Redbreast Sherry Finish Lustau Edition Irish Single Pot Still Whiskey – Reviewed

I was going to write something snappy about St. Patrick, but frankly, I’ve kind of had it with the guy. We can all be pretty sure that he didn’t do most of the stuff he’s famous for, and the stuff he actually did do certainly doesn’t warrant millions of people pretending they’re Irish for a night, wearing stupid hats, drinking bad green drinks, and barfing on the streets. So instead, how about a little trip to southern Spain?

Why Spain on this Irish-y holiday? Because the Irish-y whiskey in question here has some pretty close ties to Spain, specifically Jerez, and Jerez’s namesake wine, Sherry. The use of sherry casks have always figured into the maturation of Redbreast whiskeys. Towards the end of 2016, the brand decided to add a whiskey to their core line that highlighted the use of these sherry casks and lo, The Redbreast Sherry Finish Lustau Edition Irish Single Pot Still Whiskey was born. The Lustau edition is comprised of single pot still whiskies between 9 and 12 years old, which have then been finished for a year in new Spanish Oak butts from the Paez Lobato Cooperage These casks have been “seasoned” with Oloroso sherry from Bodegas Lustau. The “seasoned” part of the equation means that the new casks were filled with Oloroso, sat a while, and then had the Oloroso dumped out to make room for the Irish whiskey.

Oloroso is a dry sherry, but in a way, almost a magically dry one. Unlike Fino and Amontillado sherries, Oloroso does not engage in any biological maturation. It has been fortified to a higher ABV, too high for flor, the film of yeast and bacteria that forms over the Fino, Amontillado, Manzanilla, and Palo Cortado styles during maturation and gives those wines their characteristic flavor. Instead, along with the additive notes provided by the casks, Oloroso is matured by oxidation. This process leaves Oloroso higher in alcohol than most sherries, and with elevated glycerol levels which leaves it with an ethereal sweetness despite it being typically a very dry sherry. In some ways, in terms of maturation Oloroso is the sherry that has the most in common with whisky…perhaps that is why ex-Oloroso or Oloroso-seasoned casks are commonly used to age whiskey.

For its primary maturation, Redbreast uses a combination of ex-sherry casks and ex-bourbon casks. Reportedly, all the ex-sherry casks used for Redbreast are made from Spanish Oak, which adds a different flavor to a whiskey than American Oak does. This is important to note because it’s a somewhat common misconception that all sherry casks are made from Spanish or European Oak. Indeed, the sherry industry has long used the less expensive American Oak for a majority of its maturation, with the Spanish Oak being reserved for the higher end expressions. For the Lustau edition, the intent was not just to increase the percentage of sherry cask-matured whiskey, doing so might have shown off more of the Spanish Oak and adding more oak was apparently not what they were after. The use of new, freshly seasoned casks to finish the whiskey was a way showcase the integrated Lustau Oloroso flavor profile more.

The Nose:  Very Redbreast-y, and yet…not, or maybe more so. This is more expansive than the somewhat taut 12 year old, but it doesn’t necessarily scream sherry, it’s still very much in the Redbreast style. Quite fruity but with less tropical fruits; baked apples, rhubarb pie, macerated dates, plump raisins, and a little tinned fruit cocktail. Behind that, there’s sweetened grain (think cereal milk) vanilla syrup, black walnut ice cream, and a little fruitcake. The oak is subtle, lightly tannic and a little dusty, but the spice is not, solid baking spices, warm cinnamon, vanilla bean, ground nutmeg, ginger root, and fine ground pepper.

The Palate:  A lightly creamy, oily mouthfeel which picks up on what the nose was laying down. A bit more sherry influence is evident here. There’s still nice baked fruit notes, with a bit more citrus present as well, pithy orange, stewed stone fruits, and more baked, slightly sour apple. Subtle youthful rancio notes, floral honey, toasted walnuts, along with vanilla fudge brownies, more fruitcake, and a little toffee. Sturdy, well-integrated, grippy oak and a powerful but balanced wave of spice; more cinnamon, clove, candied ginger, ground pepper and a hint of fennel.

The Finish:  Longish, initially with baked fruits and citrus, but riding out on notes of caramel, vanilla bean, oak, and baking spice.

Thoughts:  Excellent, perhaps predictably so, given that it’s Redbreast, but excellent all the same. The sherry influence is present throughout, but grows wonderfully from nose to finish. It’s a balanced, integrated, complex shading on the standard 12 year old’s flavor profile. They’ve done a masterful job of maintaining its “Redbreastness” and creating a unique expression that differs enough from the others in the core line to make it well worthwhile. Sherry casks have always been an integral part of Redbreast, the Lustau Edition is a celebration of that. Highly, highly recommended.

Redbreast Sherry Finish Lustau Edition Irish Single Pot Still Whiskey, OB +/-2016

46% ABV

Score: 90


Sources:

  • Baiocchi, Talia. Sherry. Berkeley: Ten Speed Press, 2014. Print.
  • Luyten, Ruben. “Emilio Lustau.” SherryNotes. N.p., 22 Feb. 2017. Web. Mar. 2017.
  • Luyten, Ruben. “Oloroso.” SherryNotes. N.p., 02 Oct. 2014. Web. Mar. 2017.
  • “Redbreast.” Single Pot Still. N.p., n.d. Web. Mar. 2017.

 

Egan’s 10 Year Old Single Malt Irish Whiskey – Review

eganssinglemalt10yoSincere thanks to SE and Nova Marketing for the sample.

When one hears of an old brand being “revived,” it’s usually accompanied by a sharp wince and weary sigh of “haven’t we heard enough of this kind of thing?” All too often, a brand’s ancient history is inflated, conflated and romanticized, its current revivers claiming ties to the past that are in actuality far looser than they’d like you to believe. Suffice it to say, it gets old. With Irish whiskey’s recent explosion, it seems like there are a lot of new brands out there, and along with all these new brands, there’s a lot of marketing and dubious backstories to wade through as well.

So, I have to admit, when I first head of Egan’s 10 Year Old Irish Single Malt Whiskey, my initial thought was that someone had purchased an old obscure brand and were just slapping a label on some sourced booze. Even I, someone who relishes mocking bad marketing, was feeling a little exhausted at the thought of picking on this one. You can imagine my surprise and mild delight when I found out that Egan’s has a very solid, workman-like, documented history, and to top it all off, the revivers of the brand are actually Egans themselves. Instead of being skeptical, and exhausted I now find myself unexhausted and almost eager to learn more.

Patrick Egan founded P. & H. Egan in 1852, in Tullamore which is pretty much smack dab in the middle of Ireland, and grew quite successful brewing ales and stouts. By 1896, Patrick’s sons, Henry and Patrick Jr., joined the business and began expanding it into one of the largest companies in the Midlands. By the early 1900’s P. & H. Egan was apparently selling pretty much everything you could think of, importing and exporting, providing warehouse services and even dabbling in the hotel trade. A review of sorts from around that time details a mammoth operation including “ironmongery and furniture,” groceries, a saw mill, a grist mill, a smoke house, tea and tobacco stores, and the centerpiece of it all, the brewing and bottling division. Along with its own brewed brands, P. & H. Egan served as bottlers for Guinness and Bass, and a wide variety of spirits and liqueurs. After WWII, they began bottling whiskey from both Jameson and Paddy and even dipped a toe into the soft drink trade. By the end of the 60’s, the company began to spilt up, its brands began to disappear, and the P. & H. Egan name faded a bit from memory.  That brings us to the present, or at least to within a few years of the present. In 2013, a group of fifth and sixth generation Egan’s revived the family company name and hoisted themselves right back into the whiskey business.

Just as they were in the late 1800’s, today’s incarnation of P. & H. Egan are basically independent bottlers – they are not distilling their own malt. While there are quite a few Irish single malt brands hitting the shelves lately, there are only a couple of distilleries in Ireland capable of supplying this quantity of whiskey to independent bottlers. This makes it fairly easy to wager a guess as to where this particular whiskey came from. Cooley is thought to be responsible for much of the sourced single malt on the shelves today, so that would be the leading candidate here. Certainly Egan’s flavor profile hews somewhat close to that distillery’s Tyrconnell expression. These days, with the Irish whiskey category booming, the tricky part is figuring out what, if anything, makes these relatively similar sourced whiskeys unique and worth the price. Presumably, even within the narrow range of the stock to choose from, a brand like Egan’s tries to create their own flavor profile. In this case, they’ve also chosen to bottle their whiskey non-chill filtered at a refreshingly hefty 47% ABV. Outside of that, there’s no additional cask finishing or wood trickery to set it apart further.

The Nose:  A bright and rich nose of complex sweetness. This is expressive in a lot of fruity ways; tart Pink Lady apples, juicy grapes, overripe cantaloupe, pineapple core. There’s a lot going on there. There’s also floral honey, vanilla syrup, and subtle hints of juicy fruit gum and Sweetarts. Along with all that, there are notes of toasted grain, ginger snaps, and sugared donuts as well as light oak notes, hot, almost candied cinnamon, and a touch of black licorice candy.

The Palate:  On the palate, this moves away from the fruit towards the grain, wood, and spice. There’s still a nice mix of tropical fruit, melon, and green grapes, but there’s also more malt syrup, roasted grain, vanilla bean, and baker’s chocolate. The oak is polished, and nicely grippy with good dose of baking spices, cinnamon, ginger, cardamom, a little clove, and a little anise.

The Finish:  Medium long with honeyed, malty sweetness, more baking spices, and lingering oaky tannins.

Thoughts:  Quite nice. This has a very light-hearted, after dinner, dessert whiskey appeal to it. While the nose is sweet, it’s not overly so, and has a complexity that keeps things interesting. The palate is more straightforward, but the slightly higher ABV gives it some heft and a very pleasant, creamy mouthfeel. There are some slightly rough edges, but this manages to seem bright and crisp, and slightly older than its years and rich all at the same time. At around $50-$60, I’m on the fence value-wise. It’s more expensive than, say, Tyrconnell, but it strikes me as a bit richer and a little more interesting. Ultimately, a good whiskey with a good story behind it. Recommended.

Egan’s 10 Year Old Single Malt Irish Whiskey, +/-2016

47% ABV

Score:  85


Sources:

The Quiet Man 8 Year Old Single Malt Irish Whiskey – Review

TheQuietMan_8yoSingleMalt

*Sincere thanks to Common Ground PR and Luxco for the sample

According to the Irish food and drinks organization, Bord Bia, Irish Whiskey exports increased by 8% in 2016. Exports are projected to double by 2020, which, seeing as 2020 will be another presidential election year here in the embarrassing old U.S. of A., and we’ll all be drinking quite heavily by that time, seems like a pretty sound projection. Obviously, the Irish whiskey category is booming. In 2013, there were four functioning distilleries on the Island, today there are 16 with another 14 in various states of planning/building. One of those 14 is the distillery planned by the company behind The Quiet Man Irish Whiskeys, Northern Ireland’s Niche Drinks. Their planned 500,000 liter/year, Derry-based facility will reportedly focus on single malt production and will also feature a visitor center. Niche Drinks had hinted at distillery plans back in 2013-14, but now all the applications have been approved and construction has begun on the site which is located in the former British Army Barracks at Ebrington. They hope to have spirit running as soon as 2018.

In the meantime, Niche’s The Quiet Man whiskeys continue to be a sourced product now widely available in several markets. As with most independently bottled Irish single malts, the supplier is rarely specified, but fairly easily identified. The conventional wisdom is that Cooley is the likely supplier here. The Quiet Man 8 Year Old Single Malt Irish Whiskey is, as its name strongly suggests, an 8 year old single malt, matured in ex-bourbon barrels, and then finished for an unspecified amount of time in first fill bourbon barrels. While this is a certainly a departure from just bottling the 8 year old stuff straight from its original barrels, one would think that the possibly brief visit to some new first fill bourbon barrels wouldn’t add a pronounced difference to the flavor profile.

The Nose:  Lots of fruit and a heftier alcohol zing than you’d expect from an 80 proof whiskey. The fruit is tart and fresh, fresh squeezed lemons, slightly under-ripe bananas, Granny Smith apples, and a little pineapple. Floral honey, sweetened malt, and vanilla extract lurk behind that. The oak and spice are relatively subtle, sanded boards, dried orange peel, vanilla bean, and a little cinnamon. As this opens up, the fruit gains a welcome bit of sweetness and a hint of toasted coconut emerges.

The Palate:  This drinks a little hotter than 80 proof as well, it opens with a slightly tannic, peppery burst. The fruit is less complex here with more lemon and acidic citrus. There’s more honey as well, plus some nutty toffee and malted milk balls. The spice and wood are much more prevalent, grippy, edgy oak, strong notes of vanilla bean, clove, cinnamon, and fine black pepper.

The Finish:  Brown sugars fade quickly leaving slightly bitter vanilla bean, tannic oak, clove, cinnamon and black pepper.

Thoughts:  A decent but somewhat unadventurous young whiskey. There’s a nice, crisp, fruity complexity to the nose, but the jump to the sharper, oaky, spicy palate is kind of a steep one. There’s a bit more weight than the 40% ABV would suggest, but it comes across a little edgy and youthful. Might the time spent in the newer casks given this some of its slightly raw-ish bite? This is ranging in price from $35 – $55. At the low end, perhaps you’d find it a worthwhile contrast to the similarly priced Tyrconnell 10 Year Old. At the high end of that range, I don’t think it’s unique enough to warrant the price.

The Quiet Man 8 Year Old Single Malt Irish Whiskey, Irish single malt, IB, +/-2015

40% ABV

Score:  82


Sources:

 

 

 

Yellowstone 2016 Limited Edition Kentucky Straight Bourbon – Review

yellowstone-2016-le-bottle-image*Sincere thanks to MH and Common Ground PR for the sample.

In his 2004 book, Bourbon Straight, Chuck Cowdery wrote about the Yellowstone brand, “There is no justification for a bourbon to be this bad…The venerable Yellowstone name deserves better. It should be put out of its misery.” Harsh words for an apparently harsh whiskey. In those days the Luxco-owned Yellowstone was a consummate bottom shelf dweller, and there it languished until 2015 when, instead of being put out of its misery, it was given a new lease on life. In the beginning of that year, Luxco partnered with the Limestone Branch Distillery, acquiring a 50% stake in the business. The ol’ “big company gobbling up a smaller one” doesn’t often make for a true feel good story, or even a very interesting one, but in this case, it actually does.

Limestone Branch was founded in 2011 by two Brothers, Stephen and Paul Beam. If that last name sounds just a wee bit familiar it’s only because it’s arguably the biggest name in all of Bourbon. The two are descended from Minor Case Beam on their father’s side. They are also apparently related on their mother’s side to the legendary distiller J.W. Dant. Hang on, now, this is where it starts getting good. At the end of the 1800’s, ol’ Minor Case owned a distillery called M.C. Beam Distillery in Gethsemane, KY. In 1910, he sold his namesake distillery to J.W. Dant’s son, J.B. Dant who was a very successful whiskeymaker in his own right. J.B. Dant needed another facility to increase production of his very popular brand named…Yellowstone Bourbon.

According to Mardee & Gaz Regan’s The Book of Bourbon, the Yellowstone brand was created in 1872.  The story goes that a salesman returned from a trip out west, including a visit to a brand new National park, and convinced J.B. that naming his bourbon “Yellowstone” would give it wide appeal throughout the reconstructing and growing country. As an aside, it’s interesting to note that Luxco owns the Yellowstone brand, which was apparently created with the widest possible market in mind, and they also own the Rebel Yell brand which was apparently created to appeal to a very specific disgruntled Confederate market. Early on, the production of Yellowstone was contracted out to a company named Taylor and Williams. Eventually, in 1903, the bourbon’s success led to Taylor & Williams’ incorporation with Dant as its president. After our failed experiment with prohibition, Dant & Co. built another distillery to handle their production. In 1944, this distillery and the Yellowstone brand was bought by Glenmore. In 1992, Glenmore was purchased, along with Schenley Industries, by Guinness and was morphed into United Distillers. The Yellowstone brand was soon after sold off to Heaven Hill and the Glenmore Distillery was closed. Heaven Hill turned around and sold Yellowstone to the David Sherman Co., which in 2006 was renamed Luxco. Whew, now that I’ve got all that off my chest…

This brings us back up to 2015 and Luxco’s 50% stake in Limestone Branch. Along with their investment, Luxco moved the Yellowstone brand moved from their stable to Limestone Branch with the brothers Beam being put in charge of reviving their family heirloom. Luxco’s investment has allowed the Beam’s distillery to expand, and in 2015, they began distilling and maturing Yellowstone bourbon according to an actual family recipe. Sadly, as we all know, bourbon takes a while, so to whet our appetites while we wait, Limestone Branch has dived into Luxco’s sourced stocks and released a pair of limited editions and the lower-priced, less limited Yellowstone Select. The 2015 Limited Edition was made up of 12 year old rye-d bourbon, 7 year old rye-d bourbon, and 7 year old wheated bourbon with the 7 year old whiskeys being “finished” in the emptied 12 year old barrels. The 2016 Yellowstone Limited Edition is comprised of both 12 year old and 7 year old rye bourbons which have been finished for a few months in new barrels that have been toasted rather than charred, a practice common to wine-making but rarely used in modern whiskey-dom. So there you have it, an adrift, bottom shelf brand put back in the hands of its heirs…pretty cool. Limestone Branch and Luxco have done a great job with the packaging and labeling of Yellowstone ,and I’m happy to say the whiskey in the bottle lives up to this great story.

The Nose:  A bright, complex mix of sweetness, spice and oak. Juicy citrus, tangerines perhaps, fig paste, milky caramel, and a cherry-esque bit of Cheerwine. Behind that, vanilla icing and orgeat syrup, with a dusting of cocoa powder. The rye is prominent, cracked grain and toasted, with a hint of banana bread in the background. The wood is strong and upfront, but not aggressive, sawn boards and polished oak with dryish tannins and spice notes of Vietnamese cinnamon, ground nutmeg, vanilla bean, clove, and a faint whiff of mint.

The Palate:  The sweetness steps aside here to let wood and spice show off more. Initially quite peppery – black peppercorns, slightly smoky – with robust, tannic oak. Carrying over from the nose, there are still juicy orange notes and a bit of cherry cough syrup. This is followed by vanilla syrup and dark, dark chocolate. Sturdy rye notes, again toasted and grainy, stand out and lead to another swell of wood and spice. The oak is rugged and grippy, hefty but again, not overpowering. Lots of tingly spice, cinnamon, black pepper, ginger, clove, and mint.

The Finish:  Quite long and filled with rye, oak and spice. A nice hint of dark fruit and vanilla sweetness tempers it all, but mostly its just a wonderfully lingering mingle of rye, oak, and spice.

Thoughts:  Man, oh man, this is pretty great. It seems to just get better and better, as it moves along. The nose is quite nice, with its unexpected sweetness and balance. The palate turns things up a notch and gets weightier, but still manages to be balanced and composed. And then the almost endless, heady finish practically leaves one begging for more. This one is made for sipping, and the 50.5% ABV suits it well. Adding water actually did very little for it, bringing out more alcohol on the nose, and giving the palate and finish some unwanted sharp edges. Like I thought with Luxco’s Blood Oath II, as good as this is, the $100 price tag seems high. However, the stuff is apparently flying off the shelves, so Luxco and Limestone Branch have judged their market correctly. In any case, excellent bourbon, highly recommended.

Yellowstone 2016 Limited Edition Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey, sourced whiskey, +/-2016

50.5% ABV

Score: 88


Sources:

  • Cowdery, Charles K. Bourbon, straight: the uncut and unfiltered story of American whiskey. Chicago, IL: Made and Bottled in Kentucky, 2004. Print.
  • Cowdery, Chuck. “Luxco, Limestone Branch Partnership Will Return Yellowstone Bourbon to Its Roots.” The Chuck Cowdery Blog. N.p., 02 Dec. 2014. Web. Jan. & feb. 2017.
  • “Luxco Acquires an Interest in Limestone Branch Distillery.” Luxco. N.p., 05 Jan. 2015. Web. Jan & Feb. 2017.
  • “105 Years of Tradition in Yellowstone® Limited Edition Kentucky Straight Bourbon.” Luxco. N.p., 05 Oct. 2015. Web. Jan. & feb. 2017.
  • “Yellowstone Limited Edition Kentucky Straight Bourbon. Luxco. N.p., 06 Oct. 2016. Web. Jan. & Feb. 2017.
  • Regan, Gary, and Mardee Haidin Regan. The Book of Bourbon and Other Fine American Whiskeys. Shelburne, VT: Chapters Pub., 1995. Print.

Ohishi Sherry Single Cask Whisky, Cask #1257 – Review

ohishi_sherrycask

*Thank you to SF and GRC Imports for the sample.

The Ohishi Sake Brewery and Distillery is located on the Japanese island of Kyushu, well south and east a bit from the island’s largest city of Fukuoka. According to most sources, Ohishi was founded in 1872, and has remained a family owned business from the beginning. The island of Kyushu is generally regarded as the birthplace of the Japanese spirit called shōchū, so it makes good sense that Ohishi is best-known for its nihonshu (sake) and shōchū production. However, the company has recently received a bit of attention for its exported rice whiskies, which borrow from the world’s of both nihonshu and shōchū, and from western whisky.

Sake, or I should more accurately say, nihonshu (Sake means simply “alcohol” in Japanese,) is produced by fermenting polished rice. Unlike barley or corn, rice does not include the enzyme to convert its starch to sugar. To aid in this process, a mold called koji (Aspergillus oryzae) is added prior to the introduction of the yeast. The production of shōchū is similar in its pre-distillation stages to that of nihonshu, even going a step further by using three different styles of koji to produce different styles of shōchū. As with western whisky, shōchū comes in a range of qualities, with the least expensive and basic being distilled multiple times in column stills, and the higher-quality products being distilled only once in pot stills. Most shōchū is bottled clear and unaged at around 25% ABV. There are a few barrel-aged shōchūs that clock in at a more whisky-ish 40-45%, and it’s here that things become even more fascinating than they’ve already gotten, and they’ve gotten pretty damn fascinating, haven’t they?

The Japanese government seemingly regulates shōchū a little haphazardly, but the defining regulatory characteristic seems to be based on the spirit’s color. If a shōchū picks up too much color during maturation, it must be filtered down to a much lighter color. This filtering also tends to strip away much of the flavor gained in maturation. Japan’s regulations for whisky apparently don’t include a mature spirit made with rice, so a producer either filters the product down to qualify as a shōchū or tries to sell a un-categorized, less marketable spirit. In an interesting recent article from Wine & Spirits, the importers of two other rice whiskies on the US market, Kikori and Fukano, apparently realized that while these matured shōchūs didn’t qualify as whisky in Japan, they would be considered so in the USA. Lo and behold, fairly a newish style of whisky has emerged.

The Ohishi whiskies are distilled in a fairly shōchū-esque manner, though I haven’t found whether they are column-distilled or pot-distilled. They are produced from a mash made up mostly of glutinous rice called Moshigome, with roughly a third being Gohyakumangoku, a common sake rice, grown on the distillery’s estate. The Ohishi Sherry Single Cask Whisky has been aged for an unspecified amount of time in ex-sherry casks, most likely American oak, but that, too, is not specified.

The Nose:  Very nice, vibrant, sherried nose. This is redolent of darker sherries, Oloroso, and Palo Cortado. There’s even a bit of PX, and Vin Santo. Lots of raisin, sticky dates, caramel, and chocolate covered cherries. Youthful rancio notes of candied almonds and peanut-y toffee, with just a hint of fruitcake. Subtle polished oak with strong, dense cinnamon, and a faint whiff of sandalwood.

The Palate:  A little thinner than the nose lets on, but still full of rich sherry notes, dried fruits, nuts and spice. The fruit is much less juicy here, darker and more concentrated. Likewise, the nuttiness is more toasted, with hints of burnt sugars. That sandalwood incense quality from the nose is here as well, though subtle, just a faint perfumed dryness that swirls around. The oak is more prominent, swelling towards the end with mouth-watering tannins, hot cinnamon, clove, and a tinge of mint.

The Finish:  Lingering and more-ish. Dusty, tannic oak, burnt sugars, sandalwood, hot cinnamon, and clove.

Thoughts:  Very nice, at once expected and straightforward, and subtle and exotic. Not being sure of the age of this one, it strikes me as being on the younger side, though the sherry cask influence is fairly strong. From start to finish, the profile is somewhat upfront and simple, but there’s that subtle complex shading to the nuttiness and spice – that incense quality – that makes it an easy pleasure to sit and sip. Any rice influence here is very subtle. Perhaps there’s a faint bit of sake on the nose, but mostly this is all about the sherry cask’s influence on the spirit…and it influences it well. Recommended.

Ohishi Sherry Single Cask Whisky Cask #1257, Japanese rice whisky, OB, +/-2016

43.3% ABV

Score:  85


Sources:

Ohishi Brandy Cask Regular Whisky – Review

ohishi_brandycask*Thank you to SF and GRC Imports for the sample.

According to ricepedia.com, rice, corn, and wheat account for approximately 42% of the calories consumed by us humans. Rice itself is responsible for nearly 20% of calories gobbled up by all the people on the planet, with Asia accounting for a staggering 90% of that total. Increasingly, in developing and impoverished countries, rice has become such a crucial commodity that fluctuations in price or supply have the power to create serious societal chaos. Obviously, despite its fairly benign, ubiquitous, occasionally bland public persona, rice is a big deal. Corn and wheat are big deals as well, as is barley which usually sneaks into the top five grains of the world. Thanks to our seemingly unstoppable quest to get a little buzzed, throughout history people have also found ways of turning these precious grains into boozy beverages.

Since rice’s popularity is centered mainly in Asia, it’s no surprise that most of the alcoholic drinks made from rice come from Asia. Fermented rice wines like Sake, Raksi, and Tapuy account for the majority of these, but there are several distilled rice beverages as well. The most widely-known are probably Korea’s Soju, China’s Baijiu, and Japan’s Shōchū, though all those can also be distilled from other grains and sugars. These are, more often than not, unaged spirits, generally lower in alcohol than you’d expect a distilled product to be, and complete with their own set of varieties and traditions. Obviously, whisky is also made in several Asian countries. In Japan, their long tradition of making whisky has followed a very European path, using barely, corn and wheat. Recently, though, a few rice whiskies have landed on US liquor store shelves. These spirits use the production methods akin to Shōchū, and the maturation methods more like that of “western” whisky.

Ohishi is one of the more recent Japanese distilleries to make the jump across the Pacific Ocean to our bedraggled shores. Their Ohishi Brandy Cask Regular Whisky is made from mostly Mochigome, a glutinous Japonica rice, more commonly associated with the paste-like dessert mochi. A smaller percentage of Gohyakumangoku completes the grainbill for this whisky. Gohyakumangoku is one of the more popular sake rices and is known for producing a lighter flavor profile. The Brandy Cask whisky is aged for an undisclosed amount of time in ex-Cognac casks.

The Nose:  A fairly light spirit, in some ways whisky-like, in other ways, not so much. Initially, what comes through the most is a general sake note and…acetone. I’ve tried to find a more appetizing way to describe it, but acetone is the best descriptor. That said, it doesn’t necessarily smell like heavy solvent. It has the slightly sour, slightly floral quality of acetone without much of the solvent-y heat. There’s a honeyed sweetness and a subtle winey nuttiness as well, almost fino sherry-esque. Even more subtle are the hints of milky rice pudding and dusty rice flour. A bit of open time, the acetone blows off and is replaced by more sake notes.

The Palate:  A nice, slightly syrupy mouthfeel and a flavor that’s weightier than the nose, but still relatively light. More honey and crisp, tart apples and touches of Ginjo-shu sake. There’s a bit of caramel and orgeat syrup as well. The almond quality is less sherry-like here, a bit more toasted, There are some mild, youngish oak notes with hints of clove and anise towards the end.

The Finish:  Subdued with lingering light oak tannins, candied ginger, and toasted Marcona almonds.

Thoughts:  Interesting. While the nose is not really off-putting, its initial acetone quality doesn’t strike me as inviting. With a bit of time in the glass, it does become more so, and gains a bit of dimension. The palate is smooth and pleasant, but like the nose, it’s light and somewhat simple. The rice influence is subtle but present throughout. Like I said – interesting. It’s youngish, but smooth and relatively easy drinking, quietly refreshing over ice. Without much basis for comparison, it’s tough to say whether the quality and novelty of this makes it worth the $75 price tag.

Ohishi Brandy Cask Regular Whisky, Japanese rice whisky, OB +/-2016

41.6% ABV

Score:  79

________________________________________________________________

Sources:

Rebel Yell 10 Year Old Single Barrel Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey – Review

rebelyell_boxbottlefront
1973 Rebel Yell w/drum box. Photo courtesy of whiskeyid.com

*Special thanks to MH and Common Ground PR for the sample.

I have no idea how to write a review of Rebel Yell without addressing its racially charged name. The Luxco-owned line of whiskey takes its name from this high-pitched, kind of squealing, not-all-that-frightening tactic used by Confederate soldiers as they fought the Civil War in an effort to preserve their Southern way of life, which really just meant fighting for their right to buy, sell, overwork, abuse, and kill other human beings with gross impunity. Certainly it was a complex time, but the South’s secession was firmly rooted in its fervent support of the inhumane practice of slavery. The Confederate flag represents a group of people who thought slavery was a good thing worth fighting for. Likewise, the confederate “rebel yell” was a battle cry used in the Civil War by people who thought slavery was a good thing worth fighting for. While I’m sure there are a few (there’s always a few, aren’t there?) who find this criticism too politically correct and liberally codified, one needs look no further than Rebel Yell’s history to see that the brand itself knows its name is potentially divisive and offensive, and over the years, has tried to distance itself from its origins.

1973 Rebel Yell w/drum box Photo courtesy of whiskeyid.com
1973 Rebel Yell w/drum box. Photo courtesy of whiskeyid.com

According to the brand’s website, Rebel Yell was created in 1936 by a man named Charlie Farnsley who happened to be the mayor of Louisville at the time. He also happened to be the nephew of Alex Farnsley, who was Vice President and Treasurer of the rather newish Stitzel-Weller Distillery.  Mayor Farnsley reportedly wanted to make a bourbon especially for Southerners, and Uncle Alex was only too happy to supply the juice. Yes, you’re reading that correctly, Rebel Yell was initially made at the legendary Stitzel-Weller, right alongside W.L. Weller, Old Fitzgerald, and Cabin Still. For the first half of its life, the brand was purposely only sold in the south, with its label and paraphernalia adorned accordingly. For most of its existence, Rebel Yell’s front label featured a saber-wielding Confederate horseman riding into apparently righteous battle. The whiskey is touted as being something called “Southern Sour Mash,” and no small amount of space is used up declaring it “exclusively for the Deep South.” The verbage on the back of these old labels invokes the Battle of Chickamauga, scene of the Union’s most significant defeat. Even an accompanying box for early 70’s Rebel Yell was decorated to look like a regimental drum. Clearly, this whiskey had a target audience.

Late 60's ad. Courtesy of The Coopered Tot.
Pastoral ad from the late 60’s. Courtesy of The Coopered Tot.

An interesting aspect of all this is that while the bottles glorified the Southern warrior, some of the advertising of the 60’s and 70’s attempted to glorify a bit of peaceful, pastoral Southern hospitality. The ad at right conjures up Magnolia trees and beautiful women, insisting that they, along with hospitality, “belong to the South.” Magnolia trees are found in many places around the globe, and beautiful women make up approximately half the humans on the planet, so Rebel Yell was perhaps overstating their claim here. I’m sure it was a difficult task for the ad men of the time to somehow intertwine this peaceful image with that of the still-bitter, grudge-holding Confederate horseman. Another ad from that time, 1969 to be exact, was less bucolic, and playfully antagonistic towards Northerners. Leading off an ad by telling drinkers to not serve Rebel Yell to Northerners doesn’t sound like Southern hospitality to me, and making a big, somewhat non-sensical deal out of the whiskey being “unreconstructed” (see what they did there?) again sounds a little rancorous.

Late 50's ad. Courtesy of The Coopered Tot
1969, “unreconstructed” ad. Courtesy of The Coopered Tot

In any case, this long-standing marketing approach obviously worked well for Rebel Yell. In 1972, Stitzel-Weller, including Rebel Yell and its other brands, were sold to a huge company called Norton Simon which was famous for, among other things, Canada Dry, McCalls Publishing, and Hunt Foods. In 1984, it was decided to make this exclusively Southern brand less exclusive and allow it to be sold all over the country. According to Reid Mitenbuler’s “Bourbon Empire,” the owners recognized the divisive potential of their brand name, and in an effort to appeal more broadly, toned down the Confederate horseman, and dispensed with all the mentions of the old South and the Civil War. In the mid-80’s, Norton Simon sold it all again to United Distillers (that little Scottish outfit that eventually became Diageo), who quickly decided to export the brand internationally. In some cases the labels for the overseas bottles actually bore a Confederate flag instead of a horseman. The use of the that flag would not have played well domestically, but I suppose foreign ignorance of American history allowed for a more “romantic” view of that tendentious emblem.

In 1993, United Distillers closed Stitzel-Weller Distillery and transferred Rebel Yell’s production to their new Bernheim Distillery. In 1999, the brand was sold to the David Sherman Corporation which eventually became Luxco.  During this time, that discontented Confederate horseman was joined by a less regionalistic, yet still apparently rebellious cowboy who may have liked to raise his voice at times. Currently, there’s nary a mention of the Civil War or the old South on the bottle label, or on the brand’s website. What started as Farnsley’s exclusively Southern, defiant bit of Confederate patriotism, eventually wisely chose a far less contentious path. The rebel of today’s Rebel Yell has more in common with Billy Idol than with Billy Anderson, choosing denim, motorcycles, and open-face helmets over horses, sabers, inhuman subjugation, and Confederate gray. Nonetheless, despite this evolutionary shift away from the brand’s original message, the Rebel Yell name remains, and there will always be controversial aspects to it.

Ok, enough soapboxing. Let us put those controversial aspects of the name aside and check out what’s in the bottle. Luxco has long outsourced the production of Rebel Yell to Heaven Hill. While the recipe, or at the very least, exact production methods have changed from Stitzel-Weller to Bernheim to Heaven Hill, Rebel Yell is still a wheated bourbon (meaning the rye in the mashbill has been swapped for wheat.) For much of its more recent history, the brand has been more of a bottom-shelf dweller, but lately, Luxco has strived to change that. The line has expanded from a single expression to a group of seven whiskeys; two flavored things, the approximately four year old flagship Rebel Yell, the possibly older, higher proof Small Batch Reserve, a small batch rye, the American Whiskey, which is an interesting-sounding blend of bourbon and rye, and this relatively new Rebel Yell 10 Year Old Single Barrel. In general, there’s not much wheated bourbon out there at the moment. Makers Mark and Larceny are the two most visible ones, with Van Winkle, Weller, and Old Fitzgerald holding down the overhyped, impossible to find end of things. With that in mind, it’s good to see Luxco expanding and pushing this brand into more mature, higher-end territory. The 10 Year Old was “limited” to 2000 cases for its 2016 release, with that number doubling for its release in 2017.

img_2856The Nose:  Man…that’s a nice, strong, solid, mature bourbon nose. Lots of sugared sweetness; warm caramel sauce on vanilla ice cream, brown sugar, and little maple syrup as well. Less prominent notes of cherry cola and a little pineapple tangerine juice are tucked behind. The wheat shows up as it usually does for me, as stoneground wheat crackers, crisp and grainy with a little plain popcorn as well. Strong but balanced oak and spice notes, polished wood, bourbon vanilla bean, cinnamon, a little eucalyptus, and a bit of star anise.

The Palate:  Rugged and less sweet than the nose portends. The sugars are now a little burnt with nutty toffee, black cherry, and pithy orange. More notes of toasted wheat along with some blonde vanilla brownies. The oak is even stronger here, full of mouthwatering tannins, but as with the nose, it’s balanced and integrated. Lots of spice as well; vanilla bean, hot cinnamon, clove, menthol-y mint, and black licorice, with a little burnt kettlecorn leading to the finish.

The Finish:  A bit of brown sugar and corn oil, but mostly some lingering, nicely grippy oak notes, with vanilla bean, clove, mint, and a bit of barrel char hanging around as well.

Thoughts:  This is great bourbon, and welcome one at that, there just aren’t enough older, higher proof wheated bourbons out there. The nose initially hints at more sweetness than there actually is, but it also shows off the whiskey’s impressive, balanced complexity. The oak plays a central role, but not an overly dominant one, it’s integrated nicely throughout. This is a smooth, sippable delight at strength and those sturdy oak notes hold up well over ice As good as this is, the $50 price tag seems a little high, but perhaps that just where we’re at these days. Well built, expressive and delicious – definitely recommended.

Rebel Yell 10 Year Old Single Barrel Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey, Barrel #4744346, +/- 2016

50% ABV

Score:  87

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Sources:

  • Feldman, Joshua. “Rebel Yell – Past and Future.” The Coopered Tot. N.p., 21 Feb. 2015. Web. Jan. 2017.
  • Feldman, Joshua. “The Tragedy of Old Cabin Still.” The Coopered Tot. N.p., 13 Apr. 2014. Web. Jan. 2017.
  • Lippman, Linda, and John Lippman. “American Whiskey: A Visit to the Ruins of Stitzel-Weller and the Louisville Distilleries.” American Whiskey. N.p., n.d. Web. Jan. 2017.
  • Minnick, Fred. Bourbon curious: a simple tasting guide for the savvy drinker. Minneapolis: Zenith Press, 2015. Print.
  • Minnick, Fred. Bourbon: the rise, fall, and rebirth of an American whiskey. Minneapolis, MN: Voyageur Press, 2016. Print.
  • Mitenbuler, Reid. Bourbon Empire: the Past and Future of America’s Whiskey. New York: Viking, 2015. Print
  • “Rebel Yell.” Whiskey ID – Identify Vintage and Collectible Bourbon and Rye Bottles. N.p., n.d. Web. Jan. 2017.
  • Regan, Gary, and Mardee Haidin Regan. The Book of Bourbon and Other Fine American Whiskeys. Shelburne, VT: Chapters Pub., 1995. Print.