now, we’re just supposed to start celebrating them all over again. Here in Minnesota this might be due to the fact that Winter routinely stretches well into April. Summer snuck by quickly as it was a relatively cool one this year and I spent most of it buried in real estate paperwork and subsequent mountain of cardboard moving boxes. So…here we are somehow, right back at Winter. I love Winter. I realize, of course, that not everyone loves Winter, or the holidays as much as I do, and that all this Winter-y gift-giving can often be very stressful. Being the helpful guy that I am, here’s The Casks’ annual, hastily assembled list of whisky-related stocking stuffers…

Let’s start with two newish books that deserve a place on any whisky lover’s shelf that isn’t already occupied by a bottle of whisky. Chuck Cowdery wrote the still-relevant and informative Bourbon Straight a little more than ten years ago and finally got around to following it up this year with Bourbon Strange. Bourbon Strange is an engrossing collection of essays and stories about Bourbon’s peculiar and fascinating past.

Yes, I realize Sherry: A Modern Guide to the Wine World’s Best-Kept Secret by Talia Baiocchi is not a whisky book, but the importance of sherry and the sherry industry to Scotch whisky in particular can hardly be overstated. This book is a great introduction to this often overlooked, yet vital and wildly complex wine.

(As always, yes…you can buy these both from Amazon, but wouldn’t you rather support your local booksellers? Of course you would.)

Both of these books are so engrossing no one could blame you for finishing them in one sitting, but there are those heartbreaking moments in life when one must put down a book. What better way than to mark one’s place with a bookmark made from an Irish whiskey barrel from Conkr Creative, so one can pick up where one left off to attend to whatever bit of silliness needed attending to.

Of course, if that aforementioned silliness is going to get oneself a beer to quaff while one reads (which usually isn’t very silly at all), you can also pry open that bottle with a Conkr Creative opener made from an Irish whiskey barrel as well.

Or, if quaffing beer isn’t hitting the right note, then perhaps a nice cup of tea? Or perhaps if something stronger than tea is needed, but by golly, you were really looking forward to drinking something out of a teacup, then perhaps this Tom Waits-inspired mug from Yvonne Ellen Homewares will inspire.

As pleasant as it sounds, one cannot simply spend their life with a book and a glass. There are times when one must venture out into the public eye and when venturing out into the public eye, it is occasionally necessary to wear pants, and on those occasions, holding those pants up is of paramount importance. Keep those things up with a belt adorned with this belt buckle made from ex-bourbon barrel wood from The Wooded Lands.

BarrelEarringsIf one happens to be venturing out in public and would like to venture out in style, then perhaps one needs to gussy oneself up with some earrings made from old bourbon barrels from Scythe Studio, or maybe cufflinks made from old bourbon barrels from D. Fuss, or what the hell, maybe both.

Admittedly, this next one perhaps not for everyone. While I find this an aesthetically pleasing object and certainly get the appeal, I tend to think that anyone who feels it necessary to add water to their whisky so precisely that they need an eyedropper…well, let’s just say it’s not my thing, not by a long shot, nonetheless, a blown-glass dropper and accompanying oak stave mount from Sip Dark would be a classy addition to one’s whisky library.

If you’d actually like to buy some booze for someone instead of just something booze-related, it’s time again for Master of Malt to make their usual appearance on this list. Why do I include them every year? Simple, they’ve come up with fun, creative ways to give the gift of alcohol. Whether it’s their stellar whisky (or gin, or vodka, or tequila, or rum, or cognac) advent calendars, their home blending kits, or their new Christmas Crackers (traditional English crackers with a small dram of booze inside. I know, it sounds a little dangerous to me, too, but I trust they know what they’re doing) Master of Malt know how to bring the holiday cheer.

Wake up! Time to drink! This last one might be a bit of a splurge, but if you’re looking for a gift for a whisky fan who also happens to be a Blade Runner fan, a replicant, or what the hell…both, you could hardly go wrong with these hand-blown, crystal tumblers from Firebox just like the one Deckard uses in the film to drown his artificial sorrows.

HAPPY HOLIDAYS!

Four Roses Yellow Label Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey- Review

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*Sincere thanks to LB and the Baddish Group for the sample.

It would probably not be considered going too far out on a limb to say that Four Roses‘ history is one of the murkiest and most confusing in the world of whisk(e)y. Interestingly, it should also be noted that, today, the distillery and brand is among the most transparent in the Bourbon world at least…but that’s today. In the past, there have been times when Four Roses themselves have presented different versions of some story…and for no other reason than no one was really sure what the true story really was. A couple of years ago, I touched on the several stories floating around about the origin of the name Four Roses. While that was fun and all, this time around, I thought I’d take a look at why Four Roses fell off the face of the United States for a few decades, and how the brand, like a phoenix of yore, has risen once again, landing pretty much at the top of the heap.

We’ll fast forward to 1943, past the murky tales regarding when the brand was founded (either in the 1860′s by Rufus Rose and probably his brother and two nephews, or possibly in 1888 when, according the brand’s website, a man named Paul Jones legally trademarked the name of a popular whiskey that had…been…around…since…the…1860′s) to when Seagrams bought the company, then known as the Frankfort Distilling Co. I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that an alternate story goes that Rufus Rose’s Four Roses was purchased by the original Joseph Seagram & Sons in 1913, and, in turn, that company was then purchased by Sam Bronfman and his company Distillers Corporation, LTD. in 1928. Whatever…in any case, the year is 1943, and Four Roses bourbon, one of the best-selling bourbons in the country is now owned by Seagrams, one of the biggest distillers in the world. Seagrams had done well since Prohibition ended, they had presaged the country’s shift in taste to lighter, blended whiskies, and marketed their products successfully to drive demand even higher. In a somewhat dubious move, however, Seagrams decided to stop selling this top-selling bourbon in the U.S. and instead send all the Kentucky-made bourbon to the European and Asian markets. Yes, the brand was already big overseas, and yes, this renewed focus helped it not just survive the big increase in demand, but become the biggest-selling bourbon in the Asian market, but still, a somewhat strange move. Here in the States, Four Roses now soldiered on as an inexpensive blended whisky. Initially, this blended version of Four Roses was probably not the horrible whisky it reportedly became, but as the years went on, the quality apparently plummeted and Four Roses the blended became synonymous with “rotgut” and “skid-row”.

The crazy thing is that while the brand was being run into the ground in the U.S. with whiskey made in Indiana, the brand’s old distillery in Kentucky was still cranking out excellent bourbon to be sold overseas. It may seem odd that Seagrams just shrugged its shoulders and abandoned a once very successful brand in the U.S., but then again Seagrams, on occasion, has made some, shall we say, poor business decisions. By the late 90′s, the once mighty Seagrams had over-extended itself, watered down its wine & spirits brands, and ultimately fell apart in several directions with Pernod-Ricard and Diageo taking control of its beverage division. In 2002, Diageo sold the Four Roses brand and distillery to the Japanese beverage giant, Kirin, who ultimately recognized the potential for Four Roses bourbon in the U.S. market, and did the right thing by giving us back this storied brand. No small amount of credit for this belongs to Master Distiller, Jim Rutledge, who for years pushed Seagrams to sell the Four Roses bourbon in the states, or at the very least, make it available to the very people who made it. When Kirin took the reigns, Rutledge’s pleas were answered, the awful blended whiskey disappeared and Four Roses began its long march back up to the top of the aforementioned bourbon heap.

Today, Four Roses’ excellent core range is represented in the U.S. by the Yellow Label, the Small Batch, and the Single Barrel. There are still two expressions exclusive to the Japanese market, the Platinum and the Fine Old. Their yearly Limited Edition Single Barrel and Small Batch releases are always a highly thought-of and highly sought-after bottles. While all three of the core expressions are very reasonably priced, the Yellow Label is the most inexpensive, at around $16-$20. Approximately six years old, this rather “vintage-y” labeled whiskey is a blend of the ten different bourbons Four Roses produces using their innovative combinations of two yeast strains and five mashbills. They are able to further broaden their palate, the Yellow Label in particular, by blending different ages of these different recipes. No other bourbon distillery gives itself this much variety to work with, certainly not when it comes to their entry-level expressions.

The Nose:  A very solid, bright bourbon nose. Warm caramel apples with orange blossom honey and a little vanilla bean paste. There are subtle but nice rye notes – think lightly toasted rye bread. Slightly woody spice notes of warm, bright cinnamon, a bit of clove and black pepper. Further back, touches of sweet corn ice cream, and slight hints of fennel and orange-tinted bittersweet chocolate. A slight whiff of solvent gives away the lower price point of this one.

The Palate:  Spicy, somewhat hot, and quite sweet initially with burnt toffee, juicy orange, and a bit of watery orgeat syrup. The rye is less subtle than on the nose, but also a bit more raw and green. Wood spice notes of rough cinnamon, nutmeg, black pepper and a hint of anise seed. A bit of that solvent-y heat, slightly harsh and rough-edged touches of barrel char and burnt popcorn lead to the finish.

The Finish:  Continued burnt popcorn and vanilla sweetness with more woody cinnamon, clove and black pepper. That alcohol heat from the end of the palate lingers bit as well.

Thoughts:  A very good bourbon for the money. It’s fairly easy for me to find Four Roses Yellow Label for under $20. Hell, I can occasionally find a 1.75l handle for under $30 bucks. Though the flavor profile is fairly basic and straightforward, Four Roses multiple recipe technique gives this more complexity than you usually expect for a bottle in this price range. Outside of those (somewhat expected) youthful, raw edges throughout, there’s little to complain about with this one. It works well in a cocktail with just enough rye to give it depth, and holds its own as an everyday sipper, especially over ice. These days bargains seem to be disappearing in the bourbon world, but for the moment, Four Roses Yellow Label is still one of them. As a solid, everyday value buy, recommended.

Four Roses Yellow Label Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey, OB +/- 2014

40% ABV

Score:  82

For further (and better) reading on the Four Roses’ history, I recommend perusing Sour Mash Manifesto’s and John & Linda Lipman’s examinations of the subject

Four Roses Small Batch Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey – Review

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*Sincere Thanks to LB and the Baddish Group for the sample.

When the Earth was young, full of torrents of fire and inclement weather, behemoth liquor companies sought out their marketing teams, troglodyte and dour, and entreated them with a quest that was at once high-minded and nefarious. The marketing teams’ eyes shone with fearful purpose. They emerged pallid and tottering from their caves, blinking into the conflagrant sun with their purpose-filled shining eyes. FIND US, the behemoth liquor companies bellowed, FIND US A CATCHPHRASE, AN IMPRESSIVE BIT OF TEXT FOR OUR BOTTLES, FULL OF IMPORT, A MARK OF QUALITY AND CRAFTSMANSHIP SO REEKING OF LUXURY OR AT LEAST SUPER-PREMIUM CACHÉ THAT NONE SHALL RESIST ITS SIREN CALL! Their wooly heads bowed, the marketing teams trembled and set out on their terrible quest. Decades past, the Earth was re-shaped, lives waxed and waned, until one day there strode out of the boreal forests of what would one day be Midtown Manhattan, a small band of marketers, now tanned and brawny, their hair coiffed, their eyes steady and perhaps a bit too clever. They had found it. A nubile woman clad in gauzy attire held aloft an adamant tablet which bore a phrase that would sell a million bottles and besot innumerable livers…

SMALL BATCH

Heretical apocrypha aside, the term “small batch” entered into present day booze bottle jargon in either the 70′s, the 80′s, or the 90′s depending on who you ask. It almost certainly picked up a lot of steam in the early 90′s when Beam released their “Small Batch Collection” to the world. In the years between, quite a few bottles have proudly worn the small batch moniker and quite a few people, maybe a couple dozen, have asked, “what exactly is a ‘small batch?’”. It’s a pretty good question, though despite that opening paragraph, not one of vital importance. But still, you pay more for a bottle that says small batch, so the assumption is it’s a more carefully crafted product, therefore harder to make in large quantities, therefore…better. But is it? How big or small is a “small batch”? There are no legal parameters that define what a small batch is or isn’t, and while some brands and bottles have given details on the actual size of their small batch, many do not. The reality is it’s all really relative. A city a quarter of the size of Chicago is a much smaller city than Chicago…but it’s still a very big city. Here’s a handy guide to help with “How large is my small batch” question:

  • If your small batch bottle came from a “craft” distillery that actually distills its own spirit, then it’s probably a pretty small batch whether it says so or not. These distilleries just don’t have the capacity to do large batch, so everything’s pretty much small batch by default.
  • If your small batch bottle came from a distillery (“craft” or otherwise) that isn’t really a distillery at all, just more of a brand pretending to have a distillery, and the booze is coming from a much larger commercial distillery…then who knows. Sure, they may have bottled the relatively small amount they sourced, but the source probably produced a pretty big batch from whence that small batch came, so how small of a batch is it really?
  • If your small batch bottle is a well-known brand and came from a big company and you see the stuff piled high everywhere, often on sale, that’s a pretty big small batch you’re looking at.
  • If your small batch bottle came from a big company and fits into a brand’s line-up neatly between the entry-level expression and higher-priced, more exclusive/elusive ones, then, yes, the batch is smaller, relatively speaking, when compared with the huge batch that makes up its entry-level expression. But if the brand doesn’t offer up much info on how many bottles were in the batch, then it’s a little hard to say just how large or small that small batch is.
  • If your small batch bottle proudly states that this booze was made with this and that and that by the time they got done bottling it all, there was only X number of bottles (with X feeling like a pretty small number in the grand scheme of things), then you’ve got yourself a known-quantity, actually small batched bottle of booze.

This helpful guide, despite its glaring lack of accuracy, probably wasn’t all that helpful. The point is, the term “small batch” is mostly a marketing term. In some cases, yes, it is an accurate and mildly helpful descriptor…but it’s still mostly a marketing term. Four Roses Small Batch Kentucky Straight Bourbon falls somewhere between the fourth and fifth point on the above list. They make less of the Small Batch than they do of their Yellow Label, so yes, it is a smaller batch. While they don’t mention how many barrels go in to each “small batch” bottling, they do provide info on what kind of barrels make up the batch. This is especially interesting in Four Roses’ case because of their unique technique of using ten different recipes to create their bourbons. The distillery uses two different mashbills (one more heavily ryed than the other), and five different yeast strains which give the spirit five different base flavor profiles. To separate itself even further from its bourbon-making brethren, Four Roses ages its whisky not in multi-storied rickhouses, but in single story warehouses, which means all the barrels, regardless of their final destination are subject to more or less the same external influences over the course of their maturation. Four Roses, at least at the present time, blends bourbons from four of the ten available recipes to create its Small Batch expression. Two of the recipes used are the high-rye (35%) mashbill, the other two, the lower-rye (20%), and two of the yeast strains are used – one each for each mashbill.

The Nose:  A softly vibrant nose packed with a heady array of sweetness. Lots of caramel, orange-tinged caramel, burnt caramel, vanilla caramel and coconut cream caramel if there is such a thing. Nice fruit notes as well – tart apple and juicy tangerine. There’s a bit of crystalized maple syrup and kettle corn around the edges. The rye is present but not as strong as I expected, showing up as warm rye bread and candied ginger.  The spice notes are relatively mild, dried orange peel, cinnamon candies, and resinous wood.

The Palate:  Great, creamy, almost viscous mouthfeel. Lots of sweetness carries over from the nose, with much more rye and spice joining all that caramel. Toasted, cracked rye berries and burnt rye toast join vanilla bean and spiced oranges. More corn on the palate as well, sweet corn ice cream and salted popcorn. Oaky, earthy spice notes of cinnamon stick, clove, ginger, and white pepper pick up steam heading towards the finish.

The Finish:  Lengthy and mouth-watering. A few rye notes linger, but mostly nutty toffee, vanilla extract, burnt popcorn, and barrel spice.

Thoughts:  Great Bourbon. The soft fullness of the nose surprised me as I was remembering and expecting something a bit more muscular, but there’s such an inviting sweetness there, it’s hard to resist. The palate manages all that sweetness well while adding more zing. The transition from the nose to the palate feels a little disjointed in that the rye and spice take such a drastic step forward. It works, though, so that’s a small complaint amongst the cheers. While I obviously like this quite a bit sipped on its own, Four Roses Small Batch is also one of my favorite bourbons over ice. I routinely see this for $25-$30, which makes it a great buy. Definitely recommended.

Four Roses Small Batch Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey, +/-2013

45% ABV

Score:  86

The Casks v.2.0

Home, sweet home...

Ah, so it appears I haven’t disappeared after all. Sorry for the hiatus. Once again, real life reared its beautiful head and offered up some far more important things to do than write about whisky. This time around, the important thing just happened to be a small, old building that my wife and I purchased to keep our family and all our crap in. Getting our family and all our crap from the old small, old building to this new, slightly less small, old building was also important and surprisingly took up a little bit of time. In many ways, it was a bit of a lost summer. Indeed, there was about a five week period where I’m not sure I drank any alcohol at all, let alone whisky, though why anybody would go through a house-hunt and subsequent house-buying completely sober is beyond me.

In any case, I am now back at it once again, hopefully with a little more gusto than I’ve been able to muster up over the last year or so, but perhaps not. I’ll make no promises. Life is filled with many more important things than whisky, and while I can’t think of any off the top of my head, I’m sure something may come up in the near future to slow things down around here again, but until then, here’s more of the same old stuff jazzed up with a new look…

Knob Creek Kentucky Straight Bourbon – Reivew

 

photo1 (11)Back when I knew very little about whisk(e)y, Knob Creek Bourbon held a special place in my heart. Even then, I liked whisky quite a bit, but mostly for all the wrong reasons. I enjoyed whisky’s ability to intoxicate (in moderation, of course) and I embraced whisky’s literary endorsements as some kind hall pass when my enjoyment of whisky’s ability to intoxicate surpassed the aforementioned moderation. If Faulkner, Hemingway, Twain, and the immortal Hunter S. Thompson spoke highly of whisky, well, then, wouldn’t reeking highly of whisky seem somewhat sophisticated? The flaw in my logic (granted, there were many flaws, but for the sake of this post, bear with me) was that I was mostly drinking cheap whisky. Grant’s and Old Crow were staples, along with the intermittent bottles of Heaven Hill which I bought solely because of the Hüsker Dü song, “The Girl Who Lives on Heaven Hill”. I did, however, know that occasionally a special occasion demanded stepping up and buying a better bottle of booze. A visit from an old friend, celebrating the end of a school year, a birthday, every once in a while, I splurged, and in the early to mid 90′s, more often than not, that splurge was on Knob Creek. In 1992, Knob Creek made its debut alongside Booker’s, Baker’s, and Basil Hayden’s, the four making up Jim Beam’s “Small Batch” line. At the time, the bottle shape, graphic label, and black wax top made for, at least to my eyes, a formidably unique looking product, the high proof adding to the allure as well. I remember appreciating the higher quality, but I also remember thinking it was a rather strong ride on its own and usually poured it over several ice cubes.

Beam’s introduction of its Small Batch Collection was an important event in the life of bourbon. After stumbling through the 60′s, 70′s, and most of the 80′s, bourbon began showing faint signs of life in the wider market at the start of the new decade. Maker’s Mark’s initially risky luxury positioning of a booze style few thought luxurious seemed to have staying power, and stalwart brands like Wild Turkey began releasing barrel proof and single barrel bottlings. Beam entered the fray with arguably the first “line” of widely available, top-shelf bourbons and all four brands are today, still very popular whiskies. Sure, you’ll hear serious bourbon geeks roll their eyes about these four, but let’s be honest, one thing whisky geeks are really good at is rolling their eyes and forgetting that the vast majority of whisky drinkers don’t care what they think. Ask a normal, respectable bourbon drinker for a short list of their favorites and chances are one of the Small Batch Collections bottles makes the cut.

According to Beam’s Small Batch website, the idea was to make bourbons that harkened back to the pre-prohibition traditions of bourbon-making. I suppose back when the line was launched, that was a clever (and brief) way of saying, “we’ve spent the last couple of decades dumbing down our product, trying to snare drinkers who don’t want to drink bourbon no matter what we do to it, and it hasn’t worked out, so now, screw that crap, we’re going back to making good bourbon.” Today, all that prohibition marketing stuff fits in nicely with bourbon’s surge of popularity and the accompanying popularity of all that nostalgic prohibition stuff. Speaking of marketing speak…Knob Creek – the bourbon was named after Knob Creek – the creek which is a small stream in LaRue County, Kentucky. Abraham Lincoln lived on a farm along this creek from the age of two until he was seven (thank goodness Abe moved around a lot in his life, quite a boon for several state’s tourist boards.) In creating the brand, Beam and its master distiller at the time, the mighty Booker Noe, chose the Knob Creek name as way for the bourbon to honor and represent the values and character of ol’ Abe. That’s an admirable sentiment, but it does seem a bit of a stretch to pick a cool-sounding name of a creek that Abe Lincoln reportedly nearly drowned in once and somehow tie the ethical character of one of the most complex figures in American history to a bourbon, but what do I know, I’m no marketer.

I do know that Knob Creek is a 100 proof, nine year old, Straight Kentucky Bourbon Whiskey . It’s described on the label as being a “small batch” whiskey, but seeing as it is a fairly ubiquitous bottle these days, either the small batch size is rather large or there are A LOT of small batches being made. The mashbill for Knob Creek is the more or less standard Jim Beam recipe of 76% corn, 13% rye, and 10% malted barley. It’s been a while since I’ve had a bottle of this one, aside from the crumbly, hard wax cap, I have to say I very much enjoyed having it on my shelf again.

The Nose:  Breakfast bourbon…maple syrup, orange slices, a little red fruit jam on slightly over-toasted toast. After the initial sweetness, there are touches of burnt sugar and earthy vanilla bean. Pretty oaky with both the fresh-cut and polished variety, along with lots of cinnamon, some soft clove, and a little dried star anise. A bit of burnt popcorn and barrel char are found in the background. A bit of water calms the oak and bitterness and, surprisingly, brings out nice spiced apple cider notes.

The Palate:  Initially, there’s more of that maple syrup and orange tinged sweetness from the nose, but that’s quickly subsumed by a big, slightly bitter wave of woody spice. There’s lots of tannic oak here in the form of both cut wood and barrel char. Quite a bit of vanilla, cinnamon stick, drying clove, bitter star anise, unsweetened chocolate, and more burnt popcorn towards the end. Water works quite well here, simply smoothing things out and toning down that bitter, oaky spice.

The Finish:  Long, and quite tannic, slightly astringent, and drying. A bit of caramel sweetness hovers, but mostly it’s oak, unsweetened chocolate, clove, and char through to the last.

Thoughts:  Still a very decent bourbon despite its mildly challenging flavor profile. This is definitely a oaky bourbon, and often teeters on the edge of being a little too oaky, but I feel like that’s been Knob Creek’s modus operandi since day one. There’s a consistency throughout a glass as well, with the wood and bitter spice playing a large role from the nose through to the finish. It’s sip-able and enjoyable at strength, but I think it really shines with a bit of water which helps quiet some of those over-eager, sharper-edged notes. At around the usual retail price ($30-$35 …even $40/a bottle), I think there are similar to better bourbons out there for the money, but for a higher proof whiskey with a somewhat unique profile, Knob Creek is still a decent buy. I last picked up a bottle for $21, which is a terrific value. Recommended.

Knob Creek Kentucky Straight Bourbon, +/-2013

50% ABV

Score:  85

 

The Exclusive Malts 1999 North Highland 14 Year Old – Review

ExMalts_NHighland1999

*Thanks to SF and the good folks at Impex Beverages for the sample.

Buried somewhat shallowly in the whisky industry, there is a…what shall we call it, a practice? A concept? A technique? Something called “teaspooning”. Basically, teaspooning consists of adding a little bit of another distillery’s whisky to a cask of single malt whisky. Ostensibly this is done so the cask cannot be sold or bottled as single malt whisky because it now contains single malts from two distilleries. So…for example, say a big company, let’s call it Grant Wilma & Daughters, owns two distilleries – Glen Helheim and Inexorable Park. Throughout the warehouses of these two distilleries, there’s bound to be a few casks that just did work out. The whisky is perhaps not bad, but it strays too far from the house style and is too anomalous for the company to use or to want to slap the distillery’s name on it. Then let’s say an independent bottler comes to Glen Helheim looking to buy casks. They’re not necessarily worried about selling a distillery name, they’re more concerned with selling a unique whisky, or possibly creating a special blend. They decide to buy a teaspooned cask, an oddball Glen Helheim which has a bit of Inexorable Park added to it, thereby nullifying it as a Glen Helheim single malt. The independent bottler might pay a lower price for a cask like this than they would for a certified 12 year old Glen Helheim, but they also do not have the built-in distillery name recognition that might help with sales.

That’s a simplified version of teaspooning. It doesn’t take much imagination to see how practical and a little silly the idea is. I’ve both read and personally talked to industry people who have assured me that teaspooning happens quite a bit and is an important practice for the world of independent bottling.  Then again, I’ve both read and personally talked to industry people who are skeptical as to whether or not the practice even exists…a minority opinion, but still. In the end, it doesn’t really matter if teaspooning is actually happening or not. In a sense, teaspooning is roughly a non-disclosure contract, a way for distilleries to sell off oddball casks and keep their name off the label at the same time. With distilleries currently keeping a tighter reign on stocks, teaspooning keeps an avenue open for independent bottlers to buy whisky. But is the practice actually necessary? Couldn’t one just sign a non-disclosure agreement to keep the distillery name hidden? After all, you’d never be able to taste the addition of such a small amount of whisky added, and I’ve not heard of any official oversight in the matter. Would it be possible to just say a cask has been teaspooned without it actually being so? Hell, maybe there’s some secret teaspooning ceremony in which hooded distillery masters take turns pouring small amounts of whisky into casks with quaichs made with feline calvaria, after which the casks are rolled away by nubile women dressed in gauzy attire. That seems unlikely…potentially awesome, but unlikely.

I mention this whole teaspooning thing because the The Exclusive Malts 1999 North Highland 14 Year Old reviewed here did not come from the North Highland Distillery. There is no North Highland Distillery. It is a single malt whisky, but The Creative Whisky Co. has purposely chosen to not disclose the distillery responsible for making the stuff. A small amount of poking around the interwebs turns up several assertions that it is indeed Glenmorangie whisky, but in the end it doesn’t really matter. Might this be an example of a teaspooned cask? Maybe, but again, it doesn’t really matter. It’s a single malt whisky from an undisclosed Highland region distillery, aged for 14 years in an ex-bourbon cask, and bottled at cask strength.

The Nose:  If it is Glenmorangie, there’s slightly more rugged nose than I usually associate with the distillery. Along with lots of floral clover honey, there’s vanilla bean ice cream and apricots, both juicy and dried (go figure). Subtle hints of cocoa nibs and much bigger hints of old, dried oak chips, and a wisp of slightly mineral, wet stone give a little earthy balance. There are fairly zippy spice notes of ginger powder, peppercorns, and clove. Adding water adds a bit more ruggedness, toning down the sweetness and bringing out more earthy spice and subtle minerality.

The Palate:  A nice, lively, honey-filled sweetness carries through much of the palate, with additional early notes of juicy orange, vanilla syrup, and tinned fruit cocktail. A building wave of complex oak and increasingly drying, tannic spice rolls in, more old dry oak plus fresh-sawn wood, un-sweetened chocolate, cinnamon, candied ginger, white pepper, and lots clove towards the end. Water very nicely calms that wave of spice and wood.

The Finish:  Medium length with the sweeter honeyed elements vanishing first, leaving dusty cocoa, clove, oak, and pepper to wrap things up.

Thoughts: Very enjoyable. If this is Glenmorangie, I wouldn’t say it has a classic Glenmorangie profile, but it’s not far off. It’s missing some of the fruit, the stone fruit, that I usually associate with the distillery, but it does have that lightly rugged and mineral, yet elegant and honeyed quality you often see in younger expressions. I very much enjoyed this at strength, at least until the end when things got a little too tannic and dry, but even then there was a complexity to keep things interesting. While I preferred the nose neat, water definitely helped the palate – especially towards the end – be more approachable. A nice whisky, certainly an interesting one for Glenmorangie fans…if it is Glenmorangie. Recommended.

The Exclusive Malts 1999 North Highland 14 Year Old, Highland (North, I guess), IB +/-2013

56.7% ABV

Score:  85