Feb 20

NWC November Meeting updated – Americana!

In the midst of everything else I’ve got going on at the moment, I realized that I hadn’t finished the update about our final Newcomers Whisky Club meeting of 2016…which was in November! ūüė≥ So I wanted to finish this and get the information posted! Our theme for this tasting was “Americana,” and was an opportunity to sample some newer and/or less well-known whiskies being produced here in the US!

 

The Whiskies!

Witherspoon’s, Cross Timbers Texas Malt Whiskey

The first whiskey of the evening was Witherspoon’s, Cross Timbers Texas Malt Whiskey, a whiskey that none of had tasted before! Witherspoon’s is a local distillery, located in Lewisville, TX, about 30 minutes from us. Quentin Witherspoon first learned to distill during a posting to Africa when he was in the Marines. Once he returned to the US, he began Witherspoon’s distillery, offering outsourced bourbons while getting his production up and running. Cross Timbers Texas Malt whiskey is made with a mash bill of 50% malted barley – 6-row modified from Wisconsin – and 50% corn grown here in North Texas. The spirit is then aged for at least 9 months in #4B heavy-charred 53 gallon new American white oak barrels.

 

Angel’s Envy, Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey

From there we moved to a whiskey that a number of us have tasted before, and one that most of us found very good. , aged for up to 6 years and then, somewhat uniquely for US bourbons, finished in 60-gallon ruby port barrels made from French oak. The brainchild of Master Distiller Lincoln Henderson, Angel’s Envy bourbon has developed a very loyal following – for good reason! 

 

Russell’s Reserve 6-year old Kentucky Straight Rye Whiskey.

Next up was our first rye whiskey of the night, Russell’s Reserve 6-year old Kentucky Straight Rye Whiskey. For me, this was the highlight of the evening, but I am a rye fan, so my vote is somewhat biased. Named in recognition of Jimmey Russell, who has spent 60 years at the Wild Turkey Distillery, this rye was an absolute classic rye whiskey!

 
Smooth Ambler Yearling Bourbon

Following the Russell’s Reserve, we sampled a bourbon produced by the Smooth Ambler Distillery in Greenbrier County, W. Virginia (that, by the way, was just acquired by Pernod). Our whiskey for the evening was a bottling of their Smooth Ambler Yearling, a bourbon whiskey that has been aged for 3 years and 6 months. 

 

High West Rendezvous Rye Whiskey

After that we tasted the High West Rendezvous Rye Whiskey, another one of my favorite rye whiskies! Big and bold, floral and sweet, this is another wonderful example of just how good rye can be. For those of you who have not tasted anything put out by High West, you owe it to yourself to look for them. With the exception of the truly horrific experiment (in my opinion) Yippee Kiya, a bourbon finished in vermouth casks, High West routinely bottles some great whiskies!

 
Barrell American Whiskey Batch 002

The final whiskey of the evening is a fairly new brand to show up on the shelves, Barrell American Whiskey. Produced by Barrell Craft Spirits, out of Louisville, KY, is an independent bottler of sourced whiskies and rums.

Batch 002 was distilled in Indiana (MGP) and then aged by BCS in Kentucky. This has a fairly common bourbon mash bill of corn, rye and malted barley, although they don’t disclose the actual ratios on their website. Batch 002 is aged for 9 years, 5 months and then finished in Sherry Cask. Batch 002 was a big whiskey, bottled at 123.8 proof! With the addition of some water – pretty much mandatory here – this becomes an exceptional whiskey! 

Availability of Barrell Bourbon and American Whiskey does remain somewhat limited to retailers who commonly have a more expansive selection, but you can find it around. I picked this up at True Spirits after Greg recommended it to me. And I must say, this was a VERY GOOD recommendation! I shared this with my friends at the North Texas Spirit Society and it was a big hit there, too!
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Anyway, just doing some general housekeeping here and putting this update onto the page for posterity! Hasta la proxima vez!

 

Oct 28

NWC September – The Whiskies of Johnnie Walker

I honestly can’t believe it took the Newcomers Whisky Club over four years to finally conduct a tasting of The Whiskies of Johnnie Walker! For some of the most well-known, truly ubiquitous whiskies in the world, for us to have waited this long is probably some sort of whisky heresy! But all is now right in the world! NWC can now check of Johnnie Walker from our list of must try whiskies and continue our travels further down the road!

 

2016-sept_nwc_johnniewalker_coverA Little History

Given that Johnnie Walker is so recognizable, even by non-whisky drinkers (yes, there are a few of those poor souls out there!), I won’t go into a lot of detail here, but it is valuable to understand the impact of this brand to the broader scotch whisky industry.

The Johnnie Walker brand is owned by the gigantic drinks conglomerate, Diageo. With annual sales of over 130 million bottles, Johnnie Walker whiskies are available in almost any country in the world, at nearly every bar or liquor outlet, and on the shelves of countless home bars.

Beyond its inherent popularity, the Johnnie Walker whiskies are a marketing phenomenon that began early in its history. Originally known as Walker’s Kilmarnock Whisky, in 1908 the brand was revamped and the Johnnie Walker name was introduced, along with the slogan “Born 1820‚ÄĒStill going Strong!” and the iconic “Striding Man” logo that is prominently featured on their bottles and in their advertisements.

Another event that had long-lasting impact on the brand occurred in 1860 when Alexander Walker, the son of John Walker, introduced the square bottle as a means of fitting more bottles into the same space and to reduce breakage. Although initially intended for very practical reasons, the square bottle has become en an identifying trademark in its own right. 

And the final step in creating its iconic presentation is the label, which is applied to the bottle  at a precise angle of 24 degrees. Angling the label allowed the text to be larger and increasing visibility. Combined, the square bottles and the angled label created a unique look that has become synonymous with Johnnie Walker whiskies.

 

The Whiskies of Johnnie Walker

For our tasting, we followed the whiskies in order of pricing, even though that meant getting a little more smoke early in the lineup, but it also allowed us to save the revered Blue Label for last.

We began, as you’d expect, with the famed Red Label, a non age-statement blended scotch whisky that is reportedly the highest selling scotch whisky in the world! The Red Label might also be considered the first global whisky as it was brought to markets far outside the reaches of the UK. Bottled at 40% abv, Red Label is a blend of 35 grain and malt whiskies. Reportedly, Red Label was the favorite Scotch of Winston Churchill, who mixed it with soda. 

From there we moved on to the Black Label, a 12 year old blend of about 40 whiskies. Caol Ila and Talisker are the dominating single malts in this blend and contribute the signature peaty, smoky flavors. Black Label is also bottled at 40% abv. 

Continuing down the lineup we sampled the Double Black, a relatively new addition to the core range. An NAS blend, Double Black Label expands on the concept of the Black Label, but goes further using a greater proportion of peaty West Coast and Islay malts and then matured in heavily charred old oak casks.

Our next whisky was a newer release from Johnnie Walker, a 10 year old whisky finished in Rye Casks. The Rye Cask Finish, a 10 year old blend is the first in a planned series of limited edition wood-finished releases. With Cardhu single malt at the heart of the blend, this blend is then finished in ex-rye whiskey casks. The Rye Cask Finish proved to be a rather interesting and enjoyable whisky that showed a surprising evidence of the rye whisky notes!

Moving up the range, we then tried the Gold Label Reserve, a blend of over 15 single malts, particularly Clynelish. The Gold Label used to be released as an 18 year old bottling, but in 2013 Gold Label was replaced with an NAS blend labelled “Gold Label Reserve,” purportedly due to a lack of available matured stock.

Then we sampled the Platinum Label, which now carries the 18 year age statement that the Gold Label used to carry. (hmmm, didn’t they drop the 18 year statement on the Gold Label because of insufficient stocks?). Along with this new 18 year old release came a rather hefty price jump. Where the Gold Label sells for $65, the new Platinum Label carries a $100 price tag. 

For the Grand Finale, we sampled the luxury Blue Label, Johnnie Walker’s premium whisky. The Blue Label is another NAS blend intended to recreate the character and taste of 19th century whiskies. Each bottle is numbered and comes in an extravagant box. Until recently, Blue Label has been one of the most expensive blended Scotch whiskies available, although that has changed with some new, high-end blends coming out (Compass Box). Prices for the Blue Label can range from $200 to as high as $450 depending on your market. Fortunately, if you really want to try Blue Label, but don’t want to shell out that much money, they do sell 200 ml bottles ($65 here in Texas).

 

EXTRA Bonus!

To close out this summary, I invite you to watch the Johnnie Walker “commercial” it is very, very well done. Titled “The Man Who Walked Around the World” this is:  

“a six-minute, one-shot short film stars Robert Carlyle, strolling down a gravel road in the Scottish countryside, recounting Walker’s progress from humble grocery to global whisky brand — all with the help of a few carefully placed props that vary from a wall of TVs and family portraits to a full whisky bar and a highland cow, all appearing along the road with impeccable timing.” (www.adage.com) 

 

jw_manwhowalked_image

 

 

 

Oct 27

Maker’s Mark, KY Straight Bourbon Whisky

Maker’s Mark, a Kentucky Straight Bourbon whisky from the Beam Suntory stable, is one of those nearly iconic whiskys with widespread recognition and broad appeal. Almost certainly, you will find a bottle on the shelf at almost any bar or restaurant, easily recognized by its traditional squarish bottle and the distinctive, hand-dipped, red wax seal with the long drips running down the neck. Also note, that while Maker’s Mark is a bourbon, it uses the Scottish spelling, Whisky, not the whiskey spelling more commonly applied to US spirits.

As we know, to be an official bourbon, a whisky’s mash bill must contain a minimum of 51% corn. Beyond that mandated corn minimum, distillers have some flexibility. Many bourbons use rye as a secondary grain; the rye introducing floral and spice notes that work well with the sweetness of the corn. Maker’s Mark, though, is a wheated bourbon, using red winter wheat instead of rye as the secondary grain. Wheated bourbons (such as the famed Pappy van Winkle bourbons!) tend to be a bit “softer,” with a creamy texture and bready notes. 

First released in 1958, Maker’s Mark is reportedly aged for around six years. Also, according to Wikipedia:

“Maker’s Mark is one of the few distillers to rotate the barrels from the upper to the lower levels of the aging warehouses during the aging process to even out the differences in temperature during the process. The upper floors are exposed to the greatest temperature variations during the year, so rotating the barrels ensures that the bourbon in all the barrels have the same quality and taste.”

I picked up this bottle – and, yes, this is a 1.75 L bottle, not a small glass – for a party we were hosting where I knew a couple of the guests really enjoyed Maker’s Mark. Normally, I don’t buy these “jug” bottles, but it was on sale! Plus, I knew it would be appreciated by our guests, so what the heck. It won’t go to wasted!

 

Okay, so we know that Maker’s Mark has an extensive presence, but is that due to salesmanship or is Maker’s Mark that good? Let’s find out!

 

makersmark_20161025

 

Review: Maker’s Mark, Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whisky, 45% abv

Color: A warm golden amber.

Nose: Starts with a good dose of brown sugar, melted butter, and cream. Soon, fruit notes become more evident, with red apple, strawberry, and even some banana. Along the fruit lines, I also get a hint of cherry liqueur. There is a nice, subtle, warm spiciness with touches of black pepper, cumin, and nutmeg. Underneath lies a soft vanilla note. A touch of burnt caramel.

Taste: A relatively delicate, very creamy, initial arrival that is focused on vanilla, oak spices, and butter cream. There is a bit of alcohol heat as the whiskey sits on the tongue. The fruits pick up in the mid-palate: the same notes of black cherry, red apple, and a little banana. Warm bread with butter. More brown sugar and black pepper again late, along with the burnt caramel. Becomes just a tad bitter in the end. 

Finish: The oak spices lead into the fruits, buttered toast and vanilla, ending with a blast of peppery spice. Quite long; a very nice finish. 

Overall: There is good reason that Maker’s Mark is found everywhere; this is a very good, very honest bourbon. It is brightly flavored, nicely dense, and has a soft, delicate, creamy body. This is definitely a bourbon, with a very sweet base, but it also has just enough spicy elements to keep it from being too sweet. The 45% abv contributes to a vibrancy in the flavors and body that is appreciable, with just a touch of burn on the palate.

Rating 81

 

 

Details: Maker’s Mark, Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whisky

Region: Kentucky

Distillery: Beam Suntory

Type: Straight Bourbon Whisky

Age: NAS

ABV: 45%

Maturation: New american oak 

Price: +/- $45 (1.75 Lit), $21.99 (750 ml)

Availability: Readily available at almost any retail location

Sample Source: My own bottle 

Oct 25

NWC July 2016 Meeting – Glenmorangie

Ok, still in catch up mode! Here is the menu from our July meeting when we sampled whiskies from The¬†Glenmorangie¬†Distillery. Our “theme” for the evening was The Finish Line, and the objective was to explore¬†the impacts of finishing maturation. For this purpose, Glenmorangie is the perfect choice, offering a wonderful set of whiskies to do that!

The Whiskies of Glenmorangie!

2016-july_nwc_glenmorangie_finishline

To start the evening, we began with¬†The Original, a 10 year old malt that is a staple in most bars and whisky cabinets. Clean, floral, delicate and subtle, this whisky perfectly set the table for what was to follow – sampling four distinct whiskies that take Glenmorangie’s 10 year old as the base spirit and then finishes them in alternative methods to put unique spins on the flavor profile.

So getting into the meat of our theme, we moved on to our second whisky of the evening, the¬†Nectar D‚ÄôOr, a whisky that was finished¬†Sauternes Casks. The Nectar D’Or is part of the Core Range offered by Glenmorangie and¬†is normally available at most retail locations.

From there we tasted one of the “Private Edition” limited releases,¬†Milsean, which was extra matured in re-toasted wine casks. Re-toasting of casks involves scraping the inside to remove old char and to expose a new wood surface. After being scraped, the cask is toasted (toasting is lighter than charring – both have various levels) to Glenmorangie’s specifications. The act of scraping and toasting provides a new “surface”, providing the maturing spirit more wood interaction.

Next, we sampled another whisky from the core range, Lasanta, a whisky that has a secondary sherry cask finish. Sherry cask maturation, either as an initial fill or as a finish, is very common to scotch whisky and brings out some great flavors!

After the Lasanta, we moved on to the Quinta Ruban, which has a port cask finish. The port cask finish brought out some wonderful fruit and chocolate notes!

To end the evening, we tasted the Extremely Rare 18¬†year old,¬†part of the “Prestige Range” which includes Signet and the Glenmorangie 25 year old. Tasting the 18 year old gave us an opportunity to compare the impact of aging as opposed to the results of secondary finishes.

It was a very successful experiment and we learned a lot about just what a good Master Blender can accomplish through the use of casks that have previously held different liquids. And, as most of these whiskies are reasonably affordable, given the current state of whisky prices, this is a lineup you can recreate for further personal explorations!

Cheers!

 

Oct 24

Compass Box, The Circus

For the final review in this series of Compass Box whiskies, I’m going to review The Circus, another of the recent limited releases that Compass Box brought to the market in 2015-2016. During its relatively brief history, Compass has put together some truly exceptional limited releases, often composed of very old, well-matured whiskies. My first experience with just how extraordinary some of these whiskies could be was when I first tasted The General,¬†was another blended scotch in which one component whisky was 33 years old and the second was reported (by a number of whisky sites and blogs) to be 40 years old! Suffice to say that The General was an absolutely amazing tasting experience and I was fortunate to be offered a bottle by a friend (Thanks Greg G!). Now I just need to find the right opportunity to open it and share it with friends!

Anyway, after having been wonderfully spoiled by the opportunity to taste two of the most recent limited releases, the Flaming Heart 15th Anniversary Edition and Enlightenment at this tasting, it was a total surprise that Marius then brought out our samples of The Circus! I had secretly hoped that we would have this chance; in the early reports that I read, The Circus was expected (hoped) to be a worthy successor to The General, so I really thought it was a bit of a pipe dream that we would get to try it, especially given that The Circus had a price tag of around $300. But one could always hope, right?

img_0036As you can see, Marius really outdid himself in this latest Trinity Hall tasting! Thanks Marius!!

 

The Circus

A true, blended scotch whisky, The Circus is uniquely, and very interestingly, made up of four component whiskies that include two different blended scotches, one blended grain, and one single malt from the Benrinnes distillery. The three blends were matured/married in refill sherry butts and the Benrinnes single malt was matured in a first fill sherry butt.

While¬†Compass Box usually offers very good descriptive information about how they make their whiskies, providing details about the style, the distillery, the maturation, and the ratios, etc. they admit that with The Circus they really don’t too much about origins of the various blend components. From their website, here’s what they do know:

 

“Such is the case with this whisky, for which we were lucky enough to¬†uncover that rarest of finds ‚Äď old parcels of blended Scotch and Blended¬†Grain whisky that had been aged pre-blended in cask for many years.¬†In such parcels, what you get are whisky blends so seamless, so complex¬†that they function for us as single components.¬†We know little of the component distillery whiskies used in these blends¬†for The Circus, only that they contain both single malt and single grain¬†whiskies and that the ‚Äėmarrying casks‚Äô are sherry butts. However, the¬†provenance of the components isn‚Äôt important to us now, as what we have¬†are old casks containing whiskies that are extraordinary.”

 

Review: Compass Box, The Circus, Blended Scotch Whisky, Bottled 2016, 49% abv

As described in the graphic above, The Circus is a blended scotch whisky made with blended malt and blended grain whiskies along with a single malt from the Benrinnes distillery. No ages are offered, both because of the limitations imposed by the SWA and that, apparently, Compass Box knew very little about the actual component whiskies. Release in March 2016, The Circus is a very limited release of just 2,490 bottles worldwide! And the bottle has a really cool, partially embossed label!

 

img_0035

 

Color: Deep golden amber

Nose: Nosing this whisky shows just a distant sherry influence, here: baking spices, figs, orange marmalade, dark chocolate and some leafy tobacco notes, cloves, and some old leather. There is a rising fruitiness – red fruits, some stewed fruits, and a dash of pepper. After a few more minutes, there is a distinct vanilla toffee note, brown sugar, and some buttered bread.

Taste: Deep and richly flavored in the arrival, very “fat” on the tongue. The red fruits play a more significant role on the palate. The sherry notes kick in again with the baking spices, cloves, and tobacco notes supplanting the fruits. There is a vanilla cream and definite warm bread element that I suspect comes from the grains, but these are balanced beautifully by this clean, rather fresh maltiness and the sherry tobacco and spice notes. Toward the end, it is the earthy tobacco and spice notes that are the highlights.

Finish: Quite a rich finish. The flavors are lively and expressive. Red fruits and vanilla cream sprinkled with baking spices. Orange and chocolate, with that earthy cigar tobacco rounding it out.

Overall: Surprisingly, given the sherry-maturation focus, the color of this whisky is relatively modest, not a deep, dark mahogany color as you often get with such heavy use of sherry casks. And, while there is a definite sherry-focus here, it is a rather “light” sherry, very fresh. Where The General was a rich, dark, moody, old library whisky, The Circus is more like a picnic dessert on a warm summer evening type of whisky. Vibrant, yet mature and polished, balanced and intriguing, sweet, fresh, spiced, fruity and elegant. It may not be The General, but it has its own identity and is simply outstanding!

Rating 89

 

 

Details:

Region: Scotland

Distillery: Single Malt – Benrinnes; blends – undisclosed/unknown

Whisky Maker: Compass Box Whisky Co.

Type: Blended Scotch Whisky

Age: NAS

ABV: 49%

Maturation: Refill and first fill sherry casks

Price: $250 – $450 (USD) retail,

Availability: Very limited

Sample Source: Trinity Hall

 

 

 

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