Happy Repeal Day?!

Good day whisky lovers!!!

Last night was an incredible time at the legendary Jack Rose Dining Saloon in DC where the entire bar celebrated the repeal of prohibition a short 84 years ago! The entire ordeal of prohibition (and really the current secondary whisk(e)y market) is a great demonstration of the futility of laws against free will but that philosophical conversation should be saved for another time. 😉

Jack Rose was looking as incredible as ever even with a Christmas tree obstructing the bottle view. It only looks empty because being the NERD that I am, I love being first to events like this. Getting to soak the atmosphere in from pin drop quiet to across the table yelling about the effects of wood on the spirit of whiskey absolutely cracks me up inside.

Here is the motley crew that I was seated with tonight. Two friends and a handful of friends-of-friends that were all here to drink whiskey and learn new things. Lucky for us, the wealth of knowledge in JR surprises me EVERY TIME. I mean, yes, I carry around a lot of whiskey information in my head but holy moly do some people carry even more!

(Being a scotch lover, I couldn’t help but order a scotch egg appetizer. It wasn’t as good as haggis covered goodness I had at The Classroom in Nairn, but it wasn’t bad considering haggis is banned in the states.)

My buddy Sean really wanted to try a Willett flight so he could figure out which Willett he’d like to find and buy so I suggested that he talk to the owner, Bill Thomas, who is a rabid Willett fan. So we did!

Bill, who introduced himself as “just an employee” dropped giant knowledge bombs on us about the history of Willett, single barrel picks, and even some details about the preprohibition whiskey that he had acquired for the night. It was humbling to hang with another enthusiast who is just as excited about whiskey but with ten times the knowledge!

I had this boring flight above so I could answer the questions that I get all the time on instagram about the Basil Hayden Dark Rye and the Joseph Magnus Cigar Malt Blend. The Van Winkle 12 Lot B was on sale and ironically, I’d never tried it… so I got that too!

The Basil Hayden Dark Rye actually contains a portion of port wine in it and that seems to translate into a cough syrup-y thick mess of sweetness shrouded in a touch of rye. Some of the folks who’d never had whisky in this capacity loved it. It was just too sweet for my palate. It was like a speysider on sugar steroids even with the rye spice finish. The Van Winkle 12 Lot B was a pleasant noser but is so far from the 15 and 23 mark that it was hard to take it seriously. The fact that it fetches more than four times it’s SRP on the secondary is mind boggling.

Our Whiskey Somm made some great suggestions and did a great job of helping folks pick the directions of their flights. I was impressed with all of his suggestions but one… but it’s amazing that our palates were even that closely aligned when it came to picking whiskies for the noobs in the group. The best recommendation he made was the try the Monticello PreProhibition Maryland Rye…

I surprised a few of the friends at the table when I told them to look for the smell of cream when they nosed it… I wasn’t trying to autosuggest flavors but it was so rich in cream on the nose and the palate that I was blown away. Something about a hundred year old whiskey being so vibrant was so impossible and so amazing at the same time.

The exact notes I typed into my phone read: “Notes of cream on the nose. The rye is subtle and veiled behind strong caramel. The palate is incredibly soft. Holy soft vanilla hiding behind the lightest spices. It’s still creamy. The rye spices bring up the rear in a light and inoffensive way. A second sip and that candied sugar center is ridiculous. The finish lingers for dayyyyyys.”

The raw sugar and cream blend kept making me think of how awesome coffee would be if it could have its bitterness balanced by this incredible hooch. *drool*. At $40 a pour, it’s pricey but it’s worth it to try at least once in your life!

There was ONE more bottle that got brought to the table by Bill but we’ll save my feelings on it for another blog post. Let’s just say the current version of this companies offerings and their offerings from 30 years ago are miles apart. Which is great if you were alive to enjoy the better version 30 years ago…

So Slainte! Cheers! Kanpai!

Have a great day and remember… prohibition is bad, mmmmkay.

Stagg Jr. 65%

Stagg Jr has the name junior because its big daddy is George T. Stagg of the Buffalo Trace Antique Collection. While George T. Stagg is generally aged anywhere from 15-17 years, Stagg Jr is aged 8-9yrs and released a few times throughout the year. The bottle I have is from 2016 and 130 proof.

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C: The color is a dark brown with even darker edges, yet still see-through.
N: Be careful, at 130 proof it will burn all the hair that you have in your nostrils. Once you get passed the high proof, you’re greeted with rum or white wine soaked raisins, vanilla beans have been scraped into the same vessel adding rich depth. Charred wood takes it’s place on the podium with the other flavors like milk chocolate and baking spices. Every now and then an astringent bite of the alcohol reminds me I’m too close to the fire.

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P: The first flavor I get before my mouth is bombarded with saliva, are the rummy/winey raisins. As my mouth tingles, cantaloupe flavors come forward met with charred toothpicks and dusty spice. Black pepper joins the cocoa powder and what I would imagine leather glove treatment tastes like. Not necessarily a bad thing.
F: The finish is vanilla sweetened black pepper and wood char and slight wood sour. This bourbon isn’t for the faint of heart. I feel like this is the bourbon that people used to drink in western movies, aka “fire water”, coming from a jug labeled with three X’s and possibly a skull and bones logo. I would drink this next to a camp fire in a heart beat. I love the tongue numbing heat that it brings and the genuine “my way or the highway” attitude.

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There are other easily drinkable bourbons out there with more sweetness or more gentle caramel and vanilla flavors that make you feel good. But sometimes you feel like a nut and sometimes you don’t. Sometimes you want a kick in the pants and this Stagg Jr. is here to
deliver the business.
Scotch. Out.

Belle Meade Single Barrel 10 yr

Belle Meade has done a lot of great things recently with their finished line of bourbons. Sherry, Cognac and now Madeira cask finishes are all out of the park home runs for [Sniff] and I. This is a blend of 10yr and older whiskies from MGP (formerly known as LDI). Andy Nelson of Nelson’s Greenbrier Distillery (co-owner of Belle Meade and head distiller) has always been very open about where they get their distillate from and how little or hands on they are with the processes of selecting the yeast strains, barrels and locations of aging. Will this Single Barrel make the cut? Or will we stick to the fancy finishes that they are so good at churning out? Read on to find out!

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C: A light reddish orange liquid with lighter edges when the light catches it.
N: The nose has an eerily similar honeyed characteristic like that of The Balvenie 12 yr doublewood. It’s very soft on the nose but a sweet, subtly spiced oak. A very light toffee/caramel notes comes through after sticking my nose deep in the glass. Possibly cooked quince or a tart fruit (not a fruit tart).
P: Vanilla, with spiced chocolate notes flood the mouth. Slightly charred oak and licorice create a sour bitter note, handled well by the welcoming sweetness.
F: The bourbon finishes with a slightly peppery, welcomed oaky spice. The longer the glass lingers with bourbon in it, the more the caramel and toffee characteristics swell and tempt you back for more. After a full day of sampling and reviewing bourbons, I can honestly say that coming back to this bourbon is a real treat. It feels like home base, that all other higher proof bourbons can be judged against.

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Great company, great people and a pretty darn tasty bourbon. Like I said before though, their finished bourbons and whiskies are nothing to shake a stick at and you should definitely pick up a few cases when you get a chance. Unless we get to them first.
Scotch. Out.

Black Maple Hill Oregon Straight Rye Whiskey

This new Black Maple Hill is no longer produced from Kentucky. The current BMH is produced from a company called the Stein Distillery out of Joseph, Oregon. We’re still looking for a bottle of the Kentucky variety to compare, but until then, on with the review!!

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C: An old brown couch color, with an alarming amount of sediment in the bottle. Looks a lot like lint floating around a brown pool of water.
N: I like the nose. A mixture of amaretto, dried dates from a fruit cake, slight red licorice and sweet cocoa/nutmeg powder. The oak is gentle but looming in the background. There aren’t any rye bread flavors really coming to the forefront yet though.
P: The palate has a nice bit of baking spices coming through, followed by wafts of heat from the alcohol, which is actually enjoyable. The spice waves that you get from a really spicy chili. You love the spice now, but you’ll hate it later. Though the whiskey feels thin on the tongue, the spices are rich and full and add to the enjoyment of this dram. Sweet dates and almond skin flavors are dancing around my mouth, all seasoned with freshly grated cinnamon and dry cocoa. A slight oak spice carries all of these flavors right down into my belly. The palate is far more appealing than the nose. Upon second sip, a resinous, sappy flavor masks some of the more enjoyable characteristics of the first sip but fade into the background and it’s tasty again.
F: The finish is a bit oaky and lengthens with every exhale. The sides of my mouth feel like they have cinnamon caught in all the nooks and crannies. It’s a good finish and one that would work excellently in a cocktail.

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You could drink this one neat and really enjoy it, but I feel like the finish of this rye and the punchy baking spice entrance could be used in an awesome cocktail as a supporting character. I’ve said it once and I’ll say it again, my go to rye, for now, would have to be Michters Barrel Strength Rye, it’s just awesome in comparison.
Scotch. Out.

Rock Creek Rye

Rock Creek Rye, named after one of the first federally managed parks, was created by DC’s very own One Eight Distillery. It is the very first grain to glass whisky, distilled, aged and bottled in the district since prohibition. Distilled in copper pot stills, aged in new oak and then bottled at 47% abv, this should prove to be a delicious, local staple.

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C: It’s a nice russet color, not sure if colorant is added but it looks nice.
N: Vanilla and salt water taffy are the first things that pop into my mind with the initial nosing. Sticking my nose further into the glass brings forth a raw rye characteristic. A very light half sour pickle pushes out from the glass. If you’ve ever made rye bread from scratch, you know that the dough is very sticky and elastic. That feeling carries through the nose, bringing sweet stickiness and an almost gummy nose. The licorice qualities of caraway seed and more raw rye bread dough wrap up this nosing.
P: Initial taste, the alcohol is well managed and not hot feeling or full of burn at all. The spice is initially very light, almost non-existent until the alcohol seems to awaken it on your tongue. It doesn’t taste as young as it is, which is a good thing, but it doesn’t taste like a conventional rye, which is not such a good thing. Second sip has a little more “burn” associated with it but similar spice characteristics. Light dusty cocoa, stale McCormick cinnamon (aka pencil shavings). My mouth has a sticky feeling and the need for loxs and cream cheese to accompany this rye bagel in my mouth.
F: The finish is very light, after the burn of the alcohol assuages. Actual rye bread flavors are left coating the inside of my mouth, but the spices have all but faded.

rock-creek-rye

If you’re looking for a traditional rye with warming spice notes of cinnamon, nutmeg and other baking spices, this is not your bottle. This is definitely a different whiskey. Almost as smooth as a vodka but artificially flavored as a rye, like rye flavored vodka. I’m not huge fan, but every whisk(e)y has it’s place. I feel like this rye is for the bartender mixing a drink for someone, trying to convince them they like rye. My go to rye out of all ryes, for now, is still Michters barrel strength rye. KAPOW!
Scotch. Out.

Black Maple Hill Bourbon

The current Black Maple Hill is produced from a company called the Stein Distillery out of Joseph, Oregon. It’s a craft whisky aged a minimum of 4 years with some older varieties mixed in. Does it live up to the standard of the Kentucky made variety of bourbon? We’re not sure, but we’re looking to source some bottles to compare. But until then, on with the review!

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C: A reddish chocolate brown color almost exactly the same as the Black Maple Hill Rye. Coincidence? Colorant?
N: There’s a very aggressive oak char on the nose, veiled in a tea house aroma, like pouring earl grey for hundreds. Dr. Pepper notes comes through as fresh ground pepper as well as generic cola syrup. There’s a medicinal note that calls to memory the often many trips to
the emergency room as a rambunctious kid. The nose isn’t pleasant, plain and simple. it’s not a bourbon that I want to continue to smell. Let’s see if the palate isn’t any better.
P: The palate is rich with oak and spice but nothing that easily calls itself out. There’s a lack of vanilla, caramel and honestly deliciousness in the palate. My mouth is full of dusty spices that aren’t soothed with a caramel sweetness that you often find in more delicious bourbons. This feels like Icy Hot, without the Icy. Peanut butter and Jelly, without the Jelly. Ice cream, without the sunday. Ok, I think you get the point.

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F: The Finish is full of spice, tongue tingling spice. Like opening your spice cabinet and pouring a few dry spices on your tongue, then rubbing your tongue on the roof of your mouth and wishing you hadn’t done so. You had a chance to back out, but you were already committed, you weren’t ready, he wasn’t readyyyyy. The oak and spice continue for a rather long time.

If you read my review about the Black Maple Hill Rye, this one also seems to be a good supporting actor. If your cocktail needs spice and oak, add this, you’ll get those notes. But make sure to add it to an equally fruity cocktail to match it’s equally oaky spice. I don’t think I have to say it, but there are a variety of other bourbons out there that need your attention.
Scotch. Out.

Putnam New England Rye Whiskey

This rye has an interesting story. It starts off as a new make rye spirit, distilled from the midwest. Boston Harbor Distillery re-distills the spirit to their Master distillers’ standards, and then ages the spirit in heavy charred oak barrels. A re-distilled rye huh? Let’s see how it tastes!
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C: The color is a russet red in the bottle and more of a lightly toasted oak in the glass.
N: Sticking my nose in the glass I’m met with a candied cherry that’s been left in a bottle of rye to soak. Vanilla salted caramels. Buttered rye bread that hasn’t been toasted. Cinnamon sugar mixed with rye cereal and the leftover sweet milk that remains after you’ve finished a bowl of cheerios. This glass is rich with rye for sure, but not over the top and in your face that some rye’s are. Candied and dried orange peel, cloves, and some dried floral notes present themselves.
P: Initial taste has an earthy, sweet and lightly spiced rye characteristic. Curry spice matched with the mellowing effects of oak. Even though the company says the oak is char # 4, sometimes referred to as “alligator char” (because of the texture and the look of the wood after 55 seconds of intense burning), it’s a very mellow, inviting vanilla rich oak. And with the sweetness of this whiskey, it’s a really nicely executed aging. Second sip intensifies the spice mid-palate, and with a highly manageable 43% abv, drinks easily without the addition of water. There’s no cloying sweetness like one might think after reading the nosing of this whiskey, but rather a really well balanced dram. The sweet, spice and oak all play a really well executed game in this bottle.
F: The finish is rye rich but not an overly yeasty, bready rye that some ryes can have. Again, the spices pair with the rye flavors and the overall balanced sweetness of the whiskey helps it shine. The finish is a little short, but the rye flavors remain in the crevices of my mouth.
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This whiskey is fairly surprising and totally in a good way. I initially didn’t care for it, but I think it’s because I’d been sipping on bourbons for quite some time and my palate went blind to anything non-bourbon. It’s good to try things again and at different times, you never know how circumstances might change and effect your tasting.  For $45 this is a delicious option in the sub $50 rye range. But it’s not really an over the top rye like some can be. In comparison, I just took a quick sip of Knob Creek rye which has a powerful rye entrance, with a relatively one noted spice and then an off-toned finish. The Putnam rye seems to be a lot more refined, and maybe that has to do with the extra distilling on location in Boston. Tasty on it’s own and probably a real treat mixed in a cocktail like the distillery recommends!
[Scotch]

Noah’s Mill genuine Bourbon whiskey Batch 16-77

Noah’s Mill Bourbon has a cute little story explaining how it came to be and why, out of necessity, farmers interchanged between distillers and farmers to keep corn crops from going to waste. Cute stories aside, this barrel strength bourbon is a heavyweight value hitter. All the bourbon flavors you could ask for with enough unique characteristics to keep you sipping for more. Bottled in small batch (I’ve read less than 20 barrels) by the Kentucky Bourbon Distillers, who run out of the Willett Distillery in Bardstown, this bourbon is a blend of mash bills that is left in a bit of clouded mysticism. Although the make up of the bourbon might be questionable, the flavor is definitely not.

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Noah’s Mill Bourbon

C: Slightly Mahogany

N: Had a difficult time sorting out the nose on this one and then it hit me, I ran to the fridge and grabbed my bottle of Luxardo Cherries. Boom, nailed it! Milk chocolate covered Luxardo cherries. A little floral, and a syrupy sweet nose. Sticking my deeper into the Glencairn reveals the oak. Definitely doesn’t nose like a younger whisk(e)y. I’ve read that the contents of this bottle are made up of anywhere from 4-15 year old bourbon, no one seems quite sure since they took the age statement from the bottle. A vanilla custard covered in whipped cream smell prepares me for what could be a very sweet bourbon.

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Noah’s Mill Bourbon

P: First sip makes me question how this is 57.15%. It’s very lightweight, almost like water. But the richness and spice are a little mind-boggling. It’s creamy and spicy, round and oaky. Honestly it’s difficult to come up with positives or negatives about this bourbon. That’s neither a good or a bad thing though. There is a very corny sweetness, a spiced heat that rises halfway through the tasting, climaxes, then drops slowly into a mellow appeal. This is a very bourbon-y bourbon if that makes any sense whatsoever. All of the flavors are there, vanilla, creamy buttery high fat caramel, with the addition of brandied cherries. Fresh figs drizzled with wild flower honey, not clover honey though. Lighter, sweeter, more floral honey. There are some very floral tones that can be picked out from the deep richness.

F: The orange flavors that you would get from XO cognac. An earthiness, forest floor and old farmhouse finish, all good things. Very slight spearmint finish. This is a very unique bourbon that I would love to continue to explore. This is a steal for under $50. The amount of complexity that I’m tasting would fool anyone into thinking that this was a 15 year or older bourbon in a blind tasting. -[Scotch]

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Noah’s Mill Bourbon

 

Elijah Craig Single Barrel 18 year Barrel no 4219 Barreled on 11-18-97

This single barrel bourbon isn’t like the normal blends from multiple barrels that other bourbons are usually created from. Tagged as “Super Premium”, this whisky is aged in a single barrel for the full 18 years and then bottled when deemed ready by Master Distillers Parker and Craig Beam. First introduced in 1994, they discontinued the 18 year in 2012 after the demand for whiskey grew too great and there weren’t enough 18 year old barrels to meet it. They did however bring it back in 2015. Back for good? Not too sure, but we snagged a couple bottles to taste and see what all the hubbub is about.

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Elijah Craig Single Barrel 18 year

C: Sunset orange with glints of reddish orange around the rim.

N: The smell you get from peeling an orange is the first thing that I get on the nose. That spritz of orange essential oils spraying into the air and perfuming everything, even your fingers and everything you touch afterwards. That is immediately followed by old oak, a little stale and musty saturated oak. Like under-ripe plum skins and over ripe apples sitting on your kitchen countertop that should have been eaten last week. It definitely smells rich and powerful, just not too sure yet if that’s a good thing or not. Oh, and a very faint ripe banana smell.

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Elijah Craig 18 year ScotcNSniff Glencairn

P: It is rich. And I’m immediately slapped in the face with oak, followed by that random banana. 90 proof plays the slow roll and gently singes the outer ends of your tongue. It’s spicy though, not to be mistaken with alcohol burn. The oak is extremely present but dark cocoa and stale cinnamon spice are layering up a defense to add something to the playing field. Smyrna Figs come through in a layer followed with raisins and black strap molasses. This is far better than the 23 year, you can actually taste things. Yeah, the figs are strong in this one.

F: The finish is full flavored. Full of spice, dry cocoa, nutmeg, dusty old cinnamon that you should have used 5 years ago, white pepper, a toothpick you should have stopped chewing on 10 minutes ago and vanilla extract. The oak is ever present in this expression, slightly dominating every aspect of the tasting, but somehow it does work. This bottle is a niche type of bourbon that a certain super premium bourbon buyer will want to have in there collection. There are definitely better values out there and I truly believe you’re not missing out on anything not buying this. But it is unique and always fun to explore.

[Scotch]

World’s Best Whisky!!

I stayed up last night thinking a lot about this topic and how we’re kind of fooling ourselves. If you’re trying to find the worlds best whisky, sorry for the deceiving title, but you won’t find it here. What you will find, is the truth behind what will guide you, to find
the best whiskies of the world.

 

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Sniff’s Birthday Extravaganza!!!!

The three topics that kept me up last night were; Rating systems, Personal preference and Hype. I’ll soap box on each one of these separately.

Rating Systems: Rating systems are great aids for those who don’t know what they want and to potentially find the best versions of a certain whisky in a certain category. For example, using the 100 point scale that many reviews use, you could safely assume that a 95 point Islay whisky, like an Ardbeg Uigeadail, would be an exceptional example of a peated northern Islay whisky. What some may call a “Classic”. Without having tasted it, you can trust that the reviewers have or should have determined that the flavors present in the whisky should showcase that of an Islay whisky, to be at least 95% of the best of that style.

This may take into account the many factors of being a classic Islay whisky, BUT, what if you don’t like Islay whiskies?? What if peat makes you cringe? And even though this is one of the best peated Islay whiskies, you hate it. Then that 95 points means nothing to you.

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Ardbeg Dark Cove Committee Release

One way to get a better idea of if your taste buds are on par with a reviewers, is to drink a lot of the same whisky that they have reviewed, to see if you agree with them. But the thing about drinking a lot of whisky is; 1. You could develop a serious drinking problem, 2. A serious loss of money problem or even more seriously, 3. Be able to determine your own personal preference. The industry would like it if they could continue to think for you, aka “Influence” you.

The best thing I’ve learned about tasting and reviewing a lot of whisky, is that you become better at tasting and reviewing whisky. Just like anything else, practice makes perfect. Or a better saying in this situation would be, practice makes you more educated. But it doesn’t roll of the tongue as easily. The more whisky you taste, the better ability you have to determine what you like and dislike. After gaining the knowledge of knowing what you like and dislike, e.g. Personal Preference, then you can determine for yourself what is the best, for you!

Many people have this idea that they know what’s best for you. Not just random people, but companies. “Our soap is the best for your shower”, “these crackers will cure indigestion” and “our toilet paper will wipe better for you than any other”. When companies do this, it’s called marketing. When randos do this, it’s called hype.

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Glenfiddich 21 The Balvenie 21 The Glenlivet 21

Both marketing and hype are used to increase the perception of the value for things, often to ridiculous heights. Case in point, the 2013 Yamazaki Sherry cask which was named Best Whiskey in the World by Jim Murray (a whisky reviewer). This rocketed the Japanese whiskey scene, calling for thousands of dollars for the 2013 Yamazaki Sherry Cask and even raising the rest of the Yamazaki expressions to crazy inflated prices. The 12 year expression used to cost $65, now if you can find it, will run you $125. The 18 year expression used to cost around $200 and is now hovering between $399 – $450. Is the whisky good? Sure! But is it $400 good for the 18 year or $125 good for the 12 year? Maybe. It really depends upon how much you’re willing to spend for something that is hard to get and if you enjoy it. I love the Hibiki 21 year. I started purchasing bottles at $199 when I first saw it and I continue to purchase bottles when I find it for $350. When is my stopping point? My wife says, now.

Bottom line, use resources like this blog, other blogs and other reviewers to form a general idea of what it is you want to try. We try to use very easy to understand descriptions in order to appeal to the vast majority. Then, use online sites that sell samples of various bottles of whisky, or go to different bars to try different pours without committing to a full bottle. Determine whether you like sweet, peat, salty, medicinal or any other types of whisky and then continue down those lanes until you find your grail. That is the only way to determine what the best whisky in the world is, for you. And that’s why we love this whisky journey that we’re on.

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ScotchNSniff glass

So, what’s YOUR world’s best whisky??
[Scotch]