Saturday, September 26, 2015

Exam-o-Dram Wild Turkey Russell's Reserve Rye Single Barrel

It was announced recently that Wild Turkey was releasing a new Rye expression in single barrel format and higher proof as well. That expression showed up on the shelves of VA ABC stores last Tuesday.  I happened into a store the other day and noticed the new label and was intrigued.  I was a little less so after seeing the price tag of $60.

Story is, the single barrels are pulled from the center of the warehouse and Eddie Russell intended to bottle the rye at 110 proof but ended up going with 104 proof as he felt that was the sweet spot.  Purported age is approximately 6 years old and thankfully non-chill filtered.  Seriously, thank you Campari, Wild Turkey, Eddie or Jimmy or whomever made that decision.  Bravo.

As you can guess, the bottle ended up back on my bar and I popped the cork to give it a go.  Rye and oak on the nose. Entry is baking spice, light fruit sweetness and a touch of citrus with a mouthfeel that's coating. Mid palate spice kicks up and sweetness drops back and the finish is moderate spice oak with a pop of juicy fruit at the end.  The NCF and extra proof gives this whiskey nice body.

I hit the bottle again the next night and was equally impressed yet again.  Campari stepped up and offers a real winner in this release.  The whiskey is a very compelling rye and a great proof that's very approachable with nice profile transitions and a pretty long finish.  

I'm thinking this whiskey will do well with a little air time so looking forward to how it will change (for the better let's hope) over time.  Wild Turkey indicated this will be a normal shelf offering but keep in mind that being a single barrel, expect variations from bottle to bottle.  In this day and age of price increases and availability issues with many labels, the price point may cause some to take pause but as I always tell people "it's never cheaper than it is today".  For me at $60, yeah, I'd buy another.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

KY Spring 2015 - Day 3

Yup, sorry for the lag in posting but recent life events have taken priority.  I wanted to finish up the spring pickings which ended on Friday with a visit to Four Roses and Jim Beam.

We headed out from the hotel and arrived at Four Roses about 9:30 to their new tasting room.  In years past we've tasted through barrels at the back of the bottling warehouse but now they have this fancy new tasting room set up to handle large groups like ours.  As usual, Jim Rutledge selected 10 barrels for us to taste through.  I think we had around 40 or more tasters and this is the first year we didn't have to double up at a tasting station; everyone had their own 10 glasses to sample from.

Jim selected 10 barrels representing 9 of the 10 Four Roses recipes with OESQ missing from the lineup.  In its place, we had two barrels representing the OBSO recipe.  As a group, the tasting is done pretty much in silence with the idea being to analyze the bourbon and write down thoughts and scores in order to avoid undue group influence.  We also requested Jim not have the barrel heads facing forward in order to avoid any pre-knowledge of the recipes selected in order to taste all selections in the blind.  Most of us conduct at least two passes on each sample so after about 30-40 mins we wrapped up and collected each tasters top 4 selections.  The vitals on the top four are as follow:

1. OBSO 11 years 7 months
2. OESK 9 years 7 months
3. OBSK 10 years 7 months
4. OBSV 10 year 3 months

My number one pick was number four, the OBSV.  My notes reflected a creamy, sweet caramel bourbon with a long finish.  As a group we only picked the top two.  In the end, individual members made commitments for an additional 4 barrels.  I chose to pick up barrel four with one other person.

I've received the first two Four Roses and am waiting on my barrel which should arrive sometime in October.  This was another great tasting but was also a little bittersweet as this was the last one with Jim as Master Distiller.  He's retiring come September 1st.  The new Master Distiller, Brent Elliot, has already announced changes to the barrel program where they will roll out younger barrels.  Additionally, Four Roses is running low on three recipes so those most likely will not be included, at least for a time, in the barrel program.  Finally, Four Roses will no longer ship samples to retailers wishing to purchase a store barrel.  If you want to purchase one, you'll need to buy a ticket to KY and visit the distillery in person.

Now on to Jim Beam.  The afternoon brought us to Jim Beam's American Stillhouse facility where we met up with Craig Weiter, Beams barrel program manager.  Our group was much smaller as we limited the number of people attending this tasting due to room limitations in the rickhouse.  Craig loaded us on a bus and off we went to WHSE K.  Last year we picked three barrels from Jim Beam so I was stoked about leading this group for another tasting with Beam.  On arrival we saw four barrels were pulled to taste from.  I have to admit, I had some disappointment as I was hoping we would have at least 6-8 barrels to select from.  Having only four barrels limits the potential of finding something we would want to buy.  Fortunately, Craig did a nice job pulling the barrels and had tasting notes from his perspective already formulated.

We tasted through the four and found one we felt met our groups benchmark for purchase.  This barrel was pulled from WHSE P and was distilled on Nov 13, 2003, making this a little over 11 years old.  The proof was 129 at cask which meant there would be a small dilution to get it down to 120 for the Knob Creek 120 bottle.  Many of our barrel picks are of course bottled at cask (Four Roses, Willett, Smooth Ambler) and we asked Craig if Jim Beam had any plans to offer a cask single barrel offering.  He indicated that come 2016, Knob Creek will begin offering a 130 proof bottling which will be included in the barrel program.  Good news for us.

On a side note, we paired up with a large retailer we've done a lot of business with over the years to pick barrels from Wild Turkey.  While the retailer was there to pick barrels for the store shelves, we were able to finagle a single barrel Russells Reserve for our group.  I have it in and boy is it fantastic.  It's almost reminiscent of old style Turkey.  I'll review the bourbons in a separate post. 

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Bourbon Documentary's

It's been a busy couple of months so I'm running behind on getting some posts up.  That being said, I wanted to drop a post on a coming documentary NEAT: The Story of Bourbon coming out sometime in 2016.  Also, for those with DIRECTV, you can watch Bourbontucky which can be viewed On Demand with that provider's Audience Network.  It's a great piece and I enjoyed watching it.

Monday, June 15, 2015

KY Spring 2015 - Day 2

Thursday had us on the road early in order to get to Buffalo Trace by 9:00 a.m.  We arrived and I let the gift shop folks know that we were there to see the BT Barrel Program Manager, Beau.  About 10 minutes later Beau shows up and apologizes stating that he mistakenly put us down for the following day and needed some time to set up since they were not prepared.  No big deal so we checked out the expansion construction going on in the gift shop to kill time.  About 9:40 we headed to Warehouse H where BT conducts the barrel picks.  Going in my concern was the quality of the barrels since they had to rush to pull samples and cut them down to 107pf.

On entering, there were 12 samples lined up ready for our fine tuned palates.  As we made our way through the samples it was clear, at least to me, that picking our top four was going to be a chore because once again, Beau's team pulled some mighty fine bourbon.  Unfortunately, I misplaced my tasting notes so I can't provide any details except to say they were excellent samples.  In all we picked four barrels.  We don't have bottling data yet as we are waiting on yield counts.

After the tasting there wasn't any standing around as we had to make our way back to Bardstown for a visit to Willett (KBD).  Drew Kulsveen was waiting on us and we arrived right about on time.  He took us on the tour which many of us had been on before but he walked us through the upgrade and repairs they will be doing this year to include breaking down some of the distillation components to fix some nasty leaks.  The end of the tour found us in one of the Rick houses and Drew pulled two samples of his own distillate for us to try; a 2 year old wheat bourbon and a 3 year old rye.  I think without exception, the group was quite impressed with both samples.  The wheat bourbon had no hint of new make or aggressive youthfulness.  It was rich, creamy, sweet and very delicious. The 3 year rye was also outstanding and I told Drew if he were to bottling it today, I would buy it.  Both samples were very impressive which hopefully translates to exceptional whiskey when bottled. 

That evening Jim Rutledge joined us for dinner and spent the evening hanging out with the group.  We had planned well ahead of the trip to pull together as many Four Roses Single Barrel bottles as we've picked as a group or just single barrel expressions that members have picked up over the years.  These bottles as you can see in the picture were lined up on the table for Jim to try at his leisure. We ended up with 50 bottles with about half of those single barrels we had picked over the last 5 years.  Jim was quite surprised by the lineup and enjoyed sipping on those and visiting with the group until close to midnight. It was an exhausting but great kick off to the first day of picking.

Friday, May 22, 2015

KY Spring 2015 - Day 1 Range Day

For the annual Kentucky trip we decided to head down a day early and do some range shooting on a friends property.  10 acres and a Kentucky hollow provided nice range shooting of 25 feet to 100 yards. 

There were about 8-10 of us with one member a certified range instructor.  Two tables; one for ammunition and one for weapons.  We set up the 25 foot range that included a spinner target, paper targets, cans, milk jugs filled with water, etc. were set up in front of a high dirt backstop. 

Safety fist so rules included:
  1. Ear and eye protection for everyone
  2. Only three shooters on the line
  3. All shooters remain at the line until all shooting is done
  4. When finished shooting, call out "clear"
  5. All clips must be dropped and displayed
  6. Check that breach is open and clear
  7. Replace cleared weapon on the table
  8. Take spent clip to ammunition table and reload
We started the day at the 25 foot range shooting a variety of guns that included a single action .44 Cal Ruger Blackhawk, vintage Colt 1911, Glock 17, Glock 19, AR-15 and AK-47. 

After breaking for lunch, we went to the top of the property and took the AR-15's, spotting scope, shotguns and clay skeet targets.  We spent the rest of the afternoon target shooting the spinner and paper targets using the spotting scope to view accuracy.  Last, we did some skeet shooting and I found out I sucked at it.  Couldn't hit a single clay while second shooter was nailing them every time.

We had a blast and I was able to shoot guns that I had not experienced before.  I have to say, the AK-47 was a heck of a lot of fun to shoot.   

Next up: Barrel picking at BT and Touring Willett

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Kentucky - Spring 2015

I've just returned from Kentucky where this last week we conducted the annual barrel picking endeavor.  Visits to Four Roses, Buffalo Trace, Jim Beam and Wild Turkey yielded multiple barrel picks that I'm very excited about. 

The week started off with a full day at an outdoor gun range shooting everything from vintage 1911's to AR-15's.  During the week we had some downtime with Jim Rutledge, Four Roses Master Distiller who joined us for dinner and an evening of just hanging out.  We also had a nice visit with Marianne Barnes, the new Master Distiller at the soon to be named distillery at the former E.H. Taylor Castle site and Saturday we had a sit down discussion with Jimmy Russell at Wild Turkey.  The week ended with a pig roast, tomahawk throwing competition and a whole lot of whiskey and cigars. 

I'll post details in the coming weeks.  The year's trip was the best to date, but now back to the real world.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Tasting American Style

Last Thursday I conducted a tasting at Jack Rose Dining Saloon in Washington D.C.  A financial consulting firm I've done business with for a number of years asked that I host a tasting event for their male clients.  Throughout the year they do special events for couples and have a number of Spa days for the ladies.  The men whined a little about the lack of manly events so this was the first event for men (although plenty of woman drink and enjoy whiskey).

In my discussions with the client and the Whiskey Adviser at Jack Rose we settled on an American Whiskey line-up that featured Corn Whiskey all the way to Rye Whiskey in order to provide the tasters the experience of the sweet to the spice.

The lineup was as follows:

Corn - Berkshire Corn Whiskey: 90% corn, 10% barley aged 1 year @ 86 proof
Wheat - Bernheim Original, NAS @ 90 proof
Wheat Bourbon - Weller Special Reserve, NAS @ 90 proof
Low Rye Bourbon - Eagle Rare 10 yr @ 90 proof
Hi Rye Bourbon - Old Grand Dad 114, NAS @ 114 proof
Rye Whiskey - Rittenhouse BIB, 4 year (at least) @ 100 proof

I would normally situate the line-up low proof to high proof but in this instance delivered as shown in the list above.

The Berkshire Corn was a last minute replacement since Jack Rose has had difficulty sourcing Mellow Corn which is what I originally planned to feature which is too bad because it would have been a better selection.  The Berkshire corn was light in color and the nose had a little new make quality to it.  Entry was sweet with notes of vanilla and grain but then around mid palate white dog showed up and spoiled it.  This selection needed more time in wood. 

Bernheim Original was enjoyed by most because it's very approachable. Nice notes of sweet caramel, vanilla and a moderately decent finish.  This was the NAS offering.....was hoping they would have had the 7 year available.

Weller Special Reserve was liked for the most part but really wasn't as special as the name implies.  I've had bottles under the old label with the 7 year age statement on it and this release has lost a couple steps from years past.  I let tasters know that this was the same mashbill from the same distillery that makes Pappy Van Winkle and I think that surprised a few of them.

Eagle Rare 10 year was probably the favorite among the group.  Comments were made about how smooth and flavorful it was and it didn't "have that burn".

Old Grand Dad 114 was interesting because this split the group from those that liked it's robust profile to those that thought it was closer to gasoline.  This is one of my favorite value shelf offerings and it was a favorite of the JR Whiskey Adviser as well.

Rittenhouse BIB was a good rye expression (even though the percentage of rye is closer to 51%) and I like it's aggressive entry.  The Rittenhouse has always been in my bunker and was a go to for many years for sipping and mixing.  Unfortunately, in my market it's become more difficult to find.  There weren't many that liked this offering because it was too spicy and then there was "the burn". 

The client suggested we do this again but next time bill it as a couples event since the ladies want to drink whiskey as well.  I'm thinking an Around the World tasting could be the next event.

If you're ever in D.C. and you love whiskey, stop by Jack Rose and explore some of the 2,000 bottles on their Wall of Whiskey.

Photo courtesy of Jack Rose Dining Saloon