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.