Friday, November 15, 2013

Hancock's President's Reserve Single Barrel Bourbon Whiskey Review:

Out of the large single barrel production done by Buffalo Trace (Hancock, Eagle Rare, Blanton's, Rock Hill Farms, and Elmer T Lee.), Hancock's President's Reserve is possibly the least well known. There isn't any age statement on the label but word out on the street says it has about 8 years in the barrel. As we all know Buffalo Trace is known for its use of two mash bills (Mash Bill 1, Mash Bill 2), of which all its expression come forth. Where you get Buffalo Trace and Eagle Rare from Mash Bill 1, you get the likes of Elmer T. Lee and Hancock Reserve from Mashbill 2. Mashbill 1 consist of a low rye percentage and around 80 percent corn. Mashbill 2 is a higher rye percentage, maybe a 60-70 percent corn bill. And this shows up in every bottle. What you get from Mashbill 1 expressions are more wood and corn sweetness, and less rye spice. Hancock is no different. With 8 years of age, you get a great balance of wood, yet the spice is there, more present than say an Eagle Rare 10 Year Single Barrel.

Hancock's President's Reserve Single Barrel Bourbon Whiskey Review:

Price: Around $45-50.00 for a 750ml bottle.

Packaging/Labeling: Classy and unique western (if not 80-ish) decanter style bottle, yet I find nothing written about its connection to the Buffalo Trace Distillery. Not an unusual site by any means, however, I would be willing to bet that more would grab this up sooner if they only would have been let in on its connection to the great distillery.

Alcoholic Content: 44.45% abv, 88.9 proof.

Nose: Super sweet nose, dark fruit – berries. Honeysuckle, nutmeg, tobacco, oak.

Palate: Honeyed apricot and a wonderful spice front. Sweet, yet nothing overbearing like it was alluding to in the nose. Well balanced leather and drying barrel char on the back.

Conclusion: With a full bodied palate this bourbon has enough spice excitement and a nice sweet center to please even the most skeptical.

Rating: Excellent/Highly Recommended

Friday, September 27, 2013

Springbank 10 Year Old Single Malt Scotch Whisky Review:

For the majority of us who are only relatively aware of our options out there when it comes to single malt whiskies, the malts from the Campbeltown region of Scotland are somewhat allusive. Holding more to legends than to real facts, the Campbeltowns could be compared to what the rye whiskey used to be in the western United States during the 1800s, everywhere and in abundance. From the 1800s up until the 1900s the distilleries of Campbeltown were the most prolific whisky producers in the country with a record breaking 28 facilities producing. But due to over investment in the pre-prohibition American whiskey trade, local depression during, and a reputation for poor product throughout, Campbeltowns former glory faded into the past like the ryes of the old west. Only Glen Scotia and Springbank remain. But thankfully they do, because the characteristic dry palate of smoke and salt from a good Campbeltown is part of what makes these malts so exciting.

Specifically, Springbank is a fantastic example of a small size and independent producer. Possibly because of their historical involvement with Campbeltown, Springbank has grown in a way that lies outside the scope of many of the larger producers, always centering towards practices that produce whisky in the “old fashioned” way and not changing how they do things for a larger consumer market. From malting their own barley to bottling their own whisky and employing a local workforce, Springbank offers lessons that all the larger producers can learn from.

As fair warning, I will say that if you have arrived at this review and you have never yourself tried Scotch, or you are still relatively new to the whisky scene, Springbank is not for you. It very well may be a bit difficult to get past. In this section I detail some scotch whiskies that could be very great starters. But by all means, never let me stop you... Shall we continue?

Springbank 10 Year Old Single Malt Scotch Whisky Review:

Price: Around $45-52 for a 750ml bottle.

Packaging/Labeling: A craft presented bottle where they explain in plain english that they do not use caramel coloring and there is no chill filtration. What we like to see!

Alcoholic Content: 46% abv, 92 proof.

Nose: There is a maturity of the nose, even at 10 years old. Brininess hits your senses first. Sweet butterscotch and cream. Chocolate covered cherries. Salt and pepper spice. Everything you receive in the nose is a real pleaser. A nice complexity that genuinely gets me excited for the tasting. Adding water really brings down the brininess and allows for the subtle fruits to show.

Palate: Large spice arrival. Oily and faint smokiness. Ginger spice, light vanilla and honey, peppers, oak, seaweed. With the non-chill filtration a little addition of water allows for the fruit and black liquorice sweetness on the backend to come to the foreground. Bit of a dry finish.

Conclusion: At 10 years old, I don't know what else I can say. This is a fantastic dram, one that thoroughly invigorates my senses. If this is a tiny inkling of what we are to see with the older Springbank's, it should really get one excited.

Rating: Excellent/Highly Recommended

Friday, September 6, 2013

High West Campfire Whiskey Review:

I know, I know! No reviews in almost a month. This isn't how I ever want things to go. I've been busy and a bit sick, so high proof alcohol hasn’t been treating my throat very nice. But alas, there is a light at the end of the tunnel. There are some genuinely exciting changes coming up for the Bourbon Intelligencer that will guarantee more reviews and whiskey content for the foreseeable future. But that is all I can say on that for now. You'll just have to wait for more news. Updates will be coming possibly within the next month or so.

Tonight we've got with us a truly revolutionary product from High West Distillery: Campfire. This thing breaks all the rules and does so with poise and courage – yes... courage. I feel that good whiskey calls for the assigning of virtuous nouns. Campfire is composed of three whiskies: a 5 and a half year old rye distilled at MGPI, a six year old bourbon also from MGPI, and finally an 8 year old peated Scotch. Where the peated Scotch is from, David Perkins at High West does not divulge, though we do know it is not from Islay or the Islands. Ultimately I am not too concerned with the origin – High West has up to this point always been straight forward with their practices and this thing is so damn delicious that we don't care too much to ask.

High West Campfire Whiskey Review:

Price: Around $50.00 for a 750ml bottle.

Packaging/Labeling: Classic High West – the necessary information included.

Alcoholic Content: 46% abv, 92 proof.

Nose: More of a honeyed and fruit nose than I expected. Dried golden raisins, toffee, cinnamon, vanilla. Only on the back end do you find traces of scotch and rye. A hint of smoke that lingers on your jacket after a weekend of camping. Sweet green apples.

Palate: Quite unique indeed. The scotch does seem to play second fiddle to the American spirits here, but the balance of all three seems to work out wonderfully. The smooth and creamy dried fruit of the bourbon, with the spice and pepper of the rye, leads very nicely into the sweetness and peaty twist of the scotch, which allows itself to be ever so present throughout.

Conclusion: High West has really done something unparalleled again. And in many ways, the name fits even better after trying it. This is not necessarily a bold and overbearing whiskey in any sense of the word. It's calming and delightful. That's what I meant by poise and courage. This experiment could have been anything, but High West took the high road and has shown they are always taking their time, always honing their craft.

Rating: Excellent/Highly Recommended

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Wild Turkey Kentucky Spirit Single Barrel Whiskey Review:

Within some family circles, road-tripping is their summer tradition. Nothing but “Old MacDonald” and the open road. For others, there family tradition is a cabin in the woods. A secluded place to get away from the crowds and the sweltering summer sun. For my own family, it has traditionally been the ultimate American recreational summer holiday: camping. Sure, we have had our fair share of road tripping (quite American if I say so myself), back when we all were young. And we did enjoy a cabin every now and again back in the day. But camping by and large has always been the constant pastime that has stood the test of time and keeps bringing us together each summer, even now as we have grown up and started families of our own. It has been the driving force which lifts us out of the daily grind and hustle and bustle of life in the city. No cell phones. No electricity. And many times, no running water in the “bathrooms,” as my mother jocularly calls the outhouses.

Everyone loves the time they get to read, take a day hike, or even a have a midday snooze; but – we all know that the central joys of camping, besides the trees and stars (etc.) that surround you, is the food and drink that sit in front of you. Without the these two important aspects - You. Would. Be. Done. For. Remember: THIS IS NOT BACKPACKING. THIS IS CAMPING. The idea of camping is that one should throw away their relative notion of health and well being and simply eat, drink, and be merry. Don't cook gourmet. Don't pretend your at a wine tasting party. Don't worry about calories (if your into that sort of thing). Your trying to forget your worries, not bring them with you. Of course I am not suggesting that you should subsist on Butter Horns, Entenmann's Doughnuts, Swiss Miss Hot Chocolate, Hot Dogs, and Pabst alone. But just allow yourself to relax for once. (Besides, the Hot Dogs did come hand made from the Italian market down the street. And we may have snuck a few good bottles of wine, cheeses, meat, and whiskey into the dry box to even things out...)

So as I was saying... Tradition. Camping is a wonderful tradition that has been apart of our family and will hopefully always be. I plan on making it apart of my family, whenever my Lover and I start having little ones. The point being is that with all the old traditions come new traditions, and one developing as of late is every new camping trip my father and I will bring some whiskey for the other to taste. Neither of us knows what the other will bring. This particular trip I brought two bottles. One of which is Wild Turkey Kentucky Spirit Single Barrel.

Wild Turkey Kentucky Spirit Single Barrel Whiskey Review:

Price: From $49.99 for a 750ml bottle.

Packaging/Labeling: Classic and pleasant bottle with plenty of information of the particular bottle, barrel number, warehouse, number, rick number, etc. No age statement of any kind unfortunately.

Alcoholic Content: 50.5% abv, 101 proof.

Nose: Christmas spices, spicy vanilla, dry maplewood, fresh green apple.

Palate: Warming and fresh. Red hots and peppery spice from the rye. Huge rye. Apple and caramel candy lollipops. Long char finish. Dry as hell.

Conclusion: If you like a dry bourbon then this is something you will want to try. If you are on a cliff about it, I would suggest it as a dessert bourbon. In fact, that was what I thought when I first sipped this. Chocolate and/or something salty would really allow this thing to fly. I was really pleased with with the overall balance and presentation. If anything I would say, the barrel char may be a bit overbearing.

Rating: Excellent/Highly Recommended

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Laphroaig Quarter Cask Single Malt Scotch Whisky Review:

There are haughty eyed consumers in every sector of the beer, wine, and spirits industry. Really snobs can be found in any industry of higher end consumer goods. Yet within the world of spirits it would be safe to say that Islay whiskies drinkers tend to have the largest majority shareholders of braggadocios. In a way it makes sense.We all know, or knew, how it was when we first found a taste for the peaty liquor. At the beginning there was some sort of barrier between you and that bottle of Ardbeg 10 staring down from the upper shelf of the bar. That huge phenolic blast that hits you when you opened up your first bottle. Those campfire fumes you could smell clear across the bar where the one person has ordered a double of Caol Ila 12. Plain and simple: Islays are intense, unique, and at times illusive with their dark bottles and strange names. So naturally when a certain person at last succeeds at conquering this chimerical style of peat and smoke, a certain air of pomp and circumstance inflates there chest whenever they walk into the bottle shop, so sure of themselves as they walk straight toward the Islay's and past.... well, past everything else. And for this very reason I have been hesitant to review largely peated whiskies until now. I have learned to enjoy peated whiskies immensely, especially over the last two years, but I have always been leery of focusing too much on them, just as I have been mindful of how much focus I give to any style of whiskey or spirit. So at last the time has come – and Laphroaig Quarter Cask, in my mind, seems to be the best tie in for an introduction to Islays in general for the blog. The style is young and vibrant, providing a classic Islay profile, yet the partial use of smaller cask in maturation provide a contemporary, à la an ancient, way of maturation, which relates perfectly to the modern day discussion of small barrel maturation in the micro-distilling industry.

Aged about 8 years, this expression is filled in second fill oak barrels for the majority of maturation, then moved into and matured in smaller quarter cask (40-55 liters), as were used for transport in the “earlier days.” Smaller barrels means more wood/whisky surface area contact and more air interaction as the cask “breaths,” hence “faster” maturation – but only faster in one sense as I have explained in other posts. The difficulty that micro-distillers are finding as they age their whiskey solely in small casks is a lack of balance which larger barrels tend to provide. But with the Quarter Cask expression, the younger age in the larger barrel provides a youthful peatiness, and the quarter cask rounds out the aging process to provide some “wear and tear” of old age.

Laphroaig Quarter Cask Scotch Review:

Price: From $59.99 for a 750ml bottle.

Packaging/Labeling: All the necessary information and more. Everything we like to see on a “craft” expression. Green bottle means there is no need for caramel color (e150e) to be added. Non-chill filtered. Perfect.

Alcoholic Content: 48% abv, 96 proof.

Nose: Fresh peat, briny seaweed, stone and rock on ocean cliffs. Floral milk chocolate, syrupy caramel.

Palate: Incredibly delightful. I think of someone who is, though young, well spoken and confident. The buildup is smooth an gentle, from a sweet pepper introduction developing into a a huge peat monster wallop. Iodine and Smoke. Long lasting peat finish which prickles on the back of your throat.

Conclusion: What you get from this younger whiskey is not something overly complex, but rather a product where its gears are tightened and oiled. The nose, buildup, and arrival, provide ample excitement and enjoyment that will keep you coming back for more. This is what a young single malt should taste like. A successful and well articulated experimentation of differing size casks, and a whiskey that gets one excited all over again!

Rating: Excellent/Highly Recommended

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Rebel Yell Bourbon Whiskey Review:

I'm a fan of inexpensive bourbon (hell, I'm a fan of inexpensive booze – who isn't?), and I constantly try to review well priced and easily accessible products on the Bourbon Intelligencer to show that one does not need to spend big bucks to be a true and well educated spirit consumer. Bourbon, specifically, is one of the best market priced spirits out there at the moment (though times are changing), and everyone should know that there are real legitimate options without breaking the bank. However, there are some products that, due to their price point, can be so tempting we are lured into buying something that we end up regretting – spending that measly $10-12 on something we could have used for a few good cups of coffee. Or better yet, you could have saved it for a more expensive, but time tested bourbon you love, right? I know how it is. You're running through Trader Joe's, trying to get in and get out, and then all of a sudden you come to the spirit rack. You already know you are spending way more on these pre-diced, pre-packed vegetables then you really should, and so you don't dare look at eye level, where all the “better-ish” stuff will be (after all – it is Trader Joe's). But look... that Rebel Yell is sooo cheap! And so it goes into the cart, back home onto the bar, and into the glass, where you realize you have made a huge mistake.

A wheated bourbon, Rebel Yell is a former Stitzel-Weller brand, now distilled by Heaven Hill's Bernheim Distillery and bottled by Luxco. And though Rebel Yell wishes to associate itself with those of the Buffalo Trace lineup, a Weller it is not. No age statement means that immediately we know it is bottled from at least four years.

Rebel Yell Bourbon Whiskey Review:

Price: From $10-$13 for a 750ml bottle.

Packaging/Labeling: Mass produced. Vague legends of whatever.

Alcoholic Content: 40% abv, 80 proof.

Nose: Phenolic and solvent-y. Corn feed and corn oils. Babe Ruth candy bar and lemons. Slight pepper.

Palate: Sweet sugar. Sour corn meal. Some faint dried fruit and woodiness. The four years is an exact four years – not one second more. This whiskey tastes very young – and watered down. 

Conclusion: As confirmed by some other reviewers, there is a young new-make scotch character to this, but ultimately what you are left with is almost a tasteless wheat spirit. Rebel Yell, the famed bourbon known more for it's cameo in Billy Idol's song and album of the same name, ranked 79th best hard rock song by VH1, is nothing like what you would expect when hearing about the Rebel Yell drinking party with the Rolling Stones where Billy supposedly came up with the album name. In this instance, the “little dancer” won't cry “more, more, more.” Your money can be spent better on other things.

Rating: Fair/Drinkable

Monday, July 22, 2013

George Dickel Rye Whisky Review:

And here I am again, with a follow up whiskey from the “other” Tennessee distillery... Oh wait, this is a rye whiskey… and then again, it isn’t even a rye made in Tennessee. In fact it isn’t even made by Dickel, but rather it’s produced by Midwest Grain Products Inc. (MGPI). So what, do you ask, is going on? Ok, ok. I’ll stop with the rant before I go too far. For one thing, it isn’t entirely fair that I make such a big deal about this. Sourcing product from other distilleries go on all over the country, if not all over the world. But in the United States, as many have talked about before, something entirely different is happening. So lets first take a step back and explain some background.

First the whole MGPI thing. As much as the subject annoys me rather than anything else these days, I’ll briefly go over what it’s all about. Midwest Grain Products, more well known by their former name Lawrenceburg Distillers Indiana (LDI), is a giant monster distillery over the border from Kentucky. Like many distilleries in Scotland, they don’t sell to the public, but rather to other whiskey labels. Before the recent boom of rye whiskey in America, they made one of the smartest decisions in the world by producing a high rye whiskey. This 95% rye mashbill whiskey was originally intended to be sold to companies who would then blend it with other whiskies, as is common practice in Scotland. But some companies found the “95” rye was quite good on its own right and so they would simply select particular barrels and sell them under their own label without any blending. Because of the huge financial undertaking it is to produce a whole new product or to start a distillery yourself, "95" became very popular as the "go-to" rye producer. And with few options when one wants to purchase rye in the United States, it is quite understandable how quickly brands like Bulleit, Redemption, Willet, possibly Templeton, George Dickel, among others, all flocked to the "95," with very little differences in flavor profile.

From this 95% rye whiskey, George Dickel takes the product through its Lincoln Country process using its iconic sugar maple charcoal. Usually Dickel would chill the distillate and run it through the filtration process before it's aged, but understandably so, this 5 year old whiskey is chilled and filtered before bottling, creating a Lincoln County twist on a product that usually sees little change after leaving the MGPI plant.

As I alluded to prior, this is all just business as usual. Some make a larger deal about this than need be. Some don't make large enough of a deal. What I care about is transparency. And this stuff ain’t bad by any stretch of the imagination. MGPI/LDI produces rather good products. But ultimately, to cut to the punch line--for myself, this rye is just not Dickel. It’s not what I would expect from Dickel. It’s just not the Tennessee Rye I was hoping for.

George Dickel Rye Whisky Review:

Price: From $24-$28 for a 750ml bottle. I find it difficult to purchase this when it is more expensive than their standard Number 12--which Dickel actually produces.

Packaging/Labeling: This is where I have some complaints. Same Dickel bottle with lovely green tones – all of which I love. But the label to me is deceptive. They can’t legally say it’s a Tennessee whiskey (as far as I know, it’s not even bottled in Tennessee), it states that it is distilled in Lawrenceburg, IN on the back, but it speaks about George Dickel and his desire to create the “smoothest Tennessee Whisky around,” small batch, and handcrafted. Advertisers can say what they want, but I don’t like it. Simple as that.

Alcoholic Content: 45% abv, 90 proof.

Nose: Spearmint, cedar, and lemongrass.  Cereal and oatmeal grains. Nothing overcomplicated, if not anodyne. 

Palate: Balanced palate of rye spice and sweet spearmint burst onto the scene. The charcoal mellowing makes a huge impact. Nothing is over woody, over spiced, over sweet. A nice oily dark chocolate mint candy on the finish - think Andess Mints.

Conclusion: This is by far my most preferred expression of the "95" rye from MGPI, not counting what is being done at High West. It’s a solid, well-rounded, balanced rye. Not great by any means, but I wouldn’t be disappointed if someone bought me a dram of it at a bar.

On a positive note, this might be the last MGPI/LDI product we see on the market for a good while, says Chuck Cowdery, since Dickel has “locked up” current supply, and the current MGPI rye supply is less than a year old! This means that everyone just might have to wait for new and original products to come to the market, rather than repackaging the same old stuff. 

Rating: Good/Recommended

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Jack Daniel's Gentleman Jack Tennessee Whiskey Review:

Hello everyone! Hope your summer of camping and barbeques are going well. Besides the the heat that I will never get used to in California, my summer is turning out to be a good one. I've had some nice mini vacations and I've been sampling lots of tasty treats. This review is one I've been putting off for quite some time now, but due to the popularity and request value of this particular bottle, here I am. Obviously Jack Daniel’s Old Number 7 is the number one selling American whiskey in the world, made popular by Frank Sinatra…. yada yada yada. As I have reviewed the “other Tennessee whiskey” George Dickel, before I get into this review of Jack’s older brother, I would like to go through again what makes a Tennessee whiskey. It is currently in the works for the Lincoln Country Process, i.e. charcoal filtration, to become a mandatory state law for anyone who wants to call their whiskey "Tennessee Whiskey," but as of yet there is no regulation requiring producers in Tennessee to go through this process. However, distilleries like Jack Daniels and Dickel have set the bar and created a pressure which at this point still seems to be holding the statuesque on charcoal filtration. Though a specific process there is not – Jack Daniels filters the whiskey as it comes out of the still (creating a cleaner palate), whereas Dickel chills it down before filtration (leaving some of the rougher edges in the distillate). While some might turn up their noses to filtration of this sort, it produces a unique and sought after taste; distinctive almost solely to Tennessee. Gentlemen Jack toes the same line as Old Number 7, yet having gone through the charcoal filtration twice, and having only those barrels picked from the lower levels of the rickhouse, it produces an even cleaner, crisper, and dare I say “smoother” palate.

Jack Daniel's Gentlemen Jack Review:

Price: From $24-28 for a 750ml bottle.

Packaging/Labeling: Love the bottle. Stylish and fits nicely into the Jack lineup. However, there is no information on the label whatsoever. And stating the whiskey is rare from a producer like this, when you can find the product in every grocery store across the nation, is a bit of a stretch.

Alcoholic Content: 40% abv, 80 proof. Should we expect more from Jack Daniels? I wouldn’t go as far as saying that. As I’ll discuss below, the 80 proof is much more calculated, rather than simply for lower cost/production.

Nose: I’m surprised by this nose. Vibrant and sweet. Caramel custard notes, spicy floral, red fruits dominate. Less harsh than Number 7. This is the shining act for Gentleman Jack.

Palate: Red fruit, red hots, spice, raisins. Slightly underdeveloped phenolic/sharpness. The finish is where this whiskey is most disappointing. Give it a drop of water and some time. Time does wonders to this whiskey. Spiciness lengthens and caramel sweetness rounds out - diminishing some of the harsher characteristics. 

Conclusion: I have to say I am a bit surprised by some of the reviews of this product. But understandably so, it appears that most tend to think a higher priced, premium expression means a smaller craft produced product. However, Gentleman Jack was not designed as an extra special product for consumers that gravitate towards the likes of Jim Beam’s Small Batch collection. It isn’t playing to that crowd. If anything it is doing the opposite. It is appealing to a wider audience than Jack Daniel’s Number Seven, while presenting itself as a sipper, not to be mixed, where Number Seven does best. It’s 80 proof, more mellow, tame, and purposefully devised as so. If you want something more complex and interesting, look at Jack Daniel’s Single Barrel, or any number of bourbons in the same price range as Gentleman Jack. Truth be told this is not a bad whiskey, it just might be a bit lackluster for some.

Rating: Good/Recommended

Saturday, June 22, 2013

High West American Prairie Reserve Bourbon

David Perkins, the blender at High West distillery, has been pumping out wonderful new expressions of bourbon and rye whiskies since their inception, in 2007. Each expression I’ve tried has been exciting and unique – modern in the best sense. Labeled as a "blend of straight bourbons," the American Prairie Reserve is a blend of bourbons distilled in more than one state. In this case, it's a combination of a six year old bourbon from MPG (formerly Lawrenceburg Distillers Indiana) in Indiana with a mashbill of 75% Corn, 20% rye, 5% barley malt and a ten year old Four Roses bourbon (mashbill B) from Kentucky with a 60% Corn, 35% rye, and 5% barley malt mashbill.

Some have made issue with the larger price tag, which is somewhat justified, but it does appear to me that the Four Roses has a larger hand in this whiskey due to high spice forward palate.

High West American Prairie Reserve Bourbon:

Price: Around $42 for a 750ml bottle.

Packaging/Labeling: High West labels have never been the most esthetically pleasing in my mind, but they definitely stand out on the shelf, and are well designed. Good amounts of information which is all one can ask for.

Alcohol Content: 46% abv, 92 proof. Proof does really good things to this whiskey.

Nose: A subtle, albeit pleasant, nose on the first pour. Opens up into a floraled butter corn, cotton candy, and fruit nose. Wonderful – if you like Four Roses Single Barrel, this should please you.

Palate: Candy sweetness is the first thing which explodes on your tongue. Super sweet, but it has a relatively dry mouthful throughout, meaning the sweetness does not overtake the senses in a more syrupy bourbon. The short rye spice and pecan pie finish is a good thing in this case, never overwhelming.

Conclusion: As always, High West has blended together another unique whiskey any enthusiast is sure to enjoy. Though some may not like the dry finish, Prairie Reserve offers a style and flavor profile which is exciting and new, while never straying from a delightful sipper.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Evan Williams Kentucky Straight Bourbon Black Label Review:

As much of the exposure bourbon, and whiskey in general, has been garnering these days, I still come across many people who will make comments like, “you at least have to spend $25 for good bourbon.” While it is true that the quality of exceptional bourbon begins to climb around this range, there are so many great bourbons out there for under $20. Evan Williams Black label, aged 5-7 years with a price tag of around $11-$12, blows the competition out of the water.

About a year ago I reviewed the Evan Williams Single Barrel Vintage and this time around, Black Label, as a bargain brand, still upholds Heaven Hill’s dedication for producing high quality products. The black label is produced using the same mash bill as that in Elijah Craig and the Single Barrel Vintage. That being said, Malt Advocate has given the Black Label the “Best Buy Whiskey of the Year” twice: in 2003 and 2011.

Evan Williams Kentucky Straight Bourbon Black Label Review:

Price: Around $11-12 for a 750ml bottle.

Packaging/Labeling: Typical bourbon label for this price. I do wonder what they mean by “extra aging,” but one cannot be too picky at this point.

Alcoholic Content: 43% abv, 86 proof. Nice for such a low shelf product.

Nose: Inviting nose of cherry cola, spice, caramel, corn nuts, and oak.

Palate: Vanilla and cherry cola with a good amount of spice. All this is balanced out by the assertive oak palate. The mouthfeel is heavier on the front and tends to dissipate quite quickly, leaving a brief finish (This in turn makes me want to simply keep drinking). I am reminded of a younger cousin of Jim Beam Black.

Conclusion: While some have made complaints about the lack of complexity, I find that the “enjoyability” and the clear production value of this product leaves me with no other choice but to recommend this as a staple bourbon for your bar. John Hansell has stated that “Evan Williams is a sophisticated whiskey for its price: smooth, a great aroma, and neither gets lost in nor dominates a cocktail, a classic table bourbon.” Table bourbon indeed! If you have a long night of relaxation ahead of you (and you don’t want to worry about drinking away the all your expensive stuff), think about picking up a bottle of the Black Label.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Saint James Royal Ambre Rhum Agricole Review:

In the world of distilled spirits where one looks at distillation and aging as the primary defining factors of a spirit, it is very uncommon to speak of any product as “seasonal” or “fresh.” One might find notes of malted barley, but we don’t really speak of the nuances of the raw ingredient much more than “light" or "dark malt," etc. This is why I love agricole rum. You would be hard pressed to find many other products where the raw ingredient shines through.

Firstly the interest for myself has no doubt be sparked due to my new proximity to the San Francisco bay area, where an agricole (cane sugar) rum renaissance of sorts is currently underway. A bar has opened in the last couple years specifically geared towered agricole rum and rum mixology, while St. George Spirits across the bay in Alameda, has been producing an agricole using sugar cane grown in Southern California. Secondly cane rum is also a great bridge into rum as a whole. If you were unaccustomed to the super sweet oaky angostura like I was, agricole provides a gateway. The herbal and vegetal flavors of cane rum are not unlike some of the malty tones of scotch, or the pepper kick of tequila.

So what really is cane rum? Where the majority of the rum produced in the world is made from molasses (+90%), a byproduct of sugar production, agricole rum is produced from fermented fresh sugar cane juice, or a syrup produced from the juice. Where you can find cane rum in Guatemala, Trinidad, and now California, the heart of the most prized agricoles come from former colonies and French territories of Martinique and Guadalupe. Due to the strict French regulation put in place, Appellation d'Origine Controlee (AOC), Martinique is what many would state is the epicenter. Usually distilled at a lower percentage, and aged in French oak, cane rum’s nose and palate are more due to the sugarcane itself, rather than the aging process. As Paul Clark of the Cocktail Chronicals states, “these rums flirt with the notion of terroir, a sometimes awkward concept in the realm of spirits.”

I choose Saint James Royal Ambre as an introduction to cane rum due to the relatively short aging, around 18 months to 2 years. A second blend out of the Limousin Oak barrels, Royal Ambre is produced from cane which is exclusively grown on Martinique for the Saint James Distillery. So let’s get to the review! 

Saint James Rum Agricole Review:

Price: I purchased this for $29.99 for a 750ml bottle at an Italian grocer. You should be able to find this cheaper.

Packaging/Labeling: Classic square style. Looks nice on any bar. Not much helpful information on the label. 

Alcoholic Content: 45% abv, 90 proof. Ideal for a product of this kind.

Nose: Dark brown sugar sweetness meets your nose, though noticeably lighter than your average darker rums. Lovely freshness and floral bouquet. In one sense there is a relative richness that holds everything together, yet there is a mild muskiness which is common with certain rums. However this is nothing entirely unpleasant.

Palate: Immediately you gain a sense of subtlety on the front. Syrup and spice warm gently. Cinnamon, nutmeg, pepper, light char and burnt sugar. The sweetness is less pronounced on the palate. The finish is dry and peppery. You begin to pick up more of the vegetal qualities you might expect on the end.

Conclusion: The profile is quite different than most rums I’ve had a chance of tasting and adding water does wondrous things to this. Some reviewers will state that the lighter profile mixed with the higher abv makes this more of a mixer than a sipper. However, not being keen to rum cocktails, loving subtlety, always wanting higher abv, and loving the fact that the sweetness is turned way down, this is made to be enjoyed only with a little added water. I agree this is not a sipper for everyone to enjoy, but I can’t really image spending 25-30 dollars to place this in a simple cocktail. In my opinion this is a very interesting and wonderful change from the “daily grind.” I think it will be very fascinating to some who have the time, and fairly boring to those who don’t want to relish something new. Ultimately it’s a great value.