Clyde May’s Straight Bourbon Whiskey – Review

*Sincere thanks to Clyde Mays and Conecuh Ridge Distillery, Inc. for the sample.

Well, shit…where to begin.

Clyde May was an actual, real person. This is somewhat important to note because the bourbon world is full of people who actually were not really people. Ol’ Clyde was apparently an Alabama moonshiner and bootlegger of some renown from the 50’s through the 80’s. I think it probably comes as a shock to most of us that there even were renowned moonshiners and bootleggers from Alabama in from the 50’s through the 80’s, but that’s neither here nor there. Reportedly, what set Clyde apart was his attention to quality (that’s what usually sets moonshiners apart) and his “technique” of throwing a few apples in the barrel along with the spirit to mature and flavor things a bit. Mr. May was so renowned as a bootlegger that he was arrested for it in 1973. The brand’s legend goes that he set his still back up the day he got out of prison, but the brand’s legend would say that, wouldn’t it? It’s not nearly as exciting to say that a moonshiner saw the error of their ways and never condensed vapor through a copper worm again. That kind of penitent behavior doesn’t sell whiskey.

Clyde May died in 1990. His son Kenny May wanted to preserve his father’s illicit distilling legacy and in 2002, after creating the Conecuh Ridge brand, contracted out the production of some legal whiskey. How this preserves a moonshiner’s legacy I have no idea. This is where things get just a little nutty. The Wikipedia page for Conecuh Ridge states that the distilling of this whiskey was outsourced to Kentucky Bourbon Distillers, LTD. (KBD) but KBD didn’t actually start distilling their own spirit until 2012, which means that the Conecuh Ridge product was sourced from a source who had to go source it. Of course, the Wikipedia page for Clyde May/Conecuh Ridge also says that Watergater John Mitchell convicted Clyde May and then took over Clyde’s cell when Mitchell himself was convicted of Watergate stuff in 1974…which is just pure silliness, especially since Mitchell wasn’t convicted until 1975. But I suppose accuracy and honesty is in a bit of a tailspin here anyway so we’ll proceed.

So in 2002, some Conecuh Ridge whiskey is produced. Back then, their “Alabama-style” whiskey was a bourbon with apple flavoring added. A far cry from moonshine with actual apples tossed in the barrel, but whatever. That chemically flavored whiskey is still in the brand’s line-up today. In 2004, the Alabama legislature, dazzled by shiny marketing and presumably with nothing better to do, passed a joint resolution declaring Conecuh Ridge to be “Alabama’s Official State Spirit.” Alabama’s congress apparently didn’t see any irony in celebrating the state by honoring of a man it once convicted, with a whiskey made entirely in another state. Did I say entirely? That’s not entirely true. Conecuh Ridge claims to have sent tanked Alabama water to whoever was making the whiskey to use in the mash, so I guess technically a little Alabama got in there. Not all was rosy for Alabama’s Official State Spirit, though, a few months after its anointing, Conecuh Ridge had run into enough supply and distribution problems for the state-run liquor stores to stop carrying it on a regular basis. A few months after that, Clyde May’s son, Kenny, carried on the family tradition of running afoul of various liquor laws and was found guilty of several charges. As a result, Conecuh Ridge lost its distribution license and the Official State Spirit of Alabama could no longer be sold in Alabama. Interestingly, or perhaps predictably, there was some conspiratorial clamour about the now ousted Kenny May being set up and torn down by a former mayor and partner in a rival “Alabama” whiskey attempt called Redneck Riviera. It should surprise no one that this Redneck Riviera blended whiskey, which also was not produced in Alabama, went pretty much nowhere, so it’s a little hard to say what effect orchestrating a bust of Kenny May had on a competitor’s brand. Let’s move on.

Because of this unseemliness, the Alabama legislature, presumably with nothing better to do, tried to revoke Conecuh Ridge’s status as Official State Spirit. For unfathomable reasons this attempt failed, and the title stayed put. With Kenny May no longer involved, the brand and company cycled through several ups and downs and several ownership changes, at one point even being CEO’d by Wes Henderson who went on to found Angel’s Envy with his father, Lincoln Henderson. Conecuh Ridge filed for bankruptcy in 2007 and in 2009, the Alabama brand was purchased by an investor group from Texas. In 2014, it was restructured and refinanced as Conecuh Ridge Distillery Inc. which is now, according to the label on the bottle, based in Florida. So just to re-cap, Clyde May’s products are not made in Alabama and they are owned by a company called Conecuh Ridge Distillery which is not actually a distillery, and, being located in Florida, is nowhere near Conecuh Ridge, AL. There is no Conecuh Ridge distillery. The Official Spirit of Alabama has never been made in Alabama and has pretty much nothing to do with Alabama save for this mildly embarrassing history.

You gotta be kidding me…

That brings us to Clyde May’s Straight Bourbon Whiskey. To be fair, much of the aforementioned history doesn’t make it on to the label of this one, though perhaps not for a lack of trying. This bourbon has a very busy label, complete with faux stamp embossing, faux filmstrip around the neck, overlapping images, and at least five different fonts. There’s also a lot of misleading text that’s craftily vague in such a way that the brand could claim it’s not trying to be misleading. Right up on top, there’s a date, 1946, and the name Conecuh Ridge Distillery. Maybe that was the year that Ol’ Clyde set up his first still. but since we’ve already established that there’s never been a Conecuh Ridge Distillery, it’s really just a pretty meaningless date. Next up is some printed script, carefully crafted to look casual and fountainpen-esque, proclaiming “carefully crafted – Conecuh Ridge, Alabama.” This is just plain deceptive. It’s a blatant attempt to make it look like this whiskey is made in Alabama. It’s no secret there’s never been a Conecuh Ridge Distillery and the whiskey isn’t made in Alabama, so why include this? Below that there are some official looking spaces that look like there’s been more handwritten info filled in about the batch and recipe number. The thing is, it’s (big surprise) printed, not handwritten, and as far as I can tell, the same numbers are found on all bottles of the Clyde May’s Straight Bourbon. More meaningless info, more deception. Around the side there’s a slogan, “say watcha be & be watcha say” which just pretty much takes the fucking cake. If Clyde Mays Bourbon truly believed in saying what it was and being what it said, it would say in big bold letters “sourced bourbon from an undisclosed distillery that we try to pass off as being from a made up distillery that somehow honors the legacy of someone who is not really involved with the company in any meaningful way.” I suppose I should mention that the label does disclose that the whiskey is distilled in Kentucky and that the company is based in Florida, but it does so in accordance with the law, not in accordance with its fanciful hype.

I hate to make this much fun of a couple of guys and a brand of whiskey…well, “hate” is a strong word. I don’t enjoy making fun of a couple of guys and a brand of whiskey overly much, but the marketing and history of this brand is just ridiculous. The whiskey world is full of a lot of crap when it comes to backstories and labeling, but this one seems to take it to another level. Products like this are fair game because these days, with all the sourced brands and made-up distilleries, it’s pretty hard for a consumer to know what they’re actually buying. Trying to make a buck riding the bourbon boom is one thing, being this deceitful about it is another. Is the bourbon in this bottle good? Well, yeah, I guess it’s ok, no thanks to Conecuh Ridge “Distillery,” but, who cares? For what it is, a reportedly 5 year old bourbon, it’s way too pricey, basically, you’re paying for the brand image. To a certain extent, that’s always the case, but when the brand image is so spurious and contrived…why bother?

The Nose:  Bourbon-y but initially, also a little alcohol-y. Spiced oranges, overripe pears, orange blossom honey, caramel and a little butterscotch emerge after that initial hotness blows off. Lots of vanilla bean and vanilla syrup, with a bit of greenish rye grain coming through as well. The oak is strong, tannic and a little rough edged, with nutmeg, cinnamon, a little clove and a faint hint of fennel.

The Palate:  A little numbing and hot. At first, the sweetness on the palate is less complex and a little empty seeming; brown sugar and vanilla syrup with a bit of candied orange. The rye is more assertive here, more toasted and less herbal along with toasted pecans, dried vanilla beans, and baker’s chocolate. More strong oak notes, sharp-edged and grippy, with nutmeg, cinnamon, clove, ginger, black pepper, and a little burnt corn oil..

The Finish:  This finishes a little hot, too. Brown sugar and vanilla sweetness trails off quick leaving edgy oak and spice, and a little barrel char to hang around.

Thoughts:  Like I said, this is ok. It’s a slightly roughish five year old bourbon with a decent nose but a palate that’s a little blown out by the heat and the edginess of the wood. In other words, it would be a good sub-$20 bottle. Unfortunately, this is a $40 bottle of sub-$20 bourbon. A $40 bottle of sourced bourbon with a strange little history and some shady marketing. Skip it.

Clyde May’s Straight Bourbon Whiskey, +/-2016

46% ABV

Score:  80


Sources:

 

 

 

 

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


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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

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