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.


Sunday, December 30, 2012

Whiskey of The Year - John J. Bowman 14 Year TPS Single Barrel #45

Happy Holidays!  It's that time of year when 'Best of' lists have circulated, so I've decided to throw my hat into the ring.
It's been almost one year since I began my obsession with American Whiskey, and in the last 12 months I believe I have sampled (okay drank a shit load) of this year's finest releases, and there have been a plethora of exceptional bottles.  The Parker's Heritage Collection blend of mashbills from Heaven Hill is fantastic.  The Four Roses Limited Edition Small Batch is superb.  The Buffalo Trace Antique Collection did not disappoint, especially the Weller and Stagg.  However, the most enjoyable pours I have had this year hail from a very small distillery, A. Smith Bowman in Virginia, specifically the John J. Bowman Single Barrel #45 (hand picked by and exclusive to The Party Source).

John J. Bowman Single Barrel #45 - 100 proof - 14 Years Old - $55

I am going to keep the tasting notes short:

Nose - Smells more like 120 proof as the alcohol burns your nose, then makes way for a bouquet of impending fantabuluousness (this word will be in Webster's soon)

Taste - Despite the high proof feeling from the nose, it tastes like 100 proof and every bit of it.  For me the flavors are simply incredible, as spice and fruitiness just explode in all directions.

Finish - Lingers for a good 30 seconds or longer.

Score 98/100

This is perhaps the closest thing to a flawless whiskey I have tried in my short experience with American Whiskey.  
At the risk of the last 79 bottles disappearing too fast you can find it here.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Jefferson's Presidential Select - 18 Years Old

Jefferson's Presidential Select - 18 Years Old - Batch #18, bottle #572 - 94 proof - McLain & Kyne "Distillers" - $70
McLain & Kyne do not distill this whiskey, they bottle barrels of whiskey that they have purchased.  As the label states - "Distilled from wheat in the spring of 1991 - Aged in Stitzel-Weller Barrels" - This is where the mystery sets in for us.  Was it merely aged in old SW barrels, or is this the last of the whiskey distilled by SW (which ceased operations in 1992)???  Is every drop of juice from S-W, or just some of it?  This Stitzel-Weller mystery does not mean shit to most people, but to bourbon fanatics such as myself it means a whole hell of a lot.  Imagine one of  the greatest brewers of beer on the planet suddenly closing up shop and the frenzy to purchase and drink the last bottles/kegs that would follow.  Imagine the producer of some of  the best wine in the world deciding to stop growing grapes and the craziness to get that last bottle that would ensue.  That is the same type of mystique that surrounds the Stizel-Weller distillery.  Why SW would be considered to have made some of  the best bourbon ever distilled on this is the same reason that Stone Brewing, Samuel Adams etc. may be considered some of  the best beer ever brewed on this planet - because it just fuckin' tastes unique and better than most or many of the others.  Does the legend and difficulty in obtaining a sip of SW whiskey have anything to do with it?  Probably.

If you find this SW thing intriguing (maybe you don't at this point - I'm not much of a writer) check out this time line of the history or this condensed version of SW info from Jason Pyle.

Okay, enough B.S.

Smells like a floral, perfume-y (in a good way) awesomeness of impending flavor.

Taste -  An explosion of wood (it's been sitting in charred oak for 18 years after all), corn, smoke and cinnamon spice.  A perfect leathery, vanilla balance of yumminess.

Score - 97/100

Get a bottle if you can.  The 2 on my shelf set me back $70 each, but the 5 bottles at my local BevMo are going for $100.  It's not going to get any cheaper or easier to find.  You can get a sip or two for free if you know where to find me.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Elmer T. Lee

Elmer T. Lee Single Barrel - 90 proof. Buffalo Trace Distillery - $26
Born in 1919, Elmer T. Lee is one of only two living men to have their name on a bottle of bourbon (the other being Jimmy Russell, master distiller at Wild Turkey).  At the age of 93, rumor has it that Mr. Lee still selects the barrels that fill the bottles bearing his name.  Read more about Mr. Lee here.

Smell - Butterscotch.  Vanilla.  Rye.  Leather & tobacco.

Taste - Great spice from the rye.  Clover,cinnamon, honey, and a bit of oak.  In my short time with bourbon, this whiskey has the most perfect balance of sweet & spicy that I have tasted.

Finish - The spice sticks around for a good minute or two.  Yes, that is a good thing.  I don't like it when the spice leaves the party too soon.

95/100 - The highest score I have given so far.  At $26 you really cannot beat this.  I've had whiskey at twice the price that are not nearly as flavorful.  I won't name names.
I'd love to see Buffalo Trace come up with a barrel strength version of this.

Find it here or here if you live in Cali.  If you live east of the Mighty Miss try The Party Source.