Whisky-Related Stocking Stuffers for 2017

What the hell, it feels like I was just writing last year’s stocking stuffer post a few weeks ago. Time flies when you’re having fun, I guess. In any case, here we are again, running headlong into that wonderful pagan holiday season that’s been co-opted by some other group that now gets upset if you don’t wish them a merry something-or-other. Far be it for me to give advice, but were I asked, I’d say stop worrying so much about what other people call your holiday and just give other people some gifts, or a card, or even just a warm smile. Fuck it, how about just giving each other a goddamn hug, is that too much to ask?

Yeah, probably. So we’re back to gifts then. Here’s my annual small but hastily carefully curated list of whisky-related stocking stuffers. Shop til you drop, you beautiful animals…

If you thought books would lead off this list, then you thought right. So many good books this year about spirits, cocktails, and music…and at least one about cats.

  • Fionnan O’Connor’s A Glass Apart is a beautiful tome devoted solely to Irish Single Pot Still Whiskey. While this book is relatively inexpensive, please be aware that halfway through you’ll find yourself in desperate, undeniable need of Redbreast, the cost of which is not included in the book price.
  • Moving away from whisky, Fred Minnick, that half human, half-researching/writing machine came out with a wonderful primer on rum this past summer. Rum Curious is a great guide to navigate the oft-confusing waters of this wide-ranging spirit. You’re allowed to drink whisky while reading this one.
  • One might say that there are enough books with cocktail recipes in them. Seriously, please…enough. Jim Meehan’s Meehan’s Bartender Manual is yet another that has recipes, but what makes this one so worthwhile is the insightful look at what makes a good drink, a good bar, and good hospitality.
  • Cats! There simply haven’t been enough books about whisky and cats…or really any, for that matter. Until now. After tackling such concrete, above-ground subjects like Bitters and Amaro, Brad Thomas Parsons decided to plunge into the dark, unmapped world of cats and their role in various distilleries in the aptly named Distillery Cats. Heady stuff, I’m sure.
  • These last two get pretty far away from whisky, but I can’t resist. Two great tomes came out this year that celebrate the vibrant music history of Minneapolis. Complicated Fun: The Birth of Minneapolis Punk and Indie Rock, 1974-1984 by Cyn Collins, and Got to Be Something Here: The Rise of the Minneapolis Sound by Andrea Swensson. You are welcome to drink whisky whilst reading these, too.

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

Speaking of Minnesota, back in 2016, the documentary Minnesota 13: From Grain to Glass was premiered, giving an engrossing, rather joyful look back at the Prohibition-era rise of Stearns County, MN as a hotbed of illicit whiskey distilling. The film was inspired by Elaine Davis’ book Minnesota – 13 Stearns County’s Wet Wild Prohibition Days. The documentary also highlights the grain-growing prowess of the state and how that’s helping the area become a craft whiskey hotspot. Just in time for the holidays, it’s once again available on DVD for your viewing pleasure.

Honestly, I’m tempted to just fill this whole list up with more books, but in an effort to appear diverse in my gift giving, I’ve found a couple of other things that might strike some fancies. This hydro-formed flask from AreaWare for example, is pretty cool, especially the white version. They also have an awesome axe-shaped bottle opener, because who wouldn’t want to open their beer with a fucking Viking battle axe? Nobody, that’s who.

Popchart lab seems to be a perennial inclusion, but that’s for good reason, they crank out some seriously good looking, and pretty darn accurate prints on a variety of subjects. This year, they have two new items to adorn your whisky-loving walls, a cartographical survey of Scotch, and a beautiful, engraved wood version of their Many Varieties of Whiskey print.

Master of Malt is a repeat offender on this list, too, for their wide and unique array of drinkable gifts. Once again, out of sheer laziness, I’m cutting and pasting their entry from last year’s Stocking Stuffer list. Along with their now-famous whisky advent calendars, they also have advent calendars featuring gin, bourbon, cognac, armagnac, tequila, mezcal, rum, vodka, and absinthe.They have a wide array of carefully curated (and rather affordable) tasting sets as well as blend-yer-own whisky kits, and personalized bottles. See? One stop shopping if you want a unique twist on the gift of booze.

I included the Bitter Housewife on this list a couple of years ago, but seeing as they’ve expanded their line, and their reach, I thought it wise to include them again. Along side their Aromatic Bitters, the Portland-based producer now produces Cardamom, Coriander, Grapefruit, Orange, and Barrel-Aged Bitters. And, while we’re at it, if you’re thinking of making an Old Fashioned of some kind with those bitters, and you’re in need of an appropriate garnish, these bourbon spiced cherries from Modern Mixology sound pretty damn good.

I also always seem to include glassware on this list because, let’s face it, drinking whisky out of a cupped hand or a red plastic solo monstrosity is about as uncouth as it gets. I will always recommend the Glencairn Glass as a great, all-around nosing/sipping glass, but I’ll be the first or maybe second to admit that sometimes a person doesn’t really need to be so analytical and formal about drinking a little whisky. Thanks to my Dad, who likes to stash these babies at various points around the US so he always has appropriate glassware at hand, I’ve grown quite fond of these weighty, elegant tumblers from Williams and Sonoma. Now that I think of it, while we’re on the subject of glassware and re-hashing previously posted gift ideas, and with Blade Runner Two out and about in theaters, seems only fitting to mention that you can still get these incredible (and incredibly expensive) glasses from Firebox. Just like Deckard used to drink from. “I need the old blade runner, I need your magic.”

Speaking of expensive, how about a bike frame made out of old barrel staves? Yeah, you heard me. It’s not exactly a new idea, the earliest bikes were made out of wood, and Craig Calfee has been making frames out of bamboo for quite a while, but these days carbon fiber gets all the hot press, while steel stays real for the purists. There are a handful of companies out there making wood bike frames, but to date, only one has partnered with the whisky world. Back in 2016, Portland’s Renovo started working with Glenmorangie to make this fairly stunning (and stunningly expensive) bike made partially from whisky barrels. 

Finally, this. While it seems a little disingenuous and poseur-esque to buy a t-shirt from someplace you may or may not have ever been, if that place didn’t want people to buy them, then that place shouldn’t have made them so awesome. Brooklyn’s esteemed metal bar, Saint Vitus would probably be a home away from home if it weren’t so far from home. Their signature T-shirt/hoodie design proudly proclaims, “Satan is Great, Whiskey is Super.” I can think of no better whiskey related clothing to wear to your next Christmas party.

That’s it, that’s all I’ve got this year…

Happy Holidays!

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Prizefight Irish Whiskey – Review

*Sincere thanks to Quaker City Mercantile for the sample.

With the category of Irish whiskey booming, it’s no surprise that people are trying to jump in at all levels. There are a lot of non-distilling producers out there at the moment, making up new brands or reviving old ones. The interesting thing is that, relatively speaking, there’s a fairly narrow range of whiskey to work with if you’re looking to buy sourced product. While Ireland has seen its own craft distilling movement begin, outside of the two or three big ones, there’s just one or two other distilleries that can supply the needed quantity to a company looking to launch a sourced whiskey brand. What that means is that it’s becoming difficult to convince consumers that a new brand is something special and worth the relatively high tag that most of them carry.

Prizefight Irish Whiskey is the brainchild of a man named Flor Prendergast. In an effort to find a unique angle for his product, he teamed up with Steven Grasse, the founder of Quaker City Mercantile and Tamworth Distilling. Together they formulated a plan for an Irish Whiskey with an American twist. The matured whiskey has been sourced from Ireland’s West Cork Distillers, and then brought to the United States to be finished in ex-rye whiskey barrels from Tamworth Distilling. The prize fight aspect with the two old-timey boxers sizing each other up on the Quaker City Mercantile designed label was inspired by a pair of Irish-American bare-knuckle boxers, Yankee Sullivan and John Morrissey, that were quite famous and/or infamous in the mid-1800’s. As tempting as it is, I will refrain from delving too far into the fascinating lives of Sullivan and Morrissey. Suffice it to say they really captured the desperate brutality and incongruous, casual criminality of the USA at the time. Not sure I’d want to feature the two on my whiskey label, but that’s just me.

Prizefight does not carry an age statement, but I think it’s safe to assume it’s relatively young. Though the label and marketing material doesn’t specify, I think it’s also safe to assume that this is a blended Irish Whiskey. West Cork has been around for close to 14 years. According to their website, all spirit is triple distilled only in pot stills, and is only made from grain grown in Ireland.

The Nose:  Initially, slightly hottish on the nose. There’s dark, floral honey, bittersweet chocolate, sticky vanilla bean, milky caramel, and dried apples. Behind that, a faint hint of yeasty bread and malty beery mash, along  with laundered cotton on the line. There’s sanded, integrated oak with cinnamon, subtle nutmeg and clove, and a dusting of black pepper. There’s not much evidence of the rye barrels here, perhaps just a faint spiciness.

The Palate:  At first, there’s a subtle, almost simple, sweetness – brown sugar, plain honey, and vanilla syrup with a bit of orange and passionfruit. Continued notes of dark chocolate and a hint of dried grass. The rye is more apparent on the palate with sharper, greener spice. The oak is weightier here and much more tannic. Lots of cinnamon, some of it hot along with crushed cloves, black pepper, and young ginger,

The Finish:  Sweetly drying or dryingly sweet, I can’t decide. Vanilla caramel, and honey balance cinnamon, peppercorns, and grippy oak.

Thoughts:  I found myself enjoying this. There’s a bit of youth and imbalance to contend with, the heat of the nose, and the relative emptiness early on the palate, but it makes up for that with an interesting flavor profile that combines complex sugars, and subtle earthier notes. The rye influence is slight, though more noticeable on the palate, mostly casting a subtly spicy shadow over things. This is a decent whiskey and a welcome, intriguing departure from the usual blended Irish fare, however, it seems pricey at around $45-$50.

Prizefight Irish Whiskey, +/-2017

43% ABV

Score:  82


Sources:

 

 

Single Cask Nation 2008 Glenrothes 8 Year Old – Review

Sincere thanks to JJY, JH, and Single Cask Nation for the sample.

Roughly seven years ago, as a new whisky blogger, I was asked to join a Whisky Roundtable of other bloggers. Back then, I have to admit that I was surprised there were more than a handful of whisky bloggers out there, and was even more surprised that someone was reading my blog and thought my opinion worthwhile enough to join any shape of table let alone round. It was a good group, and we managed to generate some lively discussion even if at times it was only amongst ourselves.

Two of my fellow roundtable bloggers have succeeded in trading in their amateur status and have gone pro. Jason Johnstone-Yellin and Joshua Hatton moved from blogging to establishing a private whisky society, to leading a bit of whisky tourism, and now finally to being full-on independent bottlers. Under the Single Cask Nation banner, their first retail available offerings hit the shelves in early 2017. I’m big fans of these guys and have shamelessly plugged their wares before. I been lucky enough to have tried several of their society-only bottlings, and looking back at all of them as a group, my overall impression is one of high quality. Their picks are pretty much always dynamic, vibrant whiskies that manage to both show off the distillery’s character and tell their own unique story. So with every reason to believe these chaps have stayed the course and selected good casks for these retail releases, I’m eagerly (if not a little slowly) diving into their range…starting with the one I’m most leery of. Glenrothes has never managed to wow me, and the younger ones I’ve tried have managed to not wow me even more than the older ones. This Single Cask Nation 2008 Glenrothes 8 Year Old was matured in a refill sherry hogshead that yielded 318 bottles

The Nose:  A fairly bracing nose of youthful malt and sherry. A tempered sweetness is full of malt syrup, dark orange blossom honey, and candied spice cake fruit. Subtle, complex notes of both sugared and salted nuts, baker’s chocolate, slightly farm-y hay, and a hint of beery grain. There’s some youthful, rough oak along with warmish cinnamon, nutmeg, vanilla bean, and red peppercorns.  Adding a little water tones down some of that sweetness, integrates the oak and spice with the youthful sherried notes, and plays up the distillate character a bit more.

The Palate:  A lightly oily mouthfeel that quickly turns very zippy and numbing. There’s more honey here, a bit of tropical fruit, and more red fruits – brandied cherries, current jam, and those fruitcake nuggets. Evolving from the nose, a more saline nuttiness, a youthful rancio, and more pronounced dark bitter chocolate. Continued sharp, grippy oak, along with hot cinnamon, raw ginger, pepper, and clove. Water definitely tames the palate, and gives the sherry influence, oak, and spice a bit more space to show off.

The Finish:  The sweetness fades somewhat quickly, leaving more numbing and mouth-watering slightly savory notes of tannic oak, salt, spice, and grain.

Thoughts:  My initial thoughts on seeing this one were, “a young Glenrothes? Ambitious…risky, but ambitious.” As I mentioned, Glenrothes’ somewhat funky character rarely knocks me out, and the younger expressions I’ve tried usually feel under-realized and harsh. This one manages to reign in that funkiness with lively oak and spice, and balanced sherry influence, and still finds a way to be proudly youthful by showing off a bit of the distillate character. At strength the nose is sweetly complex and interesting, the palate bold and and a little reckless. A little water toned down the palate nicely, but also quieted an expressive nose a bit. Overall, a deft, confident pick from a mildly challenging distillery that manages to showcase the spirit, the cask, and the youth all at the same time.

Single Cask Nation 2008 Glenrothes 8 Year Old, Cask #10763, Speyside, IB +/-2016

56.3% ABV

Score:  84

 

Kilbeggan Single Grain Irish Whiskey – Review

*Sincere thanks to Kilbeggan and Savona Communications for the sample.

So…Kilbeggan. Believe it or not, here we have another distillery with a long up and down history. Actually, Kilbeggan’s long up and down history is one of the longest histories in all of whiskey distillery history-dom. Its history is also, as far as distillery histories go, a steadfastly Irish one. A man named Matthias McManus founded a licensed distillery on the Kilbeggan site in 1757. McManus’ son took over for the father, but was later actually executed by the Crown for his part in the Society of United Irishman and the lead-up to the 1798 Irish Rebellion. In 1797, the McManus family sold a large stake in the distillery to the Codd family. While the Codd family experienced early success in the whiskey trade, a popular temperance movement begun in the late 1830’s slowed the distillery’s progress. In 1843, a man named John Locke purchased the now-failing business from the Codd family, and renamed the site the Locke Brusna Distillery. Locke is credited with righting the proverbial ship, but the greatest expansion and success came at the hands of Locke’s wife, Mary Anne Locke, who took over the business when her husband died. Mrs. Locke was reportedly a formidable business person, creating trade deals and upping exports of a whiskey that quickly gained the reputation of consistent high quality. Under her guidance, production more than doubled in less than three decades. Irish whiskey’s popularity was soaring in the last quarter of the 1800’s, and thanks to Mary Locke, Kilbeggan shared in those glory days. And then Irish whiskey ran headlong into a multi-faceted mess that nearly wiped out the industry for good.

Some of the mess had been brewing for a long time. Ireland’s whiskey industry was firmly rooted in tradition. Irish distillers generally recognized and cherished the quality of whiskey made from malted and unmalted barley and produced in pot stills. And while it was produced in Ireland, they considered the grain whiskey made in Coffey stills to be inferior. The Scots on the other hand, were pretty excited about Coffey stills and grain whisky and by the end of the 1800’s, Coffey stills and grain whisky were helping blended Scotch eat up some of Irish whiskey’s market share. In the early 1900’s both Irish and Scottish distillers turned to the Crown to settle the argument of what type of stills could distill whiskey. The Crown decided that whiskey could be produced in either Coffey stills or pot stills. This was a blow Irish distillers, but bigger challenges were looming.

Beginning in 1914, World War I made exporting very difficult. Two years later when the Irish Uprising began, many distilleries were damaged or “repurposed.” The Irish Civil War followed, and after that, a fierce trade war with the UK weakened Irish whiskey even further. Prohibition was the final nail in the coffin, effectively wiping out a large chunk of the industry’s biggest export market. After Prohibition, many distilleries held on for dear life over the next several decades, but it was a losing battle. According to Alfred Barnard’s The Whisky Distilleries of the United Kingdom, there were 28 distillery’s in Ireland in 1887. By the early 1970’s, there were only two.

Back at Kilbeggan, Mary Locke’s sons had been given control of the distillery in the early 1900’s, and when they both passed away in the 1920’s, ownership was passed to Mary Locke’s granddaughters, Florence and Mary Hope. These two sisters inherited a distillery at a time when no one really wanted to inherit a distillery, and after 20 years of struggle, they decided to sell the business. A Swiss syndicate’s effort to buy the distillery resulted in an almost unbelievable debacle that’s worthy of its own post. Suffice it to say that a corrupt politician named Quirke was involved as were sneaky Russians and criminals, and there were public trials and the whole thing nearly shook the Irish government to its core. The distillery itself limped along and kept making whiskey through it all, but by 1954, customers had fled the brand and the shaky management and finances forced it to close.

The Locke Brusna/Kilbeggan distillery had been a very important part of the Kilbeggan community. Rather than abandon the site and let it fall into complete ruin, a group of locals kept up both the distilling license and the distillery equipment. By the early 80’s, the distillery had been turned into a museum. In the late 80’s, John Teeling converted an old industrial alcohol plant in Cooley into a whiskey distillery, and purchased the Kilbeggan site. Over the next couple of decades, Teeling’s Cooley distillery helped revitalize the Irish whiskey category. The old Kilbeggan plant was also pressed back into service, and starting in 2007, began producing spirit again as a smaller, boutique distillery. Teeling sold Cooley to Beam Inc. in 2011, and then in the beginning of 2014, Beam was purchased by Suntory. Today, Kilbeggan serves as the symbolic home of Beam Suntory’s Irish Whiskey family, with the former Cooley line of whiskeys now falling under the umbrella of the Kilbeggan Distilling Company.

Until recently, one of the more interesting whiskeys in Cooley’s line-up was the Greenore 8 Year Old single grain. Beam or Beam Suntory has opted to ditch the Greenore name and place its single grain whiskey under the more familiar Kilbeggan name. Even more recently, they decided to drop the age statement and replaced the 8 year old with this one, the Kilbeggan Single Grain Irish Whiskey. The whiskey was created as a tribute to the town of Kilbeggan, as a way to celebrate the distillery’s and the town’s history and passion for whiskey-making. It’s a no-age-statement whiskey distilled from 94% corn and 6% malted barley that’s been matured in ex-bourbon barrels, and then finished in a combination of ex-bourbon barrels and ex-fortified wine barrels.

The funny thing is, though, that the Kilbeggan distillery is only outfitted with pot stills and certainly doesn’t have the capacity to produce the amount needed for this type of broadly distributed, entry-level expression. So this Kilbeggan expression that honors Kilbeggan’s distilling past isn’t actually made in Kilbeggan. Furthermore, after reading up on all this history, there seems a bit of irony in honoring the town and the distillery by releasing a Coffey still distilled single grain whiskey, the very type of whiskey Irish distillers had little respect for in the 1800’s and one that ended up contributing to the downfall of Irish industry in general. But whatever, marketing is marketing. Drawing a bit more attention to the town of Kilbeggan and its long history and association with whiskey is not a bad thing. Although, It would be nice to see the official “literature” paying more attention to the contributions of the Locke women throughout its history. Right. Enough rambling, on to the whiskey…

The Nose:  A light-hearted nose that’s compromised and buried a bit by some initial solvent-y notes. When you get past that, there’s fresh grain, malt syrup, vanilla wafers, and a little honey. Subtler notes of mixed fruit jelly and juicy, dark red grapes. Smooth and sanded oak that’s just a little sharp, and hints of cinnamon, vanilla bean, and toasted coconut round things out.

The Palate:  More sugared than the nose, but also a little more substantial. There’s both malt syrup and vanilla syrup, along with more honey and light brown sugar. The fruit notes are more citrus-y on the palate. A little bittersweet chocolate and salted nuttiness adds depth. Like the nose, the oak is young and sharp, fairly tannic and grippy, but it does manage to show some restraint. Spice notes of cinnamon, ginger, vanilla bean and black pepper lead to the finish.

The Finish:  Honey and cereal milk quickly give way to a lingering wave of grippy oak and those spices from the palate.

Thoughts:  Years ago, I was an unexpected fan of the Greenore 8 Year Old. I found that one a pleasant, sweet but balanced, easy drinking single grain. I do find some of that same appeal in the Kilbeggan Single Grain, though it comes across as younger and sharper edged. There is a youthful heat to contend with, but once past that it’s a fairly balanced, straightforward whiskey. It’s hard to say what influence the finishing in wine casks has had, perhaps that slightly more complex fruit on the nose. This is fine over ice, but for me works better in cocktails. All in all, a decent young whiskey that, at around $25-$30, is a good value and provides an interesting alternative to the usual Irish blends.

Kilbeggan Single Grain Irish Whiskey, +/-2017

43% ABV

Score: 81


Sources:

 

 

 

 

 

 

https://www.kilbegganwhiskey.com/the-whiskey/

 

 

Tanqueray London Dry Gin – Review

If you’re wondering how a stalwart, classic London Dry Gin got a French-sounding name like Tanqueray, wonder no longer. The distant relatives of Charles Tanqueray, who founded the original Tanqueray distillery, relocated from France to England in the late 1600’s. There…I guess that’s pretty much it. Apparently, these early, ex-French Tanquerays were a devout bunch, and spent the next century in the service of the church. As it so often does, all that clergy-ing eventually took a toll on the younger generations, and apparently drove Charles and his three brothers to drink, or at least drove them to making drink. In 1830, in the town of Bloomsbury, the Tanqueray brothers established their gin distillery. Charles seems to have been the driving force behind the venture, and there’s evidence that suggests that his early product was one of the first, non-sweetened, clean-spirited, juniper-forward London dry gins ever produced. By the mid-1800’s the family “brand” was experiencing  success both at home and as far abroad as Jamaica.

Tanqueray Gin became even more successful at the hands of Charles’ son, Charles Waugh Tanqueray who began work at the distillery in 1867. Charles Jr. quickly expanded the family gin’s export range, and most importantly, oversaw a merger between Tanqueray and fellow London dry gin powerhouse Gordon’s at the very end of the 1800’s. As a result of this deal, the Tanqueray brand was dedicated to the US market, which is still its biggest market today. In 1922, the Gordon-Tanqueray Company was swallowed up by Distillers Company Ltd. (DCL), a little outfit made up of off-brand Scotch like Johnnie Walker.  DCL of course went on to be purchased by Guinness in the ’80’s, which eventually morphed into the huge juggernaut we all know and love named Diageo.

The first major hiccup in Tanqueray’s ascendency came during World War II. In 1941, the distillery was bombed in an air raid and was nearly wiped off the map. One of the only production elements to somehow survive the carnage was an old still, which was repaired and thrust back into service once the distillery was re-opened. In 1948, the brand introduced the now-iconic green bottle, and nearly 10 years later relocated its production, old still and all, to what was called the Goswell Road Distillery. In 1989, production was moved once again, this time to two separate locations. The parent company’s Cameronbridge Distillery had been re-tooled to produce neutral grain spirit* along with grain whisky, so it was now responsible for producing all of Tanqueray’s base spirit. The botanical distillation was moved to a different location in Basildon. Not long after, Guinness wised up and decided to just put the entire production process of Tanqueray, including that battered old still, under one big Cameronbridge roof. And that is where the brand continues to be produced today.

Tanqueray is somewhat unique amongst its peers in that it’s generally known that the recipe consists of only four botanicals – angelica root, coriander, licorice, and of course juniper. The standard Tanqueray London Dry Gin is found pretty much anywhere potable alcohol is sold in glass bottles. The brands line-up also consists of Tanqueray No. 10, Tanqueray Rangpur, and a couple of “limited edition” bottles, Tanqueray Bloomsbury, and Tanqueray Old Tom.

The Nose:  All juniper, all the time. There’s juniper berries, juniper needles, hell, there’s sappy, sawn juniper branches. The suggestion of lemon oil, faintly furniture polish-esque, hangs in the background. Outside of that, there’s candied fennel, and a faintly dusty, woody, herbal note that’s probably Angelica Root. Well in the background, are subtle, barely there hints of coriander and cardamom. There’s also a lot of juniper, did I mention that?

The Palate:  Hottish, and again full of juniper, but less overbearing than the nose. The juniper is sharp and woody on the palate. There’s still a hint of citrus but it’s more subtle.The coriander and fennel, both a little stronger now, are joined by the suggestion of baking spices, cinnamon, ginger, and faint fine ground pepper.

The Finish:  Yep, you guessed it, juniper. There’s also a bit of citrus pith, a little ginger, and a faint lingering hint of that peppery baking spice.

Thoughts:  Well, there’s no doubt Tanqueray and its big, straightforward, juniper-centric flavor profile should be considered a classic London Dry Gin and a veritable pillar of the gin industry. However, for me, the near singular emphasis on the juniper is a bit of a drawback. I love juniper-y gins, but I love them when they have more a bit more depth and varied complexity. To my taste, Tanqueray falls a little short on both counts. That’s not to say this isn’t a well-made, classic spirit, it is, but in this style and in this price range, I think I prefer Beefeater and Bombay Original.

As gin is usually a cocktail spirit, here’s how I thought this one held up in a trio of classic drinks…

In a Gin & Tonic:  Bold , bright, fresh, and crisp. Probably where I like Tanqueray best. Then again, you’d better like juniper-y G&T’s.

In a Martini:  For me, this one is too straightforward, harsh, and overpowering in a martini. Sharp, snappy and strong, a Tanqueray martini is certainly a bold drink, but it lacks a bit of finesse and class in my book.

In a Negroni:  Tanqueray makes a good Negroni, though again, that juniper emphasis can take a bit of complexity away from the other ingredients. The strong ABV and flavor profile create quite a duet with the Campari, but the vermouth can feel a little left behind.

Tanqueray London Dry Gin, +/-2017

47.3% ABV

*What the hell is the difference between “neutral grain spirit” vs. “grain whisky” you ask? Neutral grain spirit or grain neutral spirit is basically a distillate made from grain that’s been distilled to such a high proof (at least 95% alcohol by volume) that there’s very little flavor left in it. It’s then used in things like vodkas, gins, and liqueurs. Grain whisky on the other hand, is distilled to a much lower proof, retaining a significant amount of grain character, and being matured in oak casks until needed. Grain whiskies are typically used in blended Scotch as a less expensive, less concentrated in flavor, filler whisky for the old school blenders.


Sources:

  • Broom, Dave. Gin: the manual. London: Mitchell Beazley, 2015. Print.
  • “Cameronbridge Gin Distillery (Tanqueray Gordon).” Difford’s Guide,
  • Coates, Geraldine. Gin: a toast to the most aromatic of spirits. London: Prion/Carlton Limited, 2015. Print.
  • Hayes, Annie. “Tanqueray: a brand history.” The Spirits Business, 27 Mar. 2017,
  • Stephenson, Tristan. The Curious Bartenders Gin Palace. London: Ryland Peters & Small, 2016. Print.

 

Tattersall Amaro – Review

On May 24, 2011, after it had passed both the Senate and the House, Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton signed the bill entitled Chapter 55, HF 1326/SF 918 into law. “Chapter 55, HF 1326/SF 918” might have been a perfectly acceptable name for a bill to politicians and lawmakers, but, obviously, it lacked a bit of punch and clarity for rest of us, which is why it became more popularly known as “the Surly Bill.” Surly Brewing, a forerunner of Minnesota’s craft brewing scene, led a popular, well-supported campaign to change some of the state’s fusty liquor laws so that craft beer producers could sell their products on site. The bill’s passing lead to an explosion of craft breweries and tap rooms, creating one of the more vibrant beer scenes in the country. But that’s not all this piece of legislation created. There was also a small provision that lowered the yearly distillery license fee from $30,000 to $1,000. Suddenly, along with a rampaging beer scene, Minnesota also saw the birth of its own craft distilling movement.

Thanks to co-founder Dan Oskey, Minneapolis’ Tattersall Distillery was one of the more hotly anticipated distilleries and cocktail rooms to open as a result of all that politicking and lawmaking. Oskey is a renowned bartender in the Twin Cities, having created hugely successful bar programs at the Strip Club and the always fun Hola Arepa. Along with that, he’s also created a clever retail kit for making homemade bitters and a successful, delicious line of sodas. Tattersall’s line up is prolific, diverse and is obviously the product of a veteran bartender who really wants to make his own versions of everything he uses. While most new, small distilleries followed the perfectly acceptable path of producing and selling maybe two to five products, often gins, vodkas, young whiskeys, and maybe even something a little less traditional, Tattersall currently has over 20 different spirits and liqueurs on their roster. These are available not only in the distillery’s Northeast neighborhood taproom and throughout the great state of Minnesota, but are now distributed in 15 other states as well.

In the coming months, I hope to profile this distillery in more detail, and continue to take a look at their diverse line. For now, to start with, here’s the Tattersall Amaro, the distillery’s take on the classic Italian herbal liqueur.

The Nose:  Herbal and sweet. Quite a bit of licorice-esque notes, wormwood, star anise and candied fennel. The sweetness is full of dark, floral honey, a little elderflower, and perhaps even a touch of light molasses. There’s a nice integrated gentian bitterness throughout. In the background, there are subtle notes of lemon verbena and cardamom,

The Palate:  Sweet, but less syrupy and cloying than other amari. Star Anise, fennel, clove, dark floral honey are strongest, with a little citrus zest as well. Just as complex as the nose, perhaps even a little weightier and earthier. The gentian from the nose does carry over nicely. There’s a tannic quality about this, a “dryness” that’s very appealing.

The Finish:  Gentian, light mint, more star anise and licorice candies, along with a little clove, and a slight tannic grippy-ness at the last.

Thoughts:  Quite good. This is a relatively lighter amaro, not so much in its complexity and flavor profile, but in its concentration and in its sweetness. The relative toned-down sweetness is definitely welcome. On the other hand, the lighter concentration has occasionally left me wishing this had a bit more punch and strength, especially sipping neat or on ice. That said, I’ve really enjoyed playing with the Tattersall Amaro in cocktails, I think that’s where it’s at its best. The reduced sweetness and lighter feel makes it a great supporting character along side gins and whiskeys. Good stuff that has me looking forward to trying other Tattersall bottles.

Tattersall Amaro, +/- 2016

30% ABV

*Bonus serendipitous cocktail! Perhaps my favorite use of this so far came in a what-the-hell-why-not riff on a Boulevardier using Tattersall Amaro, Campari, and the Penna Dutch Malt Whiskey from New Liberty Distilling. Herbal and complex, with surprising coffee and unsweetened cocoa notes, the amaro worked great with the fiery, young roasty malt, and reigned in the sugary side of things. I’ve made more than a few of these in last couple of months.


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Wild Turkey Kentucky Straight Rye Whiskey – Review

Back in 2012, Wild Turkey and parent company Campari announced that stocks of the beloved, high-quality, low-cost Wild Turkey 101 Rye were running low and the expression was to be heavily allocated. Predictably, it didn’t take long for pretty much all of the 101 Rye to disappear. I have first hand knowledge of this because I spent the first 2/3 of 2012 preoccupied with a cross-country move, and the last 1/3 of 2012 discovering that there was no more Wild Turkey 101 Rye anywhere in the vicinity of Minneapolis, MN.

While the 101 rye took a few deep breaths and pulled itself together, Wild Turkey and Campari released the Wild Turkey 81 Proof Kentucky Straight Rye Whiskey to help fill the void. This one reportedly uses the same minimum rye mashbill as the 101 does, but what that mashbill is exactly, isn’t exactly public knowledge. Some online sources claim the recipe is 51% rye, 37% corn, and 12% barley, whereas Gaz and Mardee Regan’s 1995 tome, The Book of Bourbon, lists a 65% rye, 23% corn, 12% barley mashbill. A few years ago, Chuck Cowdery received confirmation from Eddie Russell and Wild Turkey that their rye mashbill contained more than 51% rye, but nothing more specific than that. So who knows, and possibly more importantly, who really cares? It is also, as far as I know, matured in barrels made with a very Wild Turkey-esque #4 char, the highest standard char in the industry. Before it flew off the shelves in 2012, the 101 Rye was on shelves at the obscenely good price of around $20-$25. It has since returned to the shelves, but is now clocking in around $40, proving to everyone that Campari and Wild Turkey have mastered the technique of disappearing an expression, slotting in a new, lesser expression at the same price to take its place, and then reintroducing a revamped version of the original expression with a price double what it once was.

The Nose:  Quite sweet and more than a little sharp. There’s generic honey , vanilla syrup, and Kosher orange slice candies initially, but there’s also a good amount of inadvertently fermented apple cider. The rye is subtle to such an extent that I wonder if I’m actually drinking a rye whiskey – just a faint, toasty spiciness and hint of pickled ginger. Behind that, sturdy oak notes with cinnamon and ground pepper. Unfortunately, there’s also a hot whiff of solvent that floats over it all.

The Palate:  Hot-ish and sharp, but much better than the nose. Still fairly sweet with honey, vanilla syrup, and juicy orange. The rye is more pronounced, peppery and sharp with hints of well-toasted bread. Quite a bit of oak for what I’m assuming is a younger whiskey. There’s edgy, grippy tannins, crushed peppercorns, raw ginger, cinnamon, and a bit of barrel char towards the end.

The Finish:  Hot, spicy, and astringent. Citrus and honey fade quickly leaving cinnamon, tannic oak, vanilla extract, and barely there hints of rye.

Thoughts:  Pretty disappointing, really. This is a rye that’s dominated not by rye, but by harsh youth, sweetness, and oak.  The nose is just too full of solvent-y notes to make me think more highly of the whiskey. The palate is ok, perhaps a little over-oaked and a little underwhelming, but ok…sadly, you have to get past the nose first. For that reason, I would not recommend this as a sipper. It works alright in cocktails, but it’s both edgy and a little dull – there are definitely better, more expressive bourbons and ryes in this price range ($20-$25). Hell, Old Overcoat…er, Overholt Rye comes across as more smooth, and balanced than this one for around $8 less a bottle. Fairly (or barely) average stuff.

Wild Turkey Kentucky Straight Rye Whiskey, +/-2017

40.5% ABV

Score: 72


Sources:

  • Cowdery, Chuck. “Wild Turkey 101 Rye Is Back, Sort Of.” The Chuck Cowdery Blog, 26 Nov. 2013, chuckcowdery.blogspot.com/2013/11/wild-turkey-101-rye-is-back-sort-of.html. Accessed Sept. 2017.
  • Cowdery, Chuck. “Secret Mash Bills Are Stupid.” The Chuck Cowdery Blog, 14 May 2014, chuckcowdery.blogspot.com/2014/05/secret-mash-bills-are-stupid.html. Accessed 1 Sept. 2017.
  • Regan, Gary, and Mardee Haidin Regan. The Book of Bourbon and Other Fine American Whiskeys. Shelburne, VT: Chapters Pub., 1995. Print.