Wednesday, December 28, 2011

An Education: The Balvenie Whisky Academy

As John Hansell says, “When it comes to whisky, education is key.” And the more I learn about whiskey the more I realize this is true. For someone to truly enjoy the beverage one needs to know about it. Not that a beginner cannot enjoy whiskey on a first time basis, but to continue enjoying it one needs to continually educate themselves on it. When education on any level ends, the consumer becomes complacent and the all of the reasons why whiskey is interesting in the first place is lost. Not to mention, just as Hansell drives home, when “the buyer purchases a whisky he (or she) will like, the retailer is happy, the distributor is happy, and the producer is happy. That’s why I have devoted my professional life to it.”

This is exactly why all striving whiskey enthusiast should be excited about the Balvenie Whisky Academy. At first glance, it is only natural to question any so-called educational experience promoted by a name brand. Yet, as I have delved into the whole experience, as it were, I have found that the Academy has really been made for the benefit of the consumers. The focus, though geared toward scotch drinkers, is not a simple advert to pull you in to drink Balvenie’s products; rather it is to teach people about scotch in general – from the history to the process to actually tasting. If more producers did projects like this, the whiskey world would indeed benefit in large. As as an added benefit to joining Warehouse 24, Balvenie's online site for the Whisky Academy, they will send you a booklet on Balvenie, as well as a pocket tasting notes book for your own use.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Old Forester Kentucky Straight Bourbon Reivew:

“We probably should be grateful that Old Forester is still around. If sales results were the sole criteria, it wouldn’t be, but something else is at work. Look at the label, the answer is there in the signature below the handwritten text: George Garvin Brown. He founded the Brown-Forman Corporation and the family dynasty that still runs it. It is comforting to know that even a giant company like Brown-Forman can be sentimental. Old Forester is still around because it is the product on which Brown-Forman was built.” - Charles K. Cowdery

Old Forester holds a special place in my heart. The week I turned 21 I felt the need to go out and buy some hard liqueur. So with absolutely no knowledge or idea of what I really liked I strolled into my local liquor store and scoured the rows of shelves for my birthday treat. Should I buy Scotch? Irish whiskey? Rum…? I really didn’t know the basic differences between any of them. Yet, I remained determined. Finally arriving at the bourbon aisle I decided it was best that I find my gift here since bourbon, I did know, was an American spirit. But what to get? I soon realized, however, it was less a question of what I wanted get and more of a question of what I could afford. Being a somewhat poor and hungry college student, I found that my options slowly dwindled. Wanting something “classic” without choosing the obvious choice, my hand passed over the bottle of Jack Daniels Old No. 7 and grabbed a bottle of Old Forester. “America’s first bottled bourbon,” It said on the label. Sounds classic enough to me! So there my friends is the legend, now how about the bourbon?

The quote from Chuck Cowdery above is dated almost 12 years now, so I don’t exactly know how Old Forester is selling now, but my guess is, even with the raise of interest in whiskey the last few years, Old Forester still ranks on the lower end of things. Either way I am glad that the bourbon is still around, because it is indeed a classic name with a unique history. 

In the late nineteenth century whiskey was generally sold to bars and grocers by  distilleries in whole whiskey barrels. From here consumers would either buy a drink or fill a container from which they brought from home. Yet the with this practice many merchants would take the whiskey and water it down or add unaged spirits, generally meaning moonshine, which was many times less than safe to drink. George Brown, being aware of this harmful practice and seeing a potential business opportunity, took advantage of the increased mass production of glass bottles and became the first to create a pre-bottled whiskey. Thus Old Forester was born and consumers could now know the purchased elixir inside the bottle had not been tampered with. 

Though originally Old Forester was a blended whiskey, due to the lack of consistency in straight whiskeys at the time, it is now a Straight Kentucky Bourbon. It is owned by Brown-Foreman who also owns the likes of Jack Daniels and Woodford Reserve.

Old Forester Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whisky:
Price: Around $13.99 for a 750ml bottle.

Packaging/Labeling: Standard bottle with all the similar trappings of a mass produced whiskey. Ugly black plastic cap topper.

Alcoholic Content: 86 Proof, 43% ABV. 

Nose: Not expecting a whole lot, this is a really pleasing nose. Kettle corn and a buttery orange sweetness. Maple and Christmas spice.

Tasting: A buttery corn comes through with much of the traditional bourbon flavors – caramels and vanillas. Yet the front palate, though it comes on strong, does not assert itself and almost immediately dissipates. Though it isn’t a fading away, rather it is a disjointed breakup which leaves behind a syrupy sweetness.

Conclusion: The nose is where you will have the most enjoyment. I wouldn’t say the nose is deceptive; rather, from what it's predicting, the palate just doesn’t have the strength to assert itself. It isn’t a bad whiskey, it just isn’t great. It could definitely use a two or three percent addition abv. Sure it is a low price point but I feel that it isn’t interesting enough – I could easily spend 7-8 bucks more and get a much better whiskey. This wouldn’t be anything more than a mixer. Mixer no-less, it will always remind us of the, now giant, Brown-Foreman Corporation's humble beginnings.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Buffalo Trace Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey Review:

“The amazing herds of buffaloes which resort thither, 
by their size and number, fill the traveler with amazement and terror,” - 
John Filson speaking of herds in northern Kentucky in 1784

Nothing can stir the American spirit quite like the image of  a thousand American bison roaming the great Midwestern plains. When it came to navigating the land and water in North America, herds of American bison, commonly called American buffalo, were some of the surest natives to accomplish the task, cutting huge thoroughfares from seasonal migrations and paths between salt licks and feeding grounds. These traces, as they were called, made by thousands of hoofs instinctively traveling the best routes along watersheds and crest ridges, avoiding the most hazardous winter snowdrifts and lower housings of summer muck, were also utilized by native American Indians as warrior paths and hunting grounds. 

Typically traced from the north and south, there were a few key east-west buffalo trails, such as the Cumberland Gap through the Blue Ridge Mountains to upper Kentucky. Where these trails would be used by explorers and dually adopted by the pioneers years later, these paths would eventually become the permanent residence of the great American railways. Indeed without these trails the rise and subjugation of the Western Territories to the Pacific would not have been possible at such an alarming rate. 

While the devastation of commercial hunting and slaughter of the American buffalo in the 19th century nearly caused extinction, the image and legacy of these buffalo and the trails they traced still live on, no doubt so eloquently in the fantastic American spirit, Buffalo Trace Kentucky Straight Bourbon. The name is quite befitting not simply due to the legends it harkens back toward, but also because it is produced by the Buffalo Trace Distillery in Frankfort, Ky, a wonderful American distillery, and the oldest distilling site in the U.S., which produces such brands as Eagle Rare, Sazerac Rye and Elmer T. Lee.

Buffalo Trace Kentucky Straight Bourbon:

Price: Around $20.00 for a 750ml bottle.

Packaging/Labeling: Fairly modern and unique, yet not over the top. It’s been growing on me. I really like the green cork topper.

Alcoholic Content: 90 Proof, 45% ABV. 

Nose: A tightly woven and strong nose – big corn and brown sugar with rye and light toffee. There is a cherry cola note with spices and honey. I also think of dandelion and burdock.

Tasting: The front palette is very satisfying. Oak and warm honey, yet it is not overly sweet nor does the spiciness of the rye overpower. It still has the corn of the front palette which makes its way into a floral creaminess which develops into more wooden bitters oak licorice on the finish.

Conclusion: Even with the syrupy thickness, nothing comes about overbearing, and as I said, it feels in control. This is very pleasant and well worth purchasing at such a reasonable price. This is a wonderful sipping whiskey and, as I just experienced, goes well with a meaty meal!

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Portland's New Favorite: St. Jack Reviewed

"Eating snails, I thought that was cool when I was a kid. I think that was like my playing in mud puddles."- Chef Aaron Banett

Last night I had a fabulous meal. Living in Portland my wife and I are never short of good restaurants, but a truly wonderful restaurant experience is something far and few between in almost any city. Good food coupled with good atmosphere is great, but good food coupled with excellent service is something unique – the something which will always get my wife and I to return (and spend more money of course). 

We live in SE Portland right off Hawthorne, a district in-of-itself, which is a wonderful mix of socially-conscious families, urban hipsters, and semi-homeless hippies. A melting pot for good cuisine, SE Portland is a foodie’s dream. Now just south of Hawthorne is a small neighborhood district called the Clinton District, named after its stop and go street lined with pockets of small businesses. And recently, just blocks from where we live, a new neighbor has arrived: St. Jack.

St. Jack is a very French eatery, inspired by the revered cafes of Lyon, holding a dual existence as a cafĂ© in the morning and afternoon and a Lyon Bouchon at night. Owned and operated by Canadian native Chef Aaron Banett (via restaurants in Los Angeles, Vancouver, BC, and San Francisco), St. Jack focuses on rustic “traditional pâtisserie” and 19th century home-cooking, meaning while you will see such things as Steak Frites and Coq a la biere, you should come expecting other traditional delights such as frog legs, blood sausage, and stuffed pigs trotters.

Right when my wife and I arrived we were taken in by the wonderful atmosphere. Where Portland seems riddled with loud music hipster joints, St. Jack is inviting and warm. The music ranges from Jazz and light French pop, complementing the candlelit space while never does it distract. We came earlier than our reservation so we could have some time at the bar.  I, knowing ahead of time what I wanted, ordered the De Rigueur, the English twin of the Brown Derby, and my wife ordered the St. Jack Red, a Columbia Valley red wine purchased by the barrel and personally produced for St. Jack by Guild Winemakers. Both were great. And personally De Rigueur, prepared by bar manager Kyle Webster, was wonderful - just tart and not overly sweet. To accompany these two treats, we ordered their very popular Frog Legs en Persillade, frog legs prepared in a white wine, garlic, and lemon sauce with fresh herbs. Wow, these things were wonderful, nothing of what I expected - tender moist and meaty.

And this only got better with dinner. The Onglet Steak Frites for my wife and the… drum roll… Stuffed Ducks Neck for me – duck neck stuffed with pork sausage, apples, chestnuts and sage. Now generally I will do wine with dinner, especially when accompanied by such uniquely meaty options, but I diverged from my wife’s choice, the Quady North Syrah, for Buffalo Trace neat. While having bourbon (or any whiskey for that matter) with your meal is something which is only just becoming fashionable again, I myself have not often done this, especially when it comes to French food. But, not to my surprise, Buffalo Trace complimented the meal wonderfully (And Mr. Webster, who followed us from the bar to the table, didn’t skimp on portions when I was in need of a refill). The moist sausage with pommes puree (w/ lots of butter) went perfectly with dry oakiness and winter spices of the Buffalo Trace. *I review Buffalo Trace here.

My wife and I didn’t stay around for dessert (we had a movie to catch), so we will have to come back for that. But it is a fact that we will come back. St. Jack is well on its way to becoming a Portland favorite. With the wonderful menu and great service it is a great addition to the neighborhood. 

Photos from
Patisserie St. Jack on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Wild Turkey 101: A Bird Worth Giving This Holiday

"An intelligent man is sometimes forced to be drunk to spend time with his fools." – Ernest Hemingway

To actually see a standard bourbon, that is any particular distillery's face brand, at 101 proof is good news. Where so much of the market is dominated by 80 proof standard face-brands (however this is quickly changing) Wild Turkey 101 stands at the front of the pack. Perfect for any cold winters night, Wild Turkey 101 is much of what it seems to promise, knocking your socks off with a wild and spicy delivery, while simultaneously providing a basic 101 class to the Turkey line. This is an entry level bourbon without being entry level. No age statement on this, though I have heard it being around 7 or 8. This is one of those heavy rye forward bourbons, so the spice will come up at the get-go.

Price: Around $22.99 for a 750ml bottle.

Packaging/Labeling: Standard, nothing to complain about. I did buy the 375 ml bottle which has the classic booze shape which is nice.

Alcoholic Content: 101 Proof, 50.5% ABV.

Color: Dark Gold.

Nose: Lots of fall flavors. Oak and honey with that cinnamon spice and dried cherries – almost a fruit cake. You have this hinting of the rye.

Tasting: Wow – the rye in this is so incredibly forward on the initial palette. And this spiciness opens up on the tongue to reveal a spiced and brown sugared honey. There is char and red candy. This comes on thick, yet doesn’t go down as hot as one would think – the heat is all from the rye, not the proof. Everything seems very balanced and in check. This is a strong and sweet whiskey.

Conclusions: Very much my style. This is a very spicy bourbon, but not one which appears out of control. Simply put: if you haven't yet tried Wild Turkey 101 you should go out and buy it. It's value is better than its price.

Monday, December 5, 2011

More Like a Wild Boar Than a Domestic hog: Pig's Nose Blended Scotch Whisky Review

"Designed to be smooth but full of character; character, indeed. After all, a pig’s nose spends most of its days nosing around in shit, mud, and feed."  - Dr Whisky

I'm a sucker for good packaging. Judging books by their cover is something I pride myself on. I have bought more books then I can count based on their covers. Some have been good and others have not. It's not an exact science, but I count it a success with the good ones I do find. That doesn't mean we should only focus on what we see on the outside, but odds are you'll get lucky every so often. The same goes for whisky (or rum for that matter - the first time I saw the Kraken I picked it up faster then you could say, "99 bottles of Rum on the wall," and I don't even really drink rum that often). Lets face it, appearance matters. Now we don't want to simply rely on what the outside shows, nor should our ultimate judgement be swayed by swagger, but as a producer if you value the quality inside the bottle you should value the quality on the outside. Time and care should be used in construction. When I am sitting at the table and I look over at my bar and see a beautifully constructed bottle sitting there, I just feel more comfortable in my ascetic surroundings. Call me strange, but I am sure there are many more of you out there like me. 

And this is exactly why Pig's Nose makes me so happy. It might at first seem like Pig's Nose or the SpencerfieldSpirit Company's other brand Sheep Dip, are no more than fun/collector item whiskies to be bought for a fathers day gift, yet both brands are currently receiving quite a lot of attention. And these great looking bottles are magnified by the fact that they have great owners who take pride in what they do (quality inside, quality outside). Alex Nicol (holding an impressive lineup, including work with Scottish & Newcastle, Glenmorangie, and Laphroaig) and partner Jane Eastwood took both Sheep Dip and Pig’s Nose as part of Nicol's severance package from Glasgow based distiller and blender Whyte & Mackay after he left the company a few years back. Though Pig's Nose has been around since 1977, the packaging as well as the content within has been revitalized due to much needed attention from Whyte & Mackay's master blender Richard Paterson. And it's turned out to be a mighty fine and unique blend.

Pig’s Nose Blended Scotch Whisky Review:

Price: Around $24.99 for a 750ml bottle.

Packaging/Labeling: Wonderfully modern and not over contrived.

Alcoholic Content: 80 Proof, 40% ABV. 

Nose: With a rather high malt content of 40 percent there is a prominent malty caramel and young green candied apples. A sherried oak on the back of the nose.

Tasting: Very sweet. Any of the malty caramel is drowned out by the very green and tart apple. Candied orange peels turns into prunes and sherried oak which is covered in a bitter vinegar. You would expect it to level out into a dry finish but the vinegar comes back and remains in the after taste. Peat running through the whole body.

Conclusion: Complexity is sure to be a defining point here, yet I feel there is a battle going on within the glass. Every flavor seems to be vying for attention, each ending up working out their differences in a rather unorganized fashion, not a team effort. The nose, while not overbearing, indicates the battle which awaits.

The question stands thus: how is it then? Well, the debate which has been going on in my head about how I should actually get this down on paper is sure sign that it will keep any whiskey enthusiast enthralled. I would suggest drinking this neat – some ice could actually tame some of the volatile flavors. I would state that this might not be the best thing to use for mixing cocktails, mostly because of the viscous texture, yet depending on your bar-man, it could be tamed. I would suggest Scottish Breakfast by Jeffrey Morgenthaler.

All in all Pig's Nose is, as the title says, more that of a wild boar than a domestic hog. It's young and viscous, but not something I would completely try to dull down. I would suggest that it be bottled at a higher proof, possible 8-10abv which would really bring on some more interesting notes, as well as control some of the complexity already there, but being a blended whisky I never see this happening. 

Saturday, December 3, 2011

8 Years of Love: Jim Beam Black

Two generations of Beam family distillers: Booker Noe and Jim Beam
“All choices lead you somewhere.
Bold choices take you where you’re supposed to be.” – Jim Beam

Owned by Beam Inc. and produced in Clermont, Kentucky, Jim beam, as is easily noticeable, is one of the best selling bourbons in the world. Ever since its inception in 1795 Jim Beam has served seven generations of Beam family heritage as well as the “interim” period of prohibition, the name actually deriving from James B. Beam who rebuilt the business after prohibition.  Originally, at its inception, Jim Beam was produced by Johannes “Reginald” Boehm (changing to “Beam” after his immigration from Germany in the 18th century) who produced a corn whiskey under the name of Old Jake Beam at the Old Tub Distillery.

Coming out of the huge inventory in the Beam family lineup, Jim Beam Black is one of those overlooked bourbons – most likely due to its easy availability. Jim Beam Original, as with most bourbons, are generally aged 4 years. These extra four years in Black transforms an OK bourbon into Jim Beam Black: something quite enjoyable in its own right. And as I have come to know this bottle better, my first time harsh opinions have come undone.

Jim Beam Bourbon Black Review:

Price: Around $17.99 for a 750ml bottle.

Packaging/Labeling: All the trappings of a large branded bourbon. I always love a square bottle though!

Alcoholic Content: 86 Proof, 43% ABV. 

Nose: Subtle grain, oak, and sweet pistachio. A distinct corny earth quality with some cherry cola on the back.

Tasting: Oaked corn and grain is prominent in the introduction. Turns into a very discerning Liquorice and spice flavor. Nicely robust for 86 proof. Wonderful lasting sweet finish.

Conclusion: Both the nose and the palette are very distinct. The nose could possibly be more discerning, yet what can be done about that? The palette is rather enjoyable and unique from many of the standard bourbons – that liquorice is just wonderful, and I don’t generally care much for liquorice. For the price point and quality (possibly one of the best deals in the bourbon industry – remember: 8 Years!) this is a great whiskey for added flavor to cocktails or, as I used it, a short a nice weekend at the beach!

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Bushmills Original Blended Irish Whiskey Review:

“So long as the presence of death lurks with anyone who goes through the simple act of swallowing, I will make mine whiskey.” – W.C. Fields

Blogging takes time. I have realized as of late what a commitment it is to constantly post and keep things going and just judging by my posting history the last few months I haven't been doing very well. As I always have said, I don't take this too seriously. Yet I do want to remain consistent to keep posting, because each new post I add is part of my learning process as a whiskey novice. So hang in there and don't forget about me, because I haven't forgotten about you. Lets get to it, shall we?

From the most northerly distillery in Ireland, the Old Bushmills Distillery, owned and operated by Diageo, this particular Bushmills is the basic 1608 blended whiskey. No doubt one of the standard Irish whiskey's, with the Distillery attracting 110,000 visitors per year, Bushmills is tends to be more mellow then its counterparts across the way in Scotland. Honestly I hadn't sampled the standard 1608 Bushmills until recently. I have been a long fan of the Blackbush for quite some time and since I had already reviewed some of the lesser popular Irish whiskey’s I thought it was about time I review its predecessor.

Bushmills Original Blended Irish Whiskey Review:

Price: Around $24.99 for a 750ml bottle.

Packaging/Labeling: Very much a branded product, Bushmills does claim to have originated in 1608, yet this was when Bushmills was granted to the license for distillation. The distillery started producing much later.

Alcohol Content: 80 Proof, 40% ABV. 

Color: Carmel, yet the e150e is not overly used.

Nose: Creamy green apple, vanilla – almost a chardonnay. The nose is actually quite wonderful with this underlying tone which mimics a bourbon, with its oak-ness and vanilla. Here mellow means subtle complexity rather than lack of a nose.

Tasting: Comes on much more dry then I would have expected. With a gentle fudgness which has some wood and spice. There is a gentle, though not wobbly, balance here. 

Conclusion: Arrives, developes and finishes all in the same manor. This is one of those whiskey’s that is an enjoyable dram if you want to spend a small amount at the local bar. Easy introduction to Irish whiskey yet good enough to not snob away from.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Johnny Walker Black Label Whisky Review:

"Never, Never, Never, Never, Never, Never, Never, Never, Never, Never, Never, Never, Never, ever give up unless they offer Johnny Walker Black." – Winston Churchill

One of the first and the best selling blended whiskies in the world, Johnny Walker Black label (owned by Diageo of course) has been eying for a review for quite some time. Within the blended whisky category, that is blended grain whisky from continuous stills and single malt whisky from pot stills, Johnny Walker Black is one of the best you can get, at least for its price point, reliability and accessibility. Simply put the Black Label name is almost synonymous with quality blended Scotch. Supposedly this blend, as Johnny Walker states, is based on the original 1820 Walker Family recipe. Either way this is no doubt the flagship of the Johnny Walker brand and has won more awards than any other deluxe Scotch whisky brand out there to prove it.

Blended whiskey markedly was what most people drank in the 20th century. And today, though it still holds a strong place in the Scotch whisky market (roughly 90 percent!), it is very much seen as inferior to single malt Scotch. Which I have to say is unfortunate because the rightly blended whisky, as generally stated, can be greater than the sum of its parts and it can simply be a joy to drink. Johnny Walker Black is a blend of 40 different whiskies, each aged 12 years or longer. More clearly the age statement on a blended whiskey actually distinguishes the youngest whisky in the blend.

This was the first of the whisky tastings from my last vacation – shout out to my father who joined me for this blended experience.

Johnny Walker Black Label Whisky Review:

Price: Around $30 for a 750ml bottle.

Packaging/Labeling:  Classic Johnny Walker square bottle which cones at the top. One brand which has really stayed true to its original design and label and for that I say: “Thank you Mr. Walker!”

Alcohol Content: 80 Proof, 40% ABV.

Color: Burnt golden hue. A bit too much E150e.

Nose: Vanilla and caramel, dried apricot, and nutmeg, a lot of cinnamon on the back. Smoky.

Tasting: Butterscotch and pepper. Floral notes, raison, vanilla, and light peatiness. Not very sweet – more rounded and less direct compared to any particular single malt. A wonderful dryness.

Conclusion: This is a very well balanced and well rounded blended whisky. Yes, we know this isn’t a single malt and yes, we know this isn’t Johnny Walker Blue Label. Get over it! Ignore most reviewers who say it taste like crap – we don’t want to be malt snobs anyway. The time and dedication it took to blend this is apparent and for the price this is a fabulous blended whisky. Great to start someone off with because of its standard setting excellence, but something you can always have tucked away in the bar for easy drinking or a starter while your single malt opens up.

Scotch Pronunciation Guide with Brian Cox:

“I’m your uncle, Argyle”
– Brain Cox as Uncle Argyle (Braveheart)

Brian Cox is undoubtedly one of the greatest British actors of the age. From Braveheart to the Bourne Identity, no matter what character he is comprised of he always seems capture your heart and your imagination. So when I found out about these 40 some-odd videos he was in I had to post them. Myself being an American, and not necessarily growing up around heavy Scotch drinkers, the sometimes tongue-twisting names can make one shy when trying to ask your local whisky seller to point you in the direction of Caol Ila. This is where these videos come in handy. In Brian Cox's debonair style, one can practice pronouncing each like a true Scotsman. For all videos click here

Monday, September 12, 2011

Posting Forecasts:

"Drown in a cold vat of whiskey? Death, where is thy sting?"  - W. C. Fields

Though I’ve been on a little hiatus’ the past week and a half I have not simply been lying around. Well, at least I have not been lying around doing nothing. As with all my family vacations a large part of our time is surrounded by good food and drink. So needless to say I have quite a few posts coming up of bourbon, blended scotch, and Oregon wine tasting notes. Please stay tuned!

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Bulleit "95" Rye American Whiskey Review:

"If the ocean was whiskey and I was a duck,
I'd dive to the bottom to get one sweet suck.
But the ocean ain't whiskey and I ain't a duck,
I'll play Jack O' diamonds and trust to my luck.”
- Tex Ritter in Rye Whiskey

Founded in 1897 and released in 1999, Bulleit Bourbon (I reviewed that here) has been climbing the ranks ever since. As my go-to bourbon, its high rye mash bill gives it a unique palette to remember. I've been a fan of Bulleit since the first time I tried it and when I heard about a rye version the Bulleit Distilling Co. was working on I was pretty excited. I Definitely had some high hopes. In development since 2004, Tom Bulleit’s Rye was due to come out being that rye is today's current trend whiskey. Yet for the very reason of rye's popularity, this release would need to rise one above the rest, holding its own as a reasonably priced rye. 

Released nationally just this May, and the second spirit to be released by Bulleit thus far, Bulleit “95” Rye has a mash bill of 95% rye and 5% malted barley, making it again unusual for its own class which legally only requires 51% rye in the mash bill. Aged a minimum of four years and as long as 7 in new white oak barrels, charred at a level 4 (the highest level char), and sourced from German, Swedish, and Canadian grains, Bulleit Rye is produced by the “infamous” and “illusive”(..?) company, LDI – the same producer of Redemption and Templeton Rye.

The label does say this whiskey is "small batch" but how "small" that is, coming from LDI, I don't really know. It is really a catchphrase today which means nothing, unless the producer is completely transparent. LDI, nor Bulleit, are companies that are very transparent so I would simply disregard the claim, true or not. Unless some of you know the answer?

Bulleit "95" Rye Whiskey Review:

Price: Around $28 for a 750ml bottle.

Packaging/Labeling: Brilliant as Bulleit always is. I think it was the right choice to stick with the “classic” bottle while simply changing the color of the label. No complaints. I just hope they don’t change it like so many other producers are doing right.

Alcohol Content: 90 Proof, 45% ABV.

Color: Golden Straw.

Nose: Dark cherry, aromatic tobacco, with mint and spice. Honey, leather, milk chocolate (no bitter dark cocoa) and caramel in the background.

Tasting: Enters softly, almost flat. Progresses into a spiced cherry and apricot. There is a minty and creamy airiness which rounds off with maple syrup, Red Hots and a very dry oak.

Conclusion: Whether I am having an off day or not, the front is not very impressive. At least it isn't as strongly built as I think it should be. I will keep trying this for an update later - I really want to like the whole thing.  You do get the spiciness from the rye but not nearly what I would expect from such a high rye mash bill.  Being that it contains whiskeys between 4 and 7 years, I would guess there is more 4 year old whiskeys than 7. I suggest some higher aging to possibly round out the front, though it is what it is. I will also update this on how it works in a cocktail. Either way, despite the arrival I could still sip this neat (with a little water).

Monday, August 29, 2011

Imbibe Monday: How To Make A (Good) Gin and Tonic

“I never drink anything stronger than gin before breakfast.” - W.C. Fields

There is definitely something to be said about a complex cocktail, finely and delicately built to perfection. But I also am one who leans towards simplicity. Give me a cocktail with a few good ingredients over a Vieux Carre any day. That’s why I think the Gin and Tonic is such a wonderful beverage. Perfect as a summer drink, it only takes two ingredients and some ice. Done! Easy.

Initially introduced in the 18th century by the British East India Company, Gin and Tonics were utilized for medical purposes for the British colonies in India. In the 18th century tonic contained large amounts of quinine, used to prevent malaria, which held a very bitter taste. Thus gin was used to offset the acrimony. Just as dry vermouth harmonizes well in a gin martinis, the quinine (smaller amounts used today) complements the juniper and botanical green notes used in the production of gin. And the very reason it was consumed in the warmer Indian weather led to it becoming a favorable summer treat.

You might be asking yourself why I would even bother writing a whole blog on how to make such an "easy" cocktail; however, even the simplest of cocktails can go down the wrong path. I would have three suggestions to enjoying a good Gin and Tonic: 

First use good gin. Today, there is a much larger market of gin, and some really good stuff is showing up in the micro-distillery sectors. Up and coming distilleries, such as Dry Fly and Breuckelen Distilling Company Inc. (as well as many others) are producing some very complex and intricate gins.  

Second, though it might sound strange to even bring this up, is to use fresh tonic. The worst thing to experience is an offering of Gin and Tonic where your host is using an old half-empty bottle tonic for your cocktail. Buy the small cans if you are not going to finish the tonic in one sitting. It's worth it.

Lastly and most importantly is what kind of ice you use. I am not necessarily a Gin snob but I will admit to being somewhat of an ice snob. My biggest disappointment when I order an Old Fashioned at a bar is when it’s brought to me with crushed or small cubed ice. Different kinds of cocktails use different kinds of ice. When it comes to Gin and Tonic I think large ice is best. This is not a beverage which needs to be diluted quickly – you just want it cold. 

Gin and Tonic Recipe (1 Serving):

2 oz gin
4 oz tonic water

Adjust to taste if needed, don’t ever think it, just use the best ingredients you’ve got. Maybe throw in some lemon (or lime) and juniper berries if you want.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Mad About Whiskey: AMC's Mad Men, Drinking, and Other Things…

"All credibility, all good conscience, all evidence of truth come only from the senses." 
– Friedrich Nietzsche

I love the show Mad Men. Recently I introduced my wife to it through Netflix. Now she's addicted. So about once a week, or twice depending on how badly we want the next few episodes (since we only get one disk at a time), she and I sit down on the couch and delve into the world of advertising for about 2 to 3 hours. And without much thought, before we even get to the start menu, my mouth starts to water. I get up and walk to the bar, pouring myself a double of whatever happens to be on hand. Finally ready to relax the night away I sit back down next to her and press play. 

And during those three to four 45 minute episodes something happens. I forget about everything I had done that week. I forget about everything I have to do tomorrow. I am transported into a world which is so different than mine - a past I never knew. Yet somehow everything is familiar to the point that one of my largest emotions is nostalgia. Nostalgia for something that has passed, a time that will never be. I find myself yearning to live in a world where the cars are classy, the restaurants are swanky, where all the women dress in beautiful clothing, and where the men order Scotch instead of beer. A place where smoking actually has sex appeal.

But then I sit back and think about what I’m watching. Don Draper (Jon Hamm) the star and face of the show is an identify thief. As a married man he sleeps with every woman he can get into bed with. And he is a complete alcoholic who lives by the motto, “I’m living like there’s no tomorrow, because there isn’t one.” And speaking of egotistical self-loving narcissists, almost everyone else in the show seem to exhibit much of the same characteristics. Sleeping around, drinking too much, lying, cheating… the list goes on. Everyone is striving for a life they believe will fulfill them, the epitome of the American dream, in a world speeding forward at a pace no one can quite keep up with. So the natural question to ask would be: Why do I enjoy the show so much? Why does it make me nostalgic? Why is Old Overholt getting an overhaul in the real  world – rye Old-Fashioned anyone? Why are more men wearing suit vest again? Why is Don Draper so cool?

I guess my questions are not necessarily about drinking, per se, as much as the way people used to drink. The way in which Scotch used to be enjoyed. A cultural essence of sorts. Where have the classy bars gone? When did playing video games and cheap beer replace drinking Scotch and playing cards? Have we lost something, in spite of the rampant prejudice, sexism, and tumultuous times of the 60s, which was worth having? Somehow Don Draper in all of his folly, exudes a quality which people admire.  “What,” asks Lauren M.E. Goodlad, “is it that makes this odd blend of Jay Gatsby, American Gigolo, and the Man in the Gray Flannel Suit so captivating a figure for today?” 

Maybe Don Draper, with our hindsight of the impending world crisis to be had in the next decade, just makes falling look good.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

An Education: Does Bourbon Have to Come From Kentucky?

Just a small post: On reviewing answers from and it seems there is still a lot of confusion on where bourbon comes from and what is the distinction between it and Tennessee whiskey. Simply bourbon comes from the United States. The country provides the boundaries, not the state of Kentucky. Jack Daniel's Tennessee Whiskey, often confused to be bourbon, is not. It is not bourbon because it goes through an extra process of charcoal filtration, called the Lincoln County Process, and it is made in Tennessee. Tennessee whiskey is made in Tennessee, bourbon is made anywhere. Bourbon production has nothing to do with the water, the county, nor the state it is distilled in. To legally be called bourbon the spirit must be made from a grain mixture that is at least 51% corn, it must be aged in new, charred oak barrels and it has to be made in the U.S. (anywhere in the U.S.).  From what I have read, to give the post "expert validation," John Hansell also seems to believe that Tennessee whiskey is not bourbon because of charcoal filtration - a fairly strong statement which essentially labels Tennessee whiskey as an entirely unique product apart from bourbon, rather than a class under bourbon.

To Note: Not all Tennessee whiskey goes through the Lincoln County Process, but as a general rule, when most people say Tennessee whiskey they mean a bourbon which has undergone the process. A similar distinction could be made between Scotch and Irish whiskey. Historically what was considered Irish whiskey, now called pure pot still whiskey, was a mashbill of malted and unmalted barley, compared to scotch with 100% malted barely. Not all Irish whiskey has both malted and unmalted barley but when speaking of Irish whiskey in the traditional sense one should think malted/unmalted barley. Though I'm sure some of you will debate this.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Imbibe Monday: Introducing Jeffrey Morgenthaler and the Barrel-Aged Cocktail

"Coughlin's diet: cocktails and dreams." 
- Doug, from a horrible movie called Cocktail

So my wife and I have been exploring a few cocktails and whiskey treats I have been wanting to add to Imbibe Mondays, but none of them turned out like I wanted so I thought I would cheat a little and post some videos I've been "keeping to myself" about an interesting development in the cocktail world. An exciting time for cocktails, mixologist, and those who love to drink their makings, new ideas and creations are literally being poured out from coast to coast. One of the current trends taking over bars across the U.S. is the barrel-aged cocktail. Literally a cocktail aged in used whiskey barrels these beverages are generally consumed in bars, however, because of the ease and personalized touch anyone can add to these aged cocktails, I wouldn't be surprised to see them start popping up at larger events and weddings.

The creation of this new and innovative idea originated from none other than Portland's own, Jeffrey Morgenthaler of the fabulous Clyde Common, located in downtown Portland one block south of Powell's City of Books. Tending neighborhood taverns, college nightclubs, fine restaurants and upscale lounges since 96, Morgenthaler began writing and blogging in 2004, yet since his move to the Clyde Common his image has grown considerably. Now considered one of the leading mixologist in the world his recipes and mixologist musings have appeared in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Wine Enthusiast, Wired, and Imbibe magazines. Forbes Traveler labeled Morgenthaler one of the "Cocktail Movers and Shakers" of 2007, while the Tasting Panel Magazine knighted him as the "New Leader" in 2009. 

Below are two videos explaining the barrel-aged cocktail process: The first is a video of Morgenthaler and another Portlander Evan Zimmerman, the bar manager of Laurelhurst Market, and the second video is Morgenthaler at Tuthilltown Distillery explaining the process using Tuthilltown’s unaged corn whiskey in a barrel cocktail.

One can purchase a barrel-aged cocktail from the Clyde Common for $10, but from a New York Times article I read, in a place such as New York prices can be between $13 and $25! Such high prices are justified, say many bar owners, because of the limited quantities and the actual time invested in creating the cocktails, which have to be constantly watched, tested, and gauged until considered ready to serve.

Click here for barrel-aged cocktail directions straight from Morgenthaler's great blog - a must read for any mixologist.   

*Photo provided by

Friday, August 12, 2011

Elijah Craig 12 Year Old Whiskey Review:

“About as complete as a bourbon aroma you are likely to find…one of the most beautiful noses found anywhere in the world today. A bourbon to keep in the mouth forever… Toffee apples and malt rise above the gentle oaky notes and there is a very late arrival of burnt sugar and rye. The very final notes are extremely complex… near perfection. Perhaps one of my favorite five or six bourbons and certainly the superstar in the Heaven Hill portfolio. It is a bourbon of almost unfathomable depth and has something for everyone. Brilliant." 

Produced by the privately owned  Heaven Hill, Elijah Craig was originally created by a pioneering Baptist preacher in the 18th century of the same name, many of whom credit as being the first one to use charred oak cask or essentially the person who invented bourbon. Winning numerous awards in the last 10 years and recently winning a Double Gold at the San Francisco World Spirits Competition, Elijah Craig 12 is touted as a “true Small Batch premium Bourbon.” Bottled exclusively from 70 barrels or less this is one of the finest buys for the price on today’s market. This is the spirit RalfyMitchel believes sets the standard as a baseline bourbon.

Elijah Craig 12 Year Old Whiskey Review:

Price: Around 24.99 for a 750ml bottle.

Packaging/Labeling: Nothing fancy, but you will remember the bottle with the uniquely Elijah Craig shape and a large cork top.

Alcohol Content: 46% alcohol by volume, 92 proof.

Color: Dark amber color alludes very well to the character of the whiskey.

Nose: Solid and composite. You get intense corn and a sour caramel apple with dried apricots. Dark charred honey and vanilla bean. Nuts and fruit spices. Lots of complexity here.

Tasting: This has a wonderful arrival which lands rich and direct then amplifying and spreading out off the palette, exploding into a sweet corn and spicy char and pleasant fruit note. There is a slight but agreeable burn which fades with sweet rye dryness – ending with a nice long finish.

Conclusion: This is a very good example and benchmark setting bourbon. Packs a punch and is strong and assertive. Though it is sweeter than I anticipated and to what I am used to. It is on the cusp of being too sweet, but I say this not to draw anyone away from it. I generally find myself in the minority when it comes to my sweet tolerance, where my love/hate relationship with rums comes into play. I will suggest to Heaven Hill that they add about 1 or 2 percent ABV to bring out some of those back notes and slightly offset the sweet characteristics. Either way this bourbon far outpaces many more expansive brands of bourbon out there. Another example to remind us that you can have great quality whiskey at a reasonable price – that being said I don’t expect Elijah Craig 12 to remain at this low of a price for too much longer.