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