Sunday, June 23, 2013

Blind Tasting - Jim Beam vs. Evan Williams

Yesterday, my wife and I conducted a blind tasting of the #1 and #2 selling bourbons in the world.  All of the reviews I have posted so far have focused on mid to top shelf pours.  The lack of attention to bottom shelf or house brands has been a glaring omission on my part as I now realize that it is important to establish a base for your palette.  I unfortunately did not do this when I began drinking bourbon, so shame on me.  My first bottle was Blanton's.

Jim Beam - the world's #1 selling bourbon - Produced in Clermont, Kentucky since 1795, when Jacob Beam sold his first barrels of corn whiskey.  The distillery was first known as Old Tub, and the whiskey was called Old Jake Beam.
Currently, the standard Beam white label is distilled from a mash bill of 75% corn, 15% rye, and 10% malted barley.  It is aged for 4 years and bottled at 80 proof.

Evan Williams - Standard black label is the world's #2 selling bourbon - Evan Williams began distilling whiskey near Louisville, Kentucky in 1783.  The brand is currently produced by Heaven Hill Distilleries.  Founded in 1935, Heaven Hill is the largest family owned distillery in Kentucky, and the largest independently operated producer of distilled spirits in the U.S.
All of the Master Distillers at Heaven Hill have been members of the Beam family, beginning with Joseph L. Beam, Jim Beam's first cousin.
Current black label Evan Williams is distilled from a low rye mash bill of 78% corn, 10% rye and 12% malted barley, aged for 5-7 years and bottled at 86 proof.

First, setting up a blind tasting is simple.  Grab a glass for each whiskey you plan on comparing.  Label each glass and designate someone to decide which whiskey goes in each glass, keeping this a secret from the tasters of course.
Next grab a pen and paper, then start nosing and sipping.  Consider having a glass of water handy, and perhaps something without much flavor to snack on between sips such as saltine crackers, tortilla chips, or nuts.

Without getting too much into the details of the tasting notes, we both ended up preferring the Evan Williams over the Jim Beam by a narrow margin.
Surprisingly, we were actually able to determine during the tasting which whiskey was in each glass even though we had little experience with either, likely due to the Evan Williams having a slightly higher alcohol content.

The Beam was a bit flat and lacking flavor.  I could detect some of the butterscotch qualities I get from another Beam product, Old Grand Dad.

The Evan Williams was a bit dry, yet despite having a lower rye content tasted slightly spicier.  After sitting in the glass for several minutes, it exhibited a nice sweetness on the nose, and maple/caramel sweetness on the tongue.

The Jim Beam will cost around $13, and the Evan Williams about $10.

Both expressions are a great introduction to American Whiskey.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Custom Bar Shelves from 80 Year old Crate

With the collection of bottles starting to get out of hand, the time had come to add a couple of shelves above the bar.  We tracked down a guy up in Anaheim that spends most of his time driving around the country purchasing old crates from farms and vineyards, and reselling them to restaurants, businesses and individuals.

We picked out a large crate that would be perfect for turning into shelving.
The first step was to knock the center piece out.
Next, we cut the crate in half and did some thorough sanding.
Then we stained them.
Finally, we added a functional and decorative brace across the front and hung them on the wall using L-brackets.
Fairly easy DIY project.  Each shelf holds 18 bottles.  Now let's just hope they don't come crashing to the ground!

Sunday, February 10, 2013

R.I.P. Truman Cox

Truman Cox, Master Distiller at A. Smith Bowman Distillery in Virginia, passed away this weekend at the age of 44, reportedly of congestive heart failure.
I had plans to visit the distillery and meet him this March, though we had to postpone our trip.  The American Whiskey community has lost a tremendously talented distiller.
Two Bowman expressions landed on my first Top 12 list, and I named his John J Bowman 14 Year #45 my Whiskey of the Year.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

The 12 Best Bourbons & Ryes I Tasted in 2012

I've declared the 2012 whiskey of the year, and now here is a list of the 12 best bourbons and ryes I tasted in the first 12 months of my American Whiskey obsession, in order (sort of).

1) Pappy Van Winkle 15 Year - $70
I went through 3 of these last year and every drop was just about perfect.

2) Abraham Bowman 18 Year - 147.5 proof, TPS private barrel - $65
Hot!  Almost makes the Stagg feel tame.

3) Four Roses 2012 Limited Edition Small Batch - $90
Floral, fragrant, fantastic.

4) Sazerac 18 Year Rye - $75
Only 90 proof but oh so full of flavor.

5) George T Stagg (2012) - $75
Hard core kick-your-ass bourbon goodness.  Tough to find a bottle, but I know a bar or two around town that you can get a pour for $10.

6) John J Bowman 14 Year, TPS barrel #45 - $55
I proclaimed this my whiskey of the year so you may be wondering how it's at #6.  It's because, unlike the first 5 bottles on the list, you can still grab a  bottle, and I thought it was pointless to name a whiskey of the year if you can't get a bottle!  Good luck finding #'s 1-5, though you could get lucky.

7) Jefferson's Presidential Select 18 Year.  I wish I had stocked up on this, because the $70 price at Hi Time turned into $120 and now they are out.  A few BevMo's still have it for around $100.  A 21 Year version is set to come out soon, but that may be a $200 bottle.

8) W.L. Weller 12 Year - $25
A standard on my bar, tough to beat for the price.

9) Vintage 17 Year - $70
Out of production now but you can still find one collecting dust if you look hard enough.

10) Parker's Heritage Collection - 2012 Blend of Mashbills - $80
A blend of a ryed bourbon and a wheated bourbon.  Very unique flavor and thick, grainy mouth feel.

11) Elmer T Lee -  $25.  I posted a review of this bourbon last year.  Similar to the Weller in that it's tough to beat for the price.

12) Very Old Fitzgerald - Barreled in 1960, bottled in 1968.
I almost left this off the list, but the historical significance requires that I include it.  From the Stitzel-Weller distillery, essentially the original Pappy Van Winkle.  This was a tiny 4/5 pint bottle that was consumed, in it's entirety, after having tasted 10 or more other fine bourbons.  As a result I only have a faint, blurred memory of what it tasted like.

Honorable Mention:
Elijah Craig 12 Year - $23
Very Old Barton 100 proof - $14
Old Fitzgerald 100 proof - $15
Old Charter 10 Year - $18
Ancient Ancient Age 10 Year - $19
Four Roses Single Barrel 100 proof - $35
Rittenhouse Rye 100 proof - $23
Old Rip Van Winkle 10 Year 107 proof - $35
Wild Turkey Rare Breed -  $36
Buffalo Trace - $20
Booker's - $55
Willet 21 Year - $$$
High West Double Rye - $34
I could add 20 more, but I'll stop.

Worst Bourbon & Rye I tasted in 2012:
Old Fitzgerald 1849 - The only bottle that I poured out
Hudson Baby Bourbon - Aged 6 months, absolutely disgusting.  $40 for 375ml bottle, really?  Glad I only paid for one shot.
High West Pure Silver Rye - Okay, if the whiskey is clear, don't drink it.  It has not been aged.