Saturday, December 15, 2012

Bourbon Tasting Friday

On Friday, Gulliver and I did a quick little bourbon trip that bourbon enthusiasts consider routine.  I'm on the weekly marketing email list for several of the better liquor stores around town, and one of them, Pearson's, had some things that caught my eye this week.

This week Pearson's received their shipment of single barrel Jefferson's Presidential Select 18.  I've very much enjoyed this bourbon over the past year or so--It markets itself as being "aged in Stitzel-Weller barrels" which has lead everyone to believe that this is S-W juice (the same as older Pappy).  I think it drinks the same way, so I don't see any reason why that wouldn't be the case.  The odd way of marketing it--aged in S-W barrels--makes me wonder though.  Why not just say "This is S-W bourbon"?  Anyhow.

I already have a bottle of it in my bunker, so I passed, but Gulliver picked up another bottle of it for his.  Gulliver loves that stuff.  He's got a few bottles in his bunker.  The store was also doing an E.H. Taylor line tasting, so we stuck around for that.  We tasted the small batch, single barrel and the rye.  I preferred the small batch, and Gulliver preferred the single barrel.  We both knew more about bourbon than the representative pouring the whiskey, but we mostly kept our mouth shut and just enjoyed the whiskey.

We had a few more minutes to kill so we walked over to a place next door tastefully named Bourbon. Bourbon had an excellent selection of high end and hard to find bourbon.  I had pours of the 2010 Parker's Heritage Collection wheated bourbon and an Eagle Rare 101 that is no longer in production.  Gulliver had Elijah Craig 18, which is not in production now, and a PHC 2010.  We both though the PHC 2010 was the star of the show.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Wheater Wednesday, Van Winkle "Lot B"

Note: Wheater Wednesday is a result of a massive blind wheated bourbon tasting that recently concluded.  All bourbons here are publicly available.

Van Winkle is quickly becoming the most famous name in bourbon--or at least the most sought after.  (As any whiskey blogger can tell you, writing about Pappy Van Winkle is a quick way to boost your traffic stats.)  The "Lot B" version is a 12 year old whiskey bottled at 90.4 proof.  Two years ago I received a bottle as a gift, but since then (and that bottle is LONG gone) I've not been able to find any at a reasonable price.

Remember that the big wheater tasting was blind, so I did not know what I was tasting.  Here are the details:

Nose: Caramel, some vanilla and barrel char.  Some richness here.

Taste: Disappointingly thin and watery.  Doesn't live up to the nose. Musty, not a whole lot stood out here for me. Some nice sweetness but it is in the background.  Okay, but unremarkable.

Finish: Mild spice, but rather short.

Overall: I scored this an 80.  I think this is perfect example of something being overrated because if its name. It's not bad, but there's better wheaters out there and they're almost all easier to find.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Bourbon Hunting Saturday

On Saturday morning, Gulliver and I played a round of golf at one of our favorite courses in Maryland.  As is our tradition, we did some bourbon hunting after the round.  We sort of try to keep an open mind--we look for dusties and hard to find bottles.

My Haul
The Washington, DC market for bourbon is, well, insane.  The best-stocked stores have recognized the whiskey bubble, and over the last couple of years they've raised prices on the hardest to find bottles by up to 100%.  I've seen the BTAC for $149.99, Parker's Heritage for $120, and some older Willett bottles for well over $200.  And don't even try to find Pappy--my local store I visit most often is selling "Lot B" for $129.99.  The suggested retail price of "Lot B" is somewhere around $40-$50.

So after the round, Gulliver and I hit a couple of liquor stores.  The first was a den of miserable human existence that included off-track betting and cheap, handle sized whiskey.  I thought we might be able to find a dusty or two there, but no dice. We did, however, find a bottle of Old Fitzgerald with a misspelling on the back.

Gulliver's Gifts
We drove down the street a little bit and hit the bourbon jackpot.  The store had Stagg, Weller, and the rest of the BTAC, as well as 2011 and 2012 versions of the Four Roses Limited Edition Small Batch.  These bottles are all well over $100 in DC, but we were able to get them at or below $79.99.  Gulliver added an Abraham Bowman Port finished and I also picked up a Buffalo Trace Experimental Collection 19 year old French oak.

All and all, even though our golf games sucked, our bourbon game was excellent.  We were able to snag some great whiskey at fair prices.  And these days, that is almost asking too much.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Wheater Wednesday: Old Weller Antique

Note: Wheater Wednesday is a result of a massive blind wheated bourbon tasting that recently concluded. All bourbons rated here are publicly available.

Old Weller is an iconic wheated whiskey brand from Buffalo Trace.  It claims to be the first bourbon to use wheat in its mash bill, which may very well be true.  Old Weller Antique is bottled at 107 proof and carries no age statement.

Nose: Vanilla and caramel with some corn notes.  Pleasing maple sweetness--a very nice nose.

Taste: Starts and ends sweet.  This is obviously a wheater.  Maple, vanilla, corn, maple syrup.  Is consistent with the nose.

Finish:  Sweet and lingering in a jolly rancher sort of war.

Overall:  89.  The thing that held this one back from a 90+ score is the sticky sweetness of the finish.  But an otherwise very fine bourbon.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Henry McKenna 10 Year Single Barrel Bottled in Bond

McKenna is on the far left with the green foil.
Henry McKenna 10 year old single barrel bottled in bond bourbon is an often overlooked offering from Heaven Hill Distillery.  According to their marketing copy and my own anecdotal experience, it is one of the "extra-aged" bottled in bond bourbons on the market.  It is also a single barrel, so I included it in the committee's end of year picks to represent Heaven Hill.  I nearly chose Evan Williams Single Barrel, but McKenna offering a little bit more proof and being bottled in bond tipped the scale in McKenna's favor.  The end of year selections were not tasted blind.

The formal tasting notes come from committee member Kyle.

Nose: Some light barrel pointing to a middle age range. Light butterscotch and some syrup.

Taste:  Hot, it fills the mouth mouth well but is slightly thin.

Finish: Strong lingering finish on tip of the tongue and on the cheeks.

Overall: 75

Obviously, Kyle did not care for this bourbon.  I did not do formal tasting notes, but I suspect this would fall somewhere in the low to mid-80s for me.  I recently finished a bottle and it was an inoffensive, straightforward bourbon that I would pour on a weeknight.  It's not special, but it's not horrible.

I am not sure what Heaven Hill is doing with the brand.  The 10 year old single-barrel, bottled in bond thing is pretty unique--I'm not aware of anything else like it on the market.  The problem is that it just isn't that great of a bourbon.  I wonder if these are the same barrels that go into regular Henry McKenna, a bottom shelf offering, just aged longer. If that's the case it strikes me as an odd strategy because bottled in bonds and single barrels usually gain some traction with bourbon geeks like me.  But this offering is mostly forgettable, for good reason.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Wheater Wednesday, Old Rip Van Winkle 10 Year 90 Proof

Note: Wheater Wednesday is a result of a massive blind wheated bourbon tasting that recently concluded. The bourbons rated here are publicly available.

Next up is Old Rip Van Winkle 10 Year 90 proof, often abbreviated ORVW 10/90.  ORVW 10/90 is part of the most sought after bourbon family in the bourbon world: Pappy Van Winkles.  Pappy Van Winkle makes extraordinarily good bourbon, but if you're a bourbon drinker, you already know all this.  ORVW 10/90 is one of the lesser known offerings.  It is a close cousin to a bottle I try to keep on my shelf, ORVW 10/107.  The Van Winkle lineup also includes a 12, 15, 20, and 23 year old bourbons, and a 12 year old rye.  The Van Winkles have released various other products over the years, but my basic rule of thumb has always been that if I see any Van Winkle offering on the shelf, I purchase it.  That is, until now...

I had not had ORVW 10/90 until this tasting.  Remember, I tasted all these bourbons blind.  On to the notes:

Nose: Young and corn forward, some vanilla and corn stalk.

Taste: Like bourbon flavored water.  There's not much to this bourbon.  Thin and watery.  I wouldn't have even thought this was a wheater cause there is almost no sweetness.

Finish: A slight tingle on the back of the tongue.

Overall: 78.  When I found out the identity of this bourbon I was mildly shocked.  I've always like ORVW 10/107, but then again, I've always known what was in my glass.

Some other reviews:

Sour Mash Manifesto (Put SMM in your reader. Jason Pyle is one of the best bourbon bloggers around.)

Whiskey Apostle

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Tasting Notes: Parker's Heritage Collection 2012

Parker's Heritage Collection is a highly sought after annual release from Heaven Hill distillery.  The Heritage Collection allows Parker and Craig Beam, the father-son Master Distiller team at HH, to really explore the studio space in the Heaven Hill rick houses.  In past years, they've released a wheated bourbon finished in cognac casks, an ultra-aged bourbon (27 years) and a cask proof wheated bourbon among others.

PHC 2012
This year they've a high proof, 131.6 proof, mix of wheat and rye mash bills.  I was able to secure this bottle from Hi-Time Wine out of California.  I've spent some time with this bourbon, as I've tasted it a couple times over the course of the past 6 weeks or so.  On to the details:

Nose: Cinnamon, orange peel, and a whiff tobacco and leather.  I can tell from the nose that this is a complex bourbon.

Taste:  A maple sweetness on the tip of the tongue upon entry.  As it moves across the tongue, I got some traditional rye spiciness, and on the back of tongue I got more of the pleasing sweetness usually associated with a wheater.

Finish:  A nice complex mix of spice and sweet.

Overall:  I rate this at 89.  This improved a good deal after I opened.  When I first tasted it a few weeks ago,  I did not care for it.  After opening up some, it seems to have improved.  I'd be interested to taste this blind, since I know what's in it, I know what to taste for.  It would be interesting to see what I could pick out not knowing what it is.

All that said, it isn't as good as some of the Parker's Heritage Releases, though I haven't tasted them all.  The 2011 cognac barrel finished bourbon is one of my all time favorites, but this one does not reach that level.  It's a good bourbon though, and and if you can find for around $70, I think you should buy it.  I bought two; one to drink and one to bunker.

(Cross-posted at my wife's blog, Bourbon and Chocolate)

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Wheater Wednesday: Old Fitzgerald Bottled in Bond

Note: Wheater Wednesday is a result of a massive blind wheated bourbon tasting that recently concluded. The bourbons rated here are publicly available.

Old Fitz BiB is a Heaven Hill product that I'd never tasted before.  It's a mid-shelf bourbon that can be tough to find in some areas.  It is 100 proof (obviously, it is bottled-in-bond), and no age statement that I can see.  (I haven't actually had a bottle, just a sample.)  Anyway, on to the tasting notes:

Nose: Some slight maple syrup, cinnamon, vanilla, flavorful and inviting.  I got some barrel influence as well.

Taste: Wood forward and some satisfying vanilla up front. Maple and dry moving back but not as much of the sweetness expected from a wheater. After it opened up, the wood receded a bit.

Finish: Sweet and pleasant.  The woodiness hung around awhile.

Overall:  84.  This was average an average bourbon.  As always, YMMV.

Some other reviews are here:

The Last Shall Be First

The Bourbon Observer

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Four Roses Blind Tasting: Committee Report

A couple weeks ago the Capitol Bourbon Committee met to blind taste the three standard Four Roses offerings: Yellow Label, Small Batch and Single Barrel.  The Yellow Label offering is a blend of all ten Four Roses Recipes and clocks in at 80 proof.  Small Batch contains four recipes at 90 proof.  The Single Barrel was the standard single barrel recipe, OBSV, and was 100 proof.

The tasting spread.
Four Roses is my favorite bourbon, so I was excited to see how our panel of seven tasters (six members and one special guest) rated each selection.

In a general sense, all seven tasters tasted definite differences between what turned out to be the Yellow Label and the Small Batch and Single Barrel.   And by that I mean that the Small Batch and Single Barrel stood out above the Yellow label in nose, taste, and finish.

The Single Barrel was the coverall winner with an average score of 90.25.  Small Batch came in a close second at 89.8, while Yellow Label lagged behind at 87.  Even at 87, Yellow Label received an excellent score. (In fact, I took a bunch of it home and drank almost all of it during Hurricane Sandy!)

The tasting notes are summarized below:

Yellow Label (Sample A)

Nose:  caramel, light, maple, hot, flat, some sweetness and chocolate, sweet fruits, corn, grass, floral, mild

Taste:  Rye, light and smooth, more misty pepper than sweetness, up-front fruit, velvet-y mouth feel, slight honey, corn and charcoal, floral and mellow, some vanilla, an easy drinker.

Finish: short with some pleasant spiciness, smooth with a nice linger, wheat-y and a slight burn, corn and sugar

Small Batch (Sample B)

The Four Roses Collection
Nose: Vanilla, orange zest, sweeter than A, bold with a slight burn, cotton candy, leather, oak, bold spiciness, some vanilla, and floral notes

Taste:  smooth, berry flavors, sweet start with spice in the middle, strong and creamy, mild alcohol, delicate, vanilla, rich, deep leather, some corn and floral, tannins, low heat, pleasing spice, vanilla and caramel

Finish: Vanilla, oak, balanced with trailing sweet finish, very smooth, leather and tannins, sweet and spicy finish, I love this finish!

Single Barrel OBSV (Sample C)

Nose: butterscotch, thick, raisin, soft leather, hot, floral, molasses, spicy caramel

Taste: Earthy, charcoal, spices, pepper, hot on front of tongue, vanilla custard, spiciness, floral flavors, vanilla, cinnamon and nice heat.

Finish: Smooth spice, rounded and hints of leather and vanilla, great finish, creamy on the tongue, a slow burn, spicy and vanilla.

Last words:  I can tell by the handwriting that as we progressed we got a little tipsy.  We also got to bullshitting and maybe weren't as diligent with the notes as we could of been.  It scarcely matters.  The Capitol Bourbon Committee isn't about formally scoring bourbons; it's about getting together with a few friends and sharing the bourbon experience.   A great time was had by all, and we are already planning our future events.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Four Roses Blind Tasting Preparation

The Capitol Bourbon Committee is conducting a Four Roses blind tasting on Saturday, so Thursday night my wife and I transferred the Four Roses into bottles so that it would be blind.  I poured the whiskey into smaller bottles and my wife labeled them while I was doing some dishes.

The bottles labeled for the blind tasting.
This will be the first tasting to include all six members, and we'll all be rating each whiskey blind.  On tap are Four Roses Yellow Label, Small Batch, and Single Barrel.  I'm hoping that we have slightly different preferences so we can all take home a bit of the whiskey we liked the best.

I'll be taking notes, so expect some results on Sunday. (Or Monday--I may be hungover.)

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Balcones Rumble Cask Reserve Review

On Tuesday I had the distinct pleasure of tasting a sample of Balcones Rumble Cask Reserve. If you aren't familiar with Balcones, you should be.  Balcones is a seriously up and coming micro-distillery out of Central Texas.  They have pretty good market penetration here in Washington, DC, as their products are available in many of the higher end liquor stores around the city.

Rumble Cask Reserve is a cask strength version of Rumble.  It is a seriously unique whiskey, if that's what it can be described as.  It is a spirit made from "...the finest local wildflower honey, mission figs, turbinado sugar, and natural Texas hill country water..."  They age the spirit in a small barrel, which can be a double  edged sword, but they've pulled this one off.

Nose:  Honey, some grassiness, and a sweet note that I couldn't quite place.  It's floral/honey notes got stronger the more I nosed it.

Taste: A very full mouth feel upon entry, with the honey notes prominent.  Tastes almost like a sweet scotch as it has some of that earthiness often found in scotch. On the second sip I got some barrel influence that nicely balanced out the sweetness.  I also got some honey wheat bread flavors.

Finish: The finish lingered on the horizontal middle of my tongue.  It was like a small honeycomb was just sitting there.

Overall: I rate this out as an 88. I think this is something of a mood spirit that almost directly splits the difference between bourbon and scotch.  It's sweet but earthy, and I'll be picking up a bottle soon.

Many thanks to @Connoissaurus for sending me the sample!

Friday, October 12, 2012

The Best Delivery is a Bourbon Delivery

Several months ago I purchased a bottle of Jefferson's Presidential Select 18 Year Old Bourbon.  The bourbon is notable because it is purportedly Stitzel-Weller bourbon.  S-W is a legendary distillery among bourbon geeks, as it was the distillery that until recently produced bourbon for the Van Winkle family.  (Van Winkle is now made at Buffalo Trace, and don't get bourbon enthusiasts started on the switch over. You'll get more than you bargained for.)

Anyhow, when I first tasted JPS18, I didn't like it.  In fact, I hated it.  Since I didn't like it, it sat on my shelf, untouched, for several months.  At some point, I gave it another shot, and the bourbon had changed.  After some time it opened up and I really really enjoyed it.  At some point, Gulliver came over and we shared a pour or five of it.  Gulliver liked it enough to purchase his own bottle.

Until very recently, I hadn't really thought about it.  But as part of another bourbon group, I'm taking part in a  21 wheated bourbon blind tasting.  Two bourbons are revealed weekly.  Long story short, I rated JPS18 a 95, which is the highest I've ever rated a bourbon.  At the same time, Gulliver commented to me how much he enjoyed this bourbon.

I try to keep an eye out on area and online liquor stores to keep a pulse on prices.  In the DC area, I've seen JPS18 go for as much as $105, so when I saw it online for $69.99, I knew I had to jump on it.  I emailed the group and Kyle and Gulliver were both interested in getting a bottle (In Gulliver's case, two).  Today, the bourbon arrived, and man is it a pretty sight.

The other bottle along side the 4 JPS18s is Larceny from Heaven Hills.  It is a new brand that came out in the last few months but has not yet arrived in DC.  I'll have notes on it when I get around to opening it.  For now, though, the Committee is going to enjoy some JPS18.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Bourbon Hunting, Washington, DC

My wife and I took a little Saturday afternoon drive today to hit several DC liquor stores.  I wasn't looking for anything in particular, although I was kind of wondering if any store had some of the sought after Buffalo Trace Antique Collection yet (sadly, no).

One reason I like bourbon hunting is to get a good handle on the prices in the area.  For example, a bourbon I really like, one that I bunkered, is the E.H. Taylor Tornado Surviving Bourbon.  I bought my first bottle at Pearson's for $79.99 and the bottle I bunkered I bought at Schneider's of Capitol Hill for $69.99.  One store I stopped at today was selling the exact same bottle for $101!  Either my bottle has increased in value very quickly, or that store is trying to rip me off!  Basically, I just like knowing what everyone is charging for bourbon.

I'm also really looking forward to the day I walk into a liquor store and find a left behind bottle of Pappy or a dusty bottle of ND Old Grand-Dad 114.  It hasn't happened yet, but it won't happen unless I try...

I didn't end up buying any bourbon, despite visiting six stores.  I did buy a couple of beers.  One, Allagash Curieux, is maybe my favorite beer.  Ironically, I found a great price for it at the same place I found the $101 bottle of E.H. Taylor.  Nicole picked up some Pumpkin beer, though I've been getting into pumpkin lately too.  I also picked up a 4 pack of Kentucky Bourbon Ale.  The Allagash and the Bourbon Ale are both aged in bourbon barrels, so, you know, close enough.

Monday, October 1, 2012

August Allotment Tasting Notes

The committee recently (mostly) finished up tasting our August bourbon allotment.  The notes are somewhat haphazard as we haven't quite figured out the best way to organize the tasting notes.  Our August allotment consisted of Fillibuster, Wild Turkey Rare Breed, Hancock's President's Reserve Single Barrel, Leopold Brothers American Style Whiskey, and the already reviewed Old Grand-Dad 114.

The line up for August.
KB: This is a whiskey of indeterminate origin  that is finished in White Wine Seasoned French Oak barrels. Mashbill is 75% corn, 21% rye, and 4% malted barley.  That finishing and mashbill is on the back of the bottle.  It does not have an age statement, nor does is say how long the bourbon was in the French Oak.
Nose: A vanilla bomb with some orange peel and citrus, but something just smells off from the start--maybe not off, but just not "normal" for bourbon.
Taste: Vanilla and oak, sharp and thin on the tongue.  I'm not sure if something can be cloying and astringent, but this seems like a candidate.  
Finish: Short, but oddly it hangs around on the tip of my tongue.
Overall I, well, hated this one.  72 overall.  
Wild Turkey Rare Breed:
KB: Nose: Caramel, butterscotch and a spicy rye forward note.  Some cinnamon and spice.
Taste: Hot and spicy--this is the jalapeno pepper of bourbons.  It "pops" in your mouth.  I get some cinnamon and maybe some maple.
Finish: Surprisingly sweet with subtle spices underneath.
Overall:  This one is an 85.  I like it best of all the Wild Turkey expressions (though I haven't had the WT Tradition).  It's relatively high proof--108.2*--so it'll get you drunk.
KI: Very nice.  Like Keith said, strong pepper and barrel flavor.  Quick and lingering alcohol on the tongue with a smooth finish.  Depending on the price I would highly recommend...
Hancock’s President’s Reserve Single Barrel (44.5% ABV)
KB: Nose: Spicy/Rye forward, orange peel and some brown sugar.  Green apple, almost like that old cereal Apple Jacks
Taste: Close to the nose: Green apple and spice with a pleasant mouthfeel.  I get some mixed spices as well--cinnamon as well maybe
Finish: Medium--lingers a bit on the mid and rear palette. 
Overall:  First I have to admit that I know just a bit too much about this bourbon to be objective.  It is from the Rock Hill Farms and Blanton's family which Buffalo Trace distills on contract for a Japanese company called Ages International.  All three are made from their high rye recipe (~30% rye), are single barrel, and none have an age statement (if I'm not mistaken).  The only obvious difference between the three is the proof. Overall 87.
With all that said, Rock Hill Farms is one of my favorite bourbons--I can barely keep the damn thing on the shelf.  I quite like Hancock's too, especially when I can buy it for $29.99.  I've seen it retail here for $50+.  If you're willing to spend that coin, buy Rock Hill Farms as it is 100 proof and just over $50.  I'd rate this an 86, assuming that it is $29.99.  If it is a $50, you should expect a bit more (just buy Rock Hill Farms already!).
JF: Color and nose: A darker brown with hints of red and a golden meniscus. The nose is crisp and fresh with some fruits (Currants? Banana?), a small amount of flower (mainly rose I believe, but I’m not a botanist), marshmallow, and fresh rain.
Taste and finish: A very round flavor of oak and mild spices and traces of the floral. Exceptionally smooth and mellow. Flavors round even further to an earthy finish of grass, a recently wetted wood. and nuts.
Overall: A mild sipping bourbon that is very pleasant throughout, aided by the moderate alcohol content. The crisp nose compliments the round and natural taste and finish very nicely. While a delightful bourbon, the balance of Hancock ensure there are no fireworks here. A good, solid buy for every-day use. 89.
Leopold Brothers American Style Whiskey (43% ABV)
KB: Nose: Grassy and young, with some mint and corn stalk.  Smells young, kind of white dog-ish.
Taste: A decent rye spice on entry.  Very crisp and mellow-ish, and I'd say it tastes older than it looks and smells.  But still very thin on the palette and not well balanced.  Kind of watery.
Finish: Some pleasant spice, but not a whole lot going on here.
Overall: 77.  I would be interested in tasting this again when it has 2 to 4 years of age behind it. My guess is this one is aged under 18 months.  It has some promise, but this isn't ready for prime time
JF: Color and nose: A very light amber, noticeably so when juxtaposed with the bourbons. The nose is a bit boozy and medicinal of the old-timey recipe style that seems to be in fashion. Behind this are faint hints of fruit, mainly pear, apple and grape and quite a bit of raw corn in the husk.
Taste and finish: In spite of its strong nose this whiskey falls flat on the tongue. There is a hint of nondescript spice and some more of the corn husk. But these qualities dissipate into an alcohol burn before finishing with a light limestone and grassy aftertaste.
Overall: This whiskey is entirely too young for distribution – another 2 years or so would provide the flavors necessary to overcome the overall boozy penumbra surrounding it. This whiskey has more in common with other bottles that are more pure to 19th Century distilling techniques such as Ransom Old Tom Gin than it does with any whiskey of the post-Prohibition age. Leopold Bros would likely make a good cocktail whiskey. 75.
Gulliver: Two cubes. Very pale straw, lager-colored. Nose slightly medicinal; more like scotch than bourbon. Smooth up front, alcohol heat on the end. Young: no wood. Dry, mellow corn

Saturday, September 22, 2012

New Columbia Distillery, A Committee Visit

On Saturday I went over to DC's first legal distillery since prohibition, New Columbia Distillery. The distillery is operated by Michael and John, a father-in-law and son-in-law team.  I arrived around 10 a.m. and the guys already had the still going.  Right now they are only making gin, and though none is available yet. They are experimenting with their still and making sure they get the flavor profile they want.  Michael and John welcomed me and and gave me a quick run down of the operation.  They are mashing on Mondays and Tuesdays; they're currently using wheat as their grain for the gin.  Fermentation takes 5 or 6 days and if I understood correctly, they run the beer through the still twice to get it to proof, add botanicals and water and run it one last time.  It's a time and labor intensive process, but I got to put my finger in the still's output and I can tell you that the gin tasted pretty damn good.*

The New Columbia still
They've got a 450 liter still with two columns they can turn off and on.  One of the columns has 10 adjustable plates, which allows them to get the proof up high enough to make gin.  They've got two fermentation tanks as well as a mash tank.  It's a small operation, but it looks like it is set up for efficiency.

Michael and John have plans for a Maryland style rye in the future, but as is the case with a lot craft distilleries, they're gonna keep the rent paid with their gin.  Both guys are legitimate gin "guys."  They aren't making it simply to get some revenue--though that's part of it--they both drink gin regularly and have a sense of what they want the gin to taste like.  I liked how they  joked about vodka and how boring it is--I suggested they could copy Van Gogh and  make a PB&J flavored vodka.  We all chuckled.  You know, cause vodka's bullshit.

I spent a little over an hour with the guys and I helped them bottle a test batch of the gin.  Bottling is a time intensive process, especially with just three guys.  You gotta put the labels on, fill the bottle, then cork it, and finish it by writing the proof and batch number on the bottle.  When you see one of these bottles on the shelf, you'll know that it was bottled with care by hand.  I think we did 6 or 8 cases of gin.

I'm excited to see what Michael and John come up with. I'm even more excited to taste the forthcoming rye. If you're in the DC area, look for this one on the shelves soon.

* I don't drink very much gin so YMMV.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Friday Pour: Rock Hill Farms

Rock Hill Farms is, in my opinion, one of the most under-rated bourbons in bourbon. It is a Buffalo Trace product that is packaged, quite possibly, in the most attractive bottle on the market.  The bottling is so cool looking, I have a sense that it actually turns prospective buyers off as they don't want to be the guy who bought a bottle just because it was pretty.  I'm not sure why I bought my first bottle, but packaging aside, this is one damn good bourbon.

Nose: I get a lot of rye forward spices.  Some cinnamon and brown sugar come through.  There's a little corn underneath there, but I get the feeling someone with a hound dog nose could sniff at this for hours.

Taste: Every time I take my first sip of RHF, I just go "uuuummmmmm." It is thick, oily and layered. It has a nice buttery mouth feel, like you are eating sugar cookie dough.  There is some cinnamon in there as well as brown sugar and a bunch of other spices that sophisticated palettes (not mine) could pick out easily.  For 100 proof this bad boy is just buttah on the tongue.  There's no heat here.

Finish: The finish lingers in one of the most pleasant ways possible.  You are not obliged to take another sip for several minutes because this guy hangs around.

Overall I rate this one out at 92.  Get over your embarrassment at buying the pretty bottle and buy it.  It is about $50 in my area, but it is worth every penny.

Monday, September 10, 2012

A Love Letter to Four Roses

Dear Mr. Rutledge,

It saddens me that I have to start this letter with a confession: When I first tried Four Roses three years ago, I didn't like it.  I thought it was too flowery, too mild and mellow. I was wholly and tragically wrong.

You see, I simply didn't recognize the greatness in my glass.  I didn't recognize the earnestness in which you treat your craft.  Maybe it's your ten different recipes or maybe it is how serious you take your yeasts.  It could be your fantastic private barrel program or the all around awesomeness of your products.  But here's the deal: I love Four Roses bourbon.

I love it so much I've become a Four Roses pusher of sorts.  I push it on my family, I push it on my fellow bourbon enthusiasts and sometimes I stand on the street corner and talk to perfect strangers about how much I love Four Roses bourbon.

My favorite Four Roses bourbon is the one in my hand.  The Yellow Label is smooth and drinkable in the extreme.  The Small Batch is more complex, but so good I struggle to keep it on my shelf.  If I could only have one more bottle of bourbon in my entire life, I'd pick the 2012 Four Roses Single Barrel Limited Edition.

Our little bourbon committee is doing a blind Four Roses tasting next month.  You're welcome to attend, of course, but we know you're a busy guy.  I just wanted you to know you have fans.

Keith Boyea
Capitol Bourbon Committee

Friday, September 7, 2012

Friday Evening Pour, Old Grand-Dad 114

It's empty--as OGD 114 usually is in my house.
Old Grand-Dad 114 is a favorite of bourbon enthusiasts.  It comes from Jim Beam, but it is a high rye mash bill--the same one that produces Basil Hayden's.  The big difference between these two bourbons is that OGD 114 is younger and a heck of a lot cheaper.  Basil Hayden's is typically in the $40 range and OGD 114 can be had for a little over $20.  OGD 114 was one of the Committee's August picks.  I've had several bottles of this guy and I have really enjoyed it in the past.

Nose: Cinnamon spice, very rye forward--so much so that this could pass for a straight rye. I get some grassy-ness and a hint of mint.  After I put a small amount of water in it, some sweeter notes came through.

Taste: A blast of spice on entry with a full bodied mouth feel.  It's hot though, so I added some water.  There's loads of spice in this bourbon and the small amount of water helped bring them out and cool off the heat.  The water really brings out some pleasant sweetness I did not detect initially.

Finish: It burned going down a little on the first sip but after adding water this guy played a little nice.  I got some nice  leftover pin pricks on my tongue that lingered a good while.

Overall I recommend adding an ice cube or a drop or two of water to round this guy out.  I rate this an 85, and at about $22, it is a heck of a deal.  Here are a couple reviews from friends of the Committee.

Monday, September 3, 2012

July Bourbon Allotment

Our first Committee purchase consisted of three bourbons: W.H. Harrison Governor's Reserve Barrel Proof;  W.L. Weller 12 Year; and Breckenridge Bourbon Whiskey. I'll talk a little bit about what I know about the bourbons and then get into our tasting notes.

W.H. Harrison Governor's Reserve Barrel Proof
Like a lot of craft distillers, W.H. Harrison claims to be the "First Bourbon from State X Since Prohibition."  In this case, the state in question is Indiana.  Based on the website and the rumblings on the bourbon message boards, this is probably a sourced bourbon from what used to be known as Lawrenceburg Distillers Indiana (LDI).  I can't tell from the website if there is any distilling being done at the W.H. Harrison site.  This bourbon is a high-rye recipe (probably around 30-35% rye) and it is bottled at barrel strength (115 proof).  It is about 4 years old and it cost us $54.99 from The Party Source.

W.L Weller 12 Year
W.L. Weller is an iconic bourbon brand.  It is one of the few easy to find, high quality wheated bourbons on the market.  This version is 12 year old, 90 proof, and at under $30, one hell of a deal.  Weller comes from the Buffalo Trace distillery and it has long been a favorite of bourbon enthusiasts.

Breckenridge Bourbon Whiskey
Breckenridge hails from Breckenridge, Colorado and unlike Harrison, they are making this juice on site in their 700 gallon still.  This product is about 3 years old and is bottled at 86 proof.  It's a bit pricey for a lower proof bourbon--$44.99 from The Party Source.  Like the Harrison, it is a high-rye recipe at 38% green rye.  I'm not sure what green rye is--I've never seen green rye mentioned in bourbon making.

Tasting Notes*

Harrison: Gulliver called it "super-meh" though I thought this was quite good.  Spicy and minty with a pleasing heat.  Unfortunately I spilled almost my entire allotment of Harrison so formal tasting notes were not completed.

W.L Weller 12 Year: Corn forward sweetness with some typical-for-wheaters vanilla on the nose.  Viscous on the tongue like the other Weller expressions.  Pleasant and sweet with a nice spice balance.  Vanilla heavy on entry and a slimy (in a good way) mouth feel.  Close to being great.

Overall I thought the Weller was consistent with the other Weller expressions--good but not great.  A blind tasting between Weller Antique, Special Reserve and 12 year would yield interesting results.

Breckenridge: Nose--vanilla and caramel with a fruity smell--maybe plum? After this one opened up a bit I smelled mint, evergreen and some Christmas spice.  The taste had a lot mint which can be typical of rye forward bourbons. Also notable was a disappointingly short finish.

Overall this one shows a lot of promise though I was disappointed with the low proof.  I think a cask strength version with a bit more barrel time could produce a really standout bourbon here.  This one was so minty-rye that I would have told you that this was a straight rye if I hadn't already known it was bourbon.  Gulliver thought this one was the standout of the group.

I liked the W.H. Harrison bourbon best of the three, which didn't surprise me since I generally prefer high-proof bourbons because they reflect the taste of the spirit better.  Gulliver and Kyle liked Breckenridge best.

Next month: Hancock's President's Reserve, Wild Turkey Rare Breed, Old Grand-Dad 114, Leopold Brothers American Whiskey, and Filibuster.

Introducing the Capitol Bourbon Committee

In the summer of 2012, we formed the Capitol Bourbon Committee.  Every month the five of us put in $50 to buy as much bourbon as we can.  I divide up the bottles and pass it out.  Then we exchange notes and ratings.  The idea is to taste as much bourbon as we can so that we can get a handle on what we like and dislike.  It also gives us an excuse to drink more bourbon!

This space gives us an outlet to publish our tasting notes, write about our events, and interact with other bourbon enthusiasts.